Char-grilled asparagus, courgette and haloumi salad – I’m in love!

20080502 Otolenghi ChargrilledVegetableHaloumiSaladTitle Dear Nigel

This is one of the hardest letters I've ever had to write.  Please know that, whatever follows below, you were my first love and for that you will always have a place in my heart.

I remember when we met – I had no idea who you were.  All I knew was that there was this guy who contributed recipes to one of the magazines that came with the Sunday papers.  The recipes often sounded so good that I'd clip them out and paste them in my big index book, and when I made a couple, I realised that they tasted as good as they looked.  It was only after I recognised some of the recipes in a book I saw at a friend's house that I realised this guy who had written Kitchen Diaries was YOU, my secret Sunday pleasure!  Of course, it didn't take long for me to buy and read Kitchen Diaries from cover to cover, and my love for you was undiminished.  If anything, it grew! Our relationship was warm and comfortable, like a favourite coat.

But of course, we don't live in a vacuum.  Things were bound to change, and women like to try on new coats.

It started off very casually.  Another Sunday magazine, this time from a different paper, left at my house by a friend.  It was the thrill of the new vs. the familiarity of a sure thing.  I flicked through the pages until my eye alighted on dishes so gorgeous I could hardly tear my eyes away.  I was dazzled by the colours, I could taste the fresh flavours.  It was as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes! 

But of course, I was sensible – this could be no more than a passing dalliance.  My heart already belonged to another.  That is, until I made his cake.  Oh, the cake.  So rich and caramelly and fruity.  So clever and easy.  And suddenly there was a voice in my head saying "what if?".  What if you and I aren't meant to be?  What if THIS is my destiny, this rollercoaster crazy ride of exotic flavour combinations and riots of colour?

You're still young – I know you will be fine, move on and find somebody else.  Please believe me, dear Nigel, when I say that it's not you, it's me. 

I think I'm in love with Yotam Ottolenghi.

Yours always,


What more can I say?  I can guarantee you that once you taste this salad, you will be in love too.  Resistance is futile – just go out and buy the book!

The recipe is not a quick throw-together kind of salad – in fact, it may be a good idea to roast the tomatoes the night before, like I did.  But none of the constituent steps is difficult, and the end result is so extraordinarily good that you won't mind the bit of fiddle. The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute haloumi cheese for the manouri used in the original.  Either way, the combination of flavours, textures and colours is sublime.  Enjoy!



350g cherry tomatoes, halved
140ml olive oil
coarse sea salt and black pepper
24 asparagus spears
2 large courgettes
200g haloumi (original recipe calls for manouri), sliced 0.5cm thick
25g rocket

FOR THE BASIL OIL:20080502 Otolenghi ChargrilledVegetableHaloumiSalad2
75ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
25g basil leaves
a pinch of salt
¼ tsp black pepper


Preheat the oven to 170C.  Toss the tomatoes together with three tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread them out, skin-side down, on a baking tray lined with parchment or foil and roast in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, until semi-dried.  Set aside to cool.

Trim the woody bases off the asparagus with a vbegetable peeler and blanch in boiling water for four minutes.  Drain and immediately refresh in cold water until all vestiges of heat have gone.  Drain again, then transfer to a bowl and toss with two tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper.

Slice the courgettes very thinly lengthwise (a mandolin would be very useful for this job, or a vegetable peeler – I just used a large and very sharp knife and a steady hand!)  and dress with a tablespoon of the oil, salt and pepper.

Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave for a few minutes until very hot. Grill the courgettes and asparagus, turning after a minute and making sure you have mice, clear char marks on all sides.  Remove from the pan and leave to cool.

Brush the remaining oil onto the griddle pan, lightly dust each haloumi slice with flour and fry the haloumi for 2-3 minutes per side, until there are clear griddle marks on both sides.  Drain on paper towels.

To make the basil oil, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Arrange the rocket, vegetables and cheese in layers on a flat serving plate, showing off the contrasting shapes and colours.  Drizzle with as much basil oil as you like and serve.  With crusty bread, this would make a great starter, althbough ours was a substantial side dish for a roast chicken braai with friends.

Other Ottolenghi recipes on the blogs:

Abby from Eat the Right Stuff also made this salad
Niamh from Eat Like a Girl made his grilled peach and speck salad
David of David Lebovitz made his choc-dipped Florentines
Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking made his saffron pasta with spiced butter

And last but not least, this post is my entry into this month's edition of Snackshots, the themed monthly foodie event hosted by the talented Michelle over at The Greedy Gourmet.  The theme is (you guessed it!) salads and you still have until 16 June to get your entries in!

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

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  1. says

    Last week I asked my husband to include this book in my birthday package next month. Having trouble getting it in Australia but it’s on order so hopefully it will be here in time.

  2. says

    This salad has got Charlotte written all over it – my favourite vegetables and my number one cheese. Although my recipe book shelf is groaning, it looks like I’ll be following that link and buying the book. Like you, I have been faithful to Nige for many years, but I may too have to move on.

  3. says

    This salad is nothing less than sublime, Jeanne!!! As if the ingredients are not enough, you bring it all together with this lovely basil oil. I am in love!!!!

  4. says

    Ok, Nigel will survive, but what about your dear beau??? :)
    I think I first read about Ottolenghi on Heidi’s 101 cookbooks blog – the recipe surely seemed tempting..

  5. says

    This looks fantastic. I love how you’ve substituted the halloumi for the manouri – I much prefer halloumi myself, and it’s usually easier to find. At least, it’s easier to find where I live!

  6. says

    Wow, your pictures really do this justice. I am salivating. Really!! Ottolenghi’s has long been a favourite London visit. And I can see why you’ve fallen in love. But has it occured to you that the objects of your affection are extremely similar. In the most basic ways. They both love real food, they both love simple, seasonal, sensational taste. They both love veggies. They both love …. And who says you can’t have an open relationship. This is after all the 21st Century…

  7. says

    Andrew – oh yes, I think you should tell everyone yo know to give you Amazon vouchers and then get this!!
    Barbara – you won’t regret it :) And even if you only get it after yor birthday, you’ll love it just as much.
    Charlotte – a groaning bookshelf has never been enough reason to stop me (nor, I suspect, you!) from buying another book… And re. moving on, feel free – but remember, Yotam is MINE!
    Kalyn – oh no!! Well, if all else fails I can always order it here and send it – we can work out some sort of swap I’m sure :)
    Ilva and Rosemary – you will be so, so happy when you try this. It’s my new ultimate salad. And Rose – it will be worth the wait for Southern hemisphere summer!
    Nina – I think i’m going to be using the basil oil A LOT this summer. Funnily enough, I’m sure that Nigel uses a similar dressing on his broad bean & mozzarella salad, another of my summer favourites.
    Pille – LOL! Nick says it’s OK if I two-time with cookbook writers, just as long as he can sample the cooking :o)
    Fearless – I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen manouri. Maybe in specialist stores, but certainly not in my supermarket. Haloumi is jsut one of my favourite cheeses so any excuse to use it is good!
    Inge – I like the way you think!! And yes, there are definite similarities in their love for unfussy food with knockout flavours. At least my taste in men is consistent 😉
    Wendy – OK, choose your weapons and bring your seconds! It’s wand mixers at dawn :o)
    Margot – thanks sweetie – and I’m glad you liked the photos!

  8. says

    Oooh, yummy yummy yummy, I got veggies in my tummy….okay okay, the song didn’t come out right, but this looks good! Thanks for participating in SnackShots and see you at the roundup!

  9. says

    Oh wow! This talks to me in so many lauguages, I’ll have to learn more than just the Spanish you’re learning nowadays. Definitely one for a barbecue table. I mean braai. You know what I mean … sigh. So confusing.
    Delicious, I can’t wait to try this. Any excuse to use more fresh asparagus. (Hey, did you also only know asparagus as the squishy stuff in cans growing up?)

  10. says

    Oh wow! This talks to me in so many lauguages, I’ll have to learn more than just the Spanish you’re learning nowadays. Definitely one for a barbecue table. I mean braai. You know what I mean … sigh. So confusing.
    Delicious, I can’t wait to try this. Any excuse to use more fresh asparagus. (Hey, did you also only know asparagus as the squishy stuff in cans growing up?)

  11. says

    Thats a gorgeous salad. Im salivating now.I would leave Nigel too .Thanks for visiting my blog. I haveheard of yours mant times but never really got around to visiting. I think I have to remedy that !

  12. says

    What beautiful pictures! Ottolengi does a column in the Observer magazine on Sundays (Or Guardian on Saturdays? my memory is hazy) and the recipes always look great, although I’ve never tried them. You have inspired me to dig all the cuttings out!

  13. Brian says

    Oh dear, it was all going so well, your lovely letter, the superb photos… and then… I got to the bottom of your text, and you’d written the E-word…
    And, well, I’m about to grill some asparagus, but you’re not (you’ll be pleased to hear) for me.
    “Enjoy”? – aaaaaaarghhhhhhhhh!

  14. says

    I found your recipe through Closet Cooking and using the ingredients/methods I could I made it myself. It’s to DIE for. Thanks so much.