Wednesday, August 29, 2012

crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad

Well, here we are just a few days short of September. The heat in Korea is still really intense. I've forgotten what it's like to sleep with any covers and the days are humid, building to afternoons of late summer rain. Everywhere I turn, lush green plants and bush form the landscapes. Its a pretty cool sight to see this much green in the summer and is such a contrast to the golden plains and dry sun in New Zealand. 

Whether gold or green though, I'm always happy when the weather is warm! In fact I'm feeling pretty lucky, because this year I'm getting one loooooong summer. In just two weeks I'm saying goodbye to Korea and taking off. I'll be hitting the streets of Southeast Asia, then heading home to New Zealand just in time for the warmer months there to start shining. Korea started heating up in May and if all goes to plan, New Zealand will follow suit as it did earlier this year and extend it's upcoming summer right out into April. Boom! That's one whole year of summer love for me.

If you had a read of my last post you'll be well aware that I love salad. And due to my extended summer, salads have been making repeat appearances on my lunch and dinner (and sometimes even breakfast) menu. 

If you're not on the salad band wagon yet, I really want to help change your thoughts. My lovely manfriend used to scoff at me when I'd suggest we eat a salad. I could literally see his brain ticking over... "this girl and her salads - 'I'll just have the salad thanks' - that's not going to satisfy, let alone fill me up. No THANK YOU!". But I wasn't having a bar of it. A few taste-tester evenings, some lentils, chickpeas, roasted vegetables and a selection of delicous dressings later - he was hooked! My mission of turning this anti-salad-king into a salad-loving-advocate was complete.  No lie. It just took some experimenting and a little encouragement so he'd actually try preparing and eating a few different salads combos. 

Now I want to work on you! Take this post as a little push - kind encouragement - to motivate you to jump inside your kitchen and start preparing, chopping and cooking up some salad storms. Take just one step at a time and start here with this crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad. 

I should also mention (because I'm aware I've gone on plenty about the heat and summer in this blog) that I haven't forgotten about the lovely people back home who aren't sitting in 30 plus degrees. Today's dish is lovely served warm or on the side of any winter meal. Plus!... Spring is just around the corner so it can't hurt to jump on board now and start sussing out some fresh new recipes.

Kumara - Kumara is what gives this salad its sweetness and texture. If you're reading outside of New Zealand then you'll be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Kumara is a Maori word and translates as sweet potato - a term I'm sure most of you are more familiar with. I grew up using the name kumara and it's stuck. The Korean name for sweet potato is Goguma (고구마). They sound similar to me, goguma and kumara. I like that two different native cultures - Maori and Korean - which have both influenced me to a great extent, have that link. All be it a small link, I connected with it! I loved kumara as a child and it's my all time favourite roast vegetable. So I guess I found it comforting to see them all through the markets here in Korea.

Sweet potatoes are seriously friendly to our bods. They have a relatively low glycemic index especially compared to their cousin the white potato. Foods with a low glycemic index don't give us those rapid spikes in blood glucose levels which then inevitably come crashing back down and leave us feeling lethargic and craving calories. By avoiding this roller-coaster type response we take pressure of our pancreas which works overtime to keep levels balanced, avoid post-meal body crashes and cravings and feel full for longer. Sweet potatoes are also super packed with beta carotene which is considered a great antioxidant that helps to neutralize toxins in the body. They have anti-inflammatory properties too that can help heal and sooth our digestive system and to top it all off, these sweeties provide us with a great source of fibre, vitamin C, B6 and loads of vitamin A (which our body converts from all that beta carotene).

I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned roasted spud, but the brighter and more colourful a vegetable - the more antioxidants it beholds. Sweet potatoes - usually red, orange or purple in colour - are a comforting, filling and health boosting vege with the added bonus of a rich sweetness that makes them oh so delicious! 
crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad

1 cup cooked brown lentils*
1 large kumara or 2-3 small to medium size - cut into small cubes (I usually aim for 2-3 lightly packed cups once chopped)
generous helping of garlic cloves (I throw in 8 or so)
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
olive oil for roasting
1 heaped cup diced red cabbage 
1 medium diced red onion 
1 cup chopped tomato (I like to use cherry tomatoes for a burst of freshness and flavour)
1 medium cucumber seeded and chopped 
1 handful of spinach roughly chopped
1 handful of fresh parsley, mint, coriander or a combination of all three roughly chopped.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp cumin powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 Tbls honey 

Arrange kumara and garlic in a roasting dish and coat with cumin seeds and olive oil (approx 1-2 Tbls). Set in an oven at 180 degrees and bake till kumara and garlic are turning a burnt gold colour and the cloves are soft. Usually about 25 minutes in my oven, but it only takes 15 in my Mum's - so just keep an eye on them and turn them once during cooking. While they are in the oven prepare and chop red cabbage, red onion, tomatoes, cucumber and spinach and add to a large salad bowl with the lentils. When the kumara is ready, leave to cool before adding to the bowl with half of the herbs. Stir together. 

For the dressing, add ingredients to a jar and shake till combined. Pour three quarters of the dressing over the salad and mix through. Have a taste and decide whether you'd like to pour over the rest and add a few extra grinds of cracked pepper and salt. Serve in a large salad bowl or individual bowls and finish with a sprinkling of left over herbs. Enjoy as a side to a main dish or eat on its own in all its glory, as I do!

If you'd like this dish served a little warm - add the kumara to the salad bowl before it has completely cooled. If you cook your own lentils keep them warm too. If you buy lentils pre-cooked, choose your own method to re-heat before adding to them to the salad.

*If you are cooking your own lentils, for this dish look out for brown or french green rather than split lentils. They hold together well after cooking and won't turn to mush. I like to cook my own to avoid unnecessary additives, but I know supermarkets back home stock pre-cooked options in a can that are pretty user friendly!

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