A trip to the markets and a tomato salad.

(Beets at the growers market)

The best market in town only rolls by once a month, and I’m a little ashamed to say, I hardly ever visit it. Something to do with never quite rising early enough to get to the stalls before they’ve either nearly sold out or completely packed up. Favourable Spring weather last weekend however, forced my hand (and my alarm clock).

My market bag filled up very quickly with farm eggs for a cake, strawberries to snack on, bunches of pungent herbs, baby tomatoes bright and colourful like little jewels, and a bundle of Easter egg radishes. The trip left me very inspired and I couldn’t wait to come home and start cooking with my purchases. Oh wait, did I say cook? Actually, I sliced up the tomatoes, made a quick dressing and in no time at all, was tucking into an early lunch.

(Tomato and mint salad with a tamarind dressing)

Spring never tasted so good.

Tamarind dressing for a tomato salad :
(serves 4; recipe by Neil Perry)

25g tamarind pulp
2 tablespoons light palm sugar
15ml light soy sauce
60ml extra virgin olive oil

Combine the tamarind pulp and 1 tablespoon of hot water in a bowl. Stand for 10 minutes or until soft, then push through a fine sieve, discarding seeds and set aside.

Combine the sugar with 2 teaspoons of water in a saucepan and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat or until caramelised, add tamarind water and soy sauce. Cool to room temperature, then gradually add olive oil, whisking continuously until emulsified. Makes about ½ cup.

(To serve, slice tomatoes and toss through with plenty of salt, pepper, torn mint leaves and the tamarind dressing. Chilli addicts may want to throw in some sliced chillis into the mix as well.)

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(Chickpea ‘Blondies’)

I feel a certain calmness these days that I haven’t felt in a long while. Is it that the air seems crisper and fresher? I’ll admit, I’m more aware these days that I’m getting older. I’ve adopted that sing-song voice when I talk to friends’ kids. The guy behind the counter at the local liquor store has long since forgotten to ask me for ID. Face cream, not ice-cream, is now an important daily ritual.

Of course, I still love ice-cream, but am becoming increasingly conscious of the need to eat healthily. My heart still beats faster for butter but I’ve also found new things to be excited about. Not forgetting my foray into the world of black bean brownies, I’ve become equally excited about Celine’s chickpea ‘blondies’. The fact that a combination as unusual as strawberry jam, tahini and chickpeas can be delicious and as an added bonus, healthy and vegan, is what I find so interesting.

(Tofu salad with sesame sauce)

In the spirit of the vegan recipes and wholesome eating, I’m including a beautiful vegan-friendly tofu and sesame dish, adapted from a chicken recipe by Harumi Kurihara from her book, Harumi’s Japanese Cooking. I’m a big fan of cucumber, and happily eat it with most things (especially in sandwiches). If you happen to dislike cucumber, you can easily replace it with any other vegetable, such as shredded cabbage, carrot, beansprouts etc. This dish is wonderful as an appetiser, or can be served with rice or soba noodles as the main event.

You can find the recipe for chickpea ‘blondies’ here.

Tofu salad with sesame sauce :
(serves 4, or 2 hungry people)

50g spring onion (scallions), finely shredded
200g cucumber (or a mixture of your favourite vegetables)
250g firm tofu, cut into strips or cubes
50g green beans, blanched and refreshed
1/4 bunch coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped or torn

for the sesame sauce :
1/4 cup (50ml) chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, finely chopped

Cut the cucumber in half, remove the seeds with a spoon, and slice the remaining flesh into batons. Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a bowl.

Mix all the ingredients for the sesame sauce in a separate bowl, the pour it over the tofu and cucumber. Toss well, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve.

(PS: I’m dedicating this recipe to a good friend in Alaska, who kindly reads my blog every now and then, and somehow manages to comment occasionally even though he doesn’t have much interest in baking. There you go W., I’ve got a savoury recipe for you to try!)

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