Raw roasted realness

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You might notice a theme here; I’m a little obsessed at present with throwing a whole lot of summer produce in a roasting dish, tossing through some olive oil, salt and pepper, and blitzing it in a hot oven till the skins are wrinkly and sometimes a bit crispy and the innards are yielding – unctuous, sweet and juicy. So. Damn. Good. But even better when you then stir through some fresh stuff to offer contrast. Some raw tomatoes to marry with the cooked ones, bunches of fresh herbs from the garden, perhaps some fresh or crumbly cheese to give it an extra lift.

This bowl of goodness here also made use of some day-old sourdough, toasted a little, which soaked up all the juices very nicely, and to roast the veges in this bowl I coated them with a little pomegranate balsamic reduction made in Mangawhai  by Divinity. It’s phenomenally good in all sorts of ways but particularly embracing the wonderful late summer vegetables round right now.

When roasted meets raw, flavour wins.

Raw winter warrior soup

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About a year ago I went to a cooking demo in which we were shown how a Vitamix blender could make all manner of dishes in minutes, even seconds. Within the space of an hour or so we were served five dishes made right in front of us, but the one that stood out to me was a soup made with kumara and cashew nuts. I’ve recreated a version of that soup here. Mine contains a lot more aromatics, because I just love the heady spiciness of ginger, kaffir lime leaves and all those other Southeast Asian favourites.

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I’ve used Beauregard kumara – the orange variety – because they have a beautiful sweet flavour that isn’t at all cloying, which I do find with red-skinned kumara. Unlike potato, which must be cooked in order to be digestible, kumara can be eaten raw. Next time you’re prepping kumara, try nibbling on a slice of it raw – it’s nutty and really rather lovely.

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Given that this soup is uncooked, all the nutrients of the raw ingredients remain intact, and so I like to imagine it would do an excellent job of warding off winter ills, especially with the ginger and garlic in the mix. With a Vitamix, the heat of the motor will actually gently warm the contents of the jug, so if you can blend this for four minutes or so until it has warmed up to around 40 degrees; by raw food ethics this is technically still raw, I believe. But I’m not too worried about the technicalities, more the taste, and this tastes damn good, I tell ya!

If you don’t have a high power blender, you can still give this a go (let me know if it works!) otherwise just steam the kumara and carrot very slightly till your blender can handle them – the rest shouldn’t be a problem.

Into the jug of your blender, add: 3 peeled Beauregard kumara; 2 scrubbed, skin-on carrots; 1 cup coconut milk; 1 cup soaked and rinsed raw cashews; small knob ginger; 3 whole, skin-on garlic cloves; 3 spine-removed kaffir lime leaves; 1 red bird’s eye chilli; handful coriander; 1 lime or lemon, peeled; 2 Tbsp fish sauce; about 3 cups filtered water. Turn on blender and increase to turbo until all the contents are pulverized. Serve as is or keep blending on medium speed until the soup is warm.

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I served this with a frugal drizzle of Uncle Joe’s coriander seed oil – frugal because this stuff is intense! If you’d like to tone down the spiciness from the chilli and the ginger and garlic – say for little mouths – you can add a Tbsp of raw cane or coconut sugar to increase the sweetness.

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Get chopping

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Hot days are absolutely the time for the kind of textural, colourful, lime-drenched salads and salsas that Mexico and South East Asia share a love of. Whether it’s a classic tomato salsa, an Isaan som tam, a Balinese shallot salad or a simple cucumber and sesame seed number, one of my biggest love affairs is with these crunchy beauties. They go wonderfully with anything off the barbecue – cutting through fat and heavy protein – and they can also easily be bulked out into a one-dish meal with the addition of things like prawns, raw fish or leftover barbecued chicken.

Here’s one I’ve made two nights in a row, for two reasons: I had a heap of tomatoes and peppers needing to be used, and my four year-old demolished this in its entirety (a dish meant for four of us) on the first night, declaring it had changed her view of onion…

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This is kind of Mexican in spirit, but it’s really over to you what you put into both the salad and the dressing. The main thrust here is the chopping of everything into small pieces for a textural hit, the marinating of it all in the lime for a time before serving, and the combination of colours. This combo here is particularly festive.

Finely chop ripe tomatoes, red peppers, green or pale yellow/green beans, white onion and a little basil (coriander is good too) and hot green chilli. Dress with plenty of lime juice, a splash of avocado oil and some flaky sea salt.

Tamarind braised summer medley

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It’s 9pm and I’ve just walked back into my house after a beautiful evening walk round the hood. Gardens this time of year are off the hook. It’s been hot, but not for long enough yet for things to have dried out. The star jasmine has just about done its dash, the blooms are starting to turn and the scent is at its peak of ripeness. Hydrangeas are everywhere, in their wonderfully tonal shades. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a whiff of the fabulously evocative Queen of the Night somewhere out there. Early summer feels glorious – in the kitchen as well as out in the garden.

I’ve always proclaimed myself a late summer kinda girl; eggplants, beefsteak tomatoes, lushly ripe peaches and sweetcorn are some of my favourite foods. But this year, the early summer bounty has me super inspired. Tomatoes are already full-flavoured, eggplant (obviously hothouse-grown, but still) are glossy with no trace of unripe bitterness, and colourful peppers, too are already getting cheap in the shops.

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At the weekend I visited La Cigale market for the first time in a while, and picked up some pretty almost lime-hued beans from Kumeu grower Drago, and a couple of perfect eggplants from a sprayfree stall. Tonight I needed to use them up so made this simple one-dish recipe that I will definitely be making regularly. The tartness of tamarind goes so well with perfectly cooked, silky eggplant – the coconut sugar balancing the sour and the hint of chilli adding excitement.

I call this braising, but it’s not in the true sense, as braising involves browning ingredients first. This isn’t necessary here – simply adding liquid and roasting creates a flavourful and perfectly tender nutritious dish of vegetables.

Serve this ratatouille-style, lukewarm with a crusty baguette, or hot on a bed of herbed quinoa or rice. If you’re vegetarian, you can omit the fish sauce and add a little mushroom sauce or good vegetable or mushroom stock.

In a roasting dish, combine a couple of handfuls trimmed beans, an eggplant and a red, orange or yellow pepper sliced into strips, a large, sliced onion, one beetroot cut into small cubes and 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped.

In a small bowl combine 2 Tbsp strained tamarind pulp (I buy this already prepared, for ease), 1 heaped Tbsp coconut sugar or raw, dark cane sugar, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, 1 hot chilli, finely sliced and 2/3 cup water.

Pour this liquid over the vegetables in the roasting dish and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees Celsius for around 40 minutes, until beetroot is cooked through. A couple of times during cooking, remove from oven and stir to keep all the vegetables moist. Much of the liquid will evaporate during cooking, leaving you with a deliciously concentrated dressing and perfectly braised, moist vegetables.

Grapefruit a Go-Go

To me, winter is well and truly here when these heavy golden orbs start dropping from heavily burdened branches onto soggy lawns throughout the country (well, in the subtropical North at least – do grapefruit survive frosts? I’m not sure.) A few years ago I wrote a piece about grapefruit for Taste magazine and discovered in my in-depth research (I didn’t study Arts for nothing) that what we call a grapefruit (a different citrus than what goes by that name elsewhere) was brought here –  along with wallabies, gnu and even zebras.

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‘Allegorical Triumph of Sir George’, 2001 painting by Hamish Foote.

Our grapefruit, initially known as ‘poorman’s orange’, is a hybrid of unknown origins. I love a good mystery!

Despite never having lived on a property boasting a grapefruit tree, the fruit, along with lemons and feijoas, has made it into my book of ‘fruit thou shalt not have to exchange money for’ – because when they’re in season, they are prolific; grapefruit is synonymous with glut. So an anonymous grapefruit donation the other day had me real happy. A few streets down, some kind person had bagged up surplus from what I can only imagine must be a very well-performing tree, and placed said bags on the roadside for eagle-eyed passersby such as me to hone in on.

I can’t go past juicing these babies, because there’s nothing better on a wintry morning that a long glass of tart, bitter grapefruit juice, but here’s a nice idea if you’re looking for more ways to use up the glut. The mint, and especially the coriander, in my garden are thriving in these cool climes, and I’m loving using them in SE Asian-inspired salads such as this. Grapefruit has a bitterness that does well when counteracted, as it is here, with spicy, sour and sweet – the foundation of all SE Asian cooking. I served this with a dish of whole baked salmon topped with tamarind onions and even more herbs.

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Grapefruit Salad

Use your head for amounts depending on portion size you’re after

Extract the flesh from grapefruit wedges. You can do this the finicky way by peeling fruit, carefully removing membrane, or you can take a quicker route by slicing the fruit in half horizontally, slicing round each wedge and scooping the flesh out. That takes a wee while too – grapefruit are just a bit time-consuming like that. As you’re removing the flesh you can let all the juice dribble into the bowl with the flesh and squeeze any remaining juice from the spent skin into a small bowl to make the dressing.

To the grapefruit flesh, add one long shallot, very finely sliced into circles – break up into single circles as you add to the bowl.

Add a bunch of fresh herbs, roughly chopped. I’ve used mint and coriander, but Thai basil, Vietnamese mint or even regular basil would be nice too. I had a heap of spring onions in the salmon dish but had I not, they would be nice added to this salad, also.

To the small bowl in which you’ve collected extra grapefruit juice, add some fish sauce, grated palm sugar and red chilli flakes to taste. Naturally, you’re looking to achieve a good balance of sweet/sour/salty/spicy.

Pour dressing over salad and stir to combine. Serve as a side to all sort of dishes – of course it marries well with Thai curries, whole fish dishes and stir-fries, but it would also be great with barbecued or roasted meats and grilled fish.

An Angle on Galangal

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Pretty, highly perfumed flowers crowning my galangal plants in the garden. A friend brought the rhizomes over from her garden on Great Barrier last year and I felt despondent when they seemed to die soon after I planted them – but last spring they sprang, and kept springing, so I know have two patches of them in a very sunny, dry spot. I haven’t dug up any of the rhizomes yet to cook with, but when I do I’ll try them in fragrant Malaysian and Vietnamese curries, laksa and tom yam. Galangal has an elusive flavor I think – it’s at once resinous and piney, soapy, warm and fiery. It’s the complicated sister of ginger.

Pom poms

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I’ve been scoring almost a whole cup of juice out of pomegranates lately – they’re imported, of course, but they seem to be much riper when they arrive at this time of year. If  I want them for the juice, I roll them round on the benchtop with a bit of pressure; this releases all the juices that are locked inside the seeds. If you want to use the seeds, however, don’t do the rolling thing or the juice will have left the little ruby capsules and they’ll be dry and lacking in colour. There are various techniques to getting the seeds out intact from the fibrous white membranes – some say to tap them out, others just pick them out carefully, and a method I first read suggested by Ottolenghi is to scoop everything out, membranes and all, into a bowl of water. The pithy bits all float to the top and the seeds sink – so you scoop the top off and the drain the seeds to use. I used this method last time and it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as that – some of the seeds were intent on floating, and some of the pith on sinking – but by and large it worked.