March 5th, 2014
Vietnamese mint smells similar to Thai basil but it is far more pungent with a hot bite and slight numbing character and a strong alkalinity.
Also known as hot mint, it is the leaf to use in Malaysian laksa soups, and is often simply known as laksa leaf. It’s also used as a salad ingredient, and cooked dishes.
The pointed leaves are often marked with burgundy or purple-brown coloured smudges near the leaf base. It’s easy to grow and is best kept contained in a pot. Start it off as described above in Thai Basil. It will dry out and whither if it is not kept watered.
March 5th, 2014
Thai basil is more pungent than regular sweet basil with a pronounced liquorice taste. It leaves the breath fresh and slightly sweet. The smell of the crushed leaves is a mix of lime, cinnamon, rubber and cloves. It’s used in salads and cooked dishes.
The stems of the plant are green, becoming purple towards the tips and it sports attractive edible purple, mauve or white flowers.
It’s an easy herb to grow. Put a thick stem in cold water and leave in a cool place for a few days until it starts to show signs of small white roots. Transfer it to a pot of soil and place it in a semi-shaded place. Water regularly, although it is fairly hardy.
March 5th, 2014
You cannot tell by looking at the avocado whether it is ripe to eat. You must give it the gentlest squeeze to check whether the flesh just moves under the skin. When you pick it up, it snuggles into the palm of your hand. It’s as if it wants to be taken home to your place. When you hold a perfect specimen in your hand, it’s hard to resist it.
There is a company called Avocado To You that specializes in growing prime organic fruit and sending it around NZ while it is still unripe. You then ripen the fruit naturally in a fruit bowl at room temperature and so avoid buying avocados that have been squeezed to death in a supermarket, or dumped into a vegetable bin and bruised. The quality of the fruit is extraordinary. Without fail each cosseted avocado will be perfect!
When overripe, the avocado flesh turns to mush and is often dark in places. But unripe avocados are not pleasant to eat, either. Leaving them to ripen at room temperature is the way to do it, and you can speed this up by putting them in a brown paper bag with another piece of fruit which gives off ethylene gas, such as a ripening apple or banana. It is best not to refrigerate them until they are nearly ripe though, as chilling can inhibit ripening.
Avocado is bland to taste, possessing a mild nuttiness, but this blandness is what makes it so good as a food. Citrus flavors give it a bit of a wake-up, as does salt, and its delicacy is a perfect match for seafood, especially prawns, crab, crayfish and scampi.
Avocados blow apart any theory that food which feels smooth and velvety in the mouth must be wickedly rich and bad for you. While it’s true that avocados contain about 20% fat, you can relax and gobble it up without too much guilt because it is monounsaturated. In short, that is good fat! And there’s more good news -nutritional experts have labeled the avocado “nutrient-dense”. To qualify, a food must provide at least four essential nutrients in the same percentage as the calories it supplies. Avocados provide five essential nutrients in this proportion: Vitamins A, B6, C, folic acid and the mineral copper. They are a good source of energy, are easily digested (and therefore suitable for babies), and their high protein content makes them a valuable food for vegetarians. Half an avocado provides about the same amount of calories as 25g butter (180 calories).
August 22nd, 2013
Yesterday, it is true, I started with the concept of a chilli con carne without the carne, but once I got in the kitchen and fired up the slow cookers, I got quite creative. The result is two inexpensive dishes which are simply bursting with flavour. If your budget allows, you can add a few tweaks, but basically they are the sorts of dishes which full stomachs cheaply and leave everyone satisfied. They are also really easy to make and once everything is in the slow cooker, there is nothing more to do until serving time. And they are good for you, as all the goodness from the vegetables stays in the liquid – unlike vegetables which are cooked in water and drained (and half the goodness goes down the plughole!).
I had my kids in mind when I made them – they are perfect flatters’ food! In fact, one of the best things a parent could do is buy their son or daughter a slow cooker when they leave home. I’ve got my old crockpot which still chugs along, but I’ve just got a new Goldair Slow Cooker and I love it more because it’s got an oval bowl making it easier to fit chickens and joints of meat with vegetables.
One of the dishes is made with dried beans, and it takes 3½ -4 hours to cook – there is no need to soak dried beans before cooking in a slow cooker (except for kidney beans), and the other one is made from canned beans and canned tomatoes which you can often pick up really cheaply, and takes a little less than 3 hours to cook. My son plays soccer on a Saturday and these are the perfect dishes for him to prepare before a game, and to return to afterwards when he is cold, exhausted and starving.
You could make plenty of changes – use kumara in place of pumpkin, add a bag of baby spinach leaves at the end (they wilt in a matter of seconds), and use different types of beans and herbs to flavour. Leftovers are great, developing more flavour, or you can leftover potatoes or rice to them for the last 30 minutes to heat through, or serve the soups over steaming bowls of baby new potatoes or rice. Cheap. Cheerful. Good for you. And, importantly, simply scrumptious.