Thursday, 9 November 2017

Savoury cake with a nod to Kosovo

                                          Alketa and Luli      photo by Mark Stonebanks
The thing I love most about my neighbourhood, apart from my friendly neighbours and the weekend farmer’s market, are the local shops. There are lots of them around me that have been in business for years - like the old convenience store where I find the most unusual produce, or the international delis, of various nationalities, where I get to buy things I tried during my travels. Then, a nice new one pops up, once in a while. Not the omnipresent chains, but independent and creative businesses that I really like and always hope will survive.

One such place is the now well established Curled Leaf, a tea house in Mill Lane, a little haven in West Hampstead. It opened about 5 years ago and went from strength to strength. The first time I went there I was welcomed by the beautiful, smiley and friendly face of Alketa Xhafa, one half of Curled Leaf. Apart from running the tea house, Alketa is a high-profile artist and also a brilliant yoga teacher. Her husband Luli, the other half, who also runs the place, is an accomplished acupuncturist and

herbalist. They were both born in Kosovo.

Their place is tastefully decorated, and you have a sense of being at home. In the beginning the idea was for it to be exclusively a tea house but over the years - under the pressure of the customers - Luli gave in and bought a state-of-the-art coffee machine. Now, on top of serving 52 types of tea they also have artisan Ethiopian coffee. Plus juices and smoothies.

The vegetarian and seasonal menu is small but perfectly formed: a selection of salads, pastries, savoury pies, soups and veggie stews. All prepared daily in the downstairs kitchen. For dessert, or an afternoon tea, you can have cakes such as carrot or apple and apricot, with gluten and dairy-free options. One of their specialities is the corn and spelt bread-like pie with mushroom and spinach. It’s a savoury dish very popular in Kosovo, called leqenik (pronounced “lecheneek”). It’s so yum that I couldn’t resist trying to recreate it myself, adding my own little twist.

I am so happy that Curled Leaf is growing stronger and still maintains the same quality and lovely ambience they’ve had from day one. It’s all thanks to Luli and Alketa who are the beautiful souls of the place.
I love Curled Leaf and I will sip my tea to that!

52 types of teas on the wall and beautiful flowers to welcome you.                                                                            photo by Dean Northcott
                     The best spinach and feta borekas in the area.                        
The selection of salads and cakes.    
                                                                                                   photo by Dean Northcott
Their aubergine dish is one of the most popular dishes.
Harmonizing herbal tea.
Ethiopian coffee.
Curled Leaf's savoury bread take-away.

Back in my kitchen

As I didn't have the recipe, I tried to mix and match some of the ingredients they use there. My savoury cake turned out to be delicious too. But if you want to try the real thing you must go to Curled Leaf.

Some of the ingredients.
My savoury corn and spelt bread with mushroom, goat's cheese and pesto.

Spelt and corn bread with Portobello mushrooms


200g cornmeal or polenta
140g spelt flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coconut sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 large free-range eggs
450 ml yogurt
118g butter
125 g fresh spinach, chopped
140 g feta cheese
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped

6 Portobello mushrooms
Soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
Pesto (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tin (I used a 31cm x 20 cm deep).

In a large bowl mix the cornmeal flour, salt, baking powder and coconut sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the yoghurt and eggs then add the melted butter and mix.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold in the chopped chilli, feta cheese and spinach.

Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Place the mushroom on top of the dough and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the crumbled goat’s cheese on top of the mushrooms, return to the oven and bake for 5-10 more minutes until golden and cooked through. 

Serve it with a nice salad or have it with some dip or spread as a snack. 

A healthy note: cornbread is a good source of fibre (to help regulate bowel movements), calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. It also contains vitamins A and B12.

Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) is rich in iron, has abundant vitamin A and calcium. It helps cleanse the blood of toxins and facilitates bowel movements, helping in the treatment of constipation. It contains sulphur, which is beneficial for relieving herpes irritations. Caution: People who suffer from kidney stones should eat raw spinach in moderation due to an organic compound called oxalic acid, which if eaten in excess can inhibit calcium metabolism. Also avoid it if you have loose stools or urinary incontinence.
Portobello mushroom is a good source of B vitamins such as B2, B3 and B5. It contains the minerals selenium, copper and potassium. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Big onion soup - best in show

Last week was school half-term, and my family and I went to spend a long weekend at my sister-in-law’s place in the beautiful countryside of Somerset. She lives in a small village near Cheddar. Every time we come around to visit, her neighbour, Gerald Dally, brings us some of the produce he grows in his garden. The ones that always amaze me are the extra-large onions – the kind we never find in our markets or supermarkets. Gerald is even news in the Draycott area, where his vegetables get prizes annually for “Best in Show”. I’m not surprised because his veggies look amazing.

Another gift that I always get when I go to the area is Cheddar cheese.  Needless to say it comes from down the road, near where my sister-in-law lives.

Luckily for me, I love onions and I love cheese, and a recipe came straight to mind: onion soup with cheesy toast! Thanks, Gerald, the super-onion you gave us made my soup extra especial. Best in show!

The kind Gerald Dally and his famous onions.
My gifts from Cheddar.
The big sliced onion.
Cook the onions in olive oil and butter until tender and caramelized.
The beef and mushroom stock have been added.
Preparing the bread to toast.
At last, grilling the toast and cheese.
My onion soup.

Onion soup with cheesy toast

The French onion soup is traditionally made with beef stock, but as I had some leftover mushroom stock in the freezer I mixed them both.


5-6 big onions (or one of Gerald’s, if you happen to be a friend), peeled and thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon organic butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon coconut sugar
Maldon sea-salt
1500ml grass-fed beef stock, 400ml mushroom stock (shiitake and reishi). You can use just the beef stock or the mushroom stock if you like.
½ cup of white wine (dry wine works really well)
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
6-8 slices of sourdough baguette or ciabatta
Grated cheese of your choice. I chose mature cheddar and parmesan. You can use gruyère and parmesan if you like.


Preheat the oven to 180

In a medium to large size heavy pot, heat the oil on a medium heat and add the onions. Toss to coat. Cook the onions, stirring often until they are tender. Approximately 15-20 minutes.

Add the butter and garlic, stirring often, until the onions start to brown. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the sugar to help the onions to caramelize. Season with salt, turn the heat to low and let the onions cook for 15 more minutes. 

Once caramelized, add the wine and deglaze the pot scraping up all the browned bits.
Add the stock, thyme and bay leaves and simmer for 30 minutes. Check the soup for seasoning. 

To make the toasted bread, line a baking tray with parchment paper,  brush each slice with some extra-virgin olive oil.

Put the slices in the oven and toast until lightly brown. Remove from oven.

Back to the soup. Remove the bay leaf. Pour the soup into a casserole or small individual oven-proof bowls. Place the toast on top of the soup and sprinkle with cheese. Put the casserole or bowls under the grill for 10 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and gets a nice golden colour.

Serve as a starter, light lunch or dinner.

A healthy note: Onion (Allium cepa): belongs to the allium family (leeks, garlic and shallots). It contains powerful antioxidants and has antiviral properties. It’s also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, providing relief to an upset stomach. Onion contains the compound quercetin, which supports the immune system and acts as an anti-allergenic. People who suffer from hay-fever are often recommended a therapeutic supplementation of quercetin. That may help alleviate their symptoms. Quercetin also improves prostate health.

Research has shown that onions help build strong bones and keep serum cholesterol and blood pressure low, preventing heart disease. They are rich in vitamins A, B and C, in minerals like iron, chromium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. The chromium content in onions is very beneficial to bring levels of insulin down, which makes this vegetable very helpful for diabetic patients.

Beef stock: From the animal’s bones used for the stock, you get plenty of calcium, and the components of cartilage can give you healthy cartilage and bones.

Mushroom stock or broth is a great source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as selenium, vitamins B2 and B3 and potassium. Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) is a symbol of longevity in Asia. It fights flu and has anticancer properties. Studies have shown that mushrooms like Shiitake, Reihi, Maitake amongst others help to boost the immune system. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Magic mushroom - To boost the immune system

photo credit: Olien Webb

With the season changing and my immune system being out of balance I ended up catching a cold last week. That makes me go straight to my favourite hot chocolate “exilir”, adding chaga mushroom tea to make it magical. I can’t claim that this drink is miraculous but it works wonders for me… I was introduced to chaga tea a while ago and, on Sunday, when my cold was at its worse I ate a nourishing meal and drank chaga mushroom tea. Placebo effect or not, next day I was feeling like a new person.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of mushroom that grows on birch trees, mostly in cold countries. It doesn’t look much like a mushroom, more like a lump or a cluster of burnt wood. Some research shows that chaga boosts the immune system, helping the body to fight off bacteria and viruses. It is also known to boost energy, improve sleep quality, support blood sugar levels and healthy digestion, and reduce inflammation.

It may sound odd to have mushroom in a cup of hot chocolate, I appreciate that the flavours sound incompatible. It would probably be true for other mushrooms, but I guarantee you the chaga won’t ruin your hot choc, on the contrary: it won’t affect the taste and it will increase the nutritional benefits. 

You can make chaga mushroom tea using raw chunks of chaga or the powder. I buy mine from here

You can also use chaga tea on your soups, smoothies or as a stock in any meal.

Chaga mushroom chunks.
Chaga mushrooms chunks in simmering water.
Ingredients for the hot chocolate.
Cashew milk and chaga tea before boiling.
The boiled mushrooms can be reused...
...and stored in the freezer.
My hot chocolate with chaga.

Hot chocolate with chaga mushroom

For the tea


3-4 chaga chunks
1 litre of water


Bring 1 litre of water to a boil and add the chaga chunks to the water. Turn down to a simmer and cover for 1 hour. Keep an eye to make sure it is not boiling.

Remove the chaga chunks from the water. The tea will have a dark brown colour.

The chaga mushroom chunks can be reused up to five times. Keep them in the freezer to prevent mould.

You can store your chaga tea in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and you can enjoy it hot or cold.

For the hot chocolate


180ml cashew, almond, oat, hemp or any milk of your choice
80ml chaga mushroom tea 
2 tablespoons hot chocolate powder (I used one with chilli)*
¼ teaspoon cinnamon or at your taste
*If you’re using plain cacao powder, add coconut sugar or honey to taste.


In a pot, add the tea and the milk and let them almost boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate powder and cinnamon.  Use a frother if you have one.

Warning: To date, side effects and dosage safety of chaga mushrooms are unclear. However, chaga mushroom is very high in oxalates, which can affect absorption of certain nutrients and toxic in high dosage, specially for people with kidney disease.  

Till next week!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

A cake with a kick

Nothing like birthdays for having the excuse to bake a cake. Last week was Dean’s (my hubby’s) birthday, and if he only received a chocolate cake for a present he would be very happy. Needless to say, he is a chocoholic!

A couple of years ago I tried my hand at running a small organic chocolate business. I made bars and hot choc powders using different flavours, and Dean was my main recipe-tester. My sister, knowing how much he loves it, baked a delicious cake for him using one of my last batches of chocolate chilli powder. This cake has become her specialty which I borrow every so often. I love its richness and creaminess - and the chilli adds a lovely kick.

Unfortunately, in a mega competitive chocolate world, I was a small fish in a big pond and I decided to shelve the business for good. Despite that, the appetite in the family for good chocolate - in whatever form - remains strong.

The birthday boy was happy indeed. According to him, this cake is always the best. 

The ingredients.
The baked cake.
Moist and gooey.
Spicy chocolate cake

This is a very rich grown-up cake. You can enjoy it as a dessert, as well as with a delicious cup of tea in the afternoon.


100g organic dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids
100g organic chocolate powder
200g organic butter
a pinch of cayenne pepper powder
a small pinch of cinnamon powder
4 eggs
200g coconut sugar
3 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp rye flour
2 tbsp Ginja (Portuguese liquor, but you can use cachaça or rum instead).
Salt flakes


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin with baking parchment.

Place a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add the chocolate, butter, chilli, cinnamon and let them melt. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn. Once melted, stir the mix and remove from the stove. Leave it to cool.

When the mixture cools down, stir in the eggs one by one. Add the dry ingredients in the following order: ground almonds, coconut sugar, rye flour, and a pinch of salt. Mix well with a hand whisker and add the liquor.

Pour the cake batter into the tin, sprinkle salt flakes on top. Bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes. (You’re not looking for a sponge-like texture. This is more moist and gooey in the centre.)

Leave to cool and serve.

A healthy noteDark chocolate/cocoa (Theobroma cacao) contains the highest source of magnesium – for the ladies who suffer from those nasty mood swings in their pre-menstrual cycle, the good news is that adding magnesium to the diet can increase pre-menstrual hormone levels (progesterone) and alleviate the symptoms. Dark chocolate also contains calcium, iron and potassium. Vitamins A, C, D and E. More about chocolate read my post here 

Chilli contains capsaicin, a compound well known in scientific research as a pain reliever and digestive aid, which also has cardiovascular benefits. Capsaicin has the ability to lower blood temperature (it may induce perspiration in cases of fever). It stimulates the metabolic rate, burning fat. It contains very good levels of vitamin A and C. Chilli is a great source of iron and potassium.

Till next week!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Cupboard essentials – Japanese all-day breakfast

Some days I just wish to find a meal ready on the table waiting for me. Especially when I have to cook for myself. Last week I had some days like that - I got home tired, uninspired and hungry. 
But what I have learnt over the years is to have very good cupboard/fridge essentials, and Ms Marmite Lover came to my rescue. 

About a month ago I went to a supper club at her house in North London (she’s the queen of supper clubs). I remembered some of the dishes she served that would solve my problem with lack of energy. The theme of the evening was food for a healthy gut microbiome – that’s essential for general wellbeing. 

Kirsten Rodgers, aka Ms Marmite Lover, hosted the dinner with the presence of Tim Spector, whom I had already met at some of his lectures. Tim Spector is a professor of Genetic Epidemiology and is leading a Gut Microbiome project at King’s College London.

One of the most important things to remember when cooking for our gut-health is diversity when choosing ingredients. On Ms Marmite Lover’s menu, we could see 110 ingredients she used for our meals - that included herbs and spices. I enjoyed trying some things that I never tasted before, like: Icelandic moss, pickled fennel seeds and Alaskan bladderwrack. 

Japanese food, which also featured that evening, has several elements to help feed and nourish our gut microbiome, such as fermented and pickled dishes.   

With all that in mind, inspiration came back and I put together a meal for myself that came almost entirely from the fridge/freezer and cupboard, without much effort. It’s a sort of all-day Japanese breakfast. And there were leftovers for the rest of the family.


Back in my kitchen

Some of my essential Japanese products.
The frozen natto beans...
...when thawed they looks like this: slimey and slightly smelly.
Miso ingredients.
Adding the dashi.
My Japanese all-day breakfast.

I prepared a quick dashi (stock) adding 2 big strips of dried kombu in a saucepan with water and letting it simmer for 30 minutes (ideally one would make dashi overnight), skimming the surface of any impurity. I removed the kombu and let the liquid cool down slightly, added the bonito flakes and brought it back to boil (skimming any impurity). I reduce the temperature and simmered it for 1 more minute. Took the pan off the heat and let the bonito flakes sink to the bottom. Strained the dashi using a sieve lined with a paper towel.

In the meantime, I put some dried lotus root in a bowl to hydrate. When they were done, I sautéed them with garlic and olive oil.

I had some Japanese rice in the fridge which I had cooked with a piece of dried Kombu the previous night. I layed a small portion of it on top of a shiso leaf, and topped it with defrosted natto beans that I mixed with some tamari sauce and mustard.

I plated all the above with some leftover roasted cabbage (also from the night before) with a single umeboshi. In a small bowl, I put some tofu pieces, sliced spring onions, wakame sheets and one generous teaspoon of miso. When the dashi was done I poured it into the bowl.

I was very happy with my nutritious and satisfying meal.

A healthy note: Natto – fermented soya beans – has an acquired earthy taste, a smelly cheesy aroma and a slimy texture. But it's a powerhouse of a dish. Natto is rich in protein and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc and vitamin K (helps with formation of bone and teeth structure). Eating natto beans can help the body regulate blood pressure. Natto beans contain an enzyme called nattokinase - this enzyme can help reduce and prevent blood clots. 

Kombu (Laminaria genus) contains a big range of minerals, such as calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. It has anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiviral properties. 

Miso is a good source of fiber and protein.

*you can find natto and all the other products I mentioned above at the new Japan Centre in Panton Street. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Caldo verde – a soup to welcome Autumn

I was initially going to do only two posts on my trip to Portugal but I decided to go for one more. Autumn seems to have arrived and with it comes the craving for warming and nourishing food. A Portuguese staple is the perfect answer: Caldo Verde. This is a soup made with few ingredients. In most taverns around the country you will find they add chorizo, sausage or bacon. You can make a meat-free version, equally delicious and nutritious, by adding some shaved parmesan cheese or any other cheese of your choice and croutouns. 

Even though we were in Alentejo at the peak of Summer we couldn’t resist “diving” into a bowl of this traditional Caldo. The Portuguese are masters in creating wholesome and cheap dishes using simple ingredients. It’s a cuisine full of Umami.

Back in my kitchen

Start sauteeing onions, garlic and potatoes.
Add water or stock.
After blending the cooked potatoes, add the greens.
My caldo verde!

Caldo Verde


Organic extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium size onion – finely chopped
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped

500g potatoes, diced
200g frozen collard greens (I get mine from Portuguese delis).

1200ml water or vegetable stock
2 chorizo sausages – optional, sliced
*A handful of croutons

*I made some croutons with 3 slices of sourdough bread. In a pan, I melted a dollop of organic butter with good quality extra-virgin olive oil, added some smoked paprika and sea salt. Then, I brushed the mixture on both sides of the toasts, cut them into small squares and placed them on a baking sheet. Bake at 175C for about 15 minutes or until browned.


Heat some olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Fry the onion and garlic until they begin to soften.  Add the diced potatoes, season. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add 1.25 litres water and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
Using a hand blender, mash the potatoes to produce a smooth purée. Add the greens and simmer for about 5 minutes.

If using chorizo sausage, fry the pieces until crispy or add them in the soup after blending it and before adding the greens. Place them on kitchen paper to drain the excess fat. Cut into small squares. Reserve.

Serve the soup in bowls with the pieces of chorizo (if using) and croutons. If using only croutouns, shave some parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil on top.

Bom apetite!

A healthy note:
Collard Greens (Brassica Oleracea) are great source of fibre, chlorophyll, folic acid, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin K and iron. White potatoes (Solanum tuberosum): is mildly diuretic, lubricates the intestines, tones the pancreas. Potato reduces inflammation, relieving arthritis and rheumatism. It is a good source of vitamin C, minerals and enzymes. It is a great accompaniment to meat, as its rich potassium content balances out the high sodium content of the meat. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

On the Road to Portugal - part 2

In the famous wine and olive oil region of Portugal, we found ourselves under 40 degrees Celsius. Still, it didn’t detract us from visiting some gorgeous villages, cool down in some wineries and feast in the protein-laden regional food.

In the old part of the historical village of Terena, sadly only 6 houses out of 50 were inhabited. The younger generation is leaving home for good. Our guesthouse was part of the old castle and it is a bit of a hub for the community. On one of the cooler evenings, Altino, our host, taught me how to create a typical Alentejana meal. It was a hands-on, enjoyable experience. We all toasted to it with a great local wine.

Back in my kitchen

Today, let’s have Migas: a hearty traditional dish made with salted cod, greens, garlic and stale bread. It’s very popular in the Alentejo area. It’s not subtle, and might not be to everyone’s taste but if you like dried salted cod you will enjoy it. Migas is normally a side dish but if you want to make it as a main you can add some cooked white beans to it.

Salted and dried shredded cod.
Soak them in cool water to desalt them.
Cook the cod and greens.
Add the bread and mix well.
My migas de bacalhau.
Migas de bacalhau - Cod fish migas


4 slices of stale sourdough bread
100 to 200ml filtered water
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves

500g salted dried cod (shredded)

200g shredded collard greens (or you can buy frozen greens - couve - from Portuguese delis)
Ground white pepper


Soak the salted cod for 12 hours, changing the water multiple times.

Soak the bread in water for about 20 minutes.

Once the cod is desalted, place it in a saucepan with the greens and add enough water to cover them. Let it cook for 15 minutes. Remove it from the heat, drain the water and let it stand. Save a bit of the water in case you need to use it in the next step.

In the same pan, add some olive oil, garlic and sautee. Add the greens, the cod and a bit more of olive oil and mix.

Squeeze the excess water from the bread and add it to the cod mixture. Cook it for about 10 minutes, always stirring. If you think it is too thick, use some of the reserved water. Sprinkle some ground white pepper and taste to season.

Serve straight away with salad leaves and cherry tomatoes.

A healthy note: Salted cod is a great source of protein and essential fatty acids. Salted cod contains good amounts of calcium and phosphorus, both very beneficial for bone health. Warning: Those who should strictly avoid salt in their food should be aware that salted cod contain high levels of sodium and even when desalted, some sodium will still remain in the fish. 

Collard Greens (Brassica Oleracea) are great source of fibre, chlorophyll, folic acid, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin K and iron.

Till next week!