I can’t go to a barbecue empty handed. And it’s not [necessarily] because I’m a super generous guest that wants to help.
It’s because I get jealous when other people do the cooking.
Sounds ridiculous I know, but I love cooking so much that I rarely go a day without it. And if I’m headed to a barbecue, I will take yummy stuff with me. Salads mostly, because I really enjoy proving to people that ‘salad’ doesn’t just mean a heap of dry leaves.
So, a few weeks ago when I was invited to a family barbecue, I of course offered my salad making services. Ahh what a wonderful niece I am…
Not really – remember the cooking fomo I mentioned above!*
*It means fear of missing out.
Firstly, I brainstormed some ideas in my foodie notebook. Then I headed to the shops and picked up all the scrummy goodness I needed. Then I came home and cooked myself silly in the kitchen. It was delightful and I felt super happy and smug.
It was only when I was stood on the doorstep, armed with 3 salads, that I remembered who my taste-testers would be:
- My auntie, a Portuguese home-cook pro who has been cooking delicious food for as long as I can remember
- My uncle, who lives with my pro-chef auntie and is therefore accustomed to a high standard of cooking
- Two children, known for their confidence and honesty (technically one is a teenager, but that doesn’t exactly solve the brutal honesty thing…)
- And my vegetable averse boyfriend
Nice one Sam, bring the veggies. That’ll definitely secure your spot as the cool grown up cousin. And a great way to score some boyfriend points too. Yep, vegetables was a great choice. Well done.
I somewhat nervously popped the salads on the table, acting totally cool, obviously.
- “Oh I just chucked a few things together this morning”
- “It’s no big deal”
- “Have as much or as little as you like, I can always take the leftovers home”
- “I spent 2 and a half hours on this masterpiece”
- “You will like my salads”
- “It better be gone by the time I leave otherwise I will take it personally and this will come to be known as the day Sam cried cause no one ate her salads”
As I said, totally cool!
But the miracle of the story is, everyone LOVED it. The kids lapped it up (I’m thinking it was the feta that did it – maybe they didn’t even notice it was a plate of vegetables…); Alex proudly added aubergine to ‘list of vegetables I will just about tolerate’, and my pro-chef auntie went as far as to ask for the recipe.
A big fat vegetable success if you ask me!
I’m actually not sure what my uncle thought, but he definitely didn’t say he didn’t like it…
To the recipe!
Oh and in case you were wondering, the other two salads were this mango, fennel and carrot slaw and a classic caprese with tomatoes, mozzarella and a balsamic vinaigrette.
- 1 aubergine, cut into 1cm thick rounds
- 1 tsp za’atar or sumac – if you don’t have either of these, try a mixture of green herbs, like oregano and thyme, or experiment with your favourite spices.
Handful of mint, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
50g feta, crumbled
40g hazelnuts roughly chopped
10g sesame seeds
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
- Handful of watercress – to serve
If you have time, lay out the aubergine slices on a plate and sprinkle with salt. Leave to sit for 10-30 minutes until you can see beads of moisture forming on the surface. When you’re ready to cook, remove the excess salt with your fingers or by running under cold water. If you don’t have time, don’t worry – it’s by no means essential!
- Preheat the oven to 180C (200C fan).
- Lay the aubergine rounds on a couple of baking trays and sprinkle with za’atar and a good pinch of salt. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10 minutes either side or until soft and cooked through.
- Meanwhile mix 2 tbsp olive oil with the lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic and a pinch of salt. Once combined, add the spring onions and mint.
- Heat a pan over a medium heat and add the hazelnuts. Dry fry for a minute or so until aromatic but not burnt. Add the sesame seeds for 30 seconds or so, then set aside to cool.
- To serve, plate up the aubergines and top with the crumbled feta. Drizzle over the dressing and finally, sprinkle with the toasted nuts. Top with some watercress if desired.