Chicken livers with sumac, currants and radicchio.
Chicken livers with sumac, currants and radicchio. Photo: Marina Oliphant

From a bowl of dressed leaves to the focal point of a meal, salads are as important to me as more glamorous hero proteins, lifting a meal and adding complexity, contrast and refreshment.

Chicken livers with sumac, currants and radicchio

Chicken livers are one of those foods you need to convince people about. This salad, with its sweet, sour and bitter accents and lemony punch of sumac, is a perfect vehicle for the rich and uniquely textured livers, and is more than a little convincing.

3 large pita breads, cut in large triangles

100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra

40ml red wine vinegar

3 tbsp currants

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small red onion, sliced in half moons

Salt flakes

1/2 lemon

2 tbsp heaped ground sumac, plus extra to serve (see tip)

1 small dense head radicchio, roughly shredded or torn

2 handfuls coriander leaves

400g trimmed chicken livers (to trim, remove the white connective tissue), soaked in milk to cover for 30 minutes to purge

Butter

2 tbsp heaped pinenuts, toasted

3 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1. Open the pita triangles into diamonds, spread out on a baking tray, drizzle oil over and bake at 180C fan-forced for about six minutes or until crisp, then cool.

2. Add the vinegar and currants to a small pot, bring to the boil quickly, then take off the heat.

3. In a small bowl, season the onion, add the juice of half a lemon and the sumac and toss together.

4. In a large bowl, combine 50 millilitres of the oil with the currants and vinegar, season lightly and toss through the radicchio and coriander.

5. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat until very hot. Drain the livers and pat dry with paper towel. Coat the livers with the remaining oil, season generously with salt and pepper and fry for about a minute - do this in batches so the livers stay separate and fry rather than stew. Turn over, add a knob of butter and cook for another minute or so - the butter will start to brown. Cook the livers to medium-firm, but still pink in the middle.

6. Toss the cooked livers through the salad and pile on top of the shards of pita. Scatter over the onion and pinenuts, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, sprinkle with a little extra sumac and serve immediately.

Tip: Sumac is a tangy, lemony Middle Eastern spice, available at good spice shops.

Drink: Chenin blanc

Serves: 4

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Fennel and orange salad with currants and olives

Fennel and navel oranges are both at their best in winter and happen to be delicious together. This refreshing salad is great with braised or slow-roasted lamb or pork.

80ml red wine vinegar

80g currants

Pinch chilli flakes

1/2 large red onion, finely diced

80ml extra virgin olive oil

80g black olives, pitted

1 large bulb fennel

3 navel oranges

4 sprigs mint, picked

Salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small pot bring the vinegar, currants and a good pinch of chilli flakes to the simmer for a minute or two. Take off the heat, add the onion, oil and olives, mix through and allow to sit - the currants will plump up and the onion will soften.

2. Slice the fennel into wedges about one centimetre thick. Peel and slice the oranges into similar-sized rounds.

3. Add the fennel, orange slices and mint to a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and toss together. Tip into a serving bowl, and dress with the currant and olive mix.

Drink: Vermentino

Serves: 4-6 as a side

 

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Shaved fennel and artichoke salad

Once you've got the knack of preparing artichokes, this delicious salad is simple to make and makes a great accompaniment to chargrilled meat or fish. You will need a mandolin or similar slicer as the artichoke must be cut paper-thin.

3 large globe artichokes - choose those with thick stems

100ml extra virgin olive oil

2 lemons, 1 juiced, the other cut in half

Salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 large bulb fennel, reserve the green fronds

50g parmigiano reggiano, finely grated

Handful toasted walnuts, crushed

1. To prepare the artichokes, remove most of the outer leaves until you see the

light-yellow flesh. Cut off the top five centimetres. Trim the stalk to about five centimetres long and pare away the outer skin of the stalk to reveal the light-green inner flesh. You should end up with a thick disc attached to a slender stem. Remove any remaining tough outer leaves until it is a nice even yellow. Scoop out the hairy choke from the centre and immediately rub the entire surface of the artichoke with the cut lemon to stop discolouration.

2. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

3. Using a mandolin, slice the artichokes lengthways very finely and toss through the dressing.

4. Slice the fennel lengthways a little thicker than the artichokes. Mix with the reserved fennel fronds and lay on your serving plate. Spread the artichoke slices on top of the fennel, pouring the dressing over the top. Finish with a generous scattering of parmigiano and the crushed walnuts.

Drink: Semillon

Serves: 6 as a side