olive oil, rosemary and citrus cake

tableIf any of you are following me on Instagram, you’d know that I’m experiencing a woody herb obsession. It’s something to do with winter, cold nights and frosty mornings, slow roasting and baking whilst sipping a glass of wine.

Differing from soft-stemmed herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil (from which the entire plant is edible), woody herbs include the much-loved rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano and thyme.

As the name suggests, the stems of woody herbs are hard, fibrous and often inedible (think rosemary). As a general rule, they’re better in cooked dishes, finely chopped, bruised in a mortar and pestle, fried until crispy (think sage. JUST DO IT) or infused into oil.

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The robust nature of woody herbs makes them wonderful for savoury applications such as a classic meat stuffing or slow cooked meal. However, they’re also delicious in Mediterranean-inspired desserts when combined with delicately sweet ingredients such as citrus fruit, nuts, stone fruit and glossy olive oil. To me, it’s a little bit like the flavour profile of a cheese board in the semblance of a traditional dessert. Sweet with savoury notes. Perfect for those of us with dwindling sweet tooths.

Like my recent recipe for lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches, this cake offers beautifully herbal, woody and savoury notes alongside the sweetness of citrus and olive oil. It’s perfect when eaten with coffee and a big dollop of double cream.

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Olive Oil, Rosemary and Citrus Cake

Adapted from this recipe by Michael Chiarello at Food Network

  • 2 cups plain flour (I used gluten-free)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground anise (Spanish anise seed, not star anise. Substitute fennel seeds)
  • 1 tbsp mixed orange and lemon zest, finely grated*
  • 1 cup mixed orange and lemon juice*
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (315ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur (eg. Cointreau, substitute brandy)

*I used 2 medium oranges and 1 small lemon to extract 1 cup of juice.

To serve:

  • 4 tbsp citrus marmalade, preferably without peel
  • icing sugar, optional
  • fresh rosemary sprigs and/or edible flowers

Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake pan, then set aside. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

In a nonreactive saucepan, reduce the citrus juice over medium heat to 1/4 cup. Add the salt, mix well and allow to cool.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the milk, sugar, liqueur, olive oil, reduced (and cooled) citrus juice, zest, ground anise and half of the fresh rosemary (the other tsp will be used for glazing the cake). Mix well.

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Sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until you achieve a smooth, even batter.

Pour the mixture into your prepared cake pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake is risen and golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should have only a few moist crumbs attached. Cover the cake with foil three-quarters of the way through cooking if it is browning too quickly. The cake will crack, it’s pretty much inedible so don’t worry!).

Place the cake onto a wire rack. While the cake is still warm, heat the marmalade until runny and incorporate the leftover chopped rosemary.Gently pour over the cake, using a spoon to smooth out any clumps. Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar and top with rosemary sprigs.

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lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches. and life

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If you follow me on Instagram you’d be aware that I was diagnosed with a combination of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis in my right (dominant) wrist just over two weeks ago. Although I’m seeing a specialist, I’m temporarily off work as both conditions reduce my ability to write and type (key aspects of my professional role, unfortunately).

I’ve also been unable to complete upper body workouts at the gym, lift heavy objects, clean the house and cook (chop, whisk, use a mortar and pestle) with my right hand which has led to a lot of frustration and ‘experimental’ left handed activity.

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For instance, I’m predominantly typing this blog post with my left hand. It’s gosh-darn slow, but manageable. Left-handed cleaning yielded similar results; slow but steadily achievable.

Left-handed cooking? Uh, let’s just say that I’m far from ambidextrous. Flipping pans was fine, but left-handed chopping was downright dangerous. I ended up positioning the knife with my right hand and pressing down with my left to limit stress through my right arm. I felt like a three-legged tortoise trying to complete an obstacle course (only to be overtaken by a sprightly, ambidextrous hare).

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Thankfully, things have improved since the horrid first week and I’m part-way back to normality (with a bit of residual wrist tingling). Props should be given to sAaron for interim nourishment, sous chef services and love, alongside catch-up episodes of Masterchef Australia (for saving me from absolute boredom).

Anyway, I intended this to be a short post (reasons for which should be obvious) and here I am past paragraph four (reasons for which should be obvious; this blog is pretty much an omnibus). Let’s, uh, cut to the chase (that gosh-darn ambidextrous hare) which in this case, is otherwise known as a lemon thyme ice cream sandwich.

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The idea for these frozen treats came from (unsurprisingly, refer to above) an episode of Masterchef Australia. The recipe below is mine, however the flavour profile can be mostly credited to contestant Georgia Barnes (her version can be found here).

The cookies below are entirely dreamy; buttery soft (melt in the mouth), lemon scented and slightly savoury thanks to the addition of thyme. They can be eaten on their own with a cup of tea or sandwiched together with creamy ice cream and a drizzle of thyme-infused honey.

As noted, I used Wild Thyme honey from J.Friend and Co which beautifully echoed the herbal notes in the shortbread cookies. However, you can use regular honey, lemon curd or nothing extra at all. It’s entirely up to you.

Enjoy, with sticky fingers and honey dripping down your chin. With either hand (you ambidextrous hare).

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Lemon Thyme Shortbread Cookies

  • 1 cup (250g) salted butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s (icing) sugar. sifted
  • 1/4 cup cornflour (pure corn, not the wheat variety)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest (roughly the zest from 1 medium lemon)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme (or lemon thyme) leaves, chopped

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a hand held or electric whisk. When creamy and pale, add in the flour and cornflour. Continue mixing until well combined (the dough will still be rather sticky and soft).

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Add in the lemon zest and thyme, then turn out onto a bench lined with plastic wrap. Shape into a log (about 6cm diameter. 20cm length), then transfer to the freezer. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

When your shortbread dough is frozen until firm, preheat oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Line two baking trays with parchment paper, then set aside. Unwrap the shortbread log and slice into 20 x 1-cm rounds. Lay 10 pieces on each baking tray, ensuring that each round is at least 2cm apart (they will spread slightly during the baking process).

Bake immediately for 15-20 minutes* or until pale golden. The cookies will spread a bit and still be slightly soft when you remove them from the oven, so allow them to cool on the baking tray before transferring them to a wire rack.

*I’ve based this recipe on my gas oven with no fan, you might need to watch them a little more if you have a fan-forced electric oven. They spread and brown fast due to the high butter content.

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To serve you will need:

Carefully spread half of the cookies with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream (be careful as the cookies are extremely ‘short’, i.e. crumbly).

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Drizzle with a little thyme-infused honey if desired, then sandwich with another cookie (I probably didn’t need to tell you that, but anyway). Dust over a few edible flowers if you’re feeling dreamy.

Serve immediately (and quickly, mine started to melt instantly – hence the messy photos) or re-freeze, wrapped in a loose layer of plastic wrap. Enjoy. Unless you’re Loki. Poor Loki.

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marinated bell peppers with herbs and goats cheese

peppersBy now, you’ve probably already read my epic Spanish Table post that was generated after last weekend’s festivities with Inspired Food and Feed Your Soul, Perth. Here’s the final recipe for bell peppers marinated in fragrant herbs, lemon zest, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Pile onto some fresh bread for a wonderful entree, lunch or tapas dish.

Marinated Peppers with Herbs and Goats Cheese

Serves 6 as part of a tapas meal, 2 as an entree

  • 200g mixed baby peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs (I used dill, mint, parsley and coriander)
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g soft mild goats cheese or Persian feta
  • fresh bread, to serve

Preheat a char grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the whole baby peppers to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened.

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Whilst still hot, place into a plastic bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap and allow to steam (this allows the skins to loosen from the flesh). Set aside.

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Place the chopped herbs, lemon zest, crushed garlic and olive oil into a medium bowl. Mix well and season to taste. Set aside.

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When the peppers are cool, peel off the blackened skins and scrape out the seeds and membranes. Cut or tear into thick slices, then add to the bowl of herb oil. Mix well and allow to marinate for one hour.

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To serve, gently add in the crumbled goats cheese and turn into a serving bowl. Garnish with a bit of extra herbage if desired. Serve the peppers piled onto fresh bread or as a tasty addition to a wrap or sandwich. Make sure you drizzle over a bit of the delicious oil, too.

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globe artichokes with lemon aïoli

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Fresh globe artichokes are a relatively new addition to the dinner rotation at our house. Whilst I’ve always loved the tender sweetness of preserved artichoke hearts in jars, the fresh version just seemed too messy and time-consuming to prepare.

However, whilst wandering my local market last week, I spied a pile of glossy green artichoke buds. Their purple-flecked exteriors and squeaky fresh petals were dripping with the dew of harvest. They were too beautiful to resist, so I quickly squirreled two into my shopping basket. I carried them home, wrapped in paper, with no distinct plans for preparation.

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Two days later, the artichokes were still neatly wrapped in the corner of my fridge crisper. I caught sight of a torn petal that had oxidized in the refrigerated air. The browned surface inspired action before my artichokes transformed into mush.

Enter Google, a pen and paper, roasted almonds and rooibos tea. Click, scrawl, crunch. Repeat. By the time the final almond was crunched and swallowed, I had the bones of an idea: steamed artichokes with thick, lemon-infused aïoli. Simple and delicious, a perfect celebration of spring.

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The pairing of artichokes with aïoli appears to be common across the fabric of the internet; where it originated, I’m not sure. However, after scraping the tender, sweet flesh off each petal with nothing more than my teeth, I felt like I was sitting on a cobbled street somewhere in Southern Italy. Each bite was more buttery, earthy and delicious than the last, beautifully accompanied by creamy olive oil, garlic and lemon aïoli.

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As the debris piled higher on my plate, the tough outer petals, fibrous stems and fuzzy choke gave way to the sweet, soft artichoke heart.

Aaron and I ate these the following day, sliced into wedges and crisped in a pan with smoky pancetta. A drizzle of lemon oil, some cracked pepper and parsley was all that was needed for a deliciously satisfying dish. We ate ours with aïoli-drizzled new potatoes, as the leftovers were too good to waste; however, I’m already imagining it piled high upon smoky, charred ciabatta. Next time.

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When choosing an artichoke, look for one that is bright green with a tight petal formation. A light squeeze at the head of the bud should yield a ‘squeaking’ noise that indicates freshness. Avoid artichokes that appear dry, brown or have split petals. Once purchased, artichokes should keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days (however, as with all vegetables, the sooner you eat them the better).

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Steamed Globe Artichokes

The recipe below was written for people like me, who don’t have a pot with a steamer basket. Your artichokes will half-boil and half-steam in broth (if you’re lucky enough to have a steamer basket, feel free to suspend your artichokes above the broth for maximal nutrient retention). *note: as artichokes are the immature flower buds from a North African thistle, I have used the word ‘petal’ to describe each individual leafy component. Occasionally, sources may interchange the word ‘leaf’ but rest assured, it’s one and the same.

  • 2 whole globe artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves (I just hit them once with the back of a knife)
  • water

Wash your artichokes well under cold running water. With a sharp knife, remove the stalk, leaving 1cm from the base of the artichoke. I like to cut off about 2cm from the top of the artichoke for both presentation and cooking purposes (removing the top allows more moisture/steam to penetrate the internal artichoke) however this is entirely optional. I also use kitchen scissors to cut off the spiny tops from each petal; again, for aesthetic purposes.

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Rub all of the cut surfaces on the artichoke with some lemon juice to prevent oxidization (the cut surfaces will start going brown immediately). Pull off any smaller petals towards the base of the artichoke as they will likely break off during the cooking process (they won’t have much edible flesh on them anyway).

Fill a large saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Add in the 2 cloves of garlic, the bay leaf and the other half of the lemon (squeeze the juice and then toss in the lemon skin). Place the artichokes in the water, base/stem end down. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to the boil.

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When boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, carefully turn the artichokes upside-down and then replace the pot lid. Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the artichokes are puffed and tender (a petal should tear off easily from the base of the vegetable). Remove the artichokes from the broth with a slotted spoon, allowing excess fluid to drain away. Set aside to cool slightly before eating with aïoli (recipe and more ‘eating info’ below).

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Lemon Aïoli

Makes 1 cup

Making aïoli is a very individual thing. Once you’ve mastered the art of a basic emulsion, you can play with different flavours to suit your individual palate. This version is a rather basic garlic, mustard and lemon aïoli with additional lemon zest. The quantities specified will result in a moderate-intensity aïoli with some garlic heat, the kick of lemon zest and some lingering savoury qualities from the mustard. I like it in small amounts with prepared artichokes; however, if you have a more sensitive palate, I’d switch half of the extra virgin olive oil for refined olive oil (which has a much milder flavour), reduce the garlic by half (you can omit it completely, if you like), omit the lemon rind and perhaps add in a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs. I’ve also drizzled in 1 tsp of truffle oil with a heavenly result.

From experience, I’d recommend that you make the aïoli by hand, with a hand whisk. It takes a bit of elbow grease but you have far more control over the emulsion than if you use a food processor.

  • 2 large fresh egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • pinch of rock salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • finely ground white pepper, to taste
  • water, as required

Place your egg yolks in a medium bowl with the mustard. Combine vigorously with a hand whisk until the yolks begin to appear viscous and opaque; the mustard should be completely emulsified.

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Start adding your olive oil, one drop at a time (being as patient as possible pays off here), whisking well to incorporate. Ensure that each drop is well combined before adding another. Gradually, your mixture should start to thicken to a creamy, emulsified consistency (if the mixture separates, stop adding oil and whisk well until the mixture comes back together. You can then resume the process).

When all of the oil is added, you should have a very thick, mayonnaise-like mixture (below). Set aside whilst you prepare your flavourings.

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With a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic and salt into a paste.

garlic mortar

Add to the aïoli with the lemon juice, whisk to combine (add a splash of water if required, until the mixture is of your desired consistency. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and lemon rind.

Place your finished aïoli into a jar or bowl, then refrigerate until use.

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Points to note: Add your oil slowly to prevent the mixture from splitting. As aforementioned, patience is everything if you desire a good emulsion. However, if your mixture does split, don’t panic: just get another fresh bowl, whisk an egg yolk in it, then gradually add in your separated mixture, a teaspoonful at a time, until the mixture starts to emulsify properly. Whisk in any oil that you have left.

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To eat your glorious creation: tear off a petal from the artichoke, then dip it into a little bit of creamy aïoli. Scrape the flesh off the leaf with your teeth, sucking up any juices. Discard the fibrous component of the petal, which is inedible. Repeat until all of the petals are gone.

Towards the centre of the artichoke, you’ll notice a soft, meaty base (the artichoke ‘heart’) and a fuzzy, fibrous core or ‘choke’. This needs to be carefully scooped out with a spoon, as per the images below (it’s pretty easy, but here’s a video from Ocean Mist Farms if you need a little extra assistance).

artichokeheart

chokels choke

When choke-free, you can cut the heart into little wedges and eat each with a tiny bit of aïoli (or alternately, smother it onto garlic-rubbed charred ciabatta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper and parsley. Delicious).

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Other great tutorials on preparation of artichokes:

*AND NOW… for something entirely different: you may or may not be aware that my husband, Aaron, works in design, illustration and 3D animation. He’s just updated his website MonsterBot. Click over to say hello (want something illustrated? Ask him!) and see some pretty pictures/videos here. Some of his artwork is also available for sale here (quality art prints, iPhone/iPad covers, textiles, hoodies and t-shirts, pillows, bags).

asparagus with soft-poached eggs, broad beans, lemon and chilli

yolklsFresh local asparagus is a wonderful thing; sweet, earthy, crisp and succulent. During peak season, it needs little more than a quick toss on the grill, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a speckling of flaked sea salt. Perfect in its simplicity.

For most of the year, Western Australians like myself only have access to imported asparagus; namely, cultivated crops from China, Thailand and Peru. Despite my commitment to locally grown food, I reluctantly admit that the short Western Australian asparagus season (from September to November) has led to desperate purchases of imported asparagus on a number of occasions this year. It feels terrible; the only redeeming thought is that I’ve possibly contributed towards a peasant’s wage somewhere in rural Asia. Idealism, I know.

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However, this week marked the arrival of fresh Torbay asparagus at my local farmer’s market. When I saw the fat green spears amongst the locally grown kale and lettuces this morning, my heart jumped in locavore joy. Grown near the port city of Albany in the state’s south west, this asparagus is sweet, robust and earthy in flavour.

I squirreled home a bucketful, with fresh broad bean pods, shiny aubergines and a dozen of Ellah’s fresh, free-range eggs.

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As per usual, my stomach rumbles as soon as I’ve visited the markets. After podding the broad beans, I trimmed the asparagus and quickly grilled the spears with a splash of good olive oil, some sea salt and chilli flakes. Topped with a runny, soft-poached egg, fragrant lemon zest and some grated Parmesan, we were soon in fresh asparagus heaven.

This dish is almost too simple for a ‘recipe’, however I’ve included a few of my cooking notes below for your reference. For a more substantial breakfast or lunch, I’d suggest adding some buttered, wholegrain toast and a sprinkling of hot-smoked salmon.

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Asparagus with Soft-poached Eggs, Broad Beans, Lemon and Chilli

Serves 2

  • 8-12 asparagus spears (4-6 per person, depending upon size)
  • 1/4 cup podded, shelled broad beans
  • 2 free-range eggs (or 4, if you’d like 2 each)
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • finely grated rind of one lemon
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Italian flat-leaf parsley to serve, if desired
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (for poaching the eggs)

Fill a medium saucepan with cold water. Cover, and place over medium heat whilst you prepare your vegetables.

Wash the asparagus spears, then snap off any woody ends (you will feel the shoot naturally ‘bend’ at the point where the spear is tender). Discard the ends, then scrape the outer surface near the end of the spear slightly to ensure that it cooks evenly.

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Heat a fry or grill pan over medium heat. Add in a splash of good olive oil, then toss in your asparagus spears. Agitate the pan, ensuring that the spears rotate, until their colour becomes vibrant green. Add in the shelled broad beans, some chilli flakes and sea salt. Fry or grill until the vegetables are tender and bright green with the slightest of grill marks from the pan.

Plate your asparagus and broad beans as desired, season with some salt and sprinkle over a little of the lemon zest. Set aside whilst you poach your eggs.

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By now, your water should be boiling rapidly. Add in the 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (this helps hold the protein in the egg white together), then carefully lower each egg into the water, one at a time (Note: I don’t bother with the ‘whirlpool’ technique as I find it ineffective; if you’re concerned about poaching eggs and require a visual reference, you can follow Curtis Stone’s instructions on YouTube). The eggs will probably take about 2 minutes to cook with a perfectly runny yolk.

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Carefully place your eggs upon the asparagus and broad bean mix. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over your remaining lemon zest, a little Italian parsley (if desired) and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Optional extras: as above, this dish would go beautifully with some toasted wholegrain bread, hot smoked salmon, cured gravlax (yum!) or free-range bacon. You can also add some toasted flaked almonds or hazelnuts.

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lemon, coconut and cacao truffles

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It’s been a rainy Saturday here in Perth. Wet, cold and predominantly grey. Quite amusing really, as it was only three weeks ago that I posted a recipe for slow-roasted lamb as a ‘…final homage to the beautiful winter-that-was’. Upon reflection, I should change that to the winter that is, as it’s been cold and rainy all week.

Oh well. All the more time for slow food, hot soup, snuggling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate with plenty of treats like these gluten-free, dairy-free bites of lemon cacao bliss.

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These particular truffles were made two weeks ago for my beautiful friend Anna (who is an amazing singer-songwriter, check out her website here) who can’t tolerate wheat, gluten or dairy. We ate them with fruit, Medjool dates and wine after a vegan dinner at our house, and I liked them so much that I snapped a few photos in preparation for a blog post.

Due to my delay in posting, these treats are now well and truly finished. Gone. Absent and departed. Seeing their photos in memoriam makes me sad.

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They taste like moist little bundles of almond, coconut and honey with soft, fragrant lemon undertones and the crunch of cacao nibs. I rolled half in raw cacao and the other half in dessicated coconut; after a great deal of taste testing we’ve decided that the coconut are superior to their more-bitter-on-the-tongue cacao cousins.

All this talk is making me hungry. It’s time to make another batch.

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Lemon, Coconut and Cacao Truffles

Makes roughly 22 truffles. Adapted from this recipe by Eleanor Ozich at Petite Kitchen.

  • 1 1/2 cups (110g) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup (110g) almond meal
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp honey (to make these completely vegan, substitute with maple syrup or agave as desired)
  • zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao nibs (or extra, to taste)
  • a pinch of crushed sea salt

For rolling the truffles:

  • 1/4 cup (18g) unsweetened dessicated coconut
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao powder

Place the dessicated coconut, almond meal, coconut oil, honey, lemon juice and zest, vanilla extract and sea salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture comes together (around 1 minute).

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Turn out into a bowl and add the cacao nibs. Mix together with a wooden spoon.

Use your hands to roll 1/2 tbsp of the mixture into a small bowl. Roll in dessicated coconut or cacao (I placed each coating in a separate bowl to roll the truffles as desired), then gently place onto a lined tray. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

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Refrigerate the truffles for at least half an hour before eating.

I prefer to eat them straight out of the refrigerator but you can store them at room temperature if desired. To keep them a little longer, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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lemon quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes and persian feta

bowl2It’s just passed 02:00am. Instead of sleeping, I’m listening to the sound of rain beating on the bedroom window; steady, soft, dull and rhythmic. A lone bus drifts down the highway, groaning under the weight of tired passengers and reinforced steel. I feel equally heavy. Strained under the weight of contemplation, emotion and unreasonable alertness.

I fidget, shifting my weight from right to left. Cold fingers tap incessantly on black keys, futilely aiming to translate muddled thoughts.

Type. Erase. Type…. rephrase. Begin again.

Progress. Fail. Darn it.

tommontBy now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing such a bleak introduction to a vibrant, colourful recipe post. I’m not really sure; my brain has many things to say, but my heart and hands aren’t adequate translators. Let me start with a small recollection of recent events.

Earlier this evening, Aaron and I visited two beautiful friends of ours, Brett and Kendall Stanford. I’m being completely honest in saying that Brett and Kendall are some of the best people you could ever meet: warm, gentle, kind, strong, ridiculously funny, faithful and wise. They’re both generous and loving in every sense of the word.

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By day, Brett works as a physiotherapist in a private clinic. He donates his weekends and extra time to Perth-based basketball trick shot group How Ridiculous, which you may have heard of in relation to their Guinness World Record for highest basketball shot (66.89m / 219 ft 5 in). Since 2009, these four Perth guys have been making basketball trick shot videos as a source of both entertainment and sponsorship for the not-for-profit organization Compassion. They’ve been featured by media worldwide and have over 72K subscribers on YouTube. Everything they do radiates genuine passion for the alleviation of poverty, worldwide.

On the other hand, Kendall is one of the sweetest, kindest nurses that you could ever wish to meet. She has a generous heart for people and has been a loyal friend to Aaron and I for many years now. She sung at our wedding at short notice, standing in the boiling sun for sound checks with a bad sound system and persistent flies (nevertheless, she was wonderful, as was Chris, who sung and played with her). Aaron and I attended the Stanford wedding around one month later, hand-in-hand as husband and wife, with smiles from ear to ear. It was beautiful, memorable… uniquely Brett and Kendall.

avoLast Sunday, Aaron and I read a message from Brett that has since permanently burned into the back of our minds. Around four weeks ago, Kendall began experiencing increased fatigue, headaches and facial swelling. After many investigations, she was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal B-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Yes, cancer. It’s scary. I’m angry, sad and frustrated all at the same time. Kendall’s diagnosis brings back memories of my beautiful mother suffering through breast cancer surgery, then months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a few years ago. It’s a fate that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, particularly not a woman of 24 years.

Kendall has now commenced chemotherapy, and the rest of us have commenced a routine of prayer, more prayer and practical help as required. A few days ago, Kendall sent me a message to ask if I could bring them a bite of dinner on Thursday night. I jumped at the chance, ecstatic to be able to do something tangibly ‘helpful’. I brought over this salad (below) with warm bread, dips and slow-cooked lamb. I hoped that the food would be palatable, nourishing and satisfying, but I still felt a little bit… well, ineffective. Kendall jokingly remarked in a text, ‘…we may want to be on your blog too’. So, after some thought, that’s exactly what I did.

fetacloseAs Kendall tells her story much better than I can, I’d encourage you to read her beautifully honest words over at Kendall Stanford: As I Battle Lymphoma. She’s planning to write updates as she progresses through the next few months, both as a personal means of catharsis and for information sharing. As for me, I’ve signed up for the ‘food roster’ (actually, I requested that she create a food roster!) so you may see a few more Kendall updates on here as time passes, if it feels right to do so.

One last request: if you’re a Christian as we are, I’d like to humbly ask you to please pray alongside us, specifically for Kendall, Brett, their families and friends, the treating doctors involved in her care… and otherwise as you feel led. We’re praying for victory, healing and renewed strength. Thanks beautiful friends. I appreciate every one of you.

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This salad is simple, nourishing and comforting, speckled with lemon zest and fresh garden herbs. If you don’t have quinoa, you can easily substitute it for brown rice, bulgur (burghul) or cous cous.

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Goats Cheese

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 200g punnet mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
  • 1/2 red capsicum, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 avocado, seed and peel removed
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber (substitute half a telegraph cucumber)
  • 1/2 small Spanish onion, outer peel removed
  • 1 handful washed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 handful washed coriander leaves (retain stalk)
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup organic Persian marinated feta
  • extra virgin olive oil

Place the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour).

Drain well, then place into a medium saucepan with two cups of fresh cold water. Replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil; immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then cook with the lid on for 10-15 minutes.

lemonycookedWhen your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes (covered) then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and the fresh lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

caponionChop your cherry tomatoes, capsicum, Spanish onion, cucumber and avocado into small (0.5 x 0.5cm) dice. Place into a medium bowl, then squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Finely chop the herbs and add them to the rest of the raw ingredients with the lemony quinoa, crumbled Persian feta, a good drizzle of olive oil and the rest of the lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

finmontServe this salad on its own or topped with warm chickpeas, freshly grilled chicken, fish or a handful of toasted pepitas. It’s also great as part of a Summer barbecue spread with a selection of salads, meat and some cold beer.

quinoasaladNotes:

  • Quinoa (‘keen wah’) is one of the most nutrient rich grains around. It’s an excellent source of iron (needed to transport oxygen around the body), B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium (for healthy nervous system function) and vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant).
  • For more information on quinoa (including basic cooking ratios) see my previous post, Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint.
  • The Australian website taste.com.au has a nice little collection of quinoa recipes here. Beautiful, versatile nutrition. Love it.
  • This salad can be easily veganised by omitting the Persian feta. I’d recommend additions of toasted pepitas, chickpeas or other nuts for added substance, texture and flavour.

root

broad bean salad with lemon, mint and goats cheese

mixedIt’s been seven long years since my first trip to the sunny northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Despite the passage of time, I remember each detail with a clarity that only survives the best of holidays: the warm gust of air as I exited Barcelona-El Prat and boarded the shuttle bus to the city centre; the vibrant, glossy mosaics lining the terrace in Park Güell; the salty crunch of chorizo wrapped in bread from a smiling street vendor. One visit was enough to stimulate a lifelong love of Spanish culture, food and tradition.

beanbowlmontBarcelona is a beautiful city; a vibrant tumble of old and new, poor and affluent, traditional and modern. Gothic streets juxtapose against modern vehicles like an unintended social statement. Cracked pavements gleam with hidden mosaic tiles. Barcelona is art, embodied, endlessly evolving, complex and raw.

rindIf you’ve traveled to Spain, you may understand my persistent infatuation with Spanish cuisine. Crisp, hot, deliciously fragrant, quickly devoured in shades of blackened crimson, vivid green and soft white. My first meal upon landing was white fish ceviche, delicately opaque, dripping with fresh lemon and good olive oil. Despite eating dinner at 11.00pm (the Spanish way) my taste buds awakened to crisp red peppers, delicate herbs and succulent fish tinged with acid. I’ve never forgotten one bite of that meal, despite being amply lubricated with my first tastes of Spanish sangria; crimson, sweet and lingering. Each bite was a glimpse of culinary heaven.

I fell in love that night. Not with a man, but with the cultural richness, generosity of flavour and reckless abandon embedded in Spanish cuisine. It travelled back with me, from Barcelona’s urban landscape to the dusty red soil of my Australian hometown, Perth.

As soon as I arrived home, I began an endless quest to recreate some of the meals that I enjoyed in Spain, specifically tapas fare: snack-style grazing plates found in every bar and cafe around Barcelona city. As the years have passed, my collection of ceramic tapas dishes has slowly grown to occupy an entire shelf in the kitchen cupboard, interrupted only by a wine decanter that I use to make summer sangria.

cheesemintBeing a diasporic child, it’s safe to say that I incorporate ‘fusion’ in many of my tapas dishes, an example being today’s recipe for broad bean salad. Though broad beans are very popular in Spain, they’re mostly eaten raw or in meaty dishes such as habas con jamon (broad beans with ham). This lemon-infused, chilli flecked concoction is entirely my own, designed to be a fresh, vibrant accompaniment to jamon serrano, crisp pescaito frito, patatas bravas and other tapas staples.

If you can’t find fresh broad beans, frozen will do; just ensure that you handle them carefully whilst peeling their resilient skins. Serve this dish warm or at room temperature, slicked in fruity extra virgin olive oil and accompanied by warm, crusty bread.

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Broad Bean Salad with Lemon, Mint and Goats Cheese

Serves 4 as part of a tapas meal or 2 as a side dish

  • 1 cup (170g) podded fresh broad beans (habas, or fava beans)
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil (or lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil, if you can find it)
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 small handful mint, washed and chopped
  • 50-70g firm organic goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ground black pepper, to taste
  • lemon wedges, to serve (optional)

Blanch the broad beans (still in their papery skins) in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Carefully slip the broad beans out of their skins and into a medium sized bowl, then set aside.

beanmontPlace the crushed garlic, lemon rind, chilli flakes and olive oil into a small bowl. Mix carefully, then add to the broad beans with the mint, goats cheese, salt and pepper. Gently toss together.

tablecloserTransfer the salad into a serving dish. Drizzle over a little more olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges (to squeeze over the salad as desired), warm crusty bread and other tapas accompaniments.

saladtop2*Note: In response to several requests from blog followers, I’ve finally established a facebook page for Laura’s Mess: https://www.facebook.com/laurasmessblog. With one extra click, you’ll find all of my recipe links, daily musings, foodie scribbles and snapshots for your enjoyment. Feel free to drop me a line on facebook if you have any day to day questions, recipe links and tips. It’ll take me a while to connect myself with other bloggers on facebook, so if you have your own page, please let me know about it. I’m excited to finally be a part of the facebook food blogger’s community!

raspberry and lemon baked cheesecake

cakefaveThose of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that I’m a very instinctual cook. I disregard both measurements and recipes, and tend to rescue my food from the oven by sight, smell and touch rather than adherence to cooking times. I used to view this ‘freestyle’ cooking ability as a strength; something born of experience and personal creativity. Last Friday, I definitively changed my mind.

Let me take you on a little trip down ‘memory lane’: it was 11:00am on a cold-but-clear Friday morning. The sun was high in the sky, casting shadows across the coffee table as I tapped out answers to emails on my laptop.  I coughed, watching steam rise from my coffee cup as my eyes flickered absently across the computer screen. In approximately 19 hours, four men would be arriving at my door to eat a pork belly roast in honour of William, a friend of ours who’s leaving Australia for good this coming Thursday. I wanted to create something delicious for dessert; something meaningful, indulgent and worthy of the occasion. For some reason I decided upon cheesecake. Specifically, lemon cheesecake, as a tribute to William’s uncanny ability to eat three of my glazed lemon muffins in two minutes (yep, true).

sccheesemontAs you can probably imagine, I’ve got my own ideas about making cheesecake. I’ve made quite a few before, all successful, but… well, as I was seeking perfection I made the unusual decision to follow a recipe.

After a few clicks through various websites, I chose this one from taste.com.au. Now, if you inspect the link you’ll see that this recipe isn’t actually for lemon cheesecake; however, I was sold by the convincing user reviews. I figured I could add in some homemade lemon curd and all would be dandy, right? So, I set to work: snap, melt, blend, press. Refrigerate crust. Check recipe. Shake, measure, blend, stir. Fill chilled crust. Looking good. Now, lemon; let’s dollop in some lemon curd. Raspberries? Yeah. Top up with vanilla filling. Check recipe. Oh no.

I stared at the beautiful, glistening cheesecake on the bench top. It looked perfect; dense and creamy, with a crisp biscuit crust and smooth vanilla filling. But… I’d forgotten the eggs. And the recipe called for three.

Darn it.

lemonrindmontI stared dismally at the cheesecake, my brain ticking over possible solutions to the ‘egg problem’. The preheated oven creaked menacingly as I mentally berated my poor ability to follow recipes. Any sane cook would have placed the cheesecake in the refrigerator to firm up overnight, as without eggs, it would have worked perfectly in its unbaked form.

Me? Hah. Well, my stubbornness kicked in. I rummaged through a drawer for a flat, wide spoon before attempting to skim off the top layer of vanilla filling. I chucked it back into the blender, cracked in an egg and… soon it resembled a vanilla milkshake. I added in a little more sour cream then poured it back over the cheesecake base. I hoped for the best.

Oven opened. Cake went in. Heart sank. I waited, hoping that my cheesecake might at least be a little bit better than my husband’s favourite packet abomination from White Wings.

raspstrawbmontFast forward three hours. The cheesecake had baked and cooled for two hours before emerging from the oven. It looked fine. Good, even. The milkshake layer had set nicely; it was glossy and crack-free with the slightest bit of wobble in the centre. The crust had a lovely golden hue.

But still… I had no idea how the egg-free layer turned out. I placed the tin in the refrigerator, covered, to set overnight. I then washed up, broke a glass, lost a hairpin in the remaining sour cream and saturated my shirt. I decided that I should just go back to bed. So I did.

The next day, the cheesecake emerged. It was decorated, served and eaten. Yes, you’ll get to see how the cake turned out… after reading the recipe. I’ve posted in full as it should have been; my modifications are mostly in italics, including the addition of lemon curd, fresh berries and dollops of frustration.

cakeRaspberry and Lemon Baked Cheesecake

Serves 12 (adapted from New York Baked Cheesecake by Katrina Woodman, at taste.com.au)

  • 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 2 x 250g packets of full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs (I used one)
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 1/4 cup raspberry conserve
  • 200g (about 3/4 punnet) fresh strawberries, washed
  • 200g fresh raspberries (not frozen, or they’ll leak juice all over your cake)
  • mint, to serve (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f. If you have a fan-forced oven, use 140 degrees C/280 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, then set aside.

MariecookieIn a food processor, process the biscuits until they reach breadcrumb consistency. Add in the melted butter and process until just combined. Press the mixture over the base and sides of the pan, leaving a 2cm gap from the top. Use the base of a glass to press over the base and sides of the pan for a firm, smooth consistency. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

crustAdd the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla and lemon rind to your food processor bowl. Process until smooth*.

bowlofcheeseAdd the eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined (omit this step if you are Laura). Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the lemon curd and a few teaspoons of raspberry jam. Swirl to create an even distribution.

layer2cakePour over the rest of your cheesecake mixture (then scrape it off, blend it with an egg, add another dollop of sour cream and pour it back on – see the bubbles? Milkshakey, eggy goodness).

topBake for 60-65 minutes (40-50 minutes if you’ve made the two layers as I did; the base cheesecake layer doesn’t need baking) or until just set (the centre should still wobble slightly). Allow the cake to cool in the oven for two hours with the door ajar. When sufficiently cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Release the sides of the springform tin. Carefully lift your cake from the base and remove the baking paper. Transfer to a serving plate.

curd.likeWarm your remaining lemon curd in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until it’s spreadable.  Carefully cover the surface of your cake with the remaining lemon curd (emphasis on carefully, as the surface of the cake may be a little delicate). Refrigerate whilst you prepare the berries.

berryjammontSlice your strawberries into quarters, then place them in a bowl. Melt the rest of the raspberry jam (until slightly warm and pourable, not hot and bubbling) then combine it with the berries, stirring until each piece of strawberry is coated and glistening. Pile the strawberries onto the centre of the cake, adding the fresh raspberries and mint, if desired.

cakebench2So. The verdict: absolute, unexpected, gloriously delicious success! The cake was creamy, smooth and perfectly set, with a gorgeous layer of fresh lemon curd and raspberry jam in the centre. The textural difference between the top and bottom layers of cheesecake filling actually worked well; the upper layer was pillowy soft and light whilst the bottom layer was dense, creamy and decadent.

cakeslicemontThe boys who tasted it said that it was reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie mixed with a cheesecake and a Victoria sponge. Strange but entirely accurate. William was altogether pleased (he laughed when we recalled the muffin story. Ah, memories).

I love it when disasters redeem themselves (but I still need to learn how to read recipes).

jamjar*If you’d like to reproduce my accidental cheesecake triumph at home, I’d suggest dividing your whipped (eggless) cheesecake filling into two halves. Pour one half over your refrigerated crust, then top with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Return the other half to the blender with one egg. Blend until just combined, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake as instructed.

herbed chickpea salad with feta and lemon

peajarThere’s a lot to love about chickpeas. Otherwise known as ‘garbanzo’ or ‘ceci’ beans, these naturally creamy, adaptable legumes have been a staple food in India, the Middle East and some parts of the Mediterranean for centuries. Fortunately for us in other countries, processes of migration and settlement have slowly seen chickpeas filtrate into local cuisines worldwide. For instance, in my home country of Australia, you can find chickpeas in more traditional dishes such as hummus and Chana Masala whilst also sampling them in Westernized baked goods such as chocolate chip cookie pie and chickpea burgers or patties. Interesting.

Okay, here’s an admission: I haven’t personally crossed the line into ‘sweet’ chickpea territory as yet. Perhaps this is unusual for a foodie, but the idea of eating legumes in a cake or brownies sounds incredibly… well, undesirable. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that using chickpea batter is a fabulous substitute for the copious amounts of butter and other saturated fats that we often put into baked goods, whilst also being a wonderful gluten-free option for those intolerant to flour. I have utmost respect for the amazing cooks who can formulate these recipes, but for me? Well… my brain just says no.

parsleyI’m digressing again. Let’s get back to savoury dishes, the chosen medium for consumption of chickpeas in my household. Over the years, thousands of these little canned or dried legumes have made it into personal versions of spicy curries, fried snacks, dips, burgers, breads and wraps. All versions have been delicious, my personal favourites being crisp-fried chickpeas with lemon oil, harissa and minted yoghurt, chilli-spiked hummus and the simple chickpea salad that you’ll find below.

This recipe has become slightly famous in my immediate circle; mostly due to its simplicity, freshness and adaptability. I first introduced it at a casual barbecue a couple of years ago (as a side to my friend Mark’s famous, Jamie-Oliver-inspired, rosemary-infused lamb and chicken kebabs) and since then, at least half of the group have been making their own versions on a regular basis. In fact, my friend Caryse (an amazing cook in her own right who also happens to own a photography business) has labelled this salad ‘…the best recipe I ever stole’. I hope that you might experience the same success in your own kitchen.

ingmont3Herbed Chickpea Salad with Feta and Lemon

  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained, or equivalent dried chickpeas, cooked (see ‘notes’)
  • 2  small Lebanese cucumbers
  • 250g punnet cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small red capsicum (red pepper)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 bunch coriander, washed and finely chopped,
  • 1 bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
  • 100g (0r to taste) goat’s feta
  • 1/3 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
  • juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tbsp finely grated rind
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Chop your tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers and red capsicum into a rough dice. Place them into a medium-sized bowl with the Spanish onion, herbs and drained chickpeas.

ingredmontCrumble over the goat’s feta, then add in some olive oil, black pepper, the lemon rind and the fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat, then taste. Adjust flavourings and add salt as required.

lempepNotes:

  • If you would like to use dried chickpeas in this recipe, use the conversion ratio of 1:3 (1 cup dried chickpeas equals around 3 cups cooked chickpeas). There’s no need for exact measurements in a chickpea salad (I’ve given you quantities as a starting point, but play around with things as you like), but to rehydrate the equivalent of a 440g can of chickpeas, start with around 150g dried chickpeas and follow the cooking method below.
  • To prepare dried chickpeas: place your dried chickpeas into a large bowl and cover completely with cold water. Add in about a teaspoon of baking soda (to speed the soaking process by penetrating and softening the skins) then cover. Allow to soak overnight, or for around 12 hours. After soaking, transfer your chickpeas to a large cooking pot or saucepan. Cover with twice the amount of water, then cover and simmer slowly for 2-3 hours. Test them for softness: if ready, a chickpea should be plump and tender; you should be able to easily ‘squash’ it between two fingers. When ready, train your chickpeas and allow them to cool.
  • Cooked chickpeas can be kept in an airtight container or covered bowl in the refrigerator for up to three days. They can also be frozen for up to one month.

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  • Chickpeas are a rich source of zinc, folate and protein whilst also providing about 49-53mg phosphorus per 100g. Recent studies have also shown that they can assist in lowering of cholesterol in the bloodstream.
  • For more information on the nutritional value and difference between canned and dried chickpeas, I’d encourage you to read the thorough rundown posted on George Mateljan’s World’s Healthiest Foods site. It includes a full nutritional background in chart form.

P.S This recipe was made with liberated cucumbers from my local fresh market (I went to buy Lebanese, but… well, either they’re liberated or they conservatively vote for the Liberal Party. Just thought you should know.

cucumbers

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