Monday, June 28, 2010

Tukmaria: diet seed?

We have a three and a half hour drive to the nearest international airport, so when one of us is about to travel, it is a great excuse to spend a couple of days in the big smoke. Apart from visiting family and friends, shopping and eating are my favourite city pursuits. Staying in the inner city meant new food shops to explore and as always, I came home with some weird and wonderful things.

I was thrilled to find ready to drink Basil Seed Drink (with honey.) Since I discovered tukmaria seed  I have been on the lookout for more recipes. I opened it yesterday. It was very sweet, thanks to the 12 % sugar and the honey flavour (!) and I needed to add some lime juice to it to make it palatable. The interesting side effect was that come lunchtime, I wasn't hungry. Checking the label further I found it contained a small amount of dietary fibre, calcium and iron and was 20% carbohydrate. So what are the healing properties of tukmaria?

The mucilaginous gel that forms around the soaked seeds acts as a demulcent, soothing the mucous membranes, and is used to relieve constipation and diarrhoea. Like chia seed, which also forms a gel when soaked, it is possible that it slows down the speed our bodies' convert carbohydrates into sugars. This would account for the feeling of fullness lasting longer and could be useful for weight loss and diabetes.

In Asia, where  basil seed is also known as sabza, subza, takmaria, tukmaria, tukhamaria, falooda, selasih (Malay/Indonesian) or hột é (Vietnamese), Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine both recognise the health benefits of tukmaria. Other reputed benefits are a more active digestion, removal of toxins from the gut and the ability to help prevent heart conditions by lowering cholesterol  although I have not found any scientific research to back this up.

I feel that tukmaria has great potential to replace slippery elm, an endangered rainforest tree that must be killed to harvest its inner bark, as an easily grown, safe remedy for stomach complaints.

Just before lunch today, I stirred half a teaspoon of seed into a glass of cold water with the juice of a lime. An hour later, I still felt quite full, even though the amount of seed I drank was much less than was in the drink yesterday. It was a very pleasant and refreshing drink that didn't need sweetening. It can be added to hot drinks, herb or black teas, or to warm milk. If you don't like the slippery texture add it to soaked Bircher muesli or stewed fruit. It has very little taste of its own.

 I am on a mission to lose weight at the moment so maybe fate is at work again. I'm going to stick with drinking tukmaria for a couple of weeks and see what happens.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What nonna never told you

I am a firm believer in fate. I hadn’t read, let alone reviewed the book for Monday’s deadline for the local paper. Seeing a new cover sparkling at me from the cookbook section with proscuttio and other yummy things on the cover, I grabbed one to take home, thinking it would be easier than reading another 200 pages of a novel.
What a wonderful surprise! How come I hadn’t seen this book before? It had first been published in 2006 and 16,000 copies later it is in its fifth incarnation. Being self published, in another state, we had never heard of it until a customer asked us to find her one. Postage being expensive, we ordered a few extra.
I wish I had discovered this book earlier in the year when we had an abundance of summer vegetables and olives.  Stepping into the pages of Pietro Demaio’s book is like being invited by a neighbour for a hearty lunch accompanied by good red wine and conversation.  In the 60’s Pietro began collecting traditional recipes from his family and friends, and still does, each edition larger than the first as he incorporates recipes and food stories sent to him by readers.
 Drying, salting, bottling, pickling, preserving in oil are some of the method preserving that also includes  sections on cheese and salami making, preserving fish, and making wines and liqueurs. There are eighteen different ways to preserve olives, how to make bread and build the oven to bake it in. The clearly laid out recipes are interspersed with hilarious stories and traditions, including a section on avoiding the evil eye!
 My enthusiasm for the book must have been obvious, we sold all copies and had orders for two more within 24 hours of the review being published – the most successful review ever! 
It felt like you should have been given a jar of something to take home with you when you reach the end of the book...that didn’t happen and unfortunately  I have to wait for the next lot to arrive before I can have a copy to take home so I can dive into a preserving frenzy.
You won’t have to.

Happy preserving, I have another review to write!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mooving on....

Since March, the shire has been invaded by cows – hefty, life size cows crafted from fibreglass and decorated by various artists.

I was a Cow Parade sceptic. Why take on a project that was originally created so that cows could appear on the streets of major cities? After all, we have plenty of the real things here and the idea of attracting even more tourists during the busy times of Easter and vintage seemed a bit silly.  The ‘local ‘artists included famous names from hundreds of kilometres away while artists who lived here were overlooked. The cows, modelled on a Swiss variety, were made in China , so not much local input there either. It all seemed a bit silly, not to mention expensive. There was subversive talk of quarantining them for foot and mouth and of arranging a similar event with an Australian native animal and much admiration was shown for the man in Brazil who brought in some fibreglass  bulls to service their cows one night. 
The cows will disappear at the end of this month, to be auctioned for charity. I will miss sniggering about the reports of cows getting people arrested for vandalism or climbing the water tower, of cows being ridden, stolen or going for a swim out to the pontoon; the delight and amazement on the faces of the children who find the cow outside the chemist shop:  the tourists asking ‘What is it with this cow thing?’; the comments by the retired farmer, worried that the cow might not get back up on her feet; the old ladies chatting to the cows while the Japanese tourists queue for a photo opportunity; by my being surprised to see yet another one lurking in an unlikely spot.
They are to be auctioned for charity at the end of the month; I hope some of the charity stays here. I’ll miss all the people watching!
The locations of these pictures include the local hardware, a street verge, the roof of the tavern, the water tank and my favourite, Rump on a Stump ( a spoof on a golden diver at one of the posh wineries), in a local park.
Life can be silly sometimes, can't it?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cold weather dipping

The promised birthday fondue happened this week, with a minimum of traditional style fondue eating guests in attendance. The quandary I had was what to serve as appetisers and desserts. My old fondue book, published in 1970 (in Australia) recommends cherries ‘a la kirsch,’ and various other fruits in combination with other types of alcohol. No mention of appetisers but it is recommended that you drink a glass of kirsch halfway through the meal. Only in the 70’s could you get away with thinking that bread cheese and alcohol was a balanced meal! Knowing Amita would heartily endorse this philosophy, I quickly hid the cookbook.

Poking around in the pantry, I pondered that as fondue was a cold weather meal, it would make sense to pair it with seasonal produce. Pecans, olives and Granny Smith apples are abundant at the moment. Warming food seemed to be the order of the day so I started with olives baked in red wine - a recipe I posted here this time last year. With the pecans I tried a recipe I had been told about by my friend Tova. It was one of those that had been enjoyed by her family for years. It didn’t really have quantities or times but sounded easy.
Here is what I did:

Roasted pecans in their shells

Pecans in shells
Sea salt

In a mortar and pestle or with a rolling pin, gently crack a split in the shell of each nut while preheating the oven to 180C.
Dissolve about 2 tsp of sea salt in a litre of warm water. You need enough brine to cover the nuts.
Soak the nuts, in their shells, in the brine for 5-10 minutes.
Place the nuts on a baking tray.
Bake until the nuts have begun to toast, they will give off a nice toasty smell. Shake them once or twice during cooking.
Serve warm and let people shell their own.

These are really delicious as the nuts are soft, sweet and warm. Next time I would add a little more salt but you could have some on the side for serving.
For dessert, I stuffed some of the apples with some more pecans, processed with butter, home dried figs and brown sugar with cinnamon, baked and served with double cream for those too weak to refuse it!
It was a lovely meal and quick to prepare, the longest job was washing the greens for my salad which I had to make to reassure myself that everyone had eaten wisely as well as generously. I am happy to report there were no fondue fork injuries suffered!

Eat well,


Monday, June 7, 2010

Something fishy going on

It is a family tradition that if you are at home for your birthday, you get to choose what we have for dinner. Amita is predictable as his favourite meal in the whole world is fondue. He likes to eat it in the traditional Swiss way, simply bread and cheese. After cracking two ceramic fondue pots, one birthday I bought him -  a smaller Le Creuset (son of the blue pot)   that fits perfectly on the burner.

I threaten to fall into a swoon if I can’t eat something green at every meal and contaminating the fondue with any vegetable, except possibly potatoes, is frowned upon. The other serious problem is inviting guests for a fondue as he loathes sharing it. So that is one: an unhappy cook (not recommended) and two: guests duelling with fondue forks over a hot pot (also not recommended.)

After some delicate negotiation, he decided to choose something else – Bouillabaisse, a traditional fisherman’s soup from the Mediterranean cooked in one pot. I had never cooked it before and dived into Elizabeth David who in two and a half pages of text, gave stern warnings about not overcooking the different seafood but no indications of specifics. I eventually found a recipe from a well known chef on the internet and set off to buy about a million dollars worth of seafood. When I began to follow the recipe, I realised it had been posted without checking and was very hard to follow

At least I already had the pot and as we have been having cold nights, the wood stove is lit every evening and is perfect for a long slow simmer.

A good fish stock is absolutely critical to a good bouillabaisse and is expensive to buy as it comes in 375ml containers.
This is my version:

Fantastic Fish Stock

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 stalk of celery, leaves included, finely sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
One wing of barramundi, a large fish head, some prawn heads, whole cleaned fish or a combination of what you have.
A whole fish, head on, cleaned and chopped up roughly (I used perch)
3 large tomatoes, diced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 handfuls of flat leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
1 orange, zested (with a peeler into strips) and juiced
1 lemon, zested (ditto) and juiced
½ C olive oil
1 tsp black peppercorns

Sauté the vegetables, except the tomatoes, in the olive oil over a medium heat until they begin to colour.
Add the fish and brown.
Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, orange, lemon and parsley and cook till softened then add the tomato paste.
Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for a minimum of two hours or longer. If cooking the stock over a couple of days, make sure that it is bought to a rolling boil each time before reducing the heat to a simmer.
If you are making soup, leave the lid on to retain the maximum flavour. If you want to freeze it, you can reduce it by simmering without a lid after straining.
Strain through a sieve and add salt to taste.
Freeze in 500ml containers until required.

Happy cooking,


Ps. The soup was amazing. I dished it up before bringing to the table so we managed to avoid any disagreements over the number of prawns and mussels and other tasty bits in each bowl. I was far too busy to take a photograph of the finished dish!