Are you sick of my pistachio packed posts? I don’t blame you, but really, this is a follow up on my obsessive post on Bronte pistachio paste, so bear with me and you will learn the easiest way to make ice cream, ever.
Now that I had finally experienced what a jar of pistachio paste from Bronte tastes like (bloody amazing), I seriously needed to do something about the low supply situation. A visit to my Greenacre-based Lebanese green grocer Abu Salim provided a good kilo of roasted unsalted pistachios for $15.00. I wouldn’t call us a perfectionist race, but when it comes to roasting nuts, the Lebanese are masters – they get it so right. The nuts were wonderful; the roasting concentrated and amplified their flavour brilliantly.
After shelling for an evening, thumbs sore with pain from the odd stubborn pistachio that refused to open, I ended up with a good amount to try making my paste. I was aiming for a smooth paste, and I knew my food processor was not up to the task. A quick tweet and the incredibly generous Mr Franz Scheurer was quick to donate his time and his Thermomix (what would have cost me $2000 to buy).
I wanted to create a pistachio paste that I could use in desserts, one that could have a decent lifespan, so I decided not to follow the ingredients of my jar of Bronte pistachio paste and instead omitted the milk. The paste would last longer, and I could add milk when I needed.
To create a good paste, I blitzed the pistachios along with some glucose and created an emulsification with grape seed oil. You could use any neutral oil. I didn’t take measurements and went with feel and taste. I stopped when the pistachios tasted slightly sweet and the paste was smooth enough for me (a bit of coarse meal is fine). The consistency needs to be slightly runnier than peanut butter. I went home and mixed in some cream with a small sample to test out the flavour and the gates of heaven opened and I heard a sweet song, and a choir or angels called out to me. Seriously, it was that good.
It is worth mentioning that if you want to make pistachio paste for ice cream, you may as well add some water into the blender to make the paste smoother. That way, you wouldn’t need a Thermomix, because with that much liquid, your food processor should do the trick. If you do add water, make sure you omit it from the recipe below.
I was aiming for a custard based ice cream, but as luck would have it, Jules from The Stone Soup posted a churn-free, machine-free lemon ice cream recipe. It looked incredibly simple, and I decided to give it a go. The basic idea is that by increasing the amount of sugar, ice crystals do not form. Jules folds lemon juice and icing sugar into whipped cream and simply freezes the lot for 6 hours. I did the same, but substituted pistachio paste for the lemon juice, and added some water to dissolve the sugar. The result was a beautiful. pistachio green ice cream with the texture of semifreddo, light, airy and delicious. I urge you wholeheartedly to try making ice cream this way. It is so simple – 5 minutes and you’re done, and it tastes ridiculously good.
300 ml whipping cream
200 grams icing sugar
4 heaped tablespoons (or to taste) of pistachio paste, prepared as mentioned above
Whip the cream until soft peaks form
Mix icing sugar and pistachio paste and 1/3 cup of water until smooth (omit water if already used in paste preparation)
Fold the pistachio and sugar into the cream until evenly distributed
Whip the cream again until it gets to soft peak stage once more
Freeze for 6 hours or overnight
Labna with olive oil, olives and rosemary sprig
Yoghurt. The oldest of all milk derived foods and the most feared. It is said (by me) that Genghis Khan’s only phobia was due to a recurring dream of drowning in a pool of horse milk yoghurt. The same goes for Alexander the Great, though he, against all odds, managed to overcome that fear through strenuous hypnosis and homeopathic practices, and in fact ended up loving the stuff. Throughout the ages, yoghurt has had many wonderful and amazing uses. Phoenicians used it for facials, and the ancient Egyptians used it in their mummification process in conjunction to consuming it with long grain Egyptian rice as they waited for the mummies to dry. Allright, enough joking around. Let’s be serious for a minute. This multi-faceted ingredient has helped shape the face of Middle-Eastern gastronomy, yet its origins are shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that after slaughtering a newborn camel, desert travelling Bedouins would saddle the mother camel’s milk encased in the baby’s stomach sack, where the stomach bacteria, along with the heat of the sun, curdled the milk into, yes, yoghurt!
If you were to consider world cuisines distilled to a singular ingredient, would you be able to imagine French food sans beurre, Chinese food with no soy sauce, Italian food before Chris C brought back the first tomato? Well, you may not have guessed it, but when it comes to Middle- Eastern food, yoghurt is the reigning champion, the jamon to Arabia’s Serrano, and without it, Middle Eastern food just wouldn’t be Middle Eastern food. I grew up eating yoghurt. All Lebanese people have. In fact, It is so prevalent that there are Middle-Eastern cookbooks solely dedicated to cooking with yoghurt. When it comes to cooked yoghurt dishes, kibbeh b’ laban (yoghurt kibbeh) is an absolute favourite, but when eaten fresh, there’s nothing that beats labna. Strained through muslin, yoghurt lets go of its whey to become incredibly creamy, and the longer you strain it, the thicker and richer it gets. This is labna: wheyless yoghurt that is salted and eaten in every single Lebanese home, every single day at every single breakfast. My memories as a child take me back to when dad would stack up the “troups” in the run down 70’s Mercedes (he loved that car) and drive us around. We’d whinge and complain about being hungry, and Mr Kassab would try to find somewhere cheap and cheerful to feed the family of six. Often, we’d end up at small makeshift bakeries with (as was usually the case) a weathered, slightly chubby but very cheerful grey-haired lady sitting cross legged in front of a saj, masterfully baking the thinnest sheets of bread, crisp and translucent. We would demolish a sheet in seconds, dunking shards and folds into most luscious olive oil drizzled labna decorated with sweet tomatoes, salty olives and fresh, fragrant mint. Pure joy.
Saj bread making
N.B. Make labna by straining yoghurt through a clean pillow case or muslin, or by pouring it over layers of absorbent paper towel. Depending on the quantity, it may take a few hours so keep it straining in the fridge. When it reaches the desired consistency, remove it, salt it and destroy it!
Burghul Pilaf with beef and almonds
Rice is living the high life while burghul has committed suicide. This is an old Lebanese saying, and to understand it, one needs to go back to the original diet of a Lebanese village dweller. For a long time, that diet was focused around wheat, and the Lebanese household consumed as much as 90% of its daily calories from wheat, be it in the form of bread or burghul. Once a year, a travelling salesperson would arrive at the Lebanese village with his donkeys laden with bags and bags of wheat. He would go to the rooftops and call out to the villagers, informing them that wheat has arrived. Depending on how well-off each villager was, either a full year or half a year’s provision was purchased. At that point in time, wheat would be at its cheapest, so it made sense to stock up for the whole year if one could afford it. Once purchased, each housewife got busy preparing burghul. First, the wheat would be boiled until the outer layer showed some cracks, but care is taken not to overcook the wheat as, at the end of the process, the burghul needs only be half cooked to accommodate for further cooking. The day the wheat is boiled is highly anticipated as some of the wheat is taken aside, sprinkled with sugar and rose water and covered with walnuts, pine nuts and almonds, and then handed to the children, neighbours and helpful hands who may have assisted during the process – a day of celebration, as these lavish ingredients are hardly consumed in the Lebanese village. After the wheat is cooked, it would be taken to be sun-dried on the roof tops, and then sent to the mill to be cracked, and to have its bran removed. The milling process creates burghul of three varying grain sizes: coarse burghul for pilafs, fine burghul for kibbeh and tabbouli, and powdered burghul for bsisa (an almost extinct dessert made by mixing the powdered burghul with grape molasses and butter).
This process gave the Lebanese villagers their daily food. Meat, vegetables and dairy products (all expensive and highly seasonal) were there to support the main act, burghul or bread. But, on big occasions, be it feasts of saints or weddings, the Lebanese would turn to rice, an imported food product that was highly prized, dear and exotic. During those costly feasts, burghul would be forgotten, and rice shone as the star of the show. And as rice became more and more affordable, burghul’s consumption decreased drastically. This is a parallel to the industrialisation of meat, and how offal, once a staple in day to day food, fell out of favour. And so my friends, this is why rice is living the high life, and why burghul has committed suicide. My friend once used this saying to describe the situation when his girlfriend left him for a richer man. Such apt usage!
Despite all this, burghul still holds a dear place in my diet. I crave it, and have recently started to use it more and more. I love its texture, grainy and slightly nutty, and its earthy scent takes me back to my childhood. When I have just a few ingredients in the cupboard, a burghul dish is so easy to make, and a rustic plate of burghul pilaf with beef and almonds topped with some yoghurt is one of those comfort foods we all need from time to time.
Prepare the burghul by first frying the garlic and onions in a lidded pot, using the olive oil, until translucent. Add the burghul and salt and fry for a minute, covering all the grains with the olive oil. Add 4 cups of water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until all the water has been absorbed.I use a rice cooker to do that. In the meantime, fry the second onion (adding the salt) in a separate frying pan using the rest of the olive oil. Once translucent , add the beef (in batches if the frying pan is too small) and fry until cooked through. Use your spatula to break down the mince to make sure the beef does not clump together. Add the pepper, cook for another minute. Add in the almonds and toss well. Serve the burghul in a bowl, topped with the beef mince and some nice Greek-style yoghurt.
Would you eat something that you know could poison you? Would you take the chance if someone told you the experience could be worth it? Well, I did, and am glad I did. Here’s this poisonous strange fruit I found at Bellingen, one that possibly helps the locals when the munchies hit: Monstera Deliciosa. If the shape looks familiar, that’s because it is. You would have seen this delicious monster growing on indoor ornamental plants. They are surrounded by a large flower and they look great. It originates somewhere around Mexico and Panama, and what’s really crazy about it is that it takes a year for the fruit to ripen, and that if it is eaten unripe, it will cause blistering, itching, swelling and pain, and possibly the loss of a loved one: you.This is due to the large amounts of oxalic acid in the unripe fruit. So, the lady who sold this to me said that it would be ok to eat when those hexagonal scales fall off, and the fruit becomes easy to lift of the stem. Even then when I ate it, it still gave my mouth and lips a tingly sensation with a slight irritation. But I tell you what, it tasted phenomenal. It is possibly nearest in flavour and texture to custard apple, but it also tastes like pineapples and bananas and grapes and strawberries. In fact, this strange, all encompassing flavour is the reason why it’s also sometimes called the fruit salad plant. If you come by this plant, ask the shop when it would be safe to eat, but I urge you to try it. It’s delicious! Now, tell me, would you eat it?
kiwano gazpacho – African horned cucumber with yoghurt
Take a good look at this guy. Seriously. How scary does that look? It’s terrifying, isn’t it? Well, at least for a cucumber it is. This is a kiwano, an African horned cucumber or melon. I’m not sure why the cucumber/melon ambiguity exists, but to me, this monster tasted like a cucumber more than a melon. I don’t know much about this fruit, and I am currently too exhausted and not overly keen to trawl the web to find out too much information, mainly because the culinary possibilities of the kiwano seem somewhat limited. It’s basically a bunch of liquidy seeds that taste like a citrusy cucumber.
I bought two kiwanos from the Bellingen market this weekend. For twenty cents each, this is probably the cheapest exotic fruit I’ve ever bought. Let me describe it to you. The kiwano is about the size of the palm of my hand, which is a biggish hand. The thorny bits are vicious, not decorative. It seems the kiwano was evolving into a land mammal at some stage and needed hedgehog-like protection, and during it’s evolution, it changed its mind and remained a fruit, but kept the thorns for style and comfort. Slicing into a kiwano is easy. The “wall” which protects the seeds is on the thick side, and as far as I know, is not delectablely edible. The seeds are akin to large cucumber seeds, encased by a liquidy membrane. The flavour is similar to that of a cucumber, only with a strong citrus profile. With the heat of Sydney today, a cooling gazpacho-like soup seemed in order. Now, I am aware that gazpacho doesn’t have yoghurt, and that it should contain vinegar, and the other 1000 rules that go with it, but hey, it just sounds better than saying chilled cucumber soup, so please allow me this one. I threw this gazpacho together in a few minutes and it was great. The balance of flavours is completely within your control, so add more or less of any of the ingredients below. No lemon juice is needed because the kiwano is acidic enough. Have you ever seen a kiwano, and what do you think of it?
kiwano at the Bellingen markets
Isn’t it wonderful when you discover something new? A new restaurant, an exciting recipe, a passion for pottery making, a hidden ability for fatherhood (I hope)? Three years ago, I discovered a whole new ingredient: a finger lime. Wandering in the Leichhardt organic markets, researching a 100 mile food store that never eventuated, I saw the interesting fruit at one of the farmers’ stalls. It was grown locally by the farmer and they had a small amount for sale. I bought a few to test them out and I fell in love with them. I was at the markets yesterday when I decided to write something about finger limes. I bought 3 for $2.00.
I have to say, my botanical knowledge with the finger lime does not extend past Wikipedia, but since when has it been necessary to be an expert on a subject to enjoy it? Finger limes (citrus australasica) are Australian natives that grow along the coastal border of New South Wales and Queensland. The ones I have are 7 cm long, green hued, slightly curved and are filled with wonderful little caviar shaped balls (called vesicles) that burst in your mouth with a tropical lime flavour. Their use is limited to your imagination, but they are so texturally interesting that they should be used uncooked (some make marmalade). Think oysters with finger limes, or micro salads with finger limes… The picture above shows my suggestion, smoked salmon and goat cheese on rye, topped with finger limes. Might sound like strange combination of cheese and citrus, but it works nicely. I’ve read that the dried peel can be turned into a spice, but have never tried. You can find finger limes at the Leichhardt Organic Markets Orange Grove Public School, Cnr Perry Street and Balmain Road.