Trust Me Salad

I’m making dinner tonight for my esteemed friend, Mr. Ukelele, ‘cos I missed his birthday party last weekend. As befits a belated birthday treat, it is a slightly posh, 3 course dinner, but it still works out at about £2.50 a head for all 3 courses, even if you have buy all the ingredients.
Mr Ukelele is one of my non-vegan friends, so I’m making this salad for starters. I’ve come up with loads of recipes over the years, only to find out later that it’s a really common dish in a culture I’m not familiar with. This, however, I think I can safely say is an original 😉 When I invented it many moons ago, my French boyfriend teased me mercilessly about the ‘English and their fruit’… he was mainly referring to apple sauce with pork. He liked this salad, though.
I’m using strawberries from my plot in the community garden, but because it’s Wimbledon fortnight, they’re on special offer all over the place – I saw them for £1 for 400g in Lidl, so I’m sure the others have similar offers. Roquefort cheese is a blue sheep’s milk cheese from the south of France, with a pleasantly sharp flavour – I don’t think other blue cheeses would work.

You can make it stretch further by serving it on a nest of little gem lettuce, or, for a party, by placing a spoonful on individual leaves.

Ingredients – serves 4+ as a starter, or 2-3 as a main.
100g Roquefort cheese
200g strawberries
200g cucumber (or equal volume to the strawberries)
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoon of walnut oil
1 ½ teaspoon of lemon juice mixed half and half with water. NB, if you have some, use walnut vinegar instead, but it’s hard to find in the UK, although it’s quite common in France – sherry vinegar would also work.
1 head little gem lettuce – optional

Method
Roquefort can be quite soft at room temperature, so make sure yours is well chilled in the fridge, as you’re going to crumble it.
Wash and de-hull the strawberries and half or quarter them. Cube the cucumber into 1cm blocks. Place in a mixing bowl and season with black pepper. Crumble over the Roquefort – you want the chunks to be smaller than the cucumber, as the flavour packs quite a punch, but not so finely that it all disintegrates into the dressing (although, inevitably some will). Pour over the oil and lemon juice or vinegar and gently turn to mix.
Serve in a nest of little gem leaves, at room temperature. You may also need a crusty baguette to mop up the sauce 😉

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Cantaloupe melon with mint, sherry vinegar and walnut oil.

I LOVE cantaloupe melons, not only for their delicately perfumed flesh, but because they’re sooo pretty – sage green stripes on an eau-de-nil skin and apricot coloured inside. (I’m talking about European cantaloupes, which are also called charentais melons – apparently cantaloupe is what musk melons are called in the States – I’m sure musk melons would also work for this recipe)
The next recipe I’m putting up after this one isn’t vegan, so keeping my promise, here’s a vegan alternative for a posh starter. I first had this at a dinner at a friend of my mother’s about 18 years ago and it’s been a favourite ever since – so, thank you Julia 🙂
At the moment, cantaloupe melons are just coming into season, and they’re about £1 for a good sized one, or I saw 2 small ones in a £1 bowl on the market the other day. Sherry vinegar is usually cheaper than balsamic, and walnut oil is about £1.80 for a 250ml bottle (which usually lasts me for at least 6 months), so each portion should cost about 35-40p.

Ingredients
Cantaloupe melon, preferably a small one
Per portion, 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar and 2 teaspoons walnut oil
1or 2 finely shredded fresh mint leaves
A (very) few grains of salt – optional, but it does bring out the flavour.

Method
Mix the oil, vinegar and shredded mint leaves and set aside for 15 minutes.
If you have a small cantaloupe, cut in half horizontally and deseed. (If you have a large one, cut it in quarters along the length of the stripes, deseed and score a grid into the flesh, so that the dressing can ooze in and not spill all over the plate.) Dress and serve in a bowl.

Brockwell Park Salad

There’s a great park in South London called Brockwell Park, and it has amazing community gardens based around the old greenhouses (it dates back to 1811, so there used to be gardeners on site raising bedding plants for displays). Anyway, some years ago, when the community space was first set up, I was invited to go and help cook the produce at their open day (it was part of my job at the time, working on local food projects – I’m not trying to make out I’m famous). Such a beautiful idyll in the middle of the city.
Anyway, this below is what we made, it was all there was to harvest that day, but happily it was a pretty perfect combination. I always think of it as Brockwell Park Salad – I make it as soon as there’s an excess of nasturtium leaves in the garden…sadly, I haven’t been on the ball enough to grow everything for myself this year, but there were enough new potatoes in the left over dinner I was given, and I have some broad beans in the freezer. The leaves and the onions came from our community garden here in Limehouse.

Ingredients
For every 500 g of potatoes (new or salad potatoes – I like Anya or Pink Fir Apple, ‘cos they’re so dense and nutty)
2-3 generous handfuls of broad beans, fresh young ones or frozen, slipped out of their little white jackets
2-3 spring onions
½ red onion
Rocket leaves – wild or cultivated
Baby nasturtium leaves – if you haven’t got any, you could use watercress, as they come from the same family and taste similar.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, preferably flakes or coarsely ground
Coarsely ground black pepper – optional, as the leaves are peppery.

Method
Boil the potatoes in their skins. Placing the broadbeans in a sieve, immerse them in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, and chop the spring onions at an angle, into 1cm lengths. Gently heat the oil, and sweat the spring onions for a couple of minutes so they just lose their oniony bite.
Drain the potatoes, and gently squash them to crack their skins – you may need to cut up some of the larger ones. Add the oil, spring onions and the salt, mix through and set aside to cool down a little – it’s fine if you serve it warm, but the leaves will wilt too much if the spuds are too hot.
When cooled a bit, add everything else and fold in. If you’ve got some nasturtium flowers (mine aren’t in bloom yet) you could use a few on the top, but I quite like it yellowy cream and bright green with a hint of crimson from the red onion.

satay carrot slaw

ok, still chasing my own tail – last week friday night, couldn’t be bothered to cook and I had that found iceburg and too many carrots all staring at me accusingly – the following almost doesn’t count as a recipe, it is that simple. It’s a great way to get kids to chomp through copious amounts of veg – or indeed any of your dearly beloved who think that veg is spelt ‘forgetables’…and, if you squeeze the carrots of excess juice, it also makes a good sandwich filling for brown bread.

Ingredients per person
3-4 medium carrots, grated
1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
1 tablespoon Thai style sweet chilli sauce
adjust amount of both of these to your personal taste

Method
In a bowl, combine by hand 😉 yes, that’s it.

Serve with lettuce leaves – place a spoonful in the middle of a leaf and roll up like a cigar.

To squeeze the carrots before you combine everything together, sprinkle over a mean (1 finger and 1 thumb) pinch of salt and place in the middle of a clean cloth – I have an old T shirt I cut up for veg squeezing, as carrot and spinach can stain your best tea towel 😦 – pull all the corners up together and twist over a bowl, so you get a small glass of fresh carrot juice into the bargain. Do make sure whatever cloth you use hasn’t been washed in over perfumed laundry product, as it might taint the carrots and will certainly ruin the juice. It is worth doing this if you’re using it for sandwiches as the salt in the chilli sauce will otherwise draw out excess juice and make your bread pappy.

I use the budget bargain basement kind of peanut butter from the supermarket – it’s about half the price, 65p a jar – and while it does contain a little sugar and vegetable oil, this means you can spread it more easily and consequently use less. It is also much easier to mix with other ingredients as in this recipe.

When I ate this I actually added some grated Asian pears into the mix, which were super juicy, but this was more because they weren’t really nice enough to eat straight – no flavour – than any other reason. In the past, however, I have added grated sour (unripe) mango, and that worked really well.

Butterbean salad for supper-last tuesday week!

Ok, got some catching up to do…I am going to get on top of this and get disciplined…so

I used some wild garlic (Ransom) leaves – roughly torn by hand and then gently wilted in olive oil for 30 seconds and marjoram in mine.
This is a really good main course salad for when salad greens are expensive and imported. It’s also about 50% out of the store cupboard, and depending on what you add to it, can be made to travel well for work/picnics – nothing worse than slimy lettuce leaves that have got a bit warm, eh?
The way you assemble it may seem weird, but it ensures that the beans soak up flavour from the vinegar, without making the bread go pappy and soggy.

Ingredients – serves 2 as a main course, 15mins
Core ingredients –
1 can butterbeans
1 small red onion, finely sliced
8-10 cherry tomatoes left whole, or 2 tomatoes, cubed, if you’re going to eat it straight away.
Handful (about 5-6 per person) black olives, the shiny, slightly wrinkly kind.
1-2 slices stale bread, toasted
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black pepper
Mean pinch of salt to taste – you won’t need as much as you think, because of the olives.
Herb of choice

Optional ingredients if you’re eating it straight away
10 cm length of cucumber, cubed or 1 small Lebanese cucumber, cubed
Handful of baby spinach leaves
Basil
Rocket

Optional ingredients if you’re making it for later
Lightly cooked green beans, cut into 2cm lengths
Roasted red pepper, torn into shreds
Sweet marjoram, thyme or rosemary

Method
Lightly toast bread, and leave it in the toaster or under the turned off grill.
Rinse butter beans, and add to a bowl with the onion and a healthy twist of coarse black pepper – mix by hand and gently squeeze – you want the beans to keep their shape, but some of their skins to slightly break so the flavours get in. Add vinegar and mix again.

Re-toast bread (you want it to be completely dry without it burning) and rub the garlic clove over both sides, then tear into smallish chunks or cut into cubes. In a separate bowl, combine oil and bread. If you’ve only got white sliced, and you’re making this salad for later, it is worth gently frying your toasted cubes in the oil like croutons.

Add tomatoes, olives, salt, herb of choice and anything else you’re using to the beans and mix. If you’re eating it straight away, you can mix in the bread as well, if not, lay it on top of the salad and mix when you come to eat it….it doesn’t matter if some of the oil gets into the salad – in fact that’s a good thing, but you don’t want the bread to sit in the vinegar too long before you chow down.