The Queen of Salads.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the online scramble to get as many tomato recipes posted as possible before summer comes to an end.  I know what you’re thinking: Dimitri, you’ve been pouring Cherry Coke on pork, hardly seasonal!  Yeah, I know, but it was great, wasn’t it?  I mean Cherry Coke and pork; Escoffier would love it, I’m sure.  Well, my summers are usually dominated by pizza and anything with plenty of colour.  I love tomatoes and will do my best to eat them as often as possible because they’re just so good for you.  In the salad I ate tonight, however, they were the least exciting ingredient and that doesn’t happen too often.

My wife, N, is of French descent and as such, her love of salad is not a secret.  She loves nothing more than a plate of fresh salad to accompany her meals. Her appreciation of a well dressed or carefully prepared salad is something that must be earned.  When N compliments me on one of my salads, I feel like I’ve truly achieved something (although I’ve never really achieved anything, so I’m only guessing that it feels that way).  The pick of the bunch is, of course, a good ol’ Nicoise.  We both love it because of the tasty balance of flavours.

The summer is beginning to fade, but that doesn’t mean we should start on the road to stews and soups just yet.  Grab a bunch of ingredients and take some time preparing perhaps the greatest salad of them all.

Nicoise pittas (adapted from the French…all of them)

4 wholemeal pittas

4 ripe tomatoes (quartered)

6 anchovies

handful Kalamata olives

2 eggs (hard-boiled and quartered)

1 tin tuna in sunflower oil (drained)

1 onion (finely chopped)

4 tblspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tspoon Dijon mustard

1 lemon

a handful of lettuce leaves (I used iceberg this time)

Begin by chopping the onion and placing it in a small bowl of water.  Set this aside.  The water makes the flavour of the onion milder which is a real boon when eating it raw as in this salad.  Chop the lettuce leaves and place in a medium bowl.  Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and the Dijon mustard.  Add the tomatoes to the lettuce, pour over the dressing and toss together.  Add the anchovies, tuna, olives and a little black pepper.  Drain the water from the onion and sprinkle over the salad.  It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add salt because the anchovies act as your seasoning.  Toss the salad gently and then place the eggs on top.

You could serve the salad as it is, but tonight, we went for the handheld option.  I grilled some pitta bread and filled each with the salad.  A delightful meal for a summer evening.  Take it from someone who is not a big fan of salads, this one is worth the effort.

The Curse of Boredom or: Why I have to create.

The sun has got his hat on.  In fact, he’s had it on all day and promoted numerous gardening activities in the neighbourhood and general lethargy in our household.  The heat coaxes you into slowing down and the brightness makes it much easier to just let those eyelids drop.  Summer sure can be pleasant, no doubt.  Left to my own devices while N and the baby napped, I was going to be able to soak up every generous ray of sun and have a few chilled drinks.  Settling into a hot garden chair and kicking off my flip flops, there was only one thing that could possibly spoil this blissful peace.  Me.

No matter how idyllic the beach, forest, mountain or garden, there’s no keeping me still for very long.  I need to do stuff.  I need to be active.  I need to be making things.  There are exceptions to this rule and I’m incredibly lazy when I wish to be.  Today, however, I could not sit still.  I crept into the kitchen to see what was in the fridge/cupboard/freezer/fridge again.  Nothing jumped out.  Sigh.  I flopped down at the PC and had a quick browse on the internet.  Then, suddenly, I spotted something that I had all of the ingredients for.  A quick glance over my shoulder to check the fruit bowl and yup, there was a solitary lemon available.  Great!  Former pastry chef and now citizen of Paris, David Lebovitz was about to provide me with my entertainment for the next hour.

Of course, I couldn’t resist messing around with the recipe and adding my own bits and bobs.  The main ingredient, however, was not going to change.  A single lemon.  Not just the juice.  All of it!  I added blueberries and some mace and ginger to the recipe for my own taste, but kept most things the same including the timings.  I quite enjoyed making these lemon and blueberry slices.  I think they’d work well as tartlets.

What to do with a solitary lemon?

Lemon & blueberry slices (adapted from David Lebovitz)

For the base-

140g plain flour

120g melted butter

50g caster sugar

1/2 tspoon vanilla extract

1/4 tspoon ginger powder (optional)

1/4 tspoon powdered mace (optional)

1/4 tspoon salt

For the topping-

1 lemon

200g caster sugar

3 eggs

4 tspoons corn flour

45g melted butter

1/4 tspoon salt

handful of fresh blueberries

After lining a small, rectangular tin with foil, I began making the base for the slices.  First, I combined all of the ingredients in a bowl to form a sandy coloured dough.  I pressed this into the lined tin and baked it for twenty-five minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, I prepared the lemon topping using a hand blender.  I cut the lemon into chunks and blended it with the sugar, eggs, vanilla, corn flour, butter and salt until smooth.  There were still some bits of lemon that would add plenty of what Lebovitz calls “zing”.

When the base was golden, I pulled it out of the oven and poured the yellow lemon mixture over it all. I then dotted it with the fresh blueberries. I turned the oven down to 150 degrees and baked the mixture for another twenty-five minutes until it wouldn’t wobble.

After that, I went for a stroll along the beach with the dog, the baby and N, who was wondering why I hadn’t spent the afternoon sunbathing.  When we got back, everything had cooled and was ready to be cut and dusted with way too much icing sugar!

Upon tasting the slices, I was quite impressed, but being completely honest, they weren’t sweet enough for me.  I agree that using the entire lemon is a stroke of genius (nice one, Mr. Lebovitz), but they were a little tart- pun definitely intended.  I’m a big fan of mace, but again, I don’t think it’s for everyone.  This is definitely a recipe that I’ll return to this summer and perhaps update with something new.