I am a complete animal obsessive – the kind of person who will stop people in the street so that I can talk to and pet their dogs (while ignoring the human attached to the dog because talking to those who can talk back is too much effort). When people ask me if I am a dog or a cat person I say I adore both, which is true: my brother and I grew up with three cats and two dogs in the house, and I love them more than most humans. That said, I think I am a cat person at heart. They are emotionally complex, tempestuous and smart and sulky, which apparently appeals to me in an animal. This is why I have let our cat-who-is-not-our-cat, Freddie, massively emotionally manipulate me until I am basically a slave who exists to serve her.
When Freddie first showed up at our door, she was all tentative and nervy, needing cajoling to convince her that we were good, cat-loving, unintimidating folk. We’re way, way past that point now, though. She has played James and I like fiddles. Without even realising how we got here, we’re at the point where if I start to eat any sort of human food near her she will come and try to put her nose in it to share it with me, and I have to actively push her away if I do not want to lose my breakfast to a feline.
These days I have to be extremely careful when I do my food photography. If I set everything up and then turn my back for a second to pick up my camera, that cat is across the room and jumping onto my little set like an overjoyed kid being let out of a classroom and into a playground. The problem is that she has discovered that human food is more delicious than animal food, and now she’s not interested in anything else.
Anyway, luckily cats are obligate carnivores and not really interested in cucumber, so this little dish was spared the threat of Freddie’s tongue. This salad is a weird mish-mash of different cuisines, but it’s light and summery and only takes ten minutes to make and, hey, I think it’s tasty and it didn’t get eaten by the cat, so here it is.
Notes: This should feed 3-4 people as a side dish, or two people as the base for a main meal with, for instance, some grilled chicken or fish.
Don’t skip the black onion seeds! They may sound like an odd ingredient if you are not used to them, but they are delicious and they make this salad, adding an interesting bitterness. You can get them from large supermarkets or local Asian shops – if you live in Oxford, you can get them in most stores up and down the Cowley Road.
1/2 small red onion
juice of 1 lime
pinch of sugar
salt and pepper
1 whole cucumber
1 small pack coriander
2 tsp black onion/nigella seeds/kalonji
- First, finely dice your red onion. Put the onion in a mixing bowl, and squeeze over the juice of the lime, then add a pinch of sugar and some salt and pepper (bearing in mind that feta is very salty, so you don’t want to add too much salt at this stage). Mix it all around and let the onion sit in the mixture.
- Next, halve your cucumber, scrape out the seeds (I use a teaspoon for this), and dice the remaining flesh. Crumble your feta cheese. Chop your coriander, stalks and all, as finely as you can be bothered to. Add your cucumber, feta, coriander, and black onion seeds to your red onion, give it all a good stir, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Job done.