Rock the Kasbah

Our half term break spent in Marrakech seems a lifetime away on this cold, wet November morning.  The husband and I have been before, but it was the childrens’ first visit and we wondered how they would take to the madness of Marrakech.  Thankfully the moment they arrived they loved it, but this was in no small part thanks to El Fenn, the beautiful riad we stayed in right in the centre of the Medina, overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque.

Last time we were in Morocco, we stayed in the Palmeraie, just outside the city, which was peaceful and beautiful.  Staying in the medina is a much more hectic and lively experience, but staying at the beautiful El Fenn was the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Outside the riad doors you are dodging mules, carts, motorcycles and bicycles, amidst all the sounds of a busy city.  Once inside the riad, it is absolute tranquility.  Built around a series of courtyards filled with palm trees, flowers, birds and, bizarrely, tortoises, there were a myriad of places to sit and relax with a Moroccan mint tea.  Our favourite place was the rooftop garden, with its restaurant, bar and swimming pool.  

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You could overlook the city streets, hear the calls to prayer, smell the smoke from the food stalls of the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, but relax above it all with a glass of fantastic Moroccan rosé.  We loved the rosé and gris Domaine de Sahari and are desperate to find a case or two here in the UK.

We found the Moroccan food a bit mixed in quality but we ate well at the riad.  Breakfast was delicious; freshly baked baguettes studded with sesame seeds, served with salty butter and home-made jam, fresh goat yogurts, eggs, coffee and hot chocolate.

The children went mad for the speciality Berber pancake, or Baghrir, which was a sort of Moroccan pikelet served with honey.

On our final morning in Marrakech, while the boys played golf, the girls and I did a cookery course with the riad’s chef, Hassim.  First we went to the Mellah, the Jewish district, to source our ingredients.  The girls were a little shocked at the sight of the bloody Moroccan butcher counters in the souk, and even more upset when they saw the adorable caged livestock for sale not as pets, but as dinner.   They soon got over their distaste at the Berber pharmacy counter, however, enjoying the sweet Moroccan tea we were offered, and badgering me for Berber lipsticks, rose petals and orange flower water.   We picked up the ingredients we needed to make a chicken tagine, and I picked up some amazing Harissa, some Preserved lemons and some Moroccan mint and Berber tea herbs to take home with us.

The chicken tagine is a lovely dish for this time of year.  The spices used are warming and anti-inflammatory.  The addition of heart-healthy green olives and vitamin-rich preserved lemons add a deliciously savoury tang that contrasts delightfully with the heat of the spices.

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons (serves 2)

  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 200ml water (or so)
  • 1 preserved lemon, deseeded, flesh removed, and shredded
  • handful stoned green olives, chopped
  • handful or two of coriander, torn

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  1. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy lidded saucepan (or Tajine if you have one)
  2. Brown the chicken and reserve
  3. Add chopped red onion and garlic to the pan and soften
  4. Add seasoning and herbs, and cook until fragrant
  5. Return chicken to the pan
  6. Add shredded preserved lemon and olives
  7. Add water, replace lid and cook for 30 minutes or so, until tender, stirring occasionally
  8. When cooked through, stir through a handful or two of torn coriander and serve immediately.

Couscous would be the traditional accompaniment for this tagine, but Brent threw together a quick Moroccan flatbread that worked brilliantly with it.

Moroccan Flatbread with Cumin

  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • pinch onion salt
  1. Combine dry ingredients and add yogurt to the mixture
  2. Knead on floured surface until no longer sticky.  Add more flour if necessary
  3. Roll out to size of your palm, or thereabouts
  4. Toast on griddle pan over high heat until crisp and charred

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Sautéed Chard with Garlic and Chilli

  • packet (2-3 heads) of chard, or dark green leafy vegetable
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  1. Wash, trim and roughly chop chard
  2. Blanche in salted boiling water for one minute
  3. Rinse under cold water and squeeze out excess water
  4. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil
  5. Fry garlic cloves and chilli with a pinch of salt
  6. Add chard to pan, sauté for 2 minutes and serve

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From Marrakech we headed to Essaouira, a 2 1/2 hour drive across the dusty Moroccan plains to the atlantic coastline of Morocco.  A fortified city, it has a working port, a mini medina and a long, windswept beach that is popular for kitesurfing.

Essaouira is famed for its Argan oil production.  This comes from the fruit of the argan tree (Argan Spinosa) which grow in southwestern Morocco.  It is rich in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and has a savoury taste reminiscent of sesame oil.  Breakfasts Essaouira-style were all about Moroccan pancakes (Msemen), made from semolina, which we drizzled with argan oil and topped with Amlou, a Berber speciality made from argan oil, crushed almonds and honey.

We bought both the oil and the amlou to bring home, and imagine ourselves back in Essaouira with delicious and nutritious breakfasts of goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm) topped with my Swiss Paleo Granola, and drizzled with amlou and argan oil.

Better than a takeaway

My husband has berated me for my blogging content this week, as my recipes are neither seasonal nor local.  However, in my defence, it is Friday night, and as a nation we Brits all love a takeaway on a Friday night.  The food and drink I am writing about are perfect Friday night fodder, and far, far better than a bought-in take-away.

Despite loving cooking and eating home-cooked food, we usually have a takeaway on a Friday or Saturday night if we are in.  It will usually be either Indian (mild for the children’s sake), or Chinese in front of Britain’s Got Talent.  For Brent and my palate, take-aways need to be fragrant, spicy and savoury, and this Friday the children are visiting their grandparents, so we can go as spicy as we like.  We used to make this dish a lot when the children were very little, and not sharing our meals.  It is probably too spicy for them (however you can amend the amount of chillies you add), and it is certainly fragrant and savoury.  And best of all, because it is home-made, there are no nasty hidden ingredients.

Nasi Goreng (literally meaning fried rice) is sort of like an Indonesian paella.  Made with long-grain rice (medium glycaemic load or GL) its ingredients have many health benefits.  It is served with a garnish of raw salad high in enzymes to help aid digestion (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers), and we like to add lots of fresh coriander to it too, so that the raw ingredients almost overwhelm the cooked ones, adding to its health benefits.

IMG_0222One key ingredient is turmeric, a fantastic anti-inflammatory spice that adds the distinctive yellow colour to the dish.  Turmeric is a wonder spice, and as well as being anti-inflammatory is cardioprotective, beneficial for skin conditions such as psoriasis, a potent antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic.

The chilli content (both fresh and dried) is rich in vitamins and minerals and has similar properties to the turmeric, helps to reduce cholesterol and increases endorphin production for the feel-good factor.  The other ingredients, lean protein, are key building blocks for the body.

Nasi Goreng can be prepared in many different ways.  We base ours on a recipe in one of my favourite cookery books, given to me by my brother, Culinaria: South-East Asian Specialties, which I highly recommend if you like cooking Asian food.

Before you get started with preparing the nasi goreng, though, you will need a cocktail.  Brent and I spent an evening sampling these, and they are delicious, although more than 1 saketini is brave, and more than 2 foolhardy.  Asian-themed, they go well with the nasi goreng despite being from a different parts of Asia.

Cucumber and Basil Saketinis

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 2 parts Sake (we used Sawanotsuru)
  • 1 part Vodka (we used Grey Goose)
  • Splash of Sugar Cane Syrup (we used Saint-James)
  1. Juice the cucumber (I used my Matstone Juicer) with a handful of basil leaves to infuse the cucumber juice
  2. Chill the martini glasses
  3. Combine the sake, vodka and sugar cane in cocktail shaker
  4. Add cucumber and basil juice
  5. Shake over ice
  6. Strain and serve, with a squeeze of lime, and garnish with a basil leaf

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Nasi Goreng (serves 2 greedy adults with leftovers)
  • 200g/7oz long grain rice (we used Basmati)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1-3 fresh red chillies, deseeded
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boned and skinned and cut into pieces
  • 250g peeled, cooked prawns
  • 1/2 tsp chilli pepper
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • seasoning to taste

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To garnish:

  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • sliced red or yellow peppers
  • sliced cucumber
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

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  1. Precook the rice and leave to cool.
  2. Lightly beat the seasoned eggs and make omelette.  Leave to cool, roll up and slice into narrow strips.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, and add onions, garlic, chillies and shrimp paste until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken and prawns and cook gently for 2 mins or so
  5. Stir in chilli powder and turmeric
  6. Add soya sauce, tomato puree and seasoning
  7. Add cooked rice and stir-fry till hot
  8. Serve immediately, with omelette strips on top and garnish on the side.
  9. If you like it as hot as we do, add some Sriracha, Lotus Chilli Oil or Chilli Garlic Sauce

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There were no leftovers this evening, and it was absolutely delicious.  I think the children would love it too if I reduced the chilli content and went easy on the coriander.

Sugar Rush

There was an interesting article published in The Times this week (The fructose timebomb: it’s sweet drinks that are making our children fat | The Times).   Most of us know that fizzy drinks aren’t a healthy option.  Coca Cola is my particular bugbear as it has no redeeming features – 10 teaspoons of sugar in the average can and high caffeine content to boot, but all fizzy drinks are harmful.  Full of empty calories, aside from the high sugar content, they are full of artificial colours and flavourings, and many, including coca cola are high in phosphoric acid, which results in calcium being leached from the skeleton and leads to osteoporosis.

What shocked me, after reading this article, was just how much sugar there was in seemingly healthy drinks (see chart below).   My favoured smoothie bought for the children contains pretty much the same amount of sugar as coca cola.  I mean, I know juices aren’t great for you, and I have been banging on about it to my children for ages, and limiting their intake as a consequence.  It just doesn’t make sense that we can drink a juice in a matter of seconds with impunity when, if we actually ate the equivalent fruit from which the juice was taken, it would take us some considerable time (and our hunger would be satisfied before we finished eating).  It’s just too easy to mindlessly knock back juices without considering what we are actually consuming.  Moreover, as we are told that juices can count as one of our “five a day”, we believe we are actively improving our and our children’s health by doing this

How much sugar is in your drink

Average serving size: 250ml

1. Fanta 12.2g sugars / 50 kcal per 100ml
2. 7Up 11g sugars / 41 kcal per 100ml
3. Waitrose squeezed smooth orange juice 10.6g sugars / 47 kcal per 100ml
4. Coca-Cola 10.6g sugars / 42 kcal per 100ml
5. Sprite 10.55g sugars / 43.5 kcal per 100ml
6. Innocent strawberry & bananas smoothie 10.52g sugars / 53.2 kcal per 100 ml
7. Sunny Delight “California style” 8.7g sugars / 38 kcal per 100ml
8. J2O apple & mango 6.2g sugars / 27 kcal per 100ml
9. Orange Tango 4.3g sugars / 19 kcal per 100ml
10. Diet Coke 0g sugars / 0.25 kcal per 100ml

Sources: Coca-Cola; innocent; Sunny Delight; Britvic Soft Drinks; Waitrose

Dr Robert Lustig, a specialist in endocrinology, has set out to expose the sugar industry, and supports the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (ARMS) who, as an anti-obesity measure,  is demanding a 20% tax on high-sugar drinks.  Several countries, including France, have recently imposed a duty on sugary drinks at 20p per litre.

Dr Lustig explains why fruit juices in particular are so deleterious to health.  The sugar content, or fructose (simply sugar contained in fruit, vegetables and honey), is slightly higher in, for example, orange juice, than the average fizzy drink.  Fructose is metabolised by the liver, the only part of the body able to do this job.  So when a fruit juice or smoothy is consumed, the liver is hit by a massive dose of sugar that it has to process.  Often the body simply cannot cope with the traffic and is overloaded with toxins; this is when problems such as non-alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis and other liver diseases can develop.

According to Dr Lustig, fructose is the main cause of metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes, which has become an epidemic along with obesity in the western world.  You don’t have to be obese to get metabolic syndrome; many seemingly slender people suffer from it, and it is on the rise in tandem with our increased intake of fructose (fructose consumption has increased sixfold over the past century, according to Dr Lustig).

So, what can we drink instead of fizzy drinks and juices?

  • filtered water flavoured with slices of cucumber, lemon or orange is cooling and refreshing
  • filtered or naturally carbonated water flavoured with ginger is cleansing and warming
  • naturally carbonated water flavoured with the juice of a lime.  This is very sour, but my children actually love it.  An acquired taste possibly.
  • citron pressé (freshly squeezed lemon juice, diluted with filtered water).  Also very sour, obviously.
  • fruit juice diluted with filtered or naturally carbonated water (use juice like a cordial to flavour the water).
  • CherryActive.  This is a cordial made from Montmorency cherries.  It has numerous health benefits, including improving sleep patterns and aiding recovery after sports.  It provides a much lesser hit of fructose than other cordials and juices; check out the website to find out more.  I consider it a wonder product and my children love it too.
  • Coconut water.  I like Vita Coco Coconut Water which is stocked by most supermarkets.  Choose the pure version, not mixed with tropical fruit juices.  It is rich in potassium, very hydrating and an effective electrolyte drink that can be used to aid recovery after sport.

How can we limit the effects of fructose on the body?  Use water (always filtered – tap water is full of chemicals harmful to the body) to quench thirst.  Ensure that any sweet drinks are consumed after a meal to limit the sugar hit on the body.  Keep juices as a treat, not as an everyday essential 1 of your “5 a day”.  Remember to break the rules from time-to-time; the odd lemonade is not going to kill you.

Herbily Ever After

Heap of fresh Herbs isolated on white background Stock Photo - 14773931

Supermarkets chillers are full of them, neatly stacked in their sanitized plastic containers.  But how often do you actually utilize the whole packet?  Oh, you get the odd recipe that calls for a sprinkling of coriander here, or a snippet of chives there, but don’t you always find half-empty herb packets mouldering at the back of your fridge?

Stored in their cellophane containers, we can’t really appreciate them properly, and we forget how marvellous herbs really are.  Go to your local greengrocer and (if they let you) handle the herbs.  Smell them.  Taste them.  Hand select your own herbs.  You will usually get a better quality of herb, with the root intact, from a greengrocer, and you can buy the amount you want and need, not a pre-decided amount that will rot in the back of your fridge, like mine.

Even better, buy your own herbs from the garden centre, and plant them in window boxes or old crates in your garden for an instant herb garden (although it is better to wait for more clement weather if you intend to use your garden rather than your window sill for your herbs).  Please note that not all herbs thrive all year round, but we seem to have a good success rate in our garden in the South East with rosemary, mint, thyme and bay all year round.

Herbs are plants used to add flavour to a meal, but more importantly they have a history of being used for medicinal purposes for centuries, if not millenia.  Not only do they offer a better and more varied taste to your meals, they are full of health-giving properties.  Recent research has found the antioxidant content of several common herbs (in particular, oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary and peppermint) to be significantly higher than other potent antioxidant-rich plants, such as blueberries.  Antioxidants help protect the body against cellular damage, and can delay the signs of aging and help prevent the development of aging-related diseases.  See WHFoods: Herbs-Packed with Powerful Antioxidants-Oregano Ranks Highest for more details.

Which herbs do I use regularly?  Thyme (any variety); bashed up with a garlic clove, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, and loosened with a slug of oil to dress chicken thighs for baking for the children (and us).  Flat-leaf parsley, used as a leaf in salads, or chopped to add flavour to a tomato and onion salad, or a quinoa tabbouleh.  Basil, for tomato and mozzarella salads, or whizzed into a home-made pesto, or added to a salsa verde to use with roasted meats and fish.  Coriander, chopped coarsely and added to curries, or Asian rice dishes (Nasi Goreng is a favourite).  Rosemary from the garden, crushed with garlic and salt, with olive oil, to marinate lamb cutlets.

I tend to use my left-over herbs in my daily green juice (see my earlier post Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating. | Water and Wine.).  I regularly juice flat-leaf parsley, mint and basil, and indeed buy them specifically for this purpose.   Parsley is a natural diuretic, very cleansing and potent, so it is prudent to use less rather than more when starting to juice.  Parsley also helps reduce oedema (swelling),  improve the blood transport system, and support the kidneys.  It is rich in antioxidants, as well as minerals and vitamins such as K, C and A.   Leslie Kenton has a fantastic parsley juice recipe in Juice High: Experience the Power of Raw Energy , which she suggests may be helpful for allergy sufferers.

Parsley Passion

  •  1 bunch parsley
  • 3-5 carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 2 small cauliflower florets

I also often use herbs to make fresh infusions (just add a tsp or tbsp (to taste) of the washed, fresh herb to some freshly boiled water and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes).  Camomile from the garden, or lemon verbena, helps calm the mind, and makes a great pre-bedtime drink.  Fresh mint tea is a good post-prandial drink; it is carminative (anti-spasmodic) and a great digestive aid, as well as being anti-microbial, and cooling and refreshing for hot days or nights.

Last Saturday, fed up with the mediocrity of our local Indian take-aways, we decided to cook our own curry.  We wanted lots of fresh vegetables too, so we made our own Kachumber, which is a sort of Indian onion salad or salsa.  We also made a Raita from full-fat goat’s yogurt, with cooling cumin and cucumber, to take the heat off the curry.  The curry recipe we used from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible and it was actually Trinidadian, but the flavours worked well with the Kachumber and Raita.  We chose it because it was so green, and sounded fresh and delicious with the addition of so many herbs and spices.  We ate it with fresh papadums from the local curry house, and it was a triumph.  Incidentally, we had a little left over.  It was fantastic cold as well; the flavour intensified in the fridge overnight, and I ate the leftovers for lunch with the remains of the kachumber, regarnished with extra coriander.

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  • 1 carrot, finely sliced into juliennes
  • 1  onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 tomato (heirloom, preferably), sliced and seasoned
  • 2 ins cucumber diced into fine strands
  • 1 red chilli, cut into strands
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds, ground with a teaspoon of salt

Mix together, and chill before serving

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Mix together, and chill before serving

Curry Boneless Chicken

Serves 4

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Marinade

  • 6 tbsp peeled and finely chopped onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 spring onions sliced finely into rings
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, picked
  • 3 bird’s eye chillies, chopped (I could not get the scotch bonnet variety this time)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1lb skinned chicken breasts, sliced thickly crossways

For cooking the chicken:

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp hot curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground, roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp amchar masala (see below)

 

IMG_1400Amchar Masala (a Trinidadian mixture of roasted spices using Indian pickling spices)

  • 4 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  1. Dry fry all the spices over a medium heat in a small, cast-iron frying pan
  2. Stir for 1-2 minutes until spices turn a shade darker
  3. Remove from pan, cool, and grind finely with food processor or coffee grinder
  4. Store in dark cupboard in airtight jar

To make the dish:

  1. IMG_1426Make the marinade; put onion, garlic, spring onion, parsley, coriander, thyme, chilli, ginger, salt, black pepper and 2 tbsp water into blender, blend to a smooth paste.
  2. Put the sliced chicken in a bowl.  Add marinade, ensuring chicken is covered.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes, and for as long as possible (maximum 3 hours)
  3. Add oil to a wide, non-stick pan, and add garlic, over a medium-high heat.  When garlic starts to sizzle, add curry powder and stir for 10 seconds.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken and marinade, and stir for 3-4 minutes until the chicken turns white.
  5. Add 120ml of water, the salt, cumin and amchar masala; stir and bring to a simmer.
  6. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes, while stirring.
  7. Serve with extra chopped coriander, the kachumber, the raita and papadums.  Mango chutney and lime pickle go well with this too.

Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating.

I love (nearly) all foods, the more exotic the better.  One of my favourite pastimes when travelling to a new country is to try the local delicacies.  The husband (Brent) and I often shop abroad for local specialities in markets and shops so that we can try to recreate our favourite holiday dishes at home, but somehow they never tastes as good as in situ.  There is something about eating food in a location close to where the produce has been sourced that makes it taste especially good; whether it’s the freshness of the ingredients, or flavours that somehow seem to fit the environment, I’m not really sure.  Whatever the reason, it makes sense to choose local and seasonal as much as possible.  Apart from the fresher and consequently more nutrient-dense ingredients, reducing the distance your food has travelled reduces carbon emissions.    Not only that, but by choosing British, we can all support our native food producers and help boost the economy.  Of course, it is not always possible to just eat British produce – many key ingredients in our multi-cultural British diet are shipped from abroad – however, just being more aware of what is in season, and locally produced, is a step in the right direction.  Basing meals around food that we can only enjoy at certain times of the year when it is in season will make us value this produce more than if we buy its inferior counterpart from the supermarket as and when we feel like it throughout the year.

Kale (or as it is known in the States, collards) is a member of the Brassica family and has been a staple European crop and peasant food for centuries.  It is robust and plentiful, currently in season and more than likely grown in a locality close to you.  Lately, however, kale seems to be having its once humble profile raised to the status of a superfood.   It is nutrient-dense, and high in vitamins A, C and E and K, as well as being rich in iron, calcium and a number of other key minerals.  It is also high in sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol, chemical compounds which can help protect the the body against cancer and help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Kale’s high sulphur content also helps support the detoxification processes of the body, so kale really does make the perfect detox food.

According to recent magazines, kale is the hippest addition to smoothies and juices.  It also features in the latest celebrity diet book, Honestly Healthy as a health food with a high alkaline rating.  Eating foods with high alkaline content has been found to help increase energy and alleviate common aches and pains which can be caused by diets high in acid-forming foods, such as meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine.  Juicing is an easy and (relatively) quick way to add alkaline foods to the body, can help boost flagging energy levels, and helps to cleanse the body.  If you have a juicer, check which sort you have.  If it is a centrifugal juicer, you may find it struggles to cope with the fibrous stalks of kale, so removing the stalks before juicing will be helpful.  Personally,  I have a macerating juicer (a Matstone I Love My Matstone Juicer!. – more about this and juicing in a post very soon), which can deal with the woody kale stalks very well.

Kale
Kale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I use curly kale in green juices (purely because I am not so keen on its texture, but love the flavour).  My daily green juice contains all or some of the following, and I will add whatever green vegetables I have knocking around in the fridge that are looking tired.  Today, for example, I used some tenderstem broccoli that was past its prime.  Please also note that the recipe below should be sufficient for two juices.  The addition of the ginger and lemon will help to preserve the vitamins and minerals, so you can neck one glass immediately after juicing, and and save the second glass for the following day without losing too many of its nutrients.

Green Juice (serves 2):

  • 1 bunch curly Kale
  • 1 handful mint, parsley, basil (or all three)
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • handful lettuce leaves
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 1 apple or pear (to sweeten)
  • 1 peeled lemon
  • thumb sized piece of ginger root

2013-01-22 18.41.49Cavol0 Nero, or Black Cabbage, a leafy brassica, is my favourite type of kale. Popular in Italy for many years, it is now grown in England.  Like curly kale,  it is readily available, and to my tastes, more delicious and versatile than its more common cousin.  When selecting your cavolo nero, choose one with  firm leaves and a vibrant green colour.  Personally,  I love its heavily veined, earthy texture, the ridge of which become coated with and retain the oil and flavourings used to season it when it is sautéd.

To prepare cavolo nero, (and indeed any kale), rinse well in cold water, and remove the stalk which is too fibrous too eat (you can retain and use in your green juice, though, if you have a macerating juicer).

The following recipe makes a great, healthy week-night dinner.  It is relatively quick and easy to cook, and full of nutrients.  The halibut is found in UK waters, and is in season at the moment.  It is a lean, firm flaky textured flatfish, often served in steaks, and has few bones.  Grilling it quickly will ensure the delicate flesh does not dry out.  The confit of winter vegetables makes a lovely accompaniment, adding substance to the subtle flavour of the fish.

Grilled Halibut steaks with a confit of winter vegetables and cavolo nero (serves 2):

  • 2 halibut steaks
  • 200g Cavolo Nero, washed and deveined, leaves left whole
  • 1 medium sized leek, trimmed and chopped into rounds of about 1cm
  • 1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced
  • 4 pearl onions, peeled, left whole
  • 50g British chestnut mushrooms, trimmed, left whole
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to garnish
  1. 2013-01-25 23.06.22Sweat the leek and fennel in a knob of butter until softened.
  2. In another pan, brown chestnut mushrooms and onions in a knob of butter.
  3. Add mushrooms to leek and fennel confit.
  4. Season halibut steaks on both sides.
  5. Grill halibut steaks under high heat (approx. 3 minutes each side)
  6. Blanche the cavolo nero in boiling salted water for 1 minute and then drain.  Set aside
  7. Heat tsp oil in pan and fry cavolo nero on high heat until glossy.
  8. Season cavolo nero with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon.
  9. Serve halibut steak on top of the cavolo nero and confited vegetables.
  10. Drizzle with a little extra virgin oil.

Another great use for curly kale, but one that I have not as yet tried making myself, are kale chips.  I am currently researching which Food dehydrator to buy, and one of the first things I am going to try to make are these.  In the meantime, if like me you love salty snacks with your apéritif, try these Raw Kale Chips:Wasabi Wheatgrass by inSpiral.  They are pieces of curly kale slow baked (or dehydrated) with seasoning into a sort of vegetable crisp – absolutely delicious, as well as virtuous; I hope my homemade attempts will be almost as good and will report back shortly.

 

New Year, New You?

Warming Mushroom and Chicken Broth

I don’t know about you, but January for me is a time for new beginnings. After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, I like to take time out to reflect on the previous year and consider my goals for the coming one. After a Christmas in the French Alps consuming vast amounts of French breads and pastries, as well as the cheesy Savoyard specialities, like Tartiflette, washed down with copious amounts of local red wine, I enjoy a more ascetic approach to food in January.

Like many people, my husband and I give up alcohol during January. The first week is always difficult, but after that, we start to enjoy the new sensation of alertness and increased energy. Along with our alcoholic abstinence, we usually to do some sort of detox , or dietary regime, to cleanse our systems and help shed the Christmas pounds we gained over the holidays.   January is a dark and miserable month, so what can you choose to perk up your meals yet still keep them healthy?  Generally I am a great believer in eating seasonal and local, but I feel that the dreariness of January can occasionally be lightened by the addition of exotic ingredients.  The fiery heat of the chilli, for example, can compensate well for a lack of fat in a dish, and in addition triggers the release of endorphins in the body which help boost your mood too.  Fresh ginger root is also perfect for this time of year.  It has been used therapeutically for centuries for nausea, and helps aid digestion, as well as imparting a unique spicy, warming flavour to food.

During the week we often make broths as they make such an easy and quick post-work supper. If you have the time (or inclination), you can make your own chicken or vegetable stock using a carcass left over from Sunday lunch perhaps, but if not, Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushroom stock make a great alternative.  We are currently having two weeks oil-free  (more about this in a later post), so the broth is made without oil, but naturally this dish would taste nicer, and be cooked a little diffently with the addition of some fat.

Mushrooms make a great food choice at this time of year.  Rich in Beta-Glucans (for more information see What Are The Benefits Of Beta Glucans? | LIVESTRONG.COM), a type of carbohydrate that help to enhance the immune system, mushroom have an umami or savoury taste that is very satisfying.  Good fresh choices include Shitake or Chestnut, and to intensify the flavour, we add dried mushrooms to this broth as well.  Supermarket own brands are perfect; we use Waitrose’s Cooks Ingredients Dried Mushrooms.  This broth doesn’t really need the addition of meat – the mushroom flavour itself is intense and satisfying, almost meaty – so feel free to leave out the chicken if you like.

One of my most exciting discoveries of the year (thanks to the lovely Miguel of Naturopatica) is Glucomannan Noodles.  I used Zero Noodles, which I buy from Holland and Barrett, and they taste pretty bland, but the texture is just right, and they pick up the flavour of the ingredients they are cooked with.  They are made from Glucomannan flour, which is produced from the root of the Konjac, a starchy Japanese plant.  These noodles are gluten free, fat free, sugar free and salt free.  They are very low in calories and more importantly, high in fibre, so help the digestive processes of the body.  I tend to use them with Asian flavoured foods as they are so similar in texture to Asian noodles, and they make the perfect final addition to this broth.

Recipe (serves 2):

  • 2 small, skinless chicken breasts, sliced diagonally
  • 150g Chestnut or Shitake mushrooms
  • handful of dried mushrooms
  • Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushrooms stock cubes (to make up 1 litre)
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger root (grated)
  • lemongrass (bruised)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (grated)
  • 1 dried chilli
  • 4 or 5 spears of asparagus (or broccoli)
  • 1 carrot, sliced finely diagonally
  • 2 or 3 spring onions, trimmed
  • glucomannan noodles (Miracle Noodle or Zero Noodles), prepared according to the instructions
  • black sesame seeds, torn coriander and lime wedges to serve
  • Sriracha chilli sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 180C
  2. Soak dried mushrooms in freshly-boiled water for about 20 minutes as per instructions.
  3. Roast mushrooms (Shitake or Chestnut are good)  on baking tray at 180º until shrivelled (approx 15 minutes).
  4. Make around one litre of stock and bring to the boil adding a ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilli.
  5. Split asparagus (or broccoli) in half and slice carrots into fine shards and reserve.
  6. Slice skinless chicken breasts diagonally.
  7. Add soaked Chinese mushrooms to stock.
  8. Add chicken to stock.
  9. After 2 minutes add carrots, asparagus, spring onions, roasted mushrooms and kelp noodles
  10. Stir and cook for further 3 minutes
  11. Test chicken to see if cooked through.
  12. Ladle into bowls and garnish with black sesame seeds, torn coriander and wedges of lime.
  13. If you like a good chilli kick, add a few shakes of Sriracha .