I like cookbooks.
No, that’s not true. I love cookbooks!
I am developing quite a significant collection of new, secondhand and antique recipe books, with a fondness for pre-WW11 Australian editions. I particularly love Middle Eastern and North African cuisine and happily snap up any in that area that I happen upon. As I find it almost impossible to pass up the opportunity to add to the growing stash of beautifully designed and photographed books available, I have had another bookcase installed in my kitchen – and I have promptly filled it!
I can spend hours just looking through them, admiring the gorgeous photo’s and imagining wowing my family and friends with gastronomic feats of brilliance – modestly bowing my head and blushing as the tributes drop about me like petals.
Of course, back in the real world, my culinary efforts are constrained by the mundane considerations of time, motivation and the food vagaries of teenaged kids who, when presented with another ethnic masterpiece, beg for sausages (the Woolies ones!) and mash.
Because of the unsophisticated and ungrateful palates of my offspring, I generally use any unsuspecting dinner guests to try out my latest recipe ‘find’ and I frequently adapt the recipes I obtain from books, beefing up or re-arranging the flavours to suit my personal preferences. I know that it is often considered rash to experiment with food for the first time with guests, but I have been lucky and am yet to have a failure. Of course, I am turning around 3 times anti-clockwise and sprinkling magic fairy dust as I say this!!!
Which brings me to the salad that I served to some friends last night – all of whom are food fanatics like myself. This was a beautiful, fresh and tasty salad that can be tricked up in numerous different ways. Here is the version I served last night, followed by a variation that I will be trying next time around.
Unfortunately, this salad was devoured before the camera could record it for posterity!
GRILLED VEGETABLE SALAD
2 punnets of cherry tomatoes
3 bunches of asparagus
100gms baby spinach leaves
500 gms Haloumi cheese (please try to get a Cypriot one – others don’t come close)
120 mls extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs basil pesto
30-40 mls extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 170C
Rinse, dry and halve cherry tomatoes, mix them with 1/2 of the olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper and spread them out in a baking pan. Roast for about 50 minutes, until they are semi-dried and starting to caramelize. Leave to cool.
Chop off and discard the ends of the asparagus and blanch in boiling water for 2-4 minutes, then immediately refresh in cold water.
Trim off ends from zucchinis and slice very thinly lengthwise, with either a vegetable peeler or – if very brave and confident – a mandolin.
Toss asparagus and zucchini slices in rest of the olive oil and season to taste.
Preheat the bbq or a ridged pan, if cooking inside, and briefly char grill the asparagus and zucchini, until they get those nice dark marks.
Slice the haloumi into 2 cm slices and char grill, also.
Combine all the cooked vegetables with the baby spinach and cheese, tossing gently to display all the different bits.
Blend the pesto with enough olive oil to loosen it up nicely and drizzle this over the salad just before serving.
Next time I make this I will add some char grilled eggplant to the vegetables, substitute a good feta for the haloumi and dress it with tahini mixed with yoghurt in place of the basil dressing.
What the heck – I think that I’ll sprinkle it with some chopped, toasted almonds or some toasted pine nuts, too!!