Saturday, August 23, 2014

Making Channa Dhal: great vegetarian dish served three ways

Channa Dhal is a delicious, nutritious and versatile vegetarian dish. I recently cleaned out my recipe file and found this gem. Unfortunately I don't remember where it came from to give credit.  It is quick and easy to make on the stove or would work well in a slow cooker.

You will find the recipe below but first of all some serving suggestions to whet your appetite.

A simple bowl of dhal topped with plain Greek yoghurt and fresh coriander.

A steamed golden nugget pumpkin stuffed with dhal and topped with cottage cheese and watercress.

Your favourite green leaves filled with dhal, rolled topped with a tangy tomato sauce.  Suitable leaves are cabbage, silverbeet/komastuma red mustard greens, shown here. Whatever is growing in your garden. Bake until leaves are soft.

So are you feeling hungry yet? Here comes the recipe:

Channa Dhal
2 cups yellow split peas
1 onion, diced
grated ginger
minced garlic
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1 red chilli
salt and pepper

In 5 cups of water, bring split peas, onion, ginger and garlic to a boil. Toss in chopped cauliflower. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
Stir in the coriander, turmeric, garam masala and tomato paste. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until split peas are soft.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the mustard seeds, cumin and chilli for 2 minutes.
Add to cooked dhal and season to taste.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Perfect gluten-free, vegan vegetable fritters

I love zucchini fritters. Only problem: every recipe I find is full of cheese and fried in oil. After much experimenting I think I have created the perfect, vegan fritter recipe.

You have too many zucchinis? Want to hide some vegetables? Want a moist, cheesy tasting treat with no cheese, dairy or egg? Don't have any bread in the house but need breakfast, lunch, a snack?  Well, do I have a solution for you!

These fritters are:
  • Gluten-free
  • Dairy free
  • Egg free
  • Oil free
  • Moist and filling
  • Quick and easy to make
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (if you eat gluten, plain flour is fine)
1/2 cup polenta (cornmeal)
2 teaspoons baking flour
pinch of salt
150g silken tofu, drained and whipped
1/2-1 cup of non-dairy milk (I used almond)
vegetables of choice: leek, grated zucchini, corn kernels, cauliflower finely chopped, broccoli

Mix together dry ingredients. Stir in tofu and enough milk to make a wet but not runny consistency.
Stir in vegetables. Add more milk if needed.
Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Spoon mix onto pan. Spread out a little but don't worry if still heaped in the centre. Cook until the underside is brown. Turn and press down gently with your spatula. Cook until the other side is brown and the fritters are moist but not runny in the middle. 

Did you notice I snuck some tofu in there? This is another of my, if you don't tell them they won't know, tofu recipes.  Here's another you might like to try: creamy cheesy potato bake.

Serving suggestions
For breakfast topped with a poached egg
Lunch or snack topped with avocado, mustard or hommous and salad of choice 

Let your imagination go and see what combinations work well for you. Enjoy

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Three ways to test your soil and ensure successful vegetable growing

There are three simple tests you can do a home to find out more about your garden and increase your chances of successfully growing food.  These tests can be done anytime but tests 2 and 3 are great winter jobs as you have time to make changes before the spring and summer growing season.

Test number 1: temperature

A simple soil thermometer is a helpful tool to have in your garden kit if you, like me, grow vegetables. You will find many guides to growing vegetables will give you a temperature range to follow for each plant.  Soil thermometers are easy to find at garden centres or hardware stores. Insert the thermometer well down into the soil. You want it to measure the soil temperature not the air. Its winter here, 12 degrees Celsius in the air, 10 degrees in the soil.

Test number 2: soil type

Do you know what type of soil you have? The soil in Robertson is a lovely rich red and friable. Over the years I have added lots of compost and mulch to my beds and the soil has loosed up.  But how do I know if its clay or a sandy loam?

Take a clean, clear glass jar and fill with water to approximately the 3/4 mark. Take a handfull of dry soil and add to the jar. Shake well to break up any lumps.  Set aside to settle, this might take 10 minutes or so.  When completely settled have a look at the layers that have formed in your jar. Any soil that has settled to the bottom is sand, soil floating at the top is clay. The middle is silt. Which layer is the biggest? That's your soil type.

If you have a high proportion of clay you can break it up by adding gypsum.

Test number 3: soil pH

The pH of your soil is very important, especially for growing vegetables. You can buy a simple testing kit from a garden centre or hardware store. The one I have can be used many times. Your kit should come with easy to follow instructions. Essentially you mix a little of your soil with barium sulphate, the test solution and water.  The mix in your test tube will turn green or orange/red.  Compare the colour against the chart in your kit to find out if your soil is alkaline (green) or acidic (orange/red).  Now you know your soil pH. My booklet has a comprehensive list of the preferred pH for flowers, vegetables and fruit trees" they can vary a lot in preference.

The rule of thumb is that most vegetables prefer an acidic soil between 5.5 and 6.5 pH. Most nutrients can be absorbed at this level.  Now that you know your soil's pH you can either choose plants that suit or change your pH levels. Acidic soils have a low pH which can be raised by adding lime. Alkaline soils have a high pH which can be decreased by adding sulphur. How much you add depends on your soil type and how many points you want to raise or lower the pH. Formulas are easy to find so I'm not going to repeat them here.

Here's a tip that might help you test your vegetable garden effectively. Take an egg carton and mark out by number or description each garden bed on the inside of the lid. You should be able to just make that out in the photo above.  Dig a hole in each garden bed and take a soil sample from 10-15cms down. This should be truer to type that near the top where you will have a mix of mulch and potting mix from seedlings. Your soil needs to be dry before you test it so set your carton aside for a few days, taking care not to tip it and mix your samples.  When you run your test you can take a small sample from a specific bed, test it, record your results, wash out your test tube and move on to the next sample.

I made some interesting discoveries: the soil in my potato beds is completely natural for this area, as in no compost, and tested at 6.5pH. The soil in my other beds has been topped up with compost and tested between 7 and 7.5pH, far too alkaline for vegetables.  I worked out why: my compost had too much wood ash in it. I need to add a whole lot more manure to the compost and add some sulphur to the beds. I will add a little to the potato beds too as I suspect the soil may be a little depleted there anyway. I am glad I tested now so I can adjust the levels before the main planting season comes on.

So there you go, testing your soil is simple. I hope my explanations take out some of the mystique and help you feel confident to do it yourself. Happy gardening.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pickled nasturtium "capers"

I've always wanted to make these but thought it would be difficult. I was confused about what part of the nasturtium to use. So I took the plunge and can share some tips to assure you its easy. They have to cure in the jar for three months so I can't give any report on taste, not until late September, but you might like to check back in when I open them.

So, first of all, you need to collect the seeds of the nasturtiums. When the flowers die back the vine produces shiny seeds on the end of curly stalks. The seeds are actually a cluster of three or four.

I suggest you crouch down low to find them as they hide really well under the leaves.  Its easy to tell them apart from the flower buds, although I suspected that would not be the case. The buds are single and dull.

This close up shows the seeds in the bottom of the frame and a bud near the top to the right of the full flower.

So, once you have picked enough seeds for a small jar follow these simple steps from Sarah O'Neill's The Good Life: four glorious seasons in my country garden.

Add to a saucepan, enough white vinegar to fill the jar, two peppercorns per 200ml of vinegar, 5ml of salt and herbs to your taste for example bay leaf and thyme. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove stems from the seeds and break apart the clusters. Add to the jar. Pour in vinegar and seal. Set aside to cool and for the button to pop down on the jar.

Label and date. Store in the fridge for three months before opening and enjoying.

I hope this makes it easy for you. Lets chat again in 3 months when I break the seal.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Home from hospital and adjusting to my latest experience of life

fresh hues | color + inspiration

I'm home and recuperating from my experience of hospital. I am very fortunate that I was able to come home the same day and did not have to stay over.  I am sore and terribly tired but grateful to be home and well. I have the luxury of time to sleep as I am on sick leave from work, not that I would be of much use to them.  My powers of concentration escape me still.

Last week I wrote of my terrible fear of the ordeal ahead of me. I almost ran away when the orderly came for me, only the sense of manners instilled in me by my mother prevented me. Actually my manners were tested a few times, by nurses who didn't explain what was happening, by an anesthetist who asked questions but didn't listen to my answer, by the complete disregard for dignity that the whole process demonstrated.

It would be easy to criticise myself for my fear, dismiss myself as paranoid but I am glad I accepted my feelings and proactively prepared for the experience.  I am healing slowly but solidly and feel comfortable with myself and my emotions. I would highly recommend if you are faced with something that frightens you, as this did me, that you prepare slowly and diligently so that you may face it as best you can. It will help you on the other side.

I chose the above quote to say that I have embraced the experience as an opportunity to show others greater empathy through understanding.  Not that its an experience I want to repeat ...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Going into hospital tomorrow and feeling anxious

Its a big day for me tomorrow. I'm going into hospital for the first time since I was born. I'm trying and failing to see it as one of life's experiences that contribute to my wholeness as a person.

I have gone through a range of emotions since I found out I had to have surgery: fear and anxiety topped the list. Convinced I could not possibly survive I have sorted bills, super, lodged my tax return, sorted cupboards and generally kept very very busy making sure I would not leave a mess. I just couldn't contemplate going into hospital without my affairs in order.

Now on the eve of surgery I feel sad and quietly resigned.  I don't know whether my sorting has contributed to lowering my fatalistic anxiety or if is just the result of time. Time to consider, time to get more used to the idea.

This journey started months ago. Feeling quite unwell I went to the Doctor for tests, was given a referral to a surgeon whom I saw just for an estimate. He was ready for me and regaled me with a litany of horror scenarios, finishing with a story about people who cancel their admission appointments at the last minute. It was one of those, "you wouldn't be so stupid, would you" moments.

My appointment letter arrived, I notified work, family, friends and set about the business of coming to grips with the idea. In hindsight I wished they had whipped me in to surgery when I was feeling crook 'cos right now I feel well. I don't want to get cut into for no reason. Now it is more about preventing future sickness than dealing with a current problem. That is hard to deal with.

My surgery is really considered minor. Keyhole, although that is rather dismissive of the reality of four holes. People have been very kind and encouraging, although at least some must think me paranoid. No one has said so.

Well tomorrow is the big day.  I will hold my chin up high and try to be dignified about the whole thing. Wish me luck.  When its over I'll be forced to chalk it up to experience.


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