Don't Call Me Chef

Published: Saturday August 2, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday August 6, 2014 MYT 1:38:07 PM

Toss the sides

A salad doesn't need to be the side dish in a meal. The three featured here can all hold their own. – Photos RAYMOND OOI/The Star

A salad doesn't need to be the side dish in a meal. The three featured here can all hold their own. – Photos RAYMOND OOI/The Star

The columnists put salads centre stage with three main meal dishes.

Salads don’t always get the respect they deserve. Sure, they may be the preferred food of dieters and are sometimes disparaged as “rabbit food”, but salads are more than leaves that are washed, torn and tossed together or food that one eats when they’ve had too much during the holiday feasting.

We’re talking about main course salads here. These dishes don’t play second fiddle to the meat or fish on a plate – they’re substantial one-dish combinations that usually contain all one’s needs for a full meal.

Very often, salads are made with leftovers – there’s little or no cooking involved. Here, we feature three salads with ingredients specifically cooked for them.

We hope they change the way salads are perceived. Enjoy!

A salad in a sandwich.

Mid-east accord

The cuisines of the Middle East and countries around the Mediterranean have the best main meal salads, I think. These salads are hearty, sometimes containing meat along with cooked vegetables and grains, and scrumptious dressings that are dishes in their own right.

My choice of main meal salad – sabich – is abundant proof of this fact. It is Iraqi-Jewish in origin, and the name is said to have come from the Arabic word for “morning”, as the ingredients are typical for an Iraqi breakfast.

In a sabich are fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg and, in some versions, fried potato. The ubiquitous hummus of the region is an option, but what the sabich cannot do without is amba, a savoury mango pickle (I use a store-bought chutney), and a Yemeni hot green chilli sauce called zhoug.

One other thing: It’s served in or on pita. This had my co-columnists screaming, “That’s a sandwich!” No matter, sabich is still good without the bread. And look, it comes with its own side salad!

‘Morning’ Salad (Sabich)
Serves 4

600g long eggplant
Oil for frying
4 good quality pita*
Cooked potatoes, sliced thinly
2-3 hard-boiled eggs, cut into quarters
Savoury mango chutney
Zhoug (recipe follows)
Chopped salad (recipe follows)
Salt and pepper

Peel the skin of the eggplants from top to bottom in alternate stripes. Cut into 1.5cm-thick slices. Sprinkle with salt on both sides and leave in a colander for 30 minutes. When ready to cook, dab the slices with a clean cloth or kitchen paper.

Heat 2cm of oil in a wide pan. Fry the eggplant until brown on both sides and tender in the middle, 6-7 minutes. Drain.

In the same oil, fry the potato slices briefly until just brown. Drain.

To assemble: Place a pita on a plate. Arrange the eggplant and potato on top, overlapping the slices. Add hard-boiled egg. Season with salt and pepper, and spoon some zhoug and mango chutney on top. Add a little of the chopped salad. Fold the pita in half and eat immediately. 

*Instead of pita, use baguettes sliced in half lengthwise.

½ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
2 finger-length hot green chillies, roughly chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
¼ tsp each of ground cumin, cardamom and cloves
Pinch of sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water

Place all the ingredients in a small food processor and pulse into a coarse paste. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Chopped salad
1 small cucumber, diced
1 large tomato, diced
A handful of parsley, chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together; season to taste.

Not for the birds.

Not for pecking

The good thing about food trends is that they introduce us to ingredients that we aren’t familiar with.

As with any trend, there have been hits (salted caramel, hello!) and misses (pie pops – pies on a stick? Really?). Grains have been trending for the past few years and while quinoa seems to have taken the spotlight, my favourite grain is millet.

Millet is more widely known for being an ingredient in birdseed. However, there are many varieties of the pseudo-grain (for it really is a seed but is cooked as a grain). Hulled millet – the grain used for human consumption – is not only nutritious (high in protein, vitamin B and minerals), but also versatile as it is gluten free and suitable for most people.

Also, it is cheaper than most grains (an important consideration if it’s going to be a diet staple) and has a stronger, more assertive nutty flavour than quinoa, for example.

While millet can be cooked as a porridge or mash, I like the slightly crunchy texture of the grain. It’s a substantial ingredient in a salad and is an ingredient I can’t seem to get enough of as it tastes good in both Western preparations (in salads, for example) and Eastern cooking too (try using it in place of rice in “fried rice”).

I chose to dress this salad in walnut oil but you can use extra virgin olive oil without compromising the taste of the salad which relies heavily on the millet and the roasted vegetables. The cashews are for crunch so feel free to substitute them with walnuts or peanuts if you prefer.

Millet and Roast Vegetable Salad

1/2 cup millet
1.25 cup water/stock
100g broccoli florets
100g cauliflower florets
50g beetroot, diced
50g cashew nuts, toasted
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil/walnut oil
1-2 tsp red chilli flakes
1 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
King oyster mushrooms, diced
Salt and pepper

Heat a saucepan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the millet and let it toast for about 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the water or stock. Once the liquid starts to simmer, lower the heat and cook covered for about 10 minutes or till the moisture is absorbed by the millet.

Take the pan off the heat, place a kitchen towel over the mouth of the pan and cover. Set aside.

Toss the broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil (if you like a coconut flavour in your salad, toss them in coconut oil) and roast them for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them as the broccoli may cook slightly quicker. Wrap the beetroot in foil and roast for 40 minutes till tender.

Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the diced mushrooms and cook till they start to turn golden. Season and turn the heat off.

Add the extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil to the millet and, using a fork, toss so that all the millet is coated with the oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the roasted vegetables, nuts and mushrooms and toss.

Serve with cut green chillies if you want a little spice and/or some fried shallots.

A simplified version for the busy cook.

Easy mix

In my completely biased opinion, nasi ulam is the best salad ever. But it requires way too much work to put together, especially if you are not making it for the entire clan but your small nuclear family in some suburb at the end of a hectic work week.

So, I made my version of rice salad, but it’s nothing like nasi ulam except I use herbs for its deep aroma and distinctive flavours. I don’t have the traditional medley of 25 herbs but make do with whatever is growing in my garden which are daun cekur, Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves and mint.

My basic building block for this salad is the kerabu dressing made with sliced shallots, bird’s eye chillies, lime juice and sugar. I have also found that canned tuna makes a good substitute for fried fish flakes

I prefer to use cooked multi-grain rice as its nuttiness adds texture to the salad. I also like to add tomato, cucumber, celery and carrot to this salad for a refreshing zing and some crunch.

It’s easy and quick to make, and good enough to tide me over till I get the real deal with kerisik, budu and keropok.

You can have it with sambal belacan. For a lighter meal, use less rice and more vegetables and squeeze some lemon juice over the salad.

Nasi Ulam Celup
Serves two

3-4 shallots, sliced thinly
1-2 bird’s eye chillies, cut
Juice from 5-6 kalamansi limes
1-2 tbsp sugar, or according to taste
1 can tuna, drain oil
2-3 cekur leaves
1-2 kaffir lime leaves
2-3 stalks of Thai basil
2-3 stalks of mint
1 tomato, cubed
1/2 carrot, grated
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and cubed
1/2 stalk of celery, cut thinly
2 cups of cooked multi-grain rice
Salt and white pepper, according to taste

Make the salad dressing, and mix it with the canned tuna.

Roll the cekur, kaffir lime, Thai basil and mint leaves into a cigar, and cut as finely as possible.

Add the sliced leaves, tomato, carrot, cucumber and celery to the rice.

Then add the tuna and dressing, and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Tags / Keywords: main meal salad, Sabich, millet, rice, nasi ulam, roasted vegetables

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