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April 12, 2013

but the fighter still remains | lemon, lentil and coriander soup

A week ago, we turned the clocks back, and just on cue, autumn has well and truly arrived around these parts. It's bittersweet - on the one hand, I welcome the extra light in the mornings, and I love how cooler temperatures have me craving soups over salads. The flipside is it's been really quite cold - cycling to work now requires a woolen hat under my helmet, a wool scarf around my neck, and I'm definitely going to have to invest in some gloves soon! 

I've said to a few people over the years that Dunedin does autumn and spring well. It's true - I love the autumn produce: pumpkins, kale, parsnips, apples and feijoas. The trees I see outside the lab now have bright red leaves - and soon those bright red leaves will fall to the ground. 

Last week began with the last swim in the sea after climbing on a beautifully hot day; and ended with going for a walk on a much cooler day with a hot water bottle in my coat. I've been having showers to warm up in the mornings as incentive for getting up early, we've been making soup and beans and lots and lots of tea. The summer we had was sublime, but it's definitely gone now.

Last Saturday evening saw us at the stadium, listening to Rufus Wainwright and Paul Simon. Both were incredible - we sat for Rufus' set. Of course he played hallelujah - and his voice echoed around the covered stadium like it was made for him to sing there. Paul Simon's set was incredible too - in a completely different way. We were up and dancing by the second song, and despite the best efforts of the stadium security, didn't sit down for the rest of the concert. There were at least two encores, lots of songs from Graceland played. Singing this song with 12, 500 other concert goers was a particular highlight, as was "The Boxer", which we hoped and hoped he would play - and it was the last tune.

I made bedouin lentil soup from this book for Friday night's dinner. We've made it before, many times, at Maitland, and I've promised to share the recipe before too. It's the perfect soup for all seasons - we've eaten it frequently through late winter, spring and summer. It's simple without being too plain, warm and filling without feeling like too much. It also freezes well.

lemon, lentil and coriander soup

for the soup:
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bunch spring onions - optional, but I had some from Mum's garden to use up.
2 cups brown lentils or puy lentils, soaked overnight/8 hours
2 lemons - juice, rind optional
1/2 cup coriander (or more), chopped finely
1-2 cups leafy greens - such as spinach, chard, kale or a mixture
2+ cups vegetable stock/water

for the taklia:

2-4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic

Honestly, this is quite a forgiving recipe. You can use up almost any vegetable you have - I grated a couple of yellow courgette into the version I made on Friday night. The key ingredients are the lemon, lentils, coriander, and the taklia.

Chop the onions and garlic finely and lightly sauté with the cumin, but don't let them get too brown. Add the lentils and vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes - 1 hour.  

While the soup is cooking, make the taklia. Briefly fry the chopped garlic cloves - use a medium-low heat for this as you just want to make them a bit soft. It will only take about 3 minutes. Add these to a mortar and pestle with the other ingredients and "bash" or "stir" until all the ingredients are combined and the seeds are cracked. You want the consistency to be quite runny, so add more olive oil if necessary. Set aside. 

Once the lentils are soft, add the greens, lemon juice and rind. If you're using kale, you'll probably want to simmer for about 5 minutes with a lid on. If you're using spinach, you won't want to cook it very long at all. Carefully use a stick blender or blitz in batches in a benchtop one. Be careful - if it's really hot the steam can blow off the lid and you can end up with hot soup all over yourself and your kitchen. I (unfortunately) speak from experience - I was very grateful that nobody was there to witness that! 

Once the soup's blended, keep it warm. Add more lemon juice if necessary, or some pepper. Try to avoid adding salt - sometimes I'll add just a tiny bit. This is because the taklia is quite salty and is a necessary addition - so the soup doesn't need to be as salty. 

To serve, add around 1 teaspoon of taklia to each bowl of soup. Sometimes we also add some plain yoghurt but it's just as delicious without. A couple of slices of toast turns this simple soup into a meal filling enough for dinner - particularly if you've got a version of this made with black boy peaches to eat after.. 


The end of this week marked the completion of some important deadlines - I think that the next couple of months will be less chaotic than the previous two. In many ways, it feels like the cold air has brought some calm to my days also. I stopped halfway up the hill on my way home one night last week, because I realised the Southern cross was right above my head, and all the stars were out. It reminded me of a winter weekend spent in the Catlins last year ..


title from the boxer - simon & garfunkel

April 2, 2013

i feel it in my bones | spiced beetroot & caramelised onions on bread

There's something special about coming home after going away. Today I returned to Maitland and tonight J followed suit. The kitchen is filled with gifts we've brought with us - spring onions from Mum's garden and lemons from the tree at Fitzroy St, organic leek seeds from the Hill St farmer's market my parents frequent, an old book of music with some familiar tunes for the piano, milk and quark from Merrell, wild thyme from somewhere around Cromwell, eggs from Moeraki. We're lucky and blessed here - and tonight I definitely feel appreciative of the people whom I always miss, in some way or another.

For Easter I flew back to Wellington, where I grew up, to see the family. Pictured above is Mum, Dad and I at the top of Brooklyn hill on Easter Sunday. Shortly after this photo was taken, the rain set in, and we returned home completely drenched (but happy). My brothers and sister still live in Wellington and it's hard sometimes to be the only sibling on a different island. Even though it's not that far when you think about distances in astronomical terms (although no distance on the Earth seems large when you think about exactly how great a distance one light year is...) I still miss them. In many ways, though, we're still close. My current favourite pair of jeans initially belonged to my brother A, my brother S recently visited, my sister E (pictured with me below) probably still has her hair in the French braid I did this morning at the airport for her. In my parents' fridge there's a jar of aubergine pickle and they're also enjoying roast apricot jam: both made at Maitland. 

Perhaps the highlight of my Easter weekend was when A came and cooked dinner, and S drove up the hill after the game at the stadium, and the lounge was filled with all six of us, just like it once was almost every night. And I guess even though Dunedin and Maitland are now my home, it's always so good to be just the six of us: whether it's in Wellington over Easter, in the Wairarapa over Christmas, or in fact, anywhere in the world. The place doesn't matter so much as seeing those other five familiar faces ...

You might have wondered where I've been. Just like life has its ups and downs, so does my cooking motivation. The past couple of weeks I've only just had the energy to make simple lentil curries or baked spaghetti squash (more difficult than it first appeared). However, perhaps due to watching a couple of Hugh's autumn at river cottage episodes over Easter, my inspiration has returned! Here's a recipe for what I made for dinner last night .. 

spiced beetroot & caramelised onion on bread

I thought very carefully about what to call this one. Technically, you could call it a "toasted sandwich" but those words together in my mind conjure up an image of spaghetti and cheese toasted sandwiches, a favourite of me and my siblings for those after school afternoon teas. There is no appetite like the after school appetite of a teenager!

It might seem like this is a bit fiddly, using multiple pans, but it's the perfect thing to make when you're really just moseying around on a Sunday evening/night, maybe put some emily king on, and really enjoy chopping and cooking and stirring ..

2 baby beetroot (or 1 medium-sized)
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion, red or brown
1/2 tsp honey
balsamic vinegar (about 1/3 cup, but I never measure this)
olive oil
butter or a high-heat oil, eg coconut
bread - if you're me, it will be something seedy
cheese - optional, but I used quark and also a bit of cheddar 
cherry tomatoes or 1 tomato
spring onion
thyme (optional)
1 lemon

The first job is to caramelise the onion. Chop the onion into fine half-rings and briefly sauté in a hot pan with a little oil or butter. When they've cooked for a couple of minutes, add the honey and balsamic vinegar. Cover, turn the heat down to medium, and cook for 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The next job is the beetroot. I didn't peel these, just removed the top and long roots, and grated them with a cheese grater. Heat a small amount of butter or coconut oil and add the mustard seeds and ground cumin. Chop the garlic finely, and add both the garlic and beetroot to the pan when the mustard seeds start making a popping noise. Cook for about 10 minutes on a medium heat.

Chop the tomatoes and spring onions into small pieces. Add chopped thyme if you've got it, and make a simple dressing with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.

If you've got a sandwich press the next part will be simple. We don't, and it's not too difficult. Slice the bread, assemble, press down a little and then toast in a hot pan (I reused the caramelised onions pan) until golden on the outside. Slice, and then tip the tomatoes over the top.


If you clicked on the emily king link above and enjoyed "georgia" - why not enjoy even more this version - made by some talented folk including one of my closest friends' talented brother who's been playing the piano in a remarkable way since pretty much forever. He's the one on the keyboard. 


title from step - vampire weekend