• Casual salads for an Australian Christmas: summery eggplant, beetroot with fetta and fattoush with za'atar

This year, Christmas lunch was at our house, others organised the traditional dishes whilst I set to work on three easy but delicious salads.  Criteria were: 1) Don’t use the stove or oven on Christmas day, 2) no nuts allowed (my brother is allergic), 3) there has to be enough for everyone and enough to make a meal for me.

Summery eggplant salad
This salad was made with my favourite vegetable and was popular enough for my mum to ask me to make it for a dinner party she was hosting the next night. The eggplant can be cooked the day before to save you time on the day and to make sure it is cool when serving.

Three eggplants
A bunch of flat leaf parsley
Green beans
Juice from two lemons
3 teaspoons of dried chilli
Two garlic cloves
Oil for frying

I know a lot of people recommend salting eggplant first.  But somewhere (I think it was in a Karen Martini recipe) I read that you only need to salt eggplant if the seeds are black.  I have never salted eggplant since and it always turns out well.  So for this, simply cut the eggplants into chunks.

On a medium heat, put some olive oil and the chopped garlic into a large fry pan.  When the garlic starts to become opaque, add the eggplant.  You may need to do this in batches if the pan is not big enough.  Many recipes require lots of olive oil at this stage, but trust me – you don’t need that much as long as you keep stirring your eggplant will not burn and will cook nicely.  Repeat until all the eggplant is cooked and soft.  Leave in a dish to cool and then place in the fridge.

Top and tail the beans then cut them into halves.  Blanch the beans in a sturdy bowl by adding boiled water.  Allow the beans to rest for a few minutes then cool them down by rising them with cold water.

When the eggplant and beans have cooled, mix them together.  Add the chopped parsley then stir in the lemon juice and chilli.

Simple beetroot salad
This is an overly simplistic salad but was very popular.  I have no doubt that others were doing their own variations on this one too as the supermarket had sold out of beetroot the day before Christmas eve.  For this one the beetroot can be cooked before too.

Bunch of baby beetroots
Mixed salad leaves
Approximately 200g fetta
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Wash the beetroots and chop off the stalks and roots.  Wrap them individually in aluminium foil and place in a baking dish.  Cook in a moderate oven.  The time will depend on the size of your beets.  The ones I had were quite small and took about 40 minutes to fully soften.  Prick them through with a skewer to check.

After leaving the beets to cool, remove the aluminium foil and then rub off the skin.  It should come off easily after cooking.  Cut the beetroots into small chunks.

Place the mixed salad leaves in a large bowl and add the cold beetroot.  Crumble in the fetta.  Dress with lots of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Fattoush Salad with Za'atar 
I found this recipe from Sarah Britton ‘s blog.  I love Za’atar.  For this one I bought spices from Oasis Bakery, rather than making my own.  I also left out the green onions and the mint and made my own croutons rather than using flat bread.  Sarah’s original recipe can be found on her blog My New Roots.  Thanks Sarah!

2 medium cucumbers
2 chopped tomatoes
2 red capsicum
1/2 red onion
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Olive oil
Three thick slices of white country-style bread
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon honey
2 garlic cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons of za’atar

Tear the bread into pieces and coat with oil.  Toast until golden then set aside to cool.

Chop the cucumber, capsicum and tomatoes into chunks.  Finely slice the red onion and place vegetables into a large bowl.  Add the chopped parsley and stir.

In a jar, mix about ¼ cup olive oil, the lemon juice, garlic cloves and honey.  Place a lid on the jar and shake until all the ingredients are blended.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the vegetables and mix.

Just before serving, add the croutons and the za’atar.