When moving to a new flat recently I envisaged the shiny new, mahoosive balcony as a lush urban garden, flourishing verdant green with bush upon bushy bushel of salad leaves, herbs, courgettes, beans, basically anything I could get to grow vertically; anything that would crawl, climb or thrive in a pot. The only flowers I’d allow would be my favourite sweet peas, the odd geranium, a clematis or four and and…okay so I wanted everything.
I’ve managed to cultivate the sweet peas, the geraniums (already here) and a dying clematis. Some herbs are flourishing, albeit left field ones, like wormwood (absinthe) which is bitter but rather tasty in many things including, surprisingly, hollandaise. The vegetables, well, not so much action on that front. Some lettuces are doing well. Ummmm. Hmmm. So as I sat pondering this state of affairs from my makeshift office/boot camp (I’m currently working 12 + hour days – get the tiny violins out), it struck me that there was one more thing that could be eaten – the marigolds. I was damn well going to get a meal out of this balcony.
The basis of this salad is herbs. Recently I’ve been taking the approach to herb usage seen in countries such as Iran and Georgia, by which I mean I’ve been using them basically like salad leaves. See below a salad of mint, parsley and dill with asparagus. We ate it with lamb chops rubbed with za’atar, Turkish chilli and garlic, sprinkled with radishes.
For the marigold salad I used mint and parsley, tossed with pieces of fried flat bread, red onion slivers, sliced dates, pomegranate seeds and feta. The marigold petals have a slight peppery heat, but mainly they just look gorgeous. It’s a festival of sweetness from the fruit, against salty feta. The dressing has it going on too – olive oil mixed with viscous date syrup, balanced with acidity. It’s a lesson in the power of contrasts basically, and darn if it doesn’t look purdy.
Date, Feta, Pomegranate and Marigold Salad (serves 4 as a side salad, 2 as a main)
1 handful of mint leaves, picked, although leave some in sprigs
1 handful parsley leaves, picked, same as above
A few crunchy lettuce leaves like little gem or romaine, shredded roughly
150g feta cheese (proper feta cheese)
8 dates, pitted and each cut into a few pieces
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 small pomegranate, seeds removed (the easiest way to do this is to halve it, then smack each half on the skin side with a wooden spoon, working your way around until the seeds come out. Wear an apron. Pick out any white pithy bits)
1 flatbread, or one large pitta bread or similar
The petals from 1 marigold (optional, obviously), picked and really, really thoroughly washed (the bugs LOVE them)
For the dressing
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons date syrup
1.5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Cut the flatbread into squares and fry it gently in a little oil until crisp. Set aside on kitchen paper.
On a large serving plate arrange the lettuce, mint and parsley leaves. In another bowl, combine the dates, pomegranate seeds, feta cheese and red onion. Add the flatbread pieces and mix well.
Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the cheesy fruit mixture on top of the herbs, and drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle over the marigold petals, and serve.