Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Nigel's wild rice, pomegranate and prosciutto salad

Christmas tends to come early in Japan as the 25th is a normal work day, but the 23rd a national holiday for the Emperor's birthday (how kind of him to think of us poor expats in timing his arrival (g)).

This year, I thought I'd push the boat out a bit with tradition, since I thought our dear Iranian and Japanese guests may not have had a "real" Christmas dinner before. But I did want to include pomegranate, as it is a seasonal fruit in Iran, also, being a significant feature of the Yalda, or Winter Solstice celebration (December 22). How lucky for me, then, that pomegranate also seems to be in vogue in the UK this year. So I immediately snapped up this gorgeous salad from Nigel Slater's column in the Guardian for my Christmas menu.

Aside from tart little pomegranate rubies that pop pleasingly in your mouth and festive-looking green parsley, the salad's dressing contains the juice of not one but THREE citrus fruits. What could be more perfect for a blog named Saffron and Lemons!?

As for the prosciutto, well I could take it or leave it, personally. The cost to flavour ratio was not really there for me (but I did forget to flash-fry the papery slices in my haste to get stuck into it).

So for anyone looking for a substitute, having remembered that pork products are not on sale in their country of residence (g), the substitute is nothing except an extra little grinding of salt. I also found that, using a zester and not a box grater, I had more lime zest than I needed so I only used half. I reckon the recipe would be spot on if you are using the grater, though.

A good way of removing the pomegranate seeds (gleaned from the fabulous Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey) is to score a long line around your pomegrante from the stalk to the base, peel the skin off and break the seeds up in a bowl of water. You can then scoop off any pith that may have got in as it floats while the seeds sink to the bottom.

Wild rice, pomegranate and prosciutto salad

Serves 4-6

125g wild rice
a large handful golden sultanas
a large handful pecans
2 pomegranates
a small bunch flat-leafed parsley

For the dressing
juice of half an orange
zest and juice of a lime
juice of half a lemon
balsamic vinegar - a few drops
olive oil - 2 tbs
12 thin slices of prosciutto
Sea salt

Cook the rice in four times its volume of lightly salted water, covered with a lid, for about 45-50 minutes. It should be tender, but still have a pleasing bite to it. Drain and allow to cool.

Put the saltanas and pecans into a mixing bowl. Break open the pomegranates and
remove the seeds, adding them to the saltanas. It is worth taking great care here, so that none of the bitter white pith surrounding the seeds gets in. Roughly chop the leaves from the parsley - I try to keep the pieces quite large - then stir them in.

Make the dressing by mixing the juice of the oranges, lime (plus zest) and lemon with the oil, vinegar and a generous pinch of sea salt.

Bring together the rice, fruits and dressing and leave to marry for 15 minutes. Cook the prosciutto slices briefly in a hot, non-stick fying pan. They will be flecked with gold in a matter of seconds. Place a couple of heaped tablespoons of the rice on each pile, then surround with the pieces of warm prosciutto.

With every last morsel being polished off, and the young man of the house declaring it "yummy", I think this salad may make regular appearances at our Christmas table from now on (and maybe at other times too).


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