Jane's Delicious Garden Blog

Madagascan Magic

Posted in Travels by Administrator on the February 15th, 2018

I had been in Madagascar for half an hour and already could feel its magic. Our driver stopped the car a few kilometres from Nosy Be airport. As he walked into the plantation of gnarly trees on the side of the road, I thought it was for the call of nature. But no, he reappeared with a handful of creamy yellow flowers.

Ylang Ylang (3)

Ylang Ylang (1)

“Here, smell,” he said, crushing them under my nose. As the sweet fragrance filled the car, I realised this was ylang ylang, the exotic scent that gives Nosy Be its nickname of Perfume Island. Nosy Be is the largest of over 250 islands that surround Madagascar. It was our jumping off point to explore a small section of the north west of this magical country.

First stop was Vanila Hotel, one of many places named after the exotic orchid. Not surprising as 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar.


It was a hard choice between the pool or the gorgeous ocean in front of the hotel – so we did both.


In the morning we heard thumping on our roof and when we investigated we found guys busy fixing the palm fronds. Many buildings in Madagascar are made using local materials, in particular the Traveller’s Palm or Ravenala madagascariensis.


This fascinating tree is not actually a palm – it is a close relative of our indigenous Strelitzia. The base of the leaf catches and stores rainwater, providing sustenance to a thirsty traveller – hence its name. Its symmetrical fan shape is instantly recognisable. The dried leaves create a beautiful pattern when used for thatching.



From Nosy Be we caught a boat to the mainland, getting caught in the morning rush hour.


Our destination was Ankarana National Park, a plateau on the north west of the mainland. Its 150 million year-old limestone has eroded away over the millennia to create a jagged grey spiky landscape. Getting there is not easy. The road has also eroded away and the driver of our 4×4 had to negotiate his way slowly. We averaged 20kms an hour.



On the way we stopped at a little restaurant next to a waterfall for a delicious meal made by local village women.

Beignets at the market

We ate tasty fritters followed by a chicken and tomato stew with rice. It had a leafy green in it that made my tongue tingle and mouth salivate. A unique culinary sensation. I later discovered the plant being sold everywhere in the markets and learned that it’s an Acmella oleracea, a member of the daisy family. If you eat the fresh flowers or leaves they make your mouth go numb, which is why it is also known as the toothache plant or buzz buttons.



On our lunch table was a superb hot and spicy chilli sauce in a recycled jar. If this didn’t straighten my hair nothing is going to!!!


After an eight hour journey we arrived at the park. And the next day we were ready to explore the magic of the tsingy – the local name for the karst limestone formations. To get there we hiked for a few hours through subtropical forests.



As the forest dropped away, we entered the tsingy.


It is a protected park and you have to go with a guide who knows where the designated pathways are.



Fascinating rock formations – a cross between a lunar landscape and coral.



A few tight squeezes . . .


A baobab on the way back just before sunset.


This was just day two of our Madagascan adventure, more to come . . .

If you want to follow in our footsteps go to Animal Tracks Islandventures to book your Madagascan adventure.

Veg galore!

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the February 5th, 2018

Tonight’s dinner:

* Roast eggplant with basil oil and dukkah

* Squash stuffed with cherry tomatoes, ciabatta and feta

* Crispy purple potato chips. 

* Cut a freshly picked eggplant in half lengthways. Score it deeply in a criss cross pattern. 

* Rub all over with basil blended with olive oil, mounding the basil on the cut side. Sprinkle with black pepper.  

* Sprinkle with dukkah. Bake at 200 until melting (about 30-40 minutes.)


* Cut a ‘lid’ out of a medium size round squash. Scoop out the pips and steam the squash (and lid) until just tender. 

* Mix together stuffing: cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), crumbled feta , ciabatta cubes fried in olive oil til crispy, basil blended in olive oil, pine nuts, dried crispy onions and finely sliced red onions (marinaded in red wine vinegar and dried oregano for an hour). 

* Fill steamed squash with stuffing, bake at 200 for ten minutes then place under grill for a few minutes to brown. 


* Slice two purple potatoes in thin slices. Steam with the squash til tender. 

* Sauté in olive oil, turning often, until crisp. 

* Sprinkle with sea salt. 

Fresh summer lasagna

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the February 1st, 2018

Cherry tomatoes popping with flavour. Eggplants, mellow  and melting. All wrapped up in sheets of pasta, dripping with cheesy sauce and fresh basil. On the side, a fig, feta and avo salad. I don’t want summer to end!

Summer Lasagna 

* Cut two eggplants into chunky slices. Cook in olive oil until soft, adding some chopped garlic half way through. 

* While eggplant is cooking make a white sauce with butter and flour, adding plenty of paprika and dried Italian herbs. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt. 

* Cut cherry tomatoes in half and roughly chop a bunch of basil. 

* Put a little of the cheese sauce on the bottom of an oven proof dish. Add a layer of lasagna sheets. 

* Add the eggplant in one layer. Pour some of the cheese sauce over. Add a layer of lasagna sheets.  

* Add the cherry toms in one layer. Pour some of the cheese sauce over. Add a layer of lasagna sheets.  

* Pour the last of the cheese sauce on top and add  grated mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with paprika and top with a spray of cherry toms

* Bake at 200 for 20 minutes. 

Fig, avo and feta salad. 

* Slice fresh figs in quarters. 

* Cut feta and avo into chunks. 

* Toss with lettuce and serve with balsamic and olive oil. 

Falling in love (again) with phyllo.

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the January 17th, 2018

I’d forgotten how delicious and easy phyllo pastry is. Tonight I made a pie using mushrooms, leftover chicken and potatoes. So easy and yum. Served with a tomato and haloumi cheese salad. 

Easy Phyllo pie 

* Slice leftover roast potatoes into cubes and sauté in olive oil. 

* Add halved portobellini mushrooms. Sauté for a few minutes. 

* Add shredded leftover roast chicken and cook over low heat. 

* Add a good few glugs of beer and sliced spring onions. Add salt,  pepper and pul biber to taste. Simmer a little more but don’t let it dry out. 

* Layer phyllo pastry in a round pie dish, brushing roughly  with melted lemon butter as you go (every second layer should be brushed). Leave  edges sticking out.

* Add mushroom mix to pie dish. Turn the edges of pastry over the top, brushing layers as you go. Put a few more buttered squares/pieces on top. 

* Bake at 200 for ten minutes or so til nicely browned. Serve with:

Haloumi and tomato salad 

* Slice haloumi and cook in butter til browned on both sides. 

* Layer the following on a platter:

  • Yellow zucchini zested into long strips.
  • Cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • Cooked haloumi cheese 
  • I added leftover diced gemsquash – optional!
  • Basil chiffonade
  • Crisp onion (from any Indian slice shop). 
  • Dukkah
  • Salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve salad with a  bowl of lettuce and olive oil and fig balsamic. 


Summer love vegetables with lentils.

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the January 15th, 2018

I love making one pot meals. Especially in summer when a quick and easy meal is required on these hot nights. 

* Simmer brown lentils in water until al dente. 

* Slice eggplant finely and cook in olive oil for 6-8 minutes until browned and soft. Remove from pan. 

* Add sliced onion, cook until starting to brown. 

* Add finely sliced garlic, cooked eggplant, sweetcorn kernels and chopped tomatoes. Simmer  for about 8 minutes. Add a little water as it cooks. 

* Add shredded chicken (I used leftover roast chicken that I had cooked using a Sabrina Ghayour recipe (see pic below). This added lovely layers of Middle Eastern flavour. 

* Add chipotle chile spice and salt to taste. (Chipotle gives it a yum smokey flavour.)

* Add the lentils with a little of the lentil water. 

* Add julienned zucchini (I use a zester to get lovely fine long strips.) Stir through. 


Big onion flavour for small gardens

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the December 12th, 2017

Spring and green onions (1)
In small urban gardens growing a crop that takes up to 10 months to harvest is not ideal. Especially ones like onions that are a once-off deal when they are harvested. There are many smaller members of the onion family that will provide year-round onion flavour. Chives, green onions, scallions, shallots, spring onions, walking onions and Welsh onions are members of the Allium family that are ideal for gardeners with limited space.
However, the names can be confusing, especially as other countries have different names for the same thing: for example, what we call spring onions in South Africa are called Welsh onions or scallions in other countries.

(Allium schoenoprasum and tuberosum)
Onion chives (4)
Delicious chives are an easy perennial that should be grown in every vegetable garden. Not only do they add flavour to any meal, they are also a very good protective plant, deterring many harmful insects, especially if grown as a border around beds. There are two types of chive: Onion chives have hollow leaves, lilac coloured pom-pom flowers and a mild onion flavour; and Garlic chives have flat mildly garlic-flavoured leaves and white flowers. They are larger and bushier than onion chives. They are both perennials, but onion chives are not as long lived as the garlic chives.
Chives are easily grown from seed or seedlings. They prefer full sun and moist soil but can handle dry weather. Every couple of years, divide chives in spring by lifting them and splitting them into new plants. When harvesting, don’t cut the tops as if you are giving them a hair trim, as this will just weaken the plant. Harvest by snipping off leaves 2 cm above the base with a pair of scissors. They will regrow quickly. Chive flowers can be tossed onto a salad or added to ice cubes and dropped into a cold soup. Chopped fresh leaves are great on just about anything. They are also delicious used to flavour cream cheese, oil, vinegar or salt.

(Allium cepa)
Green onions (2)
Green onions (also called scallions) are simply large onions that are harvested early, before the bulb has formed. Follow the planting instructions for normal onions, other than spacing. As you will be harvesting them before they have bulbed, you can plant them much closer together. They are also good companions to beetroot, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard.
They are ready for harvesting about eight weeks after planting, when they are at least 1.5 cm thick and about 20 to 25 cm tall. Loosen the soil around their base and pull them up. They don’t keep well, so only harvest what you plan to eat. The longer they stay in the ground, the stronger their flavour becomes. Both the green stalk and the white stem are edible.

(Allium cepa aggregatum)
Shallots (1)
(Photo courtesy Mountain Herb Estate)
Shallots are not often grown in South African gardens, which is a pity as they take less time to mature than onions or garlic and are therefore great for smaller gardens. Unlike onions, which produce a single bulb, shallots contain clusters of smaller bulbs. They have a deliciously mild oniony flavour (with a touch of garlic), without the sharp bite of an onion. Shallot seeds are available from Mountain Herb Estate.
Sow the seeds in seed trays from May to August. Transplant when they are six weeks old into well-drained fertile soil. Position the bulb base about 1 cm below the surface and press the soil down firmly. Once established, mulch well to control weeds and maintain moisture but keep the tops of the bulbs clear of earth or mulch. Water during dry spells and break off any flower stems as soon as they pop up.
When the bulbs have formed, loosen the soil to expose them to the sun. About 90 days after sowing, the foliage will begin to die back and they will be ready to harvest once the leaves turn yellow and flop over.
Sweet shallots are mild enough to be sliced raw in salads and sweet enough for long slow cooking, bringing out an intense caramelised flavour.

(Allium fistulosum)
Spring onions about to flower
These are bunching onions that do not form big bulbs. Sow them directly (or in seed trays and then transplant) year-round, except for the hottest midsummer and the coldest midwinter months. They like full sun, fertile soil and regular moisture.
Harvest when young for the best flavour. If you leave a few to go to seed, they produce white flower heads that bees and butterflies love and will seed themselves happily. Look out for seeds of red varieties, such as Red Rum, to add interest to your salads. The entire plant is edible, with the bulb being stronger than the green leaves. They can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.

(Allium x proliferum)
Walking onions (1)
Perennial Egyptian walking onions (also known as tree onions or top onions) are unusual in that they produce clusters of small bulbs (top-sets) where the onion flower normally would be. These reach up to 90 cm, become top heavy, fall over and then root themselves a short distance from the mother plant – hence their name ‘walking onions’. They can be planted in full sun from autumn through to late spring in fertile, well-drained soil (they do not like wet feet).
Four to five months after planting, the clusters of what look like miniature onions at the top of each stalk will have matured. Each plant will bear anything from one up to 30 bulblets, which range in size from 0.5 cm to 3 cm. As these bend and touch the ground you can encourage them to root by pinning the stem down with a paper clip. At the base of the plant, underground, there is a shallot-like swelling.
The underground bulb, leaves and top-sets are all edible, with the leaves tasting much like spring onions. The underground bulb has a mild flavour similar to a shallot. The top-sets have a stronger flavour and are great in soups, salads and sauces, or pickled. In their first year they might not produce top-sets. However, if the plant is left in the ground it will continue to produce bigger and more prolific top-sets every year.

A change of season meal: Slow roasted cabbage with slightly steamed asparagus. 

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the September 4th, 2017

It is the time of year when  Winter vegetables are coming to an end and Spring ones are popping out. This results in crossover meals. Like this slow roasted cabbage (meltingly sweet and soft) with crispy fresh asparagus. 

Slow roasted cabbage. 

* Cut the cabbage into quarters. Slice out the hard centre core. 

* Place each quarter on two strips of criss crossed foil. 

* Rub all over  with butter and drizzle with olive oil. 

* Sprinkle the cut sides with Italian herbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder. 

* Wrap in the foil, leaving room for the cabbage to steam, and bake at 160° for about 2 to 2.5 hours. 

* Meanwhile, slice ciabatta into small cubes. Mix this with grated Parmesan, pul biber (Turkish red pepper) and oil. 

* Open the cabbage up, top with the ciabatta mix and bake at 180° until topping is crispy and just browned. 

* Serve with asparagus, steamed for a few minutes, drizzled with lemon butter. 

Friday night cooking on fire.

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 25th, 2017

I love cooking on fire. I have a number of braais – from a Weber to a mini rectangular shallow braai with a lid to a couple of Cobbs. They all get used often. Even when it’s cold out. 

Tonight’s meal was bone-in rib eye steak (from Boomplaats Farm via Farm Table in Linden) with a winter salad of roast butternut, onion and cherry tomatoes with crunchy kohlrabi and radish on a bed of baby spinach. Garlicky roast baby potatoes topped it off. 

Rib Eye Steak

Mix together: 1 & 1⁄2 Tbs chopped oregano, 1 Tbs pul biber (Turkish red pepper), 1 Tbs ground coffee, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 & 1/2 tsp sea salt,  1/2 tsp ground pepper, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1 & 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin. 

Brush steak with olive oil and sprinkle the spice mix, covering all sides. Leave to sit while you prep the fire, make the salad and potatoes. 

Cook over hot coals, turning once, until medium rare. Leave to sit, covered, for about seven minutes before serving. 


  • Slice butternut (leave skin on) and two onions and mix with olive oil and dried Mediterranean herbs. 
  • Roast at 200°  until butternut is soft. 
  • Add cherry toms for last fifteen minutes. 
  • While this is cooking, peel kohlrabi and slice into sticks. 
  • Slice radishes
  • Wash baby spinach, dry and place on platter.
  • Top with butternut, onion, tomatoes, kohlrabi and radishes. 
  • Drizzle with dressing of olive oil, balsamic,  basil with salt and pepper to taste. 

Garlicky roast potatoes 

  • Cut baby potatoes in half and  steam until just cooked. 
  • Place in hot pan with olive oil and cook over medium to low heat, turning often, until nearly browned. 
  • Add chopped garlic and cook until potatoes and garlic are browned.
  • Add chopped chives and parsley, sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. 

Delicious vegetable cous cous with eggplant and yum chicken breasts.

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 8th, 2017

Simple and delicious. And about 45 minutes from walking into the kitchen to sitting down to eat.
Start by marinating chicken breasts (skinless and boneless) in whey, or buttermilk, mixed with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Leave for about 30 minutes while you prep and cook the rest.

*Slice baby eggplants in half, brush with sesame oil, season with salt and pepper.
* Roast at 200° for 30-40 minutes (turn halfway through) til soft.
* Toss with Apricot and Chimichurri sauce (made by Nataniel) or something similar.


Vegetable cous cous
* Sauté cauliflower (broken into small pieces) til just browned. Remove from heat.
* Sauté sliced courgette til just browned. Add corn kernels, cauliflower, chopped garlic and pine nuts. Sauté til pine nuts are browned.
* Mix cous cous with boiling water and leave to swell. Mix with chermoula paste and add the vegetables. Stir through, flavour with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.

* Remove breasts from marinade and cook on hot cast iron griddle pan til nicely cooked on both sides. Add halved naartjie segments to the pan
* Remove chicken and naartjies from heat. Slice chicken (it will still be pink in the middle) and mix with any yum barbecue sauce (I used Nataniel’s Asian Braai Sauce). Return to pan, reduce heat and toss til cooked through.
* Mix chicken slices with the naartjie segments, coriander leaves, chopped avocado and crispy fried onions (I get them from Impala Fruit & Veg).
Serve the cous cous vegetables topped with the chicken and eggplants.
*Note: Don’t leave the chicken for too long in the marinade – both whey and buttermilk will denature protein, which makes the chicken lovely and tender. But left too long it will break down too much and become mushy.

The best thin crust pizza recipe . . .

Posted in Garden Diary by Administrator on the August 5th, 2017

The best pizza I  ever tasted was in Naples. I have always preferred a thin crispy pizza base but the Napolese one wasn’t crispy. It was thin and floppy, with the simplest topping of fresh tomato sauce (made from tomatoes grown in volcanic soil of nearby Vesuvius), buffalo mozzarella and basil. 

Back home the closest I have come to replicating that sublime pizza is the following recipe. I most often cook it until its crispy, but every now and then I don’t, just to remind me of that Autumn week in Naples. 


 ¾ cups lukewarm water

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1½ teaspoons salt

2 cups Tipo 00 flour

olive oil, for greasing


Combine the water and yeast in a bowl and stir. Add the salt and flour and mix until combined.

Turn the shaggy dough (and any loose flour) onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball and place inside an olive oil greased bowl, turning so the dough is covered with oil. Cover and leave to rise for about an hour and a half, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to the highest temperature.

Place a pizza stone or baking tray in the lower middle part of the oven.

Halve the dough with a dough scraper. Take one piece and form it into a large disc using your hands to pull, turn and stretch it. Place it on a 30cm piece of baking paper. If you want it even thinner, use a rolling pin. (It will stick to the paper, but when it bakes, the dough will release from the paper.) If the dough starts shrinking back, leave it to rest for five minutes before trying again.

Repeat with the second half of dough.

Add your toppings and place the pizza (with the baking paper) in the oven. Bake for about five minutes then rotate the pizza, removing the paper as you do. Bake for a further 5 minutes until the edges are golden brown.

 Makes two 25cm pizzas 

This was the pizza from Pizzeria da Michele.    We went there on our first night in Naples after a long flight from Joburg via the Middle East to Rome. We shared a hire car with a couple we met at the airport who were also going to Naples. They were heading straight to a pizzeria that claimed to make “The best pizza in the world.” It certainly was the best pizza I’d ever eaten. The following day our guest house owner told us that Julia Roberts had been in town the week before, filming Eat Pray Love. One of the scenes was at the pizzeria where we’d eaten. It was a good start to a holiday!

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