In the UAE I have learned to work with a variety of fresh ingredients I had never even seen before whilst living back home in Australia. Herbs are one of the big ones. Each supermarket in Dubai has a fresh greens stand, piled high with scented bunches contained by elastic bands and smelling as sweet as posies of flowers. You’ll find plenty of things we’re used to seeing all over – basil, parsley, spinach, spring onions (scallions), coriander (cilantro) and roka (arugula, roquette or rocket). But there’s plenty of new ones in there for someone like me, and the one that has always beckoned is methi, or fenugreek leaves.
Methi smells like a curry. It’s incredibly pungent and alluring. Usually these leaves are cooked, as they can be a little bitter, but I find they lose their intensity and prefer them raw – here’s my favourite way to serve them.
- Methi (fenugreek) leaves – one bunch (about 1 1/2 cups full – de-stemmed but whole)
- 1 cup coriander leaves – de-stemmed but whole
- 1/2 cup mint leaves – de-stemmed but whole
- 2 cups roka (arugula)
- 200g Saudi feta (or any soft feta like persian feta, nabulsi cheese or white cheese)
- 100g walnuts, lightly crushed
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- pinch of sumac
- salt and pepper
- In a hot pan on the stove-top, dry-fry the walnut pieces for 1 minute, then add a pinch of salt and the brown sugar. Stir constantly and remove from the heat when the sugar begins to encrust and crystallize on the walnuts. Set aside
- Wash the leaves carefully, pat dry, and de-stem anything longer than about 2-3cm. Don’t be too fussy, it’s just to ensure the texture of the salad is not too stringy.
- In a serving bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice, then add leaves, walnuts, and cheese (I like to use a teaspoon to make small rough nuggets). Season with salt, pepper and sumac, toss and serve.
- Quantites are not really important for this recipe – if you love mint, add more, if you hate coriander, leave it out, etc.
- For those who don’t like a very acidic salad, you may wish to use a mild vinegar instead of lemon juice. You may also wish to add a teaspoon of brown sugar or honey to the oil before whisking and tossing the salad.
- You could add in the finely grates zest of the lemon for extra zing.
- The herbs are only a suggestion. This could easily be made with any other selection. Za’atar (savoury) with spinach and radicchio is lovely, as is watercress with lemon thyme (add some buttery croutons). How about tarragon and tatsoi? Use a leaf that is scented, seasonal and local, and add contrasting fresh flavours with more common items.
- The cheese could also be changed up for some pea-sized nuggets of Pecorino, firm ricotta (add extra salt), Haloumi or even some tofu dusted in spices and pan-fried if you prefer a vegan option.
- Nuts also could be changed, but stick with an oily option like pine kernels, almonds or pecans.