Finding favour with the family: a pilaf and yoghurt salad

Do you have a recipe that is ‘yours’, at least within your family? Previously, I have written about aunty Ruby’s sponge cake (pure deliciousness!)… As far as my family is concerned (the adult members at least), ‘my’ specialty is a very simple yoghurt ‘salad’ and pilaf. The only catch is that the recipes are actually not mine, insofar as I adapted one from bill granger (pilaf) and was taught the other by a Lebanese friend, G, who learned it from his mum.

The first time I ever tried this yoghurt salad was when G invited us over for an impromptu dinner, about six years ago. One bite and I was done; I think my partner literally licked the bowl clean. It was that good! Fortunately, G is very un-precious when it comes to sharing recipes and so I have been happily making this yoghurt salad, with or without the pilaf, for BBQ dinners, parties, lazy days and picnics ever since.

I’m posting this recipe today specially for my sister, Kristy (of the pesto) and her sister-in-law, Kristal. Both of them love it and so here it is! I hope you and yours love it as much as we do!

Lentil rice pilaf
You will need:
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup du Poy (French green) lentils
1/2 lemon
Water
1 small onion, sliced finely
A good bunch continental (flat leaf) parsley (you will notice that my pilaf is a bit light on green in the photo – it used to be feral in the garden but I think mr whipper snipper got to it 😉

1. In a medium saucepan, place lentils. Cover well with water. Place over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, and cook for 10-12 mins. Add rice and the lemon. Stir occasionally. You may need to add more water. When it returns to the boil, cook for 12-15 mins or til the lentils are done (not too hard nor too soft; they should be the texture of cooked cashews).
2. In the meantime, fry onions in a touch of olive oil over low heat until the are caramelised (soft and browned but not burnt). Chop the parsley up well – you want a good handful or two-worth.
3. When rice and lentils are cooked, strain and rinse using cool water. Shake off excess water and place in a bowl. Add the onions, parsley and squeeze out the cooked lemon. Stir it well then serve.

This actually makes a huge dish and I find that a half serve is enough for about 5 people. But one of my friends loves this so much, she could possibly eat a half serve in one sitting…

G’s yoghurt salad

Please note that all of the quantities here can easily been adjusted to suit your tastes; these are just guides only.

You will need:
300g Greek yoghurt (I use low fat not no fat; sometimes I use a whole tub of yogurt, other times a half)
1 tsp good quality salt
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of paprika or cumin, ground (we like sweet paprika)
4 tbsp – 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 or so cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp honey
I cucumber, finely chopped (optional – I usually leave it out as my partner doesn’t like it for some strange reason…)

1. In a bowl, mix yoghurt and salt. Add the cucumber here too if you are using it. Smooth over the top.
2. Sprinkle over the paprika or cumin.
3. In a separate bowl or jar, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and garlic. Stir together to combine. The honey and garlic usually stick together…
4. Spoon the dressing over the top – use as much as you like. Any extra is nice on salad.
Now it’s ready to go! Yummy with meat, vegetables, bread… as well as with the pilaf!

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An embarrassment of riches: figs and cooking from the garden part 1

Our garden has exploded! After a fairly wet winter and spring, then a long hot summer, we are experiencing almost ideal conditions for growing all sorts of yummy things. Back in January, I wrote about the bird-plum battles; that hasn’t (thus far) been replicated with the figs, olives, persimmons, tomatoes, feijoas or strawberries, all of which are ripening about now. So I plan to post a couple of recipes over the next few days as I try to grapple with such abundance.

First up is figs. Little warm pouches of sweet deliciousness, they are perfect picked straight off the tree and eaten. But there are only so many figs any one person can eat – and the other three in my house are non-fig-eaters (though bubaloo can sometimes be tempted to take a nibble). I have been accosting colleagues, students, friends, neighbours, childcarers and random people on the street and cafes, trying to offload kilograms of figs. They also work as currency: I successfully traded a little bag of figs for a cup of chai last week!

I’m therefore also trying all sorts of recipes using figs. They are actually super easy to do things with, and pretty versatile. Here are two sweet options.

Balsamic thyme poached figs

You will need:
10 or so figs, with any yucky bits trimmed off (really, you can do it with as many figs as you like)
A few tablespoons of sugar, honey or other sweetener
About 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
Sprig of thyme (it’s also nice if you swap this for a cinnamon stick)

1. Place all ingredients in a large, deep frypan. Bring liquid to the boil.
2. Turn down to medium heat and cook, covered, for 10 minutes or so. Then remove lid and turn down to a simmer. Stir gently from time to time. When the liquid is fairly thick (however you like it), its ready.
3. Serve on pancakes, with muesli or cereal, with cream or icecream, or however you like it.

Delicious fig jam

You will need:
1 kg figs, trimmed and chopped roughly
500grams castor sugar
Peel of one lemon, pared into big strips
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick

1. Place all ingredients in a large pan, stir well, and sit overnight at room temperature.
2. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. When it starts bubbling, turn the heat down to low and let it bubble until the mix reduces and thickens.
3. When it has gotten pretty thick, so you have about 1.5 litres of jam, test for ‘setting point’ by putting a spoonful of jam on a saucer, then sticking the saucer in the fridge for 10 mins or til it’s cool. Run your finger through the jam. If it stays in two parts, the jam is ready to bottle. Do this while the jam is hot.
4. a note on bottling: I bought a preserving kit last week which didn’t require me to sterilise the bottles. If you have a kit like this, follow the instructions! Mine was brand ‘Quattro stagioni’ made by bormioli rocco. But if you are using recycled jars (I usually do this but had run out), prepare the jars as follows. It’s best to do this while the jam cooks. Wash jars in hot soapy water; rinse in hot water. Place in a large saucepan filled with hot water; bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars from the water and place on a tea towel-lined baking tray in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Fill while jars are hot and seal.

We had our jam with easy cream scones. To make these, you need 2 cups self-raising flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp icing sugar, which you sift together into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup yoghurt or cream. Mix till a smooth dough forms, then lightly knead on a floured bench. Roll out to about 2.5 cm thick and cut into squares or rounds. Place on a baking tray and brush with milk. In an oven preheated to 200C, bake for 12-15 minutes of til brown. Serve with jam and cream. Too good!!!

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Fussy is as fussy does: hedgehog meatballs

Last night, my 4 year old (H) told me two things: 1. He hates tomatoes, which is such a pity as we planted about 15 tomato seedlings last year, mostly cherry and baby Roma, and have picked at least a bowlful each day for the past month or so; and 2. Tomato sauce, one of his favourite things, does not have tomatoes in it, despite the name. So I thought it was time to remind him that he does, actually, like tomatoes, just not fresh ones.

I guess, like lots of other kids, he is a fussy eater, but not always. There are a wide range of things he does eat, but equally there are things he ‘doesn’t’ – the reason for the inverted commas is that he generally does eat them, they are just hidden when he does. I aim to always put at least six vegetables in everything I make (before kids, this was ten types of vegies, but I’ve since reduced the self-pressure) – so when he eats the same foods elsewhere, he thinks they taste funny if there isn’t the same veg quotient… So ‘fussy’ is contextual. It’s also semantic: fussy might be the same as particular, dogmatic, demanding… but sometimes it’s just downright annoying.

A few years back, I came across a recipe that promised to be adored by children. It was in a slow cooking book by Sally Wise; I’ve adapted it a bit (to incorporate my magic 6) and usually do it on the stove. But, after days of fussiness (ie demanding), H ate a huge bowl of the meatballs and the bubaloo had two small serves.

She aims, she kicks, she scores!!!

Unfortunately, I didn’t score on the photos – apologies. They may not look so pretty but they taste good 🙂

Hedgehog meatballs

You will need:
For the meatballs:
1 kg minced beef
1/2 cup uncooked rice
2 small or 1 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp tomato paste + 1/4 cup of condensed tomato soup (just open a 420g tin, I use salt reduced) OR equivalent tomato sauce
2 tbsp barbecue sauce
Salt and pepper

1. Combine all together in a bowl and mix well. Your hands are the best way to do this. Make into balls around 3 cm round.
2. Heat a splash of olive oil in a fry pan. Add 1 crushed clove of garlic (optional). Add the meatballs and brown.
3. Blend together (nb. new ingredients) the rest of the can of soup, 400ml water, and 1.5 cups (ish) tomato passata. Pour over the meatballs.
4. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn but do this carefully! The meatballs can fall apart if you are too rough.
5. Serve with steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, or just plain. This makes enough for a few dinners.

As an aside, my partner told me that his mum used to make this when they were kids. So it’s not a new recipe idea, but it’s clearly a resurgent one 🙂

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Midweek dinner: Chinese chicken omelette

We’re coming out of a bout of gastro at our place (is it distasteful to mention that when I’m writing about food? If so, apologies); well, the bubaloo had it and the rest of us fasted in unrealised anticipation. At the same time, the heat wave is continuing, with no end forecast for over a week. When these factors come together on a busy Wednesday evening, finding something for dinner can be challenging. So I turned to an old favourite, Chinese chicken omelette with some wilted vegies on the side. It’s lovely with chicken but that can be replaced by prawns, mushrooms or whatever you feel like.

But first, a bit of reminiscence… When I was doing my phd, there was nothing I liked more than, after a long day in the library or on my computer, hitting the cheap little Asian restaurants in the city. This usually meant Vietnamese pho or today’s recipe. I could walk in, order, and it would be ready within 3 minutes. What more could a tired gal want?

When I finished my studies and had kids, going into the city for quick cheap meals seemed like too much effort; I moved universities and suburbs. So I learned how to make it myself; the pho is still a memory but the omelette gets whipped up from time to time. If you don’t like the idea of this, but like eggs, be adventurous and give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised!

Chinese chicken omelette

Serves 2-3

You will need:
6 small or 4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1.5 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
Sprinkle of pepper
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (left over BBQ chicken is ideal)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp coriander, chopped
Olive oil
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1.5 tbsp sesame oil

1 cup rice and 1.5 cups water: use together to cook rice using the absorption method (or use a rice cooker!).

1. Beat eggs until combined. Add pepper, soy sauce, most of the spring onions and most of the coriander, leaving a little for garnish. Using a fork, beat together well.
2. Place olive oil in frypan and heat. When it’s hot, pour in egg mix. As the edges become cooked, use a fork to draw the cooked edges toward the middle of the pan and swirl the uncooked egg mix to cover the base if the pan.
3. Sprinkle shredded chicken over the top. Repeat the process to draw the uncooked egg towards the middle until the egg is mostly cooked. When it reaches this point, use an egg flip to fold the omelette in half.
4. Use the egg flip to cut the omelette into parts (one per person), then put it on rice on a plate.
5. In a small bowl, combine sesame oil and oyster sauce. Spoon this over the omelette and garnish with extra coriander. The sauce is really great, so don’t omit it!

wilted vegies
In a heated frypan, add a small amount of olive oil. Add whatever vegetables you like: I used mushroom, rocket, crushed garlic, broccoli and coriander. Stir to cook. If it needs more moisture, add a few tbsp water. When vegies are nearly cooked, stir in 1 tbsp soy sauce and some pepper. Cook for 2 mins then serve.

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