Thursday 14 December 2017

A nikkei Xmas dessert

For me, the nikkei cuisine is one of the favourites, a perfect combination of food from countries I love. For those who don’t know, nikkei was a term coined to refer to emigrants of Japanese origin and their descendants. In South America, Peru was the first country to receive a great flux of Japanese workers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, followed by Brazil. In the 80’s the name nikkei became a reference to Japanese cuisine cooked outside Japan using indigenous products. Today, this marriage of Peruvian, Brazilian and Japanese food is commonly known as nikkei cuisine. 

Last year, to try and learn more about it, I purchased a nikkei cookbook written by a Brazilian Londoner, who I had heard of because of his popular blog The London Foodie. Luiz Hara is a descendant of Japanese immigrants who arrived in the state of São Paulo in the early 1900’s. 

Many months later, our paths crossed during an opening evening at SOAS university for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition course. When we were divided into small groups I noticed that one of the faces looked familiar. When this gentle and soft-spoken guy started talking about his work, I realised he was Luiz Hara, the Nikkei cookbook author & The London Foodie. Luiz has been running his regular Japanese and Nikkei supperclubs in his home since 2012, and often welcomes other chefs.

I am one who believes in those ‘sliding doors’ moments we have in life. There we were: two Brazilians who had never met before but who have very similar interests. We found out later that we arrived in this country in exactly the same year.
Having discovered that I also have an enthusiasm for food, Luiz kindly asked me if I would like to volunteer in one of his supperclubs. I accepted it straight away. One day I received the message from him, and there I went with my apron in hand.

As I was helping chopping, slicing, cooking and prepping in general, Luiz and I didn't stop talking. We got on so well that the day passed very quickly. Frustratingly for me, I couldn't stay to try his food as I had another commitment that evening.

Finally, last Friday I had the pleasure to go back, this time to try Luiz’s nikkei cuisine. Both myself and my husband - and everyone else around us - were in awe of the food he served us.

The evening started with the guests being welcomed with a glass of G&T and shichimi (Japanese spice) flavoured popcorn, and leek and tofu gyoza for canapés. For me, the first impression counts. The nibbles were yummy, a taste for what was to come… very promising.

After mingling with the other guests, we were ushered to the basement where the dining tables were set next to Luiz’s impressive kitchen.
Luiz then introduced his menu to us: 5 starters, a very substantial main course with accompaniments, and a dessert.

The first starter: Salmon Sashimi South American way (a nikkei style ceviche) was refreshing, flavoursome with a mild kick of chilli. 

The second, and one of my favourites: Mentaiko Spaghetti (spaghetti in marinated spicy cod roe and black caviar sauce). Beautifully presented, looking like a creamy small bird’s nest ready to be explored. At the first mouthful, all my flavour senses were awoken. The small explosion of the cod roe and caviar with the creamy texture brought noises of pleasure to the table.

One of my other favourite dishes was the Shiitake Zosui with a
64ºC sous vide egg. The perfume of shiitake mushrooms was the first thing that hit my nose. The miso-mascarpone added a special umami taste.

The main courses were brought to the table to be shared between us. The Argentinian Picanha was perfectly salty and tender with a pleasant taste of garlic and citrus. Luiz brought us second, third and fourth servings of the meat and the Japanese three-mushroom rice. We behaved like famine vultures reaching for the plates and defending some of the pieces for ourselves. 

The dessert was a Panettone bread and butter pudding with Genmaicha custard. I loved it. The mild roasted brown rice and green tea flavour of the genmaicha custard toned down the richness of the bread and butter pudding. It was an unforgettable dinner. So much so that the flavours have stayed with me.

In this last post of the year, I sign off with a dessert inspired by Luiz's supperclub. It’s a winter recipe I normally make for Christmas but this time instead of adding citrus or spices I am flavouring it with genmaicha tea. I wish you a very happy and wholesome Christmas!

The welcome drinks and nibbles.
Salmon sashimi South American way.
Mentaiko Spaghetti.
Yasai no Agebitashi - deep fried and marinated vegetables in dashi, soy, sake and mirin.
Shiitake Zosui with a 64ºC sous vide egg.
Selection of tempura.
Deliciously tender Argentinian picanha with celeriac wasabi remoulade.
Three-mushroom rice.
Luiz demonstrating to the table how to put the dessert together.
Bread and butter pudding with genmaicha tea custard.
Nikkei inspired rice pudding

If you prefer a vegan rice pudding option, use cashew, coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s milk and replace the butter with coconut oil instead. I opted for the full-on dairy recipe as it gives a creamy texture and adds a lovely caramel flavour. And also, because it’s Christmas and this dessert reminds me of my childhood ;-).

The main ingredients.
Milk infused with genmaicha tea.
Melted butter and sugar mix...
...then add the re-hydrated goji berries.
My genmaicha flavoured rice pudding

1 litre organic whole full-fat milk (I used organic raw milk from Hook and Son)

4 teaspoons of organic genmaicha tea or 4 tea bags
30g organic butter
100g pudding rice 

70g organic raw sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

40g of goji berries (I re-hydrated them in lukewarm water for 5 minutes)
a pinch of sea-salt 


Preheat the oven to 130ºC.

In a medium size pan, pour in the milk and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat, add the tea and let it brew for 3 minutes. If you are using loose tea, sieve and reserve; if using tea bags, take them out and reserve.  

In another pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the sugar and stir for 2 minutes or until the rice becomes sticky. Add the goji berries, stir.
Now, add the genmaicha-infused milk stirring well. Add the cream and vanilla and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once this is reached, give it a stir.

Transfer to an oven-proof dish and bake for about 1-1½ to 2 hour. If the mixture starts to turn  brown too quickly on the top, cover with a foil.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

A healthy note: genmaicha tea contains green tea leaves which studies have shown to help regulate blood pressure and fight hypertension. It also has brown rice, which contains selenium, a mineral that helps regulate thyroid hormones. It has antioxidant properties and has a compound, theanine, that has been shown to help with relaxation.
Raw cow’s milk, from a nutritional perspective, is superior to pasteurized milk in terms of its beneficial enzymes, but you need to check the source and make sure it is certified free of harmful microorganisms. Raw cow's milk contains fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A and D, calcium and other minerals. 

Goji Berry or Wolfberry (Lycium barbarum). Contains antioxidants and vitamin C. It boosts blood circulation, lowers elevated  blood sugar, increases HDL cholesterol levels (the good one) and reduces fatigue. 

Till next year!

Thursday 7 December 2017

A fab restaurant and a protein soup

As many of you may know, I enjoy cooking easy and simple foods. Those ones that don't take ages to prep and make, but at the same time are wholesome and hearty.

This week I am celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. My husband booked a table at my current favourite restaurant in London: Lyle’s. The first time I went there I was so impressed with the dishes that I kept going on about it with Dean. So he (rightly) thought it would be a good idea for us to go back.

One thing that defines chef James Lowe’s food to me is flavour. He is former head-chef of St John Bread and Wine and part of the defunct Young Turks Collective. Oh my god, the man knows how to mix and match, creating surprising and intriguing meals - sweet, bitter, umami… - you count it. The restaurant has an à la carte menu during lunch time and a small 5 dish tasting menu for dinner (but with the little extras, you end up eating more than that).

I am not crazy about some game meat but I am always open to try whatever the chef proposes. Thank goodness that night wasn’t pheasant. I mentioned my dislike of the strong gamey taste to the ever so lovely waitress and she hesitated to bring me the first nibble. It was a small shortbread biscuit made with treacle and duck fat, filled with goose and mallard liver paté and damson jelly. It was rich (but not sickening), smooth and delicate. I was so glad she brought it for me to try.

The second nibble was a 24-hour fermented sourdough flatbread with roasted Cornish mussels, neal’s yard cheese and chervil. Really good!  

Other excellent dishes we ate: pollack and turnip tops, quail, grumolo (a mini variety of radicchio) and pickled quince. Dessert was a delicious coffee and caramel (coffee and raw goat’s milk ice-cream).

To drink, we ordered a robust and full-bodied red with a refreshing taste of black berry fruits: Cuvée Des Drilles 2016.

But the highlight to me was the first dish: pumpkin and whey broth. On my first mouthful, angels descended from heaven.

The next day, I had to try and recreate it at home in the form of a soup. I conveniently had a Crown Prince pumpkin that came with my farmer’s veggie box this week, and I also had some whey liquid leftover from the labneh (see a recipe here and another here) I made two days before. I had no idea how it would turn out or if the amounts of ingredients were right, but I gave it a go. *

To wrap up the evening at Lyle’s we ordered a fresh peppermint tea which came accompanied by the most delicious mince pies - no exaggeration here.

If you haven’t visited Lyle’s yet and do appreciate good food, make your reservation now.

* James Lowe generously shared his method with me this morning, but my dish was already done at that stage and I didn’t have the time or the ingredients to cook another batch. His ratio of pumpkin to whey is nothing like the one I used in my soup. He also used delicate pumpkin which is slightly milder and lighter in colour than the Crown Prince. But I was happy with the result. The flavour was all about the pumpkin.

Dinner menu
The rich but light shortbread with mallard and grouse liver pate.
Roasted Cornish mussels on sourdough bread.
The delectable pumpkin and whey broth.
Coffee and caramel. Yum!
My husband's dessert: Pear, oats and Innes Bur cheese.
To wrap up, the best mince pies ever!

Roast pumpkin and whey soup

The whey liquid lends a protein boost to this hearty soup. It’s now on my regular winter menu.

The stars of the soup
The pumpkin wedges smeared with butter, seasoned with sea-salt and "bathed" in whey.

Roasting the pumpkin wedges and seeds.
Roasting is ready.
My pumpkin and whey soup with roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil.


For the roast
1 Crown Prince pumpkin – 1.3kg
1 cup of organic whey liquid
15g organic butter, room temperature

for the soup
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
30g organic butter
850ml vegetable stock
sea-salt, pepper and nutmeg to season


Preheat the oven to 190C. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds (you can roast the seeds too, if you like). Cut into wedges, rub some of the butter on the flesh, season and run the whey liquid over them. Roast for 45-50 minutes or longer, until the pumpkin is easily pierced through with a fork. Set it aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and let it cook for about 5 minutes, add the garlic and cook a bit more, stirring occasionally, until translucent.

Turn the heat down, add the stock to the onion and garlic mixture, and let it simmer. Now add the flesh of pumpkin (no skin), season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 more minutes. Blend it, add more water if you wish. I like mine a bit creamier.

A healthy note: Pumpkin (Curcubita pepo): is a great source of carotene, vitamin C, vitamins B1, B5, B3, B6, folic acid, potassium, and dietary fibre.

Greek doctors considered Whey as “healing water.” It contains probiotic organisms that help maintain a good balance of the digestive system, encouraging repair of digestive problems. Whey contains potassium and other minerals and vitamins. It allows protein to become more available for muscle repair and muscle building, that’s why is a great choice for athletes, especially after workouts.

You can drink it straight or mix it in your juices, teas, soups or smoothies; freeze it into ice cubes then add it to your smoothies. You can also add some whey liquid to the water you are soaking legumes (beans, lentils etc) or cooking grains in to improve digestibility.

Till next week!

Thursday 30 November 2017

Food for the blood

Winter is definitely time for hibernation - well at least it’s what I would love to do, under my cosy duvet, especially on those cold early mornings, until I get a cheerful wake-up call from Spring. Autumn/Winter is the season of the year when we should slow down and store every inch of energy possible. But instead we are as busy as any other time of the year.

At the moment, I blame my low energy levels on the cold and early darkness, and also on a mild anaemia. Although I have a very balanced diet, I have to constantly keep an eye on my iron levels. Being a woman doesn’t help, especially when the hormones tend to create havoc once a month. That’s why I increase my intake of foods rich in iron, folic acid, B12 and vitamin C, as often as possible, to keep my red blood cells in check.

This week, amongst other heart-warming veggie and fruit, there were some beautiful beetroots and very majestic spinach in my organic farm box. A perfect combination for a meal I love making. I decided to revisit a recipe I posted here about 6 years ago. It still has a special place on our table. At first, both my husband and daughter disliked beetroot, but since I made this risotto, the red roots have become a lot more welcomed in our household. Besides being flavoursome and warming, this dish helps to keep the blood in good order and the reserve of energy high – for the whole family. 

The main ingredients
Roasting the diced beetroot.
The beetroot juice added to the veggie stock.
Let the wine evaporate...
...then add the stock, laddle by laddle, until cooked.
Time to sautée the spinach ...
... until wilted.
When risotto is cooked, add the beetroot and butter...
Then finalise with lemon zest and juice.
My beetroot, goat's cheese and spinach risotto.
Beetroot risotto with goat’s cheese and greens

This dish is so beautifully red that only looking at it makes your red blood cells increase ;)

I also like to use the beet leaves when they come with them. But you can substitute them by any greens of your preference.


400g beetroot, peeled and cut in small cubes
2 Tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
1.1 litres of vegetable stock
250g Arborio, Carnaroli or any other risotto rice
1 big onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced
125ml red wine
30g organic butter

Zest of 1 lemon, juice of half lemon
a big bunch of organic Spinach
120g fresh goat's cheese, crumbled
Sea salt and black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Chop the beetroots into 1cm size pieces and toss them with the olive oil and salt. Place them in an oven dish and roast for 15 minutes.

Keeping the oven on, remove half of the beets and put them in a blender or food processor with about 400ml of the vegetable stock. Blend until it looks like a smooth liquid. Now, add it to the rest of the stock. Bring it to the boil and hold it at a low simmer.

Return the rest of the beetroots to the oven until they start to caramelise. It will take about 15-20 minutes more. Reserve.

In a wide, heavy pan over medium heat, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and sautée the onions and half of the garlic for 5 minutes. Lower the heat, add the rice and toast it for seven to eight minutes, stirring often. Add the red wine and simmer, stirring, until it has been absorbed. Add a ladleful or two of the hot beetroot broth. Stirring often, let this simmer until it is absorbed, then add more broth. Continue in this way until the rice is just tender and almost dry. It will take about 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat some olive oil in a big frying pan, sautée the rest of the garlic for 2 minutes and add the spinach until it wilts. Reserve.

Now, add the roasted beetroots and butter to the risotto, folding gently. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half lemon. Stir and season to taste.

Serve the risotto adding the crumbled goat’s cheese over and placing some spinach on top of each plate. Enjoy!

A healthy note: Beetroot (Beta vulgaris): Contains betain, a nutrient that increases digestion and prevents heart and liver diseases. The red purple pigment betacyanin is a powerful cancer-fighting agent. It provides lots of fibre and that’s probably why it has shown to improve bowel function - it moistens the intestines, relieving constipation and regulating digestion. Studies have shown that beetroot strengthens the heart, regulates cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, benefits the liver and purifies the blood. Beetroot colours can show up even in your urine or faeces, which is a harmless condition called beeturia.

The juice of beetroot with carrot is a perfect combination to regulate hormones and relieve the symptoms of menopause.

Beetroot is a great source of betacarotene, vitamin B6, folic acid, manganese, silicon and potassium. It is also a good source of iron, which can prevent anaemia especially for people who follow a vegetarian diet.

Beet greens have a higher concentration of calcium, iron and vitamins A and C than beetroots.  They are high in sodium, so little salt is required.  Caution: Those who suffer from kidney problems should avoid eating too much beet greens due to an organic compound called oxalic acid, which if eaten in excess can inhibit calcium metabolism

Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) is rich in iron, has abundant vitamin A, folate and magnesium. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, which helps to maintain bone health. Spinach also helps cleanse the blood of toxins, facilitates bowel movements aiding the treatment for constipation. It contains sulphur, which is beneficial for relieving herpes irritations. CautionAs with beetroot greens, people who suffer from kidney stones should eat raw spinach in moderation due to its high oxalic content, as it inhibits calcium metabolism. Also avoid it if you have loose stools or urinary incontinence.

Till next week!

Thursday 23 November 2017

Soup for Syria for a quick recovery

Sometimes we are reminded of how much we take things for granted in our everyday lives. Simple things like having a bite on a crunchy sourdough toast with melting butter and cheese make my salivary glands open up wide, as I am recovering from a dental surgery. 

I thought I would be ready to chomp around again in less than three days after the op, but it took longer than I thought. So, my lovely husband and my ever so helpful sister cooked lovely soups to nourish me and make my recovery quicker.

Then, I was reminded again that we do take things for granted. Feeling sorry for myself, I looked for recipes to inspire my helpers and reached for the book “Soup for Syria”. It hit me then why that book was published (by Barbara Abdeni Massaad – Pavilion books) in the first place: the intention was to help raise money to alleviate the awful conditions in which the Syrian refugees were living. This was two years ago. Since then, things got even worse for the population in that region.

In “Soup for Syria”, you will find recipes from famous chefs and food writers from around the world - like Claudia Roden, Yotam Ottolenghi, Alice Waters, Greg Malouf etc - who joined force to “Celebrate Our Shared Humanity”, as it says in the subtitle.

I remembered that another charitable effort followed: “Cook for Syria” (published by Suitcase Magazine). This book was born after a group of friends decided to run Syrian cuisine supper clubs to help raise money for Unicef in aid of Syrian children. It became a global fundraising movement, curated by the Instagram influencer @Clerkenwellboy. These books are nice initiatives and yet there’s still so much that can and should be done to stop the suffering of Syrian children and civilians.

In a flash, it all made me think how lucky I am to be able to enjoy a warm bowl of soup every day. Here, I share a recipe from “Soup for Syria”, to celebrate our shared humanity.

The main ingredients.
Adding spices and verjuice...
...before finalizing with the light sauteed garlic.
My red lentil soup with verjuice and garlic.

Aleppo Red Lentil Soup with Verjuice

By Aziz Hallaj 
(Serves 4-6)

Very simple but full of flavours, and with anti-inflammatory properties from the spices, this soup is a great choice for when you are recovering from an illness or just want to have something nourishing during the cold season. Yoghurt makes a pleasant accompaniment too.


400g split red lentils

2 teaspoons Lebanese seven spice (or Baharat)

2 teaspoons ground cumin
 (I didn't use it)
Pinch of salt

*250ml verjuice (unripe grape juice; or substitute for lemon juice)

*250ml extra-virgin olive oil
10 small garlic cloves
Toasted croutons (optional)

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or paprika)

* It seems that there was a typo error in the publication as the amount of verjuice and olive oil is way too much. So, I used 25ml of verjuice and 25ml of olive oil instead.


Cover the lentils with 1.5l of water in a large pot and let it boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are very tender, skimming off any foam and stirring to prevent burning. Add the spice mix, cumin, salt and verjuice, and cook for 10 minutes, until the lentils have broken down.
In a separate pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until golden brown. Pour into the soup, mix well and cook for two minutes. Garnish with croutons, if using, and pepper.

A healthy note: Red lentils (Lens culinaris) contains protein, iron, magnesium, folate, and anti-oxidants. Lentils contains high levels of dietary fibre which promotes healthy bowel movements. Lentils are also a source of prebiotics that act like food for our existing gut bacteria. It also contains very important nutrients for the heart health protecting against heart disease by lowering high levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of nature’s first known medicines. It is also a good source of prebiotics. It helps to prevent the common cold due to its antiviral properties. It is packed with antioxidants and contains antibacterial properties.   

Till next week!

Thursday 9 November 2017

Savoury cake with a nod to Kosovo

                                          Alketa and Luli      photo by Mark Stonebanks
The thing I love most about my neighbourhood, apart from my friendly neighbours and the weekend farmer’s market, are the local shops. There are lots of them around me that have been in business for years - like the old convenience store where I find the most unusual produce, or the international delis, of various nationalities, where I get to buy things I tried during my travels. Then, a nice new one pops up, once in a while. Not the omnipresent chains, but independent and creative businesses that I really like and always hope will survive.

One such place is the now well established Curled Leaf, a tea house in Mill Lane, a little haven in West Hampstead. It opened about 5 years ago and went from strength to strength. The first time I went there I was welcomed by the beautiful, smiley and friendly face of Alketa Xhafa, one half of Curled Leaf. Apart from running the tea house, Alketa is a high-profile artist and also a brilliant yoga teacher. Her husband Luli, the other half, who also runs the place, is an accomplished acupuncturist and

herbalist. They were both born in Kosovo.

Their place is tastefully decorated, and you have a sense of being at home. In the beginning the idea was for it to be exclusively a tea house but over the years - under the pressure of the customers - Luli gave in and bought a state-of-the-art coffee machine. Now, on top of serving 52 types of tea they also have artisan Ethiopian coffee. Plus juices and smoothies.

The vegetarian and seasonal menu is small but perfectly formed: a selection of salads, pastries, savoury pies, soups and veggie stews. All prepared daily in the downstairs kitchen. For dessert, or an afternoon tea, you can have cakes such as carrot or apple and apricot, with gluten and dairy-free options. One of their specialities is the corn and spelt bread-like pie with mushroom and spinach. It’s a savoury dish very popular in Kosovo, called leqenik (pronounced “lecheneek”). It’s so yum that I couldn’t resist trying to recreate it myself, adding my own little twist.

I am so happy that Curled Leaf is growing stronger and still maintains the same quality and lovely ambience they’ve had from day one. It’s all thanks to Luli and Alketa who are the beautiful souls of the place.
I love Curled Leaf and I will sip my tea to that!

52 types of teas on the wall and beautiful flowers to welcome you.                                                                            photo by Dean Northcott
                     The best spinach and feta borekas in the area.                        
The selection of salads and cakes.    
                                                                                                   photo by Dean Northcott
Their aubergine dish is one of the most popular dishes.
Harmonizing herbal tea.
Ethiopian coffee.
Curled Leaf's savoury bread take-away.

Back in my kitchen

As I didn't have the recipe, I tried to mix and match some of the ingredients they use there. My savoury cake turned out to be delicious too. But if you want to try the real thing you must go to Curled Leaf.

Some of the ingredients.
My savoury corn and spelt bread with mushroom, goat's cheese and pesto.

Spelt and corn bread with Portobello mushrooms


200g cornmeal or polenta
140g spelt flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coconut sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
2 large free-range eggs
450 ml yogurt
118g butter
125 g fresh spinach, chopped
140 g feta cheese
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped

6 Portobello mushrooms
Soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
Pesto (optional)


Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Line a baking tin (I used a 31cm x 20 cm deep).

In a large bowl mix the cornmeal flour, salt, baking powder and coconut sugar.

In a separate bowl, beat the yoghurt and eggs then add the melted butter and mix.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold in the chopped chilli, feta cheese and spinach.

Pour mixture into prepared baking dish. Place the mushroom on top of the dough and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the crumbled goat’s cheese on top of the mushrooms, return to the oven and bake for 5-10 more minutes until golden and cooked through. 

Serve it with a nice salad or have it with some dip or spread as a snack. 

A healthy note: cornbread is a good source of fibre (to help regulate bowel movements), calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. It also contains vitamins A and B12.

Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) is rich in iron, has abundant vitamin A and calcium. It helps cleanse the blood of toxins and facilitates bowel movements, helping in the treatment of constipation. It contains sulphur, which is beneficial for relieving herpes irritations. Caution: People who suffer from kidney stones should eat raw spinach in moderation due to an organic compound called oxalic acid, which if eaten in excess can inhibit calcium metabolism. Also avoid it if you have loose stools or urinary incontinence.
Portobello mushroom is a good source of B vitamins such as B2, B3 and B5. It contains the minerals selenium, copper and potassium. 

Till next week!
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