food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

sichuan braised eggplant

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The province of Sichuan (Szechuan) in southwestern China has a bold, pungent and spicy cuisine. It’s known for it’s liberal use of garlic, chillies, vinegar and sichuan pepper. Here’s a great example of Sichuan braised eggplant from Serious Eats.

Trim ¾ kg (1½ lbs) of small Asian eggplants and cut them into quarters lengthwise then into 10cm (4″) lengths. Pour 2 litres (2 quarts) of water into a bowl and add ½ a cup of kosher salt. Add the eggplant pieces, skin-side up, and soak for 10 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice 2 birds-eye chillies and place them in a small bowl. Heat 3 tablespoons of white or rice wine vinegar in a small saucepan until simmering and pour it over the chillies, allowing it to steep for 5 minutes before adding 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of Chinkiang vinegar (if you can’t get this use a cheap balsamic vinegar). When completely cool add 1¼ teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and stir until dissolved. Set this sauce aside. Now drain the eggplant, pat dry with paper towels and set aside. Finely mince 4 teaspoons of fresh ginger and 4 cloves of garlic and slice 4 spring onions (scallions), the white part thinly and the green part into longer pieces. Roughly chop some coriander (cilantro) for garnish. When you’re ready to cook, make sure you have all the prepared ingredients ready as well as some Doubanjiang (a chilli and bean paste available from Asian grocery stores). Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Reduce the heat to medium and add the eggplant. Cook until softened and well browned on all sides. Push it to the sides of the wok, turn up the heat and add the ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant then add 2 tablespoons of Doubanjiang and cook for a further 30 seconds. Stir the chilli sauce you prepared earlier and add it as well. Now toss and continue to cook for 1-3 minutes until the sauce is thick and glossy and is coating the eggplant pieces. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the coriander (cilantro). Serve hot with steamed rice or as part of a banquet with other Sichuan dishes.


Written by michelle picker

November 15, 2017 at 12:10 am

zucchini, parmesan and basil soup

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Do you keep those rinds from parmesan?  Here’s a truly delicious way to use them and to eat your greens.

The first step for this soup is to make a stock from the parmesan rinds. A pressure cooker helps to shorten this process. Cut 4 -6 pieces of rind into small pieces and cook them in 1 litre (1 quart) of water until they are almost melted away. This will take 20-30 minutes in a pressure cooker and 2-3 hours in a pot and may need more water. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan sauté 1 chopped onion and 4-5 chopped zucchinis in some olive oil. Season to taste. When you’re satisfied that you’ve extracted the most out of the parmesan rinds, strain the stock into the saucepan and continue to cook until the zucchinis are just soft. Purée the soup with a stick blender or food processor until the mixture is emulsified then add fresh basil leaves and process again. Check the seasoning before serving with a drizzle of olive oil.

Written by michelle picker

October 25, 2017 at 12:08 am

black truffle

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When in France I spent some time in the Dordogne, the home of the Périgord Black Truffle. I felt compelled to bring one home and here’s what I did with it.

60º eggs on potatoes fried in duck fat with shavings of black truffle.

Actually, these were really 62.8ºC (145ºF) eggs as I prefer my whites a little opaque. They need to be cooked in a water bath at this temperature for at least an equal number of minutes to their metric weight. That means an 58g (2oz) egg will take 58 minutes to cook. While the eggs are cooking, dice some potatoes and cook them very slowly in some duck fat until they are golden brown then season with salt. When the eggs are ready, place the potatoes down first then very carefully peel the eggs and place onto the potatoes. Season to taste and top with shavings of black truffle. A truly delicious combination!

How about a truffled cauliflower gratin?

Preheat your oven to 190ºC (375ºF). Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauce pan, then stir in 3 tablespoons of flour. Stir and cook for a few minutes making sure there are no lumps. Whisking constantly, slowly add 2 cups of heated milk. Bring to boil and cook until it thickens. Remove from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, ½ a cup of grated Gruyère, ½ a cup of grated parmesan, some shaved black truffle to taste and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Mix thoroughly and set aside. Cut the cauliflower into florets and cook them in some boiling salted water until just al dente. Butter your oven dish, spread the cauliflower evenly on the bottom and cover with the sauce. Finally, top with a mixture of grated Gruyère, grated parmesan and breadcrumbs. Bake until golden brown.

Written by michelle picker

October 4, 2017 at 12:16 am


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sauerkraut-jarAll you need to make Sauerkraut is cabbage, salt and time.

Shred 1 whole cabbage finely and place it in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of fine sea salt and massage the salt into the cabbage until the cellular structure breaks down, releasing liquid and making the cabbage quite limp. Pack the cabbage tightly into a jar or crock, eliminating any air pockets and weighing it down so that it is submerged in it’s own juices. I find the easiest way to do this is to find a smaller jar which will fit quite snugly into the mouth of the larger jar. Fill the small jar with water to add weight. Now place the large jar on a tray or in a bucket as it will bubble up while it’s fermenting. Cover it loosely and allow it to ferment at room temperature for a week or a few months – it really depends how you like your sauerkraut. I like mine quite crunchy so I’m happy with a week but taste it as you go. When you’ve achieved what you want, refrigerate it to stop further fermentation. Sauerkraut is delicious as is but can also be cooked in a variety of ways.

This Ukrainian Sauerkraut Soup (Kapusnyak) is adapted from a recipe by Barbara Rolek.

To a large soup pot or pressure cooker add a ham hock, 10 cups of water, 1 chopped onion, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 bay leaf and some black peppercorns. Cook until the meat is falling off the bones. Remove the meat and when it’s cool enough to handle chop it into bite-size pieces. Set aside. To the soup add 1 large peeled and sliced carrot, 1 large peeled and diced potato, 30g (1 oz) of dried porcini mushrooms and 900g (2 lbs) of sauerkraut. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Mix 2 tablespoons of flour with 2 tablespoons sour cream. Add a few ladles of hot soup to this mixture before returning it to the soup. Mix well and allow the soup to thicken slightly. Now add the reserved meat to the soup, heat through and serve with fresh parsley and rye bread on the side.

I often cook sauerkraut with onions and apples but here’s a delicious version with tomatoes.

In a little vegetable oil fry 1 sliced onion with 1 minced clove of garlic until soft and transluscent. Add a can of chopped tomatoes, 450g (1 lb) of drained sauerkraut and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Simmer uncovered until the liquid evaporates and the tomatoes and sauerkraut begin to caramelise. Taste for seasoning and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

September 6, 2017 at 12:39 am

mushroom, walnut and lentil loaf

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Not in the mood for meat? Here’s a high protein, gluten free loaf that everyone will enjoy.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Line the base and sides of a 1.5 litre loaf tin with baking paper. Heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter in a saucepan and add a mirepoix of finely diced onion, celery and carrot in roughly equal portions. Cook until the onion is translucent and soft. Add 240g (8½ oz) of finely chopped mushrooms. I used Swiss brown mushrooms and added a sprinkling of powdered porcini mushroom for added flavour. Cook until the mushrooms are soft then add 2 finely diced or crushed cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of smoky paprika and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Continue to cook for a few minutes more before adding ½ a cup of red lentils and 1¼ cups of vegetable stock. Cook over low heat until the lentils are soft and all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and allow to col a little. Finally add 150g (5 oz) of crushed walnuts, 100g (3½ oz) of finely ground (instant) oats, 100g (3½ oz) of grated sharp cheddar cheese, 3 lightly beaten eggs and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and mix well to combine. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and press it down. Bake covered for 20 minutes and uncovered for a further 15-20 minutes until quite firm. Serve with tomato sauce and a fresh green salad.

spicy stir-fried squid + cabbage and bok choy with bean paste

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Now that I’m home I’m inspired to try some Korean cooking. Ojingeo bokkeum is a perennial favorite among Koreans and can be found on most restaurant menus. Like most Korean food it is hearty and spicy. This recipe is adapted from

In a large bowl mix together 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, ¼ of a cup of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste). Clean and score 450g (1 lb) of squid (or use thawed frozen squid) and cut it into pieces. Add it to the sauce, making sure it is thoroughly coated, and allow it to marinate for 20 minutes. Heat some oil in a wok or large frypan over high heat. Add 5 stalks green onions (cut into lengths), 1 green chili pepper (thinly sliced) and 1 red pepper cut into pieces. Sauté until the onions start to wilt. Now add the marinated squid and cook for approximately 1½ – 2 minutes until cooked through (the squid will curl and become opaque). Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tabelspoon of sesame oil. Remove to a platter and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

This cabbage and bok choy recipe (adapted from is a great foil for the spicy squid.

Cut 300g (10½ oz) of cabbage into pieces and separate the leaves of 3 large bok choy. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for approximately 5 minutes then add the bok choy for 1-2 minutes until the stems appear slightly less opaque. Strain the vegetables and rinse under cold running water to stop them cooking. In a bowl combine 1 minced garlic clove, 1 minced green onion, 2 tablespoons of doenjang (fermented soybean paste), 2 teaspoons of gochujang (hot pepper paste), a pinch of sugar and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and mix well. Squeeze the cabbage and bok choy to remove excess water and add to the bowl, mixing well. Serve garnished with sesame seeds.

Written by michelle picker

July 20, 2017 at 5:42 am

beef short rib stew

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This Korean stew is deliciously sweet and salty. Cook it slowly or (if you’re short on time) in a pressure cooker.

Sear 1.5kg (3 lbs) of beef short ribs in some vegetable oil over high heat then remove to a plate. Lower the heat and add 1 finely diced onion. Cook until soft before adding 4 large finely diced cloves of garlic and an equal amount of finely diced ginger. Cook for a minute more then deglaze the pan with 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. When the vinegar has cooked away add ¼ of a cup of apple juice, ¼ of a cup of orange juice, ½ a cup of mirin (sweet cooking sake), ¾ of a cup of soy sauce, 12-15 dried whole shiitake mushrooms and 3 cups of water (or 1½ if you are using a pressure cooker). Simmer for 2 hours (35 minutes in a pressure cooker) then add 2-3 diced carrots and a diced turnip or swede and cook for a further 20-30 minutes (5 minutes in a pressure cooker) until the vegetables are soft. Add 1 drained can of sliced water chestnuts and cook for a few minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a small bunch of sliced spring onions and check for seasoning. Thicken with cornflour if desired and serve with steamed rice and kimchi.

Written by michelle picker

May 27, 2017 at 6:02 am