26 September 2023

Salads That Hit The Spot

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By Christine Salins.


“Side is a moniker attached to salads far too often and I’m determined to change that”, says Gelf Alderson in River Cottage Great Salads (Bloomsbury Publishing, $39.99).

As executive head chef of River Cottage in the UK for more than 10 years, he has worked with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to create the delicious menus served in all six River Cottage restaurants.

Delighting guests with original, veg-centric meals probably came easier to Alderson than most, since he was brought up vegetarian in a household where a bottle of salad cream was ne’er to be seen.

Yet despite his dad’s homegrown produce and his mum’s magical way of preparing it, even he was wont to dismiss salads as rabbit food. His time as a chef has changed that, and his recipes are proof that salads can be not only healthy but dishes that star in their own right.

The tantalising recipes in River Cottage Great Salads will leave you spoilt for choice.

It’s a feast of a different kind with Very Good Salads (published by Smith Street Books, distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, $39.99). This one takes on a more Middle Eastern theme, presented as it is by a Melbourne couple who run a popular falafel bar.

The daughter of a chickpea farmer, Louisa Allan grew up in country Victoria, while her partner, Shuki Rosenboim, was born in Israel to a Romanian dad and Iraqi mum. Taught to cook by his mum – an “Iraqi Jewish cooking legend” – he and Louisa delight in rotating seasonal salads to go with their menu staples so that their customers never get bored.

Designed as side dishes or plates to be shared, their salads feature roasted vegetables, grains, herbs, nuts and pulses, with lots of olive oil, lemon juice and tahini.

“Every day, except Sundays, since 2016, we have written a new salad menu every morning, based on what looks good at the local market and what we feel like eating,” they write in the introduction to Very Good Salads.

The book is filled with delicious recipes for vegan salads, exceptional dips and soft pita to accompany their original, much-lauded falafel recipe, shared for the first time.

As well as classic salad pairings, there are some beautiful, unexpected pairings such as watermelon salad with za’atar, radish and fried pita; peaches with basil and hazelnut; and grilled leek with pomegranate, walnuts, spring onion, mint, dill and lemon zest.

The combination of cucumber, dates and pistachio here is easy, yummy and perfect for the table as the weather warms up.

Cucumber, Dates, Pistachio

Serves 4

70 g (½ cup) shelled pistachios

3 Lebanese cucumbers

6 Medjool dates, pitted, each date sliced into 6 strips

½ red onion, diced

handful of chives, chopped

finely grated zest of ½ lemon, plus a little juice

sea salt flakes

extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan-forced. Spread the pistachios over a baking tray and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Take care not to overcook. Cool and chop the pistachios.

Cut the cucumbers in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut into 5 mm thick half moons. Combine the cucumber, date, onion, chives, lemon zest and pistachios in a bowl. Dress with a little squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, and serve.

Recipe and image from: Very Good Salads by Shuki Rosenboim & Louisa Allan, published by Smith Street Books, distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, $39.99.

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