Vegetarian lentil shepherds pie

Our two lads will happily eat standard veggie fare such as corn, carrots, peas, broccoli and potatoes. If you asked them, they would vehemently deny eating (much less admit to enjoying) eggplant, zuchinni, mushrooms, fennel, onion and capsicum. However, they regularly eat these vegetables in curries, vegetarian Mexican bean dishes, veggie lentil pasta dishes, meat casseroles, burgers, bolognese and more.

Whilst eating, they sometimes ask ‘Mum, what’s in this ?’ When I tell them ‘eggplant’, they are not deterred from continuing the inhalation process. I am sure this has something to do with the leafy matter being ‘hidden in plain sight’ and not easily identifiable. On the flip side, they run screaming from the room when confronted with beetroot, brussel sprouts, parnsips or sweet potato.

This hearty winter dish is all about the fifth flavour of umami (or in other words ‘deep savouriness’), provided by the mushrooms, miso and soy sauce. These flavours and textures, combined with some slow cooking, are completely satisyfing. I cannot promise that it will convert the most adamant of carnivores but our lads love it and in fact, have said they prefer it to my meat version of the same dish. (A declaration at which many sheep breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing.)

Make, eat and enjoy; knowing that neither sheep nor shepherd was harmed in the making of this pie.

VEGETARIAN LENTIL SHEPHERDS PIE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 tbl olive oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 medium carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 medium sized red pepper, diced
1 large eggplant, diced
1 large zuchinni, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 large flat mushrooms, diced
2 tins brown lentils, drained
1 tin crushed tomatoes
250 ml vegetable stock
1 tbl oregano
1tbl gluten free soy sauce
1 tbl miso paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Mashed potato topping
1.5 kilos potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup milk
50-100g Butter to taste (add as much as or as little as you like)
Salt and pepper
50-80g Parmesan for grating on top

HOW YOU DO IT

Lightly oil a large baking dish.
Sauté onion, chilli, carrot, celery and red pepper for five minutes. Add the eggplant and zuchinni and sauté for another five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes. Add the lentils, tin of tomatoes, veggie stock, oregano, soy sauce, miso and another cup or so of cold water so the whole mixture is covered in liquid.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, cook for up to one hour until all the liquid is evaporated and the veggies are tender. (This can take more like 1 hour 15 minutes.) Check for seasoning.
Whilst the vegetable mixture is simmering make the mashed potato topping. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender then drain them. Quickly pop them back into the saucepan and cook on a low heat for a minute or two. This will evaporate any remaining liquid and help to make a more fluffy mash. Remove them from the heat.
Warm the milk then add this and the butter to the potato mixture and mash until light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.
If cooking the shepherds pie straight away, preheat the oven to 180C.
To assemble the pie: Place the vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth flat. Dollop even spoons of the potato mash over the top of the veggies. Flatten the mash with a spatula then drag a fork through the top. (This uneven texture helps the potato to brown.)
Sprinkle the Parmesan over the potato and bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown. (If the top hasn’t browned enough, I often turn the grill on to medium for five minutes or so to help the browning process.)
If you are heating up the shepherds pie from the fridge, bring it out for half an hour before baking and it will take around an hour to heat up to piping hot.

Cooking Notes: Don’t feel compelled to follow my recipe for mashed potato if you have your own awesome recipe and technique. You can also make this recipe vegan by using a vegan margarine to mash the potatoes with and not using any milk. Top with a vegan cheese instead.
Another great thing about this dish is that due to its size, there are always leftovers for the next night. You little beauty.

A Cheergerm recipe

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Thai green curry paste or, some like it hot

This curry paste is hot and spicy, no two ways about it. ‘Some Like It Hot’ is also the title of the 1959 gender-bending farcical movie starring the luminous Marilyn Monroe alongside the actors Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis masquerading as slightly less than easy-on-the-eye women.

Recently, I was attempting to explain to our twelve year old lad, how it would be great if males found words other than ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ to describe the appearance of a woman. Intrinsically, I was stating that these words can objectify women. (He hadn’t actually used those words but we heard them on a television show and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to rant impart my wisdom to my offspring.)

He thought for a moment and asked ‘But why is it OK if a woman sees a man and calls him chunky?’ This stopped me in my tracks, I looked at him. ‘Do you think you might mean hunky’? ‘Well’ he replied, ‘I knew it was ‘unky’ with something at the start’.

Many eons ago, before I had children to amuse me, many happy hours were spent traversing through Melbourne’s Asian groceries and Indian spice shops. All in an effort to source the more exotic ingredients required for blending and making my own curry pastes and curry powders. My senses were overwhelmed with citrusy lemongrass, stinky shrimp paste, the vivid colours of green and red chillies, peppery galangal, earthy turmeric, too many dried spices to list and the floral polarising scent of fresh coriander.

Whilst searching through some of my cookbooks recently, I happened upon The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon. She has been dubbed the ‘queen of Asian cooking in Australia’. This book, alongside her iconic tome, The Complete Asian Cookbook first published in 1976, were wonderful guides as I embarked upon my adventure into Asian cookery.

With progeny in tow (who are far less amusing when you have to shop with them), we set off to source the bits and bobs needed to make Solomon’s Thai Green Curry Paste. Sadly, we couldn’t find fresh or dried galangal so I used fresh ginger. As The Yak is vegetarian, the best substitute I have found for shrimp paste is fermented bean paste. (This is sourced from most larger Asian grocery stores.) Blend the heck out of this until it is no longer chunky and you will have a very satisfying, bloody hot, spicy, punch in the face curry paste. No objectification intended.

THAI GREEN CURRY PASTE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 large or 8 small green chillies
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander, well washed including roots, stems and leaves
1/4 cup finely sliced lemon grass (or thinly peeled rind 1 lemon)
1 tbl chopped galangal fresh or bottled (I had to use fresh ginger as I couldn’t get my hands on any galangal, it’s not the same but it is an OK substitute)
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsps fermented bean paste (or 1 tsp dried shrimp paste if you don’t want it to be vegetarian)

HOW YOU DO IT
Wearing rubber gloves, remove stems and roughly chop the chillies.
Put the chillies into an electric blender with the remaining ingredients and purée.
Add a little water if necessary to help the blending process.
Store any paste that you don’t use in a clean, dry glass jar in the refrigerator or do what I do and divide into convenient portions and freeze. Ready to use in your next curry, soup, stir-fry or marinade.

Recipe from The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon, published 1995 by Mandarin a part of Reed Books Australia.

3


Pecan pesto sauce

A traditional Italian pesto from Genoa contains pine nuts so in a way, this is a charlatans version of a much beloved Italian sauce. My recipe, through misadventure, contains pecans. The pecan derives from a species of the hickory tree, a deciduous tree native to Mexico and parts of southern USA. It is technically not a nut but a ‘drupe’ which is actually a fruit containing a single stone or pit and an outer husk. Pecans are high in monounsaturated fats and are buttery, rich and sweet.

It was another overtly hot Sydney day and we were on the verge of ‘hanger’. My kitchen possessed the majority of the requisite pesto ingredients. A massive bunch of basil that needed to be used, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, garlic, a bottle of olive oil but not a darned pine nut in sight. My kingdom for a pine nut! All that could be found were two big bags of pecans doing time in my pantry. (A pretty darned tough place to hang out, well, so all the other nuts out on parole tell me). In the past, walnuts, coriander and mint have been tossed into pesto sauces whereas pecans have been used for granolas and sweet baked goodies. Popping them into my pesto felt strangely wrong.

However, wilting and weakened and in the spirit of the Deep South from whence the pecan originated, I declared in my best southern accent, that I just didn’t give a damn. (In other words, there would be no running to the shops in a last minute manner.) Pecans were thrown in and all was well. We stirred the pesto through pasta and it was herbaceous, nutty, vibrant and just the ticket for a quick simple meal.

PECAN PESTO SAUCE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 big bunch basil (this was 3 cups of basil leaves, I know because I picked them, packed them and I measured them, so there.)
1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Pick the basil leaves and wash and dry them.
Add the basil, pecans, Parmesan and garlic to a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Slowly add the oil whilst the blender is going until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste then season with salt and pepper to your liking.
This sauce is delicious when stirred through pasta, liven up a veggie soup and dollop a blob on top or serve alongside grilled and roasted meats or tofu.
Leftover sauce can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a few days, cover the top with olive oil to stop it spoiling.

A Cheergerm Recipe


Tofu in BBQ sauce for hot, muggy days

One of the greatest delights of this blogging malarkey has been meeting (albeit virtually) many wonderful and interesting bloggers along the way. One of those peeps is foodisthebestshitever aka Graeme, aka Grazza, aka Mr Red Bearded Carnie Man. This witty blogger shares his fresh, vibrant recipes using his own unique turn of phrase and the odd spot of colourful language. (In others words, severe language warning to all of you who may be offended.) He resides in northern NSW with his missus Jen, who also knows her way around a kitchen and their two gorgeous lads. They opened their restaurant The Stockpot Kitchen in the Bangalow Bowling Club, about a year or so ago. I look forward to the the day that we find ourselves in the verdant NSW hinterland and we are able to chow down on some of the delicious sounding US-Southern style grub. Grazza lives and breathes food and surely could be named the Carnie King of Fiery Outdoor Cooking and Artisanal Condiments.

Around the end of November last year, Grazza sent me a muchly appreciated gift of four precious bottles of liquid gold. You see, he makes his own Big Red Brand condiments that they sell from the restaurant. The sauces are not just a sucker punch but have a subtlety in their blending and a deft balance of sweetness, tanginess and heat. Sadly, they are not yet for sale in these here parts but who knows what the future will bring?

Lately, the weather in Sydney has been very, very hot and extremely muggy. The humidity is a killer. The easiest meal I could think of for my annoying coeliac vegetarian beautiful husband was marinated tofu to accompany leftovers of potato salad and Lebanese green beans .

This is not really a recipe. Simply chop up a block of firm tofu (in this case 350g), throw it in a bowl and dollop a generous few slugs of Big Red Brand Smoky BBQ sauce over the tofu, stirring to coat it. (Of course, most of you will not have a bottle of this on hand so you can either make yourself a batch of one of Grazza’s barbecue sauce recipes which is surely the next best thing or purchase a top quality sauce from a deli or food purveyor.) Let the tofu marinate in the fridge for a few hours, overnight would be even better. Heat up a frypan, splash in a few glugs of olive oil and pan-fry the tofu on every side until a deep golden brown. This can also be grilled on a BBQ of course. Once the tofu is cooked, heat up the reserved marinade and dribble it over the top. Smoky, spicily sweet with a vinegar sharpness. This is the good stuff. (Annoyingly, I now have to hide this good stuff from Kid 1 who has discovered a penchant for quality sauces. Bugger.)

The Stockpot Kitchen Facebook Page


Potato, parsnip and fennel bake

Kudos to the maitre d’ at a local restaurant. Upon being seated, we noticed our water glasses were dirty and had red lipstick marks upon them. After politely asking him for clean vessels he picked them up, examined them closely and as he walked away loudly announced, ‘Sure, well Holy Rats Arse!’

My friend and I looked at each other. ‘Did he really say that?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, said my friend, ‘Yes, he did.’ We are open minded people yet this unwaiterly proclamation managed to surprise, horrify and strangely, delight us. Hilarity ensued and we continued to repeat this phrase (quietly) throughout the surprisingly delicious meal.

Upon finishing, we walked to the front to ask if we could split our bill. He did, albeit begrudgingly and his farewell response to us was, ‘Rock on ladies.’ This bloke is taking customer service to another level. Not necessarily towards the lofty echelons of fine dining but to a very special and individual level nonetheless.

This is surely The Year of the Gratin. I am a woman obsessed. As this dish was baking; giant cheesy, thyme-scented metaphorical arms reached out from the oven and hugged me close. Whispering in bubbling, soothing tones, ‘There, there, everything will be allright.’

Aniseed fennel, slightly spicy parsnip, creamy potato and herbaceous, sweet grassy cheese. This is a wondrous combination. It’s a dish that may even cause you to utter a colloquialism that involves the sacred posterior of a rodent. If one was so inclined.

POTATO, PARSNIP AND FENNEL BAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 potatoes, peeled and finely sliced (600g)
4 medium size parsnip, peeled and finely sliced (500g)
1 medium size fennel bulb, finely sliced
300 ml cream (you can use 250ml of cream and 50ml of sour cream for extra tang)
1/4 cup milk
2 garlic cloves, crushed very finely
1 tbl fresh thyme, picked
A dash of nutmeg
150g Gruyere cheese, grated (I used the wonderful Heidi Gruyere from Tasmania for a bit of a treat)
Salt and pepper to season
Extra thyme

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and use butter or oil to grease a large baking dish.
Layer the potato, parsnip, fennel and season with salt and pepper then sprinkle on half of the cheese. (Leaving enough cheese to sprinkle on the top.)
Place another layer of potato, parsnip and fennel and season with salt and pepper again.
Warm the cream, milk, garlic, thyme and nutmeg in a small saucepan over a low heat for five to ten minutes until the flavours are infused and the cream has thinned a little. Seasons lightly and gently pour this mixture over the vegetables.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the gratin and chuck a few extra thyme leaves over the top.
Cover with foil loosely (making sure the cheese doesn’t touch the foil) and bake for 50 minutes.
Remove the foil carefully (watch that precious cheese) and bake for another 40 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a knife and the top is golden brown and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for ten minutes to allow the gratin to settle before devouring.

A Cheergerm recipe based on a few hundred million different gratin recipes


Cauliflower and zucchini gratin

Is it wrong to love someone simply because you return home at midnight from a girls night out, on a cold winters eve, to discover that your other half has thoughtfully left your side of the electric blanket switched on? You can keep your Tiffany’s, Cartier and Harry Winston. It’s the small thoughtful actions that float my boat and whilst diamonds may be a girls best friend, they can’t keep you warm on a chilly evening. (Not like an electric blanket does. Oh, and a Yak of course.)

My way of showing The Yak love, is to cook hearty vegetable dishes that involve cheese. This little recipe is a take on a dish from the excellent ‘The Wholesome Cook’ by Martyna Angeles. It is a smidgen lighter than a heavier cream-based gratin. The sharp cheese, nutty cauliflower and golden crust has ensured that this gratin will be on steady rotation for the remainder of winter.

CAULIFLOWER AND ZUCCHINI GRATIN

WHAT YOU NEED
2 tbl oil (I used grapeseed oil)
300g cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 small zucchini (300g), sliced into 1 cm chunks
Black pepper
Sea salt
1/2 cup milk
100g Comte, Gruyere or Taleggio cheese, diced
1/3 cup breadcrumbs of your choice, I used gluten free sourdough buckwheat crumbs). The original recipe uses almond meal.

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 20 cm gratin dish.
Heat the oil in a medium size frying pan and saute the cauliflower and zucchini over a medium heat for about ten minutes, until they start to colour and soften. Season generously with black pepper and add a big pinch of sea salt.
Add the milk and cheese and stir for one minute until the cheese starts to melt. Check the seasoning then pour into the gratin dish.
Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs or almond meal and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
Serves 2-4 people.

Cooking Notes: I have added a few pinches of nutmeg before which adds a bit of something nice, also the original recipe uses 3 yellow squash instead of zucchini; Taleggio instead of Comte and states to sprinkle 2 tbl of chopped parsley over the gratin with the breadcrumbs before baking.

Recipe only slightly adapted from The Wholesome Cook by Martyna Angeles, published by Harlequin, October 2015.

Go here for a Cheergerm post about The Wholesome Cook book and a millet and rice puff square


Fennel and chickpea soup and he tangata

Soup cravings come on cold days, rainy days and sometimes on days when grief threatens to overwhelm. Soup in its many guises is my ultimate comfort food, bar mashed potato. It is the making and eating that brings a little salve for the soul, if only for a short while.

Our one-of-a-kind Uncle Rodger died a few weeks ago, he made us promise to use the word ‘dead.’ Not ‘passed’ (away, over or under), not ‘left’, not ‘lost’ and not ‘gone’. (As if he had somehow been carelessly misplaced.) I did ask if ‘carked it’ or ‘shuffled off this mortal coil’ were acceptable terminologies. We both had a good laugh at that.

It is difficult choosing words to describe a loved one who has died, my fear is that they may diminish and somehow confine the person you are writing about. Rodger was the strongest of the strong. The best of husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, friends, mentors and work colleagues. A teacher, therapist, board member of the Frederichs Ataxia Research Association of Australasia (the insidious disease that his three sons are and were afflicted with), an activist for social change and a man who refused to accept the status quo.

Rabidly rugby loving in a ‘shouty at the television’ kind of way, funny, headstrong, story-teller and family history orator. Outdoor adventurer, former Kathmandu model, lover of music, literature and beauty, gourmand, wine and whiskey aficionado. Empathetic and not afraid to cry. Renowned for his ongoing love affair with wood; building things out of it, collecting it, chopping it, admiring it and burning it. (The woodpiles he left are legendary.) This was a man who chose the timber for his own coffin and started to build it until he no longer could. This was a man who chose as his final song at his funeral, the eternally and everlastingly funny Monty Python song ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’

He fought the foul cancer that took his life with everything he had. His amazing wife is one of the most quietly determined and supportive people you would probably ever hope to meet. They walked side by side in love and joie de vivre as well as in grief. Through the diagnosis of their three beautiful boys disease and the ongoing heartaches it brought, when their oldest son took in own life in his early twenties, through to the Christchurch earthquakes and when Rodger himself was diagnosed. Their spirits however, were never broken despite the ongoing crap that life threw at them.

Rodger was a beacon that always burnt brightly and he will be missed beyond measure. As an Uncle, he was easy to talk to, his puns knew no end and he was always interested in what was going on and what I had to say. One of his favourite sayings was a Maori proverb.

He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people

So, after returning from New Zealand where we got to say goodbye, then celebrate and mourn his remarkable life, I needed soup. This was the soup I made. The chunky chickpea bites, the silky aniseed fennel alongside the slight hum of chilli and thyme is warming and nourishing. (It’s even better the next day.) Rodger would have hated it. He was bloody sick of soup of by the end of his life as it was the only thing he could eat. The cancer he battled, deprived him of eating the food he had always loved.

This soup is not for you Rodger but this post is. Because what truly makes this life worth living is the people, the people, the people.

FENNEL AND CHICKPEA SOUP

WHAT YOU NEED
3 tbl grapeseed or olive oil,
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced into 2 cm
4 celery stalks, chopped into roughly 2 cm dice
2 carrots, diced into 2cm
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1//4 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 litres vegetable stock
1 litre water
1 tin crushed tomato
800g cooked chickpeas, drained (I used two tins chickpeas.)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (1 tbsp fresh thyme)
2 fresh bay leaves
200g green beans, chopped
Salt and pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Sauté onions, fennel, celery and carrot for about ten minutes in a large saucepan over a medium heat, until they start to soften.
Add the garlic and chilli and cook for one minute, stirring continually.
Add the stock, water, tomato, chickpeas, thyme and bay leaves. Add a few good grinds of pepper and about a teaspoon of sea salt. (My stock was homemade and did not contain salt, so do not add salt at this point if your stock contains salt.)
Bring the soup to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
Skim off any scummy frothy bits that float to the top.
Cook for about 60-80 minutes until the carrots and fennel are tender, check for seasoning.
Add the green beans and cook for about ten minutes until the beans are just tender and still a bright colour.
Serve in bowls and be comforted. This soup freezes very well.

Cooking Notes: I like this soup with a fair bit of broth so if you prefer a more ‘stew’ like soup, cut back the amount of water you add from 1 litre to 500ml of water.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales and a family celebration

All the little lights

Christchurch Will Rise Again Seafood Chowder

Friedreich Ataxia Research Association


Spicy parsnip soup

Autumn is finally casting it’s multi-hued shadow over our city, changing leaves from green to yellows and varying shades of red or orange. Summer has had a tight grip on the throne and has refused to abdicate, up until now. Nights are somewhat cooler and the produce at the growers market has started to reflect the changing seasons. Parsnips, swede, pumpkins, ruby coloured plums and pale lemon coloured quinces.

The knobbly root vegetable parsnip, has a lovely creamy white flesh and lends itself well to soups and purées. Roasting the veggies in the spice mix adds a wonderful depth of flavour and whilst this may not be the prettiest of soups, it is earthy, certainly quite spicy and heartily warming.

SPICY PARSNIP SOUP

WHAT YOU NEED
2 tbsp olive oil
500g parsnip, peeled and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 8 chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp ground coriander,
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 litre vegetable stock
Salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Place all the diced and chopped veggies including the garlic, into the tray. Sprinkle over the spices, pour over the olive oil and mix the veggies until they are well coated in the spice mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes, then stir the vegetables. Bake for another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Once the vegetables are tender, place them in a large saucepan, add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
Simmer for ten minutes then allow to cool for a few minutes before blending with a stick blender. Check for seasoning and add a bit of extra water if the soup is too thick for your liking, I added 3/4 cup. Bring the soup back to a simmer and serve.
We ate it with sourdough toast and hunks of Manchego and blue cheese.
Serves 4 for lunch or 2 very hungry grown ups for dinner (with a little leftover for someone the next day.)

A Cheergerm recipe


Lentils, slow roasted tomatoes and goats cheese

Most of you would have heard the saying ‘you don’t make friends with salad.’ The underpinning sentiment being that salad is not worth eating. Personally, I try to avoid eating anything or anybody that I have made friends with. However, if we were ever to find ourselves in an extremely desperate survival type situation, who knows what may happen. (Having read the book ‘Alive’ based on the 1972 Andes flight disaster where sixteen survivors survived only by deciding to eat pieces of their dead friends, I have been forever haunted by the choices they made. Would I, wouldn’t I?)

Ponderings on cannibalism aside, salads these days are mega interesting and worthy of being elevated to ‘main course’ status. Yotam Ottolenghi, the British chef, cookery writer and TV presenter could easily be hailed as the ‘King Of Delicious and Fascinating Salads.’ Having been lucky enough to procure another smattering of delicious cherry tomatoes from the local Growers Markets, the idea of slow roasting them popped into my brain box. Trawling through my cookbooks I came across this salad from Ottolenghi’s book ‘Plenty’ and did a bit of re-jigging. The lentils have a toothsome nutty bite, the thyme perfumed tomatoes are unctuously sweet, the melting red wine vinegar onions and bright herbs add a zingy lift. The nuggets of goats cheese provide an extra creamy tart surprise.

Salad may not be ‘my friend’ but it is certainly a very tasty acquaintance.

LENTILS, SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES AND GOATS CHEESE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 small red Red onion, very finely sliced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
250g lentils (I used a french style fine green lentil from Mount Zero, Ottolenghi used castelluccio lentils or you could use French puy. The lentils need to hold their shape once cooked.)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbl parsley, chopped
1 tbl oregano, chopped (note, Ottolenghi’s recipe used 3tbsp chervil or parsley, 3 tbsp chopped chives, 4 tbsp chopped dill but I didn’t have these so just made do with what I had)
80g goats cheese (or Gorgonzola, or feta)
Black pepper

Slow roasted tomatoes
400g mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
2 tbl olive oil
1 tbl caramelised balsamic vinegar
8 sprigs of thyme
Extra sea salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Start by making the slow roasted tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 100C. Place the cherry tomatoes and thyme sprigs onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with some salt and gently toss to coat. Roast for one hour, turning once or twice in that time.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven, discard the thyme and allow them to cool.
Meanwhile, place the red onion in a medium bowl, pour over the red wine vinegar and sprinkle with the salt. Stir, then leave the onions to soften.
Place the lentils in a pan of boiling water (the water should come three centimetres above the lentils) and cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
Drain the lentils in a sieve and whilst still warm, add them to the sliced red onion. Next, add the extra virgin olive oil, garlic and some black pepper. Stir to mix and leave aside to cool down.
Once cool, add the herbs and gently mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
To serve, pile up the lentils on a large plate or bowl, integrating the goats cheese and tomatoes as you build up the pile. Drizzle the tomato cooking juices on top and serve.

A slight variation on a Yotam Otteolenghi recipe from ‘Plenty’ published by Edbury Press, 2010


Tomato, fennel and goats cheese salad

Inspiration, not unlike perspiration, happens unexpectedly and far more pleasantly. Whilst trawling our local Growers Markets, I happened upon some bulbs of baby fennel and trays of sunny yellow and dark red to the point of black, cherry tomatoes. The bloke on the stall informed me that the dark reds were named Black Russians. This romantic moniker instantly transported me to long gone days of Tsars, bejewelled Faberge eggs and Rasputin. All set against a backdrop of snow covered mulit-coloured Russian Orthodox churches. A far cry from the humid heat and slick sweat that was slowly rolling down between my shoulder blades. (Of course Tsarinas don’t perspire they gently ‘glow’ but I doubt that the Russian royalty of that era went veggie shopping under a blazing hot Aussie sun either.)

This unseasonably warm weather calls for salads and lots of ’em. My fridge coughed up a jar of the lovely marinated Meredith goats cheese feta. And so it was. Crunchy, finely sliced aniseed fennel, the sweet tartness of tomatoes, the creamy goaty tang of the cheese and the herbal zing of mint. Perfect for a bloody hot day and a dish fit for a Tsar or perhaps even a mad monk.

TOMATO, FENNEL AND FETA SALAD

WHAT YOU NEED
250g cherry tomatoes, I used a mix Black Russian and yellow
1 baby fennel bulb (or half a normal size bulb)
Juice of half a medium size lemon
3 tbl extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
50g goats cheese (if you don’t have or like goats cheese, a creamy feta cheese would be a great substitute)
1 tbl fresh chopped mint

HOW YOU DO IT
Wash the tomatoes, de-stalk and slice them in two.
Wash the fennel bulb, slice in half and take out the hard core in the middle. Using a mandolin, slice into fine slices. (The fennel that is, not your fingers.)
Place the tomatoes and sliced fennel on a platter or in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice and olive oil.
Toss together and let this sit for 15 to 30 minutes to absorb the flavours.
Crumble the feta over the salad, scatter the mint and et voila!
Serves 2 very hungry people, could serve 4 alongside a lot of other dishes. I had it with a lemon pepper pork schnitzel. It was the bomb.

A Cheergerm take on a number of similar salad recipes