There are some fruits that people are, generally speaking, fairly comfortable encountering in a savoury dish. Few people would bat an eyelid at a sliver of apple turning up alongside their roast pork, either in sauce form or maybe – outré prospect as it is – in thick wedges, roasted alongside the meat to soak up its delicious juices. Although a subject of mockery, ham and pineapple is a pretty established combination by now, whether it’s performing the ludicrous feat of turning your margherita into a ‘tropicana’, or in the form of a lurid golden ring of fruity goodness perched atop a fat pink slab of salty gammon.
For those with exotic tastes, figs regularly crop up alongside either meat or cheese – smashed onto crisp sourdough with a generous slathering of salty goat’s cheese or milky ricotta, or wrapped in tangy parma ham, or maybe alongside a wedge of gorgonzola on a cheeseboard. Pomegranate seeds, too, I’m sure are used more to adorn savoury dishes with their jewel-like qualities than actually eaten unadulterated as a piece of fruit. Apricots increasingly feature in our savoury cooking as we become more and more enamoured of the gastronomic delights of the Middle East and north Africa, tucking these marigold beauties in their fresh and dried forms into succulent lamb stews or couscous salads.
There are some fruits, however, that just haven’t got there yet. Kiwi, for example. Banana. Strawberries. Staples of the fruit bowl, you don’t tend to find these sneaking into many main courses. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has bravely championed recipes for steak with strawberries and cuttlefish with kiwi in his latest fruit cookbook, but I don’t think I’m part of the culinary minority when I say that I probably will never be trying those combinations.
Blueberries are another that we tend to relegate to the breakfast table or our afternoon piece of cake. Fabulous in pancakes, where they pop and turn everything juicily purple, and excellent in pies or cobblers, particularly alongside fragrant ripe peaches, blueberries are a definitive dessert fruit. It’s true that blueberries transform with heat into the most delectable inky puddle of sweet tart syrup, whether you choose to drizzle this over pancakes or porridge, or let it infuse the golden batter of a buttery cake. However, they also have qualities to recommend them in their raw form. Bouncy in texture and pleasantly, mildly tart, blueberries are actually an obvious contender for use in savoury recipes.
So why don’t we use them more in this way? Perhaps simply because they’re still a relatively new fruit to our cooking culture and we haven’t yet been bold or experimental enough. However, blueberries can feature very well in any recipe where you might normally use pomegranate seeds, currants or raisins to add a little bit of welcome sweetness, for example to offset richer ingredients like meat or cheese. The other day I was thinking of ways to use up a bit of leftover roast goose. The punnet of blueberries in my fridge caught my eye, and this salad was born.
It features a base of hearty cooked quinoa, delicate and nutty, livened up with lots of zingy ingredients to counteract the very rich goose meat: lemon in three forms (zest, salt and juice), salty capers, tangy mustard, fresh parsley and a little black pepper. Then toasted pecans, for a delicious crunch and because their nutty sweetness is excellent against the lemony quinoa. Wilted spinach, because it’s good for you, and a little olive oil. Finally, shreds of roast goose meat and a good handful of blueberries.
This might sound like an entirely random assortment of ingredients, and it is. However, they all work fabulously. You have the nuttiness of quinoa and pecans, the richness of goose (this would definitely also work with any leftover poultry, like duck, chicken or pheasant), and fragrant zingy aromatics. All of this is balanced by the occasional burst of fresh, fruity sweetness from those bouncy blueberries. It’s a combination that just works on every level, and one that I think is worthy of propelling the blueberry into our everyday savoury cooking repertoire.
Quinoa salad with blueberries, toasted pecans and roast goose (serves 1, easily multiplied):
- 80g quinoa
- A large handful of baby spinach leaves
- A large handful of leftover roast goose (or any other poultry)
- Zest of half a lemon
- ¼ tsp lemon salt
- 1 tsp capers, finely chopped
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- A generous squeeze of lemon juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- A good grind of black pepper
- 3 tbsp fresh blueberries
- 2 heaped tbsp pecan nuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Put the quinoa in a small lidded saucepan with 240ml water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 13 minutes, covered, or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Turn off the heat, put the spinach and meat in the pan, cover with the lid and leave while you prepare the salad, to warm the meat and wilt the spinach.
In a large bowl, mix together the lemon zest, lemon salt, capers, mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley and pepper. Add the quinoa, spinach and meat and toss together well. Check the seasoning – you may want a little more lemon or pepper. Finally, stir in the pecans and blueberries and serve.