Stepping into Spring – A Robust Spring(ish) Salad

Step into spring (1 of 1)
A burst of spring sunlight has me wanting to make all kinds of lovely salads for a moment and then the sky clouds over and I feel my feet firmly stuck in winter again.
What calendar do you go by, the one in which Spring starts in February or March? Ireland seems to be the only place I know of that saw Spring starts in February but we only go by that for February it seems, after that, Summer holidays are the same as everywhere else, we do like the best of both worlds!
Which ever you choose to live by there is a sense of health and vitality that comes with the snow drops and daffodils and we often want to reflect this in the way we eat, its time to cast off the winter comfort food and gently step into spring with robust salads.
I wanted to create a sort of crossover salad, one that’s healthy enough for spring but filling enough for lingering chilly days.
And you might well ask how does one “create” a salad for a particular season, well there are more than a few things to consider.
Below is a recipe that I feel does the job but here are the reasons I chose these ingredients, so that you can do the “creating” with the ingredients you have or want to use.
A hearty salad is a balancing act of textures, colours and contrasting flavours. Do you build your salad from greens, vegetables, add cheese, fish or meat?

So where do we start? As some of the spring ingredients have not quite sprung, I chose a raw vegetable salad as we still have plenty of root vegetables around and they also give us the health kick we are looking for in spring, fill you more than salad leaves and set the tone with their amazing colours. I sliced some of them very thinly, others I peeled off in ribbons and some I chopped into matchsticks for all kinds of different textures.
Next, I chose to add blood oranges, again because they are in season (but not for long) and they have a great balance of sweet and acid, plus a refreshing juicy texture so we are off to a good start.
For greens I had sea spinach and sea purslane to hand, the sea spinach has a nice crunchy texture and the sea purslane adds a lovely tangy, salty flavour. By the time you are reading this you should be able to get watercress which would be a wonderful substitute. Some capers add to the acidity and bursts of flavour like this are always great in salads.
I want something even crunchier than the raw vegetables, and toasted nuts and seeds always have a great bite as well as being great flavour builders.
Cheese is always worth considering and I had some smoked Scamorza from Toonsbridge dairy in the fridge that leant a lovely but light smoky flavour, shavings of parmesan would do the trick nicely too.
Then to the all important dressing, Its such a crunchy salad I felt it could carry a creamy dressing but wanted to stay away from a mayonnaise base as it doesn’t really go with the health kick I was after so I opted for a tahini based dressing. This particular one was inspired by Anna Jones’s fabulous book “A Modern Way To Cook” she does a lemon tahini dressing, this is modified slightly and uses blood oranges instead.
Finally, to fill it out a bit more I used Freekah. I am not the greatest fan of quinoa and Freekah ( wheat that is harvested while young and green) has a much creamier texture and a slightly smoky flavour , I love it and its super good for you, so that will do nicely!
I used some wild garlic flowers to finish it off which make it look pretty springy indeed.
It may sound like there is a lot to it but really once the ingredients are decided upon, there is not much else other than slicing and layering. Its worth it, enjoy.

Spring(ish) salad
Ingredients to serve 2-4 for lunch or 6-8 as a side dish

1 medium red beetroot peeled
3 small yellow beetroot peeled
2 carrots peeled
1 fennel bulb trimmed
6 radishes
5 blood oranges
A large handful of Sea spinach
A small handful of sea purslane
A Large handful of Almonds, skin on
2 tsp of fennel seeds
100g approx. smoked scamorza cheese
100g caper berries
50g uncooked freekah
Wild garlic flowers – to finish
Salt/pepper
A little olive oil

Tahini Dressing:

4tbsp spoons of olive oil
1 tbsp tahini paste
zest & juice of 1 blood orange
1tbsp cider vinegar

Freekah:
Add the freekah to ¼ Lt. of cold water, with a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 min.
Drain of excess water and allow to cool.

Dressing:
Shake all of the ingredients together in a jar or whisking until they come together to a nice creamy texture. Set aside

Salad:
Heat a dry pan and toast the fennel seeds for a minute or two. Set aside for later. On the same pan at a moderate heat, add a small splash of oil and toast the Almonds with a good pinch of sea salt until they are toasted, 5 minutes or so.
Start by tossing the almonds on a moderate heat with a small splash of olive oil and some sea salt for about 5 minutes or until toasted. Set aside to cool

Chopping the root vegetables; If you have a mandolin use it to slice some of the roots thinly, if not a sharp knife will do. I do the carrots with a peeler to give nice thin ribbons. Cut some into thin matchsticks for different textures.
Start to built the salad on a very large serving plate, maybe start with thinly sliced round red beetroot, followed by a layer of carrot ribbons followed by a layer of yellow beet matchsticks and so on. Add the freekah to these layers, saving a little for the top.
Segment 4 of the blood oranges and save all of the juice. Add the segments to the layers of salad
Slice the fennel very thinly and pour the saved juice from the segmented oranges over it to prevent it from turning brown.
Slice the radishes into wedges. Scatter the fennel and the radishes on top of the other layers last to prevent them getting completely stained by the beetroot.
Slice the sea spinach very thinly and scatter on the salad with the sea purslane. Drop the caper berries on top, the rest of the freekah, any left over orange juice and then drizzle the dressing over the salad. Finish off with the toasted almonds, fennel seeds, the scamorza and the wild garlic flowers.
(Surprisingly, kids love this salad too , I think its because of the orange juice and the sesame tahini and also raw beetroot doesn’t really taste like beetroot, in a funny sort of way).

Have a very happy Easter