Saturday, 27 September 2014

Vegivore? Flexivore? Flexitarian? And Tahini Dressing

The launch for my new (sixth!!) cookbook, VITAL is set for 10 October, and it will be available from book stores and on- line retailers in the next couple of weeks (official release date 13th October, but often they appear in the shops a little earlier). 
 ‘Vital’ has a vegetarian focus, as always, but is more flexible; an ‘almost vegetarian’ cookbook. The emphasis is on main dishes, about 50% of which include the option of modest amounts of meat (mostly fish and seafood), although of course there are starters and snacks, soups, desserts and baking as well. My recipes always draw from a wide range of cuisines, although I love to showcase local produce and products when possible. Our green-lip mussels, for example, are fantastically versatile and such good value nutritionally and economically, containing more iron than lean red meat! (See the Best Mussel Pie Ever!).

I’ve preferred to eat this way for more than thirty years, but there is now huge interest in this semi-vegetarian approach, reflecting a sea-change in the eating habits of much of the western world. Labelled variously as Flexitarian, Flexivore and Vegivore, it emphasizes reducing red meat consumption, eating as few processed foods as possible and very few junk or fast foods. Coupled with eating less sugar and fat, and eating as much seasonal, organic and local produce as possible makes such good sense; we all want to eat great-tasting food but also need the vitality and energy to cope with the demands, pressures and pace of our lives.

Eat smart: Live long – and bon appetit!

Just a few weeks ago my publishers wrote to say they're also re-releasing 'The Vegetarian Adventure", my first book written 26 years ago with Sue Carruthers-Brown in Rarotonga, and reprinted at least 10 times. This book just refuses to lie down. . I've been asked for it so many times, and I'm guessing the publishers have too - very happy it's going to be available again, and it'll be released at the same time as 'Vital".
The tahini dressing below is one I'm using a lot these days, so I recommend giving it a try. . . 

                                     Tahini Dressing  (from "Vital")
A good dressing makes all the difference in elevating an ‘okay’ salad to something much more. This dressing is one of these, and partners not only with green salads, tomato and cucumber but with boiled veg such as potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and many more. In other words, it’s wonderful ‘frig’ accessory.
Makes 1 ¼ cups.

¼ cup tahini
½ cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Juice 1 ½ lemons
3 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 ½ -2 Tbsp liquid honey
½ tsp salt or to taste
¼ cup olive oil

Whisk all the ingredients together vigorously, until well combined. Transfer to a jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator – this dressing improves on standing but is also very good as soon as it is made.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cloud Ear Noodle Salad for Dinner or Office Lunch

Our daughter Stephanie recently spent a couple of weeks in China and was lucky enough to get some cooking lessons from a family friend living there. She made this salad for us when she was here recently, along with a wonderful soba noodle salad; great for dinner or an office lunch (hopefully in a park somewhere, not the office desk) - healthy, light and delicious.

                                                   Cloud Ear Noodle Salad
It’s so gratifying to taste a dish and then experiment, ‘listening’ to your sensory memory. The fun, after all, is in the challenge of trying to replicate a taste, in taking that leap of faith that you’ll produce something worthwhile, even if it’s not exactly what you originally had in mind.
The colour and shape of cloud ear mushrooms is quite dramatic; and although they don’t have a distinctive taste of their own, they absorb the flavour of dressings and marinades, and can be used in stir fries, soups and salads. They’re also full of protein, iron and fibre.
It’s perfectly possible to eat more than your share of this salad, especially when it’s made and eaten still warm – delicious!
Serve with steamed or shallow fried Chinese dumplings, steamed buns and steamed or sautéed Asian vegetables such as choy sum or bok choy .

15g dried Cloud Ear mushrooms*
100g cellophane noodles
1 spring onion, sliced thinly on a diagonal
½ cup julienned cucumber or zucchini
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
Toasted pumpkin seeds **

3 Tbsp black vinegar***
2 tsp liquid honey
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

1-2 tsp wasabi

Place the mushrooms in a heat proof bowl and pour boiling water over to cover, remembering they swell to twice their dried size. Soak for 30 minutes, then drain, slice off the ‘stalk’, where the mushroom has been attached to a tree, and slice each into 2-3 pieces. Set aside
Combine the dressing ingredients thoroughly to dissolve the honey and wasabi paste, and pour over the soaked mushrooms while the remaining salad is prepared.
Cut or tear the cellophane noodle bundles into 2-3 shorter lengths if possible, although it is often easier to do this after the noodles are cooked. Drop into boiling water and boil for 2-3 minutes, until translucent and tender.  Drain immediately and refresh under blood temperature water. Drain well.
Place the cooked noodles in a serving dish and top with the prepared spring onion, cucumber or zucchini, toasted sesame seeds and black sesame seeds.
Pour over the dressing and mushrooms and toss to combine. Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds with soy sauce if wished.

*Cloud Ear mushrooms, sometimes known as Wood mushrooms or Black Fungus, are prized for a light crunchy texture and nutritional properties. Readily available in any Asian food outlet in dried form, and when hydrated swells to twice its size, so a little goes a long way.
** Toast 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds in a dry frypan over a medium heat until most have “popped”, tossing or stirring continuously. Remove from the heat immediately and toss in 1 Tbsp soy sauce. Transfer the cooked pepitas to a bowl to cool, defending them from all would-be ‘grazers’ who swing past the kitchen. Store in an airtight jar.

*** An aged rice vinegar; rich, malty, smoky and mellow. Available at any Asian food outlet.