Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Papaya & red onion salad

Every time I start to get unbearably broody (typing that sentence feels totally surreal, newcomer that I am to the idea that having kids might actually be desirable), I recall myself as a teenager, and that oogy woogy feeling of I-want-me-a-bebe magically evaporates, albeit temporarily.

I mean, I was a NIGHTMARE. Of the Elm Street variety. I know two-year-olds are often described as conniving little sociopaths, evil little vortexes of id, but teenagers can operate with a level of sophistication that would make Hannibal Lector seem kind of lightweight.

I was a lying, thieving, manipulative reprobate. I honestly don’t know how my parents survived. Where my friends were tentatively participating in illicit activities, I embraced them with an appetite for destruction that to this day I find appalling and breathtaking and kind of awesome. 

This is neither here nor there — I was just thinking back to the first time I encountered this salad. My mom made it when I was in full psychopathic teen mode. I remember thinking, Is she trying to KILL ME? Why don’t you just give me sardines and condensed milk LACED WITH CYANIDE? How about kidneys and custard? Chicken and chocolate pudding?! 

And then I tasted it, of course, and had one of those culinary revelations that influence your relationship with food forever. The idea that red onion and papaya could complement each other was entirely foreign to me, but of course now I know that it’s a riff on fruit salsa, and I understand why it works.

My poor parents. I can’t remember if I even admitted to liking it.

I know papaya is a bit summery for this time of year, but I found one as big as my torso at the market this weekend, so I am going to go ahead and assume it’s in season. This salad is brilliant with roasted salmon trout, and should go well with chicken on the braai.

Sweet papaya, tangy, crunchy onion, salty dressing...

Thanks mom.  

Papaya & red onion salad

Papaya, sliced
Red onion, finely sliced
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

I am not going to talk amounts. You can make whatever ratio of onion to papaya you like — I only used half an onion in enough salad for two. I also prefer to cut the onion very finely, but you might like it chunky. It does need the dressing (1 part balsamic vinegar to 2 parts olive oil) to be well salted though. I recommend just laying the pieces on a platter and drizzling the dressing on top — if you toss it together the papaya is likely to get smooshed.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Roasted Lemon Purée

I found this recipe in a book at Exclusive Books on one of their sales and I was like NO WAY I’ve totally never heard of this dude Michael Psilakis but Google tells me he’s kind of a Greek god so I whisper to the book ‘I’m busting you out of here!’ and then I stand in a queue for 20 minutes and pay for the book using my store card because you get a discount.

Then I got some lemons from my parents because they’re always giving me lemons because they have a lemon tree which I quite dig and anyway this time was no different so I’m like yeah those bitches are going DOWN (the lemons not my parents).

Okay here’s the recipe, it’s the Jones on lamb chops, but remember you have to use the dimpled bumpy lemons that you NEVER see in shops I’m sorry but you’ll know them when you see them because you’ll get the overwhelming urge to cut them with a knife, cut them real good.

Roasted Lemon Purée

4 scrubbed lemons (scrubbing removes any wax on the lemons)
about 1/3 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sugar
Cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll each lemon in aluminum foil. Place on top of a mound of salt with the seam side down. Roast until packages are soft — about 1 and a half hours. Allow to cool. Cut the lemons in half and scoop out the roasted flesh into a sieve (removing any seeds). Using a spoon, scrap the white pith off the remaining lemon peel. Discard the pith and chop the remaining lemon peel.

In a food processor, combine the chopped zest, strained flesh and juice, mustard and garlic. Process into a smooth puree. Add the olive oil through the feed tube. Taste for sweetness and seasoning. Add any salt, sugar or pepper needed.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pesto Trapanese

I've been feeling rather sanguine lately, in stark contrast to a few months previous. I'm drinking less, exercising more, merely cussing at other drivers rather than actively trying to ram them off the road...

This has not translated into more regular blog posts, though, because I am trying to funnel as much creative energy as I can into a separate project, which has left this blog a little more neglected than usual. This Other Project has me alternately cringing with inadequacy and swooning over my own genius — and by Jove it makes me feel alive. More like I'm doing something that Matters, even though the volume of work involved has given me a bit of a Sisyphean complex.

No matter. When you feel as though you are channelling undiluted, free-range destiny (the personal kind, not the super-hero kind, though really I'm not sure what the difference is, besides a cape), it's the doing that matters. Of course, the outcome is important too — esteem, kudos, money — one likes to think all that shouldn't matter, but it does. Thing is, if you're doing something that really matters to you, doing it simply for its own sake outweighs the (potential) promise of acknowledgment.

Happily, this pesto is a sure thing. Its destiny is very strongly aligned with your dinner in the near future (I have a gift, what can I say?).

I was looking for an alternative to the ho-hum basil version and happened upon this gem, which includes tomatoes and substitutes pine nuts for almonds. So not only is it cheaper, it has a more balanced flavour too.

It's a little hit of summer on a cold night. Use it to coat spaghetti or as a dip for crudités. I used basil, but the mint version sounds amazing too, and I plan to try it soon.

Do you have any lovely 'alternative' pesto recipes? Please share them! 

Pesto Trapanese
[serves 4—6]

350g ripe cherry or baby plum tomatoes
75g whole almonds — soaked overnight, then drained and rinsed [I didn't soak mine]
60ml extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
Several grinds of black pepper
3 cloves of garlic
40g mint leaves (save the stalks for mint tea) or fresh basil

1. Optional: spread the almonds out onto a baking tray and toast in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes, or so until golden and aromatic.
2. Peel and quarter the garlic.
3. Pull the mint leaves off the stalks.
4. Pop all of the ingredients into a food processor/blender and blitz until desired texture is reached. Alternatively use a pestle and mortar, or even a sharp knife to chop and grind the ingredients — the old-fashioned way — before adding in the olive oil. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Butternut & cheese pie

This is one of those dishes I would normally look at and think, ‘That looks yummy,’ and then click right on past it. The fact that I didn’t own a pie dish (until yesterday, when I procured one for this recipe) may have had something to do with it. I don’t know... Whenever pastry is involved, I tend to feel a little nervous and inadequate.

But I had a whole roast butternut in my fridge (more on that later), and three kinds of cheese (keep reading), and I knew, I just KNEW, that if I didn’t take action right now, they would be unearthed in three weeks’ time at the back of the fridge — mouldy, rotten and inedible — and then I would be visited by that special kind of shame that plants images of hungry children in my mind as I scrape hitherto perfectly edible food into the bin.

I am trying desperately, and failing often, not to waste food. In a fit of industry the other day, I threw two elderly sweet potatoes and a large butternut into the oven, thinking, ‘Hey presto, work lunches for the coming week, sorted.’ But after two days of buttered sweet potato, I couldn’t really look at the butternut. Too much moosh.
I also had some Edam, feta and creamy blue cheese left over from a drinks/snacks get-together that, hmph, never happened (you know who you are).

What to do?

I Googled ‘cheese + butternut’, and my favourite food blog, The Wednesday Chef, came to the rescue with this gorgeous recipe.

She used pre-made pie crust, and I fully intended to follow her lead and use Woolies ready-made butter pastry. Except, when I got to the appropriate isle, the shelf was empty. The revolting cheap stuff was there alright, but I can’t bring myself to touch it. It’s made with ‘vegetable fat’, whatever that means, and tastes like sawdust.
I was so enraged that Woolworths had fucked up my dinner plans that I actually stamped my foot: not once, not twice, but three times. I stopped when I noticed a security guard edging towards me.

I had no choice but to make my own pastry. I was NOT going to flake out (sorry), because some part of me knew that if I didn’t use that bloody butternut and cheese tonight, it just wasn’t going to happen. So I went home and MADE PASTRY.



(A Jamie recipe, you can find it here — it's not on his website for some reason.)

I mean, who gets home after a long day at work and sets to making pastry? Well, me, because I am disturbed. I’d like to say it was worth it — and it WAS a gorgeous pie, rich and silky and satisfying, with a simple green salad — but really, I have better things to do with my time. We ate at 10pm for god’s sake, so thanks a lot, Woolworths.

I will definitely make it again, though — using ready-made butter pastry, of course. It’s quick-sticks that way, and a great meat-free, weeknight option.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Grilled aubergine with gremolata

This Saturday (that's TOMORROW), 20 people are coming over to my house with the expectation of being fed and plied with liquor. They have that expectation because I encouraged them to, in a fit of insanity a few weeks ago.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a gathering of the misfits, egomaniacs and narcissists that comprise my friendship circle (well, actually it’s more of a crumpled hexagon), but, as my husband sweatily pointed out, I do have a tendency to take it all rather seriously.

It’s true. I am a control freak in the kitchen. In fact, I make Anna Wintour look like Jeff Lebowski. I start out calmly enough. A week or so ahead, I’ll start perusing cookbooks and putting together a menu of sorts, which is really the part I enjoy most. Then, a few days in advance, I’ll start shopping, getting all the basics. The night before, I’ll begin to prepare whatever can be done in advance, and make a mental inventory of what needs to happen the next morning ... which is when panic sets in.

Somewhere along the line I got this notion that everything needs to be perfectly arranged before anyone sets foot through our door: serviettes, white tablecloths, champagne buckets, an immaculately tidy house, enough ice, perfect make-up, music playing, snacks on tables, the braai set up, enough chilled wine to kill a grade 12 rugby team, and of course all food prepared to within an inch of its life, so all I have to do when guests have arrived is flick on the oven or something. If things aren’t exactly right, I end up taking it out on the poor, beleaguered Guinea Pig, who is ultimately blamed for everything. Normally we have just enough time to slap on a smile and slip the knuckle duster/switchblade under a coaster before the first guests walk through the door.

I am host-zilla.

Okay, I WAS host-zilla. At least, that’s what I hope.

Four weeks ago, the Guinea Pig’s family came over, and I wasn’t perfectly prepared. There was no way I would have everything ready before they arrived. For once, though, I miraculously, magically, didn’t give a shit. I was still dicing tomatoes when they arrived, and nothing bad happened. I was relaxed, breezy, content.

'WHY,' I wondered, 'have I been putting so much pressure on myself all these years?' It’s utterly ridiculous.

(In my defence, I think I used being prepared as a way of exerting control over my sometimes crippling social anxiety, but five years of therapy seems to be paying off, har har.)

So this Saturday is a social experiment of sorts. The Guinea Pig is supportive, but still gives me nervous little sideways glances. In his defence, I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people over before, and under normal circumstances he would be prudent to anticipate some sort of hospitality Blitzkrieg.

But no. I am going to enjoy my friends, get drunk, and who cares if the fish is overcooked? (Okay, well, that is to be avoided because nobody likes overcooked fish, so I’ll just keep an eye on it.) Who cares if we run out of ice? (Although, there’s really nothing worse that warm wine, amiright?) Who cares if we run out of wine? (Good god! Who said anything about running out of wine?!?) And really, who gives a continental about a few dirty dishes in the sink? (Nnnngyaaaaaaaaah I can't take this anymore!!!)

Jokes. Aha.

So I’m going to be making this, and this, and some grilled fish and a few other tidbits. Easy peasy.

THIS dish, however, I made for the GP and I week or so ago after I found the recipe in a Donna Hay mag it’s not something I’d make for a crowd, but it IS just a glorious way to enjoy aubergine, which I adore.

Gremolata is an Italian chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic and parsley, used to accompany meat, fish and veg. It's tangy and tasty, and makes a nice alternative to salsa verde.

Grilled aubergine with gremolata

Serves 2
Cut two aubergines in half lengthways and score with a knife. Stick a few stalks of thyme into the scored bits, brush with olive oil and scatter over two cloves crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Grill, cut side down, in a baking tray for about 20 minutes. Turn over and grill for a future 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.

In the meantime, combine a handful of flatleaf parsley, the zest of two lemons and a garlic clove (more garlic!) in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Combine with enough olive oil to get a sauce of sorts, and season with salt and black pepper. Drizzle the gremolata over the aubergine and serve.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pomegranate, tomato & onion salad


In large volumes.

It’ll eat out your insides until you feel like an empty, emotionally incontinent shell. And then, when it finally lets up, and your psyche begins to accept nourishment again and to heal itself, they (your insides) don’t grow back quite the same as before. You don’t see life through the same lens. You are changed, as if some pranksters broke into your brain while you were asleep and moved all the furniture around.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing though. The most awful periods in your life — while horridly, seeringly traumatic, seemingly endless and life draining — always have something to teach, or bring into focus.

I guess you can tell I’ve had a rough few months. Six, to be exact. The Guinea Pig too. I won’t go into detail, suffice to say that I haven’t felt like cooking, which is always a bad omen — a proverbial dead canary.

So my being seized by a fierce desire to make these couscous cakes on the Wednesday Chef’s blog was a sign that the old Robyn is still banging around in there, somewhere.

I was gathering ingredients for the cakes, thinking I’d like to have them with a salad, and possibly some kind of lamb deal. I think the recipe was Ottolenghi-based, so I’d have to stick to a Middle Eastern theme... A sharp tomato and onion salad seemed like the thing. I found this recipe on my iPhone while trawling the isles at Pick n Pay. Cumin! Of course! A tom and onion salad with parsley and cumin sounded perfect.

I bought coriander though, because I prefer it, and I had some pomegranates at home from a recent visit to my folks in Calitzdorp, so those were definitely going in. By now I was getting inordinately excited about this salad.

Back home, I put on Frank Sinatra Duets (so very cheesy, so perfect to cook to), poured a glass of wine, and spent the next two hours in the kitchen... Not because that’s how long the meal took to make, but because I wasn’t in any hurry. I was enjoying myself. I was getting drunk.

The Guinea Pig only arrived home at 9pm, which was perfect timing, and we feasted like starving peasants. The cakes were nice but frankly a little bland (though I admittedly did not follow the recipe to the t). I’d bought some lamb frikkadels (meatballs) from Woolworths, which were surprisingly lovely — savoury and lamb-y — but the salad... Oh my hat, that salad was out of this world. Crunchy, tart, sweet, salty, fresh... Towards the end, the Guinea Pig and I were just spooning it into our mouths right from the salad bowl. (And, after that, I lifted the bowl and drank the dressing, a thin stream escaping down the side of my neck — it might have been vaguely erotic, if it wasn’t salad dressing/I were sober.)

I made that salad three consecutive days in a row, and I’m still pining for it. But I’m out of pomegranates, and although I know the salad would still be lovely without, there’s something about those sweet little rubies that makes it. If you ever needed an excuse to splurge on pomegranates, this is it. (This is another one.)

So even though we’re going into winter, I feel a bit like spring. I can sense life returning to the parts of me that fell dormant in recent months, and I feel pathetically, irrationally grateful to this salad. 

Pomegranate, tomato & onion salad
Serves 4

Amounts are not all that important in this salad, really, as long as there’s enough dressing. Most shop-bought tomatoes are pretty awful, though, but I find a trick that makes them immeasurably tastier is to chop them up and scatter some salt over them. Allow them to sweat for about 10—20 minutes, then drain the liquid. It really intensifies their flavour.

8 medium tomatoes, chopped, salted & drained
2 small (or 1 large) red onions, chopped
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 bunch coriander, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
1 tbsp cumin, ground
Sea salt, to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine the tomato, onion, pomegranate seeds and coriander in a salad bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the lemon juice, cumin, salt and olive oil.
3. Add dressing to salad, toss to coat, devour.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A tale of two bath mats

All couples have their idiosyncrasies; ways of evening out the power balance that might seem a little... odd... to others.

Maybe you hide the good chocolate.

Or maybe you switch the mosquito repellant plug off after your partner falls asleep (against their express wishes, and that partner wakes up in the night and can’t go back to sleep because she’s covered in mosquito bites).

Or maybe you fib that the DVD store's copy of The World at War was out, but hey, guess what? Working Girl was in!

Or maybe you have his and hers bath mats.

That last one applies to Husband and me. (Actually, they all do.)

It dawned on me one day, after I’d once again accidentally stepped onto the edge of our (his) bamboo bath mat, that I should not have to put up with this. I mean, the thing is practically useless. It doesn’t keep your feet dry when you step out of the shower. It’s hard, and every now and then I accidentally catch the edge with my heel, causing it to snap up like a rake in the grass. It's aggravating.

One day, it was too much.

I marched up to Husband, the air above my head crackling slightly, and demanded that either he get rid of that bloody bath mat, or at the very least store it out of harm’s way after showering before someone (me) gets seriously injured.

He paused, mid-munch — he was eating a sandwich — and stared at me for a few beats. Then he swallowed and said very slowly, ‘Okaaaay,’ which did nothing to improve my mood. Was this not a serious discussion about a legitimate health hazard?

It was only then that I realised much of the dialogue leading up to this confrontation had occurred in my head — okay, all of it — and this was the first time it was being brought to Husband’s attention.

Never mind. Irrelevant.

I suggested getting a nice, soft bath mat. One that it is absorbent, pleasant underfoot and shields feet from frozen cement tiles in winter.

The indulgent look was replaced with one of horror.

‘But they’re so dirty! No. Sies. No way.’

‘It doesn’t have to be one of those kitsch pink things that look like candyfloss — I’ve seen some very tasteful ones at @home.’
‘Absolutely not!’

‘But I keep slipping on that bloody bamboo thing! It’s driving me nuts!’

‘Why are you slipping on it? I never slip on it.’

He ignores my murderous look, and I am treated to a demonstration of how to step onto, and off of, the bamboo mat.

You would never put up with it if it bugged you,’ I seethe.

‘Nonsense!’ he laughs. At which point the situation escalates dramatically.


Well, dear reader, this impasse lasted for a few weeks. Husband neither placed the bamboo death trap out of harm’s way or agreed to replace it. So I just went out and bought my own. It’s rather pretty, don’t you think?

Husband was severely annoyed, but recognised (sensibly) that he didn’t have much of a case.

I still curse the bamboo thing whenever my heel slips off the edge, but I am willing to put up with this purely because of the occasional glimpse I catch of my beloved scowling at my lovely soft bath mat.
It’s lose/lose — and balance has been restored.

Ain’t marriage grand?

Of course, we always reconcile — usually over a meal, which is like having make-up sex, except with your taste buds.

This is a dish I sucked out of my thumb... It’s pretty basic, but soooo good. You just have to be willing to make your own labneh, which is stupidly easy, but requires you to prep about 24 hours in advance. (See my previous post on the subject.)

One of my New Year’s resolutions (okay, my only resolution — ever) was to stop wasting food. I seem to waste a lot of yoghurt, in particular. Woolies doesn’t sell full-cream yoghurt in the little cartons, so I have to buy a large 500ml tub, and I am very ashamed that I rarely finish that tub before the contents go off.

So I’ve started making labneh. It’s such a versatile ingredient, and so yummy that it gets used without fail before going off... perhaps also because it lasts a bit longer than yoghurt would ordinarily.

So, as I said, this dish was invented, as so many are, by the contents of my fridge, and holy fuck, it was a winner. I cannot wait to make it again. It’s glorious on pasta, but I think the sauce would be equally good on crostini, or over some grilled polenta or chicken.

Baked spinach, labneh & tomato pasta
Serves 2

400g swiss chard, chopped fairly finely
About 400ml yoghurt (I prefer full-cream, but it’s not essential), made into labneh (recipe here)
3 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lemon
Olive oil
200g baby rosa tomatoes, halved
250g pasta of choice (I think fusilli or any long pasta would work well — I used spinach linguini)
Parmesan, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Combine the spinach, labneh, garlic and zest in a bowl. Season with black pepper (the labneh’s already pretty salty, so you shouldn't need any), add a good glug of olive oil, and mix it all up until evenly combined.
2. Transfer to a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, or until spinach is tender (but still green). (It always amuses me when I read the instruction ‘Remove dish from oven’ right around this point in a recipe. What are we, brain damaged?)
3. Arrange the tomatoes on a baking tray, and roast at the same time as the spinach, also for about 20 minutes.
4. In the mean time, cook the pasta until al dente, and reserve a cup of the cooking water.
5. Add the baked spinach sauce to the pasta, along with the roasted tomatoes and stir so the pasta gets evenly coated in the sauce. Add a little of the reserved cooking water water to loosen up the pasta if needs be.
6. Serve sharpish, with a generous grating of Parmesan on top.