feeding the five thousand

… well, the hungry team of five, anyway. We have our team meeting on Tuesday at a secret (and cheap) beachside venue. I have volunteered to feed us and our esteemed guests for lunch. We are the Red Cross, and voluntary service is fundamental to us. Plus: I get to choose what we eat.

With two coeliacs and one vegie amongst us, I am challenged to make a single meal to suit all. India comes to the rescue, as always.

A huge pot of brown and red lentils simmer away whilst I make up a very large quantity of tempering for my dhal and chole. I fry some black mustard seed in a generous lug of olive oil until they pop, add chopped tiny green chillies and cook until they smoke (they’re hotter that way), then in goes the holy trinity of cardamom, cloves and star anise. Last, a generous helping of garam masala, garlic and turmeric.

A pile of chopped onion gets fried quickly in a hot pan. The trick is to fry the onion well before you add anything to it.

I fry a mound of chopped mushrooms, small quantities at a time so they get nice and crisp rather than soggy. I add them to my onions. In goes chopped Roma tomatoes to sweeten the mixture.

Half of the tempering and the onion/mushroom/tomato mixture goes to make the basis of Charmaine’s dhal, and half to my chole. Not traditional, but I am a fan of the incidental consumption of vegetables. I add more chole masala to my pot of chickpeas: I can’t figure out what other spices are in this masala but somehow it makes the difference.

When both are cooked and simmered and well settled, I decant into containers and stir some fresh spinach leaves into both. I shall serve sprinkled with kasoori mehti, accompanied by plenty of Afghan bread, gluten-free wraps for the Gluten Girlies, lime pickle and yoghurt. And of course, a plate of freshly-grilled jerk chicken breasts for the non-veg people amongst us.

Home-cooked goodness, healthy, low-fat food, cheap as chips, idiot-proof recipes. Perfect.

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winter hibernation food

>Charmaine and I were out for our Indian Food Odyssey a couple of weeks ago when we got onto the perennial subject of hibernation food. The temperature goes down, the days get shorter, and even before real winter kicks in many of us seem to lose our healthy eating initiative and dive headlong into stodge.

It got me thinking that there has to be a way to avoid this by making a few changes to our diets early enough to second-guess our bodies. I’m thinking we have to make these changes in early May (or October for the northern hemisphere) so our good habits remain intact when hibernation mode seriously kicks in.

The first rule that springs to mind is seasonal produce. There may be no science behind this, but surely eating the fruit and vegetables which are naturally occurring at each time of year must be good for us? We are better at heeding this lesson in spring and summer, when asparagus, strawberries or green beans start sprouting from our kitchen gardens (or the aisles in Queen Victoria Market). So perhaps embracing those apples, pears, pomegranates, nuts and pineapples will help – think of the traditional Hallowe’en party. And those wonderful autumn and winter vegetables will be a joy to cook with in all those hearty stews and curries – think beetroot, pumpkins, kale, turnip and of course tiny sweet brussels sprouts.

The second rule is something about the type of carbs we eat. When hibernation mode kicks in, we tend to carb-load and often get it seriously wrong. Again, I’ve nothing but instinct to suggest that if we tend towards really high-quality carbs early enough, we will stave off that craving. Think pulses, high-fibre options like brown rice, squashes and whole-grain anything.

This year I am on a mission to find the rules to help us all pre-empt those winter blues by healthy and delicious eating before our stodge-fests kick in- so that this year will be the last time I get to winter solstice feeling unhealthy and lethargic.

Anybody got any ideas for more winter food rules, or ways to keep motivated to do even a little exercise once the autumn equinox has been and gone?

leftovers pizza

No, I don’t mean I had pizza last night and ate the last two slices this morning. As if, in my home, there would be any pizza left for breakfast.

Tonight, despite being Thursday, is the start of my weekend and I wanted Friday Food. (No Andy you do not have the copyright on this…). For the uninitiated, our Melbourne take on Friday food is that is has to be special, it has to be something you don’t normally eat on a school night, it has to be comfort food, it has to be something you like to end the week with but doesn’t take a Cordon Bleu chef to pull off.

I rode home from the city on the scooter in a strange high-temperature, high-humidity fog (really, is this still March?) and focused on pizza and red wine, my ultimate comfort food.

When I got home the Stanton and Killeen shiraz durif was hitting the spot and it was all I could do to call Pizza Hut – my favourite non-pizza pizza hit. (Let’s face it: Pizza Hut is not pizza but it is tasty). As it was March, the month of Slow Food, I focused hard and changed my mind. I would have home-made pizza with toppings made of all the leftovers in the fridge.

Two mini pita breads. Two teaspoons of tomato base from a tub (OK, it was not all slow food sourced from the land, but give me a break). A stray rasher of streaky bacon from a Paddy’s Butchers Sunday breakfast that just got too big. Some baby bocconcini from a weekend pasta dish, with about a week until sell-by date. Five cherry tomatoes and half an onion and a green chilli from the vegie drawer in the fridge. The heads off half a bunch of rapidly-failing broccolini. Spicy Italian herbs. All set.

Divine Thursday night dinner, nine points (Weight Watchers) instead of minimum 15 if I’d ordered in. OK, I would have ordered something meat-lovers and it would have been a train wreck – maybe 20 points which is more than I’m supposed to eat in a full day. But my dinner was a lot tastier and exactly to my taste.

And the fridge is a little emptier tonight because of me.

I thank you.

katharine’s Lentil Soup

>Ingredients
225g split red lentils
25g butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 carrots, scrubbed and finely diced
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1150ml light vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Pick over the lentils and remove any stones. Rinse well.
2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the diced celery and carrots and let the vegetables sweat for 5-10 minutes.
4. Stir in the lentils, add the lemon rind, stock and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
6. Roughly blend the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. It should not be too smooth.
7. Check the seasoning and reheat gently.

Enjoy!

mairead’s vegetable curry

>POINTS® Value: 2
Servings: 4

A tasty filling dinner – serve with boiled rice (rown is best).

Use whatever vegetables you like, but the chickpea/spinach combination is particularly good. The instant coffee is used to cancel out some of the sweetness of the vegetables, especially the tinned tomatoes. Add cooked potato and/or chicken if you wish, but don’t forget to count the extra points.

1 medium onion
400 g canned chickpeas
200 g mushroom
400 g canned tomatoes
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 medium head of cauliflower
3 cloves garlic
1 whole fresh red chilli
1 tsp chilli powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
150 g frozen spinach
2 tsp instant coffee

Instructions
Fry onion and garlic and chilli
Add rest of vegetables and cook for 3-4 minutes
Add rest of ingredients
Simmer for an hour

(tastes better made the day before!)