The spice is right: wattleseeds
Australian bush foods are always something that have intrigued me, but I’ve never really known what to do with them.
This month’s Spice is Right is about using a locally grown spice in combination with fresh and local produce, in a dish that reflects the flavours of home. This month I was in the mood for experimenting and thought it was time to try out something new – a native spice.
Many of the bush foods and spices are unique to Australia – they’ve been grown, harvested and cooked here for thousands of years and way before Captain Cook set foot on this land.
Today the variety of the food choice in Sydney is amazing – Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Turkish, Spanish, Indian . . . on and on goes the list and yet these indigenous foods are rarely used. If the aim this month is to create a dish that reflects the land in which you live, then for Sydney it also has to reflect our melting pot of cultures.
Since living in Sydney, my favourite tree has become the wattle and their bright, golden yellow, fluffy flowers are in bloom at the moment. So, for this Spice is Right, I’m concentrating on wattleseeds. They do not solely grow in Australia, but they are very Australian and the wattle or Acacia is our national floral emblem. Indigenous Australians have been using the seed, root and bark of wattles for thousands of years as both food and medicine. The early colonists included branches in the construction of their houses using the “wattle and daub” method – hence the name wattle.
There are over 700 species of wattle in Australia, of which about 100 have edible seeds. The seeds have to be dried and roasted before use, as fresh wattleseeds contain thiaminase, an enzyme which breaks down vitamin B1. Wattleseeds are high in protein (about 26%), contain polyunsaturated fats and are about 30% fibre. They also have a low GI and can reduce the glycemic effect of any foods they contain.
Dried and roasted they look a bit like coffee grinds and have a slightly bitter, nutty flavour – kind of a cross between bitter chocolate, coffee and hazelnuts, hence they’re often used in sweet recipes. However, I wanted to make something savoury and so with the help of " Spice Notes ":http://www.ozevillage.com.au/herbies/store/index.asp?product_id=9082 by Ian Hemphill, I’ve been playing around with wattleseed blends and having fun in the process.
My final recipe is for a wattleseed spice blend which can be used in many different ways. I’ve combined it with ricotta from the Blue Mts and some winter vegetables, all grown in the greater Sydney area. The dish is a combination of cultures – the indigenous wattleseeds, the slightly North African feel to the spice blend, baked ricotta is something I always associate with Italian food and what could be more Sydney than a stack!
Wattleseed Spice Blend
- 3 tablespoons cashew nuts
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon wattleseeds
Dry roast the cashews, sesame seeds and coriander seeds in a frying pan until toasted. Be careful not to burn these, as they tend to change from toasted to blackened very quickly. Add the wattleseeds and then grind together in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder).
This spice mix can be used with meat or fish or added to burgers. You could also sprinkle over mixed vegetables before roasting. I purchased my wattleseeds from Herbies.
Baked Wattleseed Ricotta Stack
Try to get fresh ricotta, cut from a cake for this recipe – most supermarket delis sell ricotta by weight. Serves 2
- 2 potatoes, washed (leave the skins on)
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut in half
- 200g pumpkin (again I left the skin on)
- 100g green beans
- 250g fresh ricotta
- 2.5 teaspoons wattleseed spice blend
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Heat the oven to 220°C.
Thinly slice the potatoes, red onion and pumpkin, you want them in about 5mm slices so they cook quickly. Place on a baking tray with the green beans. Drizzle with half the olive oil and put in the oven, on the top shelf, for about 20 minutes. Turn the vegetables over half way through the cooking time.
Meanwhile place the ricotta cheese in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with the wattleseed spice blend. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and place in the oven, underneath the vegetables, for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until the ricotta is slightly brown and feels solid when touched.
To serve, carefully place half the vegetables on a plate and top with a slice of the baked ricotta.