Monday 26 September 2011

A flower-ishing salad or a flourishing salad?

                              Edible flowers          photo by Wild roots

One of the things I love most about Sundays is the trip to Queen's Park farmers market. I really enjoy the hustling and bustling of the place. Nina loves it too, as she samples lots of things and gets to meet other kids in an area where they play while eating fresh berries, cupcakes, sausage rolls, creamy ice-cream and other goodies. The smell of the organic lamb burgers on the barbecue, the roasted organic chicken sandwiches, the sampling of fresh veg and fruit, delicious cheeses, earthy breads, flavoursome pies, mouth-watering cakes and the whole lot - it’s the best start of the day.

This week, the edible flowers were the winners! You just want to frame them. You can add them to any meal, and they can lift the spirits of any “overcast” soul.

I buy them from one of my favourite stalls. The Wild Country Organics

Nina on her way to the market
she meets other kids and enjoys her treats...
...while I do my shopping 
raw buffalo cheeses, milk and yoghurt
the delicious chicken and salad sandwich
the edible flowers
wash them
and garnish your salad!
Flower salad


1 bag of mixed leaves (mustard, rocket, lettuce) - washed
Sundried tomatoes, as you like it
1 apple – in chunks
1 dessertspoon of organic butter
Edible flowers
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper


Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the apple chunks and let them caramelise. Turn off the heat, leave them to cool.

In a big bowl, gently mix all the ingredients but the flowers. Scatter the flowers on top - you can/preferably separate the crysanthemum leaves from the bitter flower base and scatter them over the salad.


Some of the flowers and their healthy benefits 

Caution! Do not buy edible flowers from a place/nursery that uses chemicals and pesticides. If you are unsure about which flower to eat, check this website

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus): It has been traditionally used to treat insect bites, snake bites and stings. It's also used to treat mouth ulcers. The dried powder is used to treat bruises. Distilled water from cornflower is used to treat sore eyes.

Garland Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum coronarium or Leucanthemum coronarium): It is also known as shungiku, kikuna, chop sueys, tong hao, mantilida, crown daisy, chrysanthemum greens or edible crysanthemum. It is an edible flower native to East Asia which is widely used in stir-fries, soups, It has a slightly mustard flavour and a peppery cauliflower taste. It varies in colours. 

The best way to eat the flower is to blanch it (but be careful not to overcook it) and scatter the petals on a salad. 

It has antioxidant properties, protects against cardiovascular diseases, kidney stones, bone loss and digestive problems. It contains B vitamins and potassium.

Caution: some people may experience mild stomach upset when consuming chrysanthemum. It can also cause an adverse allergic reaction when handling the flowers.

Snap Dragon (Antirrhinum majus): It is not the best flower to eat. It tastes bitter and it is often used for garnishing.

"before we leave can I watch the guy playing the guitar
a little bit more, mummy?"
"Yeah, I like you! Here you go, you deserve a tip"!

Till next week!




Tuesday 20 September 2011

Tapas inside a bag

sample of farmer's choice bag scheme 

This week I made three side dishes as my main meal , more like a veg tapas style. Simply easy and healthy.

Sometimes, in my weekly organic bag, from Nina’s school farmer’s choice scheme, I get  a variety of  colourful and beautiful vegetables. Depends on the season the carrots come in orange, yellow or purple colour. We also get various types of beans. I cannot resist, i just want to cook them all at once. This week was like that, the rainbow coloured bag was going to be transformed into a Tapas.  And the result was this:

chosen ingredients

Vegetable tapas

I enjoyed the carrots and beans with pieces of sourdough bread (it's nice to dunk it in the juices) and the corn by itself. Yummaayy! 

ingredients for the sweet and sour carrots
sautee the carrots in butter
add a bit of rapadura sugar and let them caramelize
add white wine vinegar, let it reduce then
add water, thyme and garlic
they taste and look beautiful

Purple carrots sweet and sour
Peel the small and medium carrots and leave them whole; if they are big,  cut them into chunks. Fry them in 1 tablespoon of butter until just coloured. Then add 1 tablespoon of rapadura sugar and toss them for about 3 minutes, until they look a bit caramelized. Pour about 100ml of white wine vinegar into the pan and let it reduce. Cover with water (about 300ml) and add thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Boil it and let it simmer for about 20 min, until tender.  Take the carrots out and let the liquid reduce a bit. To serve, pour the liquid over the carrots.

ingredients for the braised runner beans
fry the onions
add the beans, mix gently and add the peppercorns
Garlicky braised runner beans
Cut the runner beans in pieces. Slice a small onion and chop 2 cloves of garlic. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, sautée the onion and garlic. When they become translucent, add the beans. Stir gently and frequently for about 2 minutes. Add a little water (about 100ml), a squeeze of lemon and sea salt. Cover and simmer on a low heat, until the beans are tender (for about 10 min). Just before serving, add the Schechuan peppers, to your taste.

ingredients for the grilled sweetcorn
soak them in water
watch them in the grill
grate the cheese and mix some cayene pepper
take them out of the oven
splash some butter on them and sprinkle cheese on top
Grilled Corn on a cob
Soak the cobs in a pot of cold water for 15 minutes. This will provide moisture for cooking the corn kernels inside the husks. After soaking, remove the corn from the water and shake off any excess water. 

Turn the grill on. Keep the husks on the corn, pop them inside your grill and leave to cook  until the husks are charred. Keep turning them (this will add a smoky flavour). You should watch them closely as you don’t want to burn your house down.

When all the parts char, change the grill setting to oven (200 degrees) and let the corn cook for 15-20 min.

Grate the cheese, add a pinch of cayenne pepper and mix. Set aside.

When the corns are done, using tongs, peel the husks back and discard. Here, if you like, you can put the cobs back in the grill to char a bit, but I was so hungry I couldn’t wait.

Once you’re happy with the way your corn is cooked, put the butter into a big dish and place the cobs in it. Roll them around to coat evenly, then add the cheese mix. Enjoy!   

The ingredients and their healthy benefits

Carrots (Daucus carota)are  high in carotenoid, an antioxidant compound associated with many healthy benefits. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenoids present in our retina), which is why carrots are famously known for being good for your eyes. The carotenoids and vitamin A found in carrots are better absorbed by your body when eaten with a little fat (olive oil, coconut oil, ghee etc). Carrots are great for juicing and often chosen as part of detox programs. They also provide good levels of vitamin K, fibre, vitamin C, biotin, vitamins B1 and B6.

Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus): because of their high fibre content, they prevent blood sugar levels from rising rapidly. Beans in general are a very good meal choice for people who suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia. Unlike other beans, runner beans are very high in dietary fibre and lower in protein. They are high in vitamin K, which plays an important role in bone health and prevention of bone damage, especially in post-menopausal women. Runner beans contain vitamin C, manganese and silicon – like calcium and magnesium these are very important for the bones.

Recent studies confirmed  the presence of a wide variety of carotenoids (lutein, beta-carotene, neoxanthin) and flavonoids (quercetin, catechins and procyanidins) in runner beans. They are all known for their antioxidant properties.
Caution: they contain oxalate and it’s better to avoid them if you have rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease or gout.

Sweetcorn (Zea mays): If you can, choose only organic and non-GMO corns. Sweetcorn  contains dietary fibre which alleviates constipation and haemorrhoids. It is rich in vitamins B1, B3 and B5 (panthontenic acid), that are necessary for metabolism of carbohydrates as well as for the metabolism of protein and fat.

Till next week!


Monday 12 September 2011

Rosehip hip hooray!

Rose hips from Rosa canina (Dog rose)

As expected, by catching several planes, getting back to a cold country and feeling the blues, I was creating a recipe to run down my immune system. I let my guard down and an opportunistic cold caught me! So, I spent the week feeling sorry for myself and, at the same time, trying to fight the bug I had no energy to do anything but rest.

This morning, I was trying to think of something for the blog, when the bell rang and my friend and neighbour Alistair brought me a small bag with gorgeous rosehips which was enough for me to make a little bit of syrup. There was my inspiration!

This is the season to collect the berries to make a vitamin C booster syrup or to prepare the hips for tea. Alistair has heaps/hips (excuse the pun?) of rose bushes in his garden, and he remembered I once mentioned to him the great health benefits of rosehips. Angels do exist!

As the weather hasn’t been great for drying the rosehips to make tea, I’m making the syrup. If you have a garden with rose bushes or know someone who has, make sure it doesn’t have pesticides (!), pick some rosehips and you can start making your syrup or tea now for the cold season.

Thanks, Az, for the gift! I might pop around to collect some more for my tea.

wild rosehips from my neighbours garden
add cinnamon sitck, cloves and filtered water
let it simmer for 20 mins
sieve the mixture
you will get an orange liquid
put the liquid back to the pan, add the rapadura and
let it simmer for 10 min. The rapadura will give this

syrup a darker colour
pour the syrup into a sterilized jar 
my rosehip cordial drink

Rosehip syrup – to prevent and fight colds and flu and …

I have tried some recipes for rosehip syrup before, but my favourite one is by my ethno-botanist guru James Wong. I only changed the sugar he uses for rapadura sugar which lends a darker colour. He also adds cinnamon stick and cloves as an option, and I love it.

This syrup is great for kids too. You can use as a cordial in an iced glass with water and a squeeze of lemon juice, drink it like a tea (in a lukerwarm water) or drizzle it over a pancake.

250g rosehips
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
500ml water
120g rapadura sugar

Crush the rosehips and place them in a pan. Add the cinnamon and cloves. Pour the water and let simmer for 20min. Sieve and pour the liquid back into the pan with the rapadura. Bring it to boil and let it simmer for 10min. Let it cool and keep it in a sterilized glass jar.

For tea – How to dry them

Pick as many rosehips as you want. Wash them and scatter them over baking paper or newspaper and leave them in the sun, whole. Once dried, chop them in a food processor. Shake them through a fine sieve for the fine hairs to fall through. Store the dried rosehip pieces in a sterilized glass jar. To make the tea, simmer about 3 tablespoons of rosehips in a litre of water for about 30 minutes, add fresh mint if you wish to add a different flavour, strain and serve.

The ingredient and its healthy benefit

Rosehip (Rosa canina, Rose haws, Rose heps, Wild boar fruit, Wild rose, Dog rose and Hip berry): it belongs to the Rosacea family. It has long been used as an ingredient for syrup, tea, jelly, marmalade and wine. During World War II, rosehips were collected by the government to make syrup for the prevention of colds/flu and infections, due to its high levels of vitamin C. It also contains high levels of the antioxidant Lycopene and it has anti-inflammatory properties which are useful in treatments of osteoarthritis. It has natural antibiotic properties. Rosehip has a mild diuretic and laxative property. Due to its pectin content, it acts as an internal cleanser, relieving constipation. It prevents bladder infection and helps people with kidney disorder. It contains iron, which makes this berry an excellent choice for menstruating women – in a  great synergy with the vitamin C content. Rosehip also contains the soluble vitamins B1, B2, B3 and the fat-soluble A, D, E and K. Not to mention the minerals, calcium, magnesium, silica and potassium. 

Till next week!

Sunday 4 September 2011

Holidays are made of this

Rio de Janeiro - the most beautiful city in the world

Holidays are one the best things in the world (I’m sure you agree), especially when you revisit your home country, after becoming an expat. My Brazilian holiday ended yesterday and I’m already getting the blues, but I have the pictures and the memory of family, of friends and – most importantly – of great meals to cheer me up. The good news is: I’m back with blog!, and I’m going to share with you some of the food experiences I had during this trip.

To say that I had a great time in Brazil is an understatement. Brazil is a country with a lot to offer in every aspect. On the food front, it’s a very rich place, with naturally good cooks who create incredible meals. I must say I indulged in a diversity of gorgeous meals from around the country, and I’ll mention two high points. 

I started my holidays in Vila Velha, Espirito Santo, on the Southeast coast, visiting my mum, my brother’s family and some of my old friends. Mum’s food is the best welcome, ever. While there, I went back to a friend’s bar/restaurant, which to me is one of the best in the region. Betina Fassarella is a super talented cook. Her understanding of the alchemy of the food ingredients makes me envious. She forages and buys her organic locally sourced ingredients daily for the evening menu (she only opens her restaurant for dinner). I invited myself to go with her to pick aroeira, a native red peppercorn that grows along the coast and gives a very distinctive taste to dishes.

Betina was kind enough to reveal one of her signature salad dressings, which I highly recommend. It’s a super-sexy flavour bomb. (see below)

The next stop was Rio de Janeiro! As we were landing in Rio, I remembered Tom Jobim singing Samba do Avião: “Rio, você foi feito pra mim” … (Rio, you were made for me). It remains, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in the world!

There, I met my friend and chef Teresa Corção, who invited me to eat at her gorgeous and elegant restaurant O Navegador, in the Naval Club in historic downtown Rio. Teresa’s cooking warms my heart. I had a fish served on couscous made with cassava flour and jambu leaves (a type of cress from the northern state of Pará) and tucupi sauce (made from cassava juice). My mouth waters.

Teresa cooks traditional food from different regions of Brazil with a contemporary touch. She is president of the Non-governmental Organization called Instituto Maniva where she develops educational and social projects for impoverished children and youngsters. She works with producers who focus on traditional indigenous techniques for preparing cassava. She is also affiliated to the Slow Food Rio de Janeiro. Teresa is my hero.

I brought back as a present from Teresa some cassava flour wrapped in leaf and encased in a basket (see photo). Cassava is an amazing root which has a wide culinary potential. I will talk a lot more about it here. Watch this space!

Vila Velha, Espirito Santo - visiting my mum's
Farmer's market (feira) from the mountain region 
of Espirito Santo
there are colours everywhere
cassava and yam root
passion fruit scents the market
Betina and I in her bar restaurant
Betina's stunning tropical salad with passion fruit dressing and
aroeira (red peppercorn)
the ingredients for the dressing minus olive oil and sea salt
photo by Alastair Hallam
My tropical salad version in London
photo by Alastair Hallam

Betina's Passion Fruit salad dressing

2 passion fruits
1 lime
1 teaspoon of molasses (or you can use maple syrup instead)
Olive oil and sea salt (optional) Betina doesn't add these in her dressing

Put all ingredients inside an empty jar and shake well. Serve over a tropical salad (see photo) and enjoy it with a nice salad. I made my salad with some fruits and leaves I had in my fridge and basket: gem lettuce, rocket, mango, papaya, peach, avocado, blackberries, golden kiwi fruit and button mushrooms.

The ingredients and their healthy benefits

Lime: As previously mentioned here

Molasses: it comes from the sugar cane during the process of extraction of sugar (in Brazil it’s called, melado). It is what is left when the white sugar is taken out. In England we find the thick and dark coloured syrup, while in Brazil we can find a lighter coloured version. Molasses retains all the nutrients from the sugar cane and is specially known for its high iron content (one tablespoon of molasses contains 4.5mg of iron). It is recommended for people with low iron levels or suffering from anaemia, pregnant women, vegetarians and vegans, and people suffering from constipation. You can dilute it in water or use in stews or casseroles. In the rural areas of Brazil, molasses is eaten with cassava flour (good source of carbohydrate and calcium) and raw cheese amongst other things.

Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis): it is a very good source of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium. The seeds of passion fruit are a fantastic source of dietary fibre. It has properties that are helpful in treating people with high blood pressure. It is well known for its somniferous properties, which can help those who suffer from insomnia to relax and a have a restful sleep. According to research, the phytochemicals found in passion fruit are considered to inhibit cancer cell growth. Another study conducted in 2008 found out that the large majority of asthma sufferers who took passion fruit extracts got relief from the symptoms of coughing and wheezing. The fruit contains antioxidants that are believed to block histamine, reduce allergy and inflammation. 

aroeira tree (a Brazilian native red peppercorn)
they are so beautiful and fragrant
In Rio, chef Teresa Corção standing in front of her
gorgeous restaurant holding the cassava flour
wrapped in leaves  

delicious fish served on cassava couscous with tucupi sauce
by chef Teresa Corção, restaurant O Navegador
Rio de Janeiro
coconut water... a daily must in Brazil!
Till next week!
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