January food, to me, is ALL about freshness.
After a lot of rich food over the Christmas period I absolutely crave a return to spicy fresh tastes and I really want salads ... and chillies too!
I want spicy and sour and sharp and completely zingy, plus crunchy and fresh.
So I've been making variations of my 'January salad' all week.
So easy, it's just a simple basis from which to experiment - and a great way to use up things in the freezer - which is the other thing I'm doing in January. No more buying what I feel like on the way home when in the freezer I found chicken, pork mince, scallops, squid and prawns!
To go with the salad I cook rice and a quick protein-based stir fry.
One night it was strips of chicken sprinkled with a little soy sauce and some black pepper and stir-fried. Another night it was prawns and squid stir-fried with sliced red and yellow peppers and a dash of oyster sauce. Anything easy and quick and just what you have really.
Just don't make it spicy as the salad is hot!
And, onto the salad part itself then.
I KNOW this is going to sound a bit of a faff for a salad but bear with me - it's honestly not, there's just a few components, but they are really simple to make and they make your salad something special.
Read through right to the end before you start making it - and see what you already have that you could use!
These are the approx quantities I use to make 'January salad' for two (greedy) people, but you really do have to taste as you go with this one and get it to your liking.
The more often you make it, the easier and more instinctive it gets of course.
First, make the sweet part of the dressing that will balance out the spicy and sour flavours.
Put two tablespoons (measure them!) of light brown sugar (use white if you don't have light brown) into a small saucepan with three tablespoons of water and slowly bring to a boil, simmer gently for literally just a minute and then remove from the heat.
Next put all your salad-y things in a big bowl with room to toss it all together later.
I used about 3/4 of a bag of 'crunchy' salad from the supermarket so it was crunchy lettuce and red cabbage and carrots. I added thinly sliced green pepper and white onion.
All of these are good: white onion, red onion, spring onion, carrots, courgettes, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, peppers and anything else that's crunchy. Just slice it nice and finely so it looks lovely as well as tastes good.
Put a few cherry tomatoes to one side to add later, or quarter a tomato or two (remove the core! no one wants to eat the core!).
I also really like a bit of added crunch to the texture so some nuts are good if you have them.
A small handful of peanuts would be perfect. I didn't have any in the cupboard, so quickly toasted some flaked almonds in a hot dry frying pan for a few minutes.
Now the fun bit.
Put a roughly chopped clove or two of garlic (depending on size) and a roughly chopped chilli or two (I used two birds eye chillies) into a mortar and crush them up with the pestle - you want them in really small pieces but not a total mush.
Next my 'secret' ingredient - dried shrimp. This is optional but if you can get hold of it (at an Asian supermarket or online) it keeps forever in the freezer, takes only minutes to defrost and makes your pad Thai authentic too ...
If you're using dried shrimp, add a small handful to the chilli/garlic mix and give it a bit of a bash then add the nuts (if using) and crush a bit more.
Then add peanuts - if using - and bash a bit more. (I was using more delicate toasted almonds so just added them at the end rather than over-crushing them now).
Then the tomatoes go in to be squished and THEN tip everything from the mortar into the bowl of crunchy salad and stir it all in and maybe give it a bit of a crush with the pestle to make sure it's all mixed.
Pour in the sugar syrup, add 1.5 tablespoons of fish sauce and squeeze in the juice of a lime.
Use your (clean!) hands to scrunch and toss it all together and add a handful of chopped or torn coriander leaves too, if you have them and if you like coriander (I know a lot of people don't).
And, this is the really important bit, TASTE it and see if you need more fish sauce or more lime juice.
Personally, I like my salads very spicy and very sour, but I've learnt to tone it down a little bit if I'm sharing - haha - so I think the quantities I've given should be right for most people, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to taste and make sure it's right for YOU.
It's YOUR dinner so it needs to suit your palate.
And that's it.
Honestly, I love this and right now eat a variant of it several times a week - and often take leftovers in to work too for lunch the next day (with an extra chilli to add slices of and an extra lime to squeeze in).
I love the sharp flavours and the freshness, the soft chicken or prawns and the steaming rice with beautiful spicy sour salad.
Really want to know what you think of this one, so please do comment if you make your own version!