Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Still eating salads

By: Mrs Rabbit Robot

I said I was going to make a conscious effort to eat more salads, and so far I've managed it. I think the major revelation for me on my veggie-munching mission so far is that I don't have to eat lettuce. Lettuce was pretty much the base ingredient for every salad I had growing up, and I'm not massively fond of it, so allowing myself to ditch the stuff has made Project Salad a lot more interesting (and easier to stick to). The other revelations I've had are that herbs can be an ingredient, not just things you sprinkle on top in tiny amounts or add to dressing, and that if you make a salad of little chopped bits it's best not to throw too many ingredients in, otherwise it all ends up a bit jumbled, and all your salads end up tasting the same in the long term. These are probaby things hardcore veggie lovers knew already, but they've been amazing to me!

My lunchtime salads are pretty much just chopped stuff in a box – chunks I can easily eat with a fork at my desk. There are usually around five things in the box, and my current favourites include: tomato, melon, mango, cucumber, peach, pepper, sweetcorn, and grated carrot with kohlrabi. I did try grated carrot, green pawpaw and Thai basil, but the basil overwhelmed the other flavours, so I need to use less of that if I use it in future.

Evening salads, which I've been having with my main meal of the day, are where I've got more room to be more complex. For one thing, I have more time to prepare them, and for another I've avoided things like dressing, oil or mayonnaise in my lunches, whereas I am allowing myself those things in the evening. In the case of oil and mayonnaise, it's because of their calorie count, whereas in the case of dressings, I adore east Asian dressings with fish sauce in, but the salt in the fish sauce makes the veggies all watery by lunchtime.

On Sunday I made som tam, a Thai salad based on green pawpaw. Monday's meal is in the photo: koftes from our butcher, Walter Rose, plus a tomato, cucumber and onion salad with a bit of coriander on. (Raw onions never go in the lunch salad, I like my workmates too much to inflict that on them.) The other thing on the plate is just roasted sweet potato, onion and chickpea with a little cumin on, topped with tahini and garlic sauce; I don't class it as a salad as it's been cooked and is served hot, though some people might think of it as one.

I have noticed I no longer get the mid-afternoon sleepy feeling, but I also no longer get the sense of satisfaction I used to get from my lunch. It's hard to put into words; I just get an immediate feeling of wellbeing from carbs, a sense of comfort and pleasure. My biggest wellbeing-feeling foodstuff is tea anyhow, so I'm making sure I keep drinking plenty of that. There really is nothing to beat a good cuppa. It's only been a week or so since I started making an effort to eat more veggies, so there's been no real change on the weight front. It's great to be using more of the vegbox, though, and being more creative with previously neglected ingredients.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Retro recipe: Russian salad

By: Mrs Robot

Growing up, I didn't know a single kid who liked salad, because if you were British, working class and growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, salad meant lettuce, cucumber and tomato, maybe radishes if you were lucky, all sitting sliced and separate on a plate. As for dressing, salad cream was your lot. This is, of course, a generalisation. Mr Robot's mum was working class but adventurous. He still remembers the cold baked beans she once served up as part of a salad. However, my point remains: nobody liked salad. They were, like the boiled veg served up in winter, the things that padded out your actual food, which was potatoes and meat.

Now I am in my forties, and somewhat fat, and get a weekly organic vegbox, all of which is making me realise one thing: I need to eat more salad. I've learned to enjoy it more over the years anyhow, but over the next few months I'm going to make a conscious effort to be more adventurous with my salads and get more pleasure out of that weekly vegbox. I've decided to kick off with a classic, Russian Salad.


I first encountered Russian salad as ensaladilla Rusa in Spain, served as a tapa. It seemed pretty much to be potato salad with some tuna in. After a bit of googling, I've learned that Russian salad started out as salat Olivier, a very posh salad made in 19th-century Russia by one Monsieur Olivier, which has undergone all sorts of changes over the years, becoming a staple celebration dish in Russia. Nowadays it's pretty much a 'shepherd's pie recipe', by which I mean everyone has their own version and they're all definitely different while being recognisably the same thing.

I based my salad on the recipe in 1080 Recipes, a classic Spanish cookbook. (Phaedon publishes a translated version.) That recipe contains simply peas, carrots and potatoes in mayonnaise. I included a few pods of broad beans in mine, because we've been getting loads in the vegbox lately, and some tuna, because I've only ever had ensaladilla Rusa with tuna in and it would feel wrong without it. I left the veg fairly chunky, and didn't over-flake the tuna, and the result was absolutely delicious. 1080 Recipes suggests putting prawns in, which would also be delicious. This looks like a perfect salad to make in winter too. Is there anything not to like about it? No wonder it's become a classic, in its many forms.