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

Dressing
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

Another week, another round of recipes to create

It seems my life revolves around food – cooking and eating.  Every day I think about what to make for dinner.  Maybe it’s my age, but these days I’m leaning towards lighter meals and less meat. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve eaten more than my fair share of food and my body is shouting “enough!!”

I now find myself searching for more interesting interpretations of salads and while Ottolenghi has produced some very fine books with delicious vegetarian meals, I find a lot of them tend to be on the labour intensive end of the cooking spectrum.  By the time I get home from yoga, I want something quick.   Quick is also the key to shopping expeditions:  I generally have 10 minutes before my yoga class to race into the shops to purchase my ingredients, so I can’t afford to have huge lists.  Nor can I afford to aimlessly wander the aisles searching for inspiration (something that is at times a challenge in Noosa – the tale of my frustrating search for instant polenta being a case in point).

So to this week’s eating. I have a bunch of kale in the fridge and some zucchini, brussel sprouts, cos lettuce, cucumber, coriander, mint, a pomegranate, a hot -smoked trout, haloumi, a jar of baby roasted peppers and in the cupboard: two potatoes, onions, preserved lemons, chick peas and a whole host of vinegars.  In the garden: sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, curry leaves, kaffir lime.  What to make?

The kale needs to be eaten as does the smoked trout. So here goes:

A kale and smoked trout salad with haloumi and roasted peppers.

The other day I came  across a recipe for a kale and smoked trout salad that looked very appetising but when I read through the list of ingredients it seemed that everything was thrown without consideration of how all the ingredients would actually taste together.  Kale, smoked trout, haloumi, roasted chickpeas dressed in olive oil and smoked paprika, chimichurri (an Argentinian sauce traditionally used for bbq meats), pomegranate, yoghurt-tahini dressing, and poached eggs.  Overkill? The maxim ‘less is more’ had clearly never been heard of, so while it looked good in the photo, I’m sure it would have tasted … well, how to politely put it: much like those piles of food that people heap on their plates at buffets.  Lacking a flavour profile with too many conflicting tastes and textures.

So here is my version of the salad:

  • 1 bunch kale leaves, trimmed and torn into bit sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup coriander leaves, torn (or roughly chopped)
  • 1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves, torn (or coarsely chopped)
  • quarter segment preserved lemon, finely sliced into strips
  • 1/2 jar baby roasted peppers, sliced into strips
  • 1 hot-smoked trout, flaked
  • 1 block haloumi, sliced and dry seared then cut into strips

and for the dressing, I opted to mix:

  • 2 tbsp tahini,
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt, pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

There are obviously many variations on this dish.  You could just as easily use chick peas and haloumi (but omit the trout); or trout with poached eggs (omit the haloumi), or trout and pomegranate and maybe some lovely little tomatoes, but never ever, everything at once.

As for the brussels sprouts  – they’re for tomorrow’s meal.   Oh, and there’s tofu too.  I’m starting to get inspired.

Chooks and geese and ducks and things

Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts
Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts

Duck breasts are one of my favourite foods though I eat them rarely – they’re so rich and it always feels like a great indulgence – which it is. Cooking duck breasts is tricky – don’t cook them long enough to render the fat and they’re impossibly tough. Cook them too long and you’ve lost that wonderful ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ texture, flavour and succulence. Plus they go grey – never an appealing colour to have on your plate.

My favourite duck breast dish is one accompanied with cabbage and roasted pears. Doesn’t sound very enticing but it is a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the duck. Finely shred cabbage and mix with half a finely sliced red onion. Briefly saute in some of the leftover duck fat – the cabbage should just be wilted but still have a crunch and a gloss to it. Season with salt and pepper and a splash of verjuice or white wine. I put the pears (beurre bosc or corella), peeled and halved in a small baking tray, cut-side down with a drizzle of oil and a good splash (ok, a generous pour) of white wine to cook for around 20 mins. The duck only takes 10 minutes in the oven so timing is key: I first pan fry the duck then put them in the baking tray with the pears. By the time the duck has rested (sigh) the pears should be cooked. I sauté the cabbage at the last minute so it doesn’t wilt further.

Recently I’ve been trying other recipes. One was a Maggie Beer recipe for cabernet jelly glazed duck breasts with a salad of baby beetroot leaves, pickled figs and walnuts. Seriously. It looked good and I assumed that the Maggie Beer cabernet paste and  pickled figs would be readily available from places like the Essential Ingredient. I found the cabernet paste but no-one had heard of pickled figs. Oh well, time to get creative. Beetroot leaves ditto. I did however find walnuts!!!
This recipe just didn’t work:

  • Place duck breasts, skin side down, into a pan over medium heat and leave to render the duck fat.
  • When crisp on skin side, turn breasts quickly over and seal the underside for 1 minute.
  • Pour out fat and brush skin side with cabernet jelly and turn.

You have to repeat this process every 2 minutes, turning and brushing the duck with the cabernet jelly until its cooked to medium rare – approx 10-12 minutes. Problem is, the jelly burns and then the duck skin burns. Maybe it would have worked on a gas stove but on my electric one I couldn’t really control the temperature. Admitedly the flavour was lovely but it seemed like too much of a process.

Having an extra packet of duck breats in the fridge I decided to try this recipe again –  but with a variation. Nowhere could I find pickled figs but I did manage to find a jar of pickled walnuts and some lovely fresh figs.  I cooked the duck in the usual way and made a salad with the following:

  • Rocket
  • fresh figs, halved and grilled
  • lightly roasted walnuts
  • pickled walnuts (sliced)
  • pomegranate seeds (just because I had them)
  • dressed with some vino cotto and olive oil. Delish.

Unfortunately I was on the phone while cooking the duck breasts and lost track of time.  At first thinking I hadn’t cooked the underside long enough I left them in the oven a little bit too long.  Damn.  Although the duck was tender it was a bit over cooked for my liking (I like them to be pink).  Fortunately I could hide their greyness amongst the green rocket leaves and the bright red jewels of the pomegranate.  And for those who are wondering what pickled walnuts look and taste like:  the walnuts are pickled whole in their shell and are very soft to slice through – they really no longer resemble walnuts – and they taste much like caper berries.  Nice amongst things (and perfect in a pigeon terrine) but not something you would eat on their own.

My endeavor to master the perfectly cooked duck breast continues.

Seared beef with watermelon and roast shallot & chilli dressing

Seared beef with watermelonDinners at our house are a source of great contemplation. I generally start the day wondering what to cook for dinner. On week nights it needs to be something simple and quick; generally something prepared within 30 minutes after we get back from yoga. These days I tend to plan ahead so that I have everything on hand. Weekends provide greater opportunity for indulgence – both in terms of produce and preparation.

We try and steer clear of too many carbs and fatty rich foods and eat clean – lots of fresh salads and vegetables.

On Friday I made a seared kingfish salad with a roast shallot and chilli dressing. The salad has thin triangles of watermelon, coriander, mint, spring onion and julienned chilli. Fresh and delicious. I had enough dressing left over to use in another meal so adapted this receipe for seared beef.

You need to marinate the beef (I used a small eye fillet)  – preferrably for 2 hours but I only decided what to do an hour before hand and it was still extremely flavoursome.

Marinade: finely chop 1 lemongrass, 2 red shallots, 2 garlic cloves and pound to a paste in a mortar and pestle with 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Rub this over the beef and then cover and refrigerate.

For Roast Shallot & Chilli Dressing:

  • 4 red shallots, unpeeled
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 3 long dried red chillies, seeds removed
  • 50gm caster sugar
  • 100 ml lime juice

Preheat oven to 180c. Place shallots in a roasting pan and roast until very tender (15-20mins). Cool and peel.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat and add chillies turning occaisionaly until crisp (1-2 mins). Drain on absorbent paper and cool.

Pound chilli, sugar and 1/2 tspn salt to a fine powder in a mortar nad pestle. Add half the shallots (reserve the remainder for salad). Pound to a fine paste then add lime juice.

For salad:

  • 2 cups loosely packed coriander and mint
  • 3 spring onions thinly sliced lengthways
  • 1 long red chilli, seeds removed and sliced into thin juliene
  • 60g watermelon cut into thin triangles.

Mix coriander, mint, spring onion and chilli in a bowl.  Dress at the last moment or the salad will get very soggy.

Sear the beef (cook to your liking – I like mine rare), rest and cut into thin slices.

To plate: place watermelon triangles and beef on plate then add dressed salad and top and sprinkle with fried garlic (available from Asian grocery).

This dish is so versatile you can use any nice firm fleshed fish – tuna would be good – or pork or duck.  Allows for limitless variations.

The recipe serves 4 which is why I had enough dressing to make another dish 🙂