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Rummaniyeh | Aubergine, Lentil, Pomegranate

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil and Eggplant Stew

Last week Cyclone Debbie signalled an abrupt end to summer. The storm hit North Queensland as a category 4 tropical cyclone, devastating Bowen, Ayr, and the popular tourist destinations of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. The force of the wind soon reduced, but the storm continued a slow path south, dumping such a quantity of heavy rain that widespread flooding was experienced across south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales. It was a dramatic, intense week and for many people it’s not over yet; some areas are still flooded, and where the waters are receding the clean up now begins.

Persian red lentils for rummaniyeh

I was off work on Wednesday while Debbie was ravaging  North Queensland. Down in Brisbane we didn’t experience the torrential rain until the next day, but even so, the weather was dark and foreboding (the photos give a good sense of what the natural light was like). At such times I only wish to be in my cosy kitchen and so I made Rummaniyeh, a Palestinian stew of lentils boiled together with aubergine (eggplant). This might not sound appetising but I can assure that it is delicious. The aubergine becomes silken and savoury, providing a luscious textural contrast to the lentils, which retain a little roughness. The stew is spiced with ground cumin and fried garlic, and the whole thing is lifted with the addition of tart pomegranate molasses and lemon juice. In fact, Rumman means pomegranate, so this dish literally means “pomegranatey”. This is emphasised by the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds sprinkled over the top like little jewels.

Lentils, aubergine, pomegrante, lemon, cumin and parsley

This was the second time I had made the recipe. The first time was a complete disaster, probably caused by a misprint in the original source, which calls for 150ml pomegranate molasses. This rendered the dish inedible due to mouth-puckering sourness, so the second time around I reduced the quantity to a mere two tablespoons (30ml). I’m glad I persisted because at this quantity (with increased aubergine and slightly less salt), it made perfect sense. The stew is light, fresh and comforting, with a flavour so mesmerising that it is difficult to believe that it’s made with such humble ingredients.

Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew

On gloomy Wednesday my freshly cooked Rummaniyeh went down so well with a hunk of flatbread and a glass of red wine. On stormy Thursday, when we were sent home from the office at 9am due to safety concerns, another bowl warmed my stomach as I monitored newscasts and waited to hear that friends and colleagues were safe. It was hardly chilly during the Cyclone (in fact Brisbane continued to steam with the increased humidity) but Rummaniyeh  was the ideal psychological fit; a nourishing dish for unsettled times, for stormy days, the waning sun and the promise of cold days ahead.

Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew with Pomegranate

A few notes for the cook: choose lentils that will hold their shape somewhat after cooking. I was able to find Persian red lentils at my local deli, but brown or green lentils should also work. You don’t need to soak the lentils before cooking, but I like to do this anyway (for 3-4 hours) to help increase their digestibility. Don’t be tempted to skip the pomegranate seeds. Yes they are ridiculously over-priced, but these ruby nuggets provide little bursts of juicy tartness that elevate the dish from good to incredible. Good olive oil drizzled generously over the top is another key to the utter deliciousness of this stew. The stew is traditionally served with taboon or khubez bread, neither of which are readily available where I live. I used Lebanese flatbread instead and one day I might try this recipe for taboon bread.

My very best wishes to everyone in Queensland and New South Wales as the clean up from Debbie begins. If you would like to support Queensland communities impacted by the Cyclone, you can donate here.

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil and Aubergine Stew

Rummaniyeh - Palestinian Lentil & Aubergine Stew

Adapted from Joudie Kalla via The Guardian

250g Persian red lentils or brown or green lentils
1 Tbsp ground cumin
600ml water
2 medium aubergine, peeled and cubed into 1-2cm dice
2-3 tsp salt (the original recipe calls for 3 tsp (i.e. 1 Tbsp) but I prefer it a little less salty)
50ml olive oil
4–6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 Tbsp cornflour

To serve:
1 pomegranate
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Good extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flatbread (Taboon or khubez is traditional; Lebanese or pita are more available)

Wash the lentils well using the technique described here, then soak them for a few hours if you wish.

When ready to cook, put the clean/drained lentils in a saucepan along with the cumin and water. Cover and bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chopped aubergine and two teaspoons of salt, then leave to simmer for another 25 minutes.

While the lentils and vegetables cook, chop the garlic and then heat the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the hot oil and cook for a few minutes until it begins to turn golden. Pour the oil and garlic into a small bowl and set aside to cool.

When the lentils and aubergine have cooked for 25 minutes, add the fried garlic and pomegranate molasses, stir through and cook for another 5 minutes. In a small bowl mix the cornflour with the juice of one lemon and then add to the lentils. Stir through until the sauce has thickened. Taste the lentils. If you would like a more sour flavour, add the juice of the second lemon. Adjust the salt at this time too, adding up to a further teaspoon until the flavour tastes right to you.

Ladle the lentils into a serving dish and drizzle generously with extra-virgin olive oil. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by slicing it in half, then holding each half upside down as you slap the outside with a wooden spoon. The seeds should release and rain down onto the awaiting lentils (remove any bits of white pith that become detached). Scatter over the chopped parsley and eat with hot flatbread of your choice.

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How summer feels

Far North New Zealand, January 2017

Summer is the season that appears universally revered. In the southern hemisphere the warming weather means that Christmas is on its way and the annual round of parties, barbecues, beaches and sunscreen. It’s no wonder that we long for summer all year round. The thought of warm nights rolling into bright mornings into long, lazy afternoons seems so good, so right and so essential as we grind our way through the long year. Summer is as summer does.

Sadly, I can only write fondly of summer because it’s on its way out. Brisbane has just experienced its hottest summer on record, which included 30 consecutive days of temperatures over 30°C. This year, summer has been about getting through and constantly making ice to chill the water that emerges warm from the tap. Even now when it is officially autumn I’m lying here on the couch, clothes askew, beer within reach, resenting the heat of the laptop on my thighs.

The saving grace of this challenging summer has been three mini-holidays away. Just before Christmas we had a weekend in Coolum Beach where we took long walks on the beach and unwound after our busy year. After Christmas we had a few days down in Stanthorpe, Queensland’s only wine region, where we sampled some excellent local wines and gleefully pulled up the duvet at night when the temperature dropped wonderfully low. In late January we had a glorious week back in New Zealand, enjoying the long twilight hours and the novel sensation of comfortably wearing jeans. Summer might have been a write-off back in Brisbane, but these three experiences reminded me of just how good summer can be. The following collection of photographs tries to capture this feeling of Summer 2016-17.

Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast, Australia
Coolum Beach is one of our favourite spots on the busy Sunshine Coast. Unlike other beaches nearby, Coolum is relatively undeveloped which has helped to preserve its natural beauty and chilled out vibe. Things to do: hike up Mt Coolum for spectacular 360° views, shop for beachy clothes along the shopping strip, walk for hours along the white sandy beach, eat at Raw Energy for breakfast and Harvest for dinner.

Coolum Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Australia

Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast Australia

Up Mt Coolum looking towards Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast Australia

Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia
Queensland’s mild winters and heavy summer rainfalls aren’t conducive to wine making, but Stanthorpe is located just north of the border with New South Wales in the high country area of the Granite Belt. The elevation means that Stanthorpe is hot (but not humid) in summer and cold in winter; in fact, it even snows at times. We took a great half-day winery tour with Granite Highlands Maxi Tours, learning that wine has been made in the Granite Belt for nearly 150 years. Unfortunately, Queenslanders tend to prefer beer above all else, and for years the region produced sweet, unremarkable wine to cater to the underdeveloped palate of locals. The region now boasts several award winning wineries and we were impressed by most of the wineries we visited. Highlights included the excellent Tempranillo at Moonrise Estate, Malbec at Whisky Gully, Shiraz at Ballandean Estate and the delicious Viognier at Ridgemill Estate, where we also stayed.

Other things to do in Stanthorpe: wander around town, try the famous apple cider and apple pie at Sutton’s Farm, visit local potters, and look out for the McGregor Terrace Food Project (which was sadly closed when we were there).

At Ridgemill Estate Winery, Stanthoroe, Queensland Australia

At Ridgemill Estate Winery, Stanthorpe, Queensland Australia

Golden grass in Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia

At dawn, Stanthorpe, Southern Queensland, Australia

Winery tour in Stanthorpe, Queensland Australia

Far North, New Zealand
The Far North of the North Island is a little off the beaten track. It’s a solid four hours drive north of Auckland; more if you’re unused to the narrow, winding roads, but it will always be home to me. We spent a wonderful few days visiting family, soaking up the beautiful and familiar views and eating home grown produce from Mum’s garden. The highlight was a family outing to Lake Rotopokaka on the Karikari Peninsula, which is referred to locally as Coca Cola Lake due to the deep reddish-brown water (the colour is due to leaching minerals and tannins from peat). While the thought of brown water might sound off-putting, the water is clear and sparkling and is even considered to have healing properties. After a dip in the lake we drove over the hill to nearby Tokerau Beach and enjoyed a picnic on the beach while the sun gradually went down. It was after 9pm when we finally left and it still wasn’t completely dark (love daylight savings!). Sun, fun and fresh air – we all slept well that night.

Other things to do in the Far North: hang out at Ahipara to watch local surfers in action and visit nearby winery, Okahu Estate, take a walk in the quaint village of Mangonui and eat fish and chips at the infamous Mangonui Fish Shop, travel up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand (where it is said that the souls of departed Maori pass on their way to their spiritual homeland, Hawaiki), book a fishing charter out of Mangonui or Houhora, or simply find a beach (you’re never far from one) and relax.

Shipwreck Bay - a popular surfing spot for locals

mesmerising-red-brown-waters-of-lake-rotopokaka-aka-coca-cola-lakes

At Coca Cola Lake - Karikari Peninsula

Coca Cola Lakes, Mum's vegetables and Loki the dog - January 2017

At Tokerau Beach, Karirkari Peninsula, Doubtless Bay New Zealand

Tokerau Beach

At Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula

Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula - Far North New Zealand

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Best brunch dish | South-East Asian Kedgeree

Freshly poached salmon for South-East Asian Kedgeree

Kedgeree is an “Anglo-Indian culinary mash up” of a dish, combining curried rice with smoked fish and hard boiled eggs, popularised in Victorian times by returning colonials who melded Indian spices with British haddock. Kedgeree doesn’t appear to be well known outside of the UK, which is a shame because it makes for a supremely comforting and restorative meal. I’m always struck by how kedgeree sticks to your ribs while remaining light, warming the stomach and reviving a sluggish morning brain. It’s a classic and favourite dish, which made it an obvious choice for our annual Christmas breakfast.

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Since moving to Australia and spending most Christmases away from our families, I have imposed a tradition of making a big deal about Christmas breakfast. Breakfast is usually the most unloved meal of Christmas Day, which makes it the perfect blank slate for a new event (the rest is down to pure laziness on my part – breakfast will always be easier to pull off than Christmas lunch or dinner). I have tended to make use of this opportunity to try a new recipe, but we all know that it’s a bad idea to make recipes for the first time when entertaining. Unsurprisingly, this practice has resulted in sub-par results, including the bland 2014 Corn & Feta Fritters and the weirdly textural 2015 Summer Celebration Breakfast Tart. I also tend to take too long photographing the freshly plated food, turning a good dish into a barely edible one (see the 2013 Poached Eggs in White Wine, which reached the table stone cold and slightly congealed). After five Christmas breakfasts of mixed success (clearly, I’m a slow learner), I have accepted the following truths:

  1. Only tried and true recipes are likely to deliver a perfect result under pressure; and,
  2. Christmas Day is not the time for a photoshoot (neither is any day really, if it means getting between hungry people and their food).

Christmas 2016 went off without a hitch partly because it starred this kedgeree, a recipe that I’ve been cooking and adapting for years. I know the recipe intimately and it does what I expect it to do. The flavours were balanced, the rice was fluffy, I didn’t take a single photo and the kedgeree was served warm(!!!).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

While not traditional and therefore not acceptable to some, Nigella Lawson’s Kedgeree replaces the smoked fish with poached fresh salmon and takes the spice profile towards Thailand and Vietnam rather than India. Turmeric, cumin and ground coriander provide earthiness, kaffir lime leaves, lime zest and fresh coriander provide headiness, and salty, umami fish sauce brings the whole together. Kedgeree is best served warm and freshly cooked but leftovers are almost as good (which makes for sublime snacking on Christmas afternoon).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

Christmas 2016 was a small group of friends who gathered at our place for a three course breakfast. Over the course of three hours we ate our way through an abundant fruit platter, before moving to the kedgeree, then finishing with light and crispy Belgian waffles topped with fresh berry sauce and whipped cream. It was easily my most successful Christmas breakfast to date, and even if you did have to wait over two months for me to make it again, photograph it and post the recipe, at least it means that my guests might decide to show up again next year. I think I’ve just nailed my own tradition (at last!).

Kedgeree with poached salmon, coriander, lime and turmeric

South-East Asian Kedgeree with Salmon

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

500ml cold water
2 kaffir limes leaves, torn
3-4 salmon fillets, skin off (approximately 750g)
45g salted butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
225g basmati rice
1-2 tsp fish sauce (to taste)

To finish:
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
Small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 more lime, cut into segments

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 430°F. Select an oven-proof dish or roasting pan into which the salmon fillets are able to fit comfortably, laid side by side. Pour over the water, add the lime leaves, and then cover the dish tightly with foil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Check that the salmon is cooked (barely cooked and still tender on the inside), and use a large spatula or fish slice to remove the salmon to a large plate. Cover the fish with the foil to keep warm. Reserve the poaching liquid but discard the lime leaves.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Saute the onion gently until it has become translucent, and then add the spice and cook for a few more minutes. Add the rice and stir together with the butter, spices and onion. Add 1 tsp of fish sauce to the reserved poaching liquid and taste to assess the flavour (we are after a subtle broth – not too fishy or salty) and add a little more fish sauce if it still tastes too bland. Pour the broth over the rice, stir through, cover and gently bring to a simmer over a medium-low heat. Cook for approximately 15 minutes.

While the rice cooks, wash and chop the coriander, peel and quarter the eggs and you can even zest the lime if you wish.

When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel and then replace the lid (this will help to absorb any excess moisture – a good tip for when cooking any sort of grain on the stovetop).

When ready to serve, pour off snd discard any further liquid that has collected around the salmon, then flake the fish into large chunks. Place the fish into the saucepan with the rice, most of the coriander, lime zest and juice, and eggs. If your rice still seems a little bland at this point, sprinkle over a bit more fish sauce, and then gently toss everything together using a couple of large spatulas. Transfer the mixture to a serving platter, sprinkle with the rest of the coriander, squeeze over a bit more lime and add lime wedges on the side.

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Summer sippers | Strawberry & Pineapple Shrubs

Pineapple & Chilli Shrub and Strawberry Peppercorn Shrub

If the idea of drinking vinegar makes you cringe, then you’re not alone. Many natural health practitioners tout the benefits of knocking back apple cider vinegar each morning, claiming that it cures all manner of ills. It’s hardly the way that I want to start the day, but strangely, with Brisbane in the grips of an extra-hot summer, you’ll find me happily sipping on fruit-flavoured vinegars instead of my usual gin and tonic.

Drinking vinegars, or shrubs, are the newest old thing around. Essentially a concoction of fruit, vinegar and sugar, shrubs have been prepared for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. British sailors preserved fruit as shrubs and drank it to prevent against scurvy; the same sailors brought the practice to America in the 18th century, where shrubs became regarded as a cooling treatment in the warmer months. Shrubs (and their honey-based cousin, switchels) gained peak popularity in more modern times during the American Temperance years as a fruity alternative to alcoholic drinks. But then alcohol returned with a vengeance (I suppose?) and shrubs faded out of memory.

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub and Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

Fortunately, shrub and switchel recipes were recorded and are undergoing a renaissance. The food blogosphere seems to be exploding with them lately, used in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic preparations. I first heard about shrubs from the gorgeous cocktail blog Holly & Flora and have been joyfully experimenting ever since. They are easily one of the most exciting things I’ve cooked up for a while. Each recipe makes a portion of sweet, tart concentrated cordial that is rich with fruity flavour. Once you have a bottle in your fridge, all you need to do is dilute it with sparkling water or add a dash to your favourite cocktail. It’s seriously, ridiculously, delicious.

There are several methods for making shrubs but so far I have used just one: the cold-process method, which apparently produces a brighter, clearer flavour. Cold-process shrubs take longer to make than other methods, but it’s time rather than labour that is needed. Sugar, fruit and vinegar are introduced to each other one by one, left to macerate, then strained and stored in the fridge for at least a week to mature. This last bit is a critical step: when I made my first version, a Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub (recipe below), I couldn’t wait and had to sample the freshly strained liquid. It was so purely, intensely strawberry that all I could think of was little girls and fluffy kittens (strawberry overload), but after a week in the fridge the overwhelming sweetness was balanced with tartness and mellowed by the warmth of peppercorn.

The second recipe below (Pineapple Shrub) took some work to perfect. I tried it with orange peel and lemon, with chilli, then no orange and less chilli, then more pineapple etc etc., but just couldn’t get the pure, juicy pineapple flavour I was after. I eventually removed everything but the pineapple and used a base of Japanese rice vinegar and was finally rewarded with a shrub that makes you feel like your head has been swallowed by a pineapple. I have a million other ideas for shrub recipes – clearly, I’m going to need more storage bottles!

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub and Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

To make Jayme’s Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub, Jayme first has you infuse the sugar with lemon oil. Peel the zest from two lemons and using a suitable tool (such as a cocktail muddler or a sturdy pestle) massage the strips of zest into the sugar for several minutes (use firm pressure, but not so much that the peels break up). You will notice the sugar becoming damp with lemon oil.

Removing lemon peel to make Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

Cover the mixture and leave it to sit for at least one hour, then remove the peel, scraping off the excess sugar which will now be very damp (see below). This method of extracting lemon flavour is known as the oleo-saccharum technique.

Lemon infused sugar for Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

Add your chosen fresh fruit to the lemon-infused sugar and stir together. Cover again and place the bowl into the fridge for two hours.

Making Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

After two hours, remove the bowl and using your muddler or pestle, press the fruit gently to extract more juice. Add apple cider vinegar to the mixture, stir through and place back in the fridge for two days.

Apple cider vinegar is added to strawberries and lemon-infused sugar

After two days, strain the mixture, bottle, and leave to mellow out in the fridge for a further week before drinking. Once it’s made, shrubs should keep in the fridge for up to six months. I can barely get beyond stirring a little concentrated shrub into sparkling water, but I can confirm that the addition of vodka is also a good idea. The Pineapple Shrub below is also great mixed with coconut water. Enjoy!

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub with Pineapple & Chilli Shrub

Strawberry & Peppercorn Shrub

  • Servings: about 2 cups
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Recipe via Holly & Flora

Peel from 2 organic or spray-free lemons
1 cup sugar
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
30 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 cup naturally brewed apple cider vinegar

Remove the peel from the lemons, minimising the amount of white pith that comes with it. Place the peel in a medium bowl and cover with the sugar. Press the peel firmly into the sugar for about five minutes, using a pestle, muddling stick or large wooden spoon. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside for at least one hour until the sugar looks damp and slightly yellow from the lemon oil.

Once an hour or more has passed remove the peel from the sugar to a smaller bowl, scraping off the excess sugar. Reserve the peel and place to one side in a small bowl. Add the strawberries and peppercorns to the sugar and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap again and transfer to the fridge. Allow to sit for two hours.

After two hours the mixture will have become quite juicy. Remove from the fridge and press the berries firmly into the sugar to extract more of their juice. Pour the vinegar into the bowl containing the reserved lemon peel. Swish gently to rinse off the excess sugar then remove the peel and discard. Pour the vinegar over the strawberries and stir to combine. Cover the bowl again and place back in the fridge to macerate for two days.

After two days, strain the mixture using a fine-mesh sieve lined with muslin or cheesecloth. Squeeze the fruit gently through the cloth to extract more juice and then discard the spent fruit. Transfer the liquid to a clean (sterilised), air-tight bottle and store in the fridge for one week.

When ready to serve, always shake the bottle first. Pour 2 tablespoons of shrub (or more to taste) into a glass and top with ice and sparkling mineral water, and maybe a dash of vodka. The shrub should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

Pineapple Shrub

  • Servings: about 2 1/2 cups
  • Print
Adapted from Culinaire

1 1/4 cup sugar
3 cups ripe pineapple, cut into 1cm chunks
1 cup rice vinegar

Don’t try to make this shrub unless you can get perfectly ripe and sweet pineapple. If you can get them, I would also recommend choosing a low-acid pineapple variety.

Chop the pineapple and mix it with the sugar in a medium bowl. Press the pineapple firmly into the sugar for a few minutes, using a pestle, muddling stick or large wooden spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, transfer to the fridge and leave to macerate for three days.

After three days, strain the mixture as described in the recipe above. Transfer to a clean, air-tight bottle and store in the fridge for two weeks to allow the flavours to mellow (I found that one week wasn’t sufficient and the flavour of the vinegar was still too strong. After two weeks it had mellowed significantly, and it continued to mellow as time went on).

Shake the bottle before using. Serve the Pineapple Shrub diluted with ice and sparkling mineral water, without or without a dash of vodka. The shrub should keep in the fridge for up to six months.

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