Harlequin Salad

It is June, and summer is upon us! It’s the time of salady goodness! And I have here a very easy salad for you which I’ve cobbled together over the years. It’s simple and fresh and delicious and exceedingly easy to make. In fact, the skill bar is set so low I’m going to sum it up in one sentence.

If you can use a knife, you can make this salad.

Yes, it’s that easy.

Like pretty much everyone, I think small is cute, especially when it comes to food. This salad embodies that notion, because all of the elements are of a similarly small size. It also addresses a perennial salad problem, that of gloopiness. Salad vegetables usually have a high water content, and when you start cutting into them, the juice starts to flow, so your salad can become somewhat waterlogged in a very short time. With just a couple of tweaks to your regular salad preparation, you can keep your ingredients crisp and fresh much longer.

Each element is neatly diced to keep the overall appearance looking clean and fresh. Cutting raw broccoli and cauliflower into miniature florets, as opposed to just chopping them, keeps the salad from becoming cluttered with stray leaves falling off. Plus mini florets look adorable.

Another advantage of this salad is how you can easily customise it to whatever you have to hand. For example, I had hoped to include radishes in the picture above, but the supermarket had not received its delivery and there were none to be had. So I just left them out. You’re only going to be limited by your imagination: if you’re a fan of fruit in salad, add in some chopped apple and pomegranate seeds, if you relish crunchy sharp flavours, add in some pickled vegetables. Just be sure to follow The Rule.

The One Rule: Everything in your salad should be roughly the same size.

Gather your ingredients and decide on the smallest item. In the salad above, it’s the sweetcorn, but it could just as easily be peas or something else. Using that as a guideline, peel and dice your salad ingredients to a similar size and mix them together.

Harlequin Salad

This salad can be scaled to your requirements – for as small a number as one, as a main course, to a family-sized bowl as a side. Undressed, it will keep in the fridge for several days. The number of ingredients is enirely up to you, but there should be roughly the same quantity of each ingredient. Here’s a brief run down of how to prep various salad ingredients. The top two are the most important to ensure your salad stays gloop-free.

  • Cucumber: Cut off a 6-8cm piece and cut it in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds, leaving just the green flesh. Discard the seeds.¹ Slice the rest of the cucumber lengthwise into 1cm thick strips, then cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Tomatoes: Cut in half around the middle, then slice the seed stalk as shown in the picture. Scrape the seeds into a bowl and set side (see Harlequin Salad Dressing below). Slice the tomato flesh into 1cm dice. I used mini tomatoes, which were a bit fiddly, but they had beautiful mixture of reds and yellows.

  • Celery: Wash the stalks and trim the ends. Slice into 1cm strips. Cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Carrot: Top and tail and cut lengthways into 1cm thick slices. Cut each slice into 1cm strips and then cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Raw Broccoli: Cut mini florets from the 1-2 large branches. Cut the stalk into 1cm slices, then into 1cm strips and dice.
  • Raw Cauliflower: Cut mini florets from the 1-2 large branches. Cut the stalk into 1cm slices, then into 1cm strips and dice.
  • Raw French Beans: Top and tail and cut into 1cm slices.
  • Radishes: Top and tail and cut in half. Cut each half into four. If large, you might need to cut down further.
  • Peppers – all colours: Cut in half and remove the stalk and seeds. Cut into 1cm strips, then into 1cm dice.
  • Spring onions: Remove papery outer layers and trim roots. Slice into 1cm slices.
  • Red onions/shallots: Top and tail and remove papery outer layers. Cut into 1cm slices, then across into 1cm dice.
  • Red Cabbage – raw or pickled: Cut a 1cm slice, then cut into 1cm strips and slice into 1cm dice.
  • Sweetcorn – fresh, canned or frozen: No chopping required.
  • Peas – fresh or frozen: No chopping required.
  • Pomegranate Seeds: No chopping required.
  • Apple: Have the juice of a lemon ready squeezed. Peel (or not, you choose) your apple and cut in half. Remove the core and cut each half into 1cm slices. Cut the slices into strips and then cut across into dice. Toss immediately in lemon juice to prevent browning. Drain thoroughly before adding to the rest of the ingredients.
  • Pickled silverskin onions: No chopping required.
  • Pickled cornichons: Cut in half lengthwise, then slice into 1cm pieces.
  • Olives: Cut in quarters or eighths, depending on size.

When you’ve gathered and chopped your salad ingredients, the last flourishing touch is to add the secret ingredient which makes this salad really sing:

  • at least 1 sprig fresh mint

A little goes a long way, so one sprig is probably all you’ll need, unless in a moment of madness you’ve recklessly agreed to make Harlequin Salad in catering quantities.

Strip the leaves from the sprig of mint and shred finely. Turn the shreds and chop again crossways to cut the mint into small pieces and sprinkle over your chopped vegetables. Toss gently to combine.

Harlequin Salad Dressing

The tomato seeds can be a bit irritating, and in this instance would otherwise interfere with the clean salad appearance, but the flesh around them is deliciously tart and perfect to use in a dressing.

tomato seeds from the salad
olive oil
salt and coarse-ground black pepper
a light vinegar (optional)

  • Sieve the tomato seeds over a bowl until  all that remains are the seeds.
  • Add 1tbs olive oil, salt and pepper to the tomato seed juice and mix to combine.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more oil/vinegar as required.
  • Set aside until ready to serve the salad.

To Serve

  • Wash some lettuce leaves (I used Cos/Romaine), pat them dry with a paper towel and use them to line a serving dish.
  • Shake your dressing and pour over your chopped vegetables and toss gently to mix.
  • Spoon the dressed salad onto the leaves and serve.

¹I agonised over this, as it’s the only waste in this salad. Having thought about it for a while, my suggestion is to sieve the seeds to remove all the juice, and have a shot of cucumber water with your salad.

Cream Toasts

This is going to be the newest recipe on here, because I just made it up!

Well, not to claim all the credit – it is a Lego™ recipe in that I’ve cherry-picked a bit from here and a bit from there and brought it together into something absolutely delicious. As a bonus, it can be made with just a few storecupboard ingredients.

It struck me recently that there are no 21st century recipes here – indeed, there wasn’t even a 21st century category until I added one just now. I don’t want this blog to become a museum to British food, rather for it to be an ongoing celebration of British food that ranges across centuries, including this one.

This recipe pays homage to recipes that date back to Days of Yore (a very technical term in food history circles, which means quite a number of years ago!). Poor Knights of Windsor, Fried Cream, Fried Toasts and Pain Perdu are all similar dishes and all have long pedigrees in British food. Eggs, bread, sugar and cream, together with some spices and flavourings, sometimes even a splash of alcohol, have been tweaked and teased into subtly different, but equally enjoyable, dishes for centuries.

This recipe is also similar to several dishes ‘out there’ because, as we know, there’s nothing new under the sun. I’ve done some fairly rigorous searching and there isn’t anything out there exactly like this, but if I have missed something, be sure to let me know.

It was inspired by a dish I saw recently on television, specifically a caramelised French Toast, served in a restaurant in the Basque region in Spain: the smooth shiny, crisp outside a stark contrast with the soft, creamy insides. The local name for these fried milk toasts is Torrijas. Rather that slices, I decided to make toast fingers and roll them in panko breadcrumbs for contrasting crunch, because everything tastes better with crunch!

You can make simplified versions of this, according to your cupboard contents, but I’m just going to run through the method I used and the reasons behind it, so you can make your own decisions.

The Bread: Unsliced white bread. For a start, in these modern, health-conscious times, white bread is so NORTY, which makes it taste doubly delicious when used for a treat such as this. You can make your own, which has its advantages in that it holds up better during the soaking in the milk. However, a BOUGHTEN white loaf from the bakery retains its feather lightness incredibly, if you’re willing to be patient in the handling/preparation. It helps if you stale the bread a little before the soaking, as that will help keep it from falling apart. More on this below.

The Milk: A mixture of condensed milk and fresh milk gives both sweetness and richness. Also, keeping a tin on hand in the cupboard makes these an anytime snack. You could also mix your own combination of sugars and fresh cream/milk. Just ensure your mixture is fluid enough to soak into the bread.

The Flavourings. Whatever takes your fancy, really. I infused the milk with some citrus zest and then added a generous splash of vanilla and orange-flower water. It makes for a very creamy aroma, if that makes any sense.

The Coating: Breadcrumbs, Japanese Panko-style for preference. It forms a crisp, golden shell around the soft pillowy bread and looks very appetising when cooked and golden brown. My local supermarket (the orange one) has recently started selling large bags of panko breadcrumbs in the Japanese Foods section of the International Foods aisle. Great value for money and perfect for this recipe. Also, I prefer to use eggwhites for coating, as I believe it helps give crispness.

The Frying: Again, whatever takes your fancy. I used Indian ghee (clarified butter), as I didn’t want the milk solids from regular butter to catch in the pan and spoil the breadcrumb coating with dark flecks. You could also use oil, or even deep-fry them if you have a fryer. Alas, mine is currently filled with beef dripping, which is flavoursome for savoury dishes, but not so suitable for this sweet treat.

Cream Toasts

These quantities will make several servings, so if you’re not going to use it up all at once, keep the extra milk in the fridge for later use.

white loaf of bread

280ml milk – whole, skimmed, whatever you have
zest of 1 lemon
1tsp orange flower water (optional)
1tsp vanilla flavouring (optional)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk (397ml)

eggwhites for coating
panko breadcrumbs for coating
ghee, butter or oil for frying

sharp, seedless jam (raspberry/redcurrant/cranberry) or coulis to serve

  • Remove the crusts from the loaf and set aside for crust sandwiches.
  • Cut the bread ino 3cm slices, then cut each slice into 3 x 3cm fingers. Arrange the bread fingers on a wire cooling rack to stale for about an hour. This can be done beforehand.
  • Put the milk into a small pan and add the lemon zest.
  • Bring to a gentle boil and turn off the heat.
  • Cover and allow to infuse for 30 minutes.
  • Strain out the lemon zest (if you prefer, I didn’t) and mix in the condensed milk and other flavourings until well combined. Set aside.
  • Pour a little of the milk mixture into a plastic box.
  • Arrange the slightly stale bread fingers in the box, then pour over the rest of the milk mixture. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the bread fingers over and allow to soak for another 5 minutes.
  • Drain off the excess milk and put the plastic box into the fridge – uncovered – for an hour or two. This will allow the outside of the bread fingers to dry a little. If you’re wanting to make these for breakfast you can do everything up to this point the night before, and then continue in the morning. If leaving overnight, cover the box lightly in cling film so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
  • When ready to cook, pour some eggwhite into a plastic box and the panko breadcrumbs onto a shallow tray.
  • Whisk the eggwhites briefly until frothy.
  • Carefully take each soaked bread finger and coat with eggwhite. Since they will be rather delicate, I usually drop them into the eggwhite one by one and then shake the box from side to side and get the eggwhite to wash over them that way.
  • Lift out and let the excess eggwhite drain off, then lay them in the panko breadcrumbs.
  • Pat the panko onto the bread fingers until thoroughly coated.
  • Set aside onto a plate until ready to be cooked.
  • Heat the fat you are using in a small pan on medium heat. I use 6 on a scale of 1-9. If you use a small pan and can make your fat/oil 2cm deep, you’ll only need to turn your cream toasts once. If it’s shallower, you may need to fry each side individually.
  • Fry 3 or 4 fingers in the pan at a time. Cook until the panko coating is crisp and golden.
  • While they are cooking, set out a wire cooling rack, with a sheet of kitchen roll underneath it.
  • When cooked, transfer the now golden brown toasts to the wire rack and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm with a pot of jam/coulis for dipping.

Bonus recipe – Crispy Eggy Bread

Four fingers of Crunchy Eggy Bread with tomato ketchup for dipping

This same method can be used to jazz-up a personal favourite of mine – Eggy Bread. This is a savoury version of egg-soaked bread, and one which I enjoyed for breakfast as a child and still do to this day.

This recipe is more easily scaled than the one above, as it can be made in a per-person quantity.

The home-made loaf I made suited this recipe better than store bought.

Crispy Eggy Bread for One

1 x 3cm thick slice of white bread
1 large egg
salt and pepper to taste

eggwhites for coating
panko breadcrumbs for coating
ghee, butter or oil for frying

tomato ketchup to serve

  • Remove the crusts from the loaf and cut into 3 x 3cm fingers. Arrange the bread fingers on a wire cooling rack to stale for about an hour. This can be done beforehand.
  • Whisk the egg vigorously, then pass through a sieve to make sure the white and the yolk are fully mixed.
  • Season egg with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour a little of the egg mixture into a plastic box.
  • Arrange the slightly stale bread fingers in the box, then pour over the rest of the egg mixture. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the bread fingers over and allow to soak for another 5 minutes.
  • Put the plastic box into the fridge – uncovered – for an hour or two.. This will allow the outside of the bread fingers to dry a little. If you’re wanting to make these for breakfast you can do everything up to this point the night before, and then continue in the morning. If leaving overnight, cover the box lightly in cling film so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
  • When ready to cook, pour some eggwhite into a plastic box and the panko breadcrumbs onto a shallow tray.
  • Whisk the eggwhites briefly until frothy.
  • Carefully take each soaked bread finger and coat with eggwhite. Since they will be rather delicate, I usually drop them into the eggwhite one by one and then shake the box from side to side and get the eggwhite to wash over them that way.
  • Lift out and let the excess eggwhite drain off, then lay them in the panko breadcrumbs.
  • Set aside onto a plate until ready to be cooked.
  • Heat the fat you are using in a small pan on medium heat. I use 6 on a scale of 1-9. If you use a small pan and can make your fat/oil 2cm deep, you’ll only need to turn your eggy bread fingers once. If it’s shallower, you may need to fry each side individually.
  • Fry the fingers in the pan until the panko coating is crisp and golden.
  • While they are cooking, set out a wire cooling rack, with a sheet of kitchen roll underneath it.
  • When cooked, transfer the now golden brown toasts to the wire rack and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm with a pot of tomato ketchup for dipping.