Archive for the ‘Salad’ Category

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most varied on the planet.  From the Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire and Japanese occupation but in particular, the French colonial rulers.  Vietnam is a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and native techniques and flavours.  War, climate and immigration tell the tale of Vietnamese cuisine.  

Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly light and fresh; herby-fresh: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil frequently mixed through dishes.  Fish sauce is used liberally but is never as pungent as the Thai variety (nam pla) and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage or green papaya are chopped into crunchy batons adding colour and texture to a dish.

People sat curbside on plastic stools enjoying a bowl of pho or congee before dealing with the rest of their day; the smell of food wafting through side streets and intoxicating the senses.   Food is pivotal to Vietnamese lifestyle and can be found on every street corner.  The food served in local cafes and restaurants just as good as the street-food served by women carrying a yoke around the town or balancing baskets on hips.

All dishes are created with the Asian principle of the five elements creating harmony. The principle of yin and yang providing balance that is beneficial to the body: wood (sour), fire (bitter), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), water (salty).

So having just got back from my travels in Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try and recreate some delicious Vietnamese dishes with these principles in mind.

Here is my version of a Vietnamese Chicken Salad with noodles using the ingredients I had in the fridge at the time.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Gŏi Gá).


For the dressing:
Palm sugar
Fish Sauce
Hot Water
Chilli (to taste)

For the salad:
Cabbage (White or Asian)
Red Pepper
Sugar snap peas
Rice Noodles (vermicelli)
Cooked chicken breast
Basil (use Thai Basil if you can find some)
Roasted peanuts (red skinned)


1st: Prepare the sauce by adding the juice of a lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, chilli and hot water to a jar and shake well until all the sugar is dissolved or place into a blender and blitz until everything is thoroughly mixed together.

2nd: Cut the carrot and red pepper into batons.  Roll the cabbage leaves and slice into strips.  Tear the cooked chicken breast into mouth sized pieces.   Cut the mint, basil and coriander.

Thai Basil v Italian Basil
Thai basil has an aniseed, almost liquorice, flavour to it whereas, Italian (Mediterranean basil) is sweet.  Both are incredibly fragrant.
If you can’t find Thai basil which is generally difficult to source outside of Asia, just use a combination of Italian basil and mint.

3rd: Pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to rehydrate for 2/3mins.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Drain and shake off excess water.

4th: In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and add a splash of the sauce.  Toss together.  Add more sauce and lime juice to taste and drizzle with sesame oil (optional) and top with roasted peanuts.

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Serve heaped on a large plate in the centre of the table for everyone to serve themselves as part of a main course or make it small enough as a light lunch for one – the ingredients can be doubled up and changed to suit what you’ve got in the fridge.  During the summer I tend to have carrots and cabbage knocking about in the fridge to make coleslaw and I’ve always got red peppers in my deep freeze.  Remember to use veg that you can eat raw as you need it to be fresh and crunchy to work in this dish. I used nuggets of palm sugar brought back from Cambodia but regular granulated sugar works just as well.

The great thing about dishes like this is that you can tailor make them to suit your needs – instead of chicken add duck for a different taste, fried squid to make it a super light summer meal, tofu to keep it meat-free.  I say chilli to taste as depending on how much heat you can take will determine whether you use birds eye chillies or opt for a milder variety.  Always remember you could make this very fresh and mild and provide either birds eye chillies or tabasco sauce for those who can take a bit more heat.

Chúc ngon miêng
Bon apetite!

Having established a benchmark of food and drink at my parties a few years ago, what could I pull out of the bag to feed my 20+ guests this party round?  After all I can no longer get away with several bags of doritos and assorted dips!

Do I provide my standard party medly of spiced nuts, cranberry glazed cocktail sausages and pesto palmiers?  Surely that’s a more wintry repertoire.  With the weather nearing the cusp of summer a lighter menu would be more appropriate.

So when thinking of summer food what do we recall to mind?  For me it’s things like chilled gazpacho, salads, fruit and veg and bbq meat!  How could I go about trying to incorporate these ideas into my repertoire of party food?

Summer Party Menu:

strawberry cocktail

taken from

Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

In a blender blitz strawberries, lemon juice and icing sugar until you form a strawberry puree.  Pour this into the bottom of champagne glasses and top up with the fizzy wine of your choice.

After much deliberation the following is the menu I decided on:

Ajo Blanco (aka white gazpacho), Roast vegetable cous cous salad, Cauliflower cake and Beef carpaccio with parmesan shavings.  For dessert homemade limoncello and biscotti.

Ajo BlancoAjo blanco

I followed a Sam and Sam Clark Moro recipe (having even asked them which bread to use via Twitter!) but looking online there are several sites that have similar if identical recipes.

Literally combine almonds, garlic, stale bread, olive oil, sherry vinegar and iced water in a blender and blitz until it forms a smooth-like liquid with the consistency of cream.  Chill and serve with white grape cheeks.  This needs to be served ice cold – so either put into the freezer for a while before serving or pour over ice.

Top Tip: beware the volume of liquid you put into your processor as you don’t want it pouring out of the central post as mine did!!

Roast Vegetable Cous Cous SaladRoasted-Veg-Couscous

This couldn’t be easier; roast the veggies you wish – peppers, red onions and courgettes give the best flavour for this but I also used some leftover asparagus.  Aubergine is a great veg to use in this as it is a meaty vegetable providing texture as well as colour.

When you’re ready to assemble, pour boiling water or stock over the cous cous making sure to just cover in liquid.  Cover in cling film and leave until the cous cous has absorbed all the water.  Mix the veg through and add chopped herbs – parsely, corriander and mint work best.

Cauliflower CakeCauliflower Cake

A recipe from Foodat52 from my Foodie Weekend but a quick online search has given me the exact same recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi  (Follow the Yotam hyperlink to take you to the recipe) at the Guardian online.

I’ve followed this cauliflower cake recipe several times now.  The 10 eggs in the batter make the cake soufflé in the tin.  It is decadent, delicious, moreish and full of flavour.  Ideal as a light lunch.  You could almost replace the ubiquitous lunchtime quiche with this golden cauliflower delight.

decadent, delicious, moreish

The great thing about the cauliflower cake is that it is even better the following day!

Beef CarpaccioBeef Carpaccio

As all my other dishes were unintentionally vegetarian I decided to pull out all the stops with a prime fillet of beef for the carnivores amongst us.

Make sure that the fillet is at room temperature before attempting to cook it.

Roll the prime fillet in sea salt, crushed black pepper, finely chopped rosemary and thyme (no oil).  Once the griddle is smoking hot, sear the fillet for a minute all the way round.

Then take off the heat and leave to rest.  Once the meat has rested for anything from 5 – 10mins, slice it as thinly as you can AND with the back of the knife flatten each slice as much as possible without grinding the fillet into a mush on your board.

Top Tip: Know your audience!  As there are many people attending the party who would not like to eat their meat carpaccio-style, put the end of meat into the oven.  Leave to rest and then carve this in thin slices/strips.

Lay the slices of carpaccio onto a dish and shave parmesan over.  Sprinkle with some fresh thyme and drizzle with a simple dressing of olive oil, mustard and sherry vinegar.  If serving this as a main meal accompany the carpaccio with peppery rocket leaves.

Limoncello and Biscotti

click on the hyperlink to direct you to the recipes.

If there is one recipe from the ones mentioned above that you MUST try and recreate it has to be Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Cake.  I’m off to scrounge in the fridge for leftovers!

Enjoy the summer everyone.

I know that there is a chance that you will have stopped reading once you read the five letter word in the title and I know that it seems a bit odd to follow a BBQ Carnivore blog with its Salad Omnivore counterpart but as with everything in life, balance is key.  Here goes…

With the soaring temperatures suffocating us into the early hours of the morning, an absolute essential antidote to the summer heat is replacing water lost through perspiration.  We drink more fluids (sometimes more alcoholic than thirst-quenching but the intention is there) and we turn to food which has a higher water content.  And what food has got a higher water content to volume ratio?  Lettuce.  There, I said it, lettuce.

Heirloom and Cherry Tomato Salad

In hot climates, salads are not just full of water but delicious; they are colourful and made with natural ingredients that have been kissed by the long periods of sunshine until their ripe juices are ready to burst.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans dined on mixed green leaves as a way of putting water back into their diet.  They served their mixed leaves with a dressing of olive oil and brine as replacing lost minerals is also necessary – not too dissimilar from the salad dressings used nowadays.

Salad, from the Latin ‘sal’ salted; ‘salted things’ roughly translated into ‘salted herb.’

Ancient Times had their ‘mixed greens’, the Renaissance Period the ‘Salmagundi’ (a salad comprising of cooked meat, seafood, fruit, leaves and nuts) to the Modern Day ‘Chef’s Salad’.

Ultimately, the basic salad has remained the same: a bed of mixed greens.  The remainder of the ingredients added to the salad being up to the chef’s discretion.  The original ‘Chef’s Salad’ devised at the Ritz-Carlton was of smoked ox tongue with watercress leaves!  As a result of this creation, hotels and upper class restaurants started presenting their own salad concoctions.  Each trying to outdo the other.

As well as salads having a variety of ingredients assembled together to surprise the discerning eater, chefs started to add warm ingredients to salads.  Such as warming eggs to create a dressing for a Caesar Salad or boiling potatoes still served warm in a Tuna Niçoise salad.

It may seems as if pretty much anything goes is the only rule to follow when making a salad.  It can be cold, warm, vegetarian, seafood, meat, chicken, bread, fruit and nuts (sounds a bit like the Renaissance version!)

Every salad – no matter its ingredients – is only as good as its dressing!

Here are some recipes (more assembly instructions) you must try to help restore your faith in salads.

Mozzarella, Jamón Serrano and Peach Salad

Mozzarella, Jamón Serrano and Peach Salad

1st: Tear the mozzarella balls and places around the plate you are going to serve this on.

2nd: Cut around the peach and remove the stone.  Then likewise tear the peach into pieces that are similar in size to the mozzarella.

3rd: Tear strips of cured ham and drape in and around the pieces of peach and mozzarella.

4th: Add rocket leaves to the dish.

5th: DRESSING: squeeze the juice of a lemon over the dish and add a generous glug of olive oil.

6th: SEASON: sprinkle some freshly cracked black pepper over the plate.

NB: Make sure that the peaches are at room temp before assembling this salad as you don’t want to be in tooth sensitive pain as you bite into this!  If you can’t get seasonal peaches then swap them for conference pears which are great in this recipe.  Use any cured ham your stomach or your pocket desire.  As a starter at a dinner party serve with a french baguette to soak up the juices that your guests will be fighting for that have collected at the bottom of the dish!

Watermelon and Greek Feta Cheese Salad

Watermelon and Greek Feta Cheese Salad

1st: Cut a small red onion into rings and place in a bowl to steep in the juice of a lime and sprinkle with Maldon salt.

2nd: Cut the watermelon flesh off its rind and remove as many black pips as you have the patience for!  Place watermelon chunks onto your serving plate.

3rd: Cut a block of feta cheese into chucks and add to the serving plate.

4th: Add the red onion to the dish.

5th: DRESSING: Pour the now pink lime juice and olive oil over the dish.

6th: Add flat leaf parsley and some mint to the dish and SEASON with freshly cracked black pepper.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: add black olives to the salad.  

NB: Mix everything gently so as not to break the feta or watermelon too much.

I’m not suggesting we all start chomping rabbit food until bushy tailed but salads can be a delicious, filling, refreshing light lunch as well as an accompaniment to any evening meal.

Some of my favourite salads are just one ingredient doused in olive oil and sherry vinegar and chopped garlic, such as the tomato salad at the top.  Unlike baking, assembling a salad is free from restriction, just think about flavour combinations you like and how to best present them in their simplest form.

Why not have a go?

Feel free to reply with your favourite salads.