In My Kitchen, September 2021

There are a few months in the year when you yearn for daylight savings to begin, or cease. September is one of those months. Long before a respectable morning hour, the insistent morning light finds a way into your consciousness, and once the idea of daytime is planted, that dreaming state is over. There’s something rather demanding about this month, especially if you’re a gardener, farmer and home baker: suddenly, there’s just too much to do. I was rather enjoying my winter approach to each brand new day. I finally learnt the art of sleeping in, which has become a sweet ruse. By simply staying put long enough, the first cup of tea arrives, and if undrunk due to an extra bit of dreaming, a frothy strong coffee will follow. The bringer of drinks, my kindly Ghillie Dhub1, spends the first hour of each morning cleaning the train wreck of a kitchen. With good timing, I often arise to a clean canvas.

Risotto all’onda. A springtime risotto with celery and peas. Leftovers will make arancini.
No waste in these dark times. The leftover Spring risotto above becomes some arancini with marjorum pesto two days later.

Since Melbourne has been in lockdown for most of this year, all sorts of trips and events have been cancelled. There’s no point in planning anything until things dramatically alter. A small shopping trip to a boring supermarket has become the welcome chance card in a Monopoly game, ‘Get out of Jail Free’. I’m really looking forward to the days when my vaccination passport allows me to go further. The Victorian countryside has never looked so appealing.

Rad Na. Thai recipe full of rich gravy on fresh rice noodles and tofu.

As a consequence, the kitchen repertoire has expanded to include a greater variety of dishes, since we live nowhere that offers any form of appealing take away. Food has become the highlight of the day. I’m sure this is also the case for many others in semi- permanent lockdown. I usually do a fridge edit each Monday, and write up a possible weekly menu. One welcome ingredient that only lasts a week or so in the fridge is fresh rice noodles. I’ve recently learnt a few hacks regarding their preparation. Take out the required quantity of fresh noodle from the packet, in my case, around 300 gr for two people, place them in a long lidded microwave box, and ding them for 1.5 minutes or so. Then remove and put them into a wide bowl, dressing them with a tablespoon or so of oyster sauce, or Kecap Manis, using your fingers to gently coat them. The noodles are now ready to add to your chosen recipe. In the average home kitchen, fat rice noodles don’t stand up to fierce stir- frying without breaking up, (Char Kway Tiew or Rad Na for example), so forego that smoky taste, and add these prepared noodles to a hot wok, leave them to heat and catch a little without moving them, then add the other precooked ingredients ( greens, prawns, tofu etc) then the sauce. Stir gently through. Old dog learns new tricks. Don’t you love kitchen hacks?

Another version, fresh rice noodle, tofu, broccoli, soya chilli paste.

One of the other features of lockdown for many is the absence of celebration. Significant birthdays come and go without much fanfare but a cake can always be delivered. I made this carrot cake with the de rigueur cream cheese topping for my daughter’s 50th. Happy birthday dear reader, if you missed out on your birthday celebration this month.

Carrot cake with cream cheese topping, caramelised walnuts, borage flowers.

Below are a few dishes that we enjoyed over the last month. I often cook too much but then, on those busy days in the garden when the thought of cooking yet another meal drives me insane, it’s nice to find something hidden in the freezer. The big lasagne made 10 serves, so there are 6 portions left. And there are always extra pies to be found, left over from my pie making days. I often try to replicate typical takeaway meals that we miss in lockdown.

Eggplant and ricotta lasagne. No troops to eat it all, but leftovers freeze well.
Salting the limes for Indian Lime Pickle. I love this condiment but now must wait another week before cracking open a jar.
Sometimes you just need a falafel. So cheap to make, and always keep wraps in the freezer so you can pretend you’ve been to a famous Lebanese take away shop so far out of reach.
Once a week I make pies and deliver 7 down to my family in a nearby village. So far the tuna, potato, leek and dill pie is the favourite. Now that winter is over, the pie run may have to stop.

Below is a collage from my Instagram page ( @francesca.morgan ). As you can see, bread and birds featured often last month. The first pic shows a beautiful mask made by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial fame. It is the most comfortable mask I’ve ever worn and the fabric goes well with this new season. Call me paranoid, but lately I’ve been wearing two masks at once when shopping, which often matches my tendency to wear two pairs of glasses at once- sunglasses on head and readers on face. It’s been a maddening month, but taking photos daily, walking in the bush and cooking goes a long way in the sanity stakes. Thanks once again to Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, who hosts this series each month. It is always a pleasure to look back on some positive experiences in the kitchen and remind myself that we are very fortunate to have so much food.

1In Scottish folklore, the Ghillie Dhu or Gille Dubh was a solitary male fairy. He was kindly and reticent yet sometimes wild in character but had a gentle devotion to children. Dark-haired and clothed in leaves and moss, he lived in a birch wood within the Gairloch and Loch a Druing area of the north-west highlands of Scotland.

Falafel and the Living is Easy

Falafel tends to make a more frequent appearance in my kitchen during summer, probably because it pairs so well with most of the summer vegetables in the garden: it can be made well in advance, before the day’s heat sets in. It is also the ultimate budget meal- one packet of split dried fava beans goes a long way. Not chick peas I hear you say? While I’m quite happy with my chick pea/Israeli/Lebanese version of this famous snack, these days I prefer Egyptian falafel, more accurately known as ta’amia.

Dried split fave beans after soaking for 24 hours then draining.

Lunching well for less than one dollar per head is also very appealing. Frugal opulence, thanks to the hours we spend in the orto, tending herbs and vegetables. When it comes to home-made falafel, the most costly ingredient will probably be the deep-frying oil. I usually make a hummus or tahini dressing to pair with them as they do need the wetness of a good sauce or dip. Serve with a salad of shredded Cos lettuce, finely cubed cucumber, spring onions, mint, and salt tossed about with a little oil and lemon juice.

Crunchy falafel made from split fava beans. Buy these beans at a Middle Eastern shop for around $4 a kilo,

This recipe serves 4. Or two with leftovers for later.

  • 250 g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight or up to 24 hours.
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 5 spring onions, finely sliced including all the green section
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp besan flour
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • a small handful of sesame seeds
  • a tablespoon of water to help in blending, if needed
  • Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)

Drain the fava beans and wash thoroughly, especially if the soaking water has begun to foam. Add them to a large food processer along with all the other ingredients except the sesame seeds, water and oil. Blend until reasonably smooth. You may need to stop the motor and rearrange the contents as you go. Use the water if you feel the mixture is too dry. Finally add the sesame seeds and pulse through.

Place the mixture in a covered bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours or until ready to deep fry. I often rest the mixture overnight.

Add enough oil to a small wok or pan, enough to at least cover the falafel balls. Test the oil by flicking in a tiny piece of the mixture. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Scoop out mixture by the tablespoon and shape with your hands into small balls.  Add to the pan of hot oil, making sure that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Adjust temperature of oil if too fast or slow. The falafel should cook evenly and not too quickly. Turn to brown on both sides then drain on paper towel.

falafel bowl

Makes around 22 falafel. Serve with tahini sauce, or hummus and salads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The secret is out. The best falafel in Melboure can be found at Very Good Falafel, Sydney road, Brunswick, where the hipster version gives the local A1 Bakery Lebanese snack a run for its money. http://www.shukiandlouisa.com/

In My Kitchen, November 2018

It’s around 5 pm and my mind reluctantly begins to address the question of dinner. Lacking inspiration, I pour myself a drink, an encouraging white wine and immediately think of risotto, a dish that asks if it may share some of the bottle. There are tons of broadbeans ( fava beans) and leeks in the garden and plenty of herbs: a risotto primaverile could be the answer. At other times, I do the common thing and google a few ingredients in the subject line, hoping for an instant answer, fully conscious of the fact that random internet recipes are unreliable and are simply another form of procrastination. I often ask Mr T what he would like for dinner. In our household the answer always comes back as a one word statement indicating a particular ethnic cuisine. “What about some Indian?” (or Thai, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese)? he responds. Vietnamese is off my cooking list- I save that cuisine for at least one economical dining option when out and about. When Melburnians eat, they choose from a huge array of influences and are familiar enough with many cuisines to cook them confidently in their own kitchens.

Risotto Primaverile. Inspired by spring vegetables and white wine and of course, Italy.

It’s one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much. Sitting in the A1 Bakery yesterday, a cheap and cheerful Lebanese restaurant in a vibrant inner suburb, we were surrounded by Australian people of the world, dressed in all manner of clothing styles, from Hijab to Hipster. The decor is eclectic and a little quirky. Above the counter stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in all her blue and white Catholic glory, an outfit not dissimilar to that worn by some of the customers, while displayed in front of her is a long row of 1 metre high golden hookahs. An odd assortment of pictures decorate the far walls:- a primitive painting of Ned Kelly, the Irish- Australian bushranger legendary hero, an oil painting of Saint Sharbel, a Lebanese Maronite saint dressed in brown monastic garb, a large velvet rug featuring some knife wielding Ottoman Cossacks, and a childlike painting of a cockatoo. The place is always noisy and very busy. On a nearby table, a large group of girls are enjoying a shared lunch together: they have just finished their final year school exams and are celebrating at one of Melbourne’s most affordable eateries. They are Middle Eastern, Turkish, African and Asian Australians. A couple wear glamourously draped head-dress over their teenage uniform of jeans and t-shirts. They speak Melburnian – time to recognise that Australian English has many distinct dialects – and their youthful laughter is infectious.

Below, my home-made falafel, this time with more Egyptian influence and lots of herbs

 

My next door neighbour in the city has just returned from her annual holiday in Greece. For the last 22 years she has tried to teach me basic Greek. We chat in a mixture of broken English and, in my case, almost non-existent Greek – a case of trying to recognise as many Greek roots and suffixes or Italian sounding words, over a some warm Tiropsomo, a fetta cheese bread snack. Like a little bit of Ouzo, says Anna at any time of the day. Oooh, my favourite Greek word: yes please. She pours herself a thimble full while I receive a good little glass, enough to change the flavour of the day. Cheers, Stin ygiasou . She is now 86 and I want to spend more time in her kitchen. Greek influence in my kitchen extends to old favourites such as Spanakopita, that famous greens and fetta pie, Gigantes, the best of bean dishes, home-made taramsalada and dolmades. I’m keen to learn a few more Greek tricks.

Crostini with smashed broad beans and Greek Fetta. Italy meets Greece via Sicily often in Melbourne. Pick one kilo of broadbeans ( fava), shell them, boil for one minute then remove tough outer casings, mix and smash, season well. Top grilled sourdough with mixture, then add some crumbled sheep fetta, olive oil and mint leaves.

The annual Spring BBQ at Barnardi’s place took place recently: this is one of the culinary highlights of my year. When I arrive at most parties, I usually reach for a glass of wine before perusing the food offerings. At Barnadi’s, I head straight to the buffet table- the anticipation of his traditional Indonesian food is so overwhelming, I become outrageously greedy. Barnadi is a chef who once ran a famous Indonesian restaurant, Djakarta. Lately, he has returned to his roots and is cooking more traditional Indonesian recipes. The Australians attending this event all share a diverse background- Indonesian, Thai, British, Greek, Italian and Swedish, a healthy Melburnian blend. The dessert table included a tray of sticky rice green and pink Indonesian cakes, some Javanese Gembong, a rich Spanish flan, a chocolate cheesecake and a Hummingbird cake for Adam’s birthday.

Barnadi’s sweet creations, photo courtesy of Adam. The long dish second from the left contains Gembong, my favourite Javanese sweet, sold in streets of Cipanas, West Java.

 

My mother recently moved into an elderly care facility, commonly known as ‘the place’. The first thing we checked out was the menu. The food is fabulous and varied: the chef, who once had his own restaurant and is of Indian Fijian background, has a great approach to the menu. He hopes to eat this well when he is elderly and so he cooks as if he were a guest at the table. Yes, it’s Karma, we both agree. Visitors can eat with the residents with notice, and there’s always a spare dessert available when visiting during meal times. They are sensational. Each member of staff, from manager to cleaner, is genuinely caring and friendly: they smile, dance and chat to all. These Aussies have Chinese, Malaysian, and Filipino backgrounds and I am so thankful for their loving care of my mother.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite Australian comedy clips, each with a multi cultural theme.  Laugh or cringe. Thanks Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this monthly series.