Seasonal eating is all about using simple, fresh ingredients to create mouth watering dishes and that is what I hoped to achieve when making my Chicken, Watercress and Baby Leaf Spinach Salad. Here, the ingredients stand alone; with minimal preparation and little fuss, their flavours burst through to create a wonderfully succulent and colourful meal for you and a loved one to feast on.
In years past, eating in line with the natural cycles of the year was our only option. These were the years before supermarkets stocked every variety of fruit, vegetables and meats, regardless of their heritage and their seasonality.
Eating with the seasons can do more for us – in terms of health, cost and flavour – than we ever imagined. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are fresher, taste superior and are better for you, not least because they are at their nutritional peak. Not only are seasonal fruit and veg packed with vitamins and minerals, but also the micronutrients that give ripe crops their delicious flavour and aroma are at their best. As anyone who has ever caught an apple straight from the tree, or picked strawberries from laden, syrupy fields will know; food that has been picked both locally and recently casts a weighty shadow over fruit and vegetables that have been sprayed, varnished, packed in transit for weeks and flown half way around the world in a giant fridge container, obviously.
We know that eating seasonally is better for us; helps sustain our local producers and cuts down on uneconomical and unecological expenditure, so what is stopping us all being seasonal eaters? The answer is that for most people, although eating in a seasonal way is a real boon, it is not always easy to maintain. Resourcing local food suppliers, chefs, recipes and restaurants takes time and dedication, and this is where the Local Food Advisor comes in. Started in 2008 the Local Food Advisor helps the consumer search for award winning food producers in your area. Their focus is on helping the environment, promoting regional cooking, supporting animal welfare and encouraging the growth of quality ‘local food’ restaurants. On their site www.localfoodadvisor.com you will find recommended producers, suppliers, farmers markets, restaurants and food bloggers, all dedicated to the cause of eating local, sustainable, seasonal foods. All recommendations are tried and tested – being either industry winners, promoted by top chefs or recommended by dedicated food lovers – and give you the opportunity to resource some of the country’s finest foods, or, as the Local Food Advisor puts it, helps you ‘find the best of the best’.
CHICKEN, WATERCRESS and BABY LEAF SPINACH SALAD with TAHINI DRESSING
For the salad
2 medium cooked beetroot
2 skinless chicken breasts
100g watercress, tough stalks removed
50g baby leaf spinach
A small handful of chives
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp soft brown sugar
For the dressing
2 tbsp tahini paste
2 – 3 tbsp water
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp agave syrup
½ clove of garlic, crushed
¼ tsp cumin seeds, ground
Begin by preparing the dressing. Add the tahini paste to a bowl and stir in the water, bit by bit, until you have a smooth, thin paste. Mix in the lemon juice, agave syrup, garlic and cumin and then season to taste – add more lemon or agave to suit your tastes.
Prepare the beetroot by trimming theirs stalks down to 2cm above their tips. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and turn down the heat. Leave to simmer for 45 minutes and then drain. Once cool enough to handle, rinse under a cold tap and simply slide off their skins. Trim the tips and cut in to thin wedges – about 12 per beetroot.
Preheat the oven to 200c (180c Fan) and make three 1cm diagonal cuts in to each chicken breast, making sure not to cut right the way through. Rub the oil, ground coriander and soft brown sugar in to the chicken and season well. Place the chicken in a small roasting pan and cook in the oven for 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to sit in the still warm pan while you prepare the salad.
Combine the watercress, baby spinach and chives (leave the chives whole, so that you can discover long threads of them in the salad) and place on to two large plates or bowls and scatter over the sliced beetroot. Move the chicken to a chopping board and slice the chicken in to 1cm widths. Layer the chicken on to the watercress salad and drizzle over the spiced tahini dressing.