Saturday, 26 June 2010

Lunar Eclipse ~ Sydney, Australia

Grass clippings and boiled cabbage...

Carnivores often shiver at the thought of having to entertain a vegetarian and it can sometimes be a struggle if you don’t know where to start.

From about the age of 10-11 I became a vegetarian myself.  This was a challenge in New Zealand during the 80s and by the time I was close 17 I had largely given up that lifestyle because I had discovered boys and dining out became a bit of struggle!  This was because as a Vedic vegetarian, I did not consume foods that contained meat, fish or eggs. We read labels and avoid a lot of “E” numbers and hidden animal products in emulsifiers and gelatine (but not to the extent of cutting out onions, garlic, mushrooms etc).

Being vegetarian at that age meant that my formative cooking years (by 12 I cooked the family meal several times a week) were vegetarian. Simple  dishes. I did not learn to cook meat until my late teens and didn’t develop this further until I had left home.  That being said, I will often prepare vegetarian meals at home and may not even realise that I have.  My cooking repertoire for me has always contained vegetarian dishes as a force of habit rather than necessity or conscious choice.

My father has maintained this lifestyle however (on religious grounds) and on his recent first visit to see us in Sydney, we were faced, for the first time in a long time that I really had to think about what I could buy, cook and serve. By the end of the weekend I was amazed at how easy it had become since I was a vegetarian and honestly don’t think my husband noticed that we didn’t eat meat from Thursday night until Sunday night.  So if you are new to this diet or are entertaining, here is what we did which might assist you in the future.  Please also note that we are not vegans, Vedic vegetarians revere the sacred cow and milk products feature heavily in our diet.  It’s a good way to start if you are thinking about it so you can phase certain foods out as you go.

How we went...

Friday – Dinner at Govindas Restaurant and Cinema

This now Sydney institution is fantastic for delicious vegetarian/ semi-Indian feast.  Served buffet-style it was a complete win for my Dad (we spent many years in the ISKCON movement).  I won’t bother with giving you details because there are some awesome foodie bloggers out there that have given great reviews of the place.  Think of it like a big steak restaurant for vegetarians! Hearty, hot food, and no fuss.  If you can stay awake after the carbo load take in a leisurely movie in the wonderful loungey cinema room!

Saturday – lunch at home

Breakfasts are easy of course, but as we were expecting guests for afternoon tea (think “feasting” and not Devonshire ;) ) I prepared a quick lunch of a vegetarian burger. The Eatwell Vege burger patties are among our favourite quick food we keep in the fridge for late nights home from work. With some rocket & baby spinach mix, swiss cheese slice (non-animal rennet) and topped with Mrs H.S Balls Chilli Chutney, I could see Dad happily munching away in the living room (to get him out from under my feet! I know what mum means now!). There lots of different options out there for burger patties now and soy meat substitutes are ever increasing.  I was hoping to get the new product Quorn in time for his visit but was unable to source it any of our local supermarkets during his stay.

Saturday - Afternoon Tea

We were really spoiled for choice here and given I hadn’t got home till an hour before we were expecting guests, it had to be quick and easy to prepare.  The good old kiwi lemonade scones were an absolute hit served with Anathoth Raspberry Jam (now available in Woolworths in Australia) and made by Mr T himself who has become quite impressive in the kitchen.  His father-in-law was pretty chuffed! There was a tomato (sweet yellow grape & cherry tomatoes), basil & baby boconccini (again non-animal rennet) for serving on bruschetta (toasted), pumpernickel bread, lavash, babaganouj (smokey eggplant dip), hommous, brie, chilli cheese, dates, figs, feta & kalamatta olive dip,  potato pakora served with tamarind sauce, barfi (Indian milk fudge) & some additional cakes our guests brought over.  It was all washed down with a quite a large pot of Indian spiced tea (masala chai) which really for 8 adults was more than enough but as the sun went down seemed to be the thing that everyone wanted to drink!

Saturday – Dinner

After such an afternoon feast we had to keep it simple and I prepared some simple spinach and ricotta (with toasted pinenuts) triangles served with a fresh green salad. Quick and easy.

Sunday – DinnerSherpa Kitchen

We spent most of the day out and about and decided on an early dinner so that Dad could get to bed early before his flight in the morning.

We headed to a Newtown haunt that promised to have a wide selection of dishes that would meet our vegetarian requirements.  This Nepalese restaurant on King Street Newtown, owned by Chris Robbie, features at extensive and inexpensive menu.  The food is closer in style to the curries enjoyed in Fiji if not a little spicier.  This suited our palette completely.  We started with momocha (dumplings similar to Japanese gyoza) served with a spicy yoghurt sauce, and paneer & vegetable pakoras  which required something a little more enticing than the mint raita they were served with. The jhinege tarkari (prawns) were close to the style that my mother prepares and the goat curry (Khasi ko Tarkari) more than satisfied Mr T’s tastes.  Dad chose a lovely paneer (a type of cheese similar to haloumi) & ginger dish that was slightly sweet with what tasted like tamarind.  After a few hiccups with the service, the food more than charmed and we all were satisfied with the meal.

So while vegetarian diets can seem a challenge to accommodate it really is so much easier than it used to be. The variety is endless and the choices even in a commercial sense are far ahead of where they used to be. And thank goodness for that. It’s good for our planet and our health!


*The "grass clippings and cabbage" reference is how my Dad always apologetically describes what he can eat.  He still feels as though he is a burden to people because of his vegetarian diet.

Posted via email from Radhika's posterous

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Garam garam chai... time to warm up with masala chai

A warming hot cup of chai  (pronounced "cha" in Fiji) is more than the sum of the spices that make up this aromatically enticing brew.  For me it was always an expression of love and honoured our heritage.  Guests were always served a pot of masala chai brewed from scratch, it would be almost insulting to serve "english tea" unless it was specifically requested. Due to its richness it is not for everyone so there are always requests for "just english tea" or "pani la cha" (literally "water tea", as opposed to milk tea).  The inclusion of lots of ginger meant that my mother would brew and serve accompanied by oodles of lectures to keep warm, stay in bed and drink chai.

There is no magic recipe and nowadays you can find plenty of high quality ready-made mixes on the market that involve simply adding boiling water.  To follow is our "comfort cha", the one that even even my husband craves on cold days. It involves no grinding and everything is "brewed" in the saucepan.

Masala Cha

Using a 1.5 ltr saucepan

4 -6 cups of water
Fresh ginger root (about 50mm in length if not more!)
Cardomom pods (ground will do) - cracked open
Cinnamon quill broken into 2 or 3 pces (cassia bark will do but is slightly bitter in taste so reduce quantity)
3 whole cloves (to taste)
Grind of black pepper
Loose leaf tea - good quality dry leaf tea. Nothing fancy required, even the poor make brilliant masala chai!
Sweetened condensed milk or milk (entirely to taste)
Honey to sweeten (don't boil it - in accordance with ayurvedic teaching) if not using condensed milk

You can add a little bit of ready-made masala spice (available at indian grocers) but this combination goes down well enough.

Heat the water in a saucepan and as it is heating add the dry spices - cardomom, cinnamon, cloves and a few grinds of pepper. Grate the fresh ginger (if the ginger is young/soft skinned peeling it can be a waste of time, just scrub clean) into the saucepan.  Bring to the boil. The water will change colour and the aroma of spices & ginger will tell you when you can add the tea leaves.  About 4 teaspoons of tea will be enough and the boiling water will quickly start to colour.  Too much will make the tea bitter as the tannin takes over.  As the colour comes up add the milk.  Sweetened condensed milk is commonly used in South East Asia and is a bit of a treat for obvious reasons - around 1/4 cup will be enough to sweeten and make a milky brew. Add slowly and stop before it looks too milky.  Condensed milk doesn't seem to have the intense sweetness it used to so it shouldn't be too sweet to drink.  Plain milk you will find you will add closer to 1/2 cup if not more to get the right consistency and creaminess.  If you are using soy milk bear in mind the nuttiness in the flavour as well as the creaminess - you'll be adding a lot less.  Sweeten with honey if desired.

Then serve piping hot and enjoy - maybe even watch a bollywood movie or 'Slumdog Millionaire' to get in the mood. We did. 

And remember to kiss the cook!

I ended up watching the final scene of "Slumdog Millionaire" with an aching heart and tears, like I do every time.  Here's to those who never lose hope! xox

"Garam garam chai" literally means "hot hot tea"  - in temperature and flavour!

Posted via web from Radhika's posterous

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Annual Five Chefs Dinner - Starlight Children's Foundation

I agonise over my significant other's birthday every year and after 11 of them I have learned that crowds, people and fuss don’t go down well so I agreed to his request for a movie night together. Of course I wanted to make sure that it had some "pizazz" and attempted to get Gold Class tickets. Mistake on all counts given it was opening night of “Sex and the City 2” – every single premium class ticket in Sydney was dedicated to it and I wasn’t entirely convinced that the seating experience would be enough to get him there!  In the meantime while a friend honestly believed I would subject him to SATC2 I received a phone call from a business colleague inviting me to join his table at the Starlight Children’s Foundation Five Chefs Dinner

I’ll admit I hadn’t even heard of it (no an event chaser I am not) before but given his description of the event and previous dining experiences with him I knew it would not disappoint. Bit of searching online and links sent to the beau, the budding ‘foodie’ was easily persuaded and agreed to the change of plans.

Sydney skies had opened up that night and after battling the weather and road conditions arriving at the Four Seasons was a welcome relief.  The ballroom was filled to capacity with little room between tables.  It smelled like money and given the results of both the silent and “extremely audible” auctions they were in a giving mood! All joking aside, many of the celebrities in the room at consistent risk of derision made their support of the work of the Starlight Foundation known.

Channel Nine’s Lisa Wilkinson MC’d, Stu Gregor mastered the auctions and the guests were served delectable dishes created by Sydney’s finest Chefs.   Each course was perfectly matched by a selection of Australian wines selected by Stu Gregor and his team. Pete Murray entertained and it was rumoured there were a few at the tables wondering how to bid for time with him! Unfortunately I was unable to sample two of the courses, however there were plenty at the table that were happy to relieve me of my course!

Here are a few pics from the night which I hope will tantalise your tastebuds a little.  The list of restaurants I want to visit in Sydney is ever increasing at this rate!

A host of amazing Captain Starlights , energetic young people who make children’s stays in hospital bearable entertained the crowds on the night. They were warm, bubbly and just what the doctor ordered. I see careers in children’s television for these guys they are charming and confident.

Frankly none of this is relevant nor newsworthy, what matters most is WHY.  View for yourself what an impact the Foundation has on the lives of Aussie kids and their families:
And I parted with some serious cash (for my wallet) and took home the ‘Doona Day’ package perfect for keeping us entertained at home and scratching our heads over what to do about not owning any Blu-ray discs!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

THE SAPPHIRES are in town...

After taking a stand about National Reconciliation Week last week I must have pleased the Gods because I was fortunate enough to receive tickets to attend the Company B Belvoir production of "The Sapphires".

A matinee session (my favourite kind to be honest) on a rainy soaked Sydney was fantastic. Made even better by the last minute addition of Twitter friend @FrancieJones who made rapid childcare arrangements to join us. We met @Pixel8ted at the Seymour Centre and then bunkered in for the show.

The synopsis could not fully prepare you for what a fine local production this is. Yes you could assume with the recognised voices of Casey Donovan and Christine Anu that the singing would be more than passable but the fantastic acting performances accented by exceptional voices make this a thoroughly enjoyable show to enjoy with friends.

Throughout you are reminded by the events of the day and the challenges of being a Koori with dreams that can't be realised by the legacy of your birth.

But I can't leave this post without making a special mention of Casey Donovan's performance. Her time in the Australian public eye has never been a smooth road, but seeing her as Cynthia Mccrae you are left in no doubt that she is an exceptionally talented woman. She delivers a gutsy natural performance and envelops the audience with ease. She really is deadly!

The season is limited (to 20 June) so if you are in the mood to celebrate Australian talent, this is worth catching. You'll be singing and beaming all the way out!

P.S Motown tunes always make me smile!

Posted via web from Radhika's posterous