Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Apricots are not my favourite stone fruit. When summer rolls around, they're likely to be neglected as I ogle the nectarines, peaches, cherries and plums. But they're currently the ripest of the lot at my local fruit shop, and I've been serving them up for dessert. There they are, in the picture above, the perfect vessels for our last small scoops of cinnamon vanilla ice-cream. Last night I sliced them into crescents, stirred through some flaked almonds, and topped them with dabs of a whipped mixture of mascarpone, brown sugar and rose water. If I can keep these sweet memories until next summer, I might even pick up some apricots while the rest of its genus is still in its prime!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

February 24, 2007: Sort-of spring rolls

For dinner on Saturday night, Michael and I concocted a hybrid of deep-fried spring rolls and their healthier cousin, the rice paper wrap. They are also inspired by our favourite dumplings, from Kuan-Yin Vegetarian Tea House in Brisbane. Michael referred to the dumplings in his post about Chinese New Year, and they must've been lurking in my subconscious appetite ever since.

Here's a rundown/recipe.

For the filling, we chopped:
  • 4 shallots
  • a red capsicum
  • a carrot
  • a zucchini
  • a large handful of shitake mushrooms
and minced a small knob of ginger and 3 cloves of garlic. I would also have liked to add some re-hydrated TVP as a pork mince substitute, but it has disappeared from Safeway! Some firm tofu would also be a worthy addition. All these ingredients are stir-fried in a tablespoon of peanut oil, and once everything's heated through add about a tablespoon of hoisin sauce and 2 teaspoons sambal oelek. When the veges had softened slightly, transfer them back into a bowl and stir in 2 large handfuls of bean sprouts. Let the mixture cool for a bit, then add some mint and basil leaves, torn or left whole. Don't add too many or they'll smother the other flavours! Perhaps you could just add a single leaf of each to the individual rolls as you wrap them instead.

Once the mixture's cooled down a bit, it's time to get wrapping. After cleaning it, fill the frypan half-way with water and heat it up, turning the stove down to low when it's just too hot to touch comfortably. Take a dry rice-paper wrap, soften it in the water, and gently lay it on a dinner plate. Spoon some filling in the middle and show some restraint! You'll just make things hard for yourself if you use too much. Avoid any liquid that may be gathering at the bottom of the filling bowl.

These translucent ones are ready to eat if you want the healthy version! But they're too fragile for frying, so I used two layers of rice paper for each roll. Once I'd made enough rolls for our dinner, I tipped the water out of the fry-pan, dried it off, and heated up a tablespoon or two of sesame oil until very hot. Plonk in the rolls, a few at a time. Hopefully they'll sizzle crazily. Brown the underside and flip over. Just as well I double-wrapped, since the first layer burnt through in a couple of spots!

Don't bother trying to rotate the roll and fry all the sides, these two surfaces will provide plenty of flavour and crispness. The uncooked surfaces, rather than being gummy, provide a deliciously chewy contrast to the crunchy sesame flavour. The filling is an explosion of watery veges, chilli and salty, with a hint of ginger and occasional refreshing bursts of mint and basil. Michael sorted out a small bowl of soy sauce, sweetened with rice wine, for our messy dipping pleasure. Eat with hands, gusto and a supply of napkins!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

February 23, 2007: Minted quinoa with pine nuts

After three fairly rich dinners in a row, I was looking for something nutritious and summery to eat on Friday night. As the feature ingredient (sorry, I'm watching Iron Chef as I write this!) I chose quinoa, since I had bought a packet from Allergy Block a week or two ago without any specific plans for it. Over breakfast Michael found this recipe from the Whole Foods Market website, and we served it wrapped up in wholemeal Mountain Bread, with mixed greens and Lebanese cucumber. The quinoa and pine nuts were a great combination and this was just the kind of fresh meal my body needed. However I found the overall flavour a bit bland: next time I'll add the juice of a lemon at the end - it's perking up the leftovers nicely.

February 22, 2007: Tandoori Times

30/06/2013: Over at Fitzroyalty, Brian reports that Tandoori Times has now closed.

Thursday evening involved a couple of aborted plans, culminating in a night at home with home-delivered Indian. This time we sampled the wares of Tandoori Times. Their menu (available online) boasts about 20 vegetarian mains as well as the usual appetisers, breads and rice. With a base of basmati rice and garlic naan, we went for (from top to bottom in the pic) sabzi makhani ($8.50), Punjabi daal tadka ($7.90), tandoori gobhi ($9.90) and paneer pumpum ($7.50). The pumpum, battered and fried cheese, was a fairly chewy patty with an acidic tang and chilli punch. The curries were likewise quite hot, pleasant but not memorable; the naan well-flavoured but a bit rubbery. The highlight of the meal was undoubtedly the tandoori cauliflower: tender and super-tangy with a smoky finish. The leftovers of this dish were in high demand for Friday's lunch! Vegetarian tandoori options are something of a rarity and it's only their inclusion here that will entice me back to Tandoori Times.

Address: 199 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Ph: 9419 5930
Price: veg mains $5.95 -$14
Website: www.tandooritimes.com.au

Friday, February 23, 2007

February 20-21, 2007: Lemon Pepper Cashews

For Wednesday evening we made arrangements to meet Mike and Jo-Lyn at the Moonlight Cinema in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Given my successful super sandwich picnic a couple of weekends ago, I offered to take care of dinner with a double batch. Unsatisfied with just that repetition, my mind ticked over for a support act. Salad, our default side dish at home, wouldn't do: there were already greens in the sandwich and Michael wouldn't tolerate one based on tomatoes. How about some more protein? I recently saw some great recipes for spiced nuts on 28 cooks and decided to try the lemon pepper cashews.

So on Tuesday night I popped the sandwich filling in the oven and had a go at those nuts. I was a bit slapdash with the measurements and impatient to let the sugar melt properly. Thus, the flavourings didn't quite stick properly and they were a bit too peppery. Even so the sweet-hot tangy spice, enhanced further by the salt, was a hit! Once plonked down on the grassy floor of the outdoor cinema, the four of us were hooked on this snack. Jo-Lyn transformed a bulging cooler bag into a cold jug of Pimm's punch, complete with fruit and mint. Our dainty picnic was complete, with the sound system providing an orchestral soundtrack to set the scene.

The scene set by the music was not entirely one of highbrow entertainment. You see, the orchestra was covering a bunch of Metallica songs and we were here to watch Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. This documentary far exceeded my expectations. Made by Sam Dunn, an anthropologist and long-time metal fan, this was a thorough history of the subculture from Black Sabbath through to acts as diverse as Kiss and Cannibal Corpse. (No, I'd never heard of Cannibal Corpse, either, but the name says it all really.) While Dunn and his interviewees were all clearly passionate about the subject, the movie maintains a sense of humour, and also makes some interesting observations on how death, violence, gender, sexuality and religion figure in the metal scene. Not just for fans of tight jeans an loud guitars!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

February 20, 2007: Markov Place

Edit 23/03/2020: This spot is now occupied by Taquito.

Edit 23/01/2018: Markov Place has closed, the premises is now occupied by The Moor's Head.

Cindy wanted to spend Tuesday night making a second batch of the super sandwiches for a night picnic at the moonlight cinema, so there was no kitchen space for cooking dinner. Instead, we tried out Markov Place, a place that had been given a couple of write-ups in The Age. It's hidden in behind the cleanskin shop on Drummond Street across from the back entrance to Safeway. We snuck in the other way, via the eponymous alley that runs of Johnston Street. It's a lovely, relaxed place: part bar, part restaurant with high ceilings, atmospheric lighting and a fairly bustling crowd for a Tuesday evening.

Being part bar, the drinks menu was quite impressive - a good range of imported beer, some fairly standard cocktails and a wine list (which The Age critic dissed, but which looked fine to my untrained eye). Cindy went for a non-alcoholic of lemom, lime and bitters, while I sampled a Czech beer: Budějovický Budvar, which turns out to translate as Budweiser Budvar, although it is not the well known American Budweiser. Very confusing. But very delicious on yet another unreasonably humid Melbourne day.
The food menu was quite limited, with a couple of vegetarian mains and half a dozen sides (salads, mushrooms etc). We discovered on the way out that there's a bar menu as well, which had a few more options, but we coped just ordering off the regular menu. Cindy didn't feel like one of the cheesy main options, instead opting for a green salad and a bowl of fries from the sides menu. Both were huge - the fries were crispy and salty, meaning Cindy neglected her salad for quite some time. I was feeling a bit more bold and went for the buttered leek and taleggio cheese tart with rocket, pear and walnut salad. It was tremendous - perfectly cooked pastry, cheesily-delicious filling and a well-matched salad. I polished it off in no time, before Cindy had even moved on from her giant bowl of fries to her salad. When she eventually started on the greens, I finished off my night in style by demolishing the leftover chips. Delightful.

I'd certainly go back to Markov Place to sample some more of their beers and soak up the atmosphere with some bar snacks, but the menu's probably a bit limited for vegos to make frequent dinner visits.

Address: 350 Drummond Street, Carlton
Ph: 9347 7113
Price: Sides $6, Veg mains $14-$16

February 19, 2007: Gertrude St Grub - Arcadia

I learned a valuable lesson on Monday - don't go looking for Gertrude Street Grub on Mondays, everything's closed. My initial plan was to stop by the Roti Roundhouse, and my second option (Radio) is also a Monday closure. I was tempted to return to TrippyTaco, but it was too soon for a repeat blog performance. So I settled on Arcadia, a trendy-looking cafe on Gertrude Street near the corner with Smith Street. The lunch options seem to be largely pre-made stuff (salads, sandwiches, a few curries and pastas) in the display case, with a few rotating specials. I opted for a sandwich: roasted eggplant, fresh salad, pesto and feta cheese, and settled in to a seat out on the footpath. Given the sandwiches were sitting, ready-made, in the cabinet, I was a little surprised that it took upwards of 20 minutes for it to come out. Admittedly it had been warmed up and put on a plate with some rocket, and things were kind of busy inside, but I think they can probably do better. The sandwich itself was fine - sizeable and tasty (particularly the creamy, slightly melted feta), but at $9 it was inferior to the $7 offerings at Newtown S.C. and thus a little disappointing. Perhaps I was just grumpy after being thwarted in my quest for roti and then had to wait twenty minutes for a sandwich, but I won't hurry back for a second try.

Address: 193 Gertrude Street
Ph: 9416 1055
Licensed & BYO
Prices: $9 - $15

Monday, February 19, 2007

February 18, 2007: Sustainable Living Festival

The sweltering conditions continued on Sunday, but Michael and I made an effort to check out the last day of the Sustainable Living Festival. When we arrived at noon we made a slow but purposeful bee-line to an organic cookery demonstration. This was hosted by Sun Hyland of Macro Wholefoods. Our sweaty limbs stuck to fold-out chairs and the hot air hovered around and above us, but for the 40 minutes I was pleased to be there, as Sun prepared seared tofu with olive pesto and shared tips and information, about cooking techniques, organics and sustainable foods. (For example, did you know that most of our garlic comes from China, and is bleached as a preservative? Organic garlic has a purplish tinge and is even more pungent.) I'm sure this isn't any new breakthrough in cooking-demo technology but I thought the mirrors, set above the benches at 45 degree angles, were really nifty: this meant that we could view the bench from above and front-on and get the right angle on all the action. The unexpected highlight was right at the end, where we were all served up a small taste plate! I'll almost certainly be publishing a home-made adaptation of this recipe in the future.

The taster well and truly whet our appetites for the food tents just outside. Almost everything on offer was vegetarian and organic so we were spoilt for ethical choice! A couple of poor sods were cooking wood-fired pizzas and nachos - Michael made it somewhat worth their while by picking up a serve of mushroom and eggplant pizza ($7). I bought bite-sized koftas smothered in spicy tomato sauce ($4) from the two most outgoing Hare Krishnas I've ever encountered.

We were lucky enough to find a couple of seats in the shade, and as I speared my firey kofta balls with a toothpick and devoured them whole I began to covet the smoothies advertised on a blackboard at the limits of my reading ability. Even luckier for me, Michael was devouring faster than I and willingly joined the line for two mango and nectarine smoothies ($5 each): pedal-blender fresh, ice cold and texturised with real fruit pulp. It was enough to disuade me from an organic ice-cream!

We meandered our way back through the other stalls, featuring energy and water-saving inventions, conservation groups, clothes, cleaning products and cosmetics. With the sun beating down, we didn't give these volunteers and ethical entrepreneurs the attention they deserved. But we collected a few recycled-paper pamphlets along the way, and will hopefully make amends from the comparative cool of home.

February 17, 2007: Ten Ren's Tea Time

01/12/2012: Ten Ren has been permanently closed now.

Cindy and I brought in the year of the pig with an aimless wander about Chinatown on Saturday night. By the time we managed to leave the house, filled with visions of delicious roadside stalls selling dumplings and spring rolls, it was approaching 9pm and we were starting to get very hungry. Alas, the only stalls we found sold meaty satay sticks or pork jerky. Poor show Melbourne's Chinese community. Giving up on food for a while, we followed the sound of beating drums to a dragon dance and were briefly deafened by the firing off of a string of fireworks. It seemed that every restaurant on Little Bourke Street was chock-full of people and I was starting to get mightily hungry, so I dragged Cindy away from the sound and fury of the festivities and we headed along Bourke Street proper to try to find some dinner.

We eventually stumbled onto Ten Ren's Tea Time - a Taiwanese tea house and cafe that had a reasonably sized vegetarian menu and plenty of spare tables. The tea menu is probably five times as long as the food menu, with hot tea, ice tea, fruity tea, milky tea and icees (which, it turns out, are basically tea slurpees). Both Cindy and I doubled up on our Gelobar choices, with a lemon green-tea icee served with orange ice-cubes for Cindy, and a green-tea plum icee for me. I spent the 10 minutes before the drinks arrived paranoid that the drink would be more terrifying salty plum and less sweet, tangy and delicious plum. Luckily, my paranoia was unfounded and both of our drinks were sweet and refreshing.

The food options were mostly faux-meet: vegetarian 'fish', 'lamb' etc. Cindy tried to get the fish choice, but it was unavailable, leaving her with no choice but to order the plate of 10 vegetarian dumplings. The dumplings were full of marinated mushrooms and were fried up nicely. Probably not quite as crisp as the best I've had (from Kuan-Yin Vegetarian Tea House in Brisbane), but pretty enjoyable nonetheless.

I was up for some fake meat and opted for the 'vegetarian curry flavoured rendang meat'. The curry turned up with a trio of accompaniments, whose components I can only guess at: salty eggs, sour cabbage and weird mushroom things. The curry itself was the perfect replica of beef rendang. Almost too perfect - after a couple of mouthfuls of soft 'beef' curry, with the occasional piece of gristle, I took a closer look at my faux-beef. And it looked an awful lot like real beef - right down to the stringy texture. It was really startlingly genuine, so I quizzed the waiter to make sure it wasn't real beef by mistake. Without really looking, he assured me it wasn't, so I pushed on and ate the rest, telling myself that even if it was real beef, it wouldn't do anyone any good to throw it in the bin. But I found it very difficult to believe it wasn't actual beef. Fake meats are a weird food genre - you want them to do a good job of mimicking the meat they're imitating, but you don't want them to do too good a job. It was all very distracting. By the end of the meal, the lack of real beef rendang on the menu convinced me that it was probably not beef from a cow, but by then it was too late and I'd spent more time trying to decide what I was eating then just enjoying my dinner. I think if I'd been confident that I was eating a vego meal I'd have been pretty thrilled with the cheap curry with odd accompaniments, so it was a bit disappointing.

Address: 146 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Ph: 9654 3268
Price: Vege mains: $6-$8, tea: $4.50-$6.50
Website: http://www.tenrentea.com.au

Sunday, February 18, 2007

February 17, 2007: Gelobar

Those felafel might have been filling, but there was something else we needed before we could complete our bike ride home - cool, fruity gelato! Gelobar supplied it, and an air-conditioned refuge to boot. There were a couple of dozen flavours to choose from, along with a selection of Italian-style cakes and pastries. Unusually, I had eyes only for the chocolate-free fruit ices and didn't take long to order a cup with paddles of Limone and Cointreau; for Michael it was plum and watermelon. They had the perfect smooth, slightly elastic texture that separates gelato from ice-cream. The Cointreau gelato was delightful, more creamy and less tangy than I expected: the Limone cut through with the citrus acidity I was after. The watermelon tasted true to its origin but wasn't as refreshing as Michael expected; the plum thoroughly satisfied.

For Italian desserts, Gelobar is the real deal. It's no wonder that there are lines of customers out the door on weekend evenings in the summertime.

Address: 74 Lygon St, East Brunswick
Ph: 9388 1419
Price: 2 flavours in a cup $5
Website: www.gelobar.com.au

February 17, 2007: Half Moon Cafe

On a sweltering Saturday, Michael and I had an errand or two to attend to in Brunswick. Lunch in Coburg was the incentive we needed to get ourselves out of the flat and into the scorching sunlight. In particular we were aiming for the Half Moon Cafe - a couple of months ago someone recommended their felafel to us and we've been slow to take their advice. This is one of several unremarkable-looking kebab shops in an area with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour. However the menu runs a little further than what I've come to expect from the average haven for late-night hungry drunks: there are five different felafel wraps on offer, a couple of legume-based salads and other sides for the vegetarian customer. In fact, as our felafel fried, we were offered teaspoons to taste their fresh batch of Foul Medames. Don't be put off by the name - this is a creamy Egyptian-style fava bean dish packed with flavour. It was only the interminable heat in and outside the cafe that prevented me from ordering a $6 serve to pack, still warm, in our bag for later.

As we chewed and murmured in appreciation, we learned that the felafel here are also made from fava beans (rather than the usual chickpeas), making them superior in taste and texture. And they are great: for $5.50 apiece, we receive a huge wrap with three large, fresh felafel and a garden-full of salad-y bits. Michael's (pictured) is a Sunflower, with boiled egg, lettuce, rocket, tomato, pickles and yoghurt. I went for the Traditional felafel: lettuce, rocket, tomato, tahina and pickles. It's only since we moved to Melbourne that we've encountered the felafel pickle, and Michael and I are both pretty taken with its acidic inclusion, particularly the pink turnip. A Half Moon felafel also includes dill pickle.

You definitely do not need a night's worth of alcohol coursing through your veins to appreciate this fast food. And I can only express my amazement at how generous and good-natured the staff were as they spent a 38 degree day in the company of a deep frier and an ineffectual air-conditioner.

Address: 13 Victoria St (The Mall), Coburg
Ph: 9350 2949
Price: felafel rolls $5.50

Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 16, 2007: Chillipadi

Update 27/1/2019: Chillipadi is permanently closed.

Thanks to Cin from A Few of My Favourite Things, Cindy and I were in possession of a $50 voucer for a meal at Chillipadi and, since we had nothing planned, we decided to check it out on Friday evening. It's tucked away around the Elizabeth Street side of Melbourne Central, and seems to be spread across three levels. And it was busy - people spilling out everywhere. Luckily, being a duo, we were quick to find a table, although it was kind of jammed between the door and the cash register. But on the upside, Cindy's friend Yung was dining at the table next door, which was a stroke of good fortune. Thanks to the spendthrift-ery that a voucher instills, I tucked straight into an imported Japanese beer while we perused our options.

The menu provides fairly well for vegetarians, with noodle dishes, roti-based options, salads and a few other choices. In keeping with our voucher-inspired enthusiasm, we started out with a bowl of chips, seasoned with shichimi (7 spice chilli). They were thin, crispy and well-spiced - encouraging a fair bit of relish from Cindy in particular. For mains, I chose the fried koay teow with eggs, while Cindy went with mee goreng. Both dishes were heavy on the noodles, with fried egg stirred liberally throughout. The veges were well-cooked and tasty, but the ratio of noodles to vegetables could have been a bit lower. Mine was huge, and quite spicy, forcing me to order a second beer. Cindy seemed to enjoy her mee goreng, but I think the damage had been done by the chips. Cindy had spent the whole meal eyeing off the desserts in the cabinet behind me, but a bit of mental arithmetic told us that a) we'd already hit $50 and b) eating anything more would probably result in serious illness. Still, they're open all hours, so I'm sure we'll be back again in the future, and we'll probably swap the chips for some cheesecake next time.

Address: Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
Ph: 9664 5688
Price: Veg. mains: $10 - $14
Website: www.chillipadi.com.au

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cinnamon vanilla ice-cream

Here's a recipe for cinnamon vanilla ice-cream, which I whipped up a couple days in advance of our Valentine's Day apple pie. It was soft and airy, with a distinct spice and understated sweetness. Even though I love their flavour, I find that the use of ground spices like cinnamon and cloves give food a slightly dusty flavour and texture. (Infusing the milk and cream with whole cinnamon sticks and cloves might prevent this, but I suspect I'd find the flavour too weak.) If you're not eating the ice-cream with apple pie, I reckon some fruit on the side would freshen things right up.

Cinnamon vanilla ice-cream

In a small bowl, whisk together a cup of milk, a cup of cream, a teaspoon of vanilla paste, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a generous pinch of ground cloves. In a slightly larger bowl whisk 2 egg yolks, then incorporate half a cup of castor sugar. Gradually add the spiced cream, still whisking as you go. Pour the lot into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

February 14, 2007: Apple Pie

Michael and I don't usually go in for Valentine's Day. Teddy bears with "I Wuv You!" slogans are really not my thing and I prefer to see flowers in their natural habitat rather than decapitated in a vase. But this year I decided to make a gesture of my appreciation for Michael by preparing his favourite dessert. Although he's never actually pronounced apple pie to be his favourite dessert, six and a bit years of observation have indicated that, when it's an option, Michael's preference is for the fruit/pastry combo: danishes of all fruity pursuasions, apple turnovers, apple slices, strudels and pies. Last month I was browsing The Amateur Gourmet's archives: Adam made a Martha Stewart apple pie, wrote a funny post about it, and impressed (among others) his boyfriend Craig, an alleged pie connoisseur. The heavens opened up, God's light shone down and I saw myself in Adam's exulted position, winning over my man with my home cooking and the blog-reading public with my wit. Or I just book-marked the link for later, whatever. Either way an entire pie's not really something I can justify making for just the two of us and I decided to invite Valentine's Day along.

I won't bother paraphrasing the recipe for you, 'cause it's written by Martha Stewart and we all know she's The Man. (You heard me.) But here are a couple of notes about the process:

1. I'm the complete antithesis of the Domestic Goddess that Nigella Lawson promises we will transform into when we bake for our loved ones. When pastry, pre-heated ovens and the like are involved I'm inclined to get hot, flustered and grumpy. Thus, I made the pastry the night before. Twenty hours of refrigeration meant that the butter in the pastry set hard and I had to leave it on the bench for 5-10 minutes before I could roll it. Don't let it get too warm though! There's only a small window of relatively cool, flexible pastry before it melts to goo. If there's enough room in your fridge, I'd recommend rolling out the pastry and putting the flat pieces in the fridge on day one.
2. I can't be trusted to read a recipe properly. I forgot to add the flour and the butter to the filling. My apples were still darn tasty, but they were surrounded by a lot of liquid. The flour should set that right up.

In spite of my minor issues the pie was a great success. I was a little surprised that the pastry dough didn't contain sugar, but it really doesn't matter. It is as buttery and flaky as I've ever succeeded in making from scratch. I probably added a bit more lemon juice than necessary, but I appreciated the tang that added to the filling. The filling, however, wasn't overly spicy. That was fine, because a few days earlier I churned up some cinnamon vanilla ice-cream! (The recipe's here.) These pie and ice-cream recipes are perfect partners, and it was very cute to see them sitting together so happily on this day for coupling.

Because I made the ice-cream a few days ahead, I failed to keep this gift a surprise. Michael knows what the ice-cream maker looks and sounds like, and it was difficult to come up with reason why he couldn't eat the ice-cream NOW. In his forewarned state, Michael reciprocated by bringing home something for me - a decorative hen, made of 100% recycled materials. Not quite as random as it sounds, since I admired her in a shop several months ago.

"I gave my love a chicken, it had no bones."

This post has been entered into the blog event Waiter, there's something in my... pie!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

February 13, 2007: Vegetable pistachio korma

It had been over a month since we'd last had Indian - an unthinkable gap given my particular obsession with it - so I spent Tuesday morning scanning our cookbooks for a winning recipe. Cindy's a bit of a korma fan, but the vegetarian option in Mridula Baljekar's book has never really impressed me. Luckily, there's a chicken version in one of our other Indian books that looked like it could be easily converted to a mixed-vegie version. The korma used pistachio nuts rather than the usual cashew option, which gave the picture in the recipe book a rather startling green colour. Mine ended up a more traditional colour, but the flavour was quite impressive. Pre oven-baking the spuds and the eggplant was a wonderful idea - both soaked up the curry flavours particularly well and their softness was a nice contrast to the crisper carrots and beans. If anything, I'd probably cut down on the potato a little next time and add in an additional vegetable. Capsicum maybe. It's a fair bit of work for a school night, and it's probably better suited to a Sunday evening cooking session, but it's my favourite korma recipe so far.

Vegetable pistachio korma (adapted from the chicken pistachio korma in '50 Great Curries of India' by Camellia Panjabi)

4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 eggplant, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 carrots, chopped
A couple of handfuls of green beans, trimmed
2 onions, chopped finely
100g pistachios
1 piece of ginger, grated
5 cloves of garlic, minced
6 green chillies
5 tablespoons cream
3 tablespoons yoghurt
2 tomatoes, choppped
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1 teaspoon ground pepper
2 bay leaves
600ml 'chicken' stock

Oven bake the potatoes (about half an hour) and eggplant (20 minutes) at 180 degrees. Pull them out when they're cooked right through, but before they've crisped up on the outside too much.

While they're baking, get to work on the pistachios. Shell them and then boil them in a cup of water for about 10 minutes. Once they're done, drain them and let them cool. The dark skin on the nuts should rub off fairly easily once they've cooled down (this was actually fairly slow and painful, but the cookbook says it should be easy), leaving you with slightly soft, greenish nuts ready to turn into sauce.

Combine the pistachios, four of the chillies and the cream in a food processor and blend until you've got a fairly smooth paste. Mine was only a pale green, but I think it depends on how brightly coloured your pistachios are.

Once the vegetables and the paste are ready to go, you can get cooking. Fry the onion until they've just started to colour and then add in the garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, pepper, fennel seeds and bay leaves. Stir fry for another couple of minutes and then add in the pistachio paste.

Stir in your vegetables (throw them all in together, the eggplant and potato should be soft and you want the carrots and beans to be fairly crisp) and then add the tomato, yoghurt and stock. Keep on cooking until your accompaniments (roti bread for us!) are ready and then you're good to go. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

February 13, 2007: Mango lassi

Michael cooked up a mighty fine curry tonight (appearing soon!) and my small contribution was to whip up a mango lassi. I've read that the lassi is traditionally enjoyed at the end of a meal, but I prefer to have one with my Indian meals to combat the spiciness. A lassi fills me up and leaves a sweet aftertaste, so I rarely crave dessert after one anyway.

Mango lassi

Remove the skin and stone from a mango, and roughly chop the flesh. Blitz the mango in a food processor until smooth. Add about 100g of yoghurt, 100mL of milk, a tablespoon of castor sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom. Blend again until well combined. Pour into two large (or three small) glasses and serve with ice.

  • When they're out of season, use canned mango. You could also replace some of the milk with the mango juice/syrup (omit the sugar).
  • Use another fruit! Pineapple and berries are both recommended by Mridula Baljekar.
  • Next time I might try replacing the yoghurt and milk with buttermilk. It has the tanginess of yoghurt but is thinner and more drinkable.
  • Add a teaspoon of rose water.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 10, 2007: Super Sandwich

You know in Blondie comics, how Bumstead is always trying to construct huge triple sandwiches to feast on at midnight? Or do you remember that Simpsons episode where Homer takes home a 10 foot hoagie from a company picnic, hiding it from Marge like a secret lover when the mayonnaise starts to turn? I've never understood that devotion to sandwiches. Maybe for a burger with just the right herb and sauce combination, but only if there were some top-notch chips on the side, right? An unheated, unaccessorised sandwich couldn't really engender that kind of feeling on its own, could it?

On Saturday I found one that hit that kind of mark. Michael and I planned a visit to Yarra Bend Park for a walk and some very amateur bird watching. We wanted to be there around dusk and so sorted out a little picnic for dinner. The main feature of this picnic was the French-Style Roasted Vegetable Sandwich from Moosewood's New Classics cookbook. Sweet, tangy and creamy, it was good stuff. Take a look at this recipe and don't be put off if you think it looks like a bit of effort - the result is well worth it!

Super Sandwich

1. You need a 20-inch baguette. We bought a sourdough baguette from Brown's down the street. Cut it long-ways through the middle.

2. The first layer is some greens. The original recipe has a cup of aragula, but I just grabbed whatever looked good at the fruit shop.

3. The second layer is sliced Gruyère cheese. Thanks to the feller working at La Parisienne Pate, who referred us to rival deli the Lygon Food Store, since they were all out.

4. The roasted veges are a granny smith apple, half a red onion and three enormous mushrooms, all sliced finely. Put 'em in a smallish baking dish with a few dabs of butter and bake them at 200 degrees C for 15-20 minutes, just until their juices start to run a bit. Then cool them before spooning them on top of the cheese.

5. The final addition to the super sandwich is dill mayonnaise, spread on the top baguette piece. The original recipe just recommends buying some mayo and mixing in a tablespoon of fresh dill. If you're that way inclined, I suppose you could buy a bottle of trendy Simon Johnson dill mayonnaise from your local deli for $9.90. Pfft! I made my own, using a couple of eggs, the juice of half a lemon and about a cup of cheap olive oil. It tastes fantastic, only takes 5 minutes in a food processor and you can bet it cost less than $9.90. There's plenty of time to get busy while the fruit and veg are in the oven.

6. Put the top on, cut it in half or in thirds and wrap it up for later. It's gonna be sweet, it's gonna be tangy, you are gonna love this when it's time to unwrap it and dig in. And with the hour or two of anticipation, the moment's gonna be even sweeter! Here's the scene where we passed that time at Yarra Bend Park:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

February 9, 2007: Stu's Soup

So who's Stu, whom I've named this soup after? I've only met Stu once in person, but his mum Jane and I work in the same lab. He was one of the judges at last year's culinary competition, and he also made the lemon meringue cupcakes! If those weren't evidence enough of his cooking skills, every couple of weeks over lunch, Jane will tell us of something interesting he whipped up over the weekend. In recent weeks she's even brought in little samples of his first (and highly successful) attempts at bagels and sourdough bread.

Over breakfast one morning last week, I found the comment that Stu left on my tortilla soup post, offering me a soup recipe of his to try. And when I arrived at my desk an hour later, there it was! A rice and seafood soup, photocopied from a cookbook, with handwritten notes on how he makes his vegetarian version. Thanks, Stu!

As Michael hinted, the risotto he made the other night was in anticipation of this soup. One of the ingredients, curiously, is "1 cup cooled risotto, omitting parmesan". Unfortunately I didn't read the "omitting parmesan" bit: I just picked out the asparagus from the leftover risotto. (I don't think this did the soup any harm, and keeping the aspargus probably wouldn't have either.) Other than requiring some already-prepared risotto, this recipe is pretty straight-forward to make and doesn't take a long time to cook. I can see why the tortilla soup reminded Stu of this soup - it's a tomato-y base with lots of yummy bits and pieces floating in it. But I put a bit too much water in it, and consequently the liquid wasn't as intensely flavoured as I'd prefer. Next time I make this, I probably won't add the extra cup of water and I might use more risotto. As it was we had plenty of carbs, with Michael bringing home a loaf of Phillipa's wholewheat and honey bread - yum!

The other thing that Stu has introduced me too is Massel brand "chicken" stock cubes, which are actually 100% vegetarian! Given the big "chicken" lettering, I've probably walked right by these dozens of times in the supermarket and it took this recommendation for me to carefully read the packet. Do carefully read the packet, though, because they were sitting right next to some genuine chicken stock cubes on the shelf at Allergy Block.

Stu's Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
a pinch of saffron threads (Stu sometimes skips these, but I had a few on hand)
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon smoked hot Spanish paprika (I only had mild paprika, so I also added a dash of chilli powder too)
1 L water + 1 Massel "chicken" stock cube (should have added two)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup cooled risotto, omitting parmesan (I'll try 1 1/2 to 2 cups next time)
2 red capsicums, roasted, skins removed, and thinly sliced
4 egg tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin seeds and paprika: cook for a couple more minutes until fragrant. Next add the stock, tomato paste, risotto and a cup of water (I'll skip the water next time), combine well and bring to the boil. This actually took longer than I expected - maybe 20 minutes? Stir in the capsicum and tomatoes, and cook for a further 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir in the coriander, heat through for a minute, season to taste and serve.