Sunday, 22 April 2012

Salad days

Every picture I take at the moment seems to have a cat's paw, or nose, or whisker clumsily poking its way in.  Despite his detest of any affection from us, he never wants to be more than about 3' away.  He just sits there, looking cute and squidgy and fluffy, his eyes saying, 'just try and pick me up'.  Cuddle attempts generally result in injury (on our part) and if he even walks across your lap it's a privilege.  Except, that is, when you're on the toilet.  Plonk yourself down on the porcelain throne and within seconds he will have barged his way in, jumped atop your bare and vulnerable thighs and settled himself down for the duration, purring his head off.

He was the last left of his litter.  We really should have guessed something from that.

After two three course meals in the space of 18 hours, this week was deemed by me to be 'salad week'. Salad in the loosest sense of the word that is. In the past I have had near obsessive bouts of calorie counting, twice daily weigh-ins, measurements and avoidance of all sorts of foods, but these days I've come to the conclusion that for the sake of half a stone, I really can't be arsed.  Being on a diet is such a monstrous bore and it turns you into such a monstrous bore.  Nobody wants to hang around with someone who makes you feel full of guilt wolfing down your scone whilst they click a couple of sweeteners into their tea.  And you get colds all the time, and protein is expensive and as soon as you get to the weight you want to be everyone tells you you look ill and you inevitably end up back where you started six months later.  I can honestly say that the thinnest days of my life were undoubtedly the most miserable.

Now, of course if you are eating six cheeseburgers for lunch and can't fit in your kitchen anymore, go on a fucking diet, but I can't think of a single one of my friends who actually needs to lose weight.  Therefore, my general philosophy these days is, if you eat like a biffa one day, you take it easy the next.  And go for a walk occasionally. Whilst you probably won't look like one of the cast of gossip girl, you'll probably manage to fit into the same pair of jeans that you had last summer. 

So, in my book salad counts as pretty much any meal which doesn't have butter on it.  Anything else is swell by me; carbs, meat, cheese, dressings.  Throw a couple of leaves on it and you can call it a salad as far as I'm concerned. So apologies if the below don't sit with your lettuce:tomato expectations.  

Vietnamese prawn and rice noodle salad

I am sure an actual Vietnamese person would question the cultural authenticity of this dish, but I have titled it so as it is my vague attempt to create one of my favourite dishes in the Vietnamese restaurants which were ten a penny where I used to live.  Sadly in Norwich we don't get much more adventurous than Thai.

As ever, the below amounts are guesstimated, in particular the dressing, so add bit by bit to your personal taste.

Serves four, modestly

1 pack rice noodles/vermicelli
1 pack frozen cooked king prawns
Juice of two limes
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp golden caster sugar
1 red chilli finely chopped
1 red pepper sliced thinly
1 orange pepper sliced thinly
4 spring onions finely chopped
1 small iceberg lettuce shredded
Handful chopped peanuts
Handful chopped coriander

Defrost prawns and cook noodles as per packet instructions.  Whilst the noodles are still warm, dress with the lime, sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce.Once cooled, add your prawns and veg then serve topped with the coriander and peanuts.  

Pesto gnocchi, artichoke and mozzarella salad

I'm sorry, this photo looks like a big pile of green splodge, I was too hungry to improve it.  It tastes better, I promise.

Serves three (or two in our hungry case)

1 bag of gnocchi
1 tin of artichoke hearts
Ball of mozzarella
2 tbsp pesto
Slug of oil
Salad jam (balsamic reduction)
Bag of leaves

You can buy chargrilled artichokes in oil, but it's much cheaper to buy a tin, roughly chop the hearts (I like how romantically tumultuous this sounds) and fry in olive oil for few minutes until starting to brown.  Boil your gnocchi til it floats to the top of the water then drain and dress with the pesto.  Top the salad leaves with the gnocchi, artichokes and torn mozzarella and drizzle with the balsamic.

Jewelled cous cous salad with cumin yoghurt

Serves four

About 300g cous cous (I used a combination of regular and giant cous cous)
Small pot plain yoghurt
1 tsp cumin
6 shallots thinly sliced
Handful pistachios finely chopped
Handfuls dried fruit, finely chopped (I used apricots, raisins and cherries)
Few sprigs of mint, finely sliced
1/2 pack feta cheese, crumbled
Slug of rapeseed/olive oil
Slug of vegetable oil
Juice of a lemon

Cook the cous cous according to packet instructions and dress with the oil and lemon whilst still warm.  Put enough vegetable oil in a frying pan, so that it will cover the shallots.  The oil needs to be hot enough to make the onions sizzle so try one piece first.  Fry the onions until they have gone crisp, but not burnt. Combine the yoghurt with the cumin.  Mix the cous cous, onions, feta, dried fruit, mint and pistachios.  Serve with some leaves and dress with the yoghurt. 

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