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eggplant dip

The low-light photo doesn’t do it justice.  Usually I don’t post something the first time I make it, but this will be the last time for the season too. I had to pick the last of the season’s red eggplants – the chooks are now in the bed they were in, getting it ready for all the winter leafies – cauliflowers and celeriac and silver beet and cabbage –  to be planted out.  Enough pickles on the shelf, and no tahini in the pantry for baba ganoush, and a batch of chick peas cooked for felafel.

So I tried something different.  And now there are no more eggplants till next year to do it again, and I want to remember this for myself if no-one else.  So you will have to make do with the photo!

The Recipe:

The quantities are a little vague – I didn’t think I was making a recipe to post so I didn’t measure.  But it’s the kind of recipe that you make to taste anyhow.

  • I started with about 3 cups of peeled and diced red eggplant. It would probably work just as well with black eggplant.
  • Massage through a handful of salt, and let sit for an hour or so, then rinse and squeeze the eggplant.
  • You end up with about 2 cups of washed and squeezed eggplant.
  • Fry or bake in a bit of olive oil, until the eggplant is very soft.  I fried this lot and it took about 15 minutes on a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • As it cooked, I added in a chili chopped fine, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic,  and a thumb of turmeric grated.
  • Scrape it all into a bowl and with a fork, mash and whip together with one small red onion, finely diced, juice of a lime (about 80 ml, or ¼ cup) and three big dessertspoons of plain Greek yoghurt.  The lime is the key.  You could probably substitute lemon but the lime juice gives it a really interesting distinctive flavour.  And limes are in season, and I have enough lime pickles on the shelf too!
  • Put in the fridge and allow to mature for a couple of hours if possible.

We ate it with felafel and tabouli and an impromptu dinner guest, and it has knocked baba ganoush off its spot as my favourite eggplant sauce or dip.

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red eggplants

I have very few insect pests that really annoy me.  The payoff for a very wildlife friendly garden is that insects have to run a gauntlet of lizards and frogs and wrens and spiders, and not enough make it through to be serious competition.  Except for flea beetles.   These are little black jumping beetles from the Chrysomelidae family.  They eat holes in the leaves, only eggplants and potatoes in my garden, but so prolifically that the leaves look like lace.  On its own, even that probably wouldn’t faze me, but they also spread wilt and blight diseases and nine times out of ten my eggplants succumb to something before bearing a decent crop.

Rock  mulching the plant to attract and provide habitat for lizards helps a bit.  Surrounding seedlings with well developed Thai basil and other strong camouflage plants helps a bit.  I’ve read that planting a catch crop of radishes works but the flea beetles are fast and they jump, so I haven’t figured out how you would catch the beetles once the radishes have attracted them.  I’ve read that yellow sticky traps work, and I can see that, but I worry about catching beneficial insects too.  I’ve read that mulching with coffee grounds works, but I suspect it works by caffeine poisoning the beetles, and that would poison beneficials too so I might try it but carefully.

Meanwhile, red square eggplants don’t resist the beetles any better than any other variety I’ve tried, but they resist the resulting wilt and blight diseases.  So I have red eggplant bushes with colander leaves but they are still bearing a good crop.

Peeled, the red eggplants work in just about any eggplant recipe.  They are a bit more bitter and I tend to pick them green, just as the colour turns for most recipes.  Unpeeled and fully ripe, they work brilliantly in an Indian style eggplant pickle.

The Recipe:

  • Chop 6 cups, or about a kilo (2 pounds) of red eggplant into 1.5 cm cubes.
  • Put it in a colander and massage through about 6 dessertspoons of cooking salt.
  • Let it sit for half an hour in the sink.
  • Put some jars on to sterilize, either  in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes, or by boiling for 15 minutes, or in a slow oven for 20 minutes (but boil the lids separately or the plastic lining melts).  You can also use a dishwasher or a microwave so they say but I don’t have either of them.  You want to put the hot pickle into hot jars so time it so both are ready at once.

Meanwhile

  • Finely chop a whole corm of  garlic, and about the same amount of fresh ginger and fresh turmeric.
  • Also finely chop some chilies.  How many depends on how hot you like your pickles and how hot your chilies are.  I used half a cupful of bishops crown chilies, without the seeds, which makes a spicy but not heroic pickle.
  • Rinse, drain and squeeze the eggplants.
  • Heat ¾ cup light olive oil in a pot big enough to take all the eggplants
  • Add 1 teaspoon each of fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds, and a half teaspoon of brown mustard seeds.
  • Cook for about half a minute, then add the garlic, ginger and turmeric.
  • Cook for another half a minute or so, then add the chilies.
  • Cook for minute or so then add the eggplants.
  • Cook for a few minutes, then add a cup of vinegar and a heaped dessertspoon of brown sugar.
  • Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally, till the eggplants are soft and translucent and the oil is separating.  You can tell when it is ready because the oil becomes visible. Leave a ladle to cook in the pot so that it is sterile too.
  • Bottle the hot pickle into the hot jars using the ladle, wipe the edge of the jars with a clean paper towel, and put the lids on.  The lids will pop in as it cools.
  • The pickle will last for months in the fridge.  If you want to keep on the shelf, or give away, you can go the extra step of boiling or pressure cooking the sealed jars (boil for 20 minutes, pressure cook for 10 in a pot with a tea towel in the bottom to stop the jars rattling).

eggplant pickle

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eggplants

I’m very proud of these.  Eggplants are one of my difficult crops. In my garden they are prone to attack by flea beetles.  The flea beetles themselves are a nuisance – they chew holes in the leaves – but not critical.  But they spread virus diseases and the nightshade family (that eggplants belong to) is very prone to virus diseases.  And I live in an area where wild tobacco (Solanum mauritianum) is a  prevalent weed so it is impossible to break the cycle of disease by just having a break from all nightshades.

I’d love to be able to put my finger on exactly what I did right with these.  The seedlings were bought – something I rarely do, and only because I hadn’t planted seed (too disheartened after last year’s dismal eggplant harvest), and then succumbed.  They are “Little Finger”, a variety I’ve tried before, but maybe this is a particularly strong cultivar?  They were planted late in the season – usually I try to get them started in September but these didn’t go in until well into October.  They were planted in a bed that has been well chooked – that bed had the chooks on it at the peak of my crazy busy time and they were there for much longer than usual.  But the bed had tomatoes in it before that, and they’re the same family… ?

My best theory is that they are companion planted with Thai basil on all sides, and the Thai basil was well advanced when the seedlings went in.  Because the bed is very fertile, the Thai basil has really grown big and leafy, but it wanted to bolt to seed a bit so I’ve been breaking off  the seed heads and dropping them as mulch around the eggplants.

I’m going to be sure to save seed from these, and try to remember to run the Thai basil experiment again next year.  But meantime, I’m relishing the idea of Smoky Eggplant and Pomegranate Dip with the pomegranates just coming into season too.

I know in many parts of Australia you are coping with frizzle weather, and my fingers are crossed that there are no fire catastrophes.  But here it is cool and overcast with occasional showers – jealous? So I’ve planted another round of beans – Red Seeded Snake Beans and Rattlesnakes this time, just a couple of metres of fence with each.  I’ve planted zucchini and squash and cucmbers and potkins, just a couple of each.  I won’t plant any more tomatoes – I want to save some spots for next year and I’ve learned to be very careful to rotate tomatoes.  I’ll plant out just two more advanced capsicum seedlings, and I’ve planted another dozen sweet corn.

With any luck we won’t get your heat wave this time, I’ll be able to keep water up to them and they’ll survive, but if they don’t, at least it’s only this one batch of successional planting that I miss.

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muthia andf pakora

We are flooded in and the chooks, who hate wet weather, are very miserable. But we are safe, have plenty of food and firewood and, with the new power system, even plenty of electricity.  So I’ve had a lovely day playing in the kitchen rather than the garden, and we had our neighbours (who are also flooded in, same side of the creek to us) over for a long late Sunday lunch.

I spent a couple of hours making corn vadai and azuki vadai and eggplant and beetroot  pakora and zucchini muthia, and I really needn’t have bothered cos there were two clear favourites on the platter, and they were the quickest and easiest ones – the muthia and the pakoras.

This is the third of my “Food to Share” series, a South Indian platter inspired by the ginger and turmeric and chilies going nuts in the midsummer garden.  This one has:

  • Corn Vadai – little patties made with corn, lentils and spices
  • Azuki Vadai – made with ground soaked brown snake bean seeds and spices
  • Eggpant pakora – just thin eggplant slices dipped in pakora batter and fried
  • Beetroot pakora – grated beet mixed with pakora batter and fried
  • Zucchini muthia – steamed zucchini and besan (bean flour) patties
  • Coriander mint dipping sauce
  • Hot Mango and Tomato Chutney
  • Green Mango Pickles in Oil
  • Fresh cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber

All made from things that are so in season they are in glut in my garden.

Zucchini Muthia Recipe:

Grate two overfull cups of zucchini and put in a colander over the sink.  Let it drain for a few minutes, pressing and squeezing to get excess liquid out.

In a bowl, mix

  • 2 cups of drained grated zucchini
  • ½ cup besan (bean flour)
  • 2 dessertspoons plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 scant teaspoon of cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric (or substitute ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 2 medium to mild chilis, finely chopped (more or less depending on how hot you like it)
  • a handful of herbs, finely chopped.  Coriander, fennel, or Thai basil all work in different ways.
  • pinch salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 dessertspoons oil

Use your hands to mix, squeezing the mixture together.

Use wet hands to shape into 14 little patties. They should be a bit sticky but able to be made into patties. If they are too sticky, add some more besan.

Steam the patties for around 20 minutes, till they a skewer comes out clean. You can make them ahead up to this point, and they will keep in the fridge for several days.

To finish:

In a little oil in a frypan, pop ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds.  Add a little finely diced chili, if you like spiciness (or not) and a couple of dessertspoons of sesame seeds.

Add the steamed muthia and fry for a few minutes till they start to colour. The sesame seeds will stick to them.

Serve hot with chutney or pickles or dipping sauce.

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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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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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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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I can’t say this is fast and easy.  It’s a long slow Sunday afternoon recipe, and it creates quite a bit of washing up!  But there’s a good return on investment – for an hour or so of Sunday afternoon baking, you can have several very healthy dinners and lunches made ready for the week.  And you won’t get sick of eating it.

There are three parts to this recipe:  the vegetables, the tomato sauce and the bechamel sauce.

The Vegetables:

Turn the oven on to warm up.

You can use a variety of vegetables in season. For this version I used an orange sweet potato,  half a pumpkin, two large eggplants, 400 grams of mushrooms, and a bunch of baby spinach, but feel free to substitute.

The eggplants are the slowest process, so start with them.  Slice into centimetre thick slices, sprinkle with salt, and put in a colander in the sink to drain.

Next the sweet potato.  It needs a bit of a head start cooking, so slice it into centimetre thick slices, massage with olive oil, spread out on a baking tray and bake to half cook, so the slices are just starting to get tender.

Slice the mushrooms and pumpkin into centimetre thick slices too.  Leave the spinach leaves whole.

By now the eggplants have drained enough.  Rinse and pat dry, massage in oil, and add to the sweet potato in the oven.

The Tomato Sauce

Saute a large onion, diced, in a little olive oil.  Add two or three cloves of garlic, chopped fine, and a diced capsicum, then half a dozen large tomatoes, diced (or a can of tomatoes) and a good handful of basil chopped.  Simmer gently to reduce to a fairly thick tomato sauce.

The Bechamel

In a saucepan, cook four good dessertspoons of plain wholemeal flour in 6 desertspoons of olive oil till it foams.  The idea is to explode the starch in the flour without browning it.  Add two cups of low fat milk and half a cup of low fat ricotta or cottage cheese and two bay leaves.  Cook, stirring, till it thickens. Fish out the bay leaves and add salt and pepper.

The Assembly

Oil a baking dish and place the partly-cooked sweet potato in a single layer in the bottom of it.  Cover with half the tomato sauce, then half the bechamel.  Spread a layer of pumpkin slices on top, then a layer of mushrooms and a layer of spinach leaves.  Cover with the other half of the tomato sauce, then the partly-cooked eggplant slices, then the other half of the bechamel sauce.  Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan.  Pop it back in the middle of a moderate oven and bake for about 25 minutes till the cheese is golden on top and the vegetables are tender.

It’s good hot or cold.

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As seasonal a recipe as they come, this eggplant with pizza topping is easy and fast.

Slice  eggplant into 1.5 cm slices.  Salt and drain for an hour or so.  Rinse, pat dry, and rub with olive oil.

Bake for 20 mins or so till just starting to soften.

Cover with pesto, then pizza toppings of your choice: onion, capsicum, tomato, olives, mushroom – all finely sliced.

Top with a mixture of low fat cottage cheese and grated parmesan cheese in about a two to one ratio.

Pop it back into a hot oven for 10 minutes or so till the cheese mixture bubbles and browns. Good with a crunchy salad.

Bunya Pesto

I made the pesto for this batch with bunya nuts, and it was divine!  We have bunyas growing but the trees are young and don’t fruit every year. These ones came from some cones that some friends (thanks Ashley and Annie!) collected  from a roadside tree.  The big green cones fall apart as they ripen, releasing the nuts inside, that look like this:

I pressure cooked the bunyas for 20 minutes then cooled them, then cut them in halves and scooped out the nut.

There is a knack to doing this without cutting your fingers off.  Use a big heavy knife – the kind you’d use for a pumpkin.  Hold the nut with one hand, sitting it on its fat end, and get the blade of the knife dug in across the pointy end.  Shift your holding hand to the top of the knife and cut down.  Once you have the knack, it’s easy and fast.

Then it’s simply a matter of blending together basil and bunyas with olive oil, and adding just a little parmesan cheese, and garlic, and salt to taste.

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