Market Salad & The Gathering Table
The preparation of food ties us to our surroundings in a way that little else does, it is instinctive; of a universal language and it is one of nicest things that we must pause to do so regularly. The ritual of cooking was ever present during my childhood; it wasn’t at all steeped in any culinary culture - unfortunately I lack the ethnic diversity that so often accompanies old food families but it was nevertheless constant and social. Even if we did eat our fair share of twenty first century fallacies - think margarine, confectionery and almost anything white; meal time was still family communion. All of our celebrations were marked in feast and not surprisingly food is present in almost all of my lingering memories.
Despite the integrity of food to life and love though, I never quite appreciated it myself until it came time to having my own kitchen. From there though the adoration has grown exponentially - bordering on obsessive if I care to admit. It stems from my grandfather most I think - he approached cooking with reckless abandon, it wasn’t always pretty or revolutionary and much to my grandmothers dismay often left behind bloodshed but it was unbridled. Food was always his first order of thought and likely one of the last as he left this world. So you see, even if you think that the mastery of cookery is reserved those who've been trained, the art of it I believe is something born of lust and wonder and devotion.
I digress; though I thought it prudent to explain a little more of myself before I prattle endlessly upon The Gathering Table - to give you more insight into the sincerity of my labour to prepare and serve food that is honest and meaningful. Without further ado though let me properly introduce this project I’ve been pouring myself into of late. The Gathering Table is an idea. It is a way to bring into physical existence the notions of community and conversation and food of which I always speak. To give root to an otherwise virtual presence. It will celebrate seasonality and local loves and has been established in collaboration with Cindy Hamrey from Nest and Nettle. It will be small gatherings around the table in celebration of a simple feast, beautiful surroundings and the kinship that comes with a shared meal.
We think an occasional feast, in like minded company is often remedy to the soul and it is our deepest wish that these local gatherings will elicit such simple pleasure. The food will be seasonal and local, prepared slowly and plant based. Hunger will be stayed, laughter will be shared and time will linger. Our gatherings will be tied to the seasons. To the changes in wind and weather, to the sense of renewal in their passing and of course to their changing garden. Each gathering will pay homage to its time of year in both the tables curation and in the thoughtful meal preparation. The menu will be built around fresh organic produce that hails from local farms and producers. All plates will be plant-based, free from refined sweeteners and made by hand. It is our intention for most dishes to be shared as we often witness that communal eating makes for fast friend around the table. Though depending on new ideas, availability of ingredients and our everlasting pursuit to surprise and delight that may change.
The shelter for our gatherings will be in the arms of a local oasis – The Borrowed Nursery. Owned by Lauren Lance, this botanical institution has recently put down roots in an old industrial warehouse at Mermaid Beach. Swinging open the doors as a bespoke event space we’ve been lucky enough to be welcomed in for regular long table lunches. The former residence of a mechanic then market precinct the premise is beautifully weathered, with white brick walls, tarnished steels and delicate light. It has a rare vintage quality that in it’s renaissance as a potting shed has come to feel both energised and serene; perfect we think for a lunchtime habitat.
It feels like a lofty ambition to expect that others will think enough of you to warrant a seat at your table but I’m in it for love, so even if it’s just us two there to dine it will have been worth the dedication. In honour of The Gathering Table then is this market salad. It was named so for simplicity sake. A more thorough version might have read; quinoa salad with fresh leaves, dates, pistachio and pomegranate, dukkah rolled labneh, turmeric and honey roasted walnuts and a Moroccan inspired dressing - but who really wants to tout a description like that. It’s sweet, tart, creamy and warm - all the good things really and perfect for your own gathering at the table.
Market Salad / Serves 4 - 6
1 cup of uncooked quinoa
2 cups / 750ml / 25 fl oz vegetable stock
1/4 cup of unshelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of pomegranate arils
4 - 6 dates, coarsely chopped
1 cucumber, (I made ribbons though you could just as easily chop it finely)
1 beetroot, either purple or yellow (I thinly sliced it though grating it is actually better)
2 handfuls of fresh salad leaves (I used baby beetroot and kale leaves)
Salt and black pepper
Begin by throughly rinsing the quinoa under running water. Combine it with the vegetable stock in a medium saucepan over the stove and bring it to a boil before reducing the heat to low. Allow it to simmer covered for 20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa begins to sprout a tail. Stand the saucepan aside for a few minutes to steam and then allow the quinoa to cool entirely. In a large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa, pistachio nuts, pomegranate arils, dates, cucumber and beetroot, gently folding the mix together. Add the Moroccan dressing and season the salad to taste with salt and pepper. You can keep this compilation in the fridge for a couple of days though I prefer it freshly made. To serve lay the salad leaves upon a large platter and then spread over the quinoa mixture topping it with the dukkah rolled labneh and turmeric, chilli and honey roasted walnuts.
1 lemon, juice
1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp of cumin seeds
1/2 tsp of coriander seeds
1 tsp of cinnamon
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
Over a skillet on low heat toast the cumin and coriander seeds until browned and fragrant. Grind them coarsely in a mortar and pestle before combining in a glass jar with the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Shake vigorously until well combined and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Dukkah Rolled Labneh
250g / 8 oz of labneh (notes on how to prepare labneh can be found here)
1/2 cup of macadamia nuts
1 1/2 tbsp of cumin seeds
1 tbsp of coriander seeds
2 tbsp of white sesame seeds
1 tbsp of nigella seeds (black sesame)
1 tsp of lemon myrtle
1 tsp of wattle seed
Over a skillet on low heat toast the cumin and coriander seeds until browned and fragrant. Set them aside and repeat the process with the macadamia nuts, followed by the white sesame seeds. Add the toasted cumin, coriander, macadamia and sesame seeds as well as the nigella seeds, lemon myrtle and wattle seed to a high speed blender and pulse for only a few seconds. You’re looking for something with texture, not a fine meal but not to coarse either. Spread the dukkah out upon a flat surface before rolling the labneh a tablespoon at a time by hand into a round bite. Gently turn over the round in the dukkah and set aside before repeating. You can prepare and store these in the fridge for few days though the dukkah will moisten slightly.
Turmeric, Chilli and Honey Roasted Walnuts
Inspired by those from Nest and Nettle
200g / 8 oz of walnuts
2 tbsp of raw honey
1 tsp of ground turmeric
1 tsp of dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of sea salt
Preheat your oven to 150º celsius. In a bowl, combine the honey, turmeric, chilli, cinnamon and sea salt and add just enough water to create a thick paste. Add the walnuts and stir them to throughly coat in the mixture. Spread the nuts out upon a paper lined baking tray and roast for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring once until crunchy and golden through still slightly sticky. Allow them to cool before serving and store any leftovers in a glass jar in your pantry for future use.
Seasonal guide / temperate climate
Pomegranates, late spring through early autumn; cucumber, early spring through late autumn; beetroot, year round; kale, year round though sweeter from late winter to mid spring.
Market produce is always the pick of my table. It’s home grown, harvested carefully and often a labour of love. The greatest privilege it offers is the chance to converse with those whose hands have brought it up from the ground. It’s a rarity in our modern times to ask anything of a grower; don’t be shy. Ask after the unrecognisable, for secrets of storage or preparation and learn the seasonal comings and goings.
Avocado, grilled asparagus, dried apricots or currants, roasted almonds or cashews