Spring Gardening and Green Recipes

‘Eat your greens’ was a familiar reproach from the elders around my childhood dinner table, as the boiled beans lay listlessly on the plate at the end of a meal. My father tried to lighten the mood by inventing riddles to encourage or distract the young diners, “Beans were made for queens”, or rhymes about historical events. There was nothing appetising or appealing about cooked greens in the Australian kitchens of the 1950s and 60s. All the culinary devotion was given to the meat, the centre piece of all our meals except on Fridays. The range of greens was fairly limited and included beans, peas, cabbage, brussel sprouts and lettuce, that is, iceberg lettuce. Broccoli, broccoletti, cima di rape, kale, cavolo nero, fennel, asparagus, broad beans, radicchio, bok choy, chinese broccoli, choy sum, wong bok and the vast variety of lettuces came to Australia much later. Silverbeet appeared occasionally, always served under a blanket of bechamel. Parsley was the main herb grown, the curly variety used to decorate scrambled eggs or a casserole, never featuring in its own right as a pesto or in tabouleh. Basil Genovese was still to make itself known and loved, followed by Thai and Greek basil. And then came Japanese herbs and leaves, shiso and mustard greens, mizuna, as well as the wild pungent rocket, rucola selvatica,¬†that pops up everywhere, anise, coriander, lemon grass, the green tops of turnips and radish, the leaves of pumpkins, and the chicory family of greens.

All the greens of the world have their moment of glory in my garden and I would be lost without them. Most grow wild now. They are the star of many a dish, or are the inspiration for others. My green garden is most prolific in Spring and now, as I pull out the last of the broad beans, and watch the parsley and silverbeet bolt towards heaven, I’ll share a few simple green recipes.

Silverbeet and haloumi cheese fritters in the making.

These silverbeet and haloumi fritters were popular for lunch. They are fast and easy to prepare. I’m tempted to call them gozleme fritters as the taste is similar to the filling of a Turkish gozleme. Some oil softened onion could be a good addition to the mix. I always keep a tub of brined Haloumi in the fridge and find that buying it bulk in a Middle Eastern store is economical. A big tub lasts a year.

Silverbeet and Haloumi Fritters

  • 180g haloumi cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 cups silverbeet, finely shredded
  • 2 Tablespoons mint, finely shredded
  • 1 lemon, finely zested
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 2¬† Tablespoons EV olive oil

Grate the haloumi on a box grater ( large hole) into a bowl. Remove the white stalks from the silver beet and finely shred then add to the bowl. (Save the stalks for a soup or gratin). Add the mint, lightly beaten eggs, and flour. Mix well. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Scoop large tablespoons into the pan, and slightly flatten as you go. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Gently turn to brown both sides and place them on a plate with paper towels to absorb the oil. Serve with a lemon wedge or yoghurt.

Smashed fava beans, haloumi, mint and lemon.

The broad beans starred in many a recipe during Spring, but this dish, also using haloumi, was popular.

Smashed Broad Beans with Haloumi, mint and lemon.

  • up to 1 kilo broad beans
  • 150-200 g haloumi
  • one garlic clove
  • sea salt, black pepper
  • EV olive oil
  • mint
  • lemon wedges

Shell the beans and cook briefly in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Remove the skins by popping the green centres out between your thumb and forefinger. (This is an easy but tedious task, and one I hand over to my kitchen hand, Signore Tranquillo, who is an uncomplaining soul.) Smash most of the beans in a mortar and pestle, adding some finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil. Meanwhile fry rectangular pieces of haloumi in hot oil. They don’t take long to turn golden. Prepare the serving dish with salad leaves, then the smashed fava beans, then the fried haloumi and torn mint leaves. Place lemon¬† wedges on the side.

Broad beans getting gently smashed, leaving a few whole.

I have a few more wonderful green dishes to share with you dear reader, but am waiting on one of my taste testers to give her final verdict on my latest silverbeet invention. Until then, addio, and happy green cooking and I mean that literally.

My girls grazing in a large grassy orchard. They love our leftovers and hang around along the fence line waiting for their daily greens. The eggs taste sensational. Greens and eggs go well together.
Last of the broadies and broccolini Calabrese which keeps on giving.

In My Kitchen, October 2016

In My Kitchen I have lemons galore, swollen and juicy from the abundant Spring rains. This means more lemon cakes, lemon delicious pudding and perhaps some lemon cordial for the hot days ahead. Those balmy days are still a way off, days of Gin and Lemonade under a shady verandah, an appealing phantom. Spring is slow in arriving: it has been wet and cold to date as La Ni√Īa¬†has made her presence felt throughout this State: our trickle of a creek is now a raging torrent.

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Limoni

Mum’s old lemon tree provides bags full for all those who ask. Her adult children and grandchildren are the main beneficiaries as well as her gardener and her Turkish neighbours who use lemons in so many exciting ways. The enticing aroma of charcoal barbecued meats doused in lemon juice wafts over her fence in summer. Visitors to the tree are asked to fetch the higher lemons and ones at the rear of the tree, leaving the easy ones for Mum ( who is 93) to gather. The tree is protected by fences and shrubbery, the soil is kept bare to the drip line and it is well watered in summer. Sometimes it needs a prune, giving it new lease of life for a few years but on the whole, the tree thrives on neglect.

lGreen depression glass emon reemer and juice
Green Depression glass lemon juicer or reamer and jug

These lovely green Depression glass items live in a special cabinet and came out for the lemon shoot. They are only visiting my kitchen.

almond mealA
Almond meal from Bas Foods, Brunswick

Lemons go so well in cakes with almond meal. I keep one kilo packets of almond meal in the freezer as it is far more economical to buy it in large quantities; I get nervous when it runs low. Most of my cake recipes are almond based and I have just made another version of a lemon and almond meal cake which is deeply lemony. Recipe coming soon.

Honey pot by Old T..
Honey pot by Old Tupton Ware

This cute Art Deco hand painted honey pot turned up in a nearby op shop for $2. Made by Old Tupton Ware, it will be filled with thick dark honey from my friends’ hive. ¬†Or maybe it should stay¬†safely on the dresser!

A big supply of alibaba gloves.
A big supply of alibaba gloves.

The garden weeds are ‘long, lovely and lush’, so easy to pull given this wet season. I invested in these rubber gloves, as I seem to be rushing from garden to kitchen and returning with fingernails full of compost. Twelve pairs of tough garden gloves for twelve dollars from Alibaba online, these will sit by the back kitchen door.

small kookaburra bell
small kookaburra bell

I have always been partial to kookaburra antiques. This little brass bell turned up in a country op shop on one of our travels around Victoria. Ding, ding. Garçon, the drinks.

I also have a penchant for old serving spoons, especially it they are nicely engraved and a little beaten up. Do I find them or do they find me?

Lick the beaters, and the knife and bowl too.
Lick the beaters, and the knife and bowl too.

The school holidays usually bring a few spoon lickers to to my kitchen. Daisy is happy with bowls, knives and scrapers too. She is the best kitchen hand I’ve ever had.

I am thrilled to know that Liz from Good Things is now hosting the monthly series In My Kitchen. By following this link, you can visit other world kitchens for October, or if you feel inspired, write a post yourself.

 

Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

There are so many versions of Lemon and Ricotta cake out there that I was reticent about adding another. This one, I can assure you, will go straight into the hand written sepia toned exercise book that I reserve for very good cakes. The recipe includes 4 lemons, and the batter is lightened by 6 eggs, the whites whipped and folded through at the end. It is an expensive cake but then it serves around 10 people, or two greedy people who eat it every day for dessert and afternoon tea. When served hot, it resembles a lemon delicious pudding. When served cold, it becomes more like a lemon cheesecake. It also keeps well. In summer, store the cake in a container in the fridge. Buonissimo e Molto Siciliano.                                         l

Torta di Limone, Ricotta e Mandorle,  Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250 g¬†caster sugar
  • 6 free range¬†eggs, separated
  • 250 g¬†almonds, ground
  • 75 g¬†self-raising flour
  • 1¬†pinch of salt
  • zest of 5 organic lemons and juice of 4 organic lemons
  • 400 g¬†fresh ricotta

    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake
    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 180¬įC (Gas Mark 4).

Butter and paper a 25 cm round springform cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, until all are incorporated.

Combine the ground almonds with the flour, salt and lemon zest. Fold into the batter.

Whisk the lemon juice with the ricotta until light and airy.

Fold into the cake batter.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them carefully into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake. It should come out clean when cooked through.

Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cake rack to cool. It will remain moist for a few days. Store in the fridge in warm weather.

From Four Seasons, Manuela Darling-Gansser, Hardie Grant Books.

And Manuela’s great food and travel blog can be found here.

Lemon, Lime and Poppy Seed Cake with Books

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Cooking has taken a serious nosedive around this casa of late. It’s always the same after returning from a trip. The reality of cleaning, cooking, planting garlic, raking Autumn leaves, making compost, pruning, just to name a few tasks on the never ending list, makes me want to run away. Combine this cooking reluctance with Melbourne’s cold weather, a house full of bronchitis, a dodgy shoulder, and a very inviting wood fire and a stack of novels, and there you have it: ‘let them eat cake’, she said.

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This little cake was fast to make, didn’t involve too much mess for someone else to clean up, and goes very well with cups of tea, books and lethargy.

Ingredients

  • 125 g butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tsp lime zest
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200 g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of poppy seeds
  • 100 ml plain yoghurt

the syrup

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar

the method

Preheat the oven to 180¬įC. Butter and line a 30 cm loaf tin with baking paper, then butter again.

Place the butter and zest in  a mixing bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and beat well after each addition. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Fold in the flour, poppy seeds and yoghurt, alternating between wet and dry. Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the juices and sugar in a pan, simmer gently and stir continually until the sugar dissolves. Make holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the hot syrup over the hot cake, aiming at the holes and centre.

The cake will last for three days, but ours didn’t.

Adapted from The New Cranks Recipe Book, Nadine Abensur 1996.

A larger lime syrup cake recipe can be found here:  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Novels read with cake:

  • A Thousand Spendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, 2007.¬†Kindle edition.¬†Thanks Rachael P for the recommendation.
  • Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, 2013. Allen and Unwin. ¬†A must read before the TV series is released.

 

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
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons blanched cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons channa dal
  • 3 cups (330g ) cooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • ¬Ĺ¬†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!!!

Sourdough Pancakes by the Sea

As Shrove Tuesday rears its sweet head on the calendar, traditionally a day of feasting before the leanness of Lent begins, pancakes make an appearance, which means sourdough pancakes for me. Far more digestible than your average pancake, crepe or pikelet, they offer an extra bonus to sourdough bread makers who often find their sourdough starter building up in the fridge.

Dry mixture for pancakes, with recipe on the lid.
Dry mixture for pancakes, with recipe on the lid.

Before heading off to the beach camp each weekend, I refresh some sourdough starter with a little flour and water and pop it in a screw top jar. At the same time, I mix  and sift the dry ingredients into another jar. Half an hour before the sleepy heads emerge from their tents, the components are mixed and left to sit for 1/2 hour or more.

Celia’s Sourdough Pancakes.

The dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • ¬Ĺ teaspoon salt

The wet ingredients

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 egg
  • 1¬Ĺ ¬†cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and sifted baking soda.  Pour the sourdough starter, milk and egg into a large mixing bowl and mix well with a whisk or electric mixer until combined. Gradually scatter in the dry ingredients, mixing constantly to avoid lumps. Finally, stir in the melted butter.  Allow the batter to rest for at least half an hour before cooking.

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Sourdough pancakes, cherry jam. Camping breakfast.

Getting back to Lent, a time of reflection and examination of the wrongs that need to be addressed, I am attempting to give up plastic for Lent. If you think this is easy, read the following article:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009/apr/16/plastic-free-lent

Cherry Jam and cream or lemon and butter?
Cherry jam and cream or lemon and butter?

Involtini di Melanzane. Stuffed Eggplant Rolls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEggplants are so versatile. I am always excited by their possibilities in the kitchen. Common in Mediterranean and Middle eastern cuisines as well as those of India, China and South East Asia, the spongy flesh of the eggplant readily soaks up other flavours, especially olive oil. Melanzana, the Italian word for eggplant or aubergine, is the most shady looking member of the deadly nightshade family, solanum melongena, and the Italian name, melanzana may follow from this or is derived from mela insana, which, translated into English, means mad apple. The latter may have some validity as most Europeans were fearful of members of the deadly nightshade family (including tomatoes and potatoes) and this particular member looks pretty scary! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It can be purchased all year round but the best specimens arrive in my garden and in fresh produce markets in Autumn. When fresh, as distinct from stored, stashed, sprayed and imported, the flesh is white and seedless Рthere is no need to salt them at all. My seedlings were sold as the Bonica variety and while slow to mature, they produce lovely elongated but fleshy fruit.

Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.
Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.

Last week when Debi at My Kitchen Witch explored the role of breadcrumbs used as condiment (conza)  in Sicilian cooking, I was reminded of a wonderful Sicilian eggplant recipe from one of my favourite books, My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo. ( Lantern, 2011). This is a gem of a book and I am slowly working my way through it.

Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.
Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.

I can recommend this little dish if you have all these goods on hand, as I did. Oh happy day! Involtini di Melanzane РStuffed Eggplant Rolls. Serves six as a side dish or entrée, or 3-4 as a main with another side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants cut lengthways into 1 cm slices
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • fresh unsprayed lemon leaves ( optional but very desirable)
  • 3 cups tomato passata ( either home-made or purchased)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino

Filling

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
  • ¬†1 1/2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup course fresh breadcrumbs ( I used left over sourdough/ use a quality bread here)
  • 3/4 cup grated pecorino.

Method.

  1. Brush the eggplant with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on a flat iron stove top griller. Alternately, place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
  2. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the anchovy and stir for 1 minute, then add the capers, parsley, tomato paste, and a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute. Remove pan from the heat and combine with the breadcrumbs and pecorino: the mixture should have a thick pasty consistency. If the filling is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
  3. Preheat oven to 180c.
  4. Place an eggplant slice on a chopping board and spoon on a tablespoon ( or less) of the filling. Roll up the eggplant slice and place in an oiled baking dish or terracotta tegame. Repeat with the remaining slices until all used. If there is any filling left, save it for stuffing another vegetable, or just eat it straight out of the pan!
  5. Place a lemon leaf between each roll. Pour over the tomato passata and sprinkle over the pecorino. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Serve hot or at room temperature.

*I served mine with lemon couscous.

*Gluten free version? Consider using cooked arborio rice instead of breadcrumbs.

* Dairy free? Just leave out the cheese.

* No pecorino? Just use parmigiano.

Also see another version of this dish, using ricotta as the stuffing, produced by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert.