Comfort Food

Stinging Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup.jpg

Green things are making an appearance in vegetable town...spring has mercifully rolled around and what a glorious thing that is for the litany of new season vegetables to have at your cooking disposal. Over the weekend, a friend dropped off a box of incredible spring vegetables from a Victorian producer that supplies his restaurant, and among the emerald harvest, a huge bunch of stinging nettles. 

I love a produce box challenge, because it really lays out the gauntlet for testing your cooking skills...or failing that, your research ability. Stinging nettles are one of those ingredients that make a miraculous transformation from shitty weed to verdant edible without too much trouble or expense. Have some latex gloves handy to avoid the burn, but here's a classic nettle soup recipe you can test out...whether yours are found at the farmer's market...or your next nature walk (just be sure to wash thoroughly and go slightly off the track if there are dogs around!).

Ingredients

50g butter

1 brown onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 leek, thoroughly washed and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

4-5 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes

1 bunch spinach or kale leaves (optional)

1 bunch stinging nettles, washed and any woody stems removed

2-3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Method

In a large pot on a medium heat, add the butter and once melted, add the onion, leek, carrot and potato. Sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the vegetables have softened but haven't taken on any colour. Add in 1/2 each of the greens and nettle leaves and sauté until slightly wilted. Add stock and season with salt, then simmer for 15-20minutes or until the potato is is cooked through. Add in the remaining greens and nettles (reserving some greens till the end will ensure a more vibrant green soup). Carefully remove the soup from heat and using a stick blender, blitz until smooth. 

Return the soup to the heat and reduce to your desired consistency and season to taste. Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. 

Fast and Furious Raid-The-Fridge Leftovers Fried Rice

As seen on Channel 10's The Cook's Pantry with chef Matt Sinclair

As seen on Channel 10's The Cook's Pantry with chef Matt Sinclair

Nobody in the history or cooking rice, ever makes exactly the amount they need. There are always leftovers, which are perfect for making fried rice. I love this dish because it makes short work of throwing together a hot and delicious meal and is a resourceful way of using up leftovers and elevating vegetables that are perhaps past their prime, to new heights. This is a great meal for anytime of the day, from a quick and nutritious snack, to a full-on feast. Add it to your mid week arsenal! 

Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as part of a feast

Ingredients

2 rashers middle bacon, rind removed, coarsely chopped

1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks shallot (scallion), trimmed and finely chopped

2-3 cups day old boiled/rice cooker rice

1 cup leftover veggies, chopped into 1cm pieces (leftover roasted veg like carrots and Brussels sprouts are great, as are frozen peas or tinned corn)

1 tablespoon kecap manis

1 tablespoon Lau Gan Ma chilli flakes in oil

2 free range eggs, lightly whisked with a fork

Salt and white pepper

A handful fresh beansprouts, to garnish

Method

In a hot wok, add the bacon and stir fry until golden. Add in the ginger, garlic and shallot and stir fry until translucent, but not browned. Throw in the rice and use the spatula to break it up to remove any clumps, then stir fry for 2-3 minutes to allow the rice to take on the flavours and reheat.

Throw in the vegetables, then the kecap manis and chilli flakes in oil (to taste). Bring the wok back up to a high heat, then, in a gradual ribbon, pour in the egg, tossing/stir frying the ingredients constantly, to evenly distribute the egg throughout the rice. The egg will cook very quickly and will continue to cook off the heat from the residual heat in the wok, so it’s important not to overcook. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat. Serve with fresh beansprouts and more chilli oil on top. 

To make this dish more substantial, or to use up any leftovers, you could also add in leftover cooked meat such as roasted chicken or pork, or tofu.

(sorta) Chinese Chicken Stew

Chinese chicken stew.jpg

One of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne is Dainty Sichuan Hot Pot. There is nothing much better on a cold winter's night than sitting in front of a bubbling yin yang pot of aromatic stock, dipping your favourite meats and vegetables into the boiling broth, then slurping the flavour-laden soupy goodness at the end. My go-to broth at Dainty is spicy chicken; it's chock full of numbing Sichuan pepper, herbal ginseng and a tonne of chilli. I love it so much that I decided to use it as a basis of inspiration to make my (sorta) Chinese chicken stew. It's warming, aromatic, as spicy as you like it, and with the addition of fistfuls of Asian mushrooms and tofu, it's a comforting and substantial meal that will make your house smell brilliant and your belly happy. 

The process involves roasting and then stewing. Why the extra step? More flavour, la! While it's true that you could probably throw the chicken in and cook it down without the roasting step, all those roasty chilli flavours and caramelised chicken skin give a greater depth of flavour in the overall dish, plus you kind of get two recipes for one if you stop at the roasted chicken, so what's not to love?

Ingredients

For the Chinese roast chicken part

1 large brown onion, peeled and sliced into 1.5cm rounds

1 free range, organic chicken (you get what you pay for)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 thumb sized piece ginger, smashed

4-5 cloves garlic, smashed

2 star anise

1 tablespoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon white pepper, ground

2 long, red chillis, chopped in half, widthways

4-5 cloves, whole

For the stew

1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 bunch coriander, trimmed and chopped (stems and leaves) - reserve some leaves for garnish

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon Thai fermented chilli paste (or anything with a heap of dried shrimp and chilli in it)

1 tablespoons Lau Gan Ma chilli flakes in oil

2 teaspoons kecap manis

3 cups mixed Asian mushrooms (I like a combo of black fungus, shittake, enoki and shimeji)

1/2 block firm tofu, cubed into 1.5cm pieces

Steamed rice, to serve

Method

Chinese roast chicken.jpg

Preheat an oven to 200c. In a baking tray, place the onion slices evenly in the centre, as this will act as a trivet for your chicken (as well as add flavour). Thoroughly wash the chicken, pat the skin dry with paper towel and place the chicken on top of the onions. Pour over the vegetable and sesame oils and rub the entire outside of the skin, to evenly coat. Place the ginger and one star anise in the cavity and the garlic in the roasting tray. 

Sprinkle the chilli flakes and peppers, over the chicken, rubbing all over, to evenly coat. Throw in the remaining anise, fresh chilli and cloves into the baking tray and roast for 25-30 minutes, breast side up, until the skin is golden. Flip the chicken, continue to roast for 10-15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 170c and continue to roast for a further 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. You could stop here, and you'd have a pretty cracking Chinese-spiced roast chicken, but we'll crack on, shall we?

In a casserole dish or heavy based pot on a medium heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and the chopped ginger, garlic and coriander. Fry for 1 minute until aromatic, then add in the chicken stock. Once cool enough to handle, chop the chicken into pieces, discarding the central frame (leave the rest of the bones in, I think it gives the stew a better flavour but if you wish, you can remove the skin and meat from the frame and throw that in, sans bones).

Bring a kettle to the boil and pour about half a cup of boiling water into the roasting tray and use a spatula to scrape all the baked on flavours from the sides. Pour all of this spicy, chickeny goodness, along with any chunks of roasted onion and chilli, into the pot.* Place the roasted chicken pieces into the stock, along with the chilli paste (I'm obsessed with this one), chilli oil and kecap manis. Bring to the pot to a simmer, stir to combine and season to taste. After 5-10 minutes, add in the mushrooms and tofu, stir to combine, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer to reduce the stock to a thick, stewy consistency. Season to taste, then set aside to cool slightly. 

Serve with steamed rice, or if you like, mix the rice and the stew together, then serve. Garnish with fresh coriander. This will, as with any soup, stew or curry, taste better the next day. 

*This step will not only add a greater depth of flavour to your stew, but get you a head start on clean up.