July 6, 2017 — Dairy
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For the Goat’s Cheese, Beetroot and Poppy Seed Salad:
One small round mild goat’s cheese with a firm skin
2 tbs white poppy seeds
One cooked beetroot
Juices from a pre-cooked package of beetroot or the reductions of cooked beetroot trimmings and a chopped small cooked beetroot boiled in 200ml of water
2 or 3 outer leaves of a radicchio
A few oakleaf lettuce leaves with curly top edge
Small handful of rocket
For the dressing:
1 tbs beetroot juice (see above)
3 tablespoons light olive oil
1 tbs raspberry vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
Salt and pepper
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In 1988, an artist friend, gave us a very ‘artistic’ cookbook. The book was Salad, by Amy Nathan and Kathryn Kleinman, (1985). According to the sleeve notes, it was full of ‘stunning salad dishes to delight the eye as well as the palate.’ At the time the book was published, the modern English restaurant scene – with its regalia of Michelin stars and Instagram galleries of beautifully crafted food images – was still waiting in the wings. It’s therefore remarkable that a cookbook, 32 years old, should include such arresting visuals of food – it was clearly well ahead of its time.
Each plate of food (and photographic ‘plate’), was immaculately composed into symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns. The food was shot on top of a light box using transparent dinner plates, a technique that emphasised not only the colour and shape of the food, but also the creativity of the authors. These days, the photographer’s light box has been replaced by burnished metal or distressed wood, the transparent plates with artisan crockery. Both styles could be accused of fetishising food, however, the intention of Salad is not to stimulate a ‘food porn’ reaction, but rather to show the food in a more elemental and refined light so that each ingredient might be appreciated for its own sake. Salad’s dishes are reminiscent of Nouvelle Cuisine, its characteristic lightness of touch, lightly cooked ingredients and the minimalist approach to arranging food could have been an inspiration for the book.
I’ve been critical of the new trend in scattering grains, seeds and whole foods on a plate. I imagined treating ingredients as an assortment of components brought together in a random manner will only create endless nondescript dishes. What is needed is a greater appreciation of the ingredient: why is it distinctive, what are its characteristics, what does it add to the plate, can it be complimented or contrasted by other ingredients? I sense our Salad authors considered this as much as the visual appeal.
My versions, are adapted to add further ideas, either in the visual impact or in the flavour combination. The tomato salad, is simplicity itself. But, it allows us to pause and acknowledge the different tomato varieties. I have also attempted to add, where possible, new ideas about taste and texture contrasts such as savoury, fresh and crunch. A baked goat’s cheese is turned into a poppy flower incorporating beetroot. A pear dish is less about leaves and flowers and more about a classic pairing of flavours.
Salad should be used by culinary colleges to help students with their presentation and appreciation of flavour combinations. It certainly made me re-think how I put food on a plate and provided new insights into combining food.
For art inspired salad recipes like this Goat’s Cheese, Beetroot and Poppy Seed Salad recipe, check out some of these: Smoked Chicken, Smoked Salmon and Parma Ham Salad, Capellini, Tomato Consomme and Tuna, Tomato Salad or Plum Soba, Prawns and Shiso Salad.
Goat’s Cheese, Beetroot and Poppy Seed Salad:
The recipe is to arrange the ingredients on an individual plate in a visually satisfying manner. I’ve used a concentric pattern of ingredients. The aim was to create a visual representation of a poppy flower. The opium poppy has varieties with dark or light centres. I’ve based this on poppy with a light centre using white poppy seeds. (A dark centre could be created using black poppy seeds, but as they are stronger than the white seeds, it would overwhelm the cheese.)
Another aim, of course, is to create a dish that was as delicious as it looked. To do this I have used a classic flavour combination of goat’s cheese and beetroot. The dressing works well with sweetened essence of beetroot and raspberry vinegar.
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