There are a number of culinary combinations that we take for granted. That just are. Raspberry and white chocolate, apple and cinnamon, pumpkin and pecan, orange and poppy seed…to question them would be heresy. I don’t plan to. But there’s a catch associated with accepting such combinations as ‘culinary rules’. We can be inclined to forget about or try others. Others that work nearly as well, or even better, yet are not exactly by the book. But why bother when you can go with a tried and tested combination? The case in hand for today is orange and poppy seed. Why, it’s a fantastic combination, particularly in baked goods such as these orange poppy seed muffins. However, it does mean that when I consider orange and seed/nut combinations, that is the only one that crosses my mind. It’s automatic. It was well and truly time to break down that block. Venture out into the unknown.
Orange and sesame seed? Sweet, tangy, citrusy (stating the bleeding obvious, I know) and intensely nutty. Helloooo summer. Although used in a different context (a salad) to how I usually incorporate it’s ‘flashy’ older brother, this combination’s a keeper. One to add to that mental list of ‘bog-standard, don’t-argue-with combinations’. I could be a tad biased here – I confess to having a strong penchant for sesame seeds. Their deeply rich, nutty flavour does a brilliant job of jazzing up a multitude of dishes, particularly ‘boring’ side salads. In this particular one they obtain star status. Why, their name even gets a spot in the title. It’s no longer a case of “I couldn’t be bothered making an effort with this salad so as an afterthought here’s some sesame seeds to redeem that”. In this salad they play a crucial role – producing a creamy, tangy dressing that ‘pops’ in your mouth.
Apart from actually providing some substance to the salad (we can’t just eat the dressing on it’s own now, can we?), the sweet potato and asparagus provide a refreshing burst of summery colour. Because aesthetics are what make or break food. Yeah right. But you’ve gotta admit it does help up the ‘enticement’ factor. There’s crunch and zing from the asparagus and a smooth creaminess from the sweet potato, not to mention a healthy dose of beta-carotene. In fact it’s a darn healthy salad all round (and no, that’s not a silly statement – not all salads are healthy. Trust me.) We all know that oranges are packed with vitamin C, blah, blah, blah. Asparagus contains a multitude of antioxidants, cancer fighting properties and is a detoxifying agent – who knew so much goodness could be crammed into a green stalk? And sesame seeds? Well they are a teeny tiny nutrient powerhouse – calcium, protein, magnesium, complex B vitamins, iron, copper….need I say more? Um, yes I do. They also possess high levels of a fat called oleic acid that does wonders at lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ cholesterol levels. I think my penchant for sesame seeds is well and truly justified.
For a complete meal just add cannellini beans, and a hunk of buttered crusty bread on the side if you’re especially hungry. I served it alongside these Amaranth & Halloumi Stuffed Tomatoes and it worked a treat. A cool refreshing salad suited to warm summer days. Best eaten outside in the sun!
Sweet Potato & Asparagus Salad with Sesame-Orange Dressing
175g sweet potato, rinsed, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1 tsp olive oil
1 bunch (approx. 200g) asparagus, last 2 cm of stalk removed
1 large orange
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp orange juice (from the orange above)
½ tsp finely grated orange zest (from the orange above)
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
½ garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp french or Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and spread out the slices of sweet potato, so that none are overlapping. Brush with the olive oil. Roast for 12-15 minutes or until just tender. Set tray on a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, cut the asparagus into thirds (about 8cm lengths) and bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. Tip in the asparagus all at once and cook for two minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water. Place bowl in the refrigerator to chill (and prevent the asparagus from continuing to cook)
Wash the orange and finely grate ½ tsp zest. Set the zest aside and use a sharp knife to thinly slice off the top and bottom of the orange, so that the orange flesh is just exposed. Then start slicing off the skin, removing as much pith as possible, with a curving action starting at the top of the orange and ending at the bottom. Continue until all the peel has been removed. Now hold the orange in one hand and carefully slice down one side of an orange segment, then on the other, so that you can ease the segment out. Repeat the procedure until you have removed all segments and are left with just the membrane. Squeeze the membrane over a small bowl and reserve 1 tbsp of the juice.
To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a small jar with a screw top lid. Ensure the lid is on firmly then shake vigorously to emulsify.
Assemble the salad by tipping the sweet potato, asparagus and orange segments into a serving bowl. Drizzle with the Orange Sesame Dressing, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Source: A Taste Without Waste Original. Dressing Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking: A Common Sense Guide.