WATERMELON RINDS

One of the food-focused podcasts I regularly enjoy is Ingredipedia, out of Melbourne.

From the Melon episode, I learned that the rind of a watermelon is edible.

I’m a man who hates waste, so – seeing as it’s watermelon season here, and we’re getting through quite a bit – I thought I’d give it a try.

So far, I’ve added it, in 1cm cubes, to a potato and watercress soup, where it adds a pleasant zucchini-like presence without imparting any particular flavour.

My second batch, I cubed, blanched and froze, before adding to a vegetable curry, which worked well.

My latest lot, I’ve sliced with a mandolin into noodle-like lengths, before blanching and freezing. I’ll see what these are like stir-fired.

It’s versatile: there are quite a few recipes online, and a colleague tells me that you can pickle it. The fact that it would otherwise have ended up in the compost bin fills my heart with joy.

STUFFED MARROW

It’s funny how life throws up little coincidences at times. Whilst we’re all now used to having ads for things we’ve mentioned in conversation pop-up on our insta feeds the next day, it still happens in the analogue world, without the dark forces of Zuckerberg at play.

I mentioned to my wife that I’d kill for a stuffed marrow. They don’t sell them in Australia, you see, and it was a regular family favourite back in the old country.

Two days later, a colleague walks in with a big basket from her garden and says, “does anyone want any overgrown zucchini?”

I took the largest of the bunch and, honestly reader, had butterflies in my tummy as I stuffed it into my locker. It was a whopper. The car suspension was all down on one side as the marrow and I drove home.

Me and me new best mate.

Doing a bit of an internet search for a nice recipe, I came across one from Nigel Slater, who – if I’m honest – I avoid, because he gets on my tits a bit.

Anyway, with a couple of tweaks to suit what I had in the cupboard, it was done.

The marrow itself was a delicious example, with buttery flesh and a thin skin.

And, Nigel Slater, I take it all back. This recipe is a winner.

Ingredients:

1 marrow, cut lengthways, and seeds scooped out.

250g blue/green lentils. (Puy, or Grampians Green, as they seem to be called down here), cooked until soft.

2 onions finely chopped.

Olive oil.

6 tomatoes, finely chopped.

Harissa (or another chilli-based sauce) to taste

Green leaves, chopped (Nigel suggests chard or spinach, but I used beetroot leaves, which I had chopped, blanched and frozen a few weeks prior)

Salt and pepper.

Saute onion in olive oil, until soft and translucent.

Add tomatoes and cook through.

Add harissa and lentils.

Finally add the greens.

Fill the cavities on each half of the marrow and cover with baking paper.

Cook in a medium to hot oven until the marrow is soft.

I stuck some par-boiled spuds cut into small cubes and tossed in olive oil and seasoning in the oven at the same time, to make a nice, starchy accompaniment.

ONION BHAJIS

I’ve been getting towards the end of a sack of onions and there’s quite a few sprouty ones, so I thought I’d use some up by making some onion bhajis.

Really simple to make; really delicious to eat.

INGREDIENTS

3 brown onions, thinly sliced.

Gram flour (also known as besan flour)

Enough water to make a batter the thickness of double cream.

Salt to taste

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced.

2cm fresh ginger chopped.

Tsp turmeric

Tsp cumin seeds

Chili to taste (I used powder, but chopped fresh green chili would be nice).

Pinch asafoetida.

Lemon juice (I used a big squirt of the bottled stuff).

Oil to fry (I used sunflower)

All you do is mix your ingredients well and fry in batches (180 degrees C is the optimal temperature for crispy bhajis, which are cooked through without being burnt on the outside) until brown and crispy. Try and stop yourself eating them as you cook them. There’s a nice little article on the ins and outs of bhaji making here.

Ready to fry.

I served mine with a sauce of 50/50 soy/coconut yoghurt (any will do, but the coconuttiness was especially nice), dried mint, salt and a little garam masala.

TAHINI DRESSING

Today I found myself with half a jar of light tahini to get rid of, so I came up with the following dressing recipe. Perfect on salads, used as a dip, or as a mayonnaise substitute.

Half a jar of tahini (the light stuff has a milder flavour which lends itself better to this recipe, I reckon).

Glug of olive oil

Half a dozen ice cubes.

Glug of cider vinegar

Dribble of maple syrup.

Tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Salt

Black pepper.

All you do is blend it all together. Please adjust the quantities to suit your own tastes.

Save it in the fridge for Ron.

Addit: This went quite thick in consistency in the fridge, so I’ve been using it as a kind of mayonnaise in sandwiches. Works well.

BIRYANI

I HADN’T HAD A BIRYANI IN YONKS. Then, the other week, we were having a few days away in Sydney, stuffing as many of that fine city’s foodie-treats as we could into our fat faces, and my wife suggested we have tea here, because it’s a bit of a Sydney institution. I didn’t have to be asked twice.

Occupying the midway space between fast food joint and curry house, their specialty is knocking out plates piled high with meat or chicken, spiced to your preferred level, under mounds of long grained basmati, glossy, succulent, and with the occasional crispy bit. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This started a biryani craving, and my internet research led me to this recipe, which I followed almost exactly (for me) – I used skin-off, boned chicken thighs, cooked my onions in ghee, forgot to add the coriander before cooking, so added it after, did the final cook in the oven. This was a total success. If I’d had this in any restaurant, I’d have been raving about it…in fact, I was raving about it.

So, I strongly suggest you give it a go. It’s fancy enough to be a special, weekend/day off dinner, but not particularly time-consuming.

I served it with just a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Fancying a vegetable/vegan biryani, I thought I’d give it a go and it worked out really well.

INGREDIENTS::

Top layer – where you hope to achieve that combination of glossiness, crispness, lightness and fragrance.

Basmati rice 450 grams

Water 3 litres

1 star anise

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods.

2 tbsp salt

5 Bay leaves

Middle layer – where the onions bring succulence and sweetness and the coriander adds that soapy floral note.

5 or 6 medium brown onions

Vegetable oil, I used sunflower

Copped fresh coriander.

Bottom layer – where the protein and your own choice of seasonal/available vegetables, contained in a delicious sauce bring the texture and an intense hit of spicy flavour.

A few potatoes, cubed

A couple of carrots, sliced

Half a green capsicum, chopped

Half a cauliflower, broken into florets

Tin chickpeas, drained

2 cups soya yoghurt (or 1 tin coconut milk)

Vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

6 garlic cloves

2 tsp ginger

½ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp cayenne

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp paprika

Salt to taste (approx 1 ¾ tsp)

About a cupful of water

1. Slice onions. Gently fry them in the oil until caramelised, golden and sweet. Resist the urge to over cook them.

2. Bring water to the boil in large saucepan. Add vegetables according to length of cooking time (I added spuds and carrots, then cauliflower and capsicum 5 minutes later) and boil until they are partly cooked. Remove with a sieve or slotted spoon.

3. Add rice, spices and salt to water and cook for 4 mins, then drain.

4. I blended together the garlic, ginger, oil and yoghurt, (but you can do this by hand, if you prefer) then put it in a bowl with the spices and a drop of water.

5. Add the par-cooked vegetables and chick peas to the mix and make sure it’s well-mixed.

6 Put the veg and spicy sauce mix into the pan.

7. Layer on the caramelised onions.

8. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves evenly over the top.

9. Add the par-cooked rice (leaving the whole spices in).

10. Put the lid on the pan, and place in the oven at around 200°C for about 30 mins. You’ll smell when it’s done.

Once more, I’d forgotten to take a photo of the finished meal, so here’s one of some of the leftovers I took to work the next day.

There’s an interesting article on vegetable biryani here. I know you should never read the comments, but fuck me…!

VEGAN PULLED ‘PORK’

MY ONLY PREVIOUS CONTACT WITH JACKFRUIT was having once tried a smoothie made from it in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant. After doing a bit of internet research, I now realise I’ve seen the fresh fruit for sale in Asian grocers as well. I recently read something about it being the meat-substitute-craze-that’s-sweeping-the-nation and thought I’d give it a try. After all, I am rather partial to a meat substitute.

I regularly visit one or other of the Asian supermarkets round these parts and picked myself up a couple of tins of young green jackfruit in brine. I’m particularly glad to report that one of the tins was ‘Cock Brand’.

I must confess also, that I’ve never actually tasted pulled pork. I know it’s been everywhere over the last couple of years, but there’s always been something on the menu I’ve fancied more.

I had a quick squizz at a couple of recipes online and, basically, you boil the fuck out of the jackfruit, until it becomes stringy and pulled pork-like and you serve it mixed with a barbeque sauce. Recipes vary as to whether you cook the jackfruit in the sauce or cook it separately. Mostly, I reckon, this depends on whether you’ve already got your sauce made, in which case you’d boil up your fruit separately. If, like me, you’re making this up as you go along, it makes sense and saves washing up to do it together.

Pull the other one…

So, in a pan, place the following ingredients:

Water – start with half a litre and see how that goes. You can always add more if the fruit needs more boiling.

2 tins Young Green Jackfruit in brine (drained).

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

3 tbsp Sriracha (I used more and mine was blistering-hot)

Heaped tbsp smoked paprika

Tsp ground allspice

Tbsp ground cumin

Tsp celery salt

Tsp garlic salt

Tsp onion powder

Tbsp molasses

Tbsp cider vinegar

Black pepper

Salt, if needed.

Sugar, if needed.

All you need do then is boil until most of the water has evaporated and the jackfruit has gone stringy. I had to add more water for a second boil, but then used a wooden spoon, and then a potato masher, to break the chunks down.

I served mine with a brown rice salad (brown basmati rice, sweetcorn, finely chopped red onion, chopped yellow capsicum, chopped cucumber, grated carrot, chopped parsley, hemp seed – dressed with soya mayo cut with olive oil), which went really well, and took the edge off some of the heat from the sriracha overload.

It was delicious. Whilst it looks a lot like pulled pork, the ‘meat’ doesn’t quite have the same chewy texture. Bloody close though.

Arff, arff.

PULAU BROWN RICE

An acquaintance of mine in the 1990s moved to Balsall Heath and, being a bit of an obsessive sort of chap, set about immersing himself in the culture there. As a result, he lived almost entirely on food bought from the local south Asian grocers, eschewing supermarkets.

He did lots of research on how to make decent south Asian food and I still have a couple of photocopied sheets of recipes which he passed on to me, and which I still refer to all these years later.

This recipe is one of them. I’d no idea what book it was taken from, until my extensive internet research this morning led me to Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jack Santa Maria, – long out of print, but still available as an ebook. My yellowing and stained photocopy bears the handwritten quantities for using brown rice instead of white, which works really well, especially if you can find brown Basmati rice.

I’ve made and enjoyed this hundreds of times, and there is no greater recommendation than that. It works well in either a pan (on stove top or in the oven) or a rice cooker, although you need to fry the onions in a pan first if you’re using the latter. And it’s delicious, either fresh and hot or as a cold rice salad the next day.

INGREDIENTS:

255 grams Brown Basmati Rice (if you can’t find brown Basmati, use whatever brown rice you’ve got).

2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped.

1 inch/2.5cm piece of ginger, finely chopped.

6 cloves

2 inches/5 cm cinnamon, broken

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 pint/just under 1/2 litre water

Coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

Fry the onion in the ghee until it’s starting to turn golden, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes more. You want soft-golden-caramelised, not crispy-brown-burnt.

Add the rice and the rest of the ingredients and stir until coated in the ghee/oil and cooked a little bit.

If using a rice cooker, transfer ingredients into the cooker, de-glaze the pan with the water and add that to the rice.

Otherwise, add the water to the pan and cook gently, covered, either on a stove top or in a medium oven

Garnish with the coriander, if you choose.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished rice, but this is what it looks like when you’ve added the rice and other ingredients to the pan.

MAKING FACON

Fear can

I DON’T MISS MUCH ABOUT ENGLAND, to be honest. In fact, since the whole Brexit debacle has kicked off, I’m really quite glad to be one 16,328.404 kilometre step removed from it all. I find it disturbing enough to watch from here.

I used to miss British beers, until I gave up the piss; I miss watching my football team (the mighty Leyton Orient, in case you were interested); I miss the chips; I miss Birmingham’s multiculturalism, London’s pie and mash shops, beigel bakeries (yes – beigel bakeries), and my mates (although those who can have got the fuck out of Dodge.)

Bacon in Australia just isn’t the same. I’ve tried the very best and the very cheapest and every step in between, including those purporting to be British or Irish-style. None tastes as good as even the cheapest shit there. Don’t know why.

When I was vegan, there were two types of facon available: the one made of gluteny stuff, shaped and dyed to look rasher-like, with a taste similar to a Frazzle (an allegedly smokey bacon flavour snack from my youth). I preferred the tempeh rashers. These were more expensive, but less artificial in both construction and flavour.

After a few years of trying to find the right Aussie bacon for me, I kind of gave up and thought to myself, I’d rather have a tempeh rasher. However, they seem to have been discontinued long ago.

Once the preserve of ‘health food’ stores and Asian grocers, tempeh is now far more common (available in most supermarkets here) and it’s really easy to make your own facon rashers.

Block party.
Tempeh tantrum.

Block of tempeh, sliced.

Two tbsp veg oil (I used sunflower)

Teaspoonful of smoked paprika.

2 tbsps of Tamari (although any soy sauce will be fine)

Tbsp honey or brown sugar or maple syrup.

Marinating in the marinade.

All you do is marinate the sliced tempeh in the other ingredients and fry like you would if it were sliced pig-arse.

BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE

I MENTIONED THIS IN A PREVIOUS POST. It’s a smoothie I make every work morning in my Nutribullet and don’t drink until I’m sitting at work at my desk, where I find it sweetens the blow as I am forced to ponder the crushing reality of another day at the (figurative) coalface. I sometimes vary the ingredients and am constantly surprised that I continue to find it so delicious. It’s also full of lots of good stuff, ‘keeps me regular’, and keeps me sustained until lunchtime.

INGREDIENTS

Mixed the night before:

Half a cup (~70g) of muesli.

1 dried fig

1 dried date (pitted)

Kombucha, water, fruit juice or milk to soak overnight.

Added before blending:

1 banana (fresh or frozen)

Handful of frozen berries.

Large dollop of yoghurt (I use homemade soy).

Ice cubes or water, if needed.

Sometimes, I add a quarter teaspoonful of turmeric powder, which adds a pleasant dry taste.

If I have any odd bits of leftover tofu (which happens more than you’d imagine), that goes in.

Blend until smooth and drink whilst getting paid.