Courgette and Chilli Salad

I’m lucky enough to have a pick-your-own farm nearby. I say lucky, I’m notorious for picking more than we can reasonably eat. With that in mind, I have a growing collection of speedy side dishes that I can put together in a hurry and that allow us to savour the freshness of just-picked vegetables.

This one is superb: extremely simple, delicious and elegant. The sharpness of the lemon and mustard powder make it a great accompaniment for oily fish such as mackerel or salmon. Last night we had it alongside a rich polenta dish, purely because that was what I was making. I had a good handful of small, sweet, tender, green and yellow courgettes, so – as often happens – I thought what the hell and put this together on the off-chance that it would work with the buttery polenta. It did, and how.

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Picture Credit: Jamie Oliver


RECIPE serves 4 as a side dish

4 large, or 8 small courgettes, a mix of green and yellow looks great

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

the zest and juice of a lemon

extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a few sprigs of basil, with small leaves


METHOD

Wash the courgettes then, using a potato speed-peeler, make long, thin ribbons. Add the chopped chilli and toss together.

Zest and juice the lemon into a bowl, and add roughly the same amount of extra-virgin olive oil as you have lemon juice. Stir in the mustard powder and a pinch of flaked sea salt, whisk it all together and pour over the salad. Toss thoroughly, then pick off the basil leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately.

Panzanella (Italian Bread and Tomato Salad)

It’s been a lovely summer here. Lots of warm evenings sitting outside eating great cheeses and amazing bread. There has been some cooking going on though, and once again I find myself apologising for not blogging for the longest time. In my defence: I’ve been busy eating lovely food and enjoying life.

The discovery of the summer for me has been the Italian bread and tomato salad, Panzanella. Dismissed by one family member as soggy bread salad, he was merely echoing my own expectations. When we actually tasted what I had made (courtesy of Claudia Roden’s ‘The Food of Italy) we very quickly revised our opinion, and now I find myself hoping I have some stale sourdough left over so I have an excuse to make it.

This is best made when tomatoes are at their ripest, so if you’re going to make it, make it now. The bread you use also makes a huge difference – ensure you use a slightly stale (one or two days old) sourdough or country loaf, with a good thick crust.

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Photo Credit: Scott Phillips

RECIPE serves 4

250g stale bread, cut or torn into rough chunks

600g ripe tomatoes, cubed

1 red onion, diced

1/2 cucumber, diced (peeled if you like)

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

a handful of basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Start with the tomatoes, and salt them in the bowl to encourage their juices to flow.

Now add all the other ingredients and stir well so everything is coated in everything else. Leave it to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle and develop, check the seasoning, and that’s it!

For variation: you can take the crusts off the bread, which gives a more uniform but, I think, a less interesting texture. You can also lightly toast the bread beforehand. Try different ways of preparing the bread, and try different types of bread as well, the way you like it is the way it should be prepared.

You can further augment this with whatever takes your fancy and works: if you’re having it with grilled fish, for example, try zesting a lemon into it and using the juice of half a lemon in place of a tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Or you could turn it into a summer vegan main course by slicing avocado into it. Let your imagination run wild, it’s how you discover lovely things.

Red and White Rice Salad, with Butternut Squash and Pomegranate

I quite often find myself with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. Despite having approaching 850 cookery books, and my own notebooks containing close to a thousand tried, trusted and delicious recipes, I still scratch my head some mornings. When faced with such a conundrum, I will often turn to what is lurking in the fridge or the pantry and use what I already have as a starting point.

I picked up a beautiful pomegranate the other day. I had no idea what I would do with it but it was such a perfect fruit I couldn’t leave it there. I spotted it in our fruit bowl, and from there it was easy: pomegranate means salad, the developing summer leads me to middle-eastern flavours, and from there I just hit the books until I spotted this wonderful, hearty salad courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes’.

It is studded with interesting textures and flavours, and the combination of sharp vinegar, sweet orange and honey, together with warming cinnamon makes for a knockout fragrance. It is perfect as an accompaniment to falafels (which is how I served it), and I think it would also be perfect alongside grilled fish or shredded cooked chicken, with some pitta bread on the side. It is hearty enough to act as a vegetarian main course all by itself as well.

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RECIPE serves 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite-size cubes

olive oil

2 tbsp cumin seeds

75g basmati rice

75g red Camargue rice

100g dried cranberries OR barberries

50g toasted flaked almonds

50g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 medium red onion, very finely diced

finely grated zest and juice of a large orange

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp clear honey

extra-virgin olive oil

the seeds of a pomegranate

150g crumbled feta (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 200 C fan/ Gas 7.

Place the cubed butternut squash on a prepared baking tray and drizzle generously with olive oil. Scatter over the cumin seeds and season generously with salt and pepper. Using your hands, ensure everything is properly combined, spread out to ensure there is plenty of space for the squash cubes to roast properly, and cook in the middle of the oven for around 450 minutes until the squash is meltingly soft and just charring around the edges. If your honey is of the set kind, drizzle it over the hot squash now to melt and combine. Set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, cook the rice per packet instructions – in a separate pan for each type – until cooked but still slightly firm in the centre of the grain. This will take as little as five minutes for the basmati, and around 30 minutes for the red rice so keep an eye on things. Once cooked, rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water until completely cool, drain and set aside.

Put the cranberries (or barberries) almonds, parsley, onion and rice into a large serving bowl and mix well. Add the orange zest and juice, cinnamon, a generous glug (around 2 tbsp) of your best extra-virgin olive oil, the vinegar, the honey (if you didn’t use it earlier) and some salt and pepper. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Season carefully, adding more salt until the flavours are punchy – you may need more salt than you would expect.

A word on adding those liquids: the orange juice, vinegar and oil. Normally I would combine them in a small bowl and whisk together, then add the mixture as a whole. Adding them to the salad singly, as described above, somehow results in a less uniform distribution, no matter how well you mix the salad together. It means that every mouthful is different, sometimes startlingly so. It’s a new trick for me, one that I will think about whenever create a dressing in future.

Now add the butternut squash and pomegranate seeds and gently fold in, keeping the squash cubes intact. If you like, and depending on what you are having alongside this salad, you can crumble feta across the top as well for fresh, salty bursts of flavour.

Leave this covered, on the side at room temperature, until ready to serve.

Fattoush

My wife lived in the middle east for a while, but even she thought that the dressing for this delicious chopped salad was unusual. One bite and she was converted though, the combination of buttermilk, vinegar and oil is rich, unctuous and delicious. I’m on a roll with Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” at the moment, and food like this is the reason why.

You can use bought (or made) buttermilk for this recipe, or you can mix whole milk and Greek yogurt (as detailed below) for a similar, less sour, version. This recipe uses both fresh and dried mint; they have very different flavours and contribute to the dance that this salad does on your taste buds.

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Image credit: Jonathan Lovekin

RECIPE serves 6 

200g Greek yogurt and 200ml full-fat milk (or 400ml of buttermilk)

2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (250g in total)

3 large tomatoes (380g in total), cut into 1.5cm dice

100g radishes, thinly sliced

3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (250g in total), peeled and chopped into 1.5cm dice

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

15g mint

a bunch of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tbsp dried mint

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbsp lemon juice

60ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

3/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sumac or more according to taste, to garnish


METHOD

If using the yogurt and milk method, then at least three hours beforehand (or the day before, for a more rounded flavour) place both in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Cover, and leave in a cool place (or in the fridge) to develop. Little bubbles should eventually form on the surface.

Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces and place in a very large bowl with the yogurt/milk (or buttermilk) mixture, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and leave for between ten and thirty minutes at room temperature for the flavours to mingle.

To serve, drizzle over a little more extra-virgin olive oil and garnish generously with sumac.

Apple and Celery Salad

I have a terrible blind-spot when it comes to salads. It is unforgivable, because amongst the tens of thousands of recipes nestling amid the hundreds of books and magazines that we own, there must be well over a thousand recipes for delicious, interesting and unusual salads. For every main course there is probably a perfect salad that could be served with it, rather than my usual fallback of rocket, romaine lettuce and cucumber, dressed with citrus or vinaigrette.

Here’s one that Bill Granger suggested to be served alongside his baked leek and goat’s cheese risotto. It complements it in every way: where the risotto is rich and creamy, the salad is sharp, bitter and citric. Where the risotto is soft and melting, the nuts, celery and apple provide crunch and texture. For a risotto, this is the perfect salad – in fact, I’ve tried it with a few other dishes and it goes well with everything so far!

If you cannot find chicory, a couple of good handfuls of rocket is a delicious replacement. If you do not like walnuts then lightly-toasted flaked almonds are also delicious.

It goes without saying that you should use the finest extra-virgin olive oil that you can afford, it makes a huge difference in salads. Price isn’t always an indicator that you will like it more, my advice is to sample as wide a variety as you possibly can and stick with the one that blows your socks off – if you search hard enough you will find one that does just that.

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RECIPE – Serves 4

1 celery stick, cut into batons

1 head of yellow chicory, leaves torn

1 head of purple chicory, leaves torn

1 red apple, cored and cut into thin wedges

a handful of walnuts, roughly chopped (or lightly-toasted flaked almonds)

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

Prepare the salad ingredients, chop the walnuts (or toast the almond flakes) and toss together in a large salad bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice over the bowl, then drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over that, toss well and season with a few good grindings of black pepper.

Carrot salad with Cardamom, Ginger and Lemon

At the risk of being boring, once again I am going to extol the virtues of delicious, fresh ingredients coming together and doing their thing, with minimum interference. Putting together a great salad – any side dish in fact – is like putting together a great guest-list for a party, every element must contribute something to the whole, and the more variety you have the more interesting the result. The most important proviso – for parties as well as food – is that every element must get on with the others, otherwise it can be a disaster.

Every element in this dish has a clear and well-defined job, and when they come together… well, make it, taste it, and find out…

This is an excellent accompaniment to anything spicy: Middle-Eastern dishes and curries in particular.

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RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people as a side dish

A good thumb-sized knob of ginger, roughly chopped

1/2 red onion, roughly chopped

1kg very fresh organic carrots, topped and tailed

the zest and juice of 2 lemons

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

5 tbsp extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tsp golden caster sugar

1 pinch of freshly ground white pepper

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves, or whole mint leaves to garnish


METHOD

Using a food processor makes this extremely quick and easy to make. First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Roughly chop it then process it in the food processor, until it is chopped. Now add the red onion and process again.

Change the chopping blade for the grating attachment and grate the carrots into the processor bowl with the ginger and onion, then tip the whole lot into a large bowl and, using your fingers, mix everything thoroughly.

If you don’t have a food processor then you are going to be busy using a grater on the ginger, onion and carrots so allow some time to do this.

Grate the lemon zest over the carrot mixture, and take a small handful of cardamom seeds and gently bash them with a mortar and pestle. Take the seeds out of the husks, and pound them into a powder. Set aside for a moment.

To make the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, oil, salt, sugar, white pepper and cardamom, mix well then drizzle it over the carrot mixture. Toss well so everything is coated, then put into a cold place and leave to sit for a couple of hours for the best flavour – you can of course serve it immediately if you wish.

Stir through some finely chopped coriander leaves just before serving, or scatter with a small handful of whole, small mint leaves.

Kachumbali Salad

Salads don’t have to be bland and boring. This Tanzanian salad is traditionally served with grilled fish or meat, alongside rice. You’ll see red onion in there but don’t worry, it’s harshness is tempered by lemon juice, leaving it deliciously sweet and tangy.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 generously as a side dish

2 red onions, finely sliced

4 large tomatoes, finely sliced

2 green chillies, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

juice of a lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

it couldn’t be simpler… prepare all the ingredients and toss together in a large bowl with the lemon juice and seasoning. Ta daa!

Onion Salad

You might think that an onion salad is the last thing you want to eat. Though I love the harshness of raw onion, I don’t appreciate the fact that I can still taste it several hours afterward. It stops my wife from kissing me as well…

Fear not, this delicious onion salad is not at all harsh, the underlying sweetness of the onion is accentuated and the harshness completely obliterated just by marinating in lime juice for 30 minutes or so.

This is a great side dish to serve alongside any curry or spicy dish, and if you ever partake of the poppadom starter before having an Indian restaurant meal you will be very familiar with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 with a starter, 2 with a main meal

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 large ripe tomato, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

4 inches of cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced

a generous splash of lime juice

a small pinch of salt

a small handful of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1 tsp of nigella seeds


METHOD

Slice the onion, not too finely as you want the good texture that a thicker slice will give you. Put into a bowl and ensure the onion is fully broken up. Splash generously with lime juice and using your hands ensure that every piece of onion is coated. Season with a small pinch of salt and set aside.

Boil a kettle, score a cross through the skin at the base of the tomato, put the tomato in a large mug or small bowl, pour the boiled water over it until it is fully submerged and leave it for 15 seconds. Empty the water, immediately refill it with cold water, empty it again, now insert the point of a sharp knife under the scored tomato skin and pull the skin away from the flesh; it should peel off cleanly in large sections.

Caution: Don’t leave the tomato in hot water for more than 15 seconds or it will begin to cook. This will mean that the skin will re-adhere to the tomato flesh and you will have a hard job getting it off.

Cut the tomato into quarters or eighths, cut away the seeds and discard them, then finely dice the tomato flesh. Place on top of the onion.

Peel the cucumber, cut it into quarters or eighths, then slice away the seeds from the middle (they will make your salad too soggy). Finely dice the cucumber flesh and place on top of the onion.

Chop the coriander, place on top of the cucumber and tomato and set aside to sit for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to eat, toss everything together thoroughly, scatter the nigella seeds on top and toss again, then serve.

Carrot and Ginger Salad

This simple, quick to make and very attractive salad is the perfect accompaniment to Indian curries.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 

5 or 6 large carrots

1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

a 2cm knob of fresh ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

a handful of flaked almonds

a small bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

lime juice


METHOD

Peel and trim the carrots. If you are lucky enough to have a food processor with a grater attachment then you’re in luck, otherwise you will have to grate the carrots by hand. Put them into a salad bowl.

In a small, NOT non-stick pan lightly toast the flaked almonds until they are lightly and evenly browned. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quickly, when you judge that they are ready tip them out of the pan onto a plate to cool – the pan will be hot and they will cook on if left in it. Remove any toasted almonds that are burned as they are bitter.

Add the almonds to the carrots, together with the chilli, ginger and coriander. Toss thoroughly to mix, and when you are ready to eat sprinkle lime juice over the salad and toss again. Check the taste and add more lime if necessary, a little at a time.

Serve as a side salad alongside anything spicy, but this goes particularly well with many Indian dishes.