Keralan Lemon Rice

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Lemon Rice from Kerala, India

The travel brochures in Kerala refer to their State as “God’s own Country” and I have to agree. Bordered on one side by the Malabar Coast, there are many spots along that stretch of sea to while away the hours, Varkala being the most famous. The breeze blows gently from the Arabian sea, the people are friendly, it is the home of Ayurvedic medicine, the food is sensational and the fertile jungle, reaching up into the tea gardens at Munnar, provide the world with the spices we love- cardamom, vanilla, black pepper, along with other goods such as coffee, tea, cashews, rubber and coconut. Like most folk who visit that State in India, we arranged to spend two days travelling on a rice barge through the backwaters,  a ‘network of  interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets, a labyrinthine system formed by more than 900 km of waterways.’ Kettuvallums, old restored rice barges, are houseboats which travel very slowly around the tranquil backwaters near Alleppey (Alappuzha), passing colourful villages, fertile agricultural scenery and larger lakes. It is easy enough to organise your trip once you are in Alappuzha. There are many agencies around the town or be guided by the recommendation of your guest house owner.

Life on board a rice barge, Keral India
Life on board a rice barge, Kerala, India
fisherman1
A lone fisherman, backwaters, Kerala.

Our houseboat tour for two included all meals, a comfortable bedroom with en suite, two living areas, one with a dining table, the other, a deck with two comfortable cane chairs to watch the world go by. You may need to do some serious exercise after the trip as the meals are generous. We enjoyed a mostly vegetarian diet with the occasional fish when available. The meals included rice, chappatis or puri, four curries and raita, and fried river fish. The cook, a young man trained to work in hotel restaurants, would negotiate a fish purchase along the way by popping into backwater village markets for fresh supplies. On one occasion, he came back with some huge fresh water marron, which he cleaned and then rubbed with a wet masala mix to marinate for some hours before frying. I loved watching him prepare our meals.

Our unch
A seriously good lunch on board a houseboat in Kerala.

Lemon rice appears on the menu often in Kerala. It makes a perfect side dish to fried fish or an egg curry. It is  also a very soothing dish: there are never any leftovers.

Lemon rice
Lemon rice

Lemon Rice

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons channa dal
  • 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 teaspoons or more of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the mustard and cumin seeds. When they start to splutter, add the cashews and channa dal, and stir over heat to roast. When the nuts begin to colour, add the hot rice, ginger, turmeric, salt and freshly chopped coriander. Stir thoroughly to combine.

Sprinkle with the lemon juice and asafoetida to serve.

Notes.  The success of this dish relies very much on all the little crunchy bits which are roasted at the beginning. If you don’t have channa dal, use masoor or mung dal instead. Broken raw cashews are often found in Middle Eastern stores. Use long grain or medium grain rice, not basmati.

Recipe adapted from Tasting India, Christine Manfield, 2011

Cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, INda. Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it!!!
A cooking class in Varkala, Kerala, India. Lemon rice towards the back, two paratha, one vegetable curry, one spicy fish, pakoras, banana pancake.  Mr T and I made the food and then we had to eat it all!!!

Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic épicerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured apé trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

Moulin Rouge. Retro Tomato Soup.

Since I’ve been making this soup, the tomato glut is no longer a double-edged sword. Requiring no special tomato peeling and seeding or fine chopping, I can get this soup going quickly and come back later to a bit of arm gymnasium, via the hand cranked Mouli. I have simplified the recipe so that I can remember the balance of ingredients, then whip it up at whim with consistent retro tasting results. Almost every ingredient has the number three in it. This quantity serves 8 – 10 people. Make a big load when you have a tomato glut or meet one in a Farmers Market. It freezes very well.

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Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup

Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup – a retro styled soup, loved by children and elders alike.

  • 3 kilos fresh vine ripened tomatoes. ( I used Rouge de Marmande tomatoes which have a fabulous depth of flavour and give off lots of juice )
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, or around 300 gr, peeled and chopped
  • 3 small celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 or more large cloves garlic ( more is good!)
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or use water and a stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 torn bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground pepper, white pepper is best with this soup.
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil

Choose a large heavy bottomed soup pot. Heat the oil then add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook on medium heat, stirring often to soften until the onion turns a  pale golden colour. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir about and let them give off their juices for 5 minutes.  Then add the tomato paste, stirring through, then the stock, bay leaf and salt. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer on low with the lid off for 40 minutes of so.

Remove the pot from the heat. Lay a mouli over a bowl so that it sits neatly when the arms are extended. Sit the bowl on a tea towel so that it is stable. Ladle a cup at a time and turn the handle, pressing though as much as you can to extract colour and sweetness from the tomato, carrot and onion residue. You may need to pour off the pureed soup back into a clean and empty soup pot as you go, given the quantity. Don’t attempt to process or blend this soup- the flavour comes from the pressing.

Mouli
The pressing in action

When all the pureed soup is back in the pot, reheat, adding freshly ground pepper and chopped basil.

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Thick, Red and Retro

We like our soup straight, but adding cream gives it a different texture which is comforting on a cooler day.

Moulin Rouge Goes Flash

  • briefly chargrill some sea scallops, halve them and place them in the centre of the soup before serving.
  • serve with fingers of toast spread with tapenade.
  • or with olive oil oven baked crostini, spread with gorgonzola, then briefly grill.

    red fix
    A popular red fix for a big weekend, sometimes known as the Cure.

 

 

Zucchini Alert. Zucchini Parmigiana

Zucchini Parmigiana
Zucchini Parmigiana

I know what you’re thinking, not another zucchini recipe from Casa Morgana. The zucchini in our garden don’t look like they’re slowing down soon- in fact, they are gaining momentum, so my zucchini repertoire continues to expand. This recipe is based on the famous Melanzane Parmigiana but is made with fresh zucchini instead of eggplant, along with a sauce from their garden team-mate, fresh tomatoes. It is, for me, Italian comfort food at its best, and good when I feel tired. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, use a large can of tomatoes instead. Start the prep early, given the stages to this homely dish.

Zucchini Parmigiana (Serves 4-6 with salad and a side dish)

Ingredients.

  • one kilo medium-sized zucchini
  • a little olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
  • one kilo of fresh vine ripened tomato
  • herbs, either fresh basil or fried oregano
  • 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • sliced mozzarella
  • grated grana padano parmigiano cheese.
grilled zucchini slices.
grilled zucchini slices.
  1. Choose a kilo of medium-sized zucchini. Cut the ends off and slice them vertically. Don’t cut these too finely as they need to stand up to some intense cooking and hold their shape in the final layering.
  2. Choose a gratin baking dish, either oval or oblong. Butter or oil base and sides.
  3. Grill the sliced zucchini on a stove top ridged griller. When all done, keep aside and season lightly as you go.
  4. Skin the tomatoes, then chop them, removing most of the seed.
  5. Add some olive oil to a saucepan, cook the garlic briefly, then throw in the tomatoes and herbs. Let the sauce simmer and cook down slowly for 30 minutes or more. Add tomato paste to thicken. The sauce should still have some texture, unlike tomato passata.
  6. Begin layering the dish, starting with a little sauce, followed by the zucchini (cut these to size as you go to match your serving dish). Then some mozzarella, then some grated parmesan.
  7. Continue layering in this way until the ingredients are used, finishing with a cheese layer.
  8. Bake in a medium oven, 180c FF for around 20 minutes or until the top has coloured.
  9. Serve with a side dish that will soak up the juices. I chose some orecchiette with a little butter, pepper and fresh basil leaves. Mash is also good or just crusty bread.
Zucchini Parmigiana con Orecchiette e Basilico

 

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.

Easy Cherry Frangipane Tart. Like a Version.

Those of you, dear friends, who have followed this blog for a while may remember the other versions of my easy frangipane tart. The summer apricot version is extremely popular with readers but the pear version is my favourite in late Autumn. Follow the seasons and try any fresh fruit you fancy.

The cherry rendition follows the same recipe but this time I have used a rectangular fluted baking tin, and added a cherry coulis. The pitting of cherries was a speedy exercise, thanks to a little research and Mr Tranquillo’s nimble hands. The best kitchen gadget for cherry pitting is a plain icing or piping tip- you just push the tip through one end of the cherry and out pops the pip. The alternative, but a little slower, is the pointed end of a chopstick. Magic tricks in the kitchen.

Torta di Mandorle, Ciliegie e Amaretto – Italian Almond and Cherry Tart with Amaretto.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  •  150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 500 g or less of dark, ripe cherries, pitted.
  • 25 g flaked almonds

Method

Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease a 34 cm x 12 cm loose bottom rectangular tin. Grease and line base. Grease and flour sides. ( or use a 25 cm round loose bottomed tin as per original recipe links above)

Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale. ( if the mixture curdles at this point, throw in a little of your pre-measured flour, or just don’t worry). Scrape down the sides as you go.

Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin.

Press whole cherries into the almond batter.
Press whole cherries into the almond batter.

Arrange the cherries and press them into the batter so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. You might not use all the cherries so reserve them for a coulis.

Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.
Scatter top with almond flakes then bake.

Bake for about 40 mins but check after 30 mins and move the tray around for even browning. Cool in tin, then remove to a flat serving platter.

In profile
In profile after baking

Cherry Coulis.

Using the remaining pitted cherries, halve them, put in a small saucepan with a little caster sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook gently for five minutes then puree in a blender. Strain if you like a fine coulis. If too runny, put the mixture back into the pan to reduce a little.

Cherry Frangipane with a little sifted icing sugar
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.
Al fresco con una torta di mandorle e ciliegie.

The Vegetarian’s Sausage Roll

When I first made these un- sausage rolls a few years ago, my died- in- the-wool vegetarian daughter didn’t enjoy them because they tasted too much like the real thing, that is, sausage meat. Like that old advertisement, ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’, one might exclaim, ‘I can’t believe it’s not a sausage roll.’ They’re a lot healthier than the real thing and great to have stashed in the freezer for the silly season. Sausage roll connoisseurs and those with a hangover may feel a little cheated of the fat and unctuous smell. Most will not even notice. Pass the tomato sauce please.

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The veggo sausage roll

This recipe is for mini bite- sized rolls. If you prefer a larger lunchtime shape, cut the puff pastry squares into halves and fill more generously .

Ingredients.

Before you gather your ingredients, remove the four sheets of puff pastry from the freezer and defrost.

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup well-drained ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup crushed walnuts
  • 2½ Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs made from stale bread
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 sheets frozen puff pastry
  • ff

Method

  • Heat oven to 18oc fan forced and line biscuit trays with baking paper, or grease if you prefer.
  • Mix walnuts, eggs, ricotta cheese, onion and soy sauce together in a large bowl.
  •  Add rolled oats, breadcrumbs, herbs, parmesan and salt and pepper and mix well.
  • Cut pastry sheets into thirds and lay a thin strip of mixture down the middle of each sheet.
  • Roll up and seal edges with milk.
  • Flatten the backs of the rolls gently with the back of a knife then cut into 5 or 6 pieces.
  • Brush each roll with eggwash and place on the baking trays.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cool on a wire rack.
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Another batch to freeze.

Any scraps of leftover puff pastry can be twisted into shapes and dusted with parmesan then baked until golden.

This recipe is adapted from veggiemama’s version. I have added dried mixed herbs for that old-fashioned sausage roll taste. As I tend to have ricotta on hand, I use this. Mixing by hand is preferable when using ricotta. Other recipes ‘out there’ use fetta or cottage cheese. I have avoided the addition of lentils, as much as I love them, as meat eaters tend to detect them a mile off. And no grated carrots!

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On a roll.

Funghi Ripieni. Portobello Mushrooms stuffed with Stracchino and Gremolata

The difference between English and Italian always fascinates me, especially when it comes to cooking terms. Not only does Italian sound beautiful, it often seems more accurate and visual. Take, for example, one of the Italian terms used for stuffing. When stuffing vegetables, squid or mussels, the word used is ripieni/e, which literally translates to re-filled.  When I scrape out the centre of a zucchini or eggplant, or the guts of a calamari, I am visualising a new filling, un ripieno.

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Stuffed and ready to bake.

The English term, stuffed, seems much less desirable: it sounds crude and ordinary. In the last twenty years or so, the word has become the more acceptable term for the volgare, to fuck. ‘I’m stuffed, I can’t be stuffed, stuff it, get stuffed!’- are now quotidian versions of that vulgar form, but we all know what is indicated. How language evolves! I know that when I’m really annoyed, or sometimes even playful, I head straight to the ancient, Germanic sounding version, and don’t waste my time with stuffing or any grammatical forms thereof.

The recipe below makes an easy and fast entrée and is a good stand by.

Funghi Ripieni con Stracchino e Gremalata/ Stuffed Mushrooms with Stracchino and Gremolata.

  • 8 large Portobello mushrooms, stems removed
  • ½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil or more
  • ¼ of one round of Stracchino cheese
  • 1 cup day old breadcrumbs, sourdough or other rustic bread
  • 2 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic,or to taste.

Heat oven to 180c.

Lay mushrooms on lined baking tray. Use foil or baking paper as this enables the juice to be retained as the mushrooms cook. Fill the cavities with lumps of Stracchino cheese.

Mix the chopped herbs and garlic with half the breadcrumbs, wet a little with the oil. Add to the top of the cheese filled mushrooms. Add more crumbs to the top.

Using an oil pourer, liberally dress the top of the mushrooms with oil as well as around the base. You want some oil to reach under the mushrooms too.

Cook in the oven until the tops begin to brown and the mushrooms soften. The mushrooms will ooze some lovely juice. Serve two per person, drizzle with the juice from the pan and add a side salad of dressed bitter leaves such as radicchio.

Note- in the past I have tended to use fetta or even better, Persian fetta to stuff mushrooms, along with thyme and garlic in the topping.  Stracchino cheese makes a nice change, given that it is a runny and very bland cheese, allowing the stronger tasting herbs to star.

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Funghi ripieni con Strachino e gremolata.