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Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices

In Recipes on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

Dishes that incorporate all ingredients in the one pot for long, slow cooking have been popular almost since cooking began. Simmering ingredients slowly in a broth or a sauce retains the nutrients and extracts maximum flavour from the dish’s components. If using meat the cook can use the cheaper cuts that respond well to an extended cooking time making these kinds of dishes economical too. In the past, particularly in parts of Europe, flavourings and ingredients such as onions, garlic, spices, herbs and meats were often in short supply or prohibitively expensive to all but a small proportion of the population so, if poorer people had these ingredients, they wanted to extract the maximum flavour and nutrition. In other words, like many other of the world’s great dishes, stews, ragus and braises originated in the homes of peasant cooks.

I have been reading The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black. It is interesting to see that, contrary to modern perceptions, medieval cooks were endlessly inventive and that many of the dishes they made are not markedly different from the dishes we cook today. Here is part of a recipe for lamb or mutton stew: ‘Take veel or other[wise] motoun and smyte it into gobettes. Seeth it in good broth; cast thereto erbes-yhewe gode won, and a quantite of oynouns mynced, powdour fort and safroun …. seeth until they be tendre’ OR ‘Cut the meat into 5-cm/2-inch cubes. Put the stock into a stewpan and bring to the boil … then add the prepared onions, herbs, spices and wine. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook gently until the meat cubes are cooked through and tender.’ The method described here, apart from maybe browning the meat and onions prior to stewing, is pretty similar to modern techniques and I do love it when I get to ‘smyte my meat into gobettes’.

With the renewed popularity of slow cookers or crockpots stews and braises are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Boeuf bourgignonne, otherwise known as beef burgundy, is a peasant dish from the Burgundy region in France. Coming from this part of the country, an area that is famous for its wine, the dish naturally includes a good amount of red wine. Originally, the meat was marinated in red wine to tenderise it. The cook could then use cheaper cuts of meat and still achieve good results. Stews are often better the next day and boeuf bourgignonne is no exception. Leftovers can be made into a delicious pie with some puff pastry or topped with garlicky mashed potato to make a sort of gourmet cottage pie. I make mine from a recipe that I have carried in my head for many years but the one I have given you here, while very similar to mine, is based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate.

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Ingredients

800g oyster blade or chuck steak

1 medium brown onion (thinly sliced)

2 French shallots (thinly sliced)

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 thyme sprig or 1 rosemary sprig

300ml red wine

3 tbs olive oil

salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1 tbs plain flour

125g bacon (finely chopped)

16 baby onions OR 3 brown onions cut into thin slices

25 small mushrooms OR 5 large flat or portobello mushrooms sliced into largish pieces

4 tbs chopped parsley

Onions, bacon,mushrooms

Method

The day before you cook the dish, trim the beef of excess fat and sinew and cut it into 4-6 pieces. Place in a bowl with the onion, shallots, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Cover with wine and stir in 1 tbs of olive oil.

The following day lift the meat, onion, garlic and shallots from the wine and place on a cloth to dry. Reserve the wine and the herbs as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F)

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides. Add the butter to the pan, followed by the reserved onion, shallots and garlic, stir well. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add the reserved wine and the reserved herbs and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for about two hours in the oven or on the stove top on a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and saute the bacon over a medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the baby onions and brown well all over. Remove the onions, set aside and cook the mushrooms in the same pan for 2 minutes.

Towards the end of the 2 hours, add the bacon, onions and mushrooms to the casserole and return to the oven or stove top for a further 20 – 30 minutes.

*I tend to let my boeuf bourgignonne simmer for a bit longer, about 2 and a half to 3 hours for the first stage and then a further half hour to 40 minutes after you have added the bacon, onions and mushrooms.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

Note: If making this recipe in a slow cooker you may need to adjust the times accordingly. You could let the first stage go in the slow cooker while you are out and then add the bacon, onions and mushrooms when you get home.

If you do not have time to marinate the meat overnight in the wine, a couple of hours in the marinade will still yield good results.

Pasticcio ticks all the boxes: tasty, easy, versatile and cheap.

In Recipes on May 27, 2017 at 4:06 am

Pasticcio or Pastichio is an Italian dish that roughly translates as ‘pasta bake’. There is also a Greek version called Pastisio that is very similar but includes some Greek flavours in the meat sauce and egg yolks in the bechamel sauce. Whatever the origin of this dish is it has always been a favourite of mine. As a child my mother used to make it often using bolognese sauce, bechemal sauce, shell pasta or penne and lots of grated cheese. She also did another version with bolognese sauce and instead of bechemal she used quark, a tangy firm variety of cottage cheese that is of Eastern European origin. Both versions were then topped with grated cheese and baked in the oven until bubbling and golden brown.

For my mother, I think pasticcio was a way of using up leftover bolognese sauce and even cold pasta if she had made a large amount. I use it in the same way, making a large batch of bolognese sauce, freezing half of it for future use and incorporating the other half into a pasta bake. I also make a variety of other pasta bakes that don’t use bolognese sauce. For a vegetarian version you can use roasted pumpkin, red capsicum and whole roasted garlic cloves, sauteed leek, chopped spinach and parsley. You just fold these ingredients through the cooked pasta with the bechamel sauce and the grated cheese in the same way you would if using the bolognese sauce, I then top with more grated cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs and bake in a moderate oven.

Bolognese Pasta Bake

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For the Bolognese Sauce:

Ingredients

750g veal and pork mince or lean beef mince (preferably Halal)

1 large brown onion (chopped)

1 large carrot (chopped)

2-3 stalks celery (chopped)

3-4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

150g finely sliced button mushrooms (optional)

2 rashers chopped bacon (optional)

1-2 tbs tomato paste

1 x 400 g can Italian diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 a cinnamon stick

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar (optional)

18581576_710201105771479_4506964414864886524_n Celery, carrot and onion

Method

Heat a large cast iron casserole dish to medium heat. Add a little olive oil and brown the meat, breaking it up with a spoon as you fry. When browned, remove from the casserole and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the celery, carrot and onion (mushrooms and bacon too, if using) until soft. Add the garlic, spices and dried herbs, fry for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and gently fry for a further 30 seconds, then add the diced tomatoes and gently fry for another minute. Add the meat back into the pot, bring to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer, Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar (if using). Cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

18486429_710201205771469_1655803027041746648_n Bolognese

For the Bechemal Sauce:

Ingredients

2-3 tbs plain flour

2-3 tbs butter

300 ml milk (or more if needed)

freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook gently for a couple of mins to get rid of the floury taste, this is called a roux.  Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, until all the milk is used up and you have a smooth sauce.  Add bay leaf, nutmeg and seasoning.  Set aside.

For the Pasticcio:

Ingredients

Bechamel sauce

1/2 of the Bolognese sauce

300-350g rigatoni or penne pasta (cooked)

300g grated tasty cheese (I also often use a combination of mozzarella and kefalogravieria)

2 tbs freshly grated Parmesan

2 tbs Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

In a large bowl mix together the cooked pasta, 2/3 of the bechamel sauce, 2/3 of the grated cheese, 1tbs of the Parmesan and 1/2 of the bolognese sauce. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and tumble the mixture in. Smooth it out until even then top with the rest of the bolognese sauce, the remaining bechemal sauce and the rest of the grated cheese. In a small bowl combine the other 1tbs of Parmesan, the Panko breadcrumbs and the dried herbs. Sprinkle over the top and drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in a preheated moderate (175-180 degrees) oven for about 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta Bake

Bubbling and golden pasticcio

 

Middle Eastern Food: You say dolma and I say dolmeh

In Recipes on April 15, 2017 at 1:07 am

I have been interested in the fresh, healthy and wonderfully tasty food of the Middle East for a long time but in the last two years, since I moved to the Melbourne suburb of Coburg where I am surrounded by Middle Eastern eateries, my interest has increased. My two favourite places are Zaatar on the corner of Sydney Road and Munro Street, I particularly like their mezza, salads and toasted zoccacias and Al Alamy at 6/51 Waterfield Street, both deliver good, fresh food at reasonable prices. Al Alamy also sells a range of Middle Eastern groceries such as dried pulses, nuts and specialty items like pomegranate molasses and kishk. Zaatar is owned by Australians of Lebanese descent but I also have Egyptian, Iranian and Turkish options within walking distance.

I have also been reading cookbooks on Middle Eastern cuisine for a long time and have cooked many recipes. I have made meat kibbeh from a Cypriot recipe (see More from the Greek diaspora in August 2011) and Almond Bar: 100 Delicious Syrian Recipes by Sharon Salloum has a really good recipe for pumpkin kibbeh that I want to try. I have also been reading Lebanese (see Lovely Lebanese in December 2012 for meat and pine nut pastries), Turkish and Egyptian recipe books and I have noticed a common thread between all these recipes. Hommous, baba ghanoush, kebab, kafta, kibbeh and falafel (see The chickpea may well save the world in January 2014 for Hiba’s falafel) all seem to appear regularly with only slight variations in spelling and ingredients. This is probably why the most informative book turned out to be The Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Basan. In this book the recipes are organised by ingredient not country and this allows the commonalities of all these dishes from diverse Middle Eastern countries, to shine through. Of course, every country would claim that their version of a dish is the only true and authentic one but if you look at the history of the region, the conflicts, the trade and population movements that occurred over the centuries, not least the occupation of the region for centuries by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, it becomes clear that this sharing of food and ideas is something that has always been part of the Middle East, something is as fundamental to the culture as hospitality itself.

Dolma or dolmeh is a dish served throughout the Middle East. Dolma of this kind is generally reserved for celebrations as it is quite complex to make. When we think of dolma we tend to think of stuffed vine leaves (there is a connection here too to the Mediterranean) but dolma is simply a term used to describe any vegetable that is stuffed, generally with rice and with or without meat. Lamb and broad beans can also be added at the bottom of the pot.  My friend Hiba is from Iraq and these are the delicious dolma she recently made for Sunday lunch.

Cabbage rolls served

Dolma: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls and Stuffed Onions

Ingredients

1 large cabbage

3-4 brown onions (finely chop one and reserved for the filling)

5 fresh tomatoes (chopped)

4-5 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)

Plenty of chopped flat leaved parsley

1 tbs tomato paste

300-500 grams lamb mince

1 1/2 cups uncooked short grain white rice

Pomegranate molasses (optional)

1-2 lemons

Tamarind (optional)

1-2 tsp cumin powder

1-2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp allspice powder

1-2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp turmeric

Dash of Worcestershire sauce or ketchup

2-3 barbeque lamp chops

Enough chicken stock or water to just cover the rolls

A little olive oil for frying

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Method

Core the cabbage and carefully remove the leaves. You can reserve the heart for later use. Blanch the leaves in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, a few at a time, until wilted. Drain well. Cut the bigger leaves in half, removing the thick central rib. Set aside.

Use a sharp knife to make a cut in each onion from top to bottom on one side. Blanch in boiling water for about 10 mins until they are soft and start to separate. Drain well. Separate the layers and set aside.

For the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onion. Fry until soft and translucent. Place in a bowl with the meat, rice, spices and finely chopped parsley.  Season with salt and pepper and combine thoroughly, it is easiest to do this if you mix the ingredients with clean hands rather than a spoon.

Lay some of the cabbage leaves out on a clean tea towel. Place a tablespoon of filling on the edge of each leaf, fold in the sides and roll quite tightly pressing with your hands as you go to make sure all the filling is contained. Stuff the onion layers with the same amount of filling, placing it in the hollow of each onion and rolling it up as tightly as you can.

Lightly oil a heavy based, cast iron casserole dish. Lay the lamb chops neatly at the bottom of the dish. Season and sprinkle with some of the chopped garlic, tomato, lemon juice and ketchup, also some pomegranate molasses and tamarind water (if using). Place a layer of the stuffed onions on top of this and repeat the seasoning and sprinkling procedure. Next, place a layer of the cabbage rolls on top and continue until all the cabbage rolls are used, seasoning and sprinkling between the layers. Pour over just enough chicken stock or water to cover. Invert a heavy plate over the rolls, cover and bring to a simmer. Leave to cook over a low heat for 1 hour. Serve hot or warm.

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The cooked dolma inverted onto pita bread to serve

 

Japanese Curry – when inauthentic is as good as it gets

In Recipes on February 27, 2017 at 3:31 am

Japanese curry is a hearty and satisfying comfort food, enjoyed not only in Japan but all around the world. You can get beef varieties, chicken varieties, pretty much any variation that can be made with curry sauce and ladled liberally over fluffy white rice. My all time favourite is Chicken Curry Katsu Don. This is a delicious thick curry containing vegetables, always chunks of potato and carrot but other vegetables can also be added and topped with a cutlet of crumbed and fried chicken. Of course, the dish is delicious because of the crumbed chicken on top but it is the curry sauce that gives it a distinctive and thoroughly Japanese taste. The Japanese were introduced to curry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century via British visitors from what was then the British Raj or colonial British India. Like other British/Indian hybrid creations, think kedgeree, chutney, Worcestershire sauce and Clive of India or Keen’s Curry Powder, the curry introduced to Japan was not an authentic Indian recipe but a recipe filtered through Western palates. The curry is milder and less complex than Indian recipes and often has quite a sweet flavour.The major difference between Indian and Japanese curry is in the cooking method and the spice blend. Indian curries are generally made from a base of fried onions, chillies, ginger, garlic and other aromatics with a complex and individual blend of spices added depending on what type of curry you are making. Japanese curry is made from fried onions, blended commercial curry powder and flour cooked with oil to make a roux. Most Japanese don’t bother with this process anymore and just buy the already mixed curry cubes that are readily available all over the country and make for a quick and satisfying meal on the run.

curry-cubes

Japanese Curry Cubes

The curry cubes are also easily found in most Asian grocers here in Melbourne and in most other Western cities. The first time I made Chicken Curry Katsu Don I found some in my local KFL supermarket in Sydney Road, Coburg. My latest batch I made with my son using curry cubes he brought back with him from his recent trip to Japan.

chicken-curry-katsu-don

Hearty and delicious Japanese comfort food

Chicken Curry Katsu Don

Ingredients

2 large skinless free range chicken breasts

Seasoned flour for coating

Egg and milk for dipping

Japanese Panko breadcrumbs for coating

Sunflower oil for frying

4 large potatoes (peeled and cut into chunks)

4 carrots (peeled and cut into chunks)

1 litre of water

4-5 Japanese curry cubes

Cooked white rice for serving

Method

Halve the chicken breasts and butterfly each half. Using a meat mallet gently beat out the pieces of chicken until they are approximately 1cm thick. Coat with flour, dip in the egg mixture and finish with a coating of the Panko breadcrumbs. When all pieces are crumbed place on a plate and refrigerate to ‘set the crumb’. Meanwhile, place the vegetables in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes or until the vegetables are about half cooked. Break the curry cubes into the water and reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the crumbed chicken breasts from the refrigerator and heat 1.5-2cm sunflower oil in a heavy based frying pan until bubbles form around a wooden spoon handle when inserted. Gently fry the chicken cutlets two at a time until golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain well. Continue cooking the curry and vegetables until the sauce thickens. To serve, place some white rice in the bottom of a bowl, ladle over the vegetable curry and top with the sliced chicken cutlet.

Hint: Serve with Japanese pickles, tonkatsu sauce and half a hard boiled egg

From China with Love

In Recipes on September 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm

As a teacher of English to international students I am lucky enough to meet people from many different countries and cultures.  My students at the moment are largely from Vietnam, India, Thailand and China.  They all know that I am interested in food so we often discuss their different cuisines in class.  Sometimes they bring  the other students and I food to sample so when my ex student Jingjing decided to do her presentation on authentic spicy crab and dumplings (and promised to bring samples) we knew we were in for something special.  We were not disappointed.  Following an excellent and informative presentation, Jingjing unpacked hot spicy crab and pork dumplings.  A fellow student was sent to the Chinese restaurant around the corner for some rice and that was my lunch for the day sorted.

A couple of months later, when Jingjing had begun studying at university and was no longer my student, she was good enough to come around to my house to cook a delicious and generous meal for my friends and family and, in the process, allow me to observe her cooking techniques in the kitchen.  She arrived on the day accompanied by a couple of friends and a number of large bags containing seafood, vegetables, tofu, sauces and noodles.  Within ten minutes she had taken command of my kitchen and was chopping away while her friend rinsed crabs in the sink.  Another friend was soaking wood ear mushrooms and goji berries.  In rapid succession (Chinese cooking is fast) Jingjing presented us with spicy crab, glass noodles with prawns and baby octopus, Shanghai chicken wings, wok tossed spicy cabbage, wood ear mushrooms and Ma Po tofu.  We hurried to keep up with notes and utensils but were soon admonished to sit down and eat by the cook who did not want her food to go cold.  We all ate way too much but fortunately, due to the more than generous servings, there was still plenty left when Jingjing finally sat down to join us.  Thanks to Jingjing and her friends for a great evening and a fantastic meal.  Here’s the recipe for Jingjing’s spicy crab.

Jingjing’s Spicy Crab

Jingjing's delicious spicy crab

Jingjing’s delicious spicy crab

Ingredients

5 blue swimmer crabs, cleaned, legs removed and cut into 5cm chunks

2 good knobs of ginger, julienned

2 large green capsicums, de seeded and cut into chunks

1 long red chilli

1 long green chilli, both de seeded and cut into chunks

1 red onion thinly sliced

5 celery stalks. chopped into chunks

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3-4 spring onions, chopped

4-5 dried chillies

potato flour 

1/2 cup peanut oil

2 tbs oyster sauce

1 tbs light soy sauce

2 tbs chilli sauce

1 bunch fresh coriander

Method

Coat crab bodies and legs in potato flour.  Heat 1/2 cup peanut oil in a wok until sizzling.  Fry crab in batches until golden.  Remove and set aside.  Then add the red onion, ginger and dried chillies, stir fry for a minute.  Return the crab to the wok and add the remaining chopped vegetables and garlic.  Stir fry for a minute or two.  Add chilli sauce, soy sauces and oyster sauce.  Toss well to coat.  Cook for a further two minutes adding a little boiling water if it becomes too dry.  Add one bunch coriander (chopped) and serve immediately.

Cleaning crab

Cleaned crab

The vegies were chopped within minutes

The vegies were chopped within minutes

The spicy Ma Po Tofu paste that Jingjing used

The spicy Ma Po Tofu paste that Jingjing used

 

Shakin’ my bobotie!

In Recipes on March 2, 2014 at 8:08 am

Bobotie is a dish that originated in the Cape Malay community in what is now Capetown in South Africa.  The Cape Malay community was originally composed of Javanese or modern day Indonesian slaves who spoke Malayu, hence the name Cape Malay.  The community began in the 1600s as an outpost of the Dutch East India Company.  The original inhabitants were later followed by large numbers of Indian slaves.  They also intermarried with other slaves from South East Asia, Madagasgar and native African groups.  Bobotie is based on an Indonesian dish made with meat and eggs before being baked in a water bath.  Later, probably due to the Indian influences, curry powder and chutney were added.  Bobotie has been popular in South Africa since the 17th century and it is a dish that is still commonly found on South African tables today.  My friend, Fionna is originally from South Africa.  She sourced this recipe from an elderly South African relative who still lives in the country.  Recently she cooked it for myself and some other friends.  The result was delicious.

Bobotie

bobotie

Yummy bobotie

Ingredients

2 large onions (finely chopped)

25 ml sunflower oil

3 tsp curry powder

knob of fresh ginger (peeled and finely chopped)

2 large cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric

a handful of chopped dried apricots

1 kg minced beef

2 thick slices bread (soaked in milk)

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tbs apricot jam

125 ml fruit chutney

juice of 1 lemon (you can also add the finely grated zest)

3 -4 fresh bay leaves

20 ml tomato puree

Topping:

2 free range eggs

250 ml milk

pinch sea salt

Method

Fry onions in the oil until translucent, add curry powder, dried herbs, cumin, ginger, garlic and turmeric.  Fry until fragrant.  Add the meat, soaked bread (roughly torn) sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Fry for 10 mins. or until the meat is lightly browned.  Add the chutney, apricot jam, lemon juice and tomato puree.  Simmer until all ingredients are well amalgamated (about 10-15 mins.)  Spoon into a large baking dish.  Top with the bay leaves.  Whisk the eggs, milk and salt for the topping.  Pour over the meat mixture.  Bake at 180ºC for 30 mins.

Hint

We used Halal beef mince which is vastly superior to any mince you will find in the supermarket

 

The chickpea may well save the world

In Recipes on January 20, 2014 at 5:10 am

A couple of years ago I saw a documentary about future world food shortages.  In the program it was argued that it may well be the humble chickpea that saves the world from starvation.  This legume produces a high yield, richly nutritious food under very arid conditions and this is probably why it is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  One of the most popular ways to eat the chickpea in many Middle Eastern countries is in the form of the delicious, fried street food, falafel.

In my long cooking life I have cooked many dishes with a pretty good success rate but felafel was something that had always eluded me.  I tried a number of times with soaked and cooked chickpeas only to end up with an oily sludge at the bottom of the pan.  For years I gave up on them and bought my falafel from people who knew how to cook them.  Recently, to my great relief, the mystery was solved thanks to my friend, Hiba who hails from Iraq.  The dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight, she told me, but not cooked.  The cooking was the reason my falafel always fell apart.  Hiba gave me a foolproof recipe but, not content with that, I invited her over to cook them with me so I would know all the tricks.  Here is what we made – quite simply, the best falafel I have ever tasted.

Hiba’s Falafel

Falafel

Hiba’s tasty falafel

Ingredients

1 large onion (peeled and roughly chopped)

3 cloves garlic

4 – 5 cups chickpeas (soaked overnight but not cooked)

1 bunch flat leaved parsley

1 bunch coriander

1 1/2 – 2 tsps ground cumin

1 1/2 tsps ground coriander

2 – 3 tbs sesame seeds

freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

2 tsps ground sea salt

1 cooked potato skin on (peeled)

1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Method

Into a large food processor bowl add the onion, garlic, torn parsley and coriander.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add the chickpeas and blend until fairly smooth, it doesn’t matter if there are a few rougher pieces.  Add up to 1/2 a cup water if the mixture is too dry.   Add the cumin, coriander, black pepper, salt and sesame seeds.  Pulse until incorporated, not too much.  Place mixture in a large bowl, add the grated potato, mix together.  Just before you fry, add the bicarbonate of soda.  Let the mixture sit for 10 mins. while you get a wok or deep fryer heated up.  Place 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil and 1 1/2 cups olive oil in a wok or deep fryer, heat until the oil bubbles around the handle of a wooden spoon dipped in.  Use a tablespoon and your hand to fashion little patties, drop these into the oil carefully regulating the temperature of the oil with more falafel or by turning the heat down a little.  Be careful not to burn them.  Serve immediately with pita bread, dips and the salad of your choice.

falafel with dips and salad

Falafel served with dips and salad

Hint

Make a quick tahini sauce to go with your falafel.  3 tbs tahini, 2 cloves garlic (crushed), juice of 1 lemon, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a couple of tablespoons of water to thin the mixture down.

This time I wasn’t talking turkey

In Recipes on January 5, 2014 at 4:19 am

I had a seafood Xmas this year and I didn’t miss the turkey at all.  The warm weather combined with the fact that my Xmas was spread over two separate days to include my son and his girlfriend who were overseas on the actual day, meant that something quick and easy was required.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of turkey anyway finding it to be a rather tasteless meat even when properly cooked and on a hot day the thought  of a big roast meal was not all that enticing.  Without the turkey, Xmas was a much less stressful event this year for all concerned.  We had the seafood along with some salads, cold meats, dips, cheeses, fruit and and an excellent pear and chocolate panettone (supplied by my daughter).  There was really nothing more we needed    When it comes to fresh seafood I think it is important to keep it simple.  I had some lovely prawns (shells on) from the Footscray Market and I thought I would go a bit ‘retro’ with garlic prawns.  This is a very easy meal best served as soon as it is cooked.

Prawns with Garlic and Parsley

Garlic prawns

Delicious garlic prawns

Ingredients

1 kg fresh prawns (shells on)

4 – 5 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

2 tbs olive oil

65 g unsalted butter

3 tbs flat leaved parsley (coarsely chopped)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

lemon wedges and salad greens to serve

Method

Shell the prawns removing the head and the intestinal tube but leaving the tails on.  Set aside.  In a large heavy based pan gently heat the oil and butter until the butter is foaming.  Reduce the heat and add the chopped garlic.  Allow the garlic to gently infuse in the oil and butter without burning.  When the garlic is cooked (3 – 5 mins) turn up the heat and add the prawns, cook until translucent and slightly browned, don’t overcook.  Season and add the chopped parsley, toss and turn off the heat.  Serve on a platter with salad greens and lemon wedges.

Hint

See ‘Living in the 70s or the Theory of Eternal Recurrence’ in March 2011 for more retro recipes.

If it’s versatility you’re after, use your noodle

In Recipes on October 28, 2013 at 2:31 am

I make lots of different noodle dishes depending on the ingredients that are in the cupboard and the type of noodle I have.  Throughout Asia, noodle dishes are served as a quick and satisfying meal, the noodles replacing rice as the main carbohydrate.  At my local market there are flat rice noodles from Vietnam, Hokkein noodles from China and rice stick noodles from Thailand to name only a few.  One of the most famous noodle dishes is Pad Thai, this dish from Thailand is now popular worldwide.  Generally made with rice stick noodles and including fried tofu along with the prawns, I made this version using Singapore noodles as I had some in the fridge.  The fried tofu I had was unfortunately past its best so I omitted that but the result was still very tasty.  Here’s what I made.

Singapore noodles with prawns and peanuts

Pad Thai

A variation on Pad Thai

Ingredients

1 packet fresh Singapore noodles

300g peeled fresh prawns (tails on)

1 thumb sized piece of ginger (finely chopped)

2 tbs finely chopped coriander root

2 tbs white part of spring onion (finely sliced)

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1 small red capsicum (deseeded and finely chopped)

200g bean shoots

1 handful green chard leaves (finely shredded)

100g unsalted peanuts

fresh coriander leaves

2 tbs green part of spring onion (finely sliced)

fried shallots and lemon wedges to serve

1 1/2 tbs Sriracha chilli sauce

1 1/2 tbs soy sauce

1 1/2 tbs peanut butter

a little water

2 tbs peanut oil

Method

Prepare noodles according to directions on packet.  Drain and set aside.  Mix together the chilli sauce, peanut butter, soy sauce and a little water to thin.  Set aside.  Heat oil in a wok or large pan and fry the white parts of the spring onion, the coriander root, the ginger, the garlic and the red capsicum gently.  Add the prawns and fry until they become translucent and have changed colour.  Pour in the sauce and toss, then add the noodles, chard, bean shoots, fresh coriander leaves, peanuts and green parts of the spring onion.  Toss well to mix  the ingredients.   Serve immediately garnished with more fresh coriander, fried shallots and lemon or lime wedges.

Greek Comforter

In Recipes on August 20, 2013 at 5:26 am

If the Greeks have a version of comfort food like the Italian lasagne or the English Shepherd’s pie it is certainly moussaka.  Layers of eggplant and zucchini, potato too if you like, with meat sauce and cheesy bechamel.  There is nothing not to like.  The authentic moussaka doesn’t always use the kefalograviera cheese that I use in mine but I find it to be an essential component.  I suspect the Greeks themselves vary this dish according to what ingredients they have on hand anyway as it is definitely what we would call a ‘homestyle’ dish.  In my perfect moussaka the meat sauce needs to contain a subtle hint of nutmeg and cinnamon, the eggplant and other vegetables need to be properly cooked and, finally, you need to use the Greek kefalograviera cheese in the bechamel sauce and sprinkled liberally throughout.  Kefalograviera cheese is available at Greek or Mediterranean delis, I found mine at the Footscray market.  It is the same cheese I use when making saganyaki for mezedes (see ‘Sometimes I Hear a Mermaid Singing’ in August 2011), you can imagine the result when it is melted through a moussaka.  On the freezing day I made this I couldn’t stop at one serving and neither could my dining companion.  This recipe is based on one I found in the book My Greek Family Table by Maria Bernadis.

Moussaka

Moussaka

Moreish moussaka

Ingredients

For the meat sauce:

5oog good quality lamb or beef mince

1 large onion (finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)

1/2 whole nutmeg (freshly grated)

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tin diced Italian tomatoes

For the vegetables:

2 large eggplants (sliced)

5 – 6 small zucchini (sliced lengthways)

5 potatoes (sliced)

2 tbs olive oil

For the bechamel sauce:

50g butter

3 – 4 tbs flour

3 cups milk

1 free range egg

100g kefalograviera cheese (grated)

For the assembly:

100g extra kefalograviera cheese for sprinkling between the layers

Method

Heat a little olive oil in a heavy based pan and cook the meat, onion, garlic and spices over medium heat, stirring constantly.  When meat is browned and broken up add the tinned tomatoes and cook further until the tomatoes are reduced by at least half (about 15 – 20 mins).  Set aside to cool for 30 mins.  Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Heat a little more olive oil in a heavy based pan and fry off your eggplant, zucchini and potato (if using) until golden brown.  Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk vigorously stirring until smooth before adding more.  When all the milk is incorporated and the sauce is smooth, remove from the heat and whisk through the egg.  Add the grated cheese and cook, stirring, over a gentle heat until the cheese is also incorporated.  Remove from heat and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Smear the bottom of a long,  deep baking dish with some of the meat sauce, layer the potato, the bechamel and a little of the grated cheese and repeat the layers with first the eggplant and then the zucchini.  Finish with the bechamel and some more of the grated cheese.  Cook uncovered in a 180°C oven for 35 – 40 mins (turning once) until the top is brown and bubbling.  Rest for 10 – 15 mins before serving.