Quintessentially today - deconstructing a recipe

"charred broccoli and spring onion salad with tahini dressing"


Once again I was going to write about something else and then I saw this in The Age's Home Made section and was struck by how this particular dish summed up virtually all the trendy elements of a modern day dish - both as served up in restaurants and encouraged to be made at home. And then when I read Karen Martini's introduction to her recipe I was just confirmed in my opinion and so I decided to have a go at just picking here and there at the 'today' elements. Here it is.


"I just can't get enough of charred spring onions at the moment, and broccoli also loves the grill, with a good char taking it to another level. There's a distinct nuttiness to grilled broccoli, so it matches beautifully with this dish's tahini, buttery almonds and toasted buckwheat. The dressing for this is also super-versatile; drizzle it over steamed rice and vegetables, fried eggs or grilled chicken." Karen Martini


You can find the recipe here by the way. Well it does look tempting enough to impress next time you are asked to take a salad to a barbecue gathering. Or maybe serve it up for dinner. It's got just about all the elements you need for a healthy diet to qualify as a main dish.


So let's deconstruct a bit to consider why it is so very much a 2020/21 dish.


Charred - we used to say burnt but that's a bit off-putting, except in certain circumstances such as burnt butter, which is actually an old thing but currently trending. Charred on the other hand is eminently fashionable and is applied to almost everything. Nigella referred to her preference for charred edges to her toast after all. Me - I would say burnt - and not good. However, charred is redolent of wood fires and barbecues, sun, parties and the great outdoors. Never mind that charcoal is a carcinogen. But yes the smoky charred taste of any number of foods, if you are in the mood can be tasty. And I would certainly concur that those char marks you get on anything cooked on a griddle or barbecue is attractive. In this recipe both the broccoli and the spring onions get the charred treatment - with the spring onions being fashionably cooked whole, although it's perhaps even trendier to split them lengthways.

Broccoli - well broccoli has been fashionable for some time now, although of late it has perhaps been overtaken by its offspring broccolini and the alternative kale. Maybe even cauliflower, which now that I think of it is the start of this trend to flowery brassicas, because.note that the broccoli is very trendily sliced into 'steaks' rather than the old-fashioned way of separating the florets from the stalks. It would be interesting to find out who was the first person to start doing this, although I think it was the cauliflower that first got this treatment. Now you can do it to cabbage and lettuce, celeriac and kohlrabi too. Maybe Ottolenghi?


And here a brief aside from the recipe because I found an interesting comment on how particular foods become trendy:


"And for a food to really take off — to become not just a fad but a full-fledged trend — it needs multiple storylines. A boom in Middle Eastern food is one story. Gluten-free is a story. Paleo is a story. Vegetarianism is a story. The idea that we should trick kids into eating vegetables by mushing them up and hiding them in mac and cheese is a story. Cauliflower, ubiquitous and low-carb and 100 percent vegetable, fits into all of them. It is narratively flexible." Rachel Sugar - Vox


Back to the recipe deconstruction.


Nuttiness - A much used word these days when describing all manner of stuff. Are they talking texture or taste I wonder? Is nuttiness desirable? Depends on the nut it seems to me. Not chestnuts - no - don't like chestnuts.

Tahini dressing - Tahini itself and hummus have, of course been around for a long time, but I have noticed the tahini sauce/dressing creeping in over the last couple of years. It began with the middle-eastern brigade led by Yotam Ottolenghi, but now it seems to be spreading everywhere. Again, I noticed Nigella using it in a couple of her recipes for example. Most of the recipes include lemon juice, but Karen Martini favours vinegar it seems. It deserves a post of its own some time. So for now I will just say that it's ubiquitous although I am yet to try it for myself.


Drizzle - now that's been around for a while, and although it's very descriptive it's also incredibly annoying is it not? Why? Is it just that Jamie Oliver uses it a lot, or just that everybody uses it, or that it's easy to make fun of? It's a funny sounding word after all. In my youth we just used it to refer to a certain type of rain - particularly miserable kind of rain at that. There were no food connotations at all. Maybe it's an indication of the rather more colourful way that food is described these days. Not that the dressing is 'drizzled' in this recipe. It is recommended that it be used elsewhere to 'drizzle' over other things - steamed rice and vegetables, fried eggs or grilled chicken, which is an interesting choice of other things it seems to me. No - not interesting - boring.


Spring onions - Spring onions are not particularly fashionable in themselves but calling them shallots, as Karen Martini does throughout the recipe, in spite of having called them spring onions in the title - is. They call them shallots in America I think. In England they are spring onions. In the supermarket they are spring onions. Shallots are those things that look halfway between garlic and onion. The spring onions in the recipe are fashionably charred though and treated as a vegetable in their own right rather than a background taste, or decoration. Now that is new.


Smoked paprika - Not that new but relatively new and now used pretty much everywhere. Again I think this may be a Middle-eastern Ottolenghi thing. Along with sumac. I have sumac and smoked paprika in unmarked glass jars in my pantry which is rather stupid of me. I have to smell them to see which is which before I use them.


Buckwheat - 'Toasted' too. Known in America as groats it's not wheat at all and is gluten free, so part of that modern 'story'. This is just part of the ongoing grains story related to the health food and gluten free movements. Quinoa, freekeh, burghul, et al. And it's fashionable to toast them, although the recipe implies that you buy them ready toasted.


Almonds - also toasted, but this time you do it yourself. As you do these days. Almonds, of course are a major agricultural product worth billions in the market I have no doubt as they are used in so many different products. Alas they need a lot of water. Almonds themselves are hardly new, but their use in almost every dish these days either as nuts or milk, or almond meal is ubiquitous. It qualifies for the trendy title through virtually all of those 'stories' in the Vox quote.


Chillies - I shall have more to say about these shortly when I come to my Ottolengh Christmas book. Suffice to say that they are available in increasingly varied forms even in your supermarket, whether fresh or pickled, or in sauces and chutneys. Not in my house alas.


Extra virgin olive oil - of course


Salt flakes - Yes it has to be flakes. I'm surprised she doesn't specify sea salt flakes.


Spoon the dressing onto a platter, then pile on the broccoli and shallots (i.e. spring onions). Scatter over the chilli and the almond and buckwheat mixture and serve. These days we seem to be putting the salad on top of the dressing - or yoghurt, or some other kind of dip texture mix, rather than the other way around.

The photograph - Here it is again just so you can see what I'm talking about. It's a particularly beautifully styled dish. The pale blue distressed wood background with little speckles of something - nuts? - here and there. The two bowls of accompanying chillies and dressing, placed just so and in diminishing size. The artfully arranged vegetables on the plate, together with another small dish of the other 'sprinkling mix. I think the photographer is one of Donna Hay's regulars, and Donna Hay is the queen of presentation to me.


Now even though I may seem to be scoffing, I could actually be tempted by this - I could even include some very mild chillies. After all at least half of their point is their appearance. It's a minor faff to make, but none of it is difficult. Perhaps I'll host a barbecue some time soon, or a mini party anyway.


There is also the point that trends either come to an end or die and you never see them again - well until they become fashionably retro - or they just become part of the scenery as it were:


“The endpoint of a trend that really takes off is that it becomes a staple. If nobody is buzzing about tomatoes, it’s not because tomatoes aren’t delicious; it’s because obviously tomatoes are good. It’s boring." David Sax

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