Sunday, July 29, 2007

leftovers #2 – chilli beans

Years ago my friend Pixie told me she thought about me whenever she made chilli beans. I must have gone through a mad chilli phase back in the days when I soaked and cooked the kidney beans from scratch. I suspect ‘101 ways with beans’ marks a long phase in my shared house years. Sadly, I tend to make up a batch only one or two times a year now. Who knows why we go through such phases in cooking. Last week the SE all bunged up with a cold requested chilli beans. I was thinking a nice healing soup with shitake mushrooms, Chinese greens, chilli and lime – but no it was beans please, so I took on the task at hand with more than a whiff of nostalgia.

I don’t know why I haven’t posted such a recipe before, but Summer beans is very similar – just swap the olives and rosemary with chilli, coriander and cumin.

I made a large pot to get us through a few days and it was a real hit. Tomato and spicy, with the beans for ballast. But no matter how much I like something the first time round, I get bored with repeats. For brunch the next day I heated leftover chilli beans in a small fry pan, adding a little water to loosen the sauce. Once they’d started to heat I slid in an egg to poach – just leave it on low and be patient. About 10 minutes of the merest simmering in the bean sauce delivered a baked egg delight – kind of Huevos Rancheros plus beans. Carefully slide the beans and egg intact on top of a toasted tortilla or in this case a thick, gluten-free flatbread that I was road testing from my local convenience store.

It’s a toss up what was better – straight chili beans with brown rice the night before or this heartening brunch the next day. Regardless, I’ll try not to leave it so long between pots of chili next time

don't you think the egg looks a bit like a map of Australia? Darn it, I should have sold it on Ebay!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

lovers and others

Cleaning out unpublished documents. This is a snippet from an unfinished post last year. A little outdated but the sentiments remain the same.

…We headed to St Jerome’s and in the Friday crush drank long necks of Coopers (him) and a passable house white in a tumbler (me).

Places like St Jerome’s remind me why Melbourne is a such a great city. It’s an unpretentious, no wine list, sit on milk crates in a laneway kind of place. It has a great buzz and the music is fab. I also love the fact that men have to cue just as long as the women, waiting for a stall in the unisex toilet – now that is equality, I reckon.

By 10 people were drifting off to other engagements, numbers were dwindling and my tummy rumbled so (despite his protests) I dragged him up Bourke Hill. Do they have beer where we are going? Yes. Are we almost there yet? Yes. Just one more block.

I got the urge to revisit the Nudel Bar. A favourite for years, I realised it had been far too long since I had been there last. When you hang out with the anti-carb brigade, it can be a bit hard to convince them a meal in a place that only sells noodles is where they must be.

The menu hadn’t changed. Nor the waiter. We got to sit upstairs overlooking the street, eye level with the treetops. While I waited for him to plough through the menu (a no brainer for me - there is only one dish I could possibly have after such an absence) I thought of all the people I had eaten and drunk with there, over the decade or so it had been open. There had been birthdays, rowdy girls nights out, queuing up on a busy evening with good conversation and a bottle of wine waiting for a table, heart to hearts, grabbing a bowl of noodles before the best Elvis Costello concert ever. Lovers and others.

When the food came – I eyed the Thai Fried Noodles like an old friend. Had it really been at least 2 years since we had last met? The prawns were luscious, the scallions crunchy, though the chilli oil not as hot as I remembered.

He dived into egg noodles slippery with sesame oil, vibrant Chinese greens and generous chunks of roasted duck. Between groans he kept asking “Why haven’t you bought me here before!”, “It’s the best restaurant in Melbourne”.

Sure it was the beer talking but the noodles really are worth the walk up the hill. For me, it was reassuring to run into an old friend and marvel at how they haven’t changed, just got better with age.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

sometimes I wish...

Tre Bicchieri, North Carlton

...I drank lattes.

They are just so pretty!

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

a week in food – from the lurgy zone

We’ve been behind the 8 ball this week – pesky colds, the odd bit of oral surgery, sick cats – none of this adds up to a great week in the kitchen. Despite that a few stand out, vegetable based meals found their way to the table and are worth a mention.

It began well with the Significant Eater whipping up yet another variation of his stuffed artichokes. The artichoke is a hardy thistle that is a quintessential spring green and a Mediterranean staple. Unfortunately, most recipes paradoxically laden this liver friendly herb with lots of fat. A great legacy of a North Italian ancestry, his family favourites have bought a variety of new foods into my life, however being a meat and dairy-free woman has meant a lot of adapting. Instead of parmesan, bacon, parsley garlic and breadcrumbs - the new stuffing has become parsley, pine nuts, garlic, anchovies and quinoa. A vegan version could easily swap salty sun dried tomatoes for the anchovies. Rinse the quinoa and whiz the other ingredients in a food processor, season and then stir in the grain (actually it's a seed but that's another story). The fun part is packing the stuffing in between the tight leaves of the artichoke. It can take a lot more filling than you would imagine. This is then steamed for about 45 minutes or so, the longer the better. Traditionally the stems are chopped up and included. Just check the inside of them as they cook, when the stems are soft enough to eat the artichokes are ready.

The SE also came up trumps with a delicious vegetable soup, which included spinach and rice, to nurse me through a particularly nasty visit to the dentist.

Later in the week I was back in the kitchen. Silverbeet (chard) is not the sexiest of veg but at this time of year its dark green leaves make a promise of healthy goodness. Wanting something gluten and dairy free, but full of flavour, I settled on a vegetable bake. I sautéed onion and garlic with the silverbeet, then added grated carrot, chopped green olives stuffed with semidried tomatoes (another yummy market find this week) and a can of tuna. Binding the filling slightly with 2 eggs I created a bake, with thin layers of firm streamed potato on top. With a little olive oil and salt, the potatoes crisped up in the hot oven, giving the dish a bit of a lift. For a vegetarian version, I'd replace the tuna with some cooked brown rice to add a bit of bulk, or just more vegetables. Both versions are gluten-free.

Friday was another variations of cooked vegetables and a back up can of fish. The cold night called for baked vegetables – I found potatoes (winter’s comforting treat), pumpkin, beetroot, onion, cauliflower (cut into large chunks) and garlic, which I tossed with a dash of oil, sea salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and backed til slightly crunchy. I mashed the roasted garlic with mustard, lemon and olive oil to make a thick, creamy dressing, which I tossed through the baked vegetables, more of the delightful stuffed olives and some canned salmon.

Sure, there were a couple of restaurant take aways too. There’s something medicinal about a spicy tom yum soup when you’ve got a cold and our local Thai will load it with extra hot herbs if you ask for it. But I think we did well for a couple of invalids.

What’s getting you through winter?

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

more turmeric

In my previous post I mused on the joys of fresh turmeric. Though we are lucky to get this herb at all, I mentioned that it was rather hairy old grandchildren that came our way. This morning at Vic Market Organics, fresh from the grower, is some beautiful, young turmeric. Such an example leaves no doubt it is a zingiberaceae (member of the ginger family).

Sorry for those trying to source it in other places, just keep asking your suppliers. For Melbournites, this little organic darling is yours for the price of $22/kg (much cheaper than garlic at this time of year).


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

a new star in the kitchen

Weekend Herb blogging is a fine institution, initiated by the delightful Kalyn many moons ago now. It’s been a long time since I contributed a post specifically for this weekly event, which is just plain laziness on my part because almost all my recipes fit the criteria of featuring a herb, plant, vegetable or flower. Today’s recipe stars many wondrous herbs and vegetables but what makes it special for me is it is the first time I have used one particular herb in its fresh form – Turmeric.

Curcuma longa is a member of the ginger family (of which there are 3 from the clan in this recipe) and like it’s close, edible relatives it is the rhizome that is used in cooking. In Bali I saw the plumpest healthiest example of the root – our teacher explained the large, central mass was the “grandmother” and the smaller fingers, grandchildren. Here in Melbourne I’ve only ever found the babies at the market and I suspect they are all a little long in the tooth. It has a mild fragrance, nowhere near as zingy and peppery as ginger but it is a quiet achiever in the medicinal world. Other than a dye and a food flavouring, turmeric is a star in the arena of medicinal herbalism. All gingers have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, technically a cox-2 inhibitor like some of those fancy arthritis meds but without the negative side effects. But I like it best as a liver tonic, which the Indians and Indonesians have always known about. As mentioned in a previous post, it is also a local cure-all antiseptic, the natural version of betadine.

But back to the food. In a curry so fragrant as this it is hard to single out the taste of turmeric. It is a member of a broader orchestra, adding a bit of a base note to a culinary symphony.

My favourite dish that we learnt to cook at the Casa Luna Cooking School was the fish coated in spices and bundled up in banana leaves. A quick whiz around the market filled the few gaps in fresh herbs needed to make this meal, however time ran out before the essential banana and salam leaves could be sourced. Undeterred we reproduced an altered version of the paste and added more water to make it a rich sauce in which to simmer fish and vegetables. As this curry is made with a little tomato it is a lovely change from a coconut curry, exploding with flavours as it hits your palate.

Balinese inspired fish curry

2-3 tabs vegetable oil (we used unrefined coconut)
250 g fish and 350 g assorted vegetables (we used locally caught blue eye, sweet potato, cauliflower and carrots)
(If you wish to make this with fish only use about 600 g firm fish)
4 shredded kaffir lime leaves

Curry Paste
1 large clove elephant garlic
small handful cashew nuts
3 tsp shrimp paste (toasted)
1 large tab tamarind, softened in hot water
4 small red chillies
1 tab fresh turmeric
2 tabs palm sugar
1 small red onion (or 3 shallots)
1 tsp sea salt (to taste, for balance)
2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised and chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
1.5 – 2 tabs galangal
1 tab fresh ginger
1/2-1 tin tomatoes (or equivalent fresh)

Toast the shrimp paste and coriander seeds. If using a food processor - grind the black pepper and coriander first. We decided to processes the paste, not pound in a mortar and pestle due to quantity, so we grated the ginger, galangal and turmeric as well. Whiz the spices up to a delicious mush.

Cube your fish and vegetables and put aside til needed. Fry the spice paste in some vegetable oil to release the aromas then add the vegetables and shredded lime leaves. Stir them all together, toss in the remaining tomatoes if you reserved half the tin and top up with water til you get the right consistency to simmer the veg. Once cooked, add the fish for about 3 minutes. Taste for balance in flavours – add more salt or a splash of fish sauce is needing a boost, palm sugar dissolved in hot water if it needs more sweet or a squeeze of lime juice if the acid is lacking.

Serve with steamed rice.

This is a great dish, high in flavour and low in fat. The herbs alone must add a couple of extra years of good health to your life!

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this week by Susan from Food Blogga. Don't forget to check FoodBlogga over the next few days to see the Herb Blogging round up for this week.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

it aint easy being green

We all know fresh is best. It’s almost too fundamental to repeat in the hallowed world of food blogging. We flock to read what our fellow food devoted friends are eating around the world. We recently had a buzz about samphire, from Melbourne to the northern hemisphere. Despite two different seasons we synergistically were getting into it’s salty goodness and exploring its crunchy delight. The samphire I found in my local market had come about 1,000 kilometres, over a state border. Though the last leg of its journey from stall to plate took only a few minutes by car.

I shop locally – within a stones throw of my inner city home. I am lucky as this could be a fresh produce market, an Italian specialty store or a Middle Eastern deli. Of course the major supermarket chains, and one valiant independent retailer, are also close by – a short stroll 3 out of the 4 compass points away.

The close proximity and its minimal carbon emissions to gather from them are misleading and I admit lull me into a false sense of security. When a friend in New Zealand told me that their family’s quest for the year was to move towards a carbon neutral life, I felt a little smug that the first thing they had chosen to have maximum impact - was to stop eating meat. I’d been ahead of that one for a couple of decades, before the effects of beef production had been viewed through such energy inefficient glasses. No real sacrifice for me, then I realised that meat still comes into the house to feed 4 furry carnivores. Though a cat could possibly live on fish and chicken, these guys are geriatrics and we swear will not be replaced after their eventual demise!

I am a long time fan of Barbara Kingsolver and her latest piece of non-fiction is causing quite a buzz. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” takes the world of seasonal eating by storm. It follows her family's choice to to eat locally for a year, contrary to their compatriots who happily consume food produced from around the country or the world. Like Paul Mathis and hjs 100 Mile Café, they have hit some similar obstacles – both nominated coffee as an exotic food they would barter for exclusion. Here in the nontropical Melbourne climate the nearest coffee producers are in Byron Bay – at least a 2 day drive in a road train, if amphetamines fuel the driver. Unlike the Kingsolver clan, olives are grown within the state and produce some fine olive oil. Actually, there are olive trees dotted throughout the neighbourhood (this being a once strongly Italian migrant stronghold) though I’ve yet to see any oil pressed from them and sold at the gate.

I have in the past had a largely seasonal diet. In my final years of communal housing we sourced an organic farmer who drove 250 km (still a fair hike beyond Mathis’ 160km/100 mile exclusions zone) to the city once a week and formed a food buying collective. About 10 households, of 2-9 residents apiece, bought 90% of their fresh produce through the collective, making organic food very affordable on a low income and for minimal effort of sorting the orders every couple of months. Though some struggled with the realisation that there would be no avocados or tomatoes are only in season for the first couple of months of the years, others got excited, bought extra and started bottling excess produce just as many of our own mothers had done. I have to say though, that the human energy cost of each precious glass jar of perfect peaches or tomato sauce is rather high, unless done collectively to offset the tedium.

Am I about to jump on the ecologically sound bandwagon? Well not quite yet. The first step is to increase awareness about where my food is really coming from. Sure I know to sidestep those ludicrously glossy cherries that have turned up in the past month. I have been on the earth long enough to know they don’t grow in a winter climate (the highly priced fruit has come to our city across the world in a jet plane from America, which may explain why it’s a pricey treat). But it’s the other things that slip under the radar that I need to become more aware of – that nice sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or my favourite Fruili Pinot would have to go in a carbon friendly lifestyle. Is the rocket in my salad coming from a massive, heated greenhouse while the frost settles outside? The prawns on the plate are at best from Queensland, at worst further a field in Asia and let’s forget about barramundi, as that hasn’t ever swum in Port Phillip Bay.

My pocket handkerchief garden produces a few green herbs, the odd lime and in autumn an incredible yield of grapes. I can squeeze in a few more vegetables but in the heart of a city, so close to roads and factories, I am unsure just how many heavy metals these home crops deliver. Chooks, though up to 3 are quite legal in these high density areas, are out of the question – even if we could find the space – free range poultry would be too tempting for the colony of cats in the meantime.

As for cooking classes in Bali – if I’d sailed in a boat, maybe they would be allowed!

Just how green is your valley?

update: it aint easy being green part II

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

couch potato

6.30 on a Wednesday night is a challenging time for me to be home. Usually I’m slipping onto a tram at that hour and only rarely do I find myself cosily tucked up in front of the telly, which is a pity because I miss “The Cook and the Chef”.

Fortunately in a late night perusal of the ABC website I found a cache of charming shows to download and watch at my leisure on the trusty macbook. They’ve decided to break the show into segments, so you can subscribe at will to the vodcast. Simon Bryant’s explanation of why you want to use cold water in a tempura batter and resist the urge to mix it into a slurry is worth a watch, even if like me the thought of deep frying doesn’t ring your bells.

For those who don’t need action with your recipes, skip the video and go straight to the homepage, where the recipes are archived. Simon, in particular, does some great things with tofu and his creations are often vegetarian friendly.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Balinese cooking class

Anna’s recent post about the Casa Luna Cooking School in Ubud has given me a gentle shove to finally getting around to chronicling my recent experience.

I’d hoped to have been able to book in for the market tour as well as cooking class but it was a busy week and there were no vacancies. If you are planning to go to Bali in the Southern winter, you can book in advance via the net – so you don’t miss out.

At least we got our first equal class choice – Monday’s journey through Balinese vegetarian and seafood dishes. The delightful Yode, filled in for Janet who was ironically in Melbourne taking the same cooking courses.

While we waited for the class to begin we were fed large, just fried crackers and a lovely hibiscus cordial. Quickly the class swelled in size – a fair few from Australia, a whole wedding anniversary party from LA and a sweet young British gal straight from her job at Buckingham Palace.

The 4 hour class covers the flavours of Balinese cooking, some grinding of spices and assembling of dishes - even better at the end of the class you get to eat it all . The balance of sweet, salt, hot and sour is honoured in each dish. Interestingly I met a number of Balinese who weren’t keen on fiery food and though chilli features as a mainstay of local cooking it’s comparatively subtle compared to other Asian cuisines, such as Thai.

As we made our way through base herbs, Yode gave many medicinal asides – root ginger on the forehead can ease a headache, turmeric root a catch all antiseptic (her own abrasions from a recent motorbike accident bore the yellow dye of the plant), ginger and lemongrass tea the preferred medicine for ‘Bali belly’. My favourite was her tip for a mosquito repellent – get a bundle of fresh lemongrass stalks and sit in a vase beside your bed.

headache be gone! Bali style

Fragrant seeds are used in a base spice mixture (wangen) – cloves, coriander, nutmeg, black pepper, long pepper and thickened with candle nuts and sesame seeds. We were warned of the hapless tourist who bought what he thought was macadamia nuts from the Ubud market and ended up sick and sorry for a number of days. He’d been sold candle nut (kemiri), which is toxic when eaten raw.

a bundle of spices - tumeric, sweet mild local garlic, candle nuts, lemongrass, shrimp paste, corriandar seeds, chilli...

Roots and shoots from the ginger family are abundant in the base begungkilan. Fresh ginger, galangal, lemongrass and turmeric are readily available in Melbourne, but what they refer to as ‘aromatic ginger’ or ‘white turmeric’ (kencur) – a distinctive Balinese flavouring is harder to source. The torch ginger, from the pink flowered plant another illusive taste.

Sour flavours come via my old favourite kaffir lime leaves, shredded finely and used abundantly. Also large amounts of tamarind, a plant I have only tentatively experimented with before.

The salt is largely the locally produced sea salt from west Bali, but also roasted shrimp paste and kecap asin. The sweet flavour is from kecap manis (sweet soy) and local palm sugar (often used as a syrup)

While we got introduced to the basics, a support crew grated coconut for fresh milk, sliced, diced and cooked the rice.

To start with, 2 versions of Rujak, a sweet and sour salad were prepared – with and without liberal doses of shrimp paste and chilli. Like all dishes the spices are ground in the local version of a mortar and pestle – a large flat volcanic stone mortar, less bowl like than the version I use at home. The fruit (and vegetables) used in rujak can be almost anything you like except watermelon that is reputed to make you feel ill in this combination. Ours included pineapple, apple, cucumber and carrot. The sauce featured a lot of tamarind, palm sugar and sea salt. Though I’m not a fan of ‘sweet and sour’ the spicier version had quite a kick and made a great starter or snack.


We made 2 vegetable dishes we’d had a number of times in our travels. The Kangkung pelecing is iron rich source of greens in a tomato sambal. I often see Kangkung (sometimes called water spinach) at Asian grocers but almost any Asian green, spinach or even silverbeet would make a tasty side dish. Acar is a very simple salad made from julienned carrot and cucumber tossed with white vinegar, salt, sugar and shallots.

kangkung pelecing


We were lucky enough to make both a fish curry and fish in banana leaves. The curry (mackerel mesanten) featured pretty much every spice covered in the class, fried off then the fish is added. Interestingly the dish is cooked in water, with just a little fresh coconut milk added at the last minute of cooking. The steamed fish in banana leaves (pepesan ikan) was my favourite – traditionally the parcels of fish and spice in banana leaves are fried over hot coals, but in class they were steamed and still delicious.

our Balinese feast

Unfortunately, we aren’t allowed to reproduce the recipes – but I’ll give my own versions with home sourced ingredients when I tackle them in my own kitchen.

To finish I ate a dessert that is only rivalled by my mum’s chocolate mousse, but has to be much healthier. Black rice is soaked then cooked for hours, with some sticky white rice. The grains are then boiled with vanilla beans, palm sugar and a pandan leaf. On serving a splash of freshly made coconut milk is added, just a dash makes it creamy and luxuriant. It was hard to not grab seconds.

All this was washed down with sweet brem, a fermented rice drink. Much lower in alcohol that the turbo charged other arak (consume enough of that and you can become permanently blind – I kid you not), even with lashings of lime juice it’s a bit too cloying for my tastes. The aftertaste is yeasty, a cross between rice and bread.

This was a great way to spend the morning followed by a most sumptuous lunch of the food we’d marginally helped to prepare. A must for any foodie who’s heading to Bali. It was even better than the food we ate at the Casa Luna Restaurant or maybe that was just the herbal magic spun through sharing the of joy of cooking.

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breakfast pizza

Ok so I'm not quite back in the saddle yet in the kitchen but I'm trying little tricks.

My brief was to go to the Vic Market this morning as usual, but to look at it like a tourist. Instead of charging around the stalls as I always do - today I stopped for breakfast. Not my usual tofu and vegetable nori roll from Tofu Trek today - it had to be different and hot. I've too often been dissappointed with Invita, which is the closest fit for my dietary requirements. So in tourist mode I hit the take away food stalls in the Dairy Hall. If I was a carnivore the kransky's with onion would have been an obvious choice.

What caught my eye was Colour of Earth (Shop 97-98 Dairy Section). I'd had a nifty piadina there before, it had been creative but never lured me back. Eying off the mini pizzas, I innocently asked "Do you have any without cheese?" There was a Western Australian sardine creation with chilli and tomato that seemed a little strong for the hour of day, instead as if reading my mind he answered "We've got a potato one - how about that? Olives? Sundried tomato? Black pepper? Rosemary?" Perfect!

A few minutes later it popped hot out of the oven, the base thin and crispy without being dry. The flavours were great and the only thing I'd add to it in future would be garlic.

I sat down at a chilly outdoor table, a fellow shopper was looking for a seat and I was happy to share. A pleasant chat and back to shopping.

It's nice to be a traveller in your own city sometimes.

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