Tony Tobin on summer salads

Kitchen Diaries: Our celebrity chef Tony Tobin on sensational summer salads

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2009Kitchen Diaries: Our celebrity chef Tony Tobin on sensational summer saladsEvery few months, I have to start my column with a confession. Not sure if it's my Irish Catholic upbringing or just being a straight-up sort of chap but this month it's also a bit of a trade secret... I do write this column a little in advance. There, I've said it. I'm not sitting at my desk the night before it's on the news-stands tapping away while the printer holds the presses. Usually, it's a few weeks prior, but that little gap introduces an element of danger. Particularly, when it comes to that intersection where food meets weather. Too many times in previous years, I've made an assumption that July will be hot, hot, hot... and it has actually turned out to be wet, wet, wet. This year, however, my mood is even more confident. It really is going to be hot. I remember back in May the BBC News website ran a story saying 'Prepare for summer heatwave'. The fact that it rapidly became the day's most read story was a good illustration of our collective optimism! So, confession over, but read on bearing in mind my assumption that it is going to be scorching hot by the time you read this. During heatwaves, something within us starts to change and regulate what we eat and drink. Our bodies naturally start to steer our taste buds away from mashed potato and rump steaks and towards salads, light fish and fruit. The notable exception is barbecues, but I suspect the BBQ phenomenon harks back to the days when hot and exhausted hunter-gatherers returned to the cave dragging woolly mammoth haunches behind them. The homecoming sentiment was undoubtedly: "Stuff the weather; now's the time to gorge, eat fermented fruit and then fall asleep for a few days!" These days, of course, our primeval instincts are usually re-awakened each summer by the smell of burning charcoal - though supermarket promotions on multi-packs of cheap lager probably help, too... Salad days This month, however, I want to turn you gently away from the BBQ and focus your heat-addled attention on to the salad bowl (don't worry, BBQ sauces next month!). Salads are not very alpha-male, but good salads are a secret weapon when it comes to keeping your weight down and hydration up during hot spells. As anyone who has ever carried a heavy rucksack in summer knows, dragging an extra two stone around with you is a sweaty job. Lighter is better for your body whether you're carrying the extra weight around on your back or in your spare tyre! The theory is simple. A big salad, let's say with spinach, cucumber, mushrooms and lettuce, will definitely fill you up, but an hour later when the body breaks them all down, what's left? Water and vitamins! By that stage, however, you'll be out of eating mode and back into work or play mode. So you'll be burning fat reserves and on your way to a slimmer you - sure as Atkins is Atkins! With that in mind, this month I'd like to share with you the ingredients for the perfect summer salad, which as well as keeping you hydrated will also help with your salt levels, too. During the summer, one of the greatest dangers for anyone who is active is salt-loss. You don't need much, but in hot weather a little extra natural salt in your ingredients can help to keep you in tip-top condition. So, without further ado, first take the standard watery ingredients (cucumber, spinach etc) and top them up with watermelon, orange segments and slices of celery. Next, add a sprinkling of slightly salty morsels, such as feta, flaked tuna fish in brine or sundried tomatoes. Finally, there are the 'icing on the cake' ingredients. Here, I'm talking ripe avocado, toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and - for your carbohydrate needs - cubes of caramelised roasted pumpkin or butternut squash. Top the whole lot off with a dressing made of really good extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar and you're reaching the very pinnacle of summer foods. Personally, I like to prepare salads in large individual bowls - one for each person. This way, there's no faffing about with wooden salad paddles and no one can hog the best ingredients. Even if you have the most dyed-in-the-wool meat and two veg family, I guarantee you that a colourful salad along these lines will convert them! When the going gets hot, the hot make salads...

Watermelon and Feta Salad This is an incredibly easy hydrating salad. By using watermelon and feta as your base ingredients, you can supplement it with lots of different ingredients - fresh mint, fresh basil, rocket, pumpkin seeds, poppy seeds - whatever takes your fancy. The saltiness of the feta combines perfectly with the quenching sweetness of the watermelon. A perfect treat for a hot summer's day.

Tony Tobin has been a regular on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook for over a decade and runs two acclaimed restaurants in Surrey: The Dining Room in Reigate and POST in Banstead.

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