Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Simple Chana Dhal

This Simple Chana Dhal has become a new favourite in our household and I look forward to making it again and again.  Partly because it is so healthy you wouldn't believe and also because it is so simple that the second time I made it I only needed to consult the recipe to confirm which spices to add.  The method is dead easy, there's no need for scrutinising the recipe which means its very quick (even quicker with a pressure cooker which is how most Indians cook their dhals) which I LOVE on a weeknight and partly because it is so versatile.  Add more liquid for a soupy consistency or less for a firm texture, add spinach or some other vegetables or leave it simple as I have - either way its delicious.  It's traditional to serve dhal with rice and if you're having a vegetarian meal this means that you get all the protein you need but I have served it with salad and it was lovely.

First things first - chana dhal - what is it exactly?    Well dhal is a generic term for the pulses (dried beans, lentils, split peas etc.) that Indians use to make soups and stews and it also refers to the stews and soups themselves. Chana dhal is a variety of chickpea that has had its skin removed and been split.  So therefore chana dhal is the ingredient and also the name of the dish produced.

The great thing about chana dhal which is why, when I saw it I bought it, is that it has an extremely low glycemic index - about 8 on a scale of 100 - which is very low.  It also packs a protein punch with about 25 gms per 100 grams of dried chana dhal and it has a lot of fiber in it and its very low fat.  What else could you ask for?

Simple Chana Dhal

1 1/2 cups split dried chana dhal, soaked
6 cups water (including 1 cup of stock is optional but if you use some stock don't add salt as well)
2 tablespoons turmeric

2 minced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon red chilli powder

3 tablespoons lime juice
salt and black pepper to taste
a drizzle of olive oil

This step is optional - I place the dhal in a bowl of hot water and soak it overnight or for several hours.  Its not necessary but it speeds up the cooking time to soften it beforehand.  The whole dish takes about 45 mins and I would say about a third of the time if you use a pressure cooker.  Also, I prefer to use 5 cups of water and 1 cup of vegetable stock which makes if very flavourful but that's only optional.

Put the dhal and water in a big pot with turmeric and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender. Once the dhal is tender see if its the desired consistency and either drain some liquid out or add some.

In a small non-stick fry pan, drizzle some olive oil and add the garlic. Sautee the garlic for about two minutes over medium heat. Add all the other spices except the black pepper and chilli powder and fry for about a minute, stirring vigorously. Add the chilli, stir quickly, then take the skillet off the heat and dump the mix into the pot

Stir well. Taste. Add the lime juice and the black pepper to taste.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grilled Delight

When going to a BBQ its always hard to decide on a salad to take, or maybe I'm the only person with that problem.

Anyway, I've invented a new favourite which is just perfect for this purpose.  The main ingredients are grilled eggplant and zucchini which I did in my griddle pan so that they get a smoky flavour which matches BBQ meats very well.

By the way I have to say I absolutely love my griddle pan it is a great addition to any kitchen.

Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini  Salad with Feta 


3 small to medium sized eggplants
1 small zucchini (I used a round one from the Farmer's Market)
1 large mild red chilli, diced
100 gms of Dodoni feta cheese
1/4 of a ripe, juicy lime
coriander leaves
very small amount of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Brush griddle pan with a small amount of olive oil.  Place on the heat to come to temperature slowly.  The pan should get to HOT temperature.  Sorry I know that's not a technical term but you know what I mean - smokin'!

Slice eggplants and zucchini into 1 cm thick slices and season to taste.  Place on the griddle pan in batches and cook until moist and tender with char lines where its touched the griddle.  Taste the eggplant to be sure its cooked properly as it can taste a little funny/soapy if not cooked enough.  When each batch of vegetable is cooked, place on a plate and set aside.

Once all the vegetables are char grilled layer them neatly on a serving plate, add coriander leaves, crumble the feta over the top, scatter the chilli over and add a squeeze lime juice all over.

Serve at room temperature.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Beauty of Bircher Muesli

In our house we predominantly have cereal for breakfast during the week. During summer I favour Bircher Muesli, whereas in winter, we naturally eat a lot of porridge.  I always look forward to when the time comes around to make Bircher Muesli again as there's nothing better or more suited to my tastes than having a bowl of oats, fruit and yoghurt for breakfast in summer.

As with many well known foods the modern versions that we know bear little resembelance to the original, and so it is with Bircher Muesli.  The original actually used very little oats and was made with cream, whereas it is accepted that modern versions are made with yoghurt.  Apart from the basics of oats, fruit and yoghurt you can pretty much improvise with Bircher Muesli and this is what I like about it.

I always make a large quantity of the basic mix and then I top it with whatever fruit I feel like each day.  Nuts are optional but a very nice addition.  The bowl of muesli keeps for several days in the fridge and couldn't make breakfast much easier to manage really.

Bircher Muesli


2 cups of rolled oats
1 - 1½ cups of fruit juice (any flavour, but apple works well)
3 tbs of slivered almonds
3 tbs of sunflower seeds
2 tbs of flax seeds
Cinnamon, to taste
2 tbs sultanas or other dried fruit (optional)

For Serving:
2 desert spoons of low fat natural yoghurt or sheep’s milk yoghurt
Your choice of chopped fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts.


Add all the dry ingredients to a bowl and then add the fruit juice. A pyrex bowl with a plastic lid is ideal.
Mix everything together so that all the dry ingredients are wet and then cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

To Serve:

Add yoghurt to ½ cup of muesli and stir to combine in a bowl. Then add chopped fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts as desired.

Some suggestions are - mango and macadamias, pear and roasted hazelnuts, apple and walnuts or almonds, barberries and pistachios, strawberries, blueberries and pecans.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chicken and Corn Chowder

I just bought the Jamie Oliver iphone application (yes I'm addicted to the app store like so many others) called 20 Minute Meals. It's a good little app with easy recipes, a shopping list function, basic instructions and videos of basic kitchen techniques. Very nice if you're a fan of Jamie.

There was a recipe for Chilli Corn Chowder in the Soups section which I've used as the basis for this recipe but I thought it would be really nice with chicken in it and I opted for fresh corn instead of the frozen corn kernels that Jamie uses in his recipe. I also used coriander instead of thyme, because that's what I had in the fridge, as well as making some other adjustments to make it a little more healthy and low GI. For instance, I used turnip instead of potato to thicken the soup and I gave the sour cream a miss.

The result was a tasty but quick dinner that's a prefect spring dish; fresh, with a bit of zing to it from the chilli, but completely comforting at the same time.

Chicken and Corn Chowder Recipe


4 cobs of corn
2 large skinless organic chicken breast fillets
1 litre of salt reduced vegetable stock
1 medium turnip, grated and the liquid squeezed out
1 small brown onion, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
2 small red chillies (1 1/2 for soup; the rest de-seeded and thinly sliced for garnish)
1 cup of coriander (plus extra for garnish)
3 spring onions (for garnish)
freshly ground black pepper and sea salt flakes, to taste
a splash of milk


Pour the stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil and turn it down to a simmer. Trim the chicken fillets of any remaining visible fat and then add them to the stock to poach for about 10 to 12 minutes. When poached remove the chicken, set aside to cool a little, and then chop the chicken roughly.

Meanwhile, in a fry pan sauté the onion, celery and chilli gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the onion is translucent. Also, steam the corn cobs in the microwave until the kernels are bright yellow and tender, remove, cool a little in cold water until cool enough to handle and then with a sharp knife cut off the kernels.

Add the corn kernels to the saucepan with the stock in it, the grated turnip, the sautéed vegetable mixture and the coriander. Let it simmer gently for a few minutes, add the chopped chicken back in and let it simmer for a minute more but not more than that or the chicken will overcook.

Take the soup off the heat and process in a food processor briefly but leave the texture so that its a little rustic. Add a little milk to get the consistency right. You could also use a stab mixer here as well. Season to taste, and then ladle into bowls. Top each bowl with coriander leaves, chopped spring onions and finely sliced chilli.

Serves 6.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Toasted Muesli

I recently made a considerably healthier version of toasted muesli compared to most of the commercially produced versions. I love toasted muesli and so I decided I would make my own so I could indulge in a bowl every now and then as a treat.

I've provided some measurements in this recipe but it really was just a case of adding things until I thought the proportions were right. So several of the ingredients below I've said to add 'to taste'. It makes for a fun recipe that you can make according to your own desires.


4 cups premium rolled oats (not the instant variety)
2 cups of rolled barley
200 gms macadamias
300 gms dried cranberries (sweetened in apple juice)
sesame seeds, to taste
sunflower seeds, to taste
1 - 2 tsps ground nutmeg, or to taste
2 tsps ground cinnamon, or to taste
1/4 cup of honey
a splash of concentrated pear juice
1 tb of grape seed oil
a sprinkle of Murray river salt flakes


Preheat oven to 170 C. Use a shallow silicon baking tray or line a baking tray with baking paper.

Put all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together thoroughly. Add wet ingredients together in a small bowl and stir to combine. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Finish mixing with hands to ensure its all worked through thoroughly.

Spoon mixture into baking tray and spread evenly over the bottom. Bake in oven for about 40 - 50 minutes, flipping and turning the mixture every 10 minutes or so until golden brown. Let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Serving suggestion - combine with sheep's milk yoghurt and sliced banana for a decadent breakfast or simply add your favourite milk.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Crowd Pleasing Orange Cake

On the weekend my family celebrated two birthdays; my fiance's and my mother's. So of course I had to make a very special cake. I decided to make a cake that I'd been itching to make for quite a while - a flourless orange and almond cake using whole oranges. I first saw this being made while watching an episode of SBS Food Safari but I soon discovered that it's quite a well known cake, apparently served quite often in cafes.

Its origins lie in the traditions of Sephardic Jewish culture and is a cake that is commonly eaten during passover, however, several famous cookbook authors have versions of this recipe in their books including Stephanie Alexander's, A Cook's Companion, and Nigella Lawson's, How To Eat, who makes hers with Clementines instead of oranges. Probably the most famous version though, and the one that can probably take the original credit for making the recipe accessible to a wider range of people, is Claudia Roden's. She calls it Middle Eastern Orange Cake in her book A New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I must say I was extremely impressed with this cake its texture was moist and luscious, almost creamy, and the taste was wonderfully complex with the pith and peel of the orange giving it an intriguing exotic accent. The top and bottom of the cake where it been baked to a beautiful golden brown hue had a delicate marmalade-like flavour, and in fact marmalade was the dominant aroma that wafted through the house when it was in the oven.

This beautiful cake appealed to me with its simplicity but the result is anything but - what you get is a cake with huge depth of flavour, and is quite simply, the essence of orange.

Oh did I mention that everyone LOVED it? And, as luck would it have no-one in my family knew of the cake, despite it being quite famous really, and so they gave me all the credit for it being so delicious. But the credit isn't mine at all; it was easy to cook, even in my awful oven with its inability to ever stay at a constant temperature (no-one ever ask me to make a sponge cake). Its a well circulated recipe and of course there are lots of other blog entries about it all over the internet.

Here is one absolutely lovely entry at Kuidaore, that includes a couple of other recipes that are orange related that I read while having a look around online. This site is well worth a look just for the beautiful photography.

I consulted my copy of The Cook's Companion to make this cake although I did follow Joycelyn's lead here and only boiled my oranges for 1 hour which I found to work very well.

My own notes on the recipe would be to use Naval oranges if they are in season as they are the sweetest and they don't have any pips. Also, I would suggest using organic oranges from a supplier that doesn't irrigate their trees as they will be sweeter than the irrigated variety. If not using organic oranges wash the skin very thoroughly in water and vinegar and then rinse. On the cooking time; my cake took over an hour to cook completely (probably due to my stupid oven) but if yours seems to be taking a little longer too I think it would be hard to overcook it so if you're not sure its done leave it in the oven for a little bit longer.


2 large unwaxed oranges
6 eggs
250 gms ground almonds or almond meal
250 gms (or a little less) of caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
icing sugar to dust


Barely cover 2 large unwaxed oranges in a medium-sized pot with water. Bring to a boil, put a lid on the pot, lower heat to a simmer, and simmer gently for 1 hour. Lift out oranges, allow to cool, cut open, remove and discard the pips if there are any. Chop oranges up, including the rind.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Oil and flour a 24cm non-stick springform tin. Blend chopped oranges and 6 eggs thoroughly in a food processor or blender. Stir together 250 gm ground almonds, 250 gm caster sugar and 1 tsp baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg-orange mixture, stirring to combine. Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour; the cake is done when it's a deep golden brown, has come away slightly from the sides of the tin, and the top springs back when touched. If cake is still very wet, cook a little longer.

Cool completely in tin before turning out gently. Store, tightly wrapped, in fridge until serving. This is one of those cakes that get better the next day.

Serve dusted with icing sugar. Sift over; it will melt, and sift another layer over just prior to serving.

I also served mine with slices of fresh peeled orange (Stephanie Alexander suggests serving it with fresh orange) and a marscarpone cream flavoured with orange blossom water and honey.

Orange Blossom Marscarpone Cream


250 gms marscarpone cream
250 gms thickened cream
honey to taste (approx. 1/3 cup)
orange blossom water to taste (approx. 2 tsp)
pistachios, chopped
1 slice candied orange, chopped (my candied orange was about 1 year old and drier and more intense in flavour than when bought very fresh)


Beat marsarpone cheese and cream together in a bowl. Add honey and orange blossom to taste and sprinkle with chopped pistachios and candied orange.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Food for the Gods!

The genus name for the humble persimmon actually means "food for the gods". If you're familiar with persimmons you'll know why. I just can't eat enough persimmons come Autumn and I think they might just be in the running to be my favourite fruit.

I've only ever had the non-astringent variety often sold as "sweet persimmons" or sometimes as "vanilla persimmons" in Melbourne, because of the small dark flecks in the flesh of the fruit and the slight vanilla flavour.

There's basically two types of persimmons available commercially - astringent and non-astringent. I'm not sure I've seen the astringent type at any of the markets, maybe they're not readily available here. One reason might be that the non-astringent variety could be more marketable, if you buy and eat an unripe astringent persimmon it apparently tastes awful, as well as being not very good for your health possibly making it less appealing to customers. I'm going to keep my eye out for them though because I'm quite keen to try the astringent ones. I've done a bit of research and everyone seems to think they are far nicer. As long as you wait until they are fully ripe of course.

The astringent variety are inedible when not ripened to a soft jelly-like consistency but the non-astringent variety can be eaten while still firm like an apple all the way through to the point where the inside of the fruit is like a soft jelly. Just remember that the outside of the skin needs to be orange for the fruit to be ripe, and once the fruit has turned brown - don't eat it. This gives the sweet persimmon an amazingly long shelf life. I like them both ways, firm and soft and squishy inside, they're simply delicious. When firm they go very well in salads or anywhere you'd usually use an apple or a crisp pear and beautiful and soft they go very well scooped onto porridge or warmed through and eaten with a good dollop of creamy sheep's milk yoghurt. I'm sure you'll find your own favourite ways to eat these orange beauties.

One thing I love to do with persimmons is to dry them in my food dehydrator, which brings me to the reason for my post.

Drying persimmons! Did you guess that from the photo?

Some people peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler before eating persimmons but you don't have to, the skin is similar to apple skin and entirely edible. I think a previous time I peeled mine before drying them but this time I didn't and the result is very pleasing still, and it was a lot less work.

One reason I'm so keen on drying my own persimmons is because they're not available here at least not that I've seen. I'm not sure I've even seen them in Asian supermarkets, but if you have please drop me a line because I'd love to try some hoshigaki, Japanese style air-dried, whole, astringent persimmons.

Another reason to dry your own fruit is because then you can enjoy dried fruit without the nasty preservatives that commercially dried fruits have on them. A common preservative used is sulfur dioxide which is used to retain the appealing orange colour in dried apricots and is not good for you in large amounts used in commercially dried fruits. Sulfur dioxide can also trigger asthma attacks in asthma suffers.

I dry a lot of fruits and some of my favourites other than persimmons are; banana, apple, mango and pineapple. Hopefully I'll do a post about some of these others soon. Most of the fruits I've mentioned above are exceptionally sweet (as sweet as a lolly), except the apple (although I like them unsweetened you can add a little honey and lemon juice to them which is very nice) and they make wonderfully sweet snacks to eat when you're craving a little sugar. I'm going to use mine in trail mix for when I'm skiing this year and I think they also go really nicely on a cheese platter teamed with a salty cheese such as blue vein or gorgonzola.

Dried Persimmons:

Clean the persimmons thoroughly and dry them.
Cut in half and remove any pips (sometimes they have them sometimes not)
Cut each half into about six little wedges (or whatever size you like)
Lay them onto the trays of the dehydrator and dry according to the instructions of your machine.*
Take out and allow to cool and then store them in an air tight container in a cool dry place.

The dried persimmons will store for many months, probably up to a year.

* I have the Ezi Dri Snackmaker and I think it took about 10 hours to dry the whole 5 trays which was about 3 kg of fresh fruit.