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When I was sixteen or so, I started staying overnight at my friend, Fay’s place. She lived with her grandmother during the week, and being close in to the city, it was much better — and safer—for me  than traveling home at night on a tram followed by a one-hour train trip. Her grandmother (who I called Baba, as Fay did) was a little old Macedonian lady and over the years she taught me to cook various dishes. My mother was a good cook, and used peppers in her cooking, but not like this.

Of Baba’s dishes, one of my favorites is piperki (peppers) fried with fetta and eggs, and every year I wait for piperki season  (which is toward the end of January in Australia) so I can make it.

The peppers I use are the ones Baba  always used and other kinds of peppers just don’t taste the same to me. You can see them in the photo, along with some fried ones in the bowl, waiting for tonight’s dinner or tomorrow’s breakfast. I cooked up a batch of peppers and ate the first half  for lunch and it didn’t occur to me to take a picture of the finished dish because. . . I wanted it, NOW! 

It’s very simple to cook — just three ingredients plus oil, and I don’t have a recipe — it’s all “by eye”. I just chop up the piperki (at least 4 per person) and gently cook them in oil until they’re soft, then I toss in an egg (more if I’m cooking for more than one person) and crumble in some fetta, stir it around until it’s cooked and whack it onto a slice of toast. It doesn’t look all that glamorous, but take it from me, it’s delicious — though if you don’t like peppers or fetta, you won’t like this. 

Baba used piperki in so many ways —  her back yard had long strings of red and yellow peppers drying in the shade,   and she made a wonderful fiery and vinegary dried pepper soup, and many other things — but my favorite (apart from the dish above) was piperkis grilled over a flame until the skin blackened. I sometimes make this, and then I chop the peeled flesh into large chunks, add garlic and salt and pepper, sometimes a squeeze of lemon,  pack it all into a jar and cover them with oil. They don’t last long because they’re too delicious.



I had a group of  school-friends’ over for lunch yesterday — the first group event I’ve had in the new house. We reconnected at a school reunion some years ago and ever since, nine of us have been meeting for lunch and a catch-up a few times a year.  It’s generally at someone’s place, but sometimes we have a picnic or go on an outing — for instance earlier this year we met at a sculpture park, and ate lunch from the cafe.

berry pavlova

It’s usually a “bring a plate” event (a bit like the American “pot luck” I suspect), which makes it easier. (Speaking of “bringing a plate,” years ago, an American friend of mine, when she was first invited to an Aussie party and asked to “bring a plate” did just that. Assuming the hostess didn’t have enough plates for everyone to eat off, she bought two empty plates, one for her and one for her husband. We think we speak the same language but it’s not quite true, is it?)

So because this gathering was at my new house, and it was close to Christmas,  I decided to celebrate by making a pavlova (or pav), which is a favourite Australian dessert. It has a meringue base and is topped with lashings of whipped cream  and fresh fruit. The shop-bought pav’s are generally crisp meringue all through but the best home-made ones have a crisp meringue shell that is marshmallowy inside. (The secret is adding a little vinegar to the whipped egg-whites.)

I was a bit apprehensive about using my new fancy electric oven (which is quite technological compared with my old gas oven) especially as the recipes on-line varied in cooking temperature for fan-forced from 80C to 130C but they all agreed on 90 minutes cooking time! So I went for 105C and crossed my fingers. I baked it the night before, turned the oven off after 90 minutes and didn’t open the oven until the following morning, (which is supposed to prevent it cracking) and to my relief, it came out perfect and uncracked.  That’s it below.

But the moment I put the whipped cream on it, it cracked — so then I fretted that it might not be properly cooked inside. So I slathered over the cracks with whipped cream, and piled on the fruit — in this case mixed berries — and hoped for the best. And when we cut it, it was perfect — a crispy meringue shell, marshmallowy inside, and not too sweet. Everyone loved it and some came back for seconds and there’s none left. I was so pleased. 

Have you ever baked a pav? Or eaten one? I know a lot of North Americans never have, and I don’t know about  people in the UK or Ireland, but they’re very common here and in NZ. It’s very much a summer dessert. So what do you like to bring when you’re invited to “bring a plate” or a potluck?

Rice Paper Rolls

I’ve been playing with rice paper rolls recently. They’re great for a light summer lunch, or even a snack.  And the ingredients are pretty easy to come by — as long as you can get the rice paper. You need the asian-style rice paper, not the one you might use for baking. It generally comes in round sheets and is much thicker and initially stiffer than the other sort of rice paper. (I use the other sort for making nougat.)

I first made my own rice paper rolls in a Vietnames restaurant (Quan 88) many years ago, with a dish they called “sliced fish.” It was sliced raw fish, cured in lime juice (or something similar) and dusted lightly with spices. As well there was shredded lettuce or maybe bean shoots, and sliced apple. It was a magic combination — I would never have thought of putting apple with raw fish.

We were given bowls of hot water, sheets of rice paper and shown how to dip the rice paper in the hot water, add the ingredients and roll them up. We weren’t very skilled at the rolling, so it was messy but delicious and I’ve been trying to find the exact way they did the fish ever since. Sadly, they no longer have it on their menu.

But ever since, I’ve been making my own rice paper rolls — just every now and then when the impulse strikes. I’m still not very good at rolling them. You can see how to make them here. Next time I’ll get the right sort of lettuce and that might help. But this is what I did today for lunch.

My basic ingredients today were; strips of cooked egg, thinly sliced chicken, grated carrot, shredded red cabbage, slivers of cucumber and celery, cold cooked soba noodles,  bean sprouts and herbs — coriander (cilantro) and basil.  (what you see in the pic is what was left after I’d made three rolls.)
Yesterday I made them with prawns, carrot, celery, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, soba noodles, coriander (cilantro), basil, and mint. And thin slivers of chili. Basically, you can use what you have in the fridge. Traditionally rice noodles are used, but I find them a bit tasteless so I used soba noodles — I like them better.

You simply dip a sheet of rice paper in hot water for a few seconds, it softens more after you take it out so really I just wet it and pop it on a plate, slightly smaller than the rice paper round, which made it easier to find the edges when it came to rolling. Then you add your other ingredients, and roll it up. There’s a quick little video here that shows you the best technique.

And they’re so fresh and healthy and yummy. I didn’t bother with making any dipping sauces just for my lunch, though I would if I were serving these to guests or taking them to a picnic. I just tipped blobs of chili sauce, wasabi (Japanese horseradish)  and ordinary mayo on a dish and added them per bite as the whim took me.