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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.

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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.

Banh Mi: pork’s on a roll

In Recipes on July 28, 2013 at 4:52 am

You can buy some very good pork rolls (or Banh Mi) in Footscray and they’re usually pretty cheap.  Try To’s Bakery on the corner of Leeds and Hopkins Street or Nhu Lan a few doors further down in Hopkins Street.  At both of these places you should be able to get pork roll satisfaction for around four dollars, a bargain in anyone’s book.  The pork roll is an interesting dish in Vietnamese cuisine, it perfectly showcases the blend of Vietnamese ingredients and techniques with the French influences from their long period of occupation in the country.   The baguette which is now ubiquitous in Vietnam is a French influence but the locals put their own twist on it adding some rice flour to the dough to make a lighter, crunchier version.  The pate which is liberally slathered on the baguette before the other ingredients are added is also a French influence but ultimately these popular street snacks are Vietnamese in flavour due to the marinated pork, Asian slaw and liberal amounts of coriander and chilli.

Having tasted a number of versions I naturally decided to make my own.  I found some excellent and cheap pork fillet at Phuoc Hung Butchers in Leeds Street, picked up half a dozen plain baguette rolls at To’s Bakery, some vegetables at Little Saigon in Nicholson Street and walked home via Seddon where I picked up some chicken and cognac pate from Bongiovanni’s in Victoria Street.  When I got home this is what I made.

Banh Mi

Banh Mi

Tasty Banh Mi

Ingredients

For the marinade:

600g pork fillet

3 tbs Hoi Sin sauce

1 tbs Shao Hsing wine

1 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs light soy sauce

1 tsp sugar or honey

1 tbs peanut oil

For the Asian slaw:

1 large carrot (grated)

1-2 cups cabbage (finely shredded)

1 tbs rice wine vinegar

1 tbs peanut oil

1 tbs Sriracha hot chilli sauce

For the drizzling sauce:

2 tbs fish sauce

1 tsp tamarind paste

juice of half a lime

2 tsp sugar

1 long red chilli

a little water

For the garnish:

3 tbs good quality mayonnaise

pate (can be bought or homemade)

1 contintental cucumber (cut into batons)

1 long red chilli (finely sliced)

1 bunch coriander (leaves washed and picked)

6 baguette rolls

Method

Mix together the ingredients for the marinade and add the pork.  Set aside for one hour.  Roast the pork in a pre-heated 200°C oven for 20 mins.  Reduce heat to 180°C and roast for a further half hour or until firm when prodded with your finger.  Remove from oven and set aside to rest.  Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the Asian slaw and the drizzling sauce.  Slice baguette rolls lengthways, slather with pate and add a little Asian slaw.  Arrange four or five slices of pork fillet on roll, add a little more Asian slaw and some mayonnaise.  Top with some cucumber batons, lots of fresh coriander leaves and some fresh chilli, drizzle with the sauce.  Serve.

Banh Mi

Fresh and satisfying pork rolls

That vegan is quite intriguin’

In Recipes on June 11, 2013 at 3:25 am

Apologies for the terrible title, I defy you to come up with something that rhymes with vegan!  Title aside, I want to talk about my attitude when it comes to food intolerances, food preferences and allergies.  As a curious cook I embrace the challenge that is presented when I have to prepare food for someone who is gluten intolerant for example, or vegan.  Though I realise that there is a huge difference between those who have chosen to be vegan or vegetarian and those who have a genuine physical reaction to certain foods such as those with coeliac disease or an allergic reaction to an ingredient. However, I do think the same respect should be shown and I would never serve anything to a vegan or vegetarian that had been in contact with meat.

When cooking for those with specific dietary requirements I often look to food from other cultures for inspiration.  The Indians are very good at preparing vegetarian dishes because they have a long tradition of cooking without meat and a fair chunk of their population have always been vegetarian due to various religious restrictions.  Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines also have long experience in cooking vegetarian cuisine often because there was no or very little meat available to those who were not well off.  Mexican, Italian and French cuisines also have some great peasant dishes that are vegetarian usually involving some form of dried bean or an abundant seasonal vegetable as a starting point.  I prefer to find a recipe that has always been vegetarian  rather than make a pale imitation of a dish that usually contains meat.  Vietnamese rice paper  rolls are a versatile dish that can be made with meat, chicken, seafood or tofu.  The ones I made here are vegan but you could easily substitute some barbeque pork or a prawn for the tofu that I have used.

Vegan Rice Paper Rolls

Image

Ingredients

For the scrambled tofu:

150g soft tofu

1 tsp chilli flakes

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

4 spring onions (green parts only, finely sliced)

dash of light soy sauce (or gluten free soy sauce)

a little peanut oil

For the rolls:

2 handfuls rice vermicelli noodles (soaked in warm water until soft, then drained)

1/2 a daikon radish (peeled and julienned)

1 carrot ( peeled and julienned)

1 cup bean shoots

1 long red chilli (de-seeded and julienned)

6 spring onions (green parts only, cut into batons)

1/2 bunch coriander

12 rice paper wrappers

bowl of warm water

Hoi Sin sauce (or a gluten free alternative)

Method

Heat a little oil in a heavy based frypan, add the chili flakes and garlic and fry for a minute, add the soft tofu and the five spice powder.  Stir to ‘scramble’ the tofu and cook until well incorporated.  Stir through the spring onions and soy sauce and set aside to cool.  To compile the rolls: Have a bowl of warm water and a wooden board at the ready.  Have your other ingredients and your tofu nearby.  Wet a rice paper sheet in the warm water and lay it out on your board, Smear a little Hoi Sin sauce on the sheet and then place a a couple of coriander leaves and a small amount of rice vermicelli noodles in the middle.  Top with a small amount of all the other ingredients making sure you have enough for all twelve rolls.  Turn the sides of the sheet in and then roll up from the bottom finishing with the seam side down.  Place on a plate and continue until all the rolls are done.  Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.

Too many cooks?

In Recipes on May 26, 2013 at 4:47 am

I have spoken before about the great quality of the pork that is sold by Vietnamese butchers.  Recently I had a visit from some family members who live outside Melbourne and my own kids who live on the other side of town.  Since we are all quite passionately interested in food I thought they would enjoy a trip to Little Saigon in Nicholson Street here in Footscray.  This Vietnamese market is a great place to source a huge range of Asian ingredients.  After a bit of browsing and some debate about what to buy we headed for my house nearby armed with some lovely pork fillet, a couple of different Asian greens and one or two Asian condiments that I had run out of.

Back at my place we had three generations of cooks all vying to get near the stove.  This may seem like chaos to some people but it’s the sort of chaos I absolutely love.  I always feel closest to my family when I’m cooking with them and I’m very proud of how both my adult kids have developed into really good cooks.  Here’s what we made.

Stir Fried Pork with Asian Greens

pork and greeens

Yummy pork and greens

Ingredients

750 g pork fillet ( finely sliced against the grain)

For the marinade:

1 tbs light soy sauce

1 tbs dark soy sauce

1 tbs Hoi Sin sauce

1 tbs Shao Hsing wine

1 tbs oyster sauce

1 thumb sized piece of ginger (peeled and finely sliced)

1 tbs fresh coriander (finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic minced

few drops sesame oil

For the greens:

2-3 bunches pak choy, choy sum or any other Asian greens

1 tbs light soy sauce

2-3 tbs oyster sauce

2-3 cloves garlic

1 thumb sized piece of ginger (peeled and finely chopped)

1 long red chilli ( de-seeded and finely chopped)

a dash of water

Method

In a very hot wok heat a little peanut oil.  Add the pork and stir fry for 3-4 mins until cooked.  In another pan with a little more peanut oil add the garlic, chilli and ginger.  Fry for 30 seconds and then add the roughly chopped Asian greens, stir fry for 2-3 mins, add a dash of water and cover to let the greens steam for 2-3 mins.  Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Hint

Add a handful of unsalted, roasted cashews to the pork at the end, toss through.

Something borrowed …

In Recipes on May 1, 2013 at 1:50 am

I’ve had no time for anything at the moment so I’m doing a special blog today with the cooking and recipe done by my daughter.  She is an excellent cook and these little tarts were apparently devoured at the tea party to which she took them.  Enjoy!

Mini English Curd Tarts

Mini English Curd Tarts

Ingredients

Pastry: 1 quantity sweet shortcrust pastry – see ‘You put the lime in the coconut …’ in the vault April 2011 for the recipe

Filling:

200g ricotta

250g mascarpone

2 eggs

1/2 – 3/4 cup castor sugar

zest of half an orange (finely grated)

1/2 cup currants

1/2 a nutmeg (grated)

1/2 – 1 tsp vanilla extract (to taste)

Method

Preheat oven to 200° C,  roll out pastry and press into a greased muffin tin.  Blind bake until lightly golden, remove from oven to cool and reduce oven temperature to 180°C.  Mix all filling ingredients together until well incorporated.  Spoon into cooled pastry shells then cook for 20 – 40 mins or until the filling springs back when you lightly press it.  Garnish with icing sugar and lavender.

I’m never gloomy when I’ve got squeaky haloumi

In Recipes on February 14, 2013 at 12:36 am

Some cheeses are prized for their low melting points and elasticity – think fresh mozzarella, gruyere etc.  Other cheeses are just as prized for their higher melting point meaning they can be fried without turning into a gloopy mess – think kefalograviera and, of course, haloumi.    The Cypriots claim haloumi as their own but it is eaten throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  In recent years it has also become popular here in Australia.  Traditionally, the cheese was made with sheep or goat’s milk but most of the haloumi we buy here is now made with cow’s milk.  When bitten into, haloumi has a slightly squeaky texture that is most distinctive.  It is quite salty so no added salt is needed when cooking it.  We used ours in this easy salad.

Eggplant and Haloumi Salad

Haloumi and eggplant salad

Tasty fried haloumi

Ingredients

250 g haloumi

1 eggplant (sliced thinly)

100 g button mushrooms (sliced)

1 long red chilli (de-seeded and finely chopped)

2 tsp raw honey

1 tbs fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 tbs fresh flat leaved parsley (finely chopped)

2 tbs shelled pistachio nuts

1 lemon

olive oil for frying

Method

Heat a heavy based pan and fry the eggplant and mushrooms until done.  Set aside.  Cut the haloumi into batons and fry in some more olive oil until lightly golden.  Reduce heat and drizzle with the honey, add pistachios and fry for a further minute (be careful as the honey can burn).  Put some eggplant and mushrooms in the bottom of each bowl,  add herbs and chilli.  Top with haloumi and pistachios and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

Soup’s the thing if you’ve lost your bling

In Recipes on January 7, 2013 at 1:50 am

My daughter worked quite solidly over the Xmas and New year period.  This, combined with a cold, left her with laryngitis.  I’ve never had laryngitis myself but I felt for her as she attempted to communicate in a whisper over the phone.  Clearly, what she needed was a good restorative soup and a mother to make it of course.

Most cultures around the world have a soup or porridge that they serve to invalids.  There is the famous Jewish chicken soup alternatively known as ‘Jewish penicillin’,  there is the Italian brodo and the Vietnamese pho (for recipe see March 2011 It’s so good pho you).  In China there is also the nourishing soupy rice porridge known as congee (for recipe see December 2010 Congee Love).   These recipes take time and some specilaized ingredients.  The soup I made was quick and easy and used Asian ingredients that are readily available in the supermarket these days.

When I arrived the poor thing was in a bad state, barely able to talk – a frustrating condition for someone who is fond of the practice. A visit to the doctor confirmed the worst and she was ordered to refrain from talking for two days.  Fortunately, by this time the soup was ready and I served her a big steaming bowl.  She communicated her appreciation via pad and pen.  A couple of hours later I left her with plenty of soup to heat up, some poached chicken and a bunch of cheeky housemates determined to take full advantage of her temporary inability to answer back.

Quick Asian Broth with Poached Chicken Breast

Restorative broth

Quick broth with Asian flavours

Ingredients

1 litre chicken stock

1 litre water

5oo g free range chicken breast fillets (skinless)

1 thumb sized piece of ginger (sliced)

2 cloves garlic (peeled)

2 long red chillies

3 or four spring onions

2 tbs light soy sauce

2 tbs shao hsing wine

1 – 2 star anise

1 carrot (julienned)

200 g shitake or button mushrooms (thinly sliced)

1/2 bunch bok choy, choy sum or any other Asian green

1 tin bamboo shoots (drained)

sesame oil

200 g snow peas

rice vermicelli noodles

Method

Pour water and stock into a large pot.  Place on a medium heat.  Add the sliced ginger, garlic, 1 sliced chilli, the white parts of the spring onions, star anise, shao hsing wine, soy sauce.  Trim and halve the chicken fillets.  Add to the pot and bring to a gentle simmer, do not boil as this will make the poached chicken tough.  Cook gently, uncovered, for 15 – 20 mins or until the fillets are white and firm to the touch.  Turn the heat off and cool the chicken fillets in the broth.  When almost cool remove the fillets and set aside.  Strain the broth and place back in the pot.   Bring to the boil and add the carrot, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and sliced bok choy.  Cook for 5 mins.  Put a small amount of rice vermicelli noodles in the bottom of each bowl.  Top with some slices of poached chicken and pour over the hot broth and vegetables.  Finish each bowl with a few drops of sesame oil.  Serve with sliced snow peas, sliced chilli and extra soy.

Note: Poached chicken is a versatile ingredient and this method will work with any flavours be they Asian or European.