Saturday, October 13, 2007

Eating from the garden - Saturday 13 October 2007

Harvest from the garden is picking up so I thought I'd make this post all about enjoying the harvest, with a bit of other agriculture news thrown in. Excuse my shoddy photography. I'm all about the flavour, and don't spend much time on the looks.

Beetroot salad with labna

We're moving into salad weather so rather than roast the beetroots, I made a lebanese beetroot salad out of them, which is basically beetroots, onions and herbs on labna. As well as beetroots from the garden, I used just some of the masses of the mint and parsley (which is serving as groundcover) that is growing now. I love labna, an extension of my love for yoghurt. I noticed that there is a recipe very similar to this one in Greg and Lucy Malouf's latest book on Lebanese and Syrian food, Saha.

(serves 2)
2 large beetroot or 4 small ones
300g labna (500ml yoghurt that has been placed in a small muslin bag and hung overnight to drain excess liquid – use a whole container if making salad for 2)
½ cup parsley leaves
½ cup mint leaves
½ Spanish onion (thinly sliced)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste

Boil beetroots in their skins in salted water till tender. Peel while warm by rubbing skins (wear gloves to stop hands staining). Allow to cool then cut into 2cm cubes. Spread labna on serving dish. Toss together parsley, mint, onion, beetroot and salt. Arrange on the labna. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Broccoli and sesame seed salad

Australian-French chef Gabriel Gate was big in the 80s, with his low-cal cooking and cute Frenchie accent, but he's fallen out of favour recently. I think people started wising up to the suspicious persistence of a strong French accent in the face of long-term residence in Australia. Someone gave me this book when I was in my early twenties and I used to cook out of it a lot. I still do this salad regularly as I find broccoli a bit bland straight up. This dish used up the last of the broccoli crop from the garden.

Serves 4
600g broccoli
2 tbsp sesame seeds
freshly ground black pepper
1 tstp red wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce (light is better)
2 tsp olive oil
2 drops sesame oil

Break up broccoli into florets. Steam until just cooked and dip in icy water until cold (blanch), then drain. Toast sesame seeds over medium heat. Mix pepper with vinegar, soy, olive oil and sesame oil. Toss broccoli with dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Vietnamese chicken soup (pho)

This is probably best eaten standing up, outside a hawker's stall in a crowded rural marketplace, but it's also really easy to make at home, and a good way to use the coriander, chives, parsley and vietnamese mint that is growing well in the garden at the moment. Amounts are approximate because I make it from memory. Leave the leaves of the herbs unchopped, except for the chives.

Serves 2
1 chicken breast, halved lengthways and cut into strips
cellophane noodles (enough to put in soup for two, be generous)
handful coriander leaves
handful vietnamese mint
chopped chives
1 red chilli, finely chopped (don't forget to take the seeds out)
splodge of fish sauce
2 tsps minced ginger
peanut oil
3 cups chicken stock

Arrange the herbage and chilli (mint, coriander, chives) on a plate.
Fry the ginger in a wok with some peanut oil, until aromatic and then add the chicken. Cook for about a minute. Add the chicken stock and fish sauce and bring to the boil. Cook for about 8 minutes until chicken is cooked through. While it's cooking, cook the noodles.
Ladle noodles into bowls and cover with the chicken in the broth. People can add the herbs and chilli when they eat. If you like it spicy, serve with chilli paste.

Broad bean salad with prosciutto

After watching my broad beans grow too tall and spindly, I was worried they wouldn't produce anything, but they've come good and we get to enjoy this salad. The dish seems particularly Spanish to me, but that's probably because eating prosciutto also makes me yearn for Jamon Iberico. It also uses the cos lettuce that is going nuts in the sunny bed against the wall of the neighbour's house.

I won't bother reproducing the recipe here, because you can find it here.

Gardening update

I reckon the pollination rate in the garden would be up, with the flowering of the red bottlebrush in the back corner, which seems to be a bee's paradise. The nastursiums are all in flower too, and the mustard greens are flowering with their brightly coloured yellow flowers.

Seeds planted: corn, basil, rocket, sage, tomatoes (tommy toes), alpine strawberries, eggplant (last batch didn't germinate), snake beans (direct).

I tried to sow the rocket and basil in situ, but the birds (miners mainly) are wreaking havoc and destruction as they feast on the worms living in the newly-spread compost. I've resorted to constructing crude bird -repelling things, like plastic bags pegged to sticks and cds on string. All these methods work up to a point - then the birds wise up and continue on their merry ways.

Seedlings planted out in the garden: zuchini, cucumber, spinach.

I want to sow some edible groundcovers (and I've got plenty of rocket and parsley, seeds for this purpose) for all the standard reasons, including stablising soil temperature, reducing evaporative moisture loss, and weed prevention. But I think it would be a waste of time, with the birds still going hard at the freshly laid compost. It's a cruel conundrum because the groundcover would itself protect seedlings from bird damage. Might wait till the worm activity subsides a bit.

Soil science

Since the last post, I've done a soil-science residential school at Wagga campus of CSU, including a mid-semester soil science exam. Here's a photo from one of the field trips, where we took soil samples from different locations and classified them out in the field. In this photo, a student is holding a bolus, which is one of the steps in the field classification of soil-texture.

This week in my study, I'm focusing on nutrient cycles in the soil, especially nitrogen and phosphorous.

Get into your gardens folks.

Marie Antoinette