Summer Buddha Bowls

Buddha bowls have made a mysterious appearance around here lately. They are deceptive little meals. Initially, they seem easy enough- shove a few things in a bowl, grab a fork or chopsticks and plonk yourself and filled bowl in front of Netflix, then veg out – literally. But once you get into the building stage, you may find yourself led down a culinary rabbit hole, creating more and more interesting elements to complement your initial idea.

Buddha bowls, otherwise known as macro or hippy bowls, have been around for a few years, spreading from the inner suburban haunts of the hipster to outer suburban caf√©s and the countryside. According to the urban dictionary, ‘Buddha bowls are¬†packed so full that they have a rounded belly appearance on the top much like the belly of a buddha’. While I’m not one for succumbing to food trends, I love a hippy macro buddha bowl in summer, so long as certain conventions are followed.

A fine Buddha Bowl is one where the individual elements and flavours complement each other culturally and ethnically. I tend to apply this general principle to other plated meals too. I don’t like mixing Middle Eastern foods with Asian, or Mediterranean with Indonesian, though I have eaten some culturally mismatched foods in cafes which make me cringe. I like to start with a particular cuisine- Japanese, for example, then ferret around the pantry and fridge finding elements that build on that theme. You could add more guidelines:¬†there should be contrast in colour and texture and the composition should be appealing to the eye and not look like a dog’s dinner. Try to include one grain, preferably a wholegrain, the macro element, and some form of protein- such as egg, fish, pulses, beans, or tofu, as well as fresh uncooked vegetables, something pickled, seeds or nuts, and a good dressing. Your bowl doesn’t have to be overflowing like a fat Buddha- a few contrasting elements with some good flavour is all you need.

Today’s macro hippy buddha bowl followed a Japanese path and tasted clean and sustaining. It¬† included:

  • brown rice, cooked, cooled a little, then dressed with sushi dressing and black sesame seeds
  • tofu chunks, fried, then glazed in a miso and mirin sauce
  • pickled cucumber and red onion with ginger for crunch
  • fresh mustard leaves, shredded
  • young radishes

It was one of my ‘holier than thou’ bowls, perfect for the post-Christmas season, the umami element, the warm miso sauced fried tofu, saving the dish from total puritanism. I also considered adding some torn nori. Steamed green beans tossed in browned sesame seed sauce might have gone well too, or a sliced avocado. On market day, a crunchy fried miso glazed small fish would be a good addition. The thing is to use what you have that sits comfortably within a particular country’s culinary framework and that includes using a neutral flavoured oil, and not olive oil, if heading down the Asian path.

When does a bowl become a share platter? New terminology for old ideas. The Medit bowl made from Puy lentils, dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar, parsley, shallots, goat’s cheese, black olives, toasted almonds. Served with croutons.

Last week’s bowls included a Mediterranean bowl for two ( pictured above) and an Indian feast. To be fair, Indian bowls are as old as Buddha himself. While the rice and dhal are cooking, begin creating small add ons- baked cauliflower with whole cumin seeds, toasted almonds, hard-boiled eggs, and a simple raita, made from yoghurt and cucumber or mint. At this time of year, fresh mango chutney adds a seasonal sweet¬†touch.

The Indian bowl. White rice, hard-boiled egg, baked cauliflower in Indian spices with toasted slivered almonds. Masoor Dal, tomato salad, Raita with mint, mango chutney.

Today’s pickle was made as the rice cooked. It goes well with Japanese meals and makes a nice crunchy change from the commercial pink pickled ginger. It is not one to store.

  • 2 small cucumbers, finely sliced
  • one red onion, finely sliced
  • 1 cup rice vinegar/ or apple cider if improvising
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced/grated ginger.
  • pinch of dried chilli flakes.

Layer vegetables in a small jar. Mix the sugar, salt and vinegar, stir until blended and pour over. Leave for one hour.

Part of today’s culinary rabbit hole- a crunchy fresh pickle.

Happy Holidays dear readers.

Zucchini Bhaji, Gluten-Free Vegan Snacks.

Zucchini Bhaji
Zucchini Bhaji

Here they are again, the summer zucchini growing like triffids, their dazzling yellow flowers opening loudly in the sun, enticing insects to enter, then closing snugly with the tramonto or¬†sunset.¬†Their fruitfulness is always a mixed blessing as most zucchini growers will attest : there are always too many for one household. Catching them while they are discreet in size is part of the game- come back from a weekend away and you’re in for a rude surprise. Big ones sap the energy of the plant, reducing flowering and productivity. The larger zucchini are also rather bland in flavour, a case of bigger not being better! Constant harvesting is wise, as it is with all vegetables. Pick¬†often¬†and be rewarded.

Morning bees busy with cross pollination

Many folk  have a swag of favourite recipes for dealing with their annual zucchini glut, I am sure. I have at least 20 standby recipes and am always looking for more. Throughout summer, we use zucchini in:

  • simple soups,
  • fried and tossed through pasta alla carbonara
  • grated and incorporated into fritters, patties and bhajis
  • combined with cheese into old-fashioned¬†baked¬†slices
  • gutted and refilled with ricotta and baked in the oven
  • pickled with mustard seed
  • grilled to lay on a pizza
  • substituting eggplants in a parmigiana bake
  • vinegared with balsamic and garlic
  • sliced vertically into carpaccio salad
  • fried with their friends the tomatoes to make Prov√©ncal tians and tarts
  • grated into breads, muffins and cakes

They are summer’s green gifts. When their day is done, sometime down the track in Autumn, we say Addio for another year.

Zucchini Bhaji with minted yoghurt

Zucchini Bhaji

These little fried morsels are a cross between an onion bhaji and a vegetable pakhora. They don’t last long, and are often eaten as they exit the wok and don’t make it to the table. This recipe would feed two very greedy people or make snacks for four. It can be doubled for a family- kids love them.¬†Different spices may be used, such as cumin or coriander. The batter needs to be thicker than cream but not too stiff.

  • two medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • ¬ĺ¬†cup besan/chick pea flour
  • ¬ľ¬†cup rice flour
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon baking powder
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teas salt
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teas garam masala
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teas chilli powder
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • ¬Ĺ¬†cup or so water
  • plain oil (not olive oil) for frying

Grate the zucchini and leave in a colander, covered with a weight, for 1/2 hour or so. Slice the onion.

Make the batter by mixing the dry ingredients with the water. Also let the batter sit for 1/2 an hour or more, un refrigerated so that the batter begins to ferment a little.

Add the vegetables to the batter and mix well. Add oil to a wok and heat until a bread piece sizzles. Deep frying is recommended as the fritters stick to the pan with shallow frying and tend to retain too much oil. If the temperature of your oil is hot, the bhaji should fry quickly. Turn once or twice using tongs, and then draining on paper towels.

Serve with Podina Chutney if you have an abundant mint supply, or a mint laced yoghurt dressing.

This snack is gluten and lactose free and vegan. Many zucchini recipes, quite by chance, are.

Crisp zucchini bhaji snacks.

 

 

Who Listens to the Radio?

Morning peak hour, and we’re heading down through busy freeway traffic from Bribie Island to Coolangatta. The ABC radio channel crackles and croaks: morning radio and the Melbournian sounds of Jon Faine seem like a long way from here, both physically and culturally. Scanning through the options, we find an Indian channel that keeps us amused, with a pleasant mix of Bollywood and Indian classics interspersed with Hindi chatter, which lasts the duration or the journey. At one point, the commentator broke into English and simply said,

              Make the most of the day you have been given

This little phrase interrupted my thoughts. I stopped playing with the phone and began to reflect, as the hypnotic sounds of a Hindi melody transported me to another place, like meditation and a morning Raga.

Now a week later and I am back home, that little phrase still hangs in the air. I have found an online Indian radio station, Radio Garam Masala, to be a wonderful antidote to all the bad news, political posturing or mindless guffawing on the radio. Not knowing the language helps!

              Make the most of the day you have been given

Rajma Curry and Back to the Budget.

I’ve indulged in a few wanton and delicious splurges lately. One involved a long lunch at a nearby restaurant. Mr Tranquillo and I, tired of¬†picking, prepping and pickling produce, agreed it was time someone else cooked our lunch. We chose Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham, not only because¬†of it’s ‘hat’ awards over the years, but also because the menu looked like it might please my very fastidious palate. The¬†degustation¬†menu for two looked perfect, and at $90 each, a steal. The whole experience was delightful and exquisite: the setting, elegant with soft lighting, the staff discreet but well-informed, the food exceptional, cheffy but very good. No photos were taken. I was rather pleased to discover a vacuum in my camera’s memory card slot. It was a sign not to spoil a heavenly experience with the tedious, pedestrian business of the taking of photos. Enough said. Just go to Mercer’s when you need to be spoilt.

As an antidote to this splurge, and in keeping with my resolution of the New Year, I now return to my $1.00 per head feasts with this Rajma Masala recipe. The Indian ( Hindi) word for red kidney bean sounds more exotic than the English, the latter with allusions to tie-dyed hippydom. This is a classic Indian vegetarian curry.  Break out the Bollywood and dance as you prepare your simple feast. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARajma Curry for 2 (or many as part of a larger banquet)

Ingredients

  • 200 gr red kidney beans/rajma
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves + 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped + 1 green chilli, crushed to a paste in a mortar and pestle ( or small blender)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ¬ľ to ¬Ĺ tsp red chili powder
  • ¬ľ tsp turmeric powder
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • ¬ľ tsp to ¬Ĺ tsp garam masala powder
  • 2 cups of stock or water
  • 2 to 3 tbsp cream
  • salt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Method

  1.  Rinse and soak the beans in enough water overnight or for 8 hours. The next day, discard the water and rinse the beans again in fresh water and cook in a pressure cooker, or on the stove till soft and cooked.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot or wok. Add cumin seeds and let them crackle and brown a little, then add the onions and cook gently until soft and caramelised
  3.  Add the ginger/garlic/chili paste. Stir and saute for 5-10 seconds on low heat.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes. Saute for 2-3 minutes till soft.
  5. Add all the spice powders- turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, asafoetida and garam masala powder and stir through until the oil separates from the masala.
  6.  Add the drained beans to the mixture. stir through. You may decide not to add them all.
  7. Add 1+ 1/2 cups or stock, water or bean cooking liquid to the mixture and add salt to taste.
  8.  Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or more till the curry thickens slightly.
  9. Mash around a third of the bean mixture in a mortar and pestle and add back to the mixture to thicken the curry.
  10.  When the curry has thickened, add the cream and stir through. Check seasoning.

Serve with rice and cucumber raita. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Simple Cucumber Raita

  • small cucumber, peeled , seeded, diced.
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • small handful chopped coriander
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds
  • a little plain oil.

Mix the yoghurt and cucumber together, add the chopped coriander and a little salt. Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the seeds till they pop and brown and add to the yoghurt mixture, Return mixture to fridge to cool further. Make this ahead of time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Beet Paneer: Curry for a Cold Snap

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been forced back indoors. Today, at the height of Spring, a cold front blew in¬†and the temperature plummeted to 8.5 celsius. That’s Melbourne for you.

Yesterday afternoon was a different story. I felt like Mortisha in my Melbourne black: the hot sun beat down on my layered clothing, making the post- prandial walk quite uncomfortable. For those readers who live anywhere in the world but Melbourne, I should mention that Melbournians favour black dressing.

We had lunched at the Woodlands Hotel, a quirky hotel with an unusual menu, in Sydney Road, Coburg. We were merrily celebrating a birthday and enjoying a post- Bali get together when I noticed Madame Rosalie’s curry, a play on that Indian classic,¬†Muttar Paneer, only substituting silverbeet and broad beans for the peas. What a brilliant idea! These seasonal vegetables have reached plague proportions in my garden. Today I’m making a silver beet¬†Paneer curry, then next week, the Muttar Paneer, substituting broad beans for regular peas, using the same curry base as below.

Silverbeet Paneer

Ingredients.

  • A big bunch of young silver beet
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely¬†chopped
  • 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml thickened cream, (or whey from paneer¬†or yoghurt¬†making, as well as some cream)
  • 200gr paneer, cut into 2cm square cubes, either purchased or homemade.

Method.

Strip leaves from silver beet and add to a large pan, and add a little water. (Use stalks for another recipe). Cook quickly until the leaves are wilted but still vibrant looking. Drain, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile in a heavy based pot, heat oil or ghee, then add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion has softened. Add the chopped tomato, and spices (except garam masala) . Stir for 30 seconds, then add a little whey or cream to loosen. Add the silver beet leaves, salt and sugar, and the rest of the cream.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring. When cooler, use an immersion blender and puree the mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn to the stove, heat gently, then add the chopped paneer and the garam masala. Swirl through a little more cream when serving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This dish is ample for four, with rice, assuming that there is another dish, such as dhal or another curry, and raita.

Just like the cucina povera of Italy, Indian food costs little to make. The ingredients came from the garden or the pantry. ¬†The blow out was the purchased paneer. ¬†Next time, I’ll make my own.

Footnote: this tastes even better the next day!