My 10-year-old is of the firm opinion that there is no sandwich that cannot be improved by the addition of a handful of crisps. I’m broadly with him on this. A crisp sandwich can be a wonderful thing, although I’m thinking along the lines of cheddar on a white bloomer with sliced pickled onions and a liberal scattering of salt ‘n vinegar, rather than Wotsits with jam. The recent launch of a couple of crisp sandwich cafés suggest we are not alone in our fondness for adding a bit of extra salt and crunch to our lunchtime fare. We Brits, it seems, love a crisp in a sandwich almost as much as dunking rich tea in a cuppa.
Walkers, purveyors of the UK’s most popular potato-based snacks, has cleverly turned the idea of a crisp sandwich on its head, with its recent launch of a range of flavours inspired by sandwich fillings. A natural progression for the company and one that should be quite difficult to screw up one would assume, given that most of its existing flavours are based on what people would happily put between two slices of granary. But screw it up they well and truly have. The crisps are, without exception, vile. Not even my crisp-loving kids will eat them. They are cloyingly sweet while at the same time managing to be throat-catchingly acrid. How could they get ham and mustard so wrong?
The worst offender: cheese, cucumber and salad cream. Who on mother’s earth thought it a good idea to make a potato chip taste like a watery salad item? And don’t get me started on salad cream. While I’m not about to do a Miriam ‘Hellmannsgate‘ González Durántez, because let’s face it life’s too short to get sniffy about table sauces, salad cream to me is the culinary equivalent of a sicky burp. It’s not just its vinegary sweetness I dislike, it’s the associations it has with the tragic undressed salads of my 70’s childhood, when salad meant a tasteless trinity of iceberg, tomatoes and cucumber and, if you were lucky, a grey-yolked boiled egg; where the word salad was usually followed by the word ‘garnish’ in restaurants; when the only alternative dressing to this sickly yellow gloop was malt vinegar and sad salty tears.
Mercifully, the current Walkers range is a limited edition, and it has taken me so long to get this post out (September-long brain fart) that there is a good chance that these flavours will no longer be available by the time you read this so consider yourselves spared (although Walkers have form in repeating such initiatives so brace yourselves for perhaps egg mayo, or tuna and sweetcorn flavours next time. Yum.). And so to today’s recipe (with an apology for the pathetically tenuous link): a salad that is light years away from those of my childhood with not so much as a lettuce leaf in sight. Salad cream optional – although not on my watch.
I am still refusing to fully recognise or embrace the changing season (see previous post) and while I may, in a small concession to decreasing air temperatures, have swapped my Havaianas for the slightly more sturdy Birkenstock, I continue to churn out salads from my kitchen as if it were high summer in the Med. These are not salads that scream ‘diet’ or have you screaming ‘where’s the biscuit tin?’, these are salads that are full of grains and pulses, nuts and seeds, herbs, spices and cheese – sometimes all of the above. Like transitional footwear, they are light enough to enjoy on Indian summer evenings yet substantial enough to satisfy as the nights draw in. I can feel an occasional series coming on…
Serves 2 or 4 as a side
Tabbouleh, traditionally made with bulgur wheat, is just as good, if not better made with other grains and pulses. Here I have used chickpeas because my teen is a big fan, but you could use quinoa, pearl barley, spelt or whatever else takes your fancy. This is good a part of a mezze, stuffed in pittas, or alongside grilled meat or fish.
- 400g tinned or jarred chickpeas
- 1 red onion, cut in half and finely sliced
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp cider vinegar (optional)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- pinch chilli flakes (optional)
- 1/4 cucumber, deseeded and diced
- large handful of baby plum or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- small bunch mint, finely chopped
- small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 40g feta cheese
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Squeeze the lemon juice into a large mixing bowl then add the vinegar (if using), the spices, the sliced red onion and some salt and pepper and stir to combine. Leave to stand for 10 minutes to take the raw edge off the onion.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Crush about 1/5 of the chickpeas with the back of a fork to make a rough paste, then add this and the remaining chickpeas to the bowl with all the other ingredients except the cheese. Stir well, taste and add more seasoning or lemon juice if necessary. Crumble over feta and drizzle with a bit of extra virgin before serving (ideally at room temperature).