Tag Archives: salad

So Fresh!

16 Mar

It is currently 18 degrees Celsius in London (that’s 65 degrees for you Neanderthals using Fahrenheit). In March. The winter is over! Hurray! But rather than concentrating here and now, this weather makes me think of a trip to Spain T and I took nearly three years ago, a big tour of Spain from Barcelona to Madrid and down to Andalucia to visit Cordoba, Granada, and Seville. 

We both loved Spain. The weather was gloriously hot, the people were friendly but not overwhelmingly gregarious, and the scenery was just stunning. We were having pleasant fantasies of a pied-à-terre in Madrid, where we could go to museums whenever we wanted and have long afternoon strolls in the Retiro…

But there had been been one lingering issue through our trip – the food. And specifically, the vegetables. I could eat my body-weight in seafood if you let me, and the Spanish do lovely things with potatoes and lamb. But after several days of meat-and-carb indulgence T and I were feeling distinctly unwell. So, being sensible, we tried to eat more fruit and veg. But the dishes served in restaurants bore about as much resemblance to plants as a mackerel does to a Goldfish cracker. It seemed the Spanish had never met a vegetable they couldn’t cook to mush and garnish with slivers of ham. Salads were mounds of iceberg lettuce served with corn, cheap tuna, and hard-boiled eggs. They were dishes from decades, before scientists learned that vitamins existed. 

But towards the end of our trip, after a visit to the Alhambra, we decided to forget about Spanish food and went to a pizzeria for lunch instead. And there it was on the menu: ensalada de tomate y aguacate. We couldn’t believe our luck, and were still shaking our heads when it arrived at our table: wedges of tomato tossed with chunks of avocado and whole basil leaves, dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. It was refreshing and intensely vegetal and exactly what we needed. Pizzas forgotten, we demolished the entire bowl. 

Ensalada de Granada

I’ve tinkered slightly with the original concept, giving it more zest with lemon juice, extra herbs, and a generous sprinkling of spring onion. I understand that there are people that can’t stand raw allium of any kind, but I really, really like the piquancy in salads. 

Serves 2 for lunch

3-4 big tomatoes/1-2 punnets cherry tomatoes, cut into chunks or in half

2-3 spring onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (you can sub in chopped shallots or red onion, just soak them in iced water for 10 minutes to take away the sulfur burn before draining and adding to the salad)

1 big handful chopped soft herbs (I really love mint and coriander, but you could also play with tarragon, basil, chervil…)

1 Hass avocado (UK readers: DO NOT buy the green-skinned ones from your local supermarket! They are watery and unripenable and generally a crime against the name of avocado. Go to a greengrocer or farmer’s market and look for big plump specimens with black skins. They will be more expensive but they are a sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.)

1 quarter of a lemon/splash of red wine vinegar

1 big slug of the best olive oil you can get

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional but tasty: protein of some variety (I’ve had this with really good Ortiz tinned tuna and hot smoked salmon. But you could also add shredded cooked chicken, or fresh mozzarella for a veggie option, or even just good canned chickpeas if you’re vegan, though I’d season more generously with the chickpeas because they’re quite earthy.)

Put the tomatoes, spring onion and herbs in a salad bowl. Add your protein of choice Cut the avocado into fat chunks and put it in too. Add your acid, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Mix, check for seasoning, serve! 


The Book of Chinese Chicken Salad

10 Aug

In the beginning…

There was nothing but darkness. Well, not quite darkness. But there were sullen grey clouds, that would drift across the sky and occasionally spit rain at inconvenient, umbrella-less moments.

And the Lord said, “I’m THIS CLOSE to cancelling summer entirely, unless you lazy, whiny people do something amazing to change my mind.”

And the people sent their athletes to compete on the water and in the velodrome and on the track, and won many victories over the other nations. And the people were simultaneously jubilant and incredulous. They said to each other “How is this happening? We never win ANYTHING! WOOHOO!”

And the Lord muttered, “Bunch of show-offs.”

And then said, “Well done! Let there be light!”

And there was light! And the people rejoiced, revealed their pasty flesh, and frolicked in the fields and on the pavements and on the beaches.

And this writer made chicken salad. Not just any chicken salad, though. No mayonnaise in this baby. Just shredded poached chicken, dressed with a mildly spicy, super-savoury Sichuanese dressing, and served over sliced cucumbers.

And she saw that it was good. Very, very good.

Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuanese Sauce (adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking)

Serves 2 as a light dinner

300-350g/0.75 pounds cold, cooked chicken breast (I poached mine, but leftovers from a roast would work, too)
3 spring onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
0.25 tsp salt
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1.5 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1.5 tsp caster sugar
1 tbsp chicken stock
4 tbsp Sichuanese chili oil, with 0.5 tbsp of the sediment from the bottom of the jar
0.5 tsp ground Sichuan pepper
15-20 1cm cucumber slices

1. Shred the cooked chicken, and put it in a big bowl with spring onions and salt. Toss to combine.

2. Toast the sesame seeds on a low heat on the hob until they go a few shades darker and smell nutty.

3. Combine the other ingredients in a small bowl.

4. When ready to eat, add the dressing and the sesame seeds to the chicken mixture, and toss to combine. Lay out the cucumber slices on two small plates, then divide the chicken between them. Serve, and enjoy.

Note: You can find the vinegar, chili oil, and peppercorns at any Chinese market. They will keep nearly indefinitely.

Bridging the Hungry Gap

27 Mar

Springtime, and the living is easy. As easy as it gets in London, anyway. The sun is shining, the mercury’s in the very high teens (mid-to-high sixties for my American compadres), and my coat and boots are shoved deep in my closet for their long summer sleep. I’m even writing this on my sunny terrace whilst barefoot. To say that it doesn’t get much better can’t encompass the sense of intense wellbeing that currently permeates both this city and me. But one thing niggles at my contentment: the hungry gap.

For those of you blessed with produce aisles bearing strong resemblance to the Garden of Eden, and who therefore are blissfully unaware of this phenomenon, the hungry gap is the period of time (generally March and April) when British fields are entirely unfruitful. The last of the root vegetables and brassicas have straggled in, and the tender, pale green joys that are asparagus, peas, and broad beans won’t appear for a while yet.

So whilst every other indicator screams for us to cast away our woolly garments and frolic in the daffodils under a gently warming sun, the farmer’s market bogs us down with more heavy, wintery food. Don’t get me wrong, my love for humble stew is nearly boundless. But after six months of dietary hibernation, I want to dive into an enormous bowl of salad like Daffy Duck wants to dive into a mound of treasure, screaming, “I’m rich! I’m wealthy! I’m comfortably well off! WOOHOO!”

At first thought a warm orzo salad with beetroot and feta doesn’t merit quite the same enthusiasm as a mound of gold coins and gems, but look at the jewel-like colours on this baby:

No, your eyes do not deceive you; that pasta is SCARLET. You perform this magic cooking the orzo in the same water in which you boil the beets. The beets won’t have the same caramelly flavour they get from roasting, but I think that’s a worthwhile sacrifice to get the pasta to turn spectacular colours.

Overall, the result is a well-balanced mix of flavours: earthy-sweet beetroot, salty feta, savoury pinenuts, onion and garlic, bitter greens. Its feet are firmly planted in winter, but its lightness makes it perfect for a warm, lazy March day.

Check out the recipe, originally by The Parsley Thief, on Food52.

Fit for a Queen

5 Mar

Coronation Chicken was originally invented in the early 1950s to commemorate Elizabeth II’s ascent to the throne, and even in these more affluent and cosmopolitan times, the recipe is a tiny time-warp to 60 years ago. The stuff is a sandwich filling standby in the UK – go into any sandwich shop and you’ll see a fluorescent yellow mound of mayonnaise-laden, curry and chutney-spiked chicken salad studded with raisins.

My version of Coronation Chicken substitutes yogurt for mayonnaise for both health and taste reasons (there’s a future entry in my mixed emotions about mayo), uses turmeric and garam masala in place of curry powder, and ratchets up the flavor with sautéed onions and garlic. The apple and the raisins add sweetness and texture contrast to the creamy chicken. It makes a splendid lunch by itself or on toast, and is my favourite way to use up any leftover roast chicken!

Diamond Jubilee Chicken Salad (inspired by Gourmet’s Curried Chicken Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Raita)

Serves 2

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala
0.5 teaspoon turmeric
0.5 teaspoon salt
2 roasted chicken breasts or chicken thighs, shredded (from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, or you can make your own awesome roast chicken)
200g/1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Braeburn apple (or another sweet and crisp fruit), cored and diced
2 tablespoons raisins/sultanas

Heat the oil over a medium flame, then add the onions. Fry until translucent and turning soft, 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, garam masala, turmeric, and salt, and sauté for another minute.

Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the chicken and toss until the meat is well-coated, then stir in the yogurt until everything is creamy and yellow. Add the apple and raisins, stir, and serve.

Salad, or a Riff on Balance

21 Feb

Salads are quick to put together, but I think the process is a more delicate one than cooking a hot dish. With every dish I make, I want to achieve an equal balance of flavours – sweet against savoury, light and herbal against dark and rich.

The simplest way to get all the different tastes to play together nicely is to apply heat. For example, simmering carrots in an orangey beef stew releases their sweetness into the dish, countering the savoury beef and tart citrus.

But with some small exceptions, that’s not how salad works. Everything is what it is, and the cook has to be much more aware of how raw ingredients taste, and calibrate them to each other and the dressing accordingly.

The following recipe from Veggiestan (a superb cookbook which I strongly recommend you all buy) looks bizarre, almost alien, on the page. Cumin and dried chili in salad dressing? Cooking bulgur in apricot nectar? I almost skipped over the recipe, but I decided to give it a shot as part of my health kick.

And man, is it good! Incredibly fresh and lively, with the dried apricots, bulgur, and pistachios meeting the red onion, herbs, and spicy dressing in an entente cordiale. The chiles added a delicate, warming sensation that tied all the ingredients together.

This is brilliant on its own as a main course, and I think it would make a great side dish at a barbecue, paired with some grilled aubergine or a lamb burger.

Spinach, Apricot, and Bulgur Salad (adapted from Veggiestan by Sally Butcher)

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter


75g/2.5oz dried apricots, coarsely chopped
150g/5.25 oz fine bulgur wheat
200ml/ 7 fluid oz vegetable stock
150ml/5 fluid oz apricot juice/nectar
200g spinach
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (If you find the flavour of onion too aggressive when raw, soak the slices in iced water for ten minutes for extra-crispy onion without the sulfurous burn.)
50g shelled raw pistachios, toasted
1 handful fresh coriander, woody stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 handful fresh mint, leaves plucked and coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F.

Put the apricots in a small bowl and pour lukewarm water over them until just covered. Leave them to rehydrate.

Meanwhile, spread the bulgur on the bottom of a baking or roasting tray, making sure there’s plenty of room for the bulgur to expand. Cover the bulgur with the stock and apricot nectar and mix well. Pop into the oven for 20 minutes, stirring the grains halfway through.

While the bulgur bakes, prep the vegetables and herbs and toast the pistachios. Mix up the dressing (see below).

When the bulgur is done, remove from the oven, fluff the grains with a fork, and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Drain the water from the apricots, and put all ingredients (except the dressing and the bulgur) in a big-enough salad bowl. Then add the slightly-cooled bulgur and dressing, then toss.


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lime juice
0.5 teaspoon cumin
0.5 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt and pepper

Beat all ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork.