Be My Guest: My Darling Lemon Thyme

New Zealanders will be familiar with Australians claiming some of our most successful compatriots as their own. They’ve done it with Neil Finn, with Russell Crowe (actually, they can keep him) and they’re even trying it on with today’s guest, Emma Galloway of My Darling Lemon Thyme. Well, hands off, cobbers, she’s ours.

What’s your blog about?
Healthy gluten-free and mostly lactose-free vegetarian eating.

When did you start it? Why?

I first pushed publish on my daughters 4th birthday, July 2010. To begin with it started out as a place for me to share recipes that I had come up with since becoming gluten and lactose-free. I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook too, so thought it would be a great way for me to practice recipe writing as well as getting my name out there in the food world. Nowadays it’s more like a visual diary of my life, filled with recipes, stories, photos and vege gardening tips.

Vegetarian sushi Image: Emma Galloway

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
Yes. I started working in the kitchen when I was 16 years old at one of the very first cafes in Raglan, back when cafes were a new thing in New Zealand (god that makes me feel old!). I worked weekends and full-time over the holidays and loved every second of it. After completing year 13 I went on to train professionally as a chef and then spent the next seven years working in the industry, mostly in the pastry section, flitting between NZ and Australia before leaving the kitchen to start a family six years ago.

Who’s your food hero?

Jamie Oliver, hands down. What that guy has done for this world in terms of inspiring people through food is unmatchable. I also have to mention Heidi Swanson as it was her book Supernatural Cooking and her blog, 101cookbooks, that inspired me to start my own blog. She has single-handedly made vegetarian food cool.

Creamy coconut rice pudding with date compote Image: Emma Galloway

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Both. I think anything that encourages people to get out there and cook real food is a good thing. But it makes me jealous when the winner of MasterChef gets a cookbook deal at the end of it without even really knowing that much about food!

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?

I’m a major perfectionist so as much as I love loads of the first recipes I shared, it’s the newer posts with my improved photography skills that I am most proud of. My gluten + dairy-free Mexican chocolate almond cookies, creamy coconut rice pudding with date compote and my sushi post where I shared every tip I’ve ever learnt about making Maki rolls are a few of my most favourite posts.

Gluten and dairy-free Mexican chocolate cookies Image: Emma Galloway

Tell us about another blog you love.
I read a LOT of food blogs. But there are only a handful of blogs that I read every new post of. Amazing photography gets me every time and it’s the photos as much as the recipe itself that draws me in and has me coming back for more.
101cookbooks always inspires and I don’t think there is a post I haven’t read in the nearly three years that I have been following. Heidi’s food style is very similar to mine, but it’s her photos and sense of design that leave me gob-smacked. Wholepromise delivers stunning photographs and healthy food that makes me really hungry. And Green Kitchen Stories has the most amazing photos and a story that I can wholeheartedly relate to.

What’s for dinner tonight?
Gluten-free spaghetti with homemade lentil tomato sauce and winter slaw. I’ve been making this nearly every week since I left home, one of my mama’s famous recipes.

Lentil tomato sauce Image: Emma Galloway

What’s your day job? What else do you do?

I’m a full-time stay at home mum to my two kiddies. My youngest started kindy a few days a week this year. Next year he’s at school, so I suppose if I can’t get a book deal by then I’ll be on the hunt for a job! What kind? I have no idea. Being a chef is not the easiest job to fit around kids…

Who do you cook for?

My hubby works away for two weeks at a time, then home for one. So mostly I just cook for the kids and myself. We eat very simply when he’s away and strictly vegetarian, but when he’s home I bake a lot more often and cook chicken and seafood for him and the kids. While I eat eggs and rice :-/

Random Recipe: Tomato squash curry

It is one of the great regrets of my life that I never ate at Petersham Nurseries when I had the chance. It always seemed too far away (too many tubes and trains and buses and taxis); we were too poor; we were too busy; we had other things to do.
Now, of course, that I am so much further away (and so much poorer, not to mention busier), I could kick myself, especially because its much-feted chef, Skye Gyngell, has left recently after the pressure of having a Michelin star all got too much.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, especially when I accidentally ended up pulling Gyngell’s second book, My favourite ingredients, from my shelves for the March edition of Random Recipes.

I ‘found’ Skye on the recommendation of my sister, who cooked fabulous things from her first book, A year in my kitchen, whenever we went to stay. Her daughter (my sister’s daughter, not Skye’s) and gave each other My favourite ingredients for Christmas, which shows how good my sister’s interpretation of Gyngell’s work was.

While the book choice was random, the recipe selection was more about finding something to cook for a vegetarian coeliac who was coming for dinner (that would involve the large pumpkin I’d bought on Saturday morning at the market). The squash and tomato curry with lime and coconut fitted the bill perfectly, though I will be thrilled if anyone can tell me where to buy fresh curry leaves that aren’t 100 years old. I had to roughly guess the equivalent amount of pumpkin to an onion squash – and possibly overdid it a bit, but it was fantastic.

This might sound a bit silly, but Gyngell’s way of cooking is very quiet and contemplative. She can talk about “introducing flavours to each other” without it sounding twee or forced and while there’s a bit of mooching about while you’re waiting for said flavours to make small talk, it’s not a taxing way to cook.

Have you ever dined at Petersham? What did you think?

Random Recipe #10: Moro Soup

A note to Antipodean readers before we begin: I’m sorry if you were enticed here by the ‘Moro Soup’ heading. This is not a post about turning the iconic chocolate bar, apparently beloved by triathletes (if you believe the ad campaigns), into a soup. Stop reading now before you get disappointed.

For everyone else, the real title should be ‘Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway’. It’s from Moro East, the lovely book by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro restaurant fame about their East End allotment, with recipes from fellow allotment holders interspersed with their own creations. It’s particularly poignant now as the allotment has been bulldozed in the name of the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps athletes do exist on chocolate bars after all.

Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway
The book was my choice for Random Recipes #10, brought to you by Belleau Kitchen AND Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, who hosts a monthly soup challenge called No Croutons Required. Not only does this deliciously rustic soup fit the NCR vegetarian criteria, but it just happened to use the huge bunch of celery and masses of spring onions in my fridge. I took a few shortcuts along the way – I used two tins of cannellini beans rather than soaking and cooking my own, plus I used a tin of tomatoes rather than “500g of flavoursome fresh tomatoes”, as the latter are pretty thin on the ground here at present.
However I faithfully followed the recipe for DIY celery salt, which is completely addictive. Even if you’re not in the mood for soup, you’ve got to try this.

250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight, then drained and cooked in fresh water for about an hour, or until tender (or two tins of beans, drained and rinsed)
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of celery, trimmed of roots but including leaves, sliced into 2cm chunks
8 spring onions, roots trimed but including green tops, sliced into 1cm chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
500g fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped (or 1 440g tin)
1tsp celery salt (recipe follows)

To serve:
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
a small bunch of rocket
black olives
Turkish bread
Celery salt

Heat six tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, then add the spring onions, garlic, caraway and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the tomatoes and celery salt and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the beans and either 250ml of their cooking liquid or water, plus the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of celery salt. Rocket, spring onions, black olives and Turkish bread are suggested accompaniments. Makes enough for four.

DIY Celery Salt
Take a handful of green celery leaves and put them on a baking tray. Dry them in a low-medium oven until completely dry but not scorched (takes about 10 minutes). Crumble to a powder with your fingers, then mix with equal parts of flaky (eg Marlborough or Maldon) salt.

Thyme for a cure

I thought I had enough to keep me awake at night, but for the last week I’ve been plagued by the sort of nagging cough that makes you want to decapitate yourself with a bread knife. (I’ve been waking up every morning feeling like I’ve been punched in the sinuses too, but that’s a different story.)

Years ago I did a night course in herbal medicine, which was fascinating and hilarious in equal measures, not least because of the oddball father and son duo who were among my fellow classmates. I think the son – perhaps in his 30s – had been in a spot of bother with the law for cultivating some herbal medicine of his own and the father had seen this as a way to legally channel his interest. The trouble was, the father asked the teacher so many inane questions (‘Where did you get your apron from? How much was it? Can I grow mint in my garden? How much will it cost? Where did you buy your plants from? Can I have one?’) that the rest of us didn’t have much of a look-in.
Anyway, one of the things we learned was that thyme is good for sore throats and coughs because it is an anti-spasmodic, antiseptic expectorant (in other words, it relaxes your throat, kills germs and helps you clear nasty gunge). Thyme tea, therefore, is just the ticket for an irritating cough. I wish I’d remembered it sooner.

Thyme Tea
Take a few sprigs of thyme from your garden (or cellophane packet) – you want about 2Tbsp of leaves per cup. Leave to steep in freshly boiled water for about five minutes Add a spoonful of honey to taste, though it’s quite pleasant to drink as is.

Do you have any secret kitchen cures for irritating ailments or class bores?

My creative space: Wild things

I woke up this morning and felt reasonably on top of things. The mountain of washing was being dealt to by the blustery wind, work was under control and the forecast was for sun. Then I chanced to look out the back door and remembered my secret shame…

This tangled mess is my garden. The rocket is approaching a metre high and I think that curly stuff underneath it is frisee lettuce. I know dandelions are edible but that doesn’t mean I’ve let them set up camp in the thyme on purpose, nor am I encouraging the neighbour’s cat to poo on what was supposed to be a patch of spring onions. Things have got so out of control out here that I don’t know where to start. What should I do? Call Mr Green and hand over my credit card? Tell the council it’s full of noxious plants that require their urgent attention? Or should I just pretend it’s not there until next summer? What’s happening in your garden at the moment. Is it like this, or can you inspire me to greatness?

(More organised, creative people who probably have perfect gardens here)