Is there any hope for unfashionable silverbeet?

If you’re a silverbeet fan, it’s my public duty to warn you that it’s going out of fashion. You’ll probably know this already, because silverbeet (known as chard in the northern hemisphere) is the party guest no one wants to talk to, let alone go home with. It’s the DBW (dull-but-worthy) stalwart of the vegetable garden or greengrocer: there in abundance but no one’s favourite.

In July, the chief executive of one of New Zealand’s largest vegetable growers said that they’d stopped growing silverbeet in favour of softer leaves that were easier to love. I was so shocked by this I investigated further, finding mixed attitudes to silverbeet’s robust nature. I was pleased to find silverbeet lovers among the haters, including the Two Raw Sisters (Margo and Rosa Flanagan) and food writer, photographer and stylist extraordinaire Christall Lowe. You can read the results here.

I think we need to change our attitude towards this humble vegetable. Isn’t something that’s packed with useful vitamins and micronutrients, grows fast, withstands most weather conditions and can be used in a myriad of ways exactly the vegetable we need in climate change times?

I reckon there’s lots you can do with silverbeet. I finely chop it for salads when other greens are thin on the ground, or shove handfuls of chopped leaves into any slow-cooked dishes. Christall passed on a genius tip for how to deal with a surplus: she chops up the leaves and freezes them, then adds them frozen to sauces and stews, or her beautiful boil-up.

If you’re faced with a family of silverbeet haters, try these silverbeet chips. In my household, it’s a sure-fire way to make a bunch of silverbeet disappear. Then – in the spirit of zero-waste cooking – you can pickle the stems.

SPICY SILVERBEET CHIPS

  • A bunch of silverbeet, washed and dried well
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Shichimi togarashi (Japanese five-spice) or chilli flakes

Heat the oven to 160C and line two trays with baking paper.

Remove any large stems from the silverbeet (use them in fridge pickles – recipe below), then cut the leaves into large, chip-sized pieces (they will shrink as they cook).

Put them in a bowl with the olive oil, then sprinkle over a little salt, and a generous shake or two of shichimi togarashi.

Mix well until the leaves are well-coated in the oil and spices, then spread them out on the prepared trays.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning the leaves over halfway through.  Remove to a rack to cool.  These are best the day they are made.

PICKLED SILVERBEET STEMS

These look prettiest if you use red or yellow stalks – but they’ll taste just the same as the white ones. This is a basic cold pickle brine, which uses a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. 

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Whole coriander seeds, garlic cloves, dried chillies, parsley stalks, etc

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.

Pack washed, sliced silverbeet stalks into a couple of sterilised jars  (wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). 

Make sure the stalks take up all the room in the jar, leaving about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months. They’re great in toasted sandwiches or eaten with crackers and cheese.

What’s your favourite thing to do with silverbeet?

OVEN-ROASTED KŪMARA WITH DATE, CHILLI AND CORIANDER SEED BUTTER

Conventional wisdom – at least in my household – is that there’s nothing better than a roasted potato. Call me contrary, but I reckon a roasted kūmara knocks a roasted spud out of the park every time. Even our dog, who has become a bit of a dietary fusspot in recent months, loves them (though, to be fair, he wolfs down plain, boiled kūmara too).

Here’s my new favourite way to eat roasted kūmara – bathed in sweet, salty, spiced butter. 

ROASTED KŪMARA WITH DATE, CHILLI AND CORIANDER BUTTER

There are lots of absolute whopper kūmara out there, but I think the smaller ones (about 20cm long) are best for this recipe. Choose the purple-skinned variety (confusingly, these are called ‘Original Red’) as these are best for roasting or turning into chips. Keeping the skin on means saving time and nutrients – just give them a scrub under the tap, trim off any hairy bits and dry them well with a clean tea towel before proceeding with the recipe.

  • For the kūmara:
  • 4 small red kūmara (look for the Original Red variety)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • For the butter:
  • 125g butter (softened, but not melted)
  • ½ cup finely chopped dates
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
  • A good pinch of chilli flakes or ½ a small red chilli, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200C. Rub the kūmara all over with olive oil and set on a small baking tray. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the kūmara are soft (they should yield to the pressure of a finger).

While the kūmara are baking, put the butter, dates, coriander seeds, orange zest and chilli in a small bowl. Beat until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside (this can be done in advance and kept, covered, in the fridge for up to a week).

When the kūmara are cooked, remove them from the oven. Cut down the centre of each one and dollop a quarter of the butter on top. Serve immediately. Serves 4 as a side dish (or serve one per person with a green salad for lunch).

Hot tip: if you don’t have or don’t fancy kūmara, take it from me that the butter is DELICIOUS on hot toast or crumpets. Especially crumpets that are a little bit charred at the edges.

Want more kūmara inspo?

Here’s a love letter to kūmara that includes some handy advice about varieties and growing your own.

You might also fancy:

Who wants some old-fashioned self-saucing chocolate and raspberry pudding?

In the depths of winter, one dessert reigns supreme in my household. On a dark, wet night (or even a gloomy afternoon with a chill in the air), one of us will generally say to the other, ‘I think it’s a night for chocolate pudding’.

They’re usually right – not much compares to digging a spoon into a molten puddle of old-fashioned self-saucing chocolate pudding in times of woe and bad weather (even if you have to make it yourself). It’s even better eaten as breakfast the next day. Here’s how to treat your whanau to a nostalgic treat that pushes all the right buttons.

CHOCOLATE AND RASPBERRY SELF-SAUCING CHOCOLATE PUDDING

Serves 4-8

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

This makes a generous amount, but there’s really no point in making less. Some tips for beginners:

  1. Make sure you use a large ovenproof dish, because nothing kills the ‘we’re having self-saucing chocolate pudding’ vibe more than having to scrape burnt pudding off the bottom of the oven.
  2. To change it up, omit the raspberries and add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes to the dry ingredients for a slightly Mexican-ish hint of spice.
  3. Add some roughly chopped dark chocolate to the batter – say, 125g? – and the finely grated zest of an orange to the batter.
  4. No raspberries? No problem. Leave them out, or subsitute some chopped prunes that you’ve soaked in rum or brandy.
  5. Need to make it dairy-free? Use a butter substitute and a plant-based milk.
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 ½ cups plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup milk 
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • For the sauce:
  • ¾ cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 ½ cups boiling water (or use 1 ½ cups boiling water, 1 cup freshly made coffee)

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a large ovenproof dish.

Melt the butter in a large pot. Remove from the heat and add the sugar. Sift over the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt, then stir in the milk and raspberries until well mixed. Scrape into the greased dish.

Sprinkle over the brown sugar and cocoa, then pour the boiling water over the top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the pudding has risen and feels springy to touch.

Let stand for five minutes before serving to allow the sauce to thicken. Serve with vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream (or both!). Leftovers can be eaten cold from the fridge or reheated in a low oven.

The ultimate autumn comfort food: really easy macaroni cheese express

Macaroni cheese is the ultimate comfort food, but I’m never in the right frame of mind to make it. This unconventional method is the answer – the pasta cooks in the milk, eliminating time and dirty pots. What’s not to love about that?

Once you’ve tried this method, you won’t look back. It’s best made with blue top or whole milk; but if you want to use trim, use 3 ½ cups of milk and omit the water. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, try this with goat milk. If you’re in Wellington, look out for Brooklyn Creamery goat milk, which comes from a farm up behind the wind turbine (I know, who knew?) It’s gorgeous milk, hyper-local and very fresh.

  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 220g dried small pasta (like elbows, macaroni or small penne)
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 1 ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 packed cups baby spinach
  • 1 ½ packed cups grated tasty cheese
  • 2 slices stale bread, crumbled or grated

Set the grill to medium-high and grease an ovenproof gratin dish (about 20 cm x 30 cm).

Put the milk, water, bay leaf, pasta and nutmeg in a large pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes until the pasta is al dente. It will seem at the start that the sauce will never thicken, but keep stirring, I promise it will happen all of a sudden.

Remove from the heat and add the mustard, baby spinach and most of the grated cheese. Stir well to combine and tip into the prepared dish. Scatter the grated bread and the rest of the cheese over the top.

Put the dish under the grill and cook for 5-10 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.

How to make Nuts & Bolts

In these trying times, it helps to have a reassuring snack at hand. If you want something to briefly take your mind off the woes of the world, I have the snack for you: Nuts & Bolts.

For the uninitiated, Nuts & Bolts are a highly addictive snack with just-about zero nutritional benefits. For me, they’re an important link to my childhood, when my great-aunt Makiri would make them as a special cocktail hour or holiday snack. Nostalgia is a great flavour enhancer, don’t you think?

Makiri was an amazing cook and I always imagined that she’d made up the recipe herself, but recent research has proved otherwise. Nuts & Bolts appear to have originated in the US in the 1930s and 40s, after a cereal company included a recipe for them on the back of the box. This sly content marketing has been used by brands for decades, but few recipes are as out-there as the re-purposing of breakfast cereal as a legitimate snack (rather than just eating them out of the box when no one’s looking).

Makiri’s Nuts & Bolts were intensely savoury, slightly spicy and impossible to stop eating. After much consultation with my cousin Dominic and a lot of trial and error, I’ve recreated a 2022 version of her recipe below. Nutri-Grain and Burger Rings appeared in the OG version, but I’ve also added chilli peas and spicy broad beans for extra kick (I like to think Makiri would approve).

Nuts & Bolts

Warning: once you start eating these it’s VERY hard to stop. This makes about six cups – I wouldn’t make more unless you’re serving snacks to a big crowd or you have impeccable self-control. If, like me, you haven’t eaten Burger Rings for 30 years or so, you’ll notice that they don’t taste like they used to. They’re included here for texture and nostalgia, more than anything else. Nutri-Grain (the brick-like cereal that has multi-sport athletes on the box) has actually changed for the better in the last decade, nutritionally speaking. Even so, please note that eating Nuts & Bolts is unlikely to improve your performance at your next sporting event.

For the dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups Nutri-Grain
  • 2 cups Burger Rings
  • 1 cup roasted nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts are all good here)
  • 1 x 100g packet spicy broad beans (I use the Savour brand)
  • 1 x 100g packet chili peas (I use the Savour brand), optional

For the flavourings:

  • 125g butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the oven to 125℃. Line a large, shallow-sided oven tray with baking paper.

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

Put all the flavourings in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir until melted.

Pour the melted butter and flavourings into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring well to make sure everything is well-coated. Tip the mixture out onto the prepared tray, spreading it out evenly.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving, or wait until completely cold and then transfer to an airtight container.

Nuts & Bolts – Aunty Pat’s version

When I was searching for Makiri’s original recipe my Aunty Pat (maker of Aunty Pat’s infamous Never-Fail Pavlova) shared her version of Nuts & Bolts with me. Aunty Pat reckons her recipe is better – and my in-house taste-testers definitely enjoyed it, but I prefer the baked version because it’s closer to what I remember. Please note the nuts are missing from this image because some naughty taste-tester picked them all out.

  • 300g Nutri-Grain
  • 350g roasted, unsalted nuts
  • 1 dessertspoon curry powder
  • 1 packet Creme of Chicken Soup
  • 1 packet French Onion Soup
  • 1 cup peanut oil

Put the Nutri-Grain and nuts in a bowl and stir well. Put all the other ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Pour this evenly over the Nutri-Grain and nuts, stirring until evenly mixed. Cover loosely and set aside for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Transfer to an airtight container until ready to serve. Makes about 10 cups.

Is there a Nuts & Bolts story in your family recipe archive? I’d love to hear it!