© Patricia Niven
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Too often a recipe will end with the instruction: “Serve with a green salad/white rice/boiled potatoes.” Is this laziness on the part of cookery writers? Not necessarily. If you’ve taken the trouble to prepare something special, you don’t really need another showstopper on the table, just a little something to complement, enhance or stretch it a bit. And we all have our secret-weapon side dish — the perfect green salad dressing, roasties that cannot be improved on, a knockout mash — which has served us through the years and will continue to do so. 

However, it’s also true that sometimes the most memorable part of the meal will be the sides: those elements that add interest, texture and context to the meal. And, sometimes, they should be celebrated. One of the best cookbooks to have come out recently, On the Side by Ed Smith, does exactly that. It is full of wonderful recipes for dishes served as the title suggests: rice and vegetable dishes, potato preparations, all manner of pulses and grains and much more. Although Smith suggests what side should go with what main, the thing you really want to do with this book is give main courses a miss altogether and prepare a feast of side dishes — what a fun meal that would be.

Today’s recipe would do well in such a meal. Brown cracked wheat is one of our favourite ingredients, flavoursome kernels that are crunchy and yielding at the same time. Here they are dotted with greens — avocados, beans and the perennial side veg: broccoli. The whole thing is dressed to the nines with a killer sauce that is worth doubling up on for tomorrow’s dinner.

This dish is so full of textures and flavours that it really doesn’t need much else but we are tempted to end the recipe with these words: “Serve with grilled or poached fish — any type will work well — or any roast meat or poultry. Deep fried cubes of halloumi or tofu dressed with the sesame sauce will also do the trick.” 


Salad of brown wheat, broccoli and sesame dressing

A starter for four to six

For the salad


1 large courgette, cut into thick batons
1 small bag of green beans (60g) — halved
1 head of broccoli, broken into florets
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsolive oil
150gbrown cracked wheat
Salt to season

To make the salad

  1. Boil a large pot of water and season with plenty of salt. Prepare a large bowl of cold water ready to chill the vegetables as soon as they are cooked.
  2. Blanch the courgette batons for three minutes, remove with a slotted spoon into the iced water, then blanch the green beans for two minutes and again remove with a slotted spoon into the bowl of iced water.
  3. Add the broccoli to the water and blanch for four minutes, and strain into the iced water. Let the vegetables cool and then strain into a colander. Douse the sliced avocado with the lemon juice.
  4. Boil 200ml water with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, add the brown cracked wheat and bring back to a boil. Stir once, remove from the heat and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid or a sheet of cling film. Let steam for 15 minutes before opening the cover and fluffing up with a fork.
  5. Mix the cracked wheat with all the vegetables and transfer to a serving plate.

For the sesame dressing


2 tbswhite sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small chilli, chopped
3cm piece of fresh ginger — peeled and finely chopped
100mlolive oil
1 tbswholegrain mustard
1 tsphoney
Generous pinch of sea salt
Juice of half a lemon

To make the sesame dressing

  1. Place the sesame seeds, crushed garlic clove, chopped chilli and ginger in a frying pan, place on the stove at a medium heat and stir to slightly toast; it will take two to three minutes.
  2. Add the olive oil, and warm together for another minute.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the wholegrain mustard and the honey and stir to combine.
  4. Add a generous pinch of sea salt and then the lemon juice, stir and use to dress the salad.
© Patricia Niven

Photographs by Patricia Niven

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