Archive for the ‘salad’ Category

h1

The China syndrome …

November 29, 2010

Inspired by our Chinese sojourn a few weeks ago, I tried this Dong Do Pork featured on Poh’s Kitchen recently. I cannot tell you how good it is, and how simple. I cooked it for two hours, several hours ahead of serving time, and just left it in the cooking pot on  the cool stove-top.

Then just before serving I cranked the heat back up to warm the sauce as we carved the meat, although ‘carved’ is the wrong word really – more like ‘nudged’ and it fell apart with great lusciousness!

I doubled the sauce quantity as at first my pork belly piece seemed to sit a bit too high out of the liquid – possibly my pot was too big – but again, it worked perfectly once the liquid was doubled. Next time I’d tone down the sugar a little, but that could be just my own preference.

I did sear the meat skin-side first as per the recipe, and although as you can see my scoring and cross-hatching of skin wasn’t nearly as elegant or intricate as Poh’s, it did the job of rendering away some of the fat just fine.

Everyone who ate it loved it, and the meat itself was utterly melt-in-the-mouth. Good free-range pork no doubt helped matters.

I urge you to try it – you’ll love it.

Alongside the pork I served a little sesame cucumber salad.

One of the biggest surprises to me about Chinese food in Shanghai (and elsewhere during our previous trip) was how brilliantly and how often the Chinese use cucumber as a side dish or snack before the meal. This cucumber salad, replicated from here, is a slightly Westernised version – and it’s very good. Light and zingy and fresh, perfect accompaniment to the richness of the pork.

Cucumber salad to accompany Poh’s Dong Do Pork

  • 5 Lebanese cucumbers
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • 2 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes, or to taste
1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, remove the seeds and then halve again crosswise and cut into batons.
2. Place the cucumber strips in a colander and sprinkle the salt over. Let the cucumbers sit for  about 30 minutes, weighed down if you can, to allow some of the water content to leach out.
3. To make the dressing, combine all remaining ingredients and mix well.
4. Lay  the cucumber batons in a dish and pour the dressing over. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours; serve cold as a side dish with the pork and some rice.
h1

Mission Impossible

September 11, 2010

When I made a version of Stephanie Alexander’s Crustless Silverbeet, Pine Nut & Olive ‘Tart’ for a friend recently, she recognised it instantly as a picnic favourite that her friend calls Impossible Pie. I have no idea what makes it so impossible, except the fact it’s basically a robust, chunky quiche without the pastry, which I guess leads to the cutseypie moniker. Whatever the reason, Impossible Pie has stuck  in our house, and it’s become a weekend lunch staple that easily feeds a gang of eight.

The original recipe is from this book here, which I still love to death. Stephanie’s version is entirely vegetarian, and very good too, but for omnivores  I have usually added a handful of chopped bacon or pancetta (for as the Empress is fond of saying, “there’s nothing in life that can’t be improved by bacon”). And I think next time I might sling in a few chopped anchovies too.

Speaking of vegetarians, I’ve been having a little Twitter discussion on the topic lately so look out soon for a post on how to make a vegetarian happy. And I’ve decided that as much as possible, from now on I’m including veg options for any recipes here, using this little green V symbol at the end.

Silverbeet Impossible Pie

  • 1 sizable bunch silverbeet
  • olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons chopped bacon / pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons currants
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 black olives, pitted & roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers
  • 5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • a little butter

Method

1. Wash silverbeet & separate stems & leaves.

2. Chop leaves into strips and stems into 1cm chunks.

3. Throw stems into simmering water for 2 mins, followed by the leaves for another 2 mins. Drain and cool under cold running water for a few minutes. Dry in a tea towel or salad spinner.

4. While silverbeet is blanching, toast pine nuts in a little oil until golden brown, then remove and toss into a large mixing bowl.

5. Saute onion and garlic with bacon or pancetta for a few minutes until bacon is crisp and vegetables are soft.

6. Pulse silverbeet a couple of times in a food processor to roughly chop a little more, then add to bacon mix and fry for a few more minutes.

7. Add the vegetables & bacon to the pine nuts in the large bowl, then add currants, olives and 4 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs. Season and leave to cool.

8. In another bowl, lightly whisk eggs and yoghurt together till well mixed, then add to silverbeet mix.

9. Lightly grease a glass or ceramic pie dish and coat the sides and base with the remaining tablespoon of breadcrumbs (add any leftovers to the mix), then plonk the vegetable mix in, top with the grated Parmesan and a few dots of butter.

10. Bake the tart in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes or until it feels firm and the top is crisp.  Serve warm or cold with a green salad.

V: Just leave out the bacon

h1

Smoke on the water

August 15, 2010

Tea smoked salmon salad with crisp pancetta & horseradish cream

I was recently reminded about the earthy beauty of tea-smoked fish by that television show. You can see the MasterChef video here – well worth watching to see the technique working easily. Thank God MasterChef is over, is all I can say, because now I have my life back.  I feel as though I was in a cult for a while there (much like my favourite Twitter MC commentator, Ben Pobjie – read about his amusing MC addiction here).

Years ago I used to make a rather complicated but luscious Neil Perry tea smoked ocean trout with spring onion cake from the Rockpool book, and had forgotten all about it until watching the telly reminded me that the complicated aspects of that recipe were the sauce and other  bits, but that the smoking itself was really quite simple.

So, during a couple of beachside weekends with friends last fortnight (lucky us, no?) I decided to give tea smoking another go, minus the difficult stuff. Tea-smoking can be a tiny bit time-consuming, but the rich, complex flavour is well worth it. The first time we did the smoking using a wok and a barbecue; the second time, we borrowed the Empress‘s proper smoking box.  The latter was much quicker but because the smokiness was more intense we finished cooking the fillets with a few minutes in a moderate oven to prevent it tasting more like an ashtray than salmon. The first – if you do it right – is easy and doesn’t require special gear.

The smoking mixture

The MasterChef chaps used hickory chips combined with the smoking mixture, and so did I – but my original version of Neil Perry’s one only used the tea, rice and sugar, and except for the fact we now have a sizable bag of the chips (available from barbecue shops) I wouldn’t bother with the woody stuff again.

Most recipes I’ve seen for smoking are the same – equal parts (say, a cup of each) jasmine rice, jasmine tea and brown sugar.  You can see the mix with the chips pictured here – you just toss them all together and mix. The first time, using the wok, I thought it would be neat to use an alumnium tray to hold the mixture, but this turned out to be a tres stupid idea, because it took forever for the mix to get hot enough. Next time, I would do as everyone advises, and simply put the mix in some foil directly on the base of the wok. Simple stuff – you need maximum contact between the mix and the heat. Duh.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Next, get the fish on a wire rack. The video advises putting the fish on baking paper first, which we did the first time, but didn’t bother the second time. Again, I think best is maximum circulation of the smoke and our quantity of fish meant the paper worked as another barrier between the heat & smoke and the fish. So on our second attempt I simply oiled the rack to ensure non-sticking, which worked fine.

The advantage of the wok method is that you can fit lots of fish in there at once. Then you put the wok on the barbecue, and put a lid on to ensure the smoke stays inside. Problem number three for our first attempt was that I have no wok lid, so used a metal bowl instead. I think if I’d had the mix directly on the foil & base of wok instead of the tray this wouldn’t have been a big issue, but it would be better to have a tighter fit between the lid and the wok so the smoke stays within the space as much as possible. As it was, we improvised a little tin-foil pashmina to wrap around the whole thing where ‘lid’ met wok, which did help a great deal to keep the smoke inside.

Which brings us to the great advantage of the smoker box – the seal, made by a sliding lid,  is very tight and the tray is very close to the mix itself.  Slight drawback for us, in cooking for ten, was that we had to do two batches. But then again, that allowed a couple of different levels of smokiness which allowed people to choose which flavour they liked best from the platter.

In retrospect I think you are supposed to get the thing smoking before putting the fish in, but both times we started with the fish in place, which seemed fine. The fish was beautifully moist both times, so I don’t think there’s much danger of overcooking.

The heat source on the smoking box is a sweet little pot of methlated spirits which sits beneath and outside the box and puts out a surprisingly powerful flame. With the wok, we just used the barbecue. You could easily use your stovetop as they do in the video, but the smoky smell might be difficult to get out of any nearby soft furnishings so I’d advise doing this outside if you can.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here is the smoked fish after about eight minutes in the smoking box – highly smoked on the outside, but a couple of pieces were quite raw beneath the exterior. Another five minutes or so in the oven fixed that, but several pieces were just cooked through enough to leave as they were.

With the wok smoking (when it finally got going, about half an hour after starting – but as discussed, this delay should be prevented by foil-cup-direct-to-wok-surface method), the smoking was subtler but the cooking more even. You should see white droplets reaching the exterior as it begins to cook within.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, once your salmon – or trout, or ocean trout or I imagine even chicken or whatever else you fancy! – is ready, all you need to make this salad is some good springy green leaves, some crisped bacon, pancetta or proscuitto, and a creamy dressing we made this time with creme fraiche, fresh horseradish and finely chopped dill, salt & pepper. A mix of good Greek-style yoghurt, dill and horseradish cream would do just as well. I dressed the leaves first in my standard three-parts-oil-one-part-balsamic vinegar dressing, then over that arranged the chunks of salmon, then topped with the bacon and a few dollops of the creamy dressing (keep the rest in a jug on the side – believe me, it’ll go).

All that remained was to pour a glass of bubbles, sling the platter into the centre of the table and then admire the ocean view before hogging into this for lunch.

I am now in love with the whole idea of hot-smoked fish, and am ready to play around with the flavours, with different fish, different teas and so on. Have any of you ever done this? Tempted to give it a try? I can seriously recommend the flavour – it’s so delicately musky – but also the flesh stays so satiny and moist, the texture is just as good a reason to do it. If you do give it a try, please come back and tell me how you go!

h1

A bit on the side: roast cauli & chickpea salad

July 21, 2010

The other day, with a whole heap of folks coming to dinner, I had one of those crises of confidence in which you are suddenly convinced there won’t be enough food.

In our case this is almost always wrong (as indeed it turned out to be this time), but nevertheless the point came during the afternoon before a biggish gathering when Senor and I stood together peering into a huge pot (of Neil Perry’s cinnamon lamb) and asked each other, ‘Do you think there’ll be enough?’

Of course there was. But during that moment of doubt I recalled that in the fridge were a cauliflower and half a bunch of spinach, and the cupboard always has chickpeas. And I had for weeks wanted to try making a version of a delectable simple chickpea, silverbeet & cauliflower number I’d eaten twice now at Bodega (the Surry Hills tapas restaurant which I reckon must have some of the most blindingly delicious and original food in Sydney).

So I gave a version of this salad a try, as a little side dish to go with the tagine and the couscous, and it was not half bad. Next time I’d make the cauliflower florets larger as mine became a little too soft (and the Bodega cauli is deep-fried, I think, rather than roasted), but I have to say the flavour and texture was quite delicious. It’s a perfect quick side dish and chock full of goodness.

Roast cauliflower, spinach & chickpea salad

  • olive oil
  • ½ bunch English spinach, stems finely chopped & leaves roughly torn
  • ½ head cauliflower, broken into smallish florets
  • 1 cans chickpeas, very well drained
  • salt
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
  • tsp cumin
  • juice 1 lemon
  • few sprigs coriander, to garnish
  1. Break cauliflower into small florets, toss in a bowl with a good few glugs of olive oil till well coated, then spread over a baking tray and roast in a hot oven for around 30 mins or until golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over high heat and add drained chickpeas. Add salt & agitate in the pan until the chickpeas are well coated and begin to turn golden.
  3. Remove chickpeas with a slotted spoon to kitchen paper.
  4. Finely chop the spinach stems and add to the hot oil, fry till the pieces begin to crisp. Turn off the heat and add the leaves until they wilt.
  5. Gently mix the chickpeas, roasted cauliflower and spinach with the garlic  in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and cumin, adjusting to taste.
  6. Serve with a little chopped coriander to garnish.

And now, friends of the oyster, I am taking a fortnight away from blogging – am off to a writing retreat to try to finish my novel. See you soon!

h1

In the pink: salmon Nicoise

February 15, 2010

I don’t know about you, but whenever I unwrap a salmon fillet these days it seems to have grown to twice the size it looked in the fish shop. So I’ve started cutting them in half after barbecuing – the easiest way to cook salmon, I find – and keeping half in the fridge for lunch.

Ever since I read in this book here that one of the major keys to preventing dementia (both Alzheimer’s & non-A) is to eat oily fish a couple of times a week, our salmon consumption has gone up. I know chefs turn their noses up a bit at salmon – all those early nineties menus full of pan-fried salmon on a lump of mash, I guess – and I’ve heard salmon described as fish for steak eaters (hmm, who could that be…?). And I see their point. I still love it though, and being a bit of a fish-cooking scaredy-cat, I find it durn simple to cook (these days, that is – remind me to tell you one day of the first time I cooked for my Neil-Perry-trained-seafood-restaurant-chef-brother-in law-to-be, chefbro Hamish, using a crap electric stove and oven in my old flat. He was very gracious at the overcooked, soggy pink slab he got – but what was I thinking!??)

Anyhoo, the other day I slung this little salmon nicoise salad together from leftovers and fridge staples. It pretty much only took as long to make as the egg took to hardboil (around eight minutes) – and, I have to say, was very fabulous. I used vino cotto instead of making a dressing, because I can kid myself that it’s got no oil (but I bet the sugariness of it cancels out that benefit…), but any dressing you like would be fine.

This made a big salad for one, but obviously you can mix and match quantities to suit.

Reckon it’s easy enough to stick in lunch for lazy people?

  • 1 piece cooked salmon, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 5 anchovies, roughly chopped
  • 1 hardboiled egg, quartered
  • 1-2 tomatoes (I used a few I’d roasted; they shrink a lot so used more)
  • lettuce leaves
  • a couple of teaspoons of vino cotto (or balsamic & oil dressing)
  • next time, I’d add some green beans
  • salt & pepper

Method: Chuck it all in.

h1

Lentil fortitude

January 30, 2010

This is one of those ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ dishes: lentil tabbouleh, from Greg & Lucy Malouf’s Saha book. In fact, this combo is so obvious, you all probably eat it five times a week, but it’s a delicious revelation to me.

While you could easily do this with canned lentils, I used dried Puy lentils as per the recipe and was reminded again how fantastic they are – they hold their shape so beautifully, and the ever-so-slightly-squeaky texture is a brilliant contrast to the soft moistness of the other ingredients.

My only tip is to add the tomatoes at the last minute before serving, as they start to lose their colour a little once mixed in.

100g Puy lentils

juice 1 lemon

1 cup mint leaves, chopped

1 cup parsley, chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, seeded & diced (this is one occasion where I actually do seed the tomatoes, to prevent sludginess)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground allspice

salt & pepper

I’m pretty sure you can figure out what to do now – cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 mins or so, till just tender; cool; chuck everything in!

h1

Getting figgy with it

January 25, 2010

About mid January each year I start stalking the grocery shelves for figs.

I’m not sure what it is about figs that just gets my blood fizzling – the textural feast, perhaps? The soft, creamy interior with that slightly powdery skin? Or maybe it’s just that I pretty much always eat them with prosciutto, and that ol sweet/salty flavour bomb is simply irresistible. And then there’s the absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder factor; with such a relatively short season, their arrival is cause for celebration and one is simply obliged to make a fig festival of the fact each year.

On Saturday I saw the first display in our grocer’s – of local figs that is, not Californians which have been there for a while, priced at something like four bucks each – and so of course I pounced on a big punnet of squat, heavy little beauties. That evening, before we had a chance to eat them, we went to dinner at our friends Mr & Ms Lilyfields’, and were served a fig salad so delicious that I was compelled to try to replicate it immediately the next day.

Ms Lilyfield used the classic combo of prosciutto, soft cheese & figs (I’ve used gorgonzola and other blue cheeses before – and oh, my it’s good) but she chose that amazing Persian feta, to which she added the lovely, slightly bitter, sharpness of radicchio. The finishing touch was a drizzle of luscious caramelised balsamic vinegar.

As I say, we loved it so much we tried a similar thing ourselves the next evening, and it was fantastic. So here’s my made-up copycat version. You gotta be careful not to overdo the sweetness in this, specially with the dressing. You can buy caramelised balsamic (I was given some of this last year and it is gorgeous stuff), but it’s also very simple to make. Oh and I reckon this salad would be incredible with labneh too; that’s my next plan.

Ms Lily’s luscious
fig salad with caramelised
balsamic dressing

– 1 punnet fresh figs

– 4-5 slices prosciutto, torn

– radicchio leaves

– basil leaves

– marinated feta cubes

– ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

– 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)

  1. Cut figs into halves or quarters and brush with a teeny bit of olive oil.
  2. Grill these on a tray with the prosciutto for a few minutes until the figs are warmed & the prosciutto crisp.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the balsamic vinegar and sugar in the smallest pan you have, and gently reduce it till it’s thick and syrupy.
  4. Arrange the radicchio leaves in a bowl (or, more glamorously, on separate plates for each person) and drizzle with good olive oil.
  5. Top with the figs, prosciutto and add as much feta as you like – about three tablespoons is probably plenty.
  6. Gently mix these and the leaves together with your hands, add the basil and drizzle the lot with the balsamic syrup and season.
  7. Stand by for groans of delight.

Of course there are lots of other things to do with figs, including just popping one in your mouth for the pleasure explosion – I’m keen to hear your faves. Any fig festival contributions to share?

h1

Punk rocks

January 19, 2010

I love having vegetarians in the family circle. In the past fortnight we’ve had a squillion extended family dinners on both sidess, with various visitors coming to us and we going to them. Among the 18 kids in our family are three child vegetarians, a boy and  two girls, all under 15. It’s brilliant that kids are thinking about this – but only if they eat vegetables. It can be tricky stuff for a parent with a picky eater to find themselves landed with even narrower cooking options, specially when you have to think about developing brains and bones. Luckily the two kids I cooked for in the past week are pretty easy to please, and well brought up in the sense that their parents make sure they at least try new foods before they’re allowed to refuse them.

And it’s great to cook for non-meat-eaters, especially kids, because it makes one want to make interesting veg food so they get enough variety and nutrition. The other night, after some initial reluctance the younger one happily chowed down on some chickpea fritters; convinced to try one, she plunged in for more.

The other feature of that night’s veg-friendly spread (apart from lamb chops, hmmm – but also yummm) was this roast pumpkin salad I’ve eaten in various incarnations at others’ tables, but till now haven’t done myself.

Verdict: Love it. Punk, pine nuts, feta – what’s not to love?

Pumpkin, pine nut & feta salad

If it’s well roasted and soft, I reckon pumpkin skin has that luscious bittersweet thing going – delicious – and helps the punk hold its shape. But if you really don’t like it, remove the skin before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pumpkin, skin on, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 bunch rocket
  • 3 tablespoons marinated feta cubes
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Roast the punk  pieces in a slosh of olive oil in a moderate oven, till soft and caramelised.
  2. While the pumpkin is cooking, dry-roast the pine nuts on a separate tray in the oven for five minutes or until golden.
  3. Remove both & cool.
  4. Wash, dry and dress the rocket leaves with a dressing of 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, salt & pepper.
  5. Arrange the leaves on a large plate and add the pumpkin and pine nuts – gently mix the salad so the pumpkin receives a coating of dressing without falling apart.

h1

Loaves and fishes: my list of miracle foods

December 15, 2009

Okay, I know Christmas isn’t strictly related to that particular miracle (reminds me of the time my heathen brother-in-law demanded of my mother what the hell Easter eggs had to do with Jesus being born in Bethlehem anyway…), but one of the things I really like Christmas & New Year holidays is the tendency toward spontaneous and sprawly gatherings over food.

You know the kind of thing, two people for lunch turns into ten, and an instant party ensues. But to make that kind of thing fun it’s gotta be stress free – so here’s my list of good stuff you can pull out at the last second for lunch or picknicky dinner, or take to a friend’s place to blast off their Christmas stress.

Some are old summer holiday faves, and some gleaned from these pages this year. Most of this stuff can be bought in advance and shoved in the fridge, freezer or pantry to pull our for miracle-working when requried…

  • Oysters – of course! Buy them unopened a few days before Christmas and keep in a bucket with a wet towel over them in a cool place – they keep for a couple of weeks.
  • Glazed ham – leftovers, for weeks. Mmmmm.
  • Chutneys & pickles – years ago the Empress introduced me to the killer recipe for Christine Manfield’s eggplant pickle.
  • Smoked salmon – or Virginia & Nigella’s cured salmon! – w creme fraiche and/or salmon roe & sourdough
  • Smoked trout –  keep a couple in the freezer and pull them out any old time
  • Cooked prawns, green salad, mayonnaise
  • Bread – keep a supply of sourdough in the freezer
  • Green salad, nicely dressed with good oil & vinegar
  • Chickpeas – of course! Chuck em in a bowl with bottled roasted capsicum & marinated feta or labneh, or try these ideas
  • Baba ganoush & Steph’s beetroot dip – plus packets and packets of rice crackers
  • Quinoa salad or citrus couscous (make a huge batch – both of these keep forever)
  • Lots of luscious, ripe avocado – buy a heap of those rock hard ones now to have softies on hand for later.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ripe tomatoes
  • Devils on horseback – everybody loves them! And you can keep sealed pancetta & pitted prunes on hand for months…
  • A couple of fillets of salmon in the freezer and a couple of spuds can yield a heap of salmon patties for a crowd.
  • Peas! I am never without a huge bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Actually there will be a new post on peas coming shortly…
  • Eggs – chuck a few halved, hard-boiled eggs in a green salad with some chunks of fresh, cured or smoked salmon and you have a delicious twist on nicoise.
  • Labneh – mmmm.
  • Quiche – if you have frozen shortcrust pastry in the freezer, a quiche takes about fifteen minutes to throw together and another twenty to cook. Fast and fab.

Okeydokes, that’s Santa’s (or Jesus’s?) list of magic expandable food for now – but you must have lots of things to add …

*Oh, and today’s Christmas Excess Antidote is courtesy of www.kiva.org– I absolutely love this site. At the click of a mouse you can provide a micro-loan (as little as $25) to someone in a developing country who’s making a go of things with very slim pickings indeed. I love it so much because your loan just keeps on giving – you can either get the money back (though what kind of a person …) or choose that it goes to someone else in the chain. Perfect!

h1

Leaves of class

December 1, 2009

This will be a short post. I just wanted to show off the salad leaves grown in our garden. If I could only grow one thing, salad leaves would be it. These days it’s not hard to find beautiful tomatoes (in season), good herbs and so on; but there is absolutely nothing like the texture of salad leaves eaten within half an hour of picking – they are satiny, springy, silky and full of fresh flavour. Truly. Do it.

We have the little lettuces and clumps of sorrel and leafy whatnots sprinkled about the garden (and when I say ‘garden’ I mean 4m x 5m paved courtyard!)  in among the other plants, and around the base of some small trees in pots. All they need is a good bit of sun and decent watering and a feed of seaweed stuff & worm juice now and then and they go ballistic. (Jamie, any other growing hints?)

To harvest, we use the cut-and-come-again method, just snipping off the outside leaves as needed, and gathering a mixture of different types of lettuce, some Asian salad greens, a bit of cress, some tiny beetroot leaves and a few herb leaves (basil, mint) each time. There are weeks when there’s nothing to take, of course, and then there is the time of plenty – best to stagger the plantings and plant new seedlings every three or four weeks.

As soon as the lettuces start to go to seed – when they grow tall and gangly – the leaves begin to turn bitter, and I think that inadequate watering makes them bolt faster, so keep the water up and keep nibbling away at the outer leaves to get the best crop.

Once I pick them as close to eating as possible, I stick them in this mini-sinkful of cold water for a good 10 minutes or so (ice cubes in the water if it’s a really hot day) and then spin them in the salad spinner (another girl’s best friend in the kitchen) to dry as much as possible, before either eating or tossing into a zip-seal plastic bag with plenty of air in it in the fridge.

To me, the perfect salad dressing is 3 parts best olive oil to 1 part best balsamic vinegar, plenty of salt and pepper. But other friends make gorgeous dressings, especially my friend E, whose dressings I think always include raspberry vinegar. E, if you’re out there, can you provide your secret? And the Empress is a fan of a little walnut oil in her dressing, I believe? And what about the rest of you; what makes your green salad spin?