The return to work on Monday mornings inevitably yields the ‘Did you have a good weekend?’ question from colleagues. There’s always the pressure to be dazzlingly exciting, to regale them with stories of a movie-star lifestyle, to give the impression of mysterious soirees and enviable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In essence, the pressure to recount a weekend that was at least as good as, if not better than, the questioner’s.
No matter how hard we might have tried – no matter how many euphemisms or veiled metaphors we might have employed – we simply couldn’t have lived up to these expectations this week. For us, the weekend was spent on Operation Redecorate the Kitchen: a lovely idea in theory. What it meant in practice was that Ash spent Saturday morning traipsing around hardware stores, and Saturday afternoon and half of Sunday in a cloud of dust in the kitchen, created by angle-grinding away the remnants of the ugly polystyrene cornicing that has plagued our walls since we moved in. The other half of Ash’s Sunday was spent balancing acrobatically on a chair in order to apply Polyfilla to the mysterious cracks and crevices that our Edwardian ceiling has (somewhat worryingly) developed over the years, the excitingly spring-like Duck Egg paint still lying untouched on the floor.
Trust us: there’s no way of making that sound sexy.
Miranda, meanwhile, was doing all the other weekend chore, as well as going for a run that proved her horrendous level of unfitness and reading Julie & Julia, a book that in many ways inspired this very blog. The run bred a desire for a healthy dinner; the book bred a desire for a recipe that was far less difficult than anything in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julie Powell’s own cooking challenge in the novel). Ash’s experiences bred a desire to sit down and eat anything that would taste good with wine. Enter ‘Rota sweet potato salad with grilled chicken breast’ from the Northern Mariana Islands.
As it happens, we were lucky to find this recipe at all. The Northern Mariana Islands form an American commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean with a population of only about 54,000. It have no specific national dish, or even any obvious published recipes. Fortunately, being an American territory, residents are able to get involved in the Let’s Move programme, which was developed by Michelle Obama in an effort to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity. Part of this programme is the ‘Kids’ State Dinner’, which challenges 8-12 year olds to create an original recipe that is ‘healthy, affordable and delicious.’ One entrant in 2015 was Claire Park from the Northern Mariana Islands, who created a dish that showcased her love of colourful foods, including the purple sweet potatoes that grow on Rota (one of the islands). This ticked all of our boxes (though we did adapt it slightly)!
Sweet potato salad with grilled chicken breast
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and halved lengthways
1/4 cup chopped mixed nuts
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup tinned corn
1/4 cup natural yoghurt
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp honey
Sprinkling of dried chilli flakes
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
2 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp lime juice (we used more like 2 tbsp here)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp soy sauce
1. Steam the sweet potatoes for about 20 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mash the potatoes and add the nuts, cranberries, corn, yoghurt, mustard, honey, chilli flakes and some black pepper. Mix well.
3. Sprinkle the chicken with the basil, salt and pepper and cook on a griddle pan until cooked through.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, honey and soy sauce.
5. Serve drizzled with the dressing. (We also added some steamed broccoli for something green!)
If this recipe really was invented by a nine-year-old girl, then we can expect to see Claire Park on the culinary who’s-who list in years to come. Although the sweet potato salad (with its sweet potatoes, honey, cranberries and corn) is very sweet, there’s still a depth of flavour there, and the contrast of textures between the soft corn, chewy cranberries and crunchy nuts provides a mouthfeel that would make a Masterchef sit up. The hint of dried basil on the chicken gives a subtle bittersweetness to complement the sweet potato, and the dish is perfectly rounded off by the salty and sour dressing (or it certainly would have been if we hadn’t misread the recipe and added too much soy).
So while our kitchen is still a work in progress, this dish is everything it needs to be.