Friday, 31 October 2008

Green Spring Salads

Spring in Melbourne is a wonderful time. I don’t say this lightly, having lived long enough in Edinburgh to realise that a Scottish spring is as dour as a Melbourne winter and by the end of Summer everyone is still waiting for some real hot weather. But in Melbourne, we really appreciate the sunny days of Spring and the green buds on the plants because we know that by the end of a scorching Summer, it will be a miracle if the plants are still alive.

The warm weather and seasonal green vegetables make it a perfect time for salads. Asparagus, broadbeans (fava beans) and fresh peas beckon from the fruit and vegetable displays. Who can resist the cheerful hopeful green colours! Not me. We’ve eaten a lot of salads lately. I thought I would share a few here.

The first salad is Cindy’s Green on Green Salad. I made it because I had broad beans in the fridge and was not sure what to do with them. I had actually intended to use them in Spring Risotto Soup after Lysy responded to my previous doubts with the suggestion of cooking them in a risotto. But I didn’t have the energy for the double podding when I made the soup. Strangely I found it quite relaxing to pod fresh peas which I used to do with my mum but I just couldn’t face the broad beans.

I then saw Cindy’s salad and made it the next night. E must have seen me podding th peas the previously night and when he saw me podding the broadbeans he asked if they had been exposed to radiation before he realised they weren’t peas. I had thought the salad might be like the broad bean pesto I made recently. But it was much better. Lighter with the lemon and herb flavours starring. Not substantial enough to serve alone but wonderful with some bean burgers and fried smoked tofu, tomato and onion.

Green on green salad
(adapted from Stonesoup via Where’s the Beef?)
Serves 2 as a side

½ cup broad beans (about 60-70g when double podded – 300 – 400g when in pods)
½ cup frozen peas (or fresh if possible)
1 handful rocket
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 small handful mint
1 small handful parsley
Juice and zest of ½ a medium lemon
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil

(Double pod broad beans by podding and then soaking in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and podding again.) Lightly steam broad beans in microwave for about 30 seconds. Steam peas in microwave for 1 minute.

Place garlic, mint, parsley, lemon juice and zest, salt, olive oil and two thirds of the peas and beans into food processor and blitz til roughly chopped. (Cindy suggested doing it with a mortar and pestle but I found out that mine is just too small for such jobs.)

Place rocket and the remaining third of the broad beans and peas into salad bowl and add herb mixture. You have the option of serving with the herb mixture artistically placed over the vegies or mixing it all up.

The next salad came from a page I had torn out of the The Age Sunday Life Magazine. It was called Asparagus with tomato, baby rocket and preserved lemon but I renamed it Asparagus, Capsicum and Rocket Salad because I didn’t have tomatoes when I made it. I was tempted by the recipe because it offered a way to use preserved lemons. I served it with spaghetti and roasted tomato sauce. It was a really tasty salad with lots of interesting flavours.

Asparagus, capsicum and rocket salad
(adapted from The Age Sunday Life Magazine – similar to this one)
Serves 2 as side

1 bunch asparagus (approx 200g), trimmed and chopped
1 capsicum, sliced thinly
1 handful rocket
4 semi-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp preserved lemon, rinsed and finely chopped
¾ tsp seeded mustard
2-3 tbsp sun-dried tomato olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp cumin powder
1 pinch cayenne powder
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted

Cook asparagus for 1 minute in microwave and then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Mix with the remaining ingredients.

Finally I recently made a favourite salad of mine. I had thought I was planning a quiche and suddenly looked at the ingredients in my trolley at the supermarket and realised that I was going to make a version of Peasant Potato Salad. This is a recipe I found soon after I became vegetarian. Even then I was keen for recipe alternatives with lots of vegetables.

I find this recipe odd because it has such large quantities – I always imagine it is intended for a large Tuscan family meal outdoors but I never recorded where I found the recipe so I couldn’t say for sure. I have made it quite a few times and always change it. I have never made the dressing with the egg yolk in it nor with the quantities of the actual recipe, but I have included the cooked zucchini in the salad on occasion which is also excellent. This salad is a complete meal. We ate it accompanied by a slice of good sourdough bread.

Peasant potato salad
(Source not recorded in my notebook)
Serves 2 as a main meal

400g potatoes (about 6 small), halved
1 bunch asparagus ( about 200g), trimmed and chopped
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
½ capsicum, thinly sliced
1 spring onion, finely chopped
5 semi-dried tomatoes, chopped
8-9 kalamata olives, halved
5 large basil leaves, torn

2 dessertspoons of yoghurt
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato olive oil
1 tbsp parmesan, finely grated
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Juice of half a lime
½ tsp seeded mustard
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil potatoes in a medium saucepan for about 20 minutes or til soft. Place in a medium salad bowl with remaining salad ingredients. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over salad ingredients. Mix together and serve.

On the stereo:
The Civil War: Matmos

Thursday, 30 October 2008

WTSIM: of cats, ukeleles and enchiladas

Sunday was one of those lazy warm days. We were painfully aware of summer looming large and hot after taking Zinc to the vet the previous day. Despite our best efforts, she had already managed some sunburn. It seems she will have to spend a lot of summer days indoors. It is no fun being a white cat who wants to play outside in a Melbourne summer. It wasn't a good weekend for Zinc - she had also had her annual vaccinations and was feeling poorly.

E had a need to fill his life with all things ukulele. When he wasn’t strumming his own uke, we had George Formby on the stereo singing his double entrendres accompanied by the ukulele as only the Brits can (oo-er missus, I have a stick of blackpool rock in my pocket). E was also searching the internet for quirky items such as ukulele teapots and Ukes for Obama.

It was the sort of day to catch up with blogging and shopping, to sit on the couch with the weekend paper and search my cookbooks for recipes for burritos. My mum had given me some of her lovely silverbeet (rainbow chard) and I had decided to make some tangy silverbeet to go with burritos. Failing to find the right recipe in my shelves, I turned to the web and found a tempting PPK recipe for Potato Kale Enchiladas with Roasted Chili Sauce but it wasn’t quite right.

Unable to find the recipe I envisaged, I had to make it up. I wanted a focus on pumpkin which has been missing from my cooking of late. Initially I decided to include cottage cheese but then decided on a tofu scramble as I have been enamoured of the breakfast burrito lately. But my recent burritos have been a bit dry and I liked the idea of baking them with a sauce rather than serving with a salsa. Confused about what I was making, I checked the difference between a burrito and enchilada on Wikipedia . It seems that when a tortilla is wrapped around the filling like an envelope it is called a burrito. Whereas an enchilada is made when the tortilla is wrapped around the filling like cannelloni and baked with a sauce.

I was pleased with my creations (despite the lack of appetising photos of the finished version). The smoothness of the mashed pumpkin and beans mixed well with the smoky spicy crumbliness of the tofu scramble. In fact, I had a little scramble leftover and it was delicious with a few slices of tomato in a sandwich the next day. The enchiladas were filling and lasted us 3 nights. The first night we ate them with tangy silverbeet. Then the next night we just had some beetroot and apple chutney with them. I think they would be good with a salsa or green salad but they are substantial enough to eat alone.

The enchiladas took me about 1½ hours to make in a relaxed manner. They were a nice ending to a slow day and we ate them in the backyard. It was our first dinner outside this spring. The evenings are not quite long enough for such late dinners yet, but it wont be long til we will be able to eat dinner outside a little more. Probably accompanied by a ukulele and a cat!

I am sending my enchiladas to Jeanne of Cooksister who is hosting Waiter, There’s Something in MyGourds in October.

Pumpkin, Bean and Tofu Enchiladas
Serves 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, washed, trimmed and sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed
350g tofu, crumbled
kernels of 1 fresh corncob
1 small bunch asparagus (200g), trimmed and diced
1 canned chipotle chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp adobe sauce (from chipotle can)
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 pinch salt (or to taste)

450g pumpkin, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 x 400g tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin powder
Juice of ½ a lime
Pinch cayenne pepper

1 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of sugar
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

6 large tortillas (I used ones that are about 25cm diameter)*
2-3 handfuls of grated tasty cheese*

*For gluten free enchildas use corn tortillas. For vegan enchiladas, use a vegan cheese or sprinkle some of the tofu mixture or seeds in place of the cheese.

Heat oil in a large non stick heavy bottomed non-stick frypan. Fry leek and garlic over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes until leek is softened, stirring occasionally. Remove half leek mixture into a large mixing bowl. Place a heaped tablespoon of the leek mixture in a small saucepan.

Add tofu, corn, asparagus, chipotle, adobe sauce, nutritional yeast and salt to the halved leek mixture in large fry pan. Fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside for the flavours to mingle while you prepare the remaining components.

Place tomatoes, salt, sugar, cumin, oregano, garlic, tomato paste and cayenne pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. This sauce does not need to reduce too much but the flavours just need to meet and greet.

Cook pumpkin in the microwave til soft (it took me about 6 minutes) and then mash with a fork. Mash the kidney beans with a fork. Add pumpkin and beans to the leek mixture in the mixing bowl. Add cumin, cayenne pepper and lime juice. Stir to combine.

Place a tortilla on a flat surface and spread a sixth of the pumpkin mixture in a line along the middle. Place a sixth (or a couple of spoonfuls) of the tofu crumble on top of the pumpkin mixture. Roll up the tortilla tightly around the filling. Place seam side down in a greased baking dish (I used my large roasting dish). Repeat with 5 remaining tortillas. Pour tomato sauce over the tortillas and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly. Scatter cheese over tomato sauce. Bake at 220 C for about 20 minutes.

These keep in the fridge for a couple of days. To reheat, cover with foil and place in moderate (180 C) oven for about 30-35 minutes.

On the stereo:
On the Rocks Part 1: distilled for easy listening: Various Artists

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

My Personal Vegetarian 100 List

When I was a naïve undergraduate studying English Literature, the first essay I wrote was on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. When I asked for feedback, my tutor, who had already happily admitted to us he was ‘galloping towards retirement’, told me I was duped by Woolf. But her concerns about literature being merely about great dead men proved to be a fair warning.

It was liberating to challenge the literary canon of great books by great men. I loved the freedom of expatriate 1920s and 1930s Paris. I discovered little-known writers such as Jean Rhys, HD, and Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as publishers such as Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company. I also grew to love some of the more recent writers such as Marilynne Robinson, Marge Piercy, Dorothy Hewett, Margaret Drabble, Drusilla Modjeska. Then there is the fascination of how the canon evolves with writers such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath taking their place after lurking in the shadows.

I was reminded of the literary canon when I saw the Omnivores 100 List from Very Good Taste circulating the blogosphere recently. I became vegetarian as a young adult and never had the desire to explore the weird and wonderful fleshy dishes out there. But I have eaten foods I never would have encountered if not for being vegetarian. The Ominvore’s 100 List includes about 40 foods that I wouldn’t touch because they are meat or fish. I liked the idea of the list but it wasn’t for me. Not only do I not want to eat roadkill or foie gras but I just don’t see the point of saying I never had a root beer float when I have my fair share of lime spiders (for the uninitiated, they are very similar but the latter is Australian). And the only remotely Australian food on the list is crocodile!

Then I started to see some bloggers reflecting thoughtfully on the list or creating their own. It seemed more fun to me to write up my own list of foods that comfort, fascinate and inspire me. I tried to include food from my Australian culture, my travels, other blogs, and some vegetarian or vegan staples. I make no claims to being an omnivore but I do believe that being a vegetarian has made my diet richer and more interesting.

I have linked most items to recipes or explanations - most with photos. The one item that I couldn’t find a link to was minimum chips – this is the smallest amount of chips you can buy in many Australian fish and chips shops. One day I will write about it. (Update - I have finally written a fish and chips post and pasted the link in for minimum chips.) All items are intended to be the vegetarian versions, if I haven’t been explicit.

I have bolded the foods that I have eaten (although I didn't bold a few where my memory was vague). I don’t claim to be the most adventurous foodie but I do know that there is a lot of food out there that I am curious to try out and it shows there are still foods I would like to blog about.

Some interesting alternative lists:

The Vegetarian 100 – at Feeding Maybelle
The Vegan 100 – at Bittersweet
The British 100 – at Food Stories
The Sweet 100 – at Cakespy
The Dessert 100 – at Retorte
The Indian Vegetarian 100 - at One Hot Stove

1. Chocolate crackles
2. Green smoothie
3. Tofu scramble
4. Haggis
5. Miso soup
6. Chilli with mole
7. Fondue
8. Marmite/Vegemite/Promite
9. Borscht
10. Tofurkey
11. Nachos
12. Paneer
13. Tunnocks caramel wafer biscuits
14. Twisties
15. Stollen
16. Liquorice tea
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Gyoza
20. Tempeh Reuben
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Quince jelly
23. Spaetzle
24. Irn Bru
25. Romanesco Broccoli
26. Jam Roly Poly
27. Caramelised condensed milk (Dulce de leche)
28. Rainbow chard
29. Sesame halva
30. Paté
31. Wasabi peas
32. Chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Tablet
34. Sauerkraut
35. Lime spider
36. Mulled wine
37. Pumpkin scones
38. Mead
39. Bee sting cake
40. Minimum chips from a fish and chip shop
41. Bombe Alaska
42. Purple sprouting broccoli
43. Dahl
44. Homemade tofu
45. Red velvet cake
46. Stroopwafle
47. Lavender
48. Vegetable sushi
49. Damper hot from BBQ
50. Seaweed
51. Matcha muffins
52. Umeboshi
53. Nutroast
54. Apricots fresh from the tree
55. Tim tams
56. Nettle soup
57. Heather Cream liqueur
58. Pho
59. Scrapple
60. Falafel from street cart in Israel
61. Chipotle in adobe sauce
62. Mango lassi
63. Chickpea cutlets
64. Masala dosa
65. Durian
66. Homemade vegetarian sausages
67. Churros e chocolat
68. Smoked tofu
69. Fried plantain
70. ANZAC biscuits
71. Gazpacho
72. Warm chocolate chip cookies
73. Absinthe
74. Red corn on the cob
75. Quinoa
76. Pomegranate
77. Eggless quiche
78. Tempeh
79. Jerky
80. Gozleme
81. French onion soup
82. Purple potatoes
83. Pierogi
84. Laksa
85. Moussaka
86. Home made sprouts
87. Vegan ‘cheese’ sauce
88. Stuffed zucchini flowers
89. Matzoh ball soup
90. Pavlova
91. Seitan salami
92. Kimchi
93. Butterscotch chips
94. Annatto seeds
95. Panch Phoran
96. Deep fried mars bars
97. Wattleseed
98. Polenta
99. Dragonfruit
100. Rock samphire

Monday, 27 October 2008

Lysy’s smoky burgers

Smoked tofu is one of those strange foods that appears from nowhere when I can’t for the life of me think what to make with it and then it disappears when I want it. It is a very strong flavoured tofu which is scarily reminiscent of bacon. I first tasted it years ago and it was my first experience of eating any smoked food which was not meat. It was a shock to my system. My initial encounter with smoked tofu reminded me of the unpleasant intensity of eating meat.

More recently I have come to embrace the more subtle smoky flavours of smoked paprika and chipotle chilli peppers. I still find the flavour of smoked tofu confronting but if used creatively, it can be delicious. On our recent trip to Hobart, E had a wonderful smoked tofu dish with spicy pesto and broccolini.

Months ago Lysy posted a recipe for Smoked Tofu and Bean Burgers. Gluten free, dairy free and nut free. Lysy describes their healthiness as “generalised-and-no-specific-implications-for-magical-disease-warding-off-properties superfoodiness”. How could I resist! But the post coincided with a conspiracy to hide all smoked tofu in every shop near me.

Finally, despairing of ever finding smoked tofu again, I tried making my own version of these burgers with plain tofu and liquid smoke. The taste was ok but not great. Even more disappointing was the texture which was so soft it seemed more the consistency of a dip than a burger. I baked them in mini muffin trays (see photo above right) and was not thrilled with them. I did wonder if it was because I used white cannellini beans instead of kidney beans.

Recently I found some smoked tofu and knew I had to try again. This time I wasn’t so loose and easy with the recipe. But again I found that the mixture was incredibly soft. There was no way I could roll it into a ball with my hands. So I spooned it onto the baking paper and spread it into a burger shape. It was a little grey when unbaked but did brown as it cooked. I thought that maybe I left it in the food processor too long – the mixture was actually a bit much for my small food processor. Lysy’s burgers look less processed but she says to blend for 6-8 minutes. However I found a post by AOF on the same recipe and her burgers looked more like mine.

Despite my uncertainties about the look of the burgers, they tasted great, albeit quite strong. I had thought about trying mashing some of the tofu and kidney beans by hand for a more chunky texture but, on reflection, I quite liked the way they held together really well. Baking them as burgers rather than mini muffins meant they got a lot crispier.

These strong-tasting burgers needed a sweet tangy sauce. I made a tomato sauce which was quite sweet because I added the rest of the pineapple juice from my fried rice. I serve it with the rest of the fried rice and some broccoli the first night and with steamed broccoli and corn on the cob the second night. I would also recommend a condiment like the pumpkin chutney that I served with the first dodgy batch.

I imagine that these burgers would be brilliant in a hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, beetroot, tomato sauce and mayonnaise like the traditional Aussie fish and chip shop burger with the lot. Not every vegetarian burger can make that claim. But not every vegetarian burger can claim to be a superfood!

Smoked tofu and bean burgers
(from Gillian McKeith, You are what you eat cookbook)
Makes 6-8

1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, grated
410g can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
220g smoked tofu, chopped
75g sunflower seeds
1-2 handfuls fresh parsley, roughly chopped
2 tsp vegetable stock powder

Preheat oven to 200C/Gas 7/400 F. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Place parsley and sunflower seeds in the food processor for 1-2 minutes until chopped. Add remaining ingredients and blend til ‘roughly chopped but not smooth’, ie blend til just mixed.

Place a couple of spoonfuls onto tray and use back of a spoon to press down and spread into burger shapes. Mine were too soft to mould with my hands as McKeith suggested.

Bake in oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

On the stereo:
All of this and nothing: Psychedelic furs

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Tom Phat: Funky fusion

The Melbourne International Arts Festival finished this weekend. E is good at planning ahead with these things and managed to get us tickets to see Patti Smith and Philip Glass’s dedication to Allen Ginsberg.. A superb show! Inspired by this eclectic eccentric evening of entertainment, we headed into the city last Saturday to see Patti Smith’s photography exhibition and Ecstatic City, a whimsical exhibition of short films in a miniplex marina in the moat outside the National Gallery of Victoria. Neither was as wonderful as the Smith/Glass night but they were interesting.

The highlight of the day, however, was brunch at Tom Phat in Sydney Road, Brunswick, en route to the city. I had seen it reviewed on Where’s the Beef? and rightly thought it would please both E and I. When we arrived, this bustling hip establishment was a popular place with inner-city types and there weren’t many empty tables. And with good reason. It has a bold modern approach to Asian cooking which works beautifully.

The restaurant is long, narrow and spacious with the front open to the footpath. The walls are decked out in warm wood panelling and the roof is lined in a seagrass matting. A large communal table is up the front and smaller tables run along the other wall. The bar is clean and neat but has a few subtle Asian touches with a twig arrangement and Japanese good luck cats (maneki neko).

Similarly the menu is stylish with a fusion of Asian and Western styles. It is dominated by meat, egg and roti. I couldn’t see much for me but on the specials board was a tofu scramble which I was able to combine with some choices from the generous list of side dishes. The service was friendly and they were happy for me to be a bit creative with the menu. I did drool a little over the corn fritters at the next table which I also would order with the sides if I was there again. I had hoped there might be time and room for the roti pancake with banana coconut jam and icecream on the specials board but it wasn’t to be.

First up we ordered freshly squeezed juices. E ordered a Vitality – orange, carrot and ginger juice which was a little pulpy but he enjoyed. I had a lovely Sunrise – cranberry, apple and orange. As you can see in the photo, it came with the red of the cranberry settling on the bottom and it tasted as good as it looked (actually it looked better than my second rate photo). Tart and fresh!

Our meals were generous platefuls. E had a roti omelette with bacon and tomato which he loved. We later discovered that it was The Age Cheap Eats Breakfast of the Year in 2007. He chose well!

My tofu scramble had cherry tomatoes, chillis and wilted rocket through it. It was quite large chunks of tasty tofu which lacked a bit of seasoning which might have been because I didn’t fancy the fetta cheese with it. I ordered fried mushrooms, avocado and hash browns on the side. I quite liked having the mushrooms stirred through the scramble. The hash browns were crispy blocks with fluffy potato inside. My meal was served with excellent sourdough toast and garnished with white and black sesame seeds. What a stylish, healthy, delicious vegan version of a fry-up! I finished the plate and was pleasantly full for the remainder of the day.

Tom Phat
184 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Ph: 03 9381 2374
Open: Wed–Mon 9am–11.30pm

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Fried Rice

Here is a quick recipe that requires little preparation.  It was so good I made it twice last week. This is, no doubt, a very inauthentic fried rice. The inspiration comes from my memories of the fried rice my mum used to make, but would probably even be unrecognisable to her – hers had lots of egg and ham. I was also inspired by my sister, Fran’s fried rice we had at a dinner last year. I suspect there is less frying than there should be because it doesn’t have much in the way of lovely crunchy bits that I like in fried rice but it has colour, texture and flavour.

The only drawback to making fried rice, is the need to plan ahead because it is really best if the rice has time to cool for at least a few hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge. But once that is done, the recipe comes together quickly. I can do it in about 30 minutes, complete with chopping all the vegetables, which is pretty quick for me. This is a great way to use up leftover rice.

I usually use sweet chilli sauce in fried rice, but having thrown out an unloved bottle recently, I am reluctant to buy more. So I decided to buy some ketjap manis which is an Indonesian sweet soy sauce. I was curious to see if they sell gluten free versions but got distracted when surfing the net to see that there are recipes to make it using soy sauce and sugar plus flavourings such as lemon grass, garlic and star anise or ginger, coriander and molasses. Sounds like a possible future project for me. And it sounds like it can be gluten free -for those of us who are curious or need to know!

Ketjap manis gave enough sweetness – and so it ought if my bottle has as much sugar as the recipes I have seen online for the sauce. I also added a bit of pineapple juice because I had it. The second night it didn’t taste quite as good and when I remembered to add the rice vinegar it really did make a difference. Other vinegars or lemon juice could be substituted if you don’t have rice vinegar.

The vegetables I used are seasonal, so any combination of vegetables can be used. I did take delight from the wonderful colours which you can see in the photos. I love tinned pineapple in fried rice but also like some sort of protein – on the first night I served it with chopped fried egg, the next night was cashews, and I would love to try it with some smoked tofu.

I am sending this dish to Srivalli at Cooking for All Seasons for her Rice Mela (deadline 30 November). She is asking bloggers for any dish with rice as the main ingredient.

Fried rice with vegetables, pineapple and cashews
Serves 2-3

½ cup basmati rice, uncooked
1 tbsp canola oil
1 red onion, cut into thin crescents
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (about 250g)
1 handful sugar snap peas, trimmed
Kernels of 1 corn cob
½ capsicum
5 or 6 button mushrooms
1 garlic clove
⅓ cup chopped tinned pineapple, drained
1 tbsp ketjap manis
1-2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp pineapple juice
⅓ cup cashews, roughly chopped

Cook the rice as you normally would and cool at least a few hours prior to making the fried rice (preferable the night before). It should make about 1 – 1½ cups of cooked rice but exact quantities aren’t important if using up leftover rice.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a wok or very large frypan (I used my huge heavy bottomed non-stick frypan). Fry the onion and carrot for about 4-6 minutes til soft. Meanwhile prepare remaining vegetables by chopping into small dice and finely slicing garlic.

Add asparagus, peas, corn, capsicum, mushrooms and garlic. Fry about 4 minutes til vegetables starting to soften. Add remaining ingredients and fry another 2 minutes. Serve hot.

On the stereo:
Spook Party – Various Artists

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Biscuits like birdseed

I told E that I would make him some choc chip cookies last week. We haven’t had a lot of home baking lately so he was quite looking forward to it. The recipe I chose had choc chips in it but the similarity with choc chip cookies ends there.

They were a lot healthier than my usual efforts at choc chip cookies. These wouldn't be E's first choice but he has been finding them pleasing. They remind me a little of muesli biscuits (which would be known as granola cookies in Northern America, I guess) but are even more reminiscent of the clump of seeds we would hang in the bird cage for our budgies when we were young. So lest I mistake them for choc chip cookies again, I have renamed them.

These are a great healthy snack. I found the recipe in The Vegetarian Lunchbox by Linda Haynes who says that one of these and a green salad will keep her going for hours. I am not sure I could make this claim but they are very substantial. When straight out of the oven they were quite crunchy but once cooled they soften a little, although the kibbled wheat remains quite crunchy. I made 70 – twice as many as Linda Haynes so mine must be much smaller than hers. There is a bag of them in my freezer. They don’t look terribly attractive but I will enjoy munching my way through this lot.

Birdseed biscuits with choc chips
(adapted from The Vegetarian Lunchbox)
Makes about 3 – 6 dozen biscuits (depending on size of biscuits)

¼ cup canola oil
½ cup honey
1 ¼ cups water
½ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup cracked or kibbled wheat
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup self raising wholemeal flour
½ cup self raising white flour
1 cup choc chips (or any dried fruit)

First toast the seeds. I did mine in a frying pan over the stove but I did them all together which meant that the sesame seeds cooked quicker than the others. Next time I will start with the largest (pumpkin) seeds and gradually adding the other seeds or toast them separately.

Mix oil, honey and water together in a large mixing bowl. I just used a spoon but you could use a whisk. Stir in remaining ingredients and mix to combine.

Drop teaspoonfuls on a large lined and/or greased baking tray. Bake for about 20 minutes at 180 C (350 F) or until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Can be frozen.

On the Stereo:
Land: 1975-2002 - Patti Smith

Monday, 20 October 2008

Broad Bean Pesto

I recently bought some mung bean fettucine and broad beans (fava beans) because I was in a different part of town (Clifton Hill) and enjoying exploring unfamiliar speciality stores and grocers. Always interesting to be a tourist but nice to come home. Yes, I am sorry to say that I was not won over by the pasta and I still don’t understand other bloggers who get so excited by broad bean season.

I am not in the habit of putting a lot of salt in the water for cooking pasta. E encourages me to add oil and salt so sometimes I add token amounts but pasta usually tastes good enough without. I was fascinated in Bill Burford’s story of learning Italian cooking in Heat to read that the water should be as salty as the sea. Maybe this would help the mung bean pasta because it made me rush for the salt shaker.

As for the broad beans, I used them to make pesto which was nice but it seemed like I was masking the taste of the beans because, frankly, they didn’t taste that great by themselves. Even peeled they leave a floury taste in my mouth. So I just can’t justify spending time peeling off their skins. It seems a waste to buy such a large handful and end up with so few little beans (I bought 400g and ended up with 75g when double podded). The best thing about them is the lovely green colour. I will maybe try a few more recipes but my heart will not leap with joy at the sight of them coming into the stores in spring.

However, I always enjoy a pesto so here is the recipe. It was interesting with the mung bean pasta but was excellent on toast with slices of tomato and cheese (sorry no photos because I had it for breakfast when my brain was focusing on other things). It is also good to flavour sauces, mashed potato and salads. At least when I see broad beans in the stores, I can think of one way to enjoy them.

Broad Bean Pesto
(adapted from BBC and Celtnet)
makes enough to serve 4 on pasta

75g broad bean (double podded) from 400g
1 garlic clove
30g basil (a small bunch)
20g pinenuts
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
30g parmesan cheese, finely grated
Pinch salt (optional)

To double pod broad beans – pod and cover with boiling water for about 2-3 minutes then remove the bright green beans from the grey skins.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blitz till blended into a paste.

On the stereo:
The Wire Tapper 20 – Various Artists

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Broccoli Soup from AWW

After a few of my recent soups got a less than favourable response from E, I was pleased to make a broccoli soup that really impressed him. It is a soup I have made quite a few times in the past. It comes from the Australian Women’s Weekly Vegetarian Cooking book that I bought soon after (or maybe even just before) I went vegetarian – back in the mists of time!

Back then I had very few cookbooks and even less alternative sources of recipes (like the internet) so I made a lot out of this book. An Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook seemed just the right place to search for recipes. When I lived in Scotland I acquired more AWW cookbooks which were a great source of comfort and straightforward recipes.

When I was growing up recipes from the AWW magazine were ubiquitous. My mum had AWW cookbooks. The books were readily available - in fact, today you can easily find these cookbooks in most supermarkets, newsagents and bookstores. But one of the great sources of recipes was the actual magazine. My mum always had notebooks overflowing with recipe clippings and my friends who cook also do. I have my own collection. I always love a peek into someone’s clippings.

This fascination with magazine clippings stems from my childhood. I clearly remember sitting in my nan’s sewing room while visiting as a child and flicking through her old magazines that she gave to us. My mum rarely bought magazines but would be given others’ magazines, and in turn passed them on to others when she was finished with them. Even today, I don’t buy many but when I do I usually pass them to my mum or others. She buys them today and still passes them on. But I am more likely to buy food magazines rather than the lifestyle magazines.

However, I still will have a quick flick at the supermarket checkout or in a waiting room. In fact I saw a recent AWW in a waiting room recently and noticed it is now celebrating its 75th anniversary. I remember when the magazine was actually weekly – it is now monthly but the name has not changed.

One day I will delve into my archives and find my pile of recipes pages torn from magazines in my childhood and share some on this blog. Meanwhile, I still love my AWW vegetarian cookbooks which continue to be a source of great recipes like this broccoli soup. Despite the soup lacking some of the brilliant green of one of my favourite vegies, it tastes fantastic.

I made a few changes to the soup – left out a few herbs I didn’t have and added cumin. I have halved the quantities because I only had enough broccoli to make half the soup. I also realised it was an ideal opportunity to use up some of the parmesan rinds from the freezer. I read that they are edible and can be chopped up in the soup after cooking so tried this. I had visions of the soup scattered with little pieces of parmesan but the reality was that they sunk to the bottom of the bowl, and they tasted very rich so I don’t know if I would recommend adding the chopped parmesan when serving. But I will throw an old rind into more broccoli soups. And I know E will be pleased when I make the soup again.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
(adapted from AWW Vegetarian Cooking)
Serves 2

30g butter
1 onion, chopped
¼ cup plain wholemeal flour
3 cups water
1¼ tsp vegetable stock powder
350g broccoli, chopped
½ tomato, chopped
¼ tsp cumin
Pinch mixed herbs
Some freshly grated nutmeg
1 clove, garlic, crushed
Juice of ¼ medium lemon
1 parmesan rind
½ cup milk
Black pepper to serve

Melt butter in saucepan and fry onions over medium heat for about 3 minutes or til soft. Turn heat to low and add flour. Stir for about a minute. Gradually add the water, stirring frequently to make sure the flour is all blended with no lumps. Add remaining ingredients except milk and stir to combine. Bring to boil and simmer for about 7-10 minutes or til broccoli is just soft. Remove parmesan rind and add milk. Blend with hand held blender or in food processor. Serve with freshly ground black pepper. If desired chop parmesan into little dice and sprinkle in bowls of soup to serve.

On the stereo:
Ultra-Lounge Volume 1 - Mondo Exotica – Various Artists

Friday, 17 October 2008

Jamie Oliver: the Ministry and the Risotto

I’ve never blogged a Jamie Oliver recipe before. Nor do I own any of his books. But I have watched many of his television shows and been known to borrow his books from the library.

His enthusiasm and innovation is always great to watch, even if he isn’t a big fan of vegetarian food. I am always fascinated by how people use celebrity. Jamie uses his to try and make change for the better. I have no argument with trying to make the world eat well and fighting fast food culture but I do have reservations about his newest show.

His current television series is called Jamie’s Ministry of Food (thanks Kathryn for pointing it out when it wasn’t in the tv guide). In this show, for those who didn’t catch it, he has gone to the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, which apparently reflects the UK’s demographics, and is teaching people to cook and asking them to then teach others to cook. Sounds like a good idea? It is a nice theory but doesn't seem so practical. I’ve watched two episodes so far.

In the first episode I was astounded to see Jamie teaching meatballs with spaghetti as a first dish. Surely this is not the easiest dish to start learning to cook with? Perhaps I am out of touch with the meat eating public but when I talked to my mum she agreed it is easy for the meatballs to fall apart or (shudder) to be uncooked in the middle. Why not start with a plain old spag bol? Then in episode two he started teaching people to do a quick stir fry. Now I cook a lot and I have already confessed that I find stir fries a challenge. I really want to see him teaching people to eat lots of vegetables which just shows that I am also a little out of touch (one look from E reminded me of that).

But what I really disliked was his disheartened pout when those whom he was teaching to cook weren’t teaching enough other people to cook. I was so sad to see these people on the telly who were proud to learn to cook and then having Jamie tell them it wasn’t good enough. I fear celebrity has gone to his head. Not everyone has his charisma and confidence with which to waltz into someone’s kitchen and tell them what to do. I certainly wouldn’t. In fact, I know too many people who are just not interested in cooking to be convinced this is even a reasonable expectation. (Not that this necessarily means that these people eat healthy food.)

I’ve enjoyed his cooking shows and school dinners show. I find him an interesting person but I think this show is a bit off target, despite good intentions. Hopefully I am just commenting too soon and we will find by the end of the series that he will have learnt a few things. But I can tell him that we spend a lot of time trying to spread healthy messages at work and it is a difficult and complicated job – not a quick 24 hour job for the television!

But long before his Ministry series appeared, I found one of his recipes for Asparagus, Mint and Lemon Risotto on Lisa’s blog months ago and have been waiting for asparagus to come into season. It promised an interesting seasonal blend of flavours. I was surprised by how rich it was – far more intense than my usual risottos – but very pleasing. It did confirm one of my dislikes of Jamie’s cooking – not enough vegetables. I added peas because there wasn’t enough green but it still wasn’t enough for me. I can’t really blame Jamie (or Lisa) as I love risotto but often wish it had more vegetables.

However the risotto was lovely and creamy with great flavours from the parmesan and mint. The lemon was a bit much so I would probably go a bit easier on this next time. Oh and I forgot the butter at the end which is not such a bad thing! It made a fine comforting Sunday night dinner on its lonesome, but I think it would be better served with a side salad or steamed vegetables.

Asparagus, Mint and Lemon Risotto
(Adapted from Jamie Oliver via Lisa)
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ cups arborio rice
1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine (I didn’t use)
4 cups boiling water
2 tsp vegetable stock powder
500g asparagus, trimmed and chopped
½ cup frozen peas
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
juice and zest of 1 small lemon (or less)
small handful of fresh torn mint leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
fresh ground black pepper

Before you start, heat the water to boiling (I do this in the electric kettle but you can also do it in a saucepan). Microwave the asparagus for 2-3 minutes before you start.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on low heat. Sauté the onion, celery and garlic til soft but not brown – it took me 5 minutes but took Lisa 15 minutes. Add the rice and stir for another minute or two until the grains are coated with oil and are a little translucent around the edges.

Add vermouth or white wine unless you don’t have any in the house (like me) and in that case you can just use some of the boiling water. At this stage add all the stock powder. Now slowly add the stock a ladle (or a generous slurp) of boiling water at a time, allowing a lot of it to be absorbed by the rice each time and stirring frequently. This should take about 15-20 minutes and be finished when the rice is creamy and cooked. NB you might use a bit less or a bit more of the boiling water.

Turn off the heat and stir in the asparagus, peas, lemon juice, zest, mint and Parmesan cheese into the rice. Season with salt and pepper. (Lisa says to rest a minute to let the flavours mingle so if you are a food blogger then this is the moment to take a photo or two!)

If desired serve with extra parmesan cheese, a sprig of mint or some extra cracked pepper.

If you have lots of mint and parmesan leftover it can be readily used in pasta or fritters.

On the Stereo:
Boy Child: Scott Walker

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Milestones and Rissoles

About a week ago I had thought I was catching up with my backlog of posts but it seems to have grown while I continue cooking and not really getting so much written up – we have to eat but blogging is a bit more optional. Sigh!

Then I realised how many things have been passing me by:

- This is my 308th post. I love significant numbers but have just missed noticing post 300!
- It was National Vegetarian Week in Australia on 29 September – 5 October. I noticed midway through the week but didn’t manage to do anything, apart from eating vegetarian.
- It was World Vegetarian Day on 1 October. Again it passed me by.
- Discovering that I had missed these ‘events’ I remembered that I became vegetarian in October and it was 17 years ago. Seems a long long time ago.
- Finally it is Vegan Month of Food. It encourages bloggers to post vegan posts over the month of October. But much as I like to include vegan meals in my diet, I am not organised enough to join in VeganMoFo this year, as you might have suspected, given I haven’t managed to mention it until halfway through October!

In finding the above links, I did find out that there will be stalls, workshops, and activities such a speed dating (huh?) for World Vegan Day at Abbotsford Convent on Sunday 26 October. I am not sure if I will get there but it sounds like fun!

Well I might not be a good participant in vegan celebrations, but I will continue to include vegan recipes in my posts. To prove it, here is one I made last week!

I like to cook food that will cater to a wide range of dietary requirements both to prove it is possible to eat well without certain foods, and so that when I do cook for others I will not be intimidated by their diets. (After all, I have had many show me this courtesy when they know I am vegetarian.) However, I only choose to cook dishes that tempt me. This one is no exception. I was intrigued by a recipe for carrot rissoles with red onion gravy because it had millet cooked in carrot juice.

The recipe is from a book I have called Vegetarian Cooking Without. It has the wonderful subtitle: Recipes free from added gluten, sugar, yeast, dairy products, meat, fish, saturated fats. What surprised me what that the recipes are not necessarily vegan. But I had a yen to make this one vegan, even though it had an egg in it.

I am still coming to grips with whole millet grain. My previous experiences have ended in burnt saucepans, gooey nut roasts and undercooked oven bakes. Makes me wonder why I keep going back to it. But it is more than the need to finish the packet lingering at the back of the pantry. It keeps coming up in recipes that interest me. Cooking the millet for the rissoles had its frustrations as well as rewards. The recipe called for 30 minutes of simmering but after 20 minutes, the bottom of my saucepan was beginning to burn. So I am not sure if it was more gooey than intended but it did help the rissoles bind together without the need of the egg.

The rissoles came together nicely and were both delicious and filling. I used breadcrumbs because I didn’t have any of the millet flakes called for, but it would be easy enough to make the recipe gluten free with either GF breadcrumbs or millet flakes.

I always loved it when my mum made rissoles when we were little (just like I delighted in saying ‘see you round like a rissole’). Of course she used minced meat and hers tasted quite different to these. But what delighted me about the recipe was the red onion gravy which really made these rissoles special. It was almost like a relish or chutney with a little tang to it, and reminded me a little of the tomatoey gravy my mum used to serve with rissoles. The only complaint about the gravy was that we probably would have liked more of it. Next time I will double it. Because I hope I will be making it again.

I am not the only one interested in millet in burgers. Recently my eye (and tastebuds) has been caught by ‘burgers’ on Where’s the Beef?, What’s for Lunch Honey? and Tasty Palettes. I’d love to try all of these. Even better, for those interested in millet, is the theme of Let It Grain blog event this month which is being held by Baking a Sweet Life. It is worth checking out the event post for more information on millet. I am sending in these rissoles and am looking forward to more ideas in the round up.

Carrot and Nut Rissoles with Red Onion Gravy
(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking Without)
Serves 4

90g (½ cup) millet grains
500ml (2½ cups) carrot juice
225g carrots, grated (appox 2 medium carrots)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
Shake of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
3 tbsp soy flour
½ cup of breadcrumbs (or millet flakes)
90g (⅔ cup) nuts (I used hazelnuts and pecans), ground
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra breadcrumbs or rice flour to coat
Oil spray

Place millet and carrot juice in medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until grains soft and most of carrot juice absorbed. Stir occasionally while millet simmers to avoid it sticking to the bottom and don’t worry if it is quite moist. I took mine off heat after 20 minutes because it was beginning to stick to the bottom and it was gooey.

While millet is cooking heat oil in a large frypan and cook carrots, onion and garlic over medium heat for about 15 minutes or til softening.

Mix all ingredients together til the consistency of wet sand. Divide mixture into 8 and shape into balls. Roll each rissole in breadcrumbs or rice flour and place on a well greased tray. Spray each rissole with olive oil (or use a brush to coat them with oil). Bake at 200 C for about 25 minutes.

These can be made a day ahead or frozen. I reheated the leftovers the next night for about 30 minutes covered with foil. Serve with Red onion gravy and steamed green vegetables. Any leftover carrot juice can be used in a smoothie.

Red onion gravy
(serve 4-8)

2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
300ml (1¼ cups) vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp mustard (I used seeded French mustard)
1 bayleaf

Fry onions in oil over low heat for about 30 minutes. (After 5 minutes I feared they were already burning at the edges but with frequent stirring they reduced, browned and caramelised - see photo above.) Add remaining ingredients and simmer til thickened and glossy.

On the stereo:
Glassworks: Philip Glass

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Orange, Fig and Ginger Smoothie

Today was a balmy spring day (28 C). I meant to catch up on blogging but the lure of the warm backyard, sleepy feline company and a good book was too tempting. But we did start the day in a summery way with a zingy smoothie.

I had leftover carrot juice and consulted E’s Juices and Smoothies book for ideas. He loves ginger in juices which always seem a fine companion for carrot so I settled on a juice called a Smooth Operator. It called for freshly juiced carrots and a fresh fig but I took a few liberties with what I had available.

With a bit of a bite and a little texture from the dried fig, I thought it needed renaming. I love the creative names which smoothies are often given but also like a name which gives some clues about what is in it.

So the name is not terribly exciting but the juice is lovely and a bit of a change from my usual ones, even if it does have banana in it. And it got an enthusiastic reception from E.

Orange, Fig and Ginger Smoothie
(Adapted from Juices and Smoothies)
Makes 375ml - serves 1-2

⅔ cup carrot juice
1 orange, juiced (approx ⅓ cup)
½ banana, roughly chopped
1 fig, finely chopped
½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated

Blend. Best served chilled or with ice cubes.

On the stereo:
International: New Order

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Sticky toffee pudding - my kind of healthy!

I haven’t baked many desserts for E lately and after the lovely strawberry soup that wasn’t his thing I felt he was owed a dessert. I had one that was right up his alley. E loves sauce on anything and he seems to prefer toffee and butterscotch over a rich chocolate sauce – crazy, I know!

The Healthy(ish) Sticky Toffee Pudding was also my sort of thing. It intrigued me because it had carrot, parsnip and was gluten free. In fact I had bought buckwheat flour months ago with this recipe from Hippolyra at Fuss Free Flavours. E amused me while I was making it by asking where the toffee was. It seems he never made toffees with water and sugar as a child so he missed out on understanding that toffee is so simple.

Hippolyra found the recipe on a tv show called Cook Yourself Thin. She rightly points out that it is comparatively healthy rather than true blue health food. Now I like a healthy recipe as much as anyone but never at the expense of taste. I was amused by Hippolyra’s disclaimer that she ate the pudding with lashings of cream and sauce. So I will give you my disclaimer. The pudding was amazing but the sauce just didn’t quite work for us.

Indeed I would go as far as to claim that this is one of the best gluten free cakes I have made. It has lots of nuts but it was so soft and light and full of flavour. The first night I forgot to put it in a container and it was still fresh and soft the next night. I think the small amount of flour and the grated vegetables made an important contribution to the lovely texture. But it was so rich that after eating a quarter each the first night, we reduced our servings to an eighth each the next two nights.

But the sauce just didn’t gel. Literally! The recipe said to simmer the sauce til it thickened. I simmered it quite a while (too long I think) and it still was thin as water and meanwhile developing unattractive black specks (see photo below). When I looked at Hippolyra’s picture again she had a lovely creamy sticky brown sauce – maybe she was wise not to add the black tea!

Once I had lost faith in the sauce I had to go back to a trusted sticky toffee sauce and threw half a pot of cream and a slab of butter and a few spoons of brown sugar in a saucepan and melted it all together. Sadly I can tell you the standard sauce was far better than the healthy sauce (see top photo). I am no dieter. I prefer a little luxury every now and again rather than a poor imitation regularly. However maybe another time I will try the healthy version, especially as the cake worked so well.

It was a fine treat. I can recommend it to you as a healthier or a gluten free alternative. And (to quote a favourite Fozzy Bear joke from a Muppets annual which came out when Star Wars was quite popular) may the sauce be with you!

Healthyish Sticky Toffee Pudding
(from Cook Yourself Thin via Fuss Free Flavours)
(Serves 4-8)

For the cake:
100g chopped stoned dates
80ml boiling water
100g nuts (I used hazelnuts and cashews, Hippolyra used almonds)
1 tsp honey
1 egg
40g buckwheat flour (or white wheat flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g grated parsnip
75g grated carrot
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp black treacle
Pinch of salt

40g unsalted butter
20g black treacle
20g honey
40g soft brown sugar
½ mug black tea
Pinch of salt

*Note: Hippolyra was more free and easy with the recipe than me – using wheat flour instead of buckwheat, golden syrup instead of treacle, and a bit more vegetables than called for, so it seems quite a forgiving recipe.

Place stoned and chopped dates in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside.

Stone and chop the dates and place in a bowl and cover with 80ml of boiling water, leave to soak.

Grind nuts in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and puree. (NB Hippolyra says you can just stir in dates if you want them more chunky. Also for those with small food processors like me, this is a small recipe that will not overwhelm your food processor.)

Pour batter into a lined and greased 15cm square tin or a muffin tin. Bake at 190 C (375 F or gas mark 5) for 30 to 40 mins.

Meanwhile put all the sauce ingredients into a small saucepan. Gently bring to the boil. Boil for 3 minutes until ‘syrupy and glossy’ (that is what Cook yourself Thin says - I am still a bit dubious but it worked for Hippolyra). If it doesn't work, you can always fall back on the traditional cream, butter and brown sugar combination for the sauce but I recommend you try the healthy version.

Serve warm cake with lots of sauce, and cream if desired.

On the stereo:
Full Flyte 1965-1970: The Byrds

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Lentil Salad and the Dream Festival

I woke this morning with the sun streaming in the bedroom window. We ate breakfast in the backyard. Now that we are in October it well and truly feels like spring in our garden. There are lots of new buds on our lemon and lime trees. The mint is colonising the parsley pot. New bay leaves are sprouting. The change of the season feels well and truly upon up when the clocks go forward for daylight saving (which is even earlier this year).

I had my first peach of the season yesterday. A pleasing sign that summer is on the way. But really it is the hopeful young buds of spring rather than the fierce heat of summer that I love. The sun is warm and washing dries quickly, but it is not yet so hot that it will burn our noses or the cat’s ears. However despite dreading the fierce heat of summer, we have stone fruit, berries and dinner in the backyard to look forward to.

Meanwhile it was a fine spring day to be outside. We headed in to town to join the crowds at Birrarung Marr Park by the Yarra River where the Dream Festival is being held this weekend. It is a festival of art and music with a silly name but great spectacle. The park was filled with rows and rows of strange white characters that in a Dr Who episode would come to life and try and take over the planet Earth (probably friends of the Daleks). Plus there was ambient electronic music with a hint of neo-prog (that is E's description).

There was also an exhibition of giant blow-up ‘art installations’ (up to 8 foot high) on the water who looked like they might attack Dr Who. It felt quite odd to be walking along the floating walkway to view the installations in the river. But enjoyable to view these characters which were an interesting mixture of fun, spooky and thoughtful.

I hope the sunny photos of my afternoon will put you in the mood for a salad. This is one I have dug out of my backlog which I made on a day just like this back in September not so long ago. Perfect for celebrating fine spring weather.

I found the recipe on which has a great archive of recipes from Australian foodie magazines. I reduced the lentils, added some asparagus for extra greenery and made a few other small changes. It was a fantastically quick and easy dinner. So good in fact that I am sending this to Sra of When My Soup Came Alive who is hosting the fourth helping of My Legume Love Affair which was founded by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Lentil Salad with Haloumi and Asparagus
(adapted from Super Food Ideas - March 2004 , Page 57)
Serves 4

1 x 400g can brown lentils, drained and rinsed
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 Lebanese cucumber, halved and sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 sprigs of mint leaves, shredded
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
250g block haloumi cheese, sliced in 4
250g asparagus, trimmed of woody ends
Olive oil spray
Lemon wedges to serve

Combine lentils, onion, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, mint, lemon juice, garlic and oil in a bowl. Season then toss to combine.

Heat large non-stick frying pan and then spray with olive oil spray. Place haloumi in frypan and position asparagus around haloumi (we had this over two nights so were able to cook the asparagus with the haloumi which gave the asparagus some pleasing flavour). Cook til haloumi is golden on each side – about 2 minutes the first side and a little less on the second side. Drain haloumi on kitchen towels.

Serve lentil salad accompanied by warm haloumi and asparagus. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the haloumi. The lentil salad can be made a day ahead.

On the stereo:
fabriclive.07 – John Peel

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Tahini Silverbeet and Chickpea Salad

Here is a meal that I made a couple of weekends ago. My only notes on the meal are E’s pronouncement that it was superb and two lists of ingredients written in such a hurry that it is hard to tell where one ends and the next starts. But I wanted to post it because it was such a great quick meal.

The salad was adapted from a recipe made by Mary at Shazam in the Kitchen. Mary was holding a regular series of Legume Wednesdays with lots of great legume dishes each week. She is finding herself too busy to continue the series at the moment (for which I have a lot of empathy), although she is still managing to keep up some entertaining posts. But the legacy lives on in my list of bookmarked recipes which I hope to try some time.

I have made a few changes to the salad. I kept thinking of adding preserved lemon as I need to start using up the jar in the back of the fridge. I was concerned that it might be a bit overwhelming. However the next day it made such a fabulous lunch that I think this salad might be better for sitting overnight in the fridge.

The tahini silverbeet accompaniment was made with more of the delightfully colourful silverbeet (a.k.a. rainbow chard) my mum brought me from her garden. I found this recipe in Cranks Fast Food in the library months ago. The recipe was for silverbeet but I had other vegetables to use up which worked fine but aren’t necessary.

I loved the tahini with it. I would go as far to say that this makes silverbeet (one of my most hated vegetable as a child) far more palatable than cooking it in a gratin. It was quicker and not so rich. I served it with the chickpea salad and rice but it would go handsomely with many other accompaniments – toast, salads, roast vegies, nut roast, pilaf etc etc.

Unfortunately my instructions for this dish are fairly vague as I can barely remember what I did. But when I scribbled it out in the library I only wrote down the ingredients and so I think this is a recipe where you can wing it and still have delicious results. I have never had any desire to grow silverbeet in my backyard but I am starting to think maybe it would be a good thing if I could eat this Silverbeet with Tahini more often!

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Sun-dried Tomatoes
(Adapted from Shazam in the Kitchen)
Serves 2-3

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 capsicum (or cucumber), diced
¼ tsp cumin
12 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
Juice of a small lemon
1 tsp garlic flakes (or 1 clove of garlic, crushed)
1 dessertspoon of olive oil
1 tbsp preserved lemon (or less), rinsed and finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients together. Can be made the day before. Season. Serve at room temperature.

Silverbeet with Tahini
(adapted from Cranks Fast Food)
Serves 2 as a side dish

½ onion, cut in thin crescents
1 dessertspoon olive oil
4 silverbeet (or rainbow chard) leaves, chopped thinly
1½ tomato, chopped*
3 stalks asparagus, chopped small*
4 button mushrooms, sliced*
1 tsp garlic flakes
1 tbsp tahini
Pinch of salt
(optional – pinch nutmeg but I forgot)

* Extra vegetables are optional

Fry onion in oil for a few minutes til softened. Add silverbeet and cook a couple of minutes. Add tomato, asparagus, mushroom and garlic. Cook over high heat for a few minutes til all is wilted. Remove from heat and stir in tahini and pinch of salt.

On the stereo:
Space and Time: Steve Roach