June 29: Peach Palm (Pejibayes)

2016/06/29 deej 0

peach palm with fruitThe peach palm or pejibaye (Bactris gasipeas) is native to the lowland tropics of South and Central America. It was domesticated during the pre-Columbian era by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and both the fruit and seeds have been used as food since then.

 

The texture of the fruit, raw or cooked, has been compared to a firm sweet potato, and the flavour is similar to squash, buttery potato, or roasted chestnut. Undamaged, raw fruits will keep well, gradually dehydrating, in a low humidity environment with good airflow. Bruised or damaged fruits, however, will ferment in only a few days. Cooked fruit will keep for 5 – 6 days. The fruit can be dried and ground as meal or flour, which can be used as a replacement for cornmeal, or stored as dried chips. It can also be pressed to produce an edible oil.

 

peach palm fruitRaw peach palm fruit contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can be irritating to the mouth and digestive system, so the fruit should be cooked before being consumed. Traditionally, the fruit is often slow cooked for three to five hours in salted water before being eaten, but half an hour or slightly less in a pressure cooker, oven or microwave will dissolve the calcium oxalate crystals, making the fruit safe to eat.

 

Cooked fruit may be deep-fried or roasted and eaten as a snack, or may be used as a stuffing for poultry. It can also be mixed with cornmeal or flour, milk and eggs, and fried to form griddle cakes or pancakes.

 


 

Peach Palm Fritters

 

*Note, as I don’t (yet) have access to any peach palm fruit, I haven’t tested this recipe. I’d love to hear what people think of it, though!

 

¼ cup wholemeal flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

300 – 400g peach palm fruit, cooked, skinned and de-seeded

1 cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) chopped onion, corn kernels, chopped bacon, chopped herbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Instructions

  • Mash the peach palm fruit to a fine puree.
  • Combine all ingredients. Mix to form a loose batter.
  • Add olive oil or butter to a pan and set over medium heat. Drop teaspoonsful of batter into the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides.

 


 

Images sourced form Wikimedia Commons:

June 24: mesquite – the forbidden legume

2016/06/24 deej 0

Prosopis albaAlthough mesquite (Prosopis species) are prohibited in Australia (mesquite is a declared weed in all states), because they can form thorny thickets which could pose problems for livestock farmers and because their thorns can puncture tyres, they do provide an excellent food source. Mequite meal, made by grinding up the pods and seeds, contains 10 – 17% protein, and is high in lysine.

 

Prosopis pubescens flowerMost mesquite species (there are around 40 of them) are small trees or large shrubs, native to desert and xeric regions of north and central America. They may have one or multiple trunks, and the leaves are light green to blue-ish green. Some are evergreen, while others are deciduous. Many species are thorny, although not all. Spikes of small greenish, cream or yellow flowers form in spring and summer. Extended flowering may occur August-December, with pod formation October-March. The pod is flat and 5-20cm long, compressed, straight to curved, smooth or with slight restrictions between the seeds. Ripe pods are yellow, purple, or yellow with purple streaks and patches. The flat seeds are oval or elliptical 2.5-7mm long by 2-3mm wide, each enclosed in a flattened fibrous case, and surrounded by sweet pulp.

Prosopis glandulosa seed podOnce the pod is dry the whole pod is edible and can be ground into flour and made into bread. Mesquite pods were widely used in the past by the indigenous peoples of North and Central America where mesquite trees grow, and are still used as a staple food by many people in Mexico. Mesquite meal or mesquite flour can be used to make bread, or it can be added to soups and stews, casseroles, and sauces. It can also be used in pie crusts, used in vegetable and meat dishes, or sprinkled over fruit desserts, puddings or ice-cream.

 

Prosopis glandulosa bark

Like carob and wattleseed, mesquite has no gluten (or gluten-like components), so in baked goods it gives crumbly rather than chewy texture. It is also strongly flavoured, so is best used in combination with a milder flavoured flour (such as wheat, millet, or rice flour, ground almonds, or cornmeal) or as a flavouring accent. Recipes calling for mesquite can use wattleseed instead, and vice versa.

 


 

Mesquite Teacake

Based on recipe from Desert USA, by Martha Darancou: http://www.desertusa.com/lil/mesquite.html

 

¾ cup mesquite meal, finely ground

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar or honey

1/3 cup olive oil

1 cup mashed or stewed fruit, e.g. banana, cooked pear, cooked plums *

½ cup milk

2 eggs

(optional) ¼ cup chopped nuts

 

* Avoid very watery fruits, such as melon, passionfruit, or prickly pear. For 1 cup of mashed fruit, use about 2 large bananas, 3 pears, 4 – 6 plums, ..

 

Instructions

  • Combine the mesquite meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Separately, mix the sugar or honey, fruit, oil, milk and eggs.
  • Combine the fruit mixture and the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly.
  • Stir in the nuts.
  • Pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 180 degrees C for about an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • Cool for ten minutes before removing from the loaf pan.

 


Prosopis glandulosa foliage

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

June 22: wattleseed pancakes

2016/06/22 deej 0

Of the many species of wattle native to Australia, several produce seeds which are suitable for use as human food. Edible wattleseed has rich nutty, chocolate and roasted coffee flavours, and is well suited to both sweet and savoury uses.

 

Australian aboriginal peoples ground dried wattle seeds to form a flour, which was then baked into damper (traditional campfire bread). The green seeds of some wattle species were also eaten, cooked and consumed as a green vegetable like peas or fresh beans. Wattle seeds have also been used as food in some areas in West Africa, where the wattle trees were introduced to provide a fast growing tree for firewood and windbreaks.

 

Laboratory testing and human dietary trials have shown that wattle seeds are highly nutritious and safe to eat as a base or staple foodstuff. Nutritional analysis shows an average protein content of approximately 26%, an average available carbohydrate content of 26%, and a fibre content of around 32%. Wattle seeds also have a low glycaemic index, as their starch content is digested and absorbed slowly, although their energy content is high (approx. 1480 kJ per 100g). The seeds can be stored for up to a year, or sometimes longer, before being ground, with no perceptible deterioration in flavour or food quality.

 

The main species used are Mulga wattle (Acacia aneura), Elegant Wattle (Acacia victoriae), Silver Wattle (Acacia retinodes), Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia var. sophorae), and the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha). Coles Wattle (Acacia colei) is widely used in West Africa. Coastal Wattle is described as having a rich, nutty flavour, while the Elegant Wattle has a darker, more coffee and chocolate flavour. All of these species grow happily across a range of Australian dryland environments, and will thrive on 400 – 800 mm rainfall per year, in well drained soils. The Coastal Wattle and Elegant Wattle tend towards a shrub form, growing 3 – 5 m tall and branching lower towards the ground; Mulga may do the same, or may grow as a tree, depending on the environment. The otehr species grow as small trees, 6 – 10 m in height.

 

Wattleseed is often used as a flavouring agent for bread, ice-creams, pastries, cream, pancakes, biscuits, or cakes. Adding up to 1 tablespoon of ground wattleseed to baking, or 1 – 2 teaspoons to ice-cream or cream gives an elegantly aromatic effect. Ground wattle seed can, however, also be used in place of ground sorghum, millet flour, or other gluten free flours in baking; this will give a richer wattleseed flavour to the end product.

 


 

Gluten Free Wattleseed Pancakes

 

2 cups finely ground wattleseed (or 1 cup ground wattleseed and 1 cup millet flour)

1 – 2 cups lukewarm water

¼ cup milk

(optional) 1 egg

1 – 2 teaspoons honey (or to taste)

pinch of salt

oil for frying

 

Instructions

  • Combine the milk and warm water. If using egg, beat the egg in with the water and milk.
  • Sift the ground wattleseed into a bowl and gradually pour in the warm water, mixing well as you do so, to form a smooth batter. If the ground wattleseed is not fine enough to sift, you may wish to grind it more finely with a mortar and pestle – otherwise thepancakes come out with a gritty texture instead of a smooth crisp finish.
  • Set aside and rest the batter in a cool place for 1 – 4 hours.
  • Beat the batter with a wooden spoon (do not whisk), while heating a pan or skillet.
  • Pour or ladle batter into the pan to make a saucer-sized pancake (or several smaller pancakes) and cook until crisp. You can turn it once if desired, but it is not essential. The pan or skillet should be quite hot; the batter will stick if the pan is not hot enough.
  • Serve with honey, jam, or fruit chutney. These pancakes are reminiscent of dark, nutty rye bread.

 

NOTE: For a vegan version of these pancakes, omit the egg and replace the milk with orange juice.

 

 


 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

June 20: chestnuts – sweet potato on a tree

2016/06/20 deej 0

The chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) is, like the oak tree, typical of parks and woodlands in the UK – although they’re much more widespread than just that. They are still grown commercially in manmy places, with the top producers being China, Turkey, southern Europe, Korea, Bolivia; Australia is a small player in the global market, but we do grow chestnuts here too, mainly for domestic use. Chestnuts are a significant food crop in southern Europe and east Asia, and were widely eaten in the past by the indigenous peoples of North America.

 

The relationship between humans and chestnuts dates back to prehistoric times, like many tree crops which contain enough starch or protein to qualify as (potential) staple crops. Chestnuts are high in carbohydrates, and once cooked their texture and flavour (nutty, sweet) very similar to baked sweet potato. They can be eaten whole, pureed for use in soups and sauces, or dried and ground into chestnut meal for use in baking and cooking. Chestnut meal can be used in cakes and pancakes, biscuits, pasta, polenta, and as a thickener in soups and stews. The whole nuts can be used in soups, stews and casseroles in place of pumpkin or potato, or used to stuff vegetables, poultry, or fish, as well as having a wide variety of uses in baking. The nuts are also candied and sold as marrons glacés.

 

Chestnut trees are relatively fast growing, but long lived (up to 1000 years). They can reach up to 35 m in height, and the trunk may reach 12 m in diameter. Leaves are 16 – 28 cm long, with toothed margins. Bark is grey-brown and deeply ridged. Flowers are long catkins, either male or female, both being borne on the same tree.  Pollination is primarily by wind, and cross pollination is desirable for production. By autumn the female flowers develop into spiny protective husks called cupules. This prickly outer layer deters squirrels and other seed predators from getting to the nuts within them, before they are shed.

 

Late spring and early autumn frosts can adversely affect flowering, and a mild climate is therefore preferred. In forest conditions, chestnut trees are tolerant of shade and will still produce well as long as there is sufficient moisture. Chestnuts require well-drained soil, and prefer nutritionally poor, neutral to acidic soils; they are intolerant of lime. The ideal annual rainfall is 600 – 800 mm, but they are sensitive to summer drought.

 

The wood of the chestnut tree is durable and has been used to make furniture, barrels, fencing and roof beams. However, as it tends to split and warp, it is not usually used in large pieces requiring structural strength. Heartwood is a light to medium brown, darkening to a reddish brown with age. Narrow sapwood is well-defined and is pale white to light brown.

 

Like acorns, chestnuts should not be eaten raw due to their tannin content. Fresh chestnuts are cooked, either by boiling or roasting them, to denature the tannins and bring out their rich, sweet flavour. For both cooking methods, first make a small incision in the skin or the nuts will explode and spread chestnut shrapnel far and wide. Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the papery thin skin underneath. Peel the nuts while they’re hot to ensure the complete removal of the inner skin or pellicle, which is bitter.

 

Chestnuts can also be dried with the shell on, if they are located somewhere with good airflow and low humidity. Once dried, they can be shelled like soft-shell almonds – try putting the nuts in a cloth bag or sack and hitting it on the ground a few times to break the shells. Shake the bag gently to roughly separate the nut meats from the shell pieces, then hand sort to separate the nuts and the shell fragments. Steaming the nuts for a few minutes rehydrates them, and allows the pellicle to be easily rubbed off. After removing the pellicle, boil the nuts to soften them up, and then serve them as-is (perhaps with stewed fruit or vanilla custard) or chop or puree them to use in a chestnut recipe.

 


 

Chestnut Truffle Cake

Based on the recipe from BBC Good Food, by Mary Cadogan: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/8020/chestnut-truffle-cake

 

400g cooked chestnuts

100g sugar or honey

100g butter

100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

3 Tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons cognac or dark rum

4 eggs, separated

 

Topping:

100g dark chocolate

25g butter

1 Tbs whipping cream

 

Instructions

  • Combine the chestnuts, sugar or honey, and egg yolks in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth.
  • Place the butter, chocolate and milk into a pan over a low heat and warm gently, stirring, until the chocolate and butter have melted and the mixture is smooth.
  • Stir the vanilla and cognac or rum into the chocolate mixture.
  • Add the chocolate sauce to the chestnuts in the blender or food processor, and process again until fairly smooth.
  • In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the chestnut mixture.
  • Pour the batter into a lightly greased loaf pan, and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 20 – 40 minutes, or until the centre is set. The cake is set if the centre doesn’t wobble – it will still be gooey when hot due to the chocolate.
  • Cool completely before removing from the pan. Chill for 24 hours.
  • Topping: Gently melt the chocolate, butter and cream together. Allow to cool to just above room temperature.
  • Spread or pour the warm topping over the cake. Chill to set the topping, or serve with the topping still warm.

 

To serve, turn the truffle cake out onto a plate, and dust with icing sugar. Serve in thin slices with cream or cold vanilla custard.

 


 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

June 17: carob is not chocolate

2016/06/17 deej 0

Many people know carob only as a chocolate substitute, but the truth is that carob does not taste like chocolate. The raw, dry pods have a rich, caramel flavour a little like a date; roasting the carob pods gives them a darker, nuttier character. Both raw and roasted, carob pods have been used as a sweetener and basic foodstuff for thousands of years.

 

The cultivation of the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is mentioned in ancient texts, dating back to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. It was grown in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean. Carob thrives in these climates, surviving drought, heat, and poor soils. To fruit, a carob tree requires 500 mm of rainfall per year, although the tree can survive on much less once established. Carob is also frost tolerant (to approximately -20 degrees C). They can be grown form seed, or known varieties can be grafted onto seedling rootstock. Fresh seeds germinate quickly and may be sown directly in the field. Dried, hard seeds need to be scarified or chipped and then soaked in water or dilute sulfuric or hydrochloric acid solutions until they swell. Grafting (budding) is done when the stem is at least 1 cm in diameter.

 

Carob trees are evergreen, with rough, brown bark and glossy, leathery green leaves. The tree may grow to be 15 – 17 m tall, but is slow growing. The flowers are small and red, borne in clusters along the branches and are pollinated by wind or by insects; male, female, or hermaphrodite flowers occur on separate trees. The fruit (seed pods) take a full year to develop and ripen. When green the pods are moist and very astringent, while the ripe pods are sweet when chewed. Male trees do not produce fruit.

 

Carob pods contain approximately 45 – 55% sugars and around 8% protein, as well as high levels of dietary fibre. In addition, carob contains useful levels of niacin, calcium, and vitamins A, B1, and B2. Unlike chocolate or cacao, to which it is often compared, carob does not contain caffeine – meaning that it can be used in food or drinks for people who have allergies to or high susceptibility to caffeine. There is some indication that carob is helpful in calming digestive upsets, and it may be of benefit to people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 

Once we get past the idea that carob is a chocolate replacement, it’s easy to appreciate the flavours of carob for its own sake. Stir carob powder into porridge or sprinkle it over ice-cream. Chew on the whole pods or carob ‘kibble’ (piece of pods, after the seeds have been removed) as a snack when hiking or camping. Use it like cinnamon & sugar to dust over fruit such as quinces or apples before baking. Add it into cakes or muffins at a rate of about 1 – 2 Tablespoons per cup of flour to give a caramel-fudge flavour (you may need to slightly reduce the sugar used in the recipe, as carob is quite sweet). Add carob syrup to cocktails and mocktails for a sophisticated drink, or include it in salad dressings in place of honey or pomegranate molasses for a different flavour.

 

Carob is not exactly a staple food, in that it could not easily take the place of wheat, rice or corn as a main source of carbohydrates in the human diet. However, it has the potential to add to our dietary diversity and to provide both pleasant flavours and a source of sugars. It is also of use as high quality animal feed for ruminants.

 


 

Hot Spiced Carob Drink

 

This hot drink is perfect for a winter evening, combining the caramel flavour of fresh carob with vanilla and spices. You can make it with non-dairy milk if you prefer – I’d suggest hazelnut milk or rice milk rather than soy or almond milk, as the flavours will combine better.

 

1 cup milk

1 Tablespoon carob powder (the fresher, the better)

a pinch of ground cinnamon or nutmeg

a pinch of ground ginger

1 Tablespoon honey, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Instructions

  • Combine milk, spices and carob powder in a small saucepan.
  • Warm over medium heat, whisking to remove any lumps. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
  • Stir in honey and vanilla.

 


 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

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