Answering your vexing culinary questions

Cut to the chase: There is a trick to chopping and cleaning leeks properly.
Cut to the chase: There is a trick to chopping and cleaning leeks properly. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Can you suggest an effective way to properly wash leeks? K. Jasper

I used to work at Channel Nine on a TV cooking show with a French chef called Gabriel Gate. You may have seen him recently on Taste Le Tour on SBS. He is a great bloke and a very funny man. The TV executives at Nine couldn't work out why he still had such a thick accent after living in Australia for so long and would joke that his name was actually Gary Gatehouse and that he was born in Footscray. Gabriel has a great way of cleaning leeks. First wash and trim the roots and rinse the exterior. Place the leek across a chopping board and run the knife from where the white turns to green and slice lengthways all the way through to the dark green top. Roll the leek 90 degrees and repeat. The leek now has been cut into a cross that runs lengthways making it look like a vegan cat o' nine tails. Run the leek under cold running water to remove the grit inside. Shake dry vigorously.

What is the difference between cayenne, paprika and chilli powder? M. Jones

Cameron Daddo. Pretty hot?
Cameron Daddo. Pretty hot? Photo: Danielle Smith

These three red spices all come from the same genus Capsicum. While they all share the same family background, like Daddos, these are all slightly different. Some are bred rounder, some longer, all with different flavours and different levels of hotness - again, just like Daddos. Hungarians have been making paprika since the 17th century. The word paprika comes from piperka, which is a Slavic diminutive for the Latin for pepper, ''piper''. The chillies, in this case Capsicum annuum, are dried and ground to make the powder. In Hungary, paprika is graded into different grades: exquisite delicate; noble sweet; semi sweet; rose and hot. We should get used to using the correct term, pimenton, for Spanish paprika made in a similar method except using different cultivars of the species. In the humid west in Extremadura they are dried over oak smoke (ahumado) while in sunny Murcia they are sun dried and give a brighter colour to food. Cayenne, not to be confused with the five-seat, mid-size luxury crossover manufactured by the German car company Porsche, is made with cayenne peppers, different cultivars of C. annuum, which are believed to have come from the town of Cayenne in French Guinea. It is often used for its short sharp punch in English cooking. Chilli powder, however, can be made from several different species of the same Capsicum genus selected for different levels of heat and flavour. During the drying, the chillies develop richer, sweeter flavours and better blends of chilli powder will balance the chillies' flavour and their heat.

Can you recommend any online shops that have a good range of pantry food, such as spices or oils? F. Shannon

Spices? Try For dry goods such as oils, pulses and vinegar try or, which stocks really good anchovies called Lolin.

I like to make sweet pumpkin soup with loads of onions but my new girlfriend is allergic to onions and garlic. What can I do? C. Simpson

Allium allergies, allergies to members of the onion family, are a serious problem and severely restrict the types of food that sufferers can eat. Garlic and onion form the basis of some of the tastiest cuisines on the planet, the onion adding that rich golden sweetness and garlic with its fresh zing when raw and complex layering when cooked. With your girlfriend unable to eat these may I suggest the website where you may find some alternatives. Or try this. Substitute the onion in your soup for several medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed. Do the same with the pumpkin. Gently saute these in a little butter or extra virgin olive oil until golden. The cooking causes enzymes to break down starch (polysaccharides) into simple sugars (monosaccharides). Sweet potato can be as much as 6 per cent sugar. The cubing increases the surface area of the veg, giving it more opportunities to brown and add more flavour. Try adding a peeled cubed potato for some extra smoothness. Add chicken stock, bay leaves and cook until the veg are soft, puree perhaps and serve as you wish.

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