I am in Australia!!! I went to Brisbane for the International conference on Cognitive Neuroscience (ICON), where more than 500 neuroscientists came together to review recent findings and share new results and ideas on four and a half very intense days (more on the contents of the conference on future posts). It left me with new ideas and inspiation for my research, but also quite exhausted. Now it is over and I just started my summer holidays! FREE!!! I am at a lovely hostel two hours South from Brisbane, directly on the beach. And even though it is winter here, today it was 27ºC! The days are really short, but otherwise this is a winter that feels more like summer or at least spring. Today I went for my first barefooted run along the beach, a beach very different from the ones I know in Europe, mostly in the sense that it is never ending and almost completely empty! When I was far enough from the hostel I dared a (not very loud) scream of happiness. White sand, palm trees, an infinite blue and wavy ocean and the wind in my hair and ears – how much better can it get? The hostel has a big communal kitchen, a green yard with wooden tables and hammocks, bicycles to hire for free… I know, it sounds as if I will have a hard time here.
One thing I love about summer (or winters that feel like summer) is the picnics. In the park, at the beach, the terrace, a bench… it doesn’t matter. There is something magic about eating outside. A downside about salads for a picnic may be that the greens get warm and all soaked with the dressing, resulting in a rather unappetizing salad mesh instead of crunchy leaves. A good alternative is a salad without lettuce but with lots of finely chopped green herbs that contribute a fresh flavor, and some toasted seeds or nuts for the crunch. As I sometimes take quite long to put a post together, this recipe wasn’t created in Australia, but in France, around my birthday. I made it again in Barcelona and brought it to a bar where I re-met my friends after the months in Geneva/ France and it was as great a success as the first time. You start with a mouthful and don’t want to stop until there is nothing left.
Because it is summer and cherry time, it would be a pity not to add these little sweet color splashes to the salad (grapes are a great substitute if you can’t get cherries). If you don’t have a cherry pitter, see this post for a great tool, easily made at home with only two elements you might even have at hand.
- 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (around 1 cup uncooked)
- 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted (or grapes)
- 1 large Fennel bulb
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 2 sprigs mint
- a bunch of basil (around 2 cups of basil leaves)
- 2 spring onions
- 200g/7oz Feta cheese (vegans just leave it out)
For the dressing
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice and zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon of roasted Tahini, almond butter or pumpkin seed butter (optional)
- balsamic reduction to drizzle (optional)
If you cook your chickpeas, start by soaking them overnight in 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (that helps to remove phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors which interfere with nutrient absorption and digestibility). Rinse the chickpeas and cover them in abundant fresh water for cooking. Boil until tender (depending in the size of your chickpeas and the soaking time that might take between 40-90min). When they are almost done, add 2 tablespoons of concentrated vegetable broth (this is my favorite recipe) or 1 tablespoon sea salt. Discard the remaining water. If you use canned chickpeas, just rinse them well.
Preheat the oven to 250ºC (480ºF). Line a baking tray with parchment paper (for easier cleaning). Cut the fennel into slices and spread them on 2/3 of the baking tray. Drizzle it with the olive oil and salt. Put the almonds on the remaining third of the tray and insert into the upper part of the oven. Turn everything around after 5 minutes or when the fennel and almonds get browned (the almonds might get toasted faster, take the out once they are slightly browned and leave the fennel for some extra minutes).
In the salad or picnic bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and stir.
Finely chop the herbs. Chop the toasted almonds coarsely. Chop the spring onions into fine circles. Put the chickpeas into the salad bowl. Add the herbs, the fennel, the feta cheese (crumbled), spring onion, cherries and the almonds. Stir and drizzle with balsamic reduction (if using).
Notes: This salad survives getting warm and actually gets better with time.