It takes me a while sometimes to recall the good food I ate as a child. If prompted for fond food memories I probably couldn’t tell you a great deal but over time moments from the past come to mind. Sometimes I forget it’s been a fair few years since I was seven and there’s not a hope of me remembering every evening meal and lunchbox packed. Sometimes this thought saddens me, other times, I find it a relief.
But I remember our kitchen, small and pokey with heavy wooden drawers and a smooth white door frame between the kitchen a round wooden table. I can’t remember the frame ever having a door but for me it was a climbing frame as I gripped my way to the top and would perch, my back pressed against one side, my bare feet firmly planted on the other, talking to my mother in the kitchen. I never fell.
This kitchen was eventually expanded, my climbing frame busted down and the room opened out. In the new kitchen and the old one and I suppose the other kitchens in other houses that have come since, the same sort of things happened. Hundreds of sandwiches would have been made in my childhood kitchen, oranges peeled and apples chopped, cereal poured. There would have been chocolate cake and banana cake, lasagne and roast chicken, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, tomato on toast, spaghetti bolognaise or meatballs, sausages – family food.
I remember special occasion foods – the marmalade glaze on the Christmas ham, the time Mum butterflied and roasted lamb and we ate outside in the middle of a summer day, roasting marshmallows in the flames of the brazier on summer nights. I’ll remember for always the avocado halves with slithers of cold smoked salmon we ate for Christmas entrée several years.
We had a few traditions too which I remember fondly. Every Saturday morning all four of us would do the supermarket shopping together. Even now, a family trip to the supermarket seems something to be celebrated, even if it’s just to buy yoghurt and bread. But those Saturday mornings were precious, if not exactly for wandering the aisles, but for what came after – Scottish malt loaf, toasted and slathered in butter. Our supermarket’s bakery section made the loaf, my Dad’s favourite, and often on a Saturday morning the bread would still be warm, the raisins soft and plump and the malty flavour almost caramel, the just overdone sort of caramel with near-savoury tones.
Another tradition: to shyly mock my Dad when he made his long-term go-to dinner, the same dinner he made on his cooking nights when flatting – grilled lamb chops with boiled and buttered potatoes, curried carrots and a green vegetable of some sort. Mock is not the right word, I’m not sure what is really, for we never complain – you cannot go wrong with grilled lamb chops and my Dad’s curried carrots are as good as they come. Perhaps mocking, lovingly, was our way of saying thanks for cooking Dad.
But in my food life, what has been as perennial as the grass, are my mother’s salads. She makes a darn good salad. Her green salad – mixed greens + anything really (feta, red onions, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, apple…), the house salad, as so aptly named by Food Loves Writing, continues to be good and I’ve been eating this sort of salad for most of my life. Her roast vegetable salad, potato salad, left-over-chicken salad, warm lamb salad, beetroot salad, fruit salad, rice salad, quinoa salad, any salad Mum puts her hand to is fresh and inviting, appealing and nourishing.
I learned from watching and helping Mum make salads that anything, anything in your fruit bowl, pantry or fridge, can contribute to the texture and vitality of a salad. Take this roasted carrot and chickpea salad – a can of chickpeas and the bung up carrots from the market – but together with a little bit of manipulation, cajoling, becomes something else entirely, something quite wonderful.
The carrots, tossed in aromatic spices, were roasted until a dusky orange while chickpeas were toasted lightly in a dry pan, the pattern they formed in the pan reminding me of an open sunflower. Big handfuls of parsley and coriander were chopped up roughly with jagged edges and the kitchen smelled fresh. I drizzled oil and ground salt and pepper over pumpkin seeds and sunflowers, these toasted in the frypan so well they almost didn’t make the salad. A spring onion for crunch and oomph, then a strong, citrus dressing. Everything together, the spices, the herbs, the buttery warmth of spiced roast carrots, the ting of citrus, the salty crunch of seeds and the smooth nutty chickpeas make every bite bright.
This salad is for keeps, like my mother’s.
Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad
3 carrots, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons oil
1 can chickpeas (about 400 grams)
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh coriander and parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 lemon, rind and juice
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the carrots in a bowl with the spices and oil, toss until well combined. Pour onto an oven tray and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until tender.
Heat a frying pan. Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Place in the hot pan and toss until warmed and slightly toasty. Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the roasted carrots, sliced spring onion and the roughly chopped herbs. Stir lightly.
Mix the seeds with a little oil, salt and pepper, then toast in a hot pan until quivering with heat. Sprinkle the seeds over the chickpeas and carrots.
Zest the lemon into a jar, add the lemon juice with a glug of oil and shake well. Pour over the salad.