Tag Archives: salad

Juniper in January

Juniper berries in a bowl

There are many wintry casseroles which are pepped up by these piny purple pearls – I’m thinking venison braised slowly in red wine for starters – but lately I’ve gone a bit juniper mad and seem be slinging it in just about everything. If it carries on like this I might be getting an additional pepper grinder and filling it with juniper berries [hmmm, that’s actually not a bad idea…].

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s partly to blame after he devoted an entire Guardian Weekend article to it in November. I’d be quite happy with any of those dishes but getting the Shopkeeper to eat rabbit is frankly more trouble than it’s worth – he’s seen through my “it’s chicken” ruse before now and is on constant bunny alert – so I’ll save that one for another day. And whilst I was rather taken with the sound of the gratin I decided instead to use the idea of juniper infused cream in a parsnip and potato mash to go with coq au vin, and again as a topping for a red wine rich cottage pie. When I mentioned this on Twitter food writer Fiona Beckett said it sounded ‘totally delicious’ – and I don’t think she was wrong.

Then this week I decided that an onion gravy needed a juniper hit. I’d ended up buying some sausages in Fortnum and Mason’s [long story] and was in the mood for a saucy experiment worthy of my bling bangers. I always use Nigel Slater’s recipe as a base and to the caremelised onions I added crushed juniper and some slivers of sweet black garlic, and replaced the Madeira with a good glug of Hendrick’s gin. I will be doing this again.

But it’s not just a winter thing. Once the sun returns, assuming that it bothers this year, try making a simple vinaigrette and adding a few crushed juniper berries and a bruised garlic clove and allow to steep overnight. The next day make a salad of leaves and sweet little tomatoes, crumble in a mild lactic cheese like Wensleydale, or even a milder fresh goat’s cheese, anoint with the dressing and watch the juniper fall in love with the cheese.

And of course we can’t talk about juniper and not mention gin. Actually I find it difficult to have a conversation of any sort and not mention gin, especially when conversing with bar tenders. There’s more on the subject here if you’re thirsty for it.

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Birthday Bouquet

A bunch of wild garlic in a glass

When you live in or around London there seems to be no bigger a challenge than getting from one side of it to the other. You pick your compass point [I’ve done them all over the years] and can normally manage to make it from there to the centre and back, but god forbid you should be forced to make the tortuous schlep across town. We’ve got friends in Switzerland we see more often than those round the South Circular.

So I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Lucie and Lucas trekked all the way from Camberwell for my recent birthday drinks in St Margarets! I daren’t even check the details on the Transport for London Journey Planner for fear that the sheer number of connections and modes of transport will crash the site permanently. But arrive they did, both beaming broadly and bearing a fragrant birthday bouquet – of wild garlic! Lucas had been in Somerset that morning [the boy clearly likes to get about] and had been so excited to see such an early crop that he must have denuded an entire forest floor.

Wild garlic is excellent forager’s food being easy to identify, difficult to confuse with anything dangerous, and abundant. And in this age of austerity free foraged food can only be a good thing. When walking in the woods keep a nostril open for the perfume of garlic, then look for the spear shaped leaves, similar to lily of the valley. Just don’t forget to give it a wash when you get home – you know what bears [and other more common quadrupeds] do in woods.

Then use it, well, just about everywhere and anywhere. This week so far it’s been popping up in soups, salads, sauces, and mashed potato [let it infuse in warm milk or cream], and there’s a pesto still to come. But I think my favourite was a simple omelette, topped with chopped wild garlic while the egg still ran, some Somerset cheddar [in case it was feeling homesick], a good grind of black pepper and finished under the grill. Eggs, cheese and sweet, sweet garlic – I don’t know what it’s like for you reading that list but I can’t write it without salivating.

So much tastier than a bunch of tulips.

Salad of Banana Blossom

Banana Blossom Salad

If you plan to go shopping in the smaller local markets of Phnom Penh my two top tips are 1) do so with a local guide and 2) plan things such that you don’t go with a hangover. My one day Cambodian cooking course began with a nine o’clock tuk-tuk ride to Kandal Market and being accompanied by our teacher and chef Heng took care of number one. A thorough and comprehensive introduction to the bars of the Cambodian capital the previous evening however is why I am able, with some authority, to offer the second piece of advice.  Cambodian markets are lively, colourful, noisy places and there is no shortage of stimulation for all the senses. Most Cambodians will make daily visits as fridges are a rare luxury, but some of the sights and smells can prove something of a shock to an unsuspecting westerner who’s had one or two too many the night before. Fruit and vegetable stalls will be piled high with produce both familiar and not, with herbs like fresh caraway a real revelation, and shouldn’t overly challenge the constitution, unless of course you’re surrounded by a large quantity of ripe Durian on a hot sunny day.

Cambodian Market Stall - Vegetables

Venturing further into the narrow alleyways [and avoiding the motorbikes which people will ride down them] the atmosphere ripens amongst the stalls selling poultry, pork and fish – alive, dead, dried, or despatched to order – until you come across the highly prized ‘Cambodian cheese’, Prahok. Prahok is crushed, salted, fermented fish which is allowed to mature for up to three years. It is added to soups and sauces, or just eaten raw as a dip with vegetable crudités. It’s a rich, heady brew, and is your first real reason to avoid this trip whilst worse for wear.

Cambodian Market Stall

After the Prahok baskets of sulphurous charcoal aged eggs [similar to a Chinese century egg] will barely raise a nostril. My first visit though was rounded off by a visit to a frog stall. A steel tray held deep layers of frogs, all freshly skinned, beheaded and shining in the morning sun. It turns out that a recently skinned and decapitated frog doesn’t need any encouragement from Mr Volta to flex its muscles, and two of the beasts leapt out and onto the street and began hopping blindly about. A lady intent on her morning shop didn’t notice and stepped on one – the headless frog of course had precious little chance of seeing her coming. This is when you really wish you’d gone to bed early with a cup of tea the previous evening.

Cambodian Market Stall

Whatever else you stumble upon one thing you will find is banana blossoms in abundance. They resemble purplish brown elongated cabbages around 45cm in length. The tender creamy white inner layers are the edible parts, and as you strip away each layer to get to them you’ll find little proto-hands of bananas between each. The petals are rolled and thinly shredded, but discolour quickly so need to be immersed in water acidulated with lime juice as soon as they are cut. Whilst they’re slightly less abundant here they are by no means impossible to come by; my local Thai supermarket has them in stock ‘from time to time’ and recommends that if you see one you should buy it, but they also stock a tinned version which I had to buy but am yet to try. If you absolutely cannot track one down then use finely shredded hard white cabbage instead.

Flowers of the banana plant on a Cambodian market stall

You will need around half a large or one whole small petal layer per person.

Serves two

  • Banana Blossom
  • 2 tablespoons of roughly torn mixed herbs including mint, basil and coriander [Asian varieties if available]
  • A handful of torn spinach leaves
  • 1 large mild red chilli cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon of roasted peanuts, slightly crushed
  • Juice of 1 lime added to a shallow bowl of cold water
  • 150g to 180g of poached chicken or any leftover poultry

For the dressing

  • 1 or 2 mild red chillies
  • 1 small birds eye chilli [optional]
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 3 cloves of garlic.
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Cambodian fish sauce [or two thirds that amount of Thai Nam Pla]
  • 1 tablespoon palm sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons water

The dressing can be made a few days beforehand and stored [covered] in the fridge. Chop the chilli finely and crush the garlic, then smash together a little with a mortar and pestle but do not reduce to a paste. Mix all the other ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the chilli and garlic.

To make the salad roll the banana ‘petals’ into cylinders and slice finely across to produce strips about 1mm wide. Place these into the cold water with lime juice to prevent browning. Drain after five minutes. Tear the meat into thin strips with your fingers. Toss everything together in a bowl and add the dressing bit by bit until you are happy with the balance of flavours. It should be sprightly and fresh, lively with herbs and with a kick from the dressing.

A Feast For The Eyes

 Salad of purple cauliflower, white fine beans and broad beans.

I firmly believe that we eat with our eyes as well as our senses of taste and smell, but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw the occasional visual curve ball and surprise our diners with the odd  unexpected looking combination. I’d been at the farmers’ market again, and met one of my old friends – the purple cauliflower! The presence of white fine beans on the same stall gave me an idea for an unusual looking salad to present to our guests alongside the spicy chicken on that evening’s menu. Punnets of fresh broad beans too? We were all set…

First make a punchy vinaigrette dressing with 1 part red wine vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, salt and pepper, and plenty of Dijon mustard. For every four tablespoons of dressing you should add at least one heavily loaded teaspoon of mustard. Cauliflowers love mustard!

Cook the broad beans until al dente and cool in iced water. I don’t always remove the papery white skin of broad beans but here I wanted to make the most of their greenness, so off came the outer skins. It’s a little time consuming but worth the effort.

Steam the cauliflower and the fine beans, again until cooked but retaining some crunch, but tip these into a bowl with the vinaigrette and allow them to cool in the dressing. The occasional toss as they do so won’t hurt. When ready to serve drain the broad beans and add them to the salad, and give the seasoning a final check. Voila. Time for the oohs and ahs from the table.