Recipe: Arden Forest Salad

For too long has my Complete Works of Shakespeare languished, lonely and unloved, waiting in vain for our next reading to occur!  I do love our Shakespeare feasts, but they are quite fiendishly difficult to organise – as soon as I think I have a full cast, someone gets sick, or remembers a prior commitment, or moves overseas or interstate, and then everything has to be rearranged.

And then, of course, there is the cooking.  For reasons that even I do not entirely understand, I feel compelled not merely to drastically overcater, but to do so in a way that fits the theme or story of the play.  Which means sitting down with book in one hand and notepad in the other writing things like ‘fool.  Passionfruit?  Lots of hearts.  Venison!  Disguise. Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes’, and then trying to come up with a collection of recipes that both cover the most important keywords while actually producing a fairly balanced meal that covers this week’s collection of dietary restrictions…

This sounds like a big complaint, which it really isn’t – but it serves to explain why I have to be feeling pretty bold to plan one of these feasts, and why by the end of them, I feel both great satisfaction and as though I’ve been hit by a train.

Anyway.  Today’s play was As You Like It, which is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, clearly written at a point in his life when he had a lot of good musicians in his Company, because everyone sings, all the time.  He hasn’t quite written a musical, but you can see that he was seriously considering it.  As You Like It is notable for pretty much the entire cast running off to live, like Robin Hood, in the greenwood.  Half the characters start off in exile in the wood, more characters join them there as the play progresses, and at the very end, when everyone is set to return from exile, the villain of the piece puts himself into self-imposed exile – you guessed it, in the woods.

Clearly, the woods needed to be represented here, so I decided to create a salad forest, suitable for exile with random singing.  This is my excuse for making it quite so mildly psychedelic – I imagine most forests are not amply endowed with magenta rocks, but mine is.  This is, of course, a composed salad, and your dressing is essentially the layer that everything is standing on, so when serving, make sure you get a good scoop of the yoghurt layer and the nutty gravel to go with your vegetables.  It really is astonishingly delicious.

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300 g Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp tahini (unhulled is nice!)
100 g pistachios
100 g  slivered almonds
125 roasted chickpeas (sometimes called chick-nuts)65 g dried cranberries
6 small oranges (blood oranges or even mandarins would work – that’s about the size you are after.)
12 stems of broccolini
8 little bocconcini (ovalini are good)
4-6 spears of sage flowers or rosemary in bloom
8 small radishes in mixed colours
5 sprigs of thyme
a handful of dill
3-5 sprigs of mint
80 g fresh blueberries

Now what will you do with it?

Start by getting out a nice, big serving dish – preferably one that is flat rather than going up a lot at the sides.

In a smallish bowl, combine the tahini and yoghurt, and then spread this mixture evenly over the serving dish.

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Toast your pistachios and almonds, then put them in a food processor with your roasted chickpeas and buzz briefly to chop them roughly.  Or you can do this by hand.  Chop your dried cranberries roughly, and mix them into the nut mixture.  Spread this gravel over your yoghurt dressing in the serving dish.

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Halve your little oranges (because I never water or feed my poor orange tree, I get these lovely little oranges that are about the size of mandarins or smallish blood oranges – these are perfect, size-wise. Blood oranges would be amazing, however), turn them cut-side down and cut a slit in them.

Wash and trim your broccolini to the point where they are stiff enough that they won’t droop if stuck into an orange.  Yes, this is wasteful.  Make a soup with the offcuts.  Stick a broccolini stem into each orange half to make a tree.  Arrange the trees in a random fashion over your gravel (or make a nice pattern, if you want this to be a formal garden).

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Slice a piece off the bottom of 4-6 of your bocconcini and stick a sprig of sage flowers into each to make more trees, these ones in bloom.  Leave the rest of the bocconcini whole.  Arrange your flowering trees and your bocconcini rocks in your woods, which should be getting nicely dense, now.

Top and tail your radishes, and scatter them in suitable cairns or other arrangements.

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Strip your thyme sprigs of leaves, and scatter the tiny leaves over your forest floor.  Chop your dill, and do the same, then let your mint leaves fall where they will.

Scatter your blueberries where they fall.

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Serve, taking care to get a bit of every layer in each serving!  But first, take a photo, to admire your beautiful handiwork.

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Variations

This recipe is gluten-free, egg-free and low GI.  It isn’t dairy free, unless you can find a convincing vegan yoghurt, which I haven’t so far.  Perhaps you could make a good cashew cream and mix that with the tahini?  I’m really enamoured of the yoghurt flavour, so it’s hard to tell.  For the FODMAP crowd, your problems are the roast chickpeas and the pistachios.  Hazelnuts could replace the pistachios, and you could just up the nut quantities in general to replace the chickpeas.  I can find no information about radishes and FODMAPs, so eat at your own risk!  This recipe doesn’t adapt itself very well to being nut-free, as the nuts are providing a lot of the flavour, crunch and personality, but you might get away with toasted seeds.

In terms of presentation, you can do what you like.  If you’d rather have a salad that you can just eat, I’d suggest dividing the oranges into segments, chopping the broccolini, bocconcini and radishes, and tossing everything with the nuts and yoghurt and tahini and so forth.  Conversely, if you want to go even more elaborate, you could make radish flowers, which was my original intention before I realised that everyone was going to be on my doorstep in fifteen minutes.

On a flavour level, you could substitute raisins for cranberries, walnuts, cashews or hazelnuts for the nuts, small lemons or limes for the oranges, and mess around with herbs, too. Asparagus spears would also make good trees, but I’d then take out the dried fruit and maybe add more berries – sliced strawberries or even raspberries.

It’s going to be gorgeous no matter what you do.  You’d better resign yourself to that.

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