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Issue 29 - A bit on the side

Scotland Magazine Issue 29
October 2006

 

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A bit on the side

This issue, Scotland Magazine's resident chef Sue Lawrence breathes new life in to the humble salad

Cold meat and salad. Pork pie and salad.

Scotch egg and salad. These uninspiring words bring back memories of the bad old days when a salad meant an accompaniment to some sort of cold meat – invariably tasteless and over-chilled, straight from the fridge – with an afterthought of lettuce, tomato and cucumber alongside. Cress and radish roses were added if you were lucky; bleeding beetroot and greyringed hard-boiled eggs, if you weren’t.

Thankfully the salad has been given a complete make-over since then and is no longer regarded merely as a bit on the side.

Salad is now the star of the show. It is served in architecturally constructed hillocks capped with deep-fried herbs, leaves or roots – or simply slung in to a bowl for starter or main course, hot or cold, in summer or in winter.

Now almost every ingredient you see can be converted in to a salad, and as much care now goes into the choice of oils and vinegars for the dressing as into the choice of accompanying wines. And whereas bottled dressings and salad cream still continue to sell and sell, it is so much more satisfying to know you have made one yourself by simply sloshing some quality oil, vinegar and condiments over your thirsty leaves.

Who needs a bottle of shop-bought dressing when you have gutsy balsamic vinegar, a robust olive oil and a hunk of parmesan to hand?

Although salads are far more interesting and versatile these days, it is salutary to remember that we are not the first to discover the diversity of salads.

The Romans enjoyed salads of rose petals, eggs and brains. In Elizabethan days fish day salads – on compulsory meatless days – included fine green herbs and periwinkles, dressed with oil and vinegar.

In Mistress Margaret Dods’ Cook’s Manual of 1829, the recipe for ‘English salad’ ends with the line: “Some knowing persons like grated parmesan put to their salad and sauce.” Written some 100 years before Caesar Cardini invented his famous dressing, it shows yet again that nothing is new under the sun.

The following recipes are suitable for the hungry of every persuasion. A normal salade nicoise uses tinned tuna, but having one with freshly seared tuna is a revelation. The tabbouleh is a delicious and refreshing dish based on a middle-eastern recipe using bulghar wheat, but you can often substitute couscous for bulghar wheat in tabbouleh recipes. Topping with crisply fried bacon is by no means traditional, but really does add a little something and looks gorgeous.

The tomato and mozzarella stack is a variation on the classic Caprese salad with the addition of some rocket pesto. Pesto is now ubiquitous and though traditionally made of basil, one made with rocket is fabulous. You can, however, use regular basil pesto for this recipe too.

With all of these salads, serve with some fabulous bread, the type you can tear off from a large loaf (or slice daintily if you must). As well as eating with the salad, use the bread to wipe around your plate after you have finished, since half the joy of a salad is the dressing. The words, “well-dressed” take on an entirely new meaning when in the shape of a salad bowl.

SALADE NICOISE WITH FRESH TUNA
Serves 4
1 – 2 tbsp coarsely milled black pepper
4 thick tuna steaks
4 tbsp olive oil
1 cos lettuce
115g / 4 oz green beans, lightly cooked but still bright green
4 tomatoes, quartered
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 – 10 anchovy fillets, shredded
16 – 20 black olives

1. Scatter the pepper on a plate then brush tuna with one tablespoon of oil and press in to the pepper. Set aside.

2. Tear the cos lettuce into a large bowl, season well then top with beans, tomatoes and eggs.

3. Heat three tablespoons of oil in a frying pan until hot then add the tuna and fry for about three minutes each side until just cooked (do not overcook or it will be dry). Tip the tuna and oil over the salad then return the pan to the heat.

4. Add the vinegar, stir for a few seconds and pour over the tuna. Top with anchovy fillets and olives and serve at once.

TOMATO, MOZZARELLA AND ROCKET (ARUGULA) PESTO STACK

Serves 4
4 large tomatoes, each cut into 4 slices
12 slices mozzarella cheese (preferably buffalo)
large bunch of rocket (arugula)
15g / 1/2 oz flat parsley
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 – 4 anchovy fillets
extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place a tomato slice on each of four plates. Top with cheese. Season then continue layering up tomatoes and cheese, finishing with tomato.

2. Place the rocket (arugula), parsley, capers, mustard and anchovies in a food processor and process until blended. Add four tablespoons of oil and seasoning to taste. Add more oil if necessary: the texture you want is thick but spoonable.

3. To serve, spoon a generous amount of the pesto over the top of each stack and serve at once with plenty of warm ciabatta.

TABBOULEH WITH CRISPY BACON
Serves 4
200g / 7 oz bulghar wheat, rinsed
4 heaped tbsp flat parsley, chopped
4 heaped tbsp mint, chopped
half cucumber, finely chopped
half red onion, very finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
the juice of 1 large lemon
5 – 6 thin slices bacon

1. Place the wheat in a shallow bowl and cover with about 500 ml / 18 fl oz boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for about 20 minutes then drain off excess water, ensuring no liquid is left.

2. Stir in the herbs, cucumber and onion then combine the oil and lemon juice with two teaspoons of salt and pour over, stirring well. Check seasoning.

3. Tip into a shallow serving dish.

4. Heat a frying pan then fry the bacon (without added fat) until very crispy. Snip in half then place on top of the salad and serve at once.