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Come Dine With Us - Three Cheese Salad

Photo Credit: Jane Haarhoff

As you might have gathered, That-Man and myself are food enthusiasts. We enthuse about many (although definitely not all) things culinary. When our relationship was still green, most of our holiday planning revolved around good fly-fishing destinations. As the years went by and the internet expanded, it became easy to add food to the list of criteria determining our program. Although local cuisine might not determine where we go, it has become a habit of us to search out something that is either quintessentially local, or a unique delicacy, or maybe even something that catches our fancy.

One day we were introduced to this television show called “Come Dine With Me.” Although we’re convinced that most contestants are picked for their LACK of kitchen capabilities, we enjoyed watching the show immensely. So much so, that we decided to have a similar competition among friends. So we invited two couples to join us in this “lekker” endeavor.

As many volumes may be written about this mouthwatering expedition, i will limit my attention to only one dish: the salad which was the starter course of my menu.

My turn to cook came last, so i had many months to prepare. How many months do you need to prepare a salad? About seven, as you’ll see soon enough. Both the ingredients and the salad is simple enough, but as i take joy in preparing food as much as in savouring it, i decided to take it slow.

First, the base. Salad in many forms are some of my favourite foods. However, most people consider lettuce the base of the common mixed salad. In my home, lettuce only finds its way across the doorstep if one of my guests offer to bring a salad. Thankfully, That-Man and i agree on this matter in the kitchen, which makes for a more harmonious home. Therefore, our salads usually include anything but lettuce, or we substitute it with rocket, a much-loved alternative.

So the base ingredient of the salad was easy to decide on: rocket from our little garden. It had been planted some months before we’d decided to embark on this adventure, and we would have to make it last until spring, but with the mild winters in our hometown, that proved to be not too much of a challenge.

The next ingredient is my favourite salad ingredient. Honestly, it’s also my favourite sandwich ingredient. Come to think of it, it’s also my favourite pasta ingredient, and my favourite “miliepap” sauce ingredient. Let’s just say it’s a favourite. It’s the tomato, of course. Sadly, as this was the year we packed up our home, there was not enough time to manage all of the garden properly, so the cherry tomatoes had to be bought.

The next layer of flavour is where the name of the salad is derived from: Cheese! Even though the salad was planned as a minimalist starter course which had to be small enough to whet the appetite without ruining it before the main course, it had to be a worthy welcome to my guests. So three small cheese portions were included.

First came the home-grown variety. i call it kitchen mint cheese. Boil together a litre of full cream milk, 125ml of cream and 250ml of buttermilk until the mixture starts to separate. Remove the pot from the heat, spoon the curd into a strainer lined with cheesecloth and leave 5 to 15 minutes until it has reached the required texture. Now it’s ready to include some mint from the garden, as well as salt to taste. Simply chop a few leaves of mint and stir it through.

Next up was the dappled cheese. Some sweet potatoes that somehow survived our neglected vegetable patch were dug up, scrubbed, washed, peeled and sliced into slivers before being deep-fried, drained and crushed to form sweet potato flakes in which blue cheese chunks were rolled.

The third cheese is a reminder of one of my favourite foods from Switzerland: the Malakoff. While that story will be shared in due time, today i'll stick to this recipe. Small bits of Gruyére were rolled in egg, then in breadcrumbs, frozen, and deep-fried just before serving. This way, the guests could experience some of the melty, intensely flavoured wonder of the Malakoff.

On the plate, i arranged a base of rocket and beetroot leaves, then added two bites of each of the cheeses. (Although the salad was supposed to include the aforementioned cherry tomatoes, that night i forgot to add a few to each plate! This was only revealed the next morning, when i opened the fridge and found it lying there, abandoned and forgotten. Of course, that kind of neglect was fixed soon enough, and their purpose as palate-satisfying orbs was fulfilled.)

The dressing was served in shot glasses. First, a layer of pesto rosso (sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar blended together) was piped into the bottom of the glass. Next came a layer of basil pesto (fresh basil leaves, garlic, olive oil and black pepper). The last of my basil plants had already been fully-grown and started to bloom by the time we decided on this competition, and i had nurtured it until my time came seven months later. Then the plant was raided until only the naked stems remained. All of it was turned into pesto, as both the salad and main course required this ingredient. What a glorious way to say good-bye to such a garden staple. After the two pesto’s, balsamic vinegar and olive oil completed the four-layered salad dressing.

Well, there it is, then. Two greens, three cheeses and four condiments make one cheerful salad.

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