Kitchen Tips

Make your summer salads fresher than ever

Quick to make and delightful to eat, keep your summer light and breezy by making salads a key feasting feature!

We've teamed up with Countdown to show you everything you need to know about creating fresh and tasty salads this summer, plus the essential in season vegetables you need on your shopping list.
When it comes to whipping up star salads, the ingredients we keep coming back to are the reliable lettuce, juicy sweetcorn and crunchy capsicum. Discover more about these trusty vegetables and how to turn them into your freshest salads yet with our favourite summer recipes.

Why lettuce is the ultimate salad hero

This versatile veggie comes in all shapes and sizes, with either a dense head like iceberg or frilly leaves like rocket, meaning it can be a star in almost any salad. All lettuces generally contain a high amount of folate and vitamin C, which boosts immunity and helps to protect bones and joints. Red lettuce also contains a pigment called 'anthocyanin', which may protect from diseases such as cancer, so add as much leafy goodness to your salads as possible!
Lettuce is grown all year round in many parts of New Zealand, either naturally in fields or in highly-controlled glasshouses. Countdown's lettuce comes from selected growers, located from Pukekohe all the way down to North Canterbury. Watch Gordon McPhail, Farm Production Manager of Leaderbrand Produce, to see how the Gisborne-based company have been supplying Countdown with lettuce for over 20 years.
There are endless ways to use lettuce in a salad, but matching each variety with the right combination is where the magic begins. Rocket, baby spinach and curly varieties are best paired with a vinaigrette dressing to keep the leaves fresh and light. The balsamic dressing in our strawberry and rocket salad is a perfect match, or try the orange dressing in this chorizo, endive and walnut salad for extra zest.
Tougher leaves such as iceberg, cos and mature spinach are more versatile, working well with creamy dressings such as caesar, ranch and mayonnaise. This chicken caesar salad brings out the best in cos lettuce, and iceberg is a fantastic crunchy base for this parmesan and prosciutto salad. Or if you've never tried to cook lettuce, now is the time to experiment! Cos lettuce tastes incredible drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice then grilled on the BBQ, especially when tossed into this grilled chicken salad.

Sweeten up your salads with sweetcorn

Although this bright yellow goodness is eaten like a vegetable, corn is actually a cereal crop which was bred from a wild grass by the native people of Central America more than 7000 years ago.
Harvested when young, sweetcorn retains the high sugar content of the unmatured plant, resulting in beautifully juicy and flavoursome cobs. Most of Countdown's sweetcorn comes from Gisborne, where the rich soil and long sunshine hours grow sweet and healthy crops, but it is grown all around the North Island, in Northland, Hawkes Bay and Waikato.
Preserve its freshness by keeping your sweetcorn separate from fruits such as apples, bananas and pears. You should store it in the refrigerator with the husks left on and eat within two days - any longer and the sugar content will begin to convert to starch, making it less flavoursome. If you have more than you will eat in two days, parboil it for a minute or two to extend its life to three days, locking in that succulent goodness for longer!
Corn and tomato pasta salad with lemon and ricotta
Low in fat and free of cholesterol, sodium and saturated fats, sweetcorn is as good for you as it is delicious. It's also rich in folic acid, which helps your body produce and maintain new cells, and is a great source of fibre and vitamin C, improving healthy digestion and your immune system.
To make the most of these nutrients, you can boil, grill, barbecue or stir-fry sweetcorn before adding it to your summer salads. This barbecued corn, spinach and avocado salad makes a wonderful side dish for a BBQ, or our roasted peanut and sweetcorn salad would go perfectly with a Mexican-style dish. For a substantial main meal, char-grill your cobs and add it to this zingy pasta salad with lemon and ricotta or our simple sweet chilli chicken and corn salad.

Give your salad crunch with capsicums

These brightly-coloured fellows are not actually vegetables at all, but technically part of the berry family! Native to the Americas, capsicums are in the same family as eggplants, tomatoes and potatoes, and can be traced all the way back to 3000 BC.
Most of Countdown's capsicums are grown in New Zealand, usually in hot houses to ensure a steady climate and year-round production. Watch Peter Schreuder of Gourmet Waiuku and see how they use controlled indoor growing systems to supply Countdown with 1400 tonnes of capsicums a year.
Capsicums should be stored in the vegetable department of your fridge to keep them fresh and crispy for up to two weeks. Once cut, remove the seeds and keep any leftovers refrigerated in a sealed container, eating within two to three days for maximum taste and crunch.
A capsicum's colour and flavour is determined by the point in maturity at which it was picked. Green capsicums have not reached full ripeness, giving them a bitter flavour due to their low sugar content. Red capsicums are normally the sweetest, then orange and yellow - making these fully-matured varieties perfect for tossing into salads for their sweet crunch. A single capsicum contains more vitamin C than an orange, as well as good a dose of vitamin B, potassium and folate, so take that as your cue to get slicing and dicing!
Roasted capsicum and labne salad
Try adding capsicum to this roast Mediterranean vegetable salad for a perfect alfresco side dish, or whip up this courgette and capsicum panzanella salad to serve with fresh fish. Or tempt yourself to this delicious Muscovado grilled pineapple and capsicum salad to bring your capsicum back to its Central American roots.
Some salads bring all four capsicum colours together, creating a cocktail of flavour and colour, like this delectable roasted capsicum and labne salad, or try our roasted capsicum salad for the gorgeous pairing of peppery rocket and tart goat's cheese.