Summer salads: Tabbouleh

September 3, 2010
Posted in Food  

My sister asked me today what salad she thought she should serve for a lunch with a friend tomorrow.

The thing about salads is that they can be supremely dull: a couple of salad leaves, tomatoes and some sort of cheese is not inspiring, even if it is easy to put together.  Fancy salads, on the other hand, are just that: fancy, over the top and time consuming.

Which is why I thought of tabbouleh. It’s certainly not dull and yet is fantastically easy to make. A little bit of chopping and you’re done.

Tabbouleh is just as well described as bulgar wheat salad (or cracked wheat). You get it in most shops and, like couscous, it doesn’t need to be cooked as such. It’s a perfect summer salad because it has the flavour of tomatoes, lemons, parsley and a light hint of spring onion.Many recipes call for huge amounts of parsley. You can adjust this according to your taste, but it does still need a healthy dose of parsley.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgar wheat (cracked wheat)
  • 2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (vary this according to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped spring onion
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped mint
  • 2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper

In a bowl soak the bulgar wheat in water for about 20 minutes and then drain well. Put the wheat into a serving bowl, add the parsley, onions, mint and tomatoes and toss it all up.

In a separate bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour this over the wheat mixture and you’re done.

Perfect for a summer lunch.

There are infinite variations on this salad. This is the most basic of them. You could add cucumbers, for example, to get it another fresh taste. Try it this way and then experiment.

Celebrating spring with chai tea

September 1, 2010
Posted in Food  

It’s hot, it’s sweet, it’s spicy. and there is nothing like it on a hot summer day. It’s chai tea. And with today being spring day it’s a perfect drink to celebrate the fast approaching summer.

Originating in the Indian sub-continent Masala Chai (“spiced tea”) is made by brewing tea with a mixture of spices, sugar and milk. The result is a warming, spicy cup of tea that somehow seems appropriate on even the hottest of days.

 

Making chai is simple and quick. This is the way I usually make it but, because there is no fixed chai recipe, it’s just as good if you vary the spices, the quantities and how you prepare the spices.

Typically Chai is made with any number of spices, including cardamom, cinammon, peppercorns, cloves, star anise and ginger. These are usually crushed, but for a lighter flavoured tea don’t crush the spices before adding to the pot. Crushing the spices will give the tea more of a “kick”.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre hot water
  • 1 big teaspoon cardamom pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 or 2 whole star anise
  • 2 regular teabags
  • 1 cup milk

Bash the spices up in a pestle and mortar. Cardamom and star anise seed pods will remain which is fine. Put the spices into a pot over medium heat and toast the spices for a minute. They mustn’t burn but you’ll smell the fantastic aroma as they toast.

Add the litre of hot water to the spices. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then add the two teabags to the pot and simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Finally, add the cup of milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Strain the larger pieces out of the tea and serve with sugar.

From the kitchen to the emergency room

August 22, 2010
Posted in Food  

I did it. I sliced a piece of my finger off. I’ve cut myself a couple of times previously while cooking but this time I really sliced a piece off. Not a big piece of my finger but large enough to create a gush of blood resembling a small slasher movie and prompt a visit to the local casualty ward.

I was chopping some tomatoes for a quick dinner. I wasn’t really concentrating. The next moment my kitchen resembled that of Gordon Ramsey. The F-Word was bouncing off walls and I was hopping around looking for something to staunch the blood flow.

A painful reminder of why good knife skills are essential.

Here are a couple of timely videos about using the pinch and claw grips to avoid ending up in your local emergency room.

Banishing demons: Easy Mayonnaise

August 21, 2010
Posted in Food  

I’m going to say it. Making your own mayonnaise is a big deal. At least to me.

It’s got a reputation for being fiddly and finicky to make, but making your own mayonnaise is a small badge of honour in the cooking world. Homemade always tastes better but most people just can’t be bothered.

Mayonnaise’s hard-to-make reputation is generally well-deserved. I’ve tried many times over the years, each time with an increasingly complicated recipe, but pretty much failed every time. The worst was on a Christmas morning when I had a dish planned for lunch that involved mayonnaise. After finishing off all the eggs and sunflower oil in the house in a number of failed attempts I had to resort to rescuing the remains of a jar of mayonnaise from the back of the fridge and spread it thinly.

I got away with that time but that wasn’t really the issue.

Then one day I happened upon this recipe. I can’t remember exactly where I got it but it looked pretty simple so I gave it a try and I’ve never looked back. We no longer buy that horrible over-preserved stuff from the supermarket any more. It takes just a couple of minutes to whip up this mayonnaise when you need some, and it last for a good while in the fridge.

There are a couple of tricks to getting this right but they’re not as complicated as some recipe writers like to make out.

The first thing to do is use room temperature ingredients, particularly the eggs. The second is to add the oil in a slow (really slow), steady stream. Spend the extra couple of minutes and get it right.

I use a liquidiser to make my mayonnaise, primarily because it has this cool lid with a very small hole it, which makes adding the oil really easy.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup (250ml) oil, sunflower or olive

Put all the dry ingredients and the eggs into the liquidiser and blend for four or five seconds. Next, with the liquidiser running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. You’ll notice the mixture starting to thicken.

Now add the vinegar and lemon juice and blend for another few seconds, just enough to mix it all up.

If you add the oil too quickly you ‘ll probably end up curdling the mixture. If this happens add a couple of drops of water. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to start again.

The mayonnaise can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though you’ll probably use it all up before then.

I sometimes leave out the mustard or add some more cayenne. It still works and you can change your final flavour by doing so. You could also use a red wine vinegar to give it some colour.

No-fuss, simple Ciabatta bread

August 17, 2010
Posted in Food  

I’m going through a bread phase. There is something uniquely fulfilling about making your own bread; it’s not just that it tastes better than the soft, sliced bread you get in supermarkets, it’s more than that.

Perhaps it is because in its simplest form bread-making is such a basic skill. And yet it can also involve great skill and artistry.

One of my favourite breads is Ciabatta. Making a good Ciabatta bread can be time consuming and pretty fiddly. This is my super-simple version which gives a great result but doesn’t take much time. It also produces excellent rolls for things like hamburgers.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

You could make this by hand but I tend to stick all of the ingredients into my bread machine and use the dough setting. I start with the water and flour, add the rest and set the machine. The resulting dough is pretty soft and sticky, which is another good reason to use a bread machine.

Once the dough is ready, take it out of the bread machine, place on a board, cover with a large bowl and let it stand for about 10 minutes.

Next, split your dough into two and shape into oval shapes. Alternatively, split the dough into six or eight pieces to make bread rolls.

Leave these to prove for about an hour. In warmer climates this may take less time, and in colder ones you may need more.

Once the dough has risen, place it in a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C for about 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned. Spray the loaves lightly with water ever three minutes for the first ten minutes of cooking. This prevents the crust browning too quickly and keeps the crust moist enough to keep on rising. Spraying more than this can make the loaves very pale.

If you’re making bread rolls out of this, brush the surface with milk or egg before cooking. The milk gives the bread a lighter shade than the egg and the egg gives a deeper glaze.

Remove the bread from the oven and stand on a wire rack to cool before eating.

Chillies brave the storms

November 2, 2009
Posted in Garden  

chilliesThe vicious hailstorm which smashed up most of my seedlings just over a week ago was followed exactly a week later with another huge downpour. Although this one lacked the hail of the previous one it did last for a good hour and in that time turned the vegetable garden into a small lake. The seedlings, a little more protected by a neighbour’s large tree, weren’t washed away but they were drenched and many of the pumpkin, cucumber and watermelon seeds I had planted a couple of days earlier, were washed out of their seed trays. The more established seedlings like the lettuce and spinach managed to weather the storm and were not too badly off at the end.

But with two of the biggest storms in quick succession the seedlings have endured more than they would like. The storms have also washed out the weaker plants, wiped out seeds and left a real jumble on the seedling table. Because of this I decided to do a clean-up over the weekend and work out which of the plants and seeds were worth saving.

Surprisingly (perhaps) it was the various chilli plants, which have been pretty quiet until now, that seemed to be thriving. I had almost forgotten about the chilli seeds we had planted a month ago but quickly over the past week they have shot up from being barely visible to now being very obviously “there”.

So, on Sunday I washed out 20 small pots from the garage and set about transplanting all the chilli seedlings into their own pots using a mixture of seedling medium (bought from a nursery) and potting soil. After all this time of waiting expectantly for some of the chillies to appear it’s a rewarding feeling to now have 20 pots of chilli. Apart from the mixed hot chillies (a packet bought along the way) I also have Habanero and Serano chillies as well as a collection of sweet peppers.

31 SA beaches to get Blue Flag status

October 28, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

Muizenberg. Copyright http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifijay/

Muizenberg. Copyright ifijay http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifijay/

31 of South Africa’s beaches will be awarded Blue Flag status on Thursday in recognition of their cleanliness and positive environmental management. The 31 beaches span 13 of South Africa’s municipalities and is almost double the number of beaches awarded Blue Flag status last year. Last year just 18 beaches around the country received Blue Flag status, nine of those in the Western Cape.

The Blue Flag award is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education and is given to beaches and marinas that have met stringent standards of water quality, safety, environmental education and information and general environmental management criteria, set by the FEE. Globally almost 4,000 beaches and marinas globally are being awarded Blue Flags.

Of the 31 beaches being awarded Blue Flags tomorrow, seven of them will be in Cape Town, one more than the city received last year. Last year, six beaches were awarded Blue Flags: Clifton Fourth, Mnandi, Bikini in Gordon’s Bay, Muizenberg, Strandfontein and a section of Camps Bay.The Western Cape last year had a total of nine beaches with Blue Flag status with Grotto, Hawston Beach and Stilbaai adding to the City of Cape Town haul.

The 31 beaches being awarded Blue Flag status will be announced tomorrow by Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

More at IOL and News24

Hail setback for Project Green

October 26, 2009
Posted in Garden  

The hail starts to pile up around the back steps.

The hail starts to pile up around the back steps.

Living in Johannesburg we’re used to regular summer thunderstorms. So much so that they are the first thing we miss when not in Johannesburg. But Friday night’s version of a highveld thunderstorm was a lot more than we bargained for and Project Green took a heavy knock.

Early on in the afternoon it was obvious a storm was coming, but after countless false alarms with just a handful of raindrops, I didn’t take it too seriously. I did cover as much of the seedling table as I could with fine plastic mesh that I had lying around, just in case, and left it at that.

As with most thunderstorms it started fast and hard. And within a minute or so, when it was obvious this storm was going to be a big one, it was already almost too hard to get outside. A minute or two after that and the hail starting pelting down so we had to watch from the back door and hope things survived the storm.

All told the storm lasted about half-an-hour, but by the end of that time absolutely everything was white with hail, and not a herb (the closest to our back door) peeked above the layer of ice. The front path was almost a foot deep in hailstones and the vegetable garden in the back (at the bottom of the slope) was as much under water as anything.

After half an hour we ventured outside to see the damage. The herbs were smothered, the vegetables underwater and the pots of tomato and green pepper seedlings I had not managed to put under cover were smashed to pieces, just a handful of stems poking out the ice.

The green pepper and tomato seedlings didn't survive the storm very well.

The green pepper and tomato seedlings didn't survive the storm very well.

Fortunately the seedling table with its half-length cover had avoided the worst of the storm. I was pleased about that because I had trays full of lettuce, basil, thyme and chillis that were almost ready to go into the garden. I also had a tray full of 288 recently planted seeds of lettuce, parsley, thyme and spinach that had just started to show themselves and wouldn’t have survived the hailstones if they had not been covered. The portion of the seedling table not covered with the extra mesh was a sad sight with whole trays submerged in ice and leaves full of bruises and holes.

The beauty of the seedling table outside is that the seeds get the benefit of the sun and the rain and the gentle breezes mostly prevent them from getting fungal diseases. The downside is that occasionally along comes a storm too big for the baby plants to survive and you can quickly lose a lot of plants. And when that happens you wish you had a greenhouse rather than table with a tiny mesh covering. But, fortunately, these type of storms don’t come along all that often so it’s a risk I suppose you have to take. Although I am now considering having handy a fine, strong mesh covering for the next time a large storm looms.

SA government rejects GM potatoes

October 23, 2009
Posted in Food, Green News  

Copyright: iStockphoto

Copyright: iStockphoto

The South African government has rejected the Agriculture Research Council’s (ARC) application to provide genetically modified potatoes to local farmers, saying it was concerned about its safety and economic effect, reports Business Day.

“This is probably the most significant victory of my career,” said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which spearheaded the campaign against the GM potatoes. “For a pro-genetically modified government to refuse a commercial application on safety grounds is quite ground breaking.”

The ACB campaign focused on the ARC’s application for commercial release of its SpuntaG2 potato, which has been engineered to kill the tuber moth, a common pest that damages crops in the field and in storage.

Potatoes SA, fast food outlet McDonald’s, and food retailers Pick n Pay and Fruit and Veg City have also expressed objections to the ARC’s application, saying they were concerned about consumer choice.

Full story: Business Day.
African Centre for Biosafety statement

350: Saturday’s climate change number

October 23, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

4017582490_99c5b0a97a_b350. It’s the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists believe is the safe upper limit for our planet. It’s also the name of a global movement that is mobilising the world to take action on Saturday October 24, the International Global Day of Climate Action. The day of action will include actions from almost every country in the world and will call on all governments to take action to reach achieve an “ambitious, fair, and binding global climate deal”.

Two years ago scientists issued a series of studies showing that a carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere of more than 350 parts per million (ppm) would be disastrous for life on earth. Right now the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 390ppm and the 350 campaign on Saturday will be to call on leaders to set goals to reduce this to under the 350ppm threshold.

Around South Africa there will be a series of events celebrating the 350 declaration. Johannesburg celebrations will include the Jozi 350 Climate Action Day at Emmerentia Dam, and the Tree planting for carbon offset. Cape Town events will include the Human 350 on Table Mountain and the 350 melting iceblocks on Muizenberg beach.

The campaign has also attracted support from a number of prominent people including Bishop Desmond Tutu, who penned an article in support of 350.org which has been published in major US newspapers. In Unity doomed apartheid. Next up: climate change, Tutu wrtites: “In South Africa, we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today.”

A full list of SA events can be found on the 350.org website.

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