I like to think of Christmas salads as simultaneously the ultimate guest and host. They need to hold their own at a table as much as they need to play nicely and get along well with others. These salads do exactly that. The flavours are fresh and very, very robust and better yet, most of them survive quite well, they have plenty of staying power should your meal be long and languid.
Pumpkin, green bean and black rice salad with lemon thyme dressing
None of us need any more drama in our lives (yeah thanks, 2020) but I can't say the same for salad. A good salad is a journey in flavour, texture and drama, namely colour. No salad competing at the Christmas table wants to be the wallflower, so here I've thrown in black rice and flowers for texture and dramatic colour. It also tastes ridiculously good which is always a bonus.
- 1kg pumpkin, skin-on, cut into even-sized wedges
- 1½ tbsp olive oil
- 3 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves pulled
- 1 cup black rice
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 5 cups water
Lemon thyme dressing
- 2 small seedless lemons, peeled, halved
- leaves from 3 sprigs lemon thyme
- 100ml olive oil
- 1½ tbsp maple syrup
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 225g green beans, trimmed, blanched and refreshed
- ½ cup cranberries
- ¼ cup dried pomegranate arils (or fresh if you can't find the dried version)
- ½ cup Persian-style feta
- 2 cups mixed salad leaves and herbs (I used basil, mint, dill, salad burnet and spinach)
- ½ cup edible flowers, coarsely torn (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Toss the pumpkin wedges with the olive oil and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over the lemon thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes or until the pumpkin is just soft and caramelised. Allow to cool. Remove the seeds (reserve for another use if you like) and cut the pumpkin into large bite-sized pieces.
- While the pumpkin is cooking, add the rice, stock and water to a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes or until the grains are soft, with a lovely residual nutty bite. Strain and set aside to cool.
- For the dressing, add the ingredients to a blender. Blitz for 1 minute or until the dressing is thick and emulsified. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Add the rice to a large bowl. Add the salad mix ingredients and gently toss to combine. Add the pumpkin pieces and gently toss once more, being careful as the pumpkin is soft. Add to a serving platter and drizzle over the dressing (you will have a little left over). You want enough to coat as people help themselves, without drowning the flavours of your glorious salad. Season again with salt and pepper, scatter with edible flower petals, if using, and serve.
Eggplant, brown rice and quinoa salad with date caramel dressing. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Eggplant, brown rice and quinoa salad with quick pickled onion and a date and ras el hanout dressing
This dressing is salad caramel. It's the perfect accompaniment to the eggplant and pickled onion – complementing while being gutsy enough to hold its own, something you always want from a salad dressing. Many think it's all about what you put in the salad but to me, it's all about the dressing – it's what brings everything together and the final opportunity to add flavour and balance. Think dressing first, salad later. Note: this makes more pickled onions than you need, but it is a handy fridge staple to have on standby.
- 2 eggplants, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup brown rice
- ½ cup red quinoa
Quick pickled onion
- 1 red onion, finely sliced into half moons
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves roughly chopped
- 1 bunch coriander, chopped
- ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 6 fresh dates, pitted and chopped
- 3 tsp ras el hanout
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from about half a medium-sized lemon)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- Preheat oven to 175C fan-forced (195C conventional).
- Place eggplant pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over some sea salt and set aside for 5 minutes. Drizzle over the olive oil then roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Allow to cool.
- Cook the brown rice and quinoa separately, according to packet instructions. You can cook them in vegetable or chicken stock instead of water for additional flavour if you'd like, but it's not a deal breaker. Strain and allow to cool.
- For the quick pickled onions, add all the ingredients to a bowl and give them a gentle stir and set aside. You just want some of that strong bite to subside and once the onion has softened a little, you can be confident they are good to go, about 20 minutes should do it.
- Add the eggplant to a large bowl with the cooled rice and quinoa and toss together. Remove about half the onion pieces from the pickling liquid (reserve the leftovers in the fridge for another use, stored in their liquid) and add to the bowl along with the chopped herbs. Gently toss to combine.
- To make the dressing add all the ingredients to a blender and blitz until creamy in texture and everything is thoroughly combined. Add half the dressing to the salad and toss again. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and dollop over remaining dressing to taste.
A new take on roasted cauliflower salad. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Roasted cauliflower, chickpea and herb salad with harissa and honey dressing
Just when I thought I couldn't bear to see another "roasted cauliflower" anything, I drowned some roasted bits in this harissa dressing and wham, I'm still team cauliflower.
- 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets (don't worry about being uniform with the size)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tbsp cumin seeds
- 400g can chickpeas, rinsed thoroughly under running water
- ½ bunch mint, leaves pulled
- ½ bunch coriander, leaves chopped
- ½ cup sultanas (optional)
- 3 tbsp rose harissa
- juice of ½ lemon
- 7 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp honey (or to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional).
- Line a baking tray with baking paper and arrange the cauliflower florets in a single layer. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle with the cumin seeds. Roast for 40 minutes or until the cauliflower has taken on some colour and is slightly soft to the touch. This can vary with cauliflower so keep an eye on it, and when it looks brown on its little tree canopies, but still has a little resistance to the touch, it's ready. Remove and set aside.
- Once the cauliflower has cooled, add to a serving bowl with the chickpeas, mint, coriander and sultanas. Toss to combine.
- For the dressing add all the ingredients to a blender and whiz for 1 minute or until the dressing has emulsified and is a nice creamy texture.
- Drizzle all of the dressing over the salad, making sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies – this is a treat pooling in and under the chunks of cauliflower. Season generously with salt and pepper and serve.
Fig, roasted onion and sourdough salad with apple dressing
I'm not sure this can even be called a salad because it is completely lacking in anything green, but there are vegetables and fruit and it's completely indulgent and worthy of your Christmas spread, even if just on looks alone. The goat's curd adds a very necessary creamy tart offset to the sweetness of the fig and the slow-roasted onions. It is at its shiny best when served while the bread is still warm and toasty from the oven, with the cheese melting and the dressing being absorbed. Delicious!
- 4 red onions, peeled, quartered
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic glaze
- 2 cups bite-sized chunks of fresh sourdough bread
- 2½ tbsp olive oil
- 6 figs, quartered
- ½ cup pomegranate arils
- 150g goat's curd (ash covered if possible)
- 4 tbsp apple juice
- 2½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Preheat the oven to 160C fan-forced (180C conventional). Line a large baking tray with baking paper and spread out the onion quarters. Drizzle over two tablespoons of olive oil and the balsamic glaze. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 90 minutes. If the onions are taking on too much colour, reduce the heat to 150C fan-forced (170C conventional) and continue to cook.
- Lay the sourdough pieces on a tray lined with baking paper and drizzle with the two and a half tablespoons of olive oil. For the last 10 minutes of cooking the onions, add the sourdough chunks and cook until golden and crisp.
- Allow the onions and bread to cool for a few minutes before adding to a bowl with the fig quarters and pomegranate arils. Very, very gently, using your hands, toss the ingredients to combine. Add to a serving platter and crumble over the goat's curd.
- To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, giving it a minute to seep into the bread. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.