Do you need a grain free/ dairy free salad to take to a pot luck? Do you need a strapping side dish to sit happily alongside a slow roasted shoulder of lamb, barbecued side of salmon, or spatchcocked chickens? Do you want something that’s going to use up some of the sumac you bought a few years ago and has sat in your pantry, or the figs that are suddenly on sale for a song? If so I can help. Skip straight to the matching photo at the bottom for the recipe. If you have the patience for prattle, context and endorsements, read on.
This salad is one that now lives in the annals of ‘do the prep before’ recipes. All the mis en place can take place hours before, meaning that when it’s time to serve all that’s required is a quick jumble together. This is helpful. It’s helpful because you might have a sunny afternoon down at the beach on the cards. You might be prepping birthday cakes, or planning on squeezing in a trip to the cinema before hosting friends. Or you might be wrangling two increasingly defiant small people through the poisonous hours between 4 and 8 pm and need something you can quickly throw together and feel like a shadow of your once civilised adult self, rather than only having the energy to consume two glasses of pink wine and some hipster corn chips for dinner (I mean, I feel like that could be something someone might do).
You can serve this salad as it is. You can substitute any other ripe stone fruit for the figs; peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums would all work well. You just need something sweet to balance the piquancy of the sumac, that bracingly citrus tasting, perky crimson powder that comes from a powdered berry. You could bulk it out further with some chickpeas. You could replace the kale with swiss chard and substitute the sumac with a variety of other spices; smoked paprika or ground cumin would take it in other directions. Yet I like it exactly as it is. It’s a study in textures and form (useful for those who don’t get out to galleries nearly as much as they once did). Some of the onion is slivered and quickly pickled for zip. The rest is diced and sauteed for a jammy contrast to the burlap sturdiness of the cauliflower. The kale is there so you can have some more greens. But the cucumber plays a vital role in textural crunch. Having it diced and shaved into ribbons keeps it interesting on the fork. Then don’t forget the mint and the pistachios. They pretty much make everything taste good.
I had forgotten how challenging I find this stage of parenting (and that was back when I just had one small person to wrangle). I’m talking about the 13 month-18 month ‘still a baby, but behave more like a tiny tottering, drunk soccer hooligan’ stage. It’s when they hurl food from high chairs with helicopter arms. They smear things, just for the joy of the sensation. They pull hair and hoot and dash off without a backward glance. They make you ache for civility and silence. And then sometimes they do things that make your heart swell. Last week Evelyn Grace finally tackled the stairs in our house. She had eyed them off for weeks. Unlike her older brother who climbed up and tumbled down as soon as he could move, Evie has been cautious. Then last week she took off. She climbed one, paused on the landing, then deliberately shuffled her leading leg down and sat squarely on the floor. She grinned to herself with satisfaction. Then she tackled two stairs. Two up, then two down. Then three up, three down, four up, five. Not once did she ask for help. Not once did she injure herself. She was somehow wise enough to know that she would not go up any further than she could safely come down. I merely sat off to the side and marveled. Oh my. The future just might be female.
They are both so different my children. But they are united in some things. Chief among them; neither of them would touch this salad. And for once I didn’t mind at all. All the more for us. It’s nice to be an adult. One day they’ll learn that too.
Here are a few other things that are going on:
Reading: This piece from the Good Weekend ‘Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing’ that puts #MeToo in a galvanising wider context. We need more pieces like this, written by good men.
Listening: I’m a little late to the party on episode 271 on The Dollop (if you can get past their own intense bro-banter in the first 10 minutes) is a compelling and and brutal history of the inner frat-boy misogynistic nastiness of Uber and its founders. I’ll be thinking twice about what kind of ride sharing/ food delivery mechanisms I use in the future. Listen to it here.
Writing: I wrote this piece for Harris Farm about green smoothies that actually taste good, including a magic ratio for making them work every time. Read it here.
Eating: Last week I went out on the town to celebrate one of my best friend/bridesmaid’s birthdays at Dear Saint Eloise in Potts Point. It’s an achingly cute and hip wine bar with a list to swoon over and some serious food being served. The chef Hugh Piper’s Peruvian heritage shines in the mulloway crudo with aji amarillo, fingerlime and quinoa. A cracker of a dish.
Loving: Sarah Wilson may be best known as the author and founder of the ‘I Quit Sugar’ juggernaut. But her most recent book (soon to be published in the UK and US) ‘First we make the beast beautiful; a new story about anxiety’ should almost be mandatory reading. Read it if you have anxiety as a co pilot (raise your hand with me now). It’ll give you solidarity and some techniques to help manage it; everything from diet, to breathing, to reducing choice, to sleep habits. Read it if you have friends with anxiety. It might help you be a more empathetic person and understand why if sometimes they ghost on you, you might need to gently step in to help pull them out – and when it’s ok to just let them be. Read it if you have kids with anxiety; it’ll help you realise how to let them reframe it as a potentially positive part of their personality matrix. The best take away for me; rebranding the sickening butterflies I often get inside not as panic, but as excitement. Sure, it’s not always true, but if I say it to myself, it helps bring me down from a ledge. ‘I’m not panicky, I’m excited. This is exciting’. Maybe it’ll be the same for you too.
Cooking: Sarah makes the point that a steadying, low sugar meal, often with pork, root vegetables, broth and greens is her go-to supper when her anxiety is spiralling. So that’s what we’ve been doing a bit in the last few weeks. Pork, sometimes slow cooked, sometimes in chops, with greens that I’ve sauteed in broth or miso and some root vegetables are often in high rotation. These braised pork neck hunks with fennel, pear, garlic, kale and a salsa of orange zest, rosemary and olives were a winner (and the step by step for them is in my Instagram stories).
Cauliflower, Sumac and Fig Salad
1/2 cauliflower (approx 320g)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely diced
1/2 telegraph cucumber, or 1 lebanese cucumber
2 ripe figs, cut into 6ths
1/3 cup mint leaves, chopped
2 cups chopped kale
2 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped
1 tsp sumac
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Goat curd (optional)
Here’s how we roll
1) Use a food processor or a box grater to blitz the cauliflower until it is in small pebbles, like quinoa or rice.
2. Take 1/4 of the onion and slice it into slim half moons. Steep the half moons in the apple cider vinegar to lightly pickle, cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes. Finely dice the remaining red onion. In a large fry pan sautee the finely diced red onion in the olive oil for 5-7 minutes until soft and sweet.
3) Add the blitzed cauliflower and the shredded kale to the onions in the pan, add a generous pinch of salt and sautee all together until the kale has wilted and the cauliflower no longer tastes raw.
4. Transfer the onion, kale and cauliflower mix to a large bowl and allow to come to room temperature (you can do this part ahead). This is just so you’re not mixing hot cauliflower with cucumber- it will wilt the cucumber and it will lose its crunch.
5. Use a vegetable peeler to make ribbons out of half of your cucumber. Finely dice the remaining. Toss the room temperature cauliflower mixture with the diced cucumber. Sprinkle over the sumac, pistachios and mint. Top the salad with the fig segments, cucumber ribbons and pickled onion slivers, drizzling over any apple cider vinegar that’s been in with the onions.
Serve on its own, or with goat’s curd crumbled over the top.