Producing two different dishes at one meal is something we're accustomed to. Josh and StrawberryFrog are both vegetarian; lpm and deb like to eat meat. However, for us it is important that the meals we serve to meat-eaters and vegetarians are vaguely similar. If for no other reason, it makes life easy. There are also the more ideological factors of shared mealtimes and shared experiences, but that's probably for another node. Anyway, this is one meal &mdash or perhaps that should be two dishes — that emerged from our quest for divergent recipes. Admittedly, adapting a salad for meat-eaters, vegetarians, or piscetarians isn't so demanding, but this worked so well we couldn't keep it to ourselves.
We teased out the idea for this after a conversation about poached chicken, and deb reminiscing about a salad involving sweet potatoes that she'd eaten in the January Jerusalem sunshine. As for the pears, that was a lightning strike of inspiration that binds together the meat and vegetarian options. There's nothing demanding or complicated about this recipe, and it's a small taste of autumnal heaven. Of course, you only need to use one half of the recipe for an all-vegetarian or all-meat-eating meal.
Whichever pear you choose for this, it will need to be firm. Perhaps a Williams for early autumn, when you still might be able to eat this outside and convince yourself that summer hasn't quite faded, and a Comice in mid-autumn. If you can find locally grown fruit or a heritage variety, then so much the better. Perry is one of those foodstuffs that has been produced for centuries in the UK, and in France, but somehow fell out of the public consciousness. It's now enjoying something of a revival in popularity, and there are a few commercially available brands out there, which aren't so bad. Trying them to find the one you like is half the fun.
Ready to start?
What you'll be needing for four — two vegetarians, and two meat-eaters:
- 4 pears — peeled, sliced into eighths lengthwise, and cored
- Olive oil — a splash
- Cider vinegar — a dash
- Salad leaves — baby spinach, lamb's lettuce, whatever you prefer, four generous handfuls
- 250g (8oz) cherry tomatoes — halved
- 1 cucumber — thinly sliced, in chunks, cubed, however you like it best
- Walnuts — a scattering
- Salad dressing
- 100ml (3floz) olive oil — extra virgin is best
- 25-50ml (1floz) cider vinegar — this will depend on your taste, and how acidic you like your dressing
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon grain mustard
- Salt and pepper
- Meat version
- 2 chicken quarters — lpm prefers breast, deb prefers leg; it's best left on the bone, but remove the skin
- 500ml (1 pint) perry
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 peppercorns
- Pinch of salt
- Chicken stock
- Vegetarian version
- 2 small sweet potatoes — peeled and sliced into strips
- Olive oil — another splash
- Salt and pepper
- 200g (7oz) feta cheese — crumbled
What to do
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lightly coat the strips of sweet potato in olive oil and season. Place on a baking sheet and roast until tender and beginning to caramelise. About 40 minutes.
Next turn your attention to the chicken. Place it in a pan with the bayleaf, the peppercorns, and sprinkling of salt. Cover it with the perry; if there isn't sufficient liquid, top it up with the chicken stock. Put a lid over the pan, place it on a medium heat, and bring to a simmer. The chicken will take between 20 and 30 minutes to cook, but to be honest, overpoaching is fairly difficult. What's most important is to ensure that the meat is cooked through to the bone and that any juices are running clear.
By now, it's probably time to roast the pears. Place them in a lightly oiled heatproof dish and sprinkle with the cider vinegar. Put them in the oven with the sweet potatoes, for roughly 20 minutes.
On to the salad dressing. Place all the ingredients in a clean screw-top jar (an old jam jar is ideal), make sure the lid is secure, and shake. Try the golden coloured emulsion that it'll become, adding more of whatever it needs to suit your palate.
Take two salad bowls and divide the lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes evenly between them.
As soon as the chicken is cooked and cool enough to handle, begin to strip it off of the bone and shred it. Toss it into one of the salad bowls.
When the sweet potatoes are cooked throw them into the other salad bowl. Then crumble over the feta.
By now, the pears should be tender and gently caramelised. Divide them equally between the two salad bowls and then add the walnuts.
Give the dressing another shake to ensure it is properly amalgamated, and then dress each salad to your liking. Toss each salad carefully, and take to the table. You might want some bread to accompany it, too. Drinking perry with this would be ideal, but if you'd prefer something more sophisticated, a Pinot Grigio, with its orchard fruit notes, would go well.