Books & Literature

Cookbook Review: River Cottage Great Salads, by Gelf Alderson

With more than 80 recipes and countless more variations to be explored, Gelf demonstrates how, with a bit of creativity and flair, simple ingredients can be combined to make truly great salads.

Reignite your passion for dishes packed with flavour and freshness by exploring Gelf Alderson’s adventurous collection of salads.

Salads don’t have to be boring. Gelf Alderson’s aim is to design “real food for real people” and use familiar produce and ingredients while showing them in a new and exciting light. Alderson, who has worked in the role of executive head chef in the River Cottage restaurants for over a decade in the UK, has delivered an outstanding collection of 80+ recipes to inspire even the most jaded palates.

River Cottage Great Salads is a sturdy and attractive hardback book featuring clear instructions with an accompanying photo for each recipe. There’s a full index and a brief history of River Cottage for those who aren’t already familiar with it via the television series hosted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

At the start of the book, dot points list helpful information about measurements and oven timings, plus general treatment of fruit and veg. Following this, initial sections introduce Alderson’s perspective (salads as “the ultimate expression of seasonality”), explain each chapter’s focus, and outline the characteristics of key ingredients. Novice cooks will find the suggestions of “suitable swaps” very helpful – there’s no need to avoid a recipe because you don’t have access to the first-choice ingredient. In the Grow your own salad section, Alderson shares instructions for creating tabletop salad pots and a mixed-leaf container garden to inspire readers to try raising their own lettuces, bean sprouts, micro greens, and herbs.

Due to River Cottage’s location, there’s a UK focus (e.g. names of ingredients, references to local suppliers). This in no way lessens the relevance and appeal of the book for audiences further away. At its heart, the book is an exciting collection of ideas for delicious meals. Under the headings Quick, Hearty, Light, Spicy, Lunchbox, River Cottage Classics, and Dressings, Pickles & Krauts, the author has assembled recipes that pair foods in surprising and delicious combinations. There’s a big focus on fruit (e.g. roast squash, blackberries, feta and walnuts) and on exploring new treatments of old favourites (e. g. ‘cheaty’ chicken Caesar salad, potato salad with apples and cheddar, and a ginger and chilli slaw).

In River Cottage Great Salads, Gelf Alderson reignites a passion for a dish that is too often relegated to the side of the table. This wonderful cookbook deserves a place on every home cook’s bookshelf.

Green beans, five-spice crispy duck and bean sprouts (page 176)

This was a winner! Very quick and easy to prepare. Using only a short list of ingredients (duck, green beans, bean sprouts, spring onions, sesame seeds, oil, and Chinese five-spice powder), the main dish involves a short period of roasting then a quick assembly. The dressing (soy sauce, honey, and lime juice) can be made earlier so it’s ready when you need it. You could use pre-marinated duck or swap it for tofu, pork or whatever suits your taste. Easy, tasty and simple to adapt.

Roast cauliflower with pumpkin seed satay (page 137)

This dish is perfect as a do-ahead component of a main meal. Its two key elements (roasted cauliflower and a satay sauce) require only minimal cooking time. First, cauliflower is broken in small florets, seasoned, then cooked on a tray in the oven for 10 minutes until some colour and crispiness appears. Meanwhile, heat a tin of coconut milk in a saucepan and add honey, lime juice and zest, tamari, curry powder, and your preferred nut butter (the recipe opts for pumpkin seed paste but I went with peanut because that’s what I had in the fridge). For the final stage, immediately before serving, mix the veg and sauce and reheat in the oven for 5 minutes. I followed the recipe suggestion (spoon the baked cauli over little gem lettuce cups and sprinkle with chopped coriander and mint), but I also served rice to soak up the extra sauce. Possible swaps include root vegetables such as parsnip and swede.

Courgette, toasted buckwheat, goat’s cheese and dill (page 116)

Like so many of the recipes in this book, this salad combines unexpected ingredients to produce an attractive and extremely tasty result. Ribbons of raw zucchini (made using a vegetable peeler) are tossed with lemon juice, oil, and fresh dill before being plated (I used a large, shallow bowl) and topped with crumbled goat’s cheese and a handful of toasted buckwheat groats (you’ll find the buckwheat in the health food or baking sections of your supermarket.) Swap the goat’s cheese for an alternative if you like. I’d definitely make this dish again – it’s a fresh blend of silky/crunchy/creamy ingredients that could be eaten alone or paired with barbecued meat.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: September 2022
RRP: $35.99

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