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My husband, Giancarlo, and I are restaurateurs, cooking-school owners, and cookbook authors, so it’s an understatement to say we love food. When Giancarlo was diagnosed with diabetes and gluten intolerance, it was hugely upsetting — in no small part because delicious pasta dishes and sumptuous desserts play a large role in his treasured Tuscan heritage. When our son Giorgio was also diagnosed with gluten intolerance, we knew we had to make a change. So we packed our bags.

Our family traveled the world in search of new ways of eating. We decided to focus on salads — which, after all, are fresh, rich in nutrients, generally low in sugar, and often gluten-free. We went to Asia and South Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and North and South America, taking cooking lessons wherever we went.

A forager friend once said that a salad should be like a conversation with a fascinating person who gets more interesting the longer your discussion. I kept that in mind as we traveled, and it’s true. The best salads have a variety of textures and layers, incorporating ingredients that are fresh, spicy, chewy, and crunchy.

This adventure was about more than our individual well-being; it was about learning to be healthy together. That’s a journey we’re excited to be on for life — and to share with you and your family.

Spicy Nepalese Onion and Potato Salad

Nepalese food is spicy, and this recipe is traditionally finished with tempered (fried) chilies and fenugreek seeds — making it very hot and slightly bitter. This recipe uses less chili to accommodate the Western palate and calls for nigella seeds or cumin instead of fenugreek.

spicy nepalese onion and potato salad

Yields 4 to 6 servings | Prep time 5 to 10 minutes | Cook time 35 to 40 minutes


  • 1 large cucumber
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 1 lb. potatoes, one type only or a mixture of sweet, white, or new, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tbs. sesame seeds
  • Juice of 1 large lemon, plus extra to taste
  • 4 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 to 1 red or green chili, according to taste, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. nigella seeds or cumin, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns, ground (available at Asian markets)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • Large handful of cilantro, tough stalks removed, roughly chopped
  • Large handful of mint leaves, tough stalks removed, roughly chopped
  • Salt


  1. Peel the cucumber and halve lengthwise; scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Cut into sticks about 1/2 inch wide and 2 inches long. Place into a colander, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, and set aside for 30 minutes. (This will bring out the moisture and ensure the cucumber sticks offer a crunch to the salad.)
  2. Soak the onion slices in cold water.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in plenty of boiling salted water until tender and just cooked but not falling apart, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool a little.
  4. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until they start to pop and become golden brown. Remove from the heat and pour onto a plate to cool.
  5. Rinse the cucumber slices and drain well, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Drain the onions and add them and the potatoes and lemon juice to the bowl.
  6. To temper the chili and spices, first warm the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the chili and cook until it starts to brown. Add the remaining spices and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Pour this oil-spice mixture over the salad, add the fresh herbs and sesame seeds, and mix together.
  7. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Tip: This dish is great served with halved hard-boiled eggs and mango chutney or cucumber raita.

Mexican Beef Salad

Make this spicy and crunchy salad with leftover cooked beef or a couple of seared steaks. A crisp lettuce like romaine is nice, but any leaves are a good backdrop to the spicy beef.

mexican beef salad

Yields 6 to 8 servings | Prep time 25 to 30 minutes | Cook time 0 minutes

Ingredients for the dressing

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime
  • 3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 red or green chili, according to taste, finely sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the salad

  • 1 lb. cooked beef, crumbled (if ground) or cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 2/3 cup cored and seeded tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbs. capers, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, cut into 1⁄2-inch strips
  • Small bunch of cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, tough stalks removed, leaves roughly chopped


  1. Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
  2. Mix the salad ingredients together in a bowl and toss with the dressing to combine. Serve immediately.

Zucchini Carpaccio With Ricotta

This Italian dish boasts a light flavor with a floral sweetness thanks to the melon. Zucchini delivers a healthy dose of vitamin C and manganese.

Zucchini Carpaccio With Ricotta

Yields 4 to 6 servings | Prep time 35 to 40 minutes | Cook time 0 minutes

Ingredients for the dressing

  • 1/2 to 1 red or green chili, according to taste, finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • Juice and grated zest of 1/2 lemon, plus extra zest to garnish
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the salad

  • 3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium yellow or red tomatoes, sliced, or 12 to 16 yellow or red cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or red bell pepper, seeded and finely sliced
  • Handful of basil leaves, tough stems discarded
  • 1/2 honeydew or cantaloupe melon, scooped into pearls or balls
  • 1 cup ricotta, drained


  1. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste and set aside.
  2. Arrange a layer of some of the zucchini slices, tomatoes, and peppers on one large serving plate or on individual dishes. Pour on a little dressing. Add the remaining sliced vegetables on top, followed by the remaining dressing. (At this point you can place the salad in the fridge for a few hours if you want to serve it later.)
  3. Just before serving, scatter the basil leaves and melon balls over the salad, and top with teaspoon-size dollops of ricotta. Grate a little extra lemon zest on top and finish with a grind of black pepper.

Salade Niçoise With Tuna, Green Beans, Potatoes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

This French classic is a great go-to recipe because you can keep so many of the ingredients on hand in your refrigerator and pantry.

salade nicoise with tuna green beans potatoes and sun dried tomatoes

Yields 4 to 6 servings | Prep time 35 to 40 minutes | Cook time 30 minutes

For the dressing

  • 2 tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to taste
  • 1 to 2 tsp. mild honey or maple syrup, to taste
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Put the dressing ingredients into a lidded jar and shake to combine. Taste and add more oil and honey or syrup as desired. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before you need it and shake before serving.

For the salad

  • 2/3 lb. new potatoes
  • 1/2 lb. green beans
  • 4 to 6 eggs
  • 3 scallions or 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • 5 oz. can sustainably caught tuna in water or oil, drained and flaked
  • 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped
  • 12 olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 tbs. capers, drained and rinsed
  • 2 oz. can anchovy fillets in oil, drained


  1. Cook the potatoes whole with skins on in a large pot with plenty of boiling salted water until tender (about 10 to 15 minutes). Drain and allow to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the beans in another medium pot of boiling salted water for 15 to 20 minutes until soft. (Boil for less time if you prefer crunchier beans.) Drain and allow to cool.
  3. Soak the onions in cold water for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Boil the eggs for eight to nine minutes, then crack the shells and drop the eggs into cold water — this will stop the greenish color from appearing around the yolk. Peel and set aside.
  5. When the potatoes are cool, cut them in half and put in a large salad bowl, along with the onions. Cut the beans in half and add to the bowl with the remaining ingredients, except the eggs.
  6. Toss the dressing with the salad. Top with halved eggs and serve.

Spiced Green Beans With Tomatoes

You can find variations of this recipe all over the Middle East and Mediterranean. Often served as a side, it can be transformed into a main dish with the addition of fried eggs.

Spiced Green Beans With Tomatoes

Yields 4 to 6 servings | Prep time 10 to 15 minutes | Cook time 45 minutes


  • 1 medium red or white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3/4 lb. flat, runner, or French green beans, trimmed
  • 1 1/2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes
  • 2 heaping tbs. tomato paste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Squeeze of lemon juice


  1. Cook the onion in oil in a large frying pan over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and red-pepper flakes, and continue to cook for another two minutes. Then add the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, 1/2 cup water, and seasoning. Partially cover with a lid and cook until the beans are soft. Depending on their size, this will take 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Taste the sauce and add more seasoning or red-pepper flakes as necessary. Squeeze in a little lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

How to Build a Perfect Salad

Tired of the same old greens for lunch? Depth, texture, and nuance are what make a great salad more than the sum of its parts. Transform ho-hum salads into delicious dishes with these tips from Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi, restaurateurs and authors of Around the World in 100 Salads.

  • Incorporate a variety of textures: chewy, soft, crunchy, wet, and dry.
  • Add color with berries, grated carrot, tomatoes, or edible flowers.
  • Get decadent with dips and sauces based on Greek yogurt or sour cream.
  • Balance sweet and sour. Lemon will temper an excess of salt or sugar, while sweet ingredients like maple syrup will calm too much acid.
  • Pair ingredients and dressing carefully. Delicate seafood might not work with a lot of heavy spice.
  • Add heat with mustard, garlic, or chili.
  • Transform a side salad into a main course by adding protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
  • Avoid overseasoning. Wait until the cooked elements are prepared, the dressing made, and the veggies tossed before you add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Use sea salt (fine or coarse), and grind pepper in a mill for best flavor.
  • Think in layers: Start with your base veggies or leaves, then add a layer of dressing, a layer of crunch (try seeds or nuts), a layer of “bite” (such as cheese, chili, or pickles), followed by another layer of veggies or leaves, and so on. This way you don’t have all the best bits at the top.

Recipes excerpted with permission from Around the World in 120 Salads by Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi © 2017 Kyle Books, photographs © Helen Cathcart. No images may be used, in print or electronically, without written consent from the publisher.

Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need.  — The Editors

This originally appeared as “The World in a Salad” in the September 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: © Helen Cathcart

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