Spring 2013

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EAT PULSES for a healthy pulse

hi-res-400Ever wondered what’s in a pack of soup mix? I’m cheating a bit because I have a pack in front of me. Ah, yes ... barley, peas and lentils. Now we all know barley is good for the body, and it also happens to be a key ingredient in beer making.

Dried peas (beans too) and lentils are what I’m on about this time around.

They are part of the family of plants which includes our green peas, broad beans, green and butter beans.

The seeds of many varieties of these plants, when dried, are called pulses. Our ancestors have been cooking with them for around 10,000 years, and they are a food staple in many countries.

There are so many varieties of lentils and other pulses, including red kidney beans and chick peas. They have different textures and tastes, and come in a range of colours: red, yellow, brown and green and shades in between.

If you’ll forgive the pun about pulses, they’re good for your pulse – they are a key ingredient for good health because they are high in protein, minerals, vitamins and fibre. They’re low-fat and low-GI.

And they’re cheap, so they are so good for your wallet!

Pulses are great for soups, of course, hence my reliable soup mix pack by my side. Use them in casseroles and curries, and they also go well in salads. My vegetarian friends use them as a replacement for that other protein, which to them shall be nameless. Ssssh ... I’ll whisper it ... meat.

Now a couple of tips with lentils and pulses: check their use-by date, seal in airtight plastic bags (squeeze out the excess air before sealing) and rinse them thoroughly before use. Check the instructions for whether to soak or not before cooking with them.

My mate Tony, the gardener, loves to grow beans and peas, and inside this edition he’ll give you a few tips on growing. But Tony harvests his peas and beans when they’re freshly grown, not the dried varieties.

PULSATING with goodness

You can buy pulses – dried beans, peas and lentils – at supermarkets and health stores. They’re so cheap and so healthy. Some stores sell them loose, but I prefer them ready- packed with the use-by date easy to read.

They should be eaten within a year of being packed. Once they have been taken from the pack, those you keep for later use should be placed in a plastic bag with the air squeezed out and stored away from light.

Some pulses can of course be bought in cans. These do need rinsing once the can is opened, but they don’t need soaking or long cooking.

It is important to check how much soaking of dried pulses is needed before cooking. Lentils and split peas need little or no soaking before cooking begins.

Most beans need soaking because of the moisture they have lost during the drying process. You can soak beans in cold water overnight, or speed up the process by simmering in hot water.

I always keep some cans in the pantry – especially brown lentils, chick peas and borlotti and cannellini beans. They are great for bulking up casseroles and soups, allowing you to cut back on that more expensive protein – meat!

And I admit to having a pack or two of soup mix, which always contains pulses as well as barley.

Have a wander among the shelves of supermarkets. Buy a few different packs and experiment. Hopefully you will go purchasing after reading some of my recipes.


KNOW your beans, peas & lentils

Chick peas: This is definitely one variety I prefer in a can, because they take a long time to soften from soaking (10 hours) or simmering (5 hours) before cooking. They are the key ingredient in hummus, a favourite dip from the Middle East. They have a lovely nutty flavour.

Lima beans: Delicious in salads as well as in soups and purees.

Cannellini beans: If bought dried, they need at least 5 hours of soaking in cold water. These cream-coloured beans are at home in minestrone soup; also great with canned tuna and for bulking up casseroles.

Haricot (or navy) beans: These are the beans in baked bean cans, but of course they don’t need to be swimming in tomato sauce to make nutritious meals. Also called navy beans because they were fed to sailors in the U.S. Navy in the 19th century.

Borlotti beans: These white beans with red markings can be soaked overnight. Great in salads and Italian-style soups.

Red kidney beans: A must in chilli con carne. Also great in hotpot and curry recipes.

Lentils (red, brown and green): No need to pre-soak the red variety, but they do need a good rinse and check for discoloured seeds. The green and brown varieties are a bit tougher than the red, but soften up during the normal cooking process. Excellent in soups and curries.

Split peas (green and yellow): Rinse thoroughly and soak before using. Great for bulking up soups.

SPLIT pea puree

500 gm split peas
1 onion finely chopped
olive oil
juice of 1⁄2 a lemon

Wash the split peas well and drain them in a colander. Bring them to the boil in 1 litre of salted water. Strain and rinse under tap water. Place the split peas back in the pot with a fresh litre of water. Boil until the lentils absorb all the water. Before you take the pot off the stove, add the onion, olive oil and salt.

When done, put them in a mixing bowl to make the puree.

SPLIT pea burgers

2 cups split peas that have been cooked and pureed
1 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly
chopped mint
2 tablespoons semolina
1 cup olive oil salt and pepper

Prepare the split pea puree and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Empty the puree into a large bowl. Into the same bowl add the onion, mint, semolina and salt and pepper to taste and mix the contents by hand into a pulp.

Form small burgers and refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a non-stick frying pan heat the olive oil and fry the burgers. When nicely browned, remove from the pan with a spatula and place them on a platter lined with absorbing kitchen paper. Serve them warm.

CRUNCHY lentil and fetta bake

375 g cooked lentils
1⁄2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1⁄2 cup wholewheat breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons mild mustard
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying
2 leeks finely shredded
2 carrots grated
1 egg
6-8 slices fetta cheese
2 tomatoes sliced
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 extra teaspoon olive oil

Blend lentils, hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, mustard and seasonings.

Heat oil in pan and sauté leeks and carrots until soft. Add to lentil mixture and blend with one egg.

Smooth into oiled casserole dish.
Place fetta cheese in rows over the mixture and arrange tomatoes over the top. Sprinkle with basil, parsley and oil. Cover and bake in a moderate oven (180C) for 15-20 minutes. Remove cover for the last 5-10 minutes to allow the top to brown.

CHILI lentil loaf

1 cup brown lentils
1 medium carrot finely grated
1 stick celery chopped
2 small fresh red chilies, deseeded and chopped
1 cup stale wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 medium onion chopped
1 egg lightly beaten

Grease a loaf pan, line the base with baking paper, grease the paper. Add lentils to large saucepan with boiling water, boil covered for 1 hour or until lentils are tender. Drain and cool. Blend half the lentils until smooth to make a paste, then combine all lentils (including lentil paste), carrots, celery, chili, breadcrumbs, onion and egg in a large bowl.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the pre-warmed moderate oven (180c) for one hour.

Rest for 5 minutes before turning it out on to a platter.

 LENTILS and bacon

150 g puy lentils washed thoroughly and drained
2 medium carrots
1 medium leek
1 shallot cut in half
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
50 g smoked bacon cut in small strips
2 tablespoons classic vinaigrette (see below)

Soak the lentils for one hour in cold water while you make the vinaigrette.

In a bowl add:

50 ml sherry vinegar
250 ml olive oil
50 ml peanut oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and fresh ground black pepper

Whisk all ingredients in the bowl until you have a light emulsion.

Drain the lentils, place in a saucepan with one of the carrots, the green part of the leek, half the shallot and bay leaf, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft but still whole.

Drain and discard the vegetables and bay leaf. Set the lentils aside.

Chop the remaining carrot, white part of the leek and remaining half shallot finely.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, when hot add the bacon and cook for a minute or until the fat is released. Add the chopped vegetables and stir to mix. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until softened. Season lightly then remove and mix with the lentils and vinaigrette. Serve warm or hot.

WARM lentil salad

1 cup washed lentils
1 carrot diced
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 large red capsicum
1 lemon
pinch chili powder
1 tablespoon chopped herbs, mint, parsley, thyme.
1 tablespoon vinegar
grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils, carrots, onions, bay leaf, 1 clove of garlic , salt and pepper in a pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are cooked. Lentils should be whole and tender, not mushy. Remove bay leaf.

While the lentils are cooking, place the capsicum under a hot grill, turning it over regularly until the skin is black. Cool the capsicum, then peel. Remove seeds and slice finely.

To make the dressing, place lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of rind in a screw-top jar, add chili powder, pepper, herbs, vinegar and remaining garlic, close lid and shake well.

Add sliced capsicum to lentils and toss with the dressing.

Serve warm with grated parmesan on the side.

LIMA beans in the oven

2 cups lima beans that have been soaked for 7-8 hours
1 cup olive oil
2 onions finely chopped 1 bunch celery chopped 2 cloves garlic chopped 1 teaspoon tomato paste 1 large tomato chopped 1 tomato finely sliced
1 teaspoon oregano juice of 1⁄2 a lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Boil the beans in a large saucepan of water for 35 minutes, then drain through a colander.

Pour the olive oil into a casserole dish, heat it then add the onion and celery for 3 minutes. Add the chopped tomato and tomato paste dissolved in a cup of water, oregano, garlic, sugar and lemon juice. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Spread the lima beans in a baking tray and pour the sauce over the beans.

Arrange the sliced tomato over the top and sprinkle with a little pepper. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 180C.

BLACK-EYED beans with fennel and spinach

2 cups black-eyed beans
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fennel finely chopped
1 cup spinach finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans in a little water for 10 minutes, then transfer to a pot of boiling water and let them boil for 25 minutes. Remove them using a perforated spoon and drain well in a colander.

In a casserole sauté the onion, fennel and spinach in olive oil. Add 1 cup of water and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and tomato, salt, pepper and a little water and simmer for another 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

BASIC dahl

1 tablespoon olive oil
11⁄2 cups dried red lentils
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped
1 onion chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
4 tablespoons chopped coriander
4 cups water or vegetable stock
2 cups chopped seasonal vegetables of your choice

1⁄2 cup fresh parsley to garnish

Heat the oil over high heat, add the lentils and spices, the onion, garlic, chili and ginger until softened.

Add the coriander, stock and chopped vegetables and cook over low heat for at least one hour (the longer the better). Stir in the parsley just before serving.


200 g chick peas that have been soaked overnight
200 g brown lentils
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon ginger finely diced
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 onions diced
2 bay leaves
2 sticks celery diced
1 litre vegetable stock
pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1⁄2 red chili diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons plain flour
juice of 1 lemon
800 g can crushed tomatoes
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley chopped
1 bunch coriander chopped
150 g vermicelli pasta

To serve with fresh crusty bread and fresh dates.

Heat oil in a large pot and fry the ginger, garlic, onions, bay leaves and celery until they soften.

Add 2 cups of stock and chickpeas and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the lentils, saffron, turmeric, sweet paprika, chili, cumin, salt, pepper and the remaining stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

In a heatproof bowl, gradually mix 2 cups of water with flour and lemon juice, then mix in the tomatoes. Place the bowl over the steaming pot, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

Add parsley and some of the coriander to the bowl, then add mixture to the soup, stirring constantly. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add vermicelli and simmer for another 5 minutes. Garnish with coriander and serve with crusty bread and dates on the side.

WATCH this space, Tristan’s had a race ... or two

tristan-300Young Tassie athlete Tristan Thomas has been flat out representing Australia at the world championships in two events. Time ran out for him to write his column on fitness in this edition.

But boy, has Tristan done well in Moscow! He reached the semi-finals in the 400m hurdles – a great achievement for our young red-headed streak.

And what about the 400m men’s relay! As the Mercury newspaper reported, “he ran one of the great relay legs by an Australian to single handedly pull the team into the world championships final”.

Tristan crossed in second position – passing three competitors on the final stretch. As the Mercury reported: “He nailed his German opponent on the line to finish second behind Russia.”

Tristan’s run guaranteed Australia a berth in the 400m final, but unfortunately our four-man team didn’t do so well there.

Olympic finalist and relay team-member Steve Solomon said of Tristan’s run in the semi-final: “It was awesome!”

And our Tassie boy was rather pleased too. He told the Mercury: “I wound it up and wound it right up coming into the straight. Then I looked down at the legs and thought, ‘How are you feeling boys?’ Luckily for me they felt all right.”

He added: “It’s like being a little kid and you write a fairytale and that’s how it all panned out.”

Tristan’s heading back home – he now lives at Canberra’s Institute of Sport – to have a breather. We’ll be reading more of his fitness tips in the next edition of Uncle Chris.

MARVELLOUS marinades

Try some of my marinades for dressing up your meat dishes. Remember, the meat should be taken out of the fridge about one hour before a marinade is applied. And the marinade should be brushed on the meat and allowed to rest for one hour before cooking.

WHISKY marinade

2 tablespoons whisky (or whiskey if you’re Irish)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Mix all together and brush on beef, pork, game or poultry

TARRAGON marinade

1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves finely chopped

Mix well and use on poultry and pork

MADEIRA marinade

2 tablespoons madeira (or sherry)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 finely crushed bay leaf

Mix well and use on beef, pork, game and poultry.

MARMALADE marinade

1 tablespoon marmalade
finely crushed rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Mix well and use on lamb

BEER marinade

2 tablespoons beer
1⁄2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano

Mix and use on pork or poultry

BEANS, peas and leafy greens

Cannelini and borlotti beansI love my baked beans. Most Australians do, I reckon. They’re yummy, nutritious and easy to prepare. Just whack ’em on buttered toast and you’re away.

But with Uncle Chris going all gourmet on us about lentils this issue, I thought it time I got a bit more creative with my beans. After all, beans and lentils are all edible seeds of pod-bearing plants.

In the case of my baked beans, they’re generally haricot (or navy) beans of the canned variety.

They were called navy beans because they were fed to sailors in the American navy in the 19th century. I certainly wouldn’t want to have been a sailor confined below decks after the crew had eaten a hearty meal of them.

Yet did you know you can grow haricot beans in your own vegie patch? Just sow seeds in spring in moist, well composted soil in a full-sun spot.

Once harvested and dried, they’re right for cooking.

But prepare to be confused. While they’re a variety of the common bean in their own right, many refer to a diverse range of dried beans as haricot beans.

What’s important, though, is that whatever bean you grow for cooking, you need to avoid those embarrassing Blazing Saddles moments (and keep your friends) by first soaking the beans for 8- 10 hours in a bowl of water.

This will reduce those bodily emissions.

With your own haricot beans on tap, you can go to town with scrumptious Italian- style dishes.

Just boil them in water until tender, drain and combine with what takes your fancy: a home- cooked tomato sauce, maybe some smoked ham hock or bacon, with fried garlic and onions and topped off with lashings of cheese.

But don’t stop at haricot beans. Go the whole Mediterranean hog and grow speckle-podded borlotti and shiny, off-white cannellini beans (they’re often easier to source). And they’re just as easy to grow and will have you cooking up sensational Italian minestrones and casseroles.

Again, sow seed in good soil that drains well and gets plenty of sun. Sowing is best done spring to late summer.

Store your cannellini beans in a glass jar and soak them overnight before cooking. You don’t need to soak freshly- shelled borlotti beans, unless they have been allowed to dry out.

Beans do indeed mean goodness, and if you’re growing your own you will also want those other Mediterranean stalwarts – and this is the perfect time to set up your own Italian kitchen garden.

Worth putting in are:

Basil: Italian chefs reckon sweet basil is the best because it boasts the flavour of summer and brings alive tangy pesto sauces. Sow in rich soil that gets morning sun and pinch out plants to encourage bushiness. My mate Jack spreads warm (but not hot) water around the young plants to get them started.

Tomatoes: Perfect for rich sauces (and with less seeds) are the egg or pear-shaped roma tomatoes. Grow in a sunny, well drained spot, pick them fully ripe from the vine and use them the same day.

Eggplant (aubergine): Grow them like tomatoes and do yourself a favour and bake eggplant parmigiana. Yum! Check out traditional Italian varieties such as the long, rich-tasting Violetta Lunga.

Slice and sprinkle with salt, then dry with paper towelling before cooking to draw out the bitterness. In Tassie the picking season can be short so make the most of it. Grow from seedlings once the soil has warmed up.

Peppers: Called peperoni in Italy and generally capsicum in Australia, like eggplant they do best when soils are well warmed. The elongated Italian red pepper (it starts off green) at its best raw in salads.

Onions: Italians call them “cipollo”. A regular in many Mediterranean dishes, they are delicious pan roasted, or use the red Spanish ones raw in salads. Grow from seed or seedlings from autumn to early spring in soil that drains well.

Zucchinis: An Italian favourite for more than three centuries, they come in all colours and shapes and are best picked young. Any mug gardener can grow them. Seek out Italian heirloom varieties and sow seed, or plant seedlings, spring/summer in a sunny spot with good sun. You’ll only need a few plants.

Garlic: Plant cloves (sections of the bulb) in full sun in a spot that drains well. Late autumn/early winter is best. They’re right to lift, usually around mid-December, when the foliage has started to die.

Broccoli-romanesco-300Leafy greens: Worth a go is the crinkly- leafed Tuscan cabbage (Cavalo Nero).
Or try old fashioned spinach and chard. They reach new heights when blanched in boiling water until al dente and then drizzled with olive oil with garlic added for taste. Sprinkle with cheese and you’re in Italian heaven. Plant spring to autumn in good soil that drains well and pluck leaves as needed.