01 April, 2010

salads, salads, everywhere

Don't you find you get on food kicks? I do. I get an urge to cook scallops and then I have them one night with loads of olive oil, parsley, breadcrumbs and garlic. The next night I want them with beets, potatoes and bacon.

Or pasta, when I cook rigatoni alla vodka sauce one night and then the night after that feel I can't live without carbonara.

Won't it be wonderful SOON when you can look up all these recipes on the magnificent INDEX that's coming? Just yesterday I sent my spreadsheet of categories to my Blog Angel Julian, the dear young man who is going to drag me into the land of the Search Optimized and Google Popularized. It will be simply brilliant for you, and for me, to be able to simply click on "Main Courses" and find "Shellfish" and there will be scallop recipe after scallop recipe.

But I digress. My point is, I've been on a "how to make more interesting salads" kick this week. I started with your basic "how many beans can you fit into a bowl" recipe, but then my passion was whetted and, as well, John's photographic ambitions. And thus were born these two completely luscious, versatile, and yet completely different salads.

I have had readers suggest that I add grilled chicken to them, that I add crispy tortilla strips to them, that I add a piece of lightly toasted baguette with olive oil to them. To all these suggestions I shout HURRAY and also throw in: how about some seared fillet steak? Some, dare I say it, sauteed scallops? Even some shaved Parmesan, to either one. These salads are marvellous, and JUST the beginning. Just you use your imagination, and I don't mean just your tastebuds. Imagine how they will LOOK, too, because I'm convinced, with salads at least, that contrasting color will automatically equal good flavors. I really think so. Can you imagine adding together any two red and green things and having it not be delicious? Plus, what ingredients cannot be married with chilli oil and lemon juice? I challenge you.

Red Pepper, Courgette and Black Bean Salad
(serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)

1 red bell pepper
1 large courgette (zucchini)
1 soup-size tin black beans, well rinsed and drained
1 large clove garlic
juice of 1 lemon
pulp of as much of a lemon as you can gather
1/2 tsp sea salt
lots of fresh-ground black pepper
1 tbsp chilli oil
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Dice the red pepper and the courgette in same-size bites, then mix in a large bowl with the black beans. Mince the garlic WITH the lemon juice and pulp and salt (this combination will break down the garlic into a mush, perfect for eating raw). Toss with the red pepper and courgette and beans and chilli oil, and sprinkle with black pepper.

Mound as high vertically on a plate as you can, and scatter the chopped parsley on top.


Beetroot, Goats Cheese and Wild Rocket and Sorrel Salad
(serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course)

3 medium beets
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
handful wild rocket
handful wild sorrel leaves
handful goats cheese in dice
1/4 red onion, diced
handful chives, chopped long
1 tbsp chilli oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste

Roast the beets by wrapping them, in a group, in foil and cooking in a very hot oven (425F) for an hour and a half. Leave them in the foil on the counter for 10 minutes or so before unwrapping and slipping the skins off (this time lapse allows the beets both to cool and to let go their skins by steaming).

Dice the beets and sprinkle with the vinegar.

Arrange the rocket and sorrel on a pretty place and pile the beets on them. Scatter with goats cheese, onion, and chives, and sprinkle the chilli oil and lemon juice on top. Season as you like.


Try these when you feel you've had just too much red meat, or fried food, or have been away from home and feel disconnected from the finer, most basic things in life. And if your children don't love salads (Avery won't eat anything with lettuce included), just deconstruct it. Beets and goats cheese are two of her favorite foods. But not together.

Let's see, part of what's put a sparkle in my step tonight is the arrival today of John's mom, a person we all hold so dear that all we can do most of the year is to avert our thoughts. We are separated for so much time that we can only enjoy the moments we are together, not dwell on the months spent apart.

She arrived this afternoon to a flurry of welcomes, kisses and hugs and "Oh, I love these photographs!" in the entry hall, and exclamations over the delightful cats, her cozy white bedroom overlooking the gardens of Hammersmith, the small gifts we had left on her bed with its fluffy white duvet. As always, presents emerged from her suitcase: a tea towel for me saying, "After a good dinner one can forgive almost all, even one's relatives." (Dear Oscar Wilde, such a clever boy.) And a gorgeous black shirt, and lots of clothes and precious makeup for Avery... just like Christmas!

We settled down to the business of appreciating her, her special way of making everything we say seem interesting, our lives interesting, Avery's accomplishments remarkable (well, her school report WAS pretty spectacular). And to think we have two weeks of her company to enjoy. Maybe if we eat enough vegetables, we'll live forever and have all the time in the world. Bring on the beets.

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