I know that many of you right now are wrapped in thermals and "downy" jackets, and shivering beneath several feet of snow. Meanwhile, down here in the southern hemisphere, we are throwing off our "cardies", booking in for an emergency pedicure and breaking out our jandals (that might be flip-flops or thongs where you come from). It's time to bring out the sunhats, beach towels and togs (or that may be bathers, cossies, or swimsuit to you), which of course raises the issue of how far away from the beach can you wear your togs before they become undies ... check out this hilarious NZ television ad which addresses the issue.
Okay, so I headed a little off topic there, but as we head towards Christmas you might now be starting to get the idea that down here it's definitely not all about holly berries and snow, roasted turkey and plum pudding. Down here, it's more about sun, sand, surf and pohutakawa flowers, barbeques, seafood, shandies, salads, strawberries and pavlova.
The recipe I'm sharing with you today, could not be more quintessentially Kiwi summer if it tried, and I make no apology for that - even if it doesn't fit with you right now, bookmark it for later because I'm pretty sure you are going to want to try this one. The dramatic colours of this salad give this a very festive look, making it the perfect addition to the Kiwi Christmas table, very reminiscent of those flowering pohutakawa trees. In my opinion, this salad has real class - it is stylish and sophisticated in its choice of ingredients and compositon, which is a great counter-point to the flavours which are bold and earthy. This would be perfect as a main course salad for a light lunch, or would make a very elegant starter to a more substantial evening meal. And, as if all that is not Kiwi enough, I chose this recipe from "Salads: The New Main Course" by Peter Gordon - a Kiwi chef, now living in London where he co-owns The Providores and Tapa Room, he is considered by many to be at the absolute forefront of "fusion food".
A couple of small changes I made to the recipe - I couldn't get pretty pink striped beetroot, as suggested, so used regular red ones instead; also, I couldn't get purslane and nasturtium leaves, so substituted rocket (arugula) instead - I think watercress would also be a good alternative, and Peter Gordon also suggests that sea kale if you can get it is a great substitution - really any good looking, great tasting leaves will work.
Another note - this salad uses white balsamic vinegar, which you should be able to find in most specialty stores (New Zealand residents refer to my Source Guide). This has a similar, though less intense flavour, to regular balsamic vinegar, but is pale in colour - this makes it perfect to use on occasions where you don't want such a dominant flavour profile (for example to accompany a fish dish perhaps), or where you don't want the colour of your dressing to spoil the look of your dish. If you can't get white balsamic vinegar, then I suggest that you substitute with something like a cider or champagne vinegar.
Salad of Asparagus with Artichokes, Arugula, Pomegranate and Beetroot with White Balsamic Dressing Recipe
Slightly adapted from Peter Gordon's
Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as an appetiser
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
2 medium sized beetroot
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (refer Source Guide)
4 globe artichokes
1 large pomegranate
12 asparagus spears
fresh rocket (arugula), or other leaves
nasturtium leaves to garnish, if available
extra virgin olive oil
Put beetroot into a pan with the cider vinegar and salt, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, and cook until tender - about 30-40 minutes. Set aside to cool in the cooking liquid, then remove and peel. Slice as thinly as you possibly can with a sharp knife, or even better with a mandoline if you have one. Mix with the white balsamic vinegar and set aside.
Slice one of the lemons into rounds and put into a pot of cold water. Juice the other lemon (don't discard the shells), and add the juice to the pan of water. The artichokes oxidise quickly, so keep rubbing them with the inside of the reserved lemon shells as you work. Firstly peel off the tough outer leaves - they will kind of snap off near the base. Then using a knife, trim around the bottom of the artichoke and peel away the tough, fibrous, outer layer of the stem. Cut off the top half of the leaves. Then cut them in half lengthwise, and scoop the "hairy" choke out of the middle. Add each one to the pan of "lemony" water as you go, and once they are all done, set the pan over heat and bring up to the boil. Cook at a fast simmer until a knife slides easily into the thickest part of the heart - about 20 minutes. Drain, run under cold water, then leave to cool. Slice into pieces about 1cm thick.
Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the jewel-like seeds - I find the "spanking" method works best - hold one half of the pomegranate over a bowl, flesh side down, and "spank" firmly and repeatedly on the shell with a wooden spoon until all the seeds and any juice drop out into the bowl. Discard any of the white pith that might also fall into the bowl.
Lastly, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the asparagus, bring back to the boil, and cook until the asparagus is just tender - about 2 minutes depending on thickness of the spears. Drain and immediately refresh in iced water, and drain again.
To assemble: Arrange asparagus spears on a plate and place slices of artichoke over the top.
Scatter over the rocket, or whatever leaves you are using.
Nestle the beetroot slices in amongst the leaves. Scatter the pomegranate seeds and their juice over the top, garnish with the nasturtium leaves if you have them. Drizzle the vinegar from the beetroot over the salad, and finish with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
I hope you give this beautiful salad a try, and if you're interested in more wonderful and innovative salad ideas then I highly recommend this book - imagine Cape Gooseberry, Smoked Duck, Sunflower Seed, Yoghurt & Chive Salad on Deep-Fried Tortilla Chips as an appetiser, or Panko-Crumbed Turkey, Honey-Glazed Parsnip & Watercress Salad, Cranberry-Pomegranate Compote & a Deep-Fried Egg as a substantial main, or Warm Salad of Brioche-Honey Croutons, Saffron-Poached Pear, & Rum Sultanas with Vanilla Mascarpone for a heavenly dessert. Of course, I'll be bringing you more recipes from this wonderful book, but why wait? - why not get your very own copy by following the link below.
Available from Amazon
I'm submitting this post to Cookbook Sundays, hosted by the lovely Brenda at Brenda's Canadian Kitchen. She's worth a visit any day of the week, but why not head over there right now and see who else has dusted off their cookbooks - you'll almost certainly find some great recipes, and maybe you'll discover a new book you'd like to add to your collection.