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mini chico rolls

It being the party season and all.

Though I have to confess, this was our lunch yesterday.  In our defense, the filling meets healthy – and is possibly even a decent way to get lots of vegetables into a children’s party plate.

mini chico roll filling

The Recipe:

This recipe fills two dozen wonton wrappers – what we get in a packet of wrappers from the supermarket.  Using bought ones makes the recipe really really fast and easy, but making your own isn’t hard especially if you use a pasta machine, so I’ll include the wrapper recipe too.

Part 1: Wonton Wrappers

You can buy wonton wrappers in the fridge at any supermarket these days, but if you make your own, you can use real egg.  In a food processor, blitz until the dough just comes together (just a few seconds)

  • ½ cup of flour (I use the same Laucke Wallaby Unbleached Bakers Flour that I use for my sourdough, but any high gluten flour will work)
  • 1  large egg
  • a couple of teaspoons of  any light flavoured oil
  • pinch salt

Flour the workbench well and knead very briefly, kneading in enough more flour to make a smooth, non-sticky, soft dough. Then leave it to rest for a few minutes while you make the filling.

Part 2: The Filling

For 24  ( a packet of skins) you need about two cups of filling when it is all raw.  The inspiration for these actually came from harvesting the very last of the season’s cabbages out of the garden.  I used cabbage, snake beans, carrots, and spring onions, all finely chopped and shredded.  You can use a food processor to coarsely grate if you are in a real hurry.

Add a half thumb of ginger, finely grated, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, a little chili to taste, a handful of herbs finely chopped (lemon basil, Thai basil, coriander, mint or a mixture) and a couple of teaspoons of light soy sauce.

Add a little oil to a wide pan or a wok, get it hot, and cook the filling, stirring, for just a couple of minutes.  You are trying more to dry it all than to cook it, and best to leave undercooked rather than over.

Mix a spoonful of cornflour (corn starch) with water (or ordinary plain flour if you don’t have cornflour in the pantry).  Take the vegetables off the stove and add a little of it to the hot vegetable mix, just enough to make it all sticky.  Keep the rest for sealing the rolls.

Let the filling cool a little while you roll out the wrappers.

Part 3: Assembling and frying

If you are using home-made wrappers, use a pasta machine, or a rolling pin and a well floured benchtop, to roll out the dough till it is translucent thin.  You will be cutting it into 10cm squares, so aim for a 10 cm wide pasta strip.

Put a teaspoonful of filling  on each wrapper.  Roll diagonally, folding the corners in. Use a finger dipped in the flour and water mix on the last corner to seal.

Wipe out your wok or pan and heat up a couple of centimetres of frying oil until it is quite hot.  I usually use light olive oil for frying like this because it has mostly monounsaturated fats, it  has  a high smoke point and it’s fairly neutral flavoured.

Fry in two or three batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan, use tongs to turn them and fry for just a couple of minutes till they are brown and crispy.

You can keep them warm in an oven if you have to, but they are best eaten freshly cooked and hot with a soy and sweet chili dipping sauce.

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madagascar beans

Roots and perennials planting days this week, and when I look back over my “Garden” posts,  I find this planting break is the skinniest of the year, every year.

Partly it is because one of my other lives is teaching vocational education teachers and early summer is end of term madness.  Partly it is because by now the zucchinis and squash and cucumbers have launched a takeover bid on the garden.  Every year I am left wondering why it is so impossible for me to remember that those cute baby seedlings that looked so innocent back in October when I decided to plant out so many of them are really triffids and will leave me with no room for successive plantings of anything.  And partly it is because this time of year is often very harsh gardening conditions in my part of the world – the end of a long hot dry windy spring with the real frizzle days just starting to bite and the water supplies running low.

This year though it has been glorious gardening weather. So far we’ve dodged the “Godzilla El Nino” at is causing starvation level drought through SE Asia, New Guinea and Pacific Island nations. There have been a couple of heat waves but mostly mild days and the tanks and dams are full enough to water.

So this week I’ve planted passionfruit vines and pawpaws and tamarillos.  I’ve divided up the ginger and given it a nice new, well composted spot on the south eastern side of a garden bed where it will get light shade for the afternoon and water runoff.  I’ve planted  another bed of asparagus, and I’ve planted some madagascar bean seedlings to climb the bottom fence.

Madagascar beans are a tropical semi-perennial bean – they kinda take the niche occupied by seven-year beans (aka scarlett runner beans) in more temperate climates. I find that though I am theoretically at the margin between the two, Madagascar beans do much better in my sub-tropical climate. They live for about five years and though they like enough water, they cope with heat and dry and wet and humid (but not frost).  They bear very prolifically after year two on a rampant climbing vine.  I plant at three metre spacing along the fence and they will use every bit of that.

The beans are the size of lima beans but a very pretty speckled maroon and white.  Cooked they turn pink and taste pretty much like a lima bean and go well in bean patties for burgers, soups, stews, dips, patés and spreads.  They dry and store well so they’re a great staple, storable protein.  One of my zombocalypse essentials.

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ful medames

OK, so I know somebody is going to protest about the inauthenticity of this.  And the photo doesn’t help.  Ful Medames is an Egyptian dish made with ful, which are fava beans or broad beans.  I make a version with fresh broad beans often in late winter or spring when they are in season and it is much more photogenic. But the strong  lemon/garlic/pepper kind of flavours of ful medames work with practically any kind of beans.  I’ve made this often with dried purple king beans or rattlesnake beans, which yields a much nicer looking light pinky-brown bean dip.  But this one is a real fusion – a middle Eastern dish using American black turtle beans.

I harvested the last of the turtle beans this week.  They were pretty dry on the bush, but we had the wood stove going and it was real bean eating weather so rather than dry them all the way for storage, I cooked them straight away in my favourite bean dish of all. The flavours are amazing – a whole bowl of beans for dinner and you scrape the bottom of the bean bowl.  On this occasion with sourdough flatbread with poppy seeds and crushed linseeds to scoop with.

The Recipe:

  • First soak and cook a cup of dried beans (or if you start with semi-dried beans like I did, a cup and a half).  Bean Basics has the basic method for this.  Soak them overnight or for a few hours, then pressure cook for 15 minutes or boil for about 45 minutes or cook them in a slow cooker for 5 or 6 hours.  Reduce to half beans half water consistency.  For this recipe, you want beans that are very soft.
  • Fry a chopped onion gently in olive oil till soft.
  • Crush or chop a whole corm of garlic (yes, lots!).  Add to the onions.
  • Crush or grind a whole dessertspoon of black pepper (yes, lots!) and add that too.
  • Add salt to taste.  Start with a scant half a teaspoon, but you will probably end up adding more.
  • Add the beans.  Simmer gently, stirring often, for about half an hour. The beans should break up but if you need to you can help them a bit with an eggbeater or a stick blender.  You can make it into a smooth puree if you like – I like it better with some whole or mashed beans in it.
  • Add a third of a cup of lemon juice.  Taste and adjust the salt and lemon juice – you will probably add more of both.

Serve in bowls with pita bread or flatbread to dip.

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spicy beans

My glut this week is green beans.  Beans are never usually in glut.  All those we don’t get round to eating green are just left to mature, then shelled, dried and stored. But as many of you will be aware, it hasn’t been good drying weather in northern NSW this week!

The poor drying weather led to the platter rationale too.  We were all flooded in over the weekend, so we invited neighbours for a curry night.  Curry nights are a great kind of potluck dinner, needing no co-ordination, and allowing people to go simple or as gourmet as they like.  Sue brought a tray of kangaroo samosas and Camilla brought stuffed chilis as entrés, Brett brought papadams, Helen brought a sweet potato and vegetable curry,  and I made a tromboncino curry, a Cucumber Raita, Green Mango Pickles in OilHot Mango and Tomato Chutney, and these spiced green beans.  A real feast, put together two flooded causeways away from the nearest shops,  using just garden and pantry provisions.

The Recipe:

You need a large, heavy fry pan with a lid.

Green beans are like octopus – they have to be cooked really fast, just blanched, or long and slow. This is a long and slow recipe. It takes 20 minutes, but it takes all of that for the flavours to meld.

Chop and lightly fry a large onion in a little olive oil.

As soon as the onion softens, add 500 grams of green beans, stringed if necessary but left whole.

Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to stir.

Then add

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of grated turmeric (or one of dry)
  • 1 big teaspoon of finely diced chili
  • 3 big dessertspoons of shredded coconut
  • a good pinch of salt

Stir them in, put the lid back on, and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. It will tend to stick more, with the coconut, so you will need to stir frequently.

Taste. You may need to add more salt – they need a bit to balance.

They’re good as a plate in an Indian feast, or as finger food on a platter.

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snake beans

The thing I love about snake beans is that you pick all these today, and tomorrow there’s the same amount again.

And the other thing I love about snake beans is that they don’t mind heat, even extreme heat like we’ve been having.  So long as they get enough water, they’ll keep bearing and even supply some shade and air conditioning to less tropical neighbours.

And the other thing I love about snake beans is cutting them into finger lengths, lightly blanching, and dressing with a garlic-olive oil-balsamic-soy-honey dressing while they are hot.  Or with an Asian style lime cordial-fish sauce-sesame oil dressing. Or in a Green Bean and Mango salad. Or waiting until they are mature and shelling them to use like adzuki beans.

All in all, a lot to love about snake beans.  Joy, in the Comments, asked where I got my seeds.  These are a brown seeded variety I have been saving for many years.  If you are gardening in a warm enough climate and you’d like some, I shall send some to the first 10 people in Australia to ask for them in the Comments.

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hot mango chutney, garlic white beans, marinated snake beans, marinated tromboncino and eggplant, labne, cherry tomatoes and cucumber

There have been several disparate themes mulling around vying for attention as my focus for 2013.  I’ve been thinking about packaging, and the processing that goes into making food that can be bundled up in triple layers of plastic and cardboard to survive the ordeal of trial by retail, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of no packaging.

I’ve also been thinking about community, and how sharing food is so central to caring and nurturing and creating the relationships that hold in good times and bad, and I’ve considered making 2013 the year of parties (and barbeques and picnics and potlucks) – treat food that isn’t quite junk food.

And I’ve been thinking about the conversation that is surfacing in permaculture circles lately about the misconception that permaculture is about self-sufficiency.  The three ethics of permaculture are  care for the earthcare for people and share fairly. The first two are easy to understand, if not always to do.  The last is a bit more opaque.  It’s a mixture of the standard care-giver axiom that before you can care for anyone or anything else, you need to take care of yourself, with a warning that hoarding takes you backwards.  And it’s led me to thinking about a glut of tromboncino (again) and the realtive merits of preserving them, versus offloading them in the mailbox at the corner, versus turning them into party food to share.

Then last night I made this platter for dinner, and the three themes merged in it.  At least once a week, most weeks, dinner for us is a platter to share, in these hot summer days on the verandah watching the sunset with a cold beer to go with it.  Most weeks too, there is some occasion to share food with others –  family, friends, community. I thought I might share with you a platter each week, party food for just the household or to share, based on what is fresh, in season, and in glut.

So here’s the first of 50 platters. (I wonder what I have taken on!)

Served with Seedy Sourdough Crispbread triangles, there’s

  • sliced fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber
  • olives from last year’s crop
  • snake beans now in glut, cut into finger food lengths, blanched, and dressed while hot with a simple balsamic-olive oil-tamari-garlic-honey dressing (we can eat an awful lot of snake beans like this)
  • labneh balls rolled in dukkah – just strained greek yoghurt, rolled into balls in oiled hands, then rolled in dukkah
  • hot mango and tomato chutney made with our ripening glut crop of mangoes
  • Lebanese Marinated Zucchini et al made with the now officially in glut tromboncino, and eggplants just because they are so good in it.
  • garlic white bean paste made with the first of the season’s mature Blue Lake beans.

Recipe – Garlic White Bean Paste:

Soak the beans and cook them. I used my Blue Lakes, but cannellini beans work fine too.  Bean Basics has the details about cooking dried beans if you are not used to it.  The quick method is to use fresh beans, bring  to the boil in water, soak for half an hour (or all day),  change the water, add salt, then boil for half an hour or so, or pressure cook for 10 minutes or less.

Drain the beans and save a little of the cooking water.  Blend them with some garlic, a couple of spoonfuls of good olive oil, and enough of the water to make the right consistency. Taste and add some salt if it needs it – beans need a bit of salt.

This makes a smooth, fluffy, spreadable paste that is perfect as a base for other ingredients.  Spread on a biscuit or toast and top with as many of the platter ingredients as you can fit. Or take to a party as a dip with biscuits or crudites.

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This is probably a contradiction in terms.  Ribbolita is at its best the next day.  But it is such a good winter warmer, such a hearty, filling, healthy, cheap mid-winter vego meal, that I needed to rise to the challenge of making it make-able mid-week.

There is one cheat in it, and you need a pressure cooker for the cheat. I use dried beans, not canned beans, so they have to be pre-soaked. My homegrown Blue Lake substitute well for the cannellini beans that are traditional in this recipe, and if I remember to put them in water to soak before I leave in the morning, the rest comes together in half an hour, including vegetable stock from scratch.  If you use cooked beans and pre-made stock, it can be made in minutes.

The recipe is versatile – there’s lots of varieties and substitutions you could make.  The essence is a winter vegetable and bean soup thickened with sourdough bread.

The Recipe:

Makes about 4 good sized serves.  The leftovers are even better the next day.

Soak half a cup of cannellini beans (or substitute another bean) in water for the day.

The Stock

In a pressure cooker over a high heat, fry in a little olive oil:

  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a cup of diced pumpkin

As soon as they start to get a little colour, add

  • the stems from a bunch of parsley, chopped
  • the leaves from about 6 small stems of celery, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • a good pinch of salt
  • grinding of black pepper
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 5 cups of water

Drain the beans and put them in the little colander that goes in the pressure cooker.  If you put that in the pressure cooker, the beans should be submerged in the stock. They can cook along with the stock but be separated easily at the end.

Put the lid on and pressure cook for 8 to 15 minutes till the beans are soft.  My homegrown Blue Lakes cook in just 8 minutes, but the older and harder your beans are, the longer they will take.

The Soup:

While the stock and beans are cooking, in another pot, fry in a little olive oil:

  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 6 stems of celery, finely diced
  • 6 leaves of cavolo nero kale

As soon as they get a bit of colour, add a cup of water and simmer gently while the stock and beans are cooking.

Assembling:

Carefully take the little colander of beans out of the pressure cooker.  Check they are cooked and add to the soup. Strain the rest of the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to squeeze out the juices.  Discard the vegetables. (I know, it seems like a waste, but they were mostly trimmings anyway and everything except the fibre is now in the stock, and this soup has plenty of fibre.)

Now you have a choice.  You can just tear three thick slices of sourdough bread – about 2 cups worth of  bread – into little bits and put them in the bottom of the bowls, for serving the soup over, or you can blend the bread into the stock.  I like the latter, but I like thick creamy soups.

So my method is to pour the stock into a blender or food processor with the bread.  Blend till smooth and pour into the soup. Stir in a handful of chopped parsley.

You should have a very thick hearty vegetable and bean soup.  Heat it all back up, stirring as it will stick and burn on the bottom easily after the bread has been added.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. I like to add a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce just to give it a bit more depth.

Serve with a good grating of parmesan on top.

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We’re just a few days out from the winter solstice now, the shortest day and the longest night of the year.  And I’m so looking forward to getting to the other side of it.  This time next week the days will be the same length but I’ll be much more cheerful, because, little by little, second by second, they will be getting longer.

I think I must have plant genes in me – I can almost feel like I can sense the difference. Plants can sense not just the daylength but also whether the days are getting longer or shorter.  I always find that stunning. It always makes me stop and realize, all the other living things on this planet are living. They’re not just things. They’re part of a moving, sensing, adapting, creating, network with nuanced responses that are amazingly clever.

I think I must also have hibernating bear genes in me too.  This time of year, I need comfort food – complex carbohydrates that slow burn and keep me from wanting to just curl up under a doona all day. We have the slow combustion stove going every night now , perfect for cooking beans, and beans are the perfect low low low GI carbohydrate, and so full of various vitamins and minerals that they’re pretty much the complete healthy dinner.

I can do this in half an hour from scratch if I have put the beans on to soak in the morning and use a pressure cooker to cook them. And if there are still embers enough to just put another bit of wood in the slow combustion stove when I get home of an evening.  If you start with cooked beans, it should be easy to meet the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules of quick, easy, healthy, in-season, from scratch.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 little pannikins. They are very filling, so one pannikin with some good toast for mopping up is a good dinner for me.  My partner can polish off a couple.

Turn the oven on.  You need a hot oven.

Soak 1 cup of dried beans (I used my Purple Kings) overnight or for the day, then simmer for around 30 minutes or pressure cook for 10 minutes until they are soft.

Sauté

  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 large or two small diced carrots

Cook till the carrot is softened, then add

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mild mustard (I use my home-made seeded mustard. If you use a hot mustard, use less to taste).
  • 1 cup tomato passsata
  • 1 dessertspoon treacle
  • ½ cup cottage cheese (low fat is fine)
  • salt to taste
  • half a cup or so of water, depending on how liquid your passata is.

Spoon the mix into individual pannikins on a baking tray.  Top with grated tasty cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes or so until the cheese is melted and golden.

Do you have any good Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes?  Links and recipes in the Comments are welcome.

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I cheated again. But it was worth it. The bean stock base makes this both really healthy and really satisfying, and (without going all Masterchef) it has some lovely complex flavours.  Beans are so high protein, and complete protein when they are combined with a grain, that even regular meat eaters feel like they’ve had a real dinner.  And they’re low GI, high fibre, full of vitamins and minerals.

The thing I am finding about the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge is that the range of healthy, from scratch, vegetarian dinners you can make in half an hour is much bigger if you put a bit of pre-thinking into it.  Proving dough, soaking beans, salting eggplant all take only minutes to do, but you have to do them ahead of time.

This dinner came together in half an hour, including the naan bread to go with it.  But I put the beans in water to soak, the eggplant salted, and the naan bread dough proving before I left for work in the morning. All very fast easy morning jobs, and they meant that when I got home I could just put it all together.

The Recipe:

Makes three adult serves.  Leftovers are even better the next day.

In the morning:

  • Soak ½ cup white beans.
  • Chop a large eggplant (or the equivalent in small eggplants) into 2 cm dice, put in a colander, and sprinkle with a heaped spoonful of salt.

In the evening:

Drain the beans, add 2 cups of fresh water and a good pinch of salt, and pressure cook for 8 minutes or simmer for 25 minutes until they are very soft.  Then blend the beans in the cooking water to get a smooth liquid bean stock.

While the beans are cooking:

Prepare Dry Spice Mix:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dill seeds

Prepare Wet Spice Mix

Use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder to blend to a paste:

  • Thumb sized piece of fresh turmeric (or substitute a teaspoon of dried turmeric)
  • Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 medium hot chilis (more or less to taste)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
Chop the Vegetables:
  • 1 onion, finely sliced into half moons
  • 1 capsicum diced
  • 1 large eggplant chopped into 2 cm dice, salted and rinsed.

In a large heavy pot:

  • Fry the dry spice mix until the seeds are popping.
  • Add the wet spice mix and the rinsed eggplant, capsicum and onion.
  • Cook on high stirring for a few minutes to seal and coat the vegetables in spices, then add the bean stock along with a good dessertspoon of tomato paste and two kaffir lime leaves (or substitute juice of half a lime and a little grated zest).
  • Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is cooked.
  • Serve in bowls, over rice or with naan bread. Fresh coriander makes a nice garnish.

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