Category Archives: Vegetables & salads

If I only knew what that ‘something’ was

God has all the time in the world.
~ Antoni Gaudí

Medley ingredients:
Roasted kumara with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Leek rings sautéed with butter.
A handful of fresh pomegranate seeds.
Feta cubes.
Baby spinach, gently wilted.
Fresh mint, chopped.
Squeeze of lemon.
Black pepper.

Something was still missing. Or something that shouldn’t have been there was. Anyone know what? Penny for your thoughts…

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Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables

She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   “Winter is dead.”
~ A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

One of the pleasures of living in Wellington: walking down to Harbourside Market on any Sunday morning and leaving with a bounty of goodness for a reasonable price. I also like the fact that the vegetables are likely to stay fresh for almost twice as long as their supermarket equivalents!

Last Sunday, I exchanged $9 for a bag of garlic, a bag of lemons, an aubergine, capsicums, zucchinis, and a generous selection of big and little tomatoes… I was a happy woman.

I cooked this mostly by sight, taste and feel, and the oven door opened and shut more than I usually allow for in one session of cooking, but hey – dinner got done, nicely, and that is what matters.

    Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables
    Ingredients:
    1 cup orzo
    ½ onion
    1 aubergine / eggplant (use your favourite vegetables – pumpkin could work well too?)
    1 zucchini
    1 capsicum
    6 or more small tomatoes
    4 sprigs asparagus
    1 tbsp demerara / brown sugar
    1 lemon
    Olive oil
    1 tbsp butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ground chilli
    Paprika
    Dried mint (or torn fresh mint, if you have it)
    Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a flat baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper, and lightly grease it.
    Peel and dice the onion, and set aside. Zest half a lemon, and set aside. Cut off the ends of the aubergine, then slice it into rings approximately 1cm thick, and halve those rings. If you have time, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to sweat for about 30 minutes – this will tenderise the flesh, reduce any bitterness and make it less likely to absorb too much cooking oil later (I admit I skipped this step on this occasion, as we were hungry). Vertically slice the zucchini into 4 strips. Cut the capsicum into 6 pieces. Place these vegetables with the tomatoes into a bowl, add in some olive oil and toss to coat well.
    Arrange the aubergine, zucchini and capsicum pieces in a single layer on the baking tray, and place in the oven (on the centre rack, if possible) for 10 minutes. Then remove the tray, flip the aubergine slices and bake for a further 10 minutes. Once the aubergine pieces look nicely golden, remove them from the oven and place on a dish. Flip the zucchini and capsicum slices, add in the tomatoes, and replace the tray in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out the zucchini and capsicum. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and leave the tomatoes to bake to perfection.
    All of this may sound terribly confusing, but it basically comes down to this: when the vegetables tell me they are ready with golden faces, I take them out. Also, tomatoes don’t mind staying in the oven for longer if you lower the heat before too long.
    Meanwhile, place some water in a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Shake in some salt and the orzo, and cook according to packet instructions. Remove the orzo when it is about a minute from being completely cooked (after approximately 7 minutes of cooking), and drain off the liquid.
    Over medium-high heat, heat the butter (or use olive oil if you prefer), add in half a teaspoon of chilli and paprika each, and a pinch of dried mint – rubbing the mint between your fingers as you go. When you can smell the onion and it begins to turn translucent, break the asparagus sprigs into thirds and add them in. Sauté the lot for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the drained orzo and lemon zest, add in a dribble of water, allow it to be absorbed before adding in a little more (kinda like how you cook risotto), and cook this way until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the demerara sugar.
    Pour the orzo and vegetables into a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add in chopped fresh herbs, if using. Toss the lot until well combined. Rescue the tomatoes from the oven, which should now be looking juicy and ripe to burst. Arrange them like jewels on an orzo crown. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3-4 servings.

Harbourside Market – Corner of Cable Street & Barnett Street beside Te Papa, Wellington – Phone: 04 495 7895

Aioli, two eggs and a potato

When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.
~ Walt Disney

This evening, I stood across the road from the supermarket, caught in indecision.

I thought about the semi-bare appearance of both pantry and fridge, and the fact that grocery shopping might help that.

I reflected on my heightened state of laziness and the unpleasant idea of being crammed in a box with frenzied folk and bright lights and signs saying BUY ME BUY ME I’M ON SPECIAL [even though I’m crappy and unnecessary].

(I sometimes fantasise about a life free of supermarkets and glad-wrapped chicken and self-imposed walking up and down rows of stressed and tired people, boxed food and trolleys. Anyway, that’s a post for another time.)

The lure of fresh air and sunlight won over all supermarket-related thoughts in the end, so I walked on home.

Back at home, I found a forgotten (but more importantly: very edible) potato, a few eggs and some other bits and pieces. As I mulled over the question of the evening, “what shall I cook from not much at all?” I was reminded of a line someone once told me: “laziness breeds creativity”…

Laziness doesn’t usually seem to yield positive results in anything, but occasionally, it does.

And while I don’t think I’ll try calling my dinner tonight “creative”, I daresay I was pretty pleased with it anyway.

    Ingredients:
    1 potato
    2 eggs
    Handful of chopped parsley
    For the aioli:
    1 egg yolk
    1 tsp Dijon mustard
    1 or 2 tsp lemon juice
    200ml olive oil*
    2 cloves garlic
    Fine sea salt & cracked pepper
    A pinch of paprika
    A pinch of caster sugar
    Method:
    Make the aioli. Peel and smash the garlic with some salt – in a mortar and pestle if you have one, with a knife and a glass jar if you don’t have one (I don’t).
    Place the egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice in a medium bowl; whisk immediately. Keep adding a few drops of olive oil at a time** and whisking the mixture until approximately half of the oil has been poured in. Then pour the rest of the olive oil in a thin and steady stream, whisking as you go, until it is completely incorporated.
    Add in the garlic, paprika, caster sugar, and salt and pepper to taste – give it a last gentle stir. You should now have a glossy, creamy mixture which clings slightly to the whisk.
    Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Wash and slice the potato. Place the potato and eggs into the saucepan and boil for approximately 8 minutes or until the eggs are just hard boiled and the potato slices are soft, but not falling apart.
    Peel and slice the eggs, then place on a plate with the potato slices, chopped parsley and aioli. Mix and eat.
    Yields 1 serving. Keep remaining aioli*** in a glass jar for up to 7 days in the fridge.

* You may want to use some a mixture of light and pure/extra virgin olive oil or just light olive oil if you find the taste of pure olive oil too strong – I love the taste of olive oil, so I just used extra virgin.

** This was my first attempt at making aioli, but I have heard that it is crucial to add at least half the oil in very slowly so it doesn’t get ruined…

*** Lots of uses for aioli: serve with fresh vegetables, pan fried fish, crispy fries – mmm!

Royal food for lazy folk #1

I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.
~ Author unknown

I was lazy tonight.

It would have taken just a few more minutes, and just another pan or two.

But I didn’t want to!

Didn’t want to fry garlic in a skillet, or cut the tails off the beans, or toast the bread, or crumble the feta nicely, or make a perfect whirlpool for my egg.

I thought about doing all those things.

But one word snatched away all good intentions. And that word (or sound, or whatever it is) was: naaaaaaaaaa.

What you do if you’re lazy like me – preheat the oven to 200°C. Get an oven-proof dish of some kind, carelessly throw in some chopped garlic + oil + washed green beans (tails intact) + tinned tomatoes + cinnamon + salt, give it a stir and bake it all up for around 15 minutes. Then poach an egg in salted water, slice some bread, crumble a sliver of feta and eat it all together.

What you do if you’re wiser than me – do the above, but don’t cut corners. “De-tail” and briefly blanch those beans. Fry the garlic, so it doesn’t taste raw and startling in your mouth. Toast your bread. Above all, make a salted whirlpool for your poor poached egg and rescue it the moment it’s ready!

Whatever you do, lazy or not, have yourself a lovely dinner.

Dinner for seven

Precisely the least, the softest, lightest, a lizard’s rustling, a breath, a flash, a moment – a little makes the way of the best happiness.
~ Frederich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

In pursuit of succulent prawns for our dinner party, Kath and I visited Auckland Fish Market on Saturday morning. Mmmmm seafood… there was a generous selection. Big and little fish. Spiky kina. Creepy lobsters, looking quite far removed from the beautiful, creamy white flesh encased in orange shells that I much prefer ;-) Looking at the lobsters, I thought of Julia Child clutching them and dropping them into scalding water… and my body itched with discomfort. :-o

We didn’t buy prawns here in the end, because the prices were a little higher than we wanted to pay – but we had a good time wandering around the shops in any case. The kind man at the smoked food section gave us samples of orange roughy roe… the wedge I put in my mouth morphed into a rich bittersweet bouquet, lots of depth, wonderful! (Though I am not sure Kath enjoyed it as much as I did). I also picked up some smoked broadbill steak which looked too enticing in its golden/orange glory to pass up.

Second stop: Sabato. When you first walk in, it doesn’t appear to be a dangerous place. Don’t be fooled – only ignorance and a very blocked nose could save you. This place forces you to smile, grin even. For the first few seconds as your eyes scan its interior, the words ‘gourmet’, ‘ridiculous’ and ‘food for rich people’ may float into your head and do a little dance. You’ll think you’re safe. But then you venture to one of their taste stations, carelessly take a bite – and suddenly the mist clears, and you realise you won’t be escaping for a while!

It’s not just ‘cos their offering sounds fancy (though incidentally, they do the fancy thing well. Truffle oil, aged balsamic, porcini crema, anchovies, orange blossom water – you name it!)… It’s the fact that (based on what I tried in their store) whatever they possess in ‘gourmet-ness’, they actually match in deliciousness too.

And if that ain’t convincing enough, they also have drool-inducing recipe cards scattered in various nooks and crannies, friendly staff who offer you a complimentary coffee while you browse, oh… and might I just casually mention that they have a tall shelf stocked with Valrhona (only the best chocolate ever?!) goodness! Eventually, I exercised some restraint and walked out with just a bottle of orange blossom water and a jar of sweet, sexy anchovies (the latter were at one of those tasting stations). Kath got a bottle of rose water.

We then stopped at a friendly vege shop which had very attractive-looking produce – see golden tamarillos above! Picked up fruit, herbs, miso paste.

Finally, we went to the supermarket to pick up everything else that we needed.

Back at Kath’s apartment, we put away the food that needed refrigeration before sitting down for a quick lunch: impromptu platters of smoked broadbill salmon from the Fish Market, avocado, tomato, black pepper and bread.

At some point, we rose from the dining table and got to work. I dawdled for ages, wanting to take photos of everything and talk and all; luckily, Kath is WAY more organised than I am and so our guests got to eat dinner before 8pm ;-)

Everything really smelled so good as we pounded, blended, fried – my nose was pretty happy while we cooked. Sizzling garlic. Sweet gingersnaps. Toasted seeds and spices. Chilli and chocolate. Ginger and miso. Etc.

Here is our mole in its infant state – containing onion, garlic, toasted seeds, cumin, fennel and more… believe you me, it was potent!

This is Kath, blissfully unaware of me snapping a photo of her whipping up a storm!

This is Kath again, aware that she wasn’t going to escape my camera and making the wise decision to smile.

Mmmm… it was all going along nicely and I was still thinking “yay we have plenty of time”, when all of a sudden I realised we did not afterall have much time left! Somewhere in the middle of the time speeeeeeeeding by and the stove on full throttle I stopped taking pictures of the food.

Sure, we had a few mini disasters along the way… this cracked egg being the least of those mistakes…

AND, at dessert time, we had a case of “our tart runneth over” (aka liquid mascarpone) and Ben was assigned the guest duty of being Tart-cutter:

But we managed to serve dinner, and eat with a bunch of fantastic people (including the very cool Kimberley, whose presence is every bit as delightful, interesting and thoughtful as her writing). It was great! And everyone was still smiling and talking at the end, so I think we can call everything an overall success! Our menu was as follows:

    Prawns with lemon, chilli and feta – served with crusty baguette
    Baked baby carrots with orange, ginger, miso and tamari – recipe here
    Chicken mole (our sauce comprised garlic, seeds, spices, tomato, chilli and chocolate)
    Wild rice with sliced almonds and raisins
    Berry and mascarpone tart

Thank you Kath, Ben, Komal, Quinn, Kimberley and Kirsty for a very full and fun Saturday evening (we missed the few people who couldn’t come along this time, and look forward to having you come next time)!

Ratatouille

The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
~ William Makepeace Thackeray

A vegetable bouquet melting into a slurred rainbow…

This is my (modified) rendition of Molly Wizenberg’s ratatouille (included in her book “A Homemade Life”):

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut an eggplant into circles, brush both sides of the eggplant circles with olive oil (use your hands if you are lazy) and arrange them in a single layer on a lined baking tray. Pop the tray into the oven and let the circles get tender and brown (but not as brown as some of mine! See below.) It should take approx. 20-30 minutes, depending on how thick your circles are. When they are done, let them cool slightly and cut into wedges (I just quarter each circle).

While the eggplant is cooking, cut your veges. Smash garlic cloves. Cut zucchinis into semi-circles. Chop tomatoes. Strip rosemary branches, save the leaves and toss the rest (if using fresh – I didn’t have any last night, so I used dried rosemary and some dried basil). Dice capsicums. Chop onions, if using (I didn’t have any last night, so I just added more tomatoes. Just go with the flow).

Set a deep saucepan on the stove, add a mini slosh of olive oil, and fry the zucchini semi-circles till lightly golden. Rescue and set aside. Add a little more oil into the pan if the pan is dry, then throw in the capsicum squares, onion (if using) and garlic, fry till the fragrance begins to cling to your clothes and the capsicum begins to sweat. Add the tomatoes, rosemary and any other herbs you are using. Salt and pepper it as you wish. Toss in a bay leaf for good measure. Stir, smell, watch the colours swirl… lower the heat, cover for five minutes. Add the eggplant and cooked zucchini. Cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes, until all the vegetables are nicely cooked.

There will be plenty to share, or to refrigerate and enjoy the next day (this is one dish that actually makes for amazing leftovers).

I like to make this when I have one or two people over for dinner, or when I’m alone. When alone, I tend to boil some pasta, poach an egg, stir in the ratatouille and eat standing by the window as the sun disappears behind the hills.

Ottolenghi’s aubergine with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Spongy, meaty, melting flesh.

Sounds revolting, you say. I couldn’t agree more – but aubergine defies seductive prose; it is what it is. Most people I know (whose opinion on aubergine I have heard) either love it or hate it. You’re lucky if you love it, there is this entire galaxy of yummy dishes involving this pretty purple vegetable that you’d miss out on if you didn’t!

This vegetable has been present in my world for a very long time. When I was a child growing up in Southeast Asia, we called aubergine “brinjal” and I remember tasting it in spicy, slow-cooking curries; braised with minced pork, tofu and chilli, etc. The texture interested me; so different it was from [less defined/straightforward than] crunchy carrots or leafy kai-lan or soft chewy mushrooms. And the taste – so bland and so distinctive all at once. Always different, it seemed, depending on how it was cooked. It was a mini mystery. I didn’t like or hate it, but it certainly always held my attention if it was anywhere on the table.

In recent years, I’ve experienced this vegetable in whole new ways, and grown to really enjoy it. Baba ghanoush. Roasted/stuffed eggplants. Ratatouille. Aubergine cooked with pasta. And I’ve mostly called it “aubergine” or “eggplant”, along with everyone else here in New Zealand.

As I write this post, I realise that I haven’t associated this vegetable with the brinjal of my childhood for some time… Shakespeare might have been on to something when he wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but to me, a brinjal by another name spells entirely different types of dishes (and borders on appearing to be a different vegetable entirely).

Anyway. Today, I chanced upon a lovely recipe with a photo so pretty I couldn’t resist trying it – especially when I saw aubergines for sale at less than $3 each!

Enter Ottolenghi, an aubergine, and an oven…

And this was my dinner tonight: colder than most dinners in terms of temperature, but warm in the thoughts it brought. For some reason, the dish made me think of Christmas and Morocco, and I started humming Christmas carols midway through dinner (flatmates out this evening, thank goodness ;-).

This dish would be better as a starter than as a main, I feel; but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and was satisfied afterwards. The colours are beautiful (my photos here are too bright; the real life version was great). It leaves your mouth feeling clean and good. The flavours take some getting used to when you first taste it – but what you get in the end is the tender strength of the aubergine, a tzatziki-type garlic-scented yoghurt and buttermilk sauce, heady and smoky sweet herbs, crunchy sweet pomegranate, notes of citrus from the lemon, and salt and pepper to finish it. It’s hard to adequately describe… but the combination works. I suspect the original version, with za’atar (which I haven’t tried but which Google says is amazing), would be delicious too.

A bonus? Not much prep/washing up for this one! Second bonus: this is one of those recipes for which you can double/halve the ingredients exactly and have it turn out – great for dinner parties.

    Ingredients:
    1 large and long aubergine
    Olive oil
    Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 pomegranate (I used 1/2 of a pack of pomegranate seeds from the supermarket)
    1 tsp za’atar (with no za’atar, I used mixed herbs + fennel seeds + salt + pepper)
    1 wedge of lemon
    For the sauce:
    700ml buttermilk
    50g Greek yogurt
    1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish off
    1 small garlic clove, crushed
    Pinch of salt
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash the aubergine and cut it in two lengthways through the green stalk (retain the stalk for decorative purposes only). Make three or four deep parallel incisions in the cut side of the aubergine (do not go as far as the skin). Then, make three or four diagonal cuts – you will now have a diamond pattern.
    Line an oven tray with foil or baking paper, and place the aubergines, cut side up, on it – brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 30-35 minutes. When you can smell something delicious, and the flesh is soft and well-browned, remove the aubergine from the oven and leave to cool.
    While the aubergine halves are in the oven, cut the pomegranate in two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, and knock the skin with the back of a wooden spoon, letting the seeds fall into the bowl. Once all are out, sift through the seeds to remove any white skin bits. I just used a packet of pomegranate seeds, so I didn’t have to do this step.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the ingredients listed under “sauce” above, taste for seasoning and pop it into the fridge.
    To serve, put an aubergine half on a plate, flesh side up. Add a generous amount of sauce on it without covering the stalk, then sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and za’atar if you have it (or a herb/spice rub – see my notes above), and finish with a drizzle of olive oil + a sprinkle of lemon juice.
    Yields two entrée-sized servings, or one refreshing main.

P.S. This was published a while ago, but oh still so good to read!