Cardiff

Carrot & spinach KuKu – A seasonal Frittata

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A recipe inspired by the way Iranians make their open omelette or frittata, known as Kuku. It uses March’s seasonal vegetable like carrots and spinach still abundant at Blaencamel farm and in their weekly organic vegetable boxes. This type of frittata uses a generous quantity of ingredients so don’t be surprised when you see how much vegetable goes in it – it is what sets it apart from other open omelettes.

You can find Blaencamel farm vegetables at both Farmers’ markets in Cardiff, Roath and Riverside, on Saturday and Sunday respectively, but also in Aberystwyth and their own farm shop. Order their boxes here.

Ingredients (4 portions)

  • 250g (3 medium) carrots, coarsely grated
  • 150g spinach, finely chopped
  • 15g (half a small bunch) parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 50g sundried tomatoes or mixed antipasti e.g. peppers and artichokes, finely chopped
  • 30g cashews, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. Goji berries (optional)
  • Fresh mandarin or orange juice
  • 100g (half a pack) feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • A generous pinch of smoked or regular sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1 generous pinch of saffron strands
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 generous pinches of salt
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • Olive oil 

Preparation (30 minutes)

  1. Add enough fresh mandarin or orange juice to cover the goji berries in a small bowl or mug. Infuse whilst prepping.
  2. Add a tablespoon (or two) of olive oil to a 20 to 25cm non-stick pan, and sauté the onion on low heat with a pinch of salt and the sugar until it caramelises (5-10 min).
  3. Pound the saffron in a bowl with a rolling pin, beat in the eggs and allow time for the saffron to infuse in them.
  4. Remove the onions from the pan, add another tablespoon of oil, add the carrots and cumin. Sauté until soft (5 min).
  5. Return the onions to the frying pan, add the goji berries, cashews, sundried tomatoes and antipasti. Mix well.
  6. Add the spinach and parsley little by little so that it slightly wilts. You don’t need to cook your spinach much or at all but you might choose to wilt it a bit of you are using a smaller pan.
  7. Add the flour, pinch of salt, baking powder, paprika and oregano to the eggs and beat until the flour is mixed well and to give the eggs some volume and softness.
  8. Mix into the pan gradually and carefully making sure the beaten egg goes to the bottom of the pan and mixes in well between the abundant ingredients to hold them together. The pan should remain on low heat all this time.
  9. Make sure that the ingredients are spread evenly on the pan and sprinkle the feta cheese on top.
  10. After firming up the frittata on the hob for a couple of minutes, you can cook the frittata in two ways: a) If your pan is heat resistant place it in a preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes at 180-200 degrees –cover with a lid or aluminium foil for half the time, or b) Cover the pan with a lid or plate. Continue cooking on the hob on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Then place under a preheated grill for a couple of minutes or until golden and risen.
  11. If using a 20cm pan it should be at least 5cm dip to make a cake like frittata that will rise.
  12. You can choose to omit or include ingredients on this list. It is also very easy to replace them. For example goji berries can be replaced with cranberries or even barberries if you prefer an authentic Iranian taste.

All you need is love … and chocolate coated, caramel almonds

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Happy St Dwynwen’s Day you lovely people! So proud that in Wales we have a lady patron of love.

Last week the amazing We Are Cardiff blog asked me to develop a recipe for them! And here it is together with the full blog. 

wearecardiff.co.uk/2017/01/23/all-you-need-is-a-love-inspired-recipe-for-saint-dwynwens-day/

Remember to find out more about Greek food join one of Lia’s Kitchen intimate cooking classes on 3 and 10 February. I will be introducing participants to Greek Kitchen basics but will also be sharing Greek flavours and recipes that are not yet widely known in the UK. You can book online here www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/lias-kitchen-7901836356. 
Or contact Lia for more information at lia@liaskitchen.com.

My Greek Kitchen

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I am staying in bed today after a terrible night of coughing and keeping the neighborhood up! Poor them…

Rosemary Baron is keeping me company with her book about Greece and its food. I love reading  others’ take on Greek food and this lady being an archaeologist is a very credible, unbiased source of information. She says, ‘the ancient Greeks regarded cooking as both an art and a science and throughput the ancient world Greek chefs were accorded the status and reputation that French chefs now enjoy. The principles and practice of fine cooking and gastronomy as we know it today were first established in the abundantly stocked and highly creative kitchens of Ancient Greece, and modern Greeks still enjoy the foods and tastes that inspired the chefs of antiquity’. 

Rosemary Baron goes on to talk about the height of the Minoan civilization and trade with North Africa, which helped create a small garden of Eden in Crete that influenced Hellenistic cooking. At the height of the Roman civilization Greek chefs and teachers were sought after and employed in the Roman homes and kitchens, and according to Baron it seems under their tutelage the amazing, distinct Italian cuisine developed. Then the Byzantine empire helped the influence of Greek cooking influence travel further. And then during the occupation of the Franks, Venetians, Ottomans eastern and other influences arrived, and tribes like the Vlachs brought spices like my beloved paprika. 

I am certain Greek chefs embraced new ingredients and influences from other cultures. The early Greek diet of olives, wheat, figs, grapes, wild greens, fish and a little meat was enriched with ingredients such as lemons, potatoes, aubergines, tomatoes, spinach, okra introduced by trade, but also war and occupation. 

The silver lining is that even dark times of occupation were still characterized by culinary and cultural diversity. In her book Baron clearly asserts that the hybridity between Greek, eastern and even Balkan cuisine was mostly nurtured during the more peaceful Byzantine times rather than the Ottoman Empire. But I am sure that the Ottomans have helped many dishes travel through Greek chefs to new parts of their Empire where other cultures also embraced and adapted them.

What fascinates me is Baron’s explanation that during Ottoman times Greeks, who were forbidden to speak their own language, were forced to use Turkish names for dishes such as the now famous moussaka, boureki, dolmades, losing the connection of the dishes to their origins. As children we were taught about secret Greek schools during the Ottoman occupation. They were the underground hubs of language that kept Greek alive but I didn’t know that Greek chefs also took refuge in monasteries for their safety and to safeguard centuries of culinary knowledge!!! Apparently there they wore tall white toques which distinguished them from the monks – the toque is now the chef hat and symbol throughout the world.

Food and its love travel well even at the worse of times. It is a beacon of hope and should connect rather than divide. What I know as traditional and modern Greek cuisine is a real testament to that, and it is a lot more diverse than just the delicious feta and tzatziki.

You can now join my 2017 cooking classes telling you the story of my Greek kitchen. Classes include an Introduction to Greek Kitchen Basics; The Greek Flavours no one is telling you about; The Art of Greek Pie; The Magical Art of spice mixing. 

You can book online here or email lia@liaskitchen.com.   

Watch Rick Stein’s programme about Thessaloniki, Greece and its food to find out more about my city of birth and what you might get during our courses: http://bbc.in/2gnRaMQ

Pumpkin stir fry and savoury pie – November Riverside Market Garden Box Recipes

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It is finally pumpkin and winter quash season! The sweetness of this fantastic vegetable is ideal for moreish, savoury dishes and their salty flavours, which is exactly what I have developed for you this month. The recipes at the end of this blog are inspired by the seasonal ingredients of the November’s Riverside Market Garden vegetable box, such as leeks, fresh onions, sweet and chili peppers, and squash. But also the flavours of sage, mushrooms – currently still popping up in the Welsh forests – and chestnuts, the season of which is beginning.  I really hope you enjoy the recipes, one of which is a quicker stir fry, for days when time is precious, whilst the other allows all you skilful foodies to explore making shortcrust pastry with pumpkin flesh instead of butter!

The trickiest part of cooking pumpkin or winter squash is peeling its tougher skin. Other than this the versatile vegetable cooks easily and quickly. Its flesh roasts in about half an hour (you can leave the skin on), it stir fries in around twenty minutes when diced and much quicker than that when grated. And finally it boils in about fifteen minutes.

The most obvious dish for pumpkin or squash, apart from pie, is soup. The easiest one you can make (and my favourite) does not even really need a recipe. Just roast a medium pumpkin, sliced with the skin, in a bit of olive oil, salt, thyme and 3-4 unpeeled cloves of garlic for half an hour in the oven. When baked place the flesh of the garlic and pumpkin in a pot, add at least 700ml of hot stock (say for 500g squash) and blend with a hand mixed or mash. Your soup is ready and you don’t even need to boil it!

Another idea if you don’t have much time is to scrub the skin of the pumpkin clean, cut it in half, scoop the seeds and stringy bits out with a spoon, drizzle it with olive oil and bake for forty minutes. When baked you can scoop out the flesh, mash it with a generous amount of grated cheese and herbs, and if you like some cooked lentils. Refill the pumpkin or squash halves and grill for another 10 minutes until golden!

I literally could go on forever about the numerous savoury bakes and sweet pies you can make with pumpkin but why not start by trying the two recipes below first. And if you need more inspiration come back to me. We are definitely not done with the squash season just yet.

Sunny autumn Cretan stir fry

pumpkin stir fry

Ingredients (4-6 portions)

  • 500g diced pumpkin or squash (up to)
  • 4 spring onions or 3 leeks or 1 dry onion
  • 2 peppers (red or green)
  • Half a garlic bulb
  • ½ chilli pepper finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp sundried tomato paste (optional)
  • 200g pre-cooked chestnuts
  • 100g pitted black olives
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 100g couscous
  • 1 cup white wine or vegetable stock
  • One small bunch of parsley (30 gr)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation (45 minutes)

  1. Peel and dice the pumpkin or squash in small cubes (2cm).
  2. Chop the spring onion (or leek/onion) and peppers.
  3. Stir fry in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the bay leaves and thyme with a pinch of salt for 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in the sundried tomato paste, pumpkin, chestnuts, olives, garlic with the skin on, a pinch of salt and some more olive oil.
  5. Stir fry, cover and cook for up to 30 minutes until the pumpkin is (no need to add water).
  6. Once the pumpkin is soft, add the wine or stock and bring to the boil.
  7. Remove from heat, add the couscous, cover and set aside for 5 minutes.
  8. Season to taste, sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Lia’s Tips:

  • If you don’t have access to chestnuts why not use 200g of mushrooms instead, dice and stir fry at the same time as the squash.
  • You can use plain tomato paste if you don’t have access to sundried tomato paste.
  • If the pumpkin is particularly tough you could add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it cook quicker

Savoury pumpkin and mushroom pie

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Ingredients (4-6 portions)

For the dough

  • 200g pumpkin (diced)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 eggs +1 egg yolk beaten

For the filling

  • 200g pumpkin (diced)
  • 50g dried mushrooms
  • 4 spring onions or 3 leeks or 1 dry onion
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 small bunch sage (leaves only)
  • 50g of butter
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 30g grated parmesan
  • 100g grated cheddar
  • 100ml double cream or Greek yoghurt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • Melted butter for the pastry
  • 1 tsp of the beaten egg for the glazing
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Some olive oil to cook the pumpkin

 Preparation (1.5hrs)

  1. Peel and dice the pumpkin or squash (all 400g for both the dough and the filling) in 2cm cubes.
  2. Bake or stir fry for 30 minutes or until soft after dressing in olive oil and adding a pinch of salt.
  3. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes to reconstitute. Alternatively use 300g fresh mushrooms stir fried in butter with a pinch of salt.
  4. Slice the spring onions and fry in half the butter (25g) with the bay leaves and thyme.
  5. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir fry until coated in the buttery glaze.
  6. Melt the rest of the butter in a separate frying pan and fry the sage leaves until crispy (set aside).
  7. Separate the pumpkin in half, add 200g to the mushroom filling and mash the rest.
  8. Add the cream, egg and parmesan to the cooled mushroom filling, remove the bay leaves and season to taste.
  9. Mix the mashed pumpkin, the beaten egg and yolk, a pinch of salt and the flour. Knead for five minutes into a shortcrust dough.
  10. Separate the dough into two equal balls.
  11. Roll out two dough sheets (3cm) on a lightly floured surface in the shape of your baking tray (20cm round).
  12. Line the baking tray with some melted butter and the one dough sheet.
  13. Sprinkle with the grated cheddar and the fried sage leaves.
  14. Add the filling and spread evenly.
  15. Add the second dough sheet, pressing the corners with your finger tips to bind the two dough sheets together and to create a nice finish for the rim of the pie.
  16. Brush with some melted butter and a teaspoon of beaten egg you have kept aside.
  17. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is golden.

Lia’s Tips:

  • If you don’t have some of the ingredients feel free to improvise. For example, use yoghurt if you don’t have cream, an extra pinch of salt if you don’t have parmesan which you can replace with other cheese.
  • If the dough is too crumbly to roll you can press it down flat with your fingers. And you can crumble the top sheet for a savoury crumble dish. If you do this add some crushed nuts or seeds.
  • This pie is delicious with gluten free flour too.

And that is that …

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This morning I thought I had missed call from someone I have worked during the last two very intense years of my water related job (which takes up most of my time during the week). He has accepted a job in a faraway warm rich place and I had sent him a farewell card. I called him back to wish him well, thinking it was his last day at work. At this stage of our testing professional relationship, having been through intense challenges, trials and tribulations, we could just be human, and focus on the person immigrating to a different country, leaving their home behind, regardless of whether this is done happily or sadly. So it was to my surprise that at the end of the conversation he chose to say something awkward. It aimed to question the role of the hard working organisation I spend almost all of my working week at to protect the interests of the public in a private UK water industry. Still I obliged him. It was not personal, he’s a good guy, it was probably his way of joking and he was making small talk whilst I was calling to wish him good luck from the bottom of my heart.

Straight after that I went to Oasis, a refugee charity in Cardiff, where hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, migrants or immigrants, receive support and food every week. I found myself in the kitchen with women from Ghana, India, Uganda, Zambia, Albania whilst they were cooking a meal for ninety odd people who will have lunch at Oasis today. I met them for the first time. They all probably have interesting stories, perhaps some of these stories are harrowing. Some of them have their children at their home country whilst they work here. Still they opened their mind and their arms to me as soon as I walked in. You know that sense of that we are all in it together? That’s what I felt.

This morning I felt relieved as I was putting the phone down, being thankful for the bad signal that interrupted the awkward final bit of my discussion with a newly appointed ex-pat . And as I was leaving Oasis I felt grateful to Reynette and the women in the Oasis kitchen for opening their door to me, to cook, to share & record their recipes and listen to their experiences. As a human.

I think I know for good which conversation I’d rather be in.

Savoury cornmeal cake

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This is a recipe I have been playing with for years and I finalised it recently whilst delivering the Love Food Hate Waste campaign in Roath. I was looking for recipes in my notebook that can help people use their leftovers and what they have in the fridge/freezer. The savoury cake was one our roadshow freebies and was sampled at our last Love Food Haste Waste event on 10 Mach at Cardiff Students’ Union in return for pledges to take action to reduce waste.

It is a delicious recipe that can be adapted to help you use greens and smaller quantities of leftover vegetable. The batter can remain the same and you can be as creative and daring as you like with what flavours you create. You end up with an amazing tasty snack on its own or with some relish or chutney on top and a (gluten-free) substitute to bread which is fantastic with soups or a tin of baked beans.

Cornmeal is a basic ingredient for one of my favourite Greek breads called Bobota. Grated pumpkin and marrow with cornmeal and feta cheese has always been one of my most favourite bakes that my southern Greek Granma Vasiliki used to make for us. And five years ago the lovely Zoe English, of Bird to Market, handed over Nenneh Cherry’s cornbread recipe to me after my excited squeals on tasting it for the first time in my life. So this savoury cake recipe is born from all these influences and is fast becoming one my favourite things to make this spring. I have adapted it to be gluten free – through the use of gluten free plain flour. And with courgette and tomato season approaching and rainbow chard already on the tables at our Farmers’ markets I am very excited for the many versions of the savoury cakes you could be imagining. Enjoy!

 Ingredients (1 Bundt or other round 23-25cm baking tin)

  • 350g Plain flour, preferably gluten free mix
  • 250g Cornmeal (coarse or medium)
  • 4 tsp Baking powder
  • 80g Sugar (caster)
  • 100g Butter melted
  • 2 Eggs
  • 450-480ml Milk
  • 1-2 pinches of salt
  • Some extra butter and flour for lining the baking tin
  • 1 Small bunch fresh basil or other mixed or frozen herbs, including stems (around 30g)
  • 225g Cherry or mini plum tomatoes (up to 300g)
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 medium or 1 large courgette diced OR
  • 1 aubergine diced
  • 1 Medium courgette coarsely grated
  • 150g grated cheese, parmesan and cheddar mixed (or whatever you have available)
  • salt & paper to season

Olive oil for the frying

Preparation (1hr and 15 minutes)

  1. Prepare your vegetable mixture first to allow enough time to cool.
  2. Fry the sliced onion with a pinch of salt, cover and let to nearly caramelise whilst you prepare the rest.
  3. Dice the courgettes or aubergine and halve the cherry or plum tomatoes.
  4. Add the courgette or aubergine with another pinch of salt and fry for 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and basil, stir and cover until all ingredients soften- for around 5 minutes.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat to cool down.
  7. Grate the last courgette and the cheese.
  8. Mix the flour, cornmeal and baking powder.
  9. Add the rest of the dough ingredients and mix well so that there are no lumps.
  10. Add your fried ingredients, raw courgette and cheese.
  11. Pour into a lined baking tin and bake on 180 Celsius for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Lia’s Tips:

  • The batter should be moist but not too runny. You can add 450ml of the milk first and see if you need to add more after you add the tomatoes and vegetable.
  • You can use spinach and other greens such as Kale. Feel free to experiment with various herbs ad ingredients. Use what you have in the fridge and for inspiration on flavours look up focaccia recipes.
  • This is a great recipe for using those herbs that you have in the freezer or the ones that are about to go off in the fridge!
  • For a bread tin and smaller quantity of the cake halve the recipe ingredient.
  • The cake rises quite a lot and it keeps well in the fridge for about a week.

Practice what I preach…

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In the past couple of months I have worked with Green City Events and Cynefin Cardiff to deliver two cooking workshops and a roadshow to help the kind people of Roath to find ways to reduce their food waste.  We have done this in  the process of delivering the Love Food Hate Waste Campaign [1] in Cardiff supported by Wrap Cymru.

The week after our last cooking workshop on 21 February I decided to practice what I preach and took my own personal Love Food Hate Waste challenge. I pledged to shop very little food (apart from fresh essentials) and to eat what is already in my cupboards and freezer for the most part of the week.

The challenge was a great creative success and I saved around £30 as I only bought small quantities of milk, some cheese and some salad to complement the meals we made.

The meal I was most proud of that week was a Mexican spice inspired vegetable dish made from frozen cauliflower, quorn mince and spinach (all commonly kept in my freezer), the leftover greens that we did not use at the cooking workshop on 21 February, the final two spoons of yoghurt, a tin of black beans from my essentials’ pantry and the last cup of couscous from that bag that we have not eaten for ages. Not only did that dish give us dinner and lunch the next day, I actually froze a couple of portions in anticipation of the busy week that followed.

During my challenge I looked carefully through my cupboards and my freezer. For example, I thawed just over half a kilo of meatball mix that was leftover from one of our supper clubs and made a linguini ragú with which gave us a couple of meals for two and another frozen meal.

At the Love Food Hate Waste workshops we aimed to empower people to make personal and household changes to their food consumption and wastage. Lots of people seemed worried about getting a recipe right or that they couldn’t cook with random ingredients. So hopefully through making different mixed vegetable Ribollita soups with various herbs and whatever vegetable was available to us at the same workshop we empowered participants to be creative and daring in adapting recipes to what they have or can afford. Experimenting is the way!

I would definitely recommend Eat-What-You-Have weeks like mine as they will help you sort through your cupboards and freezer. Making shopping lists or using the online Love Food Hate Waste App on your smart phone can help you loads with shopping and meal planning. And if you fancy being inspired by seasonal ingredients or what is on offer, why not browse www.lovefoodhatewaste.com for ideas.

One of the most useful tips I could give you to save food and money is to be aware of what you already store in our cupboards before heading back to the shops. Also storing food correctly, e.g. labelling it, using airtight containers or keeping your fridge temperature low will make you yield more meals from what you buy. Using your freezer more and keeping it tidy is another step to help you achieve this by prepping food in advance, storing the right amount of frozen basics or storing extra portions from meals.

The whole process of this project has made me think long and hard about food waste and food poverty. According to the Trussell Trust the number of people using food banks has almost tripled since last year. And whilst this is because of the increase in the number of food banks set up, a noteworthy effort to help an increasing number of people in need, I cannot reconcile this fact with the amount of food still being wasted in the UK. It is estimated that we still throw away 7 million tons of food and drink a year. This is food is costing all of us £12.5bn each year.

Today I was reading about France’s Good Samaritans law which protects those helping someone in need or peril from being sued or accused if something goes wrong. It is important to protect public health and to minimise risk for people in the food sector. But I wonder, would the introduction of a ‘good Samaritan’ legal principle in the UK encourage all of us personally as well as larger corporations or small (food) businesses to do more to address food poverty or to donate food that we would have otherwise wasted?

Our next and last Love Food Hate Waste Roadshow is on 10 March at Cardiff University Students’ Union.

[1] Love Food Hate Waste is a campaign that has been running since 2007 and run by WRAP, a well-established not-for profit company that is responsible for a lot of good work in on resource efficiency and waste reduction across the UK.