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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Palak Paneer on a Precious Day Off

What I love most about my job, apart from the obvious- saving animals lives, alleviating pain in cute furry creatures and all that other WFF (warm fuzzy feeling) inducing stuff- are my weekdays off. In my line of work, at least on the clinical side of things, there is no Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 schedule.

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Instead, we are required to work some weekends, meaning we get weekdays off in lieu. And while it is truly painful to drag yourself out of bed at 6.30 am on a Sunday morning, leaving behind warm sheets to tend to sick animals (who annoyingly don’t always plan their medical needs to occur during the week), having a weekday to myself really does soften the blow.

My day off feels like an indulgence, even though I’ve well and truly worked my backside off for it. It is something that is all mine……a whole day before me which I can fill with whatever my heart desires. Of course, much of it is spent on mundane tasks such as a workout session, housework and paying bills, but strangely just the idea of having the choice makes a day off seem like a guilty pleasure. And even those chores are less painful during the week- lines at post offices and banks are shorter, Sydney’s normally congested roads are a little easier to navigate and appointments with dentists and such are more available.

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And on the occasion that the day off coalesces with the weekend- well, what more can you ask for than a long weekend?

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This dish is definitely one for a day off. There are a few processes which take a little time when you first give it a go. But it’s so very worth it at the end.

Palak Paneer is an Indian classic. I have been disappointed with some of the versions I’ve had at restaurants; many are bland with a layer of oil floating over the top of barely recognisable spinach puree and lumps of paneer (cottage cheese) that you need to fish for.

My Palak Paneer is a little more robust, well-spiced and the result of several attempts to get the masalas just right.DSC_0417

You can make the paneer yourself using this technique from this lovely blog, or use store-bought paneer. If using store-bought paneer, I prefer the frozen cubes to the blocks you find in the fridge. Also, despite being more fiddly, I highly recommend you use fresh spinach rather than frozen.

PALAK PANEER

Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese Curry)
Get:

Spice Mix
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/8 tsp fenugreek
8-10 black peppercorns
Insides of 2 cardamom pods

Tempering
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
3-4 cloves
2 bay leaves
3 hot green chillies split down the middle
1 small clove garlic, grated or minced (you will need 2 in total)
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated (you will need 1 1/2 tbsp in total)
1/2 large onion chopped finely (you will need the other half too, also chopped)

Gravy
1 quantity spice mix
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tbsp ginger, grated
1/2 large onion chopped finely
1/4 cup passata or 1 soft tomato chopped roughly
2 bunches English spinach
3/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
2 tsp salt
3 tsp oil

280-300g paneer in cubes (packaged or fresh)
Handful coriander, chopped roughly

Make:

If using frozen paneer, defrost.

Chop bottom part of the spinach stalks off and discard. The more tender part of the stalks can be left on. Chop each bunch of spinach into thirds. Place in a colander and wash thoroughly to get rid of the grittiness (and trust me, I’ve never met a bunch of spinach that wasn’t gritty!). Wash in batches if easier. Place aside.

To make the spice mix, dry roast all the spices in a small pan over low heat until fragrant. Use an electric grinder or mortar and pestle to grind to a powder.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a large saucepan or wok. When oil is hot, add spice mix, 1/2 tbsp ginger, 1 clove garlic and half a chopped onion. Fry on low-medium heat until onion is tender. Add spinach and simmer, covered until spinach is mostly cooked. Add tomato or passata, stir through and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt and stir through. Transfer to the bowl of your food processer and leave to cool. Once cooled, blitz to a puree.

In the saucepan or wok, heat 2 tsp oil. When oil is hot, reduce heat to low and add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds. Allow seeds to pop, stirring gently. Add garam masala, turmeric and chilli powder and stir for a minute. Add bay leaves, cloves, chillies, ginger and garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes. Add the other half of the chopped onion and stir until coated in oil and tender.

Add spinach puree to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Add sugar, amchur and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir through and taste- add more salt in 1/4 tsp increments according to taste. Simmer on a medum heat for 5 minutes.

Add paneer and stir through, covering the cubes with the gravy. If using home-made paneer, be extra gentle! Cover and simmer on low heat for 3-5 minutes. If using frozen paneer, you may need to simmer a little longer.

Sprinkle coriander over the top and serve with rice, naan or chapatis.

Notes:
You can so totally simplify this by:
Using more garam masala instead of the spice mix- about a tsp should do it. However freshly ground spices are something else!
If you can’t find amchur, a good squeeze of lemon or a dollop of sour cream right at the end may provide the sourness required.
For a touch of luxury, feel free to stir through about a 1/4 cup of cream or sour cream.

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