I recently visited my dear friend, Lois, and as usual we got talking about food. She was all ears when I mentioned this particular salad. With her sister and brother-in-law arriving from Canada to stay with her for three weeks, and with the added challenge of them being vegans, Lois explained to me that she had been trying out a range of recipes but was becoming a little stuck for ideas. She asked if I could please send her the recipe ahead of posting it (perhaps knowing that I am not the most frequent of bloggers and may take a while to put this one up!), so hopefully I have made it in time before the visitors arrive.
This vibrant and refreshing salad has not been made for the masses in the way that other salads I make have. I have mostly made it at home, for two loved ones over the years, as a perfect accompaniment to a bold main of fried prawns with chorizo, garlic and chilli. Served with crusty bread, this meal has featured on many a Saturday night in my life. It is a personal favourite, with the strong aniseed flavour of the fennel, mellowed by the sweet pieces of orange and brown sugar infused dressing.
It is fitting then, that I took this salad along to a barbecue at Dani and Rob’s, my long-time, treasured friends. You may remember them from the post about the haloumi, asparagus and roast capsicum salad, which I took along to one of their famed barbeques last year. There is a lot that has been said and can be said about what constitutes ‘family’. I have been fortunate to feel very much a part of the Fitton and Goodman families, the respective families of Dani and Rob. The Fittons I have known since I was 13 years old, a young girl with a penchant for reading the Melway (the Melbourne street directory), as recalled by Deidre, Dani’s mum, at this particular barbecue. The Goodman’s, Rob’s dad and step-mum, welcomed me into their Wiltshire home quite recently, where I stayed for three lovely weeks hoping they might adopt me so I could finally live out my Jane Austen fantasy life in the English countryside.
Like me, I hope you make this one with a little extra love, for the ones dear to you and the families you are fortunate to be part of, biological or otherwise. Lois, I hope you enjoy this and all of your other vegan delights, but more importantly, the precious time with your sister.
approx. 180 g mixed salad, including butter lettuce leaves
I large or 2 small fennel bulbs
2 large, ripe oranges
good handful of raw macadamia nuts
1/3 cup freshly shaved Manchego cheese (leave out for the vegan version)
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 cup walnut or macadamia oil
3-4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons brown sugar
sea salt and ground black pepper
Wash and thoroughly dry the salad leaves, then place in a large salad bowl. I like to tear the leaves rather than chop them, and leave them large and natural looking. Cut the stalks off the fennel, setting them aside, then remove the top layer. Slice the fennel widthways, as thinly as possible, then scatter the pieces over the salad. You want these quite thin so that the dressing properly infuses the pieces and combats some of the bitterness. Slice the stalks up also after removing the fronds (the leafy bits that look a little like dill) and add them to the salad. Cut the oranges in half, widthways, then remove the flesh by cutting off rough pieces. I cut the orange up while still attached to the orange so as to leave a little flesh on the skin. Set the pieces aside and squeeze any juice from the fleshy skin directly over the fennel pieces. This will soften them and draw out some of the bitterness while you prepare the rest of the salad. Add the orange pieces, macadamia nuts and Manchego cheese to the salad. You could use parmesan or another hard, bitey cheese in this salad for a non-vegan version, just please freshly shave it – I promise it tastes better. The yummy Spanish Manchego cheese is a good option for this salad, with its nutty, earthy and bitey flavours. Scatter half of the fresh parsley over the salad as well as the fronds, which you can chop up roughly before adding. Season the salad just a little.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients plus the remaining parsley, and whisk together or shake well in a jar. This is a big, familia-sized quantity, so for two people you could just about halve the ingredient quantities, perhaps excepting the macadamia nuts because they’re so delicious. Enjoy with your vegan and carnivorous loved ones alike!