A simple sunshine salad which makes a great quick summertime lunch. Ideal served as a side or starter, add some chunky croutons or toasted nuts for a more substantial dish.
The sun is coming and with it comes sprouting a host of beautiful fruits and vegetables. Summer is an exciting time of year, we can finally don shorts again and be collectively surprised at how white our feet are! The flip flops are out in force, maybe a vest and we’re into the garden with salads and fizzy glasses. Certainly in Spain, salads are an every day delight.
There is a global constant that baffles me. You visit local markets and shops (this does not apply to the sub-Saharan region) and there are a wonderful selection of fruits and veggies displayed. You then go to the restaurant next door to find that none of the lovely local fruits and veggies are present on the menu. It’s a strange old situation. The world is addicted to potatoes and tomatoes it seems. Murcia is similar. Although this is the ‘garden’ of Spain, and possibly Europe, a Murcian salad consists of onion, tomato and some black olives (plus tinned tuna if you’re particularly unlucky). This is my version of the local salad using things we can all get our hands on.
You can’t just throw things into your finest salad bowl and expect magical results, salads need a little thought. There’s a balance there. I’d say always gently handle and chop your ingredients and toss them together with care. You want a nice combo of flavours and textures, without over doing it. Salads are our chance to showcase amazing produce and whenever possible, lets buy good stuff for our salads. You might be able to hide vacuous tomatoes in a stew, but in a salad, they just look so lame.
DOWN AT ‘EL MERCADO ESTUPENDO’
I’ve just been down to the local Sunday market here in Mazarron and beeeee jeehzus there is a startling array of amazing produce at the minute. Piled up like technicolour forts; melons like beachballs, bewildering varieities of tomato action, gangs of crimson peppers so deep and vivid, every conceivable shade of olive and crispy, fresh donuts (churros). Well, they seem to balance up all the healthy veggie behaviour. Spain is hot in weather and generally, super chilled in attitude. My kind of combo. ‘Manana!’ (tomorrow) is the Murcian moto. Their crest is probably a tranquil terrace scene, but I can’t verify that. Today is for enjoying…..
I rock up mid-morning just after the donut breakfast feast that’s washed down with goblets of brandy or thick coffee (maybe beer) sometimes a combination of them all will lashing of condensed milk and randomly, nutmeg. It’s a coffee called an Asiatico and is more like several desserts in a small glass swimming in a few shots of black espresso. If you’re lucky, you can score a fresh orange juice, but expect at least two funny looks as you make your way back to a wobbly plastic chair in the sun. Sunday is a good day here.
There is a whole host of other items sold at the market; counterfeit cd’s, plants, leggings, trees and the occasional pot or pan or pot plant. There is also a very cool pan pipe band from Peru who belt out all the classics. I must say, I just focus on edibles. I have a routine, I sweep past with an empty backpack, the first pass. I am above temptation. I don’t buy anything. This is a strict regime, fact finding, and essential for quality control and price comparison. There is no Asda price in Murcia, you’ve got to do the leg work and have hawk like instincts. Bargains are fleeting and sometimes well disguised.
I asses the form and then stop for a well earned cafe americano (sometimes plus a few crispy donuts). If I don’t have donuts, the lady will feel sorry for me and give me some anyway. Older ones from the bottom of the pile. A donut constant that I go with. Then the fun begins. I have pockets of small change and throw myself into the crowds of haggling Spanish and Moroccan housewives, all at least half my size and double my strength, who posses pin sharp elbows. Dead legs and worse have been known around the olive stand and especially at the bargain tomato family and always at the toothless apple dude.
The olive stand is a piece of work, ran by three generations of a family. It seems they’ll pickle or preserve anything going. Capers, caperberries, garlic, cucumbers, pink pickled onions the size of a cricket ball, the olives are pretty hot too. You’ll always get a few freebie tasters if you offer equally confused and intrigued expressions. Have you tried a purple olive? I went for some bitter bright green local olives today, they love their bitter olives in these parts, stuffed with lemon rind, minced onion and rosemary. Quite a thing I can assure you.
I know each stand intimately by now, after ten years, I’m one of the villages most well schooled veg selector. They all have their stregths and weaknesses and I try to spread the wealth (amounting to a few euros) around. I’d say on average, the fruit and veg here is at least 1/3 price in a UK supermarket. The Spanish supermarkets also charge more than Mazarron market. The market shifts from town to town, four days a week, I’ve been to each location but the Sunday one is the best. People are letting there hair down and there is a sense of celebration, most of the stall owners clutch a cold can of beer, churches occasionally ring bells and you’re never far from a chuckle or guffaw.
It’s a tough old life in Spain guys!! I’ll keep the sunny plant-based correspondence flowing. Here’s what I did with todays haul.
For a more filling salad, drizzle some bread with olive oil and toast under a grill. Roughly chop up and toss in a little more oil, a pinch of salt and a few pinches of dried herbs like oregano and thyme. Scatter over the salad before serving.
Pickled garlic is not that easy to find but it is a superstar ingredient. Use a couple of cloves of fresh garlic instead, it’s worth noting that the flavour is different, pickled garlic is sweet and mild tasting pretty well pickled! I find it quite addictive and sometimes just eat it straight up, I find its quite nice served with nibbles.
I find the lemon and a good extra virgin olive oil is more than enough dressing wise.
Spain boasts very fat and creamy butter beans. Seek out some beauties for this salad, they are one of the highlights.
Using pitted olives is a good idea. An unexpected olive stone is always an unwanted crunch.
The Bits – For 4 as main course, 6-8 as side salad/ starter
500g cooked or 2 tins butterbeans (the fatter, the better)
1 small sweet onion or 3 spring onions (finely sliced)
6 medium sized tomatoes (ripe and sweet)
1 handful pickled garlic cloves (roughly chopped)
1/2 courgette (diced)
1/2 cucumber (diced)
1 head baby gem lettuce or similar (sliced)
2 big handfuls black olives
1 handful parsley (finely sliced)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon (juice and zest)
Salt and pepper
Place all ingredients in a large salad bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and the juice and zest of one lemon. Toss gently together with your hands.
Scatter over the parsley, some salt and pepper and croutons if your using them. Serve with more wedges of lemon if you fancy a little more zing and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling.