The Pursuit of Salad

I’ve now moved on to making cranes for other people, but I’m still enjoying my blue and yellow specimens from the last post. I’ve never favoured the sparse, minimalist approach when it comes to interior decorating – in other words, I like to stick crap everywhere – so cranes are a good solution, as they’re easy to hang up where ever you please. Also jars. I will put more or less anything in a jar. Exhibit A:

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Decorating the flat has been on my list for a while. I’m one of those people that always has a to-do list. Always. It’s a good habit, a bad habit, a coping mechanism, and so on. In fact, I usually have multiple to-do lists going at any one time. I have short-term lists for the next day or so, long-term lists for the next few months, lists for specific projects, etc. I even have ongoing lists full of things of which to remind myself; things that aren’t so much ticked off or completed as they are things at which I need to keep working. Inevitably, these ongoing lists contain a bullet point upon the lines of “Eat better”, “Eat more vegetables”, “Anna, eat some ***ing salad, for **** sake”, and so on. I’ve always struggled a bit with vegetables, which is completely ridiculous for someone who has been a vegetarian for over half of their life.

It’s not that I don’t eat vegetables. Ever dutiful, I eat vegetables a lot. It’s that, for the most part, I have a whole lot of trouble liking them. Blaming your parents for your current state is, I’m told, a time honoured tradition, so I’m choosing to attribute my veggie-apathy to my father’s tendency to buy the cheapest fruit and vegetables in the entire market, which were inevitably the ones that were hideously under-ripe (some fruits just shouldn’t crunch) or way past their prime. Now that I’m a grown-up who buys her own vegetables, I don’t have this problem, and as time has gone by I’ve found myself more and more willing to chow down on veggies for pleasure, rather than out of a sense of dreary obligation to my internal organs. But still, it takes a lot to get me actually excited about vegetables.

One of the problems is that I just plain don’t like most salads. Often, they just leave me completely underwhelmed. I think this is partially because I’ve never really been one for dressing on my veggies (I’ve always felt a super greasy coating on everything kind of undermines the cool and refreshing dealio that is the main appeal of salad). I also have trouble finding a way to fit salads into my meals. As someone who isn’t really a meat-eater, I don’t tend to eat that many meals that really require a side; my dinners are usually one bowl affairs and while it’s not that you can’t have a salad on another plate, it’s more that it feels a bit superfluous. And I am generally not the type of person who is ever satisfied by eating salad as a meal in its entirety.

Recently, I’ve been trying to tackle the latter point, reminding myself that even though I was brought up with salad being lettuce with tomato thrown at it, there’s no reason why salads can’t actually be more substantial. I’ve spent the last couple of years being pretty hooked on my version of tabbouleh, which sort of counts as a salad, so I thought it was time to take inspiration from that and branch out a little. And I’ve had some success. Last week I made a very well received salad with rocket, lentils and roast pumpkin, inspired by a wonderful lunch I had with some friends at Balderdash on a recent visit to my old neck of the woods. And then I delighted myself yet again with this pasta-salad-type-thing. (though being completely immodest and far too enthusiastic when it comes to cooking, I delight myself fairly often – the Boy’s enthusiasm is probably a more objective indication of quality)

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Yeah, I know pasta salad does not equal salad salad. But it contains leaves aplenty. So it’s as good a start as any.

A Most Excellent Pasta Salad, with spinach, rocket, lentils and tomato:

Ingredients:

  • Pasta (I favour orecchiette – aka little shells – because they form tiny receptacles for the lentils, and I love it when my food actively cooperates. Sometimes I use a mix of wholemeal and white pasta and this is lovely too)
  • Baby spinach (rinsed)
  • Rocket (rinsed and dried)
  • 1 x 400g tin of brown lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 x small red onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • juice of two lemons
  • olive oil
  • 1 x clove of garlic
  • ground cumin
  • salt/pepper to taste

Put the pasta on to cook, as per packet instructions (though mine lied. Blatantly). When it’s done, toss the baby spinach leaves into the saucepan with the pasta. Give the whole thing a brief stir and then drain immediately. Finely chop the onion, then put in a small bowl and cover with half of the lemon juice, leaving to stand for a few minutes while you get on with the rest of the preparation. Roughly de-seed and dice the tomatoes. Drain the lentils and give them a wash in the colander to rinse off the noxious can goo. Combine the rest of the lemon juice with the olive oil, finely grated or crushed garlic clove, cumin and salt/pepper. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl big enough to get the job done. Devour with enthusiasm.

The first time I made this I fried some thin slices of halloumi cheese and draped them over the top of the salad. I can’t recall the last time food made me so ridiculously happy…

…wait, yes I can! These tomatoes. They looked so lovely I had to take their photo.

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And then I ate them and we all lived happily ever after. Or something.

Happy December, everyone!

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