'Everybody loves peas. East and west, it's the world's favourite vegetable. Peas were the first vegetable to be canned, the first to be frozen. They are the gourmet's delight... and the only green vegetable that most children will eat.'
Legend has it that when the Britons went into battle against the Saxons in the year 633, the Welsh soldiers wore a leek on their helmets as a distinguishing emblem. To the pride of their king, victory would be theirs.
In the 1970s, my very best girlfriend was a lass I had worked with for years, and one of the things I liked about her was that she was just as quirky as me, if not more. We shared a love of food and our lunchtimes turned into 'hunt and gather' adventures of sorts, that included walking miles for whatever flavours took our fancy that day.
Pepper is a universal spice which was once more highly prized in trade than any other. The pungent berries have been used throughout history as a culinary ingredient, healing substance and digestive stimulant, and also as an aphrodisiac! In cooking, peppercorns are used in kitchens around the globe to enhance savoury and sweet dishes alike.
As ANZAC Day approaches on April 25, we are reminded that sprigs of fresh rosemary are pinned to lapels symbolising remembrance of the WWI soldiers who lost their lives at Gallipoli. Lest we forget.
I am reminded, too, that in my childhood whenever my family attended occasions such as weddings and funerals, there was always a doorman greeting guests with a tiny bunch of rosemary tied with a white ribbon and pearl topped pin.
'Pomegranate trees are spectacular. There was a beautiful one in our garden with perfectly balanced branches, spreading out like wings. We could see it from the living room, framed by the window like a beautiful painting. The tree changed dramatically through the seasons, from falling leaves, to snow-covered twigs, then dark pink blossoms and finally green and lush, dotted with crimson globes that dangled elegantly from its branches like earrings. On lazy summer afternoons we would sit in its shade, drinking hot fragrant tea and feeling the tree's presence as if it were one of our ancestors.'
If there is one fruit I wish I had come to know earlier in my life, it is the pomegranate. I am in awe reading Yotam Ottolenghi's vivid recollections of his mother bringing home pomegranates from the market. At the age of five, he and his three year old brother would be 'stripped and banished outside' to the patio where they would 'squat like monkeys' to strip the fruit of its juice and seeds.
'There's a pomegranate stand in virtually every neighbourhood in Tehran' and they are the 'equivalent of Starbucks' according to Iranian-American chef and author, Ariana Bundy. In Pomegranates and Roses, her family memoir and collection of Persian recipes, Ms Bundy says 'The bright red fruits are piled high, with just a little window for the seller, who pokes his head out to serve you with fresh [pomegranate] juices and pastes.'
Food history tells us that pomegranates have been savoured since ancient times and it's written that the first sherbet was snow flavoured with the juice of the fruit! Homer mentioned pomegranate trees in verses in The Odyssey (800 BC); and in his musings on orchards in springtime, 13th century Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, wrote of 'sweethearts in the pomegranate flowers'.
'I could not exist for more than a few days without cooking some eggplant,. And yet for many cooks this is one of the most mysterious of vegetables.'
Eggplants are in abundant supply at farmer's markets and greengrocers, hence they have centre stage on my kitchen bench at present. I am particularly taken with the heirloom varieties, such as the Rosa bianca, which I've been buying direct from a grower. Stephanie Alexander reminds us of the versatility of eggplants, both in terms of size (from the tiny Thai eggplant through to the larger ones almost the 'size of a butternut pumpkin') and in the way they can be prepared. Eggplant can be fried, battered, au gratin, grilled, stuffed. stewed, pureed, mashed or baked. In The Cook's Companion, Ms Alexander offers a classic recipe for smoky eggplant puree, preferably cooked over a camp fire, she says. The flavoursome puree is perfect as the base for baba ghanoush.
In Seasonal, Stefano Manfredi writes that Italians like to 'pickle eggplant in long strips, keeping them a little crunchy.' He recommends pairing them with tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum, onion, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, yoghurt, lamb, haloumi and parmesan, among other diverse ingredients. In his recipe for eggplant baked with tomato, parmesan and oregano, Manfredi cuts the eggplant lengthwise into a fan shape, leaving the top of the stem intact, then brushes it with olive oil and slips slices of tomato in between the sliced 'leaves' of the eggplant. Sprinkle with parmesan and baked for 25 minutes until tender in a 190 degree C oven.
I've been experimenting with a number of eggplant dishes over the last two weeks, including versions of a Middle Eastern classic of sliced, roasted eggplant served with yoghurt, saffron and pomegranate by both Yotam Ottolenghi and Claudia Roden. I will share with you my take on the recipe as soon as I have 'nailed the flavours' and once locally grown pomegranates are more readily available. In the meantime, you might enjoy my eggplant stack or chargrilled eggplant with tomato, basil and garlic.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
Join me as I share with you my favourite recipes; postcards and morsels from my travels; conversations with cookery writers
and chefs; and news on food, cookbooks
- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.