Spicy Pakora and Thai Sweet and Sour Eggplant

Crispy chick pea flour batter enclosing juicy chunks of eggplant

Scrumptious Sweet and Sour Eggplant

It seems to just get better until a 5.00am phone call from England changes my world.

Notes form diary January 5th 2009. It’s incredible. The melons have spread all over the ground, the leaves barely concealing their bounty of ripening fruit. The rampant zucchetta have taken over the fence, the crook neck zucchini have taken over half the bed and we have so much chard, rocket, lettuce, radishes, bok choy, tomatoes, snow peas and beans I don’t know what we will do with them all. We even have carrots. I cannot contain my delight. The pleasure of picking and eating this ultra fresh, home grown, chemical free produce is beyond words. It’s a cinch to get your ‘5-a-day’ when vegetables taste this good. Vegetables so delicious that they are in stark contrast to the uniform, commercially grown, tasteless things we buy from the supermarkets here. And we have so much of them we can feed ourselves and the neighbourhood for the next month. I particularly want to try the zucchetta – a thin, cucumber length, pale green zucchini like vegetable and a member of the marrow family – so that evening I make a delicious dish Dhal with Zucchetta, that my mum often makes with a similar vegetable. It’s fresh, spicy flavours are fantastic with the Chicken Tikka that my husband cooks on the barbecue. We serve it with crisp, fresh salad leaves from the garden. He’s really pleased, but mostly because he doesn’t have much grass to cut. The place is almost a dust bowl. There has been a fair bit of rain but the evaporation at this time of year is much higher than the rainfall. The hills are golden with dry grass.

Basket of just pick summer vegetables - from left, purple carrots, rainbow chard, sweetcorn and zucchetta

January 9th 2009, 5.00am and the shrill ringing of the telephone wakes us from our slumber. My mother has passed away. It is not totally unexpected but the news still comes as a terrible shock. We were planning one of our regular trips to see her in March but now we need to go as soon as possible. Murphy’s Law would have it that we are also starting the excavations for the main house today. We get these done and put everything else on hold. I ask Dave down the hill to pick whatever he wants but I don’t do much else. We leave Windera a couple of days later and head to England on the 16th so that I can give my dear mum the sending off she's meticulously instructed me to do. The days between have been a bit of a blur.

February 6th back in Orange. We’ve been away for 4 weeks. The fence protection has been torn to smithereens by the hot winds. The radishes, lettuces, bok choy, rocket, snow peas and beans have all gone to seed, the dry pods dangling forlornly in the hot summer breeze. I have cucumbers and zucchetta the size of giant marrows, totally inedible and the vines have taken over everything in their path. The crook neck zucchini are over sized and dry - good only for decoration. Summer vegetables need to be harvested at least twice a week to keep on going and they haven't been picked for a month. The heavy sadness I feel gnawing ferociously at my heart is not because of what I see but because it is an affirmation of the duties I have recently performed and of my loss.

Dried out Crook-neck Zucchini (top) and saving seed from the dried beans and peas

There are so many tomatoes, particularly the little yellow ones, the weight has dragged the bushes down. They needed tying up as they grew but of course that didn't happen. I spend the next two days tying the tomatoes up, picking baskets full of little yellow fruit, pulling out tons of zucchetta and cucumber vines and compositing everything. There is mildew on the leaves but there are still some flowers and small fruit on the crook neck zucchini, so I cut off the overgrown fruits and leave most of the plants intact. I’m not sure if the beans will continue to fruit now that the plants have put so much energy into producing seed pods but I snip off all the dried pods and leave the plants. I save some dried beans and peas for seed and a few handfuls to use as a green manure and discard the rest. I snip off the pea plants leaving the roots in the soil. Being a legume, the roots have nodules that will release nitrogen into the soil for the next crop. The wind is still blowing everything about.

Remarkably though, there's still plenty left to eat. There are lots of fragrant, juicy carrots and radiantly colourful rainbow chard. It looks quite majestic - robust and tall with perfect lush green leaves. The sweet corn is ready to eat and so tender and creamy you can eat it raw. I pick one and take it to the house. We eat it straight away, it's incredibly delicious. A couple of the melons are ready to pick so I pick them for dessert. Mmm! impossibly sweet, juicy and fragrant.

Keen not to let anything go to waste, I spend several hours making Passata with the little yellow tomatoes and Tomato Relish with a green variety.

Our draughtsman/architect is coming over for a drink this evening. Time to make something tasty to serve with drinks. I bought a lovely fresh eggplant from Totally Local, it will make delicious pakora.

Spicy Pakora

You can use just about any seasonal vegetables to make pakora. Cauliflower, mushrooms, potato and onions, either alone or combined are great choices. Chunks of fish are delicious too. Pakora are very easy to make.

Enough for 4-5 people as a snack.

Preparation and cooking time: 25- 30 mins

180g (6oz) gram flour (besan)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 green chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp of chilli powder (optional)
1 heaped tsp mint sauce (optional)
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp of ground methi (optional)
2 cups eggplant (auberjine) chunks
Oil for deep frying

• Sieve the gram flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add enough water to make into a thick batter.

• Stir in chillies, mint sauce, garam masala and methi if using.

• Allow the batter to stand for about 10 minutes before adding the chunks of eggplant and stirring around in the batter until all the pieces are well coated.

• Drop spoonfuls into hot oil and fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes per batch until cooked through. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.

• Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant with Basil

This is how I used the remainder of the eggplant. I served it with a Yellow Chicken Curry and rice, yum. The secret of this delicious, flavour packed dish is to use the freshest, tastiest eggplant you can get. Any variety will do but it works really well with the large, plump purple eggplant. Or try it with white for an interesting change.

The secret of this delicious, flavour packed dish is to use the freshest, tastiest eggplant you can get. Any variety will do but it works really well with the large, plump purple eggplant. Or try it with white for an interesting change.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

Preparation and cooking time: 20 minutes

Stir-fry sauce: In a small bowl or cup combine 3 tbsp lime juice, 2 tbsp fish sauce and 1 tbsp grated palm or soft brown sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves and set aside.

2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1-2 hot red chillies, finely sliced
1 large (or equivalent quantity smaller) aubergine, sliced into small chunks
1 cup Thai or sweet basil leaves

• Heat a wok or large pan over medium to high heat and add the oil. Swirl to coat and add the garlic and chillies. Stir fry for a minute or so until the garlic starts to colour.

• Add the eggplant and stir until well coated with oil mixture.

• Stir in one cup of water, bring to the boil and turn down the heat a little.

• Cover wok/pan with a lid and cook eggplant for 5-6 minutes, stirring once or twice until it softens and water completely evaporates. Add a little more water during that time if wok/pan dries out before eggplant is soft.

• Add prepared sauce and stir fry for a few seconds until liquid evaporates.

• Stir in the basil and remove from heat. Do the taste test and add more fish sauce, lime juice or sugar as required.