Miso Chicken, Slow Baked Tomatoes and Fresh Spinach Salad

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Here in the UK we are enjoying a flashback to the summer of 1976, apparently. I was only one at the time so have no recollection of the ‘great summer’ but we are now into weeks, not days, of glorious warm sunshine with temperatures climbing up to 33 degrees in west London. When the weather is hot I love to get creative with my salads and try out different flavour and ingredient combinations. This one I created awhile ago when a friend, who has certain culinary likes and dislikes was coming over to supper. I started with the miso chicken and spinach and then built from there, digging out interesting ingredients from my fridge and pantry along the way. The overall mix of flavours works really well to the extent that I have now cooked this salad multiple times and thought you would appreciate having it too. It’s great for a picnic, lunch or supper, is hugely versatile and if you keep the chilli oil marinade to one side for guests to help themselves, then the whole family can enjoy the dish.

Miso Chicken Slow Baked Tomatoes and Fresh Spinach Salad

Serves 4-6

 For the Chicken Marinade

500g chicken breasts

3 garlic cloves, grated

1 inch ginger, peeled and grated

2 tbsp sweet white miso paste

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp light soy sauce

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parchment paper

3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

250g puy lentils

1 avocado, chopped

6 slow baked tomatoes marinated with chilli

chilli oil from the slow baked tomatoes (see above)

250g fresh spinach

1. First you need to flatten the chicken breasts as they will cook under the grill more evenly and quicker if they are thinner. Place a large strip of parchment paper underneath the chicken breasts and another similar sized piece on top. Then using a rolling pin gently hit the chicken pieces which will begin to flatten. Check to see how they are looking and if they need to be a little flatter continue to hit them with the rolling pin. If you overly bash them they will begin to break apart so flatten them to the extent that they still keep in tact.

2. Place the flattened chicken breasts into a freezer bag and then add the grated ginger, garlic, sweet white miso paste, soy sauce and sesame oil. Using your hands massage the ingredients thoroughly into the chicken pieces. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer if you can.

3. Heat up a small frying pan and when it is hot add the pine nuts being careful not to burn them as they toast quickly. Keep them moving around the pan and after a minute they should have toasted nicely.  Place to one side.

4. Heat your grill (you could also use a griddle pan or BBQ!) to 200 degrees centigrade and place the marinated chicken directly onto your oven rack. Place some baking parchment/foil underneath to catch all the bits than fall through the rack – these will also taste great in the salad.  The breasts will need around 6 minutes each side. If they look a little undercooked leave them for a minute or two more and vice versa.

5. In a large mixing bowl add the spinach, chopped/sliced avocado, puy lentils – for speed I often use the Merchant Gourmet brand – see here, pine nuts and slow baked tomatoes marinated in chilli. Whilst you can of course slow bake your own and marinate them in chilli oil (which I will get around to doing so at some point – will make a great blog post) I opt for the Sacla brand – see here. Chop the tomatoes up slightly and then gently mix all the above ingredients together.

6. Once the chicken has cooled slightly slice into stripes and mix gently into the salad along with the bits that had fallen through the rack. Add a little of the chilli oil from the slow baked tomatoes and place extra in a small pouring jug.

7. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and allow guests to serve themselves. I find it is best eaten at room temperature.

It is surprisingly filling and leftovers the next day taste equally good, so just refrigerate if you have some left over.

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Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil dressing

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We’ve been having some glorious flurries of snow here in the UK, which has been rather exciting for us all. A blanket of snow makes London look magical and the silent, crisp air entices you outside to enjoy what nature has to offer. Whilst it is bitterly cold, returning to the warmth after some jollities in the fresh air is a welcome respite and I for one like nothing more than getting stuck into some cooking and baking. Big A and Little Z set about baking some biscuits, in fact lots of biscuits – I’ll blog this recipe once I have completely perfected it for you. Eating some warming, comforting food is totally necessary in this weather and lentils are the perfect food to tuck into.

The recipe today is great for the winter months, but can also be a fantastic dish in the spring and summer months eaten at room temperature and simply crumble the goats cheese instead of warming it. So if you are reading this in a hotter climate, fear not, you too can also cook the dish and be equally satisfied.

The trick though with this ‘salad’ is in the timing.  So if you are going to eat it warm please read the following.

1) A few hours before you intend to eat the salad place the tomatoes sliced in the oven and cover with caster sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put them on a low heat (100 degrees centigrade or less even) to gently slow roast away. You want the tomatoes to shrivel up at the sides and the slow roasting will give them an incredible depth of flavour. Seriously off the charts kind of taste. 

2) Place the sliced red onion rings on a baking tray covered in balsamic vinegar, caster sugar, olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and roast in the oven (180 degrees centigrade) for 25 minutes. If you do not have a separate oven to do this – as the tomatoes will need a lower heat – cook the onions first and then just heat them up in the low heat oven when the tomatoes are cooking to re-warm them.

3) Wash the lentils thoroughly then add cold water to cover them along with all the ingredients (listed below) and gently let them boil away for around 20 minutes. It is really important not to over cook them as they will become soft and soggy. You want to have them so that they still keep their shape.

4) Blend up the basil oil while the above is cooking away.

5) Plate up and whilst you are doing this place the goats cheese in a warm oven for a minute or two to warm it up then place on top of the lentils and drizzle with basil oil.

Whilst the ingredients length looks rather long…..please do not be put off as it really takes no time at all – bar the slow roasting of the tomatoes, which need to be cooked slowly over time. Everything, except warming the goats cheese in the oven, can be done ahead of time and then simply warmed up for a few minutes in the oven prior to serving.

Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil Dressing

adapted from Skye Gyngell’s recipe in her book ‘A Year in My Kitchen’

Serves 4-6

roasted tomatoes

6 plum tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp rock salt

liberally ground black pepper

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roasted red onions

5 red onions, sliced into circles

75g caster sugar

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

handful of fresh thyme

salt and pepper

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flavoursome lentils

400g lentils (I used a combination of green and small darkish green lentils but puy is also good!)

1 white onion, peeled and quartered

handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 carrot, peeled and cut into three parts

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces

1 red chilli, kept whole

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp of fresh coriander stalks

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2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

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basil oil

2 bunches of fresh basil

150ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

salt and pepper

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fresh goats cheese

6 slices of fresh goats cheese

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1) In the order of the above. Place the halved tomatoes into an oven proof dish and scatter with caster sugar, salt and pepper and place in the oven at a low temperature – 100 degrees centigrade works well – for up to 2 hours.

before slow roasting

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slow roasted to perfection!

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2) Slice the onions into circles and scatter in a roasting tin along with the balsamic vinegar, caster sugar,olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and mix together well with your hands. Place in an oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 25 minutes.

before roasting

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3) Wash the lentils and then cover with cold water. Add the carrot, red chilli, onion, garlic, ginger, fresh parsley, bay leaves, coriander stalks and bring to the boil and then gently simmer for 20 minutes (or what is advised on the packet). Be careful not to over cook the lentils. 

lentils ready for the boil

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4) Place the fresh basil in a food mixer and blend. Slowly add the olive oil to the chopped basil and add salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer to have more of an oily basil then just add a little more olive oil. I rather like to have it so that you can add little dollops to the plate. (see below)

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5) Drain the lentils and remove the added ingredients as their job to flavour the lentils is now complete. When the lentils are still hot add the tamari, sherry vinegar and sesame oil and mix together.

6) Slice the goats cheese and place on an oven proof dish and place in the oven for a minute or two.

7) Plate up the lentils and add a generous helping of roasted onions, tomatoes and the goats cheese in the middle on the top with some dollops or drizzle of fresh basil oil and leave the rest in a separate bowl for guests to help themselves to more as they see fit.

8) Tuck in and enjoy along with some fresh bread on the side. It is absolutely heavenly. I know I often say that but seriously all the above effort is SO worth it.

Aside from the roasting of the tomatoes, this dish took me 30 mins to cook and plate up.