Archive for the ‘grains’ Category

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Jewel in the crown

January 29, 2013

Jewellery box saladHave you noticed how certain dishes can end up defining a time or a season in your memory?  In our house this seems especially true of salads, and of summer.  In the past we’ve had the Summer of Quinoa, and the Summer of Citrus Couscous (the latter remaining the strongest food memory of a road trip we took with dear friends to Perth and back over a decade ago, camping and couscous-ing all the way).

Well this summer of 2012-13 will most definitely be remembered as The Summer of the Cypriot Salad. Or maybe the Jewellery Box  Salad, as I’ve come to think of it. It’s so beautifully colourful and baubly to look at, I find myself gazing adoringly at it almost for longer than I spend eating it each time. It’s also become fondly known as the Freaky Salad because it uses freekeh (the nutty and chewy green cracked wheat which can be found in some health food stores, but can be quite difficult to get hold of ).

In my last post I think I mentioned how much we loved Hellenic Republic’s “Kipriaki salata dimitriakon – Cypriot salad of grains, pulses, nuts, yoghurt” that we ate during a visit to Melbourne in December.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it even days after we got home; the sign of a great dish, don’t you think?

A hunt around the internet yielded this recipe. However, the ratio of lentils to freekeh here didn’t really match my memory (or preference) so I tweaked it a bit to come up with an ever-changing version that we’ve made over and over. The restaurant version included a dollop of yoghurt and, I think, some cumin, both of which are delicious additions although I have tended not to bother with either over time.

It’s the kind of dish where quantities hardly matter, to be honest, so you will find your own way with whatever you have to hand. The only non-negotiable essential is the puy lentils, I think – and although I have made it without the pomegranate seeds, it is so very much better with them that I’m not sure I’d bother going without. The pumpkin and sunflower seeds are also quite necessary for the salad’s lovely surprising crunch.

This dish has two huge advantages apart from being swooningly good to eat. First, it keeps in the fridge for days and days and days without any noticeable fade in quality, and it is incredibly filling. I discovered just how seriously so for both factors  when we made a huge amount for a lunch party and then spent the entire rest of the week eating the leftovers for lunch and dinner.

So here we go – all quantities are debatable; I generally chuck in a handful or so of whatever I feel like. I do prefer a lentil-freekeh ratio of around three to one, even four to one. I find the salad can get a little gluggy if there’s too much freekeh. I have also very often used a handful or two of wild rice in its place, which works just as beautifully and has the added advantage of being fine for gluten-free folk.  This quantity should work for at least six people, but don’t quote me until you’ve tested it for yoursel

freakysalad2Jewellery Box Salad
viaHellenic Republic

  • Juice 1 orange
  • Olive oil
  • ½ cup currants – or combined currants, dried cranberries, raisins
  • ¼ cup capers, rinsed
  • 1 cup puy lentils
  • ¼ cup freekeh or wild rice
  • 1 cup nuts – pine nuts, pistachios, slivered almonds are nice
  • ½ cup mixed pumpkin & sunflower seeds
  • ½ bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • Juice ½ a lemon
  • Seeds of half a pomegranate
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Soak the dried fruit and capers in the orange juice while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Cook the lentils and freekeh or wild rice separately in boiling water until just tender – I cook the lentils for about 15 or 20 minutes and the freekeh or rice for longer; you want them to retain a tiny bit of bite while still being properly cooked.
  3. When lentils are cooked, drain and then immediately sloosh with some olive oil and salt to give a nice glossy coating and stop them sticking. Add the grain or rice when drained and stir well.
  4. While that’s happening, toast the seeds and nuts in the oven or on the stove top – the usual advice about not looking away applies! If any of them really burn, throw them out and learn your lesson – the bitterness of burnt nuts will taint the whole dish.
  5. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate making sure to avoid the pith – the easiest method is the satisfyingly violent one detailed here.
  6. When the nuts are coolish, chuck all ingredients into a bowl and mix gently but thoroughly. Add more lemon juice or olive oil to taste, season well  and present with a flourish.

Now your turn – what’s been the defining dish of your summer so far? Any favourites to share?

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What I ate on my holidays

January 18, 2013

Salad days

It’s been 46.2 degrees Celsius here in Sydney today – that’s over 112 degrees for you Farenheit fans – at the end of my first week back in the office for a loooong time. Luckily this room is air conditioned  unlike the rest of the house, but I’m wondering what on earth to cook for dinner. Last time it got nearly this hot I made this, but I think I have a batch of Karen Martini’s amazing Syrian chicken in the freezer, so I think we’ll have that (actually it’s ours, not Karen’s – but the recipe is hers…)

January has been perfect salad weather so far. So in lieu of a very, very overdue posting – and just before I go and find a cooling bevvy in the fridge – I’ve decided instead of writing here I will merely present a pictorial history of my favourite bits of holiday cooking and eating. Salads, salads, salads and more salads, with the odd bit of protein thrown in. Have been inspired again by the wonderful Ottolenghi lads, as I was given this fantastic book for Christmas, but also have revived lots of old favourites. Hope to be back here soon with some recipes … if you’re in Australia, stay cool folks!

Oh look, the cool change is here! Aaaaahhhh….

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Doing the wild thing

October 15, 2010

I could spend all day admiring the glossy black spikes of wild rice.

Aren’t they stunning? Like dropped sea urchin spines, or an echidna’s shrugged-off party frock.

There’s something tribal and daring about the look of this rice family’s younger punk sibling, which is apparently not rice at all but a type of aquatic grass,  from the genus Zizania.

I haven’t used it terribly often – have you? – but I love the chewy texture and nutty flavour that comes when the grain splits as it cooks. The stuff I buy comes from North America, where several Zizania species are native. Other species are native to different parts of the world (like China), and there is even a completely different wild rice plant, Potamophila parviflora – not available commercially, which is unsurprising given our water problems – native to  Australia.

I’m told it takes about 45 minutes of boiling for wild rice to properly cook, and in truth I’ve never really measured the time but just drained it when the kernel splits to reveal the white inside – the shorter the cooking time, the chewier the texture.

You may remember that my favourite quinoa salad, a bastardisation of a quinoa dish by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi, includes wild rice.  And I’ve used it in stuffing for chicken, with nuts and dried fruit. But I would love to hear how you use wild rice, so do share your ideas.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an easy rice and lentil side dish I made the other night to accompany some chermoula-barbecued salmon fillets (more on chermoula soon). I just threw this together and liked it so much I’m going to do lentil and rice combinations much more often. We did cheat a bit with this, having brought home a container of seeni sambol, the deliciously sticky, jammy, spicy Sri Lankan caramelised onion sambal from Kammadhenu the other night.  This stuff is the business, to add a kick to any dish you like, from soup to rice to whatever. If you can be bothered making your own, I bet it would be amazing. But otherwise you could just fry some onion till very dark and stir through this pilaffy number at the end.

  • ¼ cup wild rice
  • ½ cup Basmati rice
  • ¼ cup Persian red lentils
  • ¼ cup currants soaked in red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon seeni sambol or 1 whole onion, sliced and fried till very crisp and dark
  • 1 tablespoon torn mint
  • sale & pepper

Cook the rice and lentils in three separate pots of boiling water till tender (the wild rice will take up to 45 minutes), then drain and mix.

Stir through the currants, sambol or onion and mint, check seasoning and serve.

Now your turn. What do you do with this dark and spiky little number?

 

 

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Leek chic

September 21, 2010

When Senor came home from a garage sale one day grinning and brandishing a battered copy of this book, I cheered. It’s a classic, as many of you well know, but one I had never gotten round to looking at. It went on the cookbook shelf – and was promptly forgotten, till last night, when I finally dipped in.

I had a hankering for something spicy and easy and lentilish for dinner, and became very taken with the sound of Charmaine’s Sri Lankan Paripoo, which is a lot less rude than it sounds. Basically, this is red lentils cooked in coconut milk with lemongrass,  spices (turmeric, cinnamon, dried chilli) and loads of almost black-fried onion, plus some pounded dried shrimp in place of the Maldive fish, which I didn’t have and in fact till that moment had never heard of. Luckily, our freezer yielded some dried shrimp (triple-bagged) and I used Persian red lentils in place of Asian ones. The Persians are lovely – a tawny pink version that otherwise in shape and size look very like the French-style blue lentils I use in almost all other dishes. I  am sure Sri Lankan purists would paripoo-pooh my choice of pulse, but phooey to them. It was grand.

Now the lentils were very fine indeed, but what really rocked my world was this easy leek accompaniment. I don’t know how it works, but this really simple dish gave the lentils – and the accompanying rice pilau from the Pakistan pages of the book (just to show what a complete cultural philistine I am) – an amazing zing.

The finely chopped leeks are simply slowly sweated down in some oil with chilli powder, more pounded shrimp, salt and turmeric. That’s it – and yet, somehow, this all merges and melds into a sticky, slightly jammy, sweet, sharp and spicy little sambal that I think would go perfectly with many different kinds of curries & rice dishes.  Charmaine doesn’t call it a sambal, so it’s probably completely wrong to describe it like that. It’s simply called Leeks Fried with Chilli – or Leeks Mirisata – but its texture is so jammy that it’s almost like a chutney rather than a separate vegetable dish.  And because she emphasises using the green part of the leek as well as the white, it ends up a delicate pale lemony yellow. Beautiful!

Whatever it is, I am in love.  And I bet you will be too – the recipe is right here, just below the lentils. The quantity in the recipe seemed huge, so I halved it and that was plenty for the the two of us, with a goodly amount leftover for lunch too.

V: Interestingly, I had a little Twitter chat today about this with @KathrynElliott from the fab blog Limes & Lycopene, which our shucking pal Julie put me on to ages ago. Kathryn (who you’ll have met here in the comments sometimes) says Charmaine’s Complete Vegetarian book has a version of Leeks Mirisata  which simply leaves out the Maldive fish/shrimp. Then I recalled our Hamish’s suggestion that umeboshi plums could make a good substitute for anchovies. Kathryn thought this a fine idea, and then her pal Lucinda (from Nourish Me and – stay with me –  the other half of the very cool online mag An Honest Kitchen ) weighed in via Twitter (@LucyNourishMe) to say:  “A finely chopped piece of umeboshi, some garlic and shoyu is a grand anchovy sub. Stinky and rich enough.” So there you are – if I were doing this leeky thing veg style, I would definitely have a shot at getting that combo in somewhere. And shoyu, I learn, is similar to tamari.

Phew. Took longer to type that than make it. So go to it – happy eating!

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How to make a vegetarian smile, pt II

September 17, 2010

The last entirely vegetarian dinner party I cooked was a wintry little number, but very satisfying, with a few  nicely contrasting elements I think. The mainstay was a mushroom ragu served on creamy polenta, paired with a side dish of a punchy green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese.

There are a couple of things that made this work well. First, both the ragu and the lentils used  the roasted vegetable stock, as I described ages ago here. This time though, I took a leaf out of Skye Gyngell’s book – her secret flavour weapons often include tamari sauce and maple syrup, so I added a tablespoon of each to the reduced stock. I swear this little combo, while not leaping out as separate flavours, really gives a layered depth and complexity to the stock.

Next was the assortment of mushrooms. I used about 600g of combined chopped Portobello, field and Swiss brown mushrooms, and later added – importantly – a good tablespoon’s worth of dried porcinis to the mix. Again, this gives a big hit of rich flavour.

Mushroom ragu with creamy polenta

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 600g chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 x can peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup roasted vegetable stock
  • 10g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan, to serve
  1. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until soft.
  2. Add a good big knob of butter & a little more oil, turn up the heat and – gradually, in batches – sauté the fresh mushrooms with the mirepoix over a high heat until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture and are nicely browned.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. Add the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce.
  5. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes (or even up to an hour),  till the sauce has reduced and thickened, adding another good slug of oil if it looks too watery. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Not long before you’re ready to serve, make the creamy polenta – this is dead simple, as described here, but does take a little time. Just do the onion & milk bit ahead of time, and if you need to, have your guests chat with you in the kitchen while you stir.

Spoon the polenta into shallow pasta bowls, and top with a heap of the mushroom ragu (add a tiny swizzle of olive oil at the last second, if you dare), and sprinkle with Parmesan at the table.

Green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese

This zingy little salad can be made completely ahead of time and simply dressed & tossed just before you eat.

1. Sling half a cup of puy lentils into a pan of hot vegetable stock, and simmer for 20 minutes or till tender. Drain and return to the pan with a splash of olive oil till ready to assemble the salad.

2. Have some slow-roasted tomatoes (scroll down on the Essential Ingredients page) ready to go.

3. When you’re ready to serve, toss some good green salad leaves (specially good with some texturally springy ones, like curly endive and radicchio as well as soft lettuce) together with the scattered lentils and tomatoes in a bowl with a dressing of three-parts good extra-virgin oil to one-part best-quality balsamic vinegar. Then tear up some marinated goat’s cheese  (or even better, your homemade labneh!) and toss it into the salad in chunks. Serve in a bowl at the table.

Sweet ending

For dessert, I can’t recommend this whole orange cake highly enough – and because it’s made with almond meal instead of flour, it gives your guests another dose of good nutty protein. Serve it with some more yoghurt or cream on the side. Another almondy option is a frangipane tart, and although I haven’t made this particular one, there is a beautiful-sounding recipe here. Otherwise, I’d go for some other fruit-based dessert.

So there you have it – a simple but I think nicely varied vegetarian dinner menu for four, with heaps of punchy flavour and texture, and also providing a reasonably diverse mix of protein, dairy, carbohydrate and lots of other goodies.

I would love to hear comment from our vegetarian visitors about how this combination might be improved – and as well, keep your ideas for zingy vego dinner party dishes coming.

V

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Loaves and fishes: my list of miracle foods

December 15, 2009

Okay, I know Christmas isn’t strictly related to that particular miracle (reminds me of the time my heathen brother-in-law demanded of my mother what the hell Easter eggs had to do with Jesus being born in Bethlehem anyway…), but one of the things I really like Christmas & New Year holidays is the tendency toward spontaneous and sprawly gatherings over food.

You know the kind of thing, two people for lunch turns into ten, and an instant party ensues. But to make that kind of thing fun it’s gotta be stress free – so here’s my list of good stuff you can pull out at the last second for lunch or picknicky dinner, or take to a friend’s place to blast off their Christmas stress.

Some are old summer holiday faves, and some gleaned from these pages this year. Most of this stuff can be bought in advance and shoved in the fridge, freezer or pantry to pull our for miracle-working when requried…

  • Oysters – of course! Buy them unopened a few days before Christmas and keep in a bucket with a wet towel over them in a cool place – they keep for a couple of weeks.
  • Glazed ham – leftovers, for weeks. Mmmmm.
  • Chutneys & pickles – years ago the Empress introduced me to the killer recipe for Christine Manfield’s eggplant pickle.
  • Smoked salmon – or Virginia & Nigella’s cured salmon! – w creme fraiche and/or salmon roe & sourdough
  • Smoked trout –  keep a couple in the freezer and pull them out any old time
  • Cooked prawns, green salad, mayonnaise
  • Bread – keep a supply of sourdough in the freezer
  • Green salad, nicely dressed with good oil & vinegar
  • Chickpeas – of course! Chuck em in a bowl with bottled roasted capsicum & marinated feta or labneh, or try these ideas
  • Baba ganoush & Steph’s beetroot dip – plus packets and packets of rice crackers
  • Quinoa salad or citrus couscous (make a huge batch – both of these keep forever)
  • Lots of luscious, ripe avocado – buy a heap of those rock hard ones now to have softies on hand for later.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ripe tomatoes
  • Devils on horseback – everybody loves them! And you can keep sealed pancetta & pitted prunes on hand for months…
  • A couple of fillets of salmon in the freezer and a couple of spuds can yield a heap of salmon patties for a crowd.
  • Peas! I am never without a huge bag of frozen peas in the freezer. Actually there will be a new post on peas coming shortly…
  • Eggs – chuck a few halved, hard-boiled eggs in a green salad with some chunks of fresh, cured or smoked salmon and you have a delicious twist on nicoise.
  • Labneh – mmmm.
  • Quiche – if you have frozen shortcrust pastry in the freezer, a quiche takes about fifteen minutes to throw together and another twenty to cook. Fast and fab.

Okeydokes, that’s Santa’s (or Jesus’s?) list of magic expandable food for now – but you must have lots of things to add …

*Oh, and today’s Christmas Excess Antidote is courtesy of www.kiva.org– I absolutely love this site. At the click of a mouse you can provide a micro-loan (as little as $25) to someone in a developing country who’s making a go of things with very slim pickings indeed. I love it so much because your loan just keeps on giving – you can either get the money back (though what kind of a person …) or choose that it goes to someone else in the chain. Perfect!

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Quinoa Salad: Son of Citrus Couscous

October 30, 2009

quinoaQuinoa salad with bits and pieces …

Those of you who’ve enjoyed the citrus couscous recipe I posted a while ago might be keen to try a new salad that I am totally loving at the moment. It’s a very slight bastardisation of a fabulous quinoa salad from Ottolenghi, the Israeli & Palestinian chef duo from London whose book and newspaper column combined are the most interesting source of vegetarian food I’ve ever found.

The original recipe, for Quinoa and Camargue red rice is here, and our adapted version below. My friend Caro first made this for me, using those craisins (dried cranberries) that are easily available in the supermarket, and I liked the slight sourness and the lovely ruby red colour so much I have done it with both craisins and the barberries I got ages ago on the Empress’s and my Persian excursion.

Unlike craisins, however, I’ve found quinoa itself rather difficult to get hold of. I’m told it often resides in health food / organic shops, and I found mine at the Norton St Grocer, but I hope it becomes more freely available because it is my new favourite grain in the world.

It’s pronounced ‘kin-wah’  and as far as I can tell you use it like couscous, but it’s much easier to manage as it doesn’t stick together as couscous can, and it has a delightfully bouncy texture and nutty flavour.

I’ve learned that quinoa is an ancient ‘grain’ (but not really, as it’s not a grass but is more closely related to spinach – we eat the seeds) originating in the Andes, and best of all, it’s gluten-free so people with Coeliac disease and so on can enjoy with impunity. Excellent!

Anyhoo. Enough lessons. On with the deliciousness.

  • 200g quinoa
  • 50g wild rice
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • handful of barberries / dried cranberries / currants or a mixture of any dried fruit you like
  • 30g pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
  • handful rocket / baby spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Bring to the boil two saucepans filled with salted water, and simmer the quinoa and rice separately: the first for 13 minutes, the second for up to 40, depending on how nutty and firm you like the texture.
  2. Drain both and spread out flat to cool more quickly.
  3. While the grains are cooking, fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  4. Soak the dried fruit in orange juice and zest in a bowl with all other ingredients except nuts and spinach/rocket.
  5. In an oven preheated to 170 degrees C, dry-roast the pistachios for up to six minutes or just until the colour changes. Check halfway through, because they can burn in an instant and the flavour is vile if they are even slightly overdone and you’ll have to chuck them out.
  6. Mix the cooked grains with all other ingredients and season generously, adding a little swizzle of oil if it’s too dry. Serve at room temperature.