Category Archives: gastropod

Fart cauliflower

We have had a lot of cauliflower in our veggie box recently, so we’ve made a lot of fart cauliflower. It freezes beautifully, is easy to make, and is quite soothing if you are feeling a bit niggeldy. Exclude the chilli if you don’t like it too spicy. Eat it with rice and yoghurt. Sorry it’s in a photo not text. Sorry it’s rotated 90*. It’s called fart cauliflower, because that’s what it smells like when it’s cooking. Yummy.

fartcauliflower

(from Madhur Jaffrey’s book ‘The Madhur Jaffrey Cookbook’. All praise Madhur!)

(Note my helpful tip: vegetables get smaller as they cook. Cauliflowers have lots of water in them.)

Lemon parsley sauce

Make this and serve it with roasted veggies, some greens and poached eggs, or with salmon.

  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • grated zest 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • ground pepper

Whizz everything except the olive oil and pepper in the food processor. Then add the olive oil gradually as you whizz, til it’s mixed in properly. Then add some pepper.

If you’re a vegan or a vegetarian and you don’t eat anchovies, I’m not sure what you can do. Or what can be done for you. You’ll need to up the salt without them. And, well, look. Just don’t bother. Don’t bother. You need anchovies.

No Meat Week continues… and continues…

vegetables Laura linked me up with the Guardian article “Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: the joy of veg” and it reminded me that I’d been talking about our no meat week here and not reported on it recently.
We are still not cooking meat at home for dinner. It’s been ages, and we’ve only cooked meat perhaps 6 times since we started the no meat week thing. And we like it that way. We didn’t plan to go vegetarian, or even to keep not cooking meat, but we just like it. We like the way it makes us feel, we like the food, and the variety of the food, and the fact that we are eating seasonally simply because veggies taste better in season. I think we make more interesting meals, and I’m certain we’re eating more balanced meals.
The transition was pretty simple for us because I’ve lived in vegetarian households before, and know how to cook quite a lot of vegetarian dishes. And The Squeeze prefers eating vegetarian food and hates handling meat, so he preferred the change. Since we stopped cooking meat (98% of the time) our house smells much better (that was something we noticed straight away), it’s easier to wash up and we stopped relying on the fats in meat to make good flavours in our meals. Win!

I’d say we were spending less on groceries, but we seem to have replaced meat with things like organic juice and milk, simply because the taste is incomparable. You really cannot get better milk than organic milk. It’s amazing. So we’ve replaced meat with ‘luxury’ veggie products. Things we certainly don’t ‘need’ to eat, but things we are going to eat because they are DELICIOUS. So, budget wise, things are pretty much the same as the way they were before, except we’re eating better quality food. If we had access to a close organic veggie store, I’m sure we’d blow our budget on organic veggies. Because they are much tastier.
If we do buy meat, we only buy free range, organic stuff. That’s the deal. It stops us eating meat regularly (partly because other stuff doesn’t taste as good) and it makes us think more carefully about the meat we eat – we don’t just sling some mince onto pasta because we can’t be bothered. I’ve noticed that we don’t let veggies rot in our fridge the way we did before (and that was even though we have always been big veggie eaters), and we are definitely much pickier about the quality of the fruit, veggies and herbs we eat (and we were pretty picky before). No supermarket veggies for us (yucky – no has a flavour!).
I don’t know if we’re healthier. Meat isn’t particularly bad for you, unless you’re eating poor quality meat too often, and we’re certainly not avoiding other foods which are laden with sugar and fats. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar and fat. But we have never been particularly big on processed foods (besides dairy foods and bought juice), and we’re a bit more interested in baking cakes and biscuits these days. The Squeeze definitely prefers the way he feels on this less-meat menu, but then he didn’t really like meat before. I love meat, I love good quality, well-prepared meat. But I quite like the way I feel eating less of it. I don’t feel ‘less full’, because we make filling, intensely flavourful meals that make us want to eat more. I haven’t ‘lost weight’ or ‘gotten skinnier’, because I’m still doing the same amount of exercise and eating the same quantities. But those things definitely weren’t on my list of reasons for dropping meat.

Basically, eating less meat makes me feel a bit less selfish. I couldn’t live with the thought of the way animals are treated by the food industry any longer. So I decided to opt out, a little bit at a time. We might go entirely vegetarian eventually, but for now we’re just easing towards ethical eating. And we like it.

Live Music and Dance Economies + beer

I’m afraid this isn’t a terribly well written or thought out post. Spring has struck, my sinuses are buzzing with histamines and my brain is running slow and foggy. But I wanted to join up all these issues before I forgot them.

So this is a story about liquor licensing, live music economies (financial and cultural) and dance cultures. It’s not terribly well researched or referenced, so please do go on and explore the issue rather than relying on my dodgy interpretation of events. I mean, buggered if I really know anything about liquor licensing in Australia and within Australian states.

The ABC story Live music injects $1b into economy (Lucy Carter and staff, Posted September 19, 2011 10:56:27) discusses a report on the economic value of the Australian live music scene commissioned by “industry stakeholders including the Australian Council for the Arts and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)”.

  • The study was limited to live music performances in pubs/bars, clubs, restaurants/cafes and nightclubs in Australia.
  • the venues included in the study were limited to those in live music venues licensed by APRA that staged live music during the 2009/10 financial year.
  • The study included only revenue generated from venue-based live music performances.

(pg 4)

The basic point here is that live music makes a significant contribution to the state and national economies, and is therefore important. This gains particular relevance in the context of ongoing battles over noise restrictions, the gentrification of urban spaces and the rezoning of areas where live music lives.
I need to note, here, that live jazz in Australia does not have broad appeal. It tends to cater to a much older demograph than most of the live music discussed in that report. But I think this is important. If live music is equated to ‘youth culture’ in popular discourse it marginalises an increasing (and increasingly influential) demograph and market: older audiences. I also think it’s important for jazz to reposition itself as a product for a more diverse audience. Bands like Virus in Melbourne did this well in the early 2000s, and New Orleans of course can pull this off because live music – of all types – is so thoroughly embedded in the mythos of the place. But live jazz is positioned as ‘art’ music rather than popular music in Sydney. Frankly, I think there should be more live jazz in everyday community spaces (like pubs), and this live jazz should be representative of the whole spectrum of ‘jazz’.

…though, personally, I want more of the hot jazz and less of the twiddlyfiddly arty stuff. Because it was designed and built as popular music and lots of fun to dance to.

My attention was caught by the fact that this was a study of venues serving alcohol and licensed by APRA because there’s been a recent discussion on Bug’s Question Of The Day FB page about paying cover charges, buying drinks and tipping at live music venues. The full question (15th September) reads:

I’ve noticed that, not only in New Orleans but every scene I’ve been to, dancers don’t want to pay a cover charge or tip the band. I’ve also heard from venue owners that dancers are notorious for not buying drinks. Why are we as a community resistant to supporting the musicians and venues? Do we not know any better? If so, how do we educate the community?

Drinking and tipping and cover charges at live music gigs are an issue for lindy hoppers because most dancers don’t drink much while dancing. Simply because it’s a demanding game, and drinking impairs your dance skills. So a venue that depends on drinking to cover the cost of live music is not going to make it, financially, if their clientele is made up entirely of lindy hoppers. The amount dancers drink really depends on the gig – the time of day, the vibe and so on. So they will drink, just not at every gig, every time. If we were to depend on live music for our entire scene, I think a reasonable standard of dancing would require spaces that focussed on dancing, rather than drinking. Ballrooms, dance halls and cabaret clubs with more physical room and a greater emphasis on dancing as well as bars and pubs where the social focus is more diverse.

I don’t think it’s a terribly good idea to promote drinking generally in a culture like Australia’s where binge drinking is a serious social issue, but I don’t want to suggest that I think drinking is wrong or bad. Basically, lindy hop events aren’t like other social events at licensed venues in Australia, and I think it’s a really good thing (and the thing I enjoy most about dance events) that young men and women (and older men and women!) can enjoy social events and dancing without getting shitfaced. I think that social and cultural practices and spaces should be centred on more than just drinking, not that social and cultural spaces should exclude drinking. Diverse cultural spaces make for diverse and vibrant communities, cross-generationally.

I don’t drink, so I don’t buy alcohol at live music gigs. I’m not a huge soft drink fan, so I don’t buy softies. I’ll buy a mineral water with lime, or some chips. But I like pubs. I like their casual drop-in culture where you can meet friends for a quick drink or a long meal. I like the way live music is an important part of pub culture. But I’ve been been struck by the differences between Melbourne pub culture (which I really like) and Sydney pub culture, which is a lot less pleasant.

There are different laws and licenses in each Australian state, and local licensing laws are often regulated by local councils – eg in Melbourne local city councils regulate licenses. A venue can lose its liquor license if it breaches noise level laws or serves under age customers. I have some problems with the way licensing works in Sydney, mostly because licenses are very expensive, and geared towards larger venues subsidised by on-site gambling (whether a TAB, Kino or pokies). Licensing in Sydney seems (at first and cursory glance) to promote pubs and licensed venues as places to get totally shitfaced, rather than places to meet friends, share a meal, listen to a band, play trivia, read, laugh, talk or get shitfaced. They’re simply more diverse community spaces in Melbourne than in Sydney. While even I’d drop into a pub in Melbourne on my own to drink or eat at the main bar, I’d feel a lot less comfortable at most Sydney pubs, because I’m not there to drop a million dollars in the pokies or the TAB or to drink a jug of beer on my own at lunch time.

This is where my knowledge really breaks down, but the way licensing works is affected by the influence of Clubs Australia, an influential interests group representing social clubs (like RSLs, Sporting clubs, etc). Pubs and clubs are different, legally and culturally, but in Sydney large corporations own a string of pubs and interests in clubs. Their main source of income from these businesses is gambling, or more specifically, pokies. Pokies are a scourge on the earth, encouraging people to sit and drop coins into a machine for hours and hours at a time. This type of gambling targets lower income earners and I think it’s promoters are ethically fail. Pokies also degrade the conviviality of a local pub – people sit in front of a machine rather than a bar, conversation is impeded by the loud noises and attention required to pull a lever. Live music and pokies are fundamentally incompatible: you can’t make good music in a room full of pokie machines. And pubs depending on pokies for revenue will devote valuable floor space (whole rooms!) to pokies rather than less profitable bands.

There’s been speculation about the effect of pokies on pub culture, and news articles like this Daily Telegraph one from earlier this year suggest that a focus on pokies has led to a neglect of drinkers. Of real, live people. I’d argue that chain pubs, run by an absent owner, are not community-oriented spaces at all. And pubs that are most culturally and socially relevant spaces are local spaces. Which is why one suburb in Melbourne can host so many small pubs – each serves a particular local clientele and offers a specific ‘experience’. Grand Final afternoon is perhaps the best example of this sort of localised specialisation, but the live music culture is just as useful an illustration of the cultural value of smaller, independently owned and operated pubs.

The federal government is currently considering revisions to the legislation affecting pokies, and Clubs Australia is spending an awful lot of money on advertising to drum up opposition to the changes. I’m curious to see how it all pans out. There are very few convincing arguments for promoting pokies, and many convincing arguments against it.

And here is where I’ll have to leave my discussion of pokies and licensing specifics, as I’m a bit histamine-crazy and generally ignorant of the facts. But I wanted to link up this news article, reference that Bugs Question, and the also something about the recent sale of the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain to a corporate entity who owns a chain of pubs.

Unity Hall hosts one of Australia’s best jazz bands every Sunday afternoon. Musicians passing through town regularly drop in to play a few songs, so you’ll see all sorts of brilliant Australian (and visiting) musicians. For my money, this is the best dancing music in town. Dancers go there to dance, and there’s no cover charge. The bar staff charge the locals less for drinks than dancers (which is totally ok by me), but dancers who do turn up (and who pretty much count as regulars, though not necessarily locals) always buy drinks and chips and maintain a good relationship with bar staff and musicians.
While this is the best opportunity for hardcore dancing, it’s a small venue, and dancers need to share it with ‘nondancers’. Or, in other words, ‘normal folk’ who like to dance but don’t spend a million hours on dance classes. Because it is in a non dancer-run space, dancers need to engage their real social skills. Talking. Hanging out. Dealing with dickheads off the street. I think it’s a good place to learn floor craft (safety first!), to engage your social skills (conversate!) and to enjoy and support quality live music. Unity Hall isn’t as ‘good’ a pub as the best independent pubs in Melbourne – it does have a TAB taking up lots of space, and pokies, and it isn’t properly cross-generational (though it’s getting there), or multicultural (though even Melbourne pubs don’t really rock the multiculturalism). But it’s one of the better Sydney pubs, and I really hope the it doesn’t change for the worse with its new owners.

The sale of the Unity Hall hotel is indicative of how many pubs in Sydney are run: by big businesses who own a chain of pubs and treat them as warehouses for the real money makers – pokie machines. This is a bit shit when you compare it to Melbourne where there’s a strong independent pub culture, which results in brilliant food, child/family friendly pubs (which are also popular with the young and hip), live music venues and bar staff and owners who know their clientele and give a shit. Basically, venues which are owned and operated by members of the local community for the local community are more likely to give a shit about the local community and be important community spaces. Whether you’re looking for awesome food, locally sourced beers, live music, somewhere to dance, somewhere to talk, or just a quiet spot for a quick pint at lunch time.

I know my perception of Sydney pubs as community spaces is biased by my experiences in urban Melbourne (and I don’t mean to feed into the Syd/Melb rivalry), but I think state-based licensing laws are significant when we’re talking about dancers’ obligations at live music venues. Honestly, if licenses were less expensive, venues wouldn’t be so dependent on drinks’ sales and gambling to cover their costs. They could operate on a smaller profit margin, offering more specific and niche services – good food, niche music, smaller premises – and not need to rely on shit like pokies and promoting binge drinking. They could be more responsible and responsive community spaces.

[Edit: I need to read
A history of machine gambling in the NSW club
industry: from community benefit to
commercialisation” by Nerilee Hing
]

Country Red Rice (from Sri Lanka, Jothi brand)

…with some leftover curry.

country-red-rice-closeup, originally uploaded by dogpossum.

This rice is DELICIOUS. It’s like brown rice, if you’ve rubbed off most of the brown, and the brown is actually a rusty red.

It’s sort of a broken grain, and clumps together when you cook it, becoming fluffy and delicious. It’s so nice, it’s probably bad for me.

I just found it at the local grocer (well, one in Croydon) and decided to buy it because I haven’t seen it before. The label looks like this.

No Meat Week: no. 65million – Red Slop and Nice Rice

We are still not cooking meat at home. Although we did last night. But that was an exception, and organic, free range lalala hippy la meat. That’s the rule. No cooking meat unless it’s from organic free range lala sources.

But that’s the only time we’ve cooked meat since we started this whole thing.

Recipes of interest:
– Pizzas with various vegetable things on top. Using bases from the baker in Haberfield. Why buy bases? Because they’re from the HABERFIELD BAKERY where the nonnas push you out of the way to get the good stuff.

– Spinach and ricotta caneloni. Still not old. Delicious.

– anything involving sweet potato because it is GOING OFF at the moment. In curries, roasted, every fucking where, because that shit is YUM!

Tonight we had Red Slop And Nice Rice. This is another dish from the old share housing vegan coeliac days. Except it has cheese in it. We used to make this one just so we could eat the nice rice. It’s very easy. And cheap.

Red Slop
– Saute a bunch of mashed up garlic in some olive oil. Don’t you dare use that jarred shit. Add a tbsp ground coriander and a bit less of ground coriander. Saute til the smell really rises.
– Add a can of tomatoes. Stir it all around. If you use fresh tomatoes, cook the slop for much longer – you want this to get really rich.
– Add a can of chickpeas (drained of course). Stir that all around. Use your soaked and cooked dried ones if you’ve got them. If you’re a chickpea nut, use the big fat juicy ones, not the littler ones.

I forgot about the eggplant. It usually has eggplant. Get an eggplant, cut it into matchsticks about a centimetre wide. Saute that in the oil before you do the garlic. Saute til the eggplant is cooked. Then proceed from the first step above. If you’re scared of all the oil this will require (and it will need a bit), grill the eggplant first with a brushing of oil, then slice it and add it after the chickpeas. Eggplant is YUM YUM YUM.

Ok, so now you have red slop. It can simmer for a while on a low heat, getting thicker and richer and yummier.

Put your rice on in the rice cooker. I go the absorption method because I am lazy arse. But it’s just as good with looser grains. Use a long grain rice. We used basmati tonight. Cook it.

When the rice is done, put it on a plate to cool a little, and add a heap of washed, finely sliced fresh spinach to the red slop. Don’t use frozen stuff. Fresh is cheap and good. You only cook the spinach til it’s wilted. Don’t let it get brown.

Meanwhile (or earlier if you’re bored and impatient) put these things in a big bowl:
– some crumpled up fetta. Dodoni is best, unless you’re in a good middle eastern/mediterranean area, then find a good, tasty, bitey one. How much fetta? Well, you want to eventually mix it into the rice, so not too much, but enough to leave little bobbles on every forkful.
– juice of half a lemon. Or perhaps more if you’re cooking for four or more.
– some freshly ground pepper.
– some salt
– a fairly generous amount of finely chopped parsley

-> these amounts depend on the amount of rice you use. Basically, the rice should be flecked with green and bits of fetta and taste lemony but not too sharp or sloppy.

Then you add the rice, just after it’s cooled a bit. This dish is best if the rice is just a bit warmer than room temperature. You don’t really want to wilt the parsley or melt the cheese, but you want the rice’s warmth to set the flavours loose. It’ll suck up the lemon juice and kiss up to the fetta. YUM!

Now you put some nice rice on your place, a big plop of red slop next to it, and perhaps have it with some Greek yoghurt or a yoghurt sauce (olive oil, garlic, sugar, salt, lemon juice).

It’s a ridiculously delicious, simple dish. The most expensive bit is the cheese. Don’t be tempted to buy the cheaper ‘Australian’ fetta, and don’t even look at the low-fat stuff. This dish is so healthy you can manage a bit of full fat cheese.

I can imagine this would be brilliant with some grilled haloumi on top. But you don’t really need that second salty cheese in there.

The nice rice doesn’t really taste good refrigerated – it’s better at room temperature. Now I’m thinking about it, though, I reckon leftover nice rice (ha! as if there’ll be any!) would be awesome stuffed inside a capsicum and roasted. Or inside anything, really. A zucchini! A squash! YUM!

No Meat Week4: Tuesday

Tonight I am feeling much better, so we are having the cauliflower, onion and ginger dinner with spinachy rice from an earlier week. This is a delicious dinner, and I hope it will revitalise my taste buds, and more importantly, the antibacterial qualities of all that ginger, garlic and onion will kick the last bits of goober in my sinuses to the curb.

We love spinach, and this is exactly how it looks when we buy it here in Ashfield. It’s stupid cheap, and very good for you. It’s also very versatile, and can be used in all sorts of cuisines. Win.

In other news, we are supposed to be going to Tasmania for an exchange on Thursday, but the volcano has grounded all flights out of Sydney for at least 48 hours. So we might not be getting to Tasmania.

No Meat Week4: Monday


Four weeks already! There was that big bit of exchange in the middle, where I did cook meat, but still. It’s been four weeks since we decided to give this a go. And we’re not sick of it yet. I guess the next goal is to not eat meat for lunch.

We are still crook. I have no tastebuds, so I can’t smell anything and food is very unappealingly flavourless.

Tonight we’ll have either nachos or burritos. Both use the same ingredients, except one involves corn chips and one burritos. This isn’t at all ‘authentic’ Mexican food. It’s basic, easy cooking for when we’re totally buggered.

1. Red slop.
Ah, red slop. Central to all the meals I make. This one is slightly different.

– saute a brown onion til it’s see-through and beginning to change colour. I am going with the Indian approach to onions, where you cook it longer (but don’t let it burn) so it has a stronger flavour.
– add some crushed/chopped garlic. Get the garlic to change colour or whatever.
– add 1tsp ground coriander, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tsp sweet paprika, chilli powder to taste (which I can’t, so whatever). Give this lot 30 seconds or a minute til the flavour rises. …well, I just guessed that bit. Who knows what it smells like.
– add a can of tomatoes and a can of borlotti beans (kidney beans would be the obvious choice, but I don’t like them).

Let all this simmer quietly til you’re ready for it.

As you can see, this is a very simple, very unauthentic red slop. It’s better if it has a rich, red flavour, so you can contrast with fresher salsas.

Now, you’re going to need a salsa. I make a very simple one using:
– chopped tomatoes. Don’t bother with anything other than cherries at the moment, as they’re not in season. Or ditch tomatoes completely.
– some finely chopped onion (green onion, white onion, red onion, whatever).
– some finely chopped garlic.
– some finely chopped capsicum.
– some finely chopped coriander.
– a squeeze of lime juice.

Basically, this is a fresh, bitey ‘salad’ to balance the rich red slop and everything else. To my mind, this is the most important – the essential! – part of the dinner. There are a million different recipes for salsas, using everything from mangoes to olives. Choose one that suits what you have to hand. I think the fresh herbs are an essential part of this – coriander, mint, parsley are all good things.

Make a guacamole. I used to get really fancy with guacamole, but I’ve recently decided that simpler is better.
– mash up an avocado.
– add a bit of very finely chopped (if not grated) onion.
– add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
– add some freshly ground salt and pepper.

You’re done. I’d even ditch the onion, or replace it with garlic or just not use it at all. The point is that the avocado is just ripe and perfect. I prefer lime to lemon juice. You could add a smear of very good olive oil if you like, but it’s not really necessary. Make the guac fresh, or not at all. And don’t waste your time with pre-made guacamole. It’s just as cheap to buy an avocado and it will taste a million times better. A pre-made guac doesn’t save you time. Mashing an avocado is as quick as peeling open those annoying plastic containers.

If you’re making burritos, put onto the table a bowl of each of the salsa, the guacamole, the red slop, some baby spinach or other salad greens, some plain yoghurt (I don’t like sour cream as I prefer sharper flavours, but you could use that instead), some cheese (that’s where things get really inauthentic), some finely sliced chillis, anything you think would be nice wrapped into a burrito. I quite like those gherkiny pickle things that you can get from Mexican joints, and I also like those pickled giant yellow chillis.

Now: everyone make their own!

If you’re making nachos, you’re going to need some good corn chips. Nachos is a bit of a lazy/special occasion/holiday alternative for us. I like to get the organic plain corn chips from the deli. Whatever you get, don’t get a flavoured brand, and avoid big brands like Doritos. They are yucky. You want a really corny flavoured corn chip, and it’s best if they use a bit of sea salt and a decent oil. The corn chips are a base for other flavours, not the main event. This will be the most expensive part of the meal if you’re using fresh ingredients.

Spread the chips on a plate, spread some red slop on top, then some cheese. Again, this is inauthentic town. Put the plate under the grill til it goes melty or brown or to your preference.
You have to serve this with salsa, and I like to add gaucamole, yoghurt, spinach, etc. I’m also very conservative with yoghurt. The salsa is the main event.

I never make either of these dishes with meat any more, as I prefer the tasty, thicker flavour of the beans. You could use a pulled pork or grilled fish or chicken instead. But the most important parts are the salsas. You can make more than one. The point is that the rich red stuff or pulled pork or grilled fish or whatever is a base for the exotic, interesting flavours of the salsas. It’s also important to use fresh ingredients. Don’t bother with premade guacamole. If you can’t get a good avocado, ditch it altogether and have yoghurt or sour cream alone. The point is that the flavours are tasty and fresh.

If you make a heap of red slop, you can freeze it for next time, and it makes an easy, quick dinner at a moment’s notice.

No Meat Week3: Saturday. Red veggie curry



red veggie curry, originally uploaded by dogpossum.

A very simple, ordinary recipe:

– Fry a brown onion with 1-2 tbsp red (Thai) curry paste (use a good one, not a rubbish Masterchef version or something), in some oil until the onion is ready (ie transparent or a bit further done. Don’t burn it!)

– Add a can of coconut milk. Mix thoroughly. Use a good brand (not shit like Masterchef), and don’t waste your time with ‘light’ coconut milk. Coconut milk should be rich, creamy and full of delicious fats. If you’re worried about ‘getting fat’, just don’t eat too much of it (good luck with that) or don’t make the dish too often. But the fats are important for carrying the flavour of the complex spices.

– Let this simmer for a little while – you kind of bring it to the boil. This is where the flavour gets big, so be careful with this stage.

– Add a series of veggies, allowing the appropriate amount of time to cook (ie add the long-cookers first). We used: baby corn, red capsicum, snake beans, cauliflower, sweet potato. Snake beans are handy because they can stand a lot of cooking. Unlike green beans or ‘French beans’ which really aren’t at their best after a heap of cooking. But undercooked snake beans are a bit rough. You can use all sorts of veggies, whatever’s in season. Plain potato is delicious, you could go the broccoli, eggplant, add some gai larn, whatever you fancy. Just be careful with cooking times – you don’t want stuff turning to slop; you want textures. It’s also a good idea to add some tofu. We forgot. I like to use a firm tofu (ie not the ‘silken firm’ tofu you get in Chinese grocers, but the ‘very firm’ or ‘traditional firm’ tofu from Chinese grocers, or the ‘firm’ tofu you get in skip supermarkets). A pre-fried tofu is even better, and is easily found in Chinese grocers. Let it cook a while in the sauce, as tofu is a delicious little sponge.

– Add 5 fresh kaffir lime leaves (these can keep in your freezer if they’re hard to find). If you have green peppercorns (they’re fresh, not dried, come on a stem like a little stick of bananas, and they’re hard to find in Ashfield), add them. Green peppercorns add a really delicious layer of flavour.

– Cook it for 20mins or so, or until the veggies are done. Don’t use the 20mins time arbitrarily, test your veggies for done-ness regularly instead. The trick is to keep the range of textures in the veggies as well as the richness of the coconut/spice sauce.

– Add 1tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2tsp palm sugar, stir it in. Again, use fresh lime juice (these seem expensive when they’re out of season, but they taste so much better than bottled lime juice, and you can use the zest for all sorts of delicious things). Palm sugar is also a good thing to use (you can find this easily in Asian grocers), but if you don’t have it, use brown sugar. It’s not a big deal to substitute, but palm sugar has a slightly different flavour. Taste it. If it’s too ‘chilli hot’ for your palate, add some more sugar, carefully. The coconut milk also cuts the chilli heat. Sprinkle some bruised Thai basil over the top and sort of fold it under. If you don’t have Thai basil, just use sweet basil, it’s ok.

This is a really delicious meal, and is actually very simple to make. It can also be a very cheap dinner. Just use a heap of in season, fresh vegetables and herbs. Herbs and greens (gai larn, spinach, choy, etc) are stupid cheap in Asian grocers – $1 each at the most, and make sure you have a jar of curry paste, fish sauce, palm sugar and a can of coconut milk in the cupboard. Fish sauce and palm sugar are a staple in Thai cooking – you’ll use them again with stir fries. Same goes for basil and lime juice. Even the curry paste can be used for other things, like pumpkin soup. Green peppercorns are really hard to find in Ashfield, but that’s because this is a very Shanghainese Chinese area. You would do better in a Vietnamese/Thai/’pan-Asian’ grocer. You can do without them, though. If you buy these things in an Asian grocer, they’ll be heaps cheaper than a mainstream supermarket. And better quality.