It is so exciting to have Spring appear, creeping around the corner as she does, not really making her presence felt, just a little warmer, a little sunnier day by day. Capricious too, bringing thunderstorms and hail one moment and radiant sunshine the next.
Today, in all her glory, Spring served up a magnificent day. The afternoon was spent with friends eating and communing, enjoying her magnificence under sprouting grapevines, tiny tomato plants in just a tad too early, herbs flourishing.
Spring in Australia brings 3 multicultural festivals.
This being the time of Ganesha Chaturthi we celebrated loudly with drumming and dancing and parading, and long with chanting and bhajan singing and talks and food.
For 5 days we meet early in the morning, before the rest of the world is really out of bed, to chant and then share breakfast in this special Chaturthi.
And the Moon Festival is nearly here. My neighbour’s mother is making Moon Cakes and sharing them with joy with all of us. There is a Moon Lantern Festival next weekend in the parklands and lanterns light the sky and float on the river.
Navarathri sees 9 days of food and culture celebrated with worship and displays of dolls. A beautiful joyous time.
All such joyous occasions. Ones that make you want to dance through the week. Joy doesn’t take much, really. It takes an open heart, other people, and sharing. Nothing more.
Let me share some suggestions for light and joyous Spring Salads – either for home or to share with others.
Bok Choy Warm or Cold Salad
Chop and steam some Bok Choy (either baby or grown) until tender yet still crisp. Shock in ice water to stop the cooking and retain the green. Then toss with halved cherry tomatoes, capers, olive oil and lemon juice. Serve warm or room temperature. See the full recipe here.
Roast Tomato Dip or Sauce or Chutney
Good on its own as a dip, or a sauce over haloumi, for example, or rice, or a side serve of spicy chutney with any meal.
Take 2 or 3 large tomatoes, halve them and roast in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. Blend them with the following to form a thick paste: 2 cm piece ginger, 1 green chilli, 2 cloves garlic, pinch salt, 2 tspn thick tamarind paste, and curry leaves (optional). Heat 1/2 Tblspn ghee and pop 1 tspn of black mustard seeds. Pour over the chutney, mix and serve.
Or char tomatoes for inclusion in wonderful salads.
Haloumi on the BBQ
Sometimes, as a vegetarian, you are invited to a non-veg BBQ. This is my solution for cooking food on the BBQ next to meat.
Take slices of haloumi. Lay out a piece of alfoil large enough to accommodate the slices of haloumi. Place them on the foil, drizzle with a little oil and lemon juice. Take the long sides of the alfoil together and fold the top over, then fold in the sides. Continue to fold the top over until you have made a tight little package.
When ready you can put this on a hot BBQ for a couple of minutes each side. It will be cooked without having to sit next to meat, and will be delicious.
Or make a Haloumi and Orange Salad.
Take some mozzarella balls or bocconci, slice or halve them and throw them together with cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumber, preserved lemon or cumquats, capers or caperberries, lots of chopped green dill. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Dress with oodles of olive oil and verjuice or lemon juice. Pile onto a bed of mixed salad greens.
Or make a Grilled Fennel and Mozzarella Salad.
Asparagus on the BBQ
There is nothing better than buttery asparagus, right? Here is one way to cook it on the BBQ.
Take a double layer of foil. Trim the asparagus stalks from one bunch, and place them onto the alfoil. Sprinkle with salt – be generous but not enough to make it unbearably salty – and some lemon juice. Add a generous knob of butter. Fold the alfoil (as above) to make a tight little package.
Or you can add butter and white wine, perhaps a tiny bit of finely chopped parsley. Chervil and tarragon go well too.
When ready, place on the BBQ for about 8 minutes or so, until hot and the asparagus is just cooked. You can turn it over half way through. Be careful opening as the steam escaping can burn fingers. Delicious buttery lemony asparagus.
You can cook them in the oven too – about 15 minutes for tender beautiful asparagus.
The next day, take any remaining asparagus, place on a plate with the butter from the foil and heat quickly in the microwave. About a minute should be fine. Then sprinkle with finely grated parmesan before serving. Magnificent!
Or make an Asparagus Pesto to top your salads.
Roast Tomato Salad
Take 2 punnets of cherry tomatoes and place them in an ovenproof dish in a single layer with olive oil. Add herbs if you have them – rosemary or thyme is particularly good. Roast at 180C – 200C until soft but not split and falling apart.
Place them into a serving dish and drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle some finely chopped parsley over the top and grate a small amount of lemon zest over with a microplane grater.
Or make a a Hot Tomato Salad on the BBQ.
Jicama and Green Mango
I have just discovered Jicama and I love it. Crunchy and apply-like in texture and flavour, it makes a wonderful addition to salads. You can cook it, but I love it raw.
Chop or slice jicama and mix with chopped or sliced green (raw) mango, sea salt, lime juice, mint and green coriander (cilantro). You can also add red or white radish or even raw kohlrabi.
A different idea with the same ingredients is to chop or slice jicama and green mango and mix with coconut milk, lime juice, curry powder and green coriander (cilantro) and mint. Again, you can add red or white radish or raw kohlrabi as well if you wish.
Chickpeas and Red Capsicum
A quick delicious salad can be made with a can of chickpeas (or home cooked one, perhaps you have some precooked chickpeas in the freezer). Finely dice a red capsicum and mix with a drained and rinsed can of chickpeas or equivalent cooked chickpeas. Finely grate the rind of half a lemon over the chickpeas. Then add the juice of that half lemon, sprinkle the salad with black pepper, some sea salt and a drizzle of oil. Mix through some chopped parsley (or it can be green coriander or basil).
This is enough. But of course you can add halved cherry tomatoes, capers, sliced green asparagus, a red chilli finely diced, and/or a drop of pomegranate molasses.