Thursday 31 May 2018

Homemade elderflower cordial

My latest pastime is to go into the garden every morning to appreciate my new vegetable patch, and enjoy all the plants and flowers that the season is bringing.

One of the drinks I enjoy most over Spring and Summer is elderflower pressé. I was blessed to buy a place where an elderflower tree came as part of the package.
Last weekend lots of flower-heads came through. Excited as a child, I picked some of them to make my first batch of elderflower cordial of the year. It’s easy and satisfying. I adopted and adapted a recipe from River Cottage which I’ve been using for many years now.

Elderflower and elderberry are the two gifts the trees in my garden give me every year. Hopefully, I will be sharing the elderberry recipe later on in the season.

In the meantime, if you can manage to pick some elderflowers, do make yourself a lovely cordial. Besides being tasty, it has lots of beneficial properties.

Elderflower tree.
Add some lemon zest...
...and boiling water. Let infuse overnight.
My homemade elderflower cordial.

Homemade elderflower cordial (recipe adapted from River Cottage’s)
Makes about 1.5 litre

This cordial is very versatile. You can use it as a refreshing cold drink with still or sparkling water; poured into a champagne or prosecco glass; as ice-lollies or jelly (see here); for using in icing for cakes or cupcakes; added to fruit salad; or however else it takes your fancy.

I use a lot less sugar then it is normally asked for in recipes. So, below I give you the option.


About 20-25 elderflower heads
Finely grated zest of 3 unwaxed lemons, plus their juice
600g- 1kg sugar


Check the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flowers in a large bowl together with the lemon zest.

Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and lemon zest. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.

The next day, strain the liquid through a sterilized bag or piece of muslin, and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar and the lemon juice.

Heat it gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.

A healthy note: Elderflower (Sambucus) has been used in traditional medicine, in many different cultures, for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Rich in bioflavonoids.
Studies have shown that elderflower can be used for the treatment of colds &flu. It is a great diaphoretic (makes you sweat).
Elderflower has also been shown to soothe irritated sinus and mucus membranes, alleviating the symptoms of sinusitis and bronchitis. It is used in treatment for people with diabetes as it reduces blood sugar levels. For those suffering with constipation, elderflower can help relieve the symptoms due to its diuretic and laxative properties.

Till next week!

Wednesday 16 May 2018

A Greek corner in Borough Market

As far as the culinary world goes, in London, you can almost visit any country without leaving the city. Last Saturday I went to Greece in the heart of Borough Market. I was invited by the people behind Oliveology to attend a workshop run by the Greek chef Despina Siahuli. Oliveology started trading in a small stall in Borough Market, in 2010. Nowadays, they have their own shop, which is located at the Three Crown Square section of the market.

They were the first to bring organic, unpasteurised Kalamata olives to the UK. Some of these have a unique flavour. This is due to the fact that the olives don’t go through a mechanical and chemical method. They are cured with fresh water and left to naturally ferment. It is a very slow process and undeniably labour intensive. It takes about 6-9 months to reach the end of the process. When ready, they are preserved in organic extra-virgin olive oil, organic vinegar and mixed wild herbs. I had never tried some of them before and it was a revelation.

At the workshop, I learnt how to use some of the traditional ingredients, supplied by independent artisan farmers from different parts of Greece.

Despina showed us how to use bulgur wheat as a filling for aubergine, onions and peppers. The mixture was cooked in tomato sauce, with loads of fresh herbs, smoked paprika and dried oregano. Once the bulgur was cooked, we filled the vegetables with it, and oven roasted it for…

The second dish we prepared was a dip made from slow cooked white beans, with garlic and potato. We blended them all together, adding some fresh herbs. It was served with the delicious wild capers and Kalamata olives from the shop.

The salad was one of the star dishes. It was made with incredible barley rusks called Dakos, plus unpasteurised feta cheese and hazelnuts. To finish, a drizzle of a flavoursome dressing made from grape molasses.

To accompany the meal, I had – what else? – some Greek wine: the 2016 Markou Vineyard Schinopeuko Retsina. It was a good surprise to me because the first time I drank retsina wine I really disliked it. Marianna Kolokotroni, the shop owner, explained that some lower quality retsina have a bad reputation - not only for their taste but also because they can give you an unpleasant headache. The wine we had at Oliveology was of another level. The Markou had the flavours of pine resin that developed into a mixture of refreshing citrus and herbal  aftertaste.

For a nice, sweet finish, Despina melted some dark chocolate which we used to coat some almonds and hazelnuts. There were also prunes soaked in Mastika drink, stuffed with nuts and covered in chocolate. 

Sourdough toast with soft Greek goat's cheese and wild thyme honey.
Bulgur wheat being cooked with loads of fresh herbs... be used as a filling in some vegetables.
Refreshing Mastika drink.
Nuts and prunes covered with dark chocolate and sprinkled with bee pollen.

I was really impressed with the quality of Oliveology’s ingredients and the passion of everyone involved in the business. I came home inspired to explore other flavours from Greece. I will now be visiting the shop more often. The extra virging olive oil selection is now a must. But, first, I’ll share with you one of the healthy and mouth-watering recipes I learned in the Greek corner of Borough Market.

Some of the fabulous ingredients I brought home.

Blend all the ingredients together.

My Greek white bean dip!

White beans dip with fresh herbs and wild capers (by Despina Siahuli’s)

Serves 8-10


200g dried white beans (i.e. cannellini)
1 bay leaf
2 medium garlic cloves
100g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 Tablespoon flat parsley, chopped
3 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Wild capers and olives for garnish


Soak the beans overnight in cold water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse.

Place the beans back in the pot, cover them with fresh water (make sure that there is plenty of water covering the beans). Bring them to a gentle boil, add the bay leaf, the garlic cloves and the potatoes, if you are using them.

Cook the beans until tender – it will take 1-2 hours, depending on the beans. Once they are cooked, drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf. Leave the beans to cool.

Put the beans and the garlic (and the potatoes) with 20ml of the cooking liquid into a blender, or food processor. Add the fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add more liquid if needed.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with EVOO, fresh chopped herbs, capers and olives.

A healthy note: Cannellini beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are one of the best sources of fibre. Research has shown that the high content of fibre can help lower cholesterol and prevent the quick rise of blood sugar levels after a meal. It makes them especially good for people diagnosed with diabetes, hypoglycaemia or who are insulin resistant. Cannellini beans are rich in Leucine, an aminoacid that is beneficial in exercise recovery.

Till next week!

Thursday 10 May 2018

Papaya sauce for an English barbecue

Last weekend, when I couldn’t find chicken on the supermarket shelves, I realized it was going to be barbecue-time all over London. The friends who invited us for a barbie in their garden made as a centrepiece some gorgeous king prawns.   

One of the things I made to take with us was a sauce to go with the prawns or meat. The theme of the dish was Caribbean. Papaya and lime brought to the English garden a flavour of the tropics.  At 28 degrees Celsius, the setting was perfect.

The ingredients.
My papaya and lime sauce.

This is a very simple and quick recipe but it will give your barbecue an oomph. If you decide to make prawns at home for a dinner party, this sauce will bring a special something to the table. You just need the following:


1 ripe papaya, skin and seeds removed
1/2-1 birds eye chilli, seedless (you can also use half of a Scotch Bonnet if you want it extra hot)

1 shallot
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove
2cm ginger
Allspice powder, add to your taste (optional)
A pinch of sugar or 1 teaspoon of maple syrup
Salt to taste.


Blend all the ingredients together. Place the sauce in a small pan, bring to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool. It’s now ready to be tasted.
A healthy note: Papaya (Carica papaya) is an excellent source of vitamin C, carotenes, folic acid, vitamins A and E, potassium and dietary fibre. But it is papain, an enzyme that helps break down or digest protein, that makes this delicious fruit so special. In many countries, papaya is used as an ingredient to tenderise meat. It is also used to treat indigestion, hay fever and other causes of allergies. The black seeds are edible and some people eat it to alleviate constipation.

Till next week!

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Keeping the tradition – cake for an afternoon tea

Afternoon tea has been a ritual in my family for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, going to my grandmother’s home for tea was a must. But I wasn’t under any obligation, I really loved it.

My paternal grandmother was from a Lebanese background. The Lebanese take food and family gatherings very seriously. Food is often an excuse for them. Every day we had some sort of homemade cake, biscuit, bread, pudding, plus some seasonal fruits. Actually, I was very lucky with both sides of the family. My maternal grandmother not only cooked Brazilian food superbly well but also Italian - because of my grandfather’s roots.

Forward to this day, my family spontaneously created a habit of afternoon tea. My husband and I often work from home and we have the luxury of having a tea break. Instead of buying cakes, or going for the “healthy” option of raw energy bars, I prefer to make them myself. This way I can control the amount of sugar and the quality of ingredients that go into them. I also want my daughter to have the pleasure of coming home from school and finding the smell of freshly homemade cake, muffins (savoury/sweet), or biscuits in the house.

I am not one for the calorie counting culture. A so called “healthy” raw energy bar might contain more sugar than a piece of cake (see below on A healthy note).

We are not only getting the pleasure of carrying on the tradition of an afternoon tea as a family but we are also gaining some nutritional benefits from my homemade baking.

The ingredients.

Mixed and ready to be baked.

The lemon syrup.

My lemon polenta cake.

Lemon polenta cake
serves 16


For the cake

200g organic soft unsalted butter (plus some for greasing)
160g caster sugar
200g organic ground almonds
100g organic fine polenta (or cornmeal)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
4 small organic eggs (or 3 large)
zest of 2 lemons 

For the syrup

juice of 2 lemons (the ones you used above)
50 grams caster sugar or honey


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin with butter, sides and all, and line it with a baking parchment.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and pale.

Beat in the eggs, one by one.

In another bowl mix together the almonds, polenta, baking powder, lemon zest. Add this mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 40 minutes.

Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan.
Simmer over a medium heat for about 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Remove the cake tin from the oven. Prick the top of the cake all over with a skewer, then pour or brush the warm syrup over it. Leave it to cool.

Delicious served with a dollop of yoghurt and chopped pistachios.

A healthy note: A serving of my polenta cake can provide around 13g of sugar (
it’s not ideal if you are trying to have a very low sugar intake, but it’s ok for those who don’t have restrictions and who are on a healthy balanced diet), as opposed to some raw energy bars that provide approximately 19g per serving. Remember that the recommended maximum refined sugar intake for an adult is 30g a day; and for a child between 19g-24g (see NHS for the government guidelines ).

Till next week!
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