"Try us," they beseech. "You've never tried us before."
It's true, I hadn't. Oh, I knew of samphire, of course. I've heard about the languid foraging excursions undertaken by intrepid food-lovers; I've spied them on the slickly written menus in expensive restaurants. But they were so quaint and far removed from my regular life that for all I was concerned they could be a made-up ingredient from a fairy tale.
|marsh samphire, also known as sea asparagus.|
It turns out they are quite real, and I have finally met them in the flesh. The label on the packet instructs, slightly awkwardly: "This unique vegetable, to be used steamed. Yummy in stir-fries or blanched and used as a bed under seafood."
I broke off a small piece and ate it raw, to give myself an inkling of what I was getting into. So what did it taste like? Imagine a crunchy, hollow vegetable shaped like a spindly, rugged drinking straw that's absolutely zonked out on sea water, and that's pretty much what marsh samphire is. Given how briny it was, I decided to boil it, hoping to strip away some of the excess salt. This seemed to help a little, but it was still very salty, and I can see that this is one ingredient that could require a nifty balancing act.
So this is what I did, based on what I already have at home. I boiled four eggs until their yolks were just set, then peeled and sliced them, rejoicing at their creamy, vibrant orange goodness. For the dressing, I sloshed together some lemon juice with extra virgin olive oil, swirled through a sexy dose of smoked Spanish paprika, and then, spying a shallot on the counter, chopped that up, too, and flung it in. It's tangy, it's smoky, it's savoury - what's not to love?
These joined forces proved to be a good match for the samphire. The tart and spicy dressing tamed the excessive saltiness, and the eggs, in their simplicity, were calm and gentle amongst the veritable ocean of flavours. I would definitely make this again.
|egg, shallot & samphire salad with a spicy, smoky, tangy lemon dressing.|
egg, shallot & samphire salad with smoky lemon dressing
(makes 2 light serves)
50g marsh samphire / sea asparagus
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Spanish hot smoked paprika (Pimenton de la Vera, Picante)*
4 large medium-boiled or hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Trim and discard the tough, fibrous stems near the root end of the samphire stalks. Roughly snip the samphire into shorter sections to make them more manageable when eating.
Bring a pot of water to boil, then throw in the samphire and let it cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Drain, then lightly rinse the samphire with cold water.
Mix shallot, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and Spanish hot smoked paprika to create a dressing.
Toss the samphire with half the dressing, then top with egg slices and drizzle with remaining dressing. No need to add salt!
You can have this salad for breakfast or brunch with some buttered toast - if you like, you can tear the toast into pieces and scatter them through the salad. This would work very, very well indeed. Alternatively, you could also serve it with any meal as a punchy little side dish.
*Pimenton de la Vera aka Spanish smoked paprika can usually be found at specialty and gourmet food stores, spice shops, or Spanish grocery stores. In lieu of the hot (Picante) version, you may use the mild, sweet version (Dulce) or medium, bittersweet version (Agridulce).
P.S. I love the dressing in this dish. It flavours the eggs beautifully, and if you don't have samphire, feel free to improvise with other vegetables - I imagine green beans, broccolini or asparagus would work well. The only difference is that you will probably want to season with a pinch of salt if using these substitutes.
I purchased my samphire from The Vegetable Connection in Fitzroy. The samphire is packaged by Outback Pride (please see their site for a list of other stockists in Australia). Note - they seem to pop up in the shops quite sporadically, so get ready to pounce if/when you see them!
|egg, shallot & samphire salad with lemon, hot smoked paprika and extra virgin olive oil.|