Perhaps this should have been titled Serendipity Salad.
A few weeks ago my daughter, Natalie, who is home from university for the summer holiday, decided she’d like to have a dozen friends over for a barbeque.She’d made a potato salad, bought buns and sausages, organized drinks and dips. But knowing that there would be strapping teenage boys with bottomless appetites coming over, I thought that she needed another side dish.
One disadvantage of living in Days Bay is that it is very popular on Wellington’s sunny days (although these have been rarer than unicorns this summer.) And with a just a coastal road in and out of the bay, the slow moving crawl of cars is a real disincentive to the idea of a quick trip to the supermarket. That, and a post-holiday sense of thriftiness made me suggest that we try to make something out of what we could find in the fridge and pantry.
First up was Israeli couscous…
A hunt of the pantry shelves found plenty of dried fruit, from the pre-Christmas fruit cake baking binge. I thought currants and tart dried cherries would be good. And, inexplicably, I found dried apricots soaking in Marsala (don’t ask!) in the fridge.
The salad was very well received, and I got requests to make it again, and to pass on the recipe. So the photo above is from the remake, where I tried to figure out quantities for a dish that was thrown together in a rather improv way. Assuming most people don’t have apricots in Marsala lurking in their fridges, I worked out a method to shortcut the process. So, a cup of apricots, chopped, soaked for 20 minutes, then a minute or two in the microwave come out plump and sweet.
My herb garden is positively fecund at the moment, apart from the coriander being rather straggly, so fist-fulls of parsley, mint, and as much coriander as I could muster, were chopped. The currants were given a little bath in orange juice, then also zapped in the micro. I also zested the oranges (note to self; remember to zest oranges before squeezing.) I toasted some slivered almonds, but they were too shy for a photo-shoot. The dried cherries were cut in half, but I felt the salad would need a bit of chew, so no soaking for those..
The new season garlic has just been harvested here in NZ. It’s sweet and mild, so four fat bulbs did not seem excessive, but it is wise to temper this amount to what is available in your market. Fruity extra-virgin olive oil, to simmer the garlic in. And a generous two tablespoonful of Ras El Hanout.
Ras el Hanout is a middle eastern spice blend that can vary from a simple mix of five or six spices, to lavish and costly mixes with thirty plus ingredients. Adventurous cooks might like to try their hand at making their own, a good recipe can be found in Greg Malouf’s book, Malouf: New Middle Eastern Food. But for now, I’m happy to use his Golden Ras El Hanout spice mix.
The first lemons from the tree we planted last year. A rather puny harvest, but gratifying nonetheless to be able to pick my own fruit. These three were zested and juiced. That tool in the background is a Microplane zester, and if you don’t already own one run, don’t walk to your nearest kitchen supply store. You’ll thank yourself.
While the couscous was boiling in lots of salty water, the garlic was gently sizzled in the olive oil, then the Ras el Hanout was given a minute in the pan, to toast the spices and draw out their fragrance. Don’t omit this step, as the spice will be harsh in the back of your throat if you use it “raw”.
Everything gently tossed, and scattered with crunchy toasted nuts. The barbeque evening was terrific fun, and when I found a small bowl of this leftover the next day, I realized it was even better after a little wait. So, a great do-ahead dish that will feed a crowd, or that is easily scaled down to more moderate portions. Do let me know if you try this, I look forward to each and every comment.
Cheers from the South Seas, Karen. The recipe is on the next page