The lighter Aubergine bake

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This recipe is dedicated to Denise, an extraordinary lady, working at the PDSA in Cardiff.

If you are looking for a simple and light recipe that satisfies your winter cravings in a guilt free manner, I think you are at the right blog.

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Our household is on a health buzz this January, probably like you are, and we feel a lot better for it. The recipe below is the lighter alternative to aubergines recipes like Melanzane al Parmigiano or Moussaka and it is a lot quicker to prepare too.

Many people mistake me for a vegetarian! This is because I don’t normally eat meat more than once a week or every week: there are just too many food groups to choose from! I grew up eating red meat once a week and our family fasted/detoxed a few times a year for 2-3 weeks, gradually giving up different food groups: staring from meat, chicken, fish; moving to dairy; then giving up seafood and sometimes even giving up oils, fats and spices.

It is fascinating that various cultures and denominations incorporate at least one period of cleansing and self discipline in their calendar year. Whatever your way of going through such a process may be, most of you who have will agree that it is worth it.

And why not go a step further this year: why not commit to eating good healthy food all the time? Why not eat less and better sourced meat for ethical, environmental and health reasons? Why not eat less but buy better quality ingredients? And then we can talk about our energy levels and fitness: you might even shed a couple of kilos or more, and maintain that loss in the long term.

The Part-time carnivore campaign, which offers you some options for reducing your meat intake as well as an online quiz that might help you figure our the best option for you is at the moment.

Thanks to Dan Green for the fantastic photos, as ever! And for teaching me technicalities and how to select images!

Aubergine bake recipe, feeds 4-6
Ingredients for a 25cm x35cm baking tray

For the first layer

3-4 large meaty aubergines
Salt
Olive oil

For the second layer
1 ½ portions of basic tomato sauce, with parsley. Click on link for recipe.

For the third layer
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, one red and one green
1 tin of pre-cooked puy lentils
6-8 chestnut or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
A couple tbspns chopped parsley
A handful of ground pimento berries
Salt
Olive oil

For the third layer
300gr grated cheddar or parmesan cheese OR a mixture of the two

Preparation

  1. Prepare and start cooking your basic tomato sauce. I suggest you use parsley for this recipe. 25min
  2. Start by cutting off the stem and ‘nose’ of your aubergine. Slice thickly: 2-3cm slices. Each aubergine should give you at least 3 slices. 2-5min.
  3. Salt the aubergines and let rest in a large bowl for 20min whilst your tomato sauce is cooking. This process removes excess water from the aubergine and makes the grilling faster. You can skip this step as your aubergines will grill anyway. 20min, optional
  4. Coat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil and grill the slices in high heat, pressing down firmly with the spatula to quicken the cooking process (removes excess water). For each grill batch you can coat the pan with some olive oil. 15min.
  5. Layer your baking tray with the cooked aubergine slices, snugly and leaving no gaps.
  6. Prepare layer 3: sauté the onion, pepper and mushroom is a tiny bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes. Season with some salt. Drain and add the precooked puy lentils. Grind a small handful of pimento berries in a pestle and mortar and add to your mixture. Once all juices are absorbed, a coupe of minutes after adding the lentils, remove from heat. Season to taste, if needed. You can prepare this layer as you are grilling your aubergines. 15min
  7. Preheat your grill! 10min.
  8. Add Layer 2, the tomato sauce, which should be cooked by now, evenly to your baking tray on top of the aubergines. Seconds.
  9. Add Layer 3 evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Seconds.
  10. Grate your cheeses to finish off. Seconds.
  11. Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden. 15min.
  12. Cool down for 10-15 minutes and enjoy! 15min.
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Two cabbage roll recipes

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The two recipes for cabbage rolls (lachanontolmades or sarmades) adjusted from the Greek edition Christmas issue of Olive magazine

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For our New Year’s Eve dinner we had a varied spread including a spinach Quiche, the recipe for which I gave you two weeks ago, a butternut squash pie made by Elpida, vegetatian lasagne made by Valentina Brioschi and finally cabbage rolls, lachanontolmades or sarmades.

Cabbage rolls are an ideal party dish but you can also prepare it as a main course. I think it is an fantastic dinner dish for the post-Christmas healthy eating time when all of us are looking for light but tasty treats. It is possible to diet with flavoursome and light dishes, no need to torture yourself.

I got the idea to cook these very different cabbage rolls recipes from the Christmas Greek edition of Olive magazine. The recipes were provided by Simona Kafiri and Georgia Kofina. I adapted the simplified version of the traditional Greek cabbage rolls to my liking, and a tested a new spicier version with a red sauce that uses diced pork instead of minced meat. Both are fantastic. I also discovered that you can use iceberg lettuce to make a lighter but extremely tasty version of the dish. So here is my innovation!

The recipes below can feed 6 people and take nearly 2 hours to prepare and cook.

Thanks to Dan Green for photos.

Two cabbage roll recipes: one traditional and one spicy

Preparation of cabbage, the basic ingredient, 30min

1 large or two medium white cabbages
1 iceberg lettuce

This is the first step of your preparation. But you can also start with the preparation of the spicy filling as it needs to simmer and cool down before the cabbage leaves are stuffed.

It is impossible to fill and roll cabbage without blanching or slightly boiling it. Remove outer cabbage leaves that might be scarred but keep for layering the base of your pots before cooking.

Cut around the base of the cabbage with a sharp knife and remove the stem of the cabbage(s).

Place the cabbage in a large deep pot with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and cool down before peeling the leaves and preparing them for filling and rolling.

As I started to peel the leaves I realised that I did not have enough cabbage for all my filling. I was pushed for time so I decided to experiment with iceberg lettuce as an alternative. Iceberg lettuce leaves are quite firm compared to other lettuce varieties, so I peeled and dipped them in the hot, but no longer boiling water, for 30seconds to a minute to soften. Iceberg lettuce rolls are absolutely amazing and surprisingly worked really well, particularly with the traditional recipe.

For the new spicy filling of Georgia Kofina, 20 min:

300 gr pork fillet or chops, finely diced
¼ cup rice (either Carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ large onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove
2 Tbspns finely chopped parsley
1/6 cup olive oil or about 4 Tbspns
1 cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock)
¼ glass white wine
½ tspn paprika and cayenne pepper

Sautee the onion in the olive and then add the garlic.

Once translucent add the white wine and then add the meat, rice, parsley, paprika and cayenne pepper, and finally, add the stock and season.

Cover and simmer at very low heat until the rice absorbs all liquid.

Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool down before the rolling begins.

For the sauce of the spicy version of Georgia Kofina, 5 min:

3 celery sticks thickly diced
1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced
200 gr finely diced ripe tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Prepare all your ingredients for the sauce. You don’t need to do anything else at this stage as all ingredients are added to the cooking pot after you laid your rolls.

For the traditional filling adapted from Simona Kafiri’s recipe:

175 gr minced pork
150 gr minced beef
1 large onion, grated
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ green pepper finely diced
¼ cup grated ripe tomatoes (1 or 2 tomatoes)
1 ½ flat tsbns salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice (either carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ tspn ground cloves
½ tspn ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with your hands and set aside for filling.

Filling, rolling and cooking, 1.5 hrs:

2 separate pots, 25cm circumference or at least 20cm

The red sauce ingredients you have prepped for the new and spicy version.

2 Tbspn olive oil or butter (for the traditional recipe)
1 ½ cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock) (for the traditional recipe)

Add a little bit of olive oil at the bottom of each pot. If you have kept the outer leaves of the cabbage layer the pot with these/ Remove the thick end (vein) of each cabbage leaf by making an (upside down) V shaped incision. This way you will be able to roll the leaf more easily.

Add enough filling in the middle and roll the cabbage leaf, by folding its outer sides in and then rolling so that you can have the top of the leaf facing your cooking surface. You should then place the roll in the pot, with the top of the leaf facing the bottom of the pan, this way your rolls will not unfold and open whilst cooking. It is a lot easier to roll with the iceberg lettuce leaves.

Use all cabbage leafs and layer the rolls in the pot close and tight to each other. I made to layers of rolls in each pot. If you are using iceberg lettuce roll too, you can place those on the second layer as they will cook faster.

For the new spicy version, spread the celery and carrots over the rolls, evenly pour the tomato and olive oil and add some salt and pepper. I had to add some more stock to the pot, just a couple of tablespoon. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

For the traditional recipe, add the olive oil and stock in the pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hr. Don’t throw away the liquid.

Once the rolls are cooked, set aside for cooling and serve on long platters garnished with the sauces you have prepare.

For the traditional recipe sauce, Avgolemono, 10 minutes:

1 Tbspn Corn flour
1 Tbspn butter
¼ cup lemon juice
1 egg yolk
Some paprika (optional)

You might prefer to have the traditional cabbage rolls as they are. But this avgolemono, lemon and egg, traditional sauce is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Simona’s recipe of avgolemono is simple and delicious: I had never made it before but it was very easy to deliver.

Remember the sauce preparation must happen really quickly so have all your ingredients within easy reach. There should be about a cup of juices left in your pot from cooking and you will need all of it for your sauce.

Melt the butter in a small pot and mix in the flour well so that you have no lumps.

Then remove from the heat and mix in your egg yolk swiftly. Aim for a creamy mixture.

Immediately stir in the warm juices from the pot, little by little, constantly stirring on very low heat. Keep mixing until your sauce has thickened to the consistency of double cream.

Pour over your traditional cabbage rolls and enjoy!

Roll on 2012

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Choosing photos taken by Tom Beardshaw and Dan Green on New Year s  Eve party  to share with you has proven a lot more difficult than I thought! I spent most of my Sunday afternoon selecting images, deleting them by mistake (oops!), trying to recover them, and remember what I need to do to reduce photos in size…arghh!!!

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Perseverence has paid off but I am exhausted. So the two cabbage roll recipes that I also wanted to share are not typed up yet and will be with you early in the week. Photography  is no simple task for my mind.  Mr Green I am in awe of you- I don’t know how you do it! I takes me ages to even put a slide show together online.

This slide show captures a few moments of our wonderful evening on New Year s Eve. I love Tom s photos and have deliberately chosen some blurry images because … well this is how I remember some of the night! Love to all particularly my lovely guests and stars of our night x

PS-Thanks to Tom Bearshaw who picked up the camera and document much of the night. And thank to my lovely Dan Green for teaching my some editing basics and providing some food snaps. 

PPS-apostrophes and other symbols are not working on this laptop at the moment…this might explain the chosen syntax of this blog entry.

Food trivia ♯1: Introducing Dondurma or Kaïmaiki (Nτουντουρμας or Kαïμακι)

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Doundourmas or Kaïmaiki is something I never thought I’d hear discussed on British TV but QI Christmas show offered its guests dondurma ice cream asking them to identify the ingredient that gave it its unique flavour.

Doundourmas is a favourite ice cream flavour in Saloniki, Northern Greece, where I am from and originates in Turkey. There are many sweet shops in Thessaloniki that offer it freshly made. I adore its creaminess.

This ice cream is a marriage of flavours of the East, a clear example of the hybridity of our cultures. It is flavoured with salepi (σαλέπι), wild orchid flour, and mastic (Μαστίχα), resin of gum tree.

Mastic is simply a magical ingredient, the gift of gum trees. When I was growing up we mainly had natural chewing gums made from mastic. As an ingredient it is used to prepare many cakes and sweets in Greece, such us Loukoumia or tsoureki (a Greek Brioche cake).  There are some beautiful liqueurs made in Greece with mastic, a recent favourite of mine is one also using cinnamon.

Salepi is an ingredient that is also used for a hot winter drink still offered by street vendors in Saloniki, and as I remember when I last visited the place, also in Istanbul.  It is thirst quenching and warms you up quickly in the depth of winter.

The funny thing of course is that Salepi, as I found out just this Christmas, actually means ‘fox testicles’ in Turkish, as orchis in Greek actually means testicles. So the Turkish very cleverly adapted the name of the orchid used to make this flour.

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Happy New Year

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With a recipe for a colourful, festive Quiche.

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I am sitting here dunking a piece of Terkenlis caramel brioche cake (Tsoureki) in a mug of warm coffee and looking at the photos of yesterday’s New Year Eve dinner party.  I want to keep them all. They capture our fantastic spread of dishes and the laughs, hugs and dance of all of those who shared the last hours of 2011 and the first moments of 2012 with us. My kitchen is still filled with leftovers from last night patiently awaiting the return of some of our guests for a New Year Day film night.

To my left there is a plate with the remains of a spinach quiche portion that I munched on for brunch. It is so delicious and as I recenty photographed the stages of Quiche making I thought I should share the recipe with you today.

I love New Year’s Day and its sweet, indulgent fatigue from the celebrations of the night before. For its freshness and glimpse of endless possibilities in the coming year. A big thank you to all our loved friends for offering us such warmth and joy yesterday. And a Happy New Year to all of you! Xxx

A recipe for a spinach quiche
It is easy to make quiche from scratch. I think quiche is a diverse and impressive dish, ideal for dinner parties and light lunches.

On New Year’s Eve, I experimented with wheat free organic flour to make a crunchy pastry. This was a lighter alternative to the traditional Pâte Brisée pastry using buttery margarine (mixed with buttermilk) instead of butter. If you don’t want to make the pastry you can put a quiche together in no time using ready-made short crust pastry from your local shop.  If you want to make everything yourself you need approximately 1.5hrs.

For a wheat free short crust pastry prepared New Year’s Eve 2011
(from Doves Farm Organic)
300g gluten and wheat free plain white lour blend
150r margarine flavoured with Buttermilk (or plain margerine or butter)
6tbsp water
2 pinches of salt

Mix the margarine with the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and knead the pastry lightly in a ball of pastry. Wrap the pastry in a cling film and leave to rest for 30 min.  

For a Pâte Brisée pastry (from the SilverSpoon cook ‘bible’)
250g Plain flour, plus extra for dusting
175g butter, softened and diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 pinches of salt

Mix the sifted flour and salt with the butter. Rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Shape into a mound and make a well in the centre. Add the egg and knead lightly with your hands. Wrap the pastry with cling film, flatten with a rolling pin and leave in the refrigerator for 30 min.

The dark colour of pastry in the images used for this blog is because I used Einkorn wholemeal plain flour in a previous occasion. Whilst this is tasty and very filling version of Pâte Brisée you might find it a lot heavier to digest than the white plain flour version.

For a colourful quiche filling
300gr Spinach or red chard
1 red pepper (either bell or sweet red pepper)
1 bunch of spring onions or a leek
4-5 mushrooms chopped (optional) or some chopped Kalamon olives optional
150-200g feta cheese
50g Cheddar or Parmesan cheese
Salt, pepper to season
2 pinches of nutmeg

250ml double cream
4 beaten eggs
Pinch of salt

The preparation
Pick your pastry: ready made or one of the above recipes. Roll out on a floured surface or simply place into the baking dish with your fingers-this might be easier for the wheat free flour pastry, which is more crumbly. For this amount of pastry you need a 28cm (diameter) tart or quiche baking tray.

Blind bake the pastry for 15-20 minutes in a very hot preheated oven.  To blind bake: lay some baking parchment on top of your pastry and fill tightly with baking beans. My baking beans are a large bag of tarka daal, which I keep in a large jar after blind baking and reuse.

Whilst the pastry is sitting or even whilst you are blind baking it, prepare your filling.

Fry the sliced spring onions or leek in a little bit of olive oil and add a pinch of salt. After a couple of minutes, add a sliced red pepper, and follow with the chopped mushrooms (if you are using). Add the roughly chopped spinach or red chard and sauté until it wilts. Sautéing all ingredients should take approximate 10 minutes. If you are using olives now is the time to add them. Add the nutmeg. When the mixture has cooled down crumble the feta cheese in and add the grated cheddar or parmesan cheese.

Mix the cream with the 4 beaten eggs. Add some freshly grated pepper.

Once your pastry is prebaked remove the baking beans and baking paper, and lay the spinach or chard filling evenly on the base. Pour the cream and egg mixture. Bake in 180 degrees Celsius , gas mark 4, for 40minutes.

Once baked cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the baking tray and slicing.

Celebration is the gift

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Recipes for Goose and chestnut stuffing, Ham cooked with fennel, cumin and orange root mash and smoked paprika brussel sprouts for a special festive dinner for 10.  

By now many of you will have travelled near or far to be with loved ones. You might be opening the doors of your home to loved guests as I write this. You might even be in full gear for the preparations of your festive dinners. I am one of these fortunate people who because of the geography of my heart I find myself in celebration at regular intervals at my various homes.

The day of ‘our Lia’ or Lia mas[1] my own very special Cardiff celebration this winter at the start of early festive season. It was named so by loved ones when we organised a festive dinner on 10 December-my Christmas is being spent with family in Greece.

As I write this on a Christmas Eve, I can’t help but think that there has been much change this year. The world has growing pains and our transition is reflected in the hearts and minds of many. It’s scary, exciting, disappointing and exhilarating at the same time: the great unknown. Do you feel it?

Companionship, love and friendship help through any transition and to make sense of it all. And to celebrate and be celebrated is the best gift of all.

My early festive dinner was my gift: it filled our bellies with good food and our heart with warmth. I think this is the true meaning of nurturing.

I hope you all have a nurturing and warm Christmas close to those you care about and with no troubles.  Love to you and your loved ones….

Our ‘Lia mas’ festive dinner consisted of roast goose with chestnut stuffing, fennel ham, roast potatoes, cumin and orange root mash, smoked paprika Brussels sprouts and a special ‘drunken’ trifle contributed by a very generous Ms Sarvani who had probably used a whole bottle of limoncello to soak the sponge fingers.

For the recipes and preparation of our festive dinner please follow this link.


[1] Lia mas literally translates to our Lia in Greek.

Soup of ‘pearl’ with pear relish

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Cauliflowers are in season in Britain from September till May and can be found in abundance at greengrocers and farmers markets in the winter months. It is an ideal vegetable to be creative with: from experimenting with variances of the infamous cauliflower cheese dish to imaginative salad and soup recipes.

We have prepared the soup of pearl a couple of times in our home this autumn and winter. This soup is an ideal winter dish for the week before Christmas if you want to keep your meals light but satisfying. Or it might be the perfect accompaniment for your turkey leftovers in the coming weeks.

This Lia’s kitchen recipe was inspired by two recipes from Skye Gyngell and Delia Smith  found in Soup Kitchen, a soup recipe book edited by Thomasina Miers and Annabel Buckingham. The recipes are inspired by the combination of cauliflower and blue cheese that give the soup an iridescent white pearl tint and its characteristic flavour.

My favourite cheese for the soup is Pearl Las (from Caws Cenarth Cheese Company), an unexpectedly different Welsh cheese: a blue Caerphilly cheese. You can use Dolcelatte or Roquefort  instead of Pearl Las: these are the cheeses used in the original recipes that inspired this meal.

The bread of preference for this soup is homemade and wholemeal Irish soda bread. Once the bread is in the oven the preparation of your soup should not take much longer than its baking and cooling down time (approx. 45 min). Your meal should be ready in an hour and could feed 4 people as a main (including seconds).

Recipes and preparation

For the Irish Soda Bread I have used and adapted a BBC Food recipe from James Martin:
170gr self raising wholemeal flour
170gr Einkorn or other plain flour
½ tsp salt
1/1 tsp bicarbonate soda
290ml buttermilk

This is the easiest and quickest bread to make. I use plain Einkorn and self raising wheat flours, both organic and wholemeal. Don’t worry if you don’t have buttermilk: you can make it yourself by adding the juice of one lemon in 250ml or more of milk. If your milk does not seem to thicken just add a bit more lemon juice. Mix all ingredients together and knead briefly in a lightly flowered area. I make one round bread and cut a cross in the middle. Before baking I sprinkle the top and bottom of the loaf with more Einkorn wholemeal flour. The bread bakes in 30 minutes 200 degrees Celsius.  Serve warm with butter.

One of my favourite butters to have with warm or toasted bread is Calonwen Organic slightly salted butter, made in Wales by a dairy cooperative of 20 organic farmers.

For the soup of pearl for 4-6 people:

2 medium to large cauliflowers
25 gr of butter (plus a tbspn at the end)
Fresh Thyme (dry will do if you don’t have any)
4 heaped tbspns of crème fraiche or more
3 bays leaves
1 large leek
1 onion
1 Celery stick (optional)
1-2 medium potatoes peeled and cubed
250gr or more of Pearl Las Cheese or Dolcelatte
Some ground nutmeg (optional)
At least 3 litres of stock
A large pot that can fit 2.5 litres of water and soul (makes about 5 litres of soup)

Sauté the leek, onions and bay leaves in your pot in low heat for 10 minutes. Season with some salt and pepper. Add celery and some of the thyme and continue for a couple of minutes. Then add the cubed potato or potatoes, the florets of cauliflower and the green stalks. Waste none of the cauliflower, the green leaves of the vegetable add to the taste and make a fantastic stock. After sautéing for another couple of minutes fill the pot with 3 litres of boiling water or stock. You can use chicken or vegetable stock. I prefer using organic and yeast free bouillon stock. Simmer the cauliflower for 20-30 minutes or until all ingredients are tender. Take the soup of the hob and add the crème fraiche, half the cheese or more, season with some more salt and pepper and nutmeg if you would like. Cream the soup with a handheld food processor or blender in the pot. Adjust seasoning to your taste. I usually end up putting more crème fraiche and some more cheese.

 For the pear relish

3 conference pears
1 apple
1 tbsp or more sugar
A bit of butter (25gr)
Some red wine
Some cider or red wine vinegar (75 ml)
Fresh lemon thyme or dry thyme
Salt

Whilst the soup is cooking: Peel, core and chop the pears and apple and place in preheated pot with the melted butter. Add some thyme. Soften the fruit on the heat for 5 minutes add the sugar followed by the wine, and vinegar after a couple of minutes. Simmer at very low heat for 10 minutes or until the fruit is soft and there is enough thicken relish juice for the soup.

This relish makes the soup very special as its sweet and sour flavour nicely contrasts the creamy and savoury soup. I would advise you make double the relish if you have guests. You will notice that people keep reaching out for it.

Enjoy!