Spring is a tricky time of year for salad lovers. In theory we should all be eating new baby greens and skipping about the place like newborn lambs. In practice, at least in Wellington, we’re as likely to be huddled over the soup pot muttering incantations to the weather gods. The following salad is my answer to this kind of climatic conundrum – it makes use of the things that have now sprung back into season (avocados, parsley, lemons), but it has enough heft to keep you warm on a less-than-optimal day. It also makes a great take-to-work lunch, even if it’s not warm enough to sit outside and eat it.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Serves 4-6

Pearl barley is brilliant for salads like this as long as you remember to keep it in balance with the other ingredients – I can happily eat it unadorned but that can be a bit confronting for first-timers. I aim for a 50-50 ratio: 50 per cent barley, 50 per cent other things. Meyer lemons (actually a lemon-mandarin hybrid) are sweeter than ‘real’ lemons and have golden skin and flesh.

1 1/4 cups pearl barley

3 large Meyer lemons, washed

6 spring onions, finely chopped

1 avocado

3 big handfuls fresh mint and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Put the pearl barley in a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap. Tip the barley into a medium saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Set over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is tender and has absorbed most of the water. Set aside to cool completely.

While you’re waiting, cut one of the lemons into small dice – including the skin, but making sure to discard any pips. Put into a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the other two lemons into the bowl, plus the spring onions. Peel and stone the avocado and dice the flesh into the lemon mixture. When the barley has cooled, add this to the bowl with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Fold together gently, then stir through the chopped herbs. Taste – add more oil if necessary and season well with salt and pepper. Pile onto a dish and serve. Any leftovers should be kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge. The avocado may brown a little but it will still taste good on day two.

When I was a child, my father told me it was important to always eat the garnish on a restaurant plate or they would recycle it and use it for someone else. It took me a long time to understand this logic meant that the garnish I was being encouraged to eat – and because this was the 1980s, it was often an artfully carved radish or piece of parsley – was possibly the reject from another diner. Still, you have to admire his ‘waste-not, want-not’ mentality. Or something.

Anyway, over the summer I have been eating lots of radishes and wondering why they’re not more popular. They’re very ‘grammable, they’re easy to grow, they don’t offend many dietary restrictions – perhaps they’re just waiting for the right moment. I’ve also been wondering what to do with all the leaves apart from tucking them into the worm farm (I can’t bear buying trimmed radishes sealed in thick plastic, looking trapped and sweaty). So last week, while finishing off a column on radishes, I experimented with radish leaf pesto. It works a treat!

You can find the recipe – part of three ways to use radishes – here. If you have any other secret radish tips, let me know…

Have you been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy yet? It has cut a swathe through our small household in the last week and I don’t think it’s done with us yet. I lost my voice over the weekend, then lost my hearing as soon as it came back. Worst of all, I’ve lost my sense of taste – unless it’s chocolate or chilli, I’ve been reduced to eating for texture only. This is profoundly depressing.

I’m hoping that my current high levels of persimmon consumption will speed my recovery. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and look extremely cheerful in the kitchen. Oranges are not the only fruit at this time of year, after all.

This week’s Three Ways With… column is devoted to the not-so-humble persimmon, which I have been consuming in huge quantities lately (so imagine how much sicker I could have been!) The following recipe for frozen persimmon sorbet will be extremely soothing if you’re unwell, but you don’t have to be poorly to enjoy it. 

Frozen persimmon sorbet

I was extremely sceptical when I read about this recipe – and I did have to experiment with it a bit to make it work – but it’s a nice bit of fun to try (with minimal effort required). All you need to do is freeze as many persimmons as you have diners for a minimum of three hours. At least 45 minutes before serving, remove the persimmons from the freezer. Slice off the tops and let the fruit sit at room temperature. After 45 minutes they will be icy cold, but soft enough to spoon out the frosty flesh. For an extra treat, pass around a bowl of whipped cream.

If this sounds like too much hassle, be reliably informed that you can freeze peeled, sliced persimmons and whiz them up in smoothies. And if you have a dehydrator, dried persimmon slices are absolute heaven (thanks Ann for the lovely specimens below).

I have one plan for my winter vegetable garden. When – or if – the wind drops and the rain stops – I’m going to plan beetroot by the dozen. Their beautiful green and crimson leaves will look quite fetching on grey winter days and the roots will be protected from the wild weather, packed in cacao husks and zoo compost. At least, that’s the plan. In the meantime, I’ve made a list of my five favourite ways with beetroot, including a truly addictive dip. If I don’t get my own harvest sorted, I’ll be doing my bit to support local beetroot growers.

1. Beetroot, Feta And Wasabi Dip
This dip is super easy to make if you use vacuum-packed ready-cooked beetroot (now finally widely available in New Zealand supermarkets – look for the LeaderBrand packs near the salad vegetables in your supermarket). I dollop it on crostini or crackers with a bit of cream cheese or strained Greek yoghurt, then sprinkle something green on top. The only other thing you have to do is not tip it down your front, especially when wearing anything white.

250g cooked beetroot
1 clove garlic, squashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp salt
100g feta, diced
2 Tbsp Greek yoghurt
1/2 tsp wasabi (or horseradish)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put all ingredients in a food processor and whizz until a smooth puree forms (stop to scrape down the sides of the processor as necessary). Taste for seasoning, then scrape into a bowl and serve. Makes about two cups – store any leftovers in the fridge for up to three days.

2. Shocking Pink Beetroot Bread
This is a true ‘do not adjust your set’ representation of what this Beetroot Bread looks like in real life – it really IS that pink. It doesn’t have any discernable beet-y flavour, but the pinkness is pretty fun.

3. Raw Beetroot With Caraway, Fennel And Feta
One day I sent my beloved to the shops to buy caraway seeds – and he helpfully came back with a 500g bag. I’ve resisted the urge to make endless seed cakes, but I have found a use for them in this salad, which combines caraway with raw grated beetroot, fennel and feta.

4. Raw Beetroot Bliss Balls
These Raw Beetroot Bliss Balls are another pretty-in-pink flight of fancy – the colour is all-natural. Think of the anti-oxidants! If you’re trying to get your children (or other friends and family) to eat more vegetables, this is a very easy way to do it.

5. Big Bold Beetroot Soup
Beetroot is a key ingredient in this hearty winter soup for people who don’t like following recipes (particularly husbands, I have found). It’s big, bold, red – and delicious.

What’s your favourite thing to do with beetroot?

Long-time readers will know that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Easter – no hot cross buns before Good Friday; no Easter eggs before Easter Sunday. That’s not to say that it doesn’t get extremely hard to resist these things sometimes, especially when a packet of hot cross buns turns up in  your kitchen at breakfast time on a Saturday morning.
My resolve to give up chocolate for Lent has wobbled a bit in recent weeks – chocolate icecream doesn’t really count, does it? – but I’m staying strong on the HCBs. Mainly that’s because I’ve invented some you can eat at any time, guilt-free. Here’s how.

‘Pretend’ Hot Cross Buns
These lookalike ‘buns’ – really bliss balls with the flavours of hot cross buns and white chocolate crosses – have many things going for them. My favourite, though, is that you can eat them while you’re waiting for the real ones to cook (or toast). What are you waiting for?

1 cup sultanas
1 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 Tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 Tbsp honey
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roughly chopped white chocolate

Put all ingredients except the chocolate into a food processor and whiz until you can pinch together small amounts. Take dessertspoon-sized heaps of the mixture and form into square-ish ‘buns’ and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
Gently melt the white chocolate – put it in a small bowl, then set this over a bowl of freshly boiled water from the kettle – and put into a small ziplock bag or piping bag. Pipe crosses over the buns and leave to set. Store in the fridge – makes about 18 ‘buns’.