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! 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Potato salad - a nice meal for a healthy gut



Today I’ll wear my nutritional therapist hat in the kitchen to talk about what’s been a hot topic in the nutrition world for a while: gut health.  It’s not surprising that the subject is getting so much attention, given that about 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. It’s in there that trillions of microorganisms reside – what we call human gut microbiome.

It’s also in the gut that our bodies produce 90-95% of the “feel good” chemicals, serotonin and GABA. The microbiome protects the gut lining, synthesizes vitamin K and B vitamins, produces enzymes that support the liver etc. A great way to feed our gut bacteria is by including in our diet food that contains prebiotics (which feeds the friendly bacteria) and probiotics (that populate the gut microbiome with friendly bacteria).

You will find prebiotics in things like jerusalem artichokes, chicory, onions, fennel, apples, raw garlic, raw asparagus, seeds, cooked and cooled potatoes and under-ripe bananas. Probiotics in natural form can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, unpasteurized cheese, organic raw milk, yogurt, sourdough bread, miso, tempeh, natto and so on.

It’s only recently that scientists started to discover the link between diet, gut bacteria and immune system. Depending on the food we eat we can directly feed the friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophillus, Bifidum bacterium amongst others) or the pathogenic organisms (fungus, yeast or parasites). So, keeping our gut healthy is very important to maintain good health. If our gut bacteria are balanced, our immune system is also balanced. If not, we will become a lot more susceptible to illnesses and diseases such as colds and flu, chronic inflammation (Crohn’s disease, psoriasis), allergies, sinusitis, candida overgrowth etc.  Also, sometimes, due to the excess of antibiotics (which kill the good as well the bad bacteria), poor diet and stress, people’s microbiome is compromised. 

In order to keep our gut in check, we should have as much diversity as possible in our diet on a regular basis. There are a multitude of ethnic shops in London where we can find vegetables or fruits that we may have never tried before. Try experimenting with different foods. In doing so, you will be creating diversity in your gut microbiome. Think of an abundant colourful garden. But don’t forget my motto: ‘’healthy and happy eating’’, no need to obsess, just be sensible about what you cook and eat. This salad should do the trick.

Scrub the new potatoes...

...and leave their skins on.
Add all the ingredients together...
...pour the kefir and feta cheese dressing over the salad...
 
...and mix gently.
Enjoy it!

Potato and egg salad with kefir sauce
serves 4
This salad is a perfect combination of prebiotic and probiotic food source. See the  healthy note below for its nutritional benefits.

Ingredients

1kg organic new potatoes, scrubbed and skins on
3-4 spring onions, chopped
1 red onion, sliced
6 organic eggs, boiled and halved
50g sunflower seeds
80g pine nuts, toasted
70g rocket leaves
1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle

For the dressing

250ml organic kefir (if you can’t find it, use organic live yogurt instead)
150g organic feta cheese (unpasteurized, preferably)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons English mustard
5 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 garlic clove
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

In a medium pot, cover the potatoes in cold salted water and bring to a boil, let it cook without the lid for about 15 minutes or until tender.
Drain and leave to cool.
In the meantime, blend all the dressing ingredients.
When potatoes are cooler and easy to handle, slice them in halves or quarters, depending on the size you like.
Transfer them to a big bowl, add the eggs, red onion, spring onions, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, a handful of rocket leaves and parsley. Pour as much as you like of the dressing over the salad, mixing everything gently. Season to taste. 
Serve it on a bed of the remaining rocket leaves with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
This dish is also great to take to picnics and barbecues.

A healthy note: Cold potatoes contain a lot more starch that is "resistant" to digestion than hot or warm potatoes. Resistant starch is a prebiotic that feeds the friendly bacteria in our gut and won't spike your blood sugar levels. But be warned that too much isolated resistant starch can also upset your gut population.
If bloating or digestive discomfort occurs, reduce your intake of prebiotic foods for a few days and then reintroduce it again.

Onions are also a good prebiotic food source. I have already mentioned about gut health in this post here  and in here

Milk kefir - the fermented dairy product as well as the water-based one - contains healthy bacteria that promote gut health and supports digestion. It also contains elements that help to boost our immune system such as vitamin B12, biotin and folate. Kefir contains calcium, magnesium and vitamin K2 that help to build bone strenght.

Egg is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains lecithin, which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Egg also contains biotin, another B vitamin-like compound, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein, and is essential for the health of hair, skin and nails. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevent diabetes, obesity and depression.

Till next week!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Oven baked falafel – a dish for peace




So many countries say certain foods are their own creation. Falafel is one of those dishes that Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and the other countries in the region – and beyond - like to claim ownership of. Disputes apart, such foods can in reality bring people together, reflect what people have in common, rather than what sets them apart - regardless of their religion, faith, skin colour, or culture.

In light of the recent attacks in London and Manchester, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Sorry to raise this in a food and travel blog, but Borough Market, where the attack happened, is a place where foods from many traditions are celebrated by Londoners. I often take foreign friends visiting the city to enjoy the diverse culture of the area – a good example of the embracing, inclusive and welcoming nature of places such as London and Manchester.

I am a Brazilian-born Brit, of Italian and Lebanese descent, married to a New Zealand-born Brit and we have an English daughter. I love every aspect of this fusion and they all seep into my cooking. But I digress. Back to the falafel, I have tasted some delicious ones in my life in different parts of the globe. When I visited Israel many years ago, I ate one of the best falafels I had in my life. Then, in April this year, in Greece, I tasted again another amazing falafel, even better than the other one. (I mention it here).

Countries can make their claims - and I acknowledge the importance of celebrating and protecting traditions - but what matters in the end is the love people put in when cooking the food they are passionate about. Life would be so much simpler if it all would come down to love. We are all equal - with lots of individual flavours.

I took inspiration for this falafel recipe from a fellow Instagrammer @healthy.simple and made my own adaptation. 

Mix some of the ingredients in the food processor.
Pulse until minced but not too smooth. Then add sesame seeds, salt and olive oil.
Shape as you like it.
If you choose patties...
...squash them slightly.
Serve them as snack with tahini sauce...
...or with yogurt sauce.
You can also enjoy them as a light lunch in pitta bread with a salad and tahini sauce.
Oven Baked Falafel


The baked falafels are not as crunchy as the fried version. But they are healthier and still taste good as a snack or enjoyed in pitta bread with salad. If you want to make a bigger batch, bake them and freeze for up to a couple of months. Then just reheat them wrapped in foil and bake them until hot.

Ingredients
Makes about 15-20 patties

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to grease the baking sheet
250g cooked chickpeas, if cooking from dried, soak them overnight (see recipe here)
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
½ teaspoon garlic powder
20g of fresh parsley
20g of fresh coriander
½ teaspoon hot paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric
zest of a small lemon
2 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 ½ Tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of Himalayan salt

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Grease a large baking sheet with extra-virgin olive oil.
Drain the chickpeas. In a food processor combine them with the onion, garlic powder, hot paprika, lemon zest, cumin, turmeric, fresh parsley and coriander.
Pulse until everything is minced, but not smooth, scraping the sides if needed.
Place the mixture in a bowl then add the sesame seeds, olive oil and salt. I left the mixture rest in the fridge for about half hour.
Using your hands, form small patties and place them on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 10 minutes on each side (careful when flipping sides as they are very soft at this stage) until they reach a golden colour. 

Serve them as a snack with yogurt or tahini sauce or as a light lunch in pitta bread with a salad and tahini.

Yogurt sauce

5 Tablespoons organic greek yogurt
juice of half lemon
1 garlic, crushed
Sea salt
a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Paprika

Mix the yogurt, juice of lemon, garlic and sea salt well. Drizzle with some extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle some paprika on top.

Tahini sauce

125g tahini paste
juice of half lemon
100 ml water
sea salt

Mix tahini paste and lemon juice together. Add the water and salt and stir well.

A healthy note: Chickpea 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. Contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, B vitamins, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.
 
Till next week!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Moqueca - a dish close to my heart


The complete moqueca meal (with rice, pirão and chilli oil)

Last Friday, we invited our friends Az, Mich and their kids over for dinner to thank them for helping us solve loads of problems with our building works while we were in Brazil for Christmas. Unfortunately, it was a very sad Christmas, as my mum passed away in November. Every time we went back home, mum used to greet us with a local dish called Moqueca (mo-ke-ka). A traditional dish from indigenous tribes on the Brazilian coast, It’s great as an everyday meal but also perfect for special occasions. It’s a healthy and light meal with simple ingredients but exciting flavours. I chose it to welcome and thank our friends.

We cook the ingredients in a clay pot which adds extra flavour to the food. These pots are hand-made by a co-op of women, “as paneleiras” (the pot making ladies), with clay from the area, fired in open air and finished with mangrove tree sap. Everyone in our family has a collection of such pots in various shapes and sizes, but you don’t have to own one to enjoy a nice moqueca.

A paneleira shaping the pots.
The pots ready to be fired. 
Here they burn the pots before dying them with the mangrove sap.
Sap is applied sealing the pots, giving them the black colour and a distinctive flavour to the meals.
The finished product: pots of all sizes.

The dish resembles a stew and is made with seafood (fish, prawns, mussels or crab), onions, garlic, coriander and tomatoes. There are some variations, such as the plantain moqueca, that can be used as a side dish.

In the region of Espírito Santo (where my family comes from), we use olive oil and the dish is called Moqueca Capixaba (Mo-ke-ka Ca-pee-sha-ba). In Bahia, further up North on the coast, they use palm oil (dendê) and coconut milk, and it’s called Moqueca Bahiana (Mo-Ke-ka bae-an-na).  

The traditional Moqueca Capixaba is served with rice and pirão (broth and cassava root flour made into a thick sauce), or with plantain moqueca, and brought to the table in the same clay pot in which it was cooked.

One of the most valuable things I inherited from my mum was her recipe book. Moqueca is a dish that I have a very strong and emotional connection to. It’s a form of celebration and a way of bringing people together. Like my mum, I love to share it with the people I love.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Fish moqueca. Delicious flavours.

Prawn moqueca

Moqueca Capixaba (Mo-ke-ka Ca-pee-sha-ba)
serves 4-5 people

Ingredients

4-5 chunky fresh fish fillets or steaks (approx 200g each of sustainable cod, haddock, hake or other firm, white-fleshed fish)
5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 medium size onions, chopped
1 pack of fresh coriander, chopped
3 spring onions (chopped)
1 tablespoon of **Annatto seeds oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the marinade
 
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Sea salt

** Annatto oil – How to make it

If you live outside Brasil you can find annatto seeds in specialty shops. Here in London you can but them at Spice mountain in Borough market and The Spice Shop in Portobello Rd. 

1 ½ tablespoons of annatto seeds
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil and annatto seeds. Turn the heat on to medium. Stir until the oil takes on a reddish tinge. When it reaches a pre-boiling stage, turn off the heat and let it cool. Do not overcook the seeds as they become bitter and can pop, making a big mess.

Using a sieve, transfer the oil to a container.
Your annatto oil is now ready to be used.

Method

Pat-dry the fish fillets and put in a bowl.
Crush the garlic with the salt and add the lemon juice then pour over the fish and toss to combine.
Cover and leave it to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
In a big clay pot or casserole, put the olive oil and annatto oil together, layer it, in order, with chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, coriander and spring onions. Place the fish or seafood of your choice on top.
DO NOT add any water.
Bring to a simmer, add a few drops of lemon, then cover the pot. Adjust the heat to gently simmer until the vegetables are softened and have released liquid, and the fish is just cooked through - about 20-25 minutes. Season and sprinkle fresh coriander on top.

Serve immediately with rice.

A healthy note:  Moqueca is a powerhouse of healthy ingredients. Fish is a great source of omega 3 (the beneficial fat that is good for your heart), protein, calcium, phosphorus, iodine, vitamins A, B and D. Tomatoes are very rich in antioxidants. When they are cooked with olive oil, they become a rich source of the carotenoide lycopene. Also, rich in potassium and vitamin C. Onions are a good source of quercetin (a flavonoid that is a natural anti-inflammatory and has anti-cancer effects), which may help relieve allergies and prevent complications of diabetes. 

Till next week!