Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sweetness and a little crunch – a salad with a twist



 
I discovered a small café in Muswell Hill, about three years ago, called Chriskitch. I fell in love with the place and its food. The chocolate cake and the coffee alone are worth my travel there. The salads are stunning, the breads are a must, and the presentation of the plates is very fun and creative. I always find an excuse to go back to try something different each time.

Chris Honor, the chef and owner, loves giving a twist to his recipes. You would never think of putting together some of the ingredients and dressings he mixes in his salads, but they work beautifully. His café has even got the blessing of the fiercest food critic of the capital, Jay Rayner. If it is good enough for Mr. Rayner…  

And if it works, why try and change it, right? Except that, like Chris, I like to put a twist on recipes. One of his recipes that inspired me to add a little touch of mine is the grape and black olive salad. My family loves it. I like to think that even Jay Rayner would approve it… (wink).

Spread the blended kalamata and miso mix evenly on a lined baking sheet.
Let it cook until dehydrated and wait until it cools...
...then blend into a powder.
Cook both grains as per packet instructions. Let them cool...
...place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix gently.
Green grapes, grains and dried black olives

Back in my Kitchen

Green grapes, grains and dried black olives salad (inspired by Chriskitch recipe)
Serves 4-6

A good source of fibre, this salad can be a great accompaniment to a fish, chicken or lamb dish, if you are not a vegan or vegetarian.

Ingredients

200g organic green grapes, chopped
200g organic pearled spelt
150g organic black rice
2 celery stalks, chopped
60g almonds, chopped
20g black olive powder (see how to make it below)
Juice of 2 lemons
Sea salt and black pepper

For the black olive powder – you will need to start this a day before or at least 6 hours before you are planning to make the salad.

Ingredients

160g black olive (I use Kalamata)
20g white miso paste

Method

Preheat the oven to 100°C. In a food processor, combine the olives and the white miso. Pulse them until they turn into a rough paste. Transfer this paste to a lined baking sheet and spread the mixture evenly. Place it in the oven and cook until the mixture looks dehydrated (about 4-6 hours). When ready, turn the oven off but leave the mixture inside the oven with the door left ajar until completely cool. Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse until a powder is formed.

Cook the rice and spelt as per packet instructions, set aside and let them cool. Put all ingredients in a bowl, mixing gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

Enjoy!
                                                                        
A healthy note: green grapes (Viti vinifera) contain vitamins such as vitamin C, that prevents infections; and vitamin K, that supports bone health and prevents excessive bleeding. Green grapes are also rich in iron, which plays a very important role in the formation of red blood cells; and potassium, which aids cell and heart functions, tissue and muscle.
Almonds (Prunus dulcis): like any other nut eaten raw, almonds are much easier to digest when they are soaked overnight. They are a great source of complete protein and good fats. They contain insoluble fibre, which is beneficial for regular bowel movements. Almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Besides tasting great, almond milk can be taken for constipation and inflammation of the gut (e.g. colitis, IBS and Crohn’s disease).
Black rice (Oryza sativa) and pearled spelt (Triticum spelta) are both great sources of fibre which improves digestive health. Black rice contains an antioxidant called Anthocyanin (its deep purple colour is an indication of high antioxidant properties). Studies have shown that Anthocyanin helps reduce inflammation, improves cardiovascular disease and has anti-cancer properties. Black rice also contains vitamin E.

Till next week!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cupboard magic – Chickpea fritters




The convenience of having cupboard essentials is bliss. When you get home and there is nothing in the fridge that takes your fancy, because you had no time to go shopping earlier, you run to the cupboard to find help. And there it is: a can of chickpeas and a can of sweetcorn. My saviours.

Three weeks ago, we cooked a chickpea fritter at FoodCycle that everyone in the team approved. I decided to adapt the recipe in my own kitchen. A bit of a throw-together and there you have it - a nutritious meal. 

Sieve the flour in a bowl, add egg and milk. Whisk well.
Add spices...
...a drizzle of olive oil and all the rest of ingredients.
Place the fritters gently in the pan.
Cook them for a few minutes on each side.
Enjoy your fritters with some slices of avocado on the side and fresh salad leaves.


Chickpea and sweetcorn fritters
Makes 8-10 fritters

These fritters  are a great source of fibre - which encourages movement in your digestive system. They also contain protein and carbohydrate, making them a well balanced snack or a good light meal when paired with fresh salad, for example.

Ingredients

90g spelt flour, plain white flour, or gram flour for a gluten-free option  
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
1 organic egg
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
60ml organic milk (cow’s or oat)
1 teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika (use more if you like it really spicy).
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
140g chickpea
100g sweetcorn
3 spring onions, chopped
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped
1 handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil for shallow frying.
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

Sieve the flour and baking powder in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Beat the egg and milk with the flour mixture. Drizzle a bit of olive oil. Add all the other ingredients, apart from the olive oil. Pour the oil into a large frying pan, on a medium to high heat. Using a tablespoon, scoop the mixture and place it gently in the pan. Repeat the process until you have 3-4 fritters on the go. Cook them for a few minutes on each side until light brown - if they start to get burn, lower the heat. 

Serve them with avocado slices and fresh salad leaves as a light lunch, or with salsa or yogurt sauce as a snack.

A healthy note: Chickpea or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum) is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. It contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes. 
Sweetcorn (Zea mays): If you can, choose organic and non-GMO corns. Corns contain dietary fibre which alleviates constipation and haemorrhoids. It is rich in vitamins B1, B3 and B5 (panthontenic acid), that are necessary for metabolism of carbohydrates as well as for the metabolism of protein and fat.

You can also check other chickpea recipes here, here or here.
 
Till next week!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The art of preparing a bento box


I have always been fascinated with the Japanese culture and its cuisine. During my trip to Tokyo a few years ago, I marvelled at the bento boxes and their colourful contents. Since then, the preparation of bento meals as a lunch-on-the-go has been something I’ve wanted to master. They can pack so many flavours into a good size serving.

I have been following Sara, aka Shiso Delicious, on Instagram for a while. Sara is half Bulgarian half Japanese, now lives in London and is an advocate for plant-based food. She works with food and the arts, and she also runs workshops teaching how to put together amazing bento boxes. I joined her workshop last week, hoping to pick up some tricks to apply to my daughter’s lunch box. It was a perfect small class of 7 international Londoners from all parts of the world: Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore and Japan.

Sara was very friendly and welcomed us with a cup of Matcha tea made from one of the best matcha powder sold in this country by Matchaelogist. We enjoyed the tea with a yummy vegan banana bread before the class started.

After the warm-up, we started to learn how to prepare the bento box. Sara builds it based on the 5 basic tastes elements: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. She demonstrated how to prepare the Japanese rice and tamago yaki rolling (a layered omeIete). We learned how to make purple rice (with Japanese rice and black rice, shiitake mushroom and kombu), a fast rice vermicelli with spicy Korean style dressing, onigiris, roasted smoky nuts and seeds, and more.

I watched her closely, working in her intricate way, putting all those beautiful cooked and fresh foods together, like a piece of art. Nutritionally speaking the box had it all: carbs, protein, fibre and essential fats. It was packed with nutrients, optimum nutrition at its best. But above all it was so deliciously good. I am now hooked.

Like Sara, her workshop was lovely, informal, genuine, nurturing and with lots of zest.

Sara preparing matcha tea...
...to be enjoyed with her yummy vegan banana and matcha bread.
Japanese rice prepared with shiitake and kombu. 













Fastest morning rice noodles being prepared using a heavy jar to hold the noodles under the boiling water.
Saltwater roasted nuts and seeds.
Rice noodles, beans and red Korean dressing.
Onigiris.
Learning how to prepare layered omelet.
 
Sara showing us one of her ways to build a bento box.
Beautiful and colourful food ready to be put together in a bento box.
Back in my kitchen

Inspired by Sara’s vegan banana bread, I decided to share my banana bread recipe I’ve been making for ages. I hope you can enjoy it with a nice cuppa of matcha tea as I now do. I told Sara I was going to borrow her banana bread recipe to share it here with you. I have made the small batch for my daughter’s bento box and it went down really well. If you want to try Sara’s vegan recipe, go here. It's small version for bento box is very handy.

Dry ingredients.
Wet ingredients.
Fold chocolate and nuts gently.
Place the mixture in a tin and decorate it with sliced banana and chocolate pieces.
Nutty banana bread. Enjoy it with a cup of tea.
A nutty banana bread 

Dry Ingredients

125g rolled oats
125g organic spelt, white or wholemeal flour (I use Shipton Mill)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder 
150g coconut or muscovado sugar  
100g Brazil nuts, chopped
45g dark chocolate (I use Original beans 75%), roughly chopped

Wet ingredients
2 organic eggs
3 medium size ripe bananas, mashed
150ml organic extra virgin olive oil 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. In a blender, with the exception of the chocolate and Brazil nuts, blend all the other dry ingredients.

Whisk the eggs and add the mashed bananas and olive oil.  
Fold the wet blend into the dry, without mixing too much. Add the nuts and some of the chopped chocolate (leave some to scatter over the cake before baking it). 
Pour the mixture into the tin, decorate with some slices of banana and chocolate pieces.
Bake for 50 minutes. Enjoy it with a nice cup of tea.

A healthy note: Bananas are a great option for a pre or post workout snack as they provide carbohydrate and boost your energy. They are very rich in potassium, which studies have shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Bananas provide a good amount of soluble dietary fibre that helps with regular bowel movements. They are also a source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C. 
Brazil nuts are a great source of Selenium - an essential mineral which studies have shown to have a protective effect against cancer.

Till next week!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Spreading the love – a recipe for happiness



Good food can be found in the most unexpected places. Last week I started volunteering for the FoodCycleProject (watch their video here), a national charity that believes that “food waste and food poverty shouldn’t co-exist” - and I share this belief. The charity works with major supermarkets, greengrocers and markets in various towns across Britain collecting leftover foods that would go to waste otherwise. A healthy and tasty three course meal is then cooked for people in need.

The cooking preparation starts with a team of volunteers picking up the surplus food from the suppliers. They take it across to the kitchen, where another team of cook volunteers decide, there and then, what to cook with the food collected. When the meals are ready, the next group of host volunteers help to serve the food to people who often live on the streets, may be struggling with money, or vulnerable people who normally don’t have much social contact but enjoy sharing meals with others.   

I joined one of the nine community kitchens run by FoodCycle in London. The group was very welcoming and helpful. On my first day, we worked alongside the social action team from the West London Synagogue that offered to cook for a mosque near Grenfell Tower – the tower block that was destroyed in a fire this month in the borough of Kensington. Many survivors worship at that mosque.

Amidst so much sadness there is the beauty of seeing Jews, Muslims, Christians and non-religious people getting together in order to bring a bit of happiness to others. It was a humbling experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will carry on helping as often as I can.
     
Some of the food being chopped for the meals in the Marylebone FoodCycle kitchen.
Volunteers chopping the food.
A line of volunteers working.
Preparing the food.
Cooking a curry.

The menu decided was: fresh leafy salad with cooked baby beetroots as a starter;  vegetable curry, pilau rice and Bombay potatoes as main course; and fresh fruit salad with ice cream for dessert. One of the volunteers had 8 packets of leftover fresh basil leaves which I suggested we add to the fruit salad.

As an inspiration for my blog this week, I am making a fruit salad. We can draw so much pleasure from the simplest things in life.

Choose as many fruits as you like.
Cut them in chunks...
...add orange and lime juice, mix and sprinkle with fresh basil leaves.
Serve it chilled with a dollop of natural yogurt or a good quality ice-cream.
Fresh fruit salad.
Fruit salad with basil leaves
Serves 6

Use as many varieties of fruits as you wish. Below is just a sample of what I used in mine.

Ingredients

3 Kesar mangoes
1 banana
250g blueberries
200g raspberries
150g blackberries
200g a mix of green and pink grapes
2 papaya
4 gold kiwi fruit
3 oranges (juice only)
1 lime (juice only) 
A handful of fresh basil leaves

Method

Cut the fruit in chunks. Put them into a bowl. Add the orange, the lime juice and mix gently. Scatter the basil leaves over it. Serve it chilled with a dollop of natural yogurt or a good quality ice-cream.

A healthy note: making this salad is a good excuse to consume a good portion of fruits a day.  Choose as many varieties as possible. The amount of vitamins and minerals in them would help to boost your immune system, reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases and feed your gut bacteria. But please, go easy on the servings. Despite it being healthy, too much of it can send your blood sugar levels crazy.  

Till next week!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Hot days - Watermelon salad with Thai dressing



With temperatures soaring in London, all I can think of in my kitchen is fresh food.  Last Sunday, Father’s Day, our friends Adri and Brian invited us for a barbecue in their garden. It’s always a pleasure to visit them, not only for their company but also for their food (besides being great hosts, they are the best cooks). Discussing the menu over the phone, Adri suggested watermelon and feta cheese as one of the salads, and I offered to make it.

The first time I ever had that salad was in Jaffa, Israel. I still remember the pleasant surprise of the sweetness and crunchiness of the watermelon with the saltiness of the feta cheese. It’s a marriage made in heaven. It’s also very easy to put together: cut the watermelon in chunks or slices and mix with feta cheese, kalamata olives, some basil leaves, and drizzle it with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

I made the salad for us to have as a starter before we headed for the meat barbecue, which included juicy jerk chicken, Brian’s speciality. I was about to use that salad as the focus of my post today, when my senses were assaulted by the memory of a trip to the tropics (temperatures over 30 Celsius in London can do that to you).

One of my favourite combinations of fruit and saltiness is pomelo salad, a Southeast Asian dish. The dressing is sharp, tangy, spicy, and yet very refreshing. Then, I decided to try and make it using watermelon instead, as I can find it in every fruit and veg shop in my neighbourhood at the moment. And I simply love it. My experiment worked! The first bite took me straight back to Koh Samui. I hope you’ll also excite your taste buds.



Watermelon season.
Cut the fruit in chunks or slices.
Some of the ingredients for the dressing.
Enjoy it as a starter or as side dish.

Watermelon salad with Thai dressing
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

¼ of a big watermelon or a whole small one, chilled
1 small cucumber, cut into slices
1 handful of roasted peanuts, crushed
1 handful of fresh coriander leaves

For the dressing

Juice of 1 lime
Juice of half orange
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 small red chilli, chopped
1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup (Optional. I prefer to omit it, as sometimes it can interfere with the sweetness of the watermelon. For me, the dressing works better when it is slightly salty and sharp. You can be your own judge. Try a small piece of the fruit before adding the maple syrup).
Salt to taste
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Place all the fruits in a big bowl. Mix all the dressing ingredients. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Sprinkle fresh coriander and the roasted peanuts on top. Serve immediately as a starter or as a side to white fish, grilled prawns or barbecued pork belly.

A healthy note: watermelon has a high water content which makes it a great thirst quenching fruit. Watermelon contains vitamin A and a compound called lycopene, which research has shown to be associated with lower rates of prostate cancer.

Till next week!