Our Verdict: “Happy Salads”

This truly was a right time, right place kind of cookbook.

Here in London in July, we actually experienced *summer*– that’s not always guaranteed here, let me assure you– and so we had many days where it just was too hot to cook. This book was perfect for those many nights and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it. (I feel compelled to point out, though, as I type this, normal weather service has resumed here– grey skies with occasional showers and cool temperatures.)

But I also loved this book because it also allowed me to expand my abiding love for the Leon restaurant chain by making the salads I love there, here at home. Funnily enough, I’m almost positive that the first time I went there it was with Kirstin, in its early years. We went to the restaurant right behind Liberty and I was immediately hooked. They’ve expanded considerably since then, but the ethos remains the same: fresh delicious food that is good for you too. I’ve never had a bad experience there. I highly recommend it if you live in London or are visiting. You won’t be disappointed.

Would this book be as perfect in January? Obviously not. Now it’s peak fruit and vegetable season, so the shelves are groaning with beautiful produce that are begging to be eaten. You’d have slightly less choice in the middle of winter, but there are a few recipes featuring roasted vegetables that would be good that I look forward to trying when the time is right.

Buying a cookbook that only features salads obviously is a bit limiting. But the great thing about this cookbook is it has recipes for nearly every salad you’d love to make, and the recipes themselves seem to be pared down, simple versions of some of the more exotic salads you know and love (I’m thinking in particular of fattoush and tabbouleh).

Highly recommended.

“Happy Salads”

Overall Grade (A- F): A+ (Maureen)
Best recipes: Maureen: It’s difficult for me to choose just one, but given that I’ve already made the Greek Salad, the Fattoush and the Tabbouleh more than once, I’d have to say they are winners.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A
Any disasters?  Maureen: No one liked the Sausage Ditalini (I didn’t post it). I don’t know if it was more a winter dish or I did something wrong, but it just was disappointing.
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Maureen: Bookshelf, and in a high-rotation position until the end of the summer.
Would you give this to a friend? Maureen: Absolutely, particularly anyone who’s a vegetarian.



Our Verdict: “Happy Salads”

“Fattoush” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9332Fattoush is delicious. It’s like the Arab version of the Italian bread salad– Panzanella for those keeping score at home– but it’s got its own twist, in this case, by using radishes with sumac and pita, rather than olive oil and stale Italian bread.

I’ve made fattoush before, mostly using the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s seminal cookbook, “Jerusalem.” His version differs in that you make a buttermilk dressing to soak the bread in before assembling the salad.

The thing I liked about this version was it seemed slightly more straightforward and requiring fewer ingredients than the “Jerusalem” version, but I just went back and compared the two and the “Happy Salads” version actually has two more ingredients. So I’m not sure why I have that impression, but I do.

Both recipes have you do a bit of a faff about bread. In “Jerusalem” you soak the bread in buttermilk for a few hours. In “Happy Salads,” you toast the pita bread and then fry it in olive oil and dust it with sumac. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not fry it; I only toasted it and then sprinkled some sumac over the salad.

Both versions are delicious. I like them both in different ways, so I’ll call it a tie. The next time I make fattoush, the version I use will probably come down to which cookbook I find first.

Highly recommended.

“Fattoush” from “Happy Salads”

“Superclean Chicken and Quinoa” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9306First, a caveat. I did not follow this recipe to the letter. Just now, this proved to be problematic for me as I looked through “Happy Salads” to find it, and kept looking at the accompanying photo and thought, “Nope. I didn’t make that.” But after paging past the photo and recipe multiple times, I finally read the ingredients list and figured out that I HAD made this one, I just didn’t sprinkle pomegranate over the top, which is why the photo kept throwing me off.

Although I appreciate it’s not a fair test if I don’t follow the recipe to the letter, I also knew that pomegranates were out of season (in the U.K., their peak season is in the winter), so if I didn’t want my fruit coming from the other side of the world just to sit atop my salad, I should skip it. So I did.

But as for the rest: yum. This was a terrific way to use up some roasted chicken we had left over from Sunday lunch. For years, I’ve made a version of this of my own design, but this benefitted greatly from the inclusion of sun dried tomatoes and peas as well as chopped parsley and mint.

(The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed above that I also added some edamame beans as well as the peas. I think Leon would approve.)

For what it’s worth, the leftovers also didn’t hang around long: only one day. This surely is an indicator of the quality of the salad.

Five out of five. Would eat again.

Alas, this recipe is not available online. But if you’re near a Leon branch (in London and elsewhere), you can eat it off the menu there. It’s very good. 

“Superclean Chicken and Quinoa” from “Happy Salads”

“Chargrilled Chicken and Chorizo Club Classic” from “Happy Salads”


When we go to eat at Leon, the thing I love most about the experience is I always feel that I’m eating something that’s good for me. Obviously, it tastes good, but it also leaves me with a feeling of wholesomeness that I really don’t get anywhere else I stop at for lunch in London.

This dinner to me felt like that experience and quintessential Leon: Good to eat and good FOR me. What a winner.

It’s got layers of goodness: salad leaves on the bottom, followed by quinoa, peas, roasted red peppers, followed by chargrilled chicken thighs, chorizo, and finally adorned with garlic mayonnaise and french dressing. What’s not to like?

In the interest of full disclosure, Andrew (age 16) and I hoovered it up and loved it all. Tim liked it but later admitted that he’s not a fan of quinoa. When pressed if it was because he didn’t like the taste of it, or just didn’t like that it had become trendy, he admitted that it may  be the latter. Nicholas (13) was really not a fan at all, having picked through to eat only the chicken and the chorizo. When asked what he didn’t like about it, he couldn’t really say,

When I pointed out to Andrew that he actually happily ate a plate full of salad, he remarked, “I must be growing up and getting old.” Ha.

Would I make this again? Absolutely. But maybe it would be on a night where Nicholas wasn’t home.


“Chargrilled Chicken and Chorizo Club Classic” from “Happy Salads”

“Tomato and Basil Salad” from “Happy Salads”


Do I really need a recipe for Tomato and Basil Salad (also known as Carprese salad)? No. I do not.

What I always *do* need, though, is the recipe for salad dressing. No matter how many times I’ve made it, I seem to have some sort of mental block when it comes to the ratio of oil to vinegar. I can never remember it. (Note to self: it’s a 3-to-1 ratio).

I’m cautiously optimistic, however, that after a month of eating salad (and making its dressing) out of “Happy Salads”, that I will remember the ratio in the future. We’ll see.

Needless to say, when I brought this out to the table, Tim asked, “Do you really need a recipe for this salad?” To be fair, it’s one of three recipes on a page called, “3 Ways With Mozzarella,” an effort I can definitely get behind.

For the record, the dressing for this Caprese Salad was 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 small shallot finely diced, and a 1/2 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste. It was good and would work on a number of salads, not just this one.

So you could argue that a recipe for tomato-mozzeralla-basil salad with dressing is a bit superfluous. But if this book is going to cover all the bases for Happy Salads, surely this would be one of them. It’s always a hit.

Would eat again.

“Tomato and Basil Salad” from “Happy Salads”

“Wasabi Steak” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9288We are in the midst of a HEAT WAVE here in the U.K., which, frankly, can be a bit miserable. However, this has also meant we are doing the perfect cookbook right now. When it’s more than 30C/90F and there’s no air conditioning, the last thing you want to do is cook. Even a die hard cooking fan like me.

The Minimal Cooking Required offering today is this Wasabi Steak salad. When Anna, Kirstin and I were gathered at the Leon cookbook launch and were paging through the cookbook, this was one the recipes that stopped us all in our tracks, as we all wanted to try it.

We were not wrong.

Although the boys have been, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about a month of eating salads, they were happy to eat this. We were too.

The only heat required was to stir-fry the steak for one minute. That’s the only heat I can handle on days like this. (For what it’s worth, shaving the asparagus was a bit of a faff, but I just put on Radio 4 and listened to the news. Needless to say, the time passed quickly because the news is never boring these days.)

Would I make this again? Absolutely. In fact, if this heat wave lasts any longer, I might be making again in the very near future.

Top Food Tip: Once when I was at my favourite health food store I found a bottle of mix of black and white sesame seeds. I thought it would be handy to have around. In this instance, it was perfect, because I just used the mix to scatter over the top of the steak. Result.

“Wasabi Steak” from “Happy Salads”

“Tabbouleh” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9295Tabbouleh is one of those dishes that evokes very fond memories for me.

Time: Early 90s. Place: Youngstown, Ohio, USA. I was a cub reporter at The Vindicator (best name for a newspaper EVER) and my friend Jeff and I would go grab lunch at a great diner over by the courthouse. My friend Jeff, who had just returned from living in Bethlehem and working for Reuters, urged me to have the tabbouleh for lunch.

“This is a perfect example of it,” he would tell me. “They’ve cut the parsley correctly and there’s loads of it.”

I was young and naive (food wise, and, let’s face it, in every other respect too) but I liked and respected him, so I ordered it. It was the first time I’d ever had Lebanese food. Did I like it? Reader, did I ever. Not only did I like it, I ordered it every time we went to the diner from that time on.

I’ve loved it ever since.

I could have sworn I’ve reviewed a recipe for Tabbouleh before, but I just did a thorough search of the archives and couldn’t find one. I do recall making tabbouleh a few years back and thinking it was a completely laborious process, with all the chopping and such, and I didn’t fancy making it again.

But I can wholly recommend this one. Since the quantity is only for two people, (though I doubled it for the four of us) the amount of chopping of parsley, along with the other ingredients, is not onerous. It’s incredibly straight forward to make. Most important of all, it is delicious.

And I don’t even have to go to Youngstown, Ohio, to have it.

Google Books has indexed Happy Salads, so if you’d like to see the recipe for Tabbouleh, click here. 

“Tabbouleh” from “Happy Salads”

“Greek Salad” from “Happy Salads”

IMG_9280It appears that we are on a Greek Salad kick over here, given that I just made (and reviewed) a Rice Greek Salad recipe that was in Sirocco. I’m not apologising for this behaviour because I’ve always loved Greek Salad.

This version from Happy Salads was a more traditional one, given that there was no rice component. It also gave you two options for cheese. It could go without saying that I love any recipe that gives me two options for cheese. For this one, you could either deep fry a panko-covered slab of Feta and put it on top, or you could roast pieces of halloumi and put those on top.

Given that it was Wimbledon Sunday and we had spent all afternoon cheering on Andy Murray, I didn’t have the energy or the interest in doing the extra steps involved with the feta, so I went with the halloumi. Given our love of halloumi it’s surprising that I’ve never roasted it before, but it worked a treat and I plan on doing it again.

The rest of the salad was what you’d expect: cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, red onion, pepper. (Side note: Although the recipe called for using a green pepper, I used a yellow one because that’s what we had the refrigerator. The world did not come to an end.)

The salad was delicious and we all liked it. Was it the most interesting and inventive salad ever? No. But it was good, and sometimes that’s all you need.


“Greek Salad” from “Happy Salads”

Cookbook of the month, July 2016, Leon: Happy Salads by Jane Baxter and John Vincent

Maureen: We should be clear here that we were invited to the opening event for this book.

Kirstin: And it was such fun!

Maureen: The food was incredible!

Kirstin: It certainly was. And it definitely made us want to try this book.

Maureen: I have already started making notes on the recipes I am going to try.

Kirstin: Nice one!

Cookbook of the month, July 2016, Leon: Happy Salads by Jane Baxter and John Vincent