Archive for the ‘salad’ Category

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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?

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Quinoa Salad: Son of Citrus Couscous

October 30, 2009

quinoaQuinoa salad with bits and pieces …

Those of you who’ve enjoyed the citrus couscous recipe I posted a while ago might be keen to try a new salad that I am totally loving at the moment. It’s a very slight bastardisation of a fabulous quinoa salad from Ottolenghi, the Israeli & Palestinian chef duo from London whose book and newspaper column combined are the most interesting source of vegetarian food I’ve ever found.

The original recipe, for Quinoa and Camargue red rice is here, and our adapted version below. My friend Caro first made this for me, using those craisins (dried cranberries) that are easily available in the supermarket, and I liked the slight sourness and the lovely ruby red colour so much I have done it with both craisins and the barberries I got ages ago on the Empress’s and my Persian excursion.

Unlike craisins, however, I’ve found quinoa itself rather difficult to get hold of. I’m told it often resides in health food / organic shops, and I found mine at the Norton St Grocer, but I hope it becomes more freely available because it is my new favourite grain in the world.

It’s pronounced ‘kin-wah’  and as far as I can tell you use it like couscous, but it’s much easier to manage as it doesn’t stick together as couscous can, and it has a delightfully bouncy texture and nutty flavour.

I’ve learned that quinoa is an ancient ‘grain’ (but not really, as it’s not a grass but is more closely related to spinach – we eat the seeds) originating in the Andes, and best of all, it’s gluten-free so people with Coeliac disease and so on can enjoy with impunity. Excellent!

Anyhoo. Enough lessons. On with the deliciousness.

  • 200g quinoa
  • 50g wild rice
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • handful of barberries / dried cranberries / currants or a mixture of any dried fruit you like
  • 30g pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
  • handful rocket / baby spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Bring to the boil two saucepans filled with salted water, and simmer the quinoa and rice separately: the first for 13 minutes, the second for up to 40, depending on how nutty and firm you like the texture.
  2. Drain both and spread out flat to cool more quickly.
  3. While the grains are cooking, fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  4. Soak the dried fruit in orange juice and zest in a bowl with all other ingredients except nuts and spinach/rocket.
  5. In an oven preheated to 170 degrees C, dry-roast the pistachios for up to six minutes or just until the colour changes. Check halfway through, because they can burn in an instant and the flavour is vile if they are even slightly overdone and you’ll have to chuck them out.
  6. Mix the cooked grains with all other ingredients and season generously, adding a little swizzle of oil if it’s too dry. Serve at room temperature.