San Choy Bow

San Choy BowEach traveller’s delight is generally something personal and subjective, but few can argue that the sight of a street food stall or shack manned by an entrenched local doesn’t make the knees go weak and the mouth water. Perhaps it’s a puri cart on the side of a treacherous Mumbai highway or a steaming hotplate on a strip-lit road in Bankok promising the world’s fastest pad thai. I’m endlessly compelled by their magnetism. But throw yourself over to Australia and you might receive, bizarrely, San Choy Bow.

Although it is coined a chinese dish, San Choy Bow is seemingly more likely found in Perth or Sydney. And, bully for us, this versatile dish is a fun starter or main and can be made vegetarian or with any mix of meats or seafood. I’ve opted for the vegetarian common denominator recipe, but you can jazz it with whatever protein tickles your fancy on the day. My fussy 9 year old critic had chicken on the brain, so that’s what I made. Lots of good noises from my adult crowd but, despite eagerly awaiting the verdict of my particular junior critic, she only ate the chicken…

Serves 4 as main/8 as starter

1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 chilies, finely chopped
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
3 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
3 tbsp tamari/soy
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/2 cups quinoa (a mix of colours is fun for presentation)
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
Iceberg lettuce cups
Raw macadamia nuts (optional garnish)

First boil your quinoa. Whilst these are on the go, heat the oil in a pan, adding the mushrooms, ginger, chili and kaffir lime leaves. Cook for 2 minutes, until it becomes fragrant, and stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, tamari and 1/4 cup of water.

Drain your chickpeas and quinoa and add to the pan, stirring it into the mix to heat through. To finish, add the lime juice, coriander and season to taste. Serve on a cup of iceberg lettuce with the chopped macadamia for garnish.

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The Raw Brownie

The Raw BrownieI tried and tested recipe after recipe, 30 or so, for the perfect brownie for a number of years. They all had essentially the same ingredients but different quantities and ingredients. And then, one cold highland trip later I came away with a formula that I have used hundreds of times. But despite my prolific baking, I now have to pass the baton of chief cook of Beaver’s Brownies to my little sister, who has surpassed my skills in making them and they consistently turn out better than mine.

I would post the recipe here, but we’ve gone refined sugar free. So lamenting their loss on my repertoire, I hunted out a sugar free alternative (until I can work out how to make the original with maple syrup!). Cutting out all dairy, wheat, and refined sugar, I ended up with the raw brownie. It isn’t the same as the warm, crunchy and gooey brownie most will associate with, but it tastes great and you can have dessert without even feeling guilty about missing the gym.

Makes 12

2 cups whole walnuts
1 cup raw cocoa
1 cup unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups of dates
1 beetroot
1/4 tsp salt

Start by placing the beetroot in a pan of boiling water and cooking for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, add the walnuts to a food processer and blend until finely ground. Add the cocoa and salt and blend. Then add the dates one by one through the feed tube while the processor is running. You should end up with a mix a bit like cake crumbs, but sticks together when pressed. If it doesn’t stick, add more dates.

Now remove the beetroot from the pan, and remove the skin. Next, grate the beet, and then press the water out of it, so you don’t end up with runny brownies.

Add the beet and almonds to the mix in a bowl and fold in. You should end up with a rich reddy brown colour. Line a tray with baking paper, leaving enough over one edge to fold back over the top. Add your mix to the tray, cover with the remaining paper and place in the freezer. The brownie will set, but remain gooey to bite. Serve from the freezer of fridge.

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Silverbeet, Feta and Sunflower Filo

IMG_2415It was Graham Hill who coined the phrase “weekday vegetarian” in his brief but engaging TED talk. His message delivers the increasingly frequent adage that being vegetarian is better for the environment, and for animals…so if you like meat and won’t give it up, why not just eat less meat. Good point, G.

So I’m certainly conscious of the volume of meat I eat, and it has led to some interesting culinary creations. Not least, the filo roll. Each time I try it more veggies go in, but here is the solid staple recipe that will fill you up as a warm hearty meal, or serve chilled for a light lunch.

Serves 6

250g silverbeet or spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup ricotta
¾ cup feta, crumbled
½ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup chopped coriander
½ tsp ground nutmeg
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
½ tsp salt
ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 sheets filo pastry
melted butter or oil spray

Prep time 15mins, cooking time 40mins. Oven on at 180C.

Roast your seeds in the oven whilst it heats up, until golden and set aside.

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan, fry off the onion until golden and then add the silverbeet/spinach. This should wilt down until the moisture is cooked out of it (5 minutes), preventing the pastry from becoming too soggy later. If you are feeling adventurous, add in some chilli, or any variety of vegetables (I like roast peppers in there). Once cooked, remove the pan from the heat and add the 3 cheeses, coriander, nutmeg, lemon zest, seeds and seasoning. The cheeses should melt down into a good gloopy mix.

Now for working fast with the filo. It dries quickly in air! Melt a little more butter in a pan to brush on the pastry layers. Now lay out your first sheet on a counter top, brush with butter, add the next, brush again, and do this until you have 8 layers. Once done, add your mix onto the middle of the pastry into a long sausage and wrap it up into an cylinder, folding in the sides. Transfer this onto baking paper and brush the beaten egg over top to give it a golden crisp when cooked. Then just pop it in the oven for 40 minutes.

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IMG_2410When I first visited the Middle East I was greeted with looks of disgust when I enquired what za’atar was. Only later did I find that I was taking to a Jordanian man of Palestinian descent, to whom za’atar is a social signifier of their household. Distinct differences in flavour will denote the area it is from and the particular family. Imagine, if you will, almost an entire region of za’atar ‘sommeliers’ pinpointing the vintage and domain. Now perhaps you can understand his shock at my ignorance. Ask a Frenchman what wine is and you might receive that similar sequence of emotions from shock, then confusion, drawing into a dawning enthusiasm of enlightening this future pupil with an education.

From then on I was showered with za’atar at every meal and all I could do was encourage it. It is divine. I was so enamoured with this herb mix that I brought 7 kilos back in my bag. One might say that my return at Christmas took on a middle eastern theme. So on arrival to New Zealand, I was sorely disheartened that I couldn’t find it for love nor money in even the most obscure shops so I started making my own.

Recipe takes 5 minutes

30g Thyme
30g Marjoram
30g Oregano
20g Sumac
30g sesame seeds, roasted
1 tsp salt

Firstly, roast your sesame seeds in the over until brown. Then simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl. The more sumac you add the more citrus the flavour will be. Start with a little, and add to taste. This is really your biggest variable in the taste of the herb mix. Dip some bread into oil and then the za’atar, or top your hummus with it. I like to add it to my scrambled eggs as something a bit different.

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Machchi Kari

IMG_2354Simply fish curry. But in Hindi it sounds more attractive and authentic than fish curry. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a bit like a Wetherspoons pub calling their mash “purée de pommes de terre”…

I’m not going to lie, it took me a long time to make curries from scratch that tasted half decent. Too watery, too much chili, not enough cumin, too much turmeric. I won’t profess to get it right every time still. What I’m looking for is a balance. Too often is a decent prawn or fillet overpowered in a curry to the point that it simply becomes texture. But this recipe is delicate and smooth, with the right balance of flavours bursting through whilst still being able to actually taste the fish.

The basis of this recipe is embellished from the encyclopaedic Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, and I’ve given it the slightest of  tweaks to give it something extra delicate. Please don’t be put off making a curry from scratch, it will taste much fresher and as you will see it’s not difficult, and if you don’t have the ingredients in your cupboard already, you should!

Serves 4

4 fillets of white fish, chopped in 1 inch cubes
(approx 500g monkfish, cod, hapuka, snapper, pollock)
2 tbsp oil
6-8 curry leaves
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger grated
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 can coconut milk
Salt to taste

Prep you ingredients first. If you are cooking brown rice this needs to go on as you start.

Heat the oil in a wide saucepan and fry the curry leaves until brown. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry until soft and golden. Add all the ground spices, stirring until fragrant. Add the coconut milk and salt and bring to the boil, stirring. Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. Only add the fish 4 minutes before you serve, simmering to cook through. The secret here is the fenugreek so don’t miss it out.

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Swashbuckler’s Stew

IMG_2374Not much beats a brisk, energetic walk through forest thicket, snatching slices of refreshing air into the lungs. So picture two explorers shaking off the lethargy of a Saturday morning, swiping their rain macs off the peg and bolting out the door to do just that.

My mind’s image of weekend walks as a child are of my dad galloping far ahead with enthusiastic strides, and as history will repeat itself, I am now in turn that fast-paced trekker and this weekend was no exception. Along the banks of the winding, mountain-lined Tongariro River, New Zealand’s best trout fishing spot, my mind started whirring with the thought of something warming and fishy at the end of the 3 hour romp. This dish did just that and got a double thumbs up from Explorer no.2.

Serves 4

4 fillets white fish (cod, hapuka) skinned and boned
2 thick chorizo sticks, sliced 1 cm thick
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tsp oregano
1 litre chicken stock
2 tins cannellini beans, drained
3 tomatoes, halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp pepper corns
3 strips of lemon peel
4 tsp pesto (I will put up how to make from scratch soon!)
Olive oil

The stew will take 45 mins so bear this in mind.

Start by prepping your ingredients as above, and frying the chorizo in a deep saucepan with a little olive oil turning until it starts to char. Then add in the garlic and oregano for 30 seconds, before adding the stock, beans, tomatoes, bay leaf and pepper corns. Simmer for 45 minutes and reduce slightly, stirring occasionally. When cooked, remove the tomato skins, pepper corns, bay leaf and lemon rind and discard.

Drizzle oil, salt and pepper over the fish. Then 40 minutes into cooking the stew, heat up a frying pan and cook the fish, former skin side down first for 2 minutes on each side. Now they are both prepared, ladle the stew into low bowls, serve the fish on top and add a tsp of pesto on top. You can serve with a side of greens (spinach, thinly sliced green beans).

Whether it’s autumn in Aotearoa, or spring in Somerset, this should hit the spot.

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Naked Beef Wellington

IMG_2324I think making a beef wellington is something to revere as brilliantly ‘Delia territory’. It takes a good deal of effort and precision, so if you are ever served it remember to make the right noises to the chef, because those painstaking hours of work will be gone in mere moments of pleasure.

But the naked version this isn’t one of those dishes. Its a synch in comparison and it transports you into south central Europe in winter with its flavours. This all came about due to finding the most glorious fillet of beef and being totally undecided as to whether to make carpaccio of it or cook it whole. I just knew it had to be eaten well and I didn’t want pastry.

This dish is most likely to serve 4, as buying a fillet of beef for many more than that starts to make this a very expensive venture. But when you do choose your piece, make sure it a good barrel shape, with minimal marbling, preferably none at all.

Prep time 20 mins.

Serves 4

600g fillet beef
8-10 slices prosciutto
1 handful of dried porcini mushrooms
Knob of butter
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
3 handfuls of rosemary and thyme
Small glass (150ml) red wine (optional)
Cooking string/twine (not plastic or coloured, Bridget Jones)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Start by soaking the porcini in a bowl with 300ml boiled water. Next, finely chop the rosemary and thyme together on a chopping board, throwing a little salt and pepper in with them into a flat mound in the centre.

IMG_2323Take the fillet and roll it in the herb mixture so that it is entirely covered, ends included.

Add the knob of butter to a frying pan, with the garlic and add the soaked porcini on a medium heat for 1 minute, retaining the mushroom water aside. Then add half the water to the pan, simmer and reduce for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, on a clean dry surface lay out 3 lengths of sting and 1 horizontal piece like so III, placing half of your prosciutto in lengths on top, slightly overlapping. When the mushrooms are cooked, spoon half of them onto the prosciutto. Place the herbed beef on top of the mushrooms and spoon the other half of the mushrooms on top of the beef. Layer the remaining prosciutto on the top, overlapping all the pieces so the beef is parcelled, and tie the string loosely to secure it together.

Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes (rare), 30 minutes (medium) or 40 minutes (well done). I prefer 20 mins. Half way through add the red wine to the tray. Use these juices as a sauce (you can reduce for a richer taste whilst the beef sits for 10 mins). Serve in slices on wilted spinach, with greens or even mash potatoes.


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