Friday 15 March 2013

Winter Salads with a Touch of Spring

The weather is all over the place.  One minute it is sunny, the next it is freezing and it is difficult to know what to eat.  The odd glimpse of sunshine puts me the mood for something more Spring-like, like a lovely fresh salad after a winter of stodge. Not Summer salads quite yet but a more substantial Wintery Salad with a hint of Spring. Lots of really healthy but more filling ingredients such as Buckwheat Noodles, pulses or rice fill you up and the first of the seasons Spring vegetables add colour and flavour. 

I have not one but three Winter salads. I think all three are really interesting. he first can be eaten either hot or cold. Two of them use home-made crispy onions. These are really easy to make, really delicious and produce a lovely, delicately flavoured onion oil which can be used in salad dressings.  The last salad is the most amazing as it can be not only be eaten as a salad but just add hot water and you have a soup.

So, first of all, I am using Wheatberrys which are whole wheat kernals similar to Farro, another favourite of mine and are also super good for you, high in fibre and protein but low in fat. They have a delicious nutty flavour and a nice chewy texture. I have been perfecting this salad for some time and I think the combination of New Season's Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Chilli and Crispy Onions is a winner and is delicious hot or cold.

The next is Baby Spinach, Black Rice, Butter Bean, Broad Bean and Pomegranate Salad. This is a salad was probably the invention of Gail Stephens and I used to make everyday at Baker and Spice and I love it. I don't know why but it just works. Black Rice is super good for you too.

My final salad is one I invented for a Riverford Dinner and I was trying to think up new ways with Sweet Mama Squash. I went for a Japanese theme comprising Soba Buckwheat Noodles with a Miso Dressing and finished the whole dish off with lots of crunchy seeds to add texture. I was really happy with my creation but it was too rich and I felt it needed lots more vegetables to balance the dressing so I added some roast cauliflower but some asparagus, beans sprouts or French beans would have been delicious too.  What is so bizarre about this salad is that if you add hot water you have a really lovely soup.

I know this selection of rather peculiar salads may sound like a lot or rather random ingredients thrown together but I honestly do recommend you try all three.

Crispy Fried Onions
You can make up a big batch of these and use them in all sorts of delicious ways.  The onions will keep for a week or two in air tight Tupperware.
Thinly slice a few large onions. Place in a saucepan and add vegetable oil to about half way to the top of the onions. You don't want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. The onions will cook down a huge amount. Place on a medium heat and cook carefully until they have sunk below the surface of the oil. Turn up the heat and deep fry until golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Drain immediately and break up any clumps. Scatter onto some kitchen paper and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Check out my Saffron Basmati Rice with Saffron, Roasted Cauliflower and Crispy Fried Onions recipe too.

Baby Spinach, Black Rice, Butter Bean, Broad Bean and Pomegranate Salad
Black Rice (Try Tilda)
Baby Spinach 
Broad Beans (I hate to say it but frozen are great and save you some time.)
Butter Beans, drained (tinned or cook your own)
Crispy Onions and Onion Oil (See above)
1 Pomegranate

Cook the rice according to the instructions.  Unlike white rice, it is quite hard to overcook. In fact, be more careful of under-cooking. It should be chewy, not tough. Remember, like with all rice, to salt the water. Drain well and allow to completely cool. Cook your broad beans and shell unless really sweet and small.  Cut the pomegranate in half and bang each half quite hard with a wooden spoon to release all the seeds. Remove any white pith.

Put your black rice in a large bowl with the broad beans, butter beans and pomegranate. Add some onion oil and season with sea salt and a little black pepper. The salt will bring the whole salad alive. Add some crispy fried onions and the baby spinach leaves.  Mix well and serve.

Wheatberries, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Crispy Fried Onions, Chilli and Garlic
Serves 2
100g Wheatberries (Try Merchant Gourmet) or you can use Freekeh, Farro, Bulgar or Barley
100g Purple Sprouting Broccoli
1 Fresh Red Chilli, very finely sliced
2 cloves Garlic, very finely sliced
Crispy Fried Onions and Onion Oil (see above)

Trim and cook your broccoli in plenty of salted boiling water. Remove and scatter the broccoli onto a tea towel to cool and drain. Add the Wheatberries to the same water and cook for 25 minutes or so until chewy and delicious.  Drain in a colander. Wipe out the saucepan and heat a little onion oil in it.  Add the chilli and garlic and cook until the garlic has turned a beautiful golden brown. Immediately add the drained Wheatberries to stop the garlic cooking further.  Add the broccoli and a handful of crispy fried onions.  Stir well, check seasoning and serve either hot or cold. 

Soba Buckwheat Noodle Salad with Roast Squash and Cauliflower, Mixed Seeds
Soba Buckwheat Noodles (Try Clearspring)
1/2 a Squash or a piece of Pumpkin (Sweet Mama, Butternut, Acorn etc)
1 Cauliflower
Sunflower Oil
Other vegetables you might like to use Asparagus, Beans Sprouts or French Beans
Seeds (Pumpkin, Sunflower, Sesame, Black Sesame etc)

Sweet White Miso or slightly healthier Barley or Brown Rice Miso (Try Clearspring)
Sesame Oil
Soy Sauce
Large knob of Ginger, grated preferably on a Microplaner
Fresh Red Chilli, Very finely chopped
Fresh Lime Juice or Pon Zu

Peel and cut your Pumpkin or Squash into bite-size chunks. Toss with a little Sunflower oil and a little sea salt and roast in a medium hot oven until soft and beginning to caramelise.  Cut the Cauliflower into bite-size florets and do exactly the same as for the Pumpkin. Roast until nicely cooked and beginning to go golden brown. Cook the noodles according to instructions, in plenty of salted boiling water (about 7 minutes) until they no longer taste floury. Drain and refresh immediately in plenty of cold water. Drain well in a colander. Dress with a little sesame oil.  Cook any other vegetables that may need cooking.

Make a dressing with the grated ginger, the Chilli, some Miso, some Soy and the lime juice.  You will not need much as it is very rich. Get a nice balance of sweet (Miso), salty (Soy), spicy (the Chilli) and sour (lime). Mix the dressing through your noodles and vegetables.  Do not over dress or it can be sickly. Finish with plenty of seeds.

If you want to make soup then just add a little boiling water and check seasoning.

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