Salad Days

I used to hate salad. I never ordered it in restaurants, because it was always a massive bowl of bland Little Gem and one sad, white piece of chicken, bulked out with stale croutons. No thank you!

No so, anymore. As our awareness of healthy foods and the need for more fruit and vegetables in our diet grows, as well as a better understanding of seasonality, it seems salads are making a comeback. And nowhere more so, than at the amazing Organic Farm Shop, near us in Cirencester. One of the first fully organic farms, and a real pioneer in promoting the benefits of an organic, vegetarian life, The Organic Farm Shop has become a local mecca for healthy, interesting food and the epitome of grow-your-own, seasonal produce.

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Their cafe salads are the best example of their approach to great, seasonal and healthy, food and have revolutionised my ideas about what constitutes a salad – quinoa, herbs and fruit, roasted beetroot and yoghurt, satay and cauliflower, lentils and balsamic drizzle, raw coleslaw, sprouting beans, homemade houmous.

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So popular are their salads that they run courses throughout the year, featuring the best seasonal recipes and dishes, with produce grown on the farm, hoping to pass on their love of food and their unique approach to making vegetables come alive. It’s a fascinating morning and one I was lucky enough to attend in June, as a present for my birthday.

A group of eight of us gathered in their lovely airy education kitchen, sipping tea, while one of the farm apprentice gardeners talked us through the morning’s produce, picked at dawn that day. There was everything from cauliflower, carrots and cabbages, to huge bunches of muddy beetroot and bright green broccoli. Seasonal peas, leaves and fresh fruit nestled next to sweet potatoes, baby red onions and courgettes, complete with their flowers. An entire box of herbs and flowers was a real delight, reigniting my desire to grow as many herbs as I can in the garden – fennel tops, sorrell and chervil were especially tasty and pungent.

Armed with our ingredients we gathered around the central table, and began chopping, slicing and boiling in earnest. We made a total of ten salads and four dressings that morning, in a four hour period, so it went very quickly, and there was a lot to take in. Our lovely course leader Emma brought everything together with consumate skill, imparting both her wisdom and her passion for this kind of cooking.

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I doubt they want me to reveal all their secrets here – the courses and popular and it’s really worth going on one – but some of the fantastic things I learnt were:

  • Roasted cauliflower with turmeric – just sprinkle the turmeric liberally on cauliflower florets and roast for 20-30mins. Delicious eaten hot or cold.
  • Use Agave Syrup – as an alternative to honey, weet but not cloying and much healthier, it works very well in dressings
  • Balsamic Dressing – mix equal amounts of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then add a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard and a tablespoon of agave, whisk with a fork to emulsify
  • Black Speckled Lentils – so much cheaper and so much tastier than Puy lentils. Cover with water and cook on a medium heat for about 30 minutes, then drain and leave to cool, they will continue to cook. Dress with balsamic dressing
  • Yoghurt Dressing – 250ml of organic yoghurt, 1 tbsp of agave, 1 tbsp of wholegrain mustard, a little water, twist of pepper, stir well
  • Colouful Coleslaw – grated carrot, shredded red cabbage, lots of chopped chives (use these instead of onions),  mix in the yoghurt dressing, then finish with pumpkins seeds and sprouted mung beans
  • Roasted beetroot – remove the stalks, but keep the skins on, and quarter. Toss in rapeseed oil and roast for 45 minutes or so. Dress with thick yoghurt, mixed with half a clove of garlic, a dash of olive oil and some fresh mint.

The course works only with seasonal vegetables, so it’s worth going back a couple of times a year if you can, and if you’re growing your own vegetables it’s also a great place to get inspiration for next years crop! Details of all the courses, including prices, are here.

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