This year's strawberry crop in the kitchen garden at The Blue House has been delicious, if not amazing! Some careful tending of the beds during the season, including a little weeding, plenty of water, a thick layer of mulch and a weekly slurp of seaweed solution have seen a massive boost in our yield.
We're growing a few different varieties: Lauren, Temptation early season, Red Gauntlet, Fresca and Roman, with the best plants coming from a seller at the local Capital Region Farmers Market. Peter loves picking them and returns to the kitchen with a full belly... and one of those six-cup plastic ricotta baskets filled to the brim.
Strawberries and cream is his absolute favourite dessert, so the fruit is being put to good use there, but with such an abundance I'm also using them in salads and other dishes. A suitable salad that caught my eye recently was this divine-looking one created by my lovely friend and fellow cook, Liz - That Skinny Chick can bake. I've adapted Liz's version slightly, with a few minor adjustments, the key being that I've excluded the (minute) quantity of sliced raw red onion. I don't mind a little bit of Spanish onion, but it's not at all my Peter's favourite so I tend to leave it out.
That said, if you happen to follow me on Twitter, you'll have seen my recent protestations about a 'garden salad' purchased from an al fresco eatery. I spent ten minutes or more picking out the (excessive amount) of raw Spanish onion from amongst the rocket leaves. Seriously, if you cup your two hands together loosely, you'll be able to imagine the quantity of thickly sliced onion that was in this salad. Actually, it should have been called 'Onion salad with a few rocket leaves and a shaving of cucumber'! As one fellow cook said to me, 'It's a cheap and lazy filler'. True. And, yes, I did diplomatically provide feedback to the establishment, as you do.
To give this salad just a little more crunch, I've added some shredded iceberg lettuce. Yep, I know all the news that iceberg is a has-been, but honestly it's so crisp and delicious, why would you leave it off your summer shopping list? With its vibrant colours of red and green, this salad will sit perfectly on a festive table, but is delicious enough to enjoy any time of the year. Just use the freshest ingredients possible.
STRAWBERRY, BABY SPINACH, POMEGRANATE AND FETA SALAD
120g baby spinach
1 cup iceberg lettuce leaves, shredded
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or arils
1/4 cup walnuts+
1/2 cup feta*
salt and pepper, to taste
Wash the strawberries, gently pat them dry with paper towelling and then remove the stems. If the strawberries are large, slice them in half lengthways. Wash the baby spinach leaves and 'spin' them dry in a salad spinner or a clean tea towel. Wash the iceberg lettuce leaves and slice them into shreds.
Combine the baby spinach leaves with the shredded lettuce leaves in your serving bowl or platter. Decorate with the strawberries, followed by the pomegranate seeds, the walnuts and the feta. Season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Dress with your choice of vinaigrette just before serving. Serves 4.
* For this salad I used a Persian feta which has been marinated in a blend of extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns and garlic. I sprinkled some of the blended, flavoured oil over the salad just before serving, together with some delicately flavoured pear vinegar.
+ Use lightly roasted or candied walnuts, whichever you prefer. If you'd like to candy the walnuts, use the process below. I buy my walnuts from the local farmers market, thus ensuring the quality and freshness.
For a simple vinaigrette or dressing, combine your choice of Balsamic or fruit vinegar, or even fresh lemon juice, with some extra virgin olive oil and, perhaps, a little mustard if you wish. The ratio of oil to vinegar or acid is roughly 3:1, but you may need to adjust depending on the flavours.
2/3 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 scant tablespoon coconut palm sugar
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Combine the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Stir to combine. Toss in the walnuts and fold them through, ensuring that all are coated with the melted butter and maple syrup mixture.
Line a cookie tray with baking paper. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pecans from the melted butter mixture (taking care to drain off any excess liquid) and arrange them on the tray, allowing space in between. Sprinkle with the coconut palm sugar on both sides of the nuts. Now, pop the tray into the oven. Roast for up to 10 minutes or so, keeping a watchful eye so that they don't burn. You can turn them over during the cooking time. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use. Great as a snack or as a topping for salads.
Tell me dear readers, do you grow strawberries in your garden? And do you like using them in salads? Thank you for taking the time to pop in and share your thoughts. I love hearing from you all.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.