“Just bring a salad - It’s not formal, only a handful will be there.”

Words I dread to hear. Don’t misunderstand, I’m delighted to contribute to supper and at larger gatherings (to which that handful should be plural) it’s essential to gather force with cooks. My dilemma is what salad? A reputation can be made or ruined to tatters at such a request.

My trusty stead began its life as a Delia Smith recipe appearing in her Vegetarian Collection; Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad. Delia’s recipe is delicious, of course and without argument, though after preparing this dish for countless occasions, my own version has evolved. This is my “what salad?” which I would like to share with you.

Begin by measuring 300g couscous into a large heat proof bowl. Pour in 600ml hot stock to which 2tsp turmeric has been added, producing the most vivid shade of amber. Set aside to cool.

Add about 1tsp cracked pepper to the couscous and winnow with a fork. The flavoursome stock has been absorbed and the jewel like grain is fluffy. Tip into a serving bowl – a large glass bowl is pretty allowing full view of the complete salad, but no worry, any pretty bowl will suffice.

Now commences the assembly: Sprinkle over a handful of black olives, stoned and sliced, followed by about 150g crumbled Feta cheese. Making use of your fork again, gently disperse the olives and Feta amongst the couscous – take care not to over mix and destroy the grain structure.

Roast Vegetables. I cheat here and use a defrosted 600g bag of mixed roast vegetables hand picked, you understand, from Picard. Feel no shame in this, though of course you are at liberty to line a tray with a mélange of aubergine, courgette, red and yellow pepper ready for oven roasting to your satisfaction. Portion the vegetable into dainty pieces – we don’t want the guests to search for a napkin to blot away the remnants of too large a chunk.

At this point I cover with cling wrap and pop into the fridge whilst I prepare the spicy Arabicise dressing. Each component will chill to the same temperature, nothing worse than lukewarm salad.

Pour 120ml of olive oil into a clean screw-top jar – I try to keep preparation simple and not have great quantities of clearing away. Add to this the juice of 2 lemons, 2tbs tomato purée, 1tsp cayenne pepper, and 2tbs cumin. Tighten the lid, shake and here is your piquant dressing awaiting dinner to be served. Pop into the fridge.

Revel in the time you now have to unwind – put on the kettle for a cup of tea, enjoy a glass of chilled Chardonnay, soak in a bubble bath then dress to kill.

Ready for dinner? If the party is close by, then simply empty a bag of soft leafy leaves over your salad and convey, not forgetting the dressing in its jar; or if the party is further away, then transport with the plastic film intact and assemble the leaves on arrival. A word of warning, leave the dressing until last – drizzle just before taking to the table.

Sit back and enjoy!

Ingredients:

300g couscous
600ml hot stock
2tsp turmeric
Cracked black pepper
Black olives, stoned & sliced

150g marinated Feta

600g bag roasted vegetables

120ml olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1tsp cayenne pepper
2tbs cumin
2tbs tomato purée