Strawberry, radish and cucumber salad

This morning I’ve been for a run around the harbour and a quick dip in Oriental Bay on the way home. Spring has a bad reputation in Wellington (expressed best in this calendar), but today feels like one of those mythical ‘can’t beat it on a good day’ days that the city’s tourism campaigns are built on.

Spring, of course, means strawberries. Like living through a brutal Wellington spring day, growing good strawberries is mostly an exercise in hope triumphing over experience; some years are better than others. I’m stil optimistic that my homegrown crop will come good. If you’ve got a surfeit of strawberries from your own garden, try them in this exceedingly pretty and festive-looking salad (from the Spring section of Homecooked).

STRAWBERRY, RADISH AND CUCUMBER SALAD WITH MINT DRESSING

This is one of my favourite photos from Homecooked, not least because photographer Carolyn Robertson and I spent AGES trying to figure out all sorts of different ways to shoot it. Then we got over ourselves, I just threw the salad together and the photo more or less took itself (well, with Caro’s exceptional skills involved!)

For the dressing: 

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, washed and dried 
  • ½ tsp honey 
  • 3½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 
  • 3½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • ¼ tsp salt 

For the salad: 

  • 250g (1 punnet) strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
  • 1 medium-sized telegraph cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced 
  • 1 cup sliced radishes (about a small bunch, depending on size) 
  • 150g feta, crumbled
  • small mint leaves, for garnishing 

Make the dressing first: put all the ingredients in a blender or small food processor and whiz until smooth. Taste for seasoning and set aside. 

Tumble the sliced strawberries, cucumber, radishes and crumbled feta into a serving bowl. Drizzle over the dressing and toss gently. Garnish with mint leaves and serve. 

Have you got any strawberry growing tips? Do share!

Is there any hope for unfashionable silverbeet?

If you’re a silverbeet fan, it’s my public duty to warn you that it’s going out of fashion. You’ll probably know this already, because silverbeet (known as chard in the northern hemisphere) is the party guest no one wants to talk to, let alone go home with. It’s the DBW (dull-but-worthy) stalwart of the vegetable garden or greengrocer: there in abundance but no one’s favourite.

In July, the chief executive of one of New Zealand’s largest vegetable growers said that they’d stopped growing silverbeet in favour of softer leaves that were easier to love. I was so shocked by this I investigated further, finding mixed attitudes to silverbeet’s robust nature. I was pleased to find silverbeet lovers among the haters, including the Two Raw Sisters (Margo and Rosa Flanagan) and food writer, photographer and stylist extraordinaire Christall Lowe. You can read the results here.

I think we need to change our attitude towards this humble vegetable. Isn’t something that’s packed with useful vitamins and micronutrients, grows fast, withstands most weather conditions and can be used in a myriad of ways exactly the vegetable we need in climate change times?

I reckon there’s lots you can do with silverbeet. I finely chop it for salads when other greens are thin on the ground, or shove handfuls of chopped leaves into any slow-cooked dishes. Christall passed on a genius tip for how to deal with a surplus: she chops up the leaves and freezes them, then adds them frozen to sauces and stews, or her beautiful boil-up.

If you’re faced with a family of silverbeet haters, try these silverbeet chips. In my household, it’s a sure-fire way to make a bunch of silverbeet disappear. Then – in the spirit of zero-waste cooking – you can pickle the stems.

SPICY SILVERBEET CHIPS

  • A bunch of silverbeet, washed and dried well
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Shichimi togarashi (Japanese five-spice) or chilli flakes

Heat the oven to 160C and line two trays with baking paper.

Remove any large stems from the silverbeet (use them in fridge pickles – recipe below), then cut the leaves into large, chip-sized pieces (they will shrink as they cook).

Put them in a bowl with the olive oil, then sprinkle over a little salt, and a generous shake or two of shichimi togarashi.

Mix well until the leaves are well-coated in the oil and spices, then spread them out on the prepared trays.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning the leaves over halfway through.  Remove to a rack to cool.  These are best the day they are made.

PICKLED SILVERBEET STEMS

These look prettiest if you use red or yellow stalks – but they’ll taste just the same as the white ones. This is a basic cold pickle brine, which uses a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. 

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Whole coriander seeds, garlic cloves, dried chillies, parsley stalks, etc

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.

Pack washed, sliced silverbeet stalks into a couple of sterilised jars  (wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). 

Make sure the stalks take up all the room in the jar, leaving about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months. They’re great in toasted sandwiches or eaten with crackers and cheese.

What’s your favourite thing to do with silverbeet?

OVEN-ROASTED KŪMARA WITH DATE, CHILLI AND CORIANDER SEED BUTTER

Conventional wisdom – at least in my household – is that there’s nothing better than a roasted potato. Call me contrary, but I reckon a roasted kūmara knocks a roasted spud out of the park every time. Even our dog, who has become a bit of a dietary fusspot in recent months, loves them (though, to be fair, he wolfs down plain, boiled kūmara too).

Here’s my new favourite way to eat roasted kūmara – bathed in sweet, salty, spiced butter. 

ROASTED KŪMARA WITH DATE, CHILLI AND CORIANDER BUTTER

There are lots of absolute whopper kūmara out there, but I think the smaller ones (about 20cm long) are best for this recipe. Choose the purple-skinned variety (confusingly, these are called ‘Original Red’) as these are best for roasting or turning into chips. Keeping the skin on means saving time and nutrients – just give them a scrub under the tap, trim off any hairy bits and dry them well with a clean tea towel before proceeding with the recipe.

  • For the kūmara:
  • 4 small red kūmara (look for the Original Red variety)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • For the butter:
  • 125g butter (softened, but not melted)
  • ½ cup finely chopped dates
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
  • A good pinch of chilli flakes or ½ a small red chilli, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200C. Rub the kūmara all over with olive oil and set on a small baking tray. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the kūmara are soft (they should yield to the pressure of a finger).

While the kūmara are baking, put the butter, dates, coriander seeds, orange zest and chilli in a small bowl. Beat until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside (this can be done in advance and kept, covered, in the fridge for up to a week).

When the kūmara are cooked, remove them from the oven. Cut down the centre of each one and dollop a quarter of the butter on top. Serve immediately. Serves 4 as a side dish (or serve one per person with a green salad for lunch).

Hot tip: if you don’t have or don’t fancy kūmara, take it from me that the butter is DELICIOUS on hot toast or crumpets. Especially crumpets that are a little bit charred at the edges.

Want more kūmara inspo?

Here’s a love letter to kūmara that includes some handy advice about varieties and growing your own.

You might also fancy:

ROASTED KŪMARA WITH RED ONION AND DATE SALSA

Are you still pretending to be in holiday mode? Me too. I like to think it’s an important component of my 2022 ‘intention’ to Do Less (intentions are the new resolutions, in case you’re wondering). As evidence of how I’m going so far, I’m still to send out my Christmas cards. I only just completed the deep-cleaning our house needed before every man and his dog visited us between Christmas and New Year and I still have 300 unread emails in my inbox. Before the holidays, this would have stressed me out. Now, I feel supremely unbothered. I’m taking the same approach to holiday – or at least, summer – eating. Less effort is often more, as they say. If you’re of a similar mindset, here’s a very easy salad to get someone else to make for you.

ROASTED KŪMARA SALAD WITH RED ONION AND DATE SALSA
This is great at barbecues (you can make it in advance and store in the fridge for up to a day before serving at room temperature) and any leftovers are excellent for lunch the next day. To up the protein content and make it more of a meal, add up to a cup of roasted nuts or pumpkin seeds when you combine the roasted kūmara and salsa. Serves four.

For the kūmara:
800g peeled and diced kūmara
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Salt and pepper

For the salsa:
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
A generous pinch of salt and sugar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Let sit 10 mins
3/4 cup dates, chopped
3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
Two handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oven to 190C. Put the kūmara, first measure of olive oil, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and toss to combine. Tip out onto a large baking tray and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, shaking the tray halfway through cooking. Set aside to cool.

While the kūmara is cooking, make the salsa. Put the red onion, salt and sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine. Pour over the vinegar. Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then add the chopped dates, ginger, parsley and olive oil. Stir to combine.

When the kūmara is cool enough to touch, transfer it to a serving bowl. Toss through the salsa and let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. 

Spaghetti with agrodolce carrots

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to grate a carrot?

It’s not a competition or anything, but it takes me about 40 seconds to peel and grate one large carrot by hand. If I’m using the grating attachment on my food processor, this task takes about about 15 seconds, but that does’t account for getting the machine set up (or cleaning it afterwards). Not bad eh?

I’ve been thinking deeply about grated carrot recently after seeing a tweet from a high-up in the horticultural world that said packaged grated carrot was ‘flying off the shelves’ in New Zealand supermarkets. You read that right. People apparently prefer to pay nearly four times as much for pre-grated carrot rather than spending less than two minutes doing it themselves at home. A 250g packet of grated carrot (wrapped in plastic) will cost you about $2 – the same as a kilo of whole carrots (that you can put straight into your non-plastic bag).

To me, this is a very bad sign. Is the ability to buy pre-grated carrot a new status symbol? 

I know we should be pleased that people are eating grated carrot (I suspect this is the Nadia Lim effect), but shouldn’t we also be concerned that priorities are getting seriously out of whack? I get that life can be full-on and fraught, but are you really ever too busy to grate a carrot? 

I might be old-fashioned but I believe that being able to operate a traditional box grater without shredding your knuckles is a key life skill for every member of your household. It’s a companionable task that can be done while chatting to the main cook, thereby assisting them to get on with the rest of the meal a bit faster. Who knows, it might even give you more time to chat over dinner later?

SPAGHETTI WITH AGRO-DOLCE CARROTS

Serves 4

Agrodolce might sound like a kind of pesticide, but it’s an Italian term that roughly translates as sweet and sour. If you’re using a food processor to grate the carrot, do yourself a favour and use it to chop the onion, garlic and parsley too.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • A large pinch of salt
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • A handful fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 450g dried spaghetti

Pour the vinegar over the raisins. Add a splash of boiling water, stir and set aside.

Heat 4Tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the onions, garlic and salt. Saute gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to colour. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for another 3-4 minutes. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Toss through and continue cooking until the carrots are soft (just another minute or two). Remove from the heat.

While the onions are cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well, reserving about ⅓ cup of the cooking water. Return the carrots pan to the heat and add the spaghetti, the reserved cooking water and the parsley, tossing well to combine. Season well with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide between four warmed waiting bowls and serve immediately. Eat with freshly grated pecorino romano or another hard cheese (not pre-grated, if you please) as you wish.

Fancy more ways to utilise your newfound (or refound) grating skills? You might like this classic French Carrot Salad, or my Ultimate Carrot Cake.