I really cannot get enough of this salad at the moment. I made it to make the most of the fragrances and flowers of the lovely fresh herbs that we have at the moment. It pairs these with the amazing zing of preserved lemons. I am currently a bit obsessed with these lemons as they add the most amazing fresh flavour to anything, sweet or savoury.
At this time of year it seems a shame to over process herbs. I have been eating handfuls of them in everything I can, noodles, curries and of course salads. They are also fantastic in cocktails… purely to make the most of the herbs of course!
One of the inspirations for this salad was Vietnamese food. I love the way they throw handfuls of fresh mint around. There’s no need to cut the leaves, they are left whole for that massive kick of flavour. That is what I have done here. There is a cooling mint flavour to the chicken and a background of thyme from the dressing, then big punches of fresh leaves. This is why I don’t cut the mint and also add extra chives, thyme leaves and flowers at the end. As you eat, you should get different combinations of herbs in each mouthful.
I especially love eating the flowers from herbs. Chive flowers add a gorgeous peppery kick and look so beautiful. I love to sprinkle thyme flower in this salad so they tease the senses, giving a little burst of extra thyme perfume as you eat.
I also eat smaller version of this salad without the chicken as a starter – great for vegetarians too. The crunch of the beans and the fresh flavours are a great way to wake your tastebuds up for dinner.
Here is the info on how to make the salad, and I’ve also thrown in a little extra – the method for preserving lemons too!
Summer Salad with Fistfuls of Herbs Recipe
4 Chicken breasts
3-4 sprigs of fresh mint (about 20 leaves)
2-3 fresh red Chillis or a pinch of chilli powder
Juice of 2 lemons
Rocket & pea shoots
Fresh mint leaves – about 6 or 7 per person
200g Runner beans
60ml olive oil
10 ml white wine vinegar
5ml lemon juice
Half a preserved lemon, thinly sliced
3 tsp fresh thyme
Here’s how to make it:
1. Slice the chicken breasts ready to marinade. I usually cut one breast into three long fingers. It is better to have plenty of surface to absorb the marinade, but be careful not to cut it too thin as then end result is not as juicy. Cut up and bruise the mint really well so that the oil imparts the flavour into the lemon juice. Add roughly chopped chilli, the lemon juice and a crack of pepper. Coat the chicken well and leave for at least an hour, preferably longer if you have time.
2. You can also prepare the dressing at this point as the longer the flavours meld together, the better. Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. Make sure to bruise the thyme leaves in your fingertips as you add them, and chop the chives finely. This will ensure the aromas from the oils in the herbs will flavour the dressing. This is basically a vinaigrette, but should taste unbalanced and too oily at this point. If you add too much vinegar or lemon now, the salad will be too acidic due to the preserved lemons.
3. When you are ready to prepare the salad slice the runner beans thinly (about 2mm) and blanch them in salted water until the texture is al dente. Cool them under running water and mix them into the dressing to infuse a little.
4. Wash the rocket and pea shoots and arrange on plates with sliced radish.
5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and take off any mint leaves or pieces of chilli or they will just burn as you cook the chicken. Grill the chicken.
6. Assemble the salad by putting the runner beans and dressing over the leaves and place the chicken on top. Finish off with whole mint leaves, chives, thyme leaves, chive flowers and thyme flowers. If you have them, also add flowers from rocket or pea shoots, they look beautiful and are delicious!
Preserved Lemon Recipe
I use the recipe from Paula Wolfert’s book about Moroccan Cooking. It produces a really fresh tasting result which I love. If you like Moroccan food then I highly recommend her book, it is the best one I have seen on Morocco.
5 unwaxed lemons
5 tbsp salt
- Wash the lemons and cut them until they are almost quartered but still hold together – like so:
- Cut the lemons into quarters
- Rub salt into the flesh of the lemons
- Pack them into a jar and cover with lemon juice. They must be totally submerged in the liquid or the uncovered parts will mould
- Leave them for at least one month before using
- When they are ready pull off the flesh, just use the rind. Rinse it well before using