Creamy broccoli and cheddar soup with cheesy chickpeas

I’m just back from Mexico where I ate too much and did very little. We visited a small bungalow resort on Playa Xcalacoco, a small local beach in the northern part of bustling Playa Del Carmen. Most days were spent poolside reading Zadie Smith’s brilliant Swing Time, indulging in beachside massages, lying in hammocks listening to the hypnotic crashing of waves, followed by a dip in the warm Caribbean Sea. Even as a native Sydney-sider, I’ve never considered myself a beach person. I generally loathe sand. But this trip, I realized how much I miss the ocean. The fearlessness of the sea, the never-ending horizon and bright skies made me feel completely at home.

Mexico is colour. Nothing is muted. Everywhere you venture, there are pops of vibrant hues to be savoured – brilliant red macaws, fluorescent pink flamingos, radiant blue skies, and courageously-bright architecture.  At one of our favourite eateries El Fogon, a little taqueria in Playa Del Carmen frequented by locals and tourists alike, the vividly painted walls are a jaunty backdrop to the famed al pastor, a Lebanese-inspired shawarma spit-grilled meat. Eating is lively and immersive, with sauces, tortilla chips and lots of small plate filling up tables, and music amplifying the air. I was so inspired by the complex-yet-clean flavours in Mexico – my new obsessions are a green ‘salsa verde’ made of parsley and mayo, habanero sauce, queso fundido and chilaquiles in green tomato sauce. Expect some Mex-inspired recipes in the months ahead!

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Back in Brooklyn, the weather is warmer than it should be at the beginning of March. This is always disheartening to me. While I love a bit of unexpected warmth, you can’t help but feel that the world is spiraling a bit out of control right now. So, despite the unseasonable warmth, I’m making soup this week. Because it is Winter, the season of soup. I just might be eating it in my tank top ;)

It is no secret that I have a MAJOR CRUSH on broccoli. I seriously could eat it at every meal. In this simple recipe, broccoli joins cheddar in a classic pairing, topped with addictive cheesy chickpeas. My daughter recommends a squeeze of lemon to the soup just before eating – she says it gives the soup a ‘lift’. I just nod and do as she says.

 

Creamy broccoli and cheddar soup with cheesy chickpeas

I used an aged cheddar but you could also use pecorino, parmesan or gruyere. The creaminess is from the tofu! No cream necessary.

Serves 4

  • 700g (2 small) broccoli
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 5 cups vegetable broth/stock
  • 200g firm tofu, crumbled
  • 100g sharp cheddar, grated
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • ½ lemon, to serve
  • handful parsley leaves, to serve

Cheesy chickpeas

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp grated cheese
  • pinch sea salt and black pepper

 

Cut the broccoli into florets. Retain the stalks, removing the woody outer layer.

In a large pot on medium heat, add oil and onions and saute for 60 seconds. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes, until soft and aromatic. Toss in the broccoli and cook for 5 minutes, until the broccoli gain a nice char. Add the broth and tofu, and allow to cook on medium heat, uncovered, for another 5 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the heat, and immediately add the cheese – the heat will melt the cheese. Using a handheld blender or food processor, blitz the soup until very smooth.

In a small bowl, add the chickpeas along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the cheese and stir to combine. Season with a pinch of sea salt and turn of black pepper. Heat a small frypan on medium heat. Once hot, add a small drizzle of oil and add the chickpeas. Fry for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan often, until the chickpeas are golden and crispy.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a few cheesy chickpeas, and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a scattering of parsley leaves.

Sautéed dates with cinnamon-roasted butternut squash, wheat berries and blue cheese

While it feels against the odds, mid-winter is often the time of the year when I feel most inspired in the kitchen. With the chilly air swirling outside, my kitchen is warm and cozy, the perfect place to hibernate for hours and enjoy the quiet lull of my oven.

This Winter has been a busy one in my kitchen. I’ve been cooking lots of Asian food, and getting to know many of the foods I grew up eating. This Asian food odyssey is all part of a special project I’m working on, which I hope to tell everyone more about soon. The project is an intensely personal one, a labour of love, as most of my endeavours tend to be. More on that soon….

Daily, I’m looking for big flavours at the moment. I am looking for huge contrasts in flavours that will shock my taste buds and make my heart race. The other day, I bought the hottest, fieriest kimchi I’ve ever eaten from Wholefoods which I savored like no other – super spicy gives our bodies such a welcome kick start during the Winter. The other ingredient I’m loving more and more right now is medjool dates. I’m usually not big on using dates as a sugar replacement but after meeting and chatting to the wondrous and beautiful Susan Jane White this week, and checking out her new book The Virtuous Tart, I think I’ve converted to the possibilities of dates in both sweet and savory dishes. Susan’s vegan caramels which she brought to our talk at Rizzoli Bookstore made my taste buds stand up and cheer. Predictably, I ran straight to the store and stocked up on dates!

Armed with my medjools, I have created a lovely, simple seasonal salad featuring big, bold flavours. Dates are on the extreme end of the sweet flavor spectrum, so I decided to embrace this and contrast them with one of the saltiest flavours I know, blue cheese. The butternut squash, roasted in cinnamon is a surprising aromatic addition. I have used wheat berries in this recipe, but beware – as a wholegrain, they take a long time to cook. If you are less committed to this lengthy cook time, opt for split freekeh, farro or pearl barley.

 

Sautéed dates with cinnamon-roasted butternut squash, wheat berries and blue cheese

Use your favorite blue cheese. Stilton or gorgonzola are perfect, and goats cheese would work well too.

Serves 2-3

  • ¾ cup wheat berries or farro, rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, skin removed
  • 3 cups (500g/1lb) chopped butternut squash
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 medjool dates, seeds removed and quartered
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • handful of flat-leaf parsley
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 100g blue cheese
  • handful of walnuts
  • sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 375˚F / 190˚C.

Place a medium pot of salted water on medium-high heat and add the wheat berries and garlic clove. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to low and simmer for 45-60 minutes until the grains are soft. Wheat berries take closer to an hour, while farro cooks a bit quicker. Drain and mash up the garlic with the grains.

Place the butternut squash on a baking tray and scatter over the cinnamon, season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, and drizzle over 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss everything to combine. Roast in hot oven for 30-35 minutes, until squash is golden and tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the dates and turn them for just 1-2 minutes, until they are caramelized and sticky. The skin will be slightly crispy. Remove from heat and sprinkle with a big pinch of sea salt.

Combine the grains with the butternut squash, arugula and parsley. Drizzle over some olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and season well with sea salt and black pepper. To serve, scatter over the dates, blue cheese and walnuts.

 

Twice-cooked artichokes with sriracha aioli

No matter how far or wide I travel, my strongest memories of wandering are always tethered to the foods that I have tried and savoured. I love stumbling into a city or a region to find that they are famous for a particular dish or ingredient.

Italy has provided me with some of my most memorable traveling food moments. In Puglia, where the wild, rustic olive trees command the horizon, I feasted on handmade orecchiette that the locals served with cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) and garlic, or fresh tomato with ricotta cheese. In Venice, stumbling through laneways will land you in a bacaro where you will relish cicheti - tasty little morsels of seafood, meat or vegetables - to nibble on with a glass of Aperol, Campari or Prosecco. While in Sicily, smoky scamorza, a stretched pear-shaped curd cheese, will add flavour to your pizza and pasta. In Verona, you may find yourself accidentally enjoying horse meat in a stew sophisticatedly named Pastissada de Caval (don’t worry, it was my husband, and not I, who unwittingly ate horse - he quite enjoyed it! J).

In Madrid, their famous sandwich bocadillo de calamares, a crusty bread roll filled with deep fried rings of calamari, is found on practically every street corner. In the south of France, we happily gorged on Carmargue red rice, savouring its chewy texture and nutty flavor. On the Turkish coast, I gluttonously gorged on manti, tiny dumplings smothered in yoghurt sauce.

The world, in all its bottomless diversity and wonder, never fails to deliver unforgettable food memories. When my family and I toured the Californian Coast last Christmas, we didn’t expect to find many regional food traditions. But as we drove down the 101, from San Francisco towards Big Sur and beyond, we noticed many roadside signs hawking deep-fried artichokes. My interest was piqued. A bit of research told me that a nearby town called Castroville, in Monterey county, calls itself the “artichoke capital of the world”. The town started producing artichokes in the 1920s when Swiss Italian immigrants enthusiastically planted not only artichokes, but also wine vineyards. Castroville even stages its own Artichoke Festival every year. This story resonated with me strongly. I have always adored the single-minded, intense celebration of one magnificent vegetable. But I also cherish this simple story of immigrants bringing such positive, enduring and delicious change to the American culinary landscape. Important to remember during times like these.

For the next two days, as we stayed in nearby towns of Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Luis Obispo, we did indeed feast on artichoke. Sometimes the whole head was simply steamed and served with lashings of olive oil and sea salt. But most often they were deep-fried and accompanied with aioli. Today’s recipe is my own version of fried globe artichoke. Rather than a traditional batter, I have used chickpea flour to gently coat the artichoke as I love the rich, nutty flavor. Chickpea flour tends to brown very quickly when fried, so I have briefly pan-fried them, and then roasted them in the oven to give them extra time to soften inside. I also whipped up a quick sriracha aioli to add a hit of creamy spice.

And while I’m here, I wanted to share some photos from this aforementioned Californian adventure. As I mentioned, we started our journey in San Francisco, and drove down Highway One, through stunning Big Sur. Big Sur is surely one of the most stunning spots in the world. The jagged mountains with dramatic drops into the Pacific Ocean just floored me. The whole Cali coast did remind us a lot of the Australian landscape - the burnished colours of the grasslands, the shape of the hills, the light of the coast and the azure seas, did make us feel like we were home. From Big Sur, we ventured to Santa Barbara where we stayed at the Montecito Inn, our favourite hotel of the whole trip. I didn’t know this prior to our visit, but Santa Barbara was the movie making capital, before Hollywood. Most of the movie production companies were once based there and Charlie Chaplin loved the area so much that, in 1928, he and some investors built the Montecito Inn as an upscale getaway. It was also the location of his 1943 wedding to Oona O’Neill. Today, the hotel is incredibly understated and retains its vintage charm. We loved it.

We ended our trip in Palm Springs. I fulfilled a life-long dream to visit Joshua Tree National Park, where the mystic allure of nature and the quiet air of the park really moved me. I am constantly grounded by the extreme beauty found in the American landscape. During these tough socio-political times, looking to nature, engaging with the world around us, and embracing the simplicity of just ‘being’, are the only tangible antidotes to the turmoil of bigotry and hate.

 

California, 2016

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Tartine Bakery

Tartine Bakery

The Mission

The Mission

Street portrait, Fishermans Wharf area

Street portrait, Fishermans Wharf area

Jellyfish at Monterey Aquarium

Jellyfish at Monterey Aquarium

Not to be missed, Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Not to be missed, Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach

Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Vintage Charmer, Montecito Inn

Vintage Charmer, Montecito Inn

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Cactus heaven, Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, Palm Springs

Cactus heaven, Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, Palm Springs

 

Twice-cooked artichokes with sriracha aioli

This recipe is gluten free and vegan. I used my favourite vegan mayonnaise brand Vegenaise, which is, in my opinion, one of the yummiest mayos out there, vegan or not.

Serves 4 as a snack or 2 can enjoy with extra salad leaves as a main dish

  • 4 globe artichokes
  • ¾ cup chickpea (garbanzo) flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1-2 cups salad leaves
  • sea salt and black pepper

Vegan sriracha aioli

  • ½ cup vegan mayonnaise such as Vegenaise
  • 1 large-ish (or 2 small) clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp sriracha sauce

Preheat oven to 350˚F / 180˚C.

Prepare a bowl of acidulated water – water with lemon/lime juice – to keep the artichoke from browning.

One at a time, remove the outer leaves of the artichoke until you get to the tender yellow leaves. Slice off about 1-2 inches off the top of the leaves, or enough to remove the tough tips. Cut them in half vertically and, using a spoon, scoop out the hairy choke. Repeat for both halves and place in the bowl of citrus water. Do the same with the rest of the artichokes.

In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour, salt, and paprika and mix well. Drain the artichokes and drizzle over the olive oil – toss to coat the artichokes well. Roll each piece of artichoke in the chickpea flour mixture until well coated.

In a skillet, heat the sunflower oil and when hot, add the artichoke pieces, one at a time. Turn the pieces until each side is golden. Place the pan-fried artichoke into a baking tray and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 15 minutes or until the artichoke is tender.

To make the sriracha mayonnaise, whisk together all the ingredients.

To serve, place the salad leaves on a plate and top with the artichokes. Serve the sriracha mayo on the side, or drizzled over the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.

 

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Overnight sourdough cinnamon and walnut scrolls with honey caramel glaze

Many significant moments have passed since my last blog post. Christmas in San Francisco, traversing wondrous Big Sur, falling in love with cactus and Joshua Trees, marveling at the magic of New York snowstorms, and experiencing an incredible women’s led uprising. Ah, what a time to be alive!

My family and I marched alongside 300,000+ of our New York neighbours yesterday. We jammed midtown. We stood for two hours with our kids, in one spot. There were too many people to march. Yet the mood was buoyant. We laughed at the witty signs, chanted and took photos. We marveled at the incredible, inspiring, powerful display of democracy. Often I have despaired about where America, and the world, is heading. What sort of world and future are we creating for our children? Can I raise my children in a country with a leader who is void of any of the values I teach to them daily? But then days like yesterday happen and my trust in humankind surges; I find hope and faith in our place here as part of the multicultural American landscape; and I find solace in this city's diversity, which I hold so dear. Together, we stand a chance.

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This morning I entered my kitchen psyched and powerful - and ready to make sourdough! Sourdough has become an obsession for me since last Summer, as I’m sure many of you have seen on my Instagram posts. My sourdough journey has been full of ups and downs. It took me three or four months to master the starter. I failed three times and it was not until I discovered the Tartine Bread cookbook that it all came together. If any of you are interested in making sourdough, I would highly recommend either Tartine or my friend Sarah Owens’s James Beard award-winning book Sourdough as good places to learn about the highs, lows and in-betweens of sourdough making.

These overnight sourdough cinnamon and walnut scrolls are one of the many recipes I have developed over the past few months to use up excess sourdough starter (in case you weren’t aware, you discard about 80% of the starter every time you feed it!). You need to allow the dough to rest for a few hours – between 7-12 hours. I usually mix my dough the night before and allow it to ferment on my kitchen counter overnight.  If you don't have your own sourdough starter, ask your sourdough-making mates for their starter discards. 

 

Overnight sourdough cinnamon and walnut scrolls with honey caramel glaze

 

  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small chunks
  • 2 ½ cups plain flour
  • ½ cup sourdough starter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and crushed (for topping)

Cinnamon Filling

  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¾ cup walnuts, toasted and crushed

Honey caramel glaze

  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream

 

The night prior to baking (allow from 7-12 hours), prep dough. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and cut in the butter(I use my fingertips) until it resembles chunky sand. Stir in sourdough starter, maple syrup, milk and mix until a soft dough forms. Cover and place in a warm spot for 7-12 hours (I leave it on my benchtop).

The next morning, or 7 or so hours later, preheat oven to 350˚F / 180˚C.

Combine salt, baking powder and baking powder. Sprinkle this mixture over the fermented dough and knead the mixture in the bowl until it comes together as a soft dough. This will only take a few turns – don’t overmix! 

In a small bowl, make the filling by combining the melted butter with the cinnamon and brown sugar to form a paste.

Flour your benchtop and rolling pin well. Roll out the dough into a ¼ to ½ inch thick rectangle (mine measured about 18 inch x 14 inch). Spread the filling evenly across the entire dough surface, and sprinkle over the walnut pieces. Then, starting with the long side of the rectangle, roll it up tightly. Cut into 1 inch thick slices.

Spray a large baking dish or tray with oil (I use my 3.2-Qt. Lodge cast iron combo cooker which has a 10.25-inch shallow skillet as a lid). Place the scrolls in the pan and bake for 25-30 mins or until golden.

Meanwhile, to make the honey caramel glaze, melt the butter in a small pan. Stir in the brown sugar, honey, salt and cream. Bring it the boil, and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 5 minutes, until glossy and golden brown.

While the buns are warm, spoon caramel over the top and sprinkle with extra walnuts. Eat warm.

Roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts with lentils and lemon coriander oil

Like a bear, I’ve wanted to hibernate lately. It’s cold out, and all I want to do is stay inside, bake sourdough, drink tea, and watch the twinkle of Christmas tree lights. I call it seasonal malaise. This is the feeling of discomfort that often comes when the seasons turn to cold. Met by shorter days, darker nights, crisper air, my mood swings rampantly, searching for new inspirations.

At times like these, I write. My mind feels full right now, with ideas and possibilities and I often can’t get my fingers to type fast enough. So who knows what may come of this. I’m thinking a new book ;)

With the holiday season in full swing, we have been lapping up the magic of Christmas in New York. It really is the most whimsical time of the year here. I love walking through the tourist-filled streets of Manhattan, bundled up in my warmest down coat, with a hot apple cider in hand, while taking in the makeshift Christmas tree stalls on street corners, the spectacular holiday windows on Fifth Avenue, oversized baubles adorning midtown plazas, and ice skating in the public parks.

The holidays are not the same without lots of Brussels sprout dishes adorning our table. Today’s recipe is a super simple salad, featuring two seasonal faves – Brussels sprouts and cauliflower – served with lentils and a zesty lemon coriander oil. 

 

Roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts with lentils and lemon coriander oil

Serves 4

gluten free and vegan

  • 1 cauliflower (about 1kg / 2lb), cut into florets
  • 500g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 250g puy lentils, rinsed
  • handful coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper

 Lemon Coriander Oil

  • ½ cup coriander (cilantro) leaves
  • 1 small eschalot
  • 1 small clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of ½ lemon

Preheat oven to 200˚C / 392˚F.

Place the cauliflower and Brussels sprout on a large baking tray, drizzle over some olive oil, and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roast in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes, until both are golden.  

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add garlic clove, lentils and season the water with a few big pinches of sea salt. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are al dente. Drain, but keep warm.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the lemon coriander oil. Add all the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. It doesn’t have to be super smooth.

While the lentils are still warm, add the lemon coriander oil and stir through until the lentils well coated.

To serve, add the roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to the lentils and toss. Top with lemon zest, a swig of olive oil and a final season of sea salt and black pepper.

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