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.

Salad special

More salads! If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll have noticed I post a lot of salad ideas. I have favourite salads I go back to again and again but I also love coming up with new twists to make seasonal produce sing. And as I talked about a few posts ago, the best bit about hosting a barbecue is getting stuck in to lots of delicious salads. Here are two ideas I made tonight to enjoy alongside grilled Moroccan-spiced chicken.

Play around with ideas. The eggplant salad could be made into a substantial meal of its own by adding some grilled halloumi or tofu, as could the potato salad, with some hot-smoked salmon or some moist, juicy smoked kahawai.

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Roasted eggplant with tahini
You can make this with either the dark purple, Italian-style eggplants or the lavender-hued narrow Asian ones. Two large eggplants will make enough to serve 4.

Slice eggplant into inch-wide sticks, douse in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and roast at 190 degrees Celsius for about 45 minutes, until meltingly tender. Stir it once or twice during roasting, and add a bit more olive oil when doing so. Mix a dressing with roughly 1/4 cup tahini, juice 1/2 lemon, 3 tsp honey, 1 tsp sumac, salt and pepper. Turn the roasted eggplant out onto a serving dish and stir through the dressing, along with around 3 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds and a generous amount of chopped flat-leaf parsley.

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New potato & crispy kale salad
I have lots of kale in my garden right now and I love chopping it up, drizzling with olive oil and roasting until crisp (25 mins or so – toss it once or twice during cooking), then either eating it as a snack or adding it to all sorts of dishes. Use whatever you like in this salad – the idea is just to balance the tender, bland potatoes with things that have crunch, bitterness, sharpness.

Cut new or small waxy potatoes into golf-ball size pieces (halves or thirds) and gently boil in salted water until tender. Make a dressing with grainy mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir this through the potatoes, along with finely sliced red onion, sliced green olives and feta. If you like a creamy note, stir through some good quality mayo, too. Scatter over crispy roasted kale and serve.

Brocouscous

Yeah, I’m getting a little sick of these fused words too, and this sounds like a name for a dinosaur, or maybe a respiratory infection – but, sorry, once the name popped in to my head, it kind of stuck. If you’re a fan of cauli rice as an alternative, check out this broccoli version, great for making salads, and hey, maybe a green pizza base could work – I’ll have to try it sometime. It would also make excellent fritters, mixed with an egg, some goat’s cheese, preserved lemon and slivered almonds and topped with a tahini dressing. Yum.

It’s really just the same method as my cauli rice, except where I’d use mostly just the cauli florets, I use the whole head of broccoli, stem and all. Really, the sweet crunchy stem of a fresh crisp broccoli is the best bit.

Take a head of broccoli, give it a rinse and cut of and discard just the woody, dry end of the stem. Slice the whole head up roughly and throw it all into the bowl of a large processor. Blitz till you get the desired consistency, about the size of short rice grains. In a large frying pan, saute a little garlic in a touch of oil until soft, then add the brocouscous and stir round for a minute. Add a Tbsp of lemon juice and a Tbsp water and keep stirring for another few minutes, than you’re done and you have your lightly cooked brocouscous ready for jazzing up with all sorts of flavours. Marries well with hard cheeses like parmesan or pecorino, chilli, all things lemon, black bean, miso, sesame and smoky sweet cured meats.

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Cauli Gosh!

I had a lot of positive feedback about cauli rice last time I wrote about it, so here are a few other ways you might like to try with it.

Buttercup Beauties

I couldn’t resist these pretty little buttercups from the market the other day – even though I’m not a big pumpkin person, I knew they’d look so so pretty split in half and stuffed with some delicious combination. Play round with this cauli rice stuffing idea with any number of flavor combinations: go North African with preserved lemon and fruit; Indian with chickpeas and garam masala; or try something more meaty with bacon or ham, peas and a creamy sauce.
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First make some cauli rice (just pulse the florets in a processor to get the size you like – one head of cauli makes a huge amount of ‘rice’). Sauté some onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Rinse and dry some kale leaves, tear the leaves from the stems, slice them into fine pieces and add them, with the cauli rice, to the frying pan, along with some salt, black pepper and sweet paprika. Stir fry till the kale has started to wilt, then turn off the heat and stir through some toasted pine nuts and chunks of goat’s chevre. Split buttercups in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and stuff cauli rice mixture into the halves. If you find the buttercup’s hollows too shallow, you can dig out a bit of the flesh so they’ll fit more stuffing. Place stuffed buttercups in a roasting dish. Whisk an egg and pour carefully into each buttercup half to bind the stuffing. Melt a bit of honey and stir it into some olive oil, then drizzle the mixture over the buttercup halves. Bake in an oven on 180 for about 40 minutes or so until the top is browned and the buttercups’ flesh is cooked through.

Fried Cauli Rice

This made a wonderfully quick and tasty lunch the other day, when there wasn’t much in the pantry or fridge. I love to keep Chinese sausage in the fridge for emergency meals – it keeps for ages and adds so much flavor to a dish. There are many variations on Chinese sausage (lap cheung), but all are usually made from pork, with many using duck liver also. It must have a fair amount of sugar in it as it’s very sweet, and it’s undeniably rich in fat – but a little goes a long way.

In some hot sesame oil, fry chopped garlic and slices of Chinese sausage for a few minutes. Throw in cauli rice and whatever other vegetables you might like: Chinese greens, cabbage mushroom, spring onion, carrot. Some tofu would be nice too as it works well with the sausage. Add a glug each of soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, rice wine. Stir fry over high heat for 5 minutes or so, till the cauli rice has softened. Plate it up and scatter over coriander, drizzle with a bit more sesame oil and serve.
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Base it on Cauli

I haven’t tried this out yet – so no photo; I just came across it in a neat new book by Danish bloggers David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, The Green Kitchen (Hardie Grant, 2013, $49.99). They suggest making a wheat-free pizza base by mixing cauli rice with a little almond flour, some eggs, and seasonings. Neapolitans would be outraged and I’m not sure it would entirely take over from a regular pizza base in my household, but I’m certainly going to give it a try. It would be great for parties where there are bound to be a few folks eating gluten or wheat-free.

Salad bar none

The other day I Insta-faced a photo of my lunchtime salad, and got such a good response I thought I’d post not only that recipe, but a few more easy, seasonal salad ideas from photos I’ve taken over the past month or so. As a knee-jerk reaction to this wintery weather around us, I seem to be craving crunchy, textural things – the greener the better. If you were hoping you might get a break from my current obsession with kale, you’re out of luck. I just can’t help it – it tastes so good at this time of year and is so good for you that I sneak it into almost everything.

I don’t really measure ingredients out when making salads – just use however much you think looks right, and if you end up with lots left over, all the better!

 

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Sprouting Goodness Salad

Tear kale leaves from stems. Discard stems and rip kale into small pieces. Rinse and dry, then massage kale with some good-quality evoo. Be firm – you need to break down some of the texture of the leaves which will render them infinitely more edible. In a large bowl place prepared kale, mung bean sprouts, thinly sliced shallot, spouted peas or beans, sesame seeds and, if you like, some nice feta (I’ve been buying sheep’s feta lately – $5 for a 200g pack of Fratelli Fresh feta from Shefco on Dominion Rd). Dress with an emulsion of evoo, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, grainy mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.

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Textural Tornado

Cook and drain brown rice (or use wild, red or black rice). Allow to cool then place in a large bowl. Add a can of lentils, drained, a very thinly sliced green pepper (season ending now – try fennel instead), some washed rocket leaves and almond flakes and toss together. Dress with an emulsion of evoo, fresh ginger and garlic (use a microplane), a little sesame oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Scatter over some more almond flakes, and some LSA, to serve.

 

 

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Rainbow Slaw

Thinly slice red cabbage, carrot, apple, spring onion (fennel is good here too) and place in a large bowl. Add whichever chopped herbs you fancy (I used coriander here). Dress with your favourite dressing. I like either evoo, grainy mustard, garlic, white wine and malt vinegars, salt and pepper OR sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt and white pepper.

 

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Beetroot, Lentil and Blue Cheese

Toss a drained can of lentils with cubes of slow-roasted beetroot, roasted cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled blue cheese, plenty of herbs such as coriander or mint. Dress with your favourite dressing – I like evoo, a smidgeon of grainy mustard, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

More on Eggplant

First, an addition to my recipe for Creamy Charred Eggplant - I missed out a step. After you’ve chargrilled the eggplant and scooped out the flesh, let the flesh drain in a sieve for 10-15 minutes. It gets rid of a lot of the watery liquid which, while it won’t affect the taste of the dish, can detract from the creamy texture.

Last night I served the Creamy Charred Eggplant on top of a cannellini bean sautee with a Med/Middle Eastern vibe. Sauteed plenty of onion in olive oil until well softened, frying in a baharat I made (this one had black pepper, cumin, allspice, paprika, coriander seed and salt) and added what dark greens I had in the garden (good old cavalo nero and spinach, again!), then a tin of crushed tomatoes, some tomato paste to really get the lycopene content up and make the dish more umami, a tsp of sugar, and lastly a tin of cannellini beans. Let it all simmer away for a good half hour or longer while the eggplant roasted. I made a side dish of natural yohgurt with chopped mint and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt – add a dollop on top of the main or on the side. Great easy and hearty but not heavy dish that could be adapted depending what greens and pulses you have to hand.

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Creamy Charred Eggplant

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I got this idea from a recipe in Yottam Ottolenghi’s drool-worthy vegetarian cookbook Plenty. In his recipe, he makes this creamy eggplant puree to top braised puy lentils – I just took the eggplant bit of the recipe and have used it here to top a salad made of giant couscous, with some spicy lamb sausages on the side.

All you do is grill eggplant (one medium eggplant per person is about right) in a hot oven until the skin is blackened and charred (about an hour). Make sure you prick the eggplants in a few places prior to cooking, lest they explode in the oven! You can also char them over a gas hob, but I’m too afraid of the resulting mess, to be honest. Once the skin is all burnt, you just scoop out the creamy flesh and leave behind the skin. Let the flesh drain in a sieve for 10-15 mins, then stir in some extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and a little sea salt. You could do more here – garlic, sumac, cumin, fennel seed – but just with the olive oil and lemon juice the eggplant puree was tasty as hell in its seductively smoky way. By topping a salad with this puree, you’re adding a meat-free yet meaty element to the dish and creating a filling meal.

Crispy-Soft Tofu on Buckwheat Soba

 

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So here’s something easy to do with those garlic scapes I was raving about. Another thing, I’ve realised they’re a lot easier to come by than I thought, and I’ve eaten them often in the past without knowing exactly what they were, having bought them at Asian supermarkets (Tai Ping, Silver Bell and the like). There they’re called garlic shoots and are sold longer, but still not really curly, with the flower head lopped off.

Anyway, a quick recipe idea for using garlic scapes:

-Pour hot water over dried wood ear fungus* (also called black fungus -sounds lovely, doesn’t it?) and soak for an hour or more.

-Mix a dressing (approx equal quantities, a bit less of the oil) of gochujang, Japanese soy or tamari sauce, sesame oil, mirin and rice wine vinegar, with some toasted white sesame seeds.

-Coat large pieces of firm tofu in a mix of tapioca (or rice, potato, corn) flour, dried chilli, powdered ginger, dried seaweed such as Pacific Harvest Sea Lettuce.  Heat 1/4 cup or so of rice-bran oil in a wok and when it’s bubbling, fry tofu on each side till golden and crispy on the outside.

-Meanwhile blanch garlic scapes and courgette (or other green vegetable), then stirfry over high heat with softened black fungus and a little oyster or mushroom sauce.

-Cook buckwheat soba according to instructions (about 5 minutes in boiling water, then refresh and drain very well), and divide between serving bowls. Top with the stirfried vegetables and then the crispy tofu, with a few petals of pickles ginger on top. Pour over dressing and serve.

*Wood ear fungus is sold dried at Asian supermarkets. It needs to be soaked in hot water for an hour or so before cooking with it, to soften, It swells considerably, so be frugal with how much of the dried stuff you use or you’ll end up with a lot going to waste. It’s almost tasteless, but it’s all about the texture, which remains delightfully crunchy even after blasting in a hot wok or long slow braising. Here’s what it looks like:

 

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Take a Leaf

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When the cat is away the other cat will eat salad. Having the house, and dinner times, to myself while my husband is away tends to mean meat-free meals. It was the same when I lived by myself; I just can’t get that exited about cooking with meat for one person, and besides, I rather relish the smug sensation of busting the 5+ a day calculator with just one little meal. Here’s a salad which took in a number of items from my garden: tender young cavalo nero leaves; perpetual spinach; corn salad; springs onions, and basil. Getting lentils involved – puy, in this case – as well as some goat’s cheese, turns a salad into a respectable meal in a bowl. Take a leaf and feast on salad alone tonight.

Channa Dal

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For no particularly valid reason, I’ve not cooked much in the way of Indian food at home. I think I’ve always considered it far better to relished when done really well at a restaurant or in an ex-pat’s kitchen; that it’s too hard to get it right at home. I do still think that way about a lot of Chinese cuisine, due to the need for intense heat under your wok (though I have my sights set on my barbecue gas burner for this summer), but after trying a few quite basic Indian recipes at home recently, I’m happy to welcome Indian food into my regular cooking schedule. Here’s a really basic channa dal recipe that I tried last night after borrowing from a few different recipes, to get what I wanted. Now this channa dal may well not be utterly authentic (rules about when and how to add different spices and whether to cook with ghee or not seem to be fiercely debated), but it was pretty damn tasty – warming, aromtic and filling but not greasy at all. I’ve used a good packet garam masala out of haste, and it was perfectly fine, but you could of course grind up your own masala.

2 cups channa dal (washed and soaked for an hour or more)

6 cups water

Finger-length fresh ginger, crushed

1 tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

2 tomatoes, chopped

Handful fresh curry leaves

Cooking oil

Tarka

2 Tbsp oil

2 finely sliced onions

2 tsp cumin seeds

4-6 whole dried red chillies

1 tsp chilli flakes

4 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tsp garam masala

Boil the dal until it froths and skim off the scum, lower the heat, add the ginger, turmeric, and a bit of salt and cook, partially covered, until the dal is tender but not mushy. Stir in the tomato and turn heat right down.

In a saucepan, heat a little oil (rice bran is good) and fry the curry leaves until fragrant and crispy, then set aside.

While the dal is still cooking, in a saucepan heat the oil (or ghee, or a mix of oil and butter), and fry the onions on high heat until transparent, then turn the heat down and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to caramelise. When they’re starting to look thin and brown, turn the heat up a bit and add the cumin seeds, dried chillies and garlic. Cook until the garlic is turning crisp, then turn the heat up a bit more, add a bit more oil and the chilli flakes and garam masala. Let cook for just a minute until the spices have dispersed. Stir the crispy curry leaves and the tarka through the cooked dal. Save a bit of the tarka to garnish the top of each plate of dal, plus some freshly chopped coriander leaves. Serve with steamed basmati and plain yoghurt.