prosciutto and roast sweetcorn muffins

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This coming Sunday, my beautiful friend Elissa (doctor and haiku writer extraordinaire) is moving to the port city of Bunbury from Perth, Western Australia. That’s 175 kilometres away; a great chunk of bitumen framed by dirt, trees and a kangaroo if you’re lucky.

No, it’s not the end of the world, or even the end of Western Australia. But it’s far enough to mean no last minute coffee dates, weeknight dinners or Rage-a-thons on Friday nights. For the next six-or-so months, our ‘dates’ will require a full tank of fuel and a sizeable drive. And a packed lunch (if you’re a Hobbit like me).

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Understandably, the past fortnight has been a series of goodbye events for those of us in Elissa’s friendship group; particularly her beautiful bestie Deanne and… well, me (also known as ‘sisterling’, as we’ve been happily mistaken for sisters more than once).

The first of these goodbye events was two weeks ago; an afternoon tea at Elissa’s apartment for a small group of girlfriends. We drank tea from pretty cups whilst feasting on anecdotes, crudites, taramasalata, soft cheese and corn muffins with Parmesan and smoky paprika.

The latter were made by myself and Deanne with occasional help from a spotty-socked Kelpie named Lucy (below; she smiles for pig’s ears).

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lucy1Throughout the course of an afternoon, Deanne and I chatted, laughed, baked and cried. Somehow in the midst of that, these muffins emerged from the oven.

Despite the fact that I met Deanne through our mutual friendship with Elissa, I feel very blessed to have her in my life. She’s one of the most genuine, transparent, loving and generous hearts I have ever met on this earth. Her second blog Gratitude, All the Time is testament to that.

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But back to the muffins: these were real crowd-pleasers. Moist, soft, sweet with blackened corn and salty with crisp prosciutto. They also had some added kick from the fragrant smoked paprika (Elissa referred to it as the ‘secret ingredient’ and I’d have to agree).

As for the recipe, Dea found it here via Good Food. We made a few edits, including the addition of dried parsley (there wasn’t enough of the fresh herb in the pot) and the substitution of whole milk for buttermilk (as Dea doesn’t believe in buttermilk. I think. Or something like that).

smokedpaprikaI’ve included an edited but unabridged version of the recipe below in case you’d like to try them. They’re simple and very forgiving (trust me, we interrupted the process multiple times).

Dea and I also feel that the muffins would be highly adaptable for those who prefer to exercise some artistic license. Chipotle and lime butter, anyone?

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Prosciutto and Roast Sweetcorn Muffins

Adapted from this recipe by Good Food.

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

  • 200g canned corn kernels, drained (or fresh kernels from 2-3 cobs, removed)
  • 6 slices prosciutto
  • 225g self-raising flour, sifted
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp castor sugar
  • tsp sea salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • 80g butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (374 degrees f). Drain your canned corn and scatter it over a lined oven tray.

corntrayBake for 10-15 minutes or until slightly blackened around the edges. Leave to cool.

Add the flour, paprika, cumin, sugar and sea salt to a large mixing bowl.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. Add in the parsley and all but one tablespoon of the corn, mixing well.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then add in the egg and milk. Combine very lightly with a fork until thick and clumpy. Do not overmix.

Lightly oil twelve regular-sized muffin holes. Line the sides of each hole with a slice of prosciutto.

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Divide the mixture between the muffin holes, filling right to the top. Scatter over the remaining corn kernels and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden (an inserted skewer should come out clean).

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Serve these muffins warm with butter, cream cheese and/or tomato chutney. They are best consumed on the day they were made.

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Elissa: thanks for being the genuinely beautiful friend that you are. Have a safe trip down to Bunno and know that we’re coming to visit you very, very soon (in fact, you’d better put the kettle on. You may never get rid of us).

Deanne: you’re amazing. You deserve to be treasured for the incredibly generous and wise person that you are. I look forward to our next cook-up very soon!

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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buttermilk corn fritters

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I’m listening to the breeze. It’s whisper-soft and gentle, fragrant with the smell of nearby eucalyptus trees, dust and fresh rainfall. The sun is high in the sky, casting patches of shadow on grass as a nearby emu ambles along a wire fence.

As you may have guessed, this post hasn’t been written from the common confines of our shoebox apartment (contrary to popular belief, emus and kangaroos don’t wander free in Australian capital cities). Two days ago, my husband and I packed our bags for a weekender in Dunsborough, a quiet town 254km south of Perth on the shores of Geographe Bay.   leaflandscape

Dunsborough is a beautiful place, known for its white sand, artisan food stores, aged timber and quality wines. It’s a popular weekend escape for Sandgropers of all ages, particularly due to its close proximity to Margaret River, a premium wine region surrounded by world-class surf beaches and rugged timber forests.

We were lucky enough to score a last minute invitation to a friend’s farm stay property, five minutes from Dunsborough town centre and one minute away from the famous Simmo’s ice creamery. We arrived late on Friday night in a flash of headlights and immediately felt… different. All the troubles of the week faded into a fragrant tumble of eucalyptus, scratching happy chickens and fresh figs from the tree, the latter eaten with local honey and foraged sprigs of mint.

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Over the past two days, we’ve spent hours at the beach, sunbathing and searching for tiny crabs before barbecuing fresh-caught fish on a gas camp stove. We’ve played the guitar in the moonlight, swirling glasses of wine whilst singing along to the chirp of crickets in nearby grass and the boom of the local emu.

After sleeping on creaking mattresses we’ve woken to natural light before eating fresh farmyard eggs and bacon cooked on an outdoor barbecue. It’s been perfection, in holiday form, made better by the presence of lifelong friends who in my opinion are some of the best people on the planet.

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I’m writing this last paragraph two days after our return to Perth. It’s 7.00am, the sun is casting a warm glow through the window and my mind is flickering towards my office and the growing pile of paperwork requiring my attention. However, I can’t finish this post without the addition of a recipe, so below you’ll find a breakfast dish that was developed, cooked and devoured in the fresh air during our weekend in Dunsborough.

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These corn fritters are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and flaked with juicy nuggets of golden sweetcorn. They’re deliciously versatile, made even better during our time away by the addition of fresh organic eggs, hand-picked garlic chives and dried chillies (the latter were grown and harvested by my friends Patti and Mel). We enjoyed our fritters with smoked salmon, fried eggs (I attempted poaching over a camp stove but failed dismally), tomato chutney, lemon-infused sour cream, spinach and avocado. I’ve included some recipe additions and variations under ‘notes’ below if you’re feeling adventurous.

However you try them, I hope you enjoy these corn fritters as much as we did. Oh, and if you’re a Perth city slicker, I’d highly recommend a trip to the country. It’s refreshing for the body, mind and spirit… the way nature intended.

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Buttermilk Corn Fritters

Makes approximately 12, 6-8cm diameter fritters

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 315g creamed corn
  • 400g sweetcorn kernels (equivalent to 1 large sweetcorn cob, kernels removed, or 420g can corn kernels, drained)
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic chives
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • sea salt
  • white pepper
  • unsalted butter and olive oil, to fry

Sift flour into a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Fold in your liquid ingredients: buttermilk, eggs and creamed corn. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. mixmont

Add in your corn kernels, chives and parmesan, then fold until just combined. Your mix is now ready to fry.

Warm a heavy-based, non-stick frypan over medium heat. When hot, remove from heat before adding a tablespoon of unsalted butter and some good quality olive oil. When the butter has melted, return the pan to the heat and add heaped tablespoons of the mixture, three at a time. Use the back of a spoon to shape the fritter mixture into 6-8cm diameter rounds.

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Cook your fritters until the edges begin to crisp up and small bubbles start appearing in the mixture. Flip them over carefully with a slotted spatula. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the fritters are crisp on both sides, lightly browned and firm to the touch. If it’s a cold day, I’d recommend placing your cooked fritters in a slow oven (150 degrees C/300 degrees f) to keep warm whilst you begin your next batch.

Drain on paper towels before serving 2-3 fritters per person. Great accompaniments include lemon-infused sour cream, crème fraiche, smoked salmon or crispy bacon, poached eggs, fresh herbs, sliced avocado and tomato chutney.

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Notes:

  • Corn is a great source of dietary fibre whilst being low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It also contains beneficial amounts of thiamin, niacin (B vitamins), vitamin C, potassium and folate. However, being high in starch and natural sugars, it’s definitely not a low carbohydrate food (which is why it’s used to make sweet corn syrup). Watch your intake if you enjoy being sedentary!
  • If you’re feeling inventive, these fritters are very open to adaptation. Great additions to the basic fritter mixture include small pieces of crispy bacon, extra cheese (crumbled feta is fantastic), finely chopped herbs (try parsley or coriander), spices (try some cumin and coriander seeds for a deliciously Middle Eastern twist) or for extra nutritional value, grated carrot.
  • For a Southern American version, omit the chilli, pepper and chives from your mixture and mix in 1 tsp caster sugar before frying. Serve with crispy bacon and maple syrup or honey for a classic sweet-and-salty hit. Yum. Oh, and please don’t deep-fry them. It’s not necessary (repeat after me: you are not Elvis).
  • If you’re a vegan, I’ve found a deliciously suitable corn fritter recipe just for you. It’s by Nancy at The Sensitive Pantry and utilises an egg replacer alongside coconut milk and sorghum flour. I haven’t test-driven it yet, but I have absolute faith in this woman’s abilities. She is the queen of cooks for those with food allergies and intolerances.  forkplate

heirloom tomato salad

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Supermarket tomatoes. What do these two words mean to you? Ease of purchase, uniform redness, blemish-free shiny skins and all-year-round availability? Yes, these would be the positives. But hopefully it won’t be a surprise to you to find out that tomatoes aren’t supposed to be like this.

In their natural state, tomatoes are seasonal, perishable and… well, occasionally ugly. But as large supermarket chains and their practices have started to dominate the retail market, growers have started to conform to their requests for uniform, disease-resistant fruit that can be stored and sold all-year round. Yes, it sounds practical. Convenient, even. But it’s highly unnatural.

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So, in case you’re interested, to follow is a bit of a back story on how supermarket tomatoes have moved from A (being natural agriculture) to B (the tennis ball fruit in today’s supermarkets). Keep in mind that this is my abbreviated version of events, so if you’d like to read more take a look at my references below.

Here goes: about 70 years ago, small green grocers started folding up as large supermarket chains and their cost-cutting ability started to dominate the fresh food market. Supermarkets had the ability to import international produce or buy transported produce from across the country, rather than sourcing fresh stock from local independent farmers. Over time, consumers got used to produce being available almost all-year round, consequentially losing all concept of the natural ‘seasonal’ nature of fresh produce. Supermarkets moved to further meet this demand whilst also trying to minimise transport costs. This led to the practice of cold-storing bulk amounts of fresh produce for gradual sale according to market demand. knife

In its basic form, cold storage is a beneficial form of refrigeration that involves chilling fresh produce as soon as possible after harvest, preserving nutrients and preventing deterioration. However, most supermarkets go a few steps further. As far as I understand, most large supermarket chains buy fruit and vegetables before they’ve reached full ripeness (as mature-but-green fruits and vegetables are usually more resilient during transportation), chilling them as soon as possible after harvest, then storing them in a controlled-atmosphere area (with lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide than normal air) to prohibit deterioration.

Some supermarkets also use a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) to block the biochemical changes that occur as a fruit naturally ripens and matures. This extends the shelf life of the fruit even longer, but tests have shown that when the fruit eventually ‘ripens’, it has less flavour and often remains partially hard (yep, that’s why your last lot of supermarket nectarines tasted like crap). Oh, and just in case the above process isn’t enough, most units also spray the produce with some additional fungicide to prohibit the growth of mold. Ah, lovely.

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So, back to specifics: why do today’s supermarket tomatoes taste so terrible? It’s not just because they’re picked in an unripe state before being cold-stored for 4-5 calendar weeks. They’ve also been genetically modified through a process called heterosis to increase uniformity (in shape and colour), product yield and disease resistance. Unfortunately, these benefits were gained whilst sacrificing nutritional quality (in particular, carotenoids) and the essential sugars that provide a tomato’s characteristically sweet taste. But hey, you can buy them all year round, right? And if you drop them, they bounce.

Sadly, as these resilient and aesthetically beautiful tomatoes began to monopolize the commercial fresh food market, many non-genetically modified heritage varieties were lost to the general public (along with many small, family farms that were growing them). But here’s the good news: throughout the years, some small heroic producers, backyard gardeners and boutique seed collectors continued to grow these varieties, whilst drying and storing seed samples from tomatoes and other rare heritage produce. As interest in heirloom produce has blossomed, many of these people have started selling seeds in a not-for-profit manner via the internet. Excitingly, there are even some independent growers who are starting to produce heirloom vegetables for public sale at local farmer’s markets.

If you’re a Perth dweller like I am, I’d encourage you to visit the Subiaco Farmer’s Market (more details under ‘Retailers’ below), a small project run by like-minded Western Australians who sell organic and bio-dynamic fresh produce that’s been sustainably farmed. The stallholders at this market are the only local stockists of organic heirloom seedlings and selected heirloom fresh produce that I’ve found in Perth, so I’m definitely making every effort to support them. If you live locally, I’d encourage you to do the same. If you don’t live in Perth and you’re having difficulty sourcing organic, heirloom produce from a local grocer, I’d encourage you to prepare a patch of soil, get your credit card ready and check out the list of online seed retailers below. Yes, it will take a little longer, but there’s nothing like eating freshly harvested produce from your own garden. That’s agriculture, the way nature intended.

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Below, you’ll find a very simple recipe for an heirloom tomato salad. It’s back-to-basics, rustic cooking (or rather, ‘seasoning’) that’s intended to accentuate the beautiful quality of the hero ingredient, rather than complicate it. Though I’ve included some rough measurements, everything should be adapted to your personal taste and the quality of your produce. For this reason, I’d suggest that you taste one of your tomatoes prior to beginning the process. Contemplate its sweetness, juiciness and intensity. Does it need extra salt? Some additional complexity? Once you’ve decided, add extra ingredients to taste.

I’d suggest that you eat this salad on a warm sunny day with a glass of white wine, a good friend and some buttered crusty French bread to mop up the sweet tomato juices. Deliciously good food, heirloom style (you’ll never be satisfied with a supermarket tomato again).

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Heirloom Tomato Salad

  • 1kg mixed heirloom tomatoes, washed and sliced (I usually do a mixture of wedges and horizontal slices)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and torn roughly into pieces
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • a pinch of caster sugar, if your tomatoes aren’t sweet enough
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, shaved

Place your olive oil into a medium pan over low heat. Add in your garlic clove, and saute gently until the clove becomes translucent and the oil is fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Place into a small bowl and whisk in your vinegars, the caster sugar and some sea salt.

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Place your mixed tomatoes into a large bowl. Add in the basil leaves and some of the shaved parmesan (reserve some for garnish). Drizzle over your dressing, making sure that the garlic clove doesn’t fall into the salad. Mix well, then season to taste. Place onto a serving platter and garnish with your remaining shaved Parmesan.

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Notes:

  • Heirloom tomatoes are generally heritage varieties that are open-pollinated and grown from seed. Unlike hybrid varieties, their seeds can be collected and replanted year after year, with the same genetic result (hybrid tomatoes will often produce different plants from seed, due to having a combination of ‘genes’ and both dominant and recessive traits).
  • In general, heirloom tomatoes are less disease resistant and may be ‘uglier’ or prone to cracking. If you’re wondering why my tomatoes above are so pretty, well… yep, you picked it. They’re not all heirloom (as unfortunately, I couldn’t find enough). The heirloom varieties you’ll see are Dr Carolyn yellow cherry tomatoes, some Green Zebras and Purple Russians. There are also commercially available Italian Roma tomatoes from my local green grocer, and a singular red cherry tomato from my mother-in-law’s house (thanks Bev! My mother also grows fresh, organic apples, which get dropped off at my house during the fruiting season. You’ll see them on this blog eventually… I am a lucky daughter).
  • You can easily collect seeds from any heirloom tomato you buy. Just squeeze the seeds from 3 or 4 small tomatoes into a jar or small container. Add in about the same quantity of water, then allow the mixture to ferment for 3-5 days. It will probably smell, but allow it to continue decomposing until a thin layer of mold has formed on the top. At this point, pour the mixture into a fine sieve, and wash your seeds out under the tap. Rub them well, until they’re clean and free of any tomato flesh or other residue. Spread them out on a paper towel to completely dry. Your seeds are now ready to plant.
  • This salad is also beautiful with baby buffalo mozzarella or soft bocconcini in place of Parmesan. If using either of these cheeses, I’ll usually let the cheese marinate in the dressing with some additional lemon zest for at least 20 minutes prior to mixing and serving.
  • Though this salad can be kept overnight, I find that the acid in the dressing changes the texture of the tomatoes quite quickly. Your tomatoes will also oxidise (react with oxygen) once cut, losing vitamins C, A and other essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium, sodium and phosphorus. For both of these reasons I’d encourage you to try and consume your tomato salad on the day that it’s made.
  • Basil pairs beautifully with tomato in this salad, however if you’d like to mix things up a little, other herbs that complement beautifully include sliced chives, garlic chives, fresh Italian parsley or a little (and I mean, a little… trust me, it’s a strong flavour) fresh oregano.

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Heirloom Tomato and other Heritage Seed Retailers:

  • Subiaco Farmer’s Market: This Saturday market at Subiaco Primary School (271 Bagot Road, Subiaco in Western Australia) is the only fresh food market I know of that stocks organic, heirloom vegetable seedlings and selected fresh produce. I’d encourage you to support these small producers if you live in my home town; your health and taste buds will definitely thank you.
  • The Lost Seed: A beautiful, Australian seed retailer that aims to make non-hybrid, non-genetically modified, open-pollinated, rare and heirloom seeds available to the public everywhere. Kerryn Martin, the company proprietor, says that it’s her passion to restore the availability of quality and nutritious produce that ‘…the industrialised world has taken away’ in the most natural way possible. I’m in full support of that!
  • The Digger’s Club: An Australian gardener’s club that was established in 1978 to preserve old-world varieties of fruits and vegetables that were being dropped from mainstream supermarket shelves. They sell both organic seeds and beautiful live, organically-grown plants that can be mailed Australia-wide. This is my favourite garden store, period.
  • Gary Ibsen’s Tomato Fest: This is an American-based company that specialises in the sale of heirloom and heritage tomato seed varieties.
  • Seed Saver’s Exchange: Another American non-profit organisation that’s dedicated to collecting, saving and sharing heirloom, heritage and rare seeds.
  • Beautanicals: Tomato Seeds Australia: an Australian heirloom tomato seed supplier. Yay for local resources.

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References (if you’d like to read more):

kale salad with chilli, garlic and parmesan

It’s very early on a Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping I’m wide awake thinking about the nutritional qualities of kale. Is that bad? I guess that’s a subjective question but in my case, probably, considering that I’ve lost my sole opportunity for a weekly sleep-in. Instead, I’ve abandoned my husband to sit in the half-light with a bowl of leafy green, lemon-drenched brassica. As I crunch through mounds of deliciousness, I’m pretty sure that I resemble an excited meerkat that just found a fat scorpion. Mmm, scorpion. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Okay, so maybe that was a bad parallel. Especially for those of you who are strongly adverse to kale like Michael Procopio, who’s actually penned a poem to express his loathing towards the leafy green. And he’s not alone: check out here and here. But for every kale hater, there’s also an equally committed lover, like the delightful Sarah Jane whose blog, I Love Kale, is a tribute to the adaptability of this delicious vegetable. In any case, it’s beautiful. Isn’t it?

By now you’ve probably concluded that I’m in the ‘love’ camp, and you’re absolutely right. Mostly because I coat my kale in a deliciously cheesy, spiced lemon dressing before topping it with a crumbling of toasted nuts. If I’m extra hungry, I’ll also add in some seasoned red quinoa or a soft poached egg, letting the warm yolk drizzle softly into mounds of chilli-flecked green. Absolutely delicious, moreish and 100% good for you.

Well, if you’re now interested enough to find out more about the benefits of kale, just read on below. Underneath, you’ll also find my lemon and chilli spiced kale recipe, with suggestions for adaptation. As with all my recipes, I’d encourage you to add, subtract or change things around to suit your personal taste. Don’t like cheese? Try adding some tahini, more crushed nuts or nutritional yeast. Want some meat? Read on below for suggestions. As long as you get some kale into your diet, I’m happy… even if your version only resembles 1% of the original (that 1% being kale, not cheese, smart-ass).

Your body will thank you. Here’s why:

  • Kale is one of the newly coined superfoods of the plant world, a category that also includes grains like quinoa, berries like acai (ah-sigh-hee) and seeds like chia. Superfoods, in a nutshell, are plants that are high in organic phytonutrients, or components that are highly beneficial to physical health.
  • Phytonutrients in kale include beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin and calcium, all of which assist in the maintenance of heart and bone health whilst aiding digestion, vision (by preventing macular degeneration) and energy production.
  • Along with other brassica vegetables (such as broccoli and cabbage) kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells.
  • Sulforaphane is another chemical within kale that has potent anti-cancer properties. To enhance levels, eat your kale raw, preferably blended, minced or chopped. If you prefer cooked greens, minimise nutrient loss by steaming or stir-frying (if you’re one of those people who boil vegetables to a shade of grey, at least drink the cooking water as that’s where all the nutrients have gone).

Kale Salad with Chilli, Garlic and Parmesan:

Serves approx. 2 for a main meal, 4 as a side dish.

  • 1 bunch kale (equivalent of about 4 cups, washed & chopped)
  • 1/2 garlic clove
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly squeezed juice of one lemon (equivalent to 1/4 cup or ~50ml of juice)
  • chilli flakes, to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon)
  • a large pinch of sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (or for vegans, substitute a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, almonds, pine nuts or a combination of all three (I add closer to 1/2 cup but adjust to your requirements)

Thoroughly wash and dry your kale leaves. Remove the tough, fibrous lower stalk and central vein from the larger leaves (retain the inner stalks from the more tender heart) then shred into 0.5cm thick ribbons. Place in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle, pound your garlic clove with the chilli flakes and sea salt into a thick paste. Transfer it into a small bowl and add your lemon juice, olive oil, ground pepper and cheese. Whisk the dressing to combine, then pour it over the kale. Toss very well with salad servers or if it’s a meal for one, it might be easier to use your hands (I do!). Ensure that each leaf is thoroughly coated in dressing, then allow your kale leaves to sit for at least ten minutes to ensure that the lemon juice & olive oil will tenderise and remove some bitterness from the leaves.

Pound half of your toasted nuts in a mortar and pestle to a coarse ground. Chop the rest coarsely, then mix most of the nuts into your salad, reserving a sprinkling for garnish. Serve in bowls or on a large plate, scattered with your reserved nuts, a splash more extra virgin oil, a sprinkling of extra chilli flakes and/or extra Parmesan to taste.

Notes:

This salad lends itself very well to adaptations for both the vegetarian and carnivorous palate. Play around with things as suits your palate but some of my favourites are as follows:

  • If you’re not a fan of cheese, this salad works really well with some tahini or almond butter mixed into the dressing. Try a tablespoon to start then adjust to taste.
  • If you’ve tried this salad and you find that your kale is still bitter and tough, the problem is that the leaves have not been sufficiently ‘cooked’ in the acid of the dressing. I’d suggest trying again, but rubbing the dressing in with your hands before allowing it to sit for at least ten minutes. Hopefully this will do the trick!
  • Add some crumbled fried bacon pieces to your salad for the meat-lovers in your family, or serve with some seasoned grilled chicken or crispy-skinned salmon that’s still soft, moist and pink in the centre.
  • Place a generous handful of kale salad on some buttered, toasted rye or wholegrain bread, then serve topped with a soft-poached egg for breakfast.
  • Toast some turkish bread, slather it with hummus (preferably home-made, it’s easy!) then top with a spoonful of kale salad. The lemon and tahini, wrapped in the smoothness of the hummus pairs well with the garlicky, chilli-spiked greens.
  • Along the same thread, you can also add some kale salad into a pita-bread or lavash wrap with hummus, canned tuna and/or chickpeas. Yum.
  • If you don’t like nuts or can’t eat them, then this salad works equally well with croutons for extra crunch. Just place some day-old, crumbled wholegrain or French bread in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pepper, then bake until golden. Top your salad, then eat!
  • To bulk out your kale salad in wheat-free fashion, just cook 1/2 cup quinoa in 1 cup of water (1:2 ratio) or vegetable stock then mix through your salad. I sometimes omit the cheese in this variation, then add in some pepitas and raisins (or chopped medjool dates) for extra colour, sweetness and crunch.
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