Our defence against corona virus is stepping up here in Australia, but I can see so much to be grateful for. Events, sports and activities are being cancelled all around us and we’ve begun social distancing, though in many ways I think we’re the lucky ones in the southern hemisphere. It is early autumn and the weather is glorious! If we are fortunate enough to have a backyard and a garden, now is the time to give it some love, plant veggies, get that project happening you’ve long had on your list. Not only the circumstances but the weather is made for it …
Renovation and home maintenance tasks are calling too, as two friends tell me they are thinking about buying tins of paint. Now also happens to be one of the best times of year for camping, which doubles as social isolation, though that isn’t selling it. And while people freak out at the supermarket over staples like passata and tinned tomatoes – all of which are mostly imported – now is actually our glut season for summer produce. Unlike people living through winter and early spring in the northern hemisphere, we have the opportunity to get ourselves a box of local tomatoes and have a go at creating our own stash.
Making passata or bottled whole/diced tomatoes is pretty simple, good for the environment, and gives you new skills and ways to feel empowered. My family made our first passata about three years ago and now it’s a mainstay on the calendar. I call it quality family time as we set all else aside and unite. The kids gets involved in the fun parts, then inevitably wander off to do their own thing while my husband and I do the rest. Dinner on passata day is always incredible! And when you gaze at your full jars over the following days, you feel smug in the best of ways.
Tomato bottling aside, now also feels like the right time to be cooking and eating lots of vegetables. The other side of the world is looking at pulses and winter produce, but we are in the thick of the best harvest season of the year with variety and abundance at our fingertips.
Here is a cucumber dish I’ve been making for years, which has now risen up to virtual equal billing with Chinese smashed cucumber salad in our house. We’ve just had a super month of cucumbers from our garden, sadly coming to an end (but yipee, beans and zucchini are kicking in!)
P.S. My family is also intending to support local restaurants while we can and while our risk is low (we have no major health issues, and there is no corona virus in our local community). Some people probably consider this reckless, but I think we need to help these businesses survive if we are in the position to? My heart is going out to those in hospitality and retail right now.
Nepali cucumber salad with sesame and spices
Last week I ran my first ever cooking class! It was a summer class at a local community centre, created on the back of my Summer book (there will be classes for the other seasons too). Some of the recipes came from the book or this blog, but I tweaked and wrote up this particular one especially for the class. Participants loved it! What always excites me, and what my books showcase, is unearthing interesting global ways with seasonal produce. The ingredients and process in this salad led to lots of great discussion, and when I poured over the turmeric-stained oil a murmur ushered around.
While from Nepal, this salad will suit almost any Indian or Middle Eastern meal. Never mind if you don’t have any nigella seeds or sichuan peppercorns (a relative of the sichuan peppercorn grows in Nepal, interestingly), because the dish will still be delicious without. And if you don’t have fresh coriander, I’ve found mint is great too.
I didn’t eat this in Nepal when I travelled there 20 years ago, but found it in a cookbook by one of my favourite authors, and later realised it also appears in a small cookbook I did bring home from Nepal. Cucumbers are different there: big and brown, needing peeling and deseeding. Sometimes the cucumber pieces are even dried out in the sun and this salad is made as a pickle/preserve – kankro achar. This is my fresh version using Lebanese cucumbers.
4 Lebanese cucumbers
1½ tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
1½ tablespoons natural yoghurt
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil (mustard oil to be authentic)
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
1/8 teaspoon chilli powder
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
handful of coriander (cilantro), lower stems removed, finely chopped
lemon or lime to taste
Trim the ends off the cucumbers, and cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Slice each half into 3 long sticks. Cut the sticks into halves or thirds, giving you chunky cucumber batons. Place in a bowl.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until golden, then tip them into a mortar. Toast the cumin seeds in the hot pan until aromatic, then add to the sesame. Do the same with the sichuan peppercorns. Grind up the sesame and spices, then tip this onto the cucumbers. Also add the yoghurt and salt and mix well.
Heat the oil in the frying pan and add the nigella seeds. Let them fizz in the oil for about 20 seconds before adding the chilli and turmeric. Briefly swirl the spices through the oil, then tip this over the cucumbers, scraping out any lingering oil and spices. Add the coriander to the cucumbers and mix it all together well. Taste, and add extra salt and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice as desired.