Monday, December 19, 2011

Roasted New Zealand Yams

Sometimes I am really happy to be a vegetarian: it means that I don't have to try wild specialties like huhu grubs. Not that many New Zealaders would either, you can't buy them in shops (I think) and you have to forage for them in the bush (they eat rotten wood) or go to special wild food festivals like the Hokitika Wild Food Festival. But I found a better, and vegetable alternative, with New Zealand yams.

Yam are much bigger than huhu grubs, and I got the red and the apricot colour varieties, I thought that they looked really pretty. After boiling them the colours had faded, a lot, and the look was... well, like in the photo above. I left them on the kitchen bench and went to get the kids from school. As soon as they arrived home the went" "Huhu grubs????". No, they have never eaten them, but they saw them and know what they look like. They giggled a lot, they said that yams really looked like gigantic huhu grubs.

Just boiled they didn't appeal to me, so I roasted them with olive oil, smoked garlic, smoked salt, coriander seeds and a few chili flakes, and they went down a treat. In this household my husband is the only one that has ever eaten huhu grubs, I asked him if the flavour was similar to these yams, he said: "No, these  taste much better!"

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Make (Vegan) Hazelnut Turkish Delights, and pistachio, and lavender, and...

I have already explained how to make Rose Turkish Delight (Lokum) at home, it is pretty and pink, but I must confess that my favourite Lokum of all is hazelnut, so today I will show you this variations, and a few more. To start follow the recipe here.

Rose Turkish Delight

While the cornflour and sugar syrup are cooking shell and toast a couple of handfuls of hazelnuts. It is better to use fresh hazelnuts and toast them just before making Lokum, for a full hazelnut flavour. Years ago I also had a hazelnut essence which was great, but I cannot find it here, I think that one of the best places to buy it would be in Piedmont, in Italy. Anyway, even without hazelnut essence you can get the best out of hazelnuts if you toast them and use them within a few days. When they are still hot from the oven put them in a clean tea towel and shake and rub them well so as to discard the peel. If some peel stays on don't worry, it is edible, just not as nice. Crush the nuts roughly (I have a nut crusher that my Mother-in-law gave me as a present, very handy for these jobs), and when the Turkish Delight mixture is ready, instead of adding rose water and berries, add the chopped nuts. Mix well and then follow the same steps as for the basic recipe.

A few variations:

Pistachio: same as hazelnuts, but it is also possible to blanch the nuts to remove the skin (for greener pistachio). Almonds could go too!

Orange Blossom: Same as Rose, but add Orange Blossom Water instead or Rose Water, and no need to add berries to colour these: they should be clear.

Lavender: when you make the syrup add a few lavender leaves (yes leaves) and then remove them before pouring the syrup into the cornflour mixture. Your Turkish Delights will smell and taste like lavender. For colours add a few blueberries, they will melt in the hot mixture and give you a light lavender colour.

Lemon and other citruses: Easy, add lots of lemon juice and/or zest (or the juice of your favourite citrus fruit) when you make the sugar syrup (there is also lemon essence, if you like).

And then... endless, there is mint (but I am not keen on that one) and so many more, let me know if you make a special one.

Hazelnut Turkish Delight

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, December 9, 2011

How to make (Vegan) Rose Turkish Delights (Lokum) step by step

Before I start I would like to say that I don't have a sugar thermometer, essential if you are really into confectionery, and that I didn't use much sugar for these Turkish delights. Many recipes use much more sugar, and it is not that I wanted to make a low sugar treat here (it is still pretty sweet), it is just that making it at home really makes me realize how much sugar there is already in my diet, and if I can have something with a little less... well, why not!

This method is 'home friendly' i.e. these can be made at home with very little effort and equipment, and the recipe comes from my book Sweet As... where I also have the recipe for lavender and orange blossom Turkish Delights.


1 l water
300 g sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
100 g cornflour
1 tbsp frozen raspberries
1 tbsp rose water
icing sugar (very little) and cornflour (lots) to dust.

In a pot put half of the water (500 ml) with the sugar and lemon juice and bring to the boil. Boil it down until you get a light syrup (here those with the sugar thermometer will go to about 240 degrees, I just waited for the mixture to thicken a little). In another pot mix the remaining water with the cornflour, then bring to the boil and simmer, stirring, until the mixture thickens. Add the hot sugar syrup and stir well.

Now let the pot simmer, without stirring, for at least 30 minutes. More would be good, if you are patient, 45 minutes to one hour is more like the shops do it, but in a home kitchen looking at a bubbling mixture is a little worrying. Still, the more you cook it the harder your Turkish Delights. At the end add a tbsp of rose water, and to colour it, since I try not to use artificial colouring, a few raspberries. The berries will 'melt' in the hot mixture and the little seeds are quite pretty, I think. If you don't like the seeds, just pass the berries through a sieve, and adde the juice only. Pour the hot mixture into a square or rectangular tupperware or similar plastic container (easy to detach the solid block after it sets) and let it cool down and set overnight.

The day after tip out your 'candy' block and cut into pieces. I now understand why when you buy lokum it is full of white powder: it takes lots of cornflour to keep it! To dust it I use a mixture of cornflour and very little icing sugar: if you use too much icing sugar the sweet may 'sweat' and become all sticky! Another problem is humidity: it is very humid here in the Auckland bush, if your sweets seems too 'wet' after cutting them, place them on a oven tray and bake them at 50 on fan for a little to dry. Store them in layers divided with paper, and dust regularly with a mixture of cornflour and icing sugar to keep them dry. Eat within a few days. Turkish Delights are Vegan and Gluten Free. Next post will be about hazelnut Turkish delights :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 28, 2011

Italian style mixed mushrooms with tomato sauce

I like mushrooms but I find than champignons have very little taste. I guess that I grew up with wild mushrooms (and lots of porcini) so maybe I am a bit of a snob... still, champignons are easy to find and I tend to use them as a 'base', adding other dried mushrooms for extra flavour.

I had a handful of dried porcini and another of dried Chinese black mushrooms, and I soak them in water for 30 minutes. In the meantime I cleaned and chopped 400 g of champignons (I tend to discard the stalks of the champignons, not sure why, but I learned to do it ages ago in Italy and I keep doing it).

I heated some olive oil with a few cloves of garlic, then I added the champignons and some salt. I cooked the mushrooms until all their water was gone (abut 20 minutes) then I added the dried mushrooms and their soaking water. 

After 5 minutes I added the content of a can of finely chopped Italian tomatoes, and some more water from rinsing the can (another 400 ml).

I let the mushrooms simmer, covered, for about one hour (yes that long) until almost all the liquid was gone. It may seem like a long cooking time, but it is winter after all, and it is nice to have a pot simmering on the stove :-).

At the end I added some fresh Italian parsley chopped with a clove of garlic, (about one tbsp in all).  You can use these mushrooms with polenta, pasta, and even couscous, or as a side dish, and they are wonderful as pie filler and to make mushrooms lasagna. 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vegan sweet bites

I enter this post to the November edition of the blogging event Sweet New Zealand, hosted by Mairi of Taost

Mango Agar Agar Flowers

Mango pudding is a staple at home, and the kids like to take it to school for lunch. For the lunch boxes I usually cut it into squares, but just for fun this time I used some little flower cutters. Agar agar is easier to shape and cut than jelly, and it is healthier too. The basic recipe for mango agar agar pudding is here.

Hazelnut Gold Chocolates

Toast some hazelnuts and remove the skins, then drop into some melted dairy free chocolate, the darker the better. Collect 3 hazelnuts at the time and let them set together (I also spoon just a little more chocolate on top to make it more like a proper chocolate). I had a very little edible gold paper left from an old job, so I sprinkled some on the chocolates. It didn't give it any particular flavour, I must say (maybe I had too little?), but it looked pretty and sophisticated :-). Unfortunately is was dark by then and the photo is not too clear, the flash also made the chocolate look less dark that it actually was. Still, everything got eaten pretty happily!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spicy Chickpea Snack

I am used to Italian cats eating almost anything, but New Zealand cats seem to be fussier, so I was very surprised when Marameo jumped on the bench to grab the cooked chickpeas that I was rinsing. I had to give her some, she could not wait, and ate them all. I gave them seconds and then she stopped bothering me. Strange cat! 

With my remaining chickpeas, I wanted to make a spicy snack: this one from the blog of Araba Felice.

Smoked Paprika Chickpea Snack

The original recipe calls for:
400 g can of chickpeas,
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp sweet paprika, or your favourite spice (in my variation I used smoked paprika instead)
1 tsp salt, about
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
I also added a few cumin seeds.

Rinse and pat dry the chickpeas, and mix with the other dried ingredients until the chickpeas are nicely coated. At this point I left the chickpeas in the bowl for about 30 minutes so that the flour and spices could really get 'caked' around each chickpea.

Pour the olive oil on a baking tray (no baking paper), add the chickpeas and roll them around so that they are not one on top of the other. Bake at 200°C, rolling them on the tray again from time to time to make sure that they get crispy all over. The original recipe says 30 minutes, but my canned chickpeas were quite small, I though, so 20 minutes were sufficient. Serve as a snack, warm or even cold (I think that they will go well with beer so I will make them again when my husband is back!)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Salad rolls with rice paper

Bored with the same side salad? Can’t get the kids to eat it? Maybe you need to roll it up! I did this because I had a few sheet of rice paper to use, just about a dozen, not enough to make a meal, but enough for some fun side veggies.

Cooked green beans
Cooked carrot sticks
Mesclun salad
Rice paper
Sweet chili sauce to serve

Follow the instructions on how to soften, fill and roll the rice papers here.

Btw, these were a hit with the kids, they like salad, but they had more fun eating it this way.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cooking Florence Fennel and Bok Choy together

I have a few fennels growing in the garden and the other day only two were big enough to pick. They were certainly bigger than those 'bambino' fennels I see in the supermarkets here in New Zealand, but not as big as the ones I used to get in the markets in Italy. I had to find a way to make them go ... further! So I decided to cook them with bok choy (the only other vegetable really 'active' in my veggie garden), hoping that the strong fennel taste would take over. 

Go Further Fennels

Surprisingly enough it worked! I guess that this was a sort of 'Fusion' experiment for me, and I wonder if in Chinese cuisine fennels are ever paired with bok choy. Do you Know??

Anyway, for the recipe: I washed and cut the 2 fennels and 1 bok choy and cook them in a pan with just a little margarine, (not olive oil for this dish) then I added some vegetable stock, covered them with a lid and let them simmer on very low for quite a long time. About one hour. Slow cooking is best with fennel (unless you eat them raw), they have to become really really soft, and the bok choy kind of took in the good flavours too. 
Serve hot, as a side vegetable.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Swede and parsnip (and other vegetables) creamy soup

I got some potatoes from the garden and I wanted to make a potage soup with other winter vegetables: onions, carrots and celery, coriander (before it dies completely!), and then some not so popular vegetables: swede and parsnip. Once again my husband reacted like for the brussels sprouts: it seems like swede and parsnip have a bad reputation too! Not my favourite veggies either, I would not bother growing them since I am happy to have them just once a year.

After chopping all the veggies I felt that they didn't look bad: at least there was colour there! But not for long. After cooking everything with some vegetable stock, and blending it into a creamy soup, I had a strange yellow colour.

But the soup was good (I think that the coriander really works here)! The kids tried to guess: pumpkin? No. Kumara? No. I realized that they didn't remember what swedes and parsnips were! I think that the last time we had them (in a soup, as always) it was about 2 years ago!! And my husband? He liked the soup and said that it did not particularly taste of swede or parsnip anyway, and this, apparently, was a good thing :-).

Do you eat swedes and parsnip?

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, October 28, 2011

Vegan Japanese Fall/Autumn Lunch (or Dinner)

This is easy even if it looks complex. I made a stock using some dried shitake mushrooms, some seaweed (kombu strips, a softer type that can be eaten in salad) and some carrots. But (check this out) I cooked the veggies in three separate pots with just a little water, then I kept the veggies and kombu aside, I mixed the three 'broths' and added some white miso paste. This was my soup. The carrots were cut like flowers, and then arranged with some seaweed 'leaves'. I mixed the remaining carrots and kombu with the mushrooms and pass them quickly in a frying pan with a little soy sauce, lemon juice, and sesame seeds. No oil.

I used the same pan, but added a little sesame oil and a little vegetable oil, to quickly cook some broccolini and bok choy (both from my garden) and added more soy sauce and lemon juice. For the rest... the rice was just plain, to be served with umeboshi plums, plus I had some ready made Japanese pickles (takuan, pickled daikon) and some nori seaweed cut into strips.

Probably in Japan this would look more like a breakfast than a lunch, but not for me (just caffellatte for breakfast!). And dessert was persimmon, the soft type that you eat with a spoon.
All good for Autumn, or Winter.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Champagne Zucchini

I made this a while ago but I didn't find the time to post it. I know that zucchini are not in season now, but many of you live in the Northern Hemisphere, so you may appreciate the idea. FYI I didn't buy Champagne especially to make this :-), I just had some leftover, and I didn't want to waste it.
Sauté the zucchini and a shallot with one tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt for a few minutes, then add the champagne (I had just over a glass).

Don't add water, between the champagne and the water from the zucchini you should have enough! Keep cooking and stir often until all liquid has absorbed and the zucchini are soft (about 20 minutes). Adjust with salt and pepper and finish with some fresh chopped parsley. I really liked it, and now I know what I will do if I ever get some leftover champagne again. Or any other bubbly :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©