How was your Easter? Overload on chocolate? Lose all sense of self restraint and eat far too many Hot Cross Buns? Have you yet reached the point at which you blanch at the thought of anything remotely egg/bunny shaped? I know I certainly have. When you do, it’s good to hit the refresh button. Do what you need to do to get back on track. Freeze any left-over (yeah, fat chance, I know) hot cross buns, pass the remaining chocolate on to someone else so that they can hide it from you and make a darn good salad to revitalize those taste buds…
This was the salad that woke me up to the fact that they can be more than just a, well, salad. That a salad could be a satisfying meal in itself. That ‘salad’ needn’t always consist of wedges of tomato, rounds of cucumber, grated carrot and iceberg lettuce with a squeeze of mayo on the side. Bor-ring. This salad, however, is far more exciting. Crisp green beans, juicy, just tender slivers of zucchini, sweet yet tart semi-dried tomatoes and crunchy nuts and seeds produce a flavour explosion. And wait, there’s dressing too. Decent dressing, not that god-awful store bought stuff. Tahini is god-worthy food. It’s extremely good for you, not to mention it’s delectably rich and creamy. Shake it up with some honey, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice and you’ve got one ripper dressing. Drizzle over your salad and marvel at the earthy colours – deep greens, bright greens, rusty-brown reds and white speckles from the sesame seeds and almonds all splashed with light-brown dressing.
Leave as is, or throw on one or two ‘add-ins’ for a complete meal. Cubes of creamy avocado, tangy feta and earthy beetroot work a treat. A poached or boiled egg ain’t a bad addition either. Alternatively if you’re feeling like something fancier, serve as part of a mezze-style spread alongside a tagine, dips and fresh bread and other complimentary salads.
This Zucchini, French Bean & Semi-Dried Tomato Salad with Tahini Dressing (whew, that’s a long title. Sorry about that.) holds a special place in my collection. It was the first salad (and I think recipe, though my memory’s rather dodgy) I made from the brilliant tome that is the River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook (my first vegetarian cookbook I might add). A book that I now swear by, turning back to time and time again. It’s especially stellar for when hosting non-vegetarian guests. There’s not been one ‘where’s the meat?’ complaint, or ‘this would taste so much better with some chicken/steak on top’ gripe. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s dishes are varied and vibrant, providing many wonderful ways of utilising fresh produce in a manner that showcases it’s natural delectability. And no, I’m not doing a promo for the cookbook. I simply have an almost unhealthy obsession with it’s contents. This salad very much included.
Zucchini, French Bean & Semi-Dried Tomato Salad with Tahini Dressing
400g zuchhini (about 2 large), sliced into 3mm thick rounds
Olive oil spray
150g French beans, trimmed
4 large handfuls of salad leaves. I used half rocket, half baby spinach.
10 semi-dried tomatoes
1 tbsp pepitas, toasted
1 tbsp slivered almonds, toasted
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
½ garlic clove, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp clear honey
2 tbsp unhulled tahini
2 tbsp olive oil
Hot water to thin down
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line two large baking trays with baking paper. Arrange the zucchini rounds on the trays in a single layer, lightly spray with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes or until just tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add all the beans at once and cook for 1 minute. Drain and immerse in cold iced water for a minute to refresh and stop the cooking process. Drain again and pat dry with a tea towel.
To assemble: Arrange half of the salad leaves on a large serving platter and scatter with half of the zucchini and beans. Top with the remaining leaves and then the zucchini and beans. Finish with the semi-dried tomatoes and scatter with the toasted nuts and seeds. Drizzle with the tahini dressing, or allow each person to add their own dressing.
Best eaten at room temperature.
In a small bowl whisk together the garlic with the lemon zest and juice, honey and tahini to form a smooth paste. Thin out with small drizzles of hot water until you reach a smooth trickling consistency. Gradually add the oil, whisking constantly until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Source: Adapted from River Cottage: Veg Everyday