Community kitchen - May edition
Summer salads are here!
Tis the season for fresh, crispy salads, with local ingredients coming into the shops. Now all we need is the sun (cross fingers).
Salads are very 'accommodating’. You can add or subtract ingredients without too many problems depending on what you have in the fridge. We all have issues with certain foods, so I tend to ignore ingredients I know can cause problems, e.g., chilies, spices, garlic, and onions can react with certain drugs. But if you can tolerate any of these, adding them to salads adds interest.
My favourite salad makes a very impressive main dish for a summer lunch,
with all the ingredients to give you a good balanced meal. Originally it
came from France and the ingredients make a lovely colourful meal for a celebration:
Salade Niçoise - for 4
- 450g/1lb cooked or tinned tuna
- 8 new potatoes, cooked and quartered
- 4 tomatoes or 16 cherry tomatoes
- 115g/4oz thin French beans cooked and drained
- 4 lettuce hearts (Little Gem are ideal) quartered lengthways
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, cooked for 6-8 minutes in boiling water and halved (research shows free-range are healthier)
- 1 red onion, finely sliced (optional)
- 6-8 anchovy fillets cut lengthways into thin strips and/or 16 pitted black olives (optional)
For the dressing
- 7 tablespoons olive oil - or to taste
- 3 tablespoons vinegar (red wine vinegar gives oomph, white wine is milder) - or to taste - ratio depends on how you like your dressing so keep on tasting
- 1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey or sugar (to balance the vinegar)
- Garlic if you like - rub the salad bowl with a clove
- I heaped teaspoon salt (Sea salt is best)
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- If wanted, add chopped herbs - parsley, chives, tarragon etc. About 1 - 2 tablespoons
Mix dressing, then gently stir with all the salad ingredients together, except for the eggs. Arrange in an attractive large bowl or dish and place the halved eggs on top.
Leftover dressing can keep in the fridge for several days.
English asparagus season starts about now. These are lovely thick spears of green asparagus, but if you prefer the white continental asparagus this is also in season - but much more expensive!
To cook, ideally you need a tall, thin saucepan, but otherwise find one large enough to take a bunch lying down with the tips 'climbing' up the side (they will cook in the steam). Boil until tender (stick a fork in the stem to try - about 5 to 7 mins). Serve with melted butter or Hollandaise Sauce in which to dip the spears. Allow at least 4-6 spears per person (if you are greedy like me you'll want at least 8!), with melted butter to dip them into. Or, if you just want a simple meal but need protein try:
Many people won't make this because they are scared that hollandaise can sometimes “split “or separate. Make the sauce slowly and if it splits correct it by whisking in a teaspoon or two of boiling water, a drop at a time. If that doesn't work, put another egg yolk in a bowl and very slowly whisk into the split sauce.
- 3 egg yolks (save the whites for pudding)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- I teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 ozs melted butter
Gently melt the butter until it's runny (in a microwave for about 1 minute or in a saucepan). Combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and salt into a high-powered blender and blend for 5 seconds. Slowly stream the hot butter into the mixture as the blender is running. Serve. It can be a nice touch to give everyone their own small individual bowl of sauce.
If you have anyone pregnant in the group, then it's probably best to make the sauce in a bowl over a gently boiling saucepan of water. Stir whilst adding the melted butter. The heat will cook the egg yolks - but do this carefully as you don't want an omelette.
Browse amongst the salads and you'll find watercress to add a lovely 'peppery' touch (try to find local bunched watercress like this which uses eco-friendly packaging - the 'ready-washed-in-a-bag doesn't have the same zing) ;
Then there are cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, endive, raw mushrooms, bell peppers, radishes, spring onions, tomatoes, etc. If you like beetroot buy this ready-cooked, as it takes ages if you cook it yourself. To 'bulk' out a salad and make it a meal, serve with cold meat, smoked salmon, crumbled cheese pieces (feta, cheddar, blue, etc), walnuts, tofu etc. to add protein.
These look so good, but sadly if they are out-of-season they can be tasteless. Now is the time to buy homegrown berries and use them to make a naughty decadent pudding, or a slightly healthier option.
Eton Mess – for 4
Yes, it was made originally for the boys of Eton College but now we can all enjoy it. One story has it that a naughty Labrador upset bowls of elegant meringues meant for pudding; someone quickly scooped them up, mixed them with strawberries and the cream for serving, and Eton Mess arrived!
- About 1/2 to 1 lb strawberries raspberries or a mixture
- About 1/2-pint double cream (you can mix with Greek yoghurt for a healthier option)
- Sugar to taste
- Broken up meringues
To make Meringues
- 3 egg whites
- 6 ozs caster sugar
- Whip whites until stiff, fold in the sugar then drop teaspoons of mixture onto a baking sheet. Cook in a low oven until they are hard (150º-175º) for 30 mins to 1 hr. until firm and crunchy.
About an hour before eating, whip the cream with a little sugar (this helps to firm it) then assemble either in a pretty glass bowl or individual glasses. Layer pieces of meringue, a layer of fruit then cream and continue until it looks pretty and you have enough. If you want it to have crunch, don't make it too long in advance.
Strawberries a la Ritz
Sitting in this pretty restaurant one day, French friends insisted I must have strawberries, "because you are English".
They were delicious; I complimented the Maître d’hôtel and he let me into The Ritz's secret - they sprinkle caster sugar over them, then drops of Grande Marnier liqueur - just enough to give the berries a lovely taste.
If you don't mind alcohol, you can buy inexpensive miniature bottles of liqueur - Cointreau is slightly cheaper - and one small bottle should be enough for 8 - 10 people.