No, I’m not referring to either my youth or the best days of my life, but rather to logical menu choices during the hottest summer in many, many years. Certainly since we arrived in McGregor.
The average maximum temperature, this December was 31ºC (89ºF)*, a degree higher than 2014, as was the average minimum, at 19ºC (66ºF). More interesting, though, are the spikes: the highest maximum was 41ºC (106ºF) as opposed to “only” 37ºC (99ºF) the previous year. This is the type of heat that we usually associate with February, and when summer crops are virtually all harvested. The heat, the wind and the humidity without rain, has taken its toll; the grape harvest has started earlier than the farmers can remember. Wonder what it will mean for 2016’s wines?
The impact of the heat and the equally desiccating wind shows:
And because we water only the vegetables and flower beds, the grass is, in places, crisp underfoot.
In that heat, the menu has to be dominated by salads, but because (as you’ve heard me say so often) one can have too much of a good thing, innovation is important. There are only so many carrot sticks one can eat and watermelon can do more than serve as a refreshing fruit (especially when there’s only two…).
Watermelon provided the base for the h’ordeuvres for Christmas dinner and was a refreshing and flavourful salad that’s already become a favourite, as has the carrot salad that formed part of the main course.
Watermelon, feta and olive salad
For the Christmas menu, I had planned what has become for many of our friends, one of my signature dishes: Jamie Oliver’s Thai Watermelon Salad. It’s one of those recipes that needs all the ingredients, so if one can’t get them, it has to be plan B. This year, because of the heat, it was impossible to find any fresh coriander. So, with an enormous watermelon in fridge….the watermelon had to be used…it wasn’t paying rent. At that late stage, visit to the local shop was out of the question, so I had to make do with what was in the pantry and in the garden. Another celebrity chef to the rescue: Nigella Lawson. I had everything except the limes, but there was lime juice in a bottle. Problem solved.
1 small red onion
3 ¼ lb watermelon (sweet and ripe)
8 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
1 bunch fresh mint (chopped)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅔ cup pitted black olives
Peel and halve the red onion and slice thinly. Put this in a small bowl to infuse with the lime juice.
Peal the watermelon, and cut into approximately 4cm / 1½ inch triangular chunks, removing as many pips as possible. Cut the feta into similar sizes and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.
Pour the onions, with the juice over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives. Gently toss the salad so as not to break up the feta and melon. Add freshly ground black pepper and taste to see whether you need to add more lime juice.
This is a very pretty salad which worked well to add a touch of red to our white Christmas – and is so easy to make which is belied by the really interesting combination of flavours: it’s all about getting the proportions right. I’ve done it both with and without mint which has been equally acceptable.
Roasted Carrot Salad
A raw carrot salad with dill was also supposed to have featured on the Christmas menu. Until The Husband discovered that the gardener had “weeded” the dill that he had been carefully nurturing. Needless to say, “we” were not amused, so with plan B underway, it had to be “plan Z”. A few recipes were reviewed, The Husband consulted; Roasted Carrot Salad was selected. I had to make some adaptations. These and what I’ve subsequently done, come after the original recipe by Morgan Nowicki:
2 pounds (1,8kg) carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 (4 oz) package crumbled Danish blue cheese
2 cups arugula (rocket)
What to do
Preheat an oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
Combine the carrots, almonds, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake the carrots until soft and the edges turn brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once cool, return the carrots to the mixing bowl, and drizzle with honey and vinegar; toss until coated. Add the cranberries and blue cheese; toss again until evenly mixed. Combine with the arugula and serve immediately.
What I did
Because I didn’t have almonds or cranberries, I omitted the latter and substituted the almonds with pumpkin seeds. I also elected to roast the carrots in larger chunks – either whole or cut longitudinally and the cloves of garlic were roasted, whole.** I also elected not to toss the rocket leaves with the carrots, but rather to present them on a bed of rocket.
The result was acceptable, but more acceptable, was the second time I made this, when I –
- par-boiled and then roasted the whole carrots and
- substituted the almonds with crushed macadamian nuts which were roasted with the carrots and garlic.
On this occasion, and because I knew that I’d roasted more than we needed, I simply plated the carrots with the cheese and served the leaves separately. The carrots we didn’t eat, kept well in the fridge for another meal.
And now, it’s back to the weather…
Certain parts of South Africa are in the throes of a drought; some say that it’s the worst in 20 years, others 50. Either way, the figure is moot when some farmers haven’t been able to plant crops and the maize harvest will be the lowest for 20 years. Farmers unable to feed their livestock, are sending animals to other provinces and suitable grazing, or to slaughter. There are towns without water and which are being supplied by generous members of the public. So meat, for the moment is cheap, but when that’s gone, that and all other food prices will skyrocket. Not helped by our currency with is currently sailing through the doldrums.
So, this, the heat and an abundance of tomatoes, and other crops coming, all mean that our salad days are set to continue.
* Data supplied by The Husband who diligently records the daily maximum and minimum temperatures and the rainfall.
** Roasting minced/crushed garlic can end up with it being overdone and bitter. Rather roast the cloves whole and then squeeze out the creamy garlic and mix it in with the dressing/liquids to drizzle over the salad.
© Fiona’s Favourites 2016