Fire is more than a means of cooking. Fire is rooted deep in human history as the fundamental discovery that allowed us to evolve, to bring light to our eyes, heat to our skin, and warm food to our stomachs. It wakes up something very primal in us; light up a bonfire or a barbecue at any party, and people will start gathering around it, naturally.
Because of this history, I think we have come to associate fire with primal food as well: slow roasting big chunks of meat until they come apart, smoking entire animals, or having tender meat simply licked by the flames and turned on a plate. Barbecuing and outdoor cooking revolve around meat. That is why I have decided to make it my mission to explore fire cooking anything BUT meat in my oven, because the flavor of fire is enough to make anything lip-smack worthy. Today, we start with the most unexpected, a vegetable we rarely associate with cooking: we are roasting a salad and turning it into something filling and satisfying.
This can be a starter or a side to fish, some whole-roasted cauliflower, or served with grains and legumes. The way I like to compose a dish to make sure it ticks all the boxes is to have contrast in temperature, in texture, and in flavor. Here, the grilled salad comes with a creamy cod liver dressing, some pickled wild strawberries for acidity, and fried sprouted lentils for the crunch. This is, in a way, a Caesar salad reinvented, and, of course, you should feel free to play around with the components, keeping only the technique. For example, the cod liver sauce could be replaced with a flavored mayonnaise for a vegetarian version (think sriracha if you like spice, soy sauce for umami…). You can pickle any damn old vegetable or fruit lying around, or just pop open a jar of pickled cornichons or capers… and if you can’t be bothered sprouting and frying lentils (which I can understand), get out some fried onions, make some croutons with stale bread, or even smash a bag of shop-bought chips to delicious crumbs. It’s all about the crunch!
Okay, now onto the recipe.
The basic method for pickling is the 1-2-3 method. 1 volume sugar / 2 volumes vinegar / 3 volumes water, adapting it to how much food you want to pickle, and the size of your jar. To those, you can add any flavorings (spices, herbs) and a bit of salt. You boil everything together and pour it while still hot on your main ingredient, although if using something delicate like strawberries, I actually recommend waiting for the liquid to cool before pouring. Once the jar is cold, store it in the refrigerator and it will keep for about a month.
Here I used blond organic sugar, apple cider vinegar, and some black peppercorns, keeping it classic as those wild strawberries were already a treat.
1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup vinegar, 3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
Boil everything together until salt and sugar have dissolved, wait until it cools, and pour over the berries in a clean, dry jar. Close and refrigerate until use. When your jar is empty, you can either pop some new vegetables or fruits in, or reuse the pickling liquid in a vinaigrette, as the base for a sauce, or a stew.
Cod liver sauce
1 can cod liver (oil included)
1 whole egg
2 tbsp vinegar (I used raspberry, but balsamic or apple cider would work great too)
Fresh ground pepper
Blend all the ingredients together. Depending on your taste, feel free to adjust the amount of vinegar, replace it with lemon juice, or add some raspberries like I did. Use straight away or store in the fridge for no more than 24 hours as there is raw egg in it.
Fried sprouted lentils
As mentioned above, you can swap these with anything crunchy (fried onions would be great), but they can be a fun little addition to your repertoire if you feel like making them!
Soak a handful of green or black lentils (not red) in water overnight. In the morning, drain them and leave them in the jar. It should take about 2-3 days to sprout (depending on the humidity and temperature), rinsing every morning and every evening, and making sure to drain them well. Once the tail has grown about 2cm long, they are ready!
Here, you can either eat them like this or take the next step and deep fry them. I recommend an oil bath around 160°-170°C as they fry very fast and anything higher would burn them before you have the time to say, “fried sprouted lentils.”
Have a plate lined with paper ready, and take the lentils out of the oil as soon as they stop bubbling, which will mean all the humidity has evaporated, and they will be crunchy! Season them while still warm with salt and pepper, and use within a day.
Fire roasted salad
And finally, the star of the show: the fire-roasted salad! Use a sturdy salad here, not one that is too soft and buttery. Baby gems could work well, simply get more for a feast; one per person would be a good bet.
Cut the salad in half and wash it if needed. Dry it briefly, then put it in your pizza pan and drizzle it with oil (or brush it if your hand is shaky) and salt — pepper will come later. Pop it in your Städler Made oven, but beware, this will go very very fast, so keep an eye on it. After 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the temperature of your oven, take the pan out: the salad should be grilled, with some char marks, but still green and vibrant.
Take out your weapons: smother it in the cod liver sauce, scatter your pickles and your fried lentils on top, and anything else you fancy, really. Now, this is salad you won’t be afraid of serving at the next barbecue!