Lunch Today: Wheat Berry Sweet Potato Salad

with Za’atar and Roasted Garlic Dressing

A full 24 hours of travel awaits me and I couldn’t be more excited.

Flying over an ocean and a whole country to get to the people I love the most, is a small price to pay.

Not to brag or anything, but I’m a good flyer. I kind of love it. I mean, I don’t loooove sitting in the same spot for 12 hours. But I like airports, buying new books and magazines and in-flight entertainment. I like the excitement of going somewhere. Somewhere new or old. Loved or unknown. It’s a thrill.

And going back to New York tomorrow might be one of my biggest thrills yet. We moved to the other side of the world 8 months ago and I’ve missed my side every minute since. Missed my people, mostly.

And now I am bursting with happiness in anticipation of touching down in JFK.

New York or bust.

Za’atar and Roasted Garlic Dressing
– 4-6 cloves roasted garlic (I used 4 abnormally large cloves)
– salt
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 tablespoon za’atar
– 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

To roast garlic: Heat oven to 200 C/ 400 F. Chop off the woody bottom of a head of garlic and place on an oiled piece of foil. Wrap the foil around the head of garlic and roast for 30-40 minutes until the cloves are golden and soft.

Squeeze garlic out of the husks and mash up with a pinch of salt. Place olive oil in a small pan over a medium-low heat. Heat until oil is warm but don’t boil. Stir in za’atar and mashed garlic, remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes and pour in a small bowl. Whisk in vinegar.

Wheat Berry Sweet Potato Salad
(serves 2)
– 1 medium sweet potato
– 1 tablespoon za’atar
– olive oil
– 1 1/2 cups wheat berries, cooked
– 1 cup kale, shredded finely
– 2 tablespoons feta
– 1-2 tablespoons dried cranberries
– 2 tablespoons toasted almonds, roughly chopped
– 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Cook wheat berries: Place 3/4 cup dry wheat berries in a sauce pan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 40-45 minutes until wheat berries are soft but with a chewy, al dente bite to them. Place wheat berries in a colander over the sink to dry.

Roast sweet potato: preheat oven to 220 C/425 F. Cut sweet potato into 1 inch/2.5 cm chunks. Toss with olive oil and za’atar. Cook for 20-25 minutes until sweet potato is soft.

Mix wheat berries, sweet potato, kale, feta and cranberries together with the dressing, tossing well to combine. Top with chopped almonds and sesame seeds. Serve warm, at room temp or cold.


Spicy Coconut and Lentil Soup

It’s been a grey and rainy week. I’ve been caught in the rain three mornings in a row trying to go for a run. My umbrella’s all bent out of shape. I don’t want to leave the house.

What’s your favorite rainy evening ritual? Mine looks like sweat pants, bad tv (wuttup Revenge), a glass of red and a curry.

I don’t love the rain, but I don’t mind the excuse it gives me to get cozy, make something warm, and treat myself right.

I was impressed with this recipe for 2 reasons:
It develops a rich Thai flavor in less than a half an hour – if you’re craving a Thai red curry, this is probably a quicker bet than delivery.
It’s also easily adaptable for whatever vegetables you have at home. Asian veggies like bok choy, baby corn and snow peas are all at home here, but mushrooms, green beans, carrots, spinach and even sweet potato are all welcome too.

Spicy Coconut and Lentil Soup
adapted from Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf
(makes 4 serves)

– 2 tablespoons oil
– 2 tablespoons red curry paste
– 4 spring onions, light green and white parts thinly chopped
– 4 cups vegetable stock
– 2 cups coconut cream
– 1 cup red lentils
– 1 1/2 cups button mushrooms, thinly sliced
– 1 cup snow peas, trimmed and sliced in half
– 2 cups spinach, chopped

Heat the oil and curry paste in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add in spring onions and cook 1 minute.

Add stock, coconut cream and lentils and cook for 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes. Add snow peas and cover, simmering for 2 more minutes.

Stir in spinach and let it wilt down. Serve hot with rice or grilled flat bread.

Grilled Corn Salsa

The other day I was on the phone with my Mom and mentioned we bought some shrimp for dinner at the seafood market. She replied in her best Americanified Paul Hogan impression, “are you makin ’em on the BARBEEE?!”

None of my family have made the journey Down Under yet, so besides what I tell them, Crocodile Dundee, Men at Work and Shark Week are what their impressions of this country are based on. No biggie.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a barbeque to throw shrimp or anything else onto. We happen to have the tiniest balcony ever affixed to an apartment – so we won’t be making anything on the barbee until we get a place that can fit one. As soon as we do, I will be happy to perpetuate the stereotype.

Luckily! caramelizing corn kernels in a skillet with olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika takes the flavor of this salsa to a new sweet/smokey/addictive level. Try it! It’s way better than boiling the corn and a tad easier than firing up the grill.

Grilled Corn Salsa
Makes 2 1/2 cups
– 3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cobs or 2 cups of frozen corn, thawed
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
– salt and pepper
– 1 small red onion finely diced
– 1 fresh jalapeno, deseeded and finely chopped
– 1/4 chopped coriander
– juice of half a lime

Over a medium high heat, heat olive oil in  large pan or skillet. Add corn, paprika, salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring only once or twice for 5-7 minutes until the corn is golden. Take off heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes

Combine corn, onion, jalapeno, coriander and lime juice in a bowl and toss to combine. Serve with enchiladas, tacos, eggs, rice, etc.


Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Salad

One of the many great things about living in Sydney is the diverse range of Asian food available…of which I’ve not even skimmed the surface of.

While I’ve had my share of Chicken and Snow Peas from the local Chinese takeout and been eating sushi and sashimi for years, I didn’t try Indian or Thai food until I was 18. Vietnamese until I was 20. This stuff was just not around on Long Island when I was growing up and living near Little Italy in college didn’t help.

Now these cuisines are among my favorites, even though I still have a lot to taste and learn. My attempts at cooking them often fall short, but I remain realistically obstinate.

Asian food is never going to be 100% authentic coming from my kitchen, but being able to capture the essence of these cuisines is a triumph for me.

Warm beef over fresh vegetables, herbs and light rice noodles topped with a tangy-spicy dressing and crunchy peanuts. It’s the perfect balance of light and filling – with plenty of exciting tastes and textures mingling about.

As for the beef, I’m a medium rare girl. Here are some tips from Food52 for cooking the perfect medium rare steak.

– 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 1 tablespoon fish sauce
– juice of 1 lime
– 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
– 1 tablespoon honey
– 2 red chilis, deseeded and finely chopped
– 1 clove of garlic, minced

Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad:
(Serves 2 as a main)
– 250 grams/8 ounces sirloin or flank steak
– salt and pepper
– 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
– 150 grams/5 ounces cooked rice noodles*
– 1 large carrot, shredded
– 1 medium Lebanese cucumber, deseeded and cut into small sticks
– 4 green onions, light green and white parts finely chopped
– handful of torn mint leafs
– handful of coriander leafs
– 2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, chopped*

Place dressing ingredients together in a bowl or jar and whisk together. Set aside 1 tablespoon.

Brush the beef with the dressing that was set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pan over a medium high heat. Add beef and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side depending on the cut of your beef and how you like it cooked.

Allow the beef to rest for 5 minutes before slicing it against the grain into thin strips.

Combine noodles, carrots, cucumber and green onions with the dressing (reserving at least a tablespoon or two extra). Toss well to combine. Top noodles with cooked beef, herbs, peanuts and a little more dressing. Serve warm or at room temp.

To cook rice noodles: Pour boiling water over noodles and let stand for 2-3 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain the noodles while toss a bit of cold water over them.
Toast peanuts in a dry skillet over a medium low heat for 5 minutes until golden and fragrant.

Pumpkin, Black Bean and Caramelized Onion Enchiladas

First thing’s first! I need to clear something up for the sake of American/Australian food relations: pumpkin and winter squash are the same thing.

It’s called butternut squash in America, but butternut pumpkin in Australia. I often cook with Japanese pumpkin (like in this dish) which is also known as kabocha squash.

TomATE-o, tomAH-to.

Since I live in Australia now, I call it pumpkin. And sometimes I say ‘herb’ with a hard ‘H’. Assimilating – check me out!

I like to roast a small pumpkin or half a large pumpkin at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge to throw into salads, soups and curries throughout the week. It’s best to tackle this whole vegetable in one go (you need a little muscle to hack into these things, so it’s best to chop it all up at once.) Once roasted and ready to go, throwing together meals in pinch is much easier.

Pumpkin is my superstar vegetable. With its rich texture and sweet flavor, it’s filling but relatively low in calories, loaded with fiber and vitamins, and something special happens when you mix it with melted cheese. The pumpkin kind of enhances the flavor of the cheese. Like, cheesy pumpkin tastes more cheesy that other cheese-coated vegetables. Does that make sense?

That’s why it’s easy to trick children into eating vegetables by mixing mashed butternut pumpkin in with mac and cheese. (p.s. I’m going to be such a stealth/good mom.)

These enchiladas are the cheese-covered culmination of a few easy steps. You can prepare most of the elements ahead of time (the sauce, the pumpkin and the caramelized onion) or use what you happen to have in the fridge. If you have sweet potato, go ahead and use that in the place of the pumpkin. Or replace the black beans with lentils or white beans.

I like to make my own enchilada sauce – it’s easy and I usually have the ingredients on-hand. But you can replace it with a salsa that you like or a pre-made enchilada sauce. Go nuts.

Enchilada Sauce
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons mild chili powder
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium saucepan heat oil, add flour, smoothing and stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for 1 minute.
Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano, and cumin. Stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken and smooth out. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Roasted Squash or Pumpkin
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 cups squash or pumpkin (I used Japanese pumpkin), cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm chunks
– salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 220 C/425 F.
Coat pumpkin in olive oil and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until soft and slightly golden.

More hints for roasting pumpkin:
You can roast in larger chunks if it’s too much of a hassle to cut, roasting time will just be longer.
I always roast with the skin on. Once the skin is cooked it’s soft and easy to remove, but not at all unpleasant to eat. I usually just eat it.

Caramelized Onion
– 1 large red onion, cut into thin half-moon shapes
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 2 tablespoons water
– salt

Heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring for 5 minutes.
Add a tablespoon or two of water and cover the pan. Lower the heat to medium low and continue to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the pan is dry.
Cook until onions are deeply brown/purple (if using red onion) and jammy. Set aside or store in the fridge for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to two months.)

Pumpkin, Black Bean and Caramelized Onion Enchiladas
(Makes 8 enchiladas)
– Olive oil or baking spray, for greasing
– 8 tortillas (I used small ones)
– 2 cups enchilada sauce, divided.
– 1 can (1 1/2 cups) cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
– 2 cups roasted pumpkin
– 1/2 cup caramelized onions
– 2-3 tablespoons crumbled queso blanco or feta cheese
– 1/3 cup finely grated cheddar cheese.

Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F.
Grease a baking dish and cover the bottom with 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce.
Assemble the tortillas with pumpkin, black beans, onion and queso blanco/feta.
Roll  the tortillas and place in the baking dish seam side down.
Repeat 7 more times, packing the rolled tortillas tightly together in the baking dish.
Cover with the remaining sauce.
Sprinkle with cheddar.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and a little golden in spots.
Serve with corn salsa, fresh cilantro and a little dollop of sour cream.