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Saag is the dish I order whenever I go to an Indian restaurant, and this time of year, with silver beet and mustard both in bulk in the garden, one of my home cooking regulars.  I posted a vegetarian Saag recipe a few weeks ago, in the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge series.  This meat version is, sadly, no more photogenic. Traditionally mutton or goat are the meats used, but kangaroo is my red meat of choice these days, and it works really well in Saag.

The Recipe:

Serves two generously.

Heat a little olive oil in a big pot or pressure cooker.

Dice 500 grams of kangaroo steak and add it to the hot pot.

Into a cup, put:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel or dill seeds
  • the seeds from 5 cardamom pods

(It’s better if you use whole seeds for this)

As soon as the kangaroo meat starts to brown, add the seeds.  You may need to add a little more oil.  Cook, stirring occasionally, till the seeds start to pop.  (Don’t let them burn).

Then add:

  • 2 finely diced chilis (more or less, depending on how strong your chilis are and how spicy you like your food.  Saag is more aromatic than hot though).
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated or finely diced fresh ginger
  • a heaped teaspoon of grated or finely diced fresh turmeric (or substitute a scant teaspoon of turmeric powder)

Cook stirring for a minute or two more, till the spices all coat the meat, then add:

  • a cup of stock.
  • the shredded leaves from a BIG bunch of silverbeet.  Just the leaf stripped from the stem, chopped reasonably fine.  It will be much more than you think should go in, but it reduces, and it’s the heart of the dish.
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cm of cinnamon stick

Pressure cook for 15 minutes, or simmer for 40 minutes.  If you simmer, you’ll need to add a bit more water.

It should end up with the meat and silver beet in a little bit of sauce. Take it off the heat and stir in 3 heaped dessertspoons of greek yoghurt.  Stir vigorously to break up the silver beet and make the sauce creamy.

Serve over rice, and/or with naan bread.

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The  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week had to feature snake beans. Now I have them coming on, the poor old Blue Lakes and Purple Kings have dropped right out of favour, left to mature for seed for storing. Snake beans are more tropical than most bean varieties, adapted to the tropical summer monsoon belt.  They like hot wet weather. It has been a cooler than normal year this year, and the earlier rounds grew but slowly and didn’t set very many flowers or fruit. But we have hit the hot wet weather this month, and this is the first round now that is really bearing well.

They’re a beautiful plant – tall climbing and lush with lovely lilac flowers. They need a trellis or fence at least a couple of metres tall to climb, and when they bear well, they really bear well. I am picking about 250 grams a day from a fence-trellis just a couple of metres long. I like the brown seeded variety – it seems to bear better for me. Some years though, brown seeded snake bean seed seems to be just about unavailable, so it must be tricky for others to grow. Black seeds are much more readily available.

They’re fantastically good for you – one of the richest sources of folate and Vitamin A, even amongst beans which are all pretty good sources.  Lots of Vitamin C and good amounts of a range of minerals.

This recipe has chili in it, but it’s actually not very hot. I order “medium” in Indian restaurants, and this is mild for my taste. My partner orders “hot”, and he added a sprinkle of finely diced chili over the top. Non-spice-likers may want to reduce the chili right down, but the sweetness mellows out the spiciness nicely.

The Recipe:

Makes two large serves.  Leftovers are good for lunches.

This is good served over rice or noodles.  I served it over soba noodles, which take just minutes to cook. If you are serving over brown rice, get that on first because the rest of the dish is really fast.

The Vegetables:

Prepare the vegetables first, because once you start cooking, it goes fast.

You really just need young, crisp snake beans – 250 grams of them, trimmed and cut into 3 cm lengths.  The rest of the vegies are optional. I used a small onion, sliced lengthways (top to bottom) in thin slices, and a carrot julienned just for a bit of colour. You could also use capsicum or oyster mushrooms. But not much of them. The snake beans are the star.

The Spice Paste:

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

  • 1 chili
  • Thumb sized knob of fresh ginger
  • Thumb sized knob of fresh turmeric (or ½ – 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • white part of a lemon grass stem

Cooking

Heat a wok or large fry pan up and add two dessertspoons of macadamia or peanut oil.
Add the spice paste, get it sizzling, and almost straight away add half a cup of cashews. Stir to coat and get them sizzling, then almost straight away add the vegetables.
Cook over a high heat, stirring, for a few minutes till the cashews get a bit of colour and the onion softens, then add
  • a cup of water
  • 2 dessertspoons of soy sauce
  • 2 dessertspoons of brown sugar
Cook for around 10 minutes until most of the liquid has reduced. Taste and adjust the soy – you may like it a little saltier.
To finish, add
  • 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
  • ¼ cup finely chopped herbs  – we did a taste test and decided our most favourite was Vietnamese mint, followed by Thai basil, followed by coriander.
Stir the herbs in then almost straight away take it off the heat and serve, over a bed of rice or noodles. Spice lovers may like to sprinkle with extra chili.
Are you Tuesday Night Vego Challengers? Feel free to add links in the Comments.
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Kids may not like this one (though it is surprising, sometimes, what kids like).  This is a recipe for people who like their chocolate dark, who like expresso coffee and olives and beer and marmelaide.  If you do like bitter flavours though, it is addictive and it’s my current favourite breakfast.

What led to this – a friend mentioned turmeric nut butter to me, and having fresh turmeric in the garden and a good macadamia season this year, and now the first of the season’s mandarins – I had to experiment.  I like sweet nut butters like the Macadamia and Pear Butter a couple of weeks ago, and the turmeric adds a lovely interesting spiciness to it.

Besides being an addictive taste, this is a real super-foods health breakfast.  Fresh turmeric is a really good source of anti-inflamatory anti-oxidants with some solid science behind it being a cancer preventative.  Macadamias are rich in the kind of oils that actually lower cholesterol, like the “clinically proven to lower cholesterol” margarines that are being so aggressively marketed these days (which are actually based on hydrogenated sterols from pine tree wood pulp).  And mandarins are a good source of “bioflavanoids” that, among other things, strengthen blood vessels (helping to prevent things like kidney disease and varicose veins).

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” ).

The Recipe:

This recipe makes enough for two slices of toast – one adult for breakfast.  It will store though, covered in the fridge, so if you decide you like it, you can make it in batches for a few days.  I actually think it is at its best on day two, though it is probably at its healthiest when fresh made.

First crack your macadamias.  This tool makes buying or harvesting macadamias in season in their shells a realistic option. (The recipe might also work with almonds, which are also in season now – I’d love to hear if someone tries it).

In a small pan, dry roast together 10 chopped macadamia nuts with a knob of fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped, about the equivalent to 5 macadamias – ie about half as much. Roast for just a couple of minutes, shaking, till the nuts start to colour.

Add the juice from one large-ish mandarin and a couple of dessertspoons of olive or macadamia oil and a good pinch of salt.

Blend this mixture in a food processor or with a stick blender till it is smooth and pale coloured, adding more juice or water if necessary to get it to the right texture.

Meanwhile  make some toast, and just warm some mandarin segments in the same pan.

Slather the turmeric and mandarin nut butter on toast, top with the warmed mandarin segments, and eat.

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We hosted a meeting over dinner at our place, which meant 10 people for a casual dinner on a weeknight.  I wanted to use kangaroo – kangaroo is my red meat of choice, for a whole heap of reasons – ethical, ecological, nutritional, and not least economic. Kangaroo mince is less than $7 a kilo, beef mince is nearly double that, and heart smart lean beef mince even more. Cooking for 10 it makes a difference!

But not everyone was used to kangaroo, so to be safe I decided to go middle-eastern. Many middle-eastern recipes use goat meat, or lamb that is from breeds much less fatty than Australian lamb, and the spice profile is designed for stronger flavoured game meat.  It means they often work well for kangaroo.

If you make your own hummus and bread and salads out of the garden, a Morroccan style feast like this can feed 10 people very well for less than $10, or a family for a few dollars.  Hah, Curtis!

The Recipe

Dice an onion and saute in a little olive oil in a heavy pan over a high heat.

As soon as the onion starts to soften, add 500 grams of kangaroo mince.  Cook over a high heat, breaking the mince up with a wooden spoon, until the mince starts to brown.

Sprinkle over 3 cloves of garlic chopped fine, and  3 good teaspoons of Moroccan spice mix.  I like to make my own spice mix because I can grow most of the ingredients and fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili are all super healthy.

To make your own, using a mortar and pestle, crush together:

    • a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger,
    • a fresh chilli
    • a sprig of fresh coriander or culantro,
    • a teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon,
    • a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Continue cooking, stirring, over a high heat for a minute, then add 3 dessertspoons of  chopped macadamia nuts, and 3 dessertspoons of sultanas.

Keep cooking and stirring for a few minutes more until the nuts start to brown.

The perfect way to eat is to slather hummus or babaganoush (or both) on a slab of Turkish bread or Pita bread, cover with spiced mince, tabouli, tomato salad, and cucumber-yoghurt salad and eat either as an open sandwich or a roll.

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We celebrated New Year’s Eve at a barbeque with neighbours. It’s one of the things I love about living in a functioning community – socialising within walking distance.  I could go on about greenhouse footprints but really it’s enough that I can drink half a bottle of red wine and wander home in the starlight wishing happy New Year to the owlet nightjar that lives on the way!

I took kangaroo kebabs to the barbeque.  Normally I buy kangaroo fillet steak to make kebabs – it’s so cheap compared to beef fillet, and you really don’t use a lot of it in kebabs. But there was no fillet steak this time, so I bought diced kangaroo which is much tougher and usually best suited to long slow cooking.

It is the very end of the pawpaw (Carica papaya) season here.  We’ve been harvesting several every week for four months now, all from one really prolific tree.  But the bounty is almost over and the wet weather is causing them to develop a fungus disease called anthracnose if we let them completely ripen on the tree.

Which means they’re perfect for green paw paw salads and tenderising diced kangaroo. Pawpaw has an enzyme called papain which is the main ingredient in commercial meat tenderisers.  Green pawpaw has more of it but ripe pawpaw has enough to work as a marinade.

The Recipe:

An hour or two beforehand:

Soak 20 kebab skewers.

In the food processor, blend together

  • a small pawpaw (200 grams or so), thinly peeled and de-seeded
  • several cloves of garlic
  • knob fresh turmeric
  • an onion
  • a chili
  • two dessertspoons of lemon juice or some other acid – I still have Eureka lemons fruiting, but you could use verjuice if you have unripe grapes, or wine.
  • some sweetener.  I prefer treacle, but you can substitute honey or brown sugar.  Somewhere between one and two dessertspoons – more for a green pawpaw and less for a ripe one.
  • a dessertspoon of  soy sauce

Massage the marinade through 1 kilogram of diced kangaroo meat, cover, and leave it in the fridge.

Dice a small eggplant into cubes a bit bigger than the kangaroo.  Sprinkle with salt and put it in a colander.

An hour or two later:

Rinse the eggplant and squeeze out the moisture.  It will have shrunk to roughly the same size as the kangaroo cubes.  Thread the marinated meat onto skewers, alternating with eggplant, capsicum, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and mushrooms.  Pour the remaining marinade over the skewers.

Cook on a hot barbeque for a few minutes each side.

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It is actually all but spring here, but a final burst of cold weather is making me a little cautious.  I am tempted to plant out all the spring perennials like asparagus but they are happy enough in the shadehouse at the moment so maybe I’ll wait a little.

I’m planting another round of all my root staples – carrots, parsnips, spring onions, beetroots  – starting seeds off in the shadehouse, and planting out the seedlings started last month. If I do just a tray like this every month, we have a good steady supply.

But my main little task today is to dig up some turmeric to take some rhizomes for planting as a gift for a friend I will be visiting over the weekend.  Of the very many things I like about gardening, this ready supply of gifts is one of the best!

Fresh turmeric is one of those things that are so hugely different that you know why you garden!  If you imagine the difference between fresh and dried ginger, you get the idea.  Grated fresh turmeric goes in a great many more dishes than the obvious curries and stir fries.  It adds a lovely touch of spiciness, not hot but interesting, to all sorts of dishes from eggs to pasta.  I also love turmeric tea – just a slice with boiling water poured over it, allowed to steep for a minute or two.

And turmeric is one of those wonder-spices that have any number of health benefits.  It has a compound called curcumin, that is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-biotic. There is some solid science backing its claims for effectiveness against cancer cells, arthritis, and infections.

Turmeric grows really easily in my climate, and now that it is well established it survives even in the dry years when I can’t give it enough water to produce well.  One clump gives so much yield that I con’t care whether it produces well anyhow!

All through summer it’s a really decorative plant – a metre and a half high clump with huge green lush leaves. In late summer it produces the most beautiful flowers. I often cut them for a vase. In winter it dies right back with not a sign of it above ground, which reduces its decorative value but probably helps it survive a bit of cold. It’s a native of South East Asian monsoon forests, so if you think about those kind of conditions you can imagine what it likes – warm weather, summer rain, good drainage, a bit of shade.

If you can find someone with turmeric in their garden, you just need to dig a little round the edge of the clump to get a rhizome to plant, or if you can find some fresh turmeric in an Asian grocer or market, you can plant that. But you will need to do it in the next month or so to give it a whole season to establish.

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It’s the very end of the chilli season, and though it’s early in pumpkin season for everyone else, the turkeys have discovered ours. So the challenge is on to find just how many ways you can use pumpkin.

This pumpkin and chick pea curry is a good one – tasty, easy, healthy, low fat, using the pumpkin and the chilli, and also the other seasonal glut of the moment – lemons.  It also has turmeric in it, and the more I hear about the health benefits of fresh turmeric, the more I like using it.

The Recipe

This serves two generously, but the recipe doubles easily.

The recipe uses 1 cup of cooked chick peas, and chick peas need pre-soaking overnight and then take a long time to cook  (about an hour simmering or 20 minutes in a pressure cooker). So although the recipe is quick and easy, it does need some pre-thought.

I like using a mortar and pestle to grind spices. Grind together:

  • 1 thumb ginger
  • 1 thumb turmeric
  • 1 chili
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, or 2 leaves culantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Fry  a chopped onion in a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot till is just begins to brown, then add the spice paste and continue to cook it for a couple of minutes.

Add 2 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes or so, then add:

  • 1 cup of cooked chick peas
  • 3 cups of raw pumpkin chopped into bite sized pieces,
  • 3 desertspoons of lemon juice
  • half a desertspoon of honey.

Simmer until pumpkin is cooked. Taste and add salt and more lemon juice and/or honey to taste. It’s good served with rice and a yoghurt, cucumber and mint raita.

 


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It’s getting a bit cold now of an evening for barbeques, but my partner still loves fishing. Fish soup is a great way to make a dinner party of the catch, and using the whole fish –  head, bones and all – I feel like an ethical predator.

This recipe works really well with bony fish like luderick (black fish) that have a bit of depth of flavour but are laborious to fillet.  It also works well with flathead or winter whiting (all of which are sustainable catches).

The recipe looks more complicated than it is – lots of ingredients can be substituted or left out – and although you need a few hours simmering time, there is very little actual work in it.

The Recipe

Clean and scale the fish and cut a few fillets off and put them aside.  You don’t need to worry about getting all the meat – the frame will be going into stock – but you do need to be sure to get no bones.  Bones in fish soup are not good!

Put the rest of the fish – head, bones and all – into a pot with a tight fitting lid, and cover with water.  This recipe uses 10 cups of water to cover the fish, and serves four generously for dinner, or more as an entree, so adjust your quantities to suit.

The rest of the stock ingredients just need to be roughly chopped, as you are going to strain them anyway.  To the pot, add:

  • 4 chillis, halved and seeds removed (or less, depending on how hot your chillis are)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 thumbs ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 thumb turmeric peeled and roughly chopped (or a teaspoon of  powder)
  • 4 stalks lemon grass, just the white part at the bottom
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (or leave them out and add more lime juice at the end)
  • a swig of olive oil (to catch the oil soluble aromatics)

Put the lid on and simmer gently for several hours, then strain, pressing down to squeeze out all the juice.

Bring the stock back up to simmer, and add:

  • the reserved fish fillets, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • rice noodles, more for a dinner, less for an entree
  • 4 desertspoons of fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped fresh dill (or a teaspoon of dried dill)
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped spring onions
  • 1 shredded bok choy and/or 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
  • 8 or so mushrooms, chopped

Simmer gently for just a few minutes until the fish and noodles are cooked.  Taste and add lemon or lime juice and salt to taste.

Serve with a sprinkle of coriander on top.  I added a bit of amaranth as well, just for the colour.

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This all started with an item in the Sunday papers about how women really should do weights training. I looked at the weights, but that idea lasted all of about two seconds.

But then I spotted the tray of beans drying ready for storage. The trusty old hand grinder and five minutes grinding beans and I had a jar full of besan (bean flour) – much more fun than weights.

Which of course led to the idea of a besan based breakfast. This seems like a complex recipe, but it came together in 15 minutes, and that includes the bean-grinding time!

The Recipe

Mix together half a cup of bean flour (you can find it in whole foods shops or Asian grocers if you don’t get inspired by the idea of grinding as weight training), with one egg, a desertspoon of mild-flavoured oil (like grapeseed oil), a scant half teaspoon of bicarb, and enough water to make a pancake-style batter.

Let it sit to soak together for a couple of minutes while you finely chop a good half cupful of vegetables and herbs. For this batch I chose:

a desertspoon of ginger
a half a desertspoon of fresh turmeric
a small capsicum
a small bunch of each of chives, culantro, and mint.

It is best with Asian-style flavours, but you can vary the vegetables and herbs.  Thai basil, mint, spring onions, ginger and capsicum also works well.

Mix into the pancake batter, and add half a desertspoon of soy sauce or tamari.

Fry in oil in a heavy frypan, hot but not full-bore, for a couple of minutes on each side till golden.  I topped these with avocado, tomato, cucumber and chilli jam, but minted cucumber yoghurt raita and chutney is also a good topping. Makes two large or four small very yummy pancakes.

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