What’s that I hear from the back of the class? Did someone mumble that Recipe Man is copping out with a salad this month? Stretched out in the meadow that’s supposed to be a lawn, he lazily flicks a few fingers at the keyboard before returning to a semi-frozen cucumber martini and that secondhand, dog-eared Raymond Carver collection.
Nice image, I’ll grant you, but RM is no slouch and this may well be the most useful recipe you’ll read all summer. Besides, he genuinely believes that dandelions are flowers to be loved and meadows are more comfy than lawns.
Firstly, if you were looking for a perfect leaf to counter the sweet fruity notes in this salad, you’d be foolish to look further than those lovely dandelion leaves, with their bitter-in-a-good-way flavour. Any salad leaves with a bit of kick will work too – rocket, mustard, watercress and the like. So will bland leaves, for that matter, because of the big flavours you’re adding later.
Secondly, this dressing of fresh raspberries in a vinegar of their cousins is a ludicrously summery shade of pink and I can promise you’ll be eating a lot more leafy salads with a jar of this stuff staring at you every time you open the fridge.
Thirdly, he says, leaning up onto one elbow to see if the pitcher of martini is empty, there’s the matter of strawberries and fresh sheep’s cheese. You can have them for breakfast, you can have them for dessert, you can take a plate out to the meadow in the afternoon. And if you have some raspberry dressing in the fridge and some crunchy stuff in the cupboard, you can make this salad version of perfection in the time it takes to stir that martini.
Fourthly, possibly finally, there is the matter of crunchy stuff. We’ve been using a lot of crunchy stuff lately. It goes on risotto and pasta, gets chucked into soup and scattered over salads. Amongst – as recipe writers say when they can’t be arsed searching the backs of their brains – other stuff. Crunchy stuff’s job is to deliver a highly concentrated, often surprising, flavour hit in a texture that contrasts with the main dish. Most crunchy stuff keeps for ages, which makes it perfect for adding drama to simple summer food.
The great thing about crunchy stuff is that it tends to be much more adaptable than you would expect. A surprise element in a dish can be just that, a surprise. Do smoked almonds go with strawberries? I don’t know, possibly, but I know for sure that smoked almond praline does. That’s the fun of crunchy stuff. For example, in my kitchen right now there is a choice of the following, all of which I would casually scatter over this salad as easily as throw it on a bowl of spaghetti:
- spiced walnut crumb (a recipe you all know inside out from ‘for the love of food’);
- smoked almond praline – praline with a pile of smoked paprika stirred in;
- soy-glazed sunflower seeds;
- straight-up toasted hazelnuts;
- fennel spiked giant croutons;
- and the recipe below, which is a variation on the Egyptian ‘dukkah’. Hazelnuts, coriander, black pepper and thyme are the dominant flavours in this version, which I kind of crossed with za’atar, a sesame-thyme combination from up the coast a bit, Lebanon, Palestine direction.
Have fun, it’s going to be a lovely summer. Make martinis, grow your lawn, and sprinkle crunchy stuff.
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled & coarsely ground
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted & coarsely ground
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
10 fresh raspberries
2 medium beets, boiled & peeled
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
100g salad leaves
12 strawberries, thickly sliced
120g fresh sheep’s cheese, crumbled
Grind the coriander, cumin, peppercorn and fennel together in a spice (coffee) grinder. Heat a heavy pan over low heat, add the spices and thyme, and toast them for 5-10 mins, stirring often. Add the hazelnuts and sesame and remove from the heat.
Make a dressing by blending the raspberries, raspberry vinegar and oil.
Slice the beets into thin discs, toss with the balsamic vinegar and roast for 10 minutes in a moderate oven, until beginning to caramelise.
Gently toss the salad leaves, strawberries and sheep's cheese together and dress with a little of the dressing.
Drizzle some dressing on each plate and arrange some beets on top. Place some of the salad on the beets and sprinkle a generous amount of the crunchy stuff on top.