August has delivered winter to the south, and I’m discovering treasures that weren’t obvious in the summer when we moved to this property. Winter flowers are a precious occupant of any garden and what a pleasure it is to look from my kitchen window and see a glorious patch of Hellebores.
It’s often called the Winter Rose because the blooms look similar to a small single rose. But it’s not at all related and definitely has no culinary uses, unlike the rose. Its genus name Helleborus comes from Greek meaning harm and food and as the name suggests every part of the plant is poisonous. It’s even suggested, after working with it, to wash your hands.
Hellebores are sometimes described as shy bloomers but really it’s clever plant design. Head down it protects its blooms and pollinators from the blast of winter winds, rain and snow. After all, when we face a southerly we tend to put our heads down to counter the cold blast, but unlike the hellebore, we can head indoors to a warming fire.
On these winter evenings I like to stay close to our wood burner so have been experimenting with one pot meals cooked on its cast iron surface. One of my favourites is this simple and tasty dish called Green Shakshuka. All you need are eggs, seasonal vegetables, your favourite spice or herbs and anything else you find in your fridge or pantry that you think would go well with greens and eggs.
The original recipe came from Alison Lambert at the Otago Farmers Market kitchen. It’s an adaptation of a traditional North African/Middle Eastern breakfast dish that has eggs cooked in a red pepper and tomato stew. Swapping the tomatoes for greens makes it a perfect fit for winter seasonal greens such as kale, silverbeet or collard greens.
Alison makes a rough paste in a food processor with 8 green tomatoes or tomatillos, 1 green pepper, 1 fresh green chilli, handful of coriander leaves and 100g each of spinach and kale leaves with stalks removed.
My adaptation has taken out the step of making a paste in a food processor and simply cutting up the greens. I think the paste would be closer to the consistency of the original tomato stew but I decided to make the meal as easy as possible. It tastes just as good.
Cut up 1 onion and fry in a splash of oil until translucent and then add in 1-2 cloves of garlic that have been smashed with the blade of your knife and finely cut into small pieces. If I want to add bacon or a chorizo sausage I add it at this stage, before the greens.
Now add sliced up greens – a choice or mix of perpetual spinach, silverbeet, collard greens, cabbage or celery. In summer I like to add beans and courgettes. Mix and gently saute until half cooked.
Next add extras like stoned olives or pre-cooked strips of carrot or swede. You could add fish or cooked chicken at this stage …your imagination is your only limitation with this dish.
In the summer version I like to add corn and tomatoes.
Alison added 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp coriander and finished off with a grating of nutmeg.
I have used these spices too, but other times have used the sour citrus flavour of Sumac and a sprinkling of the hot spice mix, Ras El Hanout – both spices popular in Middle Eastern cooking. Alternatively, I’ve just used fresh herbs like thyme or oregano from the garden.
Now that you have all the flavours you want on board, it’s time to cook the eggs. Make 4 divots in the mixture (or two if cooking in a smaller pan for one) and break in the eggs. Cover with a lid and cook until the eggs are just cooked (approx 5 minutes).
I sprinkle over the eggs just before serving some parmesan cheese and parsley or add another sprinkle of sumac.
This is not so much a recipe but a licence to create your own dish. It’s got everything you need for a balanced meal with protein from the eggs, plenty of vegetables, and herbs and spices to add flavour and fragrance. And even better …there are very few dishes to do after the meal. It’s the sort of comfort food best eaten close to a roaring fire.
Fire lighting has been made easier with parcels of cabbage tree leaves. Over the summer I would gather the leaves into bundles to dry out. Over the winter I fold a small bunch of them in half and half again and tie up with either another cabbage tree leaf or some twine.
And I have the best fire starters ever. It’s great to find a use for these tough stringy leaves and makes the job of gathering them easier knowing that they help keep us warm over winter.