Savouring salad season

At a friend’s for dinner recently, she apologised for the ‘90s’ salad she’d made to go with an incredible crayfish Américaine. While there is a time and place for a simple salad, especially with a punchy dish that won’t tolerate any competition, it made me think about how much salad culture has changed in New Zealand since that decade, when lettuce-tomato combos, and maybe the occasional coleslaw, reigned. Rather than a sad side, a decent salad will often be the main meal at our place now, and as well as the requisite veg will usually contain some kind of grain or pulse, cheese, nuts and possibly some fish or meat, often a dollop of hummus and sometimes a knot of sauerkraut or some other pickle on top.

I was given Peter Gordon’s Savour: Salads for all seasons for Christmas and at the end of March, as the autumn veges were appearing in stores, I realised I hadn’t yet made a recipe from it. A cover endorsement from Yotam Ottolenghi, the king of veg, could convince me to pick up any cookbook, but really Gordon’s own name is enough of a selling point. Years back when I was a work experience student at Penguin, I proofread one of his cookbooks, and although I assumed they weren’t entrusting this task to the intern alone, it was a thrill to be working on a collection by a big-name New Zealand chef who had made it overseas, especially one with a reputation for being a lovely guy. This collection was published by Jacqui Small in the UK, who also publishes fellow expat Dean Brettschneider.

Although I’m not a strict stickler for food photography on the cover, the vaguely food-based painting here didn’t do much to tantalise my taste buds, but that’s the risk you take using artwork: it’s highly subjective. I am a bit of a sucker for the gold foil type though. I like the clever use of the endpapers and the way the veg-filled banana boxes (do they call them that in the UK?) fit perfectly into the book dimensions satisfies the compulsive in me. The creative recipe photo placement seems a little out of sorts with the fairly conventional font and text layout choices, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing to adventure beyond the rarely-departed-from norm of full-bleed images set opposite recipe text.

The introduction gives handy information on ingredient choice (‘salad leaves should be plump and firm’), quantities (I appreciate a cookbook that advises ‘two handfuls’ of rocket rather than a fiddly 100g – you can’t go too wrong freestyling a salad), growing microgreens and sprouts (though after accidentally waterlogging my first attempt at sprouts in about 20 years, more detailed information would be good here) and dressings (‘as a rule, I use three and a half parts of oil to one part of vinegar’). The contents page lists the sections as Simple Salads; Veggie Straight Up; Veggie Grains; Veggie Cheesy; Fish and Shellfish; Poultry; Meat; Dressings. So far, so standard, but Gordon’s famous fusion style leads to some unique flavour combinations and a creative use of the term ‘salad’ has allowed for the inclusion of a few recipes that are as far from our familiar slaw as you can get. Also not necessarily a bad thing.

Ignoring the not-really-a-salad recipes (such as the seafood in broth, where the small amounts of samphire, tomato, mushroom and lentils only just save it from looking like it got lost on its way to a different cookbook), I decided on the baby beet, broad beans, tarragon, goats’ curd and hazelnuts. This choice was partly a challenge to myself; I have never really warmed to broad beans. My mum loved them and would grow them in her large and impressive vege garden and then cook them with the unappealing grey papery skins intact, so I never knew they were a vibrant edamame-green underneath and refused to eat them. For this salad I slipped the skins off one by one, which along with toasting the hazelnuts and then rubbing them individually in a clean dish towel to take the skins off, makes this a fairly time-consuming recipe. But the broad beans were more than tolerable, and I’d use them again in something like this salad, where they’re not the star ingredient. Beetroot, hazelnuts and goat’s cheese is a favourite combination that I first tried at Prego, so it was a bit of a given I’d like this slightly more elaborate version.

I’d recommend this book if you’re feeling stuck in a stale salad repertoire, or god forbid, still getting your veg quota through lettuce and tomato with claggy mayonnaise. There are plenty of substantial recipes to satisfy an autumn or winter appetite once the warm weather is truly over for another year, and I’ll try the octopus, potato, bean and dill salad or the seared salmon, nori sauce, crispy buckwheat, gomasio (ground toasted sesame seeds with flaky salt) and avocado next. I may even try the clams, mussels and puy lentils, but I probably won’t be calling it a salad – sorry, Peter.

Savour: Salads for all seasons by Peter Gordon (Jacqui Small, 2016)

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