Spice shopping




The world of spices has a long and rich history, originating in the Middle East where merchants and tradesmen would exchange spices which were locally available and locally grown with exotic ones from foreign countries. The modern day person would know that spices generally carry wonderful medicinal properties and that they add flavour and robustness to dishes.

Last weekend I asked my dad to take our Japanese exchange student and myself out for the day where we would venture to one of the highly migratory suburbs of the outer west of Sydney, Bankstown where such amazing spices come in abundance. As soon as I stepped into the Lebanese Grocer I was met with such a beautiful sight of spice towers and their aromas. Our friend was very impressed at the display and we were happy to find many of our essential spices for chai-making and other additions to vegetarian meals.

However, the begining day of gleefullness was interupted when we decided to have lunch at the take-away Lebanese place next door. I think our enjoyment of the food served to us was undermined by the general high standard of food quality my dad & I hold. It was the side dip of hoummus that really disappointed us. Completely watered down. A little commerical-tasting and that type of saltiness that comes with chickpeas that have been kept in a can for too long..

Upon commenting to my dad that I could make a better tasting dip, dad responded to me in an obvious agreeable tone  “yeah…..but we’re eating out mainly because of convenience sake”. These words hovered in my mind for the rest of the day. It reminded me of my dislike for the western ideology which prioritises individuality and the self and a way of consumption that’s built around this. It also made me consider the continual need I feel to search beyond this westernised worldview for a more connected and communal way to share life and food. Most likely, this take-away Lebanese place thrives in Australia by its maximisation of profits and by having a secondary concern for perhaps more expensive or time-costly quality-made foods. But I think one can find a more communal approach to food and dining in the culture of origin…I’m thinking of those sprwaling marketplaces in the Middle East which shares similar attributes to the marketplaces of western civilisation – the supermarket strips.

In this particular example, the underlying notion of appropriation is perptetually apparent and fascinating…if food is the centrepiece of a vibrant community life and has a symbolic place in a particular social and cultural system, it may loose some of it’s original status when it’s being transplated and assimilated into another culture – that is, into a western culture of dining out or quick n easy enjoyment.

However, I was determined to not let that hoummus have the lasting impression on my palate and made my own to remember that it can and does taste wonderfully full and delicious!

So, if you want to share some hoummus around the table that is deep in flavour, the first tip I stand by is to free some time up and prepare your own dried chickpeas. It really is an essential step to making the dip a fuller and less artificial and commerical-tasting dip.

A creamy tasting hoummus. To be accompanied with your favorite wholewheat cracker or dipped in lavish bread. Adapted from Food Safari.

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

500g dried chickpeas
2 TBsp unhulled tahini
1 TBsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sweet paprika, to serve
1/4 tsp extra virgin olive oil, to serve

METHOD

cooking the dried chickpeas: firstly soak the chickpeas in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover 3/4 of the saucepan (they will increase in size). Let them soak overnight. The next day, put them on the stove and bring them to the boil (in the same water). Cook for around 1 1/2 hours or until they are soft and the skins begin to peel off.

making the hoummus: transfer the chickpeas to a food processor and blend them with the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt. Blend it until it’s well combined and smooth.

serve: scoop out the hoummus into a bowl. With a spoon make some shallow wells and pour in the olive oil, sprinkle paprika or top with other desired garnishes. Enjoy!

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Masai Chai

I first encountered this Indian spiced milk tea in a tent when I was volunteering with TEAR at the Christian Arts and Music Festival, Blackstump in 2009. In this tent we would always have a pot or two of chai brewing because it was a popular and calming drink for festival-goers, it would educate them about the foods/drinks developing worlds consume and it would entice them into our venue as a performance space.

I loved chai then and I will probably always love it. Because of the flavours and it’s strong aromatic smell it has become a comfort drink for me. I will lean back against a soft surface, curl up and drink it usually in one short sitting (otherwise it becomes horribly cold and less flavoursome). I find the combination of cinnamon, cloves and cardamon a nice sweetness that is made mellow by the other spices. I definetly think that when I have a drink of it, my body is a little more awakened to the world around it!

Because I first knew chai tea as a drink which I learnt to make myself, I try my hardest to maintain a similar home-made level of perfection as I drink and enjoy chai. The whole process of making the tea: from grinding the spices to the dark red colours the black tea produce when stired around, and the creamy layer of milky bubbles that surface towards the end nurture a quiet joy in me. The festival was a special time to expand my growing interest in community life, the developing world and the arts so perhaps I am a little reminiscent every time a pot goes on the boil for this tea.

In my two years of searching, there has only been a few spots in Sydney I’ve found that offer a good home-made brew of Chai:

badde mannors, glebe
correli’s, newtown
chai tent, addison road (marrickville) markets

I don’t mind though, I can easily make two cups of hot and creamy chai with my own recipe!

INGREDIENTS

4 heaped TBsp loose organic black tea

2 whole star anise

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp white peppercorns (a very sutble difference to black)

12 cloves

2 1/2 cinnamon bark, broken

10 cardamon pods, broken to release the pods

2-inch fresh ginger root, thinly sliced

1 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (optional – for an added touch)

METHOD

preparing the spices: dry roast the spices and pods (except the ginger and vanilla bean) on a lined tray at 200°C for 3 – 5mins until they get aromatic. Then, transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush and grind them to a smaller but not insignificant amount.

making the chai: In a saucepan, fill 2 cups of water (or less if you prefer it milky) and bring 1 TBsp of chai tea spice to a boil. Let it steep and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups to milk (or more if desired) and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add 2 TBsp honey and stir. Remove from the heat and strain in a tea pot or cups and serve hot. Breathe and enjoy!

Fresh Tabbouleh



We had these amazing, dark red cherry tomatoes growing in the backyard over the summer time. The harvest is fast approaching it’s final days but I had decided from the outset that I wanted to use them to make something delicious and to capture their sweetness… I knew I would let myself down a little if I missed this opportunity.

Happily, last week I looked in the fridge and I was pleasantly greeted with half a lime sitting in its corner. Because limes are usually a more expensive citrus fruit in relation to its lemony counterpart, my dad & I often just opt for lemons when we want to add citrus flavours to our dishes. But the lime, in its rare moment, was in our kitchen, its skin hardening and it’s juices waiting for me to squeeze it right out. It. was. SUCH a subtle yet wonderful addition to my fresh tabbouleh salad.

So after looking around the kitchen again to see what else I could add, I also realised my dad had cooked a fresh pot of chickpeas. They really are the best eaten freshly cooked because they are distinctly soft from all the water they’ve absorbed from their overnight soaking. I added these to the salad to increase my protein intake and to make a more substantial salad to last me the afternoon. ANOTHER great idea. Though I would recommend adding only one serving of these pulses/legumes otherwise they take away from the fresh flavours of mint, parsley and juices.

This was by far one of the best tasting tabbouleh salads, without burghul wheat, that I have made! A great balance of salty and sweet and just bursting with fresh juices.

Makes one medium bowl.

INGREDIENTS

Handful of fresh baby tomatoes, halved
1/2 juice of 1 lime
1/4 juice of 1 lemon
2-3 shallots, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
Small handful of mint, finely chopped
Small handful of freshly cooked chickpeas
Splash of extra-virgin olive oil
Sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper
1 garlic, crushed and sliced

METHOD

Chop all the ingredients and place them in a large bowl. Dress the salad with the oil and the juices. Give it a good toss and it’s ready to enjoy!

Serve: by itself or with some warmed pita bread as a roll.

Choc and Cranberry Surprise Cookies

Next time I feel a little down on life, in need of a boost, or that staying in on a rainy day and watching a movie is a good idea, THESE AMAZING CREATIONS will be on the menu.

Simply the most divine chocolate cookies I’ve eaten. Being baked with the finest quality and my most favourite of ingredients, these are really just perfect. The whole process of preparing, baking and eating them has brought me much surprise and joy in my heart. Hence, their name.

It was so random how I ended up making them! I suppose chocolate was on my mind after speaking to my friend, Pete on the phone to organise the practicalities of making his 21st birthday cake. I was getting excited I began to research some good chocolate mud cake recipes online. But I got distracted and went onto my friend’s blog and began to reflect on the small joys of life because she recently gave birth to a small baby boy! I remembered she had posted an amazing choc cookie recipe AGES ago and I had an amazing idea. I thought: if I could replace the butter with organic cocoa and coconut butter (that I bought from one of my favourite food co-operatives in Newtown called Alfalfa House) it could be even BETTER and TASTIER than dairy butter (and simply because I’m always looking for healthier options than butter in my baking). I was proved correct!!!

So here is my personalized recipe that was inspired from this one, with added health, delight and joy. They are soft and chewy on the inside with great chunks of almonds and dried fruit, whilst having a crisp and firm outside.

Makes a small batch of delicious cookies to share.

INGREDIENTS

115 g old gold dark chocolate, half melted and half chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup organic spelt wholemeal flour
50g organic cocoa and coconut butter
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt, crushed
120g organic cane sugar
1 egg
100g mix of roasted almonds, crystallized candied ginger and dried cranberries

METHOD

melting chocolate: Boil some water in a kettle and pour boiling water in a medium-sized saucepan. Place a large stainless steel metal bowl over the top and place half of the chocolate in it. Let it soften over simmering water for 15 minutes or until it’s melted. Keep warm.

making the mixture: Soften the cocoa and coconut butter in the microwave for 10 seconds. In a large mixing bowl, hand whisk the softened butter and sugar until combined. Add the egg and give it a strong whisk until the chocolate mixture is smooth and a thick consistency. Slowly add the two flours, baking soda and salt to the mixture as you quickly stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients in two batches so that it is well combined with the chocolate mixture. Chop the almonds and ginger. Pour in the melted chocolate, dried cranberries and chopped almonds and ginger. Give it a good strong stir.

preparing the cookie batter: start by preheating the oven to 165°C. Wet your hands, measure two tablespoons of the batter and roll it into a ball. Place on a cooking tray lined with baking paper about half an inch apart from the others. Repeat until all the batter runs out. Wet a fork and press down on the balls so they expand a little more in size. Place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes or until they have hardened.

baking the cookies: Take the tray out of the freezer and bake the cookies at 165°C for 20 minutes or until they have cracked on the top and are a little firm to touch…and when the kitchen is fragrant with chocolate! Let them cool and eat.

Enjoy one or two by themselves or with a glass of milk or tea.

A day at Catherine’s

I spent a good few hours of last friday in my friends kitchen having another fun time confidently and happily cooking with other foodies. At some points we were overwhelmingly disappointed – not in the execution of the recipes we picked as that turned out with minor imperfections, but in how they tasted and the fact that this clashed with our westernized taste buds and general taste expectations.

More specifically, my friends would have much prefered there to be no funky-smelling dried mushrooms in the pie and we all agreed that the pumpkin mixture for the brownies tasted like a battery-pancake in the way that it’s flavour was weak and hidden from the otherwise goey-soft and rich chocolate brownies.

But despite the let down, I watched, learnt and was INSPIRED by the multifaceted joy of cooking and observing others cook, notably – compiling a pie, making the filling, making the crust, mixing different flavours and colours together for brownies and making food look presentable. For the most part, I left the kitchen with a stronger awareness of how my eyes, nose and taste buds are awakened as I cook and observe others in the process of cooking.

So even though my stomach wasn’t satisfied completely, I am thankful for the lesson of experimenting with some interesting and perhaps a tad dangerous food items (yes – beware dried mushrooms! My tip is to always grab an assortment of their kinds from asian grocer’s and keep them for asian dishes like noodle soups)

Recipe for mushroom pie herepumpkin swirl brownies here and  Spanakopita (spinach pie) here.



Grilled Salmon with citrus jus, mint pea puree and roasted capsicums

This was a highlight for me this week. I love a good serving of tender salmon with roasted vegetables and mash. Although I’m vegetarian I’ve always thought I should continue eating and enjoying fish and other various seafoods mainly because I don’t eat it everyday and they are full of protein, fish oils (omega 3 and 6) which is good for the health and great for the skin.

This recipe is a combination of recipes. My dad found the salmon jus recipe at Best Recipes here, I thought it would be good to use Guy Grossi’s recipe for the pea mash and we added the traditional Italian roasted capsicum. A great combination of sweet and salty.

Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

4 Tasmanian Salmon fillets
2 tsp garlic, grated
2 TBsp soy sauce
2 tsp organic honey
1 cup orange, juice, fresh
1 lemon, juice, fresh
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper, to serve

For the capsicum

4 red capsicum
A good helping of olive oil
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper

For the pea mash

2 1/2 TBsp extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic, chopped
3 1/4 cups frozen peas, defrosted
2 tsp mint, chopped
3 tsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup home-made vegetable stock
A pinch of sea salt and black pepper

METHOD

making the jus: In a small saucepan, add the ingredients. Simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the orange juice mixture thickens up.

cooking the salmon: Bake the salmon fillets at 250°C for 8-10 mins. Then, cook it under the grill for 3 mins at 200°C. Turn over to the skin side and continue cooking for a further 2 mins. Then de-skin it. Set aside.

roasting the capsicum: Roast the capsicum at 200-250°C on the top shelf for 20mins or until the skins are evenly toasted (you will have to turn them every 7 mins or so). Once this is done, let them cool. Peel the capsicum and rinse off any remaining skin. Remove stems and slice. Set aside

preparing peas: In a medium-saucepan, heat some oil over high heat. Add onions and garlic; saute a few minutes until the onions are soft. Add the peas, mint and butter and stir well. Add the stock and season to taste. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer into the food processor and pulse until the mixture gets thick and chunky. Set aside.

serve: Put a few big spoonfuls of the pea puree on the plate. Lay the salmon on the bed of the pea’s and a few sliced roasted capsicums on the side. Enjoy, yum!

Tamarind Chutney

I think home-made gifts are the best. So last week I thought I’d invite my friend over and together we’d make some chutney for a friends 21st. Though it was our first attempt at chutneys, it was a great success. It was a good balance between sweet and sour. In terms of texture, very soft and smooth and full of flavour. We even tried making a drink out of the remaining liquid the tamarind was soaking in but it was rather intense, the tamarind really needs to be diluted if it’s to be made in a drinkable form!The recipe I amended was from Mamta Gupta’s website here.

Makes one large condiment jar.

INGREDIENTS

1 packet of tamarind pulp (you can get these at large Asian grocers)
300ml of warm water (enough to cover the pulp)
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp roasted and ground cumin
2 tsp garam masala
4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp hot chilli powder
100g packed brown sugar
6 cooking dates

METHOD

preparing the tamarind: In a large-bowl, break up the tamarind in large chunks and pour warm water over. Let it soak for at least one hour to loosen up the tamarind. Then, in an empty bowl push the softened tamarind pulp through a colander with your hands. Add a little water to the pulp to thicken it (you can add up to 1/2 of the liquid the tamarind was soaking…you don’t want it to get to liquidy). When most of the pulp comes through (you may need to pour some more water to loosen it), and the mixture is thick and bulky, it’s ready to be cooked.

cooking the tamarind: In a large saucepan, at medium-high heat, add cumin seeds and let them pop. Then, add the soft tamarind pulp and the rest of the ingredients (except for salt, chillies and sugar). Mix well. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or until the tamarind mixture thickens up. Add the garam masala. Let it cool for a few minutes before pouring into recycled jars or containers.

It keeps for a few months, with the flavours intensifying as time goes by.

Il Calzone (folded Italian pizza)

These are special to me because they were the first of the many Italian recipes I have cooked, learned from and been inspired by alongside my talented aunty in the kitchen.

They are very delicious with lots of hearty vegetables in the filling .. so similar to pizzas! I was impressed at how easy the filling is to make, it’s really the dough that becomes quite fiddly. I’m not sure if we used the pizza dough recipe or made another dough so I’ll update this shortly with the full ingredient list…

This simplified and modified recipe is from Jamie Oliver here. It makes quite alot of calzone so it’s a good idea to freeze the remaining ones that don’t get eaten up and have them as a back-up for dinner or when you need lunch on the go – perfect!

Makes 6 calzone.

INGREDIENTS

One pizza dough (see here)
1 onion, chopped
500g mixed mushrooms (button, brown)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 x 200ml jar of tomato purree
300g spinach leaves, washed and spun dry, blanched
200g fresh ricotta
1 can kidney beans
A good few TBsp’s of olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
125g baby bocconcini cut in pieces

METHOD

First make the pizza dough.

prepare the sauce: In a large cooking pot, heat some olive oil. Saute the onions first then the mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Season ans stir well. Add the tomato sauce. Add the blanched spinach and stir. Let the sauce simmer till it thickens, about 45 mins. Add in some cooked kidney beans and stir in ricotta.

prepare the calzone: add the mixture onto the bases. Add pieces of bocconcini on the top. Fold the pizza base over itself and brush with lightly whisked egg yolks. Use a pizza cutter to get a good edge or use a twirl folding technique. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

bake the calzone: Place the calzone on a baking tray in the oven at 180°C. Cook for up to 15 minutes until the dough is golden and firm to touch. Enjoy ten times over!!