#12Days Crunchy salad Day 6

p1000972After a fundraising curry night here, and staring at the carnage and leftovers in my kitchen this morning, I think we all need a crunchy salad today.  This one is actually for one of my oldest and dearest friends – Marion – who requested the recipe after I made this as a contribution to her wedding feast when she and Andrew a few weeks ago. To be fair it was a hastily constructed piece of work as I was juggling the five tier wedding cake at the time – and the picture of the cake is much more attractive than a bowl full of salad!

Anyway, this salad is either for your Christmas repertoire, or would serve as a saintly dish after all the festivities have died down and you just need something wholesome, non alcoholic and low fat!

Use any mixed green salad leaves as a base – lettuce, crunchy chicory, spinach leaves. As for proportions – well it depends on how many people you are feeding so you will have to judge this one. Chop a small butternut squash into 2cm dice, and drain two tins of chickpeas and put them all in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Mix them around a bit to distribute the seasoning then roast on a shallow baking tray for about 45 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.  Grate one large carrot. Cut a cucumber in half and scoop out the wet middle, then chop the whole cucumber into wedges.  Chop cherry tomatoes in half. and season separately with salt and black pepper.

Open one vacuum pack of freekah (green wheat) – about 100g.  Open one vacuum pack of mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds (about 100g) – drizzle these with a little honey.

Now make the dressing.  As a base, use the following: two grated cloves of garlic, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon agave syrup or honey, two teaspoons Dijon mustard. Place all these in a 450g jamjar. Add white wine vinegar or lemon juice and olive or rapeseed oil to the proportions 1:4 (acid to oil).  Shake vigorously.

If you are making this salad in advance, put a good amount of the dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Then add the tomatoes, the carrot, the cucumber, chopped spring onion tops, and chopped basil and flatleaf parsley.  Season.  Then add the green leaves on top.  Do not mix at this stage (this is a good tip – leave the wet ingredients at the bottom of the bowl steeping in the dressing, add the leaves but dont mix until you are ready to serve).  When you are ready to serve (and you can leave the bowl – covered – for many hours and so long as the green leaves are not touching the dressing it will stay fresh) mix the green leaves into the rest of the salad and put in your serving bowl, then add the roasted squash and chickpeas, seeds and freekah and mix it all around. And it is done.

The basic dressing you can enliven with a range of ingredients depending on your taste – you could add fresh basil, or dill, or yogurt with mint. You could add chopped capers or cornichon. However if you are making the dressing for the festive season, I suggest make a jamjar full of the basic dressing then enliven it with other ingredients as you wish.

Now.  Having hosted a lively Christmas curry event last night there is a scene of utter devastation to deal with in another part of the house. Bin bags at the ready!

#Addingflavour

There is no magic, no mystery, about adding flavour to your food.  It’s simply a matter of understanding how flavour wimg_3148orks; on the tongue, with the nose, in your mind, with your mood.  If I am not in the mood for cooking, then it never tastes right even though I want it to. But if I am on a roll, steaming along in the kitchen with the radio on and all the ingredients I need, then a little bit of magic comes into it.  That magic affects everyone else. Then the flavours are proclaimed to be fabulous.

I guess its a bit like running when you getimg_3149 in the groove (I don’t run) or swimming when the stroke and the breath come naturally (I do swim!)  It all just flows.

So there are certain things that to my mind add the magic. It’s the alchemy I talk about on the front page of this blog. And over the next few weeks I am going to add a few things I have learned then use the category #addingflavour so you can easily find them again .  So watch out for new posts and tweets. The first is gremolata.

Gremolata  is one of my favourite mixtures for adding flavour. I was introduced to it by Enzo, an Italian and maker of great pasta. He whispered conspiratorially, when I asked him what it was on his barbecued chicken that made it taste so wonderful,  “Its rosemary and lemon zest and garlic and salt cara mia. it improves everything it touches, a bit like wine”!

Chop rosemary and lemon zest (I use a mezzaluna) then chop garlic then add seasalt.  It is as simple as that. The proportions are always approximate and according to  your own taste. There is no real ‘recipe’.  In the picture at the top I have used a large handful of fresh rosemary leaves removed from the woody stalks, the rind of 2 lemons (using a zester, not a grater).

img_3151Then added six to eight fresh garlic cloves, chopped finely, and about 75g of seasalt.  Mix it all together and you have a fine mixture that can be stored in a jamjar by the stove, and will keep really fresh and fragrant for about 2 weeks. I have tried keeping it in the fridge but the jar gets condensation in it and it loses its crispness.

How do I use it?  Here’s a list, but you will find your own preferences I am sure.

  • sprinkle on chicken before or after you roast it
  • sprinkle on freshly grilled fish just before it is ready
  • add to fresh tomato dishes
  • add to a marinade for fish, meat, aubergines
  • sprinkle on roast potatoes 5 minutes before they are done
  • flavour squash or pumpkin or sweet potatoes when frying
  • chop tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and season with gremolata before adding a mustardy vinaigrette
  • img_3152