The Perfect Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Thanksgiving snuck up on us last year. We thought we’d play it cool and celebrate by going out for a meal with some Aussie friends; as it turned out, our cravings for fall cooking, pumpkin pie and cheesy speeches weren’t so easily placated. This time we’re ahead of the curve. We’ve already had a Friendsgiving and a Worksgiving (is that a thing?) and the real Thanksgiving isn’t even for another 5 days.

I decided this year that I’d branch out from my go-to recipes and try something different. So, for Friendsgiving, I made roast butternut squash soup. It was so good and so easy! I could kick myself for not trying this before. (Recipe on the way). This past Friday, we had one of our monthly bake offs at work. Seeing as it’s late November and all, I themed this one around Thanksgiving, or really, around pie.

Rhubarb Rhubarb: fresh from the market

Rhubarb Rhubarb: isn’t it pretty?

Strawberry rhubarb isn’t a typical Thanksgiving pie, but it IS summer down here and it felt more appropriate to make a fruit pie than, say a pumpkin or pecan one. I’m a sucker for strawberries and rhubarb, especially together and especially in the summer when they’re at their peak. Besides, filling a pie with fresh fruit rather than sugar or custard makes it feel infinitely healthier (even if only in my head :p). Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about the cardinal rule of pie-making:

Homemade crust is the best crust

The key to a good pie is the crust. It’s the first thing you bite into and the last thing you taste. It introduces the pie and sets the tone for what’s to come. You might not swoon over a pie made with perfect crust and a poor filling, but a delicious filling will never make up for a mediocre pie crust.

A good crust has texture and flavor; it’s something you’d eat even without the filling. A great pie crust complements the yummy goodness it’s transporting into your mouth. Tangy key lime? Go with a punchy graham cracker crust.  Creamy, custard? Try a textured crust made of crushed pecans. Fruit pie? Keep it simple and let the fruit shine.

Making your own pie crust might sound time-consuming and tedious but it’s pretty easy if you know how. More importantly, once you’ve had a good homemade crust, you’ll never go back to those bland, greasy, unsatisfying substitutes. Why would you want to waste your precious calories, not to mention your delicious pie filling, on something mass-produced and supermarket-bought? I kind of feel that way about all food, but it’s especially true for dessert. So, give the homemade version a go!

Easy, all-butter pie crust

Prep time: 45 mins | Fridge time: 1+ hours or overnight | Cook time: 20 mins | Yields: 2 base crusts or 1 base and 1 top

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 250gms unsalted butter
  • 10 tablespoons ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • Pie weights (or lima beans or coins) for blind baking
  • A rolling pin
  • A 9″ pie or springform dish (if you like deep dish pie)

Method

Now first things first: you want your butter to be cold. Not melting, not room temperature, coldThe trick to getting your crust all flaky and textured is to leave chunks (slivers? pieces?) of butter intact in the dough. If you let the butter melt or if you overwork the dough, your pie crust will be tough and chewy. So, if your kitchen counter is next to a toasty warm oven, a burning stovetop or a dishwasher, take your butter some place else. Once you’re alone with your butter in a nice cool place, chop it into cubes and stick it back in the fridge.

Next, measure 3 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp of fine salt into a large bowl and stir to mix and aerate. Take your chopped butter out of the fridge and begin working into the dry mix. You can use a pastry blender to speed things up here or you can go old school and use your fingers. If you’re using your fingers, I’ll tell you what my 4th grade teacher taught me: wash and dry your hands (duh!) and use only the tips of your fingers! Get your palm in there and you’re sure to create a buttery mess and ruin your dough. Once you’re done, your pre-dough should look like giant crumbs the size of lima beans.

Get your ice water out of the freezer and add a few tablespoons at a time, mixing until the dough just comes together. Be very careful not to add too much water and not overwork the dough. Your final dough should be moist but flaky, not sticky. Divide the dough in half, flatten each piece into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. You can leave the dough discs overnight or you can ready them for baking within an hour.

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Take your chilled disc out of the fridge and place it on a clean, cool and well-floured surface. Dust the rolling pin with flour and start rolling. The dough is going to want to stick onto the countertop but the trick here is to roll and move. Flip the dough over, move it around, do whatever it takes to keep it from sticking. You’ll want to shape it into a 12″ circle so that it’ll sit in your 9″ pie dish with about 1″ of overhang. Once you’re there, transfer it into your greased and floured pie dish (I like to use a spring form because I’m a fan of deep dish pies) and crimp the edges, using your index finger and thumb. A quick video on fluting here.

Finally, line the dough with baking paper or foil, and weigh down with pie weights, dry beans or clean coins. I like to use coins because they’re heavy and good conductors of heat to boot. Place your pie dish in a middle rack and bake at 450F / 220C for 15-20 minutes until the crust starts to look golden brown. Remove and set aside to cool.

Strawberry rhubarb pie: the filling

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of unpeeled, diced rhubarb stalks
  • 2 cups of diced strawberries
  • 1-2 cups sugar depending of tartness of fruit
  • 1 tsp orange or lemon rind
  • 1 tblsp butter
  • 3 tblsp cornstarch or 6 tblsp flour to thicken
  • Egg wash or milk
  • Prebaked pie crust (see above)

It’s the start of summer here in the Southern hemisphere and rhubarb is in season. I love rhubarb, especially when paired with strawberries, and I thought it would make a killer combo for an old-timey American pie. The sweetness of the strawberries mellows out the tartness of the rhubarb, creating a beautifully jammy filling that will leave you wanting more.

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Fruit pies can be tricky because the cooking fruit juices can lead to a soggy crust. There are two tricks here: one is to pre-bake (aka blind bake) the base crust. The second is to thicken the syrupy fruit filling with cornstarch, arrow root or ground tapioca. I used flour in a pinch (doubled the amount called for) and it worked like a charm.

Combine the filling ingredients in a big bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes. Spoon the pie filling into your pre-baked pie crust.

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The last step in your pie baking adventure is the top crust. I opted for a lattice-style crust for this pie but you can go with something simpler. The NY Times has recently done an amazing round up of pies for its Thanksgiving cooking section and has lots of top crust ideas here.

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Brush the top of your pie crust with milk or an egg wash to encourage browning and bake in the oven at 400F for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit starts to bubble. Enjoy!

Tiger Mottle and a Wander in Paddo

Jacaranda: the gem of Australian summer

Jacaranda: the harbinger of the Aussie summer

Summer is here at last and the season is in full swing — soaring temperatures, sudden thunderstorms, flowers in full bloom. The hubs and I spent the morning wandering around Paddington, a leafy suburb affectionately referred to by locals as “Paddo”. We pass through Paddo every morning on our way from Bondi Beach to Sydney’s CBD, yet in the excitement of exploring some of Sydney’s lesser known neighbourhoods, this gem has managed to fall off our weekend radar. Ironic really, as we came very close to living in Paddo when we first moved out here.

Breakfast was at Tiger Mottle, a cute, neighbourhood cafe, a few short steps from the heart of Paddo’s Five Ways. Tiger Mottle prides itself on a fresh, simple menu and strong, reliable coffee. They’re most famous, perhaps, for their use of the double ristretto method, a choice that contributes, no doubt, to the delicious aromas that waft out of their open store front on Glenmore.

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We’ve had the pleasure of Tiger Mottle’s coffee on a previous visit but this was our first time sampling their food. In keeping with Sydney café culture, the menu offered up an array of egg and sourdough dishes with a smattering of avocado and seasonal salads. I was excited to also see quite a few innovative options, including Quinoa Bircher. I’ve been toying with the idea of a quinoa-based breakfast porridge for a few days now, so this jumped out at me as a quick, no-risk way of taste-tasting the concept.

Everything was delicious! There’s nothing more disappointing than a breakfast that leaves you feeling unsated. Luckily, Tiger Mottle delivers on its mantra (or really the “Mod Oz” mantra) of fresh, flavorful food, done simply and healthily. And to top it all, we got to sit in the cozy garden out back. This one’s a winner.

After brekky, the sun peeked out and gave us some respite from an atypically overcast day. We wandered around and I snapped a few shots of green, leafy Paddo and some of it’s gorgeous summer blooms.

Paddo reminds me a lot of London’s Nottinghill; the quiet streets and narrow, terraced houses make for a quaint, village-like feel. On a sunny day, Paddo’s dappled laneways could pass for something out of a Mediterranean postcard.

Now, the front doors and flowers of Paddo could make for more than a few blog posts all by themselves, but I’ll leave you here with a few favorites. Till next time x

Tiger Mottle on Urbanspoon

Product of the month: Explore Asian

I know, I know, I’m late with this month’s favorite, but I’m going to try and stick with my plan of reviewing an innovative new product every month.  Given my current obsession with cooking, it should come as no surprise that this month’s favorite is a food. More specifically, it’s a kind of pasta. A low-carb, low-sodium, high-protein, gluten-free, absolutely delicious vegan pasta!

I whipped this up last week (recipe on the way): fresh prawns, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, Persian Feta and mung bean fettuccine. That’s right, those green noodles are made entirely of organic mung beans and water. No processed carbs, no gluten, no eggs. They’re vegan and even qualify as raw. Most importantly, they are absolutely delicious! They cook perfectly al denté and, unlike many refined flour pasta substitutes, they could easily pass for the real thing. How awesome is that gluten-free friends?

exploreasianpastas

It gets even better: Explore Asian, the New Jersey-based company behind this innovative product, makes not just one, but five different kinds of bean pasta. I haven’t had a chance to sample their edamame, soybean or adzuki bean spaghetti but I recently used the black bean version in a stir fry and was thrilled with the results.

To understand why this is a truly groundbreaking line of products, lets take a look at how regular fettuccine stacks up against Explore Asian’s mung bean version.

Fettuccine (literally “little ribbon” in Italian) is a flat thick noodle made of egg and flour. It’s popular in Roman cuisine and holds up well with thick, hearty sauces, making it a popular choice for Alfredo and Carbonara.

If you look at any nutritional chart for fettuccine, the “standard” serving size is 2 oz dry noodles or 1 cup cooked. The reality, however, is that most restaurant portions you’ll encounter are far larger.

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A 2 oz serving of dry mung bean fettuccine contains more than three times the fiber, nearly three times the protein and 30% fewer calories than regular fettuccine. On top of that, the mung bean version contains almost no sodium and very little fat.

80% of the calories in regular fettuccine come from carbohydrates vs. 37% in mung bean fettuccine. The bulk of calories in the mung bean version actually come from protein (55%) which, amongst other benefits, requires more energy to metabolize and keeps us feeling full longer.

Now, meeting our protein requirements (between 0.8 – 1gm per kg of weight) isn’t a big deal for those of us who eat meat, but for a vegetarian, vegan or someone committed to a raw diet, it isn’t as easy. As I mentioned earlier, this is a product that qualifies as “raw” because the process by which it’s made involves extruding mung bean dough at temperatures lower than 120F. In fact, the noodles can be eaten simply after soaking in water for 36 hours. No heat needed.

Photo by Fresh Beet

Photo by The Fresh Beet

The bean version is also packed with fiber (45% of RDA), and with vitamins A, B, C and E. Made from the mighty mung bean, it is also rich in folate and in vitally important minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. A nutritional powerhouse, mung beans are native to India where they’re popular in fresh salads , as a side vegetable dish and in lentil stews. Mung bean flour can also used to make rotis and pancakes, while in China and East Asia, mung bean paste is often used in desserts. Mung beans have been credited with reducing cholesterol levels and heart disease, supporting liver function and promoting healthy hair, nails and skin.

So, whether you’re gluten sensitive, pre-diabetic or simply trying to eat low-carb and healthy, this is an amazing product to incorporate into your regular meal rotation. It truly is a guilt-free pasta.

Where can I get my hands on this?

If you’re in the US, you should be able to find Explore Asian products at most natural stores and at Whole Foods and even Costco. You can also order directly from their website. The bean spaghettis are priced at an affordable $30 for a 6-pack. Here in Sydney, I was able to get the black bean spaghetti and mung bean fettuccine from Kemenys, a specialty wine and food store in Bondi Beach. I haven’t looked farther afield but reckon you’d be able to get it at most natural food stores here as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Get ahold of some bean pasta and get cracking with those delicious recipes!

Kale, Asparagus, Beef and Black Bean Noodle Stir Fry

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When it comes to cooking, stir fry is a firm favorite in my book. Like sautéeing, stir frying involves cooking evenly-sized pieces of meat or vegetables on high heat. An important distinction however, is that stir fry dishes are made in a wok, which gives you a little more surface area to work with and an ability to cook different ingredients in different styles, with a small amount of oil.  Stir frying works especially well with vegetables, so it’s also a great way to get in your 3 cups a day veggie quota.

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I made this dish using gluten-free, black bean noodles from Explore Asian. I’ve have been raving about this product (review on the way!) but feel free to substitute with buckwheat noodles (soba) or something more traditional if you don’t mind the carbs. Also, I chose to use beef, but this recipe would work well with another kind of meat or tofu if you prefer.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • A large wok and a saucepan to boil water
  • 200gms sirloin (New York strip) steak, cubed or cut into thin strips
  • 1 bunch (around 8 stalks) asparagus
  • 2 cups fresh kale
  • 2 scallions (green onion) or shallot
  • 1/2 a packet of black bean spaghetti by Explore Asian
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha

Method (20 minutes)

The key to a good stir fry is heat and speed, so prep your ingredients ahead of time: cut the beef into bite size cubes or strips. Chop the asparagus into 2 inch pieces, discarding woody ends. Cut the scallion on the bias (or finely slice the shallots) and wash and tear the kale leaves, discarding the stems.

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In the meantime, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus by adding to the boiling water for 2 minutes and then transferring to an ice bath to halt the cooking. Retain the water, reheat and once boiling, add half a packet of the black bean noodles. Cook until the noodles are al denté, about 6 minutes.

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Sear the beef: add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the wok and turn up the heat. Add the beef and keep it moving, ensuring you flip each piece around so that both sides cook evenly (about 3 minutes). Remove from the wok and set aside.

Wilt the kale: add another tablespoon of oil to the wok and once hot, add the garlic, ginger, sliced scallions / shallots and the sriracha. Throw in the torn kale and cook, stirring often, until the leaves are wilted.

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At this point, you can push the kale to the sides of the wok and add the blanched asparagus. (You can also remove the kale and set aside.) Stir the asparagus, coating in the remnants of the prior ingredients, about 1 minute. Now add back the beef, add a splash of soy sauce and let it reduce. Mix in the kale and add the noodles. Cook the entire thing another minute or so, stirring vigorously. Serve hot and enjoy!

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Spicy, Crisped Okra: no slime, all taste

Photo: AlJazeera

Photo: Al Jazeera

Okra is one of my favorite vegetables. Growing up in the UK, it was a regular on my family’s dinner menu rotation. We’d eat it crisped, stuffed with spices and fried, or cooked in a tangy tomato curry. It was always finger-licking good. When we’d travel back to India, the extended family would be alerted of my love of this magical vegetable and an okra dish would appear at every dinner party we attended. Delicious!

When I moved to the US however, I was shocked to learn that okra is not just unpopular, it’s actually one of the most reviled vegetables out there. As it turns out, cooking okra the way Americans often do, in a Gumbo, releases a gooey substance that makes for an unpleasant slimy texture. So much so, that okra is often referred to as “the slime vegetable”.

sweet-potato-gumbo2

A beautiful Southern Gumbo. Photo by Fat Free Vegan

As you can imagine, this nearly broke my okra loving heart. This slimy vegetable sounded nothing like the tangy, spicy, crispy vegetable of my youth.

If you’re stewing, boiling or steaming your okra and then complaining when it turns out gooey, here’s an idea: try cooking it differently! (I can’t help but draw a parallel here with the poor Brussels sprout, which is often boiled or steamed and then unfairly declared to be smelly and unpalatable.) There are so many wonderful okra recipes out there, deep fried okra, okra muffins and even an okra tartlette, that there’s really no reason to stop at something you dislike.

I’m going to share with you a wonderfully simple, Indian recipe for okra that results in spicy, perfectly crisped okra. Before we do that though, let’s take a quick look at why okra is so awesome:

1) Okra is loaded with vitamins and minerals. 

One cup of okra contains 60% of your RDA of vitamin K, which is essential for proper blood coagulation and helps with bone strength and cardiovascular health. It’s also rich in folate (crucial in preventing birth defects), Potassium (used to build muscle and break carbs down) and Magnesium (essential for protein synthesis and muscle function). Okra can even hold its own against the mighty Brussels sprout.

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2) Okra is low in calories

One cup of okra contains only 30 calories. As a fellow blogger puts it, why snack on not-nutritionally dense celery and iceberg lettuce for a low-calorie veggie when you can munch on a nutritionally-dense, low-calorie veggie like okra? Nuff said.

3) Rich in fat-soluble fibre 

Okra is rich in fiber, which is essential for digestive health and keeps you feeling full longer. Perhaps most importantly, soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables helps lower blood cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease.

Are you sold? Let’s dive in :)

Crisped Indian-style Okra with Onions

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The dish we’re going to make is known in India as “bhindi bhunjia” (literally, crisped okra) and is my go-to recipe for okra, because it’s quick, easy and has a wonderful tangy kick and a crunch to it. It’s also entirely devoid of slime. Serving the finished okra with some lemon juice and a side of lime pickle really takes this dish up a notch, so if you don’t already own any, I’d recommend buying a jar of Indian pickle and sticking it in the fridge (it lasts forever).

If this is your first time cooking with turmeric, one thing to keep in mind is that the darn thing manages to stain just about anything. Be prepared: no white shirts, no white countertops, no white fridges, no white iPhones. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling and, if a spot of turmeric (or okra cooked in turmeric) does get onto your pristine countertop, squirt some dishwashing liquid onto it and let it soak a few minutes before scrubbing.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • Fresh okra: 20 pods / about 2 cups when chopped
  • Half a white onion: coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 2 tbsp mustard oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt to taste
  • Indian lime pickle

Method

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Wash the uncut okra and lay flat on a paper towel. Pat the okra dry. Note** do not slice the okra while it’s wet. More importantly, do not wash the okra once it’s been cut — this is crucial if you are to get crisp texture rather than a soggy one.

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Slice the tops off the okra and cut the rest of it width-wise into thin, even, slices. The more finely you slice it, the more crispy it’ll be. I cut mine about 0.5cm thick.

Coarsely chop half a white onion. Add the mustard oil to a frying pan and heat over medium. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic paste, the turmeric, cumin seeds and chili powder and cook for around 1 minute, using your wooden spoon to ensure the spices are evenly mixed with the oil. Add the chopped onion, coat and cook for a minute. Finally throw in the okra, turn up the heat and mix well. Sauté for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

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If you don’t want your okra super crispy, turn the heat down, cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes with the lid on. Otherwise, leave the frying pan uncovered and sauté the okra and onion as you would any other vegetable — stirring and shaking on medium-high heat. You should see the okra and onions starting to brown. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and cook until you have just a touch of charring and a good coat of golden brown spices.


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Finally, remove the okra from the heat and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon over it before serving. Eat with Indian lime pickle (the tangy citrus really complements the flavor of the okra) and some roti. Enjoy!

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