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Often left to its own devices, the humble vinegar dressing is about to receive a welcome flavour renovation thanks to Oklava head chef Selin Kiazim’s new recipes.
It may come as a surprise, but vinegar, of all ingredients, plays a larger part in our lives than we might think. Take the cornerstone of British cuisine: fish and chips. There’s categorically no other way to devour your weekly portion without the stuff, lest you risk the judgement of everyone in your immediate vicinity, of course.
Though prized in this setting, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a drop of vinegar elsewhere in our meals, besides perhaps some balsamic mixed with olive oil and dribbled over a salad. Which, quite frankly, seems like a crying shame. Considering its electrifyingly tangy nature, why limit it to fish and chips and salad, when it’s the perfect ingredient to elevate dishes?
Thankfully, those like acclaimed London chef Selin Kiazim have put the power of punchy ingredients like vinegar at the forefront of their foodie agenda. From the hugely popular supper clubs she hosted at central London kitchen Carousel right through to her current post heading up the Critically-acclaimed restaurant, Oklava in London’s Shoreditch – where she explores her Turkish-Cypriot heritage – it’s fair to conclude that standout flavours are very much in her area of expertise.
While Kiazim’s first book, Oklava: Recipes From A Turkish-Cypriot Kitchen showed us how to recreate the restaurant’s cult dishes, it’s her latest cookbook, Three: Acid, Texture, Contrast – out now – that invites us to get to know her cooking strategy more intimately. For Kiazim, what makes a dish ‘sing’ (as she brilliantly puts it) boils down to is three key areas: acid, texture and contrast. And if your palate loves anything tart, we have three tangy recipes that use vinegar to elevate vegetable-focused dishes for your cooking pleasure.
Firstly, for those with a penchant for burrata, Kiazim’s black figs, feta and red wine recipe is sure to impress. Creamy feta paired with figs soaked in a sweet red wine, beetroot and vinegar syrup, it’s a dish best served with a tactile drizzle of olive oil to guarantee its Insta-worthy appeal…
If the mood calls for a more savoury take, her asparagus, candied bacon and Graceburn (soft cow’s cheese) will hit the spot. Salty bacon joined by feta’s creamier cousin Graceburn, then doused in an olive and balsamic vinegar dressing is a savoury fiend’s dream. Better still, swoop in with a slice of fresh ciabatta or sourdough to soak up any leftover dressing.
Lastly, when a hearty meal is on your mind, try Kiazim’s roasted cauliflower, tahini and pecan dish. When matched with a nutty, tahini, balsamic drizzle, these butter-infused cauliflower steaks will become your winter warmer go-to.
Black figs, feta and red wine
Selin says: Black figs are one of my favourite fruits. I love them on their own or in dishes like this paired with some salty cheese. Eating a fig will immediately transport me back to my grandparent’s garden in Cyprus. They have a big old fig tree and, when I was a young girl, there was nothing better than sitting underneath its hand-like leaves eating fruit after fruit. I still get excited about fig season each year, and I will always plan in some dishes for our menus at the restaurant; this recipe, in several iterations, has featured more than once.
By no means do you need to go the full nine yards on this. If all you have time for is smashing a couple of figs over a piece of toast and then crumbling over some cheese, then do that.
Whatever route you do go down, please do not eat figs out of season. They are the absolute worst, and worse still because they are just so magical when they are properly ripe.
- 100ml red wine (full bodied)
- 40g dark brown sugar
- 1 small beetroot (beet) or ½ large beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 ½ tbsp vinegar (red, white, apple cider or moscatel)
- 6–8 black figs, perfectly ripe, cut into quarters
- 50–70g feta (I like to use sheep’s milk feta)
- 5 chives, finely chopped
- sea salt flakes (kosher salt)
- extra-virgin olive oil
In a small pan, combine the red wine, sugar, beetroot (beet) and vinegar and place over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce for 10–15 minutes or until the mixture turns to a syrup-like consistency. A good way to test this (if you are unsure) is to put a little of the syrup, straight out of the pan, on a small plate. Place into the freezer for 5 minutes to cool it down.
When you take it out and the syrup holds on the plate without running too quickly, then it’s ready. If it completely sticks to the plate and doesn’t run, then add a little water to the pan and adjust over a gentle heat. Strain off the syrup (discard the beetroot) and leave to cool to room temperature.
To serve, coat the figs in the syrup. Arrange onto plates and then crumble over the feta. Sprinkle with chives, sea salt flakes (kosher salt) and a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil.
Asparagus, candied bacon and Graceburn
Selin says: Graceburn is a soft cow’s cheese in oil, the creamier cousin of feta, if you will. If you can’t source it locally, you can find it online or switch in a decent feta. If you do go for another cheese, use some good-quality olive oil at the end. If you’re a chilli addict, like I am, be sure to sprinkle some dried chilli (red pepper) flakes or chopped fresh chilli over this number.
One non-negotiable part of this dish is serving it with bread. It would be blasphemy not to have something to soak up all that deliciousness with.
- 8 rashers smoked streaky bacon
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 12 large asparagus spears, ends trimmed
- 125g Graceburn cheese
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/gas mark 5. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper and lay out the bacon rashers with space in between each slice. Place into the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until the bacon starts to brown.
Brush over half the maple syrup and place back into the oven to cook for a few more minutes, then turn the bacon over, brush with the remaining syrup and put back in the oven for 2 minutes or until the bacon is golden and caramelized. Take out of the oven and leave to cool.
Place a large pan of salted water on to boil. Add the asparagus spears and boil for 1–2 minutes or until the spears feel tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
To serve, place the asparagus onto a large plate, season and crumble over the Graceburn. Spoon over plenty of the oil from the cheese so it pools on the plate. Drizzle over the balsamic vinegar, before adding the bacon.
- You can use honey or treacle (molasses) instead of maple syrup.
- Cook the asparagus spears and serve warm with slices of miso butter to melt over.
- Cook the asparagus spears, leave them to cool, and drizzle over some tamarind dressing.
Roasted cauliflower, tahini and pecans
Selin says: When roasted with lots of butter, cauliflower takes on an indulgent meatiness with lots of inherent nuttiness to it. It is no surprise it pairs so well with tahini and pecans. I love playing around with vegetables in this way, especially a vegetable, like cauliflower, that has had to endure a lot of overcooking and mushing over the years.
Use regular tahini if you can’t find the black version (but the dramatic appearance of the black one is worth the effort of finding it).
- 2 large or 4 small cauliflowers
- 6–8 tbsp natural cauliflower purée
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 150g unsalted butter
- 4–8 small cauliflower leaves (optional)
- sea salt flakes (kosher salt)
- 4 tbsp tahini (black, preferably)
For the dressing
- 80g pecans, toasted and crushed
- 4 natural dried apricots, finely chopped
- 1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
- 10 chives, finely sliced
- 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
- 4–5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp vinegar (red, white, apple cider or moscatel)
Heat the oven to 210°C/190°C fan/415°F/gas mark 6–7. Cut 4 steaks from the central part of the cauliflowers – if the cauliflowers are large you should be able to cut 2 steaks from each. Alternatively, you could just cut wedges and follow the recipe as per normal. Put a little olive oil in a large, ovenproof frying pan (skillet) and place over a medium–high heat. Add the steaks (you may need to do this in two separate pans) and sear for 1–2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Season both sides with a little fine salt, turn the heat down and add in half the butter.
As the butter melts, use a spoon to keep basting it over the cauliflower. Once you have basted the cauliflower a few times, add the remaining butter to the pan, turn the cauliflower over and place in the oven for 10–15 minutes. Baste the cauliflower halfway through the cooking time. Take the cauliflower out and drain on a piece of paper towel. Before serving, place the cauliflower leaves, if using, into the hot butter and baste for 20–30 seconds or until they turn golden brown.
Drain on paper towel and season with fine salt. Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing. To serve, smear the cauliflower purée onto the plate, drizzle around the tahini, add the cauliflower steaks, spoon over the dressing, and cauliflower leaves (if using).
- You could also just coat the cauliflower florets in a little olive oil, season – a dusting of Kyseri spice or curry powder would be fabulous, too – and bake at 210°C/190°C fan/415°F/ gas mark 6–7 for 15 minutes or until soft with golden edges. Be careful tasting them, you may find it hard to stop.
- Instead of making a purée, you could chop up the trim of the cauliflower, caramelize in some butter and, once cool, blend through some thick yoghurt, to provide a creamy contrast to the cauliflower steaks.
Three: Acid, Texture, Contrast - The Essential Foundations To Redefine Everyday Cooking by Selin Kiazim (Quadrille, £25) is out 11 Nov
Photography: Chris Terry