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Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Buffalo mozzarella has to be one of my all time favourite things to eat. Fresh, clean, silky and light, sublime in the company of ripe tomatoes and basil leaves. The classic caprese salad (although there’s some clever variations on the caprese here). But what can you pair this beautiful cheese with to make a mozzarella salad in winter, when tomatoes are sad representations of their summer counterparts. Celery, walnuts, garlic and chilli. That’s what. And unlike the caprese, this mozzarella salad can be made ahead of time, which when entertaining can be a very useful thing.

Inviting friends around to share a meal is one of my favourite weekend activities. And recipes that can be prepared in advance are essential on such occasions, allowing for more time to relax and socialise, and less time in the kitchen. That’s why this mozzarella salad is so good. The cheese can bathe in its delicious marinade for a day or so before you plan to serve it, leisurly taking on the flavours of garlic and chilli. Likewise, the walnuts can be toasted and chopped and the celery sliced, hours beforehand, so all that needs to be done prior to sitting down to eat, is to simply assemble the salad.

I realise that cooking in this pre prepared way may not be in alignment with everyone’s personalities and that some people are more inclined to leave things until the last moment. Take my Scottish friend (she knows who she is) for example, who at university would stay up writing until 8am to meet a nine o’ clock assessment deadline. The very thought of this still makes me feel on edge. Last minute is just not something I’m good at. And although in the world of food there are a lot of things that need to be done at the last minute, like dressing delicate salad leaves and serving a soufflé, a great many tasks can be done early on.

Preparing food this way takes the stress out of cooking, yet still allows you to present a beautiful spread. It also leaves room for unforeseen events, like discovering you’ve forgotten to buy a crucial ingredient, that one of your guests hates cheese or that your toddler has just drawn all over the walls with a wax crayon that you missed when packing up her toys.


Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Adapted from a recipe by Carol Field

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 20 grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • bunch chives, snipped
  • 200g walnut pieces, toasted and roughly chopped

Begin by placing the sliced garlic and chilli flakes in a small pan with the oil. Heat over a low heat for 10 minutes to allow the oil to take on the flavours of the garlic and chilli.

Cut the balls of mozzarella in half and then slice each half into 4-5 semi circle slices. Put the slices into container that will hold them and the garlic marinade.

When the oil is completely cool, pour it over the mozzarella slices along with the salt and pepper and delicately stir the cheese so that it’s completely coated with all the other ingredients. Leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle for at least 2 hours but ideally overnight.

About 30 minutes before you want to assemble the mozzarella salad, remove the cheese from the fridge so that it can come to room temperature, then simply drain the mozzarella of its marinade and arrange it on a platter. Scatter first the celery, then chives and then the walnuts over the top and tuck in.

Like preparing things ahead of time? Then you might like this kale salad

A Balinese coconut salad

Incense. Birdsong. Smiling faces. Car horns. Cow bells. Lush rice paddies. Soaring kites. Bright Hindu offerings. Theses are the things that have flooded my senses over the last seven days in Bali. In our peaceful oasis, we have dipped in and out of the pool, watched films, talked, napped and eaten. Eaten beautiful Indonesian food cooked for us by Ketut and Tomah, the two ladies who looked after us and our villa. A dish that we asked them to make for us every night, after we fell in love with it on our first evening, is a Balinese coconut salad.

We had booked to go to Bali earlier in the year, excited that we could make a beautiful, tropical villa our home for a week. We knew that we would be able to enjoy the luxury of having beautiful Balinese dinners cooked for us while Thea was close by, soundly asleep in the bedroom, after a day spent swimming and being made a fuss of by all the locals. The date to leave came around in a rush and with multiple bikinis and minimal clothes packed, we headed to the airport full of anticipation. Anticipation for a calm baby on a long flight as well as for the opportunity to relax and unwind. Walking through the faded pink doors to our villa some hours later, we were greeted by beaming faces. Hello. Welcome. The pool was glistening and the villa, glorious. Fresh, comfortable and inviting.

On our first night we ordered in pizza and drank Bintang. A wonderful way to start a holiday with complete carefree abandon. We took in our new surroundings, watched the gheckos on the ceiling, enjoyed the warmth of the tropical evening and contemplated our holiday. On our second night though, we were spoilt by local cooking. Snapper cooked with Balinese spices in a banana leaf. A flavour explosion of turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilli enclosed in a little green parcel. Satay chicken. Always a favourite, with smoky charred chicken and sweet, salty, crunchy peanut sauce. And a Balinese coconut salad. Green beans, bean sprouts, grated fresh coconut, garlic and chilli. It was superb. So simple. Six ingredients. But a completely different and totally delicious taste and texture sensation. Chewy sweet coconut, fresh crunchy beans, salty garlic and a subtle heat from the chillis. We both fell in love with it. So much so we ordered it the next night. And the next. And the next.

That’s the thing about being on holidays. Places become linked with the particular foods enjoyed there. I could probably tell you my most favourite dishes from all the countries that I have visited. Mostly because, when I find something I love to eat in a certain place, as was the case with this Balinese coconut salad, I have it again and again. Spanakopita in Crete, which I used to buy from the bakery every morning. Raclette in the French Alps. Croquettes in Barcelona. Shawarma in Egypt. The list goes on. And try as I might to recreate all these dishes at home, they are never quite the same. But that’s half the fun. Re living the memories of holidays by trying to capture the tastes and flavours of foreign destinations.

Balinese coconut salad

  • About a quarter piece of a whole coconut, not a fresh one, but an older one with a husky outer skin
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 2 French shallots, finely sliced lengthways
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced lengthways
  • 1-2 small red chills depending on how much heat you like, sliced widthways into rings, seeds in
  • Fried onions to garnish (from a packet, easy to find in the Asian section of supermarkets)

Begin by cooking the piece of coconut, skin side down, over an open flame. A gas ring is great for this. Cook for about 5 minutes until the husk is charred and the flesh soft. Leave to cool.

Cook the green beans in salted boiling water until cooked, but still with a bit of bite. Add the bean sprouts and cook for a minute or two more. Strain the beans and bean sprouts and leave to cool.

Fry the shallots, garlic and chilli in a generous amount of oil. The ladies who cooked this salad for me used vegetable oil, but I think that peanut or coconut oil would both work nicely. Use a moderate heat so that the mixture doesn’t burn. You want the garlic and shallots to turn golden and start to colour around the edges. Remove from the heat and add to the beans, oil and all.

Now take the coconut and coarsely grate it into the bean and garlic mixture. Combine all the ingredients together thoroughly, transfer to a serving platter, garnish with fried onions and I dare you to tell me that you don’t love this Balinese coconut salad.

Enjoy this salad? You might like this smoky corn salad recipe.