spring, partings and asparagus

June 1, 2015 § 2 Comments

photo 2

The sun was shining with so much intensity when I left Toulouse. I am not sure if I was imaging it or not, but the tomatoes growing on our balcony seemed to be gaining an inch a day. Everything, including me was pushing up and reaching for the summer. On my last night, we sat there together, my feet in his lap, eating asparagus with French cheese and wine, looked out over the balcony to the canal. Nostalgia deep in my heart. I missed him before I even left.

Fried asparagus

Take a bunch of fresh asparagus and cut off the woody ends.  Place 1 teaspoon of butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan set on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add just enough asparagus to comfortably cover the bottom of the pan and gently sauté tossing every now and again so that all the sides become lightly browned. If you want you can place a lid on top of the pan to steam them a little as well. After 2 – 3 minutes add 2 cloves freshly  crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking until the asparagus are just beginning to soften but still are bright green with a light crunch. Transfer to a plate and drizzle with a touch of balsamic vinegar. Repeat the process until all your asparagus are gone. Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy.

photo 3

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a turmeric life

May 25, 2014 § 3 Comments

I have almost been living off this drink the last 6 months. Served ice cold and sipped on the verandah in the evenings, the colour matching the turmeric setting sky. Its gently spicy and refreshing in a heart warming kind of way. AND, its body pleasing too. Turmeric has great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is wonderful for settling an upset tummy. Interestingly, when served with black pepper the  bioavailability of curcumin – its active ingredient – is enhanced 1000 times.

Iced Turmeric Tea

1 tsp powdered turmeric or 2 Tbsp fresh grated turmeric
2 – 3 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
A handful of freshly cut lemongrass (2 Tbsp of dry lemongrass tea would work too)
1 tsp peppercorns
2 Litres boiling water

Place all ingredients in a large bowl or glass jug. Pour over boiling water and allow to seep until cool. You will end up with a rich tonic that you can then store in the fridge. To serve, add around 2 shots of tonic to 1 cup cold water or mineral water and squeeze in some fresh lemon or lime.

late september

September 28, 2013 § 3 Comments

sliced watermelon

I had a dismal attempt at trying to grow watermelons this year. The process started with me very excited. I made a little round bed full of compost and manure and planted two little seeds inside. They sprouted and grew… A little… I watered them and they grew some more. They bloomed tiny little flowers and even grew one tiny little watermelon. Then I went away and the little watermelon shrivelled up. Then the rest of the vine shrivelled. And one day they were dead. And that was that.

The sun is relentless here. Unforgiving.  I realise my mistake, I shouldn’t have put them in a place that gets all day sun, and I should definitely have mulched them more.

But still, I have been managing to eat some of the very best watermellons I ever had. The local ones are cheep and abundant at this time of year. They are a deep bright pink and so so sweet.

Watermelon and cider vinegar tonic

So I have a recipe for you today, a drink, and a very refreshing one at that. It comes out of the beautiful cookbook The New Persian Kitchen. Its a watermelon, mint, and cider vinegar tonic!

Author Notes: “Even if drinking vinegar sounds like a dare — and maybe that’s why you ordered it — it’s anything but. It’s sweet and sour and icy-cold. It vibrates and clangs with fruit and vinegar, and soothes with sweetness and mint. It is the most refreshing drink you will have this summer”. From The New Persian Kitchen

watermelon in measuring jug

Recipe for Watermelon Mint and Cider Vinegar Tonic

Makes about 5 cups concentrate

3 cups water, plus more to serve
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup honey
6 cups coarsely chopped watermelon
1 cup tightly packed fresh mint, plus more to serve
1 cup apple cider vinegar (preferably with the mother because that is the best kind for you)
Ice cubes, cucumber, and lime to serve.

watermelon, mint, honey, water, vinegar
  • Boil the water and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the honey and allow to dissolve before removing from the heat.
  • Combine the watermelon and mint in a large bowl and stir in the hot honey water.  Leave to cool to room temperature.
  • Once cool, add the vinegar and allow the mixture to steep in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight.
  • Strain the mixture and eat the watermelon chunks, if desired.
  • Store the concentrate in a clean glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • To serve, pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a glass over ice and dilute with 3/4 cup water. Garnish with the watermelon, cucumber, and mint.
Watermelon and apple cider vinegar tonic

snake beans

July 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

chilli coconut snake beans

The Tropical Garden Spectacular  was on a few weeks ago. At the botanical gardens under trees with impossibly huge canopies I watched some local food cooking demonstrations. Lined up on straw bales with the green grass at our feet, some glimpse of paradise on the warm breeze, the chef Selvam Kandasamy from Saffrron, taught a small group of us how to make snake beans, sautéed in spices with coconut and curry leaves. And this my dear friends is a dish to be celebrated.

Snake beans are the lanky tropical equivalent of the green bean and you would be forgiven for thinking them somewhat tough and woody with little flavour. This recipe however  does them justice. It is full of flavour, crunchy, slightly sweet, bright green and turmeric yellow. The coconut and chili melts on your tongue. The intermittent curry leaves are bright in your mouth. The beans are cooked hot in a wok for just the very right amount of time making them softly crunchy and fluorescent.

I have made this recipe many times since then and each time I have continued to love it.  It is similar to the original made by Selvam Kandsamy except I have used coconut oil instead of peanut oil.

Spicy Snake Beans with Coconut and Curry Leaves

Serves: 4 – 5 as a main or 6 – 8 as a side dish.

Note: If you are in distant and cooler parts wanting to use something more locally appropriate I am sure green beans would also make a good substitute.

3 Tbsp pure coconut oil
2 flat tsp brown mustard seeds
2 flat tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 red onion finely diced
1 whole fresh red chillis (you can also use 1 tsp dried chilli flakes instead)
1 Tbsp Split yellow lentils (optional)
4 cups chopped snake beans
1/2 cup shredded coconut
A good handful fresh curry leaves
Extra salt to taste

chopped snake beans and white bowl

Prepare all your ingredients before hand. Once you start cooking it all happens fast.

In a wok heat the oil on a medium to high flame until hot. Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, onion, and salt. Stir until the onions turn just translucent, then add the chilli and lentils. Continue stirring and add the beans and coconut stirring until the beans are just cooked through but still have a crunch and are bright green. Add the curry leaves and remove from heat.

It is lovely served as a side to fish or on its own with brown rice.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

ingredients for snake bean stir fry

pickles

June 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

Cucumber flower

Without meaning to belabour the point, winter is an exciting time in the top end. Really it is like summer down south and the vegies that grow this time of year are proof of that. We have four cucumber plants in pots under the verandah in anticipation that they will provide some edible shade in the coming months. But in the meantime, I have been getting them from the markets, small and sweet, straight from the local growers at Humpty Doo.

And I know I have mentioned this to you before, but I do love pickles. Crunchy, tart, sour, salty. In true wholesome, traditional and healthy fashion, I have provided you with an old recipe for making pickles, one that uses ancient methods of fermentation and preservation. This way you get all those wonderful lactobacillus which I have been told, on countless occasions by my mother, – are very very good for you. And mothers are always right.

Cucumbers in a bowl

If you want a recipe for pickles that tastes like those you buy in the shops you will need to look elsewhere. Inspired by Jenny at Nourished Kitchen, this recipe uses salt rather than vinegar and as a result, the lacto fermentation process. But still, below I have given you two options for making brine. The first is exclusively with salt and the second is with less salt and a small amount of apple cider vinegar. You can decide which version you like the best.

Lacto fermented pickled cucumbers

For pickling, try to use freshly picked cucumbers if possible, but if not, get ones that are organic and as fresh and small as you can find. Say no more than 2 inches long.

Ingredients
Enough pickling cucumbers to fill your jar(s).
4 cloves of fresh organic garlic – per 500ml jar
1 tsp spices (for example, allspice, mustard seeds, bay leaf, black pepper, dried chilli flakes etc) – per 500ml jar
Optional – Use 1 fresh grape-vine leaf with the stem removed or a horseradish leaf per 500ml jar. This will help your pickles to stay crisp when the lactic acid fermentation is complete.

Brine
Option 1: 2 ½  – 3 tablespoons of salt per 4 cups of chlorine free filtered water
Option 2: 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar for every 3 cups of chlorine free filtered water.

(1 cup of brine usually fills a 500ml jar)

 Method
If you were unable to pick your cucumbers fresh, the first thing you will need to do is soak them in very cold icy water to perk them up before they ferment. Next, you’ll want to make sure all stems and flowery ends have been removed as they may give an off-flavor to the pickles. I generally cut a tiny scrape off the ends of each cucumber with a knife to be certain. It is also important that each cucumber is cleaned carefully. These steps will help ensure your pickles remain crunchy.

Place the pickling cucumbers, garlic and spices in sterilised jars in layers and ensure that they are a snug fit but without damaging the cucumbers. Add the horseradish or grape-vine leaf if you have it.

Prepare your brine. Shake or stir to help the salt fully dissolve. Pour the brine over the pickling cucumbers, until all of the ingredients are submerged. It is important that all of the ingredients are covered with the brine, and if necessary add a clean weight into the jar to help push them under the liquid, for example, a small plastic lid. Secure the lid and allow to ferment at room temperature for between 5 and 10 days, depending on your climate. The cooler it is the longer it will take. Once they are ready, store in the fridge to be eaten as you please.

As a side, I know it can be a fear with people, as it was with me, to be uncertain about whether your ferments are off. All I can say is, trust me, you will know. The smell is bad enough that you won’t want to touch them. 

Cucumbers ready for pickling

basil and papaya

June 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

Cut papaya and basil

squeezed limes

If you are one of those people who like papaya, this one is for you. I know, I have done it before with strawberries and basil, a recipe good enough to serve to the prime minister of Australia, and perhaps I should have just left it at that. But  with fresh papayas straight from the tree in our back yard and thai basil and limes also in the garden I couldn’t help myself.

I can’t promise it will blow your socks off but papaya, lime and thai basil salad is in every way good. The pictures say it all.

Papaya and basil salad

all about dragon fruit, iced green tea and being grateful

March 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

dragon fruit

There have been days when I have watched the clouds and the sea, breathed in the hot air, walked through the night when its pouring rain, listened to the jungle foul in our back yard, rode home at dusk in an electric sky, eaten green paw paw salad, bought armfuls of local mandarins, rambutans and dragon fruit at Rapid Creek market and loved this place. And then there have been days when I have questioned every reason I’m here and what it is I am trying to pursue. I have missed my southern friends, a good cup of coffee, cute little cafes with beautifully dressed waitresses, newspaper headlines that resemble some mild form of intelligence and a local radio station that I enjoy listening to. Luckily these moments can usually be fixed with a jar of pickles and an hour or so spent in the hammock watching the evening sky. Or eating oatcakes and admiring the little green tree frog that croaks outside our kitchen window and even sometimes comes in for a visit. And if this doesn’t work, a few stern words to myself about how great it is to be a little lost and not know what lies ahead because that way anything is possible.

dragon fruit and lime

But today is not a pickle and hammock day. Today is a green tree frog, cloud watching, rain walking day and I am grateful. I am grateful to my friends and family who have rung me up to ask me how things are going up here and told me not to worry, I’ll get a job soon. I am grateful to that person who is going to employ me sometime soon. And I am grateful to my new friends, one of whom wrote me a welcome card when we arrived, made me iced green tea and taught me the only way to eat dragon fruit – which is with lime. Or I guess lemon would probably work too.

I had only tried dragon fruit once or twice before and never really liked it or given it much thought. Perhaps this was because I lived in the south and it was far away from its tropical context. But more importantly, I think it was because it was lacking in preparation. Lime turns this fruit from somewhat dull and strange in taste to subtle and delicious, just like that. I hate to think of all the people who may have given up on it like I did, simply because they had never tried it this way. So, if you ever come across one of these striking fruits, that grows on a cactus, is about the size of a fist and has pink skin with protruding green wing like tips, I dare you, no I beg you, to take one home and cut it open. Their flesh is either a deep and intense red or white but always speckled with tiny black seeds that crunch ever so slightly in your mouth. Once you have finished admiring the way its red flesh has stained your knife, or the starkness of the pink skin against white, divide it into quarters or eighths, squeeze half a lime (or lemon?) all over it, and eat it up. It just so happens to have become one of my near favourite things. Even though it took some persuasion and more than one attempt.

red dragon fruit cut open

And finally, inspired by my friend Nia, I really recommend iced green tea, especially when it’s infused with ginger, fresh mint and, yes, you guessed it – lime, which conveniently grows on a tree in our back yard. This is so refreshing poured in a glass with ice and sipped slowly at the kitchen table. Or with your feet up on a couch. Or in a hammock watching the sky!

Here is the recipe.

Iced green tea with ginger, mint and lime

4 cups boiling water
½ cup cold water
4 heaped teaspoons loose leaf jasmine tea
1 heaped tablespoon of honey (or to taste)
4 – 6 thin slices of ginger
Juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
A handful of fresh mint

Bring 4 cups of water to the boil. Turn off the heat. Add 1/2 a cup of cold water. Then add the tea and steep for 2 minutes. Strain into a largish vessel. Add the ginger and honey and stir in. Leave covered on the bench to cool. Once the liquid has reached room temperature add the lime, mint ice and serve.

Hint # 1– Its a good idea to make double and reserve what you don’t drink straight away in the fridge for later. In this case its best to hold off on adding the lime, mint and ice until just before you drink it. It remains nice and fresh that way.

Hint # 2 – By adding 1/2 a cup of cold water you prevent the tea from being scolded and thus turning bitter. Interestingly however, green tea is very high in antioxidants, which are enhanced if you use boiling water to infuse your tea. Therefore if you choose health over taste, don’t bother adding the cold water before adding the tea.

limes on tree

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