Hetty McKinnon reveals her secrets to the perfect salad

Grilled zucchini salad with cherry tomato confit, zaatar and pearl cous cous.
Grilled zucchini salad with cherry tomato confit, zaatar and pearl cous cous. Photo: William Meppem


Cult vegetarian cookbook author Hetty McKinnon established the community-minded Arthur Street Kitchen in Surry Hills in 2011. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, she has published three cookbooks, the latest being Family: New Vegetable Classics to Comfort and Nourish.

Five things in my fridge

You'll find lots of umami! I can't live without miso – I add it to savoury breakfast oats, mix it with burnt butter for a quick pasta sauce, or add it to soup to deepen flavours.

I use harissa paste in a similar way, with the added element of spice.

Cult vegetarian cookbook author Hetty McKinnon.
Cult vegetarian cookbook author Hetty McKinnon. Photo: Supplied

Gochujang is like a combination of miso and harissa – it is sweet, salty and spicy; it's great as a marinade for vegetables or to add to fried rice or noodles.

Preserved lemon is my current salad dressing go-to. It delivers the zest we look for in lemon and salt, but delivers it so much more emphatically. I whisk about two tablespoons of chopped rind into a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, olive oil and a grated garlic.

My secret to the perfect salad...


The perfect salad is like a well-written story – the ingredients and flavours are exciting and make sense. Start with one (or two) hero vegetables, add a hearty legume or grain, some leaves for greenery, herbs for freshness, nuts and seeds for texture, and finish it all off with the crucial element, the dressing.

Donabe Japanese earthenware clay pot.

Donabe (Japanese earthenware clay pot).

My favourite gadget...

is actually one of Japan's oldest cooking vessels. A donabe is a Japanese earthenware clay pot. You can use it to make soups and stews but I use mine almost exclusively for rice. I've eaten a lot of rice in my life, but my donabe produces the best, fluffiest rice, with a crisp bottom.

My superhero power in the kitchen is...

turning a can of legumes into a meal. As we don't eat meat at home, legumes feature heavily on my weeknight rotation. A can or two of chickpeas or white beans can be transformed into a dip, soup, salad, stew or curry.

My new favourite hero ingredient

I became obsessed with umeboshi, or pickled plums, during my visit to Japan last year. They're another excellent umami product and are particularly delicious in salad dressings.

My go-to midnight meal…

usually involves cheese and, specifically, a cheese jaffle. My cravings are usually for something salty, and I usually use at least two cheeses – cheddar and gruyere – to up the cheese-ante, and often add a lick of whole-egg mayonnaise.

I am sick of seeing…

"Impossible" burgers on menus as the only option for vegetarians. Plant-based meats were predominantly made to replace meat for meat-eaters, but, for me, this is never what I want to eat when I'm dining out.

Give me an egg and I'll…

make egg fried rice. It's a breakfast I grew up eating, and now it's one of my kids' favourite meals.

Olive Oil from a bottle Olive oil pouring from a bottle. iStock image downloaded under the Good Food team account (contact syndication for reuse permissions).

Photo: iStock

I can't live without...

Olive oil. I literally cannot make a dish without it. I am so obsessive about olive oil that I start to feel anxious about running out if the bottle is half full.