Archives for posts with tag: herbs

It takes me a while sometimes to recall the good food I ate as a child. If prompted for fond food memories I probably couldn’t tell you a great deal but over time moments from the past come to mind. Sometimes I forget it’s been a fair few years since I was seven and there’s not a hope of me remembering every evening meal and lunchbox packed. Sometimes this thought saddens me, other times, I find it a relief.

salad time

But I remember our kitchen, small and pokey with heavy wooden drawers and a smooth white door frame between the kitchen a round wooden table. I can’t remember the frame ever having a door but for me it was a climbing frame as I gripped my way to the top and would perch, my back pressed against one side, my bare feet firmly planted on the other, talking to my mother in the kitchen. I never fell.

This kitchen was eventually expanded, my climbing frame busted down and the room opened out. In the new kitchen and the old one and I suppose the other kitchens in other houses that have come since, the same sort of things happened. Hundreds of sandwiches would have been made in my childhood kitchen, oranges peeled and apples chopped, cereal poured. There would have been chocolate cake and banana cake, lasagne and roast chicken, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, tomato on toast, spaghetti bolognaise or meatballs, sausages – family food.

spring rootschickpeas and coriander

I remember special occasion foods – the marmalade glaze on the Christmas ham, the time Mum butterflied and roasted lamb and we ate outside in the middle of a summer day, roasting marshmallows in the flames of the brazier on summer nights. I’ll remember for always the avocado halves with slithers of cold smoked salmon we ate for Christmas entrée several years.

seedsdiced carrots

We had a few traditions too which I remember fondly. Every Saturday morning all four of us would do the supermarket shopping together. Even now, a family trip to the supermarket seems something to be celebrated, even if it’s just to buy yoghurt and bread. But those Saturday mornings were precious, if not exactly for wandering the aisles, but for what came after – Scottish malt loaf, toasted and slathered in butter. Our supermarket’s bakery section made the loaf, my Dad’s favourite, and often on a Saturday morning the bread would still be warm, the raisins soft and plump and the malty flavour almost caramel, the just overdone sort of caramel with near-savoury tones.

Another tradition: to shyly mock my Dad when he made his long-term go-to dinner, the same dinner he made on his cooking nights when flatting – grilled lamb chops with boiled and buttered potatoes, curried carrots and a green vegetable of some sort. Mock is not the right word, I’m not sure what is really, for we never complain – you cannot go wrong with grilled lamb chops and my Dad’s curried carrots are as good as they come. Perhaps mocking, lovingly, was our way of saying thanks for cooking Dad.

But in my food life, what has been as perennial as the grass, are my mother’s salads. She makes a darn good salad. Her green salad – mixed greens + anything really (feta, red onions, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, apple…), the house salad, as so aptly named by Food Loves Writing, continues to be good and I’ve been eating this sort of salad for most of my life. Her roast vegetable salad, potato salad, left-over-chicken salad, warm lamb salad, beetroot salad, fruit salad, rice salad, quinoa salad, any salad Mum puts her hand to is fresh and inviting, appealing and nourishing.

carrots and spicetossorange

I learned from watching and helping Mum make salads that anything, anything in your fruit bowl, pantry or fridge, can contribute to the texture and vitality of a salad. Take this roasted carrot and chickpea salad – a can of chickpeas and the bung up carrots from the market – but together with a little bit of manipulation, cajoling, becomes something else entirely, something quite wonderful.

toasted chicksprinkled with spice

The carrots, tossed in aromatic spices, were roasted until a dusky orange while chickpeas were toasted lightly in a dry pan, the pattern they formed in the pan reminding me of an open sunflower. Big handfuls of parsley and coriander were chopped up roughly with jagged edges and the kitchen smelled fresh. I drizzled oil and ground salt and pepper over pumpkin seeds and sunflowers, these toasted in the frypan so well they almost didn’t make the salad. A spring onion for crunch and oomph, then a strong, citrus dressing. Everything together, the spices, the herbs, the buttery warmth of spiced roast carrots, the ting of citrus, the salty crunch of seeds and the smooth nutty chickpeas make every bite bright.

roasted carrot and chickpea salad

This salad is for keeps, like my mother’s.

Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad

3 carrots, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons oil
1 can chickpeas (about 400 grams)
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 handful fresh coriander and parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 lemon, rind and juice

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Place the carrots in a bowl with the spices and oil, toss until well combined. Pour onto an oven tray and bake for roughly 25 minutes or until tender.

Heat a frying pan. Drain the chickpeas and rinse well. Place in the hot pan and toss until warmed and slightly toasty. Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the roasted carrots, sliced spring onion and the roughly chopped herbs. Stir lightly.

Mix the seeds with a little oil, salt and pepper, then toast in a hot pan until quivering with heat. Sprinkle the seeds over the chickpeas and carrots.

Zest the lemon into a jar, add the lemon juice with a glug of oil and shake well. Pour over the salad.

Enjoy.

Dried lavender and oregano
About a year ago we planted our first garden at the flat. Previously our garden had looked like an ecological war zone, but to plant vegetables, herbs and flowers was doing something good – a small give back to the land. We grew beetroot, celery, spinach and picked stems of oregano, parsley, coriander, thyme and rosemary for our cooking. Then the winter came and while the plants withered and were overrun by weeds, we grew lazy.

Spring came. The quarterly change of seasons, such a reliable stake in the ground as each year fills up and tumbles by. Perrin and I got to work on one of the first warm days of the season. I tugged and ripped up weed clogged earth, sacrificing the skin of my hands and arms, while Perrin built a planter box from salvaged wood. We tilled and fertilised, watered and planned what to grow.
Snow peasfrilled and capped snow peas
Now, a few months later, most of my garden is flourishing. I planted sweet corn, tall and with leaves that wave gently. Silk is beginning to sprout from the small bulges along the stalk; soon they will be ready. Spinach thrived here last year, and now if you look down from the balcony you’ll see two small square plots; one with dark forest green spinach and the other a hard wearing rosemary plant. Spanakopita will be on the menu soon.

Between the corn plants on one garden terrace, bright orange marigolds beckon the bees. The flower heads are nearly the size of my palm and new buds, long and slender like bullets, wait patiently their turn. Between the corn on the next garden terrace are two snow pea plants. Their curling tendrils grasp each other and the nearby oregano plant which oddly prospered beneath the canopy of winter weeds.
Corn ears and silkMarigoldsA flowering apple cucumber plant
The tomato plant, though, I am most proud of. It sits in all its bushy beauty in the planter box on my balcony. The balcony has glass sides creating a greenhouse effect, and sometimes I stand out there just to smell the grassy, peppery, fresh scent. I chose a green zebra tomato plant, a move away from the all too common red. I would love to see purple, black, striped and green tomatoes grace our market stalls, but until that day I might have to grow them myself.
Green zebra tomato Peppery sweet flesh
I have a strange affinity for the green zebra tomato plant, which is particularly strange when you consider that before last night I had never actually eaten one. During my last month in France when I lived and worked with the woman who ran a market garden we planted close to 200 green zebra tomato plants. It wasn’t until after we had carried them from the greenhouse to the truck, from the truck to the garden, positioned them along the rows, dug 200 holes and placed every last green zebra tomato plant, tucking the soil around their stems, that I realised green zebra, or grinzibra as I had heard it in thick French accents, were English words denoting their pale and dark green stripes. Jokes on me, kids.

Last night, a Saturday night, but any other night by my standards, a little harvest took place in my garden. I delicately snipped five fully grown snow peas above their pixie edged caps. I pulled whole lettuces from the planter box and peeled away their outer leaves to reveal the young shoots within, each one with a spine intricately curled upon the other. My one green tomato, soft yet firm to the touch, was sliced into eighths, each piece holding tiny green seeds.
A green saladSnap and crunch
I bought a bag of green beans, vaguely prickly to touch, but with snap and crunch. Fresh beans have piz-zaz and oomph. Next a cup of cooked quinoa, lemon zest and half a diced pear for sweetness. A strange combination, perhaps, but there was such a sense of satisfaction in its varied greenery, in the sweet earthy flavours and knowing the goodness of the ingredients. The next morning, a perfect hard-boiled egg and a few rashers of bacon and there was a breakfast salad.
Breakfast salad
My parents spent much of my childhood tending to their garden and I never really understood the appeal. But now, this summer, I fancy myself a grower, a cultivator, a green fingered girl. I dream of self sustainability, revel in seeing a worm weave its way through my soil and continue to marvel at the power of the elements in creating, or destroying, a garden.


I think I have mentioned our garden here before, but never in great detail. When we first moved to this flat the back garden was less of a garden and more of a twisted, tangled pile of noxious weeds. We had no idea what was underneath it, and despite the promises of our landlord, we never thought we would find out. But the weeds grew and grew at an alarming rate, perhaps a foot a day during summer. We began to fear they would pull down our already rotting balcony, wrapping their tendrils through its splintered wood until one day when it would collapse beneath us as we hung out our washing. We were worried the neighbours might call the local council complaining of the environmental hazard that lurked, and flourished, I might add, in Thorndon.

Then one day, all the weeds were gone. Just like that, the landlord came. We were not even that worried about the lack of suitable notice. Beneath the mess we discovered a little paved courtyard and four small terraced garden plots. One of the pavers is cracked and the bricks are crooked and chipped, like old teeth. One of the steps near the terrace is ruptured, as if torn in half by an earthquake. But for most of the day it is bathed in sun, perfect for a little garden.

On a beautiful day in early February we set to work tidying, pulling up the snaking roots of the convolvulus with great vigour. We scattered plenty of fertiliser; goodness knows the last time this soil had seen a spade or even sunlight. Francesca, Susan and I planted coriander, oregano, Italian parsley, thyme and mint in our herb terrace. We planted celery and beetroot: possibly a strange combination of vegetables but we had missed the boat on the early summer planting. We added lavender, marigolds, purple pansies and a hydrangea bush for a bit of colour across the terraces.

In the six weeks or so since we planted our garden it has done everything it should. Plants have flowered and grown. The beetroot leaves have deep red veins, the celery is a lovely pale green and the parsley is pratically a bush. We have kept the noxious weeds at bay, turned the soil and reaped the rewards of cooking with our home grown herbs and vegetables. Everything smells fantastic; every time I pick a sprig of thyme or parsley or rosemary I cup my hands, holding the herbs inside and inhale deeply. The sweet, thick fragrance never ceases to make me smile. We grew this!

Our coriander has fared extremely well, perhaps a little too well. It grew with great gusto, more so than we were prepared for. We must have missed the few days when coriander has the slender roots and thin stalks of the sort you find at the market. Ours became woody and tough, the thick branches falling to the ground under their weight. The best way to use it was to make coriander pesto. It is the most brillant green, with light flecks of cashew nut. We have eaten it with pasta and it makes a superb toast spread when paired with goat’s milk feta and tomato.

I’m looking forward to winter planting, and for next spring too. A garden could be just what we need to give us some bearing on Wellington’s mixed up seasons.