A lot of our preconceptions about healthy, diet food centre on Mediterranean fruit and vegetables, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers rather than Northern European turnips and potatoes. In essence though, those things never taste as good in the midst of a British winter as the ought to, and perhaps that’s why everyone struggles with their January resolutions of eating healthily. When it comes to winter produce, the kneejerk reaction is to use it for stews and stodgier fare that seems less healthy. Of course, root vegetables are still healthy and this recipe is the result of a little brainstorming session, trying to think of some good seasonal ideas for blog content. I had quite a few ideas for warm salads like this one so I’ll be sharing one a week for the next month.
I struggled a little when thinking of what leaves were available at this time of year and settled on using bitter chicory. It’s not to everyone’s taste on its own but is softened by the sweetness of the other ingredients and supposedly, bitter foods is one of those trends to watch out for in 2015. Combining the chicory with orange was a flavour pairing I really wanted to try out to add colour and sweetness to the dish, then with the addition of the beetroot for yet more colour and some body (and using the pre-cooked, vacuum-sealed variety from the supermarket makes this really speedy to put together).
The smoked fish was the last element I decided on using, even though typically we build our meals around a central protein element. I’ve written before about smoked fish in general, and I always intend to eat much more of it but usually I don’t know how best to show it off in dishes. I recently spotted a Jack Monroe recipe in the paper for smoked mackerel macaroni cheese, similar to mine using smoked salmon, and it had put the idea of using some kind of smoked fish in a dish like this. I settled on cod mostly because of the pale colour, in contrast to the brightness of the orange and beetroot, so whilst cheaper and packing just as much flavour, I felt more grey-fleshed kippers or smoked mackerel or lurid dyed smoked haddock wouldn’t look as good on the table (which makes all the difference on the internet, where my less-than-perfect photography is all you have to go on). Salads hinge on flavour combinations though, so substitutions are always welcomed.
The same applies to the fruit and vegetables too. Chicory could be swapped for shredded cabbage. The orange could be replaced with pomegranate seeds or pomelo for an Asian twist. Plain boiled beetroot could be roasted carrots or cubes of celeriac. There are limitless possibilities to food, and that’s what makes it so interesting to me – and I’d love to read how you might go about tweaking this combination yourself in the comments!
For the dressing
Bring a wide, lidded saucepan of water to the boil (it should be deep enough to cover the piece of cod). Once boiling, carefully lower the fish into the pan, cover with the lid and remove from the heat source: the residual heat will cook the fish through while you prepare the rest of the salad’s components.
Using a sharp knife, remove the top and bottom of the orange and cut away the peel around the sides to expose flesh. Cut out the segments, avoiding as much of the pith and membrane as you can. Reserve any juice, and squeeze out excess from the remains of the orange for the dressing. Cut the chicory halfway between the root end and the tip. Separate the leaves from the top, shred the bottom half finely and set aside before dicing the beetroot into small cubes.
To make the dressing, mix together the oil, 1 tbsp of the vinegar, the mustard and orange juice until emulsified. Taste it and add more vinegar if necessary (it will depend on the acidity of both your orange and mustard) as well as the salt and pepper.
Remove the cod from the pan, and allow excess water to drain briefly before breaking it up into flakes and bitesize chunks. To assemble, use the chicory to line the plate and add the cod and orange segments on top. Drizzle over the dressing and finally sprinkle on the beetroot pieces last so as not to stain the other ingredients pink! Serves 3-4.