Add zing to your winter with five secret ingredients | HerCanberra

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Add zing to your winter with five secret ingredients

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Do you look in the fridge and despair at the thought of the same, plain food?

Does it drive you to order takeaway or eat out…just to have something that tastes good and is easy? Those overlooked vegetables start to limp their way to the rubbish bin.

The best intentions aren’t enough to make a tasty home meal. There’s a secret something—or two—that I think tips the balance.

I call them the zing ingredients. They’re full of flavour and can be stored in your fridge door, ready to rescue any moment of culinary despair. Best of all, they can be created straight from your garden.

Preserved lemon

Scrub the outside of five large lemons, then chop each lemon into six wedges. Take care to remove any pips. Place the wedges into a large, non-reactive bowl and pour on about 1 cup of cooking salt. Using a wooden spoon, pound the lemon wedges until almost all of the juice has been extracted.

Lift out the lemon wedges and place them into a large sterilised jar, along with two bay leaves, eight peppercorns and five cardamom pods. Pour the salty lemon liquid over the jar, to cover the lemon wedges and spices.

Store in the fridge and use after one month, when the flavours have combined and the lemon rinds are soft.

Preserved lemon wedges can be finely diced and sprinkled on vegetables like cauliflower before it’s roasted or on top of fresh vegetables in a salad. They’re also amazing with chicken or fish. Use the preserved lemon juices in a salad dressing.


Forage in the garden for about three cups of leafy green herbs. Basil makes the classic summer pesto, but parsley and coriander—which grow through the winter—are equally tasty in pesto.

Combine the leafy herbs in a food processor with 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts or macadamias), a clove of fresh garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Whiz it into a smooth paste.

Perfect for tossing through pasta, dolloping on a salad or drizzling over vegetables.

Chilli oil

Warm about a cup of extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan until it’s hot, but not smoking. Add half a cup of finely chopped chilli, including the seeds. Allow the chilli to sizzle for about 30 seconds, without turning black.

Remove from the heat and place the chilli and oil mixture in a bottle with a stainless steel oil pourer (available from most kitchen shops). Store in the fridge.

Drizzle chilli oil over risottos, pasta or seafood, just before serving. Use it to create heat in a stir-fry.

Cucumber pickle

Thinly slice about 800g of cucumbers and one small onion. I like to use excess apple cucumbers from our garden, but any type of cucumber works just fine. Place the cucumber and onion into an unreactive bowl.

Separately, put 1 ½ tablespoons of salt into a saucepan with ¼ cup of water. Stir, over medium heat, until completely dissolved, then pour over the cucumber and onion mixture.

Leave for three hours. Then, tip out the mixture into a colander and press with the back of a large spoon to remove as much liquid as possible.

Make the pickling liquid by mixing 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 cup of white sugar, 1 teaspoon of chopped dill, ¼ teaspoon of ground turmeric and ½ teaspoon of mild curry powder. Simmer, over medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Then, pour in the cucumber and onion mixture and simmer for a few minutes.

Pack the pickle into jars, taking care that the liquid is on top of the cucumber and onion. Bottle in sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

Cucumber pickle turns a cheese sandwich into something special.  It’s also a delicious accompaniment to roasts, served on the side.

Garlic confit

Carefully slice the bottom from four garlic bulbs, so that the bottom of each clove is exposed. Separate the bulbs, leaving the skin on.

Place the cloves into a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, a few basil sprigs or two bay leaves and then cover the cloves with olive oil.

Simmer this mixture gently for about 40 minutes, until the cloves are soft.  Pour the garlic and oil mixture into sterilised jars and store in the fridge for up to 2 months. The low acidity in garlic makes it difficult to safely preserve, the addition of vinegar at about 1/3 of the garlic volume is essential.

Rub the garlic confit on bruschetta, stir through pasta or vegetables and stir through mayonnaise.

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