At this time of year you don't want to be spending too much time in the kitchen. Meals where you make a tasty dressing, cook a piece of protein and toss it all together with loads of fresh vegetables make late-summer dining easy. For "one dish" dinners like this, it's all about the dressing. A good dressing transforms simple everyday ingredients, bringing the flavours together and providing balance.
A thoughtfully stocked pantry is key to ensuring these kinds of toss-and-serve meals never get monotonous. For Asian-inspired dressings, look to sauces such as Thai sweet chilli sauce, oyster sauce, black bean sauce and soy sauce or tamari, and build your flavour profile with black and white sesame seeds, crispy roasted shallots, chillies, ginger and garlic.
When I'm making an Asian-styled dressing I tend to use a neutral oil such as grapeseed (plus sometimes a little sesame oil), along with rice vinegar or lime or lemon juice to balance the acidity.
Mexican-inspired salad dressings take their cue with chillies - a couple of canned chipotles finely chopped into a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon or lime juice, or pureed into mayonnaise, are all it takes. Cumin, chillies, cinnamon and cloves make up the complement, along with bay leaves, oregano and thyme. Citrus juices and zest provide the aromatic acid balance in Mexican food - think lemons, limes and oranges.
A spoonful of pomegranate molasses, tahini or tamarind added to a good glug of olive oil or some natural Greek-style yoghurt takes your dressing on the road to the Middle East. Sometimes I will add a tiny pinch of cinnamon or ground cloves into a standard vinegar and oil dressing, along with a spoon of pomegranate molasses. A small spoonful of ras el hanout or chermoula is a great way to transform a yoghurt and tahini dressing. Add lemon or orange juice to get the acid balance you want. Fresh herbs such as dill, flat leaf parsley or coriander offer the finishing touch here.
Tamarind is a useful pantry ingredient that you often find in African, Middle Eastern and Asian cooking. The tangy sweet/sour pulp of the big seed pod of the tamarind tree has a flavour often described as a mix between dates and limes. It comes in a compressed cake form with seeds or as a seedless puree, the easier option. To produce ½ cup tamarind puree from the cake form (available in supermarkets), put 1/3 cup into a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Leave to cool then work with your hands to a puree. Push this through a sieve to remove seeds, thinning with more water as needed. The puree will keep in the fridge for several weeks or can be frozen.
Mediterranean Beef Salad
This salad is served at room temperature, which is handy when you're cooking for friends because you won't be rushing around at the last minute. To prepare it ahead of time, cut up the vegetables and herbs, cover and chill. If you want, you can cook the meat up to about an hour before serving, then combine all the ingredients just before serving.
Ready in 15 mins + resting
400-600g frying steaks, such as sirloin, fillet or scotch fillet
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
300-400g tomatoes, halved or sliced in wedges
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large roasted red pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives
4-5 handfuls rocket, baby spinach or mixed salad leaves
60g feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup basil leaves
¼ cup Kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp capers, finely chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and grinds of pepper
Put the steaks in a bowl, add oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, then mix to combine.
Leave to marinate on the bench for 5 minutes, or up to 24 hours covered in the fridge.
Heat barbecue hotplate or frying pan and cook steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side or until done to your liking. Transfer to a carving board, cover and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes before angle-slicing thinly, across the grain. If preparing ahead of time, slice just before serving.
When ready to serve, slice tomatoes, onions and pepper and place in a mixing bowl with olives. Slice the meat and combine with any cooking juices and half the dressing, then toss to combine. Add dressed meat to salad ingredients along with remaining dressing and toss to combine.
Divide salad greens over the bottom of a serving platter, pile over the salad and garnish with crumbled cheese and basil leaves.
Accompany with crusty bread or crispy roast potatoes.
Seared Squid Salad with rocket and lemon oil
Lots of people like squid and order it when they go out but would never dream of cooking it at home. It has a reputation for being tricky to cook but it's actually so easy. The important thing is not to overcook it – as soon as it turns opaque it's done.
Ready in 25 minutes
500g baby squid or squid tubes
½ cup rocket and lemon oil (see below)
1 tsp chilli flakes
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
6-8 handfuls rocket, baby spinach or watercress leaves
60-80g parmesan (shaved with a vegetable peeler)
Open out squid tubes and score the underside in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Cut into pieces about 5cm x 3cm. Combine in a mixing bowl with 2 Tbsp of the rocket and lemon oil and the chilli flakes and allow to marinate for 20-30 minutes in the fridge.
Heat a heavy-based griddle pan or barbecue hotplate. Season squid with salt and pepper and sear in batches over high heat, cooking scored-side down first, until squid changes colour (about 1 minute each side). Transfer cooked squid to a large mixing bowl and stir in lemon juice. Pile rocket, spinach or watercress on to a serving platter and top with warm squid. Scatter with parmesan and drizzle with the remaining rocket and lemon oil.
Rocket and Lemon Oil
This oil is so good with seafood, chicken or lamb.
Prep time 10 mins
Cooking time 10-15 mins
Makes 1 cup
2 large spray-free lemons, zest peeled into strips with a vegetable peeler
1 cup neutral oil, e.g. grapeseed
120g rocket leaves or watercress leaves, stalks removed
A big pinch of salt
Place lemon zest in a small pot with oil and cook over lowest heat until zest sizzles very gently and begins to shrivel (10-15 minutes). Don't let it go dark brown. Discard zest and allow oil to cool.
Place rocket or watercress in a strainer or colander and pour boiling water over to wilt. Cool under cold water. Drain, squeezing firmly to remove all excess moisture (you should be left with about half a cup). Add squeezed greens and salt to cooled oil and whizz with a stick blender to a very fine puree (a food processor won't give a fine enough texture). Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week until needed.
Satay Chicken Salad
A roasted chicken makes a speedy starting point for this easy chicken salad. If preferred, grill 4 flattened chicken breasts. The aromatic dressing is also delicious with pork, prawns and other seafood.
Ready in 20 mins
Flesh of 1 roast chicken, shredded (about 3 cups)
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
1 green pepper, finely sliced
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
¼ small cabbage, finely chopped
½ telegraph cucumber, deseeded and sliced, or 100g snow peas, coarsely chopped
½ cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup torn mint or coriander leaves, to serve
½ cup boiling water
¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 tsp soy sauce
A pinch of chilli flakes, or more to taste (optional)
To make the dressing, stir boiling water into peanut butter a little at a time until smooth. Stir in ginger, soy sauce and chilli, if using.
Place chicken in a large mixing bowl with lime or lemon juice and toss to coat. Add vegetables and peanuts and toss gently to combine.
Pile salad on to a serving platter and drizzle with satay dressing. Garnish with mint or coriander leaves and serve immediately.