The wooden board in these photos was made by my friend Rosie Brewer, whose beautiful designs are made out of wood sourced from Devon forests. So, I wanted to make a simple salad to style on the board that wouldn’t take away from its natural beauty.
Due to an excess of figs, a somewhat middle class crisis, I chose to make them the focal point. I also have a certain affection for the combination of figs and cheese, so chose to add some Comté, one of my favourite cheeses. French, and made from unpasturised cow’s milk, Comté has a pleasant nutty taste, that went well with figs.
I tend to randomly throw things together when making salads, and have a fondness for combining fruit, cheese, nuts and a punchy dressing. But my primary consideration when making this salad was that the colours would work well on the board – I added thin slices of pink radishes purely for artistic reasons, as I don’t actually like them that much.
This salad is an unashamed plagiarism from a recently acquired cookbook, ‘Persiana’ by Sabrina Ghayour. Packed full of mouth-watering photos of exotic dishes, it’s a firm favourite. Many recipes feature ingredients that I already (somewhat smugly) own, such as sumac. The book is littered with recipes that I have already made more than once, which is rare – I consider a cookbook a success if I make one recipe from it.
I am normally somewhat underwhelmed by rice salads, and almost flicked straight past this one when browsing through the book. However, given that I have a nearly empty box of red rice lurking at the back of my cupboard, I decided to give it a go. It’s safe to say that I needed to seriously reevaluate my view on the matter after making this salad. The balance of sweet and salty is just right, and the colours and textures compliment each other beautifully. There is also a pleasing balance of warm and cold ingredients – chargrilled vegetables and toasted nuts with cold rice and onions – which works well.
Owning more than one type of rice may sound extravagant (at last count I have 3), but red rice is definitely worth tracking down for this recipe. It has a pleasant nutty taste, and retains its attractive maroon colour, even when cooked. It does take a rather long time to cook though, which I always forget, and am left tapping my fork impatiently against the side of the pan, willing it to cook faster. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it, as Sainsbury’s stocks it, proving once and for all that they’re paying attention to the latest hipster food trends. Red rice is staying firmly on my (somewhat hipster) shopping list from now on.
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.
This is an embarrassingly unoriginal Ottolenghi knock off. I even shamelessly copied the style of the photographs. The recipe is an amalgamation of two different offerings from Yotam’s latest cookbook, ‘Plenty More’. Apart from the dressing, which we cobbled together from random ingredients lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard, it’s pretty much a dead copy. Which is unusual, as I don’t find myself following recipes much these days. I get too frustrated with following exact measurements and prescriptive methods, and end up disregarding both and producing something that bares little resemblance to the intended dish. One of the hazards of being a food blogger, I guess.
Ottolenghi provides an unstoppable font of inspiration for me. He combines ingredients in ways that I had never even considered (leeks, goats cheese and sultanas, for example) opening up a whole range of new tastes. Also, the methods and techniques of cooking he uses are so varied and interesting that they have me running straight into the kitchen to start experimenting. There’s usually one element of each of his recipes that elevates them to another level – such the addition of a particular spice, usually an unpronounceable Middle Eastern variety that can only be ordered online. I have invested in several Ottolenghi ‘essentials’, such as pomegranate molasses, sumac and za’tar, but don’t ask me what any of them actually are. All I know is that they often provide an elusive final taste to make Middle Eastern specialities taste much more authentic.
The tumeric roasted walnuts in this recipe are an example of the above – a simple ingredient transformed by the addition of a few spices and a different way of cooking. I’ve always considered turmeric a bit of a non-spice, its chief use being the vibrant yellow colour that it imparts. However, roasting walnuts in the spice brings out their sweetness, adding a remarkable depth of flavour. I have since learnt that turmeric is commonly used in sweet dishes, and some folk swear by drinking turmeric tea first thing in the morning. This somewhat fusion recipe combines these walnuts with fresh green veg, sesame seeds and a punchy, vinegary dressing. Hopefully Yotam would approve.
I’ve recently got a new camera. I finally took the plunge and upgraded to a full- frame model. I found it a bit intimidating at first. For the first few days after I got it, it just sat in the corner of my room, and I would give it little nervous glances now and again, as if it was suddenly going to jump out of its box and quiz me on my photography knowledge. But eventually, I bit the bullet and took it out of its box, charged it up and attached my macro lens.
This is my first blog shoot with the beast. I used a wooden crate turned upside down as a background, to create a (cringingly food styling word alert) ‘rustic’ feel. I used a black plate, to make the bright orange of the carrot and the vivid green of the coriander leaves stand out. I spent what felt like a ridiculously long time pushing the ribbons of carrot around with a fork, trying to tease them into an attractive shape, but they didn’t seem to quite want to behave themselves.
I sometimes really enjoy making a meal that is just for me. To put lots of effort into making something taste delicious and looks attractive, even though it’s only you that’s going to eat it, is quite satisfying. This salad was born out of a whim to make something simple, healthy and refreshing, to antidote a period of creamy overindulgence, demonstrated by the preceding tiramisu. Carrots, orange and coriander is a textbook combination. I’ve recently started experimenting with using spices in salad dressing – here I’ve used cumin, another of carrot’s best friends.
As the weather has been so amazingly hot recently (30 degrees..in England!) I find all I really want to eat is salad. What I love about salads is that you can put virtually any random ingredients together, and it usually works. Salads are usually considered to be a healthy option, regardless of what they contain. The rationale seems to be that if you put something in the vague vicinity of a lettuce leaf, it automatically becomes healthy. Eating things as a ‘salad’ seems to purge them of any sin.
In this very hearty, and therefore not exactly healthy, salad I went for vaguely Moroccan flavours: cumin spiced chicken, garlicky aubergines and a dressing of yoghurt mixed with harissa, which is a Moroccan chilli paste.
Incidentally, as the subtitle for this blog is ‘food and photography’, I feel like it’s high time I mentioned photography in a post. So here goes. This was my first attempt at shooting a recipe outside, in order to convey the sunny, salad-appropriate weather. Initially I thought it would be a doddle, as there is so much light around. However, the light is harder to control, as its not just coming from one direction. This results in everything seeming to cast a shadow. Some careful bouncing of the light with a reflector seemed to do the trick.