Archive for the ‘countries’ Category

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In love with labneh

August 31, 2009

labna2Inspired by the happy coincidence of my friend Ms Melba’s recent gift of her incredibly good homemade labneh – that creamy, unbelievably smooth yoghurt cheese – and Miss J’s birthday gift of the gorgeous Saha: A chef’s Journey through Lebanon & Syria by Greg & Lucy Malouf, I decided on the weekend to have a stab at making some labneh myself.

Oh, and the third inspiration was driving past a humungous and ghastly Spotlight outlet, whereupon I could dive in and grab myself a thousand metres of muslin (I later sent some of that Ms Melba’s way, and she said that while she longed to drape it about her person for running through damp fields towards Pemberley,  she  promised to use it for cheese-related purposes).

Anyway, after tasting Melba’s labneh and gobbling it all in a week, I asked for her recipe, and then compared it with Greg Malouf’s in Saha which, by the way, is the most beautiful book. (I have just lent it to the Empress, who – prepare to bite out your own veins with envy – is planning a culinary trip through various Middle Eastern countries including Syria. Argh. We can only hope she comes back with some fine recipes to share, but I may find it difficult to speak to her for a while…)

Anyhoo.

Labneh, it turns out, is so easy peasy to make that I am never again buying that gorgeously silky Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Fetta in the black tin, because my labneh (while texturally probably quite different and probably-not-even-remotely-comparable-because-it-isn’t-feta), turns out to be just as delicious. And costs very little. The amazing thing about this stuff is the texture – so silky and creamy, but with excellent body and, depending on your marinade, a lovely soft and herby tang.

Greg Malouf’s recipe is here, and it’s the one I used, except I followed Melba’s lead and formed it into the little balls rather than just spreading over a plate topped with oil as he’s done. Anyway it’s hardly a recipe at all really – take a kilo of natural yoghurt, hang it for 48-72 hours, and then do as you wish with it. Melba hangs hers for anything from three hours to overnight, and it’s beautifully light. I did as GM says though, and hung it for 48 hours. The longer you hang it, the firmer it gets, and lots of whey comes out of it. Here’s what I did.

1. Take a good half-metre of clean muslin and line a colander with it over a bowl. A fine cotton tea towel would probably do just as well, but perhaps take longer.

2. Mix up a kilo of full-cream natural Greek-style yoghurt with a good teaspoon of salt and pour it into the muslin.

3. Tie up the  corners of the muslin any old how, and find a way to hang it. Easiest for us was get a large deep saucepan, tie the muslin bag to a long wooden spoon and rest the spoon over the top of the pot. Do tie it tight and hang as high as possible, as it does hang lower over the hours and ours eventually touched the bottom of the pot, necessitating re-tying half-way through. No big deal though and gave us a chance to drain the whey out halfway through.

labna14. Bung it in the fridge for anything from three hours to 72 hours. We did 48 and it resulted in easy-to-form, nice firm labneh.

5. Remove and form into balls, keeping your hands moistened with olive oil – stops the labneh sticking to your hands and the balls to each other.

6. Lay the balls in a jar or container, cover with oil and add some dried chilli flakes, dried thyme, fresh rosemary and a clove of garlic. Any dried herbs or spices you fancy would do, I reckon.

Use it spread on biccies as a dip; on toast or a sandwich instead of butter; plonk a ball in your spicy veg soup (that’s where almost all of M’s batch went – thicker and more delicious than a yoghurt dollop); toss on to steamed green vegetables, or just use anywhere you would sling a blob of yoghurt, I reckon.

This amount made three full medium-sized deli takeaway containers’ worth. The oil is obviously the costly bit of this, but given that one would never chuck away such lovely herby olive oil, instead keeping it for pasta sauces, salad dressings or whatever, I reckon this recipe is a contender for the frugal food post as well as just being a beautiful thing. And great to take to a friend’s when you’re turning up for dinner – they will be tres impressed with your domestic goddessness as well as gobbling it up in a flash like I did.

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Eager for Uighur

August 21, 2009

stephuighurThis week’s column from the Empress in Good Living is a beauty, and extra fun for us to read because we were crash test dummies for one of these Chinese muslim restaurants with her – the Western Orient in Hurstville. It’s loads of fun going on these excursions (as we’ve discussed before, it’s so easy to get geographically locked into your own tiny suburban area of this city), and I can vouch for the divinity of everything Steph mentions in her Western Orient review.

The waitress, Candy, and her mum, the hidden chef, were incredulous that a bunch of gweilos would enjoy their fare. But once we convinced Candy that we actually really would like the noodles that she insisted were ‘better for Chinese people, not Australians’, she became our new best friend and recommended all sorts of goodies.

After the meal the Empress went to do her ‘candid camera moment’, where she tells the restaurateurs she wants to feature a dish of theirs, and which is always nice to witness as they get very excited. And this time, once that bit was done and we’d paid the bill and were about to leave, Candy returned to the table with a giant tureen of “Egg FlowerSoup”, compliments of her mum. As we were all completely stuffed, we groaned inwardly at the idea we had to eat yet more food, although obviously couldn’t insult the hostess by refusing. But at the first spoonful, an expression of utter ecstasy came over every face at that table, and then it was a fight to the death for the rest of the soup. The clearest, most delicate chicken broth with an egg-whitey streak, it was simply unfrickingbelievable.

And the rest of the meal, as detailed in the Empress’s column, was excellent too. She also visited two other fab-sounding Chinese Muslim joints too – so go along and check one out.

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Michael on Julia’s legacy

August 4, 2009

Does anyone in Australia understand the Julia Child adoration thing, or is this purely an American phenomenon?

I have known virtually nothing about her except her name – but in the New York Times this week  is a long and lovely essay by the wonderful Michael Pollan about Julia Child, the first American TV chef, prompted by the new movie Julie &  Julia, starring Meryl Streep as JC.

He muses about the changes in American home cooking and the influence of television upon it, starting with the way Julia Child apparently liberated a generation of American women from fear of cooking by dropping a potato pancake and then retrieving it and patching it back together – her show was live TV, after all.

Pollan is such an engaging writer (his book Second Nature, about gardens, was a big influence on me as I wrote my second novel The Submerged Cathedral, and his other books on food production and ethics, In Defence of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, are just as lively and provoking), and this essay is a beauty.

michael pollanPollan’s essay goes on to discuss the exponential rise of television cookery, and how American studies show that people spend more time watching cooking being done than doing it themselves (particularly interesting given the popularity of  Master Chef here, and the talk about how it’s supposedly got people back into the kitchen. I wonder…).

Pollan writes that there are oodles of cooking shows on US television, but says of many of them:

These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental — that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat, which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests; you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.

He also notes that Julia Child began her cooking show in the same year that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, and points out that although they could have been seen as adversaries, this wasn’t true: Child had an aversion to the word ‘housewife’ and treated cooking as a skill and an art, rather than another bit of household drudgery for women.

Anyway I could go on and on – but better for you to simply read this excellent essay here.

Then discover more about Julia Child here (or this fab Youtube video of her show here – it’s hilarious), and more  here about the Nora Ephron movie (which in the way of this strange new world, originated from a blog. Yes, a food blog, called the Julie/Julia Project.).

I just watched the movie trailer and confess that I can’t wait!

Postscript – October 3 2009

Two more amusing additions to this post must be made.

First, this link to the beautifully narky Regina Schrambling at Slate, on ‘Why you’ll never cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

And second, rather more entertainingly, The Defamer’s round-up of cranky food bloggers and their snooty dismissals of Julie Powell, the blogger whose work started the whole JC revival. Hilariously chock-full of envy and rage at their fellow blogger’s success, this stuff makes for rich reading. One namedropping post by a ‘trained chef’ even says, with disgust, “People who happen to eat and are able to type are now our new food experts”. Seems rather to miss the point of Julia Child’s taking cookery to the masses, no? Not to mention that the remark is written by a food blogger.

Anyway, all good for a laugh and found here.

Bon appetit!


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A Persian excursion

July 31, 2009

persianstuffOne of the best reasons for having a proper food writer as a friend is joining them for the spontaneous suburban sojourn in search of a particular dish or ingredient. The Empress took me the other day to Auburn in the mid-west of Sydney, where all things Persian, Afghan, Turkish & Lebanese can be found (and where the Gallipoli Mosque is a feature).

As DrDi wrote recently, it’s very cool for we postcode-centric Sydneysiders to take a trip along the discovery highway to an unvisited suburb – and the Empress is the gal to do it with. Our trip was a short sharp operation but chock full of discoveries for me. First stop was a great restaurant for lunch, where among the delights was an an eggplant dip to die for called Kashk-e bademjan; I devoured the lot and got an extra tub for takeaway.

After that we popped into a Persian supermarket where we filled our shopping bags with these goodies: green raisins, dried sour cherries, barberries and slivered pistachios. The shop guys and we managed to cross the language barrier with the aid of some friendly other customers, which was a very nice part of the encounter.

I haven’t used any of these staples of Persian cooking yet, and have never seen those ruby-red barberries or the chewy black and very tart sour cherries before, but plan to have a go very soon at a polow – a Persian pilaf, basically, which apparently has a lovely crusty bottom.

I’ve checked out some polow recipes with barberries here and with sour cherries here and here and here.

But I’m also thinking that both of these would be delicious chucked into any tagine or, as I found after taking this photograph, just eaten as a little dried-fruit mix from a bowl.

Years ago when making the divine mast-o khiar – a yoghurt & cucumber dip with walnuts, green raisins & rose petals (and another recipe here)  I had the devil’s own job finding green raisins, and now I know they’re everywhere in any Middle-Eastern suburb I feel a bit of a dill for buying them from these elegant and expensive packagers (although their stuff is top quality, so if you can’t get near a Persian supermarket, they are worth a shot online).

And as for my plans for the pistachios, well obviously the list is endless. But apart from Karen Martini’s quite incredible baked lemon and goat’s curd cheesecake with pistachios (from Where the Heart Is, but Stonesoup has an adaptation here – scroll down to find it), I have just come across this delicious-sounding pistachio dukkah which sounds a very fine idea.

Now, off to Culburra for the weekend with a bunch of food-crazy friends. Will return fatter and more recipe-laden than ever next week…

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Red curry paste

March 1, 2009
Pounded by Sean

Last week I took my nephew Henry to a Thai seafood cooking school at the Sydney Seafood School. The course was great, but the best thing was the red fish curry – the first time I have ever made a good Thai curry. One of the secrets, I discovered, was only using dried red chillies, not fresh, and also cooking the shrimp paste (on a bit of foil in the oven or under the grill) before adding it to the paste.

The other tip was to use very little oil in the paste, as using too much results in the oil slick we’ve all seen on top of curries. The food processor ran for about 15 minutes to get it right.

I tried it at home and Sean pounded it in the mortar & pestle, but it still needed a good 10 minutes in the whizzer after that.

NB: Here, in response to a comment, is the recipe. I’m not sure about the etiquette of stealing somebody else’s recipe, but all credit goes to the Sydney Seafood School Thai course people. Go along, learn something.

Red curry paste

Makes approx 1 cup

  • 24 long dried red chillies
  • 10 white peppercorns
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, lower third only, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, peeled galangal
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander root
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, toasted*
  • ½ cup red shallots, peeled & chopped
  • ½ cup chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil / rice bran oil if required (we only used 1 tablespoon i think)

1. Remove and discard seeds & membrane from chillies (use scissors to cut them open, then scrape – this bit very time consuming!)

2. Soak in warm water for 15-30 minutes. Drain, squeeze to remove liquid (use gloves for this bit) and chop chillies.

3. Add remaining ingredients and process for several minutes (use pulse button) until a fine paste with a rich red colour emerges.

4. If it doesn’t blend smoothly, add a little oil.

*Wrap shrimp paste in an aluminium foil packet and place under a high grill until aromatic – 3-5 minutes.

To make a curry,  spoon 1 cup of the thick, stiff cream from the top of a can of coconut milk  and heat till just boiling. Then add ²/³ cup of this paste to the cream and fry until the oil separates from paste and it’s quite fragrant. Add the other stuff in your curry (fish sauce, lime juice / tamarind water, sugar, etc etc) and boil until reduced by half – then add the protein and any other bits and bobs. Yum.