cucumber and strawberry salad // labne // toasted almonds // raspberry vinegar

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– au passage restaurant | chef edward delling-williams –
1 bis passage st sebastien, 75011

You guys know murphy’s law? That thing where you have 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife? Maybe that’s karma. Or irony? No… it’s none of those. Whatever it is, remember when we were complaining about how ridiculously cold paris was? We couldn’t get our heads around the fact that we needed down jackets and scarves in may. Well karmurphy’s ironlaw decided to punish us for all our whingeing and now it’s hot. Stupid hot. And still. No breeze to cool you down and, weirdly, no air conditioning anywhere. The most popular place to hang out is in front of the fan sales in department stores.

We tried a number of different strategies to deal with it, from licking the inside of the freezer for dinner (“ohhhhh THAT’S SO COLD AND DELICIOUS – oi, you HAVE to try this”) to spritzing water in front of a fan in the hope it would blow back on us and create a rainforest-oasis in the apartment. As it turns out, you shouldn’t spray liquids on electrical appliances, especially ones that have a tendency to turn said liquid into a frightening and unpredictable typhoon of water and sparks. Apparently, heat also plays havoc with your ability to function your brain.

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Luckily, by wednesday, when we were contemplating another heat-induced stroke of genius (“heeeeey… if we shut all the doors and windows and turn on all the heaters it’ll feel like winter outside”), we had an actual cogent thought: temperatures in the high 30s call for salad.  Good salad.

We were inspired by our favourite crunchy-sweet-tart dish from au passage restaurant (which, incidentally, probably has the smallest and hottest kitchen in all of paris). Heat and size aside, au passage’s kitchen consistently dishes up interesting, tasty and laid back sharing plates, which makes it feel like you’re dining at your friend’s house if your friend was a super clever chef. We know this because we eat there a lot. Like a lot a lot. Like A LOT. And they occasionally let us in the kitchen to see how they do stuff. Turns out the secret is often glaringly obvious and staring you in the face. Simple combinations, fresh ingredients, adaptability (not only does the menu change seasonally, it changes daily – sometimes mid-service). But the real secret to their success is a well functioning team with complementary skills and experience.

Edward delling-williams – who, just quietly, looks like he should be called oliver – has been running the kitchen from the pass since 2012, after he inherited it from shaun kelly (yard), who himself inherited it from james henry (bones) – both australian btw. The first thing you will hear when you walk through the front door is ed’s heavily accented french yelling new orders into the kitchen for polenta cooked with pigs blood, or pouce pied (gooseneck barnacles), or duck hearts with amaranth. The second thing you will hear – if you can hear anything over the din of the dining room – is madonna’s vogue, or boney m’s rasputin blaring out of the kitchen. The cause of this noise is generally dave, a lanky 23 year old texan who looks like a stand in bassist for the cure, or david, the blue-eyed, baby-faced swede. Quina, the dessert chef, is more likely to be playing beyonce or nelly (yeeeeaah, we bonded) during the day shift when she is prepping chocolate and lavendar panna cotta or cherry stone ice cream. Man, it is hot up in herre!

Sorry.

With such competent chefs, ed’s primary job seems to be to give his team the space to develop dishes based on their own creativity and experience and jump in where he sees something that could be improved. That’s not to say he’s removed from the process. He’s just as likely to be found in the kitchen doing shitkicker work like chopping herbs or feeding meat into the grinder for sausages. Or, at 1am at the end of a shift, already thinking about the next day’s menu. With a background in st john’s in london, he adds a nose-to-tail philosophy to a seasonal kitchen, so the pig that went into the terrine will also turn up on the menu as grilled loin, pig’s ear croquettes or sausages for the big street party on the weekend. Oh, and the skin gets turned into crackling as a garnish on the crab and salicorne with smoked leek mayonnaise.

This recipe is a simple salad that is re-interpreted every few days on the au passage menu. First time we had it, the cucumbers were grilled and it came with a tamarind-jalapeno jam. The second time, fresh cucumbers with homemade yoghurt. Third? With tiny new cucumber flowers. So go ahead and put your own spin on this – you don’t need to be heatstroked to enjoy it.


 

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2 lebanese cumumbers
handful of baby cucumbers
1 punnet of strawberries
50g labne (strained yoghurt)
1 tbsp raspberry vinegar
small handful of mint leaves
handful of blanched almonds
olive oil
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of sugar (for the dressing, optional)


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Toast the almonds in a pan or oven until golden then toss in a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of good quality salt. Halve most of the strawberries lengthwise (leave any small ones whole) and place in a bowl. Lightly season with a tiny bit of salt and the raspberry vinegar. Leave to macerate while you prepare everything else.

Chop the lebanese cucumbers into large chunks and split the baby cucumbers lengthwise.

Dollop the labne onto a plate and arrange the cucumber on top. Tear some mint leaves and mix them through the strawberries and vinegar, then spoon onto the plate.

Roughly chop the almonds and scatter over the top. Dress with the vinegar from the bowl (stir in a pinch of white or brown sugar here if it is too tart) and some more olive oil. Sprinkle the cayenne over everything and garnish with fresh mint leaves.

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