AS soon as summer looms, those party invitations start plopping through the door. Suddenly you're expected to look bronzed, healthy and slim while holding a glass of fizz and not dropping your canapes.

This is where the gift of salad comes in.

In order to stay trim, many partygoers will live off iceberg lettuce, tomato and a Sauvignon blanc from May until September. But if this combination leaves you feeling faint, remember there's more than one way to toss a salad.

Alice Storey, who compiled the book 200 Super Salads, says that even the smallest supermarket offers an extraordinary range of lettuces and salad mixes, from baby spinach and beetroot to radicchio and rocket.

"In specialist shops you might find dandelion leaves, chicory, tatsoi, tarvido, sorrel and even edible flowers like nasturtiums and marigolds," she says.

Salad enthusiasts are adept at turning these leaves into a base for a mountain of food.

The key is to choose your ingredients carefully and create the right balance of flavours and textures.

For example, a light balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing works perfectly with salty fish, preserved lemons and a sprinkling of parmesan.

Alice advises trying out difference combinations. She also emphasises the importance of using good-quality ingredients, as raw ingredients have nowhere to hide!

"Using the best quality vinegar and oil are extremely important when it comes to making a good salad into a great one," she explains.

"When you are simply drizzling olive oil over salads, particular ones that contain tomatoes, use the finest extra virgin oil that you can find."

A great salad should leave you feeling sated, energised but not bloated. Using proteins such as fish and meat can turn a side salad into a meal, and it's also worth thinking about low-cost, fibrous alternatives such as beans and pulses.

"Grains are a useful addition to a salad, transforming them into filling and satisfying meals," Alice says. "Among the interesting pulses and grains you can try are buckwheat, wild rice, kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans, chickpea peas, couscous and quinoa.

"Canned beans are particularly useful, needing neither the lengthy soaking nor cooking of the dried types."

Here are five basic salad recipes to get you started...

Chop Salad

(Serves 4)

For the salad:

1 iceberg lettuce

410g red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 avocado, peeled, stoned and diced

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1 jalapeno chilli (optional), finely sliced

Corn chips, to garnish

Sour cream (optional), to serve

For the dressing:

Juice of 1 1/2 limes

3tbsp olive oil

Cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces and put them into a large salad bowl. Add the beans, avocado, tomatoes and onion with the coriander and chilli (if used). Mix all the ingredients together. Make the dressing by whisking together the lime juice and oil. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and mix lightly to combine. Garnish with lightly-crushed corn chips and serve with sour cream.

Potato Salad

(Serves 4-6)

1kg new potatoes

125g smoked streaky bacon

1tsp vegetable oil

6 spring onions

175ml mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

Halve the potatoes and cook in lightly-salted boiling water until tender. Rinse under cold water and leave to cool. Meanwhile, slice the bacon into thin strips. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until golden, drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool. Finely slice the spring onions, reserving some for garnish. Put the potatoes, finely-sliced spring onions and bacon in a large salad bowl. Gently stir in the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with the reserved spring onions and serve.

Greek Salad

Serves 2

For the salad:

1/2 cucumber

4 plum tomatoes

1 red pepper

1 green pepper

1/2 red onion

60g pitted olives

50g feta cheese, diced

For the dressing:

4tbsp olive oil

1tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and pepper

Cut the cucumber and tomatoes into 1-2cm chunks and put them in a large salad bowl. Cut the pepper flesh into thin strips and put them in the bowl with the cucumbers and tomatoes. Finely slice the red onion and add to the bowl with the olives. Make the dressing by whisking the oil and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss carefully. Transfer to serving bowls, scatter some feta evenly over each bowl and serve.

Garden Salad

(Serves 4)

For the salad:

1/2 cucumber

250g cherry tomatoes

250g baby leaf mix, such as mizuna, baby chard, lollo rosso, purslane and oak-leaf lettuce

1 avocado

50g pitted black olives

For the dressing:

1tsp Dijon mustard

2tbsp cider vinegar

3tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Peel and slice the cucumber and halve the tomatoes. Mix the salad leaves with the cucumber and tomatoes in a large salad bowl. Stone and peel the avocado, cut into cubes and add to the bowl with the olives. Make the dressing by whisking together the mustard, vinegar and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss carefully to combine and serve.

Chickpea and Herb Salad

(Serves 4)

100g bulgur wheat

4tbsp olive oil

1tbsp lemon juice

2tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley

1tbsp chopped mint

400g chickpeas, drained and rinsed

125g cherry tomatoes, halved

1tbsp chopped mild onion

100g cucumber

150g feta cheese

Salt and pepper

Put the bulgur wheat in a heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over, just enough to cover. Set aside until the water has been absorbed. If you want a fluffier finish, transfer it to a steamer and steam for five minutes. Spread on a plate to cool. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and mint in a large salad bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, onion and bulgur wheat.

Dice the cucumber and add to the bowl. Mix well and add the diced feta, stirring lightly to avoid breaking up the cheese. Serve immediately.