Sarah's Weekly Blog: Book Launch

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I’ve just spent the day cooking – with Sophie – our Perch Hill chef. We were making lunch for everyone who came to our Saturday book launch event at Perch Hill. I chose my favourite recipes for this time of year — and the months to come — for a sunny lunch, selecting easy recipes for when you’re cooking for quite a large group.

We started with roast fresh and sun-dried tomato soup, which we served with a swirl of coriander pesto, seeded oatcake and spiced soda bread. I thought it was good to have something hot to start us off, as I then wanted to move on to a buffet of four different salads. The weather was good and these to be served at room temperature salads (NOT straight from the fridge) are four of my favourites.

The main event was our Lemon Chicken and Herb Salad, which we make often in the school. You can chuck in a good pile of any plentiful herb (or a mix) depending on what’s around, or in the garden. The sourness of the olives is so good against the lemon, pinenuts and herbs. The chicken is really just the carrier of lots of good flavour, and if you initially bake that with bay, it picks up that warm taste too.

The olives you use in any dish are key, but it’s particularly so with this salad, where they’re central to its healthiness and taste. When first picked from the tree, olives are inedible, containing very bitter compounds that have to be removed by soaking and curing. This traditional fermentation of olives is a slow process, but its key and produces a healthy food with beneficial active cultures. Those are the olives you want to buy, but a cheaper and much quicker way of making olives edible is to soak them in a lye bath to remove the bitterness and then pack them with salt. These are rubbery in texture and have no depth of flavour, so avoid ‘processed’ olives, choosing ‘oil-cured’, brine-cured’, ‘water-cured’ or ‘dry- salted’ instead. You’ll also be able to tell which is which by their price.

Good-quality olives often have stones left in, so don’t let this put you off, as often these are the best and tastiest. We’d lost our olive pipper on Saturday, so Sophie had to stone and chop a huge bowl laboriously by hand. One of those brilliant tools are key in the kitchen. Many of the health advantages of the Mediterranean diet have been attributed to olives and their oil so you want to add plenty of both here. These therapeutic benefits include reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, prevention of cancers (breast and stomach in particular), and support for the immune system and inflammatory responses. The phytonutrients in olives also have the potential to prevent bone loss and therefore decrease the risk of osteoporosis BUT all this is hugely less when you buy the lye-processed eye balls...avoid!

The other three salads are perfect side dishes, or brilliant for starters or light lunches on their own. We had Sweet Potato Salad with ginger and soy, as well as a punchy coloured Beetroot, Parsley and Green Mango Salad (and we added carrot too) and perfect for the next few weeks, my favourite Asparagus, Pea and Broad Bean Salad (see below for recipe).

Pudding was the healthy version of our classic basil ice-cream, where I have cut the sugar right down and use yoghurt and ricotta to hugely decrease the fat from the original Mascarpone version. We served this with 70% Dark Chocolate barks, flavoured with orange zest, cardamom and sesame seeds and a spoonful or two of macerated strawberries.

Sweet potato salad with watercress, ginger and soy

Like carrots, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are stuffed with the orange pigment beta-carotene. The deeper the orange, the greater the density of the pigments, with sweet potatoes having the highest level, equal only to that found in leafy greens like spinach and kale (which, surprisingly, are rich in these orange pigments too). In this recipe, sweet potato slices are steamed and briefly griddled, which is better for our blood-sugar levels than roasting. The oil and dressing here is essential for our bodies’ absorption of fat-soluble vitamin A.

Serves 4 as a main course, 8–10 as a starter:

  • 1kg small sweet potatoes, chopped into 1cm slices
  • A little cold-pressed rapeseed or set coconut oil
  • 4 large handfuls (about 250g) of mixed peppery salad leaves, such as watercress, mizuna, chicory, rocket or any of the mustards
  • Large handful of coriander (about 30g), leaves and stems coarsely chopped
For the oriental dressing:
  • 4 tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive or cold-pressed rapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed oil
  • 1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp pickled ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 level tbsp finely chopped fresh root ginger
  • 1 red finger chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp clear honey
Black pepper
To serve:
  • 2 heaped tbsp pumpkin seeds, dry-fried Edible petals (optional)

Preheat the oven to 110°C/gas mark 1⁄4. Steam the slices of sweet potato for 5–7 minutes, or until just soft to the tip of a knife. Cool. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, with black pepper to taste, and put to one side for the flavours to infuse.

Heat a ridged griddle pan or heavy-based frying pan for 3–4 minutes (until you can’t reach a count of ten with your hand hovering just above it). Brush on rapeseed or coconut oil and griddle the sweet potato slices in batches for about 3 minutes each side. Keep each batch warm in the low oven while you cook the rest.

Put all the salad leaves and the coriander into a large bowl (keep some back to scatter at the end). Pour over most of the dressing and toss well to coat. Serve on individual plates, with a good handful of salad leaves to each one. Top with griddled sweet potato slices. Finish with an extra drizzle of dressing, the reserved coriander and dry-fried pumpkin seeds, with some edible petals if you fancy (I have used Carmine dianthus here).

508 calories for 4 servings, 254 for 8, 203 for 10

For other delicious recipes mentioned in this blog, as well as many more, feature in my new book Good Good Food publishing on Thursday (19th of May 2016).

Thanks for reading and happy cooking!

This recipe was originally featured in Sarah's latest book Good Good Food is now available to order, all copies are signed by Sarah!