Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny Soup

A few years ago my mother came home from one of our favourite cafés in Wellington and said she’d had mulligatawny soup – a thick Indian chicken soup-stew with apples, rice and tomatoes. We should make it, she said. I can’t remember if we did or not, but I ate the soup at the same café not long after, the word mulligatawny mulling around in my head, pitching and rolling like a moored yacht.

Apples and carrots

A few weeks ago I made mulligatawny and after several years in the ‘holding bay’ part of my brain reserved for recipes to make or ingredients to try, mulligatawny is moving into ‘active rotation’. My version of mulligatawny, based on this recipe from the Wanderlust Kitchen, is more stew than soup with rice instead of lentils and shredded chicken. Two peeled and diced apples are a curious addition, one you might not think makes a resounding difference to the flavour – the tomatoes and the spices carry a certain sweetness too – but I began to think of the apples as I did of the 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, imperceptible (unless you taste by trade) but necessary.

Chicken Mulligatawny Soup

A few notes: the spice measurements are from the original recipe from the Wanderlust Kitchen and I find are more fragrant than hot – next time I’m adding more chilli. For the chicken, cook fresh or use leftover roast chicken. I imagine 1 or 2 chicken breasts would be fine for a lighter soup, or use a whole chicken for something more hearty.

a big knob of butter, about 50 grams
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
red chilli, as many as you like, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
a thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 apples, peeled and diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
a generous grind of black pepper
1/2 cup uncooked rice
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
chicken

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and chilli and sauté for 5 minutes or until onions have softened.

Add the garlic, ginger, apples and diced tomatoes to the pot. Cook for another couple of minutes then add in all the spices and stir. Add in the rice and stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken pieces. Place browned meat in the mulligatawny and continue simmering for the 30 minutes. Pull the chicken pieces out and roughly shred with a fork. Using a stick blender, purée about half of the soup (or all of it, or none at all) and return the shredded chicken to the pot.

Serve with sliced toasted almonds on top or simply a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Carrot Salad

DSCF5453 (800x600)

How many recipes for carrot salad are on this blog? What is it about carrots that I seem to be drawn to? If you were to ask me my favourite vegetable I would perhaps say an aubergine with those glossy, sexy skins, dark and alluring. I might say beetroot and I’d think of the earthy, herbaceous smell of roasted beetroot. I might say a mushroom, the flat black ugly sort. But the carrot? Not at the forefront of my mind. The carrot, it seems, is the steady understudy.

We’ve been making this salad for as long as I can remember. A summer salad in my mind, but all family recipes seem to stem from summer memories where meals were eaten outdoors and casually – a pile of plates, knives and forks on the table, help yourself. This salad makes me think of grilled lamb chops with mint jelly, the flaking blue paint of our outdoor table and the cold smoothness of the cork tiles in our first kitchen.

DSCF5462 (800x600)DSCF5465 (800x600)

There is a crispness, a richness, a sweetness to this salad – a strange, disparate arrange of flavours and textures, which, where strange and disparate flavours and textures are concerned, often make for a tastier dish. Carrots, peanuts, celery, currants, cheese, parsley, plus a sharp dressing. It’s the sort of salad to make early and let rest while you grill a few pieces of chicken or fry off a couple of sausages, all the while picking fingerfuls of carrot salad; a stray peanut, a currant for sweetness.

DSCF5470 (800x600)

This is the perfect recipe with which to step back on the Food Love Food wagon – to remind me of simple, homely food, the sort of meals Food Love Food is all about. Now that I have finished study I can go for more than a week without picking up my computer – emails go unchecked, blogs unread. But I have recipes to share so I’ll be back soon.

Carrot and Cheese Salad

I remember roasting the peanuts ourselves in an oval, gondola shaped dish, and pulling the dish every few seconds from the microwave to flick the warmed peanuts around the sides. Feel free to change the parsley measure – I like my salad strongly flecked with green, but the original recipe only calls for 1 tablespoon. Also, we added cucumber in place of celery, and a mixture of toasted sunflower, pumpkin and almond seeds instead of peanuts.

3 cups grated carrot
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped parsley
a strong, mustardy salad dressing

Toss everything together, dress.

Plum Semifreddo

cut plumscardamom and plums

It was Perrin’s birthday on the 3rd of January; a New Year baby. He doesn’t care much for resolutions, instead preferring to make any personal or lifestyle changes as they crop up. He’s endlessly practical, my Perrin, the sort of man who decides he should run more, so he does; the sort who decides he should eat healthier, so he does; the sort who wants a vegetable patch, so he builds one. Maybe it’s because the New Year is overshadowed by his birthday, and often hectic work hours, but I suspect it’s because he doesn’t see the point in waiting to do something new, to make a change, and that, I love.

I, on the other hand, like the fresh page the new year brings. A chance to take a breath and press re-start. So this year, I look towards the new – new job, new sports, new comfort zones, new recipes and new foods.

softening, darkening plumsspiced plum sauce

I also like to hit the ground running, to leap feet first. So on the 2nd day of 2014 I made a spiced plum sauce with the plums I brought home from Central Otago. The sauce is eventually stirred into glossy egg whites and softly whipped cream. The plums are spiced with cardamom which is lovely and not too dissimilar to pepper in this case. As you stir the quickly softening plums stick your head into the rising sweet and spicy steam with the heady, wood smoked scent of cardamom.

Capturesliced

The cardamom though, follows suit with the plums and softens out, relaxing into the gentle folds of the cream and beaten egg whites. Once frozen, this dessert has a bite to it – the plum sauce, swirled through the white, has a tart edge, which is well suited to the icy chew of the semifreddo.

ready to serve

I was branching out with plum semifreddo – a new recipe and new flavours – recognising that some occasions, like Perrin’s birthday, are deserving of more showy desserts than fruit crumbles or galettes, and that a birthday, much like a new year and cooking from a new recipe, is the time to abandon our comfort zones.

Plum Semifreddo

Ever so slightly adapted from Bon Appetit. The plum purée can be made a few days ahead.

8-10 plums, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar
salt
3 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cream
vegetable oil spray

Spray a loaf tin with vegetable oil and line with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang on each side.

Combine plums, cardamom, 1/3 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the plums release their juices, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook for a further 6-8 minutes until the plums soften and begin to fall apart. Let cool slightly.

Purée plum mixture until very smooth and set aside to cool.

Whisk egg whites, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar in a medium heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Heat whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is warm, about 4 minutes. Remove bowl from saucepan. Add vanilla, and using an electric mixture on high, beat until the mixture is tripled in volume, glossy and completely cool, about 10 minutes. Note: the mixture will not form stiff peaks like normal beaten egg whites.

Using clean beaters whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the cream into the egg white mixture until just combined. Fold in remaining whipped cream until just combined. Fold in the plum purée, (reserving 1 cup for serving), until large streaks appear throughout the mixture.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf tin and smooth top. Lay the plastic wrap over the semifreddo and freeze until firm, at least 8 hours.

Unwrap the semifreddo and lift out of the tin using the edges of the plastic wrap. Lay onto a plate to slice into thick slices and let soften for a few minutes before serving with a spoonful of the plum sauce.

Almond Fruit Galettes: Rustle-it-up

land and skywild flowers

Two years ago we were down in Central Otago for Christmas – it was stinking hot, we were staying in a beautiful house and the landscape out the front door was ragged and dry, muted gold, and almost unforgiving in its starkness. The hills are steep and bare except for the occasional tuft of wild-something and rocks rise out of the hillsides in broken shards. This wild place though, seemingly untouched since the jagged rocks pushed up from the sea, is home to hectare after hectare of vineyard, endless rows of vines stretched over the rolling hills and flat plains below the steep hills. It is the wine that takes us here. And the stone fruit orchards.

I recently got back from Central Otago – an unfortunately shorter trip than last time and staying in far less salubrious surroundings than our first trip – in my sister’s flat. She won’t mind me saying so as she negotiates the badly patched hole in her kitchen floor or pulls the curtains that barely cover two-thirds of the window or moves the scented oil diffuser from one room to another to try to rid the flat of the acrid smell of smoking former tenants. Thank God the wine is good and the weather is hot. But somehow the slightly squalid living conditions add to the romance of it all and in a few years we will be able to laugh at the summer Georgie spent living in an absolute dive of a flat selling some of the most beautiful wine New Zealand produces.

plum almond galettealmond paste and plums

Fortunately there is always good, fresh food and wine. And what are the holidays for, if not for eating and drinking? (Georgie even offered a new term for the Lowe family holiday season – Foodmas; if you could identify the meaning and purpose of the suffix -mas, which feels like it could have associations with mass consumption – of food, then I think we could have a goer.) Anyway, our Foodmas continued for a few days as Georgie and I prepared lunch for the staff at her vineyard, which, finally, leads us to the purpose of this post – almond and fruit galettes.

For many years fruit crumbles have been our rustle-it-up dessert of choice. Normally with sliced apples, a handful of frozen berries, vanilla sugar and a thick, granola-like crumble with lots of oats, seeds and nuts; it leans into the breakfast realm. But the galette is shifting in to our dessert repertoire, slowly and steadily, as we tweak our non-recipe. (Rustle-it-up desserts should not have recipes, merely guidelines.) The photos in this post are taken from our Christmas break and the almond fruit galette as we know it came to be. I think I’ve got a pretty good set of guidelines now, so good in fact that we rustled up an enormous almond fruit galette for 20 hungry vineyard workers. A perfect dessert, I thought, for the imperfect, rustic surroundings.

wrapping up the fruitalmond fruit galette

The key to a good sweet galette, I’ve discovered, is a creamy, almond base sitting below the fruit. It soaks up the juices, taking on a custard like texture, and in a similar vein to the seeds and nuts in the fruit crumble, gives this rustle-it-up dessert a bit of a kick.

Almond Stone Fruit Galettes

crème fraîche – about 200 grams
ground almonds – about 70-100 grams
vanilla essence – a few drops
(vanilla) sugar – about a quarter of a cup, plus a bit extra for sprinkling
a splash of brandy or sweet wine – optional
stone fruit – plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots – about two decent handfuls of any, sliced
pastry – any sort, sweet short or puff.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray. Mix together the crème fraîche with the ground almonds, vanilla essence, sugar and sweet wine, if using. Mix well. Roll out the pastry or place the sheets together on the lined baking tray. Spread the almond paste around the pastry, leaving about a 3-5cm gap at the edges. Place the sliced fruit on top of the almond mixture. Wrap the edges of the pastry up over the fruit and lightly squeeze any overlapping edges together.

Bake until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling slightly and the almond mixture has set – although, it doesn’t matter if it is still a little runny. Serve with extra crème fraîche, yoghurt or softly whipped cream.

Chocolate Biscuits for everything

Before we all run away for Christmas and summer holidays I have the best biscuit recipe to share. It’s not really Christmasy – at the moment my Christmas brain extends to ham and glaze and booze – but these are well worth sharing.

In October my friend Alex and I embarked on a little food project – one of my more exciting projects of the year. Alex and I worked together for a few years when catering, sharing long drives and even longer shifts serving food, making coffee, selling kitchenware. On one long drive back into the city after a day’s work Alex and I talked about food – buying it, growing it, cooking it, sharing it, and discovering what it meant to ourselves and our families. I don’t really remember anything conclusive about this conversation, though I’m sure quality over quantity would sum it up quite nicely, but I do remember it being one of the most fulfilling conversations I have had about food. These days Alex is an artist and in October we turned to food – to make it, eat it, talk about it, share it – not for a wage but in pursuit of art.

orange ganachechocolate biscuit triange

‘First in, First Served’ was an experimental eating event, designed and cooked by Alex and I, hosted, most kindly, by the folk at Nikau Cafe in Wellington. A three course dessert afternoon tea – with a twist. Instead of forks and spoons our guests were given a strange collection of kitchen utensils – a wooden spoon, an ornate pair of fish slice tongs, a stainless steel cup measurement, a whisk, a small pair of slotted tongs for removing a tea bag – 16 utensils in total Alex had borrowed from friends’ kitchens as she documented their ‘second drawer down’.

Our diners were encouraged to manipulate lips, teeth and tongue around their utensil as they ate, to feel the object in their hand and perhaps wonder if the way we would usually use a whisk or a cup measurement is selling the poor object short. A cup measurement could be so much more than a cup measurement – a bowl, a drinking cup for a thirsty chef, a vase for a single floating tea light candle, a ladle (we have never owned a ladle at home – always serving up soup with a messy, dripping cup measurement). It sounds strange and perhaps complicated but the idea was to encourage people to think about the objects we use in our daily lives – to think about their purpose and rate of use. I would rather have 5 utensils I use everyday and trust to work, than 25 I use half-heartedly.

chocolate biscuit sandwichesmain and dessert courses

To add a second twist to the menu Alex designed three moulded plates for each course – each plate with a different shape offering fresh challenges to the diner and their utensil. For the first course the plate was a small volcano with a slanting top; the second course a sunken poached egg or a Pacific atoll; and the third course an undulating sand dune, carved into soft dips. For the ‘main’ course I cooked a barely sweetened orange and chocolate arancini ball with a brandied orange syrup. For the ‘dessert’ course a delicate poached meringue, flecked with vanilla, and served with vanilla custard. But the ‘entrée’ was my favourite – chocolate biscuits with chocolate orange ganache and a fruit-nut-cocoa crumble.

Me playing chefready to serveplain, bittersweet chocolate

The chocolate biscuits themselves, without the ganache and the crumble, are indeed for everything. They are a coffee biscuit, a tea biscuit, a sherry biscuit, an ice cream biscuit, a dessert biscuit, an after-lunch biscuit. The cocoa is deep and dark and the edges wither and wrinkle to almost blackness in the heat – the cocoa intensifying and becoming that rich, savoury flavour you associate with good, dark chocolate. This is the sort of biscuit I always want to make – it rolls into a heck of a big log that freezes well and can be sliced into biscuits, which bake in less than a jiffy, and keep for weeks on end. But there is something to be treasured in a plain chocolate biscuit – just like there is something to be treasured in a plain wooden spoon.

Chocolate Biscuits

Smitten Kitchen gets another nod this week with this recipe – originally called chocolate wafer biscuits for sandwiching between ice cream for an icebox cake. This version has been slightly adapted – mostly less sugar. We often ate the biscuits set into whipped fruit and yoghurt cream with vanilla sweetened berries. A throw together but favourite dessert.

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
170 grams butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Combine flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, baking soda in a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut butter into chunks and put into processor, pulse several times. Combine milk and vanilla in small cup and add while the motor is running until clumps form. Tip mixture onto bench and knead lightly.

Form into a log (I shaped into a triangle – think Toblerone), wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Pre-heat oven to 180°C if baking – otherwise place dough in freezer. Slice thinly – about 20mm – and place on a lined baking tray. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes – the biscuits will puff up and then deflate. The biscuits should be cooked 1 1/2 minutes after they have deflated.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool and harden.

Piccalilli

It’s December and I’m coming for air. I’ve missed being here and talking about food – we love it after all.

I’m glad 2013 is drawing to an end. I never want to be one to wish time away but I knew in January that this year was going to be messy and busy and I’m a little bit smug to report in December that 2013 was indeed messy and busy and a little bit tiring. I think I’ve written enough here about assignments and university, which largely explains my absence – I didn’t want to bore you with the mundane details of student life.

soaking vegetables

But this year has shown me time keeps moving. Like being a kid and counting down the days until Christmas or a birthday and then comes the Big Day, time passes just as it did the day before and you realise that your one special day doesn’t last as long as you feel it should. Maybe this is the adult version – wishing October to just be over already – and then it is, and so is November and so soon will the year.  Every last assignment is handed in, summer has officially arrived and I have a great new job (!!). Time has passed so quickly and busily recently that I forgot to share the piccalilli recipe I mentioned months ago.

Rooster peers from behind jar and splatters

I remember once as a child eating piccalilli and chowchow, the fluorescent yellow supermarket brand stuff that was more sweet than sprightly and acidic. The vegetable to sauce ratio was out of whack, in the sauce’s favour, and I remember bits of green (Bean? Cucumber? Celery? Who knows) and whole corn kernels. I know I have eaten better piccalilli or vegetable chutney and pickles since then – our family friend, Nic, made a great one a few years ago – but for many years I still thought of the sweet, bright yellow sauce.

But Nic’s piccalilli was a game changer – a far more moderate and natural colour, predictably turmeric and mustard powder instead of E440 or whatever chemical produces such a harsh yellow. There were discernible pieces of vegetable – cauliflower and pepper and carrot and cucumber – each one toothsome and packing just the right acidic punch. Nic’s piccalilli broke the spell – no longer do I think of the poor imitation of piccalilli I had many years ago.

Around the time we made our piccalilli Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen wrote about the addictive, brightening qualities of a good pickle. There’s no going back, she says, once your taste buds cross to the vinegar side. I’m with her. A generous spoonful of relish or pickle or chutney improves just about everything; salads, sandwiches, fried eggs, a wedge of cheese, a plain cracker, and without it, your salad or fried eggs or slice of feta seems lacking.

Could eat from the jar

A very good snack

Making piccalilli is good – one of those kitchen processes that reminds you of the simplicity of food and the history of modern cooking. As you dice the vegetables, each one a different shape, a different colour and texture with a different scent, and it seems there is no such thing as the humble vegetable. In piccalilli each vegetable holds its own, delivering oomph or finesse or spice.

So, in pursuit of occasionally slowing time to appreciate the good stuff and the bright spots and the vibrancy of fresh produce, this piccalilli is a darn good thing to make.

Piccalilli

This recipe comes from the same book as the Beetroot relish featured a few months ago here, Jams and Preserves. One thing we have noticed with this cookbook is seasoning tends to err on the side of caution. I wouldn’t change the salt and sugar quantities but the spices could be marginally increased, particularly the chilli if you like a bit of heat.

400 grams cauliflower, cut into florets
1 small cucumber, chopped
200 grams green beans, cut into 2 cm lengths
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
100 grams salt
250 grams sugar
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 or 2 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 litre white vinegar
60 grams plain flour

Combine the cauliflower, cucumber, beans, onion, carrot, celery and salt in a large bowl. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and top with a small upturned plate to keep the vegetables submerged. Leave to soak overnight in the fridge.

Drain the vegetables well and rinse under cold running water. Drain the vegetables again. Combine the vegetable mixture with the sugar, mustard, turmeric, ginger, chilli and all but 185 ml of the vinegar in a large pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove any scum from the surface with a skimmer or a slotted spoon.

Stir the flour into the remaining vinegar until smooth and stir into the vegetables. Continue to stir until the mixture boils and thickens. Spoon immediately into clean, warm jars and seal. Turn the jars upside down for 2 minutes then invert. Leave for 1 month before opening to allow flavours to develop.

Store in a cool dark place for up to 12 months. Refrigerate after opening for up to 6 weeks.

Asparagus Mimosa

spears

It’s been a long time coming, this post, and for that I apologise. It’s been a long time coming for several reasons; one: I’m very late to the party, a few years late to the party of Plenty, but I’m finally joining the chorus and singing its praises, this wonderful book; and two: thank you to the wonderful friends who gave me this long lusted after cookbook for my birthday, nearly two months ago.

tips

As I write this, having enjoyed asparagus mimosa the other day as a light lunch, I wonder if I’m doing the creativity, the skill, the diversity of Plenty justice by showing such a simple recipe. And, then, with the book right beside me, with it’s softly padded cover and colourful pages of vegetable focused recipes, I remember that simplicity is the point of Plenty. Simplicity is the point of this blog too.

So, in pursuit of simplicity, let’s keep this post short.

steamhardboil

Take bunches of asparagus, the crisp, new season spears with dark green or faintly purple tips. Snap the ends off (or chop if you’re that way inclined – I like to feel the clean break between my fingers). The asparagus is steamed and eggs are hard boiled and then peeled, their brown outers pulled gently from the smooth white and then, most unusually, the peeled eggs are grated.

grateassemble

It is strangely thrilling to grate an egg – to take that perfect, silky white and pull it down the sides of a box grater, rough and callous. The whites form strips, a bit like a soft grated cheese, while the yolks crumble through. Then it is just a matter of assembly – asparagus sprinkled with grated egg, yellow and white, drizzled with olive oil and capers. Lunch.

Lunch

Asparagus Mimosa

The only change we made was to double the egg – quantities included below are our adaptations.

4 eggs
2 bunches asparagus
olive oil
capers
sea salt and black pepper

Place eggs in a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for 9 minutes. Remove the eggs from the pan and immerse them in a large bowl of cold water. When quite cool, (ideally cooled completely, but we never bother) peel the eggs and grate them on a coarse cheese grater.

Snap the tough ends off the asparagus. Place the spears in a large pot of boiling water (we used a steamer) and cook for 3 minutes, or until tender – may take longer if you have fat spears.

Drain the asparagus and place on a serving dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with capers and salt and pepper. Top with the grated egg and more olive oil if so inclined.

Enjoy. (Served 3 as main course for lunch with a green salad).

Baked Tamarillos with Vanilla and Orange

DSCF5136

There were tamarillos at the market recently. There have been tamarillos for a while now, as we emerge from winter and welcome spring, but tamarillos, ever expensive, have dropped in price. I stood at the big wooden crate with four other women as we filled our hands with the polished oval fruit. A grandmother positioned her grandson in his push-chair beside me, out of the wind (oh the gale northerlies! Hair flying everywhere, bag flying out of hand) and the little boy watched as I carefully chose my tamarillos, picking to eat now and ripen for later, and another woman picked greedily, handfuls of tamarillos into her bag. I wondered if she was going home to make tamarillo chutney on a Sunday afternoon.

DSCF5145DSCF5149

While we stood at the tamarillo bin, fighting the wind, a market holder walked around with a container of thinly sliced oranges. “Very good,” was all he said. They were indeed; small tiny membranes bursting with sweet juice. I placed the orange slice in my teeth, pulling the flesh from the rind and flashing Perrin an orange, leathery smile. All the while standing at the tamarillo bin feeling the wind whip and pull and tug, but those smooth, unblemished fruit a lovely thing to hold.

DSCF5155DSCF5163DSCF5168

At home we baked them, slowly and simply with vanilla sugar and orange. The vanilla sugar I have in the cupboard is large crystals and when combined with grated orange rind formed crumble-like clumps on top of the halved tamarillos. The dark red-orange fruit puffed slightly beneath the sugar before it began to collapse in its skin. The fruit oozed liquid that became jammy in the roasting pan as the sugar melted and the kitchen began to smell like caramel and cointreau and the rich sweetness of dried fruit.

DSCF5173DSCF5176DSCF5179

We ate the roasted fruit at room temperature with a sweetened yoghurt cream and we slid our spoon through the soft slump of the fruit catching streaks of red jammy juice in the white cream. The tamarillos held onto their signature tartness, which you come to respect in a way, much like the sometimes surprising sweetness of a carrot, or the milkiness of a corn kernel, or the bitterness of celery. Tartness is not for everybody, but surely vanilla and orange and softly whipped, sweetened yoghurt cream is.

Do it for spring.

Baked Tamarillos with Vanilla, Orange and Yoghurt Cream

Recipe barely adapted from Peter Gordon in New Zealand House and Garden magazine.

4-6 tamarillos, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
grated zest of one orange

Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Place the halved tamarillos, flesh side up, in a lined baking dish. Mix the sugar and the orange rind together and sprinkle over the fruit. Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the fruit begins to collapse.

In a bowl whip some cream with extra vanilla essence, vanilla sugar, orange zest, brandy or whatever takes your fancy, then stir in about half cup of thick yoghurt.

Serve the fruit at room temperature with the cream.

Beetroot Relish

freshly dugWeeks ago we had a chutney and relish making day – beetroot relish, piccalilli (a piccalilli post next) and prunes in port. It was sunny and even in the middle of winter the kitchen felt clean and bright – a good day for stocking the cupboards. We laid out newspaper to rest the knobbly little beetroot from the garden and to catch wayward vegetable peels and later to protect the bench from hot, dark beetroot relish. At the time the ceiling of our house had just been ripped out, the walls were ready to be painted, we had no curtains or lights and plastic sheets covered the floors and furniture. The chutney and relish needed to rest for a month, by which time the renovations would be complete and I could show you bright, flavoursome preserves in a near-new room.

renovationspeeled beetrootWell, the renovations continue – we are still without curtains, the floor is yet to be sanded, the builders are returning and outside is a serious landscaping project, mud and holes everywhere. So the story of transformation – of houses and gardens, beetroot and cauliflower – was put on hold.

granny smith applesthe componentscooking downBut never mind – some transformations are faster than others. Some transformations I know more about than others – taking beetroot and making relish is to me what I suspect doing stitches is to a doctor or hammering nails is to a builder. But regardless of where your abilities lie (I might always struggle with hammering nails), the thing about making relish or installing a new ceiling, is they seem quite impressive. Take some fresh gib board, nails, a plasterer and a fresh coat of paint and what before felt like a top-heavy room has a new look. Take some grated beetroot, a diced onion, brown sugar, vinegar and a few chopped Granny Smith apples and after a bit of boiling this wonderfully tart, subtly sweet relish livens up sandwiches, cold meats and nibble platters.

beetroot stainschutney lunchready to eatThe green apples are key, I think. They boil down to next to nothing but they add something – gently pulling the sweet (sugar, beetroot) and the tart (vinegar), the best of the green apple, until the two are indistinguishable and what you have is neither sweet nor tart, but something else entirely. Beetroot relish, earthy and textured, substantial and a remarkable transformation.

Beetroot Relish

A while ago we decided we were going to be picklers, preservers, jam makers. So we bought a book, Jams and Preserves, a modern book with interesting flavours and ingredients – something a bit different to a ‘The Cook’s Garden’ that my parents received as a wedding present over 25 years ago. We’re getting there, making our way through the new book.

750 grams fresh beetroot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 onion, chopped
400 grams green apples, peeled, cored, chopped
410 ml white wine vinegar
95 grams lightly packed soft brown sugar
125 grams sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place all the ingredients and 2 teaspoons salt in a large pan and stir over low heat, without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil, stirring often for 20-30 minutes or until the beetroot and onion are tender and the relish is reduced and thickened.

Spoon immediately into clean, warm jars and seal. Turn upside down for 2 minutes then invert and leave to cool. Label and date. Leave for 1 month before opening to allow the flavours to develop. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. Refrigerate after opening for up to 6 weeks.

Roasted Vinaigrette Leeks

leeksleeks

I am very full. I write this almost immediately after eating Sunday night dinner, a meal one shouldn’t miss. Tonight we had beef short rib, slow cooked for 9 hours with red wine, mushrooms, carrots and smoky bacon. The rib was tender and left the clean, sleek bones behind in the slow cooker. We had mashed potatoes made smooth with a hunk of butter and big scoop of chicken stock from a roast during the week. On the side, softened leeks. I watched the leeks slowly steam in butter and oil through the glass lid of a fry pan and the light green colour, like a perfectly ripe avocado, reminded me of a very good leek recipe I have been meaning to share.

cross sectionquarters, lengthwise

The leek is probably my favourite vegetable. A strong declaration perhaps when you consider the variety, the sheer abundance and colour of the vegetable world. But the sleek, white, sturdy and soil-dusted trunk with the green fan tops are my most loved. I cannot pinpoint when the leek became a crucial part of my culinary arsenal, which is likely another measure of favouritism – never a conscious decision but a slow integration until you cannot remember ever cooking without it. I realised I began most meals by dicing a piece of a leek rather than an onion or like the meal tonight, sauteed leeks became as common as steamed broccoli or green beans for the vegetable side. Then much like broccoli once made the leap from a humble side to the star of the show (think roast broccoli), leeks began to do the same.

placed in dishtomatoes

These leeks do indeed steal the show. They are acidic, bright and sweet. They are like ribbons, almost pasta in texture; wide wraps of tender noodle. With tomatoes and a robust mustard vinaigrette, they seem an entirely different vegetable to the diced and sauteed and the gently cooked leek for soup.

beforeafter

I’ll let the photos do the talking here. It’s late on a Sunday and between the title and the photography clues, I’m sure you get the idea – that there is perhaps more to the leek than we thought.

Roasted Vinaigrette Leeks

This serves as a generous accompanying dish for four people. Goes superbly with chicken, but also with pork chops.

2 leeks
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 pinches salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
minced garlic clove (I didn’t use this but just thought it might be a nice addition)
1-2 tomatoes, diced
handful sun-dried (can use no tomato or either all sun-dried or fresh)

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cut the white of the leeks in half lengthwise then each length into quarters, lengthwise. Place the leeks into a large oven dish with the chopped tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes. In a bowl or jug mix the vinaigrette ingredients together and pour over the leeks. Cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes until tender. Remove from the oven and remove the tinfoil then gently mix, basting the leeks with the sauce. Place back in the oven with the tinfoil removed for another 15-20 minutes until soft and floppy.