Green grow the salads-o!

Over the last three months, Maggie and I have made an unusually large number of salads, including various single-bowl salads that were complete meals in themselves.

Why so? Well, it has been a long, warm, dry summer in our corner of the world. So, refreshing salads have appealed much more than cooked vegetables. Secondly, we defied the outlook for dry weather by planting cucumber and zucchini plants. We did produce an abundant crop of both vegetables, but at what cost we will only know when the next water bill arrives!

Our appetite for salads was also stimulated by a recipe in our weekend newspaper which combined prosciutto, char-grilled halloumi and fresh fig with green leaves. This recipe guided us to a new genre of summer dining pleasures, including those featured in my previous post. (I will discuss this recipe in more detail in a subsequent post.)

And the other influence on our frequency and style of salad dishes was a warning from my doctor that my blood sugar level was on the rise. A sizeable reduction in my consumption of carbohydrates was my best hope of avoiding type 2 diabetes. (As Murphy’s Law would have it, this warning came just after we had dug up our potato crop, all five kilos of it. Sigh!)

The early casualties of my low-carb regime included two summer favourites: meat & salad sandwiches and Caesar-style salads with croutons. (And don’t get me started on the no-pasta disaster!)

However, armed with our supply of long, green things and stimulated by new recipes, our repertoire of salads blossomed and quickly neutralised my lingering longings for carbs.

Now, cucumbers tend to get a bit lost in mixed salads; they can’t compete with other, more illustrious ingredients. So, we mainly use them peeled and diced in a raita, with yoghurt and chopped mint, to accompany a fish curry. However, a short visit to the internet unearthed a deceptively simple recipe, which uses salt to concentrate the cucumber’s own flavour and convert it to a salad hero.

Our method used old tea towels to press the slices dry after rinsing; we dressed it with our own vinaigrette; and we replaced the red onion with fresh chives from our kitchen garden. I swear it tasted more interesting than it looks! And it kept well for a day or so in the fridge.

Next, the zucchini. They were always destined to be charred on the grill of our Weber Q, which is ridiculously easy to do. Trim the ends of each zucchini, then cut them lengthways into slices about 5mm thick. (Cut longer zucchini in half across beforehand.) Salt all the flesh lightly, on both sides, and leave for no more than 15 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry with kitchen paper or tea towels.

(The salting is designed to reduce the water content of the flesh, which accentuates the effect of the subsequent charring. It has nothing to do with bitterness. That is an old husband’s tale!)

Once the zucchini is dry, heat your grill and drizzle some olive oil over one side of each slice of zucchini. When the grill is hot enough to cook a piece of steak, place the zucchini oiled-side down on the grill, cook for 4 minutes, turn and cook for another 4 minutes and, if you think they need a bit more charring, put them back on the first side for another minute or so.

Alright, that might not be intellectually challenging but it is a bit fiddly. So, to get a decent return on your time investment, complement the grilled zucchini with premium partners. We have two combinations to recommend.

The first is to cut your zucchini slices into shorter lengths and toss them with pieces of toasted walnut and small pieces of soft feta, also known as Persian feta. No further dressing required.

The second option was inspired by a recipe my friend Bill sent to me. (Bill was the first person I knew well who had cut carbs from his diet in order to fend off the threat of diabetes. So, it was delivered to my Inbox with the admonition to delete the croutons.

We made it once, more or less following the recipe, and then we modified it to suit our palates. The biggest change was to replace the asparagus with our homegrown zucchini. Minor changes? Drop the parsley, so the basil could shine, and we used our vinaigrette rather than the vinegar.

The oiliness of the zucchini is balanced by the acidity of the tomatoes. And the saltiness of the capers and preserved lemon is balanced by the bright flavours of the basil and tomatoes (we also used less salt than usual in our dressing).

The result is a colourful salad, full of summertime flavours, delicious in its own right but also a great partner with grilled lamb or chicken or pan-fried white fish.

The final salad of this post also uses soft feta.

Bill and I meet a few times each year for lunch in central Melbourne. The most recent of these was a few days after I had received my warning about blood sugar. So, I was quite keen that we should fine a dining spot that offered some attractive low-carb lunch options. The end result was that I ate a salad of mixed leaves, grilled Portobello mushroom pieces, soft feta and some toasted pine nuts. Sounds simple but the flavour profile was quite complex and very more-ish.

At home, I have produced a modified version several times, replacing the pine nuts with toasted walnuts and, for the mushroom element, gently frying chunks of Swiss Brown mushrooms and finishing them off with a bit of beef stock under a lid.

It makes for a very satisfying light lunch and comes in handy on days when Maggie really wants a toasted ham sandwich!

And now, after all those key-strokes and with Maggie due home from work soon, it is time for me to start lining up the ingredients for the salad that will form part of tonight’s summertime dinner and then feature in my next post.

Until then, cheers
Rick Grounds

 

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Woman go to Da Nang, like da mango tang

I mentioned in my previous post that Maggie took a liking to the Vietnamese salads served at the Da Nang resort where we holidayed in February. Think lots of fresh herb leaves and the distinctive mix of sweet and sour.

A particular favourite was a dish of char-grilled prawns (shrimps), with a side-salad in which caramelised pieces of fresh mango were the feature ingredient. (The resort’s mango sorbet was also delicious; I had it three times and I don’t even like mangoes that much!)

So, we resolved to find a recipe for caramelised mango to use in our kitchen and then marry it with some prawns in a salad.

The recipe that appealed to us is here. (At the resort in Da Nang, the pieces of mango had been cooked on a grill. This involves sprinkling the individual pieces with sugar baefore putting them on the grill. You can find recipes for that method via Google as well.)

But first, we mango novices needed some tips on how to peel and cut a mango, which we found on youtube. (Of course we did! And Maggie has now mastered the art and is ready to go on tour.)

As for the caramelising, the only variations we made to the recipe were to use soft brown sugar and to reduce the ingredient volumes to suit just one mango, which produced enough for at least four serves of salad. And a tip: make sure that your pan/skillet is wide enough to leave space between the mango pieces; otherwise, they will stew!

In Australia, there is a plentiful supply of cooked local prawns and our local supermarket offers them at a very reasonable price. So, prawn salads in various styles have been a feature of our menu through the long summer months. (Even today, in mid-March, the temperature is going to reach 27 degrees Celsius here in Melbourne.)

For the salad with mango, we combined some soft lettuce leaves, pieces of ripe avocado, prawn segments and small pieces of the caramelised fruit. We then dressed it with some homemade vinaigrette, to which we added some fresh lime juice and some of the cooking juices from the pan of mango. It looks pretty, doesn’t it? And  it was delicious!

We have also used the mango in a salad of poached chicken, prosciutto, avocado and green leaves; almost as delicious! And here is a plate of our prawn salad, with tomato replacing the caramelised mango

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

 

 

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From Laos, via Da Nang: Duck larb (we larv it!)

In September 2008, Maggie and I flew to Rome to join a coach tour of Italy; it was our first overseas trip together. We met our tour guide – Marco the Magnifico – on the evening before the tour commenced. Addressing our group, he uttered the infamous words: “this is not a holiday; it’s a tour”!

And that has been the case for all but a few days of our many subsequent travels – we go touring, either on an organised itinerary aboard a coach or a boat, or under our own steam, by car or train.

Last month, however, we broke away from our established pattern and travelled to a faraway resort – The Grand Sheraton Da Nang – and had a holiday. No wake-up calls, no repacking the luggage every second night. Just a beachside bar, an abundance of dining options, one of the world’s great mattresses for late awakenings and free-range siestas, and a swimming pool, all 210 metres of it at a constant waddling depth of 1.3 metres.

We booked this holiday with a view to having a “taste” of Vietnam and then deciding if we would return for a thorough exploration, ie go touring. And “taste” we did, especially your correspondent. I would begin each day with a bowl of pho or similar and continue to select mostly Asian dishes from the diverse menus at the resort’s three main dining spaces. So0n enough, Maggie joined the party, finding the Vietnamese style of salads very attractive; more of that, in a follow-up post.

Of all the dishes I ordered, the one which really got my palate excited and begging for more was the head chef’s version of the Laotian dish ‘duck larb’. (Larb is the generic term and can be made using minced meat of various types.)

The duck larb I ate at the resort – not once, but twice – included some non-traditional, small, crunchy pieces of peeled pear, which added appealing texture and flavour variety. Once we were back home in Melbourne, we found a recipe that gave us a sound starting point, from which we added our own twists, including the fruit element.

Here is a plateful of our version of Duck larb, followed by our recipe

Ingredients

vegetable oil, for shallow frying
3 large French shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 duck breasts, skin removed and reserved, flesh finely chopped (350g – 400g)
3 cm piece of ginger or 1½ tsp ginger powder (we use powder if step 1 doesn’t work)
1 tbsp arborio rice or similar
20ml lime juice
15ml fish sauce
2 tsp caster sugar
60ml chopped parsley, or 30ml each of parsley and coriander
30 ml chopped mint
½-¾ tsp chilli flakes
1 crisp apple or pear, peeled and diced (use about 80g)
4-6 crunchy lettuce leaves (to refresh your palate at regular intervals!)

Method

  1. Peel the ginger and slice it finely (about 2mm). Dry roast the ginger in a small frypan over mild heat until dry and toasted (12-15 minutes). When cool, pound it in a mortar and pestle until finely ground. Set aside.
  2. Add rice to pan and cook over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until toasted (3-4 minutes). Tip into mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. Set aside.
  3. Pour vegetable oil into a flat-based wok to a depth of about 4mm and heat until hot. Add two-thirds of the shallot and stir occasionally until golden brown and crispy. Remove and drain on paper towel.
  4. Slice the duck skin into strips (about 8mm long), add to wok and turn occasionally until crisp and golden. Remove and drain on paper towel. Discard the oil and wipe out the wok.
  5. In the meantime, use three separate small bowls to combine fruit and 2 tsp lime juice; remaining shallot with fish sauce and 2 tsp lime juice; and 2 tsp ground rice, 1 tsp of the ground ginger, the chilli flakes and the sugar.
  6. Heat wok, add chopped duck meat and 2 tsp of water. Stir frequently until duck is cooked through (3-4 mins). Remove from heat. Spoon out excess liquid.
  7. Add the herbs and the contents of the three small bowls. Briefly stir to combine.
  8. Serve scattered with the fried shallot, duck skin and 1 extra teaspoon of the rice powder with the cos lettuce leaves on the side.

Diced duck breast meat ready to cook

The three bowls with ingredients to fold into the cooked meat

Herbs, crispy shallots and crispy duck skin

 

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Thyme for horsing around in Maryland?

 

In a recent post, I mentioned that, one month out from the start of Summer, we had experienced the coldest early-November conditions in decades. So, we cooked indoors, day after miserable day.

But there was a silver lining to the heavy clouds!

We took the opportunity to fine-tune our take on a recipe I had found while searching for an addition to our chicken maryland repertoire. As a two-person household, we often use these pieces for a quick roast dinner, as the meat retains its moisture better than do chicken breasts.

Part of the appeal of the recipe I put on our kitchen bench was that it featured two ingredients which grow profusely in our kitchen garden: thyme and horseradish.

We have prepared this dish three times in the last couple of months. Along the way, we have made numerous changes to both the method and the proportions of the ingredients. Here is our version of the recipe.

Ingredients

olive oil
4-6 kipfler potatoes, cut crossways into thick disks (about 1cm)
200-250g cauliflower, broken into florets of various sizes
1 purple (red) onion, peeled and cut into 6-8 wedges
2 large chicken marylands (about 700g)
160ml chicken stock
80ml dry white wine
several sprigs of thyme
15ml grated horseradish
15ml Dijon mustard

Method

  1. Using a sharp, serrated knife, joint each maryland into two pieces, ie thigh and drumstick
  2. Place the stock, wine and thyme in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Remove the thyme from the pan and reserve. Once the liquid has cooled a little, combine it with the horseradish and mustard. (Use the pan if it is has a pouring lip; otherwise, use a pouring jug).
  4. Preheat oven to 170C.
  5. Heat about 30ml of olive oil in a flameproof roasting pan over medium heat. Add the pieces of potato and cook them for 3-4 minutes. Transfer potato to a warm dish.
  6. Add the cauliflower and onion to the roasting pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Transfer them to the dish with the potato.
  7. Cook the pieces of chicken in the roasting pan, turning once, until they begin to go a pale, golden brown; say, 5-6 minutes. Turn the heat off.
  8. Arrange the chicken pieces around the centre of the pan, skin-side up and then arrange the vegetables around the chicken. Scatter and tuck the reserved sprigs of thyme. Stir the liquid briefly and immediately pour over the chicken. (See photos below.)
  9. Place the roasting pan in the oven and cook for 45-50 minutes, casually turning the vegetables once or twice, until the liquid has evaporated and the chicken and vegetables are cooked, including some tasty caramelisation of some of the onion.
  10. Serve with a green side-dish, depending on what is in season, eg asparagus, beans, broccoli, salad leaves.

Some explanatory notes

1. If your marylands are small, use more and leave them in one piece each.
2. We heat the stock, wine and thyme both to extract flavour from the herb and to speed up the roasting process by having the liquids already warmed.
3. We leave a space in the centre of the roasting pan because it is the last spot to dry out during the roasting process – not suitable for roasting those vegetables!
4. To achieve a crispy skin, we cook the chicken for longer than we might normally do. This is because the evaporating liquid creates a ‘steamer’ effect for the first 20-25 minutes, ensuring the meat remains moist despite the longer cooking time.

   

About the weather: Yes, I do mention the weather quite regularly. Truth is, it’s a bit of an obsession here in Melbourne; other Australians say that we live in the city where you can have “four seasons in one day”!

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Summertime, and the grilling is easy: verses 1 to 3

When Australians travel overseas, it is not uncommon for them to be asked to describe Australian cuisine. After all, the typical foods of most other countries are pretty well known; and businesses preparing these dishes can be found in most large cities around the world. Think Italian and Chinese, for starters! But how often have you seen a food establishment offering Australian dishes in, say, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, or Istanbul? (London, yes, but that’s mainly to cater for homesick Aussies; or Singapore, but that’s in our neighbourhood.)

Providing an authentic answer to such a question is complicated by two general facts about Australia. Firstly, Australia occupies an entire continent, similar in size to the USA, with a great diversity of climates and geographical features. Secondly, a large proportion of the population are either immigrants or are descended from persons who migrated here less than 100 years ago; there has been little time to develop national or even regional culinary traditions.

There is, however, one method of cooking which is common to all parts of Australia, even if to varying extents according to climate: barbecuing on a grill, over flame or radiated heat, mostly outdoors but occasionally indoors, eg restaurants. In so doing, we have built on one of the main cooking methods of the original inhabitants and incorporated the preferred ingredients and flavours of each wave of immigrants.

We have recently entered the summer period in Australia. In Melbourne, this was preceded by an extended winter, so Maggie and I are making up for lost time by using our Weber Q barbecue to prepare the centrepiece of most of our main meals. And this season, we have set out to apply new flavours and methods to some of our favourite cuts of meat.

Here are three of the new items on our char-grilling menu, tested and modified to the point of complete dining pleasure.

Rump steak

Bought from a reputable butcher, this cut of beef has good flavour and, if given a good rest after it is cooked, won’t be too chewy. Beef rump steaks also cope quite well with being marinaded.

You can find the recipe that we took as our starting point here.

We have made two small changes to the recipe and, having just two mouths to feed, we have also halved the overall volume of marinade to produce enough for up to 700g or 1½ pounds of steak. So, our list of ingredients is:

3 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
1 tsp Dijon mustard
15ml Worcestershire sauce
15ml balsamic vinegar
15ml soy sauce
>¼ tsp black pepper
30ml olive oil

Marinade the meat overnight and turn it in the morning.

The balsamic vinegar helps to produce a good char on the meat but some people could find it a little too sweet; use just 10ml if that is the case. And you might feel that the soy sauce makes the end result a little too salty; again, use just 10ml.

   

Pork shoulder chops

As Martha Stewart alludes in her recipe, pork shoulder chops are suitable for chargrilling because there is more marbling in their meat. So, they don’t dry out too much. A pork loin chop, say, would become tough to eat when barbecued; not very wise when your teeth are as old as mine!

We have made some modifications to the original recipe and dispensed with the barbecue sauce element altogether.

We find that one large pork shoulder chop has enough meat for the two of us; we fill out the meal with such side dishes as a Waldorf salad or a fresh fennel and orange salad.

For that one chop, we slash the rind at 3cm intervals, to help reduce curling during the grilling process, and make the marinade paste from: 12 fresh sage leaves, shredded; 2-3 cloves of garlic, grated or crushed; 1 tsp salt; and 1 tsp olive oil. As instructed by Martha, we cover the chop with an everyday beer – no need to go boutique for this job – an hour before cooking the chop.

Once the grill is very hot, we cook the drained chop on one side for 8 minutes, then flip it and cook for a further 7 minutes. The end result is juicy and delicious.

   

   

Butterflied quail

The third recipe in our current repertoire of cooking in an Australian style was actually created by a local chef, leading chef/restaurateur Neil Perry.

You can read the original recipe here.

With our modifications, the list of ingredients is:

3 cloves garlic, grated
2 cm piece of ginger, grated
2 spring onions (white part), finely chopped
1 tsp sugar (in lieu of maltose)
30ml soy sauce (2 tbsp in Australia = 40ml)
30ml oyster sauce
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 tsp sesame oil

We have modified the cooking method too.  We prefer to cook the quail for 4 minutes skin-side up, 3 mins skin-side down, then a further 1 min skin-side up. In our Weber Q, this sequence ensures that the skin becomes attractively charred, with minimal loss of skin from sticking to the grill.

   

Quail isn’t everyone’s idea of an appealing food – it can be fiddly to get at the meat and it has a gamey flavour. However, we enjoy it on a regular basis and this recipe produces a delicious result during Australia’s barbecue season.

(In a subsequent post, I will share recipes for barbecuing veal escallops and sections of lamb leg.)

Title note: click here to hear Billie Holliday’s rendition of Summertime

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Summer time, and the grilling is easy: verses 4 and 5

In a recent post, I provided recipes for three methods Maggie and I have added to the repertoire for char-grilling on our Weber Q.

Here are two more: one for boneless pieces of lamb leg; the other for thin pieces of veal, marinated with fresh herbs from our garden.

Chargrilled marinated lamb leg

This is a great way to prepare lamb on the barbecue, because you produce a crunchy char on the outside of the meat whilst retaining plenty of moisture in the middle

The recipe we found and then modified is here. For the marinade we use the recommended ingredients in the following proportions:

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground black pepper
15ml lemon juice
30-40 ml olive oil

Once you have combined the ingredients in a bowl, you’ll have enough for a piece of lamb up to one kilogram in size. Because there are only the two of us, we buy a whole boned leg and divide it into four portions, each weighing between 500 and 700g. We freeze three of the pieces immediately; of these, the smallest one will eventually be minced for something like lamb kofta.

Once the remaining piece has been well coated with the marinade, we cover it with cling wrap, leave it in a cool place for half an our so and then refrigerate it overnight.

  

Our cooking method varies significantly from that in the original recipe. We remove the lamb a good hour before cooking and set up our Weber Q for roasting. Once the Weber has reached about 180C, we put the lamb in and roast it for about 30 minutes, for a 600g piece. We quickly reset the Weber for grilling, place the lamb skin-side down and cook it for about 6 minutes, turn it over and cook it for a further 3 to 4 minutes.

 Here is how it turns out!

If you wanted to use this recipe to feed a large group of friends or family, you could use a whole boned leg, butterflied; double the quantity of marinade, give or take; roast the lamb for about 35 to 40 minutes; and char it much as for a smaller piece.

Marinade for char-grilled veal escallops (about 250g, enough for two adults)

We are big fans of cooking with veal but veal is not your typical candidate for being chargrilled, especially by amateurs at home. However, inspired by a dining experience at a Turkish restaurant in our national capital, Canberra, we went looking for some tips on how to do it.

The recipe we began with is here. We have modified both the method and the relative quantities of the ingredients. The original recipe was from the USA and uses a cut of veal called ‘tenderloin’; I’m not sure what that is but it is probably similar to what is known in Australia as ‘escallops’ or ‘fillets’. These are mainly used to make dishes such as veal scallopini or, when coated with egg and breadcrumbs after being beaten thin, to prepare the classic wiener schnitzel.

Our list of ingredients for the marinade is:

10ml crushed garlic
20ml French shallots, finely chopped (or the white half of some spring/green onions)
15ml mixed chopped herbs (sage, parsley, thyme)
20ml white wine
20ml olive oil

This will make enough for about 300g of veal, give or take, which is plenty for two middle-aged adults!

The tricky part is ensuring that the veal pieces are thin enough that they won’t end up chewy in the middle, yet thick enough that the marinade ingredients have time to cook without the meat drying out too much. I can’t give you a specific thickness for this – and I still get it wrong half the time – but it is somewhere between the ideal thicknesses for veal scallopini and wiener schnitzel, respectively. My apologies for the imprecision!

We coat the meat in the marinade two hours prior to cooking, cover it and refrigerate it for 90 minutes, removing it from the fridge for the final 30 minutes.

Then you must get your grill to a very hot temperature, add the veal, cook it for exactly 4 minutes, flip it and cook for exactly 2 more minutes.

Happy grilling!
Rick Grounds

 

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Char-grilled pork belly cubes

Here in Melbourne, we are in the last week of the calendar’s Spring. After complaining about the cold weather and needing to heat our home for much of the first half of November – the coldest start to the month in decades – we are suddenly in the midst of our city’s longest end-of-Spring heatwave in recorded history. Go figure!

Naturally, we are now using our Weber Q to prepare the main elements of our evening meals. Until recently, the meats we char-grill on the Weber would usually be cuts from beef, lamb or chicken, as well as prawns or calamari from time to time. But over the last year or so, we have begun to add pork, veal and quail to the mix.

Last night, we cooked ourselves some cubes of pork belly, flavoured before grilling with a spicy paste. It was delicious and here is how we did it.

As you know, pork belly has a high fat content, so we render much of that fat and enhance the texture of the meat by simmering it in a flavoured stock for an hour or so. I have previously posted the recipe for this procedure.

Once the pork has cooled, we cut it into cubes, about 3cm x 3cm square. Then we apply the paste to the surfaces of each cube.You don’t have to do this very far in advance, as it is a superficial flavouring rather than a marinade; one hour is plenty.

We set up our Weber for grilling but we place an open trivet on top of the main grill, to make it easier to manage the cubes as we cook them. Once the temperature is quite high, say, 400C, we put the pieces of pork on the trivet, with one of the meaty sides facing down. After 5 minutes under the lid, we turn each piece, some of them going skin-side down, others as dictated by gravity!?

After a further 4 to 5 minutes, with some attractive charring, the pork cubes are ready to be taken off the grill.

Here are some ‘before and after’ shots. We served them with two salads: shaved fennel & fresh orange segments with some vinaigrette dressing; and chunks of boiled, fresh beetroot dressed with a combination of sour cream, mayonnaise and grated horseradish.

Paste for flavouring pork belly to be char-grilled

5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tsp sea salt
3-4 cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1-1½ tbsp sherry (or red wine) vinegar

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Leftover paste can be stored in a well-sealed container in your freezer.

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