February 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
I went to a friend’s house the other day and there in their front garden was the biggest chilli bush I had ever seen. It was about one and a half metres tall and covered in chillies red and green. Apparently they grow like this in the tropics and apparently that is just the kind of summer we have had here in Melbourne whilst I have been away. Tropical at 37 degrees south! Everything is growing, growing and growing. The grass fluorescent green is impossible to keep restrained, the tomatoes race to rot before they are picked and the silverbeet with huge happy leaves laughs in the rain and sun.
I woke up this morning and new I couldn’t ignore it any longer. It needed eating. And because it is the middle of the week it needed to be something quick and easy. So here is something very simple for a fresh summer breakfast when you want something a bit more than just toast or muesli.
Silverbeet and Tomatoes with Lemon and Almonds on Sourdough (serves 2)
2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger roughly chopped
6 – 8 big silverbeet leaves washed and roughly chopped
A big handful of tomatoes roughly chopped
2 Tbsp tamari (if you don’t have tamari soy sauce will do)
Small handful of almonds roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, lightly sauté the garlic and ginger in a little oil. Add the silverbeet and cook until it just starts to wilt. Add the tomatoes and tamari and continue to cook until the tomatoes just begin to become soft but still hold their shape. Season with salt and pepper. Serve on sourdough toast with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkle of almonds.
Enjoy your day!!
What it Means to be Perfect: Chocolate coated dried plums marinated in white wine and a hint of thyme
February 11, 2011 § 9 Comments
When in Belgium I went to visit my great aunty and uncle Yvonne and Jos in the small town of Bellingen. Oom Jos just turned 90 and Tante Yvonne isn’t far behind. We ate cake with a fork and knife before a dinner of witlof wrapped in ham and baked in snowy white sauce. This is a very traditional Flemish dish. As a child I was always glad witlof was so hard to find in Australia so it rarely ended up in my mother’s kitchen. But now I enjoy it in small amounts provided there’s plenty of ham and sauce to go around.
During the Flemish conversations around the dinner table I mostly daydreamed at the paintings on the wall and marvelled at the young spirit of my aunt and uncle gossiping and laughing about the local goings on. At one point, the conversation briefly turned to English and my uncle proclaimed,
‘No one is perfect.’
Then after reflecting on this statement for a while he continued,
‘Except for my wife! She is Perfect. She cleans and cooks all day. She is perfect… only problem is she has no time for making love. She is too busy. She never has time to kiss me.’
I am always struck when I see an old relationship full of humour, love and adoration like this one, a little reminder that life can indeed be great, full of warmth and happiness.
So because the conversation here is about love and perfection and because it is almost Valentines Day and because I am sadly alone with my darling still in Africa, I have decided it is most suitable I share this recipe so perfect and delicious it will make you weak at the knees and your heart melt. Well at least I hope so.
I got the idea of chocolate covered prunes from Stephanie Alexanders book The Cooks Companion. She stuffs them with almonds and soaks them in brandy. I have adapted it some by using white wine and adding a few little bits and pieces for extra freshness. I think the thyme and lemon zest brings something unique and light to the richness of the chocolate. I also changed the terminology a bit because for something with a valentine spirit ‘prunes’ doesn’t really have the right um… connotations in regards to some of its well known uses. Dried plums on the other hand….
Recipe for Chocolate Coated Dried Plums
30 pitted prunes
3/4 cup white wine
Juice of an orange
Sprig of thyme
Zest of 1/4 of a lemon
200g dark cooking chocolate
Stuff an almond into each prune where the pip would have been and place in a bowl along with the white wine, orange juice, thyme and lemon zest. Allow to soak for 1 – 2 hours then drain well.
Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water.
Dip each prune into the chocolate. Allow to cool in the fridge on a tray covered with baking paper until the chocolate sets.
Serve on a pretty plate and eat with someone special.
January 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
The markets in Makeni, shoulder to shoulder with hot crawling crowds carrying their buys and sales and indeed, their handbags, on their heads for convenient hands free shopping. The way is particularly slow, pedestrians congested in the narrow spaces between the stalls, every productive piece of bare earth used for displaying neatly balanced towers of onions and stacks of maggi cubes, portions of salt, plates of roasted peanuts, handfuls of chillies and piles of dried fish. However this is not really a market, it’s meant to be a road lined with stalls, but they inevitably spread to encompass the whole space. When a car wants to pass through, it noses itself into the crowds as women hurriedly gather their trade and punters squeeze against the sides of the street.
It is here one sunny day that I spy amongst the dry and smelly fish, a big beautiful deep green pumpkin. ‘Yes mam, yes mam’ says the soft and rounded lady sitting behind her display holding the pumpkin out to me on a seemingly particularly stretched out arm. Her body reaches heavily out over the fish towards me. She is guessing I will be stupid and white enough to pay her almost a dollar for this one so she won’t take any chances with me missing the cue. And she is right of course, I can’t resist. Soon it is heavy in my bag on my shoulder as I balance my new weight on the back of the Okada home, weaving through the cars and pedestrians. I am happy with my buys today, also tucked away in my bag, tiny bundles of individually wrapped dried thyme that I find with excitement amongst the maggi cubes and salt in the markets but just never recognised before.
What then? Well not traditional but predictable, pumpkin soup with spices brought gallantly all the way from Morocco, pumpkin fritters that leave me wanting to cry and finally, Pumpkin in a Skillet with Thyme, Lime and Chilli.
Recipe for Pumpkin in a Skillet with Thyme Lime and Chilli
This recipe makes for a lovely snack and is so simple. But lets not mistake lack of complexity for lack of tasty because it is the latter indeed. I can be grateful for that here where you are far from overwhelmed by an abundance of variety and reminded of how effective just a few ingredients can be.
You will need
About a quarter to half a pumpkin sliced roughly 5mm thick
Oil for frying
Thyme to taste
Chilli powder to taste
1 or 2 limes
1-2 fresh chillies, seeds removed and finely sliced
In a skillet or heavy based fry pan gently fry pumpkin over a medium heat until golden brown and crisp on the outside but soft in the middle.
Sprinkle immediately with thyme, salt and chilli powder and serve with a squeeze of lime and sprinkle of fresh chilli.
Eat straight away; it is best hot and still crisp.
December 17, 2010 § 5 Comments
Before arriving in Sierra Leone, a man at a spice shop in Morocco gave me a bag of rose petals. At the time I didn’t think much of my gift or of how useful they would be to me at my next destination but they smelled divine and didn’t weigh much so they went in my backpack with everything else. However it wasn’t until I was siting here in the heat of Sierra Leone nursing a runny nose, soar throat and once monthly pains in my belly that I decided to make myself a ginger tea, and on seeing the rose petals sitting on the bench I decided to chuck some of them in too. I was surprised by the velvety warm soft taste; the juxtaposition of hot ginger and cool rose on the tongue; like drinking a cup of love on a sunny day.
I decided to do a bit of research on the health benefits of rose.
Apparently roses aren’t the most romantic flower for nothing; they are said to comfort the heart and emotions. This explains a lot as I find them utterly irresistible and it is with great difficulty that I overcome the temptation to smell every one I pass. Perhaps this is accentuated by the fact that my grandparents owned a rose nursery just outside of Brussels and one of my first memories is of wandering through them with my Oma as a 4-year-old.
When I came across the less romantic properties of rose I couldn’t help thinking that this flower was designed to solve all my problems, especially whilst living in Sierra Leone. Rose clears heat and toxins from the body resulting in a cooling effect (oh sweet yes!), can benefit a sore throat and runny nose, and relieves painful periods. It also contains high levels of Vitamin C, helps the body fight against infection, helps establish healthy bacteria, helps cleans the kidneys, liver and gall bladder, helps remedy gastro, diarrhoea and dysentery, works as a laxative, helps infertility and has a positive effect on the nervous system therefore helps fatigue, insomnia and depression.
So I am thinking it was with some luck or perhaps a future insight that the man at the spice shop gave me a bag of rose petals. And when combined with the more widely known benefits of ginger – boosts the immune, and treats colds, chest infections, digestive disorders, nausea and joint pain – this has become my new super tea and what’s more it tastes so good.
The recipe for rose petal and ginger tea is simple
1cm by 1cm cube of fresh ginger peeled and sliced thinly
1 dried rose bud or a couple of rose petals
1 cup boiling water
Place all ingredients in a tall glass or fine china teacup, and let cool slightly before sipping.