All dressed up

It's January, and I'm going to eat salad. I'll eat stews, curries, chips and pies too, but salad will be on regular rotation because I want leaves, vegetables and vibrancy in my life. Here are some simple dressing recipes.

Cauliflower with blue cheese, spring onions and tahini dressing

Cauliflower with blue cheese, spring onions and tahini dressing

Sriracha slaw

Sriracha slaw

Watermelon and cabbage 'som tam'

Watermelon and cabbage 'som tam'

The basics: make salad dressings in a small mug or jar - easy, jar has the handy advantage of being shake-able, and the smaller size (versus, say, a jug) encourages you not to add too much oil, which is often the cause of Bad Salad Dressing. Salt is the posh flakey sea variety, and I don't often advocate pepper - it's a bully, put it on your eggs instead. With the exception of some slaws, salad is best dressed just before you eat it. Most slaws benefit from lightly salting the vegetables for 20 minutes, then squeezing out and discarding the liquid before dressing. All of the below should cover salad for 1-2 people, and you should taste before you dress and tweak to your preference - I like acid, salt and savoury to lead, using sweetness to round things out a bit if needed. Dressing should taste a bit too 'strong' on its own, because it's got a lot of stuff to cover - I make my salad dressings like I drink my cocktails: strong and stiff. A little finely grated parmesan works wonders for most basic salads.

Olive oil, salt and lemon. Just that, applied sparingly, in that order, directly onto leaves. It's all you need for dressing lettuce or rocket, or a bowl of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions. Maybe you add a little shaved parmesan, or a handful of chopped herbs (parsley, chives and dill work well). Best for: the height of summer, when tomatoes taste fantastic and you can cook over a smouldering grill - but fine for a bowl of peppery leaves at this time of year too.

Simple mustard vinaigrette: 2tsp Dijon, big squeeze of lemon or 3tsp vinegar (red wine, white wine, cider), pinch salt, mix. Add 2-3tbsp olive oil, mixing well to emulsify. You can add 1tsp honey if you like, I prefer not to. What I do like is a teaspoon of fine slivers of banana shallot, added to the dressing before tossing with the leaves. Best for: any leafy salad, perhaps with tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers or olives. Also lovely on boiled green beans and potatoes, or finely shredded raw celeriac.

Caesar-ish: 1 chopped anchovy fillet, 1/3 of a garlic clove very finely smushed. Add 1tsp Dijon, 2tsp mayo or crème fraîche (I prefer the latter, buttermilk also works), 2tbsp olive oil, 2tsp very finely grated Parmesan (microplane), mix well, add a little pepper if you wish. Best for: lettuce leaves, chicory, boiled potatoes, olives, radishes, capers, green beans, asparagus.

Tahini dressing: 2tsp tahini, 2tbsp of cold water, juice of half a lemon, salt to taste. Easy-peasy. You can add finely chopped green herbs or a teensy bit of minced garlic, but not really necessary. Best for: lots of things, particularly roasted cauliflower. This dressing brings many a simple meal together - boiled egg, some feta and steamed green veggies? Drizzle tahini dressing over it. Green beans, asparagus, boiled potatoes...all lovely with this. 

Sriracha slaw dressing: I'm not a massive fan of sriracha, but it's great as a component of dressings and stir fry sauces. 1tbsp sriracha, big squeeze of lime, 1tbsp fish sauce, 1/2 to 1tsp caster sugar or honey. Best for: finely shredded carrot, iceberg lettuce, radishes, red onion, cucumber batons, cabbage. Chuck in some pineapple and toasted sesame seeds too, if you're feeling a bit disco.

Peanut slaw dressing (cheaty som tam): I love this one. 1 clove of garlic and a pinch of salt into your pestle and mortar, pulverise. Add two hot little green chillies, bash them about a bit (the more you bash, the hotter it gets...idea is to leave them still a bit intact, otherwise: FIRE). Add juice of a lime, 1tsp caster sugar, 1tbsp peanut butter and 1-2tbsp fish sauce. Mix really well. Best for: you can use som tam veg if you can find (snake beans, shredded green papaya, cherry toms, dried shrimp), but basically you need a sturdy base (shredded cabbage, green beans and carrot) and some pops of sweetness (cherry tomatoes, pineapple pieces or - my favourite - watermelon).