homemade: pomegranate lemon tea

I saw an article the other day about a retired couple who had embraced sustainable living and the very in-vogue concept of ‘zero waste’ to such an extreme that they took an entire year to fill up one rubbish bag.

Now, I am nowhere near this level of dedication and while I can admire it, I am not completely sure that I could aspire to it. That being said, like much of my cooking, my recent pomegranate obsession (here and here – if you’re interested) left me with one by-product that I could bear to see go to waste – the pomegranate skin.

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Even though it isn’t something I would want to eat, the pomegranate’s skin is brightly coloured and fruity scented, it would be sad to see it go to waste and it also has a whole truckload of health benefits.

Trawling through the internet looking for interesting uses, many people suggest adding dried pomegranate skin to your shampoo and other beauty products for silky hair and smooth skin.

I’m not one to put the hard yards into anything if there isn’t going to be a benefit to my taste buds so instead I made a pomegranate and lemon powder to make tea infusions and flavour dishes in a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean way. Any added beautification is just a bonus!

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Using as much concentration as possible, I sliced the outer layer of blood-red skin away from the soft, white pith, and did the same with two small lemons. You can dry the skin in the oven like I did for my dried citrus peel or in a slow cooker like these limes – I used the slow cooker so I didn’t have to pay so much attention to them. Leave the lid slightly ajar once the pot has heated up and mop up any condensation with a paper towel.

Once the pieces are brittle enough to snap, you know they’re done. Remove them from the slow cooker and once they are cooled, crush them into a relatively fine powder in a mortar and pestle.

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Steep a teaspoon of the powder in hot water for a fruity, homemade tea, add a sprinkling into a sauce for a fruit punch. Or make your own grenadine syrup without any sugar by mixing equal parts of powder and hot water before diluting with ice cold sparkling water.

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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.

aquafaba meringues (how the internet lied)

I am not one for ‘health foods’ or self-enforced dietary ‘requirements’, I steer clear from trendy health regimes and stick to food that just tastes good. But I recently stumbled across a fad that was just too intriguing to pass by – aquafaba.

I know that it sounds a little like a low-impact form of exercise for senior citizens, but aquafaba is actually the salty, gelatinous brine that chickpeas are stored in. I have often pondered at how to use it; I attempt to be as zero waste as possible and chickpea brine was the one thing that I couldn’t find an appropriate use for. Cue vegan meringues…

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Aquafaba meringues are a great example of why you shouldn’t believe everything that the internet tells you; after scrolling through countless pictures of cute little tarts topped with crisp and egg-free meringue, I thought I was on to a fool proof new dessert. It appears I was wrong.

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First step – drain the liquid off of a can of chickpeas and eat the chickpeas for lunch. Next, whisk the brine until it forms firm peaks, like you would if you were making meringue in an ordinary universe. Surprisingly, it works – and as the liquid plumps up with air bubbles, the salty flavour seemingly evaporates.

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Whisk through ¾ cup of sugar and a pinch of baking soda until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is nice an firm. Spoon dollops onto a tray of baking paper and bake for 30 minutes at 140°C. Or so they say…

I opened my oven, hoping to see a tray of crunchy white globes. Instead, I was greeted with this:

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A tray of sticky sugar syrup, amber in colour and bubbling at the surface. I don’t know if I hadn’t beaten the aquafaba long enough, or hadn’t added enough sugar. Maybe it can only be used like Italian meringue, or maybe the internet had lied to me. If anyone can help me with my vegan-induced dilemma, I am all ears!

crystalized ginger

Another sporadic post.

You may have noticed my lack of consistency lately, it’s because of a couple of things; I am back in New Zealand and I am in the midst of rehearsing and performing in a show.

A show that involves me descending from the roof with my head pointing towards the ground in a rather artistic tumbling fashion.

While I am sure this visual spectacle is awe-inspiring for the audience, for me it induces a different sensation – one of mild motion sickness.

Which brings me to today’s kitchen experiment; candied ginger.

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There have been many occasions when, as a child, I have been out in boats – whale watching or visiting close offshore islands, where the inconsistent bobbing of the dark blue swells has upset my stomach just enough to have me hanging over the side of the boat, silently praying to be standing on solid ground. My prayers were never immediately answered but we were always given sugary gingernut biscuits to crunch on while we sipped syrupy cordial.

Candied ginger has this same effect, it is a lot more practical while flipping through the heavens, and makes a great decoration. On top of that, it is so simple to make!

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To begin, thinly slice as much ginger as you like, I made a rather large stash because I knew I would need it in bulk. The internet does say that it will keep for about six months, so there is no need to worry about it going to waste, but if you are planning on using it solely for decorative purposes, you may not feel the need to go all-out like I did.

A mandolin could come in handy for this task, but it probably won’t. I think mandolins are the most overrated kitchen utensil (followed closely by a potato peeler) and I prefer to slice it with a sharp knife, the results will have the same accuracy. Weigh the ginger (or make an educated guess), measure out an equal quantity of sugar and set aside for later.

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Add to a saucepan with just enough cold water to cover the ginger, bring to the boil and simmer until the water is all but reduced – this should take about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, and because I cannot be near a boiling pot without the urge to stir it overcoming me.

Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave it to simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes. Drain off any excess sugar syrup – it is lovely and sweet, and infused with the ginger’s flavour so don’t let it go to waste, I swirled mine through a tub of softened vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

Place on a tray of baking paper and sprinkle with a bit more sugar. Leave your ginger slithers to dry overnight, I rotated mine after a few hours and placed them in a hot oven that I had just turned off to give them a bit of encouragement.

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They are sweet and chewy, with just enough crunch. It’s a great high-energy snack, and even though it’s also high in sugar, I don’t need to worry about overindulging because of the subtle spiciness which means I don’t even feel like eating more than a couple of pieces at once.