un-cooking: the easiest system for delicious, healthy food fast

triple s salad

When I wrote The Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion, I got quite a few people emailing me saying that their favourite chapters were the ‘5 Minute Flash’ and ‘Scrumptious Salads’.

Basically anything that can be ‘assembled’ rather cooking with heat.

Which got me thinking about this type of ‘un-cooking’.

For lunches throughout the year and for dinners during the Summer months meal preparation in our house is far more likely to involve this technique of ‘assembly’.

I don’t think I could ever tire of eating this way. There are endless possibilities.

AND it also happens to be the quickest and easiest way to get healthy food on the table.

So how does this system work?


1. choose 1-2 components from 4-5 of the following categories.

substantial / filling – beans, lentils, chickpeas, avocado, torn sourdough, cold roast beef, ham, BBQ chicken, tuna, smoked chicken, sardines, smoked salmon, roast or canned beets, cottage cheese, ricotta.

freshness – salad leaves, mint, parsley, coriander (cilantro), lettuce, rocket, shaved cabbage, grated carrot, shaved zucchini, shaved fennel, finely sliced radish, shredded kale.

crunch / textural highlight – finely sliced snow peas, nuts, seeds, cooked bacon, green onions, toasted breadcrumbs

flavour highlight – bacon, herbs, tomato (cherry or semi dried), pesto, mayo, chilli, spices, hummus, goats cheese, parmesan, feta, roast beets

dressing – lemon, lime, vinegar, soy, miso, mustard, fish sauce, chilli, tahini, cream, yoghurt, mayonnaise, olive oil.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. Feel free to add whatever you like.

2. make a dressing / sauce.

I have three basic dressings or sauces I use as a building block in my ‘un-cooking’:

1. the sharp 50:50 dressing
If my ingredients are rich or heavy, I use a sharper dressing of equal parts acid (vinegar, lemon, or lime) and oil (mostly extra virgin olive). For 1 person I use 1 tablespoon of each. For a 2 person salad I just double it.

2. the mellower 1:3 dressing
For a green salad or something light I find less acidic dressings work better. I usually use 1 teaspoon acid to 3 teaspoons oil if it’s just for me. And tablespoons to measure the dressing when there are 2 of us.

3. the creamy dressing
Here I start with 1 tablespoon something acidic (vinegar, lemon or lime) and add 1 tablespoon of something creamy (yoghurt, mayo, cream, tahini). I then taste and adjust as needed. Again, for 2 people double it.

Once I have the base combined, I either keep it simple and season with salt & pepper. Or I add in some flavouring on top. This is where the mustard, miso, soy, chilli, & fish sauce come into play.

3. serve it all together

Depends on your mood and the type of ingredients you’re using. Either toss it together or layer as in the recipe below.

Sometimes I toss only the leaves in the dressing and then sprinkle over the ‘highlight’ ingredients so they stand out.

Or you could serve the dressing in a little bowl as a sauce on the side if you’re nervous about the quantity of dressing.

so why not try it yourself?

If you haven’t ever ‘created’ your own recipe, this is a brilliant place to start.

At the risk of doing myself out of a job, you really don’t need to be some sort of super chef to come up with your own delicious, healthy meals without a recipe. Just have a look in your pantry and fridge for what you have on hand.

Some of my favourite meals have begun this way.

triple s salad

the triple ‘s’ salad
serves 2

Sumac is a wonderful middle eastern spice. It has a sensuous ruby colour and super fresh lemony flavour. It’s brilliant with fish but you can use it pretty much anywhere you’d use a splash of lemon juice to bring flavours to life. If you can’t find sumac, use lemon zest instead.

The dressing here is a brilliant number to have in your repertoire. It’s nutty and creamy and lemony fresh all at the same time. And apart from bring brilliant on salads, it’s also a great sauce to serve with roast veg, chicken or fish.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 can salmon (200g / 7oz), drained
2 large pinches sumac, optional

1. In a small bowl stir lemon juice, tahini and 2 tablespoons water until smooth. If it’s too thick, add a little more water. Season.

2. Divide spinach leaves between 2 plates. Top with salmon, using a fork to break it into chunks.

3. Drizzle over dressing. Sprinkle over sumac, if using.

no sumac? – just skip it or use some lemon or lime zest.

vegan / vegetarian – replace salmon with a drained can of lentils or chickpeas.

different fish – feel free to use canned tuna or sardines instead of the salmon.

fresh fish – if you’re happy to pan fry a couple of fillets of salmon, ocean trout or other fish they’ll work brilliantly in place of the canned salmon.

sesame-free – either replace the tahini with almond or other nut butter. Or just use 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (and no water) to give the dressing the richness it needs.


video version of the recipe


recently on the stonesoup diaries

§ the simplest way to make a frittata
§ the quest for the ultimate BBQ veggie salad
§ how to celebrate an irishman’s birthday without potatoes

Jules x

ps. Have you seen The Tired & Hungry Cook’s Companion?

It’s the go-to eCookbook for when you need something quick & healthy at the end of a long day.

For more details go to:


  • We eat like this a lot. Or rather, we used to. We do so less now that we live in a cold country where confort food is needed too often.

  • I am trying to do more meals like this at my home. I love the idea of “uncooking” I had a wonderful chopped salad tonight…and hubby is getting one too, when he gets home from work :)

  • Hi July,

    I just got to your page via the EBK and Chris.

    This is certainly a great blog and idea. I love the recipes you are suggesting, they look healthy and yummie. The design is beautiful, too.

    Wishing you all the best.

    Sunny smiles


  • This is great, exactly what I’ve been looking for. A system for making healthy, creative meals in minutes. Thanks Jules.

  • This is a really tasty salad! I added some chunks of avocado, worked perfectly with the tanginess of the sumac :)!

    Greetings from the Netherlands

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