Four weeks ago, I sat on a plane as it took off from Düsseldorf, Germany and into the freezing, snowy skies of northern Europe. I arrived in Melbourne, Australia some twenty-six hours later at seven in the morning, feeling like a seedy Count Dracula and wanting to hide in a dark cave. The sharp brightness of the endless sky had me rummaging through my bag for the sunglasses I hadn’t worn for months and quickly shielding my sensitive eyes with them. I usually love the big, bright skies of home, but arriving in summer on a 30-degree day was a little tough on my body, which had been in hibernation under layers of wool and a big jacka for a good couple of months.
A funny thing has happened to my palette since arriving home. Almost every dinner I’ve cooked for myself has included a new, sacred trilogy of lime, coriander and chilli. It’s like I’ve discovered a Thai gene that lay dormant since my birth. I suddenly can’t get enough of the stuff, yet I’m somewhat of a late bloomer in this country of Thai food lovers. I am surrounded by markets, food stores and supermarkets selling an abundance of Thai ingredients and vividly-coloured summer fruits and vegetables. My days of würst, French cheeses and mashed potato are long gone (although it probably won’t be long before I’m back on the cheese, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself with that one!). Instead it’s hello to Pad Thai, Penang curry and my new favourite ‘after school’ snack – avocado on pita bread with chilli, lime and coriander, of course! One night, when I just couldn’t take any more coconut milk and yet my tastebuds still hankered for the chilli, lime and coriander combo, I created this delightfully easy and very refreshing salad, with a comforting side of sweet potato chips. This simple little salad has something for everyone … a bit of sweetness, a hit of sour limeyness and a good kick of spice, making this a very worthy main meal type of salad.
I large sweet potato
extra virgin olive oil
4 large squid tubes
juice of 1-2 limes
1-2 red chillies, finely sliced
½ bunch fresh coriander, chopped
1 iceberg lettuce
2/3 cup whole-egg mayonnaise
sea salt and ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Wash and then cut the sweet potato into wedge-sized pieces, leaving the skin on. Place the potatoes onto a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Season the potatoes well and dust with the cumin. Toss the potatoes around in the tray so that they are all well coated and then place the tray in the oven. Allow these to cook for at least 30 minutes, so that they’re nice and crispy and super sweet.
While the potatoes are baking, rinse the squid tubes, then pat them dry and place them on a chopping board. Cut the squid roughly into rectangular pieces, about 10 cm x 5 cm sized pieces. Be sure to remove any stringy bits and then score the squid on one side and place in a large bowl. Add a good drizzle of olive oil, juice of one and bit limes, two thirds of the coriander, chopped chilli and a generous amount of seasoning, then stir well to coat the squid. Cover with cling wrap and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Carefully tear the lettuce leaves so that you have large lettuce cups. Wash and dry the leaves, then arrange these on 2 to 3 plates, depending on how hungry you are and how many others you wish to share this meal with. Dice the avocado and mango into generously-sized (and skin-free!) pieces, and scatter these into each of the lettuce-cup covered plates.
Make a chip dipping sauce by combining the mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, ground coriander and juice of half a lime. I started with about half a teaspoon of each of the pepper and coriander, but be sure to taste as you go and add more of the spices and/or lime juice if necessary. Season with salt and if you wish, add some chilli flakes or powder.
Using a lightly-oiled griddle pan, fry the squid on a high heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden. Once cooked, set aside to cool for a few minutes, then distribute the squid pieces onto each plate, scattering the remaining fresh coriander over the top of each salad. Place some of the sweet potato chips on the side of each salad with a good dollop of mayonnaise on top. Enjoy with the fan on and a lovely, cold beer!