Fresh spring vegetable salad with gnocchi

Warm balmy evenings signal the start of lighter eating which means that it’s well and truly time for salads and making the most of fresh seasonal produce.  I love the combination of all these fresh green vegetables – really you can use whatever is at hand: broad beans, snow peas, baby spinach leaves. The addition of the gnocchi turns this salad into a very sustaining and satisfying meal.

Fresh spring vegetable salad with gnocchi


350g gnocchi
½ cup frozen peas
handful sugar snap peas, halved lengthways
1 zucchini, halved, then cut into wedges
I bunch baby asparagus
handful snow pea sprouts


1 small shallot, roughly chopped
15g mint leaves, picked
15g basil leaves, picked
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
zest of ½ lemon
juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp whole grain mustard

To serve:
1 tbsp pinenuts or pistachios

To prepare

Put all the ingredients into a small blender and blitz until smooth.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Add a bit of water if the dressing is too thick.

Cook gnocchi as per instructions then drain and refresh under cold water.*

Bring a pot of water to boil, add 1tsp salt then add the zucchini. After 30 seconds add the asparagus. 30 seconds later, add the sugar snap peas. Cook for a further 30 seconds then throw in the frozen peas. Drain immediately and refresh with cold water.

Place gnocchi with all the greens into a bowl and pour over the dressing. Toss well to coat all over. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.  Divide onto 2 plates and sprinkle with the pinenuts or pistachios.

*Generally all you need to do is bring a pot of salted water to boil and throw in the gnocchi.  Once the gnocchi rises to the top of the pot cook it for a further 30-40 seconds and then it’s ready.

Fast and easy baking

I don’t eat cakes (just don’t have a sweet tooth) but I do enjoy making them.  Recently I’ve been making cakes and taking them to the yoga studio to share with the lovely teachers there.  It’s a win, win for all – they love the cakes and I get pleasure making them.

This berry and banana loaf is a fabulously easy cake to make – no butter to beat, no appliances to wash.  Just one bowl.  And perfect for those leftover bananas that look too ripe to eat but stay in the fruit bowl.

Berry and banana loaf

  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar (I use coconut sugar)
  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 banana, mashed

Preheat oven to 160c.  Grease and line a loaf tin (22 x 8 cm) with baking paper.

Place the yoghurt, oil, eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Sift flour and add to the mixture, stirring until just combined.  Fold through the banana and berries.

Spoon mixture into the lined tin and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  To test, insert a skewer into the middle.  If it comes out clean, it’s ready.  I also find that when the cake starts to shrink away form the edges of the tin, it’s usually done.

Dust with icing sugar before serving.




David Hockney – a master colourist

Source: David Hockney – a master colourist

Hiramasa – the king of fish

I recently bought some Hiramasa Kingfish fillets, not really knowing what I was going to do with them, but having some vague idea of using up rocket, mint and green mango from the fridge.  When I searched for recipes most of them were for either cured or sashimi-style fish and the ones that were for seared or roasted fish were too heavy and stodgy.  I remembered a recipe I had come across by Martin Boetz from Longrain that was for seared Kingfish with watermelon and roast shallot dressing.  I had made this previously but found the dressing too fiddly and the Kingfish too cooked (I prefer mine barely cooked – just warmed).  So I decided to just wing it and see what would happen.   The result was better than I had hoped; in fact, it was delicious and I will definitely make it again.  

Hiramasa Kingfish is a high-quality sashimi grade Yellowtail Kingfish, farmed under strict standards.  Hiramasa is the Japanese name for this fish –  it is highly regarded in Japan, where the fish is hand packed to avoid bruising.  Hiramasa Kingfish is the Australian name for this fish, and it is also a high quality sashimi grade fish. It has pale pink flesh with firm, large flakes and a sweet, rich flavor.  Hiramasa has a higher fat content, firmer texture and cleaner flavor than wild Yellowtail Kingfish (Amberjack).  Because of its firm fatty texture it is a perfect fish to use for sashimi and other raw fish dishes. More info:

Kingfish with mint, basil and watermelon

Serves 2
2 tbsp olive oil
2 kingfish fillets – skin on (about 2000g each)
120g watermelon cut into thin triangles
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
4 red radishes, thinly sliced (on a mandolin)
6 green beans, sliced in half lengthways and blanched.
1 tbsp fried shallots
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 lime, juiced
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sesame seed oil
1/2 tsp salt flakes
2 small red chillis, finely chopped

Heat oil in a hot pan and sear fish on one side.  Remove from pan and rest.  The fish will probably come away from the skin.  Keep frying the skin until it is nice and crispy.  Remove and reserve for garnish.

Cut fish into slices.  Return pan to heat and deglaze with a splash of soy sauce and squeeze of lime juice.  Add sliced fish and turn to coat.  Remove from pan.

For dressing: mix all ingredients in a jar.

To serve:
Arrange mint leaves, basil, radish, onion, watermelon and green beans on plates.  Thinly slice the Kingfish then place on top of other ingredients.  Pour over dressing.  Scatter fried onion and shred or crumble the crispy fish skin over top.


Now I need to think of something else to do with my green mango, rocket and other bits and pieces.  It’s time for a fridge clean-out.

Apologies for lack of photo – I only realised how good the dish was towards the end – too late to take a photo.  


In praise of shiso – and eggplant.

My good friend sent me some home-grown shiso leaves along with a recipe for eggplant which I cooked the other day.  Shiso leaves aren’t available here where I live but I must search out a plant I can grow as it’s a wonderful herb. I’ve only ever used the tiny ones that are sold more as garnishes with raw fish dishes (perfect with sashimi) but I love their flavour and was interested in the eggplant recipe that made use of them.  

Shiso is a member of the mint family and has large teardrop-shaped leaves with serrated edges.  It comes in both a green and reddish purple form.  It’s also known as Japanese basil, perilla and beefsteak.

The original recipe doesn’t call for mushrooms but I couldn’t resist the large portobellos I spotted at the market and they go really well with the eggplant.   I served this with some basmati rice topped with wasabi furikake (seasoning).

Eggplant, goat’s curd, katsuobushi and sesame

Serves 4
3 eggplant (about 425gm each)
3 large portobello mushrooms
sea salt flakes
vegetable oil, for shallow-frying
1 tbsp each roasted black and white sesame seeds
3 radishes, thinly sliced into rounds on a mandolin
30gm goat’s curd
2 nori sheets, coarsely torn 
Soy marinade
125 ml (½ cup) light soy sauce
125 ml (½ cup) rice vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
To serve:
shiso leaves and katsuobushi*


Cut eggplant lengthways into 2.5cm-thick wedges, sprinkle with salt and stand in a colander for 10-15 minutes. Thickly slice mushrooms.

Meanwhile, for soy marinade, stir ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat just until sugar dissolves (2-3 minutes). Set aside.

Rinse salt from eggplant and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add some vegetable oil and shallow-fry eggplant in batches until golden-brown on both sides and tender (6-8 minutes), adding oil as necessary. Transfer eggplant to a bowl.  Add some more oil to the frying pan and saute mushrooms until golden but still firm.  Add to the eggplants and pour soy marinade over to marinate at room temperature (1 hour).

To serve, drain eggplant and mushrooms from the marinade and arrange on a serving platter, dot the goat’s curd around, scatter with sesame seeds, radish, nori sheets and shiso leaves and serve topped with the katsuobushi.

*Katsuobushi are bonito flakes, available at Japanese grocers.  

I couldn’t get any goat’s curd so I used some soft goat’s cheese instead.  Ditto with the Katsuobushi – I had some bonito seasoning that I use to make dashi stock and sprinkled that over the dish.  It may have not looked as pretty as in the recipe but it tasted sensational.  I also didn’t read the recipe properly and instead of tearing the nori I shredded them.  Oh well, next time I’ll know and plan in advance.

Nevertheless, I do encourage you to try this dish – it’s very easy to make and you won’t be able to stop eating it.

Good news:  I’ve just found an online seed place that sells shiso and have put in my order!

Barley salad – the new tabbouleh

My variation on tabbouleh

Pearl barley (sometimes called pearled barley) is the most common form of barley for human consumption because it cooks faster and is less chewy than other, less-processed forms of the grain such as “hulled barley” (or “barley groats”, also known as “pot barley” and “Scotch barley”). All barley must have its fibrous outer hull removed before it can be eaten; pearl barley is then polished to remove the bran layer.

Because of its high caloric, protein, vitamin and mineral content this variation of tabbouleh is much more wholesome than the usual version made with bulgar. 

Serves 4

1 cup pearl barley
1 cinnamon stick
1 lemon, juiced
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin mixed with 1 tbsp salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coriander leaves, torn
2 cups flat-parsley leaves, torn
2 cups rocket, chopped
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 celery heart, finely chopped, yellow leaves reserved
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped (optional)

Adding the seeds of a pomegranate makes a nice variation

  1. Place barley and cinnamon stick in a medium-sized saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until barley is cooked and tender. Drain then stir through lemon juice, half the olive oil and combined cumin and salt. Season with pepper.
  2. Combine barley mixture with herbs, rocket, onion, celery heart and leaves and almonds and season to taste.

Salads & grains

I’ve been experimenting with using different kinds of grains in my salads. Recently I came across one that used millet. I couldn’t find millet and thought that amaranth would produce a similar result. I was wrong. It’s more of a porridge grain and turned into a sticky mush. However, it did have an interesting nutty flavour. Like quinoa, amaranth is an ancient seed that was a staple of the Aztecs and Mayans, it’s full of calcium and anti-oxidants and packed with protein.

I intend to experiment with it and find best uses – didn’t do the job for my salad and I ended up quickly cooking some couscous to mix in with it (which worked really well). The beauty of this salad is that it’s quick to make and the only thing you need to cook is the chicken and the millet.

Poached chicken salad with millet
Serves 4
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/2 cup dried millet
1 cup chicken stock
100gm frozen peas (place in a sieve and rinse them with cold water to bring them to room temperature)
100gm silverbeet, thinly sliced
1 buch broccolini, finely chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed mint, finely sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Place chicken in a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water, a spoonful of salt, handful of black peppercorns and some spring onions (optional) bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and let it stand to finish cooking.
  2. Dry roast millet in a saucepan over medium-high until nice and golden (2-3 minutes). Add stock, season to taste and baring to the boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook without uncovering for 15 minutes. Spread millet on a tray and refrigerate to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, drain chicken and tear it into pieces. Combine in a bowl with peak silver beet, broccolini and mint, then add millet and toss to combine.
  4. Shake the dressing ingredients in a jar to combine and drizzle over the salad. Toss to coat and serve with scattered pistachio nuts.

For more grain-based salads click here: barley tabbouleh

Revisiting an old standard – mushroom risotto

Not wanting meat or fish I wondered the aisles of the supermarket in search of inspiration.   Nothing. And then it came to me:  risotto.  But what kind?  The vegetables were uninspiring but I spied some lovely Portobello mushrooms and remembered I had a packet of dried wild mushrooms in my pantry.  Sorted.

It’s been a while since I made a mushroom risotto.  I think it’s one of those dishes that has gone out of fashion (risotto in general).  But it’s such an easy and tasty dish to make.  All you need to do is soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for a couple of hours.  The longer you soak them the stronger the flavour.  I soak them in about 2 cups of water and then I use the liquid as the basis of my stock for the risotto.

This time I finely chopped the Portobello mushrooms and also added some sliced dried shiitake (also soaked in some hot water) so that I had a variety of sizes, textures and of course, flavours.

The recipe is easy – in fact there is no recipe.  All you need to do is chop a brown onion and saute in some olive oil then add 1 cup aborio rice and stir to coat.  Add a handful of chopped Portobello and  pour in some warm stock (I had some vegetable stock I had made on the go).

Meanwhile I heat some olive oil and sauté the rest of the Portobello mushrooms with some thyme and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, just to brown and soften.  Remove these from the heat to add toward the end when the risotto is almost cooked.

Back to the risotto:  keep adding stock (which includes the wild mushroom liquid) and stir risotto occasionally and gently until it’s al dente.  Then add the soaked fungi, shiitake and browned Portobello. Stir in some butter, extra olive oil and you’re done.  Finally, add very finely shaved parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper.  So easy.  It’s a very rich dish so a good accompaniment is a salad of greens including rocket, beetroot leaves and radicchio.  Perfecto.

Jar full of pickles

Pickles – who doesn’t love pickles? I’ve been a pickle fan ever since I was a kid. My pickles of choice back then were GeeVee sweet & sour pickles. I would consume these by the jarful and even drink the juice. Since then I have evolved in my taste for a preference for good dill pickles and am constantly on a search for the perfect dills.

More recently I have started to make my own and now have become something of a pickling queen.  What began with classic dill-style cucumbers has now developed to pickling just about everything – no vegetable is exempt.

There’s always a jar of some sort of pickles in my fridge. They’re a delicious addition to salads and smoked or raw fish and are quick and easy to make.  Even better, they can be ready to eat in just half an hour. I first tried my hand at finely sliced radishes and then moved on to baby onions and button mushrooms and fennel. Inspiration hit me when I encountered pickled grapes served with pate; they were a revelation and I thought I could easily make them.  I now have a jar in my fridge which is always on the go. They’re delicious and hard to resist popping into your mouth. More recently I have pickled baby beetroot, finely sliced on a mandolin, these too are ready in no time.

The great thing about pickling your own vegetables is that you can make up just one jar at a time and you don’t need to do it days in advance – just an hour before hand is fine. The other day I bought some lovely cherries with the idea of pickling them. Alas, before I could decide on an appropriate flavour profile I ate my way through all the cherries.

Today I bought a lovely piece of sashimi quality tuna and decided that it would go well with some pickled radish, fennel and beetroot.  On my bench now are two jars:  one with the fennel and radish, the other with beetroot.  Now I just have to wait until it’s time to slice the tuna and serve.   Continue reading Jar full of pickles

Galangal poached salmon with pickled beetroot

I saw some lovely fresh salmon the other day and couldn’t resist – despite not knowing what to do with it.  A lot of the time the fish up here looks a bit tired and uninspiring, so when I see something that catches my eye, I buy it.  These pieces looked good enough to eat raw.

My usual salmon dish is quickly grilled and drizzled with a ponzu style dressing and  served with soba noodles, finely sliced radish, cucumber, spring onion, green chilli and fresh coriander.  It’s one of those dishes that you can whip up in no time.  A good stand-by, but one I was sick of.

I’ve been playing around with pickling: radishes, cucumbers, grapes (!) and recently, thinly sliced beetroot.  I wanted to do something with some pickled beetroot and had some radishes in the fridge that needed to be used. I envisaged the pickles as being more ‘candied’ than vinegary.  Beyond that I had no idea of what to do with the fish.  And I was loathe to purchase any more ingredients.  We’re about to move and I need to get through as much fridge produce as possible.

I also had a nice fresh piece of galangal (I’ve become quite a fan of this lemony, ginger-like root) and some coriander that was a bit wilted but had good roots so I decided to make a stock: galangal, coriander roots, ginger, peppercorns, kaffir lime leaves and a bit of salt went into the pan.  When it had come to the boil I added a splash of fish sauce and squeezed in half a lime, put the fish in, brought it back to the boil, switched it off, put the lid on and let it sit for 10 minutes.  It’s as easy as that.  If I’d had any lemongrass, that would have gone in too.

For the pickles I finely sliced a radish, small beetroot, largish shallot and a long green chilli.  The pickling liquid was cider vinegar, sugar, salt and water. Easy peasy.

To assemble I shredded a baby cos (because it needed eating), flaked the poached salmon and added the pickled shallots, chilli, radish and beetroot and tossed it all together with chopped coriander and mint, a dash of fish sauce and squeeze of lime juice.  Garnished with some shredded lime leaves.  Success.  It was a great combination – not just of flavours but also of textures.  Sadly it didn’t look too pretty (for some reason I can’t do pretty) but it sure tasted good.

I’m sure if I had time to think and shop I could do justice to these ingredients and create a more spectacular dish.  But given that it was a weeknight and I was cooking from my fridge, I think I did pretty well.