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?

Asparagus with mustard crème fraîche

Do you snap or cut? Peel or shave? The start of the asparagus season often ignites debate between cooks about whether it’s better to cut off the woody ends (gives a neat finish) or snap them (feels satisfying, but has high potential for wastage). Others claim using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to shave off any tough, stringy bits is a better option.

Personally, I think it depends on the asparagus; spears as fat as your fingers are likely to have woodier ends, while the very slender ones will need the tiniest of trims. Any ends you do trim off can be used in vegetable stock or – according to Love Food Hate Waste, because I haven’t tried this one myself – turned into asparagus stalk pesto.  

If you’re challenged in the kitchen equipment stakes and don’t have a deep pot (or steamer insert) to cook the asparagus standing up, try cooking them in one layer in a deep frying pan instead. 

ASPARAGUS WITH MUSTARD CREME FRAICHE

Serves 2-4

This is a fast way to dress up asparagus, whether you’re serving it as a side dish for four or a main course for two. The sauce can be made in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge for up to three days. 

  • 500g fresh asparagus, ends trimmed
  • For the creme fraiche sauce:
  • 1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with ½ tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 tsp freshly squeezed juice
  • ½ cup creme fraiche
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the asparagus in lightly salted boiling water until al dente – about 5-6 minutes for spears of medium thickness (skinny ones will be done in 3-4 minutes and their thicker compatriots will need 6-7 minutes). 

While the asparagus is cooking, put the crushed garlic, mustard, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl. Mix well, then fold in the creme fraiche. Season to taste with black pepper.

Drain the asparagus and divide between two (or four) plates. Serve with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

TIP: This also works if you want to eat the asparagus cold: just cook the asparagus until al dente, then drain immediately under cold running water. When the asparagus is cold, wrap it loosely in a clean, dry tea towel and store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Spring is a tricky time of year for salad lovers. In theory we should all be eating new baby greens and skipping about the place like newborn lambs. In practice, at least in Wellington, we’re as likely to be huddled over the soup pot muttering incantations to the weather gods. The following salad is my answer to this kind of climatic conundrum – it makes use of the things that have now sprung back into season (avocados, parsley, lemons), but it has enough heft to keep you warm on a less-than-optimal day. It also makes a great take-to-work lunch, even if it’s not warm enough to sit outside and eat it.

Pearl barley, lemon and avocado salad

Serves 4-6

Pearl barley is brilliant for salads like this as long as you remember to keep it in balance with the other ingredients – I can happily eat it unadorned but that can be a bit confronting for first-timers. I aim for a 50-50 ratio: 50 per cent barley, 50 per cent other things. Meyer lemons (actually a lemon-mandarin hybrid) are sweeter than ‘real’ lemons and have golden skin and flesh.

1 1/4 cups pearl barley

3 large Meyer lemons, washed

6 spring onions, finely chopped

1 avocado

3 big handfuls fresh mint and flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Put the pearl barley in a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap. Tip the barley into a medium saucepan and add 2 1/2 cups boiling water. Set over medium heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the barley is tender and has absorbed most of the water. Set aside to cool completely.

While you’re waiting, cut one of the lemons into small dice – including the skin, but making sure to discard any pips. Put into a bowl. Add the zest and juice of the other two lemons into the bowl, plus the spring onions. Peel and stone the avocado and dice the flesh into the lemon mixture. When the barley has cooled, add this to the bowl with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Fold together gently, then stir through the chopped herbs. Taste – add more oil if necessary and season well with salt and pepper. Pile onto a dish and serve. Any leftovers should be kept in a tightly covered container in the fridge. The avocado may brown a little but it will still taste good on day two.

The one secret sauce you’ll use all summer

Want a simple sauce you can use on just about anything? Look no further. This stir-together sauce takes about two minutes to make and enlivens all kinds of dishes. It’s good with cold chicken, as a side sauce for fish or prawns. You can also try it with very cold soft tofu or soft-hard boiled eggs. There’s just one piece of advice: don’t share this sauce recipe with anyone, or you’ll be drowning in it by the time summer ends. It’s THAT good.

Secret spicy sauce

The trick to this is using good quality curry powder. Other than that, there’s not much to it.

1 Tbsp hot curry powder

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

salt and pepper

Put the curry powder and lemon juice in a bowl and mix to a paste. Beat in the yoghurt and mayonnaise, then taste for seasoning – it may need a little salt, or a little more lemon juice. Store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Have a great weekend everyone x

Good Things: November 2015

“Guess what, Mum?” says the six-year-old, standing beside the bed at 6.30am with a book, a frisbee and a teddy. “It’s only six weeks until Christmas!”

I’m afraid she’s right, but I’m trying not to think about it. Instead, I’m going to focus on the nice things about November. If I concentrate hard, time will go slower, right?

I wanted to hate this book, I really did. I mean, it’s hard to love a cookbook – or indeed, any book – when the first pages are filled with young, bronzed people in their swimmers. But, all bias aside, it’s actually fantastic.

On the face of it, Bondi Harvest sounds like a PR dream. It’s the brainchild of two Bondi-based surfing mates, one of whom is a chef, the other a photographer and film maker, who decided to collaborate on some Youtube cooking videos, then a book. What makes you forgive the surfing palaver and the shots of people in bikinis is that the recipes are lovely, with a focus on fresh ingredients and gutsy flavours. I’m probably never going to frolic on the sands of Bondi while wearing a tiny bikini and drinking a green smoothie, but I am looking forward to making some of Guy Turland’s recipes.

Lots of people I know are still being struck down by unseasonal colds and other miseries – which makes Mother Earth’s new UMF Manuka Honey seem like a gift from the gods. Not all manuka honeys are created equal (and some are about as manuka’d as I am), but this one has been certified by the industry-supported Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. The Mother Earth honeys come in two UMF strengths, UMF 5+ and UMF 10+, with the higher number indicating a higher degree of purity and quality. Importantly, they taste amazing, with those rich, earthy flavours associated with manuka honeys. Mother Earth’s UMF Manuka Honeys start from $17.99 for 250g. 

As a proud Good Bitch (and baker), I’m very excited to reveal the gorgeous products the Head Bitches have created to raise funds. There’s a pair of teatowels (one of which features a top-secret ginger crunch recipe) and a gorgeous calendar, plus you can still get your hands on one of the exclusive ‘Baking Bad’ t-shirts from earlier in the year. All these things have got Christmas giving written all over them. Go on, buy a set!

Speaking of charity, if you’re wanting to do your bit for Movember but can’t find it in you to grow a mo’ you can always grab my neighbour’s balls. Go on, he’d love you to grab a pair.

These salted caramel balls are insanely addictive, all-natural, and a not-for-profit fundraising venture dreamed up by my neighbour (of Wellington-based food company Go Native) to raise funds for Movember. They’re $2.99 a pack, and a dollar from each one sold goes to men’s health initiatives.

Last but by no means least, I’m very flattered to be in the running for Best Kids’ Food Blog in the 2015 Munch Food Awards. You can vote in this category – as well as name and shame the worst kids’ foods – here.

Have a great weekend everyone x