Whether you love Winter or merely endure and survive it, it is upon us. Personally I have a love/hate relationship with it. Our old house is drafty to say the least, but we battle on with our blankets and microwaved heat bags. I try my hardest not to become what I refer to as 'cold-cranky', a bit like being hangry (angry from hunger) but cured only by hot showers and hot drinks.
On the other hand, Winter is probably my favourite time of the year for eating. I love soups, slow cooked casseroles, roasts and pasta dishes, and what better time to enjoy them than when it's cold outside. Winter eating can prove difficult for some, however if you continue to eat mindfully, consider your portion sizes and ensure you are eating for hunger, not for warming-up, Winter meals can be just as healthy as their Summer salad counterparts.
This brown rice salad uses ingredients that are in season right now, meaning they are inexpensive and at their best. The fresh, liquorice-like flavour of the fennel is balanced out by the sweet mandarin and nutty flavour of the rice and hazelnuts. It is a perfect side dish to serve with a piece of crispy-skinned salmon or perfectly cooked pork cutlets. It also packs very well the next day as a work lunch with a tin of salmon or tuna.
Fennel, Mandarin & Brown Rice Salad
1 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 fennel bulb
1/2 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
2 Mandarins, peeled, segmented, pith removed
1 tsp fennel fronds, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp fennel fronds, chopped
Ground black pepper
Cook the rice as per the instructions on the packet. I find the absorption method works best. Don't overcook the rice or allow it to become 'gluggy'. When cooked, set the rice aside to cool, draining away any liquid.
Toast the chopped hazelnuts in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. There is no need to add any fats to the pan, as the nuts will release some of their oils with the heat. Make sure you pay attention as nuts can go from perfectly toasted to burnt quite quickly.
Trim the stalks off the fennel, setting the fronds aside. Cut the fennel bulb into quarters, then cut out the woody core from each piece. Slice each piece as thinly as you can - a mandolin would be great for this if you have one. With as much of the white pith removed as you can manage, slice each mandarin segment in half, being careful to remove and discard any seeds.
Mix together the rice, hazelnuts, fennel, and mandarin in a bowl, along with some of the chopped fennel fronds and a drizzle of olive oil.
For the dressing, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Serve the dressing in a small bowl on the side of the salad.