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It’s glut season for pumpkins, and though the brush turkeys have made a serious dent in them, we have more than I want to try to store.  By the time the season ends we’ll be over pumpkin.

But for now it’s a treat. This is a very fast, healthy, easy, seasonal, meal in a bowl. It will generously serve two on its own, or four as a main side dish. The key ingredient, besides the pumpkin, is a Moroccan spice mix. You can use a ready bought mix but I have fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili in the garden, and besides turning very ordinary ingredients into something special, they also fend off the viruses that change of season can bring.

For this recipe, I use a mortar and pestle to crush together a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger, a fresh chilli and a handful of fresh coriander with teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Put half a cup of couscous in your serving bowl and cover it with boiling water. Let it absorb the water, topping up as needed until it is a good texture.

Meanwhile, heat a swig of olive oil in a heavy pan. Peel and chop pumpkin into bite sized pieces. This recipe uses about 2 – 3 cups of chopped pumpkin, but as always you can vary. Saute the pumpkin along with a roughly chopped onion, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and your spices. If you use dried spice mix, use about two good teaspoons.

When the pumpkin is nearly there, add a handful of sultanas, ½ a capsicum cut into thick strips, and about 2/3 cup of cooked chick peas (garbanzos). Salt to taste.

While all this is happening, roughly chop some parsley, halve some cherry tomatoes and tear up some rocket. Toss the lot together with the juice of half a lemon and serve into bowls.

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kasundi

The glut crop this week was tomatoes.  This time of year we eat a lot of fresh tomatoes, practically every meal, and use fresh tomatoes for cooking.  That usually gets through most of them with some to give away fresh to friends, family, visitors.  I bottle some as passata, and sun dry some when the weather is hot and dry, and oven dry some late in the season when I have the wood stove going so it doesn’t cost fuel.  But fresh is so much better than even home preserved, and I am lucky enough to live in a climate where I can get at least some cherry tomatoes for at least  nine months of the year, from late September right through to late June. And in mid to late winter it’s citrus season, so there are fresh lemons and limes and tangelos that fill a bit of that sweet-tart spot.  Preserves have to really pay their way in my kitchen!

But the wet weather at the moment is causing my tomatoes to split, so I have to use them straight away.  Kasundi is a good way to make bottling tomatoes good enough for gifts and treats, worth the $5 or $6 a jar they would be worth if you paid yourself for the time it takes.  It’s a rich, spicy but not too hot, tomato sauce, great with eggs or baked beans (or eggs and baked beans!), or with dhall or dosa or on bean burgers or kangaroo burgers or a sandwich with cheese.  And all the other major ingredients are in season now too.

The Recipe:

Put some jars and their lids on to sterilize by boiling for 20 minutes or pressure cooking for 10.  The recipe will make 4 medium jars like these, or around 1.7 kg.

Use a food processor, or a mortar and pestle, to blend to a paste:

  • 120 gm ( a cup) of peeled and roughly chopped ginger
  • 30 gm (¼ cup) of peeled and roughly chopped turmeric (or 2 big teaspoons of powder)
  • 1 whole corm of garlic (8-10 cloves) peeled
  • chilies – depending on how hot your chilies are and how hot your taste is.  I like spicy kasundi, so I used about 25 Brishops Crown chilis
  • 3 big teaspoons smoked paprika
  • enough vinegar to make a paste

In a big pot, put a little olive oil and add:

  • 5 big teaspoons brown mustard seeds
  • 3 big teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 3 big teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 big teaspoon nigella seeds (Or substitute cracked black pepper)

Cook until the seeds start to pop, then add the ginger-garlic-chili paste.  Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, then add:

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves
  • 1½ kg tomatoes (or substitute mangoes and/or tamarillos for up to ½kg of tomatoes). I used my yellow tomatoes (which is why it is more yellow than most Kasundi you will see) with 4 tamarillos and a couple of ripe mangoes.
  • ½ cup (packed) brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons salt

Simmer, stirring occasionally, for around an hour, until it is thick and sauce-like. A good tip is to put a metal soup ladle or enamel cup in the pot so it is sterilized too.  Then you can use it to ladle the kasundi into jars.

Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.  Check that the lids pop in before storing. It will last on the pantry shelf for a long time, longer than you’ll ever hold off from eating it.

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spicy beans

My glut this week is green beans.  Beans are never usually in glut.  All those we don’t get round to eating green are just left to mature, then shelled, dried and stored. But as many of you will be aware, it hasn’t been good drying weather in northern NSW this week!

The poor drying weather led to the platter rationale too.  We were all flooded in over the weekend, so we invited neighbours for a curry night.  Curry nights are a great kind of potluck dinner, needing no co-ordination, and allowing people to go simple or as gourmet as they like.  Sue brought a tray of kangaroo samosas and Camilla brought stuffed chilis as entrés, Brett brought papadams, Helen brought a sweet potato and vegetable curry,  and I made a tromboncino curry, a Cucumber Raita, Green Mango Pickles in OilHot Mango and Tomato Chutney, and these spiced green beans.  A real feast, put together two flooded causeways away from the nearest shops,  using just garden and pantry provisions.

The Recipe:

You need a large, heavy fry pan with a lid.

Green beans are like octopus – they have to be cooked really fast, just blanched, or long and slow. This is a long and slow recipe. It takes 20 minutes, but it takes all of that for the flavours to meld.

Chop and lightly fry a large onion in a little olive oil.

As soon as the onion softens, add 500 grams of green beans, stringed if necessary but left whole.

Put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down to medium low, and cook for 10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often to stir.

Then add

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of grated turmeric (or one of dry)
  • 1 big teaspoon of finely diced chili
  • 3 big dessertspoons of shredded coconut
  • a good pinch of salt

Stir them in, put the lid back on, and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. It will tend to stick more, with the coconut, so you will need to stir frequently.

Taste. You may need to add more salt – they need a bit to balance.

They’re good as a plate in an Indian feast, or as finger food on a platter.

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turmeric flower

The turmeric is flowering, such gorgeous flowers. They’re hidden deep within the foliage, but the plant is very good looking anyway.  At least in summer.  It doesn’t work so well as a decorative plant because it dies right back in winter – a period of yellowing daggy looking leaves, followed by bare ground with not a trace of the bounty underneath.

But for a little while, in midsummer it’s the perfect plant – lush green leaves a metre or so tall, these gorgeous bromiliad-like flowers nestled inside, and the fragrant, spicy rhizomes to dig whenever you want.

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ginger, galangal and turmeric

Aren’t they pretty?  I was picking for an Indonesian style curry – ginger, galangal, turmeric, lemon grass, chili, Vietnamese mint (and I added  – Kaffir lime leaves and garlic as well) and I couldn’t resist the photo.  Add this spice base to an oily sauce and you have a wonderful curry sauce for fish or meat or poultry or vegetables.  Traditionally coconut milk is used for the creaminess, but that’s a bit out of my climate range and I avoid cans except for special occasions. I use the also traditional candlenuts or the less traditional macadamia nuts or cashews, or yoghurt, or just an extra splash of a nice flavoured oil  in place of coconut milk to give the sauce its creaminess.

In my subtropical climate, all these grow easily. The ginger and turmeric die right back over winter, so much so that I have to mark where they are or I lose them.  They re-sprout as soon as the weather gets warm and wet enough.  I had to try out a few varieties of ginger to find one that worked, but now it is well established and comes back every year.  They just like warmth and water. The Bishops Crown chilis are a medium hot chili growing on a short-lived perennial bush about 1.5 metres tall.  They are fruit fly prone, but so prolific the fruit flies can have most of them, and the chooks just get an extra protein source.  The lemon grass is a perennial clumping grass. I have to split the clumps every year or two or it outgrows itself.  The Vietnamese mint is a very hardy perennial running herb.  It runs, but not too far, so it doesn’t become a pest. It needs a severe pruning back every year too, or it outgrows itself.  The kaffir lime is a small citrus tree, suited to pot growing if you don’t have a lot of room.

The whole set is very nicely suited to a small garden in the subtropics, and perennial herbs and spices like this mean you can magic dinner out of  a fridge that is pretty well empty.

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

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

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

The Recipe

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

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

Part One: The Pigeon Peas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile – Part Two – the Spice Base:

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

Assembling:

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

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

The Recipe:

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

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

The Batter

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

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

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

Dipping Sauce

Use a food processor or blender to blend together

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

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

Pakora

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

Stir into the batter

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

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

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

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

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The Spring egg glut situation is still going on.  The goose eggs have started hatching (three babies today and another egg or two to go)  and the ducks have slowed down laying.  But the chooks are still laying four or five eggs a day (even though some of them are well into chook middle age).  So I made an egg curry on the weekend for a curry night feast for about twenty people, and it turned out so well that I made it again for just us.  It’s fast and easy and healthy enough to qualify as a  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipe but glamorous enough to make a good curry night feast dish too.

The Recipe

Serves 4 as a main dish.  This is a mediumly spicy curry but if you keep the  the chili, mustard, ginger and turmeric on the low side,  kids are likely to find it not too spicy. Like most curries from scratch it looks like a lot of ingredients, but they are all common spices and it is actually very quick and easy to make.

In a heavy pan, sauté 2 onions (chopped) in some olive oil until they just start to soften.  Then add:

  • 2 scant teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 2 scant teaspoons of cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • seeds from one or two cardamom pods

Cook for a minute or two until the seeds start popping, then add

  • a small amount of chili or chili powder (depending on how spicy you like your food and how hot your chilis are, but it doesn’t need much. I used a scant half a teaspoon of my homemade chili powder)
  • one or two cloves of garlic,
  • two teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
  • two teaspoons of grated fresh turmeric (or one teaspoon dried)
  • pinch of  cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • little pinch of cloves
  • good pinch of salt
  • grating of black pepper

Cook for a minute or two, then add a jar of crushed tomatoes, a couple of bay leaves, and enough water to make a thick sauce.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, just to let all the spices mingle.

While it is simmering, hardboil and peel 8 eggs and chop them in half.  You will find this much easier if you use slightly older eggs.  People tell me that putting the eggs in ice water helps if the eggs are too fresh to peel easily.

Take the sauce off the heat and add a good handful of finely chopped fresh coriander and stir through.  Then add the eggs and stir gently to cover them in sauce.

Serve with rice and/or naan bread.

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