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It’s glut season for pumpkins, and though the brush turkeys have made a serious dent in them, we have more than I want to try to store.  By the time the season ends we’ll be over pumpkin.

But for now it’s a treat. This is a very fast, healthy, easy, seasonal, meal in a bowl. It will generously serve two on its own, or four as a main side dish. The key ingredient, besides the pumpkin, is a Moroccan spice mix. You can use a ready bought mix but I have fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili in the garden, and besides turning very ordinary ingredients into something special, they also fend off the viruses that change of season can bring.

For this recipe, I use a mortar and pestle to crush together a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger, a fresh chilli and a handful of fresh coriander with teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Put half a cup of couscous in your serving bowl and cover it with boiling water. Let it absorb the water, topping up as needed until it is a good texture.

Meanwhile, heat a swig of olive oil in a heavy pan. Peel and chop pumpkin into bite sized pieces. This recipe uses about 2 – 3 cups of chopped pumpkin, but as always you can vary. Saute the pumpkin along with a roughly chopped onion, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and your spices. If you use dried spice mix, use about two good teaspoons.

When the pumpkin is nearly there, add a handful of sultanas, ½ a capsicum cut into thick strips, and about 2/3 cup of cooked chick peas (garbanzos). Salt to taste.

While all this is happening, roughly chop some parsley, halve some cherry tomatoes and tear up some rocket. Toss the lot together with the juice of half a lemon and serve into bowls.

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green gazpacho

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about gazpacho, until I realised it was the look of it, not the taste, that was uninspiring. The problem with gazpacho is always the colour. If you use red tomatoes and capsicums, but then mix them with green cucumbers and capsicums, you end up with a kind of khaki that doesn’t look very appetising.  And the look is a huge part of the appeal of food. Gazpacho recipes go to all kinds of lengths to adjust the colour, including adding tomato paste (which skews the flavours too far to the acid) or even adding food colouring!

red and gold

But its the season of red and gold, and in particular, gold.  If you mix gold and green, you get a very nice shade of light green that looks cool and calm and to me very inviting on a hot night. My yellow cherry tomatoes and yellow Corno de Toro peppers, mixed with green cucumbers, make gazpacho that is gorgeous to eat and to look at!

This is a very fast, very simple gazpacho that is so good you understand how it got to be such a classic dish.

The Recipe:

Makes two adult serves.

In a food processor or blender, blend together:

  • 500 grams of yellow tomatoes
  • 300 grams of cucumber
  • 2 yellow banana peppers. My Corno de Toro have just a nice little bit of chili heat.
  • a swig of good tasting olive oil
  • a swig of white wine vinegar
  • a swig of cold water
  • salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper

A swig is about 50 ml, more or less.

Pour the mix into a strainer over a bowl.

Put a bit of the liquid back in the blender with a thick slice of white bread and blend until smooth.

Stir and press the straining mix to get all the juice out and mix the blended bread through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

While the mix is straining, make some croutons or toast to go in it.

Serve in bowls with a bit of finely chopped parsley, some diced cucumber, and dollop of yoghurt if you like, and croutons or toast to add.

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platter 2

 

My friends Jamie and Camilla are off to Tamworth today to debut “Bush Ranger School” – their new album of country music for kids. And we got to hear the brand new hot off the press CD on the weekend.  Which was a great occasion for the second of my “Food to Share” series.

This one was served with three kinds of Tuscan flatbread (schiacciata), which sounds (and looks) much more elaborate than it is.  I just made one batch of sourdough and mixed a third of it with olives and thyme oil, a third with semidried tomatoes and garlic oil, and a third with black grapes and rosemary oil (an idea stolen from Maggie Beer). I shall try to get round to posting the sourdough schiacciata recipe some time soon, but any kind of focaccia or  Turkish bread would work well too .

griddle pan

There’s

  • sliced fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumber
  • chargrilled zucchini, capsicum, tromboncino, eggplant, and mango
  • grilled garlic and yoghurt dipping sauce/spread

I’m big on the idea of minimal kitchen equipment. I’ve been seduced by specialist tools enough times. They have a brief honeymoon then sit on the shelf, gathering dust, cluttering space, while I go back to using the same basic kitchen stuff.  It’s a real mission for a new piece of equipment to win a place in my kitchen these days. But the love affair with my griddle pan has now lasted long enough to be called a real relationship.  Summer vegetables suit chargrilling so perfectly.

The Recipe: Chargrilled Summer Vegetables with Grilled Garlic and Yoghurt Sauce

The Yoghurt Sauce:

Thin, dipping sauce is nice too, but I think this is best with strained, labneh style yoghurt.  So the first stage is to put some Greek yoghurt into a colander lined with cheesecloth (or a clean, chux-type dishcloth) over a bowl.  If you have time, simply leave it for a few hours or overnight. If you are hurrying it up, let it drain for 10 minutes or so, then put a plate on top weighed down with something heavy to speed it up.

Roast some garlic, in its skin, on the  griddle pan, until the skin is charred and the garlic is soft.  Squash it with salt to make a paste.

When the yoghurt is nice and thick and spreadable, mix with the roast garlic paste to taste.

The Chargrilled Vegetables:

Slice the eggplant into 1.5 cm thick slices lengthways.  Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for a few minutes.

Slice zucchini and/or tromboncino diagonally into similar thickness slices.

Chop a capsicum into big chunks and de-seed.

Pour a little olive oil onto a plate and add a pinch of salt and some crushed garlic.  Dip the vegetable slices in the garlic oil and grill, in batches, till they are just tender. Don’t overcook. If you can restrain yourself from moving them around too much you get the nice bar marks.

Besides serving on an antipasti platter, chargrilled vegetables are really good as a side dish, or as a topping on pizza, or in sandwiches.

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And why not?

Just because they look like party food doesn’t mean they can’t be really healthy, low fat, midweek dinner food. And I love the social aspect of all just sitting round the table sharing one platter, rather than individual plates. Everyone has their own favourites. Conversation flows. It’s nice.

Half an hour? OK, well, I cheated.   I made the sourdough pita on the weekend and just freshened it up by wrapping in a clean moist tea towel and steaming in the oven for a few minutes.  And though it came together in half an hour at the end, but there was a bit of pre-thinking in it, so it fits the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules only with a (fair) bit of creative license!

Charring the Eggplant and Capsicum

The main part of this meal is charring the eggplant and capsicum.  I do this sometimes directly over the flame on my gas oven:

But it is nicer, faster and easier over the wood fired Japanese Hibachi.

Whichever way, the aim is a large eggplant and a large capsicum (or equivalent smaller ones) and three or four cloves of garlic with blackened, charred skin.

Put them straight away into a container with a lid and allow to cool in their own steam until cool enough to handle.

Then gently peel off the blackened skin.  You needn’t stress about getting every little bit – a bit left on doesn’t hurt – it adds to the flavour.  But you want to remove most.

This is the only really laborious part of the whole dinner, and the charring does totally change the flavours, making them sweet and complex and  delicious.

Babaganoush

Blend together:

  • eggplant, roasted and skinned
  • a clove of roasted skinned garlic
  • 3 dsp tahini
  • 50 ml lemon juice
  • salt to taste

Roasted Capsicum and Macadamia Dip

Blend together:

  • 1 large capsicum, roasted and skinned
  • 1 skinned tomato (dunk in boiling water and the skin will come off easily)
  • a clove of roasted skinned garlic
  • ¹/3 cup macadamia kernels (or substitute whatever nut is in season in your part of the world)
  • a little swig of olive oil
  • salt to taste

Hummus

This is basically the same recipe I posted for pea hummus a few months ago, but using chick peas (garbanzos) instead of peas.  I put the peas on to soak overnight, pressure cooked them for 15 minutes in the morning, turned them off just before I left for work, and left them in the closed pressure cooker for the day.  Then it was just a matter of blending:

  • 1 cup of cooked chick peas (garbanzos)
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 50 ml lemon juice (juice of half a lemon)
  • 2 big dessertspoons tahini
  • enough water to make a smooth dip consistency

I served the three dips with a little tomato and basil salad and pita bread.

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These are my favourite capsicums these days. I call them supermarket flats, just because the seed originally came from some capsicums I bought in the supermarket. I picked them up hoping they might be non-hybrid and got lucky. I think they are actually Baby Reds, and they are doing brilliantly for me – a sweet, crunchy, thick walled, fruit fly resistant, small capsicum that bears well and long.

So for this week’s   Tuesday Night Vego Challenge, I stuffed them with a current-sweetened, nutty couscous pilaf and baked for just 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven and they were gorgeous.  The concept should work with other kinds of capsicums too.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to heat up.  You need a fairly hot oven.

To stuff 6 of these little capsicums:

Sauté

  • one small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ¹/3 cup chopped macadamias
As soon as they start to colour, add
  • a good handful of currants
  • 8 or so cherry tomatoes
  • ¹/3 cup  couscous
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¹/3 cup water

Turn the heat right down and cook for a minute or so until the couscous is softened.

Add a good handful of chopped mint. (Be generous)

With the point of a sharp knife, cut around the stem of the capsicums, pull out the core, and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds.  Teaspoon the stuffing mix into the capsicums to fill them right up. Place on an oiled baking tray, and bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 minutes till the capsicums are softened.

Did you do the   Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week?  Links are welcome.

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Capsicums are the feature crop out of my garden this week, and they are so much in season that even if you aren’t growing them, you should be able to get beautiful local ones at Farmers Markets.  I steer clear of the standard California Wonder – the variety you find in supermarkets. It’s lower yielding, shorter lived, more vulnerable to fruit fly, and less heat and drought tolerant than I need. My favourite varieties at the moment are Corno de Toro, Hungarian Yellow wax, and one I call Supermarket Flats because the seed came from some capsicums I bought in the supermarket, just because they were unusual and I hoped they might be non-hybrid. I think they are actually Baby Reds, and they are doing brilliantly for me.

So roast capsicums are the star in the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week. Polenta goes really well with them, and of course, this time of year, I put zucchini in everything.

The Recipe

Makes two dinner serves, but can easily be doubled.

The Polenta

Lightly sauté

  • one finely diced spring onion (greens and whites)
  •  with 2 cloves of garlic finely diced.

Add

  • ½ cup of grated zucchini
  • ¼ cup finely chopped basil
  • ½ cup fine polenta
  • 2 cups water 

Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes till it goes very thick, like thick porridge. Then add 70 gm low fat feta, grated, and continue cooking, stirring, for just a minute or two to melt the feta through. (You can leave out the feta if you are avoiding dairy, and it will still work, but it does make it lovely and creamy). Taste and add salt to taste.  (It doesn’t need much – the feta is salty).

Turn the mixture out into an oiled small pie plate or tray. You want it to be  about 2 cm deep.  Use the back of a wet spoon to smooth the top. Put the pie plate in the coldest part of your fridge, or in the freezer, for about 10 minutes to set.

Roast Capsicum and Tomato

To do this in half an hour, you need to multitask and put the capsicum on to char while the polenta is cooking. You can skip this stage, but it is really worth doing.

  • Char the skin of some capsicums over a gas flame, or under a grill, or over a barbeque. I like a mixture of red and yellow, and how many depends on how big they are. Use tongs to turn until the skin is blackened and blistering all over. Quickly put the hot capsicums in a plastic bag or tupperware container or a small pot with a lid – something that will hold in the steam. Leave them to steam and cool until you can handle them. You should then be able to easily rub off the skin. Don’t worry if there are little bits of charred skin left – it adds to the flavour. Slice the capsicum open, discard the seeds, and slice the flesh into strips.
  • In a frypan, saute in olive oil one large or two small red onions, sliced,  and two or three cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add the capsicum and just a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.
  • Add  a good handful of halved cherry tomatoes and heat them through. You don’t want the cherry tomatoes to cook down, just heat up.

Frying the Polenta and Assembling

The polenta should be set. Turn it out onto a board and slice into slabs.  Heat a heavy frypan with a little olive oil up to very hot. Don’t put the polenta in until it is hot, or it will stick.

Fry the polenta till it is golden, turning once. Try not to keep turning it – you will get a better crust by turning just once.
Serve with the roast capsicum on top.

Are you doing the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge, or cooking easy, healthy, in season, weeknight vego recipes regularly? Links are welcome in the Comments.

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devil's eggs huevos diablos

I wasn’t going to post until the new year, but my love for patterns got in the way, and it seemed a pity not to make it a clean sweep – a Breakfast Challenge recipe for every week of the year.  And this is one I’ve been waiting all year to get to! It is my partner’s very favourite breakfast, and cooked tomatoes are specially good for blokes – there is good evidence the lycopene in them is strongly protective against prostate cancer – but there’s lots of reasons for women to like them too.

It has been an interesting challenge. We have had a few favourites, recipes that made an appearance several times a week in their season, and variations on the same theme that flowed into another season.

Some version of a lhassi or smoothie, based on yoghurt and whatever fruit is in season has been a recurring theme – I posted Mango Lhassi and Custard Apple and Orange Juice Smoothie, but I skipped the Pawpaw and Strawberry Smootie,  Strawberry Milkshake, Mulberry Smoothie, Banana Smoothie and all the other fruit smoothies.

Some version of oatcakes, based on fruit in season, eggs and rolled oats has also appeared on our breakfast table most weeks of the year. I posted the Mango Oatcakes, and the Banana Oatcakes, but Peach Oatcakes, Blueberry Oatcakes, Apple Oatcakes, and Pear Oatcakes have also been favourites in their season.

Some version of omelette pikelets, with vegetables in season mixed with egg yolks and whipped egg whites are another standard.  I posted Sweet Corn and Capsicum Omelette Pikelets and Spinach and Feta Omelette Pikelets, and Fresh Pea and Mint Omelette Pikelets, but there have also been Broccoli and Lemon Omelette Pikelets and Pumpkin and Cheddar Omelette Pikelets and Zucchini and Feta Omelette Pikelets that haven’t made it onto the recipes yet.

Some version of a breakfast compote made from fresh fruit in season, with yoghurt and an oat-nut-seed topping comes up in our house at least once a week.  Tangelo Breakfast Compote, Apple and Peach Breakfast Compote, Pink Grapefruit Braised with Vanilla and Nuts are examples of the genre.

Nut butter on sourdough toast, made with macadamias and fruit in season was a favourite all the way through from April to August through maca season. I posted Macadamia and Pear Butter and Turmeric and Mandarin Nut Butter, but it felt a bit mean to post the Banana Nut Butter in this year when the bush turkeys ravages on our bananas were nothing compared to the effect cyclone Yasi had on prices.

Citrus curd – lemon curd, mandarin curd, lime curd, orange curd – on toast or pancakes came up much more often in real life than in the blog, but since the technique is the same it didn’t seem worth another recipe.

And of course there were eggs every which way, and a good few of my favourite ten minute vegetable recipes that are good for breakfast but also for a quick easy lunch or dinner. It’s been fun, it has made me a little more creative, a little less likely to just go with a piece of toast, and I hope it has shifted someone just a bit towards the idea that packaged breakfast cereals are a complete waste of everything – money, kilojoules, health, joy, food miles, packaging, water, and even, somewhere way back in the process, a little bit of agricultural land. Life’s too short for bad food!

The Recipe:

(For two.  But this is a good recipe for breakfast for lots of people if you multiply the recipe and use a very big pan, because it doesn’t require too much multitasking to get it all out at once.)

Toast on to cook and a heavy frypan on to heat up with a little olive oil.

Add (in this order):

  • An onion, diced
  • A zucchini, diced (or not – just we’re not allowed to eat anything without zucchini in it this time of year!)
  • A capsicum, sliced thinly
  • Chili to taste, finely diced (not too much – there’s not much to mellow it out in the recipe – I like spice and I only go for one mild-ish chili)
  • Garlic – two or three cloves crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of cumin seeds

Saute for a minute or two until the cumin seeds start to pop, then add tomatoes. If you have cherry or grape tomatoes, just add them whole. If you have Roma or beefsteak tomatoes, roughly chop them.  Cover the bottom of the pan with tomatoes – a good cup or two per person.

Add a little salt and pepper and cook for a minute or two till the tomatoes start to soften, then mash them roughly with a potato masher to release the juice.

Simmer for a couple of minutes, just to get it all hot then turn it down to medium low.

The next bit is easiest with a helper.  If you don’t have one handy, you’ll need to break eggs into cups first. Use an egg flip to make a little hollow in the tomato mix and quickly break an egg into it. Repeat for one or two eggs per person.

Put a lid on the pan and simmer for about three minutes till the whites of the eggs are set but the yolks are still runny.

Serve hot on toast.

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Silverbeet Frittata

Five serves of vegetables a day doesn’t seem like that much. I love vegetables and eat lots of them. But it’s amazing how easy it is to miss a day or two. Lunch at a work meeting,  nice rolls with turkey and cranberry, but really only a bit of lettuce you could count as a vegetable. Late home for dinner, make a quick pasta with a vegetarian tomato based sauce but really only a couple of serves of vegetables in it.

This takes me literally less than 10 minutes to make, and half of that time I can multi-task, it is really delicious, low fat, high protein, low GI, and there’s two serves of vegetables straight up. And one of them is silver beet, which is coming right into season now – I’m starting to pick it in bulk in my garden.. Women specially can use all the iron and folic acid they can get into their diet, and feel so good for it. And I think this might be a good way to get kids interested in silverbeet.

The Breakfast Challenge??)

The Recipe:

(Serves two adults for breakfast)

Into the food processor put:

  • two big silver beet leaves stripped from their stems
  • a spring onion, greens and all
  • a big sprig of parsley stripped from the stem
  • a small sweet pepper, or about a quarter of a standard sized capsicum
  • 4 cherry tomatoes
  • a heaped dessertspoon of low fat cottage cheese
  • a slice of low fat tasty cheese or parmesan
  • 2 large eggs or 3 of the little eggs my bantam crosses lay
  • salt and pepper

Put a teaspoon of butter on to melt in a heavy based frypan.

Whiz the ingredients in the processor for just a few seconds, use a plastic spatula to scrape down and whiz again. The idea is to avoid blending it too much, just chopping the ingredients together.

Pour the lot into the pan, turn the heat down to very low, put a lid on, and try to avoid peeking more than is necessary. Cook for around 5 minutes until the top is just set.  The trick here is to have the heat low enough and the lid on enough so that it sets without the bottom burning.

Meanwhile you can make coffee and toast to go with it.

Cut the frittata into quarters. It should be set enough so that you can flip one quarter on top of another. (If it breaks up, doesn’t matter, just won’t “plate up” Masterchef style!) Turn the heat off and leave it for a minute – the residual heat will make sure the middle (which was the top) sets – I really don’t like unset eggs.

A slice of sourdough toast on the side, and you’re set up for the day.

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Capsicums and chilis are right in season now and I’m harvesting both.  These ones are a banana pepper, and they’re either a very mild, sweet chili or a  capsicum with a bit of spiciness, depending on how you look at it.  They’re slightly laborious to stuff – the larger more common bell peppers would be easier – but for chili lovers the edge of spiciness is so worth it!

And kangaroo mince stuffing marries so well with that capsicum spiciness.  Those of you who have visited before will know my thoughts about kangaroo as the red meat of choice for Australians. Kangaroo mince in particular is lean, healthy, ethical, cheap, and lends itself to recipes where there are enough other flavours going on to distract people who are new to it.

The Recipe:

This recipe makes a dozen of these banana peppers, and three is a good sized serving with vegetables or salad, so it makes a main dish for four for just a couple of dollars.

You need a baking dish with a nice tight fitting lid.  I have an ovenproof pyrex casserole dish that is perfect. You could cover with aluminium foil, but I avoid foil – it’s one of those thoughtless trash products that need to be much, much more expensive to reflect their true cost.  Aluminium uses a huge amount of energy to produce (and thus contributes a huge amount of carbon).  You can argue that in cars this is offset by light weight, and in cans it is offset by recycling, but in foil it is hard to argue that is it worth it for something of such fleeting value.   And, I don’t care if there’s no definitive evidence that aluminium and Alzheimers are not just co-incidentally associated, I don’t like it.  And, apart from anything else, aluminium reacts with acidic foods to create aluminium salts might be harmless but taint the dish. Yuk.

So, first step, find a good oven dish and turn the oven on to heat up.

In a heavy pan, sauté

  • 300 gm kangaroo mince
  • 1 large onion diced fine
  • several cloves of garlic chopped

When the kanagaroo is browned, add

  • 300 gm chopped tomatoes (about 4 good sized tomatoes)
  • 2 dessertspoons of currants
  • 3 dessertspoons bulghur or couscous
  • half a cup of water

Simmer for a few minutes until the water has been absorbed. Turn it off and stir in

  • about ¼ cup (packed) of chopped fresh mint

While the stuffing is simmering, prepare the peppers. Chop the tops off and swivel a knife blade around inside them to loosen the seeds.  Wash the seeds out under running water (a butter knife is a good implement).

Stuff the peppers full of stuffing.  The fat end of a chopstick is a good implement for pushing it down to the tips.

Arrange the stuffed peppers in your baking dish.  Pour over ¼ cup of water and cover with sliced tomato.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Put the lid on and bake for around 40 minutes in a medium oven, until the peppers are tender.

I served these with braised snake beans and potato.

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