P1160918Inspiration for dinner can come from the darnedest places. If what you’re after is a cracking recipe for your next Meatless Monday supper, something to feed the visiting vegetarians, or a lovely side for roast lamb or pan seared pink fish, click straight to the bottom. If you have some time for a little whimsy about its origins, read on.

What follows will probably be the greatest #firstworldproblem since ‘I’m scraping the bottom of the Netflix barrel’ and ‘We ran out of semi hard goat cheese’. 

It’s ‘I can’t choose a shade of white to paint the extension of the house’.

We are shin deep in the renovations. Project ‘Kitchen of Dreams’ has started with ‘Project Move Upstairs’. We’re cleaving a large, oblong, functionless (unless you’re a toddler running races on a drizzling day) room upstairs into three new rooms. One will be the new master bedroom. The second will be a small study for me (no more typing on the kitchen table!) The third, another bedroom.  The walls for all of this went up with alarming speed. Which meant suddenly I was thrust into a decision making corridor I wasn’t quite ready for. ‘What colour will we paint this tomorrow?’. Gracious. It’s more than just a wall. The colour of that wall will have to be consistent with the rest of the house. Which means, we’re now choosing the colour for everything.’White?’ I said.

‘Yes, but which white?’

P1160914Oh. It turns out it is possible to go a little mad choosing between 30 shades of white overnight.  There are those with underhues of cream, others which quiver towards grey. There were swatches painted, pieces of cardboard held up in various lights, google reviews sought and hours lost. (Cue #firstworldproblem once again).

In the end we went with Quarter Lexicon for the ceiling and cornices and ‘Natural White’ for the walls. It’s warmer than the ceilings, but not as clotted cream as some of the alternatives.

And then my thoughts turned to dinner.

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And I couldn’t get my brain away from those colour swatches. White on white is something I’ve railed about for a while. I’ve come out the other side of a diet that largely consisted of white bread, white potatoes, plain pasta and white rice. Yet it turns out there are plenty of ways to eat a plate of white without feeling bound to the couch for the rest of the eve.

I present to you the warm white salad. It’s a sophisticated composition of roast cauliflower,  fennel, quinoa, spring onion, chickpeas, pine nuts, garlic and labna.

Labna is a lovely alternative to traditional cheese in a side dish. This strained yoghurt cheese can be bought in most delicatessens, but is perfectly easy to make yourself. There are step by step instructions for it in ‘A Suitcase and a Spatula’, where it’s served on bruschettas with roast red grapes and walnuts, inspired by our wedding location in the Hunter Valley.

Essentially you want to place plain Greek yoghurt in a piece of muslin, or a clean Chux wipe with a pinch of salt. Then tie it together into a swag and suspend it over a glass for a few hours. The milky whey that drips out can make a lovely tart dressing for pulses, or roast vegetables (cumin and coriander spiced carrots with whey and some toasted seeds is a lovely side for a roast). In the chux will be thickened yoghurt, which can either be rolled into balls and preserved in olive oil for a week, or used in the next day or so in salads or as a dip.

The rest is an beguiling balance of temperatures and textures. There’s the rubble of cooked quinoa and crunch of toasted pine nuts and brittle char of roasted cauliflower. Roast cauliflower or chickpeas are both staples in this kitchen- they make an excellent alternative to croutons in many guises (try it in a gluten/grain free Caesar salad).

The garlic is subtly infused by spearing it with a fork and using it as the implement to stir fry the chickpeas. It helps add a ghostly cloak of flavour, but doesn’t shout about it from the ceiling.

I like to serve this either on its own as composed salads, or roughly tumbled into a large bowl as a family style side dish to pan seared salmon fillets or lamb. Though if you were truly dedicated to the white on white colour scheme, roast chicken or swordfish steaks would also work a treat.

Warm White Salad

P1160918Serves 2-3

Shopping/foraging

P11609091/2 head of cauliflower, diced into small florets
1 cup cooked quinoa (60 g uncooked quinoa)
1/2 cup of Greek yoghurt/140 g, or 80 g of labna
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, one grated, one whole
1 x 400 g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 fennel, shaved
1 spring onion, roots trimmed, diced
3 tbsp olive oil

Here’s how we roll

1) Three to four hours before you plan on cooking (or overnight) mix the salt with the yoghurt wrap in muslin or chux and leave to drain over a glass in the fridge to make the labna.

2) Preheat the oven to 200C/392 F and line one or two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

3) Drizzle the cauliflower florets with 2 tbsp of olive oil and spread them out on the baking sheets. Roast for 30 minutes, swapping them half way through if they’re on different shelves.

P1160912  4) Remove the cauliflower from the oven when it is bronzed and crispy.

P1160916 5) Warm the chickpeas and quinoa and one grated garlic clove in a fry pan with the remaining tbsp of olive oil, using the other garlic cloves speared with a fork as a spatula.

6) Divide the quinoa, chickpeas and roasted cauliflower among your plates. Top with the shaved fennel, toasted pine nuts and finely diced spring onion. Add dabs of the strained labna.  Serve warm, or at room temperature.

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