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basket of citrus

Sunlight in my basket.

Limes, lemons, mandarins, oranges.  So many of them that I am making salted limes for adding to summer soda water and salted lemons for that little salty sour-sweet note that lifts so many dishes out of the ordinary.  I’m making lime syrup for cordial, but not being a real sweet tooth, mostly for Asian style dipping sauce for things like rice paper rolls.   I’m making Indian style Lime Pickle for curries (and for cheese and crackers), and mostly for giving away.  I’m putting lemon and lime skins in cleaning vinegar to make lemon oil vinegar for cleaning – it’s my one-and-only cleaning product for floors and stove and shelves.  I’m making lime and ginger marmalade – I can’t believe I’ve never posted that recipe.

But mostly, we are just using them fresh and glorying in the abundance while it lasts.  This time of year tomatoes are scant.  The ones you will be getting in the supermarket will likely be artificially ripened, tasteless, coming from a long way away, and very expensive.  I still get a few cherry tomatoes hanging on in my frost free garden but mostly that cooking niche that needs a bit of sweet acidity is filled by citrus.  So whereas in summer my pasta sauces are mostly tomato based – things like pasta puttanesca –  this time of year they are lemon based – things like lemon caper parsley pasta sauce, or Lemon Feta Tortellini.  Whereas in summer I add tomatoes to beans, in winter I add lemon.  In summer, soups nearly always have tomatoes in them, in winter a squeeze of lemon juice.  Summer salads have tomatoes and feta, winter salads have leafy greens and a lemon dressing.

It’s very neat the way tomatoes and lemons tag-team it.

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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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Chanh Muoi

I’ve caused conniptions in Chinese, Lebanese, Laotian, Greek, Albanian, Mexican and probably several other grandmothers.  It’s time for some Vietnamese ones.

No doubt this recipe is not authentic, and I would love anyone who has a real Vietnamese grandmother to share the authentic version.  But one of the nice things about multicultural Australia is the cross fertilization of ideas, in food as in everything else.

I discovered this by looking at limes falling off the tree and a shelf full of lime pickles and lime cordial, and wondering how limes would go salted and preserved the same way I preserve lemons – which is a recipe of North African or Middle Eastern provenance I think.  Preserved lemons are a kitchen staple for me, finely chopped and added to couscous as a side dish, or to broad beans or tagines or pasta sauce or  fish stew or mushrooms on toast or any number of dishes that need that little salty sweet sour note.  Preserved limes are more limited in cooking – if I have preserved lemons I usually prefer them.

Except for this.

A little bit of salted lime in a glass, topped up with water or ideally soda water.  I like it unsweetened, but you can add a little sugar if you like. After a session of mowing, it’s the best drink.

My limes are just coming into season which is handy, because this one is the last of last year’s jars.

The Recipe

Sterilize your jars (and their lids) by boiling for ten minutes or pressure cooking for five.  This recipe will make about 4 medium jars.

Measure out 250 grams of  salt.

Chop 16 limes into quarters. Put them in a big bowl, sprinkling them as you go with the salt.  Massage in.

Pack the lime pieces into your jars, pressing down to really pack them in

Pour the juice left in the bowl evenly into the jars.  You will be left with some undisolved salt in the bottom of the bowl.  Juice 2 or 3 more limes and try to dissolve the salt in the juice.  Top up the jars so they are quite full and the limes are covered.  Discard any salt that is left.

Wipe the neck of the jar with a clean cloth dipped in boiled water and seal with a sterilized lid.  Store in a cool spot for at least a month before using, better two months.  They will last for years on the shelf, becoming salt candied and jelly-like.  Once a jar is opened it is better kept in the fridge.

To serve, finely slice or just squash a segment of lime and put it in a glass.  Top up with water or soda water and ice and add sugar (or not) to taste.

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kumquat marmalade

All in about an hour.  I couldn’t bear the amount of citrus sitting around so I found an hour this morning to make preserved lemons (on the right), lime pickles (back left), lemon cleaning vinegar (at the back), lemon vinegar (tall bottle), and at the front, kumquat marmalade.

Preserved lemons are ridiculously easy and fast, and they’re one of my pantry essentials.  A little finely chopped in couscous, marinades, tagines, savoury pancakes, yum. Lime pickles are wonderful with curries or dhal, or, in a very different direction, with cheese on crackers or a good sourdough.  Lemon cleaning vinegar is my standard (and just about only) cleaning product.  This time of year I fill jars with lemon peel and pour over cleaning vinegar (bottom shelf in the supermarket).  It goes in the bucket for floor mopping, in a spray bottle for the stove and shower, direct onto a sponge for disinfecting. It’s really effective, cheap, safe and smells wonderful.

The tall bottle is an experiment.  I found that last year’s cleaning vinegar had grown a “mother”. This is a jelly-like layer on top that has the live acetic acid bacteria (a good bacteria) that makes vinegar.

vinegar mother

I did a bit of research and found you can add the mother to basically anything alcoholic to make vinegar.  I’ve put a bit into some nettle wine that is a bit too “green” tasting to be really nice, and a bit into some home brew bottled about five years ago to make malt vinegar.  But I’ve also put a bit into a big jar of just lemons cut into quarters and covered with water.  I’m hoping I can skip the alcohol making stage and turn it into lemon cleaning vinegar.  The lemons are quite sweet and would, I think, go alcoholic on their own.  The top of the bottle has some fine cloth held on with a rubber band so it lets air in and out. So we’ll see what happens!

And kumquat marmalade.  Not much else you can really do with kumquats, but they do make the very best marmalade, and though we don’t eat a lot of jam, it makes a good gift.

My Kumquat Marmalade Recipe

I go for simple and quick every time.  So my method is:

  • Put some jars and their lids on to sterilize by pressure cooking for 10 minutes or boiling for 20. The sugar in jam preserves it from nasty bacteria but sterilizing the jars stops it going mouldy on top.
  • Slice the kumquats into fine rings in the food processor with its slicing blade.  You can also put some good music on and slice them by hand with a sharp knife, which is slow but at least you can remove seeds as you go which does save you having to fish the seeds out later.
  • Weigh them, and add an equal weight of water. (If you haven’t got scales, it’s about two thirds of a cup of water to every cup of sliced kumquats).
  • Boil in a big pot for ten minutes or so until the rinds are well softened.
  • Add an equal weight to the original raw kumquat weight in sugar.  (Ie for a kilo of kumquats, add a kilo of sugar). Raw sugar works fine but will give you darker coloured marmalade.
  • Next bit is the tricky bit.  Stir in the sugar and the mix should clear and the seeds will float (sort of).  Use a spoon to fish out as many of the seeds as you can. ( This is the price you pay for using the food processor to slice!)
  • Keep at a nice steady boil, stirring occasionally to stop it sticking, till it turns to jam.  How do you tell?  Take a teaspoonful out every so often and test it on a cold plate.  (Be careful not to take it too far or it turns to toffee – it stiffens up as it cools.) This morning’s batch took less than 10 minutes to turn, but it depends on the amount of pectin in the fruit and that varies.  It can take up to half an hour.
  • Carefully, carefully (hot jam is one of the worst kinds of burns) pour it into hot jars.  Fill the jars to the very top.  Wipe the rim with a clean cloth or paper and put the lids on straight away.

Wonderful on good sourdough toast (of course) but also good in jam tarts, or as part of a cheese platter.  Or, best of all, with a nice arty label as a gift.

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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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a shirt full of citrusI love citrus season here.  I just went up, in my slippers, to check the top tank, and the lime tree was dropping fruit, and the less favoured mandarin tree was loaded with mandarins that are small and thin skinned but sooo sweet, and then I passed the lemon tree, and the kumquat, and then the grapefruit.  By the time I got down to the house again, my shirt was full of citrus. I’m feeling a batch of Lime Syrup coming on, and maybe some Lime Pickles too.

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sweet corn with chili lime dressing

My glut crop this week is sweet corn – the last round of sweet corn for the year.  Sweet corn is one of the trickier crops for a home gardener.  What goes wrong?

It can fail to pollinate if there are too few plants in a block – the pollen from the flowers on one plant must fall onto the silks on a corn cob on a neighbouring plant for it to set seed.  Otherwise you get odd looking cobs with only a few kernels.  Warm dry weather at pollination time, and enough plants all bunched together to get a nice mist of pollen in the air is ideal.  But to have a serious block of corn plants close enough together to get good pollination takes a serious amount of soil nutrients (specially nitrogen) and water.  It is also a C4 plant, so one one of the few garden crops that can use all the sun you can give it.

The other problem with a serious block of corn plants is that you get a lot of sweet corn, all at once.  Luckily  corn on the cob is made for barbecues.

The Recipe:

Pick the corn as close as possible to eating time.  As soon as you pick it, it begins turning sugars into starch.

Soak the cobs, husk and all, in a sink or a bucket of water for a few minutes, just to get the husk wet all the way through.  Then put the cobs, in their husk, on a hot barbecue.  Cook, turning with tongs, for about 15 minutes till the outer layer of the husk is charred and the corn is hot all the way through.

Provide salt, pepper, butter, lime juice, and finely grated cheese for dressing.  My favourite dressing is Chili Lime Butter, below, and this is the only few weeks of the year when chilis, limes, and sweet corn are all in season together.

Chili Lime Butter

Blend together equal amounts of butter and olive oil.  Blend in chili, lime juice, lime zest, and salt to taste.  I like about one lime (juice and zest) and two medium chilis to each cup of butter-olive oil mix, but just keep adding and tasting till you get it to your taste.

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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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