I get very excited when summer finally arrives, and my weekly pilgrimage to the farmers market instantly becomes more exciting. The options for salads and sides increase dramatically, embracing all the glorious summer flavours and colours, and everyone's mood improves. You can't help but want to make meals to eat outdoors, lazing around with a chilled glass of something and a few nibbles. This year marks a big change in our house, as we now own a coal BBQ. After, I might add, much deliberation and debate. We have not had an outdoor cooking facility for over 5 years, and our last one was gas. London living does not often give you the opportunity to eat outside, and when we do there are lots of us, so we need a big grill.
We did not choose the Big Green Egg - I don't yet BBQ, will I really smoke? I lost the battle for the new Morso Forno Grill, which meets all my Skandi design requirements. We nixed the big gas grill idea, and settled on the classic Weber 59cm to accommodate all the meat required for a crowd.
And then the troubles began - what is the best way to heat the damn thing? Slow burning brickettes which take forever to warm up? Or charcoal? A combination of the two? How long do you warm them in the chimney? Somebody help me please!!!
So far, there have been a few attempts with varying degrees of success. Once, I did not use enough coal. Next time, I did not heat the "long burning brickettes" for long enough before putting on the meat, so the temperature was at its prime once we were all eating the chicken that had finished cooking the oven. I had a triumphant success with a whole salmon wrapped in newspaper, but I now cannot remember what I used as fire for the BBQ and how long I let it all heat up before putting on the fish. So as you can see, I still have a little finessing to do.
This past Sunday, I thought it would be appropriate, given my heritage, to have a belated 4th of July "cookout" (as they call it over there). I went to the farmers market in the morning, filled my trolley with the finest of summer's pleasures and came home to get ready. Obviously, in all my excitement of tomatoes and berries, I did not check the charcoal/brickette supply.
So after prepping the salads, marinating the chicken, molding the burgers and gathering all the condiments, it was time to light the grill. I could not remember what had worked so well previously, so I made a little concoction with all I had left in the shed and lit the chimneys, giving them a long time to heat up. Disaster. I left it unattended for too long, the charcoal burned down, and there were not enough brickettes to cook everything through. So, we had chicken from the BBQ, burgers from my flat top on the hob (some would argue this is the best way to cook them) and sausages from the oven grill. Not exactly what I had anticipated, but in this house not everything always goes to plan.
The great success of the day were the sides, made with the magnificent seasonal produce from the market. Tomatoes are at their peak at this time of year, which makes this favourite salad the perfect addition to any al-fresco meal, or part of a brunch spread. It allows the sweet, ripe flavours of the tomatoes, and their brilliant summertime colours to sing. Try to use as many different varieties as you can find to add to the beauty of the dish. And remember, the meat does not need to be the central part of the meal. I personally believe it should only accompany the vegetables.
Tomato and Herb Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish
The inspiration for my salad comes from this recipe in Bon Apetit. Feel free to use any combination of tomatoes. I like to cut the tomatoes into a variety of shapes (eg. halve the cherry tomatoes, slice the heirloom into half rounds, plum tomatoes into wedges) but it is totally up to you and the finished look that you want. Ideally this is served in a flatter serving bowl with the tomatoes on the bottom and the roughly chopped herbs piled on top as the greens. Feel free to substitute other herbs such as tarragon or oregano, or add a sprinkling of za'atar for a lightly more Middle Eastern flavour.
1 bunch (approx 6) spring onions (scallions) thinly sliced
60ml (1/4 cup) red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove finely chopped (I like to mash it with the flat end of a large knife with some salt on a board - see photo)
3 heirloom or large tomatoes
6 plum or vine tomatoes
500g (2 punnets) cherry tomatoes
120ml (1/2 cup) lime juice, divided into 2 portions
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 bunch chives
1/2 bunch dill
1 bunch parsley leaves
1 bunch corriander leaves
1/2 bunch mint leaves
50g (approx 1 bunch) rocket
Place spring onions in a small bowl and cover with vinegar. Allow to macerate for 20 minutes, and drain
In a large bowl, combine spring onions with garlic, 30ml lime juice, 2 tbsp olive oil and and add tomatoes (cut into your preferred shape). Season with salt and pepper
Toss with your hands to coat and transfer into your desired serving platter, reserving the liquid
Roughly chop the herbs and rocket. Add to bowl with reserved dressing and add remaining olive oil and lime juice. Season with a little more salt and pepper and toss to coat.
Pile herb mixture on top of tomatoes and serve.