I’m not much of a foodie. Hey, don’t misunderstand me, that doesn’t mean I don’t like eating great food but, as I’m sure many of you will agree, cooking every night for a family can sure take the spontaneity and interest out of food preparation. That said, I do like to grow a few things in the garden that I can use in my everyday cooking. It makes me feel quite earth mother to nip out into the garden in the evening and harvest something I’m going to use in that night’s meal.
One of my favourite food plants is lemon myrtle, Backhousia citriodora. It’s a tree native to the Australian rainforests of northern NSW and Queensland, growing up to about 15m in its natural habitat but usually much smaller in cultivation as far south as Sydney. I keep mine pruned down to about 3m high, and it’s been in about 6 years.
I like to harvest the top two leaves from the growing tips, especially when they’re new and soft, and this regular tip pruning helps keep my plant nice and bushy too.
You can use lemon myrtle leaves in any recipe as a substitute for lemon grass. I like to use it in my Thai-style pork meatballs, and I’ve often been asked by guests what gives them such a delicious and distinctive, lemony tang. I favour quick-and-easy cooking, so most of my ingredients come from bottles or jars that keep a while in the fridge.
My recipe is:
500gm pork mince (a bit over a pound for the un-metricated)
1-2 tablespoons of red curry paste (depending how chilli hot you like your food)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1.5 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice
3 green spring onions/shallots/scallions, very finely chopped [Note: what you call these long, green, hollow-leafed onion-tasting vegetables varies by both country and state!]
1.5 tablespoon of coriander paste
About 10 lemon myrtle leaves, very finely chopped. You’ll need to chop up older leaves more finely as they’re more leathery. I use a mezzaluna.
Adding a beaten egg helps the meatballs stay together better.
[Note – I use a 20ml tablespoon]
Mix everything together, roll mix into meatballs, dust them in cornflour, and fry in heated vegetable oil, turning them a few times, until they’re cooked through. I serve mine on fresh, Singapore-style egg noodles, drizzled with heated satay sauce (yes, from a can!) and salad. Yum – taste that lemon myrtle tang!