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Jan 14, 2013

Seasonal Salad Special!

I am a big fan of seasonal produce. I grew up in a home where winter vegetables were not cooked during the summer because like mom said, nature didn't intend it so. We didn't eat cauliflower and apples in summer and lady finger and melons in winter, it still holds true in our kitchen. So then the fun doubles, enjoy apples while you can, do more with them, bring in seasonal greens, this is the only time we'll get baby spinach and crunchy as hell, iceberg. Strawberries only seem to get better. As the crop matures over harvests, it seems like the quality of fruit matures as well, as though it's DNA starts to get accustomed to a new land, new weather, these are after all local strawberries and they are darned good! Watch out for the ones where the crown is green-ish, these are most definitely artificially ripened, what you need to find are consistently deep red fruit with no dark, squidgy spots. And how can we forget oranges, all those fantastic memories of sitting in the sun, relentlessly peeling and devouring oranges like our lives depended on it. It was a serious endeavour, I remember this one time, I was sitting with my mom in our new home about 15 years back and we just sat there for what seemed like a couple of hours and didn't say a word, we just soaked in the sun and ate oranges! It's a lovely and peaceful memory to have of her, which is why till date the fragrance of oranges on my hands reminds me of mamma! She would put an orange, an apple and a trail mix of walnuts, cashews, almonds, pinenuts (in the shell!!!) and raisins in my school bag, that's besides the tiffin box and I had to have all this between 7 am and 2 pm. All my winter memories of the 45 minute school ride are of chatting in the back of the bus with a handful of dry fruit and hating the pine nuts for being in the shell!

All this came back to me in one bite the other day. I asked for the Apple and Feta salad served with walnuts and a dressing of orange reduction and thyme and what I got was a bowlful of memories. I replicated the same at home that very evening and I think this is going to be one of my all time favourite salads ever. I want to call it a 'Bowlful of Memories". You can improvise a lot with this salad, add baby spinach, mix up the lettuce's, add olives or fried capers. When you fry capers, they flower and crispen lightly, just drain them well before you do. I substituted mint for thyme in my dressing, I love mint with fruit, in fact much like star anise, mint is more a dessert flavouring for me. It's tough to enjoy cold salads in the winters but this is a perfect one for a sunny lunch or a robust dinner of red meats, team it up with this salad and you'll love the hot and cold thing going on!

Serves 2

Salad:

200 gms iceberg lettuce, torn up into bite sized bits, I don't like them chopped and I don't like them the size of my palm

8-10 strawberries sliced, thin

1 small apple, sliced, thin pieces, the size of the strawberry pieces

1 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

6-8 walnuts, broken into fours

4-5 tbsp of feta, into small dollops

Dressing:

1 cup of orange juice, I used fresh, it took longer to reduce but was less acidic/citric compared to the one I tried with packed orange juice, which is in fact reconstituted, so!!

2 tbsp EVOO

2-3 mint leaves, just pinch them with your nails to release the flavour, don't tear or chop, use small, young leaves, they are easier to eat in a bite.

Sprinkle of sea salt, the feta I use is generally salty enough for this salad and orange reduction adds a lot of flavour, which doesn't make you miss the general saltiness of a salad

Garnish:

8-10 capers, fried lightly in olive oil or roasted in an oven, 180 C for 5-7 minutes

or

Green olives

Mix up all your fruits and veggies, go easy, don't bruise everything, add small dollops of feta, the walnuts (you can use them if you don't like the rawness of nutty flavours, 180 C in a preheated oven for 5 minutes, moisten the baking dish with olive oil, shake the walnuts around to coat them and roast!). For the dressing, reduce the orange juice down from 1 cup to 6 tbsp or from 250 ml to 50-75 ml. This takes around 10-15 minutes in a heavy bottom pan. Cool and mix with the EVOO, season and add the mint leaves. I like the leaves to be softened not cooked.

Serve the garnish and dressing on the side. Enjoy!
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