Once upon a time, April of this year in fact, a box of seedlings arrived at The Garden Deli. It was sent as part of a challenge to grow beautiful, fresh salad leaves and create ‘the ultimate side salad to enjoy with a Higgidy pie’.
Each plug plant inside the wrapping was healthy-looking and a good size. All ready to be given its own little pot filled with peat free compost to grow into.
The plants soon grew, and needed more space. This was the point where I began to worry a bit. Knowing that I was going to have to write a salad story at a later date, the last thing I wanted was to end with the line “we were only able to harvest two sad looking leaves after I forgot to water them for a week, and the slugs ate almost everything that had survived the neglect”. That wouldn’t inspire anyone to have a go at growing their own salads, would it? So the rapidly growing seedlings were found a spot in two wooden boxes placed right by the back door. An ideal location – I’m practically tripping over the boxes each time I go in or out of the door, so no chance of forgetting the watering. And the leaves get the morning sun, but are shaded in the afternoon – just in case it gets too hot.
There’s been plenty of morning sun, and even more all day rain. The seedlings have thrived, and grown into sturdy plants, overflowing their boxes. The Sarah Raven collection contained a green and a red lettuce, rocket, mizuna and red mustard. I think they look rather fine planted together. A nice contrast of leaves and colours, making an attractive feature in a previously unused corner of the patio and definitely something I’m going to keep going for as long as possible.
The leaves taste good together too. Although the mustard can be a bit overpowering when mixed with the milder flavoured leaves… by request, it’s now been banned from the salad bowl. Instead I’m going to try adding some of the leaves to a stir fry.
Last week, just as the salad leaves were reaching their best, a big box arrived from Higgidy. After fighting the children off to get a look, you’d think we never got any post they were so excited, I opened the parcel to find a collection of Higgidy’s finest vegetarian pies and quiches. And so the time had come to pick some lush salad leaves to make that ultimate side salad.
I had in mind a salad inspired by some of my favourite flavours from Mexican cooking – coriander, lime and avocado. To me, the sweet potato and feta pie with pumpkin seeds sounded like it would be a perfect match for the salad. But the great thing about the little pies from Higgidy is that everyone can choose their own favourite… and this is really important in a household like ours where it can be difficult to find a pie or quiche filling to please everybody. So the salad was also given a thorough taste testing accompanying a little sweet potato & spicy tomato pie, a little butternut squash & feta pie, and a little spinach & roasted red pepper quiche. At the end of the meal, all plates were empty… I think that means both the pies and the salad were a success.
Black bean & avocado salad
For the dressing:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
pinch of fine sea salt
For the salad:
230g cooked black beans – I used tinned beans, drained and rinsed
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
a small handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado
two good handfuls of mixed, freshly picked salad leaves, washed and dried
To make the dressing – toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan over a medium heat, shaking the pan from time to time until you can smell a wonderful cumin aroma. Remove from the heat and crush the seeds using a pestle and mortar to get a fairly fine grind. Add the remaining dressing ingredients, stir to combine and leave to one side.
For the salad – mix the beans, spring onions and coriander in a large bowl. Stir the dressing through the mixture to coat the beans. Just before serving, remove the avocado from its skin and chop into chunks. Mix it through the beans.
Tear the salad leaves into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Then you can either mix the leaves through the other salad ingredients in the bowl and serve, or put a small handful of leaves on each plate and spoon the beans on top… either way, it’s delicious.