I was invited to a friend Christmas get together where we swapped cards and presents over lunch. I am fortunate that a number of my friends also enjoy cooking so we usually operate on a bring and share lunch. I was asked to bring a salad and my first reaction was “that’s not very exciting” but then I thought why not add some Christmas colours and flavours and made it a fun festive salad, thus this salad was born.
I had no recipe in mind and instead set off browsing the shop shelves trying to decide what I considered to be festive flavours which would work in a salad. Strangely enough my first thoughts were cinnamon and cardamom and so the idea of doing a spiced rice salad was born. I then thought of adding some fruit and settled on dried cranberries and pomegranate seeds – both gorgeous red colours and very festive. Nest into the basket was some pistachios, for their wonderful mottled green colour and some spring onions for freshness and crunch. I decided to add orange zest to complement the cranberries but on my way to the shelf I passed a stand of clementines which seemed much more festive and so I used that instead. I decided to see if I could get some wild rice too to add a different texture and discovered a packet of spelt grain whose nutty flavour appealed instantly, so in it went. I then thought about some sort of dressing to combine everything together and decided on a simple mix of olive oil and a little honey to add a little sweetness and moisture while still allowing the other flavours to be the main star. I also picked up a packet of fresh mint, which I have discovered goes wonderfully with pomegranate. So armed with my colourful, albeit a little odd mix of ingredients I went home and started creating my salad.
As cardamom can be quite a strong spice I decided to add the pods to the water the grains cooked in and then fish them out afterwards to allow the flavour to subtly permeate into the grains without being overpowering. This worked well and produced a faint fragrant overtone to the grains. I have never added pomegranate seeds to a salad before, but I have seen Nigella do it a number of times and I felt quite the domestic goddess as I sprinkled them in – all shiny and jewel-like.
Once finished I wasn’t at all sure how it would taste, but in my head all the flavours went together and the gorgeous mix of glossy reds and shades of green looked so beautiful together that I was more excited than concerned.
I tried my first spoonful and couldn’t help grinning. My mouth filled with so many layers of flavour, but each came in their own wave and didn’t seem to contradict the other ingredients. The first taste was of a lightly spiced earthy grain but then the sweetness of dressing and clementine flavours appearance, which were then balanced out by my biting down on the tartness of the cranberries and a burst of earthy pomegranate juice all finished with a hint of mint and a zingy sensation. Success! It didn’t just taste good, it tasted fabulous, so fresh and vibrant and definitely festive. It got a lot of positive comments at the lunch party, not everyone liked the pomegranate seeds, but you can’t please everyone. Either way as far as salad is concerned this ones a keeper!
Festive Rice and Spelt Salad
100g long grain rice
100g spelt grain
100g pomegranate seeds (a fresh pre-prepared pack is ideal)
65g pistachios with shell (50g minus shell)
50g dried cranberries
2 spring onions
1 clementine, zest and juice
6 large mint leaves
4 cardamom pods
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp runny honey
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Crack the cardamom pods so that the inside seeds are exposed and add to the pan of water. Do not crush completely as you will want to fish them out later. Find out how long your spelt takes to cook (usually around 50minutes) and how long the rice takes to cook (often 12-15 minutes).
Add the spelt to the pan of boiling water and cook on a simmer. Add the rice to the same pan once the spelt has 12-15 minutes left to cook, so that both grains will be cooked and ready at the same time.
Once cooked, drain the water from the pan and cover the grains with lots of cold water to stop the cooking process and help it cool down quickly.
Meanwhile, prepare the remaining salad ingredients. Remove the pistachios from their shell and roughly chop so that some nuts are in pieces while others remain whole.
Place the dried cranberries into a small bowl and add the zest and juice from the clementine. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds which will enable the cranberries to rehydrate, plump up and become glossy. Slice the spring onions into small pieces.
Place the cooled rice and spelt into a large serving bowl, removing the cardamom pods. Add the pistachios, orange infused cranberries, pomegranate seeds and spring onions.
Finely shred the mint and add to the bowl along with the cinnamon.
Mix the honey and olive oil together until well combined. Drizzle over the salad and mix everything together well ensuring all the ingredients are evenly distributed and covered in a little of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as a starter. Store any leftovers in the fridge.