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Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

roast summer vegetables with feta & couscous

In summer, vegetarian on 31 December, 2011 at 1:42 am

Funny we’re less than 24 hours away from 2012, in what should be the middle of summer (here in the Southern Hemisphere, at least), and I’m sitting wrapped in a blanket, drinking cups of tea, listening to the rain and wind beating against the side of my house. Really, what is this?! Bring back the sun!

I’m back now from Christchurch, where I’ve been sitting around at my grandma’s house, exploring what’s new and/or relocated (using Neat Places as my guide), eating turkey and leftover turkey and puddings and ramen and catching up with family, hearing funny stories for the first time about my grandpa mailing his beard to my grandma before they got married (she wasn’t going to marry him with a beard, she said), breaking into fits of giggles over the cheap plastic toys that come inside Christmas crackers.

And of course when my plane landed in Wellington this morning it was raining, and not the fitful blustery stuff that spits and blows but doesn’t get you too wet and miserable, but the full-on pouring-down rain that’ll hit you in big splotchy raindrops even if you’re just crossing the road or running out to your car.

So I wanted to eat something for an unseasonably cold summer’s day, something vegetable-based (and thus close enough to almost count as a salad) but hearty at the same time. I was thinking about summer vegetables (in particular, courgettes and tomatoes) and then I remembered that, somewhere in between daydreaming and looking at old family photos at my grandma’s house, I had written a little list of memorable meals I wanted to recreate at home.

Near the top of that list were these baked eggs I had about a month ago at Birdman Eating in Melbourne. The eggs were baked in a skillet with roast capsicum, tomato, red onion, courgette and big, chewy, pearl-like mograbieh. The whole thing was flecked with bits of rosemary and served sizzling hot with sourdough toast and the best bloody mary I’ve had in a long time.

That morning was the first time I’d tried mograbieh, and it was one of those wide-eyed revelatory moments where you want to tell everyone around how absolutely delicious the thing you’ve just eaten is, except in my case I was eating alone, feeling slightly less than 100 percent after a night out, trying to regain some semblance of vitality before meeting up with my mum who was flying in later that day.*

But anyway, the mograbieh was incredible, especially with those roast vegetables. And it was something I vowed I’d try recreating at home. So today, having returned from Christchurch and family Christmas and not having cooked anything for the better part of a week, I headed to the shop to pick up some mograbieh.

I found it all right, but after seeing the price (twelve dollars for a bag, sigh) and doing some mental calculations (and giving myself an internal lecture: you cannot buy a twelve dollar bag of oversized couscous after overspending at Christmas, no matter how good it’s going to taste) I was about to give up, when I remembered the bag of Palestinian couscous I had picked up at a Trade Aid event a while back.

It’s no mograbieh, but I enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more: it’s wholegrain rather than refined like most couscous, which makes it a darker tan colour, a bit nuttier, more textured, somewhere in between pearl barley, bulghur and Israeli couscous. Definitely worth trying if you can find it (I think it’s also called maftoul).

This is one of those immensely satisfying dishes which has so many different flavours and textures going on: the sweet-melty roast capsicum, acidic tomatoes, smoky charred courgettes, deeply earthy mushrooms, near-caramelised onions and garlic. It’s multifaceted enough that you almost don’t notice it’s totally vegetarian (and can be easily made vegan by omitting the feta and butter) but if you want meat it’d also be great with pieces of chicken or sausage mixed in with the vegetables.

*By the way, if you’re planning on a night out in Melbourne I can wholeheartedly recommend a trip down Gertrude St in Fitzroy the next morning, either for the baked-eggs-and-bloody-mary breakfast at Birdman Eating (only $20!), or for limeade and arepas from Sonido. Yes.

ROAST SUMMER VEGETABLES WITH FETA & COUSCOUS

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.

Slice 1 capsicum* and 2 portobello mushrooms into strips, 2-3 cm wide. Cut a smallish red onion into vertical wedges and 6-8 cherry tomatoes into halves. Peel a few cloves of garlic (if you can get fresh, new season garlic, use it by all means!). Place on a baking tray (with the capsicums skin side up, tomatoes cut side up), drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter rosemary leaves on top. Roast for 35-45 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked and the skin on the capsicum’s wrinkled and starting to blister.

Meanwhile, cook 1 cup couscous. Follow the instructions on the package**, but use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water, and stir in a handful of chopped parsley and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin while the couscous is soaking. Once it’s done, drizzle with olive oil and stir in a chunk of butter; fluff with a fork before serving.

Towards the end of the cooking time, slice 1-2 smallish courgettes on the diagonal and grill until cooked through and a bit charred on both sides.

Peel the skin off the capsicum (it should come off easily) and place in a bowl, along with the other vegetables. Add a bit of olive oil to the vegetables if they look a bit dry. Add some torn mint and parsley and as much or as little chilli powder and crumbled feta as you like; toss to combine. Taste and season with more flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Serve the vegetables on top of the couscous. This is one of those dishes that’s great both hot and at room temperature.

*Any colour is fine, though you may prefer to use the sweeter red, yellow or orange.

**I used this one, which is whole wheat and needed a bit more cooking time than usual.

cucumber & mint sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, sorbet, summer, sweets, vegan, vegetarian on 22 December, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m only repeating what everyone around me has been saying, but whoa. Where did this year go? I can’t believe we’re only three days out from Christmas. And finally, it seems, after a week of torrential rain and cloudy skies that weirdly got me really down and unmotivated to do anything Christmas-like, the sun’s out. And it looks like it’ll stay. Summer is here!

I’ll keep this post relatively short because I’m sitting barefoot in the grass on my lunch break, squintily typing away while not knowing exactly what’s going on the screen. But I really wanted to share this sorbet before Christmas, you know, just in case you need a couple more things to add to your to-make list (mine is, luckily, pretty light since I’m going to Christmas dinner at my relatives’ place). Yes, you can enjoy a sorbet anytime during the summer (and all year round, if you ask me) but I just had this fleeting thought that this cool green sorbet would be more somewhat Christms-appropriate served alongside a bowl of strawberries, or you know, something bright red and festive.

I’ve been wanting to make cucumber sorbet for a while (Laura of Hungry and Frozen made a luscious-looking cucumber-lychee one earlier this year) but it hasn’t really been a priority: I have a growing list of about 16 different frozen dessert flavour combinations I want to make, and cucumber-mint was just one of them.

But on Sunday I found myself at the market clutching my last 50-cent piece, wondering if I could get one more thing. And then I realised I was standing directly in front of a box of 50-cent cucumbers. And I remembered cucumber-mint on my sorbet list, and my mint plant was getting pretty bushy… done.

Sunday turned out to be the first sunny day in what felt like an eternity but really was about a week straight of rain. Even though it was still a bit chilly I thought it’d be appropriate to celebrate the return of the sun by making sorbet that very day.

I can totally recommend making this too. It’s super easy to put together, and all you need to plan for if you’re making this for a special occasion is the time it takes to freeze (several hours, at least). And the flavour is divine: it’s without a doubt cucumbery, but not in a salady* way. It’s cool and sweet, almost watermelon-like in flavour, with the mint giving it a beguiling herbaceousness that doesn’t jump out at you but coolly sidles in alongside the cucumber. And then, long after the freezing-cold ice thaws in your mouth there’s a hauntingly minty chill. Yes, so refreshing.

Okay! So now that I’ve told you all that I’ve got to get out of the sun and back to work (just in time, too; I don’t think my eyes can squint any more than they already are,** and I’m starting to sweat from the heat of the sun).

Just a quick note – the recipe below makes about (very roughly measured by me, after I’d already eaten some, whoops!) 400ml so if you’re feeding more than 3-4 people I’d make a double batch. Enjoy!

*my goodness, can you tell it’s the silly season, my brain has turned to mush and my adjectives have turned… adjective-y.

**apologies for any typos. I’m really having a hard time seeing the screen!

CUCUMBER AND MINT SORBET
(makes about 400ml)

150g sugar
¾ cup water
handful of mint
300g cucmber, diced*

First, make some mint syrup: place sugar, water and mint in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring a bit to dissolve the sugar, until it reaches boiling point and the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

While the syrup is cooling, cut up the cucumber and puree it (it’s probably best to use a food processor for this – I used a blender and it didn’t really work because it wasn’t liquidy enough. If you only have a blender, don’t fret – you can get it to a nicer consistency once you add the syrup in the next step).

Add the cooled syrup to the cucumber puree and blend until it’s a nice, smooth consistency. Strain out the pulpy bits using a sieve. Optionally, you could add an egg white here to prevent the sorbet from going all icy in texture, especially if you’re not using a food processor, but I didn’t have any handy so I used a tablespoonful of Hendrick’s gin** for the same purpose.

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, great – follow the instructions. I’ve never owned an ice cream maker so instead I just try to give the sorbet regular stirs as it freezes in order to break up the ice crystals that form. Giving it a couple of whizzes in the food processor during the freezing process made this fairly painless, too.

Before serving, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften up and become ultra-scoopable. Delicious!

*you can peel it if you like, but I didn’t bother – I liked the extra-deep green the skin added to the colour, and you strain out the pulpy bits anyway so you don’t need to worry about texture. Plus… more nutrients? Maybe?

*Cause really, does Hendrick’s and cucumber not just scream summer?

Edited to add: I’m submitting this post to the Sweet New Zealand blogging event, started by Alessandra and hosted this month by Bron – you can see all this month’s entries here.

garam masala & coconut popcorn

In gluten free, snacks, vegan, vegetarian, year-round on 6 December, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Today’s post is not so much a recipe as it is a set of instructions on making one of the best snacks around.

The other night around midnight, after a failed dinner, a failed blogging effort and a failed attempt at sleep, I found myself wide awake with a semi-growling stomach and so I pulled myself out of bed and into the kitchen. Yep, that’s right. Midnight Snack Time.

Sleeping is something I don’t normally find difficult, so Midnight Snack Time is hardly ever something I experience (unless you count, of course, those post-revelry takeaway noodles I sometimes find on my bedside table on certain weekend mornings, but those don’t really count; for one, they’re usually eaten far past midnight to qualify as a Midnight Snack).

But Sunday night I was all out of whack, after a week packed with post-holiday catching-up and madwoman running around organising wigs and gowns and celebration plans for that thing I did on Friday*, and then that thing on Friday and then of course the celebrating and then on Saturday morning I woke up at an ungodly hour** for family activities with my visiting parents and by Saturday evening I was in bed, asleep, before it was even dark out (don’t you love that about summer?) and so Sunday I was physically well-rested and mentally drained: not a good combination for trying to will yourself to sleep.

I’m not sure why popcorn and garam masala were on my mind at that hour of the night, but it was lucky I had chosen those two things rather than, say, cereal or yoghurt or hot buttered toast or even leftovers, because as a consequence of my recent Melbourne trip, I’ve had very little money left with which to buy staple foods like milk or yoghurt or butter.

Or… butter. The realisation struck me as I opened the fridge, after I’d gotten out the popcorn and spices. I was completely out of butter (and, as luck would have it, all other cooking oil). I was about ready to add Midnight Snack Popcorn to my list of Sunday failures when I remembered the bag of random goodies (gin, chocolate, conditioner, my old silk scarf, and so on) my parents had left with me as a parting gift. I was pretty sure the bag also contained a jar of coconut oil. I was right.

So, out of desperation came this pretty damn amazing combination of coconut oil and garam masala on popcorn. I’m not going to pretend I’m the first person to discover it, because it’s pretty elementary. But the discovery, for me, was one of my biggest post-midnight triumphs yet.***

Garam masala (or sometimes curry powder, or other spices) on popcorn is an old trick I’ve had up my sleeve since my university days when I needed a quick study snack. But I’d always turn to butter or vegetable oil to cook my popcorn. I should’ve tried coconut oil sooner: the coconutty flavour isn’t that obvious at first, and the aromatic spiciness of the garam masala fills your mouth with each bite. But then, beneath that, there’s a subtle burst of supple, mellow, almost-sweet coconut flavour that melds with the spices, evoking the warm sea breezes and swaying coconut palms of someplace far from here (that possibly exists only in my imagination, but hey).****

This is better than any movie theatre popcorn (or microwave popcorn, or whatever’d otherwise take your fancy). The spices give it a lingering heat that sticks around far longer than the popcorn actually stays warm; for this reason, it’s ideal for prolonged nibbling over the course of a ninety-minute feature film. Or you can scarf it down, standing in the hallway, at Midnight Snack Time. It’s up to you.

Anyway, it was so good that I had it again yesterday afternoon when I got home from work. Still tasted just as impressive. I urge you to try it, especially if you have some coconut oil (or can get your hands on some). If you don’t, I’d just use butter or a neutral-flavoured oil, and maybe toss some shredded coconut in along with the garam masala just to give it that faint, sweet whiff of some imaginary tropics. Go on. (edited to add: if you’re doing this, might be better to add the coconut in at the end to prevent burning. Thanks, Lucia! x)


*!!!!! It was super exciting.

**of course, with a half-eaten box of char kway teow next to my bed.

***not that I have many post-midnight triumphs (for the most part, I’m asleep at that time of night and when I’m not, I’m not sure I’m achieving much), but still. This was definitely a triumph.

****I’m pretty sure the reason why I associate these particular spices with coconuts and tropics is because my mum brought them over to me from Kerala, a place I’ve never been but which exists strongly in my imagination as a place where there might possibly be hot sea breezes and coconut trees.

GARAM MASALA & COCONUT POPCORN

Melt 1 1/2 – 2 tbsp coconut oil* in a saucepan with a lid. Add a couple generous pinches of salt and 1 tsp** garam masala. Add 50g (approximately 1/4 cup) popcorn kernels and cover the pan with the lid. Heat over medium-high heat, giving everything a good shake every now and then to coat the kernels, until they start to pop. Keep shaking the pan over the heat, using a back-and-forth motion, until the popping slows down. Remove from heat and add more salt and/or garam masala to taste; toss and serve.

Devour while hot or make a big batch and pick at it slowly through the course of a movie: it’s up to you.

*bonus: if you get some on your hands you can slather it all over your skin and you will smell delicious. True fact. (If you don’t have coconut oil, cook the popcorn in the oil of your choice, perhaps adding some shredded coconut with the salt and spices).

**or more, to taste