Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

heirloom & cherry tomatoes

There’s a building right at the edge of North Sydney with a giant digital time and temperature display that I’m kind of obsessed with.

Every morning, as I drive past, I mentally take note of the temperature. Without fail. It’s kind of a morning ritual for me, like coffee and newspapers. I think it might be an Irish thing; as a nationality, we do tend to be unreasonably fascinated by temperature.

Take your annual summer holiday for instance; sure you couldn’t be expected to have a good foreign holiday until the mercury reaches at least 30 °C. You see, you just wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth. Sure what would be the point of leaving the country if you didn’t get pure roasted alive?!

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Likewise, hot days at home are monitored with fascination – jaysus, the winky weatherman said it’s going to be 23 °C tomorrow! Oh holy god! I may dig out the shorts, let’s bring the kids to the beach, and ring the neighbors, we’re going to have a barbeque, god it’ll be great to get a bit of tan! – would be the typical thought process of many an Irish person on the annual day of summer.

Neither would a Skype conversation with anyone from home be complete without an enquiry about the temperature. It’s one hot topic!

So, true to my race, I check the temperature on my drive to work every morning, and think about what a mental country Australia is. Last Friday it was 19 °C at 7.03 am. I kid you not.

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

Let me just put that into context for you: at seven in the morning, in the spring, it was as warm as it sometimes ever gets in the middle of the day in Ireland in summer.

I think that means summer is officially on it’s way. Australian summer, obviously.   

To celebrate, I made a wonky heirloom Caprese salad, because nothing tastes more like sunshine than tomatoes and basil. I used some juicy heirloom tomatoes and chopped everything up so roughly, you’d swear I don’t even own a knife. Then, I sat in the back garden, soaked up some rays and enjoyed it.

Wonky heirloom Caprese salad

caprese salad with heirloom & cherry tomatoes

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Rabbit food anyone?

What do you think of when you hear the word: lentil?

Let’s be honest here, lentils don’t have a very good reputation do they?  One that’s not actually very fair.

If you hear the word and immediately think of greeny environmental types with dreadlocks and hemp clothes; who only eat grass, soy and hard-as-old-boots rye bread, then you seriously need to think again. And pronto, rabbit food they ain’t. In fact, these miniature pulses are so super yum it almost beggers belief.

When I was little, my Mam did cook lentils a lot. I remember eating them smothered in butter and lemon juice and really enjoying them. But for some reason as I got older, they fell off my radar, only recently to reappear. And to be honest, I can’t believe I’ve wasted so many lentil-free years. They would have been an absolute god send in my student years:  cheap AND nutritious AND filling AND tasty, how come nobody reminded me about them?

As it has been slightly chillier than normal here in Sydney these past few weeks, I’ve been eating them with lots of yummie winter veggies, making some frugal but filling and oh-so-tasty mid-week suppers.  I put this dish together myself, basically because I thought the flavours would go well together: the sweetness of the roast squash and red onion is perfectly balanced with the saltiness of the feta, the rocket gives a peppery twist and the lentils are nutty, rich and wintery.

If you’re out to change your opinion of these nutty little guys, give this dish a try. It’s best enjoyed on a cold, dark evening with a nice glass of red. Hemp scarves and hats are optional.

Puy lentils with roast squash, caramelised red onion, rocket and feta

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Tonight I’ll mostly be eating purple food

I’m from outside a large town in the north east of Ireland, a town with a pretty distinctive accent.

Even when I meet Irish people here in Australia, and tell them where I’m from, their usual response is: ‘well ya don’t sound like you’re from Drogheda!’. I think it may have been voted the worst accent in Ireland at some stage. But I love it, especially some specific words, you see, people in Drogheda don’t say the word purple, the say ‘puawpul’.

Anything this colour has to be good for you, right?

Last week I was sick, all week. It was horrible, at one stage I was pretty sure I was going to die. I think it may have been the man-flu, it really wasn’t fun. I finally started to feel better on Sunday and decided I needed some warm, vitamin-filled, wholesome food. So I made a big batch of puawpul borscht, yummo!

Even just prepping the veg for this soup cheered me up, the colours were fantastic. Just for giggles I made sure everything that went into it was a shade of purple: the beetroot (obviously), the onions, the cabbage, the potatoes (well the skin at least), even the carrots! What can I say, when you haven’t left the house for four consecutive days, you start to find the colour of vegetables amusing. As the vegetables cooked, the colour changed into the most wonderful deep red, it just looked fantastic, but probably not food to eat on a first date or while wearing your Sunday best. And the colour is pervasive; eat enough of this soup and your wee may just turn a jaunty shade of pink!

Colourful urine aside, this soup is delicious. It’s hearty and filling; sweet, peppery and rich. It goes really well with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of sourdough. And it just has to be packed full of vitamins and good for you things, which is always excellent.

The two photos of Drogheda were taken my by very talented Papa, check out more of his work here and here.

Puawpul borscht

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Haloumi salad

Is there anything in this world better than fried cheese? Really? I’m pretty sure it’s virtually impossible to beat, even with a super-long-great-big stick.

I actually wonder what was going through Mr Haloumi’s mind when he was inventing it? I like to think the thought process went something like this:

Mmmmmm, cheese really is some kind of super food, totally healthy and not at all packed with fat. No, no, no. So how could I make it appeal to the non-healthy eating market? … conundrum … I know, let’s FRY IT! Whoop!


So to counteract it’s many health benefits, I’ve paired the Haloumi with super fresh, calorie-free veggies in a yummie salad of my own inventing (that sounds so way better then admitting these ingredients were all I could find in the fridge).

I know there are the Haloumi haters out there, who think it’s too chewy and salty and just plain weird. Well I just say bah to them, the less they eat, the more there is for me, right? But I did cook my Haloumi with a squeeze of lemon juice, just to cut through that saltiness, then paired it with a little lemon dressing and Bob’s your Uncle, you have yumness on a plate.

Haloumi salad

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Unorthodox souvlaki

One disappointment I’ve had since coming to Australia has been my experience of the great Australian Barbecue. Now, don’t get me wrong, these Ozzys do love their outdoor cooking, but it’s just not quite as I’d expected.

I really should use this information to challenge my stereotypes; as I’m sure the Ozzys appreciate hearing ‘throw a shrimp on the barbie’ about as much as I welcome idiots saying ‘top o’the morning to ye’.

Most self-respecting Ozzy barbecuers have a large gas-powered or electric grill on their patio, instead of the tray of smoking, glowing coals that we’re so fond of on the annual three days of Irish summertime. And I can see why they do; it’s simply easier to control a grill. You’re less liable give your friends salmonella with pieces of charred chicken that are still raw on the inside, or turn a sausage into a weapon, or transform a nice juicy steak into something you could wear on your feet.

But really, isn’t that really half the fun?!

So, anyway, the point of all this is, I found this recipe for souvlaki, which are meant to be cooked on a barbecue. Not actually owning a barbecue, I opted to cook these on an electric grill (albeit an indoor one). And although, I know this was unauthentic, they still tasted soooo good.

I know many many Greek people are probably cursing my existence night now, but in my defence, I was excited to try these and simply couldn’t wait until summer. But once it does come around, I’ll cook them again, on a proper, smoking, coal barbecue and I’m sure they will taste even better again!

Souvlaki with salad and tzatziki in pita bread

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Yumbo feta and chickpea salad

Salads: Love them? Hate them? Nothing them?

Mmmmm? This is a difficult one.

When I was a small child, I don’t remember ever having salad. Then at some point in the latter half of the eighties, Ireland must have discovered iceberg lettuce. And thus began the many crimes against salad that my poor home country is so guilty of. Wet. Limp. Tasteless. Familiar to anyone?

“Eat your salad, it’s good for you” my mam would growl across the dinner table; leaving my brother and me with the firm belief that anything good for you couldn’t, and probably shouldn’t, taste nice.

Then the nineties rolled around and with them the Celtic tiger. We were suddenly awash with such foreign goodies as sun-blush tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Things in the salad department were suddenly starting to look up. And in fairness, we’ve come a long way since then: like Iarnród Éireann, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

These Australians on the other hand, they have this whole salad-making lark down. They know their stuff and they are not afraid to flaunt it. This recipe was given to me by The Fella’s sister; she’s a great cook and always willing to share her secrets. I think this salad actually started out as a way to serve feta from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. But, it has now morphed almost beyond all recognition into a hearty dinner salad (yes, a salad can be hearty!). Just serve with a crispy bread roll on the side and you’ve a super tasty meal for two.

I know some of you will be tempted to skimp on the garlic, but don’t be afraid of it! It totally makes this salad. You’d do it an injustice by skimping, and salads have been done enough injustice already.

Yumbo feta and chickpea salad

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