Belinda Jeffrey, Australian chef, cookbook writer and presenter, took a weekend of classes at our cooking school five years ago now.
At the time I asked her to base her class menu on her foolproof favourites, tried and true recipes which are straightforward to put together but always create a stir among the recipients.
I was not surprised to see pumpkin soup leading her menu as whatever you might think personally of the soup it is a foolproof crowd pleaser and the leading soup flavour in Australasia.
Belinda's pumpkin soup was, and still is, head and shoulders above the many others I have been privy to and it has become a foolproof favourite in our kitchen.
Sometimes, we even dress it up by adding a little stack of grilled prawns to the soup bowl before pouring the soup at the table, providing guests with lime wedge garnish.
In Belinda's recipe she calls for butternut pumpkin. Also known as buttercup, it is sweet but not watery and its texture reminds me of chestnuts.
If you make blended soups often in winter look at options for immersion blenders. If nothing else it saves on dishes. Leave the unblended soup in the pot and blend by inserting an immersion blender into the liquid.
Today enjoy Belinda's Spicy Coconut Soup but also her Spicy Coconut Salmon in Banana Leaves with Pineapple Achar.
Spicy Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
Serves 8, and there are often leftovers.
This makes a big pot of extremely flavoursome soup but it's so simple to do that it seems crazy not to cook extra and freeze it for another meal.
30ml (2 Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
360g (2 medium) onions (sliced)
4 large cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 small red chillies chopped (remove seeds if you prefer less spicy)
1 Tbsp ground cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp of your favourite curry paste (Belinda uses Pataks Tikka Masala paste)
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto (or tomato paste)
2.5kg pumpkin (preferably butternut peeled and cut into 3cm chunks)400g can diced tomatoes in juice
1 Tbsp sugar
2-3 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1.75 litres (7 cups) water
270ml (1 cup + 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp) light coconut cream
juice 1/2-1 lemon (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
Place olive oil in a large pan set over medium heat.
Add onions and cook for 10 minutes or till soft and translucent. Add garlic, ginger and chillies.
Cook mixture, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or till garlic is soft but not browned.
Add cumin, coriander, cinnamon, curry paste and tomato pesto. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes or till it smells wonderful. Add pumpkin and give it a good stir. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and water. Bring to the boil then reduce heat so soup bubbles gently. Partly cover pan and cook for 35 minutes or till pumpkin is soft.
Cool slightly then puree soup in a blender or in pot using an immersion blender. Cool and leave overnight in refrigerator to reheat to serve within two days or reheat to serve immediately.
Spices always taste best if freshly ground, you really can notice the flavour difference. A mortar and pestle is a great way to grind spices but it takes quite a bit of arm work.
If, like Belinda, you use lots it may be worth investing in a small, electric coffee grinder.
They're fantastic for grinding whole spices to a powder in no time (just don't use the grinder for coffee beans afterwards or you'll have a very exotic brew).
Spicy Coconut Salmon in Banana Leaves with Pineapple Achar
In the Wellington region you may find fresh banana leaves in a few Kapiti Coast gardens or at fruit and vegetable shops in areas with high ratios of Asian and/or Pacific Island residents.
Frozen banana leaves are available at Asian supply stores and can very easily be used in this dish. Serve steamed jasmine rice as an accompaniment.
4 x 200g salmon fillets (scales & pin bones removed)
2 large cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 large spring onions (white end and part of green finely chopped)
2 2/3 tsp ground cumin seeds
2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
seeds from 8 cardamom pods (crushed)
2 small red chillies (finely chopped)
juice 1 large lime (or 1 1/2smaller limes)1 tsp flaky sea salt
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 very finely sliced kaffir lime leaf (with rib removed)
250 ml (1 cup) coconut cream (Belinda uses Ayam brand)
4 pieces banana leaf cut into rectangles approx 26 x 24cm (or use baking paper)
12 thick wooden toothpicks
4 lime wedges
Lay salmon into a ceramic dish. Choose a dish in which the salmon sits snugly.
To make marinade: Place garlic, ginger, spring onions, cumin, paprika, cardamom, chilli, lime juice, salt, coriander, kaffir lime leaf and coconut cream into a bowl and mix together.
Pour marinade over salmon and turn salmon around in marinade so that it is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, turning salmon over occasionally.
Just prior to cooking preheat oven to 220C.
Soften banana leaves over an open flame or place them in a large bowl (or the sink) and pour on enough boiling water to cover. Leave them to soften for 5 minutes. Pat dry.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Remove salmon from marinade, but reserve marinade, and sit one salmon fillet in the centre of a sheet of banana leaf.
Spoon a quarter of the marinade over the top. Fold banana leaf over salmon to make a tight parcel and secure with toothpicks.
Sit salmon parcel, toothpick side up, on a prepared baking tray.
Repeat process with remainder of salmon fillets.
Place salmon in oven and bake for 15-18 minutes.
Cooking time will vary with thickness of salmon. To test if salmon is cooked insert a metal skewer into salmon through banana leaf.
If skewer feels almost hot when it is removed the salmon will be cooked medium rare. Remove from oven.
To serve: Place a salmon parcel on diner's plate and allow diners to unwrap parcels. Serve with lime wedges and Pineapple Achar.
1 sweet pineapple
140 ml (cup + 1 tbsp) white wine vinegar
1 small red chilli (finely chopped) more if you like it hot
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds (soaked in additional Tbsp of white wine vinegar)
3 cloves garlic (peeled)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 Tbsp cumin seeds (freshly ground)1 Tbsp coriander seeds (freshly ground)
155 ml ( 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp light flavoured olive oil
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fresh curry leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp hot chilli flakes
90g ( 1/2 cup less 1 Tbsp) castor sugar
1 tsp flaky sea salt (or more to taste)
Peel, core and chop pineapple finely.
Sit a large colander over a bowl. Place pineapple into colander. Sit a plate on top of pineapple and weigh down with a couple of cans.
(You don't need the juice so pour it off every so often. Press down on cans occasionally to squeeze out more juice.)
Place vinegar, chilli, fenugreek seeds, garlic, ginger, ground cumin and coriander into a blender. Whiz together till well pureed.
Heat oil in a large non-reactive pan over medium-high heat. When hot tip in mustard seeds, curry leaves, fennel seeds, turmeric and chilli flakes. Stir carefully as it shoots up steam.
Tip in pureed vinegar mixture and cook, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes to release the flavour of the spices.
Stir in drained pineapple, sugar and sea salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and let simmer gently for about 20 minutes or till oil is floating on top and it smells delicious.
Scoop a little out into a cup, cool and taste. Add more salt if necessary.
Remove from heat and immediately decant into hot, sterilised jars. Make sure oil covers top of pickle.
Cover loosely with a sheet of baking paper and leave to cool. Seal tightly and store in refrigerator.
Pickle keeps well in the refrigerator for six months or more.
- The Dominion Post
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