I’ve just come back to Istanbul from three weeks in Norway. While I went to spend time with those close to me, sprinkled with a bit of fishing at sea and hikes in the mountains, it was also heartwarming to see the improving status and increasing abundance of high quality, locally produced food in Norway.
My home town of Trondheim was host to a 3-day food festival whilst I was there. Not just were some of the country’s best seafood (from Hitra or Frøya), dairy products (from Røros, in the mountains) and vegetables (from Frosta) on offer. It was ram packed! The whole city centre was teeming with people wanting to check out the local produce. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, most people attending this year’s festival probably went shopping en masse to whichever supermarket offered the lowest prices, with little care about quality or local produce, which in any case was considered inferior to foreign brands and far too expensive.
The recipe for this griddled vegetable salad was inspired by this wonderful local produce. The flavours are perhaps more Mediterranean, but the vegetables were supremely Norwegian – the courgettes even home grown by my mother. Because with top quality ingredients, messing up in the kitchen (or, in this case, by the barbecue) is virtually impossible.
Always buy the best vegetables you can afford, even if it means buying a different vegetable than the one called for in the recipe. Learn how to tell a good vegetable from a bad one (tip: if it looks good, it usually is, and if it looks bad or artificial, it usually is). If you can’t get hold of kohlrabi, for example, or the ones on offer look a little worse for wear, substitute fennel, aubergine or peppers. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will probably be much better than using a substandard kohlrabi.
And when you put those vegetables on a barbecue or griddle pan, something magical happens. The vegetables take on a slightly smoky flavour, and take on a much more substantial texture – almost meaty. Once charred, they need little extra flavouring, but something sour is useful to balance the olive oil and the meatiness of the vegetables. In this recipe, I’m using both lemon and pomegranate molasses for this purpose. Adding something salty brings another layer; feta cheese and capers both work wonderfully. To me, that’s enough. Perfection. But if you want something crunchy too, scatter a small handful of toasted pumpkin seeds or sliced almond on top. Serves four as a side, generously.
- 1 tbsp capers, drained
- 2 baby gem lettuce, halved lengthways
- 2 large courgette, cut in 1/2 cm slices lengthways
- 1 large kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 3-4 mm slices
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 100 g feta cheese, lightly crumbled
- 1 tbsp pomegranate syrup
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- olive oil, for frying and brushing
- salt and pepper
- Dry the capers (the drier they are, the less they’ll spit). Fry in plenty of olive oil (or another oil if you prefer) on medium heat until crispy and lightly browned. Drain on a kitchen towel.
- Brush the gem lettuce halves, courgette slices and kohlrabi slices with olive oil. Grill on a hot barbecue or griddle pan until cooked through; the courgette needs a couple of minutes on each side, the kohlrabi a little longer and the gem lettuce longer still. Be careful with the courgette, if overcooked it may start falling apart; undercooking it is better than overcooking it. Season and set aside.
- Whisk together lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the vegetables in the dressing and plate. Top with the feta, pomegranate syrup and flat-leaf parsley.
- Mix things up by using e.g. sherry vinegar instead of lemon juice in the dressing.
- For a little extra crunch, scatter a small handful of roasted pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds on top.