A simple salad for spring

April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

A ate a simple and delicious little salad for lunch last week in Paris, sitting outdoors in the spring sunshine, just off the the Champs Elysées. It was described on the menu as a “Salade Farandole” or merry-go-round salad, presumably because of the wheel shaped arrangement of the leaves.

The ingredients were chicory leaves, orange segments, strips of smoked duck breast, walnuts and a few spinach leaves together with just the right amount of a citrussy dressing.

It was such a good combination – crisp, bitter leaves, sweet orange, salty duck, crunchy walnuts – that I decided to recreate my own version at home. The Parisian version included some wafer thin slices of what might have been wet walnuts, unlikely at this time of year I know. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask the waiter to ask the chef what this mystery ingredient was. Back home, I remembered that I had a jar of inky-black pickled walnuts at the back of the fridge so I fished one out, sliced it as thinly as I could and added this to my salad for an extra flavour and texture.

Smoked duck isn’t that easy to get hold of, but locally the excellent Smokehouse in Wilmslow prepare their own smoked duck breasts and you can buy them ready sliced from Waitrose or Ocado in the “Reflets de France” range. Talking of Ocado, I’ve being going a bit crazy with their new range of Natoora specialist fruit, veg and deli products so I happened to have a bag of Sicilian blood oranges in my fridge which make a visually appealing addition and taste extra sweet:

It made a lovely light lunch and the slightly bitter chicory combined with the orange were a perfect antidote to all that Easter chocolate. I was so pleased with my little salad that I made it again the next day, this time with some red Treviso radicchio I happened to have left over (I’m going through a bit of a bitter leaf phase at the moment) and with pistachios rather than walnuts as that’s all I had left in my cupboard. There’s no need to be too prescriptive about the ingredients as it’s a salad you can make your own. I hope you enjoy it.

Recipe for chicory, orange and smoked duck salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

2 medium heads chicory (white, red or a mixture of both)
2 and a half oranges, peeled and cut into pith-free segments
2 pickled walnuts, thinly sliced
handful walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 smoked duck breast, cut into the thinnest slices you can manage, fat removed if you prefer
handful baby spinach leaves

For the dressing

juice of the remaining half orange
2 tablespoons walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
few snipped chives, torn mint leaves or other soft green herbs (optional)

Wash and dry the chicory heads. Cut of the base and pick off the larger outer leaves carefully. Arrange in an attractive wheel shape on your serving platter or in individual salad bowls as you prefer. Chop roughly the remaining centre part of the chicory, combine with the spinach leaves and pile in the centre.

Scatter over the salad the orange segments, pickled walnuts, chopped toasted walnuts and strips of smoked duck breast.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad shortly before serving.

Bring and share – two salads for summer

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Help! Three words that bring on a panic attack. You know the kind of thing I mean – a communal summer event, maybe a club or choir social evening, a music teacher’s summer pupils’ concert, perhaps even a street party. Some people you’ll know well, others less so, and everyone is asked to bring a dish to create an inpromptu meal.

What to bring? It’s got to be transportable; capable of sitting around on a warm buffet table without melting/disintegrating/giving everyone food poisoning; taste good; look a teeny bit impressive but not as if you’v tried too hard, and finally not something that’s going to take all day to prepare.

My suggestion is to avoid little canapé nibble type things at all costs as these take forever to put together and to go for a generous bowl of colourful salad instead. I have two reliable standby recipes, the first an old favourite and the second a recent discovery.

My first recipe is for tabbouleh, the much-loved middle-Eastern parsley and mint salad mixed with chewy grains of burghul.

I learned how to make this from one of my all time favourite cookery books, Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. My cookery book collection has grown over the years and has had to have a whole bookcase of its own set aside for it in our study. Neverthless, a selection of just ten books has crept back downstairs into the kitchen because I refer to them so often. ” A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” is one of those ten. It’s a book with no glossy photos (aside from the weird close-up of spring onions and vine leaves on the cover) yet manages to conjure up all sorts of evocative images of the Middle East in its imaginative and well-informed writing. A sort of Arabian Nights of the kitchen. And this small battered paperback is full of meticulously researched, concisely written recipes that actually work.

Tabbouleh, as Ms Roden explains, is essentially a herb salad, a mass of dense green freshness speckled with the pale grains of burghul. Quite often you’ll see something described as tabbouleh which is this idea reversed – lots of pale grains flecked with specks of grain. Salads like this may be good, but to me now they’re just not tabbouleh.

I grew up reading 1970s recipe books where herbs were mostly dried and strictly rationed – a teaspoon of chopped parsley in a white sauce to accompany boiled ham perhaps. I think that’s why I love the hugely generous quantities of fresh herbs you need for this recipe – think handfuls rather than teaspoons. Even with 2 big bunches of parsley, you need still more…

All the salad ingredients can be prepped beforehand which makes it very convenient to put together for a party. I’ve included some walnuts in this version:

You can very the garnishes according to your mood, what you have in the cupboard or fridge and what’s in season. I decorated this version with a few snipped chives and tasty chive flowers from the garden:

Is there any downside to this salad? Well, being honest, it will almost certainly leave green herby flecks on you and your guests’ teeth.

If having to check yourself in the mirror doesn’t appeal, then my second suggestion is a salad of blanched mangetout and French beans livened up with orange zest, toasted hazelnuts and freshly snipped chives. It comes from “Ottolenghi – The Cookbook”, one of those books where I turn the pages and want to eat everything in there.

This isn’t a salad you can throw together in a couple of minutes – each element has to be prepared quite carefully, be it the accurate and separate blanching and refreshing of the vegetables;

the roasting of the hazelnuts to just the right degree of toastiness without burning them;

or the careful preparation of the orange zest to give visually appealing long, thin strips without any pith.

Your efforts spent on preparation will be rewarded in a crunchy salad with a harmonious mix of intriguing flavours – the orange, hazelnut and mild onion flavour of the chives work really well together without overpowering the beans and sugar snaps.

Recipe for tabbouleh

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. Serves 10 or more as part of a selection of dishes.

Ingredients

250g bunched flat leaf parsley – approx. 3 supermarket LARGE bunches
100g bunched mint
100g burghul
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
200g spring onions

Garnish – standard
2 little gem letttuces
3 medium tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
2 inches cucumber

Garnish – optional additions
Handful of roughly chopped walnuts
Chive flowers, wild garlic flowers
Handful of pomegranate seeds

Wash the mint and parsley and dry carefully using a salad spinner. Pull out the thickest of the parsley stems and any discoloured leaves. The thinner parsley stalks can stay in as they are fine to eat once chopped. Remove the mint leaves from their coarse stems as these are generally too fibrous to make pleasant eating.

Chop the herbs either in a food processor or by hand as you prefer. I tend to use a food processor, pulsing carefully to chop the herbs to a medium degree without turning them into too fine a mix or worse of all, a mush. Set the chopped herbs aside in a tightly sealed plastic box and place in the fridge. If you’re preparing this dish ahead of time, the herbs will keep quite well in the fridge for 24 hours, even longer. Given that freshness is the essence of this salad, I don’t like to leave the herbs in the fridge too long though.

Finely slice the spring onions and set these aside in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the burghul. Covering with cold water and leave to soak for half an hour or so. Tip into a sieve and leave to drain for 10 minutes or so, pressing out any excess water. Put in a mixing bowl and add half the lemon juice and olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Let it absorb the dressing for a further 30 minutes or so.

While the burghul is soaking, prepare your chosen garnishes. Carefully remove perfect whole leaves from the little gem lettuces and wash and dry them thoroughly. Dice the tomato and cucumber. If using, roughly chop the walnuts and/or remove seeds from a pomegranate.

Now assemble the salad. It’s best to assemble it no more than 30 minutes before you plan to serve it as otherwise the lemon juice in the dressing begins to blacken the mint leaves. Add the chopped herbs and spring onions to the dressed burghul in the mixing bowl. Add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil and more salt an pepper. Taste and check flavours. You need plenty of lemon juice and salt to make the salad really sing. Once you’re happy with the balance of flavours, line your chosen serving bowl with the prepared lettuce leaves, pile in the tabbouleh and scatter your garnish of tomato and cucumber, plus any optional additions, over the top.

Recipe for French bean and mangetout salad with orange and toasted hazelnuts

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “The Ottolenghi Cookbook”. Serves 8 or more as part of a selection of salads and other dishes.

Ingredients

400g French beans (trimmed weight)
400g Mangetout peas (trimmed weight)
60-80g skinned hazelnuts (use the higher quantity if you like hazelnuts)
1 unwaxed orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons hazelnut oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10-20g chives, snipped into small pieces with a pair of scissors (plenty of chives perk up the flavour of this salad – use fewer if you prefer)
squeeze of lemon juice

Begin by blanching the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil and add a little salt. Throw in the French beans and, using an accurate timer, cook them for 4 minutes, until just cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the beans and throw them into a big bowl of iced water to refresh. Take the bowl to the sink and allow the cold tap to run over the beans until they are completely cold. Drain in a colander and tackle the mangetout in a similar fashion but the mangetout require just 60 seconds blanching time.

Pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper and store in a sealed container in the fridge until needed. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Scatter the hazelnuts on a shallow baking tray (I use a battered old Swiss roll tin) and bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C for 10 minutes until toasted to an even golden brown. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake and check them before 10 minutes is up to make sure they don’t burn. Chop roughly and set aside to cool.

Now prepare the dressing. I use a lidded jam jar to do this. Add to the jar the nut oil, the crushed clove of garlic and the zest of he orange. To prepare the orange zest, you need either to peel off a thin layer of orange skin without any pith using a swivel peeler. Having done this, using a sharp knife, cut the peel into long thin shreds. Much easier is to buy a special little zesting tool which you scrape over the surface of the orange which produces the desirable orange shreds in an instant. Add the juice of just half of the orange to the jar together with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Don’t add the chives at this stage as the fruit juices will make them go soggy and dark coloured.

When you’re ready to serve, tip the beans and peas and snipped chives into a handsome serving dish. Pour over the dressing and toss lightly. Scatter over the toasted hazelnuts and serve.

The green asparagus and the white

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes, you guessed it – curiosity piqued by the current BBC adaption of “The Crimson Petal and the White” I’ve finally got round to reading Michel Faber’s racy historical novel . It made a perfect holiday read over Easter in France, punctuating the main activities of exploring the Forêt de Fontainebleau and thinking about the next meal.

I was reminded of the febrile atmosphere of the novel whilst strolling past a curiously mounded asparagus bed on the outskirts of the village where we were staying:

The French prefer their asparagus white with the tips displaying just a tinge of purple. This is achieved by banking the soil up around each asparagus crown to blanch the growing shoots. Pausing beside the weird dusty anthills concealing the exclusively male crowns beneath, you can practically hear the shoots growing as they thrust upwards towards the source of warmth and light. I felt positively faint after a few minutes gazing at these shoots in the lazy afternoon sunshine.

The Germans too prefer the thicky juicy spears of white asparagus (Spargel in German). Despite their buttoned-up reputation, they go a little bit crazy during asparagus season (“Spargelzeit”) when asparagus festivals and special restaurant menus abound. The thick juicy white spears are simply served either on their own or with boiled potatoes and ham and always with generous pools of yellow buttery hollandaise sauce.

Whilst in Dusseldorf during Spargelzeit I was intrigued to find an asparagus ice cream sundae on the menu. This turned out to be a spectacular trompe l’oeil affair of piped vanilla and palest pistachio ice cream (to imitate the spears) topped with chilled vanilla sauce to mimic the hollandaise. Only in Germany…

We Brits prefer the arguably better flavoured and certainly more decorous green asparagus. No stonking purple-tipped white shoots the width of a baby’s arm here thank you! There is the added plus point for the lazy cook that tender shoots of green asparagus don’t require peeling unlike their continental cousins.

So what does a field of English green asparagus look like? I’d fondly imagined rows upon rows of waving green fronds but in fact the banked-up rows of dry soil I spotted in Suffolk don’t look radically different from their French counterparts:

I took this photo in the sandy fields near the coast around Wrentham. These spears were destined for the packing sheds of Sea Breeze Asparagus http://www.seabreezeasparagus.co.uk/ who supply by mail order all over the country and have come up with the delightful idea of sending an edible bouquet of perfect top grade asparagus spears to your loved one. It’s got to be better than a tired bunch of petrol station flowers hasn’t it?

So, what to do if you find yourself with a bunch of either the green asparagus or the white and feel inclined to do a little more with it than the usual steaming and serving with melted butter?

Having trawled through my collection of recipe books and notes, here are a couple of recipes that appeal to me, the first suitable for green asparagus and the second for white.

Recipe for grilled asparagus with blood oranges and tapenade toast

Serves 4

From Alice Waters’ inspirational and beautifully illustrated book “Chez Panisse Vegetables”. This is her typically relaxed Californian take on a classic combination of asparagus and oranges. Classical French cuisine does this by primly serving steamed asparagus presented in white napkin with the orange flavoured hollandaise known as Sauce Maltaise. All very well but a tad formal. In contrast, just reading Alice Waters’ recipe transports you to Californian wine country and the perfect al fresco supper…

Ingredients

For the tapenade

2 cups niçoise (black) olives, pitted
4 salt-packed anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic
salt
2 tablespoons capers
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the rest of the dish

1 shallot
3 blood oranges
1 and 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 and 1/2 pounds fat (green) asparagus – 25 to 30 spears
4 slices country-style bread

First make the tapenade. Peel and smash the garlic with a pinch of salt. Using a food processor, pulse together the olive. anchovies, garlic and capers to make a coarse paste. Add the lemon juice and then gradually the olive oil, pulsing until completely incorporated. Put into a small bowl and set aside.

Peel and chop the shallot finely and macerate for 30 minutes in the juice of half an orange and the balsamic and red wine vinegars. Whisk in the olive oil to make a vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper.

Peel just the zest from one of the oranges, chop it very fine and add to the vinaigrette. Cut away all the rind and pith from 2 and a half oranges (one half was used earlier for juicing) and slice them crosswise thinly into rounds.

Parboil and drain the asparagus. Brush lightly with olive oil, salt lightly and grill the asparagus ideally over charcoal or a wood fire for about 6 minutes over medium heat, turning often. At the same time, grill the bread.

When the bread is toasted, cut the slices into thirds and spread with tapenade. Arrange the asparagus on a platter with the orange slices on top. Drizzle the vinaigrette over and garnish with the tapenade toast.

Recipe for white asparagus and new potato salad with mustard and walnut vinaigrette

Serves 8 as a side dish

An idea I came up with whilst in France this easter. A good way of stretching a single bunch of asparagus into a dish to feed more than one or two people. The combination of white on white looks good, the chives add both colour and delicate onion flavour. The walnut oil imparts a delicious flavour to the salad without overpowering either the asparagus or the new potatoes. Reading the list of ingredients, I’m transported away from my computer screen in grey and cloudy Manchester to a sunny lunch table in France once more.

Ingredients

1 bunch white asparagus (500g)
650g small new potatoes
small bunch chives

For the dressing

3 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tablespoons walnut or hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
squeeze of lemon juice to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash, peel and trim the white asparagus. Steam for 10-15 minutes until soft but not mushy. Leave to cool, then slice each spear on the bias into 3 or 4 pieces. Set aside.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Taste and check for flavour and seasoning.

Scrub the new potatoes (no need to peel) and steam for 10 minutes or until cooked through (test with the point of a knife).

As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice into chunks and tip into a bowl. Pour three quarters of the dressing over and stir. Leave for 5-10 minutes to allow the warm potatoes to absorb the dressing.

Add the reserved pieces of asparagus, the remaining dressing and a generous quantity of snipped chives to the bowl and stir carefully to distribute.

Transfer to a serving dish lined with little gem or baby cos lettuce leaves.

Contact details for Seabreeze Asparagus

Alison Cooper
Priory Road Site
Priory Road
Wrentham Beccles
NR34 7LR

Phone number 01502675330
E-mail address alison@wveg.co.uk
http://www.seabreezeasparagus.co.uk

Pimp that coleslaw

January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

This salad is simply the best thing that’s ever been done with raw cabbage. I was introduced to it during the Christmas holidays by my friend Janet and I’ve made it every weekend since then. It’s a recipe from Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and I tracked it down via his Guardian newspaper column.

Don’t be put off by the weird list of ingredients (mixing lemongrass with maple syrup?) – it works. It’s colourful, crunchy, zingy and you feel uplifted after eating it – what more can I say to brighten up your winter mealtimes?

By the way, the title of this post is in deference to one of my favourite quirky websites http://www.pimpthatsnack.com – take a look if you have a few minutes to spare… I’ve gone for ornamentation rather than size though.

Recipe for Sweet Winter ‘Slaw

A recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi featured in UK newspaper the Guardian. My own suggestions are that if you can’t get hold of papaya, then either use 2 mangoes or a handful of diced roast butternut squash – it’s sweet pulpy texture is not dissimilar to papaya.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the dressing

100ml lime juice
1 lemon grass, chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp light olive oil

For the salad

150g macadamia nuts
10g butter
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chilli flakes
7 inner leaves Savoy cabbage (170g), shredded
½ red cabbage (270g), shredded
1 mango, peeled, stoned and cut into thin strips
1 papaya, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
1 red chilli, deseeded and cut into thin slices
15g fresh mint leaves
20g fresh coriander leaves

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients except the olive oil into a small saucepan, and reduce for five to 10 minutes, until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Once it has cooled down, strain into a bowl, stir in the oil and set aside.

Put the macadamias in a hot frying pan and dry-roast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly coloured on all sides. Add the butter and, once it has melted, the sugar, salt and chilli. Use a wooden spoon to stir constantly, to keep the nuts coated in the sugar as it caramelises. Be careful because this will take only a minute or two and the nuts can burn very quickly. Turn out the nuts on to a sheet of greaseproof paper and, once cool, roughly chop them.

Put the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Add the cool dressing, toss and taste. Add salt if you need to, and serve immediately.

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