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

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

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.

Walnut Shortbread

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Now is the time of year to get your hands on fresh, locally grown walnuts in the shell. If you think you hate walnuts, you can’t have eaten these babies. Anti-walnut sentiments are more likely the result of the fat most of what you buy in the shops, shelled and in bulk or packaged up, is imported and long gone rancid by the time it touches your lips. Fresh walnuts, on the other hand, are an utter delight. I picked some up the other day and found this recipe for Walnut Shortbread in the excellent Popina Book of Baking. I’ve simply adapted the method a bit – I used a small mortar and pestle to break up the nuts (hate dragging out the processor unless I absolutely have to), plus I found the dough was just too dry to roll into a log as her method suggests, so rather than risk adding extra butter at that late stage, I just skipped the log step and formed the dough into balls before baking. Made for less perfectly shaped biscuits, but they were pretty nonetheless and tasted amazing! There’s not much butter in this, as shortbread goes, but the oil in the walnuts must make up the difference, and give these biscuits a wonderful nutty, earthy flavour with a silky texture.

 

Walnut Shortbread

Adapted from Popina Book of Baking, Isidora Popovic, Ryland Peters & Small, 2010.

100g shelled, roasted fresh walnuts –  half finely crushed and half in larger chunks

90g unsalted butter, softened

60g golden caster sugar

A few drops vanilla extract (I use Heilala)

125g plain flour

Icing sugar, to dust

 

Preheat oven to 130 degrees Celcius.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla in mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in walnuts, then gently fold in flour until well mixed.

Roll dough into ping-pong sized balls and arrange on a baking tray.

Bake for about 30 minutes – they should still be slightly soft in the middle.  Remove from the oven and dust with icing sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

 

In Season: Beautiful Butternut

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The vibrant orange of a ripe butternut squash must be one of the most beautiful colours on display in the vegetable kingdom. I’m not a big pumpkin/squash/ person, for the most part, but I welcome butternut, with its sweet yet not cloying, less tacky flesh, into my kitchen in Autumn. (There’s something about the way pumpkin sticks to the roof of one’s mouth that is downright disconcerting). The butternut in my kitchen goes into roast vegetable medleys and warm salads, pasta, risotto, and more. One thing I’ve done quite a bit this week, with butternut that has been roasted, is to make pita toasties filled with that and a tangy, creamy feta: superb. The toasties I make in my Breville toasted sandwich maker (the kind you can also lock apart to melt emmental onto croissants, for example). I don’t like to fill precious kitchen space with clunky implements, but this thing gets a hell of a lot of use in my house, and because it’s reasonably flat it fits in a draw. Recommend!

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In Season: Limes

Just as your summer cravings for mojitos, juicy salsas and poisson cru subside, the citrus fruit at the heart of such refreshing concoctions comes into season, and the price begins to fall from the absurd to something much more realistic. Someone needs to tell limes to sort their seasons out! As it is, limes begin to get more affordable around April, and reach their peak this month. Most of the limes grown commercially here are the Tahitian variety (also known as Persian lime), a juicy, seedless all-rounder for use in savoury and sweet dishes. Other varieties include kaffir lime, the leaves of which are more sought after than the knobbly fruit; Key limes, the more acidic and bitter star of the eponymous Floridian meringue-topped pie, and – juicier brother to the Key, and therefore excellent for cocktail-making – the Mexican lime.

Buying, storing & cooking.

  • Tahitian limes are, in fact,  unripe when bright green and glossy, but that is how they are sold in shops, presumably because buyers find them more appealing that way. Limes of that colour won’t be very juicy. The ripe fruit that will give you the most juice for your dollar have pale yellow skins that are still smooth – you’re more likely to find them at a market. But avoid shrivelled looking yellow limes; they’re old.
  • Store limes in the fruit bowl until ripe, then in a brown paper bag in the vegetable crisper.
  • The flavour of limes is destroyed by cooking, so add the juice at the end, or towards the end, of cooking.

Oriental Eggplant

These pretty lavender-coloured eggplants look like long fat fingers, a shape which makes them super easy to prepare. There are actually many varieties of long eggplant from the Orient, so you might spot some with a mottled skin, some pale lilac and some a richer purple.  Their skin is often thinner than the better-known, darker-skinned eggplant, which means they’re great for stir-frying, sauteing and other quick-cook methods. The creamy flesh holds its shape rather well, too. You can commonly buy this Oriental variety of eggplant at greengrocers’, Asian grocers’, and at markets, and they’re happy to be grown at home if you live in warmer climes. They’re often just called long eggplant in the shops, but this label is confusing as there are other varieties of long eggplant with different characteristics.

5 facts about eggplant:
- All eggplant varieties probably originated around India and Sri Lanka.
- It’s a fruit, a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. A sensitivity or allergy to consuming plants in this family is quite common.
- Eggplants are primarily water – over 90%.
- China is the biggest eggplant grower in the world.
- It’s brain food – a property called nasunin found in eggplant has been shown to protect brain cell membranes from free radical damage.

Buying and storing:
- Look for firm, glossy smooth-skinned eggplants with no wrinkling. An eggplant is good for eating if, when you push the skin with your thumb, dents but springs back. Store in a cool dry place – in a bag if in the fridge – and use within a few days.
5 simple ideas with Oriental eggplant:

- For a simple side dish, slice eggplants in half lengthways, brush with sesame oil and grill on the barbecue. Scatter over toasted sesame seeds and some finely chopped garlic chives and squeeze over a little lemon juice.
- Slice eggplant into rounds a couple of inches thick and braise with pork belly in a Chinese-style stock with hoisin and soy sauces, star anise and Shaoxing wine. Serve with steamed rice.
- Sweet with creamy flesh, it works beautifully in a summery roast vegetable salad with kumara, chargrilled capsicum, and rocket, tossed with mint leaves and dressed with aioli.
- Eggplant and miso is a favourite combination in Japan, where this variety is common. Julienne the eggplant and simmer in a combination of miso paste, sugar and water until tender and serve with steamed rice or soba noodles.
- Use instead of regular eggplant in a refreshing ratatouille served cold alongside barbecued meats.