fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

SAM_3559

Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

SAM_3572

Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

SAM_3566

Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

SAM_3567

While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

SAM_3573

Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

SAM_3575

It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

Advertisements

in a bit of a pickle: radishes

I have no opening statement for this post, because I have said it all before; I love pickling things. I just love it; I love the colours it creates and I love how it captures the flavours of a season in a jar, extending the life of the ingredients and the memories.

SAM_3288

Pickled radishes are a staple in my kitchen. They are a lovely juxtaposition of sweet and tangy and brighten up any dish they are strewn over top of.

SAM_2866

The process is so simple, and unlike the lemons I pickled a few months ago, the flavour is noticeably different even within an hour.

Slice a bunch of radishes as thinly as you can – either with a grater or a mandolin and pack them as tightly as you can into a glass jar.

Cover them with a tablespoon of sugar, another of salt and a third of olive oil. Top with a glug of apple cider vinegar – enough for all of the radishes to be covered.

SAM_3562

Shake it up and leave it to settle, the colour of the radishes will leach out into the liquid, colouring it a beautiful bright pink which will also be absorbed into the white flesh of the radishes.

SAM_3564

You can even experiment with what you add to the pickling solution. What’s your favourite way of doing it?

lentil, fennel and mushroom salad

SAM_3508Salads are a great way of experimenting with food; much of the planning can be done in your head during the day and they are often quick and easy to throw together, plus the trial and error process is always an interesting way of finding a great flavour combination.

As summer approaches, I have seen fennel salads popping up on menus all over the place, and even though the ones I have sampled have been delicious, they haven’t exactly been substantial enough to work as a standalone meal.

SAM_3498

The obvious solution to this problem was to make my own and see what I could string together.

A fennel bulb looks like a beautifully ridiculous onion, with fine green feathers sprouting from the top. Its flavour is sweeter and more subtle than onion or leek and coats anything it touches in a faint liquorish scent – I find the seeds a little overpowering but the bulb makes a great base to a salad; it even works as a substitute for lettuce!

Slice one fennel bulb as thinly as you can and combine with the zest and juice of one lemon. I diced a couple of black olives and mixed them through too, with a bit of the olive brine for saltiness and a dash of cider vinegar for tartness.

SAM_3500

Peel and half about six mushrooms, coat them in egg wash and roll them in breadcrumbs, I used panko because the pieces are larger; meaning they crisp up better and aren’t so prone to burning.

SAM_3502

Fry the mushrooms in butter at a low heat – you want them to cook through without burning! Transfer the mushrooms, and any dislodged crumbs to a plate and add a few of your favourite spices to the leftover butter. I used cinnamon and chilli powder. Add a can of drained lentils and stir so the spices are evenly distributed. You only want to heat the lentils for a few minutes; just enough to warm them slightly and get rid of any excess water. It goes without saying, but dried lentils that you have cooked yourself will always be better as they hold their shape better and tend not to go mushy.

Distribute the fennel between two plates and top with a mound of lentils. Balance the mushrooms on top and sprinkle with some diced red bell pepper and chopped parsley for a bit of colour.

aubergine and sweet potato summer stack

Even though the in-between parts of seasons are problematic for guessing the weather forecast or planning a temperature-appropriate outfit, they are a great for a varying abundance of produce.

Unless you’re going to buy your produce imported or from a greenhouse, things that I try and steer away from, this recipe really is only viable while aubergines are in season. Even though it is warm and roasted, there are so many fresh and raw elements that it makes sense to limit it to the warmer months.

My aubergine and sweet potato stack is a dish stuck somewhere in between a roast vege salad and a plate of raw greens… in a good way! Layers of soft and warm eggplant, crisp discs of sweet potato and spinach leaves full of crunch, topped off with sweet smoked bell peppers, soft crumbly feta and capers for a salty pop.

SAM_2860

It’s so easy; the hardest part is stacking it all up without the tower toppling over!

Begin by roasting an entire red bell pepper under the grill of an oven, or, if you’re feeling dangerous, on a gas stove element. Roast on a high heat until the skin begins to blacken and blister; this will take a while but keep an eye on it and rotate it for even charring.

SAM_2858

Use this time to slice an aubergine into 1cm thick slithers, and one large sweet potato into 2cm thick discs. Getting a uniform consistency with the sweet potato will be difficult because they are such a beautifully ugly vegetable (one of the reasons I love them so!), but having nice even slices will make the stacking part a bucket load easier!

SAM_2855

Drizzle them in olive oil, turn the oven to bake, lower the temperature to 180°C and switch them the with pepper. If possible, bake the vegetables on different trays and place the aubergine on a lower shelf inside the oven. By arranging the trays like this, the eggplant slices will slowly bake without crisping, and by the time the sweet potato is cooked tender and golden, the aubergine will have garnered a soft texture; not too crisp but no longer tough and chewy.

Flip each rondelle after about 15 minutes and continue baking for a further 20 or until they look like they’re done.

In the meantime, slice the top off the smoky bell pepper and peel off the skin so you are just left with the tender red flesh. Slice into thin slithers and that component is complete!

Wash the leaves of one bunch of spinach and tear the leaves into manageable bite size segments. Fun fact: tearing the leaves, instead of cutting them, stops them from browning. Crumble some feta and once the eggplant and sweet potato are cooked, you’re ready to plate up.

SAM_2863

Begin with two mountains of spinach, on separate plates and pile alternate layers of eggplant, sweet potato and the remaining spinach with the utmost care – hold your breath so the tower doesn’t collapse if you think that’ll help.

Once you have exhausted your vegetable piles, dress with the snakes of red pepper and crumbled feta, top with a teaspoon of capers, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper.

Serve with a congratulatory glass of red wine – you deserve it!

olives and oven-baked feta

Since starting to make my own cheeses, I have begun experimenting with different ways to use it. Although feta goes great on toast with a drizzle of honey, I thought it was probably a better idea to push my abilities more than that, regardless of how good it might taste.

I have been pleasantly surprised with feta’s versatility; its creaminess allows for it to break down into a rich sauce, yet it is soft, spreadable and ideal for a snack of crackers or bread. It is also able to hold its form rather well when baking. And that is what I am doing with it in this recipe.

SAM_2929

Even though I have never been to Greece, I think that it is probably my food spirit country, a member of the long list of ancestors’ homelands, I have a hereditary love of olives and feta, don’t get me started on the correct way to make horiatiki or moussaka, and we have previously discussed how obsessed with baklava I am.

SAM_2916

This recipe is not a Greek dish per say, but it is inspired by Greek flavours, adapted from a recipe I found in an old cooking magazine recently. The proportions for this dish are very fluid, and my fluid I mean you can add as much as you want of anything. But here is what I used: one green and one orange bell pepper, one punnet of cherry tomatoes, one onion, about 200grams of feta (yours doesn’t have to be homemade, but mine was) and about ½ of a large jar of olives. I used Kalamata olives but any kind will work, if possible, try and avoid pitted olives because they won’t keep their shape when they cook.

SAM_2920

To start with, thinly slice your onion and combine it with a small dash of lemon juice and a teaspoon of sugar. Thinly slice the peppers and place them in a large roasting dish with the onion and olives, you can also add some whole, peeled garlic cloves if you so desire. Season with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle with olive oil, a dash of red wine vinegar and add a bay leaf. Depending on your tastes, you can add a teaspoon each of chilli powder and fennel seeds, a dash of cinnamon and the zest of a lemon (I used dried lemon peel).

SAM_2922

Roast at 180°C for 25 minutes, stir is occasionally to get an even roast and cut the tomatoes in half while you wait. Break the feta into quarters, place on top of the vegetables and pour the chopped tomatoes over top, add more pepper if you think it needs it.

SAM_2924

Bake for another 10 minutes, the tomatoes will become tender and the cheese will soften and begin to crisp up slightly. It is best that the tomatoes do not become too tender and lose their shape, too long in the oven and this will happen to the feta too.

As a summer meal, serve the dish warm, with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the juices. This dish has all the makings of a delicious, comforting winter meal; add lamb fillets or chops to the dish before you begin cooking.

raw food club: courgette and mushroom salad

Summer is upon us, my friends! I know that it feels like winter ended about yesterday, and European Spring really isn’t much better than winter, but believe me; it will just jump out from around the corner and it will be here!

Plaza de España - Sevilla, Spain
Plaza de España – Sevilla, Spain

Summer is the time for salads. There are several reasons why this is the case; when the temperature is up in the early forties, we want to spend as little time in the kitchen near a hot stove, and the idea of a hot meal is far less appealing. So here is my solution.

SAM_2868

This is my raw courgette and mushroom salad with feta and pickled radishes. The acid in the dressing slightly pickles the mushrooms, taking the raw edge off their earthy flavour, making them juicy with an awesome zing. In contrast, the courgette is fresh and crunchy, I slice it as thinly as possible with a mandolin to create an almost leafy texture.

For the dressing, you will need:
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients with a bit of salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and thinly slice 6 button mushrooms and pour the dressing over top to marinate the mushrooms. Thinly slice 2 courgettes, if you don’t have a mandolin you can use a regular knife to slice them as thinly as possible, you can also use a vegetable peeler to get a more desirable effect.

SAM_2866

Combine the courgette slices with 2 handfuls of torn spinach leaves, mix through the mushrooms and ¼ cup of feta (mine was homemade, just saying). Top with a small handful of pickled radishes, adding a tablespoon of the pickling liquid overtop. You could also a handful of roasted almonds or ½ of a diced avocado. The almonds could also act as a substitute for the feta.

If you are having trouble finding pickled radishes, they are so easy to make! Here is how I do it; thinly slice a bunch of radishes – enough to fill whatever size jar you have, for a small jar add ½ a teaspoon of salt and sugar each and fill the jar with vinegar or vodka. Screw the lid on and give it a good shake, the radishes will be nice and pickled after a few days and will keep for a while in the fridge. Easy!

Courgette and mushroom salad, homemade feta, spicy buttered potatoes
Courgette and mushroom salad, homemade feta, spicy buttered potatoes

This salad is takes about 10 minutes from start to finish which is perfect on a sunny day when cooking is the last thing on your mind! Serve by itself for lunch, or with some buttery boiled potatoes as a meal, or it is ideal accompanied with an antipasto platter of cheese, olives, capers and breads.