Monday 19 December 2011

Good for Chest-nuts

Chestnut tree

Chestnuts are definitely the sign that Christmas is here! I thoroughly enjoy the smell of them being roasted by the street vendors in town, and then eating them from a paper cone.

Chestnuts have a sweet flavour and they are delicious boiled, roasted, sautéed, added to soups and casseroles, used in baking, as flour etc. For thousands of years chestnuts have been a staple food in the Mediterranean area. Ancient Greeks and Romans attributed  several medicinal properties to chestnuts, like protection against dysentery, poisons and even against the bite of a mad dog.

Before I break for the holiday season, I’m posting a recipe of chestnut soup with porcini mushrooms, which gives it a lovely earthy taste. I made a slightly adaptation on Alain Ducasse’s recipe. As the master says, this should be a simple way of cooking these lovely nuts.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy celebration around a table.

Let indulgence begin!

                 Fresh chestnuts in their shells      picture by John Wright
Cooked chestnuts
The rest of the ingredients
Dice the mushrooms
Sautee chestnuts with celery and shallots
My chestnut soup!

Chetsnut soup (a la Alain Ducasse)
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course

This is a lovely dish to start a Christmas dinner. It’s packed with healthy nutrients.

4 slices of organic unsmoked bacon
1 shallot, chopped 
1 celery stick, chopped 
1 garlic clove, chopped 
600g organic peeled chestnuts, fresh boiled, defrosted or vac-packed
1 bay leaf
5 whole peppercorns
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock, or water 
40g dried porcini or 80g fresh ones

Preheat the oven to 120C. Lay the slices of bacon in a heated flameproof casserole dish. Colour well both sides. Take them out and keep them hot. Add the shallots, celery, and garlic to the bacon fat. Stir for 2 min. Add all the chestnuts to the casserole dish, Sweat for 3 min, stirring. Take out about 10 of the chestnuts and set aside. Add the bay leaf and the peppercorns, followed by the stock or water. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, chop the mushrooms into small dices (if using dried ones, soak them first, then slice when soft).

When the chestnut casserole is done, take the bay leaf out and blend the soup thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Keep hot. Cut 2 reserved slices of bacon onto lardons and cut the 10 reserved chestnuts into quarters. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sautée pan and brown the chestnuts for 2 minutes. Add the diced mushrooms. Salt lightly and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sliced bacon, stir and adjust the seasoning. Put this garnish in the middle of each soup plate. Pour the hot soup around it. Sprinkle with mushroom flakes and serve hot.

The main ingredient and its healthy benefits

Chestnuts (Castanea sativa): Studies have shown that chestnuts can aid in the treatment of convulsive cough (whooping cough) and in any other condition of the upper respiratory system. They are the only nuts that contain vitamin C (100g of chestnuts provide 45% of its recommended daily dosage) and are low in fat.  
Chestnuts are a great source of protein, which makes them a good body building food.
A chestnut congee is particularly useful as a tonic for the kidneys. It also strengthens the knees and loin, and helps those who suffer from haemorrhoids.
Chestnuts support the care of the teeth and gum, especially advanced gingivitis (pyorrhea). The nuts are alkaline, which make them a good choice of food to help neutralize excess acid in the blood, facilitating their elimination in the urine.
As they are low in sodium and high in potassium, they are recommended for people who suffer from high blood pressure. 

Caution: Chestnuts contain 52% of water, which makes them quite susceptible to mould and bacterial growth. Make sure you keep them covered and refrigerated.

Till January!

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Aubergines to save the day

Last week was very rushed. Nina’s been having loads of Christmas activities and I had a lot of chores to get done before I went away for the weekend. So, all this is to say that I didn't quite have the time I wished I had to experiment with a dish I had in mind for leftover roasted whole aubergine. I need to come up with something easy and quick. Inspired by Dennis Cotter (my favourite vegetarian chef), I made a pasta that is one of my favourites and I now share with you. Handy for the frantic pre-Xmas weeks.
Cut the aubergine in strips
The ingredients. My chili is literally chilled, I keep a handful
 in the freezer. I picked it in Summer from my garden
It might not look super appetizing but it tastes delicious.
I promise!

Aubergine, date, honey and feta cheese pasta

This is a lovely dish with a good source of dietary fiber.  


Cut the aubergines in small strips and fry them in olive oil with red onions for a minute. Add 1 chopped garlic clove, ¼ tsp of cumin powder and 1 small fresh chili (deseeded). Continue frying them until the aubergines are browned. Now add now about 2 Tablespoons of slivered almonds.
Put a pan of water to a boil. Cook about 200g of pasta,following packet instructions.
When the pasta is done, add it to the pan of vegetables. Add 4 dried dates, 1 dessertspoon of raw honey or maple syrup, salt and black pepper. Serve in bowls with crumbled feta cheese, olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice on the top.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Aubergine or Eggplant 
(Solanum melongena): Aubergine is a great source of bioflavonoids. It has antioxidant properties due to a compound (Nasunin), that can prevent the formation of free radicals and protect against cell damage. Aubergine eliminates excess iron in the blood. It contains a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins, copper (for protection of the cardiovascular, skeletal, and nervous systems), magnesium (nature’s natural relaxant), manganese (very beneficial for a good digestion), phosphorus (important for proper kidney function and needed for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and nerves); and potassium (for proper nerve and muscle functions). Aubergine plays an important role in lowering blood cholesterol.

CautionAubergine contains a naturally-occurring substance found in plants called oxalates. Oxalates can become too concentrated in body fluids and crystallize, causing some healthy problems. People with kidney and gallblader conditions should avoid eating this vegetable.


Monday 5 December 2011

Going wild for mushrooms

                                Wild Mushrooms     by

Borough Market is one of my favourite places in London. Whenever I can, I pop down there on Fridays to get some delicious stuff. This Friday, I couldn’t resist the wild mushrooms at Turnips. They have been selling beautiful ones for years. I have always been fascinated by them. Some (like the Shaggy Parasol or Cep) look like props for Alice in Wonderland. I asked the seller to choose a selection for my risotto - rice and wild mushrooms are a perfect marriage.

Foraging is becoming very popular in the UK, and one of the most popular pickings are wild mushrooms. Make sure the person you are buying the wild mushrooms from is really knowledgeable and reliable, and you should only forage for mushrooms with someone who really knows how to distinguish the edible ones from the poisonous ones - some of them are known as death caps!

Most mushrooms we find in supermarkets are grown with the use of chemical fertilizers. Try and buy organic whenever possible.

There are many different species and ways of preparing them. Mushrooms have plenty of immunological benefits. Some people prefer to eat them raw but the best way is to actually cook them, as this will destroy the toxins that are present in all edible mushrooms.

On that note, I am off to cook mushrooms for tonight’s dinner.

Wild mushrooms display in Borough Market
Basket of Ceps
Basket of assorted wild mushrooms 
Basket of Portobella mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms in the background growing in
its own habitat
Oyster pink, King Oyster (Bolete), Shiitake, Enoki
My risotto selection: Chanterelles, Black Trompette,
Giroles, Pied Mouton and Blewit
Dried Porcini mushrooms soaked in boiling water
Brush them clean using a mushroom brush or a soft
Ghee, shallots, garlic, white wine, parsley and
pecorino cheese
My wild mushroom risotto! It was yum!
Wild mushroom risotto
Serves 4

Delicious, seasonal and healthy! Mushrooms are great protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

15g ghee or butter, plus another 20g to finish
2 small shallots (or 4 mini ones), finely chopped. You can also use onion instead
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A pinch of dried porcini, soaked in boiling water (optional)
180-200g of wild mushrooms, brushed clean
150g Carnaroli or Vialone risotto rice
175ml of white wine
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
30g pecorino cheese, grated
A small bunch of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Melt the ghee or butter in a pan and gently cook the shallots. Don't let them burn, just let them become soft and sweet. It takes about 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 2 min, then add the garlic and cook until softened. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook gently. When the mushrooms have softened slightly, turn up the heat and add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice and season with some more salt and pepper. Cook for a minute before pouring in the wine.

Stir well; allow the wine to become absorbed before you add your first ladle of hot stock. Let the rice and stock cook gently, stirring occasionally until it begins to look as though the stock has been absorbed, then add the next ladle. Continue to do this until the rice becomes softer and the sauce looks creamy. Then start tasting the grains. Check for seasoning but also feel their texture. If they are al dente, turn off the heat. Don’t worry if you didn’t use all the stock (or if you used it all just add some boiling water).

Stir in the rest of the ghee, pecorino cheese and parsley. Check for seasoning.

Serve on warmed plates! Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Mushrooms: Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus), Black Trompette (Craterellus Cornucopioides), Girolle (Cantharellus Cibarius), Blewit (Lepista Clitocybe), Pied de Mouton (Hydnum Repandum) are all good sources of B vitamins such as B2, B3 and B5. They contain the minerals selenium, copper and potassium. Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine, in several parts of the world especially in Asia.

A study made by Japanese researchers 30 years ago has shown that compounds found in mushrooms can be used for the treatment of cancer. Mushrooms increase white blood cell count and act as anticoagulants. Well-known medicinal mushrooms, like Cordyceps, Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake have long being used as remedy for liver disorders, hypertension and arthritis disorders.

Mushrooms can boost stamina and vitality. They can also promote normal lung function and support cognitive function. According to Paul Pitchford, the Chinese Ganoderma (Ling Zhi) mushroom tonifies immunity best and have a strong effect against tumors and cancers. 

The biggest myth about Candida is that eating mushrooms will make it worse. 
On the contrary, mushrooms are an excellent part of the diet for those with Candida and IBS sufferers. They can be useful in the fight against Candida Albicans. Scientific research has shown that some mushrooms are Candida-killers, help the immune system fight Candida Albicans and are excellent for Candida infection.

For more on their medicinal benefits, click here. For more info about mushroom picking, click here. Also if you want to watch an interesting TED talk by famous American mycologist and author Paul Stamets click here

Till next week!


Monday 28 November 2011

A free bag of apples! A gluten-free dessert

One side of the stunning Barley Wood
walled vegetable gardens 
in Somerset.

Two weeks ago Dean, Nina and I went to visit my sister-in-law, Trudi, who lives in beautiful Somerset. The drive from London, through the countryside is a real joy.

Saturday lunch, we went to visit Barley Wood Walled Gardens, a breathtaking restored Victorian kitchen garden where there’s The Ethicurean, the recently awarded Best Ethical Restaurant/Cafe in England. The chefs get their produce just steps away from their kitchen. The food is simple British, very tasty, seasonal and mileage free! I had the best toffee-apple cake ever – toffee-apple cake with cinnamon cream, apples and apple juice. It was a mixture of apple toffee and sticky toffee pudding but nowhere near as sweet as the latter. I tried to squeeze the recipe out of the waiters but they kept it secret.

Next time you go to Somerset, I recommend you visit their gorgeous Victorian gardens… and make sure you taste their apple cake!

On our way back to my sister-in-law’s, we saw a box full of apples by a front gate of a gorgeous house. Next to it, some empty bags and a message saying to help ourselvers. I loved it and I felt “obliged” to take some back home! That was my chance to try and make that apple cake. Unfortunately, try as I may, I didn’t get even near the delicious Ethicurean dessert… Never mind, I won’t give up. When I succeed in cracking the code, I will post it here. In the meantime, enjoy this delicious apple crumble instead.

Seasonal apples by the side of the road being given away
So, I felt obliged.
Mix rice flour, rapadura, ground almonds and
chilled butter to make the crumble
When mixed, leave it in the fridge until apples
are cooked
Add lemon juice, cinnamon powder and apple juice
to the chopped apples and bake for 20 mins
My apple crumble! It can be simply eaten like this,
or you can have it with a dollop of natural yoghurt, cream
or ice-cream. 
Apple & ground almond crumble

Serves 4

A lovely gluten-free dessert, nutritious, balanced and full of flavour.

4 big organic apples or 6 small ones, peeled, cored and diced
1 Tbsp lemon juice
50 ml apple juice
1 tsp cinnamon or as you like it

For the Filling
50g organic blanched almonds or ground almond
50g organic rice flour
70g chilled organic butter
60g organic rapadura (raw cane sugar)
50g organic hazelnuts or any other nut of your choice (pistachios are quite nice), chopped

Combine almonds, rice flour, butter and rapadura and mix them until they form a crumbly sand – you can use a food processor if you like. Chill until ready to use.

Preheat the oven at 170°C. Place the apples in an oven-proof dish, squeeze the lemon, add the apple juice and cinnamon powder, and mix. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the apples are golden.

When apples are done, sprinkle the crumble over them and bake again for 20 min. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, cream or ice-cream.

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Apple (Malus domestica): it’s a rich source of antioxidants and nutrients. It  contains both types of fibre - soluble and insoluble -, which are very important to maintain a healthy gut function. Pectin found in the skin of apples is the most common beneficial fibre that helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Studies have shown that the pectin found in apples can inhibit the growth of liver and colon cancer. Apples contain potassium and quercetin, a nature’s anti-histamine. Apple has also antibacterial properties and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an incredible fruit: it’s highly digestible and capable of satisfying both hunger and thirst.

Julie Bruton-Seal’s recipe for an upset stomach or for when you are recovering from illness, especially after a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea:
Grate 2 apples, then finely grate about a teaspoonful of fresh root ginger. Mix together in a bowl and eat straight way.

The old saying is never out of fashion: “An apple a day…”.

Almonds (Prunus dulcis): like any other nuts, when eaten raw, almonds are much easier to digest when they are soaked overnight. They are a great source of complete protein and good fats. They contain insoluble fibre, which is beneficial for regular bowel movements. Almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Besides tasting great, almond milk can be taken for constipation and inflammation of the gut (e.g. colitis, IBS and Crohn’s disease).

Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana): they contain a substance called beta-sitisterol, a plant sterol that, according to a study published by the medical journal The Lancet, showed significant improvement in patients with urinary difficulties. Hazelnuts contain potassium, magnesium and vitamin E.

Rapadura (dehydrated cane sugar or raw sugar) has been used for thousands of years in India. It is a very popular choice of sweetener in the northeast of Brazil. It is rich in silica and minerals such as calcium, Iron and potassium. In her book Nourishing Traditions, the American journalist, chef and nutrition researcher Sally Fallon gives a useful tip: “The best way to eat sweets is to have some fat to accompany them (ice cream with fruit, butter/eggs in cakes and pies) as they slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients that nourish those glands involved in the blood sugar regulation mechanism.”
Caution: do not overdo the use of rapadura sugar. Although it’s a natural sweetener it can also upset your blood sugar balance if consumed a lot.

Nina playing inside the walled gardens
Till next week!

Monday 21 November 2011

Romanesco Broccoli or Roman Cauliflower?


I was never too keen on cauliflower. It’s not that I disliked it, I just wasn’t crazy about it. Over the years, I’ve tried different ways of using it in my meals and came to appreciate its potential. The Romanesco cauliflower is my favourite variety. I just love the way it looks - it reminds me of sea coral. It has a flavour that sits between broccoli and cauliflower, maybe that is why this vegetable is also known as broccoflower. You can also find cauliflower in different colours (purple, orange, greenish/yellowish).

Recipe-wise, there is always, of course, cauliflower cheese, the cauliflower soup, cauliflower mash and the baked kibbeh, but the one I have been really enjoying lately is the roasted cauliflower salad. Even if you aren’t a cauliflower fan, this one could make you become a new admirer.

The ingredients
Cut the romanesco into florets and rinse
roast them,
until they caramelize at the edges
Then mix the florets with the rest of the ingredients,
season and enjoy it.

Roasted warm Romanesco cauliflower and chickpea salad
Serves 4 as a small starter or as a side dish

This salad is a great combination of protein and dietary fiber.

1 Romanesco cauliflower
250g chickpeas
2 lemons
2-3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp black olives, stoned
2 lemons
1 clove of garlic - crushed
1 small onion, chopped finely
3 tbsp roasted pinenuts (optional)
15 leaves of fresh mint, chopped

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cut the cauliflower into florets, rinse them but don’t let them dry. In a small bowl, mix the juice of one lemon with the squeezed garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. In a roasting tray, place the cauliflower and pour the juice all over the vegetable, and mix well. Cut the other lemon in quarters and scatter them in the roasting tray. Roast for 25 min or until the florets look caramelised at the edges. Turn them once.

In the meantime, sautée the onion until it becomes translucid, add the chickpeas and cook for 1 minute. Add the olives, mix and turn off the heat.

When the cauliflower is done, place it in a bowl, squeeze the juice from the lemon over it, add the chickpeas, the chopped mint, and mix gently. Scatter some pinenuts. Enjoy!

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea): it belongs to the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnip, kale and Brussel sprouts). It has components called indoles that protect against breast and colon cancer; and sulphur, which has antiviral and antibiotic characteristics. It stimulates the liver. Cauliflower is a great source of vitamin B6, vitamim C, folate and potassium.

Chickpeas or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum): it is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. Contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins - especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.

Till next week!
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