Mum’s Green Mango and Coconut Rice (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

My summer holidays were often spent in a way that my parents thought best combined the two elements of being an Indian family in Australia.  It was a time before the teenage years descended on me with all their accompanying awkwardness.  Before that phase where the parentals were mortifyingly embarrassing, no matter what they did.  Anything they did that was too typically Indian would make me want to crawl under the nearest table and any attempts on their part to be more Aussie would be met with a roll of the eyes.  During those teenage years, they really couldn’t win.

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But this was a time before all that adolescent angst set in, when this marrying of cultures was just part of life. We would drive to caravan parks in seaside towns, often with two or three other families from our community.  We stayed in a string of mobile homes that never went anywhere and splashed around in the pool while our mothers cooked and our fathers ate Bombay bhuja mix with their beers.

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The smell of barbequing meat would waft past us from the Australian families with whom we were sharing the park.  Our mothers would wrinkle up their vegetarian noses in disgust and set about cooking a good Indian meal using the impressive toolkit of ingredients they had packed into the cars.  Lentils were cooked, rice micro-waved and spices blended, the scents mingling with that of cooking meat, chlorine and sunscreen.

There was often some sort of South Indian bread- fluffy steamed idlis with chutney, or dosas made from batter that had fermented perfectly in the warm car.  Otherwise there would be the semolina based upma or some sort of flavoured rice dish such as a puliogare, lemon rice or this green mango and coconut rice.

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Luckily all the teenage angst eventually gave way.  Anything else would be a real pity as there is nothing remotely embarrassing about this flavourful, slightly tart rice dish that is a favourite in this Indian family.

Mangoes are in season now and although the ripe fruit are undeniably delicious, there is much you can do with the raw green version readily available in markets and ethnic grocers.  For this dish, try to choose greener, less ripe mangoes as the more tart they are, the better.  The crunch of the peanuts and roasted dhal adds something special.  If you are allergic to peanuts but tolerant of others, try using cashews.

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Mum’s Green Mango and Coconut Rice

Feeds 6-8

Get:

1  & 1/2 to 2 green mangoes, peeled and flesh finely grated (the greener the better!)
2 cups uncooked basmati rice
2  & 1/4 cups water

For the spice paste:
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 dry red chillies
Generous pinch asafoetida
1 cup fresh shredded coconut (I use frozen)
Any bits of mango that you could not grate
1-2 tbsp water

For the tempering:
1/4 cup cooking oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp channa dhal
1 tbsp urad dhal
1/2 tsp turmeric
Generous pinch asafoetida
10-15 curry leaves
3/4 cup small peanuts (available in Indian stores)

Salt, to taste

Make:

Cook the rice.  This can be done by placing 2 cups of rice in a rice cooker with 2 1/4 cups of water and cooking according to the rice cooker instructions.  Alternatively, you could place the rice and water in a large microwave dish and cook uncovered for 11 minutes, then covered for 2 minutes.

In a large non-stick saucepan, roast the fenugreek seeds until fragrant.  Grind the seeds in the spice grinder or food processor, then add the other spice paste ingredients and grind to a smooth paste.  Add a little more water if necessary.

In the non-stick saucepan, heat the oil and temper the mustard seeds on low heat.  Once they have popped, add the dhals, turmeric and asafoetida.  Fry until the dhals are a golden brown and then add the curry leaves, covering the pan immediately.

Once the curry leaves have crisped, add the peanuts.  Ensure the heat is on low and fry the peanuts, stirring gently until they are a golden brown colour.  This should take 5-7 minutes.

Add the spice paste and warm through for a minute or so.

In a large mixing bowl, fluff up the warm rice with a fork.  Add the grated green mango, spice paste/peanut mix and about 3 tsp salt to start.  Toss through gently to coat the rice in the other ingredients.  Taste and add more salt if needed.

Serve on its’ own or as a side dish to curries.

Note:
Green mangoes, the spices, dhals, small peanuts and frozen shredded coconut are all available at Indian grocery stores.

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Green Beans and Fire

For most of us, the warmer months are something we await eagerly. As soon as the central heating of the nation is turned up, we dust off our beach towels, ditch the scarves and plan holidays, picnics, barbeques and the like.

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But for those in some parts of Australia the anticipation of Spring and Summer is not so positive. The Australian heat brings with it a natural disaster that is devastating and uncontrollable. Every year like clockwork, fires rage through the Australian countryside, fueled by the dry vegetation that is typical of a nation that is in drought more often than it is not. The fires originate when they are lit either by accident or by pranksters who surely have no concept of the level of devastation they cause with the act.

Families evacuate on advice of the authorities, scooping up pets, food supplies and valuables. Inevitably hundreds of homes are lost and with them, all that their previous inhabitants owned and loved. So far in my state of NSW, the lives of two people as well as countless animals, including pets and wildlife, have succumbed.
For me, the bushfires are something that we hear about daily as hour by hour, more and more homes are engulfed despite the courageous efforts of the Rural Fire Service. Whilst close to home, we must be deeply grateful that we are not the ones who stand to lose everything to something that is beyond our control. And in our gratitude, we should try to provide whatever support we can to help the families get through yet another season of destruction.

If you would like to donate to the bushfire appeal, try here or here or to donate to help affected animals, try here. I’m sure if you choose to, it will come back to you one day a million times over.

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On a slightly brighter and simpler note, here is a simple green beans dish that is the perfect combination of low effort and high yield, a welcome thing in the heat. Freshness of the beans is paramount and it also helps if the tomatoes are a little over-ripe. For the most part, you can chop everything up and throw it in a pan after tempering the spices, then cover and forget about it for a good twenty minutes or so. Serve with your favourite Indian flat bread, in a wrap or as a side for meat dishes.

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Simple Green Beans Curry

Serves 3-4 as a side dish

Get:
500g fresh green beans, topped and tailed
2 over-ripe tomatoes, diced small
1 medium white or brown onion, finely chopped
2 tsp cooking oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder, according to taste
2cm ginger, finely grated
Salt
Water
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Make:
Chop or break the beans into roughly 4-5 cm lengths. In a large non-stick fry pan, heat the oil and temper the cumin seeds. Reduce to a low-moderate heat and add the spice powders and fry for about 2 minutes. Add the ginger and onions and saute until the onion is a little tender. Then, in go the tomatoes, 1 tsp salt and about 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on a low-moderate heat for 7-10 minutes, until the tomatoes yield easily when pressed.

Throw in the beans, stir through and add another cup of water. Cover and cook until the beans are tender with some bite (about 20 minutes). At this point if the mixture is still quite watery, uncover and cook on low heat until most of the water has evaporated. When the mixture has almost completely reduced, taste and add more salt or chilli powder if desired, then stir through. Stop cooking when the water has evaporated such that the tomatoes and onions cling onto the beans.

Before serving, garnish with the fresh coriander.

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Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake bars and 5 Tips for Safe Pets this Season

Halloween is coming!  And in anticipation, I present you with these Pumpkin Cheesecake bars which I assure you, you will love as much as I do.  The base is one that refuses to play second fiddle to the fresh, tangy topping.  It is packed with nuts and shredded coconut, providing a roughage that contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the cream cheese and pumpkin.

I used melted dark chocolate to pipe these funky little black cats, and adorned them with shiny edible pearls for eyes.  You can of course choose whatever design you please; witches hats, bats, evil eyes……the world is your cheesecake!

Pumpkin cheesecake bars ingredients

Speaking of cats and holidays, for those of you who have four-legged family members, I thought I’d put together a list of ways to care for them during this season.  Our beloved furry friends can get a little neglected during the festivities and that, as well as the insanely hot summers we experience here in Oz mean that vet hospitals are the busiest during this time.

Here are a few important ways to look after our creatures over the next few months…….

1.  Watch what they gobble: Our pets love a Christmas feast as much as we do.  In fact, we often see patients that have eaten something silly, causing them to become sick.  Nothing ruins a holiday like having to spend an hour in a busy waiting room of a vet hospital!  When pets eat fatty foods such as bacon, sausages and sweets, it can trigger a condition known as pancreatitis.  This is a very painful and debilitating condition whereby the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing vomiting and a lack of appetite leading to dehydration and illness.  Most cases are treated with hospitalisation, antibiotics and IV fluids, but severe cases can be fatal.

Fatty foods aside, certain foods such as onions, chocolate, raisins and many others are actually toxic to pets.  So while you enjoy your meal, treat your pet to something pet-friendly such as a raw bone or doggy treat, and ask visiting relatives nicely not to feed the pets human food or leave it lying around within reach.

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2. Remember that things that are not food can seem edible:  In addition to eating inappropriate foods, some dogs (think Labrador!) have a knack for eating things that really shouldn’t be eaten by anybody!  While you are celebrating the holidays, your pooch may do the same by gulping down something that may get stuck in his or her gut causing an obstruction.  Some holiday related things that I have had to fish out of doggy intestines include wine corks, skewers, fish hooks and corn cobs.  Believe me, spending Christmas eve elbow-deep in a dog’s abdomen is no fun for the vet, the dog or the anxious owner!

3. Protect against nasty critters: In Australia, the heat tends to bring out some of those nasty creepy crawlies that we are well known for.  Paralysis ticks are a horrible little bug, and if I could choose one species to be extinct, it would me this one.  They latch onto an unassuming animal and proceed to inject them with a poison that paralysis first the legs and then the respiratory muscles.

There are one or two good products available from vets to protect dogs against these ticks and they should be used in high risk areas such as national parks and near water bodies.  Unfortunately none of these products are highly reliable and you should search your pet after visiting these areas, focusing on the head and neck.  If you notice any signs of paralysis such as weak legs, a change in bark or breathing difficulty, veterinary care should be sought immediately.

Snake bites are also more common during summer and this should also be treated as an emergency.

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4.  Stay on top of routine treatments: Ensure your dogs are fully vaccinated.  Diseases such as Parvovirus and Canine Cough (Kennel Cough) are more frequently transmitted in the warmer months.  Parvovirus occurs mostly in young, inadequately vaccinated dogs and causes severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration.  It is also a condition that can be fatal due to the profound dehydration and weakness it causes.  Vaccinations and worming can often be overlooked during the excitement of the holiday season so stay organised!

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5.  Beat the heat: Keep your pets cool during the scorching summer months.  Keep them indoors or provide plenty of shade outdoors.  Ensure there is plenty of clean drinking water within reach, and add ice cubes to it on hotter days.  Pets should not be left in cars on hot days and if this must be done, leave a couple of windows open a notch, don’t leave them for more than a few minutes and park the car in the shade.

So with a bit of care and vigilance, your furry friends can enjoy the holiday season while staying happy, healthy and out of hospital!

Hoping I haven’t put you off your food with all this vet talk and on a brighter note, here’s the recipe for my Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars for October’s SABH.  The lovely JJ from 84th & 3rd is hosting this one.  These bars are gluten-free, vegetarian and fructose free (not including the decoration).

Happy Halloween to you and your pets!

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Black Cat Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Makes 8

Recipe for the base is from Sarah Wilson’s Blog

Get:

For the base:
1/2 cup nuts- hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or macadamias work well
1/2 cup shredded or dessicated coconut
1/3 cup nut meal- I used almond
2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the topping:
1 block (200g) cream cheese
1/2 cup pumpkin puree*
2 1/2- 3 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 tsp allspice
1/3 cup almond meal

To  decorate:
About 10 squares dark chocolate
Sprinkles, pearls, et al
A piping bag or homemade version (try this tutorial)

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Use a food processor to grind the whole nuts to a very coarse meal with some small chunks.  Place in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Using your (clean) hands, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture forms a sort ok kneadable dough.  Press the mixture into a grease-proof paper lined loaf tin or a deep baking tray if you decide to double the recipe.  The base should be about a centimetre thick.  Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 mins or until firm and very slightly browned.  Allow to cool before adding the topping.

Place the topping ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until well combined and smooth.  Pour the mixture over the cooled base and spread evenly.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into 8 even squares.

Line a tray with grease-proof paper or a silicon mat.  Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in 20-30 second bursts in the microwave.  Place in the piping bag and pipe shapes of your choice.  At this point, I placed the edible pearls to make the cats’ eyes.  Place the tray in the fridge till the chocolate sets.  Once the cheesecake bars are set and sliced, decorate with the chocolate shapes and any other decorations you wish to use.

*I make pumpkin puree by placing a chunk of pumpkin, skin and all, on a tray in an oven preheated to 180 C.  Bake until the pumpkin is quite soft, about 30 min.  Scoop out the flesh and mash by hand or using a food processor.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Colours

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Between the rock and the sky, Uluru, NT, Australia

This is my interpretation of The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour.

I took this picture while walking around the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock). The striking colours of the rock and the sky really got me!

(This was one of the areas of Uluru where photography was allowed).

Summer

Australia is truly a sun-burnt country.  Our summer is one of the things that defines us.      It is what brings the Europeans to us with their enormous backpacks and sun-starved skin, to mingle with us on our beaches and in our hostels.  It is holidays, picnics, swims and post-swim ice-creams.

It is gloriously long days filled with sunshine that fade gently into lingering dusks and balmy evenings, just in case the day’s feeling are hurt by a sudden transition.

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Summer comes hot on the heels of Diwali and Halloween and brings with it Christmas and the ultimate night to let one’s hair down after all that holiness……New Years Eve.  Even our Christmas cards are adorned with Santa in a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, as if even paper Santa can’t stand to wear his usual outfit in this scorching heat.  And after all that is over, there is still the rest of summer to look forward to.

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Summer is lovely Saturdays spent doing Saturday things and then realising with stomachs grumbling and light still pouring in the window that inexplicably, dinnertime has arrived.

It is weekends away and weekends in watching the cricket.  It is barbecues, ice-blocks and hopefully, slip slop slap.  It is too many mosquitoes, too much champagne and too dark tan lines.

I love the sun, sand and waves as much as the next girl, but I have to admit I’m not really a beach person.  Not in the typical sun-baking, volleyball playing, bikini clad way anyway.  Evening walks on the beach? Sure! Being toasted to a crisp? No thanks!  Besides, like many Indian girls, I am far too interested in preserving my complexion to spend hours in the sun.

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For me, one of the highlights of the summer is all the incredible fruit that seems to appear in the hotter Australian months.  I will never forget that childhood summer when we returned to Sydney after a family holiday to find that my uncle had filled the fridge with gorgeous fruit.  Now that was a sight for sore (jet-lagged) eyes.

Cherries that obligingly dissolve in your mouth, sold by the boxful from the back of utes by the side of highways.  Watermelon that is instantly revitalising and refreshing.  Rockmelons with their fragrant, meaty flesh.

And the Mangoes…..ohhhhh the Mangoes!  The cool weight of them when they are taken out of the fridge.  The impossible sweetness of that first good mango of the season.  Eaten with their cheeks sliced off, cut into small symmetrical pieces by my dad or devoured uninhibitedly with teeth tearing golden skin, Australian mangoes have to be one of the best parts of summer.

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So expect some summery fruitiness to come.  And to those of you who are fortunate enough to live in this sun-blessed patch of the globe, happy summer!