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Cho Cho and Asparagus Spring Salad

Chayote salad or cho cho

While this week might have felt like high summer, it is still only spring. But before you feel too downcast, that means it is asparagus season and although you probably don’t need any excuse to indulge in those gorgeous green spears, this lovely spring salad might introduce you to some vegetables you don’t know just as well.

When I first moved to Brixton, I kept seeing strange kermit-green items that looked like a pear crossed with a sock puppet’s mouth on the stalls in market and was unsure if they were to be eaten as a sweet thing like a fruit or more like a vegetable. In fact I wasn’t even sure what they were called until I was flicking through a Caribbean cookbook and spied a photo of them and discovered the Trinidadians call it christophene and other Caribbean cultures call it a cho cho. (Actually it’s the most named fruit I’ve ever seen…)

Usually served as a side dish, cho chos are unbelievably succulent yet firm fleshed, a little bit like a super-charged courgette. I served them blanched then fried off with a bit of chilli and garlic all last summer, which was delicious, but I made a mental note to branch out a bit this year. I thought their fresh feel would be perfect in a salad and here I’ve combined them with thinly sliced fennel, chargrilled asparagus and green beans all topped off with a parsley and caper salsa verde style dressing which served with some steamed new potatoes and some halloumi made a lovely vegetarian dinner dish, but it would also be perfect alongside some grilled fish.

Cho Cho and Asparagus Spring Salad

  • 1 Cho cho (peeled, cored and quartered)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/2 bulb fennel
  • about the same amount of green beans as asparagus
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of two lemons
  • 2 teaspoons drained capers
  • small glug of olive oil
  • splash of vinegar (anything except malt will do)
  • mustard to combine
  • salt and pepper

Don’t panic about the relaxed amounts above. This is a simple salad but it’s to your tastes so there’s no need to be precise to the gram or ounce.

Peel, core and quarter your cho cho and then boil for about 6 minutes or until it still has some give when poked with a knife. Add the green beans in about 4 minutes from the end and cook til still slightly squeaky and al dente. Drain both. Set the cho cho aside and put the green beans in cold water to keep them from cooking further.

Heat a griddle pan until smoking (or if you happen to have the barbecue going…) and then cook the cho cho until properly seared on each side, adding the asparagus when you turn the cho cho the first time. While that’s cooking away adding tonnes of flavour, slice the fennel as thin as possible with a knife or mandolin.

Then put everything for the dressing in a hand blender except the mustard and blitz until the parsley is finely shredded. See how liquid it is (this will vary with the size of the lemons) and then add as much mustard as you think will combine it into a fairly thick dressing. You could also add anchovies to the dressing if you like their saltiness or leave the capers out and put some mint and garlic in instead.

Once the cho cho is well grilled and the asparagus is smokily charred, add to the drained beans and sliced fennel and drizzle everything with as much dressing as you desire and serve for the freshest dish of the weekend. The cho cho is extremely refreshing and the dressing just explodes with flavour and everything is very healthy but without any sense of denying yourself. All the ingredients are easily available in Brixton market (you might struggle to get cho chos in Tesco) and this whole dish should take no more than 15 minutes to assemble leaving you plenty of time to get outside and enjoy the weather!

*This post was orginally featured on Brixton Blog, but it’s too perfect for this weather not to share it with you!

 

Bloodlust: six black puddings and a beer for breakfast…

Ever since some bright spark had the idea to stuff intestines with coagulated animal blood, flavourings and other assorted filler ingredients, humans have been making the most of their livestock’s leftover bits, enjoying the results greatly. As a result almost every culture has some kind of black pudding tradition. Miss South and I have been enjoying black pudding in various forms for some time, and as our appreciation and fascination with blood sausage has grown, we’ve idly contemplated a sanguine side-by-side comparison of various favourites. So we finally did it, pitting six of the best we could track down next to each other. But before you read about that, I should make a confession.

I didn’t like black pudding as a kid. Not at all. Miss South and I had it once at the house of a family friend (both it and white pudding, another traditional Irish favourite) and it put me off for a long time. To be honest, I don’t think it was the taste or texture as much as the knowledge at the back of my mind of what it was made from. I wasn’t especially squeamish but it was just too ‘bloody offal’ to contemplate, nevermind enjoy eating. Besides, it wasn’t a family favourite so we had little exposure to black pudding: indeed our mum thinks our modern love of the black pudding is very very wrong, and she’s rarely judgemental about food. So I start this post knowing black pudding can be divisive and disgusting for many folk.
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Pork chops and spring gems

After the harsh winter (thankfully an ever-more distant memory now we’re firmly into May) the recent bout of superb spring weather has brought welcome warmth and cheer in more than one way. Spring heralds two of our favourite fresh British delights: wild garlic, and asparagus. We’ve already written about both on several occasions, but with seasonal goodies this great, I’m not ashamed to sing their praises a little more. They provided the perfect partnership to prime Pennine pork last month.
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A Crab Hand…

Some of my happiest childhood memories involve trying to avoid the pincers of crabs, both on long lazy fishing trips in Norway with a bit of string and some bait and a beloved plastic toy one that I used to attack my Sindy dolls with when playing Killer Sea Creatures of an afternoon. However, I don’t have any great memories of cooking or eating crabs apart from burning myself on a soft shell number at Little Lamb last year, so when a crustacean caught my eye in Brixton Village at the weekend, I decided I had to rectify that and kill my own dinner for the first time.
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Venison, bullets and spears

As it was Valentine’s Day (or more precisely the evening before, and I didn’t yet know what delights would present themselves at Guestrant) I fancied doing something a little more glamorous for a dinner for two, and wanted to explore a couple of whimsical thoughts. Luck and judgement conspired to help create something a wee bit different and classier than my normal fare… in this case venison steak, butternut squash bullets, spinach and potato gratin, and steamed asparagus tips.

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