fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

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Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

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Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

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Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

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While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

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Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

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It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

winter is coming, part two

After my last post, and the little speck of winter before the little speck of summer before the current (hopefully) little speck of winter we are in at the moment, I noticed that I was a little bit sniffily. Having just arrived in a new city and starting a new job, the last thing I want is to be getting sick so I decided to give my body a little bit of a vitamin kick to stave off any signs of a cold for as long as possible, and what better way to do that with a truckload of vegetables?

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This recipe for a vegetable chickpea curry is not really something that I have taken and adapted, well not so much in the traditional sense. Instead of taking a recipe and adding one or two ingredients, I think the only similarity this recipe has with the original is the rice and chickpeas. So the recipe is more of a guideline than anything else because you can really put in anything you like!

This curry is an easy way to make sure that you are getting your ‘5 plus a day’ and it can easily be prepared in advance or even in a slow cooker left to simmer all day long. Here are the guidelines to make four servings, since I was only cooking for myself I did about half of it but it could be doubled or tripled or even quadrupled.

You will need:
An onion
A few garlic cloves
An eggplant
A zucchini
2 capsicums; I used red and green because they were cheapest but any colours are okay
2 carrots
2 tomatoes or a big can of canned tomatoes
2 large potatoes
A large can of chickpeas or 2 cups of dried chickpeas
A can of lentils or a cup of dried lentils
A cup of rice
spices such as curry powder, cumin, paprika, harissa, nutmeg and cinnamon
About a litre of cold water

Obviously, you can chop and change the vegetables, but I would suggest vegetables that you would roast, I once added mushrooms and they went all rubbery so that is maybe something to avoid, unless you  enjoy rubbery mushrooms…

First things first: slice you eggplant into thin discs and sprinkle with salt, cover them and set them to the side. This is to help draw out the bitter flavours of the vegetable. Ideally you should leave it for about half an hour, the longer the better but if you only have 10 minutes then that is okay too.

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You will be able to see this reaction happening; little beads of liquid will begin to form on the top of each slice and the flesh will start to turn a slightly darker colour.

While that’s happening, chop up the rest of your vegetables. I like to keep them chunky for the nice coloration of the dish and also so that you can really taste each one individually as well as part of the dish as a whole, it also saves a lot of time. I also didn’t peel any of them, once again this is something that depends on your preference but so much of the nutrients of these vegetables are in the skin. If you want everything to be cooked to the same degree, keep them all separate because the carrot is going to take longer to cook than the capsicum etc. I kept the onion, tomato and potato separate from the others.SAM_1451_edited

Once you have done this, rinse the salt of the eggplant and dry it off. It can now be added to the rest of  the vegetables and the cooking can begin!

In a large pot (and I emphasize the LARGE; I had to change pots in the middle of cooking because mine was too small and even in my biggest pot it was close to overflowing by the end) heat a dash of oil and add the diced onion and crushed garlic. I also add a sprinkle of sugar to caramelise the onions a bit as they cook and to add a hint of sweetness.

As the onions become translucent, add the vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes. When they are beginning to get a bit softer, I add the tomatoes stir until the have begun to break down. Add the rice and mix thoroughly, add the chickpeas, the lentils and the potatoes. If possibly, I advice you to use dried chickpeas and lentils because
1) they taste better
and
2) when using dried ones, they will release their starch as they cook which will make the dish creamier
but I know it is not always possible to find them like this.

Add a generous amount of the spices; about a tablespoon of each should suffice. You could also add a can of curry sauce or butter chicken sauce and add a cup less of water later.

The next step is to add the water that will cook the rice, chickpeas, lentils and potatoes. The amount of water you use depends completely  on the amount of each you are adding; I would suggest two cups for each cup of dry ingredient, if using canned lentils and chickpeas then a cup for a cup. As long as everything is submerged you should be okay. Stir and bring to the boil.

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The water will initially go a creepy brown colour, don’t worry about this as it is just the colour of the lentils’ skin. Once it is boiling, cover the pot and bring down to a simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. If you’re anything like me you will want to check on it every 10 or so minutes, but if you’re not so nosey you can leave it; do some yoga, watch an episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’ (although I admit that its hard to just watch one episode), clean up the mess you have made all over your kitchen.

If it looks like it is running out of water you can add more but by the time it finishes cooking it should be a nice creamy mixture and the water should have mostly been absorbed. I know that so many recipes always so that you should ‘serve immediately’ but with this I say let it cool for about 10 minutes, it is far too delicious to serve up and not begin eating right away but it will also be very, very hot. I have burnt my mouth on it quite badly before, all because I didn’t have the self-control to wait…

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