The sense of smell is such a powerful sense. It can make you travel a thousand miles away with the whiff of a perfume reminiscent of the Orient. It can make you travel years back when you suddenly smell the essence of vanilla coming out of a bakery, reminding you of your mother in the kitchen, making you your favorite honey doughnuts on a sunny morning.
Sweet smell, spicy smell, the smell of fruit, the smell of freshness...
Don't you love the smell of all things fresh? From freshly cut tulips and the pure smell of a newborn baby to the clean scent of soft, fluffy clothes straight out of the dryer and a bunch of chopped herby mint. From the smell of a hot and crunchy bread loaf baking in the oven to the sweet smell of tomatoes that hits you when you cut into them with a big knife. Of all fresh smells though, the one I love the best is that of strawberries.
I remember when I was little, the feeling I got when my mother brought home from the market the first strawberries of spring. I'd get so excited. The smell of those sweet strawberries, their incredible red color, their cute little yellow seeds; it was my favorite fruit in the whole wide world. I'd put my share of strawberries in a bowl, I'd sprinkle them with more than enough sugar, I'd take a large spoon that could barely fit into my mouth and after a minute or two they'd be gone. Strawberry juices running down the side of my mouth and in my face you could clearly read the feeling of satisfaction. Such satisfaction.
Even now, that's the best way for me to enjoy strawberries. I've come to know, cook and experiment with a lot of strawberry recipes over the years but my first instinct as soon as I lay eyes on them, is to smother them with sugar and eat them on the spot. Well, that and the urge to make a strawberry daiquiri. No patience for elaborate strawberry mousses or cakes here but instant gratification.
I recently discovered another way to use fresh strawberries that's so inspiring, so healthy and more importantly, so unbelievably tasty. Strawberry dressing over a crisp, slightly bitter rocket salad with feta cheese. It is amazing. This past week it has become my number one salad. And as long as I can find strawberries this season, this will definitely be a regular around here.
This salad has a wonderful combination of flavors. The bitterness of the rocket along with the sharpness of the feta might be enough for some. But add to the mix the awesome taste of the dressing and this salad becomes the mother of all salads. The sweet tang of strawberries, the zing of the lemon and the richness of the olive oil along with the pepperiness of the ginger and the welcomed addition of honey, make this creamy dressing a beautiful and delicious concoction.
Accompany this salad with some bread and you have the perfect lunch. Have it for a special dinner together with a bowl of pasta Bolognese and a bottle of a young Chilean red wine; the rare variety of Carmenere grape would be the best choice.
This strawberry dressing is thick and substantial and above all very versatile. You can use it not only on top of salads but on top of your favorite white cheese, on top of a cheese tart or a Greek tyropita (cheese pie) and it goes tremendously well drizzled generously on top of shrimp or fresh lobster. Yum!
By the way, did you know that strawberries are the only fruit that has its seeds on the outside?
Rocket Salad with Feta and Strawberry Dressing
Adapted from Gastronomos magazine
You can use spinach instead of rocket for this salad. I would recommend using baby spinach which is more tender and less stringy and doesn't need to be blanched before eaten.
Yield: 1 salad for two / 1 cup of strawberry dressing
80 g fresh rocket leaves
100 g feta cheese, cut into small cubes
for strawberry dressing
200 g fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half
3 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 heaped tsp clear honey
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of salt
Special equipment: food processor or blender and a fine sieve
for strawberry dressing
Put the washed, hulled strawberry halves in the food processor or blender and process them for 1 minute until they become a purée. Pass the purée through a fine sieve and into a bowl, using a spatula to force all of it through the sieve and leaving the small seeds behind. Place the seedless strawberry purée back into the food processor and add the rest of the ingredients. Process everything for 1 minute until you have a homogeneous mixture.
You can either store the dressing in a tightly closed jar in the fridge for later use or use it immediately.
Wash the rocket leaves and put them in a salad spinner or just leave them in a colander to drain off excess water and then place them in a salad bowl or large plate. Scatter feta cubes on top of the rocket leaves and drizzle the strawberry dressing on top of everything. Use as much or as little as you wish.
Note: Depending on whether your strawberries are ripe or not, you may want to use more or less of the lemon juice and honey. If strawberries are not so ripe then use a little more honey, if they are too ripe then use a little more lemon juice. Taste along the way.
You can keep the dressing in the refrigerator for a couple of days in an airtight container.