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This week I’ve been making a few of my favourite Mediterranean salads: the Italian “Caponata”, the French “salad Nicoise” and the Lebanese “Fattoush”.

Caponata is a typical Sicilian dish made with aubergines as the main ingredient, but the balance of flavours and textures is simply perfect. It is basically a cooked salad with the aubergines, celery and onions flavoured with red chili, capers, black olives and tomatoes. I like to finish the salad with toasted pine nuts and freshly chopped mint. The origins of the word caponata are unclear, although some say it is Catalan. It could derive from the Latin caupona, meaning osteria (bar), where you would always find a caponata ready to eat. Whatever its origin, it is absolutely delicious and it is now popular all over Italy where it is served as an antipasto, eaten warm as an accompaniment to meat and poultry or used as a pasta sauce.

According to Niçoise lore, the true Niçoise Salad should not have any cooked vegetables or lettuce in it, no potatoes and no beans; just tomatoes, green peppers, shallots and artichokes (the small purple ones that you can eat raw), or broad beans, (raw, shelled if they are too big), anchovies and Niçoise olives (the little black ones) and some torn basil leaves. But order a salade niçoise anywhere along the Riviera and you will probably get a different lunch every time. Whatever the ingredients, for me a Salade niçoise should have the salty robustness of the French coast. It should shout the loud flavours of the area, the sort of thing you tuck into on a beach with the sun in your eyes and salt on your lips

The Lebanese fattoush salad is essentially a "bread salad". Said to have originated in Northern Lebanon, the combination of lemon and sumac really packs a punch with crisp, fresh vegetables and lightly toasted pitta bread, which soaks up the dressing beautifully. It's a simple recipe very similar in some ways to the local “Trampó” salad from Mallorca.

CAPONATA

This recipe is inspired by the Caponata served at The River café in London. Awesome!

Ingredients Serves 6

2 aubergines, cut into 1.5cm cubes

1 medium red onion, chopped

4 celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, diced

1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed

1 large red chili, finely chopped

1tbsp salted capers

20 black olives, stoned

1tbsp red wine vinegar

1tspn tomato puree

2tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

10 mint leaves

Salt and pepper

1. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan, add the aubergine cubes and fry until brown and tender (don't over crowd the pan; you will probably have to cook them in batches). Place the warm aubergines in a bowl.

2. Blanche the celery in lightly salted water for a few minutes, then drain well and add to the aubergines.

3. Slowly cook the onions and garlic in a little olive oil until they soften without colour. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, chillies and red wine vinegar. Stir well, then cover and cook for about 15 minutes, removing the lid of the pan towards the end of cooking to remove excess moisture. Add the aubergines and celery to the pan and stir in the capers and black olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scatter with fresh mint leaves and toasted pine nuts and serve warm or at room temperature.

FATTOUSH

Ingredients: serves 4

1 large cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm/½in dice

6tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 pitta breads, cut into strips 1cm/½in wide

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2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

1tsp ground sumac

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

2 tbsp coriander leaves

2 tbsp roughly chopped mint, roughly chopped

1 red onion, cut into 1cm/½in dice

5 ripe tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and cut into 1cm/½in dice

2 small green peppers, cut into 1cm/½in dice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the diced cucumber in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for 20 minutes. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan and fry the bread until it is golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper to remove any excess oil.

2. In a large bowl mix together the garlic, sumac, lemon juice, the remaining olive oil and the herbs to make the dressing. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well to coat with the dressing. Season and garnish with the strips of fried bread. Serve immediately.

SALAD NIÇOISE

Ingredients: Serves 4

1 baby lettuce heart, sliced

150g good quality tinned tuna

30g black olives

100g fresh French beans, trimmed and blanched

Salted anchovy fillets

Ripe plum tomatoes

Quail eggs, boiled for 2 minutes and peeled

1tspn capers

8 new potatoes, boiled and cut in half

50ml olive oil

Seasoning

Cut the tomatoes into 8 wedges and place them in a large bowl, add the French beans, new potatoes, black olives, lettuce hearts, capers, tuna and anchovies. Drizzle with the olive oil and gently mix all the ingredients together. Season with freshly ground black pepper and add the quail’s eggs. Serve immediately.