Paris and I spend most of the week engaged in an intense back and forth about what we’re going to blog about at the weekend. We send each other links to blogs that might have a particularly well-arranged salad, or suggest a novel way of using chickpeas. We bandy around ideas of ingredient and flavour combinations, some of which we instantly dismiss as being too bizarre. In this case, we had gone through so many possible ideas for dishes involving preserved lemons, that by the weekend we had completely forgotten what we decided on. So this was a more spontaneous creation, centred around the notion that there had been a lot of talk throughout the week about red cabbage.
The ingredients in this salad were chosen primarily for their visual appeal, based on how well they would compliment the bright yellow of the preserved lemons. I know, right. Hipster food bloggers. Not to mention the poncey addition of pomegranate seeds. To be frank, I don’t actually enjoy eating pomegranate seeds that much – I find that hard bit in the middle somewhat irritating. But they look so beautiful, that for the sake of the photographs I conceded. We decided to pair the lemons with red cabbage (yellow + purple = good), then added vibrant green parsley leaves and red pomegranate seeds. When our eyes began to hurt, we chucked in some bulgur wheat to calm everything down a bit.
Bulgur wheat is my new favourite grain. It has the easy pour-a- kettle-of-water-over-it cooking method shared by cous-cous (and pot noodles, although I’ll pretend I don’t know that, as it wouldn’t do much for my food blogger image). It retains a pleasant bite and has a slight nutty taste. It balances out the sharp acidity of the lemons rather well. Preserved lemons are usually the preserve (pun entirely intended) of hearty Moroccan lamb tagines and baked fish dishes. Here we’ve given them a new lease of life as the centerpiece of this simple salad.
Even though I’ve almost lived in Bristol for a year now, I’ve only recently discovered that I live a mere 10 minutes’ drive away from Ikea. I used to make pilgrimages up from Devon to visit this place. I would always come back with a car-load of stuff that I didn’t really need and couldn’t quite remember buying, but that somehow felt completely necessary at the time. Upon hearing that my friend Nicola had never been to Ikea, I was dumbfounded. What, like, never? No. So the fact was that we had to go, and soon. I was trying to describe to her what was so good about it, using a series of vague gestures and half sentences. It’s a shop, yes. But so much more. You can buy furniture. And carpets and plants and photo frames. And then there’s the meatballs.
When visiting Ikea, I always endeavor to make a list and stick to it, but usually completely fail in the latter, and that’s if I remember to bring my list in the first place. I’m completely swayed by the cute Swedish names – it may be a boring curtain ring, but it’s called ‘Syrlig’, so naturally I have to buy it. The item at the top of my list was ‘clip-top jars’. I was shoving about ten into the (appropriately massive) trolley, to incredulous looks from Nicola, mumbling the words ‘dacanting’, ‘lentils’ and ‘useful’ as vague excuses. And they’re only 80p each – I think I sneaked in an extra two at the end for this reason alone. When I got my haul of jars home, I discovered that, despite stocking up on cashew nuts and cous-cous to have something to decant into my new jars, I still had a few spare. So, preserved lemons it is.
Preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in Moroccan cooking, especially in tagines and fish dishes. I was always a bit skeptical about their necessity (surely fresh lemons would do the trick just as well, right?) but once I tried the preserved variety I could see what all the fuss was about. The lemons are salted then packed into jars, covered with olive oil and left to do their thing for a few weeks. This renders the outer skin soft, and mutes the sharp acidic tang. They can be eaten, if you wish, straight from the jar. Whilst the lemons are preserving away for a week or so, Paris and I will be busy dreaming up ways to use them. Watch this space!
When Paris and I cook together, we make a lot of wholesome, healthy things. Like, a lot. There has been beetroot falafel, chargrilled apricots with chard and cous-cous, quinoa porridge…and those are just the ones we blog about. There has been many a grain salad Tuesday (#gst) in which we discuss our upcoming blog collaboration over various disgustingly virtuous, vegetable-based creations.
But just occasionally, a hankering for something a bit less holy raises its head. More specifically, something that contains (stage whisper) sugar. Not even brown sugar, which for some reason seems healthier than white. No, this cake was made with the sin of all sins that is white refined sugar. The hashtag #refinedsugarfree will most definitely not apply. So there.
This recipe is vegan, so all is not lost. Mashed banana and oil seem to do the trick of binding all the ingredients together, giving a convincing cake texture. It is denser than a cake made by beating the hell out of butter and sugar, but with a banana cake I feel that a bit of density goes with the territory. This is a great way of using up those bruised, blackened bananas lurking at the bottom of the fruit bowl (although a few were so far gone that we had to admit defeat and consign them to the compost).
Have a gander at Avocado Please.