It seems every second cookbook on the shelves at the moment focuses on food we should avoid. Sugar has become a bigger enemy than fat (which we are now told is actually good for us – so go ahead and eat that bacon!). Grains, which we always though were good for us, have been ruled out by the paleo brigade. So has wheat and gluten. Even dairy is copping scrutiny.
I am no expert when it comes to nutrition. My mantra has always been to cook from scratch as much as possible, and enjoy all food in moderation. It has served me well so far. I do however see the benefits of curbing the sugar. It’s scary how much there is in everyday foods (like bread) and food you pack in your kid’s lunch boxes thinking they’re healthy (like muesli bars). I think it’s really important to be aware of what is in your food. read labels and make the right choices.
The same goes for wheat and gluten. I find my gut is happier when I limit the amount I eat. I am not clinically intolerant, but definitely feel the difference if I overdo it. I LOVE my pasta, so I find alternating days with and without gluten work for me. It’s all about listening to your body. I couldn’t imagine not being able to eat the food I love. I feel terrible for people who live with food allergies and simply can’t eat them at all. I come across many people when I cater who can’t eat certain foods, the most being intolerant to gluten and dairy. (I did have a lady the other day who was highly allergic to garlic! Thank goodness I knew about that in advance – an Italian not using garlic is like a french chef not using butter!) I often wonder what it must be like going to an event and only being able to eat one thing on the menu. For this reason I try to include lots of choices to ensure everyone is well fed.
This “Feel Good Salad” came about for that very reason. I had an event to cater for and needed to ensure I had vegetarian options without gluten or dairy that were substantial enough to be a meal in their own right. This particular function was held outdoors on a very hot day so fresh salad leaves weren’t an option.
This salad is packed with goodness and plenty of tummy filling qualities. Rice, chickpeas and lentils give it substance, and the dried fruit, nuts, fresh herbs and spices give it texture and flavour. It has a tahini dressing which makes it really interesting, and I top with toasted sesame seeds and pomegranate. Best of all, it is best made in advance so that the flavours develop, so no last minute dressing! Just leave the sesame seeds and pomegranate off until you’re ready to serve, and make sure it’s at room temperature rather than straight out of the fridge.
I’m sharing this recipe as it really was a favourite of the night and I had loads of requests, so here it is. It’s a good vegetarian option, or a perfect side partner for roast or barbecued lamb. If you’re not concerned about having dairy, a dollop of yoghurt would go well with this.
Serves: 4 - 6
- 1 cup long grain rice
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- 2 x 400g tins lentils, drained and rinsed
- 2 x 400g tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 good handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 good handful fresh mint, chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 tbsp ground cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- juice of 2 lemons
- freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup fresh pomegranate seeds
- Rinse rice and cook as per packet directions. Fluff with a fork and spread out onto a tray to cool.
- Add the sesame seeds to a dry frypan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until seeds are golden. Set aside to cool.
- Mix the rice, lentils, chickpeas, onion, parsley, mint, dried cranberries, cumin and coriander in a large bowl to combine.
- Mix the tahini paste with olive oil. Pour over the rice mixture. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything together thoroughly.
- Sprinkle the sesame seeds over and scatter with pomegranate seeds.