Monday, 24 May 2010 04:50

self sufficient eating



Self-sufficient eating in the tropics


I’ve had this fantastic idea.

Please don’t cringe! My husband nearly died when I told him.

Well his eyes glazed over when I said, ‘I’ve had an idea.’ But when I said, ‘I reckon three nights a week we should eat entirely out of the garden and hunted food,’ he suddenly became very interested – if interest can be described as frothing at the mouth and yelling hysterically.

‘Three nights a week! Don’t be stupid there’s nothing in the garden. Nothing fruiting!’


I must admit with all this rain we have had a lot of trouble getting our dry season veggies growing – all the chewing bugs are having a ball. Tomatoes are still a month away, beetroot are still tiny babies, corn is struggling through the toddler stage. Snow peas are only 20cm high. But still I reckon we can do it.


‘There is so!’ I yelled back assembling as much indignation as I could muster. ‘There’s sweet potato (white), sweet potato (purple), sweet potato (orange).

I’m not living on sweet potato!’

‘There’s cassava, taro, green pawpaw, banana and passionfruit. There’s Chinese greens, celyon spinach, ginger, basil, tumeric, lemon grass, rocket and pepper leaves. I was on a roll. There’s. . .

‘You can’t just go out and pick leaves off the tree and cook them! Anyway what about meat? My ancestors didn’t fight for 100.000 years to get to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables!’


Well I did have to admit the freezer is a bit empty. We’ve run entirely out of wallaby. But we can go and get some. We have about seven pigeons (bought from a friend who keeps pigeons in pine creek). Three or four pork fillets (courtesy of my son who loves to hunt pig) 100 kg of mango, lime, banana (I can claim them). A few kilos of barra fillet (those too I can claim and did so).


Which made him so furious that he decided to go fishing. When he came back with a good eskie full of snapper, and a new found liking for my idea.


So last night we had our first, almost entirely self-suffient meal (excluding the oil, corn flour, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce). It started as a recipe from the Red Lantern, Pauline Nguyen’s recipe book but we didn’t have potato starch so I used corn flour and I made the paw paw she used as a garnish into the salad.


Crispy skin snapper – takes about half an hour.




three tablespoons fish sauce

three tablespoons rice vinegar

25 ml water

two tablespoons sugar


Chuck the fish sauce, vinegar, water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until just before it comes to the boil (you know when it just starts to shimmer on the surface but isn’t actually moving – boiling this makes it bitter) - then let it cool.

While the sauce is cooling prepare the fish


Scale, wash and dry a whole fish. I use a tea towel to make sure it is really dry - if the fish is wet when you cook it, it steams too much and the flesh goes weirdly tough. I have a friend who puts her fish in a low oven for a while to dry it out and another who lets it sit on a cake tray till it is dry. Then make three cuts either side in the thickest flesh to allow the heat to get right in.


Mix the white off one egg and two tablespoons of cornflour to make a batter and cover the fish with a thin layer all over.


Heat about four cm of oil in a wok.

Pauline says get it hot enough that when you toss in a small square of bread it browns in 15 seconds. I did this and it worked so I reckon this must be the best way of gauging temperatures of deep frying oil – so simple I love it.

Slide the fish into the wok of hot oil. It takes a good five minutes to cook – a bit more if the fish is thicker. The skin should be crispy and golden and the flesh spongy to touch. I always get the fork into one of the cuts and peek down to the bone – it does ruin the presentation a bit but I like to be sure.

Because, the first time I cooked this dish. We had visitors so I was showing off. The fish came out to the table beautifully golden, on a bed of rice with paw paw and chives sprinkled on top and the sauce filling the room with deliciousness. Everyone was impressed till we realised the fish wasn’t cooked. It had to go back into the pan, fell apart, got tough because it was damp and ended up a very tasty but disgusting looking mess.


Putting it all together


While the fish is cooking, grate a whole paw paw – I used one that was just catching a bit of colour – pale yellow inside. If you don’t have a proper paw paw salad graters – you can use a normal grater – but try and buy one they are brilliant. You want enough grated paw paw to cover the bottom of the fish plate – this is the equilivant to your rice or potato – so quite a lot.


Go back to the cooled sauce and mix in two finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger, chilli to taste and two tablespoons lime juice (one icecube of lime). Taste this everyone has their own preference – I like mine sour and tangy.


When the fish is cooked place it on top of the grated paw paw.

Sprinkle some paw paw and finely chopped chives over the top

Pour over the sauce so it dribbles down over the paw paw.


Serve with a huge bed of wilted greens (the heated with a splash of oil kind of wilt - rather than the picked in the middle of the day and left on the bench kind of wilted)






A whole snapper

2 tablespoons of potato startch (I used corn flour)

One egg white

Oil for deep frying


three tablespoons fish sauce

three tablespoons rice vinegar

25 ml water

two tablespoons sugar

two garlic cloves

chilli to taste

two tablespoons lime juice (one icecube of lime)

two teaspoons of finely chopped ginger


Green pawpaw or green mango (when they are ripe) and heaps of greens.





Published in Gardening
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 04:12

burn off is here!

I’m so excited – it didn’t rain last night and this morning it is bright and light and dry! I think the dry is coming – although I have thought that each couple of weeks for the last few months – but this time it is real!

The wind is blowing the washing has dried in three seconds.


It’s just after 11.30 and I have only just come in out of the garden and not sweating!

The yam beans are still flowering – so not ready to pick yet – trim them back – I cut the vine right back – taking the flowers and seeds off – so that makes more energy go into the tuber – which is really what we want.

This morning I harvested the last of the limes and already there are three beautiful little white with purple centre – flowers to start the new crop.

Have you seen the price of limes at the supermarket? Do they send them down to Adelaide and then buy them back. Perhaps they send them to Japan and buy them back. Anyway you have got to grow you own.

You can't do without them.

They are the most productive, hardy useful food tree you are ever likely to encounter. Not to mention how pretty they are when they are in flower and fruit. And they are tough.

The fruit is good for you. A lime squeezed into a glass of water first thing in the morning – gets your whole metabolism working.

So, every garden needs a lime tree.

It was one of the first fruit trees we planted. My Grandma Eve gave us a seedling (begrudginely as she thought everything including me – her impulsive granddaughter - would never survive in the bush.)

It thrived and because I found it hard to prune in those days (so filled with earth mother nurturing was I) it grew into a huge tree.

It survived the pigs, the cows - even the goats getting out and scoffing everything green.

Eventually it was so full of white ants that we contemplated filling it with concrete to give it some strength.

But we procrastinated and eventually it fell over.

We had a wake.

It was so sad.

But a new tree has grown up from beside the tortured stump and now it is fruiting.

I am older now and like to have more control so it is pruned each year. Which means that it doesn’t produce the tons of fruit it's parent produced – which was enough for all our neighbours, friends and every fruit fly in the district - but plenty enough for us, the store cupboard and the freezer.

Liimes are so useful - in the tropics everything calls for a squeeze of lime from fish to sweets and all the way to gin and tonic. (It is not a coincidence that at exactly the time when limes are in abundance it ‘runoff’ time for fishing.)

Sprinkle cut banana with lime juice to stop it going brown when it feels the air.

Sprinkle it over any fruit to make wonderful fruit salads it really brings the flavour out.

Lime goes especially well dragon fruit.

Mix avocado pulp with garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper to make a scrumptious dip.

Make lime icing for your banana or black sapote cakes and you will be known as the best cake cooker in the north. Just put the juice from a lime instead of the normal water or milk/butter into the icing sugar. It is lovely with passionfruit and lime actually.

To make a wonderful dressing mix lime juice, equal amount of olive oil and as much garlic as you like - throw some crushed nuts into the salad with this dressing and it is delectable.

Or for the best thing in the world make Numas.

Take a firm fleshed fish like skinny or mackerel. Cut it into thin strips and totally cover the flesh with lime or lemon juice. Leave it sit till the fish is 'cooked' (white and has the texture of cooked fish). Add chilli and ginger or garlic

Or - Cook a finely chopped onion or shallot in a little glee or butter. Add chilli to taste and lots of chopped up greens (sweet leaf, Kang kong, amaranth, whatever you have in the garden) and enough coconut milk to make a nice paste. Add the strained 'cooked' fish and serve as a fish salad or with rice.

Add lime juice to all your fruit juices to add some zing.

Add a little lime juice to your mango and banana smoothies and icecream.

Oh and what about lime cheesecake - brilliant.

Make cordial by bring the lime juice to a simmer with equal amount of sugar. Keep it in the fridge and dilute with water to make the most refreshing drink you could ever imagine. Talked to a bloke the other day who makes alcoholic limeade - he reckons it's lovely and really works. Haven't got the recipe or had a taste yet.

Lime juice makes wonderful cheese. The lady who gave me this recipe makes the cheese with goat's milk but cows milk works just as well. You can even make this with long life milk if you have some to spare. All you do is heat the milk in a big pot. It's important to just bring it to scalding point - you don't want it to boil - just heat until you see it moving and turn it off. Add lime juice and it will instantly start to curdle and separate. Let it sit for a while so it all curdles. Then pour it into a bowl lined with muslin (clean chux doubled does a good job). And then just let it sit to drain. It is beautiful on toast with marmalade, to make dips or on sandwiches. Gaye tends to pour and splash her ingredients with the confidence of a good cook – but I just make a mess and waste the ingredients when I try to do that so I have to measure - use about Two and a half cups of milk to a tbsp of lime juice.

Of course you can make lime pickle, and salted limes – I have a bottle in my cupboard that is nearly 10 years old a all golden – it is the most delicious accumpliment to curries you will have taste.

And for ‘ron’ squeeze the limes make them into icecubes – when I first started doing lime ice cubes I just squeezed the lime into the icecube trays, seeds and all. I love seeds in the bottom of my glass because it makes it look like it has just come from the tree – even when it hasn’t.

However, drinking lime ice cube juice at more organised people’s places who take the seeds out – it does actually taste better. Not sure why.

Also, another friend adds water to her lime juice – half in half – before she pours it into the trays. She reckons that the water helps them freeze more solid and therefore they last longer and taste better even a year after you have first frozen them.

Published in Gardening