Pearl Couscous & Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Maple Dressing

This salad is a real winner. One you will make again and again. Healthy but filling, it just hits the spot.

Maple Dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
3 Tbs maple syrup
4 Tbs orange juice
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous)
1 small butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
1 Tbs olive oil, salt and pepper
4 cups baby spinach, firmly packed, stalks removed, or larger leaves, torn up
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup pecan or walnut halves

Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake to combine. Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel pumpkin and cut into 2cm cubes. Mix with the oil, salt and pepper, then spread out on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked and starting to brown. Cool.

Meanwhile cook the couscous for 5-10 minutes in a pan of boiling, salted water, until al dente. Drain in a sieve, then run it under the cold tap and drain again. Toast the nuts by stirring them in a dry frying pan over moderate heat for a few minutes.

Mix the spinach and couscous with some of the dressing and arrange in a shallow salad bowl. Arrange the pumpkin, pecans or walnuts, cranberries and onion over the top. Drizzle with a bit more dressing.

Serves 4

Roasted Pumpkin with Maple Syrup, Ginger and Thyme

This simple recipe for pumpkin is quick and easy to prepare. Delicious served as a side dish with any main course. Leftovers are nice cold in wraps or salads. I used a butternut pumpkin, known as butternut squash in some countries.

1kg pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1cm wedges (see photo)
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp salt
To garnish:
Fresh coriander leaves
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a large shallow baking sheet with baking paper. Place all ingredients except pumpkin in a bowl and mix well. Add pumpkin and turn to coat, then spread over the baking sheet, in one layer. Drizzle with any oil and syrup mixture left in the bowl. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cooked and starting to brown and caramelise around the edges. Turn once or twice during cooking time.

Serve garnished with the coriander and, if using, the pine nuts.

Serves 8

Substitution: if you don’t have any maple syrup substitute honey.

Vegetable Curry

This simple vegetable curry is perfect for using up all the odds and ends of vegetables from the bottom drawer of the fridge to produce a tasty family meal. I used sweet potato, pumpkin, green beans, potatoes and frozen peas. Other vegetables such as cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, capsicum, broccoli and eggplants also work well in this recipe.

If you’re not sure how many vegetables to prepare, I filled a one-litre measuring jug twice to overflowing. The quantity is flexible, but basically you need a big bowl full. If you don’t have enough vegetables, add a drained can of chickpeas.

3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger (optional)
3 Tbs curry paste or powder
1 tsp paprika or turmeric
1 can tomatoes, chopped
1 can coconut milk
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp sugar
8-10 cups prepared vegetables (see list above)
2 cups frozen peas or 2 handfuls spinach leaves
Extra water as required
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Steamed rice
Plain yoghurt
Chopped fresh coriander
Fruit chutney

Prepare vegetables by cutting them into large chunks and pieces that will cook in a similar time. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and cook the onion and garlic gently, until soft but not coloured. Add the chilli, ginger, curry paste and paprika or turmeric and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, stock, sugar and all the vegetables apart from the peas or spinach. Simmer, stirring from time to time, for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked. Add more water as required during cooking and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lastly add the frozen peas or spinach and cook for a minute or two.

Serve the curry garnished with coriander and accompanied by steamed rice, a bowl of plain yoghurt and some fruit chutney.

Serves 6

Note: if you prefer a non-creamy curry leave out the coconut milk and add more stock. If you have coconut cream rather than milk, that works too. This is a very flexible recipe.

Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with its unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4

Pork Belly Restaurant Style

Pork belly has become a regular addition to restaurant menus over the past couple of years. Its popularity is an indication that people aren’t so scared about eating a bit of fat every now and then, which is good. Succulent, juicy meat with a golden crispy skin, often served with creamy mashed potatoes, pumpkin or sweet potato and some wilted greens, with maybe a tangy sauce or glaze. Delicious.

Getting the pork right takes time, so it’s not something you can whip up in the half hour before dinner. Fortunately most of the work can be done in advance, which is how they achieve perfect results every time you order pork belly in a good restaurant. With this recipe you can do the same. Start the recipe in the morning or even the night before.

I use my coffee grinder to grind up the spices. Son James, a serious coffee drinker, says this is sacrilege. But I do give it a good wipe out afterwards and it makes the next brew of coffee interesting!

Pork Belly Restaurant Style

1.5 kg boneless pork belly, skin scored
2 Tbs olive oil
Spice Mix:
3 tsp dried thyme
1 star anise
1 tsp juniper berries or all spice
1 tsp fennel seeds or coriander seeds
6 whole cloves
½ cup salt
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Reserved pan juices
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
To serve:
Creamy mashed pumpkin (or potatoes or sweet potatoes)
Wilted buttered spinach or kale or roast kale (see below)

Place pork in a shallow dish. Grind thyme and spices in a spice or coffee grinder, or use a mortar and pestle. Mix with salt, garlic and pepper. Rub half over one side of pork, then turn it over and rub the rest into the other side. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight, turning from time to time.

Preheat oven to 150ºC. Rinse pork under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to come 2-3 cm up the sides of the pan, but it shouldn’t touch the meat. Cover with foil and roast for 4 hours. Check from time to time to see if water needs topping up. Remove pork from oven and cool. Strain pan juices, place in the fridge and when cold remove and discard the fat from the top. A spoonful of this fat mixed into our dog’s biscuits and he’s in heaven! Use a very sharp knife to cut pork into six neat rectangular servings – you might even get eight, depending on the size you want. Recipe can be prepared ahead to this stage.

About an hour before dinner preheat oven to 200ºC. Place oil in a cold frying pan large enough to take all the pork pieces and swirl to cover the bottom. Choose a pan with a handle which can go in the oven. Rub pork skin with a little salt then arrange the pieces on top of the oil, skin side down. Turn on heat and cook for 15 minutes on medium, or until skin is golden and crunchy. Turn pork over so it’s skin side up and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes to brown the bottom of the meat and heat through.

Meanwhile boil the pumpkin, or potatoes or sweet potatoes and mash them with lots of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a dash of cream. Cook spinach or kale in a little butter until wilted, then season, or roast – see below.

Remove pork from the oven. Place pork pieces on a plate and keep warm while you make the sauce. Tip off all the fat from the pan. Add reserved pan juices, honey and lemon juice and cook over high heat, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until slightly thickened.

Serve pork on a bed of mashed pumpkin (potatoes or sweet potatoes) with some greens on the side. Drizzle the sauce over and around the pork. If liked serve with apple sauce on the side – see below.

For a low carb version just skip the mashed potatoes or pumpkin and serve with more kale or some spinach or other green vegetable.

Serves 6

Roast Kale: An unusual way to cook kale is to roast it. Break off pieces of kale 3-4 cm long and arrange on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray with oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, then place in a hot oven (with the pork) for 5-8 minutes or until turning a bit brown and crispy on the edges. Watch carefully as it burns quickly.

Apple Sauce: peel, core and slice two large Granny Smith apples or cooking apples. Place in a small pan with half a cup of water and 2 Tbs sugar and simmer until soft. Use a potato masher to crush the apples into a chunky sauce and serve at room temperature.

Salmon with Pumpkin and Almond Pesto

We had this recipe from Delicious magazine last night and it was just as yummy as it looks in the photo. I made half the salmon and pumpkin – enough to serve two people – but all the almond pesto. The left-over pesto will be nice served with pasta, grilled chicken or steak, or drizzled over home-made wintery soups.

Salmon with Pumpkin and Almond Pesto

1kg pumpkin, peeled, seeds removed
1 Tbs rosemary leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup olive oil, plus 2 Tbs
1 bunch parsley, leaves picked off
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup blanched almonds (whole, flaked or slivered)
4 x 200g skinless salmon fillets, pin-boned
Steamed green vegetable to serve

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a large roasting pan with baking paper. Cut pumpkin into 2-3cm cubes and place on the paper with the rosemary and 1 Tbs oil. Season and toss to combine. Roast for 15 mins or until almost tender. To make pesto place parsley, almonds and garlic in food processor and whiz to combine. Add the ½ cup olive oil, scrape into a small bowl and season to taste. I also added the juice of half a lime, to give it a bit more zing.

Brush salmon with remaining 1 Tbs oil, season and add to the roasting pan with the pumpkin. Bake for a further 10 mins or until just cooked. Divide salmon and pumpkin among 4 plates and serve with the pesto and a steamed green vegetable such as beans, snow peas, brussels sprouts or broccoli.

Serves 4

Barley & Quinoa with Roasted Pumpkin & Mushrooms

Once or twice a fortnight we like to have a vegetarian dinner.  Matthew has always been a big fan of barley and I recently bought some quinoa, so I thought I would make a vegetarian dish combining these two grains. The result was delicious.

Quinoa (pronounced kin-wah) originated in the Andean regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it has been an important staple for 3-4000 years. It’s a grain-like crop, but not a member of the grass family, being more closely related to beets and spinach. The recent popularity of quinoa is due to the fact that it’s gluten-free and easy to digest. It’s also high in protein (14%), magnesium, iron and calcium. There has been some controversy of late over the high price the locals are having to pay for quinoa in South America, the price having gone through the roof due to increased exports.

I know that some of my readers don’t eat meat, so this is one for you.

Barley & Quinoa with Pumpkin & Mushrooms

¾ cup quinoa
¾ cup barley
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup pine nuts or coarsely chopped cashew nuts, lightly toasted
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander
Pumpkin mix:
5-600g butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2-3cm cubes
1/3 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
½ tsp each cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
Mushroom mix:
500g mixed mushrooms (see note below)
2 Tbs fresh thyme  or 2 tsp dried
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil

Cook quinoa and barley separately in boiling salted water to cover. The barley will take about 40 mins and the quinoa about 10. Add more boiling water as necessary so they don’t boil dry. Don’t overcook – they should both be “al dente”. Rinse and thoroughly drain the grains and place in a bowl.

While grains cook preheat oven to 180C. Mix pumpkin with remaining ingredients. Line an oven tray with baking paper and spread pumpkin mixture over it. Bake for 30 mins at 180 or until cooked and edges start darkening. Clean mushrooms if necessary, tear or cut up and mix with remaining ingredients. Line another oven tray with baking paper and spread mushroom mixture over it.  Bake for 8-10 mins on the shelf under the pumpkin.

Add pumpkin and mushroom mixtures, including any oil and juices, to the cooked grains. Add vinegar, mix gently and check to see if it needs more salt and pepper. Tip into a serving dish or individual bowls. Serve lukewarm or cold, garnished with the toasted nuts and chopped herbs.

Serves 4-6

Note: for the mushroom mix I used 150g of Shimeji, 100g of Enoki (both torn apart) and 250g of button mushrooms (wiped and thickly sliced) – all from Woolworths supermarket. If you can’t find fancy mushrooms use all button mushrooms.

Variation: use brown rice instead of barley.

Thai Pumpkin Soup

I borrowed a cook book from the library last week called Five of the Best by Valli Little.  It was printed to celebrate five years of the Australian food magazine Delicious.  I read cookbooks the way some people read novels and by the time I had finished going through the recipes I had decided to buy a copy so I ordered one from the ABC bookshop.  So far I’ve made several dishes including Tuna Stuffed Capsicum, Cauliflower Cheese Soup, Baked Eggplant with Goat Cheese and Cream and Thai Pumpkin Soup – all very good.  We’re not vegetarians, but sometimes I think it makes a nice change to skip meat for a few days.  Here’s the Pumpkin Soup recipe.

Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Pesto

2 bunches fresh coriander, roots trimmed
(a few leaves reserved for garnish)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
4 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger (I used a bit more)
1 Tbs Thai red curry paste
1 kg pumpkin, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 cups (500ml) vegetable or chicken stock
400ml can light coconut milk
thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced red
chilli, to garnish

To make the pesto place coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor.  Process adding 3 Tbs oil to make a sauce consistency, season to taste.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium head.  Add onion and stir for a minute.  Add ginger and curry paste and stir for a minute.  Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer 15 minutes or until pumpkin is cooked.  Cool a bit then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add coconut milk and season, then warm through.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a swirl of pesto, some onion, chilli and reserved coriander leaves.

Serves 6

Note: to make a more substantial meal, serve with croutons or toast.