I'm continuing on with my cookbook theme today, but this time it's a little closer to home. After nearly four years of living in Western Australia I finally feel like I'm really getting to know this place and it's people, but other than the odd trip out of town I haven't really experienced much of rural WA, yet. With a husband who is often away working up north and two school aged kids, going away for weekends is just not something we get around to doing much, sadly. A few weekends ago I was invited down to Pemberton to celebrate the launch of local chef Sophie Zalokar's stunning cookbook Food of the Southern Forests, and well, as you can imagine I was more than just a tad excited about the prospect of exploring this new-to-me region! As you all know, I'm a huge advocate of growing as much of your own produce as you can and supporting local growers as much as possible, so it was pretty much a given that this book would sit right with me, but what I didn't know was how touched I would be after meeting Sophie and some of these beautiful people featured in the book.
Food of the Southern Forests highlights local farmers and growers in a way I've not seen a cookbook do before. Their stories are told, stunning images captured by local photographer Craig Kinder and the recipes highlight produce from each farm. The recipes are stunning, chefy but not unapproachable. I've got my eye on converting Sophie's Pear + cardamom marzipan cake with lapsang souchong caramel cream to be gluten-free, and can attest to the pickled kale + fresh ricotta wraps with wattleseed za'atar's goodness, along with the chamomile cream with rhubarb jelly + ginger thin crumbs, which were served as part of the celebratory dinner (they made me gluten-free, vegetarian versions of everything! So lucky).
Heading out of the city was exactly what my soul has been craving and every part of me felt at home amongst the lush green hills and towering karri trees. Okay, so maybe those karri trees are a little eeire just on dark, but still... We got to hang out with a bunch of the growers and farmers highlighted in the book, hear their stories and were invited into their homes like old friends. Ron and Sue's marron farm was an eye opener and I have so much respect for people like this who farm sustainably with great care and thought. Hooning around on the back of their little buggy thing was super fun too, just quietly!
We visited David and Catrin from Jaha Garlic, who grow the most beautiful organic Italian purple garlic. Local garlic is something I'm truly passionate about (many of you would have heard me harping on about that yuk cheap imported Chinese garlic for years!) and hearing their stories and struggles only further fueled my desire to support lovely people like David + Catrin. People often complain about the cost of local organic garlic, but when you see the dedication growers put in to their crops (one row takes 16 hours to hand weed!), you soon forget all of that and instead, this questioning turns into respect. I mean, they could just spray all the weeds and be done with it in mere minutes, but for the safety of themselves, their children and all of us they choose to do things the hard way. Respect.
(Side note: WA friends, you can order garlic direct from David + Catrin now, for their December harvest!)
On our way back to Perth, the lovely Brian and Val from Pemberton Limes showed us around their breath-taking karri tree lined property complete with over 1,110 gorgeous Tahitian lime trees! This is one seriously ambitious couple and all their hard work seems to be paying off nicely. We turned up an hour late (after getting a little lost in the forest! Whoops!) and left with our belly's full. Such lovely, lovely people.
There was something that Sue Harris said to us that weekend which has been playing over and over in my head since I got home. She mentioned how when she lived in the city she always felt like she had to do more, more, more (that damn treadmill I tell ya!) and that the second they'd moved down south the feeling just vanished. I long for that feeling to one day disappear, but in the meantime I'm looking forward to taking Si and the kids down to the southern forests with me next time... we're thinking maybe in feijoa season?! (Highlight of the book for me was learning that there's a huge feijoa farm in the old Group Settlement area of Yanmah, north-east of Manjimup!). Happy kiwis indeed.
As mentioned earlier, there were so many lovely recipes to choose from the book, but it was this broccoli soup which leaped out at me with it's swirl of tangy tahini and lemon sauce. The zip and crunch of sumac and toasted pine nuts in the za'atar sealed the deal and what you have here is a beautiful bowl of something damn special. Enjoy xx
Broccoli soup with tahini, lemon + pine nut za'atar
Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix which you can easily make at home. I just mix roughly equal amounts of dried thyme, toasted sesame seeds and sumac together with a good pinch of fine (or flaky if you like) sea salt. Any leftovers can be stored in a little glass jar. It's lovely sprinkled over all sorts of things (especially eggs) and can be used as a dip with bread and olive oil. The only changes I've made to Sophie's recipe were reducing the liquid a tad and adding a handful of silverbeet (swiss chard) leaves to give it a more vibrant colour, spinach could also be used.
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 whole heads broccoli, head + stems roughly chopped; reserving a few small leaves for garnish
1 litre (4 cups) water or vegetable stock
1 x 400ml can coconut cream
a good big handful of silverbeet (swiss chard) or spinach leaves, stalks trimmed off
tahini + lemon sauce
1 clove garlic, whole
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon pine nuts
4 tablespoon tahini
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt flakes + freshly ground black pepper
pine nut za'atar
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons za'atar (see headnotes)
In a medium-sized pot, gently fry the leek and garlic, together with a teaspoon of salt and the ground cumin, in the olive oil until softened. Stir through the broccoli and then add the water or stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the broccoli is soft, adding the silverbeet leaves in the last few minutes to wilt. Puree together with the coconut cream until smooth and season to taste.
In a large mortar and pestle, crush the whole clove of garlic together with the 1/2 teaspoon salt, allspice and pine nuts until a thick paste. Using a spoon, mix in the tahini, lemon juice, water and extra virgin olive oil to make a creamy sauce. Season to taste.
Mix the toasted pine nuts together with the za'atar. Serve the soup drizzled with a little of the tahini sauce and garnished with a small broccoli leaf, along with a small dish of pine nut za'atar.
Recipe slightly adapted from Food of the Southern Forests by Sophie Zalokar, © 2014 by Sophie Zalokar. Reprinted by arrangement with UWA Publishing.
For more info on the Southern Forests region, check out the Southern Forests Food Council. Our accomadation at Foragers and the farm tours were organised by Melissa from Cork & Cheese (thanks love!).
Please note: I only share things I love and am passionate about, all opinions are my own, always.