Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Sunshine on toast: homemade sunflower seed butter

This recipe's full title is cinnamon vanilla sunflower butter. I found it on 101 Cookbooksthe beautiful blog of Heidi Middleton, the 1st food blogger I started to follow.

Heidi's photos are so gorgeous and so exquisite that I want to sob with envy when I gaze upon them.  Her palate is white and ethereal and the lines are clean and modern, while the styling features much-loved old or found objects that suggest reverence for cooking past and gone.

Heidi's blog does a wonderful thing: suggesting a lovely life, glimpsed softly through lace curtains.

But I have had a couple of epic fails with her recipes. One was a dal that produced a kind of pale yellow gruel that I threw out in disgust and frustration (but later wished I'd kept to use as as stock for another batch). The other was a chocolate-y, salty, banana confection. Intriguing . . . but odd and ultimately uneaten.

I've never cooked anything else. I just sigh over the beauty of each post and marvel at the number of comments she receives and the ads she runs and the archives she has accumulated and the cookbooks she has published.

Talented cooks are not like everyone else

I have this theory that talented cooks have their idiosyncratic signature. What they make tastes delicious in their unique way. But it doesn't necessarily translate when you try to capture it in that imperfect communication device: the recipe. Just because it has been bound into a set of instructions and measurements does not mean you too can cook it like the angels.

My husband's salad dressing is the ultimate union of oil and acid. But mine tastes nothing like his, even when he's standing next to me telling me what to do. He has a gift for cooking and his food always tastes wonderful. It just does. And I'm sure Heidi's partner would say the same thing. Whereas me . . . I plod through recipes, making mistakes.

And that's the other thing. If I try to follow a recipe properly and not go off at my uninformed tangents and it doesn't work, I always assume it's my basic incompetence. So, my failed attempts at following Heidi's recipes are quite likely to be the result of my lack of skill and absence of that instinctive kitchen alchemy that separates the plodders from the angels.

Sunflower butter

Which brings us to cinnamon vanilla sunflower butter.

Do you love nut butters? I do, particularly macadamia nut, which I would eat direct from the jar in a frenzy if I wasn't so preoccupied with my soft little tummy. I also love big fat artisinal loaves of bread. Nut butter on a fresh loaf of Iggy's sourdough? Ecstasy.

When I read this recipe I thought of that perfect moment of biting into a slice of bread. And that's when I decided to try it.

Cinnamon Vanilla Sunflower Butter

225 g raw sunflower seeds
60 ml oil (I used macadamia because I had some; Heidi suggests sunflower, which makes sense!)
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp vanilla bean paste (I used the award-winning Heilala Vanilla)
3 tsp ground cinnamon
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Heat the oven to 165 C. Toast the seeds on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant and golden. Stir a couple of times to make sure they toast evenly. Cool for 10 mins.

Puree the seeds in the food processor with a generous spoonful of oil and the salt. As the motor runs, drizzle in another 2 spoonfuls. Scrape the mixture down the sides once or twice along the way. The aim is an even, smooth consistency, so take your time.

Once the mixture starts to look smooth, add the vanilla paste and cinnamon. Pulse to incorporate.

Evaluate the consistency. Add more oil if it is on the thick, pastey side. Add more salt if you want and the lemon zest. Pulse again and voila. Store in a jar in a cupboard.

The result

My butter was far too thick to start with. Sticking-to-the-top-of-your-mouth thick.

Heidi lists 60 ml of oil in her ingredient list, but suggest using just 3 tablespoons of oil in her method. That wasn't enough. A day after I'd made my butter, I remixed it again drizzling in more oil to make it creamier and easier to eat. So, I would say keep assessing how your mixture is coming together and use as much oil as it seems to need.

How does it taste? Not overly sweet, certainly nutty and dark and spicy.  It would be particularly delicious on fresh apple because it tastes to me as if it needs something sweeter to complement it.

Are you a nut butter fan? What's your favourite? What do you most love to spread on bread? Hard one to answer, there is so much that I love to spread on bread! Let me know what you think in the comments.

Bread + butter

I watched this hilarious video recently: David Mitchell ranting about the Atkins Diet in the Guardian. He has some sensible points to make about those reliable foods that keep soldiering on and that we love for a lifetime, like bread and butter. His view that there is no better food than bread and butter illustrates brilliantly how Paleo is unlikely to ever go mainstream. If you have 4 mins, it will cheer you up. Unless you're a Paleo, in which case prepare for some eye-rolling.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Spice up your lentils with this secret ingredient

People often give me a knowing smile when I say I've made a lentil dish. Oh yes, you're the lentil lady. You really love your lentils don't you?

You know when you acquire a reputation for something, and then you're not bothered about that original thing any more but everyone only ever associates you with it?  Well, that's me and lentils.

I haven't had lentils for breakfast for months, neither have I even cooked them for ages. Enough with the lentils, people!

But when I  saw this Neil Perry recipe I was smitten. Why? Well, it looked rich and satisfying and nourishing. And nicely portable for lunch. Plus it contained a new mystery ingredient: tamarind.

What is tamarind?

Glad you asked. It's a lovely word, isn't it - which is why, when you Google it, you are presented with links to a great many restaurants called Tamarind.

It's an ancient fruit, indigenous to tropical Africa. The early Arabic name was romanised to tamar hind: Indian date. Aptly named. It lends its particular sweet-and-sourness largely to the cuisines of south Asia and Mexico.

I didn't think I was familiar with the taste, but tamarind is a key flavour note in Worcestershire sauce and HP sauce. I ate bucket-loads of those when I was a youngster. That's what made them so devilishly delectable!

Tamarind water & paste

Neil's recipe calls for tamarind water, and he says it is readily available in Asian grocery stores.

There is an Indian grocery in Neutral Bay, so I went in and confidently asked the young Indian who was serving if I could buy some. He didn't have a clue what I was asking for. Never heard of it. But he showed me tamarind paste, which seemed to lend itself to making tamarind water, so that's what I came home with.

I riffed on Neil's recipe in the end because he uses canned lentils and their water. Ewww. Not only do I not like canned lentils (purist, sorry), I hate that canned water. It's thick and dark and sludgey.

And I wanted to test his flavours on the toor dal I had impulsively purchased earlier in said Indian supermarket. I don't come across too many recipes for toor dal, so maybe this was their time to shine.

Here is Neil's recipe, if you're interested in the maestro's version: Lentils with tamarind sauce 

Read on for mine.

Toor dal with tamarind sauce

1 cup toor dal (or red lentils or channa dal, you get the picture)
water, 1 sliced garlic clove
1 tsp tumeric
olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 minced garlic clove
1 tsp each turmeric & paprika
1 tsp tamarind paste melted in enough boiling water to bring it to a rich concentrate
approx 300 g tomato passatta
a scant half cup of stock (or boullion or water)
1 tsp each garam masala & cumin

For the dal: rinse and put in a pan with enough water to cover, plus the sliced garlic clove and 1 tsp of turmeric. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and cook gently for about 1 hour. Keep checking the water level. They stick to the bottom of the pan if you're not watchful!

When the dal is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, give it a whisk for a smooth, creamy consistency.

Slice the onion and fry in a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid sticking and burning. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Then add the turmeric and paprika and stir around for another minute. Smelling pretty fragrant by this time.

Add the tamarind concentrate and the passatta. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the dal and top up with stock if the mixture seems too thick. Add enough until you are happy with the consistency. Heat through. Last of all, add the garam masala and cumin and season with salt and pepper to taste.

The sharp sweetness of the tamarind balances the astringency of the lentils and provides a satisfying depth of flavour. Gorgeous with a big fat dollop of natural yogurt.

And how do you like to cook with tamarind? Pulp or concentrate? And if you have tamarind water, where did you get it?! Spill in the comments.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Stephanie Alexander's poached and pot-roasted quince

Until recently I had never eaten quince. Not deliberately, I simply had never considered trying them - or even noticed them. Then I read a recipe by Stefano Manfredi in which he talked about how their aroma fills the kitchen. Intrigued, I decided to take a voyage of discovery.

I only purchased one quince because I didn't expect my husband or daughter to share my sudden enthusiasm. At home I consulted the recipe again - and learned that the cooking time was 8 hours. Really?!

Now, if you're a quince sophisticate, you would know this. But I was astonished. I've never cooked anything for that length of time before. I consulted other quince authorities for verification and finally decided to try Stephanie Alexander's poached quince recipe. She said at least 4 and up to 8 hours. Seemed a little more manageable.

Exotic ingredient alert: muslin
That was until I read that the core is cooked in a muslin bag with the quince. Where would I find muslin in suburban Neutral Bay?! In the healthfood shop, as it happens. The ever excellent Herbie's offer a length of muslin in their spice range. I chatted quinces with the nice lady. Oh yes, they like to take ages, she said. The longer the better.

Home with my muslin to embark on project quince - but the cast-iron pot that goes in the oven was full of my husband's weekend soup stock. It isn't often in such high demand.

The following day I tried again. I made the light sugar syrup that is the first step in Stephanie's recipe, thinking that things were getting ever more complicated. I made it with rapadura sugar as that is what we use, and it made a terribly dark sugar syrup. Hmmm.

Nothing daunted, I proceeded, cutting up the quince, taking out the core and tying it up with muslin (Herbie thoughtfully provides some string). Such is my inexperience I had 2 goes to get it right.

Then I realised that I couldn't put the pot in the oven for the rest of the afternoon - I need to roast some root vegetables for a frittata. My quince with its inexpertly tied core was oxidising in the dark sugar syrup  . . .  Do something. 

Stephanie also provides a recipe for pot-roasted quinces, courtesy of Maggie Beer. So I decided to do that instead. It required boiling the quince vigorously for 30 minutes and then simmering it for 5 hours. After some number of hours, I honestly couldn't say how many exactly, we were cooking dinner and needed the stove. So the cast-iron pot went into a slow oven for another aeon. Poor little quince.

Stephanie's poached quince
6 quinces, washed and peeled
2.25 L light sugar syrup
1 vanilla bean
juice of 1 lemon
lots of time

To make the light sugar syrup, heat 2 parts water to 1 part sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Cut quinces into quarters or sixths. Cut out cores and tie loosely in a piece of muslin (trust me, you need a large square, especially for 6 quinces).

Put sugar syrup in a cast-iron pot with vanilla bean, lemon juice and muslin bag, then add quince. Cover tightly and bake in oven for at least 4 (and up to 8) hours until quince is deep red. Do not stir or the quince may break up. Cool and serve. Split the vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the gooey syrup.

The miracle of quinces is that they go from pale, citrusy yellow to deep carmine over all these hours. I was pretty impressed with my effort, and the rich, thick syrup that remained. How does it taste? Like quince paste. It's exceedingly rich, but not overly sweet and you need only the tiniest amount. And it's delicious on vanilla yoghurt.

Apparently the thing to do is to poach them overnight. In the meantime, I'll stick to stewing apples and pears. Ready in 8 mins. Not a full working day.

What about you, you cosmopolitan quince lover, you? What's your favourite recipe for this chameleon of the fruit world? How long does it take? If you need any muslin, I have loads. Talk to me in the comments.