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cabbage moth caterpillar

It’s been a great season.  We’ve eaten cauliflower and cabbage and broccoli and kale and pak choi and daikon pretty well every day for the last five months.  We’ve eaten Okonomiyaki for breakfast a lot of times, and Cheesy Broccoli Omelette has been a regular standby.  We’ve discovered cabbage chopped very fine in the food processor, added to chicken and vegetable soup makes it thick and delicious and not like boiled cabbage at all.  We’ve discovered Cauliflower Cheese Soup doesn’t actually need cheese, or perhaps just a sprinkle of parmesan on top, and that adding a leek makes it smooth and creamy just like cheese.  We’ve had many many Roasted Cauliflower  finger food dinners, occasionally alternated with Greek Crumbed Cauli or Broccoli Tempura.  We’ve had coleslaw or Greens as Themselves as a side dish at one meal or another every day.

And it’s lasted well too.  Here it is, nearly the end of Spring, just about to launch into summer.  I’ve seen the cabbage moths around for a few weeks but the local predators have been knocking them off before they get a chance to lay eggs.  But summer is here, all but, and it’s time to say goodbye.

There are many, many organic remedies for cabbage moth caterpillars (and the web moth caterpillars that will be next to arrive).  There are nets and traps and fake moths and eggshells and trichogramma wasps  and dipel. But the only one I reckon is worth the time and effort for results is timing.

From June till October, sometimes if I’m lucky like this year all the way through to November, I can grow brassicas and do nothing to control cabbage moths at all.  From November till April or May, I can do everything in the arsenal and I still don’t get brassicas that can compete for a place on the plate with tromboncino and beans and squash.

It’s been lovely, but I need the space now for the capsicums and curcubits.  So goodbye Brassicas, till next year. It’s been very nice.


broccoli tempura

My glut crop this week is broccoli. The first rounds of plants are still yielding side shoots and the last rounds are bearing central heads and though there’s cabbage moths around they aren’t getting into them yet.  So we are eating broccoli every meal – in omelettes for breakfast, in stir fries for lunchboxes, as a side dish whatever is on for dinner.

But much as I like broccoli and appreciate its superfoodness, I’m not quite keeping up with it and this week there were a few blown heads – not quite flowering but loose and about to burst into yellow.  Once the plant flowers, it gives up and I’m not ready for that yet.  I don’t freeze vegetables. In my climate, there is something bearing year round and by the time the cabbage moths finally move in on the broccoli, there will be beans and zucchini and I’ll be happy to not see it again till next winter. So it’s broccoli tempura time.

The Recipe:

There’s a little mind shift I’ve found helps in feeling at home cooking eastern Asian style.  Most of the time with western dishes, I amble along, starting with what I have, multitasking, substituting, tasting and adjusting as I go, ducking out to the garden for some herbs or garnishes as I think of them, and getting plates out and ready while it cooks.

With eastern Asian recipes though, once you start cooking it happens so fast there’s no time to chop up anything else or find a different pot or make a sauce.  Everything needs to be ready and within reach, and then, miraculously, two minutes later there is food on the table.

Tempura is my Auntie Naine’s signature dish, and for a long time I didn’t dare go there.  Really simple and really unforgiving.  Do it right and it is so easy and tastes so wonderful. Light and crisp and pure. Do it wrong and you end up with gluggy battered vegetables.

And like so many Asian dishes, the trick to doing it right is having everything prepared, laid out and organised, before you start cooking.

Part One: The Dipping Sauce

There are lots of options for dipping sauce.  A classic one is just stock with a bit of honey, soy, sake, and grated ginger added to it.

I like a blender mix of lime juice, coriander, soy sauce, pickled chili, with a spoonful of sugar and a teaspoon of roasted sesame oil.

Part Two: The Vegetables

You can tempura practically any vegetables. Kale  makes great tempura, just torn into 6 cm or so pieces. Capsicum, cauliflower, carrot sticks, sweet potato, green beans, pumpkin….. But it’s a perfect way to deal with broccoli that you’ve harvested just a few days late, when the head has started to loosen up but hasn’t flowered yet.

You want it cut to just the right size.  Too small and there’s too much batter to broccoli ratio,  too thick and the broccoli doesn’t get tender all the way through.  About 3 cm thick at the head and 1.5 cm thick stems is the kind of size. Two or three bite size.

You also want it quite dry, so don’t wash your broccoli first, or if you do, allow it to completely dry before cooking.

One batch of batter will batter a large head of broccoli, a good platter for nibbles for a few people or a meal for two on its own. (Yes, we very happily have just broccoli for dinner like this!)

Part Three: The Batter:

You want one cup of dry ingredients to one cup of wet ingredients.

The cup of dry ingredients is made up of mostly plain unbleached flour,  ordinary low gluten cake flour rather than high gluten bread flour. To this, add a tablespoon of cornflour (cornstarch) or arrowroot flour, a teaspoon of bicarb, and a good pinch of salt to make up a cupful.  Mix this lot well as a dry mix, because you won’t be able to mix much once you add the liquid ingredients.

The cup of liquid ingredients is made up of a small egg beaten with ice cold, even icy water.  I put the water in the freezer for an hour or so so it is just getting a thin ice sheet on top. Or add some ice cubes.

When everything is ready to go, mix the dry and wet ingredients together just enough to get a lumpy batter.  Don’t overmix it, don’t try to get it smooth, and don’t let it stand – you are trying to avoid developing the gluten.

 Part Four: The Frying:

You can’t cook in advance.  Ideally tempura are eaten as they come out of the pan, one batch at a time onto a paper covered plate and straight to the table, to be dipped and eaten in the three or four minutes while the next batch cooks.  So step one is assemble your eaters.

You can’t leave the pan to get a serving plate, and you need a couple of serving plates so they can rotate, so have them ready too, with some brown paper or kitchen paper on them.

Heat an inch (2.5 cm) or so of oil in a pan or wok till it is hot but not smoking.  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.  Peanut oil is also good. Getting the temperature just right is one of the tricks.  You want it hot enough so that the tempura cooks to a light golden crispness in about a minute each side.  A drop of batter in the oil should sink, sizzle, and immediately float.

I have one hand for dipping and one hand for tongs, because the dipping hand gets covered in batter.  Dip broccoli in batter to coat, then into the pan, cook for a minute, turn with tongs, cook the other side to light golden crispness, and out onto the plate.  Tempura don’t brown like chips.  They just need a touch of gold. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the oil temperature will drop, but keep adding broccoli or the oil will get too hot.

If you have a barbeque with a wok burner on it, once you get into a rhythm you can chat and cook at the same time, which makes tempura a good party dish.  People eat an astonishing quantity of vegetables like this, and the batter crispens up so quickly that it doesn’t absorb much oil which makes it relatively healthy as party food goes. Think of another way to get several heads of broccoli on a party menu!



My glut crop at the moment is broccoli. I was a bit late planting it this year, so the first round of the big major heads are all coming together now.  Usually it’s a few weeks earlier.  I don’t usually plant broccoli until the threat of cabbage moth decimation is over – seeds in in mid autumn, transplanted into pots in late autumn, then keep an eye on them in the shadehouse for a month or so until the cabbage moths have really gone in early winter.  Even if it was worth the effort of trying to plant earlier and battle the cabbage moths, I know that four months of broccoli glut from late July through to November will be quite enough thank you without trying to extend the season.

The heads are the unopened, immature flower head and the plant will keep trying to flower and set seed till its last breath now. After I cut the main heads, they will bear side shoots for several months if I keep cutting them and prevent them flowering.  The next round of main heads will come on and there will be broccoli at every meal. If they do flower, the flowers are gorgeous in salads – sweet and mustardy and adding a lovely splash of colour.  But for the moment, the mission is keeping up with the broccoli.  Cheesy broccoli omelettes for breakfast (my geriatric chooks only lay for a few months of the year, but they’ve decided it’s near enough to spring to start too), and broccoli with hollandaise for dinner.  Raw broccoli in salads and lightly steamed broccoli with sesame oil, lemon juice and toasted sesame seeds in the lunch box.  Broccoli in noodle stir fries, and in pasta. And a broccoli based party dish I’m perfecting.




Which is a two part dish, consisting of an Asian style omelette in a mildly ginger laced vegetable stock sauce.  It’s surprisingly addictive! I used duck eggs for this one, just because we have them, but chook eggs work just as well.

We are just a few days away now from the Spring equinox, one of the two points in the year when the days and the nights are equal length.  Once upon a time in ancient Europe people used to gather to celebrate the spring equinox. The hibernating animals emerged from their winter burrows to breed, along with a certain mythical rabbit. The flush of spring laying provided eggs in such abundance they could be blown and painted just for the fun and beauty of it.  People marked the balance point between the lengthening days and the shortening nights, and celebrated the eternal cycle of winter death and spring resurrection.

We have “enough” eggs year round – just a few weeks when the chooks are moulting when they are actually scarce, which ironically is around the autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere.  But in spring even the geriatrics lay for a while and we have so many eggs that it is very easy to see how painted eggs became a spring equinox tradition.  Our son visited on the weekend and we fed him and his friends eggs for breakfast and sent him home with a dozen duck eggs.  My partner has the kind of liver that doesn’t produce cholesterol, so he’s eating a couple of poached eggs for breakfast every day. And any respectable  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge has to include eggs.

 The Recipe:

Get everything chopped and ready before you start, because it goes together fast.

The Omelette:

  • Beat 3 duck eggs or 4 large chook eggs with an eggbeater or fork until they are frothy.
  • Add a teaspoon of grated ginger, a pinch of salt, and a dessertspoon of wine vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Cook in an oiled frypan over a low heat, lid on, till set.  Loosen the edges and turn the omelette over for just a minute, then tip it out onto a board.
  • Slice into strips, ready to add to the sauce.

The Sauce

Prepare all the vegetables before you start cooking.

  • Grate another teaspoon of ginger.
  • Julienne an onion (chop it in half, then finely lengthways) and a carrot.
  • Dice another couple of cupfuls of vegetables – celery, snow peas, peas, mushrooms, kale, silver beet, broccolini, asparagus, chinese cabbage – you want those kind of Asian stir-fry vegetables, but there are lots of choices possible.
  • Mix 1½ cups of stock with 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of honey and another dessertspoon of vinegar, saké or sherry.
  • Mix 3 teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch in USA) in a little water.

When they are all ready, heat up a wok or a large pan with a little oil till it is hot.  Add the onions first, stir for a minute, add the carrots, stir for another minute, then add the ginger and the other vegetables and stir fry for two or three minutes.

Then add the stock and braise the vegetables in it for just a couple of minutes.  You want the vegetables to be tender but still have some crunch to them.

Add the cornflour and stir through.  The sauce should thicken immediately.

Take it off the heat, add the strips of omelette, and gently ladle into bowls.  Serve with extra soy sauce on the side for salt lovers.


This recipe is a riff on Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest, or at least it owes some heritage to that inspired combination of broccoli, lemon, eggs and cheese – which you wouldn’t think would work but it so does.

I’m still picking lots of broccoli side shoots every day and using every broccoli recipe in the repertoire to get through them. Luckily broccoli is a super food and you can’t eat too much of it –  huge amounts of calcium, folate, antioxidants (including one that’s good for protecting against macular degeneration), and  cancer preventative phytochemicals.

I remember when I first started gardening being amazed how productive broccoli is.  The supermarkets only ever sell the first big head, but that’s just a fraction of the harvest. The broccoli is the unopened flowers, and the plant is trying to get them open and fertilised by the bees, so it can set seed. Once the first head is cut, the plant has another go at flowering with side shoots.  So long as I can keep cutting, they will keep trying.  The buds get smaller and smaller, but you can keep them going for ages. The small buds are perfect for recipes like this.

The Recipe:

Two big serves.

To do this weekday morning fast…

  • Chop two cups of broccoli into flowerettes.
  • Put a medium sized heavy frypan on to heat up with a little olive oil.
  • Chop the white part of two spring onions and add to the pan.
  • Stir for a minute, then add the broccoli, then most of the spring onion greens.
  • Squeeze in
    • the juice of quarter of a lemon
    • a good grinding of black pepper.
    • and add just a dessertspoon of water
  • Put the lid on the pan and let the broccoli cook in its own steam for about 3 minutes, till it has just lost it’s crunch.
  • Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, blend
    • 3 eggs,
    • 3 big dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese,
    • and just a dessertspoon of milk.
  • Give the broccoli a stir, then pour the egg mix evenly over it.  Turn the heat down low and put the lid back on. Cook for about 3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, put some toast on to cook, turn the griller on to heat up, and grate a little sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Sprinkle the cheese over the top and put the pan under the griller.  Grill until the cheese is melted and golden.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, andtaste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)



My partner’s favourite lunch is microwaved tofu and vegetables with chili (he’s a chili fiend).  I’m not a huge fan of either tofu or microwaves, but hey, I’m not purist. It’s mostly garden vegetables, and I am a huge fan of them!

I’m not a huge fan of tofu because soy beans contain a number of compounds that can cause health problems,  it takes a fair amount of processing to get tofu from soy beans, and they are one of the most genetically modified and unsustainably farmed crops on the planet.   Nutrisoy and Soyco are a couple of brands that don’t use genetically modified soy beans.

I’m not much of a fan of microwaves either, mostly because they have such limited uses for so much consumer electronic junk.  But Lewie has a microwave at his work and it is an easy, no mess way to cook lunch, especially if you have an inactive office job.

The Recipe:

Part 1: The Dressing/Marinade

I make a jar of this because we use it for all sorts of dishes.

In a jar, shake together:

  • 1 part olive oil
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part sweet chili sauce or chili jam
  • a clove or two of garlic crushed
  • a similar amount of ginger crushed
  • a little sesame oil or tahini

This dressing or marinade will keep in the fridge for weeks.  Use a few dessertspoons over the vegetables in the lunchbox.  They will toss themselves on the way.

Part 2: Tofu

Fry some cubes of tofu in a little oil till browned.

Part 3: The Vegetables

This is just simply chopped garden vegetables in season.

  • Chinese cabbage
  • Silver Beet
  • Celery
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Snow Peas
  • Red Onion

(I have a zucchini plant surviving in my garden, but really it shouldn’t be in season.)

Assembling and Cooking:

Vegies and cooked tofu in a microwavable lunch box with a lid, with a couple of spoonfuls of dressing.

At work at lunch time shake the lunchbox to cover everything in dressing and put the whole thing in the microwave for 4 to 5 minutes (more or less, depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables.)

Feel so glad you brought lunch rather than succumbed to a burger.



The first of the season’s broccoli.  Not quite the first – I’ve cut a couple of heads early, before they were really ready – but the first full size head.  This is Calibri variety, and it will keep bearing side shoots for a couple of months.  The early ones will be nearly as big as this first head, getting smaller and smaller the longer I keep picking.  We had this one lightly steamed then sauteed very quickly in sesame oil and sesame seeds, with a little squeeze of lemon juice at the end.  By the time the cabbage moths and heat get them in October, I will be well over eating broccoli, but for now I am looking forward to dozens of recipes.

Do you have some broccoli favourites to share?



Cooking vegetables in my mother’s generation meant boiling them until they gave up.  I am an eldest child, my partner is a youngest, so his mother was a generation older.  Her version of chokos was boiled until they liquified. No wonder  as kids we weren’t great fans of vegetables!

It is amazing how much food culture we learn, for good and bad, as children.  Few of us boil veggies silly these days, but still the tendency is to serve them, more often than not, steamed or boiled as a side dish.

Nowadays I quite often make a meal that features vegetables as the main, not the side dish, and I very rarely use any water that will be drained off.  If you garden, fresh vegetables are so gorgeous that it is hard to improve on just serving them as themselves. One of the very first posts I did in this blog was Roast Vegetables as Themselves. This time of year, there are so many greens so perfectly in season that greens as themselves are worth a recipe.

This is the way I most commonly cook green veggies, as a side dish and quite often as the main with some haloumi sticks or good bread on the side.

The Recipe

Very simply, use very fresh broccoli flowerettes, peas, snow peas, celery, silver beet, kale, zucchini, and or any other green vegetables in season. Trim them and put them in a pot with a tight fitting lid.  Add a little swig of olive oil or a small knob of butter and just a little pinch of salt.  If you like,  crush in a couple of cloves of garlic and a good grating of black pepper.

Squeeze in some lemon juice – for this bowl of greens I used the juice from half a small lemon.  Add a very small amount – a dessertspoon or so – of water.

Put the lid on the pot and cook for about 3 minutes.  Every 20 seconds or so, hold the lid on tight and give the pot a good shake.  Try not to peek or you will let the steam escape.  Ideally by the time they are cooked there is just a nice little amount of juice as sauce and a hint of caramelisation in the pot.

Like the roast vegetables, it really needs nothing else.  With some fingers of haloumi cheese and some good bread this is a meal all on its own, and it’s really worth just appreciating vegetables as themselves.