/ Food and Recipes

Skinny salads that are big on flavour

  • Lucy Thomas     -
  •      June 29, 2017     -
  •      0 Comments

While Kate Moss once lived by the motto “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, which caused outrage, it is more difficult than that for mere mortals to step away from biscuits, burgers and burritos and move into “beach-body” mode.

A cookery book, Skinny Salads, by Kathryn Bruton, the Irish fashionista turned cookery writer, may at first appear as though it is rooted in the Moss school of thought. After all, each of its 80 recipes comes in at fewer than 300 calories, which doesn’t sound half as much fun as, say, a burger with crispy bacon. Despite its tautological title, however, Bruton hopes her book will change people’s minds about salad.

“There’s a misconception when it comes to salads,” says Bruton, a native of Carlow who is based in London. “Many people think it’s rabbit food, and there are justifiable reasons for that, because it’s not always the most interesting meal option to have. There’s also a perception, however, that salads are low in calories, which isn’t always correct,” she says.

With one cookery book, Skinny Soups, under her (very slim) belt, Bruton had expected this book to be easier to write. She found that the biggest obstacles to keeping her recipes low calorie were the mayonnaise and oil-based dressings that are a highly fat-laden addition to the bowl at hand.

“Dressing is everything when it comes to salad, because it’s the real injection of flavour that runs through it,” she says. “Not only did I want them to be low calorie and really flavourful, I wanted them to be a way to introduce a little nutrition boost. It was important that they were easy enough to make that you could let them sit in your fridge and pop them out to use on any salad.

“The roasted red pepper, basil and chilli dressing is one of the easiest things in the world to make. You can make it using your own roasted red peppers or you can buy them and blitz them with some fresh basil and some chilli and that’s it, done. It gives wonderful flavour and is also really good for you. What I want to do is show people how a dressing can be much more interesting than just olive oil and vinegar.”

Bruton hopes her book will change people’s minds about salad

A cookery book, Skinny Salads, by Kathryn Bruton, the Irish fashionista turned cookery writer, may at first appear as though it is rooted in the Moss school of thought. After all, each of its 80 recipes comes in at fewer than 300 calories, which doesn’t sound half as much fun as, say, a burger with crispy bacon. Despite its tautological title, however, Bruton hopes her book will change people’s minds about salad.

“There’s a misconception when it comes to salads,” says Bruton, a native of Carlow who is based in London. “Many people think it’s rabbit food, and there are justifiable reasons for that, because it’s not always the most interesting meal option to have. There’s also a perception, however, that salads are low in calories, which isn’t always correct,” she says.

With one cookery book, Skinny Soups, under her (very slim) belt, Bruton had expected this book to be easier to write. She found that the biggest obstacles to keeping her recipes low calorie were the mayonnaise and oil-based dressings that are a highly fat-laden addition to the bowl at hand.

“Dressing is everything when it comes to salad, because it’s the real injection of flavour that runs through it,” she says. “Not only did I want them to be low calorie and really flavourful, I wanted them to be a way to introduce a little nutrition boost. It was important that they were easy enough to make that you could let them sit in your fridge and pop them out to use on any salad.

“The roasted red pepper, basil and chilli dressing is one of the easiest things in the world to make. You can make it using your own roasted red peppers or you can buy them and blitz them with some fresh basil and some chilli and that’s it, done. It gives wonderful flavour and is also really good for you. What I want to do is show people how a dressing can be much more interesting than just olive oil and vinegar.”

To ensure that anyone using her book learns “the difference between a mediocre and a magnificent salad”, Bruton has included a chapter dedicated to dressings, condiments and pickles that will supercharge flavour. Blue cheese dressing, for example, is kept low calorie with a yoghurt base, and herbs feature strongly in dressings, such as salsa verde, chermoula and pomegranate, mint and coriander. Many of Bruton’s dressings are suitable for freezing in ice-cube trays for use as needed.

Even the recipes that sound a little adventurous are easy, and there are instructions on how to make ricotta, or pickle chargrilled cucumber and onions to soften and sweeten their flavour.

If all of this sounds like Instagram-style “clean eating”, it is because Bruton, as one of London’s top food stylists who has worked on high-profile cookery books, appeared on MasterChef and worked in the fashion business alongside Paul Costelloe, is responsible for “instagreat” photographs.

Despite appearances, however, she is grounded in her meat-and-two-veg, Irish farmhouse upbringing.

Kathryn Bruton

As a food stylist, Bruton has worked on high-profile cookery books and in the fashion business alongside Paul Costelloe

“I couldn’t live without carbs. You know, when you have a craving for carbs and it’s the only part of the meal that will satisfy your appetite? I grew up in a home where we had a plate of potatoes every evening and we’d be eating toast throughout the day. There was never any sort of limit on that kind of thing, it was never seen as a bad thing,” she says.

While Bruton cautions against following the diet du jour, she is pragmatic about the burgeoning online focus on food.

“I do think it’s a good thing that there’s so much more publicity about food now, about what’s good and what produce is available,” she says. “But I think you have
to make your own call as well — decide what you like and what you don’t and enjoy a balanced diet around that. You shouldn’t deprive yourself of something just because someone says it’s bad for you. I mean, don’t be eating fish and chips every single day, but I think everything in good measure is the right way to go. That’s how I eat.”

Bruton’s book runs the gamut of salads, from simple green salads that are perfect for a barbecue, to show-off numbers such as spicy beetroot and pak choi with ramen eggs and sriracha (a hot chili sauce), or gravlax with chargrilled cucumber and grapefruit-soured cream.

Flicking through the book, it is hard to believe that even hugely satisfying, comfort salads — Thai green chicken curry salad; warm lamb kofta salad; walnut-crusted pork with spinach, fig and buckwheat salad; chargrilled baby gem and egg ribbons with Spanish beans — all weigh in below 300 calories.

“All of the recipes have been analysed by a nutritionist, so those with gluten and dairy intolerances can easily navigate the book, and vegetarian and vegan recipes are included.

While not everyone believes that calorie counting is the perfect route to weight loss, Bruton thinks it is a concept that is easily understood and is a good reference point.

“I think people are calorie conscious, and calories do often dictate whether someone will eat something or not; they can be used as a guideline,” she says. “I went down that route because I think it’s a good thing to have one meal a day that’s calorie controlled, so you know where you stand.

It’s also important to be aware of the nutrition that comes with a calorie-controlled meal, so you know that you’re getting a nutritionally balanced meal. “I wanted to create recipes that don’t necessarily look or feel like they’ve got a calorie cap on them. They feel way more substantial.”

Most importantly, the recipes were tested. “The recipes were about six months in the making. There were some that would come out quite quickly and I’d test them and think, yep, that works. There were others I had to try two or three times before getting them right,” says Bruton.

Not all recipe books go through such a rigorous approach, according to Bruton, whose work means she has been responsible for cooking and then styling numerous recipes.

“A lot of the time you are working with recipes that haven’t been written well or had much attention paid to them,” she says. “It can be quite difficult when you’re on set trying to produce eight dishes a day for the camera when the recipes don’t work.

“That’s something I’ve seen an increase in. More cookbooks are being produced by people from lots of different walks of life, but aren’t necessarily skilled at cookery or writing recipes.

“It was really important to me that when you flick through the book, there are dishes that you really want to eat and which will fulfil you,” she says. “The idea of the comfort salads is to challenge the stereotype of salads just being a summery dish, because I feel like they can be nice in winter time when you just feel like something lighter.

“There are things like a Mediterranean roasted vegetable salad with cous cous. It’s substantial, it’s got carbohydrates, you can have it alone or you can have it with a piece of meat or fish. There are simple salads for people who don’t really have much time, and the classics, such as Caesar salad and niçoise, both of which are highly calorific , so I adapted them to be just as good, but with a lower calorie count. Salads can be breakfast, lunch and dinner .”

Skinny Salads, by Kathryn Bruton (Kyle Books, €20.99), is in bookshops nationwide; kathrynbruton.com

Bruton takes a fresh look at salads

Ingredients must be as fresh as possible. They are the star of the show. Tired, lifeless ingredients will create salads you won’t enjoy.

Your ingredients may look clean but you don’t know what their path to your kitchen has been. Fill your sink with ice-cold water and give all leaves, herbs, fruit and vegetables a good wash.

To revive leaves that are beginning to look a little sad, fill a big bowl with ice-cold water and soak them for a few minutes.

Invest in a salad spinner: it is hard to get leaves dry once they have been soaked in water, and this genius piece of equipment makes it effortless. Never be tempted to dress wet lettuce leaves, or your salad will be sad and sloppy.

It is generally best to dress your salad just before serving.

Save undressed salad or leftover leaves in a bowl or Tupperware box, covered with a few sheets of kitchen paper dampened with cold water. This will keep it fresh and crisp for a couple of days. Likewise, wrap herbs in damp kitchen paper to extend their shelf life.