Silverbeet & pearl barley soup

silverbeet soup

I toyed with calling this ‘Swiss chard & pearl barley soup’ in an attempt to up the fashionability of this simple, but incredibly delicious recipe. In the end, I decided to proudly stick with ‘silverbeet’ as this recipe isn’t about trying to be flashy, it’s about carefully cooking simple ingredients to bring out their best flavours; a great example of Lois’ approach to cooking. Slowly cooking quality, locally-grown and seasonal vegetables, adding some beans and cooked barley to create a soup with a lovely background sweetness and interesting textures. Inexpensive and entirely nourishing, I wish more people knew how to make this soup for themselves.

Silverbeet & pearl barley soup (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Listener, April 10, 1999, p. 55)

1/3 cup pearl barley

1.5 litres water

3 tablespoons cooking oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 can peeled tomatoes

1 small bunch silverbeet

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

sea salt & freshly ground pepper

grated parmesan or grana padana for serving (optional)

Simmer the barley and water in a pot for about 45 minutes until the barley is tender. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot and cook the onion, carrot and celery together over a medium heat until softened; you don’t want to brown the vegetables. It’s important to allow some time for this ‘soffritto’ stage, as this will give a lovely sweet base to the soup.

To prepare the silverbeet, cut the leaves from the stems and wash both thoroughly. Slice the stems into thirds lengthwise, then slice into thin ribbons across the width. Slice the leaves into ribbons, keeping the stems separate from the leaves. Add the silverbeet stems to the onion mixture as well as the can of tomatoes. Add a sprinkling of salt, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Leave to cook for about 15-20 minutes.

Add the cooked barley along with its cooking water to the soup, and add the beans and silverbeet leaves. Season with more salt and lots of ground black pepper. Place the lid back on and bring to the boil. Serve the soup in warmed bowls, grate over some parmesan if you fancy it, and enjoy with a piece of chewy wholegrain sourdough on the side.

Warm chickpea & rocket salad

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This is a very easy and very tasty lunch for two which, like many of Lois’ recipes, relies upon finding and using good quality ingredients: fresh rocket, good extra virgin olive oil, New Zealand garlic, and chickpeas. Each ingredient is carefully handled to result in an elegant lunch for two to be served with some fresh baguette.

Warm chickpea and rocket salad (Lois Daish, Listener, June 7 2003).

A can of chickpeas or 250g home-cooked chickpeas

Sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 handfuls rocket leaves

extra virgin olive oil to finish

Bring a medium-sized pot of water to the boil and add some salt and a sprig of rosemary. Add the chickpeas and simmer for a few minutes and then drain. Heat the olive oil gently in a frying pan and add the garlic. Stir briefly and then add the chickpeas and continue cooking for a few minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the vinegar, salt and pepper. Put the rocket leaves in a bowl and tip over the chickpeas. Drizzle with more olive oil and gently combine the greens and beans. Divide between two bowls and serve with some bread on the side.

Potato soup with roasted garlic & silverbeet

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‘While it might take the bluest of moods to make you sit down to a plate of plain mashed potatoes for dinner, a bowl of potato soup tells a more cheerful story.’

Lois Daish, Listener, June 24, 2000, p. 50

The cheerful story is this: from the most simple and inexpensive ingredients a soup can be made that is delicious, good for you, and very good for your state of mind. Lois gives a basic potato soup recipe which can then be added to with roasted garlic, winter greens (cavolo nero, silverbeet), leeks or smoked fish. I chose roasted garlic and silverbeet which I will give the method for below. With enough leftover for a second meal, I turned the remainders into a satisfying dinner for two by flaking over some smoked fish.

This recipe will make enough for three people; Lois gives a helpful guideline of one medium-sized potato per serving of soup and increase the other ingredients correspondingly.

Potato soup with roasted garlic & silverbeet (Lois Daish, Listener, June 24, 2000, p. 50-51)

2 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely sliced

3 cloves garlic, finely sliced

3 medium-sized floury potatoes (I used Agria)

salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper

1 small bayleaf

water or chicken stock

milk or cream

soft green herbs such as parsley, dill, chervil, chives (optional)

The optional extras:

A bunch of silverbeet

2 bulbs garlic

Roasting the garlic:

Put the garlic on to roast before you start the soup. Heat oven to 190°C. Prepare the garlic by slicing off the tip of the bulb to expose the ends of the cloves within. Place inside a piece of tinfoil, sprinkle with a little olive oil and water and seal up the package. Place onto a little oven tray and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the cloves are very tender and your kitchen is filled with the sweet smell of caramelised garlic. Leave the bulbs to cool and then squeeze out the insides of the cloves and set aside.

The soup base:

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook very gently until the onion has softened. While the onions cook, peel the potatoes and slice into thin slices (cut in half, place cut side down and then slice). Add the potato to the pan and cook until they start to stick to the bottom but have not started to colour. Add enough water or stock to just cover the potatoes. Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are tender.

The silverbeet:

While the soup is simmering, prepare the silverbeet. Wash the leaves to remove any dirt or wildlife and strip the green leaves away from the stalks. Finely chop the stalks and put into a bowl, then finely slice the leaves and keep them separate from the stalks. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the silverbeet stalks; bring back to the boil and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the silverbeet leaves and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Finishing the soup:

Remove the bayleaf from the pot and add the roasted garlic. Purée the soup using a handheld stick blender or food processor bowl; do this in short bursts as quickly as possible as this will help to prevent a gluey texture caused by over-processing. Add the silverbeet and chopped green herb (if using) to the smooth soup base and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into warmed bowls and top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Potato, onion and garlic gratin

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This is a seriously good potato dish. It’s also very easy and only has three ingredients (well, four if you count the oil). It can be prepped for the oven in around 15 minutes and then it will happily bake away while you prepare whatever else you’re going to serve with it (might I suggest chicken sauté with caramel and lemon and cavolo nero with fennel seeds).

This dish tastes simply and delightfully of the ingredients that comprise it. The onions impart a sweetness and silky texture, the potatoes become tender and creamy (with bonus crunchy bits around the edges), and the garlic is a lovely background note.

Potato, onion and garlic gratin (Lois Daish, Dinner at Home, p.118)

1 onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

3 tablespoons oil

1 kg large potatoes

sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan until moderately hot and then add the onion and garlic; fry until golden. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into 5mm rounds. Put the potatoes into a wide baking dish (if you have one with a lid, such as a Le Creuset, use that). Pour over the onions, garlic and oil and turn the potatoes slices over and over so that they are coated with the oil. Cover the dish with its lid or aluminium foil and bake at 200°C for about an hour, until the potatoes are very tender.

Cavolo nero with fennel seeds


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Cavolo nero is one of my favourite winter vegetables and not just because of its seductive Italian name and dark good looks. I infinitely prefer cavolo nero to curly kale which I find a bit tough and raspy to eat even after being blanched in boiling water and then sautéed. Cavolo nero retains a bite once cooked but is still lovely to eat. This brassica is very on trend currently but fashion-forward Lois was cooking it in the 1990s with this recipe which she picked up from a River Cafe cookbook.

Cavolo nero with fennel seeds (Lois Daish, Listener, July 3 1999)

bunch of cavolo nero

extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Strip the leaves from the cavolo nero. I find the best way to do this is to grip the cut end of the stalk and run your thumb and forefinger along the length of the stem to pull the green leaves away. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the cavolo nero leaves for about 3 minutes. Drain in a colander and put the pot back on the stove. Slosh in some olive oil and add the garlic and fennel seeds. Stir for a couple of minutes until fragrant and then add the cavolo nero back into the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes. Put into a warmed serving bowl and drizzle with more olive oil.

Spinach frittata

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I’ve just arrived back from a lovely visit to Mum’s where we spent some happy hours poring through her folders of collected recipes, many of which are Lois’ old NZ Listener columns. While the appearance of the columns changed every couple of years, the style of the food remained constant: seasonal, fresh, and simple. Recipes from 1996 are as enticing as recipes from 2007.

Lois’ columns are an absorbing read interspersed with personal anecdotes and references to food writers, colleagues or friends from whom she had sourced the recipe or inspiration. Lois often mentions River Cafe (Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers) whose modern Italian recipes make the best use of seasonal produce cooked in simple ways – much like Lois herself.

Lois gave Listener readers River Cafe’s recipe for spinach frittata back in 2000. We made it for dinner last Friday evening as a light supper (after a not-so light lunch) and it was perfection. I may very well make it again this Friday.

Spinach frittata (Lois Daish, Listener, August 19 2000)

500g fresh spinach, tough stalks removed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g butter, cut into small cubes

4 eggs

50g parmesan, freshly grated

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 slices prosciutto (optional)

Preheat your oven grill to its maximum setting. Blanch the spinach briefly in boiling salted water. Drain in a colander and push down with a large spoon or spatula to squeeze out most of the water. Put into a bowl and dot with half of the butter cubes and grind over some salt and pepper. Break the eggs into a medium-sized bowel and beat lightly. Add the spinach and half of the grated parmesan and a bit more salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Take a large 20-30cm fry pan with an ovenproof handle. Add the oil to the fry pan and heat on the stove top over a medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture, using a spatula to spread out the spinach evenly. Give the pan a jiggle and leave to cook for a few minutes. Dot the rest of the butter and parmesan over the top of the frittata and put under the grill for a couple of minutes until the top begins to rise and it turns crispy around the edges. Remove from oven (remembering that the pan handle will be hot!), cut into quarters and serve with prosciutto or, like we did with a salad of chopped tomatoes, torn basil, olive oil and salt and pepper.

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