food for thought

by michelle

Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

warrigal spinach

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Warrigal spinach, is a bush food native to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Chile and Argentina. Captain Cook ate it aboard  the Endeavour to prevent scurvy and Joseph Banks took it back to England to cultivate.

The plant is drought resistant, thrives on neglect, self seeds and grows so fast that it can be harvested in a few weeks. It’s flavour is similar to spinach and it can be used in much the same way as it’s namesake. Like spinach it contains oxalates which can be removed by blanching. Try it in a pie with feta, in fritters, cannelloni, dumplings or a pesto. Here is a simple stir-fry for an Asian meal.

Wash and dry the Warrigal spinach and finely dice 2 cloves of garlic. Heat some oil in a wok until very hot and briefly add the garlic before adding the Warrigal spinach. Cook, stirring, until the stems are cooked and not too tough. Add some dried chilli flakes to taste and season with salt and ground white pepper. Serve hot.


Written by michelle picker

February 7, 2018 at 12:53 am

turmeric chilli squid + belacan asparagus

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Fifi cooked up a storm when she stayed recently. This Malaysian squid dish includes ingredients popular throughout South-East Asia such as turmeric and kaffir lime leaves.

Place 700g (1½ lbs) of fresh squid rings in a non-reactive bowl and add 1½ teaspoons of ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon of chilli flakes, 1 finely minced clove of garlic, 3 finely sliced kaffir lime leaves, 1 tablespoon of grated palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, the juice of ½ – 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper and 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the squid to marinate for at least a few hours before cooking in a hot wok until just cooked through and still tender. Serve with steamed rice. 

Roasted shrimp paste or belacan is a common addition to Malaysian dishes. Here it adds amazing flavour to asparagus and zucchini.

Soak 1-2 tablespoons of dried shrimp to soften them a little. Wrap a small piece (approximately 2 teaspoons) of belacan in foil and roast it over a flame or in the oven – it’s done when it smells roasted. Chop a few brown shallots, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh red chillies and place them in a mortar and pestle (or a small food processor) with the shrimp and shrimp paste. Pound (or process) to a rough paste (rempah). Cut the asparagus and zucchini into similar sized pieces. Heat some oil in a wok until very hot and add the rempah, cooking until fragrant. Add the vegetables and stir constantly until just cooked. This dish shouldn’t require any seasoning as the belacan and dried shrimp are salty but check the seasoning just in case and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

January 10, 2018 at 12:34 am

christmas 2017

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This year our Christmas lunch was a lovely eclectic mixture of food. Our guests brought the entree of antipasti.

For the main course we roasted butterflied chickens over charcoal with a garlic, sage and rosemary butter under the skin. We added oak chips from Chardonnay barrels to the fire for a smoky flavour. Our gravy was Chef John’s turkey gravy recipe made with chicken wings instead.

Side dishes included potatoes and heirloom carrots cooked in duck fat, a lovely fresh salad,

and a wonderful stuffing following this recipe.

My next post will be dedicated to our Christmas dessert.

Written by michelle picker

December 27, 2017 at 12:18 am

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