Thursday 24 March 2011

Margot's Kitchen is going Supper!

Thanks for choosing Margot's Kitchen Supper Club

I am so excited to announce my first supper club. For the opening week, I have invited the lovely Brazilian apprentice chef at elBulli's Gabriel Vidolin. Gabriel arrived 2 days ago and we haven't stopped since then. He has so many yummy ideas and as we work the menu together my mouth keeps watering. 

Gabriel is a highly experienced chef, with training in classical French cuisine as well as a stab at the culinary avant-garde experiments of the likes of the Catalan elBulli. His cookery roots, nevertheless, are firmly placed in his hometown, back in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo. Here is how Gabriel tells it:

“I started to work when I was 8 years old, in my mother’s ice-cream shop. It was also when my grandmother started to teach me how to cook. At the age of 16, I started a cookery course and went for hands-on training at Le Pré Catelan (a starred restaurant owned by the Lenôtre group), in Rio de Janeiro. The chef Roland Villard sent me to France to train at the Lenôtre pâtisserie, and I hit the world.”

Gabriel worked in highly prestigious restaurants, like the Michelin 3-star elBulli, the Spanish Mugaritz e El Poblet, and the Brazilian D.O.M. - all among the best 50 in the world. In 2008, he worked with the Aryanã Institute, in São Paulo, exploring the comfort and therapeutic value of food in treating emotional imbalance.  A year later, he created the Red Lion project in São João da Boa Vista (“my home, my sanctuary”). Set in a small house, the seasonal restaurant provides for a maximum of four people a night a sensorial journey through gastronomy based in traditional cooking. Another project he carries out in the state of Sao Paulo is a bi-monthly feast which brings together small local organic producers. (You can see some of Gabriel’s creations in here) 

Gabriel and I planning the menu first thing in the morning
Gabriel testing one of his recipe ideas
Dates: 1st and 2nd april are sold out! 8th and 9th April places available

Location: Willesden Green, NW2
Time: 7:30pm till 11:30pm
Price: £45 per person. BYO 

I hope you can come and join us in this evening that will be gastronomic heaven.

Sunday 20 March 2011

A dip solution!

                        A pool of hummus                  photolibrary
This has been a very busy week for me, as I am about to launch my Supper Club (Watch this space! More details will follow this week, after this post). I looked into my kitchen cupboard to try and get some inspiration and found these dried chickpeas I bought a while ago. As I still have some frozen whey left from the labneh I made last week, I decided to follow up the Middle Eastern theme. I am making hummus today. 

This is actually a homage to Rose, who is an old and dear family friend. She asked me recently if I had a good hummus recipe. She often makes it, but it doesn’t turn out quite like the ones she used to eat when she was young. I remember as a child going around to her house to have cooking play dates with her daughter Ryvane. We both had this small little toy oven that used to bake, for real, mini-cakes. That was to me the quintessence of a cooking device.

I also have another friend, Roy, who is a hummus lover, and he finds it quite tricky to get the right consistency, texture and flavour when making hummus at home. 

I hope this recipe works for Rose, for Roy and for you.

The ingredients for the hummus
The ingredients for the spicy pitta chips
My hummus served with olive oil, paprika, sumac and chickpeas
Hummus tahini- the nourishing method

Serves 6 ( as a starter) 

Hummus is the type of dip that is always handy to have in your fridge. You can eat it with some vegetable crudités, use it as spread on your bread/toast, serve it in a mezze or simply lick it from your finger. It is packed with protein and dietary fibre. This method of cooking the chickpeas is a bit time consuming but is worth it! It is a very easy recipe, though. The result: a very smooth hummus.

Chickpeas (and beans, other legumes and grains), contain a substance called phytic acid, which binds with minerals preventing your body to fully absorb them in the intestinal tract, inhibiting digestion. The traditional methods of cooking these foods are either soaking, sprouting or fermenting them, as these processes "pre-digest" them (neutralizing phytates and enzyme inhibitors) so all their nutrients are better absorbed by the body. Adding whey to the water when soaking chickpeas helps to neutralize these inhibitors. Whey also has the benefit of providing friendly bacteria, which help to start the pre-digestion process for you.


200g dried chickpeas or 400g organic pre-cooked cans of chickpeas
2 Tablespoons whey liquid (or juice of a lemon) - or  3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda + 1/2 tsp
120-150g tahini paste (or to your taste)
Juice of a big lemon (or to your taste)
1 clove of garlic (or more, if you like very garlicky food)
2 ice cubes (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Paprika (optional)
Sumac (optional) this is a purple-red spice powder, made from the berries of a bush that grows wild in the mediterranean area, which is widely used in Lebanese cuisine. You can find them in major Lebanese shops or in here
Fine sea salt to taste


Soak the chickpeas with water and whey for at least 8 hours up to 24hrs (keep it in a warmish room temperature). Cover them. Drain and rinse.

Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with double volume of water. Add 1/2 tsp pf bicarbonate of soda. Bring to a boil and skim. Simmer on a low heat for about 50 minutes to 1 hour or until they’re so soft that you can mash them easily. Add more water when necessary. Towards the last 5 minutes add a pinch of salt. Drain but retain the liquid. Peel off the skins as this will make your hummus creamier.

Put the chickpeas in a food processor; add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Add the ice cubes as it will help to make the hummus creamier. Blitz it until very smooth. Add the liquid and blitz again (if using the canned ones, warm them with its liquid first then put it in the food processor and carry on with the process). The mixture should be almost runny but with a good consistency. Taste, and season if you like.

Spread the hummus in a plate making a circle in the centre and drizzle the olive oil. Sprinkle some paprika or sumac. Serve with warm pitta chips (see below)

Spicy Pitta chips


4 pitta breads
2 tbsp Olive oil
½ tsp Cayenne pepper
¼ cumin powder

Preheat oven to 180°C.
Cut the bread in halves (in a horizontal way). Mix olive oil with spices brush it on the bread. Cut it in triangles and bake it for 10 mins.

The main ingredients and their functional properties

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, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.

Tahini/sesame seed (Sesamum indicum): lubricates the intestine, heart, stomach, pancreas, liver and lungs. Helps to relieve cough, tinnitus, low backache and headache. It is a good aid for mothers who have insufficient breast milk. It is high in iron, magnesium, calcium, vit B1 and vit E. The most nutritious type of sesame seeds is the un-hulled one! Caution: avoid it if you are having diarrhoea or loose stools.

Till Next week! 

Sunday 13 March 2011

Labnehse roots!

Aunty (tia) Judith and grandma (vovó) Odete making kibbeh  
photo: family album

My fridge drawer has 2 cauliflowers sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. It is not Dean’s and Nina’s favourite vegetable, but because I take part in an organic vegetable box scheme from Nina’s school I ended up getting it twice this week. The inspiration to turn them into a dish they’ll like came from an old family photo taken in my grandmother’s kitchen.

My grandparents on my father’s side came to Brazil from Lebanon at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century.  My grandmother Odete was an amazing cook and her kibbeh (Lebanese dish made of bulgur wheat) were legendary amongst family and friends. I never came across a kibbeh as good as that in my life! My mum’s comes second, as she learnt it from grandma. Unfortunately, I never quite mastered it. My grandparents owned a hotel in my hometown and we lived in the penthouse. I grew up behind the scenes, hanging around the hotel’s kitchen - helping the cooks with the preparation of the food or simply fiddling with the equipment (making fresh orange juice or slicing pieces of roast beef).

Although my grandmother had a very good team in the kitchen, she used to cook some of the dishes herself (and when they were preparing a banquet her sisters would come over to give a hand). She used to supervise everything, from ingredients to the final plate (basically, what we call these days a chef). Those were formative years in my life as a cook.

As a College student in Rio de Janeiro, I turned my attention to other things. Cooking, then, was chuck-all-in-a-pot-and-make-whatever. There is a quote from Oscar Wilde that I love and says it all: “Youth is wasted on the young”. It was only when I became pregnant that my desire to learn more about nutritious and traditional cooking became stronger.

Both my grandmothers instilled in me their passion for food. As a tribute to them, especially to grandma Odete today, I am making a vegetarian oven baked kibbeh with one of those cauliflowers (well, she would’ve preferred it with lamb), filled with labneh. I got the idea of using cauliflower instead of lamb meat from the book Saboreando Mudancas, by Brazilian chef Flavia Quaresma and nutritionist Jane Corona.

Ingredients for the kibbeh base
Ingredients for the topping
Making Labneh. Put the yogurt inside
the strainer over a bowl
When the labneh is ready you can also make small balls
and keep inside a jar with olive oil
add the bulgur wheat to the cauliflower mixture and mix well

Kibbeh ready to be baked

Topping mixture ready to go on top of baked kibbeh

My vegetarian kibbeh!

Baked kibbeh with labneh filling

If your family is not very keen on cauliflower, this is a great way to use (or disguise) this vegetable in a meal. It is an excellent source of dietary fibre. You can also use pumpkin, butternut squash or potato for different variations. 

If you are using labneh, start its preparation the day before.


120g Bulgur wheat
170ml water (I used half the whey liquid and completed with water)
1 small steamed cauliflower (approx 300g)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic
10g parsley
10g mint
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the Labneh* filling

1 pot of 450g organic goat’s yoghurt (you can use cow's or sheeps yoghurt too)
¾ tsp fine sea salt

* If you don't fancy making it yourself, you can find labneh in major Lebanese shops. I love visiting The Green Valley Supermarket on 36-37 Upper Berkley Street, London W1H 7PG. Tel 020 7402 7385. 

For the topping
Olive oil or ghee
3 onions, sliced
50g pine nuts
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


For the kibbeh base

Wash the bulgur wheat and in a small bowl, soak it in the water for 2 hours.
Chop the steamed cauliflower and mix it with onion, garlic, parsley and mint and blend in a food processor. Drain the bulgur well, use your hands to squeeze it and add to the cauliflower mixture and mix well . Season to taste, but bear in mind that labneh can be a bit salty, so be cautious!

For the Labneh

Mix yogurt and salt well. Place it in a strainer and tie it like a pouch with a piece of string. Hang it in a cool environment for 12-24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the whey** (I used half the whey liquid to soak the bulgur wheat as it improves digestibility).

** Greek doctors considered Whey as “healing water.” It contains probiotic organisms that helps maintain a good balance of the digestive system encouraging repair of gut dysbiosis. Whey contains potassium and other minerals and vitamins. Whey allows protein to become more available for muscle repair and muscle building, that’s why is a great choice for athletes, specially after workouts.
You can drink it straight or mix it in your juices, tea, soups or smoothies, freeze it into ice cubes and add them into your smoothies, add some of whey liquid in the water you are soaking legumes (beans, lentils etc) or cooking grains to improve digestibility.

You can use it for fermentation of foods : cabbage, courgettes, apples, chutney, carrots, ginger etc. Check these books for more information and recipes on Whey:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
For the topping

Fry the onions in the oil or ghee until golden, stirring often. Add the pine nuts and stir until lightly coloured. Season and add the spices. Stir for 2 minutes.

The final step

Preheat the oven to 190ºC. 
With your hand, press half the kibbeh mixture into the bottom of a lighlty oiled small shallow baking dish. Spread the labneh and cover it with the rest of the kibbeh mixture. Bake it for about 30 minutes or until browned.

Serve the kibbeh with the topping – on its own or with some green leaves.

The main ingredients and their functional properties

Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea) 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. Contains vitamin C, folate and potassium.

Bulgur wheat (Triticum aestivum) is made from wheat berries that are boiled, dried and cracked. Wheat is sometimes considered an ideal food for human growth and development. It is good for treating night-sweats and diarrhea, moistens dry mouth and reduces thirst. When the flour is rancid from oxidation it can provoke allergic reactions. Ideally, wheat flour or even cracked wheat should be used soon after grinding, otherwise try and keep them in an airtight container, in a cool place or even refrigerated. Some people are only allergic to the processed flour but can eat pre-soaked and cooked berries, sprouted wheat or wheat germ. If eating wheat in any form causes any kind of indigestion, it is best to avoid it. Contains B vitamins and is a good source of dietary fibre.

Labneh (made from goat’s yogurt) is very helpful in cases of stomach ulcers. It is high in protein, natural fats and calcium. It is a natural source of probiotic activity (live friendly bacteria) that maintains a good digestive system, enriching the intestinal flora.
Sally Fallon explains how live bacteria work: “These friendly creatures and their by-products keep pathogens at bay, guard against infectious illness, and aid in the fullest possible digestion of all food we consume. Perhaps this is why so many traditional societies value fermented milk products for their health promoting properties and insist on giving them to the sick, the aged and nursing mothers”.

Till next week!


Sunday 6 March 2011

The "F" Word!

Fat can be a dirty word for most people these days, thanks to the food industry. It gets a lot of bad press but I have some different news for you: we cannot live without it, our body needs fat! Fat is essential for the cell membranes and also as a source of energy. It protects our organs, provides insulation and enables important vitamins such as A, D, E and K to be made available to our body. Cooking with some of the saturated fats actually increases our absorption rate of vitamins and minerals.

Before I went to college to study naturopathic nutrition I was certain that fat makes you fat and saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease and raised cholesterol. But then I learned that these are nutrition myths, not truths! Cholesterol is needed to maintain intestinal health and also for brain and nervous system development in the young. Breast milk is extremely high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

The big problem is not the fat you eat but the type and the quantity of fat you choose to eat. The industry takes the good natural foods and manipulates them to become very unnatural. As long as you have a diet that contains lots of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, butter, cold pressed oils, meat and eggs, eating fat in their natural way will not make you unhealthy. Man-made fats is what will make you ill! Remember, we are after a balanced diet!

Our ancestors enjoyed a diet of 'natural' fats as part of their optimum nutrition. In the beginning of last century, people would get their fat mostly from animal sources and much less from polyunsaturated oils and margarine. The incidence of heart attacks and cancer diseases were smaller, then. Only in the last 50 years, when science invented the trans-fats (in the form of margarine and man-made vegetable oils), the incidence of heart attacks and major diseases increased dramatically and obesity is still on the high. Did you know that when farmed animals need fattening all the fat from their diet is controlled and grains and cereals are increased? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it!

Most people are aware that fats come in different forms: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated. The simpler way to see it is that nature’s fats are found, for instance, in butter, cold pressed oils, fish, meat, eggs, chicken, coconut, olives, avocados, grains and legumes. Nature’s fats contain essential fatty acids that we need for our health as we cannot manufacture them.

Choices of good fats

- Omega 3 fats: flax seed, hemp seed and fish oils (which should be kept refrigerated), soaked nuts and seeds, oily fish, eggs.
- Monounsaturated fats/oils that contain most Omega 9s: avocado and cold pressed extra virgin olive oils. 
- Natural and organic saturated fats: butter, ghee, coconut oil, extra-virgin palm oil (make sure of its provenance).
- Fats from organic grass fed animals: duck or goose, lard, meat, chicken. 
- Polyunsaturated fats: such as cold pressed grape seed, groundnut/peanut and sesame oils are not bad for you, but they are very high in Omega 6, which is very high in most people’s diet already. I would recommend you increase more your Omega 3s in your diet instead.

If you don’t have time to cook, you may want to choose to take some healthy oils in supplemental form (for example: Omega 3s such as fish oils, flaxseed and hemp), as most people fail to consume sufficient amounts of this essential fatty acid. Remember, these oils are highly sensitive to heat and can become rancid and damaged very quickly. Do choose to buy an organic certified label, refrigerated, packed in dark bottles and keep them in your fridge when you are back at home!

These fats are not good choices!

- Trans-fats/hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats: such as margarines, baked goods, doughnuts, French fries. They are unnatural fats that your body won’t recognize as foods and are very hard to digest. They can increase LDL (“bad” cholesterol), blood sugar and blood pressure, create free radicals and cause many illnesses.

- Industrial processed liquid oils: such as canola/rapeseed, corn, safflower and soy, mostly oils you find in supermarket shelves, are very unstable when heated and get damaged quite rapidly. They are found in many processed foods. They also increase LDL and lower HDL. Make sure to read labels and avoid them whenever possible.

Ghee, butter, olive and coconut oil: 
some of the natural fats I use for cooking/baking/roasting
When cooking, choose fats that are stable at high temperatures and less likely to be converted into trans-fats. Olive oil is also a good option for cooking but it is best not to have it as the only option – don’t overdo it. Research has shown that, due to its longer chain fatty acids, it is more likely to help buildup body fat than coconut oil and butter.  

I could write many more pages on the subject but, instead, I will link here to a more thorough post on vegetable oils , written by my old classmate and friend Chris Sandel, who runs 7 health practice. Check it out!

It is also worth a peak  at these leaflets from the Weston A. Price Foundation website explaining trans-fats vs saturated fats, and the myths and truths about cholesterol in few bullet points: Transfats and cholesterol

Now, let's go to the kitchen.

The ingredients
peeling of sweet potatoes with coconut oil
oven roasted sweet potato crisps
let the parsnip simmer until soft
you can serve the soup as a starter
or as an amuse bouche

Parsnip soup with oven roasted sweet potato crisps

This is a great dish for this time of the year (Winter meets Spring), as parsnips are in season. The cayenne pepper and chilli have warming properties and ginger adds an extra zing.


30 g butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
a thumb sized fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1000 ml vegetable stock
sea salt and black pepper
1 fresh red chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced (optional)
cayenne pepper (optional)
chives (optional)

For the sweet potato crisps:
1 sweet potato
20g coconut oil
sea salt, cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 190°C. Wash the sweet potato, cut into quarters, then cut it into thin long strips, using a potato peeler. Put them into a bowl and add the coconut oil (you may have to melt it before). Put the sweet potato strips in an oven tray
and bake them for 10 min. Keep an eye on it, as some may cook faster than others. Reserve.

Peel the parsnips and cut into chunks. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric. Gently fry until the onions are soft.

Add the parsnips and stir for about 5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring it to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for 30 minutes.

Turn the heat off and, using a hand blender (or a normal blender), purée thoroughly. If you think the soup is too thick, add a bit of boiling water to achieve the consistency you want.

Season with sea salt and black pepper, then serve with the sweet potato crisps and garnish with red chilli and chives. Another option is to serve the soup in glass shots with the sweet potato crisps and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

The fats and their functional properties

Organic Coconut oil contains a fatty acid, called lauric acid, which is also found in mother’s milk and is often used in baby’s formulas. It has strong antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It has antiviral effects and has been tested against herpes. It is used therapeutically for cystic fibroids, AIDS and cachexia (in cancer patients). Researches and clinical observations have shown that coconut oil can prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes; reduces epileptic seizures and increases metabolic rates. It supports overall immune functions. 

The recommended daily dosage of coconut oil is 3 ½ tablespoons (approx 53ml), 198g fresh coconut meat or 295ml of coconut milk. I love adding it to my smoothies!

Organic Butter is a rich source of vitamin A, D, E and K. It contains an essential fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) that has demonstrated anticancer properties and has also been found to fight weight gain. Thirty percent of the fat from butter is from monounsaturated fats (the same type in olive oil). It has antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It is rich in the powerful mineral selenium.
Look for good quality butter, like raw and cultured. I have previously mentioned some suppliers here
You should try and eat more natural fats and avoid the unnatural processed ones and this can make a huge difference to your health.

By understanding a bit more about fat, the body will be healthier and the food will taste a lot better. You’ll never need to be afraid of the “F” word again.

Till next week!

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