Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Tree of Life Salad

An American friend recently suggested we have a two woman International Cook-Off - she sent me some salad recipes from The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan and asked me to pick one for us both to make. I chose Tree of Life Salad, a recipe inspired by a spicy dressing made at Tree of Life wellness centre in Arizona, which uses red pepper, tahini, garlic and oranges.  

I ended up changing things quite a lot - the original recipe had raisins, which I didn't fancy, and as the dressing sounded a lot like harissa I decided to use that instead, adding ginger to keep it close to the Tree of Life version. I stupidly forgot to buy oranges, so I used white wine vinegar instead and it works well, but I'll have to try the orangey version someday! I also changed the ingredients of the salad itself to include things we had: I used rocket from the garden in place of red cabbage, a yellow instead of green pepper (because green peppers are just gross unripe other peppers) and I replaced the suggested endive with fennel - completely different flavours, but I had fennel and fennel be good. In the end I was enjoying the harissa too much to add tahini, so I omitted that too. Basically this is a completely different recipe, but I think it still counts!

(sort of) Tree Of Life Salad - UK edition

Serves 2 as a side
For the harissa dressing
1 whole red pepper
2-3 long red chillies, medium heat, stalks and seeds discarded
1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 tsp caster sugar
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 thumb-size piece root ginger, peeled and very finely grated
1 tbs olive oil
1tbs white wine vinegar 

If you've got a gas hob, set the smallest burner on a medium heat and sit the whole pepper directly into the flames. Turn the pepper as the skin blisters and pops, keeping it in the flames until the skin is blackened and the flesh is softened all over (alternatively, turn the oven up high, put the pepper directly on the top shelf and bake for 10-15 minutes, turning half way through, until the skin is charred and the flesh is soft). Leave to cool then remove the stalk and seeds and cut into quarters.

Put the pepper, chillies, garlic, sugar and smoked paprika into a bowl  or food processor, with a small amount of olive oil, and blitz up til smooth. This is the harissa.

Put 3tsp harissa in a small bowl with the grated ginger, white wine vinegar and olive oil and beat together well with a fork. Set aside.

For the salad
Half a red pepper
Half a yellow pepper
1 bulb fennel
Handful rocket leaves
1 small head little gem or similar lettuce
8 cherry tomatoes

Put the rocket and lettuce leaves in a salad bowl. Slice the pepper halves into long, thin strips and place in a salad bowl. Cut the fennel in half vertically, cut off the solid bottom end and remove the outer layer and the top stalks. Slice thinly and add to the bowl. Halve the cherry tomatoes and add them too.

Add a tablespoon of the dressing to the salad and stir it up to ensure everything is well coated. Add a little at a time until it's dressed to your liking, but don't over do it, you want to still be able to taste the veg.

I served my Tree of Life salad with a polenta pizza. More on that another time.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Rhubarb, Almond and Polenta Cake (gluten free)

It's been a whole year since I last posted on here, and I feel rather guilty about that. My absence can be partly blamed on my having to change the way I cook and eat thanks to IBS. I've had to cut out gluten and dairy and thus lots of my favourite foods, but over the past year I've gradually tested things out to the point that I now know I can tolerate a small amount of spelt or rye bread, can occasionally treat myself to things made with plain flour (as opposed to strong bread flours) like pastry and cakes and - perhaps there is a god - halloumi. A lot of avocados have been consumed, gluten-free breads have been tasted and rejected while gluten free pasta has been embraced whole-heartedly. Rice has been eaten in all its myriad forms and has always been scrumptious. My new favourite thing is polenta, which I'll talk about more some other time, because the other reason for my absence is also the other reason for this recipe: we bought a house and got a new allotment which, aside from an abundance of bind weed and couch grass is also rich in rhubarb.

I love me some rhubarb. I've yet to make a savoury dish from it, though I've seen plenty of good recipes, but aside from the obvious crumbles it also makes excellent ice-cream and fool and is delicious roasted with brown sugar and served with a meringue nest and some frozen yoghurt. The Guardian has a great sounding recipe for rhubarb tiramisu in their '10 Best...' collection that I really need to try, but a good old cake is often all you really need, and the texture of the polenta makes this seem lighter but way moister than your average sponge. I don't think I made this recipe up entirely, I'm sure it's come together from lots of different sources, and those quantities probably came from somewhere other than my little noggin - but I'll be damned if I can remember where. But enough piffle, here it is, rhubarb polenta cake, with ground almonds for extra moistness and lemon zest to enhance the all round rhubarbiness.* You don't have to use the xanthan gum if you don't want to, but it does help bind things together a little better than just the eggs alone. If you do want to use it and you've never heard of it before, it's a powder that you'll find in a small tub in the free-from section of supermarkets or health food shops.
*definitely not a word

Rhubarb, Almond and Polenta cake

For the rhubarb
350g rhubarb, chopped into approx 2-4cm chunks
50g soft, light brown sugar

Toss the rhubarb and sugar together in a bowl and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

For the cake
225g caster sugar
225g butter
200g ground almonds
125g polenta
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

Heat oven to 180C, and line a 20cm cake tin with greaseproof paper (I always grease the paper but lots of recipes say to grease the pan, do what you will).
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together until creamed then beat the eggs in one at a time with a little of the polenta to help prevent curdling.
Stir in the rest of the polenta, the ground almonds, lemon zest and xanthan gum if using.
Drain the liquid off the rhubarb - this can be retained to use as a drizzle later if you wish - and fold the rhubarb into the cake mixture.
Spoon the mix into your cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven. Check after 40 minutes and if the top looks a little dark cover it with foil, otherwise, replace as it is and cook for another 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for at least half an hour before turning out onto a wire rack.