mediterranean recipes salad vegetarian

Pearl couscous and roast veggie salad with feta, herbs and harissa

It’s the season for social events 5 nights a week, which I love love love until I abruptly get the almost uncontrollable urge to go home, lock the door, and pull the sheets over my head for a few days.  I’m not quite there yet but I’ve caught myself meaningfully eyeing off the bed and making sure there’s a good supply of reading material on the table beside it.

The last week’s been lovely though.  Judy’s down from Pomona, and she came over for excellent conversation on Thursday night over a dinner of linguine with home-made pesto, a salad of cauliflower, slow-cooked onions, anchovies, currants and parsley, and some roast cherry tomatoes with spinach. She also sent me some Spirit House recipes the next morning, including one for tea-smoked duck salad that is now on my immediately-try list.

We went out with Ian and Lisa on Friday to the new Indian restaurant in Toowong, Ceylon Inn, where we accidentally banged noisily into a table and spilled red wine (separate incidents, both within the first 5 minutes of arriving and while completely sober), and I later tipsily tried to explain the mechanics of next-generation sequencing technology to Ian after the meal.  Sunday we met Francesca for a relaxing meal and chitchat at the Tibetan Kitchen in West End and I renewed my love affair with their lime and tofu curry.

And on Saturday we were at Anne and Arthur’s for a great party to which I brought this couscous salad. It’s forgiving about being made several hours before being eaten, and also about being carted across town on public transport, bless it.  It’s yet another variant of the grain/roast vegies/herbs/cheese salads that I keep making and lab people keep asking for recipes of and I keep neglecting to write down…  sorry dudes, but here is one at last.

2 large red capsicums, finely sliced
5 slender zucchini, chopped into pieces 1.5 x 1.5 cm
5 finger aubergines, cut into half-moon shapes about 1 cm thick
olive oil
garlic-infused olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
aged red wine vinegar (e.g. Forum) or sherry vinegar
cinnamon powder
harissa paste
1.5 cups pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous)
2 cups boiling water
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1 large bunch mint, leaves picked and chopped
1 packet feta, crumbled

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Toss the aubergines with several teaspoons of salt in a large colander and leave to drain for ~45 minutes.

Toss the capsicum with a glug of olive oil and vinegar and some sea salt and pepper in a baking dish.  Roast for ~30 minutes, depending on size of slices, until capsicum is soft and brown at the edges. Set aside.

Toss the zucchini with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish.  Make sure the pieces aren’t piled up on one another, so they can roast rather than steam.  Roast for ~30 mins, until softened and golden.  (If you don’t have garlic-infused olive oil, you can use normal olive oil instead and then add lots of crushed garlic for the last 10 minutes of roasting.) Set aside.

Rinse the salt off the aubergines, and toss dry in the colander.  In a large saucepan, heat some olive oil over medium heat and fry the aubergines until they are soft and golden.  This shouldn’t take too long (and they shouldn’t absorb too much oil) if they were well salted.  Mix together in a little bowl a glug of the garlic olive oil, a glug of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon or so of cinnamon powder, and harissa paste to taste (depending on how hot your harissa is, this could be a quarter teaspoon or two heaped teaspoons).  Add this to the pan and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat a dash of olive oil over medium heat, then add the couscous and stir until you start to smell it toasting.  Add 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt.  Simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The water should then be all absorbed and the couscous cooked.  Add a little more water near the end if it is dry before the couscous is cooked.  Now spread the coucous out on a large flat bowl to cool.  Give it a stir every few minutes to break up any clumps and make sure it does not get gluggy.  (I’m not totally sure if this is necessary but I always do it to be safe.)

Make a dressing for the salad by collecting the olive oil and vegetable juices from the baking dishes of roast capsicum and zucchini, and mixing into that liquid a little more red wine vinegar, some cinnamon powder, and some harissa paste to taste.

Toss together in a large bowl the vegetables, couscous, herbs, feta and dressing. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

asian recipes salad vegetarian (almost)

Small pleasures

I can actually feel the stress shredding my immune system.  My whole body aches, I grind my teeth so much it hurts, I just had a melt-down about MS Word being the piece of merde it is, and I still have four analyses on my to-do-list for this Sunday afternoon.  If I met academia in the street I would give that bitch the cut direct.

However.  It ought to be noted that it’s a lovely afternoon outside (though I am tethered to my desk).  We’ve also had a few simple but tasty meals recently that deserve recording.

Today for lunch, it was roast cherry tomatoes with thyme, eaten with a tin of decent sardines,  ciabatta toasts, and a mixed leaf salad.  Roast tomatoes and oily fish are a heavenly match.

Last month I made pesto in a mortar and pestle for the first time ever, using Marcella Hazan’s recipe. I was frankly amazed that it worked, and that I managed to pound a gigantic bunch of basil into a smallish amount of pesto, all inside the not-that-huge bowl of my stone mortar.  It was extremely satisfying and the texture was excellent, very silky.

And last week we were inspired by an asian chicken and purple cabbage salad at the Little Larder, and made our own version at home using tofu instead of chicken. A rough recipe is below.

Tofu with crispy cabbage and herb salad

Mix together a couple of tablespoons each of fish sauce and rice wine vinegar, the juice of a lime, and  a tablespoon of grated palm sugar.  Stir to dissolve the palm sugar, and taste.  Now the tricky part begins.  If it needs more salt, add more fish sauce. If sweetness, sugar.  If sharpness, vinegar or lime.  You might need to add quite a bit of one or more ingredients to get it right – the proportions will depend on the strength of your fish sauce, lime, etc.  Keep going until it tastes good.

Mix together some very finely sliced red cabbage, chopped spring onions, and finely chopped red onion, and dress with half the sauce.  Set it aside for 15 minutes or so, tossing occasionally, for everything to get very slightly wilted. Just before serving, toss through some finely sliced cucumber and red capsicum, mixed tasty small lettuce leaves, and lots of picked mint and coriander leaves.

Cut tofu into cubes and marinate in half the sauce, plus some fresh or dried chilli, for 20 minutes or so.  The fry the cubes, drained of the sauce, in a little peanut oil in a wok, stirring only occasionally.  Let the tofu get crispy and browned before turning.  Add drizzles of the sauce as necessary to prevent sticking. Serve the tofu on top of bowls of the salad and eat at once.