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Greek Yoghurt Pies

This is a real Spring recipe.  You need 24 very young and fresh and tender vine leaves.  These cook fast, so  they don’t work with older tough vine leaves.  We’re not really in grape growing country here.  Some years we are lucky and get a good crop.  Many years it rains right around when the grapes are ripening and they all split.  Or the brush turkeys get them.  But the grape vines pay their way anyhow in leaves for cooking, and for shade and cooling.  Our pergola of vines is on the north western side of the house.  All winter it is bare and the winter sun streams in.  All summer it is a dense green evaporative air conditioning system.  If there’s grapes, that’s just a bonus.

The Recipe:

Makes 12 little pies.  Two or three make a good serve for lunch or dinner, or they go well in lunch boxes. I made these in large (Texan) muffin tins, but you could also adapt the recipe for one large pie in a sponge cake tin.

Steam 24 young vine leaves for a few minutes while you make the filling. I just put them in a pot with a tight fitting lid and a tiny bit of water. How long depends on the variety and age of the leaves.  Too long and they’ll disintegrate, too short and they’ll be tough.  These ones took just 3 or 4 minutes steaming to be soft and tender.

In a food processor, blend together:

  • 2 cups of Greek yoghurt
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup fine semolina

Pulse in:

  • ½ cup packed of fresh mint leaves
  • ½ cup packed dill
  • 2 spring onions, whites and greens
  • a good pinch salt
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

If you have preserved lemon, you can leave out the salt and lemon juice and zest, and substitute a couple of pieces of preserved lemon.
You want the greens chopped fairly fine but not blended.

Oil 12 large muffin cups generously with olive oil.  Line each cup with two vine leaves, stem end at the bottom, overlapping, and with enough leaf out the top to fold over.  To get the nice star pattern when you turn them out, you need to put them top side of the leaf up.  Like this:

vine leaves

Pour the yoghurt mix in and fold the leaf over the top to make a nice little parcel.  Brush the top with olive oil and bake them in a medium oven for around 20 minutes till they are set. Turn out.

They are good hot for lunch or dinner with a salad and pita bread, or cold in a lunch box or picnic.

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pumpkin pecan polenta balls

These are good.  Really good.  Better than they look.  They have the sweetness of pumpkin with a moist cake-y polenta centre.  They’re good hot but specially good cold, which makes them ideal for lunches or for nibbles.  They’re super fast and easy to put together, and these days we have the wood stove going so a hot oven just going to waste unless I find something to put in it.

Pumpkins are my glut crop at the moment.  They’re not exactly a glut – my brush turkeys take care of that – but when you cut just one pumpkin, it becomes a glut.  There’s never enough room in the fridge so it’s a race to use all of it before it goes off.

The Recipe:

This is a bit of a make it up as you go recipe.  The quantities aren’t very exact, because it depends on what kind of pumpkin you are using, and how much of it.

  • You need an oiled baking tray of pumpkin, cut into bite sized pieces.
  • Over the top of the pumpkin, scatter a couple of good handfuls of pecans.  I can’t see why it wouldn’t work just as well with any other kind of nut, but pecans is what I usually have in glut at the same time as pumpkins, so I’ve always used pecans. 
  • Scatter a diced onion and a couple of cloves of roughly chopped garlic over too.  

Bake until the pumpkin is soft. In a medium-hot oven, this will only take 15 minutes or so.

Tip the lot into a food processor. Add

  • an egg,
  • a good pinch of salt,
  • and a couple of big dessertspoons of polenta.

 Pulse the mix.  You are aiming to chop rather than puree it, aiming for a texture like a stiffish cake mix. If your pumpkin is very dry, you will use less polenta, if it is moist you will use more.  

pumpkin pecan polenta balls mix

Mix polenta and sesame seeds 50-50 on a plate.

Drop dessertspoons full of the mixture onto the plate and roll them in in the polenta sesame mix to coat.  Make into nice balls a bit smaller than a golf ball, about two-bite size.  Place them on an oiled baking tray.

Bake for around 40 minutes in a medium oven, till lightly browned.

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zucchini, carrot and sunflower seed slice

Today is just the second day in the last two months that it hasn’t rained, a gorgeous sky blue day but my garden is still too wet to plant.  The zucchinis have struggled in the wet, but the tromboncinos have done really well right through all this rain.  (And the Suyo Long cucumbers – very impressed with their mildew resistance).

So my glut crop is tromboncinos rather than zucchini, but this recipe works equally well with both.

Zucchini, Carrot and Sunflower Seed Slice

Turn the oven on to heat up.

Grate 1½ cups of carrot, 1½ cups of zucchini, and one onion.

Put them all in a heavy pan with a good swig of olive oil and fry, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes.  The idea is just to heat the vegetables through, soften them, and evaporate a bit of moisture.

While they are cooking, blend together:

  • ½ cup of  cottage cheese 
  • 3 eggs
  • a good handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 big tablespoon of wholemeal plain flour
  • salt and pepper

Grease an ovenproof dish well.  I have a square, pyrex dish 20 cm square that is perfect for it.  You may like to line the base with greaseproof paper – it does come out without it but it makes a little less risk of sticking.

Mix the egg, cottage cheese and parsley mix with the vegetable mix.  Add 1/3 cup sunflower seeds and mix well. Tip into the oven dish and smooth out the top.  Sprinkle the top with grated cheese.

Bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes until golden on top.

Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then tip it out and slice into little squares or fingers.

Serve on a platter to share, with chili jam or chutney or homemade tomato sauce, or cold in a lunch box or picnic basket.

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One of the interesting things I’ve got out of this nearly-a-year-now of  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes is how often all that is needed is a bit of pre-thinking to allow fast, easy weeknight vego recipes. I guess it’s because besides eggs, the main vegetarian protein foods are beans or ferments.  Beans from scratch are really really cheap and healthy, but they need you to think of them a day in advance to allow soaking. This recipe uses lentils and brown rice, and needs a full 24 hours of prescience to allow them to soak and lightly ferment. It’s not work – all you have to do is add water – but it is thought.

Dosa are basically a thin, crispy pancake made from a rice and lentil mixture fermented like sourdough. It’s amazing what a difference the fermenting makes to the flavour and the crispy texture, and it also increases the vitamin B and C content.

It’s a staple in southern India, where traditionally it is made with black lentils (vigna mungo).  One day soon I’m going to try growing black lentils.  I’ve never been to India (one day), and I make it with the easier-to-get in Australia red lentils, that I usually have in the pantry.  They make a very pretty pink batter. My sister makes it with green lentils, or mung dal. I think the concept is that it will work with any kind of lentil.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 dosa – enough for 6 kids or 3 big active blokes.

Start a day in advance.

Soak ¾ cup raw brown rice and ¼ cup red lentils in one cup of water overnight or over the day (8 hours or so).

Blend the mixure to make a smooth batter. This is slightly hard work for a food processor, but nothing a decent one can’t handle.  The rice and lentils are well softened by the soaking.

Leave the blended rice and lentils mix in a bowl, covered with a clean cloth, on the benchtop for 12 to 18 hours.  It will expand with a bubbly texture, like bread dough, and smell clean and yeasty.

Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of ground cumin to the mix, and enough  water to make a crepe-like batter that will pour, but only just – how much will vary but around ¹/3 cup.

Heat a heavy frypan and add a little oil or traditionally, ghee.  Light olive oil is good for frying like this, because the refining that makes it light (flavoured, not calories) also gives it a higher smoke point and makes it better for frying.

Pour in a sixth of the batter, spreading it by tilting the pan and using the back of a spoon to give a thin pancake about 15 to 20 cm (6 – 8 inches) across.  Cook on a medium-high heat until the pancake is set and golden, then flip and cook the other side.  Add a little more oil and repeat.  If you are making lots, you can have two pans going at once, or make them pikelet size.  If you make them too large (or if you use too much lentil and too little rice, or if you don’t ferment long enough) , they are hard to flip without breaking.

Serve hot with chutney, salsa, pickles or sauces.  I served these with a hot pumpkin chutney, tomato salsa, and the first of many cucumber, mint and yoghurt raitas for the season.

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We’re still in the Spring egg glut situation, so for a little while yet, expect Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes to feature eggs.  And though we don’t have cows or goats, people who do will know that milk is also a Spring glut produce.  Both are good protein foods, and eggs are also a good source of lots of vitamins including the hard to get B12, and they are rich in choline, which is important for memory.  And low fat ricotta is a great way to get enough calcium without too much saturated fat.

And baked ricotta is so good! Something in the process transforms it.  This recipe makes it into the half hour of the rules by the skin of its teeth and only if your oven heats up fairly nicely and evenly.  But most of the time is just waiting for it to bake.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 Texas muffin sized baked ricottas.  Leftovers are good cold for lunch.

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium.

Steam a packed cup of herbs and leafy greens very briefly, just to wilt them.  I used a mixture of flat leaf parsley, spring onion, dill, thyme, and spinach.

In a food processor or blender, blend together

  • 500 grams low fat ricotta
  • 3 medium sized eggs
  • 50 grams grated parmesan
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated lemon rind
  • salt and pepper

When they are well blended, add the wilted greens and pulse just to chop them in.  You want them finely chopped, (rather than turning the whole mix pale green).
Oil a 6 cup Texan muffin tin well and put a little circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each cup.  (This is important – they tend to stick otherwise). Spoon the ricotta mix in and smooth out the top.

Bake for around 25 minutes till they are puffed up and softly set.  They will  be cooked before the tops brown, so be careful not to burn them. Loosen around each ricotta with a knife then tip them out and peel off the paper.

Steamed or grilled asparagus goes really really well with the creamy lemony-ness of the baked ricotta.

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It’s getting towards the end of the best season for leeks. Pretty soon, the big ones will start to realise it’s spring and want to bolt to seed.  if you have leeks hanging on in the garden, it’s a good time to use them, before they start developing the hard core they get as they go to seed. Ever since I figured out how to make pastry with olive oil and low fat yoghurt,  rather than butter, pies and tarts have become a reasonable midweek regular meal rather than a “sometimes food”, and leek tarts are a good way to use lots of leeks.

My chooks have already realised it’s spring.  A good number of my chooks are geriatric. They earn their keep just with their weed clearing, pooing and scratching, and they only lay well for a few months in spring.  But when they are all laying, eggs feature in a lot of my cooking.

This is a late  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe this week – time just ran away on me.  But your fast, easy, healthy, midweek vego recipes are welcome in the comments.

The Recipe:

Makes 6 large muffin sized tarts. Recipe doubles fine.

The Pastry:

Into a food processor or a bowl, put 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour and a good pinch of salt.

Put a couple of good dessertspoons of low fat Greek yoghurt in a cup, then top it up to half full with olive oil. You want it about half and half – ¼ cup of each. You don’t need to mix them.

Tip the cup all at once into the processor or bowl and blitz them together.  In a food processor it’s just a couple of seconds, but you can do it just by stirring.  Knead just enough to combine into a dough.  It needs to be quite moist so don’t add any more flour than necessary, and don’t overwork the dough or it will get tough.  Put the dough in a plastic container in the freezer to cool while you make the filling.

The Filling:

Sauté 2 cups of chopped leeks in a little butter or oil (or a mixture of the two). I use the whites and pale green part, and save the dark green leaves for stock.

Use the (unwashed) food processor, or an egg beater to beat together:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup white wine (or substitute a squeeze of lemon juice in water, and use ordinary thyme rather than lemon thyme).
  • a dessertspoon of lemon thyme
  • a good grating of black pepper

Chop 60 grams of low fat feta cheese into tiny cubes and stir them in.

Let the leeks cool a little while you roll out the pastry, then stir them into the egg mix too.

Assembling and Baking:

The pastry is quite fragile.  The easiest way to roll it out is to put a sheet of greaseproof paper on your bench top, put the ball of dough on it, and cover with another sheet.  Roll the pastry out between the two sheets, turning once or twice to un-wrinkle the paper. You can then peel the top sheet of paper off, cut the dough to fit your muffin tins, flip the lot and peel the other sheet off. Roll the scraps out between the greaseproof paper again.

I have a small bowl that cuts circles of dough the perfect size for my Texan muffin tin, and this recipe makes just enough to fill it.  Really though you can make them any size or shape you like.

Grease the baking tins lightly, line with pastry, and spoon in the eggs, cheese and leeks mix.

Bake in a medium oven for around 20 minutes till the pastry is golden.  Serve with a salad or steamed vegies on the side.

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I think there’s only one trick to pita bread.  The oven has to be really really hot. Really.

If you have an oven that will heat up to that kind of temperature without a ridiculous waste of energy, they’re fantastically easy and fast – not much preparation and less than 5 minutes to cook – and really delicious with dips or soup, or filled with salad or felafel,  or halved and used as wraps with lunch fillings.

My gas oven is antique, and it doesn’t readily get up to the 250°C  or 500°F  you need to make the pita puff up and create a pocket.  The slow combustion stove probably would get up there eventually. Luckily for me, we have a beautiful Japanese Kamado charcoal barbeque that does it beautifully, and at the same time is perfect for charring eggplants and capsicums to go with the pita. I have a little stovetop camping oven that will do it too. It will only cook one at a time, but since they’re so fast that’s ok.

The Recipe:

Makes 6.

Start the night before with feeding your sourdough starter:

To feed the starter, I take mine out of the fridge the night before, and mix

  • 1 ¼ cups of unbleached bakers flour,
  • 1 ¼ cups of water, and
  • 1 ¼ cups of starter.

Put half of it back in the jar in the fridge.  I am left with 1½ cups of fed starter, to put in a bowl covered with a clean cloth on the kitchen bench for the night. By morning it should be frothy and alive looking.

In the morning:

Mix

  • 1 ½ cups of fed sourdough starter
  • 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour
  • ½ cup of bakers flour
  • teaspoon of salt

Tip another half a cup of bakers flour on the bench and knead briefly. Oil a bowl and swirl the dough ball round in it to coat, and leave it sitting, covered with a clean tea towel, for a few hours to rise.  How long will depend on how vigorous your starter is and how warm the day is. To speed it up, I put it out on the verandah table in the sun or on the shelf above the slow combustion stove.

Prove the Dough

After a few hours, the dough will be doubled in size and springy.  Divide into 6 balls, flour your benchtop, and use a floured rolling pin to roll the balls out into an oblong shape about 5mm thick.  Cover with the tea towel again and allow to prove for an hour or so. (That’s where I was up to in the picture).

Cooking

Heat your oven up to very hot – 250°C  or 500°F.  Put lightly oiled baking trays in to heat up too.

Cook the pita for just 2 to 3 minutes till they are puffed out and just starting to colour.

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It’s nut season.  Here it’s macadamia nuts, but further south it will be almonds and hazelnuts. We’re getting decent harvests from our trees now, and I’m loving learning to use them in savory food as well as baking. Pesto is a bit of a staple, and nut based curry and satay sauces, but I’m only just getting into extending the range.

Nuts are calorie dense but also really really nutrient dense. Super food sources of whole range of vitamins and minerals, as well as protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, and monounsaturated, good fats. Even if you don’t grow them, you’re likely to be able to pick up fresh in season nuts in shell from Farmers Markets or wholefoods retailers at the moment.

I’ve tried these in a lot of versions.  They’re good just plain, or with basil and semi-sundried tomatoes, or with chili and garlic, but these parsley and lemon ones are our favourites.

The Recipe:

Nut Rice Balls

Makes around 13 balls,  probably about three adult serves.  They make great leftovers for lunch.

Cook ½ cup brown rice in 1½ cups of water with a little salt, to give you just over a cup of cooked rice.  In a pressure cooker, this takes 15 minutes so the whole recipe is do-able in less than half an hour. How I love my pressure cooker!

While the rice is cooking crack enough macadamias to give 1 cup of whole maca kernels, or about ¾ cup of chopped nuts. How I love my Maca Cracker!

Mince the macadamias with the rice, along with

  • one egg
  • one onion,
  • a good handful of Italian parsley, and
  • a scant teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest.

My trusty Braun food processor will do this in one lot, but it’s a heavy load. If you’re not sure, rather than risk burning out the motor, do it in a few batches. Or use a mincer. (I know this is getting boring now, but how I love my Braun processor).

The aim is a coarse meal, a bit like the texture of couscous. Using wet hands, squeeze spoonfuls of mixture together into small patties, about the diameter of an egg. Shallow fry in hot olive oil for a few minutes each side till crisp and golden.

Roast Vegetable Salad:

I served these with roast vegetable salad, and if you are going to go that way, to do it in half an hour, you need to get the rice on first, then get the vegetables on to roast.

The recipe is very simply a tray of vegetables, chopped reasonably small, tossed in olive oil and some herbs, and roasted in a hot oven. I used a beetroot, a carrot,  a parsnip, a red onion, and a trombochino zucchini, tossed in oregano and lemon basil, for this batch.

Allow the vegetables to cool a little, then toss with salad greens, sliced cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Dress with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

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

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zucchini and feta patties

It hasn’t been a great year for zucchinis. This La Ninã year has been so wet here, that they are only having a short life before succumbing to fungal diseases.  The trombochino though is loving it.  Because it climbs, the vines and fruit are up off the ground and get better air flow.

It’s the difference between growing commercially and home gardening, and one of the reasons why I think the permaculture is hard to monetise. Permaculture systems have a lot more value and productivity than can be easily turned into money. Commercial growers would grow one or the other. Too much variety and you don’t get enough of any one thing at one time to make up boxes for sale.  Home growers are best off planting one or two vines of each, each month. You have insurance against weather conditions – too dry for trombochino and we eat zucchini, too wet for zucchini and we eat trombochino.  January’s planting gets frizzled in a heat wave and December’s can bridge the gap. February’s planting gets 125 mm of rain in three hours and can’t learn to swim fast enough, and it’s ok, December’s is still hanging in there.

It means that even in this least zucchini friendly year for a long time, my repertoire of zucchini recipes is still getting a workout.

The Recipe

This  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe really does come together in a lot less than half an hour.

(makes about 15 patties)

Grate 180 grams of low fat feta cheese and 3 medium sized zucchini (about 1½ cups of grated zucchini).

Mix with

  • a large spring onion, finely chopped
  • a handful of sweet basil, finely chopped
  • a clove of garlic, crushed or chopped
  • one, or more, or less, chilis, finely diced
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup wholemeal self raising flour

Use wet hands to shape the mix into patties and shallow fry in olive oil till golden.

Serve with a salad or vegetables or as is, with a salsa or dipping sauce. We had it with the last of last year’s Chilli Jam. I’m waiting for the lemons now to make a new batch.

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