Saturday, 20 August 2016

Cookbook review: Leon Happy Salads

Before I write this post, I feel like I need to be really honest with you.
I love Leon.
I've loved Leon since the first time I wandered into a branch in London while on work experience six years ago.
If I get the chance, whenever I'm in London I get Leon (especially now there's one in Euston), and when Phil and I went away to Birmingham in April we ate there four times. In three days.
And almost every time I go to Leon, I take a photo of my food (duh) and tweet them incessantly asking when they're opening one in Manchester. And EVERY TIME they tease me by saying "soon". It's been two years, come on guys.
Anyway, I digress. 

This is actually the third Leon book I own, after Leon Vegetarian and Leon Friends and Family (actually, I own one of their minis too, but the least said about that the better - it's basically just a collection of recipes from other Leon books, most of which I already had). I've actually been really disappointed with my other Leon books which is such a shame when I love the brand so much. I haven't been able to pinpoint what it is I've not liked, but many of the recipes I've tried have either been a bit dull or a bit uncreative, which aren't words I associate with Leon at all.

But I was really excited to hear about Leon Happy Salads. Salads are, pretty much, my favourite thing to get from Leon (except for the sweet potato falafel hot box which is my all-time favourite, but is that kind-of a salad?). I honestly really tried to resist buying this but let's face it, I have no willpower when it comes to buying recipe books.

First impressions

First of all, like all Leon books, this book is gorgeous, with thankfully more photos of food and less photos of people compared to the other Leon books. 
I was excited from the get-go with loads of yummy-sounding vegetarian recipes and several recipes that could easily be made vegetarian or pescatarian.

My first thought though was, "will salad be enough for dinner?" and I thought there was going to be a section at the start with ideas of what to serve with some of the salads. I definitely found a mix of salads that seemed "enough" for dinner (those with a main protein or grain) and some that seemed like more of a side.

I was disappointed to find most of the recipes only serve 2 as I like to have leftovers for lunch most days to save me having to make extra lunches for work. I also found a whole section called Lunchbox of salads that only serve 1 - and some of these are a lot of work! I would have preferred a section called Lunchbox to have recipes that made several portions and kept well during the week. Both the Lunchbox-section recipes I tried I ended up tripling!

There were plenty of recipes I fancied though - absolutely loads for vegetarians and many that could be easily adapted. I filled three post-it notes (signs of a good book) with recipes I wanted to make, and planned to cook from the book almost constantly for two weeks. Things I noticed were:
- there was a lot of use of feta (which is great because I LOVE feta)
- lots of fresh herbs to purchase
- the odd few weird ingredients (some I hadn't even heard of!)
- very few salads had a lettuce base (which is good because lettuce is sooooo basic).

Just to note - I'm pretty sure this book isn't designed for you to have salad every night for two weeks. But there was so much variety in recipes it definitely didn't feel like we were having salads every night. Some were hot, some were cold, some had grains, some we had with pitta bread. There's absolutely loads of variety, and I really believe there is something for everyone in this book. But onto the recipes...

Prawn cocktail hour
As you might expect, prawn cocktail is super easy to throw together. I served this on a lazy Sunday evening with sweet potato wedges (prawn cocktail on its own really didn't feel like enough food). I skipped the radishes, watercress, and brandy in the dressing, but it was the fresh herbs (chives and dill) along with the tabasco that really made a difference. It was nicely spicy and refreshing with the avocado and cucumber. So much better than a normal prawn cocktail, and would be lovely starter if we had people over for dinner. Really tasty and filling - definitely a hit in our house!

The Original Superfood Salad
The following night we had the Original Superfood salad, which I'm sure I've had at some point in Leon. I was absolutely crazy about this salad. It was so wonderfully delicious with the feta, mint, peas, herbs and a simple vinaigrette. Next time I would up the herbs and avocado, and cut the broccoli into smaller chunks but I can definitely see this being a regular in our house, and even gets the high honour of "would serve this to guests." Only one negative - it's misleading to say it only takes 5 minutes. That is only the case if you already have pre-cooked quinoa, which I didn't have, but nevertheless, quick to throw together after a long day at work. Potentially my favourite from all the salads I made from this book.

Greek
This was a slightly selfish move on my part, as Phil doesn't really like cucumber or raw tomatoes (when I make a quick salad for with dinner, he usually just gets a handful of lettuce!) but I was hoping to win him over with fried feta. FRIED FETA. This was really quick (I was working in London and got back late and managed to throw this together in less than 10 minutes) and I really liked it, but it wasn't Phil's favourite. He had a pitta but I wasn't too hungry so had it alone. I'm not sure for a normal dinner if it would be enough without a grain or protein. It was pretty standard as far as a greek salad goes, but I loved the addition of the fried feta, and I'll definitely be trying that again.

Squashed chilli, houmous and feta
This salad was effectively a lot of my favourite things in a bowl. Instant winner. The squash pieces were way too big and I have no idea how a whole butternut squash cut into 4 would be cooked in just 30 minutes. I might have cut them wrong, but it didn't make it clear how best to cut them. There's quite a few things to do - roast the squash, fry the chillis, onion and garlic, make the feta dressing, mix up the houmous topping - but it came together pretty quickly. I added some roasted chickpeas because... well they're delicious. This was so tasty - definitely a new favourite - and I loved all the flavours. I actually had my cousin over for dinner the night I made this, so it's already been guest-approved! We got 3 large portions, although it's meant to serve 4.

Tabbouleh
Holy moly, this was good. I've only made tabbouleh once before, and tend to avoid it because I kind-of resent buying herbs just for once dish. In this instance, I didn't have enough parsley and tried three supermarkets before I got hold of any. But it was so, so, so worth it! Phil was a massive fan of this, which surprised me! One thing I couldn't work out was, what do you serve with tabbouleh? I had roasted chickpeas and parsnips and Phil had becon, and I had the leftovers the next day with houmous which was obviously amazing. Is it meant to be eaten as part of a mezze-style meal? With houmous and pitta? Or just on its own? Either way, this was very quick and tasty - 100% making again.

Tomato, feta and lentil salad
This is one from the silly lunchbox section, so I had to triple it to have enough for dinner for two and lunch the following day. Another recipe where the time to cook is misleading - it doesn't include the time to cook the lentils which can be over 30 minutes! This was quick and tasty, but not quite as mindblowing as some of the other recipes we'd had.

Fried halloui and avocado
I should have loved it. I should have been shouting from the rooftops about how much I loved this. Halloumi, avocado, houmous - I love all of those things! But I found all the flavours together to be too cloying, too sweet, just too much. Just way too much going on. Maybe it's because I only had balasmic reduction, not actual balsamic, which added to the sweetness instead of cutting through it. I'm not sure. I also don't really get putting almonds in dressing, rather than just in the salad. A bit of a disappointment.

Moroccan quinoa salad
I've wanted an excuse to buy a bottle of pomegranate molasses for ages and I finally had a chance with this recipe! Although it's worth adding - this book doesn't do much in the way of substitution suggestions. Pomegranate molasses is really tricky to get hold of, and that would definitely put people off (it put me off!), however I've seen many people say lemon juice is a good substitute, so why not suggest that? Anyway, I digress. I found this a bit challenging as I had no idea how much dried quinoa resulted in 100g of cooked quinoa so I kind of had to guess. I subbed in chickpeas for the edamame beans as they're a pain to find and chickpeas felt authentic. This was tangy and tasty and would be lovely on the side of something summery. However it did take a good 35 minutes, not the 10 minutes it suggests.

Karen's squash salad
I really didn't get this salad. In the intro, it says "Karen made this salad for a family lunch and Rachael, who works in our marketing team, loved it so much that it's made it way into this book." So I'm wondering if Karen threw this together from a random mix of leftover ingredients and called it a day? First of all, this serves one and took ages. Why would you go to so much effort to serve one? Two, the flavours just don't go well together. Peas, olives, chickpeas, almonds, sundried tomatoes... these are all nice things, but not together! Three, why would you bother roasting a third of a butternut squash? I had to treble this to make enough for us, which meant trebling the amount of garlic and chilli, which made it way too hot and bitter. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, I just found the combination all a bit weird.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I really loved this book, but the salads we had the first week were far superior to the ones the second week. My mouth is watering thinking of the superfood salad and the tabbouleh, but the least said about the halloumi and avocado salad the better. 

I think there's a really great mix of recipes here. There's hardly any lettuce in sight! I think it would be a great book for someone who wanted to include more vegetables in their diet to open their eyes to the amazing options there are for salads. I do think a few recipes would be better as sides or starters, but most of them could be a full meal.

I loved that most of the recipes were quick and easy to throw together, and I didn't have to make side dishes, except the occasionally toasted pitta. It was perfect for the summer and there were plenty I'd be happy to serve to guests.

It does assume some cooking knowledge, and some ingredients were a bit unusual so some recipes might put off a total novice, but I think there are enough simple, easy recipes with a few inspired elements for an unusual twist.

One criticism I've heard is there is a lot of chopping. Well, I'm a vegetarian so 90% of my kitchen time is chopping, so I'm certainly used to that, but bear that in mind if you prefer a more hands-off cooking experience. There isn't a huge amount of down time.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this. There are a few recipes I can't wait to revisit again and loads more I haven't tried yet. A real hit from Leon (and should hopefully tide me over until they open in Manchester!).

Charlotte x

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