T.S Eliot may have claimed that April was the cruelest month, but he hadn’t experienced Wellington in early August. By now, the gloss of wearing one’s winter coat and boots has well worn off (especially if you’ve been wearing them since March) and the grimness of rain, wind and more rain is starting to eat away at any joie de vivre you have left. Or maybe that’s just me. I can cope with June (a long weekend, a half-marathon) and July (my birthday, school holidays), but August is rough. Thank goodness for books, binge-watching and bowls of soup accompanied by lavishly buttered baguettes.

Sweetcorn And Kumara Soup

Sweetcorn and kumara soup

After a recent Three Ways With column extolling the virtues of frozen vegetables I had a large bag of frozen sweetcorn taking up valuable room in our tiny freezer. I am emotionally scarred by the frozen vegetables we had to eat at boarding school and the other members of my household are fervently anti-corn campaigners, but I was determined to use it up. This sunshine-y soup is the result.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely diced

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

600g (1 large) golden or orange kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks

3 cups good chicken (or vegetable) stock

3 cups frozen corn kernels

Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon

A splash of cream

A handful finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to colour.

Raise the heat slightly, then add the spices and kumara. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to coat the kumara in the onion and spice mixture, then pour in the stock. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until the kumara is nearly tender. Add the corn and cook for three minutes.

Remove from the heat and puree (with a stick blender, ordinary blender, or food processor. Don’t try pushing this one through a sieve, you’ll hate yourself – and me.) Return to the pot and add the lemon juice and zest, then taste and season appropriately. Reheat gently until piping hot, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a swirl of cream and a scattering of parsley. Makes about 1.5 litres, freezes well.

What are your tactics for surviving the bleakest month of winter?

The lurgy is upon us all, again. I thought we’d kicked it to the kerb, but it’s back in a slightly morphed form. Everyone I know is sick in some form or other – one of my colleagues told me yesterday that she felt like “little demons were sticking red-hot pokers into me”, which made me feel glad that I haven’t had that symptom yet. I think we all need holidays in the sun, but they seem a bit thin on the ground this year.

Obviously, I am not going to pretend I have the ultimate panacea in my kitchen cupboards, but I can share instructions for a ‘cure’ that mitigates the more common winter virus symptoms (particularly the ones that involve feeling very sorry for oneself).
Cold cure soup
Relax, this doesn’t require a major kitchen assault, just a bit of heating up. You can do this, trust me.

Step 1: When you’ve stumbled to the shops for another box of tissues, toss a tin of chicken soup in your basket too. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it shouldn’t be creamy – simple chicken and vegetable or chicken noodle soups are best. Add a lemon, some chilli flakes and some garlic (of course, if you had these things in your cupboards you might not have gotten sick in the first place, but now’s not the time for a lecture on pantry management). Stumble home again and lie on the sofa to regain your equilibrium.

Step 2: When you’re ready to stand up again, heat the soup to nearly boiling point. Remove it from the heat and add two cloves chopped garlic, the grated zest and juice of the lemon and a good sprinkle of chilli flakes (or chopped fresh chilli). A little chopped parsley boosts the vitamin C content, too. Stir gently and pour into a bowl.

Step 3: Return to the sofa with your healing bowl of soup. Sip slowly, then lie down to rest while it works its magic. Repeat as necessary.

If you’ve passed this stage of the lurgy but still have a nagging cough/sore throat, this thyme tea might help. Anything’s worth a try, right?

If I was the sort of person who did things by the book, I’d be planting my garlic today. But after the failure of last year’s crop – I’ll never know if it was too much rain at the wrong time, the wrong sort of compost, or just bad luck – I’m a bit reluctant. Serves me right for being so smug and getting it in on time last year, I suppose. Traditional garden lore says it should be planted on the Shortest Day, but apparently it can be planted any time from May until the end of July. That’s especially useful information for people like me, who don’t fancy going out in the dark tonight to get the job done.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in some extremely moreish black garlic grown and cured in Marlborough. Black garlic, or ‘garlic noir’ as it’s sometimes called, is fermented for a month to create a kind of super garlic that has double the antioxidants of the ordinary stuff. The fermentation process also changes the texture and flavour profile – black garlic is soft and almost chewy, with a sweet and smoky flavour that reminds me of molasses or fresh dates. It’s extremely moreish and I often find I have eaten a couple of cloves while slicing it up for something else.

 

The clever people who make it at Marlborough Garlic suggest using it as part of an antipasto platter, but I’ve also been adding it to vinaigrettes, or as a last-minute flavour boost to risotto, as it doesn’t need to be cooked. They also suggest dipping it in dark chocolate, which I was unsure about until a recent lunch at the sublime Wharekauhau Lodge where pastry chef Yannick Beaurienne devised a gorgeous black garlic chocolate mousse with kumara and pear brunoise, kumara ice cream and garlic caramel, as seen below.

Yannick’s version was beautiful, elegant (and extremely labour-intensive). Here’s my much-simplified version for the home cook.

Black garlic chocolate mousse with black garlic toffee
Don’t be afraid – the black garlic just deepens and enriches the chocolate flavours. This was a huge hit in my household, to the point that there was barely any left to photograph.

For the mousse:
200g dark chocolate
2 cloves black garlic (about 8g)
400ml cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the black garlic toffee:
3-4 cloves black garlic, finely sliced
4 Tbsp caster sugar
20ml (4 tsp) water

A little extra cream, for drizzling

Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a heatproof bowl. Put half the cream into a small pot and heat to nearly boiling point. Pour over the chocolate and set aside for five minutes.
Mash the garlic to a paste and stir through the chocolate and cream until the mixture is smooth.
Whip the cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Fold through the cooled chocolate mixture,  then pour into a large bowl or divide between six small serving dishes (I use Great Aunt Shirley’s whisky glasses). Cover and put in the fridge to set for at least two hours.

For the toffee, spread the sliced garlic on a piece of non-stick foil or baking paper. Put the sugar and water in a small pot and set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble away for five to 10 minutes, until it turns a dark golden colour (don’t wander off, this will happen sooner than you think!) Pour the toffee over the garlic and leave to set.

To serve, remove the mousses from the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving. Break the toffee into pieces and use to decorate each one. Drizzle a little cream over the top and serve.

Are you planting garlic this winter? Do you have any top tips for failed growers?

Have you been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy yet? It has cut a swathe through our small household in the last week and I don’t think it’s done with us yet. I lost my voice over the weekend, then lost my hearing as soon as it came back. Worst of all, I’ve lost my sense of taste – unless it’s chocolate or chilli, I’ve been reduced to eating for texture only. This is profoundly depressing.

I’m hoping that my current high levels of persimmon consumption will speed my recovery. Persimmons are high in vitamin C and look extremely cheerful in the kitchen. Oranges are not the only fruit at this time of year, after all.

This week’s Three Ways With… column is devoted to the not-so-humble persimmon, which I have been consuming in huge quantities lately (so imagine how much sicker I could have been!) The following recipe for frozen persimmon sorbet will be extremely soothing if you’re unwell, but you don’t have to be poorly to enjoy it. 

Frozen persimmon sorbet

I was extremely sceptical when I read about this recipe – and I did have to experiment with it a bit to make it work – but it’s a nice bit of fun to try (with minimal effort required). All you need to do is freeze as many persimmons as you have diners for a minimum of three hours. At least 45 minutes before serving, remove the persimmons from the freezer. Slice off the tops and let the fruit sit at room temperature. After 45 minutes they will be icy cold, but soft enough to spoon out the frosty flesh. For an extra treat, pass around a bowl of whipped cream.

If this sounds like too much hassle, be reliably informed that you can freeze peeled, sliced persimmons and whiz them up in smoothies. And if you have a dehydrator, dried persimmon slices are absolute heaven (thanks Ann for the lovely specimens below).

Remember when coconut oil was going to save us all? I’m not sure it’s happened yet, given that the world needs saving more now than ever before. If you’ve doubted that coconut oil is a miracle product, this podcast will be music to your ears. If you’re like me, and love coconut purely for reasons of greed and culinary usefulness, you might be interested in this week’s Three Ways With… column, which features three delectable recipes for coconut in various forms (including oil, though it is most definitely not a recipe with any health claims).

I make no health claims for the following recipe either, except to say that making – and eating – it makes me extremely happy. Since happiness is closely related to wellness, I think I can justifiably say that a slice of this is very good for you.

Spicy Persian Love Cake
This recipe is an adaptation of Sam Mannering’s Persian Love Cake, which seems itself to be adapted from an internet-famous recipe by Australian chef Gerard Yaxley. I was inspired to make this version after Karen Dennison of Coyo sent me some of her wares to try. While Coyo’s chocolate coconut yoghurt is outrageously good (rich, yet with a tangy finish) and the passionfruit one is lovely, I was most taken with the chai version, which is made with Hakanoa ginger syrup. To stop myself from eating through a tub in one go, I turned the rest into this just-as-addictive cake.

1/2 cup dried dates
1/2 cup walnut halves (about 40g)
1 1/2 cups whole almonds (about 200g)
1 scant cup lightly packed brown sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup Coyo Chai coconut yoghurt
finely grated zest of two oranges

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm tart tin (or springform cake tin).
Soak the dates in boiling water for five minutes, then drain.
Put the nuts in a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs. Add the dates, sugar and butter and whiz again until well combined. Press half of this mixture evenly into the prepared tin, creating a 1cm-ish rim at the sides.
Add the egg, yoghurt and orange zest to the remaining mixture in the food processor and whiz again until smooth. Carefully pour this mixture into the tin.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the top is dark golden and the middle is just set (it will continue to firm up as it cools). Cool on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut into thin wedges – a little goes a long way – and serve with more yoghurt or whipped cream. Any leftovers keep well in the fridge.

How do you feel about the so-called healing powers of coconut?