I love spring. The balmy weather, the jaunt that unconsciously becomes part of people's step, and the explosion in the garden and the opportunity this provides for lighter and brighter cooking. These recipes are a celebration of all things anew – the refresh we are all seeking right now amid the gloom. They involve a smacking of herbs and lemon with enough hearty hits to feel like a meal as we transition to the new season.
Grilled chicken with spring green tabbouleh and tarragon dressing
Spring. In. A. Bowl.
- 400g chicken thighs
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- zest of 1 lemon
- pinch of chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp oregano leaves, coarsely torn
- 50ml lemon juice
- 50ml olive oil
- 2 heaped tbsp finely grated parmesan
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp tarragon leaves, finely chopped (sub another soft green herb if unavailable)
- 100ml yoghurt
Spring green tabbouleh
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 head of cauliflower (about 500g), trimmed and roughly chopped into a mix of florets and chunks
- 1 bunch asparagus spears, stems finely diced, tips left whole and reserved
- 1 zucchini, very finely diced
- 1 cup buckwheat, cooked
- 2 tbsp capers
- 3 tsp caster sugar
- juice and zest of 1 lemon
- ½ cup smoked almonds, chopped
- 1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- ½ cup loosely packed mint leaves, finely chopped
- ½ cup loosely packed basil leaves, finely chopped
- lemon wedges, to serve
- Add the chicken, garlic, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, lemon zest, chilli and oregano to a bowl. Toss to coat the chicken in the mixture then cover and marinate in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight (this is not a must-do if time is short, but it will deepen the flavour of the chicken).
- Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate if preparing ahead or set aside until ready to serve.
- Place a large frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and once hot, add the garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly golden. Add the chopped cauliflower plus any little bits from the chopping board and cook for 2-3 minutes – you don't want to cook it to mush but you do want to remove that raw taste. Transfer to a plate and return the pan to the heat.
- Add the diced asparagus and zucchini and cook for 1 minute. Return the cauliflower and the cooked buckwheat to the pan and cook just until the buckwheat has lightly warmed through – it should be warm to the touch. Transfer to a bowl with the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, capers, sugar and lemon juice and zest – be sure to add these elements while the salad is warm. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, season generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Return the same frying pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and once hot, add the chicken, being careful not to overcrowd the pan, and cook for 3-4 minutes each side or until lightly golden, crisp and cooked through. Slice the chicken into bite-sized slices.
- Add the almonds and chopped herbs to the buckwheat and cauliflower. Toss to distribute the fresh greens through the mixture.
- Turn out onto a serving plate and drizzle with some of the dressing. Top with the chicken and reserved asparagus tops. Season again with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Photo: Katrina Meynink
Charred zucchini with harissa yoghurt and pistachio dukkah
I love the contrast of fresh and charry caramelised zucchini in this salad, and the harissa yoghurt makes for the perfect base. The change in textures from soft and crisp zucchini to crunchy nuts and smooth yoghurt and chewy cranberries make this a brilliant and interesting salad to serve alongside all manner of proteins. If you wanted to increase its heft, add some quinoa for bulk and skip the additional proteins altogether. This is very easy and should be high on your spring rotation.
- 1 cup Greek-style yoghurt
- 1 tbsp harissa (or to taste)
- 6-8 medium zucchini
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup dried cranberries to scatter
- a few sprigs baby watercress, torn
- ½ cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
- ½ cup pistachio kernels
- ½ cup almonds
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
- For the dukkah, add the pistachios and almonds to a blender and pulse to a rough crumb – do this briefly, don't overwork the nuts or they will release their oils and turn the dukkah to a sad, non-crunchy mess.
- Combine the pulsed nuts in a bowl with the sesame seeds, cumin and coriander seeds. Season with salt and pepper then set aside. (This makes more than you need – store leftovers in an airtight container for future use.)
- In a small bowl, combine the yoghurt and harissa and set aside.
- Peel 2 of the zucchinis into ribbons. Squeeze over the lemon juice.
- Slice the remaining zucchini lengthways. The thickness doesn't matter as much as consistency – they should be relatively the same thickness to ensure even cooking.
- Place a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and once hot, add the zucchini slices in a single layer and cook for 1-2 minutes each side or until nicely caramelised – you want them to retain some bite rather than cook all the way through.
- While the zucchini were cooking, dollop the harissa yoghurt over the base of a large serving tray or platter. Add the fresh zucchini ribbons and spoonfuls of dukkah. Layer over the charred zucchini and scatter with cranberries, watercress and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Serves 2 (or 4-6 as a side)
Steak salad with freekeh, spring greens and spicy mustard dressing
What I love about this salad is that any hearty grain will do – it's not the go-and-purchase-specifically kind of salad, rather, delve into the pantry and find a grain to suit. I chose freekeh for its brilliant chewiness – it's a great contrast to the pumpkin, sweet and tart orange, charred steak and creamy bitey dressing.
- ¾ cup freekeh
- vegetable stock to cover (about 2 cups)
- ½ small butternut pumpkin, seeds and pulp removed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 300g eye fillet, at room temperature
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- ½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- ½ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 blood orange, peeled, segmented and sliced into bite-size pieces
- ¼ cup pomegranate arils
- pea shoots (tendrils) and edible flowers to scatter (optional, replace with watercress if unavailable)
Spicy mustard dressing
- ⅓ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup apple juice
- ½-¾ cup olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional).
- Add the mustard dressing ingredients to a bowl, starting with ½ cup of the oil, and adding more if required. Whisk to combine – it should emulsify and become creamy. Set aside.
- Add the freekeh to a medium-sized saucepan. Slowly add the stock until the liquid sits about 2cm above the grains. Bring to the boil and then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until just cooked through – it should still have some bite. Keep an eye on it as the stock evaporates – you don't want grains sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once cooked, cover with the lid and let the grains steam in the residual heat for about 3-5 minutes.
- While the freekeh is cooking, chop the pumpkin into even-sized chunks and place on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until lightly golden. Allow to cool on the tray.
- Once the pumpkin and grains have cooled, add to a large bowl and gently toss to combine.
- Place a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and once very hot, add the steaks, and sear on one side for up to 3 minutes before turning and cooking for an additional 1-2 minutes or until cooked to your liking. Remove from pan and allow to rest for 3 minutes.
- While the steak is resting, add the herbs, orange and pomegranate to the grain and pumpkin mixture and toss gently.
- Transfer the salad onto a serving platter. Slice the steak along the grain and place on top. Spoon over some of the dressing, season with salt and pepper and serve.
Photo: Katrina Meynink
Soupy lamb meatballs with fennel, cous cous and spring greens
This is the no man's land of spring dinners and perfect for now. It's warming and comforting; soupy for those of us still in the last grips of cold and bright enough in flavour and herb action to have us hurtling into the warmer months. Regardless of where you fall, this is rich and light in equal measure. Be careful with these meatballs – the addition of dairy makes them softer than many other recipes, so allow for those first few minutes of cooking before gently turning them.
- 800g lamb mince
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
- ½ cup dill fronds, very finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
- pinch chilli flakes
- ½ cup Greek-style yoghurt (or sour cream)
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small brown onion, finely diced
- 1 small fennel, half very finely diced, half finely sliced for serving
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup tinned diced tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups Israeli cous cous, cooked
- ½ cup Persian-style feta
- about 2 cups mixed spring greens and herbs (I used ½ cup each of peas, sugar snap peas, dill, watercress and flat-leaf parsley)
- Add the meatball ingredients to a large bowl and use your hands to incorporate. Roll the mixture into balls roughly the size of golf balls.
- Place a high-sided frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and once hot, add the onion and sweat for 1-2 minutes. Add the fennel and cook for a further minute until soft and fragrant. Add the white wine, tinned tomatoes and chicken stock and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes – you want to concentrate the flavours but not have too much liquid evaporate.
- While the soup is simmering, place another frying pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and once hot, add the meatballs, cooking for 1-2 minutes until they begin to take on colour, then gently turn them to colour on all sides until just cooked through, about another 5 minutes. It is always worth sacrificing a meatball – break it apart and check the centre is just cooked.
- Add the cooked cous cous to the soup mixture to warm through, then divide the mixture between serving bowls. Top with some meatballs, scatter with feta, sliced fennel and assorted spring greens and herbs. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve while piping hot.