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rice paper rolls

There’s actually only a small window of the year when rice paper rolls are the perfect thing.  Avocados need to be in season, and coriander.  You need macadamias and limes for the dipping sauce.  Pickled radishes and turnips and ginger are wonderful in them.  And it needs to be warm enough for that cool, clean, crispness to be just what you feel like.

Rod and I made these ones to take to a trivia night fundraiser at the local high school.  We spent a lovely afternoon chopping and chatting, dipping and rolling.  They’re the perfect social food.  Normally for home I prepare all the fillings and let people assemble their own. Lay all the fillings out on the table along with a pan of very warm water. Each person dips the rice paper in the water for a minute to soften,  chooses fillings, rolls it up tucking the sides in as  they go, dips and eats.  Have competitions and friendly banter about who is the neatest roller, and who chooses the unlikeliest filling combination, and whose fillings all fall out into the dipping sauce.

The fillings for these ones included julienned snow peas, carrots and spring onions,  mizuna, avocado, vermicelli, bean sprouts, lots of coriander and mint, and pickled ginger, daikon and turnip.   The dipping sauce was:

  • roasted macadamias crushed with a mortar and pestle,
  • equal quantities of lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar
  • a touch of garlic and chili
  • a bit of water to mellow it out

All just shaken together in a jar and served in little bowls for people to dip.

making rice paper rolls

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avocado lime and coriander dip

My glut crop at the moment is coriander.  In a few weeks time it will all go to seed.  Babies planted now will hardly leaf up before running to seed.  So now’s the time to make the most of it.  If you click “coriander” in the list in the right margin, you’ll find that I seem to have quite a few recipes with it.  It’s one of those flavours you either love or hat.  In one of those serendipities so common with food, avocado, limes and coriander are all in season together.

The dip is really simple – just avocado blended with lots of coriander leaf (more than you would think) and lime juice and salt to taste (not too much of either).

The chips though are a really good invention.  They don’t have much oil in them, and you can use monounsaturated olive oil and avoid the horrible transfats in bought chips.

Baked Sourdough Corn Chips

Mix equal amounts of sourdough starter with dry polenta.

Let it sit for half an hour or more for the polenta to fully soak.  Then add:

  • A good pinch of salt
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • A few spoonfuls of olive oil
  • Enough bakers’ flour to make a soft dough (it won’t need much).

Knead briefly, then cover with a clean cloth and let it sit for a few hours for the sourdough to develop.

Flour the benchtop and a rolling pin and roll the dough out very thin.  Place on an oiled biscuit tray and trim to fit, then score into triangles.

Bake for about 20 minutes in a medium hot oven till the chips are just golden.  Watch carefully at the end because they burn fast.

They will keep for a while in an airtight jar.

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I have a simple, fast, comfort food dhal recipe in my Breakfast Cereal Challenge series from last year – Breakfast Dhal. But I actually managed to harvest some pigeon peas despite the parrots best tries to get through them all,  and that was worth a super dhal recipe.  Specially since I have some new season spuds, and coating them in curry sauce is one of the few ways potatoes can be improved.

And my turmeric and ginger are both just starting to sprout again. They could really do with some water. It has been such a dry spring here.  The ginger needs to be nursed along, watered and fed and protected from competition, but turmeric is really hardy and prolific in my sub-tropical climate – it just comes back every year and I just dig up what I need. We eat it quite a lot and there is never a shortage.  Turmeric is a really good source of anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants, with some good solid science now linking it to a whole host of health benefits. Pigeon peas are high protein, high fibre, low GI. So this recipe scores really well on all three of the Witches Kitchen versions of “good”.

And it makes it into the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules of fast, healthy, in season, from scratch, with only some minor cheats: you need to remember to put the peas in water to soak for the day, and if you want naan bread wtih it, to make dough in the morning to prove for the day.

The Recipe

This makes two large bowls with leftovers for lunch the next day. (It’s one of those things that’s even better the next day).

There are two parts to this, and to do it in half an hour, you need to get both parts cooking at once.

Part One: The Pigeon Peas

How long they take to cook depends on how fresh they are.  Fully matured and dried pigeon peas, presoaked, take about half an hour of simmering or 10 minutes at pressure in a pressure cooker.  Three quarters of a cup of dried peas will make about 1½ cups of cooked peas. Add a good pinch of salt to the cooking water.

If you don’t have pigeon peas, the recipe works with mung dhal (split mung beans) instead, but pigeon peas will not break down the same way that mung beans will, even if you cook them for a long time.   If you use pigeon peas, you need to blend to get the consistency. If you use mung beans, you don’t.

When the peas are soft, drain them and return to the pot.

  • Add half a cup each of finely chopped celery and carrot, 
  • a cup of chopped tomatoes
  • two cups of water.

Simmer for 10 minutes, or bring back to pressure and pressure cook for five, then blend, adding water until it is the consistency you like.  A stick blender is perfect for this.

Return to the heat and simmer, stirring frequently. After it is blended, it will stick to the bottom of the pot really easily.

Meanwhile – Part Two – the Spice Base:

  • In a heavy pan, heat a little olive oil (or, traditionally, ghee) and sauté a chopped onion until it just starts to go translucent.
  • Then add one teaspoon each of fresh coriander seeds and cumin seeds. (If you don’t have fresh coriander seeds, better to use powder – old seeds are too tough).
  • Cook gently for a minute or two until the seeds start to pop, then add two teaspoons each of finely grated ginger, garlic, and turmeric. (You can subsitute a teaspoon of  turmeric powder if you can’t get fresh, but  turmeric powder is to fresh like ginger powder is to fresh.)
  • Add a little chili to taste. I added one medium-mild pickled chili chopped fine.
  • Then add a cup of diced potato.  You might need to add a little more oil.  Stir so it is covered in the spices and sauté, stirring a bit, for around 5 minutes until the potato is softened and the onion is going crisp and verging on overcooked.

Assembling:

Tip the potato and spice mix into the pea mix and stir in.  Cook for just a minute or two – you don’t really want to cook them together,  just mix.  Taste and add salt to taste, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Add a good handful of chopped coriander and serve, topped with yoghurt if you like, and accompanied with naan bread.
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My kale is starting to flower, so it was time to finish it off. This hot weather will bring cabbage moths and aphids around anyhow. It has been really hardy and trouble free, and has borne really well for months now. I’ve used it regularly at least a couple of times a week – such a lot of food from such a small area.  It works well in soups and stews,  pasta and noodle dishes, stuffed and baked and very lightly steamed.  And it’s given me a big dose of a huge range of vitamins and minerals and some important anti-cancer phytochemicals all winter.  I’m sad to see it go!

But the chooks will love the stalks and older leaves, and I’ve picked all the younger, nicer leaves for this  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. On hot evenings like we have been having lately, a platter of finger food and a cold beer on the verandah is the perfect dinner.

The Recipe:

This recipe made plenty for two of us for dinner. It isn’t exactly diet food, but the kale doesn’t absorb as much oil as you might think, and with dipping sauce and accompaniments it’s not too high fat. We like the batter with a bit of spiciness, but you can reduce the ginger, turmeric and chili if you want a milder version.

Make the batter first so it gets 10 minutes or so to sit, then the dipping sauce so it gets a few minutes for the flavours to meld.  Then last of all, mix in the kale and fry the pakora.

The Batter

Use a whisk or a fork to mix together to a smooth batter like a pancake batter:

  • 1 cup besan (bean flour – from any wholefoods store)
  • two-thirds of a cup water
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • pinch of chili powder or dried chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon grated turmeric (or ½ teaspoon dried)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped coriander, stems and leaves, and if you have them roots as well
  • pinch salt

Let the batter sit, and go on to make the dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

Use a food processor or blender to blend together

  • ¾ cup plain yoghurt
  • big handful of coriander leaves
  • big handful of mint leaves
  • pinch salt

Let the dipping sauce sit for the flavours to meld and go on to make the pakora.

Pakora

Heat up a pan with about half an inch (1.5 cm) of oil. You want it medium hot.  I use either avocado oil or light olive oil for frying like this, because they have fairly high smoke points.  Light olive oil is light flavoured, not light fat, and it’s light flavoured because it’s highly refined to remove the aromatics.  But it makes it better for frying because it means it heats to a much higher temperature without producing any unhealthy by-products.  Avocado oil has a very high smoke point, and it’s locally grown in my region, but it is a bit expensive.

Stir into the batter

  • 1½ cups (packed) of kale shredded into 3cm or so pieces.
  • 1 small onion finely diced

Stir so that all the kale is well coated in batter.

Drop dessertspoons full of batter coated kale into the hot oil.  Fry for around 3 minutes each side until they are crisp and golden.  Drain on brown paper.

I serve on a platter as finger food for sharing,  with the dipping sauce and some raw vegetables (cherry tomatoes, snow peas, celery) to dip too.

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It must really be Spring.  In one week, I have gone from feeling like only soups, stews and things eaten with a spoon from a bowl, to feeling like something with crunch and those hot-sweet-sour tropical flavours.

This Tuesday Night Vego Challenge took a bit of experimenting, and a bit of re-purposing of kitchen equipment.  You might have to do your own experimenting and repurposing to make it fit what you have available. It’s worth it.

The Recipe:

Makes 2 large  pancakes.

Part 1: The Pancake Batter

You need half a cup of brown rice flour. I can buy it at my local wholefoods shop, but it isn’t cheap and I don’t use a lot of rice flour.  Luckily, I have made the happy discovery that my little electric coffee grinder works beautifully to turn the local clear conscience rice into rice flour – slightly coarse but perfect for this.

You also need 2 dessertspoons of  coconut flour.  Again, my local wholefoods shop sells it but it isn’t cheap, and my coffee grinder will turn dessicated coconut into coconut flour perfectly.  Canned coconut cream isn’t a routine pantry item for me. It’s well out of my 100 mile zone, I’m not sure that I need that much fat of any kind (good or bad), and the cans come with all the energy and resource costs of canning along with BPA.

You may have to experiment to see if you have an implement that will make rice and coconut flour.

Blend together

  • ½ cup of brown rice flour 
  • 2 dessertspoons coconut flour
  • 2 dessertspoons cornflour (corn starch in USA)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh turmeric (or substitute ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 1 teaspoon raw sugar
  • ½ teaspooon salt
  • ½ cup water
You should end up with something the texture of a thin crepe batter. Let it sit while you make the sauce and filling.

Part 2: The Sauce

Blend together
  • juice of a lime
  • ½ red chili (more or less to taste)
  • a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
  • one clove of garlic (this time of year I start getting frugal with garlic!)
  • 1 dessertspoon brown sugar
  • 1 dessertspoon wine vinegar
  • 1 dessertspoon soy sauce
  • 1 dessertspoon sesame oil
Let this sit while you make the rest.

Part 3: The Salad

This is just an Asian style salad and the ingredients are quite versatile.  I used:

  • 2 small carrots, julienned
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 2 radishes, julienned
  • a handful of snow peas, thinly sliced diagonally
  • a handful of mung bean sprouts
  • a handful of chopped mint, vietnamese mint, and coriander

Part 4: Cooking and Assembling

There is a knack to the pancakes. If you get them just right, they hold together and are crispy on the edges but soft enough in the middle to fold.  The tricks are in a nice thin, smooth batter, a well seasoned heavy pan, and working quickly. If it looks like turning into a disaster you can add an egg to the batter. It makes it hold together easily but you lose the crispiness.

Put a good swig of a nice sweet flavoured oil in a big heavy pan over a medium heat. I use sesame oil, but you could use peanut oil.

Pour in half of the batter and, working quickly, tip the pan and use a spatula to spread it thin. Then let it cook undisturbed until the top is set and the edges are going crispy.  It will be quite fragile and if you try to turn it too early you’ll break it.  If you have the knack you can turn it with an egg flip.  The safer way is to loosen it with the egg flip, tip it onto a plate, then slide it off the plate back into the pan to cook the other side.

As each pancake cooks, put it on a plate, pile half the salad onto one side of it, pour on sauce, and fold it over.

Serve leftover sauce on the side.

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Sadly this isn’t one of my better examples of photography! I’ve been waiting all year to post this recipe.  Chili con Kanga is good on its own, but this time of year there is a little window of time when avocados, limes and coriander are all in season together, and the salsa with it makes it sensational.

I always make a great big pot of this when I make it, and we have it for dinners and lunches several times.  It will serve six or eight people for dinner easily, or you can freeze it or keep it in the fridge for several meals.  Or, you can halve the recipe.

Less red meat and more vegetables is a good idea, for health, environment, and hip pocket reasons.  And less factory farmed meat and more wild harvested, free range, organic meat is a good idea for the same reasons.  This combines both.

The Recipe:

Cook 400 grams dry beans till they are soft.  I soak them first and use a pressure cooker so they cook quickly.  The post about Bean Basics has my basic bean cooking method.  I don’t think it matters what kind.  They all add a different character to the dish, but they all seem to be good in their own way.

Brown 1 kg kangaroo mince in a little olive oil in a heavy pan.

In a big pot, saute together:

  • 4 onions (chopped)
  • 6 garlic (chopped)
  • 6 chilis (more or less, depending on how hot the chilis are and how hot you like it)
  • 3 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons smoky paprika
  • 1 capsicum (chopped)
  • 6 carrots (chopped)

Add the browned kangaroo mince and the beans, along with:

  • 1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or a good teaspoon of dried)
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 kilogram chopped tomatoes  (or a big jar of passata)
  • 2 big tablespoons tomato paste (leave out if you use passata)
  • 1 dessertspoon treacle (or brown sugar)
  • 2 cups of water
  • a good grinding of black pepper, and salt to taste

Simmer for half an hour or so until it reaches the right consistency.

Avocado, Lime and Coriander Salsa

Mash together:

  • An avocado
  • Juice of a lime
  • a big handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
  • salt to taste

Serve the chili in bowls topped with a good dollop of avocado salsa, and, if you like, some warm tortillas to mop up with.

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The possums have finished off all my avocados,  but I live in an avocado growing region and we’re smack bang in the middle of the season so there’s always a few ripening on my kitchen bench.  They marry so well with limes, and this is the last of the limes for the year.  I also have heaps of coriander in the garden. In another few weeks all the leafy greens will realise spring is on the way and will want to go to seed, so this is the time to take advantage of luxurient foliage.

Avos have lots of calories but they’re such good calories – full of vitamins A, B, C, E and K, omega-3, monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, antioxidant phytonutrients, and importantly, an amino acid called glutathione that slows down aging. I make a face mask out of them this time of year, but really, they’re much more effective from the inside!

The Recipe:

Very simply, mash together an avocado with plenty of lime juice, lots of finely chopped coriander, and a pinch of salt. (You’ll be surprised how much coriander you can add and it still keeps tasting better and better).

It’s good scooped up with pita chips, or, my favourite, wrapped in a warm home-made tortilla.

(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, and taste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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