food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘pasta and grains’ Category

noodle salad with cucumber and poppy seeds

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Another delightful salad from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam OttolenghiTart apple, cooling cucumber, pickled onions and fresh herbs. What a great combination.

In a small saucepan combine 60ml (2 fl oz) of cider vinegar, 30g (1 oz) of caster sugar and 60ml (2 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar has dissolved and continue to cook for a few minutes to reduce by one third. Finely slice 1 red onion and finely julienne a 5cm (2″) piece of ginger and place them in a small bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and allow to pickle for 1 hour. Meanwhile, break 150g (5 oz) of flat rice noodles into 15cm (6″) pieces and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes. When the noodles are soft drain them and put them in a large serving bowl. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil and allow  to cool. Blanch and drain 200g (7 oz) of edamame beans, core and slice 1 sharp green apple into thin wedges, de-seed and julienne 2 red chillies, roughly chop 10g (⅓ oz) each of fresh mint and tarragon and cut 2 large cucumbers in half lengthways, scooping out the seeds and cutting them into thin long strips. Add all the prepared vegetables and the pickled onion and ginger to the noodles. Add 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, some more vegetable oil, 1½ teaspoons of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.


Written by michelle picker

January 17, 2018 at 12:17 am

barley, lentils and mushrooms with fried onions

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Once again Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe imparts amazing flavours to a vegetarian meal.


In a small bowl cover 20g (¾ oz) of dried porcini with 1¾ cups of boiling water and leave to stand for an hour. After an hour, remove the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a very fine sieve to remove any grit, then return the mushrooms to their liquid. Place 120g (4¼ oz) of barley (pre-soaked) and 170g (6 oz) of brown lentils in a large saucepan. Add 4 times the volume of cold water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a rolling simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool down. Cut an onion into thin slices lengthways and toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat oil in a medium saucepan (enough to cover the onion slices in batches) to high heat and fry the onion in batches for three to four minutes, until golden-brown. Remove them to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside to cool. Slice a second onion into wider wedges. In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat and fry the onion wedges for five minutes until charred and soft. Stir in 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin, 1 teaspoons of ground allspice and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Next add 4 sliced large mushrooms, the finely sliced rind of 1 lemon and ½ a teaspoon each of sugar and salt. Fry until the mushrooms start to soften then add the porcini and all their soaking liquid. Boil rapidly for five minutes, reducing the liquid to approximately ½ a cup. Reduce the heat and add the lentils and barley plus 1 tablespoon of dried mint, 1 teaspoon of dried dill leaves, ¾ of a teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook for a minute more then remove from the heat and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Serve garnished with the fried onion and chopped parsley with sour cream on the side.

salmon wellington

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Milan made this impressive salmon wellington (or should I say Saumon en croute), as the main course of a delicious lunch in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. He didn’t pass on the recipe so I hope he approves of this one.


Cook 70g (2½ oz) of well-rinsed quinoa for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain, cool under running water, drain again, then set aside. In a large pan, fry 3 crushed garlic cloves in butter before adding 300g (10½ oz) of baby spinach leaves. Allow the spinach to wilt then leave it to cool. When cooled, squeeze out any excess moisture and chop it finely before adding it to the quinoa. Add a large handful of finely chopped dill and a little lemon zest and season to taste. Now prepare your salmon. Cut the fillets in half horizontally to make 2 thinner fillets and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a piece of ready-made puff pastry into your oven dish, making sure it comes up the sides and is long enough to cover the top. Place a piece of salmon onto the pastry then spread the quinoa mixture over it and put the other piece of salmon on top. Cover the fish with pastry, moisten the edges to seal then brush with a beaten egg. Chill for 20 – 30 minutes while you preheat your oven to 180°C (350ºF). Make cuts in the top for steam to escape and bake for 25-30 minutes.


Written by michelle picker

November 24, 2016 at 5:53 am

gnocchi masterclass

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My lovely foodie friend Fifi took me along to Taste of Melbourne where we attended a Electrolux Chefs’ Secrets masterclass by Scott Pickett. The attendees divided into teams and helped to prepare lunch.

The gnocchi were made with 1kg (2¼ lbs) of cooked and passed potatoes, 150g (5¼ oz) of plain flour, 1 egg + 1 yolk, 80g or more (3 oz) of grated parmesan, sea salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. After combining, rolling into logs, cutting and resting the gnocchi, they were cooked in boiling salted water then refreshed in iced water and set aside until serving.


Fifi and I helped prepare the prawns (shrimp) for the ‘bolognese’. These were seasoned and fried until almost sticking to the pan before adding tomato sugo, a splash of red wine vinegar, a little sugar, some fresh tarragon, a bit more salt and some freshly ground black pepper.


Meanwhile, another team were busy picking tarragon for a dragoncello sauce. This is a blended sauce made with ½ a cup of fresh tarragon leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 anchovy fillets, 2 slices of ciabatta bread (without the crust) soaked in 60ml (2 fl oz) of red wine vinegar, 150ml (5 fl oz) of olive oil and seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


With the help of chef Massimo Mele the gnocchi were pan-fried.


And voilà, amazingly light gnocchi, delicious prawn bolognese, tangy and refreshing dragoncello sauce with freshly grated parmesan and an extra drizzle of olive oil.


chicken with cardamom rice + spinach salad with dates

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Two fragrant dishes from JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

This one-pot chicken and rice dish is wonderfully spiced, rich with caramelised onions, tangy with barberries and fresh with herbs.


First put 2-3 tablespoons of sugar into a small saucepan with an equal amount of water and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, add 25g (less than 1 oz)  of dried barberries and set aside to soak. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large sauté pan which has a lid. Fry 2 finely sliced onions over medium heat until quite brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. For this recipe you can either cut a whole chicken into pieces or use portions. Place them in a bowl and season well with 1½ teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 10 bruised cardmom pods, 2 broken cinnamon quills, ½ a teaspoon of whole cloves and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix well with your hands. Heat the pan again and sear the chicken pieces on each side for a few minutes then remove from the pan. Now add 300g (10½ oz) of basmati rice to the pan along with the caramelised onions, the strained barberries, 1 teaspoon of salt and more freshly ground black pepper. Stir well then push the chicken pieces into the rice. Pour in 550ml (18½ fl oz) of boiling water then cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and quickly replace with a tea towel or paper towels under it. Allow to stand for a further 10 minutes. Garnish with 15g (½ oz) of chopped herbs consisting of equal parts parsley, dill and coriander (cilantro).

This baby spinach salad with dates and almonds has a wonderful balance of fresh, tart, sweet and crunchy elements.


In a small bowl combine ½ a finely sliced red onion, 100g (3½ oz) of pitted and quartered Medjool dates, a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Mix well and allow to marinate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile heat 1½ tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a fry pan. Add approximately 100g (3½ oz) of torn pita bread and 75g (2½ oz) of roughly chopped whole almonds. Cook, stirring, until the pita pieces are crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and add 2 teaspoons of sumac, ½ a teaspoon of chilli flakes and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool. When ready to serve, place baby spinach leaves, the pita and almonds and the drained dates and onions in a salad bowl. Add a little olive oil, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and some salt to taste. Toss and serve immediately.

blue corn tamales

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Tamales originated as early as 8000 to 5000 BC. The Aztec and Mayan civilisations, as well as the Olmec and Toltec before them, used tamales as portable food, often to support their armies, but also for hunters and travellers. Tamales are generally wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves before being steamed. In Mexico they are a favourite comfort food, eaten as both breakfast and dinner. Tamales exist in various forms throughout Central and South America and even in the Phillipines and Guam, once Spanish provinces of Mexico. They also made their way to Spain with the Conquistadors who took them there as proof of civilisation. This recipe is adapted from Mark Miller’s Coyote Cafe and even though I had no corn husks and had to make do with baking paper, the result was excellent.


To make these tamales you will first need some blue corn masa. For 6 tamales combine 1½ cups of blue corn masa with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk. In a large bowl or stand mixer whisk 250g (9 oz) of butter with 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1½ teaspoons of salt. Incorporate the masa mixture into the butter 2 tablespoons at a time while whisking to keep the mixture light. Fold in 1 cup of cooked corn kernels, 1 diced chorizo and ½ a cup of chopped coriander (cilantro) until well combined. Divide the mixture between 6 corn husks, or baking paper. Roll the tamales and tie the ends. Steam them for 30 minutes and serve with a fresh salad and some refried black beans. For this salad I first pickled a finely sliced red onion and 2 green chillies. In a small saucepan combine ½ a cup each of white vinegar, water and sugar and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the onion and chillies and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Heat some oil in a small frypan and add ¼ of a cup of pepita (pumpkin) seeds, some smoky paprika and some salt. Fry until they just begin to colour and remove them to a plate. To assemble the salad lay out rows of tomato and avocado wedges. Spread the pickled onion over the top and garnish with the pepita seeds.


To make refried beans, 1 cup of beans and 4 cups of water will produce 2½ cups of cooked beans. If you remember, you can soak them overnight but a quicker method is to boil them for 4 minutes and then soak them for 1 hour. Next they need to be cooked for 45-60 minutes (or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker) until tender. Drain, retaining the liquid, and set aside. In a saucepan, heat a generous amount of vegetable oil and sauté 1 finely diced onion and 1-2 cloves of garlic until translucent. Add any or all of the following dry herbs and spices to your taste: cumin, oregano, chilli, smoky paprika, cayenne pepper. Add the beans and fry over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Now add some of the liquid and salt to taste.


Written by michelle picker

August 14, 2016 at 5:49 am

cauliflower pilaf + fried root veg + spinach and yoghurt

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This vegetarian meal is loosely based on a Jordanian Maqluba which normally includes meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot, which is then flipped upside down when served. The recipe is adapted from one by Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter which appeared in The Guardian. 


Preheat your oven to 200ºC (º400F). Heat 1 litre (34 fl oz) of vegetable stock until just boiling. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of chilli paste, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and a pinch of saffron and set aside. Wash 350g (12.3 0z) of rice well in cold water and leave it to drain. Cut 400g (14 oz) of cauliflower florets and slice an equal amount of butternut pumpkin. Toss them in a little olive oil and season well. Flash fry them to colour them but don’t cook them through. In a large pan, gently heat some olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of rice and arrange 1 onion and 3 leeks all cut into thick slices. Mix together a pinch of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground fennel, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, ¼ of a teaspoon of ground cardamom, ½ a teaspoon of ground allspice, a pinch each of cumin and coriander and a good pinch of salt. Sprinkle ⅓ of this spice mix over the leeks and onions. Now layer the cauliflower, squash, rice and the rest of the spice mix. Finish with a layer of rice, whisk the stock well and pour it over the pan contents. Shredded kale can also be layered with the vegetables.Turn up the heat for 2 minutes, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low. Leave the rice to cook for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for a further 15 minutes. Traditionally now is the time to invert the contents of the pan onto a large plate but I chose to leave mine in the pot. Garnish with a handful of toasted pine nuts, a pinch of dried chilli and 1 tablespoon each of chopped coriander and mint.

These quick-fried root vegetables are almost like a pickle.


You can make this with whichever root vegetables you have to hand. We had carrots, parsnips, turnips and fennel. Celeriac and beetroots would be good too. Peel and cut all the vegetables into thin matchsticks or julienne. Sprinkle with a little salt and leave in a colander for about an hour. Squeeze out any excess moisture. Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add 1 teaspoon of roughly crushed cumin seeds and cook for 1 minute before adding the shredded vegetables. Stir-fry for 5 minutes then add the juice and zest of 1 orange, 2 teaspoons of honey, 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

This spinach and yoghurt dish adds creaminess and a bit of crunch.


Cook 250g (9 oz) of spinach leaves in a little olive oil until wilted. Drain well, allow to cool and squeeze out any excess moisture. Chop roughly and mix with 1 clove of crushed garlic, 1 chopped red chilli and 1 cup of yoghurt. Season well and serve sprinkled with a pinch of dried mint, and 50g (1¾ oz) of toasted walnut pieces.