Lately I've received an overwhelmingly positive response from readers in regards to the food references in Yes, Chef! One reader said she had to take herself out for dinner after reading my book as her pre-made soup was no longer going to cut it. I have my current job as PA to chef Andrew McConnell to thank for my food education. Andrew owns a number of Melbourne's best restaurants and I feel blessed to be working with him and his chefs and managers who are all at the top of their game.
At the moment, in my spare time, I'm reading a Robin Hobb novel. There is a scene where she describes a meal as 'an impressive display of good food abused in the name of fashionable cooking.' This line made me laugh out loud as it perfectly describes the kind of over-worked food the celebrity chef in my book cooks in his restaurants. There are many chefs that believe food is art. Chef McConnell believes food is dinner. It's this kind of understated balance between elegance and simplicity that has garnered his cooking world wide acclaim.
I asked Andrew if I could share this recipe with you as it features in Yes, Chef! Our heroine Becca and her work mates often have to work late shifts in their restaurant reservations office. Discovering that their favourite restaurant did take-away was a revelation for them. 'From that day forward, working the late shift went from boring to bearable. It's amazing how having a wheat and freekeh salad to look forward to could change your perspective.'
Cracked wheat & freekeh salad with preserved lemon & barberries
140 g natural yoghurt
pinch of salt
To make the labne, season the yoghurt with a pinch of salt, then line a small sieve with a double layer of muslin or a clean unused Chux or J-cloth. Place the yoghurt in the sieve and set over a bowl to catch the whey. Cover and leave to drain in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight, then transfer the labne to a clean bowl, discarding the whey.
Cracked wheat & freekeh
60 g butter
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 golden shallots, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
80 g coarse cracked wheat (bulgur)
80 g freekeh, soaked in water for at least half an hour
The cracked wheat and freekeh can either be cooked in the oven or on the stovetop (if you’re catering for a crowd, oven cooking tends to cook larger quantities of the grains more evenly). If using the oven, preheat it to 160°C. Divide the butter, celery, shallot and garlic equally between two medium-sized lidded saucepans. Place both pans over low heat and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes, then add the bulgur to one pan and the drained freekeh to the other. Stir to ensure that each grain is covered with butter, then add 190 ml of water to each pan, bring to the boil and cover with a cartouche, then the lid. Either continue to cook the grains very gently on the stovetop or put them straight into the oven. Check after 12 minutes and taste a small amount – the larger the grain, the longer the cooking time. When sufficiently cooked (soft), remove the grains from the pans and spread out on a large board or plate so they cool quickly without overcooking. When cold, mix the two cooked grains together; they will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
2 tablespoons barberries
1 tablespoon caraway water or a pinch of ground caraway seeds
2 teaspoons chardonnay vinegar
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the barberry vinaigrette, pour 250 ml of warm water over the barberries and leave to soak for 10 minutes. When cool, strain the barberries, reserving 3 tablespoons of the soaking liquid. Add the strained barberries to this liquid, along with the caraway water or ground caraway, chardonnay vinegar, olive oil and salt. Put aside until required.
1½ teaspoons finely chopped preserved lemon
80 g toasted almonds, chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced
handful each of shredded mint and parsley
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon chardonnay vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve the salad, place the cooked cracked wheat and freekeh in a mixing bowl and mix well to break up any lumps of grain that may have stuck together. Add the preserved lemon, almonds, spring onion, mint and parsley and toss well. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice and chardonnay vinegar and drizzle over the salad, stirring all the while. Taste the salad and add salt and pepper if you think it needs it. Arrange on a platter. Spoon the labne around the salad and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the barberry vinaigrette (the rest will keep for a few days in the fridge and can be used on any green salad). Alternatively, you can serve the labne on the side.
Recipe by Andrew McConnell from Cumulus Inc. available to purchase here from Penguin Lantern.
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