Monday, March 30, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 3: Banana blossom salad with tofu, coconut and other yummy things

I couldn't help noticing how many Auckland home gardens have a banana plant flowering at this time of the year, and I always wonder how many people actually eat their bananas, or their blossom.
Well, the bananas are delicious once they are ripe, and the blossoms.... truly special! I already have a couple of recipes here, (Noodles with banana flowers and a step by step banana blossom and potato salad), and yesterday I finally picked this year blossom and decided on an aromatic salad with fresh coconut flesh and tofu.

Cut the blossom and discard all the pink leaves and little flowers (they can be eaten too if you like, but the blossom is my favourite part).

Prepare a bowl with cold water and plenty of lemon juice, then cut the blossom into very thin strips and place in the lemon water as soon as you cut each slice. The centre of the blossom is made up of more little flowers like the ones above, just more tender, they will cut into small pieces as you slice the blossom. The lemon water will prevent the banana blossom to turn brown, but also will take away that sticky tangy taste. Leave in the lemon water for at least 30 minutes.

Keep the pink petals for decorations, or for 'plates' for your salad.

After 30 minutes (or more) drain the banana blossom and rinse well under cold running water, shake the water off and place into a bowl. Add a finely chopped shallot, and some finely cut capsicum or chili. I had three small black capsicums from my garden, a little hot but not too much, so I used those. Add soy sauce and lime juice (about two to one) and a tsp of coconut sugar (or other sugar).

Stir well, this is the marinade. I added a few leaves of Vietnamese mint and then fitted another bowl over the marinade, with a weight.

Like this. This way the vegetables get pressed and 'cook' in the marinade. Stir from time to time to make sure that all the veggies are well pressed. Leave for at least 3 hours.

In the meantime I prepared the 'sweet' ingredients to add to the salad, using what I had: a couple of grated carrots, a few boiled green beans and a fresh coconut. For the coconut, make a hole and drain the water, then break the coconut with a machete and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Rinse well.

Before serving I added the carrots, beans and coconut to the marinated vegetables and stirred well. The contrast of textures and flavours made this salad very special, perfect to accompany soft tofu, but also good to dress hot noodles (so you don't waste all that yummy marinade).
Well, I hope this was interesting for you to read, of course you don't need coconut of tofu or anything fancy, carrots and/or cucumber can suffice, and if you don't have shallots use onions... the only things that are really essential in my opinion are lemon and/or lime juice and soy sauce, for the rest just improvise and you will be able to say that you ate a banana blossom too!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 27, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 2: Mont Blanc with chestnut cream and chickpeas

The lockdown for me is a chance to clean up the pantry, instead of concentrating in stocking up with too much food. I always have a full pantry anyway, one of the advantages of leaving a bit out of town perhaps, but also many bags a quarter full that beg to be finished, or cans of food kept in the emergency kit which need rotating anyway. I found a can of sweet chestnut spread which I bought ages ago, I usually combine it with fresh chestnuts or canned chestnuts (not sweet) but I had none. I have plenty of chickpea cans though, and chickpeas are good for making desserts too! Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco, is one of my favourite desserts, Mum used to make it a lot when I was a child because we have a chestnut wood in Italy, and the nuts were our staple all winter long. 

Drain the chickpeas and keep the water aside. This can be used to make vegan meringues (recipe here), or vegan fresh pasta (recipe here), or many other recipes. Then rinse the chickpeas under running water and mush them with the nutri-bullet (not as fine like hummus, leave a little 'texture'. Combine with the chestnut spread and some grated dark chocolate (to taste). The chestnut spread is soo sweet that you won't need to add any sugar.

Mix well, then whip 300 ml of cream and add half to the mixture, one spoon at the time.
Vegans can use coconut cream, like in this recipe here!

Fold the cream in slowly, trying to keep the mixture light.

Like this.

Now spoon the mixture over a plate and shape like a mountain.

Cover with the remaining cream,

Top with more grated dark chocolate,

And decorate, if you like. I used my last blueberries and the first Cape Gooseberries from the garden, and some candied Poppies (recipe here).

Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Delicious, lots of proteins, gluten free and no cooking required, and no guessing that there are chickpeas there!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 1 - homemade Vegan meat

We are preparing to go to lock-down due to the spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand, this is a sad and difficult situation, and supermarket shelves often are bare of some essentials. So I will try to do a few posts with tips about cooking with ingredients that may actually be available (or am I the only one buying them?), are affordable, and go a looooong way. For example, the other day there was no flour or yeast to be found, except for some specialty flours, like corn or coconut or gluten .... one of my essentials, which I always have at home. Actually, I had these packets pictured above in the pantry already, and it seems that the packaging has recently changed, you can see it here

I usually add a little gluten flour to my pizza, focaccia and bread dough, but there is another use for this wonderful product: you can make your own vegan meat at home!!!

Easy to make, low cost and versatile, with a 500g pack (about $7.00, the new packs are 300g, listed at $4.79 in Countdown) you get about 1kg or more of finished product' and can eat for days and days and days. I like to make 'fillets' and strips, suitable for different uses. Put the gluten flour in a bowl and add seasoning (a little salt, or herbs, or what you like, even a little olive oil if you like it 'fatter'. Then add the same amount of water and mix with one hand until you get an elastic dough. Squeeze out any excess water (usually just a little if none) and set aside for 10 minutes. Cut into very thin slices with a serrated knife.

Or use scissor for thinner strips.

Place one slice at the time in a large pot of simmering vegetable broth (use plenty of broth for 500g of gluten flour, as it makes many slices and they will grow while simmering). Cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

When the 'meat' is ready pick up piece by piece and place on a couple of clean cotton tea towels to dry for 10-20 minutes. Now it is ready to use for you favourite recipes (use the remaining stock to make soup, it is perfect for ramen!!!). If you are not using it straight away place in a sealed glass or plastic container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks (or freeze for longer periods). 

When you need a few slices just take out and sauté with a little oil in a skillet. One of my favourite uses is to brown the slices on both sides and then add some lemon juice and soy sauce and put them in a panino, or on top of rice or ramen noodles. For a smoky flavour substitute soy sauce and lemon for liquid smoke, for a mediterranean flavour, sauté in olive oil flavoured with garlic cloves, rosemary and/or sage, then sprinkle with salt (and lemon juice, if you like). Pizzaiola style: olive oil and garlic, then add some tomato paste, a little water to mix, salt and dried oregano. Add to stews and curries, cut into strips for a stir-fry (perhaps with some sesame oil, or chili), use to top bowls of noodles... this Vegan meat, also known as seitan, is super versatile, and also very filling (remember, pure gluten after all, you only need a few slices at time, just like for meat). Enjoy!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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