Friday, 8 February 2013

Green green green . . .

It's fantastic that New Zealand is producing so many avocados these days (I write out of self interest). When we lived in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) they were plentiful, but I mourned to see them splatted on the roads and rotting on the roadsides. Obviously I just couldn't eat enough to save them from this fate, despite more than doing my bit in that regard.
Rarotonga is where I wrote 'The Vegetarian Adventure', with Sue Carruthers, 25 years ago (Sue still lives there; she and her husband own Tamarind House, the must-go restaurant and venue on Raro) and I developed a cornmeal and avocado roulade for that book, which someone reminded me of recently. That was the first time I'd really cooked with it, and now I make a number of recipes where avocado is cooked, sometimes for texture as the flavour on its own rarely competes with others, or for texture and flavour as it 'carries' lemon/lime, chilli etc well.
Most of the recipes I see feature avocados in salads and dips (I love mashing an avocado into my Mexican tomatillo salsa, and of course guacamole) but recently I trialled Fish and Avocado Cakes that were a great success, and this green soup (Zuppe Verde) is soooo good.

Doesn't look as good as it tastes, unfortunately
Green soup packs a punch, nutritionally speaking; the really good news, though, is that it’s delicious, elegant and super simple to prepare.
A hint of chilli and lemon zest lifts the flavour; and the small amount of cream cheese and the avocado bring it all together.
May be frozen.
Serves 6
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 litre quality unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups frozen or fresh, shelled peas
1½ tsp salt or to taste & ½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
180g chopped spinach leaves or 100g thawed, squeezed & chopped
1 medium avocado, peeled, stoned & chopped
1 Tbsp basil pesto or ¼ cup fresh chopped basil leaves
¼ cup cream cheese, chopped (50g)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon plus extra for garnish

Leaf tip of basil for each bowl
Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over a low-medium heat. Sauté the onion until softened, then stir in the chilli and garlic and sauté a few minutes more.
Turn the heat to medium high, pour in the stock and the peas, salt and pepper and bring to simmer point. Stir in the spinach and simmer three-four minutes.
Transfer to a processor with the avocado, pesto or basil, cream cheese and zest. Puree very thoroughly to ensure the cream cheese is well blended into the mix. This may have to be done in two steps.
Return the pureed soup to the original saucepan and reheat to serve in warm bowls accompanied by hot crusty ciabatta or quesadilla (p..). Use a zester to provide a garnish of extra lemon zest ‘threads’ if wished, and/or a leaf tip of basil for each bowl. Include very finely seeded and sliced red chilli as an extra garnish if wished.


Combined with chilli, fresh coriander, cumin, garlic and lime or lemon, tomatillos make a Mexican salsa so good it could be addictive. Serve with corn chips as a dip, or as a sauce to include in wraps or to serve with almost anything from tacos to frittatas.
Freeze or bottle the base salsa as detailed below.
Tomatillos are easy to grow, and self-seeding.
Unhusked tomatillos can be stored in a paper bag in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

1 kg tomatillos
2 onions, peeled and chopped
water if poaching
1 tsp ground cumin
4-5 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 ½ tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
2-3 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp lime juice or equivalent lemon juice for each cup of base mixture
¼ cup finely chopped coriander for each cup of base mixture

Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash in warm water to remove the sticky coating.
Prepare the onion and stir into the tomatillos in a microwave -safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 5-6 minutes on high with no added water. Microwave another 5 minutes. Drain off half a cup of liquid at this point and discard. 
OR place in a large shallow frypan with 1 cup water and simmer, turning constantly over a low heat until the tomatillos turn ochre in colour and are soft to the touch without actually splitting. Drain most of the water off.
Stir the cumin, the prepared garlic, salt and sugar into the cooked tomatillos.
Place the microwaved or poached and drained tomatillo mixture in a processor and pulse to roughly chop. 
Stir in the seeded and finely chopped red chillies. At this point the base mixture can either be frozen as is, or transferred to a pot and brought to simmer point before being bottled in the normal way.
When required, ensure the base mixture is at room temperature. Stir in the lime juice (or lemon) along with the finely chopped coriander, taste, then adjust the seasonings to taste  - salt, sugar, chilli, lime/lemon juice.

Note: Mashed avocado makes a great addition and thickener to this salsa.

Glamping - what happened to back country food?

Happy New Year from our heart's home - Wanaka. We come every year, for at least a month, not least because I have so many cousins around the area; so many of our friends have turned up here over the years, either to holiday or to live. This gorgeous place attracts skiers in winter, swimmers, fisherpeople, sun seekers in the summer, trampers and outdoor sports buffs all year round. We couriered our bikes down as usual, and bought Eve ( fox terrier) with us as accompanied baggage on the plane - easy!
I used to live in the stables in the Uni holidays and took tourists up Mt Iron on horseback, but the stables are long gone and the flanks of Mt Iron are covered in houses. Streams of tourists walk or run! up every day in the summer for exercise and the view, and suburbs swarm where we once gathered mushrooms. There are, however, still vestiges of the old days. . .

Penrith as it used to be, and still is!
We've walked most of the 'Great Walks' but it's always nice to reconnect - this year we decided to walk the Milford track again after 14 years but do it 'guided' this time(a polite term for glamping; glamour tramping). Not, I hasten to add, because we're old and infirm, only cautious. I was sceptical, and I did miss some things, such as macaroni cheese and a slug of scotch in my cocoa, but who could complain about 5 course meals (if you include nibbles and a salad), wine, comfortable beds and duvets, greeted at the door  - in short, treated like royalty in the most stunning environment - honestly,it's picture postcard stuff, there's always something stunning to see.

Every time you look at the Clinton river you'll see trout

The water's so clear you can see every stone

My favourite hut was Pompolona -  luxury in the middle of nowhere, and to top it all - one of the best creme brulees I've had.  Given where we were, who would believe it?

Nearly at the top of the McKinnon Pass - hot cocoa waiting. . 

Just a few clouds to add to the drama at the top - dragon's breath?
Contemplating how far you've walked

 Swimming after lunch

Our friend Sylvia walked those 55 kilometres on reconstructed feet, and we reckon she should be the pin-up girl for the big walks - if she can do it, almost anyone can. . .
We'd recommend it to anyone - the guides are great, everything is provided - packs, pack inners, raincoats, poles, even insect repellent.
As for the food, forget cabin bread, peanut butter and jam

Lava cakes - molten chocolate inside!

or, to put it more delicately, none of us lost any weight. . .