Sunday, 27 April 2008

grape & spiced nut salad

I love Maggie Beer. Her enthusiasm about food is infectious. She places so much emphasis on using seasonal and regional produce and all her recipes look simply delicious. Almost every dish she cooks are exactly the kinds of flavours, ingredients and recipes that inspire me.

Her cohost on The Cook and The Chef, Simon Bryant, is also inspirational. He’s a chef with amazing skill but he’s down to earth and has no airs about making food. He promotes good food, not wanky food and even if some of his dishes are more complicated and advanced they are never esoteric. And he’s a vegetarian, so he gets Jonas’ vote.

If you’re looking for interesting, delicious dishes using ordinary ingredients in extraordinary combinations then I suggest you peruse their website where their recipes from every episode are shared with the world.

Maggie Beer was pretty much responsible for introducing verjuice as an acidulate in Australia. I remember, as a teenager, coming home from school and seeing a fancy 750ml bottle of “verjuice” in the fridge. I poured myself a nice cold glass and gasped when I realised it was almost vinegar. I learnt about verjuice pretty fast!

Maggie drinks verjuice over ice, but as I discovered this is pretty sour, so instead she developed one of the most beautiful non-alcoholic drinks I’ve ever had: Desert Pearls.

Made from Cabernet grapes, Desert Pearls has a champagne bead and seems almost like a wine, but then you taste flavours like rose and green tea and the drink ends with a sour finish, almost like sour cherry. I absolutely adore it and could easily drink an entire bottle on my own. Luckily it’s not alcoholic! They recommend you drink it with “anything with mushroom, game, kangaroo or venison but also the richness of duck or goose…brochette with sardines, white bean puree and shaved parmesan, a beautiful quail egg with caviar, seared tuna with a black pepper crust”.

Other Maggie Beer products which have become an institution in Australian gourmet circles are her burnt fig jam, her fruit pastes and her pates.

Last year The Cook and The Chef March autumn episode featured a lot of grape dishes and, since I noticed an abundance of delicious grapes in the shops this year, I decided to replicate this delicious salad.

We served it as part of an autumnal feast that Jonas and I made a few weekends ago. After a white truffle and cauliflower soup, we ate this grape salad alongside Hungarian chicken paprikas (mushroom for Jonas). It cut through the richness of the main course and added sweet, juicy freshness. Superb.

Grape, Rocket & Spiced Nut Salad
Recipe from The Cook and The Chef. Serves 4.

1 cup grapes, halved
1 green apple, julienned
Rocket leaves
60g sultanas soaked in verjuice or marsala
1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts)
2/3 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon cassia bark
¼ teaspoon allspice
3 cloves
10 green cardamom seeds (not pods).
1 tablespoon olive oil
Drizzle of walnut oil, to finish
1. Put all the smoked paprika, coriander seed, cassia bark, allspice, cloves and cardamom seeds in a grinder to make a spice blend.
2. Lightly dry fry the nuts in a pan. Add spice mix. When they start to glisten add a little olive oil and fry. This process is really important to stop the nuts from going soggy in the dressing.
3. Cool, and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and a little more paprika then spread over the serving plate.
4. Pile up the grapes, apple, sultanas and rocket on the plate.
5. Dress with walnut oil and a touch of salt to finish.

Grapes, of the genus Vitis, are very useful fruits coming from a woody, perennial, deciduous vines.

Most grapes are Vitis Vinifera cultivars, which originated in the Mediterranean and Central Asia. Only a few grapes came from Asia or the Americas, such as Vitis labrusca (US/Canada) and Vitis amurensis (Asia).

According to Wikipedia, the top ten wine grape producing countries are, in order from most to least: Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, United States, Iran, Romania, Portugal, Argentina and Australia.

Around 71% of the world’s grapes go towards wine production, 27% are sold as fresh fruit and 2% are dried.

These days seedless grapes are by far the most popular and since most vines are started from cuttings, this doesn’t seem to be a problem for farmers. Ironically, seedless grapes do not contain the important nutrients attacged to the grapoe seeds and are therefore less healthy.

Raisins, currants and sultanas share a confusing history. While sultanas were once the dried fruit of a specific Turkish grape, raisins were named after a French word for any dried grape and currants were dried Zante grapes, a corrupted word from the French raisin de Corinthe.

Grape skins and seeds seem to contain a polyphenol antioxidant called resveratrol which is suppsed to act as an antifungal as well as prevent heart disease, degenerative nerve disease, viral infections, mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease and even cancer.

Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Margot from Coffee and Vanilla. Be sure to check out the round-up!



  1. Wow, Anna. I think arugula and grapes sounds like a brilliant combination. I love both those ingredients (and nuts as well of course!) I learned about Verjuice from you, but I still haven't seen it anywhere in the U.S.

  2. Thank you for your entry Anna :)

  3. What an interesting salad!
    We can't get seedless grapes here, so I suppose that is a good thing... I really don't like the seeds though. For this salad, I'd just de-seed them first...
    As to the verjuice - that may take a bit of a search.

  4. fantastic, colourful salad!! i love your use of spices.

  5. This looks delicious - what an inspired combination of ingredients. There is a winery about 30 minutes from where I live which produces verjus so I am in luck there!


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