It was a salad we had in Molovos on which I’m basing this salad. I never thought I’d so utterly fall in love with a raw courgette salad with a scattering of nuts and cheese. The summer squashes do need to be very thinly sliced though and it was the perfect time for me to pull out my newly acquired mandoline.

Courgette Salad

Mmm… it’s healthy but sure doesn’t taste that way – all that sharp cheese and earthy nuts and fresh mint go very well with the slightly bland, slightly green-in-flavour raw courgette. I do believe there are still some courgettes in the markets so get them while you can to make this salad!

Courgette Salad

A Raw Courgette Salad

Thinly slice a courgette and arrange the slices onto a plate (you’ll probably have more than one layer). Chop a few walnuts and crumble a chunk of feta and scatter on top. Slice a few mint leaves finely and also arrange those on top. Sprinkle with salt, squeeze over some lemon juice and drizzle on a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Eat!

Why has it taken a trip to Greece to finally have me start making this at home? I was always under the impression that Greek salads (horiatiki – country salad in Greek) were particularly boring but now that I’ve fallen in love with feta cheese, nothing could be further from the truth. I love them and the variety of fresh vegetables making it up and how each bite is always different. I’m still eating these in London, clutching onto these last few days of summer.

Greek Salad

Cut up tomatoes, a peeled and seeded cucumbers, a green pepper, some red onion (I soaked my thin slices in some salted cold water to make them milder) and toss them together into a bowl with a little salt. Scatter on some olives and some capers if you have them. I used the opportunity to try some caper leaves that I bought in Greece – they’re delicious (well, if you like capers).

Caper Leaves

Top with a nice slice of feta cheese. Sprinkle over some dried oregano and then pour over a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I don’t need any extra acid but if you do, squeeze over a little lemon or add some vinegar.

The word rojak in Malay or Indonesian means mixture and perfectly describes this jumble of a salad from those countries in South East Asia.

Rojak

I’m familiar with a couple types of rojak: there’s the Indian rojak or pasembur that’s topped with a peanutty sauce and then there’s the Penang rojak (or Chinese or fruit rojak are also similar) with its fermented prawn paste dressing. There’s a whole range of Indonesian rojaks too that I know nothing about. I prefer the strong prawn paste version myself and its contrast to the fresh fruits and vegetables and nutty roasted peanuts. I’ll be honest with you – its funky flavour may be an acquired taste and as I grew up with it, I love it. It’s strong yes, but it’s complex and punchy too.

Rojak Dressing and Peanuts and Sesame Seeds

Salad Ingredients

I had a jar of hae ko (that’s the Hokkien name for the fermented prawn paste that in Malay is petis udang – you can buy it in some Asian shops in Chinatown) in the fridge and it being Mothers Day reminded me also that I had scribbled down her recipe for the dressing. Her recipe was very agak agak (a Malay term meaning to estimate – here’s a great essay about Nyonya recipes and how they are very agak agak!) but I put together this recipe based on what I remembered and what tasted good to me – I like it with some chilli kick (tinker to your taste) and sweet but not too sweet. The dressing is both strong and sticky and I like to keep it as thick as possible as it thins with the juices from the fruits, especially the pineapple.

With Rojak Sauce

For my rojak that day, I used cucumber, fresh pineapple, green apple, and a fresh Chinese doughnut (youtiao) from Chinatown; my favourite ingredient is really jicama (or yam bean) but decent specimens are difficult to find in London. The dressing is usually tossed together with the salad ingredients but I also like to serve it as a dip with the vegetables on the side – it’s perfect for lazy days when you don’t want to wash up a salad bowl!

Rojak

Rojak
serves 2-4.

For the dressing
3 heaping tbsps prawn paste (hae koe)
1 scant tbsp dark caramel soy sauce (Yuen Chun or Cheong Chan are brands I’ve found and used in London)
0.5 tbsps chilli paste/sambal (or more or less to taste)
0.5 tsp belacan powder
3-4 tbsps sugar (to taste)
1 tsp tamarind paste
1.5 tbsp hot water

Chinese doughnut
pineapple
green apple
cucumber
Other ingredients that would work are rose apples, blanched beansprouts, jicama (yam bean) and deep fried tofu puffs.

freshly crushed roasted peanuts
freshly toasted sesame seeds

Dilute the tamarind paste with the hot water. Mix together with the rest of the dressing ingredients and stir well to combine. Leave to sit for about 10 minutes before stirring again (the sugar seems to dissolve better). It should be quite thick. This amount of dressing is enough to dress a salad for 4 people. You don’t need to use it all up now though – it keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week.

Cut the salad ingredients into bite sized chunks and place in a large bowl – the amounts of each should be based on what you like and the size of your stomach. Drizzle over the dressing and scatter over the crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Toss all together and place on a plate. Top with more peanuts and sesame seeds and serve.

More healthy eating before I get onto the total shameless gluttony that occurred in Hong Kong. This time it’s with one of my favourite vegetables, the ever versatile aubergine. I love the flavour one gets when burning an aubergine…burning may be too harsh a word. Essentially it’s cooking a whole aubergine until its skin is charred and the entire thing is soft. The silky, uncharred flesh inside develops a smokiness that is particularly good in salads.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad

I came across this aubergine salad in Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table and had to try what appeared to be an extremely simple recipe (adapted to feed the two of us). It’s certainly a dish that’s more than the sum of its grand total of five ingredients (four if you don’t include salt). The silky vegetable gets coated in a savoury mixture of spring onion and fish sauce and somehow just pulls together into something you can’t stop scoffing. Good stuff.

Dinner

This salad ended up being part of a meal we ate with white rice, long beans fried with egg and leftover curry.

Vietnamese Aubergine Salad
serves 2-3 as a course with rice.

3 large, long Asian aubergines
1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
1 large spring onion, thinly sliced
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
a pinch of salt

Grill your aubergines until their skins are black – I whack them onto our gas stove and char them. You can also throw them into a very hot oven or better yet, under the grill. You want the skins to be black and the insides all soft. Leave until cool enough to handle.

When cool enough to handle, peel the blackened skins off and cut each aubergine into lengths of about 5-6 cm and cut each length into 4-6 strips (depending on how you like your aubergine pieces).

Heat a small frying pan (or any frying pan really) and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the spring onion and stir until wilted. Take off the heat and stir in the fish sauce and salt. Toss this dressing with the aubergine strips.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasting seems to be the cooking method of choice for vegetables lately in our flat. Yesterday, I cut a head of broccoli into little florets, tossed them with oil and roasted them at a high heat; after their edges went all brown and crispy, they were tossed into rice cooked with plenty of garlic and oyster sauce. Yum. Sure the roasting broccoli reeked of fart about halfway through cooking but I pressed on and the smell disappeared as the florets browned.

But this recipe I knocked together last week won’t stink out your flat. It will instead scent it with the sweetness from roasting onions and peppers and the spice from curry powder (a jar I was gifted that needed using up) and garam masala. All good, not like fart. And couscous is such an excellent lazy person’s carbohydrate; ever since I discovered that you can get away with just pouring over boiling water rather than steaming the grains, well, I was all over it (apparently this is because the couscous sold here has been pre-steamed). Again, this dish makes for a lovely light dinner and keeps extremely well for a packed lunch the next day too.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous

Oh yeah, and blah blah healthy blah blah packed lunch blah blah new year’s resolution.

Curried Roast Vegetable Couscous
serves 2.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 courgette
1 aubergine
1 red onion
(or any other vegetables that are suitable for roasting)
2 tbsps olive oil

1 cup of dry couscous
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp hot curry powder (or chilli powder, to taste)
1 tsp garam masala
salt
a few sprigs of fresh coriander

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Deseed the peppers and cut into medium sized chunks. Cut the aubergine into medium sized cubes and the courgette into similar sized chunks too. Quarter the onion and then sliced thinly. Toss all the vegetables into a roasting pan and drizzle over the olive oil. Toss together and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes – or until the vegetables are all roasted to your liking.

In a large bowl, mix together the dry couscous, teaspoon of olive oil, curry powder, garam masala and a good shake of salt. Pour in one cup of boiling water (same volume as of dry couscous – but refer to your box of couscous if necessary), give it all a good stir, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes has elapsed, flake it with a fork until it’s all fluffy.

When the vegetables are roasted to your liking, toss them in with the couscous. Chop the fresh coriander and throw that in too. Mix well and serve.