The dog days are upon us and it’s time for cooks to adopt the motto KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid! – to which we could add “and light, easy and fast”.
Thoughts turn naturally to salad meals, to one-pan stir-fries, to pasta and noodles with simple toppings. The family does not need meat, rice and potatoes every night, especially when the mercury is hovering around 30 degrees at sunset.
No-cook or barely cooked veggies, salad ingredients and five-minute grains like couscous can make the basics, with protein from eggs, cheese, fish or chicken. Bread – in the form of pizza bases or burger buns as well as wholewheat, ciabatta and focaccia – provides an easy staple, to be filled or topped and teamed with a side salad.
One of the best food writers to look to when it comes to minimal ingredients transformed into appetising fare in minutes is Australia’s Donna Hay, who, as well as having produced 21 cookbooks, has her own food magazine and shop in Sydney. Her mantra is simple, smart and seasonal, and who can argue with that?
Bacon egg rolls
From her new title Simple Dinners by Donna Hay published by Hardie Grant Books. Replace truss with firm ripe tomatoes, sliced, if preferred.
8 rashers smoked bacon, rind removed
400g truss cherry tomatoes
8 eggs, preferably free-range
80ml (one-third cup) cream
Sea salt and black pepper
Bottled tomato relish
Hot buttered toast
Place bacon and tomatoes on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and roast in a preheated oven at 200°C for 15 minutes, or until bacon is crisp.
Place 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of cream, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan over high heat, pour in egg mixture and swirl to coat the pan. Cook for 45 to 60 seconds or until egg is just cooked.
Turn on to a plate and top with tomato relish and two rashers of bacon.
Roll to enclose.
Repeat with remaining eggs, relish and bacon.
Serve with hot butter toast and the oven-baked tomatoes.
Crispy fish sliders
This tops contemporary burger trends, and the recipe comes from Simple Dinners. Soda water could replace the mineral water. You could add finely chopped spring onion to the tartare sauce for extra zing.
8 x 125g small white fish fillets, skinned
50g (quarter cup) rice flour
100g (half cup) additional rice flour
180ml (three-quarter cup) cold sparkling mineral water
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
8 small soft bread rolls, halved
8 butter lettuce leaves
Half cup mayonnaise
6 cornichons or small gherkins, chopped
1Tbs capers, rinsed and chopped
1Tbs chopped dill
1Tbs lemon juice
Make the sauce first: Place the mayonnaise, cornichons, capers, dill and lemon juice in a bowl and mix. Set aside. Dust the fish with the rice flour, shaking off any excess. Place the additional flour in a bowl, add the water, season and whisk until smooth. Heat 2cm of oil in a deep frying pan over high heat. Dip fish in the batter and cook in the oil, in batches, for two minutes each side. Drain on absorbent paper. Spread the bread rolls with the tartare sauce and top with lettuce, fish and other half of the roll. Serve with potato chips or crisps, if desired.
Baked pumpkin and sage risotto
As Hay asks: “Why stir risotto for half an hour when you can just as easily bake it in the oven for the same result?”
This meat-free dish, using new season pumpkin, is just the ticket for late summer evenings. Find the recipe in Hay’s Fast Fresh Simple (Grant Hardie Books).
1Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
12 sage leaves
2 cups Arborio or other risotto rice
800g pumpkin, peeled and diced
1.25 litres chicken or vegetable stock
Half cup (40g) grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat a large ovenproof saucepan over medium high heat.
Add the oil and onion and cook for three minutes, or until soft. Add the sage and cook for a minute.
Add the rice, pumpkin and stock and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Bake for 30 minutes. The risotto will be quite liquid.
Stir through the salt, pepper, butter and cheese and stir for two minutes until risotto thickens slightly.
Sprinkle risotto with extra cheese and fried sage leaves before serving.
Asian chicken slaw
This colourful crisp mix can be found in Simple Dinners. Replace Chinese with green cabbage, lime juice with fresh lemon juice and chives with spring onion, if preferred. Do use a good fish sauce, preferably Thai.
6 cups shredded Chinese cabbage
2 carrots, pared and shredded lengthwise
1 cup (150g) roasted unsalted cashews
quarter cup snipped chives
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup coriander leaves (dhania)
2 mild red chillis, seeded and finely sliced
4x200g cooked chicken breasts, shredded
Lime and coconut dressing:
125ml (half cup) coconut milk
1Tbs fish sauce
2Tbs lime juice
1Tbs castor sugar
Combine cabbage, carrot, cashews, chives, mint, coriander, chilli and chicken in a bowl and toss.
Make the dressing: place the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Serves 4. - Cape Argus