kale & quinoa salad

kale, quinoa and salmon salad
kale, quinoa and salmon salad

Remember when you were growing up, and a salad was eternally comprised of a sad, round tomato, circles of cucumber and wads of damp iceberg lettuce, drowning in a sea of sharp, vinegary dressing? Oh, that salad. Sometimes it was accompanied by a ring of pungent onion, or a lonely olive that was also wondering why it was there. They weren’t particularly bad or good, they were just something that had to be heroically endured to get to the good stuff, like pizza and chicken and lasagne.

salmon on kale and quinoa salad
grilled salmon is a delicious indulgence

I’m not sure when it all started changing, but Australia probably owes a great debt to its multicultural history. Greek salad. Caesar salad. Someone heard a rumour of this amazing stuff called tabbouleh, others murmured words like panzanella and fattoush and niçoise.

And thus salads were set free, and we were all a lot happier for it.

kale and quinoa salad
Say yes to salads.

I love using kale as an alternative to salad leaves, because it feels so much more substantial than biting into lettuce (although don’t get me wrong, I also love lettuce). Quinoa is often a feature in my salads, not just because it’s excellent for my gluten-free friends, but also because it lends a brilliant texture, holds dressing well and gives the salad a certain heft.

And if you need something else to convince you, let me just say that the grilled salmon is a deliciously indulgent affair that means you’ll never have to dread eating a salad for dinner ever again. I promise.

Kale and quinoa salad with grilled salmon (serves 2)
For the salad:
1 x salmon fillet, grilled (try honey soy salmon)
100g kale
150g quinoa
5 baby radishes, sliced
100g plum of cherry tomatoes

For the dressing:
250g low-fat Greek yoghurt
Juice of a lemon
1 tbsp honey

Rinse the quinoa well and cook until just tender. This is quite often a much shorter cooking time than they suggest on the packet, so check it at 5 minutes.

Steam the kale (if your pot is big enough, you can steam it above the quinoa) and dry using a clean teacloth or a salad spinner.

Slice the radishes and tomatoes.

Combine all the salad ingredients and make the dressing by stirring the juice of a lemon into a cup of yoghurt, then sweetening with the honey.

honey soy salmon, kale & sweet potato mash

Salmon. It's nutritious and delicious!
Salmon. It’s nutritious and delicious!

I really ought to eat more fish.

I tell myself things like this on a regular basis. Fish is delicious – tender, light yet filling and full of delicate flavour – and it’s good for you, too; packed full of vitamins, protein and omega 3s, fish is rightfully known as brain food. It’s the heart-healthy meat that can be farmed sustainably and your body will love you for it.

But just between you and me, I may be a wee bit – scared – of cooking fish. I mean, it has this reputation, doesn’t it? It’s fiddly, it falls apart not just on your fork but also in the pan, or sticks with a stubbornness that only a determined spatula can overcome. It cooks unevenly. It can turn dry and tough. When you cook fish you’re taking the chance that it all may come to a ruinous, nightmarish mess resulting in pasta and sauce for dinner.

honey and soy salmon
honey and soy salmon, served with a gingery kale and sweet potato mash.

Worry not, friends. The dense, tender flesh of salmon stands up to flavours well, is significantly less likely to fall apart and is much more forgiving than your average fish when it comes to cooking times. Its high fatty acid content means it’s unlikely to dry out, and most importantly it makes for wonderful eating. If you’re at all wary about cooking fish, salmon’s where you start.

Honey and soy, two things I always have in the cupboard, make an excellent marinade for the salmon, highlighting its natural sweetness. To balance this, I’ve added ginger and garlic to the kale – yet another so-good-for-you-it’s-hard-to-believe ingredient. Kale is nutrient-rich, high in calcium, fibre and iron, not to mention vitamins C and K.

And please, let us not have me begin waxing lyrical about sweet potato again. Suffice it to say that a good bed of buttery sweet potato mash completes this delicious and nutritious feelgood trinity.

oh, that sweet potato.
oh, that sweet potato.

Make the most of the last rays of the summer sun – or indeed, welcome spring as they are back in Oz. Enjoy!

Honey soy salmon with ginger kale and sweet potato mash
For the salmon:
2 salmon fillets
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp light soy sauce
For the kale:
100g kale
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, grated OR garlic oil
For the sweet potato mash:
500g sweet potatoes
25g butter

Mix the honey and soy together and pour over the salmon fillets. You can do this the night before and store them in a ziplock bag, or marinate 30 minutes before you start.

Peel and wash the sweet potatoes, then cut into large chunks and boil in a pot until soft (this takes around 20 minutes depending on the size of your chunks). Drain and add the butter before mashing, then cover and set aside.

Heat oil in a pan and add the grated ginger and garlic. For low-FODMAPpers, leave out the garlic and use garlic oil.

Add the kale and fry gently until the leaves go glossy and dark green – this should only take about 2-3 minutes.

Heat oil in a pan (the same one, if you like!) and then add the salmon, skin-side down. Fry for 4 minutes, taking care the honey isn’t burning the skin. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes.

spicy chorizo and curly kale

The perfect winter dinner.
The perfect winter dinner.

I hadn’t heard of Nigel Slater before I landed in this fine country, but I’ve really taken to him. There’s something charming and earnest in his boyishly enthusiastic manner that inspires a certain recklessness in the kitchen – and I think we could all do with some of that now and again. ‘Use every last bit,’ he commands from the screen, turning pumpkin skin into crisps and dangerously ripe cherries into a tart. Don’t be afraid to experiment, just trust the flavours, be inventive and it will all work out.

A worthy mantra, especially if you’re living on a budget and your palate has progressed beyond the student days of burgers and pasta.

As soon as I saw curly kale, I knew I wanted to try it. It’s a hardy winter vegetable, a type of cabbage, rich in vitamins and minerals and perfect for the cold weather because you can cook it. No longer need your long, crisp nights be accompanied by an equally chilly salad.

The fantastic thing about curly kale is that when cooked, it takes on a substantial weightiness that can hold its own against meat, whilst also keeping its light, springy form. Like most greens, it doesn’t taste like much – all the better to flavour it with.

I confess I tweaked Nigel’s original recipe a little – I felt it needed just a little more to take on the complexity my stomach associates with a full meal. This is a perfect winter dinner; filling, nutritious and ready to eat in about fifteen minutes.

Spicy chorizo and curly kale
100g cooking chorizo (about 2 links)
100g curly kale, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Half a cup of edamame beans, cooked
Quarter of a cup of peas, frozen
Small handful of almonds (optional)

Remove the chorizo from its skin and pull the links into small pieces. You can chop them, of course, but I rather like the way pulling forms them into ragged sausage balls which then go on to have gloriously browned peaks.

Place the chorizo over medium heat and cook through – it should only take about 3 minutes if your pieces are small. Remove and set on kitchen paper.

Drain the fat and discard, but don’t wipe down the pan – the oil will help you to fry everything else and imbue it with the wonderful flavours of the chorizo. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic slices, followed by the peas and kale.

Fry until the kale starts turning a dark, shiny green, then add the cooked edamame beans and the chorizo back to the pan. Keep over a medium heat until the tough stalks of the kale are cooked through, then season to taste and serve on a large plate with a scattering of almonds.

Cooking with kale. Isn't it good to branch out a little!
Cooking with kale. Isn’t it good to branch out a little!