Given yesterday’s news that nuts are tied to lower risk of cancer and heart disease, I thought I’d share this cashew curry recipe which I made recently as part of an Indian feast for my friend Sam’s birthday a couple weekends ago. The recipe is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s “Cashews in a Rich Coconut Sauce” from Rice, Spice and All Things Nice. Yes, this is a curry based entirely on nuts! A strange idea, I thought, but it works really well and makes a most interesting option for a vegetarian curry.
And if you’re worried about the fat content of nuts, don’t be! The study showed that people who ate nuts actually tended to be slimmer than their non-nutty counterparts. And, bonus, they also had:
29% reduced risk of heart disease
11% reduced risk of cancer
20% reduced risk of death
The results applied to all nuts, even peanuts, which are actually a legume, not a nut (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who eat legumes regularly experience the same benefits as nut fiends).
My mom and I recently took a trip to Marrakech. It was our first time in Morocco and one of the things we looked forward to the most was the food. We both thought we knew what Moroccan food was like, but in retrospect, we hadn’t a clue beyond couscous and vegetable tagine. However, we quickly learned…
Our education began at our riad, Riad Tizwa, in Marrakech’s Old City. A riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard; in Marrakech many of these riads operate as guest houses and provide a much more intimate experience of the city than a traditional hotel. Ours was hidden amongst the maze of the Medina’s winding passages and we wouldn’t have found it were it not for our taxi driver (word to the wise traveller: if your hotel or riad offers airport transport, take them up on it). But behind an unmarked door was a beautiful palatial home scented with local perfume and full of light, greenery, fruit trees and flowers.
Our host greeted us with Moroccan mint tea (which I only knew about thanks to Urvashi Roe’s excellent write-up on the Art of Moroccan Mint Tea) and some sound advice on where we should go for great Moroccan food. As a result, we had some amazing, epic meals – most notably at Ksar Essaoussan and Le Tobsil - that were real lessons in how to feast Moroccan style.
To our collective vegetarian delight, meals started with a selection of cooked and raw salads, but not salads as I’m used too. These were more like little tasting plates of vegetables in various chopped, grated or pureed form. As a result, you didn’t quite know what you were eating until you tried it, making each dish an exciting surprise. Memorable salads include a celery and tomato diced salad with herbs which reminded us of tabbouleh without bulgar. We also had some amazing cooked peppers and tomato seasoned with paprika, cumin and garlic. Spices. Spices were used across the dishes in all kinds of crazy unexpected ways (tomato and cinnamon, for example, and it works).
Main courses were less of a surprise, but I think this is largely due to the vegetarian thing. Everywhere we went we got couscous and vegetable tagine, all delicious and wonderful, but with surprisingly very little variation. Carrots and parsnip was par for the tagine course, with the occasional cauliflower or green pepper. Only once did we get chickpeas in our tagine. We kept talking about how good the tagines were, but how much we wished they had more of this or that, particularly cauliflower (my mother and I both are cauliflower fiends). But a glance at the city’s food markets made it pretty clear that these people were working with a pretty limited selection of ingredients, purely dictated by what was in season at the time. But isn’t that the way it should be?
In a way, this makes the tagine the ultimate seasonal stew, and one of the first things I did when I came home from Marrakech was to make a tagine.
In case you’re unaware, a tagine is a fragrant spicy stew named after the earthenware pot in which it is made (a normal pot, preferably cast iron, also works). With Marrakech in mind, I made my tagine using what was in season, but this time I was working with British ingredients: carrots, romanesco cauliflower and the last of the season’s courgettes and green beans. But this dish would work with almost anything and seems particularly adept to autumn and winter vegetables like swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower. I like to keep the vegetables in large chunks and serve it with sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s the perfect thing on a cold, wet, dreary British day. And oddly, it also happens to be the perfect thing on a sweltering hot and sunny afternoon in Morocco: further proof that the tagine is one of the most miraculous dishes around, globe-spanning and eternally versatile.
1-3 tsp harissa (start with 1tsp and adjust to suit your spice tolerance)
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 lemon, juice and zest
a handful fresh cilantro
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, broken into big florets
½ cup cooked chickpeas
a handful of raisins
toasted sliced almonds
couscous to serve
Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it softens.
Add garlic, ginger and the spices and stir around a bit.
Add the harissa, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the vegetables and stir around, make sure that all vegetables are somewhat covered in tomato sauce. Put the lid on and simmer for about an hour. Stir carefully once or twice, otherwise leave the lid on – and be patient!
Serve with couscous and a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds.
As I ramp up for the imminent release of my new book, Smarter Fitter Smoothies, I’ve been playing around with new smoothie recipes. The ultimate test of whether a smoothie works is whether I can’t resist making another one the very next day.
Such has been the case with this pear and avocado smoothie, which I’m calling “Pear and Avocado Thickie” in the book. Fresh pear and avocado go really well together. The avocado, combined with the flaxseed, make this smoothie super thick and creamy. You can substitute the flaxseed with other nuts or seeds, or omit completely if you don’t have it to hand. What I like about this smoothie is that you know the avocado is there, and the pear gives it just a little sweetness (if you like it even sweeter, you can add a few dates, but I prefer the less sweet version; it allows more of the avocado and pear flavours to come through).
Taste aside, the smoothie is full of all of the good stuff that makes it balanced and wholesome. It’s got loads of fiber from the pear, flax seed and leafy greens, plus lemon which aids digestion and avocado for healthy fats and delicious creaminess. Eat one of these for breakfast and it will totally set you up for the day; sugar crashes be gone!
If you like this smoothie, me a huge favour and subscribe now for updates on my upcoming smoothie book. I’m giving away free copies of the ebook to 10 lucky subscribers so you have nothing to lose and only health, happiness and perfect blends to gain!
Having just written about elderberry vinaigrette, I found myself chock full of elderberry recipes and ideas for this easily forageable food. Some of these ideas found their way to Great British Chefs today, and now they find their way here. Enjoy, and let me know if you have any other elderberry recipes ideas to share!
We often think of elderflowers when it comes to the elder plant, Sambucus nigra. But the berries that result from those elderflowers are well worth gathering, too.
Elderberries have been used for centuries for their healing abilities. The classical healers used elderberries to treat numerous ills, from asthma to arthritis, and today the berries are commonly considered a natural remedy for cold and flu. There may be some merit to this; elderberries are high in flavenoids which are thought to protect the body against cell damage.
But nutritional benefits aside, elderberries actually taste pretty good, too (when prepared correctly), and are well worth foraging in the hedgerows. The easiest way to pick elderberries is to gather them in bunches, then use a fork to prick off the berries into a bowl (some of the stem might remain in the berries but for most recipes this doesn’t matter).
You’ve got your berries, now what to do with them? Elderberry recipes abound:
I have become very akin to the elder plant (Sambucus nigra) in recent months. I’ve been fond of this plant ever since I learned you can gather the wild flowers to make elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. But recent solstice and equinox activities have seen the elder plant evolve from a mere foraging opportunity to a symbol of the changing of the seasons, preservation and timelessness.
Summer elderflowers have recently given way to autumn elderberries, a bit more challenging than the elderflowers but so too is autumn. The temperature is falling and the days are getting shorter (and wetter). Where the elderflower called for bottled sunshine and refreshing elixirs, the elderberry seems more suitable for winter warmers to help us survive these dark dreary months.
It’s somewhat appropriate then that the elderberry has been used for centuries as a cold and flu remedy. Elderberries contain flavenoids, an antioxidant which can help prevent damage to cells. (UMD makes mention of a few scientific studies that back up the health benefits of elderberries.)
I’ve experimented with a few elderberry recipes. My challenge as ever is that I’m not a massive fan of sweet things, so recipes like elderberry syrup are a bit lost on me (thought I’m told it’s quite good). I made an elderberry cordial, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, which recent houseguests loved, particularly when consumed hot as a tea. Mom loved my plum and elderberry “equinox” jam, but I have a hunch she was biased (her former business name was “elderbury”). I didn’t have much luck with Pontack sauce (but then again I don’t eat meat). After a few trials, I was starting to wonder if elderberries were worth the effort.
Then I made elderberry “balsamic” vinegar and my whole elderberry world changed! Ok, that’s probably exaggerating, but this stuff is great. The recipe comes courtesy of eatweeds.co.uk and is so simple: soak elderberries in red wine vinegar for five days, then strain the liquid and boil it with some sugar. DONE. And it’s awesome.
The first elderberry vinegar revelation was a fresh fig pizza with caramelised onions made (during equinox, of course) with Emily and Robert. We added some of the vinegar to both the onions and the fig before assembling the pizza: caramelised onions, mozzarella cheese, figs, baked then topped with fresh shavings of Old Winchester. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had!
The second revelation is this simple elderberry vinaigrette. I was seeking something akin to raspberry vinaigrette, a dressing that would go well with salads, walnuts, fruit and maybe feta or gorgonzola if I’m feeling the dairy call. But I didn’t want to lose the elderberry flavour. Hence, this simple vinaigrette was born. It’s a basic combo of oil, elderberry vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. And it’s delicious!
The elderberry vinaigrette is especially good with beetroot and spicy salad leaves like rocket / arugula. I think it will also be a fine match for fruit, too – I’m picturing a chopped salad with apple, celery and walnuts. Or in a true tribute to foraging, a salad of blackberries and chickweed tossed with elderberry vinaigrette and garnished with toasted hazelnuts.
There are still elderberries around and I highly suggest you take advantage of them to make something. If not elderberry vinegar, then elderberry syrup is a logical place to start because it’s just so versatile (Hunger Angler Gardener Cook has some good ideas for elderberry syrup, including ice cream and pannacotta!). Happy foraging!
Sometimes I think my friend Sam knows me better than I do. For my birthday last summer, she gave me a gift to satisfy both my baker self and my quinoa-loving self: a generous stash of Shipton Mill‘s new quinoa flour along with a copy of Quinoa: The Everyday Superfood by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming.
I’d never cooked with quinoa flour, or even knew it existed. But lo and behold, it does (my US friends can find it from Bob’s Red Mill).
Quinoa flour is naturally gluten free and, being quinoa, is high in protein, calcium and iron. You’ll find that most quinoa flour recipes use half regular wheat flour and half quinoa flour. This is for two reasons: quinoa flour isn’t going to give you the same rise as wheat flour. Also, quinoa flour has a nutty flavour that can be a bit overpowering in most recipes.
But there are exceptions.
This recipe for quinoa flour cookies from the quinoa cookbook called to me because it is made with 100% quinoa flour and is entirely gluten free. I decided to make them for my gluten-avoiding mom and friends a few weeks ago and alerted them that the cookies were a total experiment and I had no idea how they would be. But I think the results surprised all of us. I can’t say there was any hooting and hollering, but we scarfed almost half the batch in one session.
First of all, the cookies, despite being gluten free, rose well in the oven and came out beautifully cracked and delicious looking. And the flavour was just as good. Here, the nuttiness of the quinoa flour works well with the spicy ginger and rich molasses.
Colour me a fan of quinoa flour – after making these cookies, quinoa flour became a hallmark of my mom’s visit and I’ve done some more experimenting since (expect a post on quinoa flour soda bread coming soon).
And colour me a fan of this cookbook. I look forward to trying more of the recipes – there are some great looking salads, casseroles and even smoothies, all using quinoa in various shapes and guises (whole, sprouted, flour, etc).
The authors of the cookbook generously gave me permission to post their recipe on my website. They’re nice ladies. Check out their website and give them a follow on Twitter and Facebook.
I have a hard tome finding molasses in the UK so use dark treacle instead which works just as well. I also think some chopped stem ginger would do well in these cookies. If you try it, let me know!
½ cup organic butter or coconut oil
¾ cup organic brown sugar or sucanat
1 large organic egg
¼ cup unsulfured molasses (or dark treacle)
2 cups quinoa flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ cup organic cane sugar (for rolling)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cream butter and brown sugar in large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg.
In another smaller bowl, mix dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves).
Mix flour mixture into butter mixture until combined into a dough.
Roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place the cane sugar in a shallow bowl and roll to coat the balls. Place two inches apart on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. When they puff up and are lightly browned they’re ready! Let them cool slightly before removing them to cool completely on a rack.
I’ve had a jar of Danival Organic Puree Pumpkin languishing in the back of my cupboard (bottom shelf) for years. I bought two jars of the stuff to make pumpkin pie and a failed experiment with the first jar led me to conclude that was NOT the pumpkin pie puree I was looking for (but really, is there any substitute for Libbys?).
But with this recent detox and the sudden inclusion of lots of soup in my life, I decided to unleash the pumpkin in hopes of a quick lunch soup fix. The fix was a success, using a recipe from the ever reliable How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It’s my most loved and most used cookbook and once again it delivered the goods. His recipe uses fresh pumpkin but here’s how I did it using pumpkin puree.
500g jarred or canned pumpkin puree (or 3lbs fresh winter squash like butternut or acorn, peeled and chopped)
vegetable stock or water
Heat the oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the curry powder, garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so until fragrant.
If using pureed pumpkin, remove the pot from the heat. Add a little water and scrape up any spices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. (If using fresh pumpkin, add the pumpkin with enough water or stock to cover and simmer until the pumpkin is soft.)
Put the onion mixture into a blender with the pumpkin and enough water or stock to achieve a desirable soup consistency.
Put the blender contents back into the pot and on the heat. Let it heat thoroughly. Taste, season and serve.
Today I’m catching up on some highlights from my summer road trip through France and Spain. And since it seems I’ve been talking a lot about chilled summer soup revelations lately, here is a story about such a revelation from mountain high!
I was nearing the end of my summer road trip through France and Spain. I had just bid my travel buddies farewell at the airport in Bilbao and had four nights before I needed to catch my Brittany Ferry in Santander and reluctantly head back to Britain and life as usual.
I had already set my sights on the Picos de Europa, part of the Cantabrian mountains, about 20 km inland and conveniently just a couple hours drive from the Santander ferry port.
The mountains called to me, not only for its proximity to my exit point, but for its impressive massifs magically packed together in a relatively small space. People rave about the wonder and awe of the Picos. And I liked the idea of hiding away in the mountains for a few days before having to face the real world again.
I chose as my base Posada de Tollo, a mountain house about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes, the main market town in the Picos. I chose it for being unabashedly dog friendly and for reviews that its food was “scrummy”. But the place had a lot more going for it than that.
My first impressions were of the clean and modern entry room with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin posters on the walls, Leonard Cohen playing on the radio, and Berta. Berta had a nose ring and wore black from head to toe except for a few dramatic grey streaks in her long hair and a pair of ginormous slippers, designed in the style of ogre feet (with painted toenails and all!).
After checking in I said I’d like to have dinner at the posada in the evening, and Berta got all excited because this was the first year she was cooking with vegetables she’d grown in her garden. She also seemed to like the challenge of cooking for a vegetarian.
I spent the afternoon walking to and from Potes via the Picos’ wonderful system of hiking trails (a whole other story in itself) and was ravenous by the time I got back. So when Berta brought out a huge basket of bread and a giant bowl of something red and seemingly delicious, I became almost giddy. (Forgive the lousy photo, but I was working with my iPhone and the rapidly fading light of Spain at sunset. Life could be worse.)
Berta explained that the dish was a “soup” traditional to Extremadura, a community in western Spain where her family is from. The soup is made with roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes and – what was that spice I tasted? Berta called it “comino”, and because my Spanish is pathetic, I had to use powers of deduction to realise it was cumin! Not toasted, she said, just ground to a paste with garlic and salt, then mixed in with the tomato and red pepper and a generous amount of “good” (Berta stressed this word!) olive oil.
The dish is called “Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino”, which translates to “Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Tomato and Cumin”. And being a “dip”, you’re meant to sop up the “soup” with lots of bread.
This vegetarian soup was as magical as the Picos. Of course, part of the thrill was having a home cooked meal made by a recipe that had been passed down through the generations as it were. But also, it was just really really good. Pure, simple, seasonal ingredients: a true case of the sum being more than the parts! And the cumin – a real dash of genius, giving the soup just a little hint of smoky earthiness.
And the final lesson: life is too short for lesser quality olive oil. Use the good stuff, and use it generously!
Also known as Moje de Pimientos Asados Con Tomate y Comino.
4 red peppers
3-4 ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin seed
Roast the peppers in the oven or over an open flame until black all over. Remove into a sealed container. Once cool, peel the peppers, de-stem and de-seed them, then slice into strips.
In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, cumin and a good pinch of salt until it forms a paste.
Dice the tomatoes into big chunks (you can peel them if you’d like by blanching them in boiling water).
Combine everything together with a good glug of quality olive oil. Let sit for an hour or so to let the flavours marinade. If it’s not “soupy” enough for your taste, add a bit of water (and more olive oil if you’d like) to the desired consistency.
Serve cold or at room temperature with bread.
Picos de Europa
I went to Spain with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; www.brittany-ferries.co.uk), which has sailings from Portsmouth to Santander. It’s about a two hour drive from the Santander ferry port to Potes, the main market town in the Picos de Europa.
I stayed at Posada de Tollo (Mayor, 13, 39575 Tollo, Spain; www.posadadetollo.es), about 10 minutes’ drive from Potes. It’s a mountain house with friendly owners, friendly dogs, home-cooked meals and incredible views of mountain summits and villages.
This smoothie has become a staple of mine in recent weeks, largely thanks to the abundance of blackberries in the hedgerows at the moment. If only avocados grew so readily, alas, I have to rely on Lidl for my avocado fix (yes, Lidl, where avocados seem to be both cheaper and tastier than those from other supermarkets, the exception being The Organic Farm Shop which occasionally has organic avocados from Mexico which are pure bliss).
But I digress. I like to add interest to this smoothie with mint and orange flower water, but if you don’t have those it’s not the end of the world. This is really all about the berries, and the avocados and dates make it creamy sweet deliciousness.
I’m currently not eating tomatoes or peppers as part of my 21-day “detox” experiment. The reason being that these vegetables, along with potatoes, eggplants and other vegetables of the nightshade family, are often rich in alkaloids that can be mildly toxic (so says Dr. Junger, who designed this detox, as does Ayurvedic medicine interestingly enough).
This has been challenging because tomatoes and peppers were a staple of mine, and with the weather being unbelievably warm, summery and beautiful here in the UK for the last few days, I’ve been madly craving gazpacho.
Last summer I tried Nigel Slater’s tomato gazpacho and absolutely loved it (the same recipe also led me to discover the joys of sherry vinegar). So this week I decided to try getting my gazpacho fix by using beetroot instead of tomatoes and peppers.
The result, as Kanna put it, was “very special” and “exceptionally good” (I blush – Kanna does not deliver her compliments lightly). I followed the recipe pretty closely – I used three very large beetroot, cut back on the smoked paprika, omitted the sugar, upped the cucumber and added some fresh dill. The garnish: sliced spring onion, more dill and cubes of avocado. We sprinkled the avocado with Le sel au piment d’Espelette, salt with dried pimento chillies (one of my summer road trip acquisitions from Espelette – when in Basque!).
As an added bonus, this soup also satisfied my craving for Cold Beet Soup, my Lithuanian grandmother’s family recipe where buttermilk (not detox friendly) is a key ingredient.
I almost hate to associate this soup with the detox, because it really stands alone as a delicious summer soup and a beetroot revelation. The only question I have is: have I created something new, or did I really just make borscht?
Scrub the beetroot well, then cook in boiling water until they are absolutely tender (pike a skewer through them – it should go through easily and the beetroot should fall off the skewer). Let the beetroot cool then remove their skins.
Now, get your blender ready. Coarsely chop two of beetroot, along with the red onion and cucumber, and add to the blender. Remove most of the green shoots (reserve for garnish) of the spring onion and add the white part to the blender, too, along with the garlic. Pulse until you get a soup that’s of the consistency you like – I like to keep it a little bit chunky.
Pour the soup into a big bowl. Finely dice the last beetroot and add that to the bowl, along with the sherry vinegar, dill, smoked paprika, olive oil and a bit of salt. Mix well, then taste and add more vinegar, paprika, olive oil, dill and salt to your liking.
Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let soup get cold and the flavours mingle.
Serve garnished with sliced spring onion, more dill and diced avocado. (A swirl of sour cream would probably be nice, too!)