Philippe, one of the charcutiers at L’Authentique, says that merguez sausages are traditionally eaten during summer in France. The sausages are lamb with middle eastern flavours and enough heat to keep things interesting.
In keeping with France by way of Morocco, but mindful that we are knee deep in a New Zealand winter, I’ve paired the sausages with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and coriander, and roasted root vegetables.
Now you can pretend you’re enjoying the warmth of the French sunshine, in front of a roaring southern hemisphere fire.
L’AUTHENTIQUE MERGUEZ SAUSAGES WITH ROAST VEGETABLE ISRAELI COUSCOUS
1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 large carrot, and;
1 beetroot, and;
1/4 butternut, and;
1 kumara, and;
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
8-12 L’Authentique Merguez Sausages
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, pith removed and finely chopped
Two large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Large bunch coriander, chopped (or substitute parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, extra
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200°C
Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and tip into a baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until vegetables and cooked and caramelised
Meanwhile cook the couscous. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, tip in the couscous, and cook for 7 minutes (or to manufacturer’s instructions). Drain and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add a little olive oil and cook the sausages until golden brown and cooked to medium rare.
To make the salad, toss together the roasted vegetables, israeli couscous, preserved lemon, lemon zest, spinach and coriander. Pour over lemon juice and extra olive oil, toss again and season to taste.
Serve the sausages with the couscous salad and garnish with extra coriander if desired.
Earlier in the year I wrote about my goals for the year ahead. I told you about my moves away from consumerism (that’s going well, BTW), my need to work in a more focused way (a work in progress, which is code for I’m still a bit hopeless) and that I want to take more time to relax and recharge (also going well, happy days!).
Looking back, I missed a pretty important goal. One that really should have been top of the list. Being kind to myself.
It sounds very new age cliche, and can feel at odds with my goal based approach to life. How can I achieve any goals without beating myself up occasionally? Because that’s what I do. I use myself as an emotional punching bag. I am my own worst critic. I am unfailingly harsh on myself, holding myself responsible for anything and everything that takes my fancy.
Kids crying? My fault: I spent too much time at the office when they were young and scarred them for life.
Husband grumpy? My fault: not enough sex.
Cake didn’t rise? My fault: I didn’t pray hard enough to the baking gods.
I know I’m not alone in this. It goes hand in hand with mother’s guilt and 3am self-flagellation sessions. Rationally, I know I can’t own everything that life throws at me. But I can give it a damn good try!
The worst is being less than kind to my body. My body who has seen me through 48 years with barely a blip of ill health. My body who has given me two great kids, which we hardly had to try for. My body who has powered me through some pretty tough days but seems to be getting stronger as I get older, rather than the other way around.
And yet I’m SO MEAN to her. I dislike her wobbly thighs and too big bottom. I hate that her stomach is soft and squishy (a result of the two great kids). I quite like her small breasts, that have stayed where they were pre-children. I don’t like that she’s heavier than she used to be, and she can’t seem to shift that few extra kilos no matter how hard we try.
Basically, I resent that she’s not about 20cm taller, 10kg lighter, and possibly 15 years younger. Aside from the life lived and experiences had, I wouldn’t want to give those up.
Somehow I’ve made it to middle age without being able to accept that this is the body I have. I still hold onto this belief that if I work out enough I might grow thinner, taller and younger. Although last time I looked, there was no body-stretching time machine at the gym.
My epiphany came when I was sitting on a plane, running out of movies to watch, when I stumbled across a documentary called Embrace. Presented and produced by Taryn Brumfitt, she gained worldwide fame by posting reverse before and after photo, showing her naked body in all it’s soft, feminine, natural glory.
Her movie focuses on the pressure we and society put on ourselves to fit a specific, size 10, mold. And it resonated with me (the Embrace trailer is at the bottom of the page).
So yesterday, I quit my gym membership. I’ve taken up yoga, which I’m doing 2 days a week. I’m making time to walk with friends at least twice a week. I’m meditating every day, and on a really good day, I’m meditating while walking (without friends this time, I’m not Superwoman).
I’m trying to relax about the food that I eat, focusing on eating food that is healthy and balanced without being obsessively so. Treating myself to occasional meals out, chocolate and red wine without beating myself up about the potential impact on the mass of my thighs.
I’ve stopped trying to change my body. Which doesn’t mean I’ve given up, just that I’m being active in a way that will keep me strong in mind and body. Active in a way that is more gentle, more kind and more accepting of the body I have.
She’s a good body. It’s time to be more kind to her and me.
VIETNAMESE PRAWN AND GREEN PAPAYA SALAD
This is a delicious, light salad, full of flavour from the herbs, and a bit of heat from the chilli. Be careful of the kind of chillies you use – I chose some very hot ones recently, which made the salad almost inedible! Not my finest hour…
1 green papaya
250g cooked prawns, peeled, centre vein removed
1/2 telegraph cucumber
3 spring onions
Large bunch coriander, thai basil and vietnamese mint
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
1 long red chilli
Nuoc Mam Cham (dipping sauce/dressing)
(with thanks to Luke Nguyen)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp white vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic
1 long red chilli
2 Tbsp lime juice
For the Nuoc Mam Cham, combine fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water in a small saucepan, stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to just below boiling. Remove from heat.
Finely chop the garlic, and finely slice the chilli. Stir into the sauce along with the lime juice, and refrigerate until required (will keep refrigerated for a month)
To make the salad, peel and deseed the papaya. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the papaya flesh into julienne strips.
In a large bowl, toss the papaya and prawns with some of the dressing.
Arrange on a platter and top with fresh herbs, and finely sliced chilli and spring onions. Sprinkle over chopped peanuts and serve.
You may be aware that Wednesday was International Women’s Day. A day to reflect on our place in society, to thank the suffragettes and then feminists that have come before us, and to effect change on the many inequalities that continue to plague women in 2017.
I was moved to write this post by two stories I’ve read this week. The first was a blog post written by Rachel Hanson called We Are Women, which talked through her thoughts about womenhood and the many challenges we face.
The second was a story in the New Zealand Herald, detailing the findings of a Human Rights Commission project, finding that there is an average 12% pay gap between men and women. I know we in New Zealand are not experiencing the worst gender pay gap in the world, but for goodness sake! 12%?! It’s beyond outrageous.
It’s worth pointing out here that the gender pay gap is influenced by differences in education, occupations, industries between men and women, and the fact that women are more likely to work part time. But only 20% of the total. The remaining 80% is unaccounted for in any rational way. Even more outrageous!
Worse than the money (at least to my privileged eyes), is that the authors have dubbed this the “motherhood penalty”. In essence, we earn less because we bear children. Pregnancy and motherhood is an often amazing experience, but it’s fair to say I would very happily have shared many of the less pleasant pregnant moments with my husband. Particularly the actual giving birth bit! Especially if my employers had a chat to me about how my income would be compromised because of my impending motherhood.
I’ve always worked in an industry that pays well. I considered myself fortunate to earn the money that I have through the years. But the truth is I know that my male counterparts have been favoured ahead of me.
Prior to having children I was on an upward trajectory, career wise. I was promoted regularly and given salary bumps to reflect the increase in responsibility I was taking on. My clients were prestigious, and I was invited to be a part of management committees and training. I was seen as a future leader.
Then I got pregnant.
The company was brilliant during my pregnancy. I continued to work the way I always had, and they supported me through a few hiccups health wise, which they should be commended for. They also continued to pay me through my maternity leave. The issues started when I returned to work, when my daughter was 6 months old.
I came back to find that my role had completely changed. The seniority I had enjoyed was gone, and I was effectively demoted. I was treated as though my brain could no longer function in the way it once had, now that I was a mother. One of my strengths has always been my ability to build face to face relationships. On my return to work, my role became very much behind the scenes.
When we moved back to New Zealand (the above story was in London), my new employers encouraged an environment where I was belittled for being a mother. I was portrayed as being old and maternal, and teased for having children. I watched as men who had been very much junior to me only 3 years prior suddenly becoming senior management, while my life felt like groundhog day.
The worst was knowing I was being paid less than I was worth. On bad days I blame myself for this, for not fighting hard enough to get a salary in line with my male counterparts. But then I remember a specific instance when I decided to play the game like a man. I made my case, cited evidence that I wasn’t being paid adequately for the responsibilities I was carrying. In return, I was accused of being overly aggressive and disloyal to the company I was working for. And no salary increase was forthcoming. After this, I had clients taken away from me, was excluded from pitches I was exceptionally well suited for, and ultimately felt forced out.
More chilling than any of this is the casual sexual advances. I’ve been preyed on by two former employers. One when I was the most junior employee in the company. I’ve had a male colleague invite me into his office to then show me horrifyingly graphic hard core pornography on his computer screen. I put these experiences down to drunkenness (on my male colleagues part) and let them go.
I know my stories are not unusual. The evidence now bears this out. Mine are not even the worst or the most obvious examples of gender bias. The worst is that I found every other reason in the book for the situations I was facing other than gender. I blamed my performance, my overly emotional personality, my ill choice of words, the economy, the company’s performance, any excuse to avoid believing it was the one thing I could do nothing about. My sex.
RAW ENERGY SALAD
A salad to give you enough energy to fight the bastards!
1/2 red cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
1/2 bulb fennel, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
1/2 beetroot, grated
2 stick celery, finely sliced
1/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds,
1/2 cup coriander leaves
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
Combine all salad ingredients together in a large bowl
Pour dressing ingredients either into a bowl and whisk together until emulsified, or into a jar and shake until combined
Dress salad and season to taste
You can change out the raisins for other dried fruit. Sultanas, cranberries or goji berries are also good.
Instead of seeds, try roasted almonds, hazel nuts or brazil nuts
If you don’t like coriander, change out for mint or parsley
Finely chopped broccoli or brussels sprouts, or grated celeriac would make a good addition to this salad also (especially once fennel is out of season).
For someone who writes about food, who spends quite a bit of time thinking about food, and the rest of my time making food, my salad repertoire is proving to be more than a little woeful.
My default is a green salad with leaf, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, red capsicum and avocado (if I can time the fine line between rock hard and mush brown correctly). The only innovative thing about it is a vinaigrette. And half the time I just sprinkle over olive oil and red wine vinegar.
It is nice enough, just a little sub-par.
So, this year, I am lifting my salad game. This is my first effort.
The irony that it contains many of the above ingredients is not lost on me. Baby steps.
GRILLED EGGPLANT AND GOAT’S CHEESE SALAD
1 eggplant, sliced into 1cm slices
Olive oil for brushing
1/2 red onion finely sliced
50g goats’ cheese
1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful mint leaves, finely sliced
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Heat a barbecue until very hot
Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill until charred and soft on both sides. Set aside to cool, then cut into chunks.
For the vinaigrette, pour ingredients into a jar and shake to combine.
Assemble all the salad ingredients in a large shallow salad bowl or platter and dress with the salad dressing. Serve immediately.
A salsa is more like a small salad than a condiment, although I use it either way. It’s a great addition to grilled meats, be they fish or fowl, beef, lamb or pig. It goes equally well as a side to a Mexican inspired meal, tucked into a taco, or as a fresh and healthy dip for less fresh and healthy tortilla chips.
Technically, a salsa these days seems to mean any kind of raw salad, generally with very finely chopped vegetables. Salsa literally means sauce (as per salsa verde – green sauce). I am a bit of a puritan here, preferring Mexican flavours in my salsa.
The base ingredients are generally the same (at least when I make it). Some finely chopped red onion, coriander, fresh chilli (the quantity depends on how hot you like it) and lime juice. Matched up with whichever Latin style vegetables or fruits you desire.
Tomatoes, capsicum (red, yellow or green), cucumber, avocadoes, fresh corn, black beans, tomatillo
There’s some other great ideas for salsa in this piece by the New York Times. Their definition extends to grilled and pureed sauces, which all provides excellent inspiration.
Or try my recipe for Pineapple Salsa.
1/2 cup fresh pineapple, cut into very small dice
1/2 cup cucumber, cut into very small dice
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Handful coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
I love coleslaw. I’ve loved it ever since we used to get it from KFC back in the day when their ads celebrated obesity and they were called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It’s the combination of crunch and creaminess which gets me. It’s that I can make a large bowl, leave it undressed and it’ll last for days. It’s that it can either be a side show to the main meal, or integrated as a core feature, tucked into bread in burgers or rolls. It’s that it goes with every protein I can name. Except cheese. I can’t stand coleslaw with cheese.
For me, coleslaw has become a catch all name for any salad with shredded cabbage as a base. It can take hours to chop by hand, but I have a great food processor (Magimix – it’s awesome, you should get one) which has shredded the time as well as the vegetables. See what I did there?
The recipe I’ve given you below is the basic slaw, but you can mix it up by adding:
Toasted seeds – pumpkin or sunflower seeds are good
Herbs – parsley or coriander work well
Extra vegetables – finely chopped broccoli or cauliflower, or finely sliced fennel or brussel sprouts are tasty additions
Fruit – a handful of sultanas, dried cranberries, or fresh pomegranate seeds. Or just grate in a whole apple, skin and all.
If you want a less creamy dressing, you could also use a vinaigrette.
The range of leafy greens we use for salad these days is staggering. Spinach, kale, rocket, mesclun, cos lettuce, radicchio, and so on and so on. But there’s something about an iceberg lettuce.
They’ve had a bad rap over the years, but have made a come back at various hipster establishments. They’re a great choice for a restaurant side. They’re inexpensive to buy, they last well, they stay crisp in the fridge. And because they have a fairly benign flavour, they lend themselves well to robust dressings.
I was reminded of how good a wedge of iceberg is recently, when I watched an episode of Mad Men. Two of the main characters were lunching (unsurprisingly), and ordered a side of iceberg wedges with blue cheese and bacon. Despite the fact that this scene was deliberately written to reflect how outdated the food of the 1960’s was from the perspective of the 2010’s, it sounded like something worth making.
Iceberg lettuce always feels fresh. It holds it’s crunch, even after dressing. It’s as good wrapped around meats and condiments as it is served alongside. I’ve become quite a fan of using an iceberg leaf in place of bread at lunchtime. Poached chicken, cucumber, avocado, mayonnaise and salt and pepper, wrapped up in iceberg is a winner.
Salad wise, wedges or slices of iceberg are visually delightful. Old school pairings work well, with a modern twist. Walnuts, bacon, croutons, blue cheese are all delicious. As are goat’s cheese, slivered almonds, and pears. Unlike the 1960’s, if I’m going for cheese, nuts or bacon (or a combination of the three), I tend to avoid creamy dressings for a lighter vinaigrette.
Here’s a bunch of extra ideas from Bon Appetit, but being American, they do tend to favour the heavier creamy dressings. Unlike the 1960’s, if I’m going for cheese, nuts or bacon (or a combination of the three), I tend to avoid creamy dressings for a lighter vinaigrette.
ICEBERG LETTUCE WEDGES
1 iceberg lettuce, outer leaves removed, cut into 8 wedges
6 rashers of streaky bacon, cooked until crisp
50g walnuts, toasted and chopped
Vinaigrette: Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Arrange iceberg wedges on a platter
Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients until well combined
Drizzle vinaigrette over iceberg, and sprinkle over other ingredients
I’ve been making this salad for years. It’s a great way to make steak go further when you’ve slightly miscalculated the number of people you have for dinner/lunch.
It’s also fresh, fragrant with herbs, zesty with chilli and lime, and satisfying. So long as you have herbs and the dressing ingredients, you can add virtually any vegetables you have on hand. Asparagus is a great addition in season, as is lightly steamed broccoli, fresh green beans or snow peas.
If you don’t want to use beef, exchange for cooked prawns or poached chicken (like this version from my rice paper rolls). If you want to add carbs, cook some vermicelli noodles, rinse with cold water to refresh, drain and toss through with the other salad ingredients.
THAI BEEF SALAD
100g sirloin, rump or eye fillet steak per person (approx)
Mixed salad greens
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
3 spring onions, white only, finely sliced
1 capsicum, deseeded, finely sliced
1/2 telegraph cucumber, deseeded, sliced into thin strips
1 carrot, sliced into match sticks
Handful snowpea shoots
1 large red chilli, finely sliced
Large handful coriander leaves
10 mint leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Sear the steak on a hot barbecue or griddle pan until rare. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to rest and cool.
Arrange all ingredients except steak, chilli and herbs on a large platter.
Thinly slice steak (remove fat) and arrange among salad.
Put dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Pour over salad.
I know it seems odd describing shellfish as being seasonal. But in New Zealand, scallops are very much so. The recreational season runs from 1st September to 31st March in the North Island, and from 15th July to 14th February in the South. The commercial season in the North is slightly longer, but either way, fresh locally harvested scallops are not available all year around.
In our household, the scallop season is cause for great excitement. It means summer’s on the way, it means we get to go out on the boat, and it means access to beautiful, fresh, plump scallops. I am fortunate enough to be married to a keen diver, have access to a boat, and live in a city where the ocean’s bounty is in relatively easy reach. I say “relatively” because being able to dive for scallops doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find them. Close proximity to New Zealand’s major city is a double edged sword – there are many popular scallop beds that are stripped by both commercial and recreational fishermen by the end of the season, hence the need for quotas and seasonality. Besides which, being at the bottom of the ocean means the most effective way to find them is to get down there. And the ocean is a pretty big place.
Anyway, I digress. Needless to say, I count myself very lucky. Trust me when I say, a scallop fresh out of the ocean tastes entirely different to those three days old (more when frozen). Once you’ve eaten them fresh, you’ll never order scallops in a restaurant again.
So how good are scallops for you?
Scallops are a great source of lean protein, containing 18 grams of protein per 85g, or 30% of the RDI protein for men and 38% for women.
They’re a great source of magnesium (10% RDI per serving), which is responsible for hundreds of enzyme reactions, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, blood coagulation, energy production, nutrient metabolism and bone and cell formation. It also helps you sleep.
They’re a great source of potassium (20% RDI per serving). Potassium reduces risk of stroke and lowers blood pressure. It also regulates fluid balance and counters the effect of sodium.
They’re high in vitamin B12 (20% RDI per serving), which reduces the risk of osteoporosis and some types of cancer.
They’re high in Omega-3 fats, which promotes cardiovascular health.
They’re also incredibly low in calories, at only 80 calories per 85g serving. And low in cholesterol at only 10% RDI per serving.
How do I clean them?
There’s a few things that I’m particularly proud of (aside from my children, obvs). One of
which is being able to shuck (clean) scallops. The other is dismantling crayfish and cleaning fish, but that’s a story for another time (and I’m just showing off now…).
In New Zealand we generally eat both the white muscle and the roe. It seems a waste to throw the roe away, but I have noticed that it has become commonplace over the years for restaurants to serve the scallop muscle alone. I’m hoping that they use the roe for other purposes. I’m sure they do (they’re lovely smoked).
Sadly, the rest of the scallop is largely waste, which we use for burley to attract fish in the hope that we might catch them. The waste is NEVER dumped on the scallop beds!
The internet has a wonderful store of video showing how to shuck scallops. Generally we use the flat shell as a “plate” to clean the excess away, but this guy uses the rounded side:
Or you could just go see your local fishmonger, and buy them ready shucked from him.
Some ideas for cooking scallops
Probably the most important thing to impart about cooking scallops is to not overcook them. They are very delicate but become like rubber when left on the heat for too long. About 2 minutes each side should be enough.
Season scallops with salt and pepper, heat a barbecue or griddle pan until very hot and sear scallops until cooked. Squeeze over some fresh lemon juice and serve.
Melt a knob of butter over a medium heat. Add white wine, finely chopped garlic and sliced spring onions, simmer until alcohol has boiled off. Reduce heat, add scallops to the pan and poach until cooked. Serve with salad and crusty bread to mop un pan juices.
Heat olive oil in a pan, and briefly fry finely chopped shallots, garlic and red chilli. Add white wine and simmer until alcohol has gone. Add scallops to the pan, poach until cooked. Season and stir through lemon zest and fresh chopped parsley. Toss through hot cooked pasta and serve.
Using the white scallop muscle only, chop scallop into a 1cm dice. Mix with salt and lime juice. Stir through chopped coriander, chopped red chilli, finely chopped red onion, chopped cucumber, diced fresh tomatoes and avocado. Spoon into lettuce cups and serve.
Wrap scallops with bacon, and secure with a toothpick. Grill until bacon is crisp and scallops are cooked throroughly.
Make a salad with salad greens, sliced red onion, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and coriander. Grill scallops until browned and cooked through. Toss scallops through the salad with a dressing made from mayonnaise and lemon juice.
Make the same salad as above, but omit the avocado and add shredded carrot, mint and slice red capsicum. Marinate scallops in lime juice for 15 minutes, then sear in a hot pan until cooked. Toss with the salad with a dressing made from chopped chilli, and equal parts fish sauce, lime juice and water.
Ok, that might be my worst title yet. Apologies Russell Brand. It does let me lead nicely into sharing a recipe for one of my favourite salads – a Greek Salad.
This pairs wonderfully with the yoghurt marinated lamb I posted last week, or with the marinate barbecued chicken I’ll be posting about in the coming days. Or it’s wonderful on it’s own, resting on a bed of salad greens, with maybe a toasted flat bread on the side.
Everyone seems to have their own version of Greek Salad. This is mine.
GREEK TOMATO, CAPSICUM, CUCUMBER AND FETA SALAD
2 punnets cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion finely sliced
1 green capsicum, seeds removed, finely sliced
1/2 telegraph cucumber, cut into 2cm dice
200g feta, chopped into 2cm dice
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of a lemon
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients together gently in a large salad bowl. Season to taste and serve.