Tom Kitchin: Enjoy the flavours of spring

THERE is such a wealth of glorious ingredients at their seasonal best in spring.

Tom Kitchin. Picture: Contributed
Tom Kitchin. Picture: Contributed

Often, preparing them very simply can be the best way to enjoy the flavours and combinations of the season in all their glory. Salads are a wonderful way to showcase delicious, fresh produce and without too much preparation, you can let all of the wonderful seasonal flavours shine through.

What I love about spring and summer salads is the colour you get on the plate using a selection of vegetables and garnishes. The combinations are endless. Salads are a great spring side, but they can also make a filling lunch or dinner if you add some smoked fish, chicken, potatoes, cheese, grains or pulses. My blue cheese and walnut salad is packed with fresh ingredients that add up to an eye-catching, tasty and satisfying combination.

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It’s worth thinking about making up your own salad dressings too – enough so you can save and store them for next time. They are so much tastier when you make them yourself and it means you can create dressings to suit your own taste. All salad dressings start with a combination of oil and vinegar, so once you master one recipe you will find most of them easy.

Smoked mackerel salad with Michaela's honey mustard dressing. Picture: Marc Millar Photography
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My wife Michaela makes a fantastic Swedish honey mustard dressing which is the perfect accompaniment to this mackerel salad. It tastes wonderfully fresh and light with the smoked fish dishes that are popular in Scandinavian cooking.

Mackerel is a superb addition to salads. It’s one of my favourite fish, and I have such fond memories of catching my first off the west coast as a young lad, when we visited places like Arisaig, Lochinver and Drumbeg on our holidays. There’s something incredibly satisfying about catching mackerel. Often, you can catch quite a few at once and coming across a shoal is incredibly rewarding.

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But the most satisfying part is when you prepare and eat them later. The flavour from mackerel can be quite strong, especially when it’s been smoked, so it makes the perfect addition to bring salads to life.

BLUE CHEESE AND WALNUT SALAD

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Serves four

• 100g blue cheese (50g for the dressing and 50g to crumble over the salad)

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• 300g crème fraîche

• 1 tsp honey

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• salt (Maldon) and pepper to taste

• 4 chicory bulbs

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• 1 tsp olive oil

• 100g walnuts

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• sugar – to coat the walnuts

• 1 head of celery

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• 1 green apple – cut into batons

• 8 radishes – sliced

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• 8 asparagus spears, with their woody bases snapped off and the lower stalks peeled, then each spear cut down the middle

Method

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To prepare the dressing, in a bowl break up 50g of the blue cheese with a fork. Add the crème fraîche and salt and pepper and mix until completely combined. Add the teaspoon of honey and then mix through.

Toast the walnuts in the oven for 5 minutes at 180C/Gas Mark 4. Remove from the oven and toss in sugar. Return to the oven and cook for a further 3-5 minutes.

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To prepare the chicory, trim the root end of the chicory bulbs, separate the leaves and place in a bowl. Dress the leaves with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Chop the celery, asparagus, radishes and green apple.

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Layer up the salad with apple batons, asparagus spears, celery, radishes, walnuts and crushed blue cheese, then drizzle over the blue cheese dressing to serve.

SMOKED MACKEREL SALAD WITH MICHAELA’S HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING

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Serves four

• 600g baby new potatoes

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• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 4 free-range medium eggs

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• 4 smoked mackerel fillets, about 100g each

• 1 avocado

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• 1 red onion, peeled and sliced

• 4 baby gem lettuces, halved lengthways

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• 250g cherry tomatoes, halved

• olive oil to drizzle

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• 4 cooked beetroot, sliced

• Honey mustard dressing

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• 2 tbsp Dijon mustard

• 2 tsp caster sugar

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• 2 tsp white wine vinegar

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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• 150ml vegetable oil

• 2 tsp chopped dill

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Method

First make the dressing. Mix the mustard, sugar, white wine vinegar and some salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Now slowly add the oil, whisking or stirring vigorously as you do so to emulsify and thicken the sauce (an electric hand whisk is ideal for this). Stir in the chopped dill and set aside.

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Cook the baby potatoes in boiling salted water for 12-15 minutes until just tender. Meanwhile, boil the eggs in water to cover for 8 minutes.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and thickly slice them. When the eggs are cooked, drain and refresh under cold running water, then peel and cut in half.

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Break the mackerel fillets into big chunks. Halve, stone and peel the avocado, then cut into slices.

Put the potatoes into a large bowl with the red onion, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and avocado. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toss gently.

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Divide the beetroot, dressed salad and smoked mackerel among plates and add the hard-boiled egg halves. Spoon over the honey mustard dressing, grind over some pepper and serve.