If we think about it – our fridges hardly ever satisfy us. Not in the way, that…say catching someone giving you that furtive second glance that just screams “Whoa – I think I like that” is satisfying (I’m hypothesizing here – the only second glances I get are usually from concerned strangers who’re trying to decide whether or not I need to be hospitalized).
Back to fridges. The problem here is that there’s usually not enough of the things we like in them, and there are inevitably those occasions where we’re desperately hoping that some sort of mystical South Korean magic will produce some miracle thing that we didn’t see the first 37 times we opened the damn thing looking for something to eat. This is of course usually our own fault, because it’s our responsibility to put yummy things in there in the first place. But at the end of the day, it’s easier to blame the inanimate object when inevitably all that’s there is a broken egg, a half-finished tub of mustard and what may or may not be some edamame beans (which you bought on a whim become you were at a chinese market and everyone else was doing it, so you did too – only to discover that you actually have no fucking clue what to do with the damn things and so just left them in the back until they started to look like something designed by HR Geiger to either have sex with or scare small children). In these moments, it’s always the fridge’s fault.
Mostly however, it’s amazing how quickly putting something in the fridge can change it from a delicious whatever-it-was-we-loved-the-night-before-and-just-couldn’t-finish-but-want-to-have-more-of-later, into an unappetizing lump of grey almost instantaneously. Last night’s magnificent pasta becomes something you’d rather throw at your neighbour’s annoying ratdog than actually eat. Roasts look like tires in the cold light of The Next Day and vegetables or salad get that wilty ‘wet’ look, which is simultaneously suspicious (I mean, where did all that extra moisture some from?) and singularly not fun if your plan is to actually put something in your mouth.
There are of course some blazing exceptions. Curries and stews for example not only hold their own in the fight against the fridge, but actually improve if left to get to know themselves a little better in the white box in the corner. Stews are a little bit like sex that way; the first time is going to be great purely because you’re having the actual sex, but there’ll probably be slightly too many accidental headbutts for everyone’s liking, and it takes at least one or two more go-rounds before everything settles into place.
So, I’ve been on the road a lot lately – which means only ever being home for at most a day or two before packing up the old busted suitcase and heading back to the airport to endure another round of the horror that is being in a long metal tube that has no earthly explanation for staying up 35 000ft above the earth. What this means is that doing a proper grocery shop is usually out of the question, as is making anything that’s going to have leftovers. Because while you’re away, the fridge is going to do its special magic and turn it into angry mold which is less fun to come home to than you’d imagine. So, that means having to make things that are going to require relatively few ingredients that can be bought on the day and used up in their entirety.
Which is how I got to making a couple of salads over the weekend that really surprised me by being really really fun, both to make and to eat. Yes yes I know that sounded like a line out of Housekeeper’s Digest – so shoot me. It’s how I feel.
I’ve never really been good at salads. I’ve usually subscribed to the MORE IS MORE ‘throw everything you can get your hands on at the damn thing there must be more things’ school of thought – which is why my salads tended to look as though a drunk Edward Scissorhands was let loose in the fresh-produce section of a supermarket and someone scraped the resulting carnage into a bowl and put it on the table with some balsamic.
So, in an effort to change my ways, both these salads ended up being an exercise in trying to be ballsy enough to choose just one or two central flavours and then just let them bloody get on with it, which is I think the key to a salad that’s memorable – and not just a lot of chopped things that you avoid while actually eating all the other things on your plate that you actually like.
The Salad That’s Actually Not A Salad
This is actually a meal all by itself. But there are enough green things on the plate to let me get away with calling it a salad. Plus, when I was developing it, the idea was to make a salad. Which is good enough for me, so there.
Ingredients (for 2)
2 handfuls of baby potatoes (peeled)
a handful of fresh thyme (the leaves stripped from the stalks) – or you can use two tablespoons of good quality dried thyme if you don’t fancy the PT
1 red onion, cut into rings
1 fresh chili (de-seeded and finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
a good handful of mange tout (baby pea-pods)
a similarly good handful of quality chorizo, sliced into discs
2 tbspns of pine nuts
a knob of butter
a splash of white wine
What to do
The key to this is to get as much of your ingredients ready in advance, like they do on those wanky cooking shows – because once things get going you’re going to want to have everything close at hand and ready to rock.
So, first things first – take your red onions chopped into rings and put them in a bowl of water, add a healthy pinch of salt and leave it aside. This is a little trick I learned form the incredible Tessa Kiros that leaches a lot of the acidity from the onions which means being able to use them uncooked in this salad without blowing your head off with raw onion-ness.
Plop your peeled baby potatoes in a pot that has a tightly fitting lid with enough water to cover them, again add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil, and cook until a thin knife passes through one of them cleanly and easily (which can take anything from 20 minutes to just over half an hour). The trick is that you don’t want them to be falling apart, but still firm once cooked.
Once the potatoes are done, drain the water quickly and then pop the lid back on the pot. The reason for this is that you want to retain as much of the steam as possible (and trust me, there’ll be a lot of it), because that’s going to soften everything you’re about to add to the pot. Then, quickly throw in the onions (not the water, just the onions), fresh thyme, knob of butter some salt and pepper and then squeeze the lime juice over it all. Get the lid back on swirl it all around so that everything gets mixed up nicely and set aside.
Now, get a dry pan nice and hot and add the pine-nuts. Toast them until just starting to go golden brown, then add a lick of olive oil, the chili, garlic, mange tout and chorizo. Stir it about until everything’s starting to crisp up, then add the splash of wine so that all the bits are loosened off the bottom of the pan, then take off the heat.
Grab a plate, spoon some of the potatoes onto it (making sure to get some of the buttery, limey-ness in there), dress it with some watercress, and then spoon a portion of the mange tout, chorizo, pine nut mix onto that, and serve immediately.
Part II coming soon… (hint – there are figs in it).