Sunday, 23 November 2014

It's bean time......

It has been quite a while since my last posting...and I will later let you know what I have been up to. But right now the first harvest of our broad beans has to be celebrated.
Broad beans are one of the most useful and rewarding vegetables to grow for the kitchen and for your garden.
As there weren't that many beans after podding my first harvest, I decided to make a broad bean couscous - that way everyone got to taste a bean or two. And somehow broad beans and couscous just seem perfect partners.
Broad Beans this young if cooked quickly do not need to be skinned and if really fresh can be munched raw.
The best thing about this legume Vicia faba is that you can eat every part of the broad bean plant at different stages of growth  before the pods are mature.
Late winter the beans will start to gain height and these new leaf shoots appear.
Late winter the beans will start to gain height and these new leaf shoots appear.
The fresh soft green leaf shoots are delicious harvested for salads or as an addition to stir fry.  They have a mild peppery taste.
Broad beans flower in early spring, and you can take some (not all or you won't have beans) for inclusion in salads.
Here's the immature pod compared to a matured bean pod.
When the bean pods are the size of a pea pod you can use them whole in stir fry or sliced raw into a salad
If you prefer not to eat broad beans or do not have ready access to them then you can use any other vegetable in their place in this couscous dish.

Broad Bean Couscous

Don't you just hate it when Couscous clumps together?   I have learn't a couple of tricks that will improve your couscous dish.
First step is to put 2 cups of couscous into a heavy pan and gently toast until it slightly changes colour but careful not to burn.
Tip into a bowl and add 100ml of olive oil. The toasting adds flavour and the olive oil will ensure the grains remain separate.
Add 2 1/2 cups of boiling water. At first it looks like soup...
But like magic in a couple of minutes all the liquid is used up. I
Fluff up with a fork. You now have the base for the salad.
Bring to the boil a pot of hot water to briefly cook the beans.  Make sure the water is boiling before adding the podded beans and cook for 30 seconds up to 1 minute.  I taste one after 30 seconds and if nearly cooked strain the beans immediately and run under cold water.
If you have large older beans you should skin the beans to avoid that bitter taste of the outer pods. But if the beans are young and the skins not grey then skinning is not necessary. There are bean varieties available that have a green rather than grey skin once cooked. This really assists with presentation issues for the broad bean.
Add beans to the couscous.
Lemon goes really well with beans so I scraped a preserved lemon quarter of its salty flesh and was left with just the preserved peel remaining.  Dice and add along with  half a fresh lemon's zest. If you haven't got the preserved lemon - no worries just use the lemon zest from one lemon instead of half.
Finely slice one garlic clove, then squash it into salt flakes. The garlic and salt goes almost liquid.
Chop a handful of parsley and a couple of mint tips and add to the mix.
Coriander is also a good addition to the mix and I reserve a little to sprinkle over the top of the finished couscous.
Now squeeze the juice from one lemon (or more if needed once you taste it), and mix with one tsp of honey. Mix through the couscous and add a good dollop of olive oil.  You should taste now and you may need to add more lemon juice and olive oil. The taste I look for is the balance of sharpness of lemon with the creamy oily taste of olive oil.
I like to add a touch of dried fruit that contrasts nicely with the beans and lemon. I used 2 tablespoons of currants that have been soaked in white balsamic vinegar (but you could use ordinary balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar). The reason you soak the currants in vinegar is to add bite to the sweetness and to plump them up a little.
Add some chopped and toasted almonds to make your couscous complete.
You can add or change what I have suggested with what you have in your pantry cupboard. Roasted pumpkin cubes  that have been sprinkled with ground cumin could be an alternative to the beans.  And after the broad bean season you can add some sliced string beans or snow peas. Cooked chickpeas are also a tasty addition to couscous.
The good thing about this dish is that you can prepare it ahead of time - in fact it will improve if left overnight. We had this with roast chicken, roasted new carrots and asparagus but it will work in combination with any meat, fish or vegetable dish.
Over the past few months my focus has not been on cooking but on gardening. I decided this year that I would increase my knowledge either in nutrition or growing food.  In the end I chose gardening as I felt the greatest nutrition comes from growing food in healthy soil and reducing the time from picking to the plate. I am attending an Agriculture NZ Organic Horticulture course once a week and already I realise just how much I don't know about growing.
Garlic at foreground; beans background - Peter standing beside them shows their growth is not at all stunted.
Last week I learnt that you shouldn't plant beans and legumes with garlic and onions... and that was exactly what I did this year at our garden plot.  Our garlic is growing magnificently and next to them our beans seem to be doing well. Why don't legumes like the onion and garlic family? Apparently what makes garlic so good for us - killing bacteria - affects the bacteria that fixes nitrogen in the legumes.  The beans have started to get rust but are producing well.  I will keep an eye on them and next year keep the two apart - and they need a distance of over a metre.
Broad Beans are easy to grow and King's Seeds have a dwarf variety available that just grows to one metre if you are short on space.
But what if you have a real dislike of Broad Beans?  Then think about planting them anyway  before Anzac Day (April 25th) - let them grow up in winter and just as they begin to  flower dig them back into the soil.  You won't get to eat the beans but your soil will receive a good feed of organic matter and a dose of nitrogen ready for an early summer crop you just love to eat. It will take just a month in spring for the bean materials to break down. Before digging in - remember you can utilise the peppery green shoots in a stir fry or late winter salad. You will have your revenge on those beans your mother made you eat as a child and your soil will thank you!

Getting to know your lemons and delicious lemon pudding

I use lemons on a daily basis, so, it's one ingredient that I want to have available. I know this sounds a little excessive, but when I travel I even take one or two lemons in my suitcase.  But, when I have lemons in abundance, my first thought is to make an old family favourite, the most Delicious Lemon Pudding.
Delicious Lemon pdg 1
Lemon Delicious Pudding or Lemon Cheese Pudding recipe can be found in various editions of The Edmonds Cookbook.
At our local organic fruit and veggie shop they have three varieties of lemons for sale.  This has prompted me to investigate if there is any real difference in the varieties. I bought one of each;  Villa Franca, Ben Yen and Meyer.
Ceres Fresh Market, in the Ponsonby Central Market, sources organic produce whenever they can. If you don't have access to free lemons and you are using the zest you need to make sure they are not waxed. I know these lemons would be wax free.
When I got home I discovered a box of large, juicy, Hawkes Bay Meyer lemons sent to me by my sister-in-law Monica. Time for a Delicious Lemon Pudding.
This pudding is simple to make and as the title suggests is deliciously 'lemony' with a light soufflĂ© top and a thick lemony sauce underneath.  This sauce is probably why in an edition of The Edmonds Cookbook the same recipe is called Lemon Cheese pudding.
In July when visiting my sister Kerry in Dunedin (with my travelling lemons) I used the recipe that she got from Mum.  I increased the lemon and decreased the sugar.

Delicious Lemon Pudding

Kerry's special recipe book on the Lemon pudding page features a photo of Mum in her garden. Kerry's healthy homegrown eggs make the lemon pudding very yellow. This mix has yet to have the milk so its a little thick.

The pudding has two parts in the preparation - the thin lemon sauce and beaten egg whites to be folded through the mix to give the soufflé lightness.
1 tbsp of butter
1/2 cup of caster sugar (original recipe used standard sugar)
2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
zest of one lemon
juice of 1-2 lemons (depending on the size)
1 cup of milk (I used almond and coconut milk)
2 eggs
Cream butter and sugar. I have found that caster sugar combines easier than standard white sugar as the butter to sugar ratio is quite low.
Use either one or two lemons - I used about 1/3 cup of juice and zest from 1 lemon using a zester and then finely chopping. A zest grater would do the job in one action.
Add the flour, then the lemon zest and juice followed by the 1 cup of milk.  This will make the mix very watery.  Next separate the egg yolks from the egg whites.  Add the beaten egg yolks to the sauce.
When folding in egg white I first add just one spoonful of egg white to the mix you are folding the egg white into. Then add the rest of the egg white. This little bit of added air upfront lightens the mix and makes the remaining egg white easier to combine.
Next, fold in the egg white gently. As the sauce is the consistency  is as thin as pouring cream rather than custard it can take a little time to fully combine.  Keep a folding action going rather than stirring to ensure not too much air is lost from the egg whites.
The pudding fits perfectly into a 600ml (just over 1 pint) capacity tin pie dish. The dish is 24 cm long.
The pudding fits perfectly into a 600ml (just over 1 pint) capacity tin pie dish. The dish is 24 cm long.
Pour into a greased dish and bake slowly inside a larger container that has water a couple of cm high.  This water bath keeps the cooking even and avoids the pudding drying out. Cook for up to 40 minutes at 160C until set. Avoid overcooking or it will dry out.
This pudding I caught just in time. Ideally it should just be an overall golden colour on top as the one below.
This will serve four, so when I make it for a larger gathering I just double the mix and it works just as well.
This is a pudding I made for a larger family gathering using 4 eggs and 3-4 lemons.
This is a pudding I made for a larger family gathering using 4 eggs and 3-4 lemons.
Serve simply with a dollop of yoghurt or whipped cream.
There are many varieties of lemons with different qualities and uses.  Following are three of the popular varieties grown in New Zealand.
A bowl of Meyer lemons sent from Monica in Hawkes Bay
 Meyer lemon Citrus × meyeri  wins the title of New Zealand's most popular lemon and features in many kiwi backyards. The fruit is the sweetest and juiciest.  The Meyer strictly speaking is not a true lemon.  The tree originated from China and the lower acidity and  juiciness has occurred because of a natural crossbreeding between the lemon and a mandarin.  In 1908 agricultural explorer Frank Meyer introduced this lemon to the US.  In China this tree was primarily grown for decoration in pots.  Meyer's reward was to have the tree named after him. It's the variety most commonly grown in southern areas in micro-climate spots because it is the hardiest of all the lemon varieties.
The Meyer has a soft skin and is the largest of the lemons.  Sometimes they can almost look rounded and could be confused with a pale orange.  It is not the best lemon for zest and a real punchy lemon juice. That soft skin means you need to take great care not to bruise and damage the fruit and for this reason other varieties are often preferred by growers for export because their tougher skin gives them greater keeping qualities.
Villa Franca can be identified by its nobly appearance.
Villa Franca can be identified by its nobly appearance.
Villa Franca Citrus × limon 'Villafranca' is ideal for cooking and baking because it has an excellent flavour in the skin. It also produces fruit in the warmer months. Villa Franca is an Italian variety said to have originated from Sicily. Being a southerner  and not grown as lemon trees in too many backyards, I didn't realise that quite a few lemon trees have thorns.  Villa Franca apparently grows out of it's thorns as it ages.
Yen Ben is an Australian variety developed from the Lisbon lemon.
Yen Ben is an Australian variety developed from the Lisbon lemon in the 1930's by Walter Benham
Yen Ben Citrus × limon 'Yen Ben' has been a popular lemon to grow in New Zealand since the 1970's.  It's smooth and thin rind with very few seeds and high percentage of juice makes it easy to use and rewarding in the kitchen.  Yen Ben is a winter-producing lemon, though produces multiple crops throughout the year with the majority of fruit harvested in winter.  For successful growing and fruiting, plant in a large container or tub so it can enjoy maximum warmth and sunshine   Protect from cold strong winds, and hard winter frosts.
Abundant lemon tree in my niece Francie's garden. Always cut lemons rather than pull off the tree. This will ensure a small part of the stalk remains that will allow the picked lemon to last longer.
If you are lucky enough to have a lemon tree in your garden, the best storage for your lemons is on the tree. Lemons don't ripen once they are picked and the fruit keeps much longer on the tree.
Lemons will stay fresh at room temperature for about a week. Store them in the fridge if you don't plan to use them within the week. They'll keep for about four weeks in this cooler environment.
Lemons are supposed to be easy to grow.  I haven't found the ideal spot in my Dunedin garden as yet but armed with the advice below I will give it another go in the future.
  • No matter which variety you choose, lemons do best in steady growing conditions
  • Maintaining moisture is as important as fertiliser - if your fruit is dry and pithy it is usually from too little water early in the growth cycle
  • Free drainage is equally important
  • Growing in large pots is a good option for gardens with poorly drained soil or in areas where you can't protect it from cold ground.
  • Lemons are gross feeders.  Apply well-rotted chicken manure once every two to three years. In the intervening years, use compost or animal manure (horse, cow or sheep).
  • Lemon tree roots are just below the surface of the soil so mulching is important to ensure the roots don't dry out.
An excellent Marmalade made from  Ben Yen lemons, Tangellos and one Kaffir Lime.
An excellent Marmalade made from  Yen Ben lemons, Tangelos and one Kaffir Lime.
In my investigation into lemons I noted that Yen Ben lemons were ideal for marmalade.  I tried them out making up to 750 gm (1.5 lbs) of pulp using 2 tangelos for colour and tart sweetness, and 1 kaffir lime.  I used the same method as I do for my grapefruit marmalade ( see Marmalade...starring grapefruit posted in October 2012). It made five pots of great marmalade.
Enjoying a midwinter lemon pudding by the fire at my sister's place in Dunedin. Glad I packed those lemons.
Lemon Delicious pudding may be simple but it can make a big impression because of its light texture and real lemon flavour.  A few years ago I served it to my friend Andy, an excellent chef. He loved it so much that next time we met for dinner he requested the same 'put'.