Tales from Rivvy’s Kitchen – Salads

It’s been a long time since I posted anything from my kitchen. With the weather being so nice and having prepared for a couple of barbecues and picnics, I thought I’d do a post on salads.

GREEN SALAD

Everyone knows how to do a green salad – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber. Easy as pie, right? Thing is, basic green salads can get a little boring (even with the addition of peppers and radishes!) so here are a few little things to consider:

Use half regular tomatoes and half sun blush tomatoes – give an intense zing of flavour. These can be purchased from all good supermarkets and delis. Be sure to get sun blush and not sun dried. Sun blush are semi-dried tomatoes so they’re still soft but with the super intense flavour. They usually come preserved in oil with garlic and herbs which can then be used to make vinaigrette (see below).

Add in torn fresh herbs – fresh basil is great in salads. Rocket and watercress give a little bite too.

Add roasted artichoke hearts. These can be bought from the supermarket preserved in oil, or purchased from most good delis. They have a crisp, almost sour taste.

Add beetroot – I like to use the baby sweetfire betroot. They’re dipped in peppered vinegar for a rich explosion of taste.

Fruit – sounds weird but I love putting fruit in my salads. Ever since I went to South Africa as a child and was served salad with huge chunks of fresh pineapple in it, it’s become a staple of my salad creation. If you can’t find fresh pineapple, grapes are a good alternative. I also use pomegranate a lot. I buy the tubs of ready prepared pomegranate and just chuck them in. If you’re not into exotic fruit, nectarines and apples are equally as good.

Sprinkles – no, I’m not talking about those horrible little pink things that are supposed to taste like smoked bacon. Bleurgh. I tend to dress my salads with a mix of seeds (pumpkin, linseed, sunflower etc) and roasted beans (usually soy, but I sometimes buy the mixed ones too. You can find them in the wholefoods section at most supermarkets, or at health food stores). If I’m taking a salad for lunch at work and I need it to keep me full all afternoon, I’ll add in a handful of mixed nuts too. I like the flavour and the crunch of nuts, seeds and beans, but they come with the added bonus of being super-rich in protein, nutrients, minerals and fibre.

If I’m taking a big salad for lunch, I’ll put chunks of chicken and and also sometimes crumble feta cheese over the salad. Torn mozzarella is another good one to add to salads.

SALAD DRESSING

Shop bought
There are some really good dressings out there, particularly the cream based ones, and although they can be made at home, there are two I particularly like to buy. I will always buy Caesar salad dressing rather than make it, because I prefer the flavour.

The other is Balsamic Syrup. It can be made by reducing balsamic vinegar with sugar, but it’ll make your whole house smell for a couple of days and the vapours can get pretty acrid. Far easier and more pleasant to buy this wonderful and versatile condiment at the shop. It’s really good on tomatoes, sliced with mozzarella and basil. It’s good for regular salads too. My brother (the chef) loves to use it for decorating plates with because it’s viscous and flavoursome.

Vinaigrette
I’ve always made my own vinaigrette. It’s incredibly simple:

– 2 parts oil (you can use anything from basic vegetable right through to sesame or coconut or any of the expensive oils. Flavour infused oils are good too, such as garlic, chilli or herb.)

– 1 part acid (vinegar of any sort (including balsamic, white wine, cider etc), lemon or lime juice, dry wine etc)

– 1 or 2 teaspoons of sweetness (any kind of sugar, honey etc)

Sugar seems like a counter-intuitive thing to add to a savoury vinaigrette, but trust me. Without it, it doesn’t taste right. Especially if you use the lemon juice – sugar brings the sunshine right out in it πŸ™‚

Extras –

My family has always made our vinaigrettes with mustard. You can use either half a teaspoon of mustard powder, or a whole teaspoon of a mild (e.g. Dijon) or wholegrain mustard. I like to use wholegrain because I like the flavour and it looks good.

If you’re making a lemon or lime based vinaigrette, grate the zest into it. It makes the flavour that much more intense. My favourite is lime and mustard vinaigrette for salads, but frequently I’ll make it with lemon, curling the zest instead of grating it, and toss it over freshly boiled new potatoes. Serve warm with sliced avocado…mmmmm πŸ˜€

Pureed fruit – for a properly posh sounding vinaigrette, leave out the mustard and add in some pureed fruit, raspberry for example. If you’re going to make a raspberry or strawberry vinaigrette, I would advise putting it through a fine sieve after pureeing to remove the pips and using lemon or lime juice rather than a basic malt vinegar. Equally, for a lovely British twist, make your vinaigrette with pureed strawberries and a dry champagne πŸ˜‰

Handy tips –

I have a transparent tupperware beaker with a screw on lid that I use for making vinaigrette in. I can chuck everything in (measurements don’t have to be exact), put the lid on and then shake it until I have an emulsion. The bonus of this is that I can then put the lid on and keep it in the fridge.

I usually use mine within a week to 10 days. I certainly wouldn’t store it any longer than that. It can also be made a couple of days in advance of barbecues if there is a lot of preparation to do.

As mentioned above, it’s great on potatoes as well as on salads. It’s also good for drenching courgette/cucumber ribbons in. It’s actually also rather nice just for dipping bread in lol.

POTATO SALAD

I didn’t realise until recently that people have a thing about potato salad. It’s so simple I kind of assumed that everyone knew how to make it, but apparently not. Homemade is SO much nicer than shop bought.

Boil some new or baby new potatoes until cooked. Drain and leave to cool. You can wash with cold water to speed up the cooling process but if you’re preparing for a big meal, it’s best to cook them and then just leave them to one side while you get on with other stuff.

When they’re cool enough to hold in your hands, chop into bite size chunks in a bowl. Add 2 – 4 sliced spring onions, depending how much salad you’re making, salt and pepper to taste and then a couple of healthy dollops of good quality mayonnaise. I usually use the low fat Helmans.

Stir and voila! Tasty, homemade, simple potato salad. Love.

If you’re storing unfinished potato salad, make sure you cover it and keep it in the fridge or the mayo will dry out and you run the risk of getting food poisoning.

RICE SALAD

Growing up, we always had rice salad at family barbecues. To this day it remains one of my favourites, although I don’t make it very often. Being mayonnaise based, but much more complex than potato salad, I won’t often make both and usually end up just having potatoes. You’ll need:

– white easy cook long grain rice, cooked and cooled
– good quality mayonnaise
– one raw carrot, peeled and finely chopped
– half a small tin of sweetcorn, drained
– grated zest and juice of a lemon
– 2 – 4 spring onions, to personal taste
– handful of blanched almonds, roughly chopped
– salt and pepper to season
– fresh garden peas (optional)
– chives or parsley (optional)

Simply chuck everything into a bowl together and stir. It really is that easy.

As with all mayonnaise based foodstuffs, if you have leftovers, store in the fridge well covered. Do not keep for longer than a couple of days. Rice and mayo are both high risk for food poisoning if stored incorrectly or too long.

ROASTED PEPPERS

Roasted peppers are so ridiculously easy to make and yet, whenever I serve them to guests, I get the most amazing compliments. It seems to be one of those things that people are reluctant to try, but I would encourage you to have a go. I have two roasted pepper recipes that my family uses all the time. The first is incredibly simple, the second more complex. They can be served as a starter with a warm crusty roll or as an accompaniment to the main meal. Because I’m trying not to eat too many carbs, I tend to use the second recipe as the sole accompaniment to my chicken or fish (sometimes with green salad too!). Both recipes are healthy.

The trick to cooking peppers is to do them at a low temperature for an extended period of time. If you cook them too hot, the skins will char but the flesh will remain hard. I usually preheat my fan oven to 170-180 degrees C and cook them for approximately 40 – 50 minutes.

Roasted peppers 1

This was adapted from a Delia Smith recipe years and years ago.

– red or orange bell peppers, sliced in half lengthways and deseeded
– salad tomatoes, segmented
– tinned anchovies, chopped up small
– fresh garlic, minced
– oil (olive, sunflower or vegetable)
– salt and pepper

Lay the peppers out like boats, fill to the brim with tomato segments and then push the minced garlic and chopped anchovies into the nooks and crannies. I know a lot of people have issues with anchovies but in this instance you can’t actually taste them because there are so many other strong flavours going on. All they serve to do is add depth to the savoury nature of this dish so please trust me and try it at least once!

Once the peppers are thoroughly stuffed, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, drizzle them thoroughly with oil and then put them in the oven until the peppers are cooked through.

These are delicious as a starter but I will often serve them with fresh ravioli or other filled pastas. When you cut into them, juice will drain everywhere providing a rich sauce for the pasta.

Roasted pepper 2

– 2 bell peppers, with the ‘lids’ cut off and deseeded
– 2 tablespoons dried cous cous
– 2 spring onions or a handful of chives
– zest and juice of one lime
– quarter of a standard block of feta cheese chopped into small chunks
– 1 large salad tomato
– salt and pepper to taste
– chorizo, finely chopped (optional)

When preparing your peppers (they should stand upright on the baking tray), retain the top you’ve chopped off and dice it finely. You can add it into the stuffing for colour.

Mix everything in a bowl (cous cous, onions/chives, lime, cheese, tomato, seasoning, chopped pepper and chorizo if required). Stir thoroughly and then stuff the mixture into the peppers, compacting it down so they are full.

Bake until the peppers are cooked through.

I know it seems a little weird to bake dried cous cous, but it absorbs all the cooking juices from the pepper and tomato, as well as all the lime juice. It comes out soft, except for a crunchy crumblike layer on the top.

I like mine without chorizo. My mum likes it with. It’s personal taste. All I will say is that adding chorizo does make it less healthy as it’s an oily food, however tasty it is!

So there you have it. Three different salads, plus dressings and ideas for a couple more, as well as side dishes. I hope this will brighten up your barbecue season this summer. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments πŸ™‚

Hopefully I’ll be back with more tales from my kitchen soon!

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