My friend Clare makes this beautiful beetroot salad. She’s served it a couple of times at get-togethers, when I’ve been lucky enough to head out to her place for dinner, it’s delicious. And so precise. Clare is a clever woman, in many regards, but I never knew she had such good knife skills. How did she ever get that beetroot chopped so finely?
“I just do it in the Thermomix, Kaz,” she says. “Like I’d ever chop stuff like that.”
Now I haven’t been living in a bubble. I know all about Thermomix. They hit the news not long ago, fined $4.6 million after at least nine users were left with severe burns, but well before that I was aware of what some people refer to as the “cult”.
Costing about $2000, sold exclusively via an “in-home cooking experience” led by a consultant, it’s like Tupperware on steroids.
And the whole idea of it divides friendship groups more than State of Origin.
“Thermomix. Yes or no?” I posted on Facebook a few months ago. “Discuss.”
“Yes, it's a cult, but it makes fresh pizza dough in 90 seconds and hot custard in seven minutes. I love mine as much as my children,” posted one friend.
“You can make hot custard on the stove in seven minutes,” another rebuked.
“I've had mine for eight years, it was very helpful with kids meals and toddler blending … Now we use it every morning for smoothies or acai bowls for the kids, make risotto probably once a week, pizza doughs, pasta sauces, soups etc. It’s just part of the family now,” said another.
“Resounding NO. It’s not real cooking and it’s a complete fat waste of money,” another came back.
The verdict was mixed. I was surprised at how many people I knew had one. One woman had two. She uses them every day to make dinner, but also to make things like preservative-free dog food, cleaning products, skin care products, she even mills her own flours and spice mixes and sugars.
But there were plenty of people adamant that it wasn’t real cooking.
“Cook properly or don’t cook at all.”
So in the search for the truth I approached Thermomix to see if there was a chance I could test drive one myself and they were happy to help.
Consultant Clare arrived (no relation to my friend Clare, but funnily enough a woman I knew from hockey, you have to love Canberra) and spent a good half hour running through the how to’s and what not to do’s of the machine. Mine was the latest version, a TM5. She left me a recipe chip, a cookbook and a few extras such as a simmering basket, the complete varoma set-up (a steaming unit among others things) and a serving bowl to keep things warm.
“Enjoy,” she said.
That was the plan. Part of this for me was trying to find some joy in cooking dinners again. Night after night of cooking for children who aren’t terribly appreciative of my efforts had worn me down. At least I could start enjoying the process again, right? That would make it more interesting, at least for me.
A cookbook had arrived from Murdoch Books, Healthy Thermo Cooking for Busy Families, and flicking through it there were heaps of recipes I just knew my kids would eat: Butter chicken which involved more than opening a jar, falafels for my vegetarian daughter that weren’t straight from a packet, nutertella (I think you understand) that didn’t involve the death of orangutans.
I’m happy to admit I was in something of a dinner time rut and I thought the Thermomix would drag me out of it.
And it did in a way. New recipes are always exciting. Getting organised enough to cook them gives you a sense of accomplishment. Finding dishes that will become staples is strangely satisfying.
And so too was defending myself against the smug anti-Thermo friends. I was like in the cult, but not quite in the cult, half a believer, but still cynical enough to wonder what it was all about.
I went hard in the month I had the machine. I cooked risottos and ragus, stews and salads, I even mixed biscuits and cakes. I began to use it just to chop things for “normal” recipes, no more onion hands. End of week soups were a regular thing. The kids made sorbets and smoothies.
The closest I came to handing over my cash was when I made bechamel sauce for a pasta bake and had enough left over to drown meatballs in the next day. No watching the stove, no worry about lumps, no stirring, it was the most delicious bechamel I had ever made.
But here’s the thing. At $2000 the Thermomix is a big investment. I already own an excellent food processor. Indeed, I probably own way too many appliances that I rarely use.
And I think that was the thing. The Thermomix is too big to shut away in a cupboard. It took pride of place on the kitchen bench, there to use. And use it I did. I’ve since moved my food processor from the cupboard to the bench and I find I’m using it more now. No, it doesn’t actually cook things like the Thermomix. No, it doesn’t prompt me with a digital display, strangely I liked that function of the TM5: Add 500g of flour now.
And that was part of it too. I’m no cook. I can read, I can follow a recipe. Proper cooking, as my anti-Thermo friends called it, is out of my league at times. I like trying new things, in new ways, and the Thermomix made it fun again.
I’m sure the novelty would have worn off eventually but for the month I had it, cooking wasn’t so much of a chore. But is that feeling worth the price?
Moroccan lamb and apricot stew
2cm piece of ginger, peeled
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 large handful coriander, stems roughly chopped, leaves reserved
1 tbsp ras el hanout spice mix
1 tbsp olive oil
600g lamb shoulder, cut into 4 cm pieces
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp harissa paste (optional)
75g dried apricots, halved
300g cauliflower, cut into large florets
500g peeled pumpkin, cut into 4cm pieces
couscous (or quinoa, for a gluten-free option), to serve
blanched almonds, toasted, to serve
Chop the ginger, onion, coriander stems and ras el hanout together for 5 sec/speed 5. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Add the oil and cook for 3 min/120°C/speed 1.
Add the lamb, pasta sauce and the harissa, if using, and season with sea salt. Cook for 60 min/100°C/reverse stir/soft stir.
Add the apricots, cauliflower and pumpkin. Cook for 20 min/100°C/reverse stir/soft stir, or until the lamb and vegetables are tender.
Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous according to the packet instructions.
Serve the stew with couscous and scatter over the coriander leaves and almonds.
Falafel with lemon tahini dressing
300g dried chickpeas
3 garlic cloves
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
30g coriander, including the stems, roughly chopped, plus extra sprigs to serve
50g parsley, including the stems, roughly chopped, plus extra leaves to serve
2 tsp baking powder
50g sesame seeds
1 tbsp za’atar or ground cumin
2 tsp fine sea salt
neutral oil, for shallow frying
flatbreads and chopped salad ingredients of your choice, to serve
Lemon tahini dressing
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Cover the chickpeas completely in water, ensuring there is enough water to allow for the chickpeas to expand and still remain submerged. Leave to soak overnight, then rinse and drain well.
Chop the chickpeas, garlic, onion, coriander and parsley for 10 sec/speed 8. Scrape down the side of the bowl and repeat the process.
Add the baking powder, sesame seeds, za’atar and salt. Mix for 1 min/speed 3. Roll the mixture into 3cm balls, then flatten slightly into discs and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, or until needed.
Preheat the oven to 120C.
To make the dressing, blend all of the dressing ingredients with 3 tablespoons of water in the cleaned mixer bowl for 15 sec/speed 5. Season to taste with sea salt. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Pour enough oil into a large, deep frying pan to come up 1.5cm up the side of the pan. Place over medium heat and bring to 170C. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the temperature of the oil by dropping a cube of bread into the oil. It should turn golden in 20 seconds.
In batches, cook the falafel for 1–2 minutes on each side until golden and cooked. Remove and drain well on paper towel. Keep the cooked batches warm in the oven while you cook the remaining falafel.
Serve the falafel with flatbreads, chopped salad ingredients, a handful of herbs and the lemon tahini dressing.
From Healthy Thermo Cooking for Busy Families, by Olivia Andrews, Murdoch Books, $35.
Satay noodle salad
100g rice vermicelli noodles boiling water, for soaking
2 carrots, cut into pieces (approx 3 cm)
300g red cabbage, cut into thin slices
200g broccoli, cut into florets
50g bean sprouts
1⁄2 red capsicum, deseeded and cut into thin slices
15 sprigs fresh coriander, leaves only, plus extra for garnishing
40g apple cider vinegar
40g sesame oil
3 tsp honey
3 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
15g apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves
50g piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
20g piece fresh turmeric, peeled and cut into pieces (seeTips)
1 fresh red chilli, trimmed, cut into halves and deseeded, if preferred
60g coconut flakes, toasted
2 tsp honey
125g almond butter
50g coconut water
Place a thermal serving bowl (ThermoServer) or other large bowl onto mixing bowl lid and weigh noodles into it. Cover with boiling water and cover to keep warm for 10 minutes. Drain through simmering basket and transfer into a large serving bowl.
Place carrots into mixing bowl and chop 3 sec/speed 5. Transfer into serving bowl with noodles.
Place serving bowl onto mixing bowl lid and weigh cabbage, broccoli and bean sprouts into it.
Add capsicum and coriander to serving bowl and set aside. Rinse mixing bowl.
Place all dress in ingredients into mixing bowl and blend 10sec/speed9. Transfer into bowl with noodle salad and gently stir to combine.
Rinse and dry mixing bowl.
Place all satay sauce ingredients into mixing bowl and blend 10 sec/speed 9. Transfer into a bowl and set aside.
Divide salad between serving bowls and top with desired amount of satay sauce. Garnish with extra coriander leaves before serving.
From Eat Well: Nourishing Everyday Foods recipe book ($50) and Recipe Chip ($50) are available from Thermomix in Australia’s TheMix Shop (Book and Recipe Chip available together for $80).