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.

Vegan Lemon Curd

This is a recipe from May Byron’s Rations Book (1918). Rationing during the WW2 is well known, but it was also introduced during the last year of the first world war. Confession time: I’ve changed the title of this recipe from the original. The original recipe is for Lemon Curd Without Eggs, which would have been a concern back then through food rationing. In this day and age, it is mainly be a dietary choice, so I have opted for the (nowadays) clearer and more succinct term, ‘vegan.’

It also has a lot of other things going for it, like being fat free, dairy-free, gluten-free and coconut-free. There are lots of vegan lemon curd recipes out there, but the vast majority seem to employ some kind of fat and many of them also include coconut cream to give body to the finished result and turmeric for colour.

This recipe has none of that, because the main ingredient in this recipe is swede. Yes, swede the vegetable. Also known as rutabaga, or ‘neeps’ if you’re in Scotland (shortened from Swedish Turnips, in case you were wondering). A mild-flavoured root vegetable, it adds body and also colour to the lemon curd. A little sugar, lemon-zest and juice and a gentle thickening with arrowroot, and you have a gloriously golden preserve to spread on your toast, fill your cakes and tarts and drizzle over ice-cream.

It doesn’t have to be arrowroot – although I do like the quick and ‘gentle’ set it has, and it’s ability to go clear when it’s setting qualities have ‘activated’. When cold, its not as firm/rubbery as other thickening agents. You could alternatively use cornflour, tapioca flour, sago, ground rice, etc. These last two were also in the original, but the sago needs to be soaked overnight and then cooked until translucent, and the ground rice made for a slight graininess, all of which takes away the spontenaiety. More cooking might have addressed the texture issue, but any prolonged cooking you run the risk of losing the fresh lemon flavour of the juice and zest.

And the flavour is the best thing about this recipe. It’s bright and fresh without any cloying richness from butter or eggs. It’s practically health-food!

This method could also be used for other citrus/fruit curds.

Vegan Lemon Curd

Makes about 250ml.

225g swede – peeled and diced small
85g caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
15g arrowroot

  • Simmer the swede in boiling water until tender (15-20 minutes).
  • Drain and return to the warm pan. Turn off the heat and allow the excess moisture from the swede to evaporate.
  • Puree the swede. Because it is a small amount, it can be done in a spice grinder or small liquidiser. It is important for the texture to use something with offset blades – that is, blades pointing in different directions – to ensure a smooth puree. A food processor, with it’s flat blades spinning in just one plane, won’t chop things finely enough. Spare a thought for May Byron’s original readers, who had to press the cooked swede through a sieve.
  • Add some lemon juice to make the pureeing easier.
  • Return the puree to the cleaned pan and add any remaining lemon juice, the zest, the sugar and the salt.
  • Mix the arrowroot with a tablespoon of cold water and pour into the pan.
  • Heat gently, stirring, until thickened (4-5 minutes) and you can no-longer see the whiteness of the arrowroot mixture.
  • Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

 

Fasting Day Soup

On my other blog I recently posted my version of the classic Leek and Potato Soup, which is a firm favourite not only because of its deliciousness but also its simplicity to make. I thought it would be nice to complement it here with an equally delicious and equally simple-to-make soup from three centuries ago.

This Fasting Day Soup comes from the manuscript recipe and household book of the Coley family (MS1711), and is held in the archives at the Wellcome Library.

It would have been served on one of the many fasting (i.e. non-meat) days that used to be observed in the church calendar, and as such is eminently suitable for vegetarians and, with a little adjustment, vegans. It is so speedily made, it takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish.

In the original recipe, it is thickened through a combination of breadcrumbs and egg-yolks. For simplicity, I would recommend choosing just one of these, and to keep the soup accessible to anyone with a gluten intolerance, the yolks are the obvious choice, adding both richness and silkiness of texture. Vegans will obviously need to choose breadcrumbs, or a different thickener, or indeed no thickener at all.

The main flavourings are of lettuce, spinach and chervil, which are unusual for a soup, but their delicate nature allows for the soup to be quickly made. As already mentioned, the soup is enriched with egg yolk and also the addition of bright green pistachios. When purréed smooth, the colour is truly glorious, something not accurately reflected in the photo, alas.

I particularly liked the serving suggestion of a toast and a poached egg, to which I have added only a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Fasting Day Soup recipe
Fasting Day Soup recipe, circa 1750 – MS.1711, Wellcome Library Collection

Fasting Day Soup

50g unsalted butter
4 gem lettuce
200g baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chervil – or 3tbs dried
0.5tsp salt
50g shelled pistachios
1 onion – peeled
8 cloves
1 litre boiling water
3 large egg yolks
60ml white wine
juice of 1 lemon

to serve: per person
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 poached egg
a few chopped pistachios
coarse-ground black pepper

  • Shred the lettuce, spinach and chervil finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and heat gently until browned.
  • Add the greens and stir until wilted.
  • Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot with the pistachios, salt and hot water.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Take about a cup of liquid from the pan and remove the onion. Blend the soup smooth using either a liquidiser or use a stick blender.
  • Whisk the yolks with the white wine, then slowly add the cup of liquid to the yolk mixture, whisking thoroughly.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the soup and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Do not let the soup boil.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding some or all of the lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve with toast, a poached egg and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.