Three weeks in a row makes it a thing

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

Have a random list of recent food-related doings:

We have hardly cooked this week, through a combination of being busy, lazy and tired. So not too much to report on the home cooking front. I do want to give a shout out to the delicious frittata I made last weekend, with leek, cavolo nero, chard, sorrel, mint, pine nuts, a bit of brown rice, feta and fennelseed. Thank you, frittata, you made several meals very satisfying.

 

I am keen to try making some crumpets today, since it is grey and drizzly. Thinking of using Elizabeth David’s recipe, as recounted here. (Afternoon edit: we made these, and they were extremely good. A++.)

 

Putting in some work now for eating in the future, we’ve been doing a lot in the garden this weekend. Yesterday we made a second, smaller raised bed on the east side of the garden, where I’ll plant out some soft herbs and greens. I also transplanted the rosemary from a pot to the back of the garden, and will move a couple of kinds of thyme, the oregano, and some lavender back there today (in between showers of rain). That part of the garden used to be covered by pointless ‘ground cover’ creeper, but very happily our landlords pulled it out when they came to prune the fig and lemon trees, so I want to get something useful in there before any remaining creeper has a chance to recolonise the space. I also picked up some seedlings of chicory, asian greens, spinach, celery and raddichio when we were at Bulleen Art and Garden buying a second compost bin yesterday, so they should also get planted out this afternoon.

 

And finally, last night I made some ginger biscuits, riffing slightly off this recipe. They’re very much an Australian nana-style biscuit, very simple, but delicious.

 

Ginger biscuits

115 g soft brown sugar
115 g butter, softened
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
3 tablespoons golden syrup
demerara sugar to coat

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, ginger and soda. Add the flour mixture and the golden syrup to the butter and sugar, and mix all together. It will form a soft, mouldable paste.

Form small balls of the mixture, 2 or 2.5 cm in diameter, by rolling between your palms. Toss each ball in demarara sugar, then place on a lined baking tray and flatten slightly with your fingers. Leave a few cm between biscuits as they will spread a little.

Bake at 180C for about 10-12 minutes, until the biscuits are going golden around the edges. Remove from the oven, and cool on racks.

Makes about 32 biscuits.


This week’s exciting tales from the stomach

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

I appear to be completely incapable of writing proper blog posts any more, even though I’m still cooking lots of great stuff and keeping the daily eating notes. But I’ve been feeling listalicious recently, so here is another list of good food that has been happening in our household this week.

 

1. Last weekend I made a big batch of kimchi, using Zoe’s recipe. I love this kimchi – the recipe is foolproof and easy, and produces some of the tastiest kimchi I’ve ever had. Love it. I’ve been snacking on kimchi all week and incorporated it into an ultra-delicious brunch this morning.

Here, have a photo of me doing the last mixing step in the kimchi production process. I used Edwige and Jean’s old (well cleaned!) laundry tub, because I am all class. Also because none of my normal kitchen bowls are big enough to handle the kimchi. Note that grey thing in the bottom left of the photo- it’s the chainmail-esque glove I wear when using the mandoline these days, after slicing off the tip of my finger with it a couple of years ago.

 

2. We had dinner last night with Danielle at Rumi in Brunswick East, and loved everything we tried. We started with pickled vegetables and then shared oven baked baby baramundi fillet with poached onion in a tahini and almond sauce; spiced lamb shoulder roasted on the bone with sirkanjabin; persian meatballs in tomato and saffron sauce with labne; and an orange and fennel salad. Every mouthful was delicious. The lamb was particularly amazing – slow cooked until it left the bone perfectly clean, and the meat extremely tender without even glancing at sloppiness. Incredible flavour, highlighted brilliantly by the sweet mint sirkanjabin. I found this earlier review of Rumi that says that the spice mix the lamb is coated with is advieh, containing rose petals, dried limes, cumin and coriander (as well as other things, I would guess, given its complexity of flavour).

 

3. It was the Veg Out markets at St Kilda yesterday and I stocked up big on lots of winter vegetables, astringent persimmons, multiple kilos of chicken and beef bones to make stock, and some other cow bits as well from the Warialda Beef stall. These guys are so great. Super friendly and very happy to give advice, share knowledge, and recommend different cuts and recipes. I ended up carrying away quite a few pieces of beef to cook up this month- short ribs, stewing beef, a pack of tendon and sinew to go in the stock pot with some Flintsones-sized vertebrae and joint bones, and finally a pack of very tender little trimmings from blade steak that I will use for a couple of stir fries this week – I’m thinking one with kimchi (something like this) and another with piles of chinese broccoli and pak choy.

 

4. And today’s breakfast, which made me exclaim multiple times, with lots of enthusiastic profanities, about how great it was: fried rice and kimchi with fried egg. My god it was so good.

This is really the perfect winter breakfast – spicy and flavoursome, chewy brown rice for that texture hit, and runny egg yolk melding everything together.

Breakfast rice, kimchi and fried egg

1 large handful cooked brown rice
2 scallions, green parts chopped
kimchi, a bit more than the volume of rice, roughly chopped
fresh coriander leaves
1 or 2 eggs
toasted sesame oil
tamari

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil, and sautee the rice until it is hot. Add the scallions and kimchi, and cook a further 5-10 minutes, until everything is warm and the mixture is catching a little on the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, fry the eggs. I like to do this in a little non-stick pan – a dash of oil, crack the eggs in, cook over low heat with a lid on the pan until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still very runny.

Put the rice and kimchi in a bowl, slide the just-cooked eggs on top, and sprinkle with coriander and a few drops of sesame oil and tamari. Eat at once.


Awesome things I have eaten recently

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

1. This quince, almond and rum cake, from a recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini. I used a little more quince than called for, macadamia oil in place of the vegetable oil, and a really good rum. It was delicious, aromatic, and all gone within three days.

2. Ruth Bruten’s very good, very quick and very easy haloumi, spinach and nigella seed gozleme. We ate this with roasted sweet potato on the side.

3. Chicken with swede, cider and creme fraiche, with a salad of mixed leaves and apple. We only used a big spoonful of creme fraiche rather than the 150 g called for, and I think more would have made it a bit sickly. For the cider, we used Aspell dry Suffolk. Perfect dinner for a cold and wet winter evening.

4. Ox cheek braised with Pedro Ximinez at Livingroom. Always like it here.

5. Fantastic hotpot at Hot Pot Paradise in Clayton, for lab Friday dinner. $25 each for two soup bases (pork bone white soup and hot chili red soup), and approximately a million things to cook in them, including fresh and frozen tofu, mushrooms, tofu skins, rice cake, fish fillets and balls, pork blood jelly, taro balls, shrimp balls, pork and beef slices, bok choy, and numerous other things I have forgotten. Their 100% approval rating on Urbanspoon is not unwarranted.

6. And this morning’s breakfast, which made me laugh at how clearly my tastes and Ted’s have diverged over the years. Lucky we love each other so much. We were sitting reading on the couches this morning before breakfast, when Ted said, “I’ve been thinking about getting some breakfast… we have some bacon left in the fridge!”. I’d been thinking about breakfast myself, but my thought process had been slightly different: I’d been getting excited about the fact that we still had some Brussels sprouts left over. So Ted made himself eggs and bacon, and I made myself the delicious dish that follows:

6 decent size Brussels sprouts
2 scallions
2 eggs
soy sauce
sesame oil
chili flakes

Trim, halve, and slice the Brussels sprouts. Chop the scallions into 1 cm pieces. Heat a little oil (or bacon fat, if your husband has been cooking right before you) in a pan, add the sprouts and scallions, and saute over moderate heat until they are wilted and starting to catch and go golden in places. Whisk together the eggs, a dash each of soy sauce and sesame oil and a big pinch of chili flakes. Pour into the pan, stir the egg through the vegetables, and as soon as it is just cooked, take off the heat and serve. I ate it with a toasted slice of darkish seedy bread.

This would be even better with shiitake or enoki mushrooms, and some fresh coriander. (Crap! I just remembered that I now have coriander growing in the garden. Next time, Gadget, next time.)


After work dinner: roast vegetable frittata and salad

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Helen and Heather came over straight from work for dinner tonight, and we had a lovely time cooking, eating and chatting. I went a little crazy with the vegetable-buying at the St Kilda markets on Saturday, so we took this opportunity to cook up loads of veggies and get them consumed (not that the consumption was much of a chore). I’d done a bit of the preparation last night by roasting the pumpkin and beetroot, but everything else was easy to get done this evening while we drank a glass or two of pinot noir.

Heather was keeping a close eye on the frittata making, because she said she always forgets how I do it when she goes to make one herself. Heather, here are instructions as precise as I can get when it comes to frittatas!

These two dishes together fed all four of us very well, with enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

 

Pumpkin, cauliflower and silverbeet frittata

750 g pumpkin, peeled (I used a combination of Kent and trombone)
olive oil
cider vinegar
half a large head of cauliflower
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 large bunch silverbeet/chard
275 g marinated goat cheese (e.g. Yarra Valley Cardi or Meredith Dairy)
6 eggs
salt and pepper

Cut the pumpkin into pieces about 1.5 cm square. Spread the pieces out in a baking dish, making sure they’re not piled up on one another, and toss with olive oil, a good splash of apple cider vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. Roast at 180 C until soft and golden at the edges – this could take between 25 and 45 minutes, depending on the pumpkin.

Cut the cauliflower into florets a couple of cm in size. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until somewhat softened and golden brown at the edges, around 20 minutes.

Saute the onion in a frypan until golden and soft (I am seeing a bit of a trend here with the goldening and softening).

Remove the stems from the silverbeet, and roughly chop the leaves. Blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, until soft but still bright green. Drain and gently press the water out of the leaves.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, cauliflower, onion and chard and mix together. Remove the feta from its oil and crumble roughly, and mix through the vegetables. Whisk five or six eggs with a little salt and pepper, then mix into the veggies. There should be enough egg to hold them together, but not much more than that – if you press a spoon into the mix, you should see a little egg appear, but not pools of it. Add another egg if there isn’t enough.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large non-stick frypan over low heat, using a heat diffuser if you have one. Tip the mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Cook over that lowish heat for 15 minutes or so, until almost cooked through. Place the pan close under a grill to cook the top. Check that it is cooked through by pressing a knife or a spatula into the middle of the frittata. If it is still raw in the middle, put it back on the low heat and keep cooking until it’s done. It’s best if it’s cooked slowly and taken off the heat as soon as it’s done – if you cook it over too high a heat or for too long it can become tough.

 

Beetroot and avocado salad

3 beetroots
1 avocado
1 large handful pine nuts, toasted
several sprigs of dill, chopped
several sprigs of mint, chopped
3 or 4 large handfuls of baby spinach
1 cup of frozen peas, defrosted in hot water
good olive oil
aged red wine vinegar
wholegrain mustard

Scrub the beetroot and cut off the stems. Place in a baking dish, cover with alfoil, and bake at 180 C until they are completely soft and a butter knife goes into them easily. This takes ages – lots of recipes claim that it only takes half an hour but this is nonsense – it always takes closer to a couple of hours for me. When they’re done, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (I usually do this step a day or more in advance). When they’re cool, peel the skins off with a knife, and cut them into 1.5 cm pieces.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and the skin, and cut into slices.

Toss together the beets, avocado, herbs, spinach, peas and pine nuts. Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Dress the salad and toss well. Serve at once.

 


Easy but excellent chicken and corn soup

Monday, March 18th, 2013

While I’m on a little bit of a roll, here’s a very good, very quick and easy chicken and corn soup, which relies for its excellence on a the deliciousness of home-made chicken stock. (I’m so smug that I had some in the freezer, and so sad that I’ve now used up the last of it – I must pick up some more necks and frames at the organic chicken stall at the markets this coming weekend). I made this tonight after we’d come home from work and spent two hours cleaning up the house in preparation for an inspection tomorrow. I hate cleaning and doing it in the evenings is very cross-making. But even though I only had about three molecules of energy left afterwards, that was sufficient to get this soup made. Life looks better now that we are full of good soup, and the house is clean and ready. Time to lie on the couch and read a novel.

 

1 onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced
olive oil
2 scallions, sliced, white and green parts kept separate
2 chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
chili flakes
2 – 3 cups of home-made chicken stock
1 large or 2 smallish cobs of corn, kernels sliced off
parsely or coriander leaves, chopped
sesame oil
salt and pepper

Saute the onion in olive oil until golden and soft. Add the white parts of the scallions and the chicken, and cook until the chicken is changing colour and getting slightly golden. Add the ginger, a big pinch of chili flakes, and most of the green parts of the scallions, and cook a further minute. Add the chicken stock and corn, and simmer for about ten minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the flavours have come together. Add the rest of the scallions, the parsley or coriander, and a drizzle of sesame oil, and season to taste.

Serves two.


How we ate (very nearly all) our WLL veggie box

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

I’m 38, and I don’t know how to drive a car. I started riding a bike to get myself places when I was about 32, and since then that has generally been both lovely and sufficient for getting places public transport doesn’t go. Almost the only time I wish I could drive is on weekends, when I contemplate the task of getting to a farmers market and schlepping home a week’s worth of vegetables, fruit, meat and cheese via some combination of train, tram and laden walking. I’ve been getting lazier about doing that, which has led to a few weeks of fairly uninspired eating of Coles vegetables, and other weeks of living mostly on tomatoes and greens from the garden (delicious, but not really enough to survive on).

But recently I’ve been trying out an option that involves much shorter schlepping distances, while also supporting a local organic farmer: Whole Larder Love seasonal veg boxes, organised by Rohan Anderson and Kate Berry. If I decide I want a box this week, I order one on the online shop by midnight Wednesday, and then on Saturday morning I head over to St Kilda to pick it up from Rohan or Kate between 9 and 9.30. They also have three other Saturday drop-off points, at Merri Creek, Footscray and Ballarat. For $48 I get a huge box of excellent and ultra-fresh vegetables and fruit grown by an organic farmer between Ballarat and Daylesford and picked the previous day. And I really do mean huge – it’s a reused styrofoam produce box packed to the brim with food. I can get it home on the tram, but get some impressed/bemused looks while doing so.

When I picked up the veg box this Saturday, I had a little chat with Kate, and she mentioned that some people weren’t sure that they could eat the whole box between a household of two people. The obvious answer is to share the box with a friend or neighbour! But I also reckon it isn’t that hard to eat it between two people if you’re making lunches and dinners for a week, and I thought I’d write up what we did with our last one to demonstrate. Admittedly, we’ve had Janine staying with us while she looked for a new place to live. But last week she was only there for half the meals we ate, and she did a bit of vegetable shopping on the side, so I reckon it works out about even.

Here’s a photo of the contents of last week’s box:

There were potatoes, carrots, silverbeet, kale, a bunch of beetroot, parsnips, turnips, a cauliflower, a red cabbage, a lettuce, five cobs of corn, a leek, a cucumber, a couple of tomatoes, basil, lots of apples, and two nashi. We made it through (almost) all of this in eight days, while also eating piles of tomatoes, greens, herbs and figs from our garden, and going out to eat a couple of times. If we’d eaten at home every meal we would easily have finished it all off in seven days.

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Here’s our week in food. Items from the veg box are bolded; most other ingredients came from the garden.

 

Saturday 9th: Ted drove us over to St Kilda to pick up the veggie box at 9. On the way home, we picked up a loaf of sourdough and a cheese danish at Baker in the Rye and had coffee at Las Chicas. I unpacked the box, laid all the veggies out on the table and photographed them, and wondered whether we could eat it all in a week. We started small for lunch: a salad of lettuce, cucumber, fresh corn, tomatoes, mint, basil, parsley and rocket, with sourdough and the Bruny Island cheese I brought back from Tasmania last week. A nashi and a small apple finished off the meal.

It was about 36 C, so we fled to the cinema to watch Cloud Atlas and enjoy the air conditioning in the afternoon, and came home and ate Frosty Fruits for dinner. Percent of the veggie box eaten so far: probably about 2%. Not looking good.

 

Sunday 10th: I got up early, while it was still a reasonable temperature, and roasted the two large beetroot in the oven, to eat later in the week. I’ll keep the two smaller beetroots for eating raw in salads. An hour of gardening, and then it was too swelteringly hot to object too strongly to Ted’s plan for lunch at a cafe. (He ate eggs benedict, a.k.a. eggs with egg sauce; unthinkable in the middle of summer! I had vietnamese-style squid salad.)

However, we pulled ourselves into shape for dinner and made two indian dishes: gobi mutter masala (using up cauliflower and tomato) and hariyali dal (silverbeet). I was planning to also add a chicken and potato curry, but after making these two my whole body was already running with perspiration and I was ready for my third cool shower of the day. Screw you, heatwave.

 

Monday 11th: Janine and I took some of the left-over curries to work for lunch, and then she made a third curry to add to them for dinner – fish and potato, excellent.

 

Tuesday 12th: All three of us did our curry-eating duty and had the last of the left-overs for lunch. Nichola and Rene came over for dinner, to celebrate Janine getting the apartment in Caulfield she’d applied for (hooray!), so we made a vegetably feast:

– An incredibly delicious beetroot and greens frittata. This was one of the best things I ate all week. I peeled and chopped the two large beetroot I’d roasted on Sunday. Chopped the white part of a leek and sauteed until soft. Blanched some chopped greens: a dozen beet leaves and about 8 large chard leaves. I wilted a small bunch of chopped sorrel leaves with the leek, then mixed together the leek, the drained greens, the beetroot, a large bunch of chopped mint, 90 g of feta, and four eggs. This got cooked slowly in a small frypan over low heat until almost set, then finished under the grill. It made a fat, vegetable-dense frittata about 4 or 5 cm deep and a bit over 15 cm across.

– The remaining cobs of corn, which we soaked in water for 30 minutes, then barbequed in their husks, and ate with butter, lime juice and smoked paprika.

Potatoes, washed, boiled until almost cooked, roughly smashed in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted until crisped around the edges.

– Blanched green beans tossed with pesto (made with basil from the veg box).

– Ripe tomatoes from the garden, sliced and dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, parsley and chives.

Despite all this we still had room for the apple cake Nichola had brought for dessert.

 

Wednesday 13th: We took frittata, bean and potato left-overs for lunch. For dinner, after pilates, I made a quick dish of pasta with the remaining pesto, and eggplant.

 

Thursday 14th: We had lunches of salad made with lettuce, cucumber, grated raw beetroot, tomatoes, rocket, young chard leaves, sorrel, parsley, mint, feta and chopped hazelnuts.

The heatwave finally broke this morning, and although the temperature is still in the mid twenties, it feels blissfully cool. I made chicken and vegetable stew for dinner: five browned drumsticks; onion and fennelseed; two potatoes, two parsnips, six carrots, all peeled and chopped; half a bottle of white wine, two cups of water (chicken stock would have been better), fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, salt, pepper. Covered, in the oven at 160 C for an hour, then added a bunch of blue kale, chopped, and cooked a further 30 minutes, partly uncovered. We ate this with toasted italian bread and a scatter of lemon zest.

 

Friday 15th: left-over chicken stew for lunches. For dinner, it was a fight between the urge to cook more vegetables, and the almost unbroken tradition of going out for dumplings with the lab. Tradition won.

 

 Saturday 16th: I trammed over to pick up this week’s veg box, and met Helen there. We checked out the Little Veggie Patch shop on Chapel St, had coffee and breakfast (leek and corn fritters with herbed yoghurt) at Garage Espresso, and then she dropped me home and accepted a few items from the box as fair exchange.

Even though there is a new box of vegetables in the house, I wanted to clean up as much of last week’s box as possible today, and made a pretty good effort. I stewed the remaining apples to make compote for breakfasts next week. Ted and I split a salad for lunch that I adored and he ate graciously because he loves me and has good manners. It was fantastic: a small beetroot, coarsley grated; 6 tender small beet leaves, stemmed and finely sliced; a cheek of a red cabbage, finely sliced; one scallion, and quite a bit of mint, parsley and chives, all finely chopped; 100 g hot-smoked salmon fillet, flaked. Toss all this together, with a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, seed mustard and a pinch of salt. Visually delightful, and a perfect combination of flavours.

And then for dinner we made gnocchi from scratch. I’ve never made them before; I’d been scared off by too many stories of them being a hassle to make, and the risk of putting in the effort and ending up with bullet-like dumplings rather than light little clouds. I consulted Artusi and Marcella Hazan and gave it a go, figuring that I could always just cook some dried pasta if they turned out badly. But no! They were great, and very very simple and quick to make. I boiled three potatoes (a bit over 400 g) in their skins until just cooked, then drained them. While they were still hot, I peeled them and put them through a potato ricer, then mixed in about 80 g of plain flour. The recipes called for a little more flour than that – about 25% as much flour as potatoes by weight, typically – but the dough was coming together nicely and not too sticky, so I stopped. We formed them into gnocchi, following the illustration in Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, cooked them in gently boiling water for a minute or so until they bobbed to the surface, and were kind of flabbergasted when we tried one and it turned out to be perfectly light and fluffy. We ate them with a slow-cooked tomato sauce and a grating of parmesan.

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What’s left over? Two turnips and three-quarters of a red cabbage. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the turnips, but I’m thinking of roasting the cabbage with za’atar as part of a mezze plate, or turning it into more salads, like this or this.

The week’s best dishes? Surprisingly to me, they were both made with beetroot, a vegetable I’m perfectly happy to eat but don’t usually go crazy for: Tuesday’s beetroot and greens frittata, and Saturday’s beetroot, red cabbage and smoked salmon salad. I was also really stoked about making great gnocchi.

Will I still go to farmers markets? Yes – sometimes I want to get to chose the vegetables I’ll eat for the week, and if I need to buy meat or cheese I’ll often go to the farmers market for that, and will just pick up vegetables while I’m there. But I’ll also keep getting the veg boxes, even if not every single week, because I like the idea, I’m impressed with the produce, I like the people involved, it’s super convenient, and it presents me with vegetables I wouldn’t often think to buy (beetroot, potatoes, cabbage) and encourages me to explore new recipes.

Now to settle down to working through this week’s veg box. Anyone got suggestions for green cabbage, and those turnips?

 


Lamb and pistachio kofta

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Stuff that has been making me happy recently:

1. Spending Christmas with friends – Iñaki, Begoña, Unai, Naia and Heather came over to our place for Christmas lunch. We all contributed mezze; I made these slices of baguette with french goat cheese, roasted cherry Roma tomatoes, and salted capers. Then Iñaki made paella, and we ate it with slow-roasted Roma tomatoes, griddled zucchini with lemon and mint, and roasted peppers tossed with sherry vinegar, and a spinach, pea, mint and ricotta salad.

 

2. Checking out green places around Melbourne, including the Botanic Gardens, where queued for 40 minutes to see this spectacular titan arum blooming on Boxing day:

 

 

 

the fernery, heritage orchard, succulent garden etc etc at Ripponlea Estate:

 

and the perfect hidden river cafe at the Fairfield boathouse (where I had prawns, watercress and lemon aioli on a brioche roll for lunch today):

 

3. Delicious stonefruit from the St Kilda and Victoria markets, this week and last.

4. Seeing Helvetica at ACMI with Ted and Helen last week.

5. Two delicious meals at Dainty Sichuan in Chinatown, including one on the 4th of January, described here, which made a hellish public transport trip in 39 degree heat worthwhile.

6. The garden, where all but one of the nine tomato varieties I have planted have started to produce fruit. Only a couple of wild sweeties have ripened yet, but I have hope for a good harvest from the rest. The fig tree is also covered with green figs – last year the earliest ripe ones were at the end of February, so there is still a while to wait yet. But just sitting out there, or watering, or weeding, the beautiful green box that is our garden always returns me to at least some degree of serenity.

 

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For dinner tonight we made these kofta, inspired strongly by a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. The original recipe made a larger amount, used half beef and half lamb, pine nuts instead of pistachios, red chili instead of green, and so on. I modified according to what we had in the house and came up with these, which were delicious.

Lamb and pistachio kofta with tahini sauce

Kofta
400 g freshly minced lamb
half a red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
40 g unsalted pistachios, chopped
2 large handfuls of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 long green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
scant teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Tahini sauce
4 tablespoons tahini paste
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
hot water to mix

To serve
a big salad of tomato, cucumber and mint
pita bread

To make the kofta, mix the ingredients together well in a bowl, using your hands. Shape them into about ten kofta, either long, thinnish torpedo shapes, or rounder and flatter frittery shapes. Shape them firmly so they stay together during cooking.

Make the tahini sauce by combining the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. Add hot water, stirring briskly, until the sauce is a bit runnier than honey (in Ottolenghi’s very clear phrase).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Heat a slick of oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and sear the kofta all over until golden brown. At this point they will be still rare inside. Place them in an oven tray and cook them in the oven until they are done to your liking. How long this takes will depend on how cooked you want them and what shape they are. If you got a butcher to mince the lamb for you today, it’s ok to leave them a little rare if you like; otherwise make sure they are fully cooked. Ours took about 12 minutes in the oven, under alfoil.

To eat, spoon the sauce around the kofta and drizzle a little over the top. Sprinkle with more parsley and some more chopped pistachios if you have any over. Serve with the salad and pita.

Serves 4.


Secrets of the salad, for Luciano and Eliane

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for well over a year. (Can that really be right? Yes, it is, horrifyingly.) I started writing it when Luciano and Eliane were leaving Brisbane to go back to Brazil. They’d often asked me for recipes for the salads I brought to lab parties, and I wanted to write the recipes down for them as a farewell present. Then I couldn’t work out how to write an intro paragraph that would convey just how much I loved them and would miss them when they left, so I wrote the recipe part, stored it in the drafts folder, and put off writing the personal part. I should have just written “I love you and I’ll miss you!” and published it.

I love the fact that academia has let me be friends with so many lovely people from all over the world, but I hate that everyone (including me) always moves away, eventually. Sure, I now have places to stay in a dozen different countries when I travel, but I’d swap that in a second for all my scattered friends from the last decade or so suddenly deciding to move to Melbourne together. I’m a crappy email correspondent, so I know I don’t say this (or anything else) often enough, but I hope you all know that I miss you like hell.

 

Anyway, I’m dusting this draft off now because Begoña is going to come over on the weekend to cook with me and we’ll make a couple of salads, so I was looking through my old recipes to work out which ones we might make. Bego, here are some possibilities!

Almost all of the salads I make in this style are just variants of the same master salad, which combines the five components below. They last well, so are good for taking to parties or barbeques, and they’re substantial enough that leftovers make good lunches.

1. A grain. You can use wheat grains, spelt or farro, barley, quinoa (white, red or black, or some combination of the three), cousous, israeli couscous, fregola sarda, burgul, freekeh, red or brown rice, orzo, even ravioli. Cook the grain, drain it, and if you think the grains might stick together, toss it immediately with a little dressing.

2. Vegetables. Raw or cooked, commonly roasted. There should be more vegetable than grain in the salad. I try to chose a seasonal combination from veggies like tomatoes, capsicums, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, chard, radicchio, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato, asparagus, broad beans, peas, mushrooms, cucumbers and fennel.

To roast, I generally cut the vegetable up into small pieces, toss them with oil, salt, pepper, and sometimes a dash of vinegar, spread them out on a baking tray, and cook them in the oven at 180 C until they are browned and softened – 20-60 minutes, depending on the vegetable and the size of the pieces. Make sure you spread them out so they roast rather than steam. I often roast halved tomatoes more slowly at about 110 C, so they lose more of their juice and taste more intense.

3. Herbs. For greenery and flavour. I almost always use chopped soft herbs, especially parsley and mint, but sometimes also chives, basil or dill.

4. Protein. Usually white cheese of some kind (feta, goats cheese, fresh ricotta, ricotta salata), nuts (toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped hazelnuts, slivered almonds), chickpeas, smoked fish, or some combination of these.

5. Dressing. Oil (usually olive oil, but I also sometimes use hazelnut oil or macadamia oil) and acid (usually sherry vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice). Sometimes the residual olive oil and vinegar from the roasted vegetables is suffient; other times I taste the salad and then shake up a little extra oil, vinegar and mustard and stir through. If I’m using a nut oil or lemon juice I add that at the end, rather than during roasting. Occasionally I use home-made pesto, thinned a bit with lemon juice and/or olive oil or a nut oil, as a dressing.

 

There are infinite variations possible, but here are a few combinations I’ve tried before and liked.

A green and white spring salad

white quinoa, cooked
broad beans, double-podded (or use green peas)
asparagus, blanched or grilled and cut into 3 cm pieces
parsley, mint and chives, finely chopped
preserved lemon, finely chopped
feta
good olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, mixed to emulsify

Combine everything and toss well. Taste and add more lemon juice or other seasoning as needed. Great eaten with a piece of salmon and maybe some grilled zucchini.

A summer salad with roast vegetables

israeli couscous
ripe roma or cherrry tomatoes, halved and slow-roasted with olive oil and sherry vinegar
slender zucchini, cut into coins about 3 mm thick, tossed with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 180C till soft and golden
eggplant, sliced, grilled, and cut into pieces
crumbled goats’ cheese or grated ricotta salata
parsley and basil
olive oil and sherry vinegar

Cook the couscous until al dente, drain, then toss with a little olive oil and sherry vinegar to stop it sticking together. Combine with the roasted vegetables, herbs and cheese. The oil and vinegar remaining from cooking the vegetables may be sufficient dressing; if not, whisk up a little more oil and/or vinegar and toss it through.

A quick summer salad

fregola sarda
cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed, sliced
sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
avocado, chopped
feta, crumbled
parsley and mint
olive oil and lemon juice, combined

Cook the fregola sarda until al dente. Drain well, then mix with olive oil and lemon juice and set aside. It’s best if you can do this in a wide bowl so it cools quickly. Stir it now and then while it’s cooling, to make sure it doesn’t clump.

Toss the fregola sarda with the vegetables, herbs, cheese and avocado. If the avocado is very ripe it will probably mostly melt into the salad as you toss it, making an almost creamy dressing. Taste for lemon and seasoning and add more if needed.

An autumn salad

barley, cooked and drained
butternut squash, cubed, tossed with garlic olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and roasted until softened and browned
slender zucchini, cut into coins about 3 mm thick, tossed with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted till soft and golden
chickpeas, cooked (if from a tin, drain and rinse them)
feta or goats’ cheese, crumbled
parsley and chives
olive oil, cider vinegar, seed mustard

Toss the barley with the other ingredients.  Make a dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and a little bit of seed mustard, and toss through.

A winter salad

wheat grains, cooked
kabocha squash, cubed and roasted as for autumn salad
chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced (can either saute or leave them uncooked)
lightly wilted spinach or chard
radicchio, a few torn leaves
hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
aged goats cheese, crumbled
olive oil, hazelnut oil, cider vinegar

Toss the wheat grains with the vegetables, hazelnuts and cheese. Whisk up the dressing of olive oil, hazelnut oil and cider vinegar, and toss through salad.

 

Other salads in this vein from my archives:

Couscous, chard, feta and pomegranate salad
Red quinoa, cauliflower, green garlic and feta salad
Couscous, eggplant, dried fig and orange salad
Pearl couscous, roast vegetable and harissa salad
Spiced burgul salad
Burgul, tuna and parsley salad

And from elsewhere on the web:

Farro salad with roasted red grapes, kale and swiss chard
Wild rice salad with miso dressing
Bulguf ‘pilaf’ with swiss chard and dried apricots
Quinoa with peas, beans, lemon and herbs
Red quinoa and quail egg salad
Beetroot and moghrabieh salad
Roast cauliflower, chickpea and quinoa salad
Quinoa salad with persian dried lime
Green bean and black quinoa salad
Quinoa with currants, dill and zucchini
Bulgur salad with corn, feta and basil
Brown rice with shiitake, ginger and arame
Hazelnut and chard ravioli salad


Couscous, chard, feta and pomegranate seed salad

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

I’m going on holiday tomorrow (yesssssssssssssss), and still need to pack, so this is a quick one. We have been rocking the salads recently. Love spring, love the greens my garden is producing; love love love. This salad is crunchy, fresh and light, with a savoury base note contributed by the chard, onions and chickpeas.

125 g couscous
1 handful pinenuts, toasted
1 large handful each of mint and parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1 large onion, sliced finely
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
4 large leaves of yellow-stemmed chard, stemmed and chopped
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
80 g feta
seeds from 1 small pomegranate

Cook the couscous according to the directions on the packet. Place in a salad bowl and toss with the pinenuts, mint and parsley.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the onion over moderate heat until golden and soft. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes. Add the chard and chickpeas, and cook until the chard is wilted. Tip over the couscous, and toss together.

Strew crumbled feta and the pomegranate seeds over everything. Eat.

Serves 2 very generously.


Red quinoa, cauliflower, green garlic and feta salad

Monday, October 1st, 2012

We’ve made this salad twice in one week – it is that good! A delicious combination of flavours and textures, it also uses the produce available at this change of seasons: cauliflower from the end of winter, green garlic, peas and herbs from the start of spring. I think it is worth seeking out red quinoa to use here if you can – it has a little more flavour, and more resiliance to the tooth, than white quinoa. It also adds a great colour to the salad.

We have been trying lots of interesting and delicious vegetables for the first time recently – cime de rapa, chervil, new kale varieties, and now green garlic as well. I’d read that it was mild enough to use uncooked, but it was still too garlicky for me to eat raw, so I sliced it finely and briefly sauteed it before adding it to the salad. The second time we made this, I knew Begoña would be eating it and she doesn’t like garlic, so I swapped in some (uncooked) chopped chives instead and the salad was still great.

 

1 cup red quinoa
1 head cauliflower
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
2 cups of frozen peas, defrosted in hot water, or similar quantity of cooked fresh peas
2 stems of green garlic
lemon olive oil (optional)
several large sprigs of mint, leaves picked and chopped
150 g feta, crumbled
Dijon mustard
hazelnut oil
white wine vinegar

Rinse the quinoa well in running water, then drain and put in a saucepan. Add two cups of boiling water, cover, and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked. If it is ever so slightly too firm still, leave the lid on for another 5 minutes or so to let the quinoa steam before using it.

Cut the cauliflower into florets, spread them on a couple of baking trays, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 180 C for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is getting golden on the edges, and starting to become tender, but still has some firmness to the bite.

Let the quinoa and cauliflower cool slightly (or to room temperature, if you prefer) before proceeding, so that the cheese doesn’t melt when you mix the salad.

Finely slice the bulbs and the lower, tender parts of the leaves of the green garlic. Heat a drizzle of lemon olive oil (if you have it, otherwise just use normal olive oil) in a small pan, and gently saute the chopped garlic until it loses its raw sharpness.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa and cauliflower, the peas, green garlic, mint and feta, and toss well. Make a dressing for the salad from hazelnut oil, white wine vinegar and mustard. I love dressings that are quite vinegary and mustardy, so I would whisk together about 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, a dash of olive oil, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and a very heaped teaspoon of mustard. Make the dressing to your own taste, season it, then stir it through the salad.

The salad is great if eaten at once, but survives well if made in advance. This quantity would serve about 4 people generously by itself, or about 8-10 people as a side salad with other dishes. We ate it for dinner by itself one night after work, and made it again for a Sunday lunch with barbequed chicken thighs and a pile of roasted asparagus.