Monday, November 29, 2010

How to cook with Onion Weed

Yes, the meadows and orchards of Oratia are full of it, and it is a weed, slowly creeping towards my house, unaware that I will EAT IT! Foraging is back into fashion, and what better excuse to be kind to the environment (Weed Free Waitakere!!!) and your health. Eat raw, or cook.

You can eat the flowers, stem and bulbs, finely chopped and tossed on salad or on a steaming bowl of soup. Also add to noodles, fried rice and any other dish that would required chopped spring onions (with the difference that these are free while spring onions cost $2 for about 5 stalks!).

The bigger bulbs and stalks can be dipped in dressings and sauces like you would do with carrot and celery sticks.

Alternatively chop and sauté in a frying pan with a drop of olive oil, add a pinch of salt, and serve as a side dish, or as an ingredient to make pies, pasta sauces, or the base for risotto, soups and stews.
Excellent sautéed with tofu and dressed with a drop of soy or tamari sauce.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fresh Broad Bean Dip

This is the dip made with the children of Oratia School Enviro Group.
Shell the larger beans, cut the smaller beans. Boil in hot water for 4-5 minutes. Drain, add two peeled cloves of garlic and blend.
Add olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Easy Vegan Japanese Dinner for 4

I love Japanese food, it is light and filling at the same time. It may take time to prepare, but it gives me great satisfaction, a sense of peace, and the whole family enjoys sitting at the low table, in our Japanese room, especially the children. This is a very simple fare really, it is just that 'Japanese' seems always more sophisticated: food has to look pretty, no matter what. Even a simple bowl of plain rice, served in the right atmosphere, would satisfy me! So, here we go:

Seaweed soup

1 sheet kombu seaweed
1 l water
1 tbsp dried wakame seaweed

Gently scrape the kombu seaweed with the tip of a knife. Place it in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and gently simmer (simmering, not boiling) for 30 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the soup stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour (the longer the better), then remove and discard the kombu. Gently bring the soup back to a gentle simmering and add the wakame. Simmer for 5 more minutes, and serve. This soup doesn't need salt, or anything else, the broth remains clear and the taste is delicious!

Sushi rice

I find cooking rice for sushi challenging: you need to buy proper sushi rice and then wash it several times in cold water, until the water runs clear. And then cook it by absorption. The doses are about 1 and 3/4 (three quarters) cups of sushi rice for 2 cups of water, but that depends on the type of pot. You need a pot with a good lid, or you will loose too much steam. I kind of regulate myself by ear now, since I know my pots and pans. Bring the pot to boiling point, lower the heat and simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Once the rice is ready pour it into a bowl and stir it with a wooden spatula, cooling it with a fan if you can. I then add some ready made sushi vinegar, about 2 tablespoons, but this is my personal taste. If I don't have sushi vinegar I use 2 tbsp of rice vinegar, a little sugar and a little salt (to taste, and I don't like to use too much sugar or salt!). I used the rice to fill some inari (Japanese tofu pockets), which you can buy already made from Asian stores. This time I also put a piece of avocado inside each inari, but this is not exactly 'traditional'.

And then I made some norimaki (large rolled sushi). To be honest this is not my best rolling, but it wasn't planned either! The truth is that there were 8 inari pouches in the packet, but I broke 4 trying to open them :-P!! I made a bit of a mess, not something to photograph! The children and I ate them while we were making them. I quickly rolled the reaming rice with a sheet of nori seaweed, and fill it with avocado, cucumber and red capsicum strips. Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger and Japanese soy sauce.


This was the easiest thing: I just bought it! Japanese pickled cucumber, crunchy and refreshing.

Seaweed salad

I found a punnet of seaweed salad in the Asian store, ready to eat. I rinsed it (just in case), and I made a dressing with:
2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
1 tbsp Mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 tsp toasted sesamy seeds

and decorated the salad with calendula petals.

Zucchini and Zucchini Flower Tempura

For a Vegan tempura batter just mix a bit of flour with some chilled beer. If you don't drink beer use some chilled water (better if sparkling). Do not over-soak the vegetables in batter, just a little dip is enough, and make sure that the oil is very hot before frying. I used rice bran oil. The zucchini and flowers are from my garden, the fresher the better, I just added a sprinkle of salt before serving them. I did have some batter left and so, after taking this photo, I used it up to fry up some borage flowers as well (maybe you can see them in the first photo). They were lovely!


Usually after a Japanese meal the only sweet thing served is seasonal fruit, so that was also easy ;-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Mango Pudding with Cinnamon and Clove Strawberries

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Our friends Jonathan and Fiona invited us for a Indian dinner, and I brought this dessert:

Mango are quite expensive in NZ, and not always very good, but in the Indian shop I found this big can of Mango pulp.

For the Mango Pudding:

850 g mango pulp
250 ml water
2 tsp agar agar powder

Place the mango pulp and water into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the agar agar powder and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring. Pour into a mould (mine had a hole in the centre) and let it set for a few hours, first at room temperature, and then in the fridge.

For the strawberries:

600 g strawberries
half a lemon
1 cinnamon quill
3 cloves
2 tbsp sugar

Hull and wash the strawberries, cut into small pieces and add the juice of half a lemon, one cinnamon quill and three cloves. Add 2 tsp of sugar and stir. Let the strawberries marinate for a few hours at room temperature and then cool in the fridge.

Thank you Jonathan and Fifi for the great evening and food! :-)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quince Chocolates


These chocolates are dairy free as long as you can find some good quality vegan chocolate. Previously I had made some quince paste (quinces, sugar and lemon juice...sorry, I didn't measure...) and cooled the paste in some chocolate moulds. Then I removed the quince paste (which looked quite pretty even just by itself) and placed it back into the moulds, and then I poured over some dark chocolate, melted at bain- marie. The quince paste must be removed first from the moulds if you like the melted chocolate to run through and fully coat the fruit filling.

I was very pleased with the results, maybe they are a bit fiddly to make, but they tasted and looked amazing!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Masala Dahl

My friend Mahendra Motibhai - Patel from Fiji gave me some masala powder. The package is great and the spice mixture smells highly aromatic and fresh. I love Indian food, I tried to make up a few recipes with the Motibhai masala, and I was particularly pleased with this one.

Yes, dahl is usually a soup and the lentils are small, but I had some green organic lentils which I wanted to use, and I was looking for a thicker consistency.
I sautéed for 30 seconds half tsp of turmeric and half tsp of cumin seeds with a little rice bran oil. Then I added a finely chopped onion and one tbsp of masala powder. Then the lentils, which had been rinsed, and then soaked for 30 minutes. I covered with water and added a big hot whole chili. After 30 minutes I added a little salt to taste and, just because I felt like it, a tbsp of butter. It was perfect, warm, fragrant, and mildly hot.
Serve with basmati rice or naan bread for a main course.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Great Vegan Cupcake, Sweet New Zealand, and other Coconut Butter Stories

I am entering this recipe for Sweet New Zealand #2, the New Zealand monthly blogging event, this September hosted by Allison of Pease Pudding. Please come and join us here.

The Great Vegan Cupcake

My friend Claire gave me some organic coconut butter. It was pure white and smelled delicious, like an expensive hand cream. But the only thing I can do with coconut butter is vegan puff pastry, and that's take time...also it is too hot now to make puff pastry! I wanted to try something different.

For my first experiment I tried some muffins... I used a lot of coconut butter, too much!

Well, what can I say, they were...ok, but nothing more. The fact is that they were too rich for my taste (I am extremely fussy), too 'greasy'. They were eaten, of course, by family and friends, but I wouldn't make them again, so I won't bother with the recipe.

I gather that if coconut butter is so rich, maybe I could try to use less (And if I failed again I would make hand cream!).
I had some coconut butter in a bowl, so I melted it in the oven. When melted, coconut butter becomes liquid, and very clear.
I measured 150ml of coconut 'oil'. I felt that my muffins would be very white, so I decided to use raw (brown) sugar for colour. Also I felt that possibly I would not get really 'high' muffins, so I opted for cupcakes, used cupcake paper cups and planned a topping.

Vegan Cupcakes with Coconut Butter

150 ml melted coconut butter
100 g raw cane sugar
200 g self-rising flour
150 ml water
few drops of pure vanilla essence
Cherry jam

Using an electric beater mix the still warm and melted coconut butter with the sugar, then add the self rising flour and water, making sure that you don't get any lumps. Finally add a few drops of vanilla and divide the batter into 12 cupcake cases. Top each cupcake with a little cherry jam.

Bake at 180°C for approximately 20 minutes (check with a toothpick to see if the cupcakes are cooked). They will look quite pale! I tried one hot, then cold, They were light and fragrant, with a subtle hint of coconut. They keep soft for two days, after I don't know, we ate them all!


No much time to think about this actually, I had guests for dinner and I was too busy with the main and dessert to indulge in further experiments. But I had some ready made Wilton Decorating Icing which, by reading the ingredients, looked vegan to I just used that and a fresh cherry.

I rarely use ready made icing, and if I do it is generally white. Possibly next time I will just make some butter icing with coconut butter and sugar syrup, or just coconut butter and icing sugar. When I get more coconut butter, that is :-)! For now I am content with the cupcake "base", toppings will always change!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mexican Salsa Verde

Here are my tomatillos, some are little, some are huge...but they all taste great...

I asked my Mexican primo Alejandro for a salsa verde recipe and this is what he told me (word by word):
"About the tomatillos, you can cook them, but if you have time to roast them, much better.
For about 2 kilos of tomatillo use 50 ml of vegetable oil, add 2/3 onions, 4-5 garlic cloves, green chilli, cilantro (as you wish, I use a lot). Salt (as you wish) NO SUGAR. Some people who work with preserves suggest to put sugar to diminish the vinegar flavor. And vinegar. Someone told me that if you put 100ml of vinegar per litre, it preserves well (as long as is refrigerated), and the flavor of the vinegar is not to strong, so there is no need for sugar. Normally big companies put more vinegar and sugar because the product is not refrigerated.
Make some test, with sugar and without and see what happens. I kept some salsas in the fridge for up to 3 months without problems. Frozen salsa may last up to a year or more."

So I tried with no sugar and little vinegar for a fresh salsa verde to be eaten within a week:
Roast the tomatillos first, then place in a pot with the other ingredients (adding the cilantro at the end) and boil up. Then I used the blender (even if you use an electric blender the seed will remain whole), not sure if Alejandro would approve....
I use this salsa within a week: delicious!
Then I added a bit more vinegar and sugar for a second version, to preserve.
Place the hot salsa verde in sterilised jars, dried in the oven. Seal the jars with cellophane covers (available in supermarkets) secured with an elastic band, or capsule lids (I use Quattro Stagioni brand). If using capsule lids, place the jars in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the jars. Let the jars cool down in the pot overnight and when they are cold make sure that the capsule has popped by pressing gently on the lid. Cellophane covered jars will last for several months and capsule lid jars for up to one year. And I put one in the freezer...just to see what happens...

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 12, 2010

Twilight menu (inspired by Stephenie Meyer's books)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Yes, I have 'Twilight fever', or 'Twilight addiction'? Whatever the term, it gets to me at any given time of the day, and I have to open the closest of the Twilight saga's books I can find, and read a bit of it! Pathetic? Yep... but so romantic....

Yesterday I got it early in the afternoon, and it didn't go away. I had to act, so just for fun, but also out of necessity (of providing a meal for the family instead of reading...) I though of making a Twilight inspired menu...obviously vegetarian (but don't the Cullens call themselves the vegetarians of the vampire world?), well, this menu is actually Vegan.

The colours had to be black and red, of course; my daughter insisted that we only buy the books with the red pages, and this was the first of my challenges: I really try not to use artificial colourings in my food, and so I looked for black and red ingredients. And of course the food should also be 'romantic and sensual', Italian and Mexican flavours (which are also mentioned in the books), just a little 'bite' in one of them perhaps?

The second challenge was that...I couldn't go shopping for anything new, I had to do with what was in the house, and at present it is very little because we are leaving in 10 days and I am slowly emptying the pantry!

But I have tomatoes in the garden...

Twilight Starter

Plum Tomatoes with Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

Well, the first was easy! Red tomato and Modena's black gold: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar(ABTM), possibly one of the most sensual ingredients ever!

Fresh plum tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste (I used Maldon)
A few drops of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

Assemble as shown in the photo.

New Moon 'Rice'

Tomato and Red Chili Sushi Rolls

I had nori, and it looks black and shiny. And Sushi rolls are round like the moon, but I needed a red moon! Actually, the red rice in the photo is not very clear, these looked much redder to the naked eye. Never mind, they tasted great, I even surprised myself, as I never though of combining tomato and chili with nori seaweed!

Short grain rice
Fresh tomatoes
red chili
Olive oil
Nori seaweed

I didn't measure the rice, I used what I had left. I washed it and cooked it by absorption. In the meantime I fried some fresh chopped tomatoes with garlic and 1 red chili using a little olive oil. Then I passed everything through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds. I added salt and I stirred the spicy sauce into the rice. I then rolled the rice just like for sushi rolls.

Eclipse Pizza

Red Pizza with Black Seeds

Pizza is a must when teenagers are involved (and it was the first food our heroes, Bella and Edward, shared). I scoured the pantry for black seeds, I finished the poppy seeds, but I had some black sesame seeds. I added the cumin seeds mostly for flavour. I also used up the remaining of a jar of roasted red capsicum antipasto. I finished all my fresh tomatoes with the first two dishes, so I used canned tomatoes instead.

Pizza dough, recipe here
Tomato Sauce, recipe here (but omit the basil)
Olive oil
Black sesame seeds
Cumin seeds
Roasted red capsicums

Follow the given links to make the pizza dough and the tomato sauce. I have to say that by this stage the most difficult thing for me was not to add anything green to my food! Roll the dough to fill an oven tray lined with baking paper. Better to make a pizza slab that can be cut into small pieces (good if you have a Twilight inspired party). Top with the tomato sauce, then add salt and olive oil, the seeds and the capsicums. Bake at highest setting in your oven until the borders are golden and it smells delicious!

Breaking Dawn Dessert

Black Sesame Seed Pudding with Rose Syrup and Red Rose Petals

I unashamedly admit that I am very happy with the dessert. In the pantry I found some surigoma, crushed black sesame seeds, and I remember that in Japan I enjoyed many sesame seeds desserts. And in the garden I had some beautiful red roses, not sprayed and therefore edible!

Breaking Dawn is all about love.....

50 g crushed black sesame seeds (available in Asian shops)
100 ml water
1 tbsp sugar
1/3 (one third) tsp agar agar (available in Asian shops)

For the Syrup
100 ml water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rose water essence

Finish with red rose petals

Place the first 4 ingredients in a small pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring well, and then pour into a small container. Set at room temperature, and then refrigerate. To make the syrup boil the water with the sugar until it halves in size, add the rose water and set aside. Before serving tilt the pudding from the container (this dose makes about 4 servings) and cut. I used a heart shaped cookie cutter here. Place on a plate decorated with rose petals. Drizzle with the syrup. Eat everything , the rose petals are delicious!!!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fried Polenta Sushi

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

This is easy! Use leftover polenta and roll it up in a sheet of nori seaweed using a sushi mat...just like when making norimaki. Cut into pieces and deep-fry until the polenta is golden. Sprinkle with a little salt and serve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Artichokes with Garlic, Parsley and Bread Stuffing

I picked some wonderful artichokes from the Slow Food Waitakere communal gardens, yum!! Usually I like to cook them alla romana, with garlic and parsley
(you can find the recipe, which appeared on Cuisine Magazine, by clicking here)

Photo by Aaron McLean for Cuisine Magazine

and I was happy to see that the recipe has been picked up by another New Zealand blogger, Arfi of HomeMadeS, here is her recipe

So my artichokes, cut and cleaned with water and lemon, and stuffed with chopped garlic, parsley, salt and olive oil, were ready for the pot.

Then I remembered my friend Enza from Io da Grande who posted a Sicilian recipe on an Italian Food Forum...but I could not remember the name of the recipe, just that it was very similar but with the addition of (I think) breadcrumbs. And so I did.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

I simmered the artichokes slowly, adding water little by little to the bottom of the pot, until the outer leaves were easy to pull off by hand. We ate them with gusto, it was the very first taste of this vegetable for my father in law, visiting from Christchurch.

And as I had a few leftovers in the pot I scraped off the tender flesh form the outer leaves and mixed it with the soft artichokes hearts and their stock (the water from the artichokes makes a wonderful stock) and made a lovely sauce to dress pasta the day after.

The same sauce can be spread on crostini.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chicken Soup for Vegans: Tofu Dumplings in Vegetable Broth

It was a sunny and warm day, but I woke up with a terrible cold, I could not breathe nor smell or taste anything. I rarely get a cold like this, and it is quite funny to notice how some people come up to me and say that I have a cold because I am a vegetarian (??).

Of course suggestions follow.

Some non vegetarians would say that this is time for chicken soup, but for a vegetarian the idea of drinking the water where a carcass has been simmering is enough for making you feel even sicker.

A vegetable stock is good enough for me, but I needed something more, comfort food... and protein. So, since I had bought some Chinese dumpling wrappers, I decided to make some tofu dumplings to go with the soup. Before leaving home to go to the Ukulele Festival I cut one block of organic tofu into small pieces, put it in a bowl and added three tbsp of Japanese soy sauce and one of black toasted sesame seeds. I left the tofu to marinate for half a day. Upon my return I added 1 tbsp of sesame oil, half a grated carrot and an handful of parsley leaves (I didn't chop the parsley, once cooked the dumpling parcels becomes quite transparent and it is lovely to see the different colours of the whole leaves and carrots strips running through). At this stage you can also add some chinese mushrooms, but I didn't have any.

I filled the round dumpling pastries with a little tofu, making sure to push all the air out when closing them. I used a little water to seal the dumplings.

This dose makes about 50 dumpling, feeding 5-6 people, or even more if it is just a first course.

These dumpling can be steamed and eaten by themselves with a little tamari or chili sauce on the side, but I like them in soup. I just used some vegetable stock from Rapunzel, and when I had my simmering bowl under my nose I added plenty of freshly grated ginger. Not only I could finally taste something, it was really comforting, healing and the perfect dinner for a bad cold.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©