Not-So-Humble Vegetables

Unknown.jpegI have had this book for a long time. I think it was my mother who gave it to me, within the first couple of years of my moving out of home. I haven’t cooked everything from it – nowhere near it. Everything I have cooked has been good, and – as is appropriate for a Women’s Weekly publication – is straightforward to create. It’s not a particularly adventurous book, but that’s ok – that’s not what it’s aiming to be

The book is arranged by key ingredient – asparagus, beans, lettuces, silverbeet – so pick what you’ve got in the house and go from there. Each section has information about how to boil, steam or microwave each vegetable. There’s only a few recipes for each vegetable, but it’s a good variety and means that it’s not overwhelming.

Some of the recipes I’ve tried:

Bean, hazelnut and roasted capsicum salad: I am a sucker for any salad that instructs you to put nuts in it.

“Roman style” green beans: means prosciutto and mushrooms and pine nuts.

Moroccan carrot salad: dates, almonds, coriander, cumin…

Malabar mushroom curry: ginger, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, coconut cream…

Bombay potato masala: onion, garam masala, tinned tomato, lots of other spices…

… I’m not very adventurous when it comes to choosing actual vegetables. So I have never used the recipes for jicama, or chokoes, or even witlof. But I like that they’re in here.

It’s not easy being green

I have a  confession to make.

I’m not so good with the green leafies.

Rocket? Oh yes, my favourite salad leaf of all time.

Baby spinach? Sure, great in a salad. Baby spinach and strawberries and feta and balsamic!

Mature spinach? Um, sure. You can wilt it, right? Use it with lentils? … add it to breakfast if you have to?

But then there’s silverbeet. And kale. oh gahd, kale. These are not things I would buy for myself. But my Ceres box has contained them rather frequently.

What to DO??

Unknown-1.jpegSo, kale. Turns out kale is ok if you mix it with garlic and crispy potato. Thank you, Stephanie Alexander, for Elizabeth Schneider’s Baked Curly Kale with Potato, Olive and Garlic (this recipe is very similar), you have saved my kale from just being automatically given to the worms. Who would have loved it but I would have felt bad. Not exactly my choice of dish but perfectly fine when it just… turns up…

Unknown.jpegAnd silverbeet? Well, once you discover that it’s also called Swiss chard, it gets easier to find recipes. (Do not get me started on foods with more than one name. EGGPLANT AND ZUCCHINI I AM LOOKING AT YOU. AND YOU CORIANDER.) So my current Swiss chard has mostly become Ottolenghi’s Plenty: Swiss chard, chickpea and tamarind stew. And it was really quite good. I liked the tamarind; also I added some cured lemon paste mixed with some Greek yoghurt, which of course makes everything delicious.

I still don’t love these greens but at least I have things I can do with them now when they inevitably turn up in my Be Healthy box.

Feasting

mmccthefeast.jpgI received a copy of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s book The Feast Goes On from the awesome Alisa for my birthday, and I’ve got a plethora of tags sticking out already because there’s a heap of things I want to cook. (For starters, look at the cake on the front.) This weekend I took the opportunity to cook three of them.

Mains was slow-cooked beef with ras el hanout. I went with chuck steak, and I used the slow cooker, which was awesome. It’s got onion and garlic, I did grate the tomatoes although I’m not convinced it was necessary, and I chucked in all the right spices for the ras el hanout. I used the cured lemon that I made courtesy of Palomar and I think it really was better than preserved lemon. It was… smoother, somehow (I mean yes it is a smooth paste, but even the taste seemed smoother). It cooked in about 6 hours, I think, and it has gone straight to the top few recipes of How To Impress Without Too Much Effort. I served it with yoghurt and some more cured lemon.

(I can’t find a recipe online for cured lemons like in Palomar. At any rate, it’s layer the lemons with salt and canola + olive oil; leave for three days then strain out the oil, blitz the lemons with some chilli and add some oil until it’s smooth.)

On the side I did a potato and onion gratin, with a big bunch of thyme and rosemary (the recipe called for one or the other, but why not have both?). I layered this too densely so I IMG_1301.JPGended up having to cook it for longer. Which was fine but I felt stupid. I will make this again and I will use a bigger dish.

For dessert I kinda committed sacrilege. In my family, Mum’s lemon delicious is almost holy. So to make mandarine delicious, and to make it in individual ramekins, and to follow someone else’s recipe – ! They were quite lovely. They had quite a different texture from the lemon delicious I have made in the past; not sure if that’s the recipe or the individual ramekin or if I made some mistake. But they weren’t as sponge-y; they were a bit more gelatinous, and they didn’t have much syrup underneath – it was more on the inside. Nonetheless I will be making these again, too… even though it did mean I had to blitz a mandarine in the wee processor and then strain the juice through a tea strainer.

 

Palomar: the food

This book was sent to me by the publisher. Go here for discussion of the physical product.

4the-palomar

There’s some nice basics in here: harissa, watercress pesto (which I used to make snow pea pesto, and it was quite good), labneh and tapenade. I have prepared the cured lemons – one thing I do not lack is lemons – which the book promises will eliminate a “bleach-y taste” they claim preserved lemons carry. I haven’t noticed. I haven’t turned them into cured lemon paste, yet, but I definitely plan to. These things are in “The meal before the meal,” along with other dips and felafel and such.

The next section is “Raw beginnings” and I haven’t made anything from this section… and I’m not likely to. I’m allergic to scallops so that’s a few recipes gone, and I’m just not the sort of person who will ever come to steak tartare. There are one or two salads that might get a look at.

I have mostly cooked from “The main act.” The book has two shakshuka recipes; I’ve made the “New style” one with cauliflower, zucchini, garlic and chilli and coriander – then eggs cracked over. It was ok – I was perfectly happy to eat it – but not completely brilliant. It was one I had altered, taking out the eggplant because my beloved isn’t a huge fan… but since the recipe has a section called “Variations,” telling you to “reinvent” it every time, this shouldn’t have been a problem. I am intrigued with making it with chorizo and/or olives, feta… or, they promise, “any old stew or cooked vegetable you have as leftovers from yesterday’s main meal.” So I’m not quite giving up on this.

Polenta Jerusalem style: I admit I used instant polenta, which the author of the book would abhor, but that’s what I have. This involves making polenta; putting “mushroom ragout” on top (mushrooms cooked in butter), and then blanched asparagus. Garnish with Parmesan. I mean yes, it was tasty, but it’s not all that miraculous. Maybe ‘real’ polenta makes a huge difference?

Aubergine and feta boureka: ok these were quite cool. Bourekas are made by cutting butter puff pastry into four triangles, then brushing with egg, sprinkling with sesame seeds and cooking for about 18 minutes at 200C. Then you halve them and throw stuff on top – again, I omitted the eggplant, but the swiss chard stew with bacon and feta was really good. (This recipe also looks awesome.)

Papi’s spinach gnocchi: was a disaster. I’ll wear this one because I didn’t want to simmer them in goat’s yoghurt (too hard), so I simmered them in water instead. They just fell apart. I didn’t drain the spinach enough? Who knows.

Right in the middle there’s a series of pictures showing octopus – both cut up and not cut up. It’s my least favourite part of the book.

Cod chraymeh: I didn’t use cod, because that’s too hard in Australia; I think I used ling. This was … well, not flavourless, but really not worth the effort. It has red capsicum, garlic, spices, harissa… I was surprised how much it didn’t work.

Chicken thighs in green olive and tomato sauce: this was quite nice – the chicken with the olives worked really well.

IMG_1293.JPGLabneh kreplach tortellini: probably my favourite recipe to date. Kreplach are “the Ashkenazi Jewish version of Italian ravioli, Chinese wonton or Russian pelmeni.” Palomar suggests making IMG_1294.JPGthem like choux (choux? I can totes make choux) – flour into boiling water, into the processor to add more flour and egg yolks (which means making meringues later), then leaving the dough til the next day to roll and fill. As the name suggests, these were filled with labneh (yes, homemade) mixed with za’atar. I then simmered them in borscht (made with some of my own beetroots, EAT YOUR HEART OUT Katering Show). It was awesome. (I’m interested that a number of online recipes, like this one, call for whole eggs – no meringues! – but very excited that it points out that like dumplings, kreplach can of course by frozen. EXCELLENT.)

IMG_1295.JPGVerdict: I’m not sad to have experimented with it, but I wouldn’t be rushing out to buy it for all my friends. Possibly I’m spoiled by Jerusalem plus my two Sabrina Ghayour books, and The Saffron Tales, which basically cover these sorts of recipes – the ones I’ve enjoyed anyway. That said, I am looking forward to trying the date roulade, and their version of pitta bread.

Family feasting

I had the opportunity to cook for part of my family this weekend – which doesn’t happen very often – so I decided to experiment. Which is perhaps dangerous, but that’s How I Roll.

9781743368565Dinner #1: Indian Made Easy

Chana Masala – chickpea stew basically. It was ok, although not as large as I had hoped. So it’s a good thing that I also made…

Stuffed potato and pea cakes – mashed potato with spices, wrapped around pulsed peas and paneer and more spices, lightly fried. 110% would make again. So good.

UnknownDinner #2: Saffron Tales

Chicken with walnuts and pomegranate – I’ve looked at this a couple times but been put off by the amount of time required with the walnuts. You need to cook the blitzed walnuts with water for two hours, so that it turns into a porridge-like consistency. But you don’t really need to do anything with it, just stir it occasionally, so if you’re home anyway it’s pretty easy. Then you add chicken (or eggplant) and pomegranate molasses and leave it for another 40 or so minutes and… absolute culinary delight; my sister thought it looked like mole (she’s just back from Mexico). Can’t wait to eat this again. Served with…

Coconut rice (because I couldn’t be bothered with proper Persian rice with saffron etc), and a play on salad shirazi (we removed the red onion and added avocado).

But wait! You’re all saying. What about dessert?! My sister made Nigella’s boiled mandarine cake. Which was good… after, um, a slight mandarine+saucepan malfunction. Probably the less said about that the better, if I want to stay on her good side…