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Category: Salads

Tomato & Fennel Salad with Vegan Pistachio Pesto

Tomato and fennel salad doesn’t really need a recipe to make, does it? But you’ll probably want to read this post if you want to make the delicious pistachio pesto I used to dress my tomato and fennel salad.

The pesto dressing makes all the difference in this salad. The peppery tang of the summer/winter savoury (marzeh in Persian), mint and pistachio pesto really complements the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Summer savoury (and its perennial relative winter savoury) are hard to find in many countries unless one grows them at home but in Iran summer savoury is sold in big bunches by every greengrocer. If you don’t have summer/winter savoury I recommend using a mixture of mint and fresh thyme. The sharpness of thyme works quite well too.

marzeh-herb
On the right: summer /savoury (Satureja hortensis), a very versatile herb that can be grown from seed on a windowsill. On the left: winter savoury, an easy to grow perennial.

Tomatoes didn’t show up in Iran until late 19th or early 20th century but when they did they completely took over the cuisine. It’s hard to imagine Persian cooking without tomatoes or tomato puree/paste.

One of my earliest memories is of my grandma boiling sieved tomatoes in huge pots in summer to make tomato paste. High tomato prices in Iran can even have political ramifications, seriously! So this salad is not Persian in form but quite Persian in spirit!

I made my salad with some lovely heritage tomatoes I found in a market but any nice juicy sweet tomato will work. Cherry tomatoes of any colour will work nicely too. Fennel bulbs add crunch to this salad but sliced cucumbers can be used instead if fennel isn’t available or in season where you live.

I made my pesto with raw pistachios but roasted pistachios also make a lovely pesto. I like to sprinkle chopped pistachios on the salad for a bit of extra crunch, too.

pistachio-pesto-with-savory-and-mint
Ingredients for the savoury & mint pistachio pesto. The winter savoury has flowered profusely. Even tastier!

There is no cheese in my salad but feel free to add your favourite cheese. I recommend crumbled Feta or Bulgarian cheeses or cubed grilled halloumi. My favourite British cheese to use in this salad is white Cheshire. It’s so incredibly delicious.

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 500g tomatoes, sliced or cut into big chunks
  • 1 small head of fennel (or sliced cucumber)
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • A handful of fresh summer/winter savoury or a few sprigs of thyme
  • A small handful of mint leaves
  • 1 small clove of garlic (or more if you wish)
  • 25g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • A handful of chopped pistachio nuts

Method

  1. Put the nuts, garlic and the herbs with 75ml olive oil in the food processor and process until chopped well but not too smooth. You can also use a mortar and pestle to make the pesto. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
  2. Spread one-third of the pesto on a plate. Put the prepared tomatoes and fennel in a bowl. Toss with another one-third of the pesto. Transfer to the plate.
  3. Mix the rest of the pesto with the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil and season. Drizzle over the tomatoes and fennel. Garnish with chopped nuts and fennel flowers if available. Enjoy!

Persian Beet & Yoghurt Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

Dressing cooked beets with yoghurt is very common in Iran. People usually chop up the beets and fold them into yoghurt. As simple as that! But I think a dish, whatever it is, must be pleasing to the eye, too. So I sometimes go out of my way to “dress up” simple dishes like beets in yoghurt even if takes a bit of extra time. A prettier salad always tastes better to me!

I used cooked beets for this salad. We get nicely cooked beets in supermarkets here in the UK. In Iran too we got cooked beets but not in supermarkets. Sweetened cooked beets are sold by street vendors. In winter you are never too far away from a street vendor selling very large steaming syrup-glazed beets. Absolutely yummy!

You may want to cook your own if you grow beets in your garden or get nice ones from your grocer’s. Beets need a bit of time to cook properly but there is no fuss, really.

To cook your beets just cover them with water, bring to boil, lower the heat and let them simmer away until they are tender. Once they are cooked they slip out of their skins very easily. Cooking time can vary from 30 minutes to an hour or even longer depending on the size of your beets.

Beets are really easy to grow and come in many colours and shapes. The leaves are great in soups and salads.
Beets are really easy to grow and come in many colours and shapes. The leaves are great in soups and salads.

I usually reduce the juice in which the beets have been cooked with a touch of sugar until it is thick and a bit syrupy. Then I slice the beets and return them to the saucepan to glaze them.

Another good method for cooking beets is wrapping them individually in aluminium foil and popping them in the oven when you are baking, roasting or slow-roasting. Again, the cooking time will depend on the oven temperature and the size of the beets but there is no way you can go wrong with that. Give them time and they will cook perfectly.

To make the salad all you will need is a few cooked beets, a little thick yoghurt (like Greek or Greek-style), some pomegranate seeds and a few sprigs of mint.

Pomegranate seeds add flavour, crunch and visual impact and so does mint. To seed a pomegranate cut it in quarters and pull away the seeds from the white membrane. The seeds will come off quite easily if gently pushed or tugged in the right direction.

pomegranate seeds
pomegranate seeds

To assemble the salad arrange sliced beets in a serving dish. Mix the yoghurt (as much as you wish) with a few drops of beet juice and put in a squeezy bottle (I save ketchup bottles to use for this). Squeeze the yoghurt over the beet slices in a nice pattern. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on top of the dressed beets and garnish with a sprig of mint or two and maybe a little shredded mint as well. Your pretty pink salad is ready. Enjoy!

Spinach Salad with Pomegranate, Walnuts & Pomegranate Dressing

This is a nutrition-packed salad I make all the time. It’s simple to make but elegant enough for a dinner party. This spinach salad recipe uses tender leaves, crunchy and sweet soaked walnuts and tangy pomegranate seeds. What’s there not to love?

I went to my local Turkish shop a few days ago and bought three big bunches of spinach, on impulse. The spinach looked very fresh and lovely and its leaves were pointed. I soaked my spinach in plenty of cold water as soon as I got home to keep it fresh then carefully washed and rinsed it. There was a lot of sand in the roots so soaking helped get rid of that.

spinach-salad-with-soaked-walnuts-pomegranate-dressing
Lovely bunch of spinach soaked in cold water and washed. This is a variety with pointed leaves.

What to do next? I thought I’d use the smallest leaves to make my favourite spinach salad. I had bought a few lovely pomegranates, too. The other ingredient I needed was walnuts. I always have some at home. All set.

I poured boiling water over the walnut halves in a bowl and let them soak for a few minutes to remove the bitterness from the skin. Then I drained them and soaked again in cold water. Soaking gives walnuts a very lovely texture, almost like fresh walnuts. Us Persians are suckers for fresh walnuts. It’s a delicacy sold on the street in summer time. Here is how they looked after soaking:

how-to-soak-walnuts
Soaked walnuts are so much more delicious than dry.

I seeded all the pomegranates, picked the small leaves from the spinach and saved the big leaves and stems to use later for another favourite salad.

Pomegranate-seeds
Pomegranate goes incredibly well with spinach.

At dinner time the only thing that we needed to do was to make the dressing. I didn’t weigh the spinach, pomegranate seeds or walnuts. Too busy making the dinner. But I did measure the ingredients for the dressing.

I can’t live without salad. And by that I mean green, leafy, with other veg or fruit. Have you seen my Herby, Garlicky, Lemony Lettuce Salad recipe? That’s one I love too and make all the time.

By the way, using smoked sea salt flakes gives the dressing a bit of a smokey edge. I love that. But you can use any kind of salt that you wish.

 

Here is how to make the dressing:

Ingredients for pomegranate salad dressing to serve four to six people:

  • 6 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses/syrup (Persian is best)
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp smoked sea salt flakes or pinch of regular salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Method:

Put everything in a small jar and shake well. Pour over the salad just before serving.