An old favourite – classic french salad with Chèvre chaud plus rainbow chard and chickpeas with chili, garlic and lemon

August 3, 2011

Goat's cheese saladWhen I au paired in Paris I learnt a few things about food that came back to me when we were there recently. First of all French people don’t sit around eating croissants all day because um, croissants and all that other amazing bakery stuff makes you fat.  All those super chic skinny women you see in amazing clothes haven’t eaten a croissant (or much of anything else for that matter) since they were about 12. More importantly I saw for the first time that seasonal produce is the starting point for good food so before you decide what’s for dinner you go to the market. Thirdly, salad should be a daily event and the classic French dressing I learnt with oil, vinegar, wholegrain mustard and honey is one of the best I know. Over the years I’ve been swept away by balsamic, played with Sherry, dropped the mustard, dropped the honey, gone Asian but when I had it again recently its genius came back to me.

Eaten with the simplest of green salads there’s enough flavour in this simple dressing to keep things interesting but when you add the classic French salad cheese – goat’s, it really starts to make sense. The honey contrasts with the tang of the cheese while the vinegar lightens things up. A few walnuts are an addition you often get and they work perfectly. You can keep things really simple and simply crumble the cheese into the salad or make it more of an event by toasting the cheese under the grill just before you serve the salad. It’s a great lunch or simple starter that never lets you down.

A classic French salad with Chèvre chaud

You’ll need:

Enough lettuce for two people washed and dried

A small handful walnuts

180gr chevre cheese divided into 2 rounds – the soft variety they sell in logs

2 small rounds of bread for sitting the cheese on when grilling

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 teaspoon honey

A tiny pinch of salt

Whisk the salad ingredients together, adding a little more honey if you think it needs it then set aside. Set the cheese on the bread rounds and place under a hot grill and toast until golden. In the meantime, toss the leaves, walnuts and dressing together and divide between two plates. When the cheese is ready, set each one on the centre of each plate and serve immediately with lots of good bread and a glass of red.

Rainbow chard

This week’s rainbow chard is one of my favourite varieties.It’s just so pretty and I’m a sucker for that kinda thing. Tastes good too. You’ll have to move fast as,like a lot of these lovely delicate  summer varieties, it can go downhill fast. Fritatta is a great way to go and will give you the bones of a meal. A salad and some bread and you’re set.

I tossed mine with chickpeas, lemon zest and chili a la Heidi Swanson whose Super Natural Cooking books I’ve been using a lot recently. It’s a very simple approach with lots of flavour and the final dish is great with a bowl of rice for a simple lunch or snack or as part of a mezze style meal. Try it with maybe a Spanish omelette, a cous cous salad and a slab of baked feta….

Rainbow chard with chickpeas

Rainbow chard and chickpeas with chili, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil

You’ll need:

150gr rainbow chard washed and dried with any tough stems removed.

1 tin of chickpeas drained and rinsed

4 plump cloves garlic finely chopped

Olive oil

1/2 fresh chilli finely chopped or a pinch of dried flakes

The zest of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

Prepare the chard first – chop the stems into pieces about 2cm long and set aside then roughly chop the leaves and set aside separately. In a pan heat a generous glug of olive oil, chili, garlic and a large pinch fine salt. Allow the garlic to sizzle but don’t let it go brown. Throw in the chard stems and toss for about a minutes to ensure they soften.

Tainbow chard stems in the pan

Add the leaves then the lemon zest and stir well.

Rainbow chard on the pan

Pour all this over the chickpeas in a bowl, toss well adding some freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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