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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.


self sown garlicEvery year a few garlic plants manage to escape harvesting in early summer.  The leaves die off and I lose them in the garden.  Every year in autumn I suddenly find them again, green shoots poking up from forgotten patches.

The thing is, every year it is getting earlier.

For years I’ve planted garlic around Anzac Day.  In 2010, my first year of this blog,  I wrote a post about self sown garlic shooting of its own accord in early April.  In 2011 I planted my garlic  in mid March to see if the early planting trick would work again, and a couple of days later I found the self-sown garlic agreed with me.   In 2012, after finding the self sown garlic sprouting in early March I wrote a post about planting the garlic, and how “Gardens are polite, quiet, undemanding, and utterly implacable” about timing.

It’s hardly a proper scientific experiment. I save some of my own garlic to plant every year but I also mix up the genes a bit by buying some locally grown garlic to plant too.  It’s only a four year experiment, and lots else changes every year too including soil and weather and shade.  But it is an interesting little oddity.

This year, after finding this garlic happily sprouting this week, I’m planting my garlic in February.  Crazy early by standard wisdom, but I’m not going to argue with a plant.

Garlic is one of the most worthwhile plants to grow.  It doesn’t take a lot of space to grow a year’s supply and it’s pretty hardy with dry or cold or hot weather.  Supermarket garlic is mostly imported from China and there’s a reason it’s cheap. It’s treated with methyl bromide at quarantine, and methyl bromide is a nasty chemical.  It’s also bleached to make it that shiny white.  Chinese regulation of agricultural chemicals isn’t confidence inspiring and the garlic has travelled a long way.  The varieties used are mild and the growing practices push it along so hard that you use masses of it and don’t get the flavour.

If you are planting garlic, go to the effort of finding a good local variety.  Garlic is highly day length sensitive so a variety grown at a different latitude won’t work for you. If you can’t find local garlic, next best option is to do some good research about a suitable variety for your region – short day or long day, hard neck or soft neck.  If you are much north of me in Northern NSW, you are in a marginal area for garlic of any kind.  This far north I have to choose short daylength varieties, or they go to seed without developing a bulb at all.

Then just plant individual cloves in good composted soil, pointy end up, as deep as their own diameter, about 8 cm spacing, well away from peas or beans.  Give them a nice sunny spot and don’t overwater. And dream of braids of garlic to hang next summer.

garlic braids[relatedPosts]


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


  • 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.




This Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe uses egg noodles, which are exactly the same as pasta. I’m a relatively recent convert to home-made pasta and noodles.  For years I used to think home-made pasta 1. required a pasta machine, and 2. was just a carrier for the sauce anyway.  In fact I was wrong on both counts. I still don’t use a pasta machine, though I possibly would if I were cooking for a larger number of people.  For a couple of serves, hand rolling pasta is fast, easy, and minimises the clean up.  And I’ve discovered that fresh pasta and noodles are so good they are the stars of the recipe.  But the clincher for me is that when I make my own pasta and noodles, I can use my own, real eggs with all their vitamins, minerals, omega 3, protein, and happy lives.

The Recipe:

Makes two big serves.

There are three parts to this: the noodles, the spice mix, and the vegetables.  Like many Asian dishes if comes together really fast at the end, so you need to have all three parts prepared before you start cooking.

Start with the noodles.

1. The Egg Noodle Dough:

In a food processor, blend for just a minute till it comes together into a dough:

  • ½ cup plain flour.  I use the same high gluten baker’s flour that I use for my sourdough. Once you get the knack of it, you can start adding wholemeal flour or buckwheat flour if you like.
  • an egg,
  • a spoonful of oil. You can buy roasted sesame oil in little bottles, so strong flavoured that you only use a few drops.  Or you can buy mild sesame oil in larger bottles. It’s still relatively expensive, but it has a nutty flavour that works really well in Asian recipes.  Peanut oil is cheaper and also works well. Or macadamia oil.
  • a good pinch of salt.

Flour the benchtop and knead in enough flour to make a dough ball. Let it rest for a few minutes, covered with a wet bowl or cup, while you make the spice mix, then roll it out and cut into noodles.

You will find that if you flour the benchtop and keep flipping it, you can roll the dough out very fine without it sticking.  The finer the better. If you have time and you want to go all gourmet, at this stage,  fold it into a little block, then roll it out again.  You get a denser, more al dente noodle.  But I usually skip this step.  One roll out is plenty.

Flour the top then fold the dough in half lengthways, flour again then fold lengthways again, and once more.  You will have a log of dough 8 layers thick.  Using a sharp knife, cut into noodles. You will find that if you have floured between the layers well enough, the noodles will separate nicely.

Put a  pot of water on to boil and let the noodles dry a little while you chop vegetables.

The Spice Paste:

Use a mortar and pestle, or the spice grinder on a food processor, to grind to a paste:

  • Big thumb sized knob of fresh ginger and/or galangal
  • Thumb sized knob of fresh turmeric (or ½ – 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • white part of a lemon grass stem
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf

The Vegetables

You need about 4 cups full of julienned vegetables.  I used green beans, red onion, carrots, tromboncino, yellow squash, baby capsicum, and leaf amaranth.  But you could substitute whatever vegies are in season at your place. I’ve made this with snow peas, silver beet, carrots, and broccoli in late winter.

Cooking and Assembling:

Put a wok or a large fry pan over a high flame and get it quite hot.  Add a dash of oil (sesame, macadamia or peanut for preference), then the spice mix. Stir for just a minute, then add all the vegetables at once.

Cook over a high heat, stirring, for a few minutes, then add

  • a cup of water
  • 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar

Continue cooking over a high heat until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Meanwhile: The pot of water for the noodles should be boiling by now.  Add the noodles and cook for just a few minutes until they rise to the top.  Be careful not to overcook them – fresh noodles take 2 minutes or less.

Drain the noodles.  As soon as the vegetables are crisp-tender, turn the heat off.  Add the noodles, along with a couple of tablespoons of  finely chopped herbs  – coriander, lime basil, Thai basil, and Vietnamese mint all work well.  Toss through and serve.



End of winter, it’s been a hard few months, and I don’t often get sick, but I feel like I might.  Phó is my go-to dinner when I feel like I need to ward off I-don’t-know-what.  This isn’t a real Phó, but it’s got that ginger/garlic/chili/anise/cinnamon/lemon grass spice profile that my immune system seems to crave.  And it uses lots of Chinese cabbage and kale, that I have in bulk even in my very neglected garden.  And egg noodles – the chooks are already in spring mode and laying (the ducks and geese too).  This comes together in the half hour of the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge rules, even including noodles from scratch.

The Recipe:

For two big dinner sized bowls.

Put a big pot or a pressure cooker on to boil with 5 cups of vegie stock.  While it is coming to the boil, make the egg noodle dough.

1. The Egg Noodle Dough:

Egg noodles are just pasta.  The story is that Marco Polo brought them back to Italy where they became spaghetti.  Easy to make, and so easy to make a small quantity that I don’t even bother to pull out the pasta maker.

In a food processor, blend for just a minute till it comes together into a dough:

  • ½ cup baker’s flour (high gluten flour) You can use wholemeal flour if you like.
  • an egg,
  • a spoonful of light flavoured oil like grapeseed oil,
  • a good pinch of salt.

Knead for just a minute to make a dough ball, then let it rest while you make the soup stock. To stop it drying out, I cover the dough ball with a wet cup upside down over it.

2. The Stock:

You’re going to strain it, so nothing needs to be elegantly chopped. Into the boiling stock add:

  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • a good thumb sized knob of fresh ginger, finely sliced
  • a thumb of galangal (if you have it), finely sliced
  • a stalk of lemon grass, chopped,
  • a chili, sliced
  • one inch of cinnamon stick
  • one clove of star anise
  • one or two bay leaves
  • the leaves from a couple of stalks of celery
  • the greens from a spring onion

Simmer for around 20 minutes, or pressure cook for about 7 minutes.  Then strain the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to get all the juice out.  Return it to the pot and bring it back up to the boil.

3: The Noodles:

While the stock is cooking, roll out the noodle dough.  If you flour the bench top well, and keep flipping it, you should be able to get it very thin.  Flour the sheet of dough and fold it over a few times, then, using a sharp knife, cut it into noodles.

Tease the noodles to separate them.

3. The Soup

By now the stock should be ready to strain and bring back to the boil. Add to it:

  • one spring onion whites, very finely sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, very finely sliced
  • 1 (packed) cup of Chinese cabbage, very finely sliced
  • 1 (packed) cup  of cavolo nero kale, very finely sliced
  • 2 cups of mushrooms, finely sliced.

Simmer for another 5 minutes, or pressure cook for a couple of minutes, then add the noodles and simmer for just a couple of minutes more.

Taste and add soy sauce and/or lime juice to taste (or just allow people to add their own).



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.


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


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.



Remember this garlic? Planted into potting mix a month ago.  Look at it now. I think every single clove sprouted, and some of them now have leaves 30 cm tall.  I have three boxes like this for planting out today, and I’ll put in another three boxes of cloves for planting out next month.  Not that I need successive crops with garlic – they all get harvested at more or less the same time –  but rather to give me a bit of insurance against weather or in case a wallaby gets in to my fencing.  I’m planting them out in three different beds for the same reason.

Today I’ll also plant out my onions – Hunter River Browns and Lockyer Gold – varieties carefully chosen to suit the relatively long winter day length this far north.  And I’ll put in another box of seedlings.  Like the garlic, they’ll all get harvested at more or less the same time.  Garlic and onions are so picky about day length that I can’t stagger them much.

I’ll plant out carrots and put in another box  for successive crops, using my standard method.  I have a bit more choice in varieties this time of year, but I’m liking Nantes so much and they’re doing so well for me, I think I’ll just stick with them. I shall put in a box of parsnips using the same method. Parsnips planted now will be ready for harvest in late winter, and they’ll be the best ones of the year.

I’ll plant a few beetroot seeds in a seed raising box, select half a dozen of the strongest of the ones germinated last month to pot on, and plant out the ones germinated the month before.  That way, I have about 25 beets on the go, but only about half of them taking up room in the garden at any one time, and about half a dozen ready for harvesting at any one time.

It’s perfect garden weather here today, and not sensible to be inside on a computer!




My planting calendar is on my case. It’s not even up on the wall yet (I told you it’s been a busy start to the year) and already it’s on my case.

There’s a roots and perennials planting break this weekend, and through until Tuesday afternoon.  I only half believe that plants pay any attention at all to a lunar planting calendar. But humans are another matter. We’ve been away for the weekend, and just got home.  I have a big day at work tomorrow and won’t get home till late. I might (hopefully) get a little time on Tuesday, but there’s a serious risk that it will be next weekend before I get out into the garden to do much more than picking. Oh, and I just remembered, we might have guests next weekend.

And garlic needs to go in.

The garlic really needs to go in, and it won’t be nice and understanding about how both my (young adult) kids, who live a few hours drive away, have birthdays this time of year so it was a good occasion for an extended family dinner, or how work is hectic at the moment, or how I have a really good book I’d love to get into this afternoon.

Gardens are polite, quiet, undemanding, and utterly implacable.  Garlic and onions are day length sensitive, and I have only a narrow window of opportunity to plant and absolutely nothing I can do to alter the day length.  Further south it isn’t quite so pressing. You have a longer window of opportunity and more choice in varieties. Here in northern NSW, the midsummer days are much shorter than they are in the more temperate climates that onions and garlic are really adapted for.  I have to choose my variety carefully, choosing short and medium daylength varieties, and I only get a few months to plant them.

If I want to stagger the planting a bit so as to give me some insurance if weather or pests wipe out one round, they need to start going in now.

I have all the resources I need – aged compost, creek sand left from the recent floods, some space in the shadehouse after last weekend’s clearout,  seed garlic saved from last year’s crop along with some I’ve got from friends and other local gardeners –  so it won’t take long. This afternoon I am planting about 70 cloves of garlic. With another 70 next month that will give me a year’s supply with some for gifting and some for next year’s seed.  One clove per pot, pointy side up, using the standard system of planting things as deep as their own diameter.  Each clove will yield a corm.

I’m also planting a box of Hunter River Brown onions, and one of Lockyer Gold.  Hopefully I’ll get some time before Tuesday arvo to put in another round of carrots, spring onions, parsnips and beetroots too. The planting calendar is nagging me about them too. If I put in just one small box of each every month, I have a nice staggered planting and a continuous supply.

Bossy old calendar. See, I’ve done it. Ok?


gnocchi with zucchini and pesto

I’ve just realised a problem with the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. Do I post it on Wednesday? After making it on Tuesday? Or do I post it on Monday? For readers to make on Tuesday?  I’ve decided to forgo logic entirely, and just post on Tuesday. I actually usually make things several times to get the recipe written down pat before I post them anyway.

I have zucchini and their close cousin tromboncino going nuts in my garden this time of year. It is compulsory in our household to have zucchini every day, I’ve given so many away that my friends are avoiding me, the chooks have gone on strike and refuse to eat any more.  This is the first year I’ve grown tromboncino (Diggers seeds) and I think they have upstaged Blackjack as my favourite variety. They suit my garden well because they grow into a climbing, rambling vine, like a very rampant cucumber. I can grow them up the fences of my fortress fenced beds and they provide a bit of shade for everything in the bed and maximise the use of fenced space – conventional zucchini take up a lot of ground room. But next year, I’ll plant just two or three vines all up for the whole summer!

I also have basil going nuts in my garden this time of year. It is one of the few leafy greens that will cope with summer. So I make pesto just about every week and we have it on sandwiches, in salad dressings, on vegetables. This recipe also uses lots of my lovely new season garlic, and the last of the early spring planted potatoes. We don’t eat a huge amount of potatoes – I’m not active enough to afford the carbohydrates. But the recipe is healthier than it might at first appear, with only one medium or two small potatoes for two generous serves.

The Recipe:

Makes two good serves.

With a bit of multitasking I can make this well within the half hour.  Please feel free to join in the Challenge –  fast, easy, healthy, in season, real food –  and add your link or recipe in the Comments .


You need a couple of tablespoons of pesto for this. I make it regularly this time of year and usually have some in the fridge. It’s just

  • 40 grams of nuts (macadamias, cashews, almonds or pine nuts), lightly toasted
  • 40 grams of parmesan
  • a cup, packed of basil
  • a clove of garlic
  • salt to taste
  • enough good olive oil to blend

If you haven’t got it made and you are making it, get it all ready then use the food processor to do it straight after the spuds. That way you don’t have to wash anything up, and it still gets ten minutes or so to mellow.


  • Scrub 250 grams of potatoes, chop and cook them, skin on, till they are tender.  Waxy potatoes like Dutch Cream, Kipfler,  Bintje, Nicola,  or Pink Eye are best. I used the  kipflers that I grew this year for these.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, heat your largest, heavy bottomed fry pan with a little olive oil. Fry about two cups of sliced baby zucchini with two or three cloves of chopped garlic till they just start to colour.
  • Drain the potatoes and put the pot back on with lots of water for boiling the gnocchi.
  • Process the potatoes with a food processor, or through a mouli or ricer, to get a smooth puree.
  • Blend with an egg, a good pinch of salt, and enough OO bakers flour (I use the bakers flour that I use for my sourdough) to make a smooth, kneadable dough. My faithful Braun food processor copes with the spuds, one egg, and about half a cup of flour to make a thick batter.  I tip another half a cup of flour on my benchtop, tip the potato mix on top of it, and knead it in.  Knead very briefly to make a smooth soft not-sticky dough.
  • Roll the dough into long snakes, about 2 cm diameter and cut the snakes into 2 cm slices. Use a fork to squash each gnocchi slightly, like the picture at the bottom.
  •  Cook the gnocchi in two batches in boiling water until they rise to the top. This will take less than a minute. Use a slotted spoon to take them out into a colander.
  •  Is the pan with the zucchini, garlic and olive oil still hot? Get it hot again and add the gnocchi. Cook, tossing gently,  for just a couple of minutes till the gnocchi get a little bit of colour.  I like to add a few handfuls of quartered cherry tomatoes at the end and just heat them through, then add two or three good spoonfuls of pesto.  Toss the pesto through and serve.