featured article written for planet organic.
Christmas Madness in Summer's Kitchen
By The Sacred Chef.
As the seasons turn and we emerge again from spring's enchanted and energetically aroused embrace, we are once again warmed to the core by our southern hemisphere's hot sun. It is a sensual time of bodies exposed and a social time of being out and about. Eating food for its nourishment factor is not a priority, as in the colder months; it is more an adjunct to the pleasure of celebrating and relating.
We want smaller morsels of tasty victuals that delight & sometimes challenge our palates with extremes of salt & spice, amid the crunch of carbohydrate. Yummy things interspersed with cold draughts of refreshing drinks, be they soothing or stimulating substances. "Why is this so"? To quote the ever-present question posed by our own Socrates, the late Dr Julius Sumner Miller. What is happening physiologically within us to determine these seasonal and somewhat universal cravings?
Well, when we perspire we lose sodium and our bodies need to replace this salt to balance the ship - so to speak. Where do we find this necessary ballast to keep our bodily systems doing what they do best? In our diet of course, and this is where our love of snack foods is rightly in its element. Signalling that our changing desire for different foods is totally appropriate at these times, in accordance with the changing seasons. In summer we are often more physically active and therefore we are sweating and burning more calories and expunging mineral salts from our bodies. Now is the time to enjoy salty snack foods in delectable moderation.
Appetites, our conscious mind, our emotional brain beneath & our stomach - layers of being that interact in their own unique manner. We do not generally behave like astronauts or nutritional scientists, when we are confronted with a restaurant menu or the display in our local delicatessen, counting calories and phytonutrients like Dr Smith on the Jupiter Two. Rather, we are instinctively stimulated by desires to consume particularly yummy looking things.
Good food, like love, works better upon the poetic sides of our nature and it is often a dry struggle to maintain left-brain regimes, like diets. Can we afford to listen to our body's desires? Well, yes with understanding and an overview of what our bodies need at various times and seasons. Of course, we also need to slay the dragon of our psychological dependence on comfort foods, which can prevent us from really listening to the nutritional needs of our bodies.
What does this mean? Recognising habitual appetites for foods from childhood that are not serving you well nutritionally. For example whenever I am stressed or emotionally rort I may crave things like hot chips, sex, chocolate, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, junk food or the like. Why do I want these things? They may have, in the past, temporarily assuaged one or more symptoms of, "ah! I am an imploding bucket of yesterday's vomit over my mother/father, please shoot me kind sir?" Once I have ingested them will I feel better? No, usually I feel worse. They are leftover cravings from less conscious times in our lives that still have a real pull over us when we are struggling with aspects of our lives. Learning alternative techniques like meditation, yoga, self-awareness and the like will help you move beyond these oral fixations. Once you have garnered some space from these cravings you can return to listening to your body's desires for optimal nutritional direction.Another factor interacting with our ability to truly listen to our bodies needs is that of ritual.
How will you cope this Christmas? Is the coming together of family & friends a time of wonder & peace for you? What's on the menu this year? Traditional fare from generations past, or a break with yore to rediscover you!
The summer months fall, in our neck of the woods, during the high season of celebration, with Christmas, New year and, of course, my birthday. These heavily proscribed events (possibly with the exception of my birthday - 30 December) are times when what to eat, when to eat, and for how long, are virtually written in stone. The mish mash of festival rules that have filtered down through the ages to us, are an eclectic, didactic collection involving turkeys, egg nog, presents, Christmas trees, crackers or bon bons, mistletoe, sparkling shiraz, midnight, fireworks, kissing strangers and smiling a hell of a lot. Confused, indigestible in more ways than one, and often making it mighty difficult to listen to your body's needs.
It is a time of family, friends, and perhaps prayer to a God well supported by a Christian capitalistic economic megalith - at least here in the west anyway. It is one of the very few times when the state and church support us to lay down tools and take up glasses of good cheers to acknowledge the point of what we are working so bloody hard for anyway = family, friends and an abundant land.
Many people are confused at this time of the year because they are so completely out of practice at enjoying themselves. Perhaps not overly familiar with their families - "this is not my beautiful wife, this not my beautiful house" - which I suppose is why Christmas is regularly reported to be a particularly busy time for police and welfare workers. My advice, to ease this burden, is to begin slowly and be true to yourself, don't spend your time in that last minute shopping marathon, stumbling around a tinsel toe festooned department store, asking yourself for the very first time in your life, what your sister's new husband, whom you have never met, would really like for Christmas. Give up, forget it, and get off the spinning wheel in the materialistic rat's cage of life because you will not get it right anyway. Go home, have a drink & perhaps smile at your kids or partner.
What will you be doing this Christmas? Will you be sitting down at someone else's table or will you be dancing around your own kitchen in prayer for a tender bird or at least for the presentation of a sumptuous feast? Summer can mean hot times in the kitchen, often with the added strain of several seldom seen relatives out there in the living room staring uncomfortably into space. Again my advice is don't over do it, keep it simple, most people are there for the company and good cheer, not for elaborate fine dining. Our warm weather suggests small amounts of food that zing on the palate. Things like dips and exotic chips, marinated olives, grilled seafood, crudités, and finger foods of all persuasions, are guaranteed to please, especially when accompanied by a superior liquid refreshment. May your mantra be - relax, enjoy and allow it to happen organically, meaning don't impose too many uptight rules of engagement, give life a chance to unfold unpredictably, it's the secret to actually having fun.
Carbohydrates these days, are usually considered food types to be avoided, with many diets focusing on the complete omittance of these to the exclusion of proteins to assist with weight loss. However "polysaccharides" are providing a new avenue of research that is showing some very interesting nutritional results. What are polysaccharides? Basically complex carbohydrates and these carbs are in certain cases proving to be vitally important in providing essential cell nutrition. Which continues to indicate that there is still so much that we do not know about nutritional science and is why we seem to be receiving a great deal of supposedly conflicting information. Many of the recent studies into so called "superfoods' are putting these combinations of sugars (complex carbohydrates) or polysaccherides under the microscope to see what they do when absorbed into our cellular structures. It seems that certain combinations are more effective than others in feeding and repairing particular vital cell functions in our bodies. Research into polysaccherides is continuing today at Southern Cross University in NSW.
Shallow fried wakame with wasabi dipping sauce.
1 packet dried wakame rehydrated
500 ml canola oil for frying
30 ml sesame oil for frying
½ cup lemon juice
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp wasabi
Mix together tahini, lemon juice, tamari & wasabi to form your dipping sauce.
In a fry pan suitable for shallow frying heat up your oils & when ready add chopped wakame pieces for a couple of minutes until crunchy, drain on absorbent paper. Arrange around sauce in a ramekin on a plate.
Cassava or manioc root is an interesting source of carbohydrates, which is widely eaten all over the world, native to South America but also widely cultivated in Africa and numerous islands around the globe. It cannot be eaten raw, as it contains glucosides than can be converted to cyanide, but in the case of smaller cassava roots cooking is enough to remove all toxicity. The soft-boiled root has a lovely delicate flavour and is great in stews and soups. Cassava flour or tapioca flour is likely something you have tasted or heard about, widely used as a thickening agent in sweet dishes due to its flavour neutral quality. Cassava flour is also gluten free, making it an ideal alternative to wheat flour in many cases. Cassava is now the main ingredient in several lines of yummy commercial vegie chips that you can purchase in your supermarket. Cassava root is one of those exotic vegetables that you rarely come across, and personally, was one of my celebrated failures in my early days as a chef. Imagine if you can the scene, it is 1983 in down town Darlinghurst, NSW at the Rajneeesh Commune Centre, a young 17 year old novice cook is preparing the evening meal for 200 orange clad disciples of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Having earlier that day come across something new at the Flemington vegetable markets & purchased a box of these gingerish, sweet potatoish looking tubers called cassava, & with the brash confidence of youth, said "yeah I'll cook them up for the hungry hordes, no worries baba!" Well as an accompaniment to a tasty quiche I thought this would be a fresh not oft had delight. Upon pulling out of the oven, after 40 minutes or so, 3 large baking trays of these elusive roots I tried to put a fork into one of them and it was akin to an attempted penetration of a slightly singed piece of wood, straight out of the fire, the prongs merely bounced aside and the fire engine siren like message was, "warning highly inedible fare do not approach with mouth." The next evening, having survived my first encounter with culinary failure, I tried boiling the tubers and was rewarded with a stringy, gluey mess of grey fibres - that to me, was as far away from cuisine nouvelle (which at that time was the in thing) as possible. I surrendered complete defeat to the manioc root and left it alone for a very long time. Recently however, somewhat older and wiser, I have returned to a staple carbohydrate enjoyed by so many ancient cultures and with greater respect have begun to work with its many qualities both nutrition and culinary. Cassava roots do not keep well and need to be prepared and eaten within days of reaching market - a sacred root that belies its ordinariness and challenges one to have a go!
Bolinhos de mandioca e queijo
cassava fetta cheese fritters
500g fresh peeled cassava
200g fetta cheese crumbled
4 FR eggs beaten
1 tbsp chopped flat parsley 1 tbsp chopped spring onion
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
canola oil for deep-frying
Boil the peeled cassava for 20 minutes, then drain and let rest for 5 minutes in a colander, to make sure it is thoroughly dry.
Mash the cassava with a potato masher.
Add your cheese, eggs, herbs & onions & mix well.
Heat your frying oil in a pan. Shape the dough into dumplings.
Drop the dumplings into the hot oil and fry for at least five minutes.
Serve with a spicy roasted red capsicum sauce.
Pickled lemons are all about transformation, with salt being the catalyst for drawing out the bitterness from the lemon & leaving behind the wonderful piquancy that is the essence of lemon, a bit like good psychotherapy - where we do not lose the unique character but just the chip on the shoulder. Pickled lemons are a fantastic condiment to have handy to add to your cooking or to a finished dish. The complexity of flavour that a little pickled lemon creates really intensifies the enjoyment that your guests will derive from your food. Now this is the ultimate in slow food as it may take up to three months for these lemons to get really pickled. You will need a very big jar with a seal tight closure to hold as many lemons as you can fit, because if you have to wait that long you will want to do a lot.
12 med sized lemons
2kg rock or sea salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp whole black pepper
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp star aniseed
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
Take each lemon and make two incisions as if to quarter the lemon lengthwise but leave a couple of centimetres so that the lemon remains whole. Then mix your spices and herbs through the salt before packing this salty mixture around the lemons inside the jar. You will want the lemons completely covered by the salt before sealing your jar and storing in a dark place for its lengthy sojourn. You will notice after a few days that the salt leaches out the moisture from the lemons and that your jar fills with a brine solution, this leaching out takes the bitterness with it. At the conclusion of the pickling time you use the lemon peel not the flesh, as the flesh is very salty but the pickled peel is piquant and wonderful.
Warmed Olives in Chilli & Lime Infused Oil
3 cups black olives
1 sprig fresh rosemary
6 cloves garlic
1 piece ginger
2 red chillies chopped
1 tbsp coriander root chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Black olives, be they kalamata or another yummy variety, are so much better when warmed in an infused extra virgin olive oil. In a frypan add all ingredients & warm over a low heat for a few minutes. Leave it to cool down a bit before serving on a platter to great acclaim.
Oven Dried Tomatoes or Sun Dried Tomatoes
Cherry Tomatoes or small Romas will be best for this.
If you have a hot sunny environment, like the roof of some part of your home & can employ some muslin or the like to protect the tomatoes from insects & birds then go natural. Otherwise your oven will be employed for a long time & energy wise it is advisable to do a really big batch. These are so yummy & smell so good whilst drying that you just wanna do lots.
2kg tomatoes chopped into fine segments
Corn of garlic chopped rough;ly
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh oregano
Salt & pepper to sprinkle
Set your oven really low to around 80 degrees Celsius.
Slice your tomatoes in half or quarters depending on size but smaller is quicker, place on baking trays sprinkle with finely sliced garlic, chopped herbs & salt & pepper & bake or dry for around 8 hours . I personally think semi-dried tomatoes are the best but go for what you want. As I said the divine smell emanating from these will encourage you to leave them in the oven or perhaps not, it may be too enticing depending on your level of food passion & you will want to taste them on fresh crusty Italian bread with the finest extra virgin olive oil & your favourite cheese. Bon appetite
Sardine & Fetta Pastries
1 packet filo pastry
2 cups fetta cheese, crumbled
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
250g tinned sardines in spring water
1 cup Spanish onion, diced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp fresh dill
1 tbsp fresh parsley
2 tbsp butter, melted
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 180ºC. In a saucepan, over a medium heat, add oil, garlic, Spanish onion, capers, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in sardines, fetta, parmesan, fresh herbs and olives. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in fridge before wrapping in filo. Lay out 2 sheets of filo and brush with melted butter, spoon a desired portion of filling, fold into desired shape and brush outside with melted butter. Repeat until all filling is used, place on tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with tomato chutney or a tangy salad. Serves 4.
Appeared in WellBeing Magazine