A Scandi-Middle Eastern seafood salad sounds like an odd concoction, I know. I had a lot of time to think about this one, as the recipient of a lovely virus that lasted for nearly three weeks and kept me in a forced state of idleness/semi-madness.
I am dedicating this salad to my mum, for a few reasons. Firstly, because in the second week of feeling plain horrible and very sorry for myself, I reached out to my mum, with the hope that she might be free and willing to look after her very grown-up daughter. And as always, Mum didn’t hesitate to invite me over for soup, movies and much-needed TLC. I gratefully accepted, and ended up staying for a couple of days, while she brought me cups of tea, fed me soup and cried with me while watching sad Danish movies starring her current man crush, Mads Mikkelson (the freaky guy with one blue and one brown eye in the latest Bond films… surprisingly cute when sporting iris’s of the same colour!). Mum’s home is straight out of Home Beautiful magazine (of which she has many issues that I happily flicked through in between sleep and Danish films), filled with plants, cushions, throws, family photos and an ever-growing collection of white IKEA furnishings, that always makes me feel as though I’ve landed in a cottage in the Hamptons.
Not so neutral and Hamptons-esque, is my mum’s cooking, the second reason why this salad is dedicated to her. Take the soup she fed me endless amounts of. What she claimed to be a minestrone-type soup, was actually more like a Middle Eastern borscht. It was purple, thanks to beetroot domination, and loaded with spices and so many flavours that my numbed palette had a momentary waking from the dead with each spoonful. Mum’s food is such that one never quite knows what goes into it; there is never a recipe and usually there are more than 15 ingredients present. Yet, more often than not her food is delicious, full of flavour and love. There have been some misses though (sorry Mum!). Like the dessert pastitsio. Pastitsio is a delicious Greek baked dish of penne mixed with a hearty, Bolognese-style sauce, then topped with béchamel sauce. Mum’s rendition is beautiful, probably the best I’ve had (sorry Yiayia!). Except for one time, when she added so much sugar to the sauce that it was actually sickly sweet. There have been other times where everything from the spice rack has gone into a dish, sometimes making sense, and sometimes not. I like to think I inherited my mum’s love of bold, flavoursome food, whilst erring a little on my dad’s side, with his taste for slightly plainer foods. My Yiayia claims my love of cooking is all down to her (she’s a humble one, that grandmother of mine!), but while she loves to travel to Vietnam with Luke Nguyen via her television set, her food remains traditionally and deliciously Greek. My mum certainly embraces her Egyptian birthplace when cooking, with nods to my father’s Spanish-Moroccan heritage, as well as including a little taste of India, China, England, France, Hungary, Thailand and the rest of the world! As kids we were not limited to one style of cuisine, and were encouraged to try everything, and for this I am very grateful to my mum.
So, it was with the spirit that I thought up my very own salad de confusión! While couch-ridden at Mum’s and discussing the Greek Easter menu, it came to my attention that seafood, my favourite, had long been off the menu. I thought long and hard about a way to combine my favourite flavours in a way that didn’t overly confuse, offend or rely on the old thousand-island dressing. As one envisions a room makeover or a perfect first-date outfit, I pieced together the makings of my ultimate seafood salad, with a gentle Swedish touch and a serious hit of Egyptian/Moroccan flavours. It’s not a cheap salad to make, and each component needs a little love to really bring it to life, but if you want to inject some vibrancy into a family feast, please skip the seafood highlighter salad with cocktail sauce and give this one a try.
200 g smoked salmon
200 g cooked prawns, with shells and tails removed
150 g rocket salad mix
150-200 g goat’s cheese
1 large pita bread
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
seeds of ½ pomegranate
juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons raw pistachio nuts, shelled
1-2 tablespoons sumac
3-4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander and parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons Egyptian dukkah
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of half an orange
1 teaspoon brown sugar
sea salt and black pepper
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare the smoked salmon by placing a layer of salmon in a bowl, then sprinkling with dill, lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper. Place another layer of salmon on top and continue the process, until each piece of salmon has been lovingly imbued with the dill, lemon and pepper, using almost all of the dill and juice of one lemon. Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Rinse the prawns and then pat dry. Place in a bowl and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top. Cover and refrigerate with the salmon.
Place the goat’s cheese in a bowl or plastic container. I bought an inexpensive, non-marinated, non-ashed log of French goat’s cheese to marinate myself, rather than buying the more expensive variety. For the marinade, I added about a third of a cup of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon juice as well as some rind, a sprinkling of dill, about a teaspoon of sumac and some pepper. Sumac is a tangy spice made from the dried fruit of sumac shrubs and gives a great Middle Eastern zing to this cheese.
Tear the pita bread into small pieces and place on a lined baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil or spray with a little olive oil spray. Season the pieces well and sprinkle the remaining sumac. Place in the hot oven for approximately 7-10 minutes, or until the pieces are golden. Set aside to cool.
Make the dressing by combining all ingredients and whisking together.
Wash and thoroughly dry the rocket salad and place on a large serving tray or in a large salad bowl. As artfully as possible, arrange the prawns and smoked salmon amongst the leaves and then add the pita crisps and marinated goat’s cheese. Scatter the pistachio nuts and pomegranate seeds on top, the top with the herbs and sparingly add the dressing. There will be a lot of flavour, not to mention salad, going on, so go easy with the dressing on this one. Oh, and don’t forget to add the lovely dukkah on top! I assembled this at my Yiayia’s, who happened to have a jar of home-made Egyptian dukkah on hand. It’s delicious stuff, and gives added crunch to the salad.
To my mum, who has probably never thought to ‘go easy’ with her cooking or her love and care for all of us, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for all that you’ve taught me, in and out of the kitchen. I love you lots xx