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… and I never want to.

Chopped salads weren’t a feature of my childhood. Run-of-the-mill lettuce n’ tomato combos (tomato ignored by me at the time) and coleslaw were regulars on our table. But chopped… Not that I remember. And I’ve always flicked past them in cookbooks because copious amounts of mayonnaise always seem to be involved and that just makes me feel a little queasy. Teeny tiny pieces of unidentifiable food drowning in an ocean of gooey dressing does not make for an appetising dish.

Also, somehow, in my brain, chopped salad equalled egg mayo salad. Don’t ask me why.

Well, that’s one prejudice well and truly demolished. I don’t know what drew me to this recipe the most – the promise of the salty feta or the contrasting lighter flavour of the cucumber, along with the herbs. But all of a sudden, there I was at the kitchen counter, crumbling cheese, chopping red onion and rifling the fridge for whatever herbs I could find like my life depended on it.

The result was a crunchy, tangy revelation. To the point where I just stood there, scooping one spoonful after another onto a hunk of bread and shovelling it greedily into my mouth. Scoop, shovel, chomp, repeat. Followed by small sighs of contentment.

Joanna Weir’s Cucumber and Feta Salad via the incomparable David Lebovitz.

From time to time, I have the chance to work from home – which makes me giddy like a small child at Christmas for two reasons:

1. It’s another 30 or 40 minutes wrapped in the cocoon of my duvet. Bliss.

2. I can make lunch at home and eat something that I wouldn’t normally even think about bringing into the office.

Cherry and goat’s cheese salad from The Sunday Times (Style section), Lucas Hollweg

Serves 4 but it’s pretty easy to cut down to one

You’ll need:

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 big handfuls of baby spinach
4 handfuls of cherries, pitted
200g soft white goat’s cheese (the stuff that comes in plastic tubs, not the rinded logs)
2 handfuls of whole or flaked blanched almonds toasted in a dry frying pan until tinged gold

1. Whisk together the vinegar and oil, and season well.

2. Toss in a salad bowl with the leaves and cherries. Add the goat’s cheese and gently fold in, then scatter with the almonds. Serve.

Cook’s notes

Oops – I misread the recipe and used two tablespoons of sherry vinegar. Happily, this turned out to be a good thing as I hate oily dressing anyway.

I only had the oozy, gooey type of goat’s cheese in the fridge and the recipe was none the worse for it.

Lucas also has a rather tempting-looking cherry frangipane tart in the same article. I think I’ve got enough cherries left over…

Lemony lentil salad

After all the sweet shenanigans of my last post, I need something savoury to to bring my tastebuds back into balance (and maybe my waistline too 😉 ).

Although, considering that there are two lemons, a tablespoon of capers and a healthy dose of chopped onion in this earthy salad, you might think I’ve gone too far in the other direction… However, it mellows down a bit after a night in the fridge and the flavours mingle to produce something that’s not quite as mouth-puckeringly tart but still definitely satisfies all my savoury leanings.

Happily, it’s also turned out to be an easy-and-versatile little number – which guarantees both a place in my heart and my regular repetoire. So far we’ve served it warm with baked trout for dinner and I’ve taken the leftovers in to work for lunch as part of a salad, layered up with veggies and some salty feta to top it off. Now that’s savoury and no mistake.

When the weather gets colder (not yet! not yet!) I’m thinking it would go well with roasted veggies, or act nicely as a sharp foil against the creaminess of a cheesy potato bake. In fact, you could dollop it on the side of just about anything you care to think of. Maybe just scoop it out straight of the bowl with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the dressing…

This recipe is my entry for the June edition of No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa’s Vegetarian Kitchen. The latest challenge was to produce a soup or salad based on legumes/pulses – always handy to have as part of a healthier lifestyle, so I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with 🙂   

Lemony lentil salad from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

Serves 4

You’ll need:

1 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed (preferably something like Puy or Beluga lentils, ones that will hold their shape well)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 cup minced fresh chives, shallot or red onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Put the lentils in a medium pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Add the bay leaf and the garlic, and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat so that the lentils bubble gently. Cook until just tender but not burst – 20 to 30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure there is always enough water at the bottom of the pan to keep the lentils from burning.

2. Squeeze the juice from one of the lemons into a large bowl. Peel the other lemon and chop the segments roughly into smaller pieces, taking care to remove the seeds. Add the segments to the bowl along with the olive oil, capers and minced onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and stir.

3. Drain whatever water remains from the lentils and stir into the dressing while hot. Let the salad rest, stirring occasionally to distribute the dressing, until it cools down a bit. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve warm or refridgerate for up to several days.

Interesting alternative: Bittman suggests using two tangerines instead of the lemons. Will be trying that version out as soon as the current batch is used up. Which will be very soon at this rate 🙂

Lemony lentil salad

prawn, borlotti bean, grean bean and pepper salad

It’s amazing how a bit of warm weather can get you more motivated in the kitchen. Suddenly, you feel like salad isn’t just something sitting limply on the side of a hot dinner, a token stab at something crunchy with vitamins. The sunshine seeps into your brain, perceptions shift and, ta da!, salad is the main course.

Long may it continue 🙂

Prawn and cannellini bean salad from Tossed – 200 fast, fresh and fabulous salads

Serves 4

You’ll need:

400g can cannellini beans
2 red peppers, roasted
300g green beans
1/2 loaf day-old ciabatta or other crusty bread
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1kg raw prawns, peeled and deveined
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Lemon and caper dressing
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar, optional

1. Rinse the cannellini beans and place in a large serving bowl.

2. Cut the roasted peppers into strips and add to the beans.

3. Bring a saucepan of lightl salted water to the boil, add the green beans and blanch until bright green and just tender – about two to three minutes. Drain and add to the serving bowl.

4. Put all the lemon and caper dressing ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well. Season and set aside.

5. Cut the bread into six slices, then cut each slice into quarters. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the slices of bread over a medium heat for a minute or two on each side until golden. Remove.

6. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan, add the garlic and prawns, and cook for two to three minutes or until the prawns turn opaque. Toss the prawns through the salad with the dressing, toasted bread and parsley, then serve.

Cook’s notes

No cannellini beans in the house, so I went with borlotti instead.

I didn’t have 1kg of prawns hanging around either but using less wasn’t a problem, there’s just so much good stuff in this salad to keep you occupied.

I have no idea why I followed that bit about frying the bread – you know what it’s like when you use a recipe for the first time – you follow it to the letter because you might learn something new… I should have just cooked up some chunky garlicky croutons at the same time as roasting the peppers – that’s definitely what I’ll do next time around 🙂

I’m thinking this would be good picnic food. Mind you, I’m thinking everything would be good picnic food after being cooped up in the house for so long!

Inspired by Holler’s smoothie making the other day, I went off in search of our juicer to give it a whirl after far too long on the shelf (along with all the other ‘must have’ kitchen widgets that we’ve accumulated over the years). But then, quite typically, I was distracted by the first shiny object that I saw – the mandoline.

And so I rushed off to find things to slice (apart from my fingers). And look up recipes that required lots of finely sliced things. If you’re in the mood for a mighty fine potato tortilla, then I can highly recommend this recipe over at Smitten Kitchen. But if you want something that looks and tastes a little bit Christmassy, then please give this fennel and smoked salmon salad a try. It’s one of those dishes that offers maximum flavour and enjoyment in return for not much effort. Let’s face it, we could all do with a few more time-savers at this time of year 🙂

For the record, I only nearly lost the tip of a finger – when I took the safety guard off the mandoline and tried to squeeze through one last wafer thin slice of fennel. And almost slipped. That was a close call!

Smoked salmon and fennel salad from Tossed, 200 fast, fresh and fabulous salads

Serves 4

You’ll need:

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, fronds reserved
200g smoked salmon, cut into strips
2 tbsp snipped chives
rocket leaves, to serve
4 lemon wedges

For the dressing:

2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp caster sugar
125 ml olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice

1. Thoroughly whisk all the dressing ingredients together and put to one side. Chop enough fennel fronds to make up 1 tablespoon and add to the dressing.

2. Arrange the rocket, fennel, salmon and chives on a plate and serve, with the dressing and lemon wedges along side. Or toss all the salad ingredients with the dressing and then serve – however you prefer to do these things.

Cook’s notes

I used a little less oil than the recipe suggested. I couldn’t tell you exactly how much as I just guess-timated in order to have a sharper, less oily salad.

I forgot the chives. Oh well – that’s nothing new. Spring onions were a perfect substitution.

It worked out suprisingly well as a main course salad. I thought it would leave us hungry for something else afterwards but, with a bit of crusty bread along side, it was all we needed for dinner.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, limes.

The other lovely lime-drenched recipe I’ve added to my ‘will make regularly, forever’ list comes from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was looking for a good wintery lunchtime salad – something that would fill me up without inducing sleepiness, which is kind of a problem for me. That snoozy, cozy feeling that creeps up after too much mid-day starch and when the office heating dial is turned up to 11…

Granted, I’m not working at the moment but hopefully I will be at some point (soon!), so I’m always on the hunt for new, easily transportable lunchbox fare that isn’t just another boring sandwich again. This lentil salad recipe ticks all the boxes and makes enough to last several days. In fact, it’s better after a day in the fridge, soaking in its punchy lime-cumin vinaigrette (which tastes great when you sop it up with a bit of crusty bread). And, it’s easy to keep this dish from getting repetitive if you vary the added extras from day to day.

So, may I present a dish with an rather unwieldy title but more than enough zingy flavour and substance to keep you powering through till dinnertime with nary a snooze:

Lentil salad with roasted peppers, vegetable garnishes and lime-cumin vinaigrette adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Makes enough for 2 to 3 lunchboxes

For the lime-cumin vinaigrette, you’ll need:

1 garlic clove, minced
grated zest of 2 limes
2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons of finely chopped spring onion or shallot
1/2 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

1. Combine the garlic, lime zest, juice,, spring onion and chile in a bowl.

2. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant, then immediately remove to a plate to cool. Grind to a powder in a spice mill, the add to the juice mixture.

3. Whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust as needed.

4. Let the dressing sit for at least 15 minutes and add the coriander just before using.

For the lentil salad, you’ll need:

1/2 cup of Puy lentils
salt and pepper
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted and chopped
lime-cumin vinaigrette (see above)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and quartered

Possible extras
: feta, hard-boiled eggs, olives, cucumber

1. Cover the lentils with water in a small saucepan, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but still a little firm – about 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Drain the lentils and toss them while still warm with the peppers, tomatoes, half of the vinaigrette, parsley and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Mound the lentils in a platter (or a lovely tupperware box, if taking to work) and garnish with any of the suggested extras above. Or whatever takes your fancy, really!

Cook’s notes

Once again, I prefer to use a higher ratio of herbs and veggies to main salad ingredient. There’s nothing worse than only finding a few measley bits of roasted pepper in a sea of lentils. Why would you want that? So I’ve halved the amount of lentils Deborah suggested but pretty much kept the rest of the recipe the same as hers.

Except for the dill. I left that out because it’s not my favourite and there’s enough herby stuff going on in the recipe that I don’t think anyone would miss it greatly. However, if dill is your thing then add 2 tablespoons at stage 2, along with the parsley and mint.

And, of course, because I only used half the amount of lentils, it follows that I just used half of the vinaigrette. Next time I might reduce the oil content of the dressing a bit more as there was already quite a bit on the roasted peppers. But that’s a small quibble and doesn’t take away from the general tastiness of this dish.

Oh yes – I left out the 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard specified for the vinaigrette because I didn’t have any. Didn’t miss it.

Pretty, isn’t it? It’s a lovely, simple salad of tomatoes, rocket and olives, with some oversized (very) garlicky croutons on the side. The perfect partner to go with the rest of the soup I grouchily posted here the other day.

But it’s not the salad per se that I wanted to write about – it’s the dressing. Only it’s a bit tricky to take interesting pictures of a salad dressing when it’s just kind of brown and liquidy:

See? That’s why the salad picture is at the top instead. Look a little closer and you’ll see the chopped onion component of the dressing. It’s one heck of a lot prettier in conjunction with the salad. More importantly, it tastes delicious and is now officially my new favourite salad dressing.

For a long time, my go-to dressing was a honey-mustard one (Jamie Oliver’s, I think). Many jars of honey and mustard would disappear during the summer months to make large batches of the good stuff and then the jars would later be recycled to store the dressings. But familiarity breeds contempt, or just tired taste buds, and I’ve been on the look out for something else to replace it for a while now.

Enter Llewellyn’s Irish Apple Balsamic Cider Vinegar. We visited the Dún Laoghaire farmers’ market a few weeks ago and I planned to do a proper post about it, I really did – but then moving house got in the way. I promise to write about it another time. What’s important for the purposes of this post is that I staggered away with several full bags of goodies (much to Mr B’s amusement), including a big bottle of cider and this fruity balsamic from David Llewellyn’s stall (he’d just won a Bridgestone Best in Ireland 2007 award, so he was a happy chappie).
We drank the cider (refreshing) and now the balsamic vinegar has found a happy place in my kitchen with this recipe. Although I think I’ll be looking for flimsy excuses to put it on everything for the next wee while, so I could be on the hunt for another new recipe soon…

Balsamic vinaigrette
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
4 teaspoons of balsamic, raspberry or other fruit vinegar
2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine both vinegars and the chopped shallot with a few pinches of salt and a little pepper in a small bowl.
2. Whisk in the olive oil and taste to make sure the balance is right – adjust as necessary.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any shallots but a bit of red onion worked just fine.

Also, I tend to like my salad dressings to be a little sharper than a lot of people, so I just used four tablespoons of oil. Nothing worse than a salad swimming in an oil slick.

I am the sandwich queen. Oh yes. Given half a chance (not even that, if I’m being honest), I would feast on this most perfect of food forms morning, noon and night. Mmmmm, sandwiches…

Not good for someone who likes to cook, is it?

But – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – sometimes, just sometimes, I get a teensy bit tired of two bits of bread with something slapped between them. And then I start thinking about salads. I dream about beautiful, ripe tomatoes bursting with the taste of summer, soft, buttery lettuce and spiky rocket, peppery radishes, the refreshing aniseed flavour of fennel… and oooh, anything else that can be chopped, diced, sliced and chucked into a bowl with some kind of interesting dressing. Mmmmm, salad…

This recipe comes from Tossed, which I optimistically brought along in the car when we moved over, so I could make delicious salads for hazy, hot summer days. Well, the current weather situation has well and truly scotched that little day dream. Never mind.

I wanted something quite substantial to munch on, a main course kind of salad for lunch, so I plumped for what is really tabbouleh but with some salty feta crumbled on top. Very easy to put together, it’s one of those dishes that tastes disproportionately wonderful in relation to the small amount of time you need to put it together. In fact, I had it for breakfast the day after I made it because I couldn’t wait until lunchtime, which either means that it’s delicious or I’m greedy – or perhaps both.

Bulgar, feta and parsley salad from Tossed

Makes enough for two servings.

You’ll need:

90g/1/2 cup of bulgar wheat
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
4 spring onions, finely chopped (I didn’t have enough so I threw in some radishes too)
2 firm ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded and diced
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved, seeded and diced
100g feta, crumbled
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Put the bulgar wheat in a large bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Leave to soak for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain well, then thoroughly squeeze out all the excess liquid.
2. Gently toss the bulgar in a bowl with all the remaining ingredients.
3. Season with salt and pepper, and mix together well. Leave for about an hour to let the flavours mingle.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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