"This may seem a little unorthodox for a Christmas side dish. Where’s the bacon? Where are the sprouts or root vegetables? Where’s the hefty dose of butter and carbohydrates? Where’s the large proportion of starch designed to soak up all that festive gravy?"
That, however, is exactly the point. The Christmas table is already groaning under weight of all those rich, hearty classics. In my day-to-day cooking, if I’m going to serve something rich and substantial, I always like to serve it with a fresh, crunchy, zesty salad. The contrast is glorious, and it makes me feel a lot healthier. So, I thought, why shouldn’t the same rule apply to the Christmas dinner?
This dish is exactly what you need to offset all that heavy festive fare. It’s fresh, light, crunchy, lemony, tangy and toasty, a beautiful understated tangle of wafer-thin fennel, crunchy green beans, glassy pears and fresh mint, bound with a light dressing of wholegrain mustard and lemon juice and garnished with toasted almonds and pomegranate seeds, which add a lovely festive touch.
It’s excellent paired with meat, cheese, or anything rich and creamy. You could also use apple slices instead of the pear, and hazelnuts or walnuts instead of almonds.
Using a mandolin, thinly slice the fennel. You could also use a sharp knife, but make sure the slices are as thin as possible. Put the sliced fennel in a large salad bowl.
Quarter the pears length ways and remove the core. Using a sharp knife, slice them very thinly into slivers and add to the fennel.
Finely chop the mint leaves and add these too.
Boil the green beans for around 3 minutes or until just tender. Drain well, then add to the fennel, mint and pears.
Toast the almonds over a medium heat in a dry frying pan, then set aside.
To make the dressing, put the mustard, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl or jug with a good grinding of pepper and half a teaspoon of salt. Whisk together well, then toss with the fennel mixture.
To remove the pomegranate seeds, hold the pomegranate half over a bowl, seeds facing downwards, then hit the back of the fruit hard with a wooden spoon or spatula to release the seeds. Repeat until all the seeds have fallen out.
Garnish the salad with the seeds, then serve.