A sharing thing

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Cooking Connections at Yarraville Community Centre, part of the Care To Share Project

CTS missed the first, Vietnamese outing of the Care To Share Project’s Cooking Connections program, but was very happy to make the weekend pairing as host.

Thanks to the Care To Share crew for granting me the opportunity (see link below for more information).

Thanks, too, to the punters – many from the west but more than a few from all over Melbourne.

But most of all, warm thanks to the families and individuals who shared their cooking and food with us.

There will be photos and comments about the food in this post, but really they’re only part of the story …

First up on the Saturday were Jamshid from Afghanistan, Sara from Iran and the family of Ebi, Roya and Maryam, also from Iran.

All these folks are on bridging visas.

 

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Maryam did a fine job of splitting the dates and inserting walnuts in them for the Persian sweet rangenak.

 

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But in the digital age, some things are universal with young folks.

 

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The guests lost no time in leaving their chosen seats to talk to the asylum-seeking cooks.

Jamshid was busy making korme koftas, chicken biryani and Afghan pulao.

 

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Along with a stack of finely chopped greens – spinach, coriander, dill – dried limes went into the ghormeh sabzi prepared by Roya and Ebi.

 

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Jamshid’s lamb meatballs and Afghan pulao were fab …

 

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The ghormeh sabzi – with its greens, potato, lamb and red beans – was piquantly amazing.

 

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Everyone thought so!

 

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The walnut-stuffed dates were drizzled with pan-roasted flour mixed with oil and, finally, coconut for a suave “grown-up” post-meal sweet treat.

 

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On the Sunday, it was time for Rosa, her mum Nigest and niece Betty to present their Ethiopian cuisine.

The guests were split about 50/50 between those who had tried Ethiopian food and injera and those who had not.

The dishes cooked were lamb dishes key wat and tibs, and the cabbage, potato and carrot of key wat.

 

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Having long admired and respected the fresh zing with which our African cooks imbue their salads-on-the-side, I was tickled to discover how one family at least does it – marinating sliced green chillies in lemon juice and using it as a dressing.

 

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Once again, the guests lost no time in getting up close and personal with the cooks and the dishes they were cooking.

 

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For more information on the Care To Share Project, check out their website here and “like” their Facebook page here.

 

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Lentils, rice, yum …

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Indian rice ‘n’ lentil khichdi

There are variations on this dish scattered through our various Indian cookbooks.

But I’ve never felt inspired to give any of them a go, mostly because they all seem quite complex.

Then I found this recipe at the wonderful blog Peri’s Spice Ladle, which I would describe as contemporary Indian with some American touches.

This khichdi is much more to our taste, more like the simple dals we prefer, very easy and enjoyable to make, and super healthy.

According to Peri, the consistency of this dish varies across India, but I already knew how we were going to like it … sloppy.

Like a very wet risotto.

Or a very thick congee.

Or like grits minus the monumental boredom factor.

And I reckon this would work wonders with young children normally suspicious of anything Indian, let alone anything even a little weird.

The range of vegetables you can add is pretty much unlimited, but add things such as potato or carrot real early on and things such as our peas very late.

We halved the recipe for just us two – double up on everything for the full deal.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup basmati rice

1/2 cup moong dal

canola oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves

1 inch piece ginger

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup frozen peas

METHOD

1. Rinse and soak lentils and rice together in 3 1/2 cups of water.

2. Finely chop garlic, grate ginger and pound or whizz them together into a wet paste.

4. Heat oil then fry paste, cumin seeds and turmeric for about a minute. Watch they don’t stick!

5. Add lentils, rice and water.

6. Mix together and bring to boil.

7. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes.

8. Stir briskly a couple of times near the end of cooking time.

9. Add peas, salt and butter fives minutes before end of cooking time.

10. Eat.

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Chick pea ‘n’ bean salad with smoked paprika

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This was inspired by a dip I bought for an at-desk work lunch.

I quite liked the oily tomato-based dip with harissa and smashed beans and chick peas.

But it had a nasty edge – as so many store-bought dips do.

So my immediate thought was: “OK, I can do better than this at home.”

So I did.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup of cannellini beans and 1/2 cup of chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked until tender.

ripe tomatoes – quantity equal to the combined pulses. If you don’t have very ripe tomatoes, make something else, as the tom juice is crucial.

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped.

salt.

pepper.

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika. Don’t spoil the salad by overdoing it.

heaps of extra virgin olive oil.

juice of one lemon.

METHOD

1. Combine all ingredients in the order listed. It should be really gloopy – almost like a really thick soup. And if some of the pulses get smashed in the process, so much the better.

2. Let sit for  couple of hours.

3. Gently re-mix and add even more olive oil

4. Eat.

We had this by itself as a light dinner with lavash bread.

But I reckon it’d be good with snags or grilled meat or fish.

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Very Spicy, Delicious Chickpeas

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Efforts in recent years to create a great chick pea curry in our kitchen have been uniformly desultory.

The results have been watery, pallid and unappetising.

And none of my current crop of Indian cookbooks have been much use.

Then I recalled that I had cooked a winning chick pea curry regularly in another time and another place.

I even recalled the author’s name and the book involved.

So I went looking and found it first time.

The Madhur Jaffrey book from which the recipe comes is still available and is now on my wish list!

So what makes this a success when other recent attempts have failed?

Well, it’s heavily seasoned for starters – so much so that the ground spices, including both roasted and unroasted cumin, actually help make the sticky gravy.

The tanginess comes from roasted cumin, lemon juice and amchoor (powder made from sour, unripe mangoes).

It really does have the lusty depth of flavour that goes with the chick peas I eat when out and about on Indian adventures.

It will keep real well for a few days, too, and maybe even improve with age.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight and cooked until tnder

oil or ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

8 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbsp coriander seeds, finely ground

2 tsp cumin seeds, finely ground

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 can chopped tomatoes

2 tsp roasted cumin seeds, finely ground

1 tbsp amchoor powder

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp salt

juice of 1 lemon

1 green chilli, chopped

2 tsp finely grated ginger

METHOD

1. Fry onions and garlic over medium heat until browned.

2. Turn heat to medium-low and add coriander, unroasted cumin, chilli powder and turmeric.

3. Add tomatoes and stir into spices and onion/garlic mix. Cook for a few minutes until well combined and sticky.

4. Add drained chick peas and 1 cup of water

5. Add roasted cumin, amchoor, paprika, garam masala, salt, lemon juice. Stir to combine and cook on low heat for 10 minutes.

6. Add grated ginger and chopped chill and cook for another minute.

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Uncooked puttanesca sauce with short pasta

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This recipe is a simple, quick and cheap winner for summer – or for your typical heatwave!

And it’s another we’ve adapted from Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes.

Vary the quantities to suit yourself.

We have it warm, with the tomatoes slightly cooked from interaction with the hot, moist pasta.

On this occasion, we used one punnet of tomatoes, a BIG handful of parsley, three fat anchovies, a single fat garlic clove and no capers.

Whatever you do, though, don’t be stingy with the olive oil!

The book lists salt, but we find the anchovies the care of that.

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INGREDIENTS

Cheery tomatoes

Anchovies

Flat-leaf parsley

Capers (optional)

Dried oregano

Extra virgin olive oil

Red chilli or dried red pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

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METHOD

1. Halve tomatoes and place in bowl.

2. Add to bowl finely chopped garlic and anchovies, oregano, chopped chilli and black pepper.

3. Mix.

4. Add hefty doses of extra virgin olive oil.

5. Mix again.

6. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.

7. Cook pasta, then drain while reserving some of the cooking water.

8. Add pasta to tomato concoction, then mix all ingredients together.

9. Add some of the cooking water if pasta is too dry.

10. Let sit for another five minutes so flavours can blend.

10. Serve.

Bennie’s Kitchen Rules

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Chick pea, lentil and chorizo soup

Efforts are being made to extend Bennie’s involvement with affairs in the kitchen beyond eating and doing the dishes.

This seems to be having beneficial and laudable effects.

He certainly seems to more at one with breakfasts of yogurt, fresh fruit and muesli now that the latter is largely a product of his own hands and effort.

When let off the brekkie leash, he gets his own toast and jam (“No butter!” he proclaims).

He has a way with eggs.

And he’s an expert at instant noodles.

What’s next?

Soup!

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Bennie has developed a deep fondness for the Iraqi red lentil soup shortbat adas that has become a routine fixture in our home – he certainly prefers it to the various Indian-style pulse stews and soups I regularly knock together.

So I’m hoping to combine something of that vibe with a soup that also involves the kid-friendly tantalisation of fried chorizo and one that will also hopefully nudge him back towards the fondness for chick peas he once possessed.

I’ve soaked a cup of chick peas overnight and have cooked them prior to us starting the soup proper.

As I’m seeking a sort-of South American or even Middle Eastern feel through lemon juice and cumin, we’ll be using capsicum rather than carrot.

We’re using good quality Istra chorizo, but it’s soft so Bennie struggles a bit in finding the right cutting motion to slice it into nice, even discs.

He does much better with the celery, once I show him what’s required in terms of fineness of dicing.

Still, for a parent it’s nerve-racking watching a child – even one as generally capable and always smart as this one – handling very sharp blades.

He also oversees the roasting and mortar-and-pestle grinding of a 1/4 teaspoon of cumin seeds.

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And he really, really digs what is the key moment, the most headily intoxicating part of making this dish and many like it – when the diced vegetables hit the hot, fragrant oil that is a mixture of olive oil and grease from the sausage.

Oh my!

It’s in this phase of the cooking process that my boy shows that he may have just the right stuff to make a good home cook: As he’s stirring the vegetable/oil/sausage mixture, he simply and intuitively assumes “the cook’s prerogative” – without asking his father’s permission – and nonchalantly gobs a couple of pieces of fried chorizo.

The resultant soup is perfectly fine, but I am somewhat disappointed – it simply doesn’t have the depth or richness of texture and flavour for which I have been hoping.

Bennie?

Oh man, he loves it to pieces.

Now we’re cooking!

Later in the night he asks me: “Dad, am I going to take over the blog when you’re gone?”

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Books For Cooks

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Books For Cooks, 233-235 Gertrude St, Fitzroy. Phone: 8415 1415

As someone who has come to love the online ease with which I can get my hands on music and books, and the information about them on which to base my buying, I have lamented the lack of bricks and mortar businesses in Melbourne that cater to my specific interests.

I have learned to live without them, though.

But in the form of Tim, at the splendid Fitzroy emporium Books For Cooks, I get a superb example of just why local, homegrown businesses should be encouraged whenever possible.

As well as looking to do a story for Consider The Sauce, I have driven across town with the notional purpose of buying a Lebanese or other Middle Eastern cookbook to fill a gap in my modest home collection.

I mention to Tim a particular book, one that is listed on the shop’s website but is not in stock.

He knows the book well. He informs me of its background and its virtues and drawbacks.

He’s not trying to dissuade me from buying it as such; it’s more like he’s trying to steer me towards a purchase that will suit my needs.

We go through the same routine with another book, this one covering Persian cooking.

In the end, and somewhat to my surprise, I end up buying The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos.

This makes all kinds of sense.

The book is the same size and in the same format, using the same typefaces, as Charmaine Solomon’s equivalent Asian tome.

As such, it will no doubt become a cherished asset and dependable companion in our home, and duly become dog-eared, sauce-spattered and loved a lot.

As well, my new book’s concept of “Middle East” stretches from Greece at one end to Afghanistan at the other.

So there you go – I’ve ended up with a book I can use and use often, and Tim has adroitly manoeuvred me away from the allure of those that had been seducing me with flash.

“We don’t aim to sell the book with the highest mark-up as a priority,” says Tim. “We want people to have a rewarding experience with the books they buy here.”

Helping me buy a book turns out to be just a small part of an engrossing hour of conversation as Tim gives generously of his time and insights.

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Books For Cooks is in its 13th year, Tim and partner Amanda having bought the name and “some stock” from a couple of dears for whom it was a sideline to their Malvern East travel agency.

“We saw a tiny ad in The Age and ended up being the only ones interested in buying it,” Tim says. “There was no research … we bought it on credit cards – and then did a business plan.”

The seems scarcely believable to me, such is the detail Tim provides me on running the shop, the various inequities of the international postal system, the effects of the internet, the ongoing subject of a GST on online imports and much more.

He tells me about 10 per cent of the shops turnover is online but that 40 per cent comes from the custom of professional cooks.

For some reason this surprises me.

The current best-sellers are three books by Israeli-born, London-based Yotam Ottolengh – Ottolengh: The Coobook, Plenty and Jerusalem.

The shop will often stock two or three copies of a book – perhaps one will be secondhand, or another may be printed using a particular font.

Books For Cooks sources books from about 650 suppliers in England, the US, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Singapore, Japan, Canada and more.

There are at least two incoming shipments a week each from the US and the UK.

The main trade, of course, is in recipe books of many different kinds, vintages, sizes, styles, genres and nationalities.

But Books For Cooks also carries titles that cover biographies, history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, food science, humour, fiction, kitchen design, implements, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, health, etiquette and table settings.

And no doubt several more categories!

We even get around to discussing the merits (mostly Tim) and otherwise (mostly me) of MasterChef and its various offshoots.

But we end up in pretty much the same place anyway.

“Mostly I like peasant food,” Tim says. “It’s almost always brown …”

He definitely says that as if he believes it’s a good thing.

And which is why, within a few hours of getting it home, my new cookbook is prickly with stickies denoting my interest in recipes that are overwhelmingly to do with cabbage rolls, pulses of all sorts, hearty stews and simple salads.

Check out the Books For Cooks website here.

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