Salad days

Green Lifestyle magazine

Celebrate the arrival of autumn with these salads that all have a little extra oomph!

Watermelon Salad

Watermelon Salad with Pistachios, Basil and Vincotto

Credit: Alan Benson

Lavender and Orange Broccoli with Cous Cous

Lavender and Orange Broccoli with Cous Cous

Credit: Alan Benson

Peach and Hazelnut Salad

Peach and Hazelnut Salad with Rocket

Credit: Alan Benson

Papaya and Pounded Bean Salad

Papaya and Pounded Bean Salad

Credit: Alan Benson

Simon Bryant’s Vegies

Recipes from the book Simon Bryant’s Vegies, by Simon Bryant, published by Lantern, $39.99.

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Watermelon Salad with Pistachios, Basil and Vincotto

Golden midget watermelons are perfect for this salad as they‘re a little less sugary than other varieties. If you can’t get hold of them, any watermelon will do – just avoid overripe ones.

Chilling the sliced melon before grilling it allows you to sear the outside without the middle turning to mush. You need to use a lot of oil and salt on the grill as this produces the smokiness that prevents the dish from tasting like dessert. The generous use of pepper also pushes everything to a savoury finish. To avoid waste, I like to pickle the watermelon rinds.

I find that many nuts taste like cardboard, mainly due to extended periods in overseas warehouse, so I always try to buy local. When you roast the pistachios for this dish, they enter a new realm of scent and flavour. Roast them as close to serving time as possible; I also recommend adding some salt flakes, and flipping the nuts over a few times as a fair bit of the flavour comes from the contact with the oven tray. Little details, but they will make all the difference to the final dish.

Serves 4

16 slices watermelon, cut into large triangles
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes and cracked pepper
2 small-medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ bunch basil, leaves picked
2 sprigs mint, leaves picked
50 g pistachios, roasted and roughly chopped
2 tbsp vincotto

Chill the sliced watermelon in the fridge for 10 minutes. This will help the melon seize up a little, which is essential if it’s ripe and in danger of going cactus on a hot grill.

Preheat a grill-plate to hot. Brush 20-30 ml of olive oil over both sides of the watermelon triangles and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Grill for 2 minutes or until grill marks appear and a little smokiness becomes evident. It’s really important not to overcook the watermelon, though or it will fall apart.

Lightly salt the tomato and rip up the basil leaves. Arrange the grilled watermelon on plates and add the tomato, basil, mint and pistachios. Season with black pepper and drizzle with vincotto and the remaining olive oil. Serve immediately.

Lavender and Orange Broccoli with Cous Cous

This recipe came about when I needed to use up some broccoli that was on the bolt. Towards the end of spring, the warmer temperatures cause the broccoli to flower, rendering the vegetable inedible. Before this happens, you can salvage the tiny little heads (they look like mini individual broccoli plants) for this salad.

The stems become a little tough so I suggest you soup them up – they are absolutely full of flavour. If you don’t grow broccoli, just shave little 5 mm bunches off any tight well-formed head of broccoli or – and this is one of my favourite variations – use a caulibroc, a pale green cauliflower and broccoli hybrid.

The lavender flowers are not just a wacky addition for the sake of it. I once made this salad with herbes de Provence (lavender, thyme, savory, basil and fennel) and concluded that the lavender and thyme were the real stars. The addition of tarragon and parsley works for me, but I suggest you have a mess around and see what you like.

Serves 4

1 cup (200 g) cous cous
¾ cup (180 ml) boiling water
½ cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt flakes and cracked black pepper
1 head of bolting broccoli, or ½ head of regular broccoli, tips shaved
Juice of 2 oranges
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
2 tbsp chopped thyme
¼ bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
4 sprigs tarragon, leaves picked and chopped
1 tbsp aged sweet red vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Place the cous cous in a glass or ceramic bowl. Mix the boiling water with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt and pour over the cous cous. Fork through, then cover tightly with lid. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and run a fork through the cous cous again to separate the grains.

Place the broccoli, orange juice and zest, lavender, thyme, parsley, tarragon, vinegar, remaining olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl and mix well.

Place the cous cous on a serving plate and top with the broccoli salad. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil, if you think it needs it.

Peach and Hazelnut Salad with Rocket

When stone fruit hits the market and the days are hot, I make a lot of salads like this. They’re perfect for lunch. A combination of white and yellow peaches looks nice for this, but that’s just a bonus and certainly not essential.

The nut spice blend exudes a bouquet that is boldly aromatic and uniquely Australian. Lemon myrtle, aniseed myrtle, mountain pepper and ground bush tomato are available from Outback Pride (www.outbackpride.com.au). Spices can vary in intensity from crop to crop, so hold back a little of the blend as you add it to the dressing, then check the balance and adjust as you go.

Serves 4 as a starter or a side salad

100 g unsalted butter
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt flakes
3 ripe peaches, at room temperature
2 handfuls baby rocket
1 handful watercress

Nut spice blend:
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp lemon myrtle
½ tsp aniseed myrtle
1 tsp mountain pepper
1 tsp ground bush tomato
100 g hazelnuts (or macadamias) crushed

For the nut spice blend, finely grind all the spices and then fold in the crushed nuts.

To make dressing, melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat until it froths and turns nut-brown. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice, then gradually add 1½ teaspoons of the nut spice blend, tasting as you go. Season with salt to taste.

Halve the peaches and take out the stones, then cut them into quarters. Combine the peach quarters with the rocket and watercress, pile the salad onto a plate and pour over the hot dressing. Sprinkle another teaspoon of nut spice blend over the top. (Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the pantry for up to 6 months).

Serve the salad in a big bowl as a shared side dish, or divide among individual plates to serve as a starter.

Papaya and Pounded Bean Salad

For this classic Thai salad, known as som tam, you’ll need an unripe green papaya, so a trip to the Asian grocer might be in order. A ripe papaya will have a yellowy brown skin and will bruise as easily as a ripe peach. A good green papaya will have a teeny amount of give when pressed; no give and it will be too unripe (it will also probably feel heavy in your hand).

To make this dish without the usual dried shrimp and fish sauce and still get a great result is not hard, as salted preserved turnip slivers (widely available in Asian grocers) give a little hit of the same flavour and slightly chewy texture. The best way to achieve the matchstick cut of the vegetables is to use a mandoline.

Serves 4 as a side

4 cloves garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt flakes
4 bird’s eye chillies, chopped seeds and all
2 tbsp salted preserved turnip slivers
40-50 g snake beans or green beans, cut into 2 cm lengths
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
1 small green papaya, peeled and seeds scraped, flesh cut into matchsticks
1-1½ green mango, peeled and cut into matchsticks
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp thai light soy sauce
2 tbsp grated coconut palm sugar

Pound the garlic, salt and chilli to a fine paste using a mortar and pestle. Add the turnip and three-quarters of the beans and pound gently to bruise. Follow with half the carrot and half the papaya and lightly pound until all the ingredients are well-bruised, so that they absorb the heat and flavour of the chilli and garlic but do not turn to mush. Add half the mango and bruise lightly.

For the dressing, combine most of the tamarind, lime juice, soy sauce and palm sugar in a bowl. It’s good to hold back a little of each so you can rebalance the final flavours to your preference. Gradually add the dressing to the salad and mix together, gently pounding to blend the fruit and vegetables with the seasoning. Taste and adjust the flavours to the desired combination of hot, sour, sweet and salty, adding more dressing (or just tamarind, lime, soy sauce or palm sugar) as required.

Add the tomatoes and the remaining carrot, papaya and green mango to the salad, then the remaining beans. Mix together well. Note that these ingredients are not pounded up but just folded through, adding another texture and a few crunchy bits to the finished salad. Lastly, add the peanuts and serve.

Recipes from the book Simon Bryant’s Vegies, by Simon Bryant, published by Lantern, $39.99.