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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