Unconventional mascarpone risotto with oven roasted vegetables and beet greens

Risotto

Two nights ago I roasted vegetables for supper. I had to deal with a load of them left from my weekly delivery. What was left over, I pureed with the intention to prepare a nice wintery soup for the following day at work. But as it happened, in the fury of preparing for the day, I fell short of time. In the evening I took the pure out and noticed I had a bunch of wilting beet greens that badly needed cooking. I remembered an amazing risotto I had once eaten in a restaurant in Queen’s Park with pumpkin and spinach and came with an idea. I’ll mix the roasted veggie pure in the risotto and add the beet greens to balance the sweetness.

I haven’t cooked risotto for a long time because of the white rice. I don’t keep white items in my cupboard anymore. Table salt, white sugar, flour and rice are what they now call anti-nutrients. I didn’t have brown Arborio rice so I had to use plain brown rice. For risotto enthusiast this might be a big transgression but I thought I’d break the rules and try and, oh boy, did it work! The sweet and earthy flavours of the rice, roasted root vegetables and mascarpone combined with the bitterness of greens made such a great combination that I could not help but to share this with you. So, here it goes:

P.s. I warn you, this is not a conventional way of cooking the risotto because the rice is different. I also won’t be able to give you an exact recipe because I worked with my gut feelings. I can only guess these were the measures:

200ml brown rice

Water

1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder

Ghee

1 large onion

1dl white wine

2 tbsp mascarpone cheese

200ml roasted vegetable pure’

(I used: potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and garlic)

Bunch of beet greens

parmesan cheese

salt

pepper

Olive oil

Cook the rice in water with bouillon powder until tender. Pure’ roasted vegetables with some warm water in a blender. Chop the beet greens and fry them gently in a small amount of ghee until soft and season with salt. Finely chop the onion and, in a separate pan, fry in ghee until golden and tender. Add the rice and wine and let cook for a few minutes. Add mascarpone and let it melt in the rice. Add vegetable pure and mix well. Mix beet greens in and season with salt and pepper. Add a little grated parmesan cheese but not to overpower the taste of other ingredients. When serving garnish with olive oil.

Perfect seasonal food – home made baked beans

beansSpringtime is the time to treat our palates with bitter, pungent and astringent tastes. Pulses, spiced right, are perfect spring food because they are astringent.

Knowingly, they are also “airy”, which is also a good property of food in this period when the season makes us feel heavy and tired. Nature balances itself through opposites and you can play with this concept a lot when you cook. Just remind yourself of the season’s qualities and then cook with opposite quality food.

Spring is a strong period of growth. The waters of the soil start flowing in late winter bringing qualities of heaviness and coldness around but providing life giving material for nature to wake up. Structure, cohesion and bulk created by the nature bring about feelings of heaviness, stiffness and tiredness. To avoid the season’s disorders taking over your body and mind resort to food that has opposite qualities: light (e.g. pulses), stimulating and heating (spices and herbs). Cut down on heavy items i.e. reduce the use of fats and you can almost avoid dairy. Generally eat less, especially in the evenings.

Sage is an optimal kitchen herb for this season. Being bitter, pungent and astringent in tastes it perfectly fits in to balance seasonal disorders. It is one of the herbs of choice for respiratory disorders, which are very typical of this season. Read more details of sage’s health benefits in Anne Macintyre’ site.

Here’s an old Italian recipe I love Fagioli all’uccelletto, which usually is made with cannellini beans. In fact, this is the original baked beans recipe. So, instead of buying ready-made ones make them yourself, which is far far better.

This time I’ve used giant beans because I prefer them out of all white beans. In Italy this dish is usually offered as a side with meat or fish but it makes a perfect supper in spring. A couple of dry crackers instead of bread is a perfect accompaniment (bread should be cut down in spring).

Another addition to the traditional recipe is the use of asafoedita spice (hing), which greatly reduces the gassy element of pulses. Take it as a default always to cook pulses with this gas smelling herb that actually reduces gas. Don’t be put off by the smell, you’ll be grateful for the effects. Use sparingly!

Also, I’ve stopped using vegetable oils for cooking. I use ghee instead as it does not turn rancid when you heat it and it feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut. I add olive oil in the end to get the proper Italian flavor out.

Spicy beans with cherry tomatoes and sage / Fagioli all’uccelletto

1 can of giant/cannellini beans (or dried if you have time)

15 cherry tomatoes

1 clove of garlic

3/4 tbsp ghee

Fresh sage

Pinch of chilli

Pinch of cracked black pepper

Pinch of asafoetida

Himalayan rock salt to taste

Cook the canned beans for 5 – 10 min in water with 5 leaves of fresh sage. If you are using dried beans then cooking takes longer and you need to have soaked the beans overnight first. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Add ghee into a pan with crushed garlic and fresh sage. Fry on a low fire to savour the fat. Add tomatoes cut side down and put the lid on the pan. Make sure the heat is low. You want to cook the tomatoes, keep the juice and avoid burning. Add the beans once they have cooked and soft, evaporate excess liquids, add salt, pepper and asafoetida. When you serve, pour a thread of olive oil on top.

Enjoy!

Minestrone

minestroneI think the best winter warmer food is Minestrone. A simple traditional Italian soup with a selection of vegetables, beans and pasta is just the comfort you want after a cold day out, warming your cold bones. It is nourishing but still quite light, full of perfuming garden herbs that wake up the appetite and make the soup easy to digest. I shared it tonight with my friends and we just couldn’t stop humming with pleasure. There are many ways of making it. I prefer it without tomatoes, with clear broth and a nice sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. Here’s my recipe:

3 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion

1 stalk of celery

2 carrots

3 big potatoes

1 can of beans (mixed, borlotti or cannellini)

1 cup of frozen peas

Handful of green beans

1 cup of small pasta

1 clove of garlic

1 stock cube

Pepper

Thyme

Sage

Parsley

Himalayan Rock Salt

Fry chopped onions and celery in olive oil, add all the rest of chopped vegetables, herbs and stock cube. Let boil until potatoes are soft. Add pasta, beans, crushed garlic, pepper and salt. Cook until pasta is al dente. Serve with a dash of olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.

Tip: if you know you’re cooking more than you’ll eat, you should cook the pasta separately. It will become soggy and lose being al dente if you leave it in the soup. If you freeze the soup only you can always cook some more pasta alongside with it.

 

Garden herbs for this season

Chopped flat leaf parsleyNature is very clever in keeping us healthy. Our digestive power varies according to the digestibility of the foods of the season. In autumn and winter our digestive power usually gets a bit stronger in response to the seasonal produce. The harvest is quite hard to digest and also a bit mucous forming. This is fine as the body and mind enjoy rich and nutritious meals in order to cope with winter.

Because of the digestive fire getting stronger it is advisable to keep it burning on a steady flame by nourishing it with mild spices. Strong ones like chilli can get the flame too high. Problems of overheat like acidity are then common especially because this season’s food is naturally acidic. Grains, pulses and nuts are all acidic to some degree. This season is also when meat can be eaten (by the ones who choose to eat it) and it is also acidic in quality.

To spice my autumn food up I personally prefer garden herbs. Parsley, coriander, sage, rosemary and thyme are my favourites. I picked up a tip from Jamie Oliver and freeze the fresh ones I buy and use as much as I need at one go and always have fresh ones at hand, even in winter. I use plenty of them in chicken stock, in roast veggies, pasta sauces and, of course, my favourite coriander, parsley and mint chutney. Here’ the recipe. It is excellent with dals and curries. Also yummy on toast bread.

2 bunches      coriander

1 bunch          parsley

½ bunch        mint

2                      garlic

1”                    ginger

½-1                 Lemon juice

2 cups            Sunflower oil

Rock salt

Chop fresh herbs and mix them with the grated garlic and ginger. Add lemon juice, sunflower oil and finally salt to taste.

 

Asafetida – the spice of the season

asafetidaThe latin name for Asafetida, or hing in Sanskrit, is Ferula fetida. “Fetida” implies smell. Indeed, the powdered spice is very pungent and almost rotten in smell and can be felt from a distance. It is like someone had passed gas. Ironically, this herb actually relieves gas. It is our spice of choice for the seasons of autumn and winter because during these times we tend to create more gas in our bodies.

Ayurvedically, gas is related to the bodily humour of vata. Vata dosha is made of ether and air. These elements give vata its behavioural patterns. Vata creates space and fills it with air. This might be going on just now in your own digestive tract causing discomfort of some degree, especially if you are a vata type, in other words, if your body type is “airy”, light and delicate. I am referring to now because, at this moment, we have moved into vata season. That means that vata energy is dominant in the nature. Nature makes us feel light and airy. Even the sturdiest and most grounded people might be feeling the effects. Problems like light sleep, irregular digestion and joint pains are very common.

When vata energy goes out of balance it starts easily creating upward movement in the body. Air can get trapped in the gut and create bloating. Anxiety is another good example. The sensation is like something was pushing from below, forcing the breath to move to the upper parts of the lungs and become faster and shallower.

Asafetida is a fabulous spice to counteract the upward moving vata. It has an amazing capacity to restore the correct movement, improve the intestinal transit and help elimination. This herb is a wonderful aid for vata kind of constipation (due to dryness) and by suppressing vata it can relieve all kind of symptoms of vata like pain and other nerve related problems.

As mentioned above, the herb is very strong. It is to be used with care. You can use it in your food: a pinch is enough. In fact, it is highly recommended to be used with beans and lentils. Pulses are astringent in quality and can easily cause gas. Asafetida helps to digest them better and this way they become safe to take, even in autumn and winter.

In India, and also outside, hing is often used by those who avoid onion and garlic in their foods as they are too rajasic, or too stimulating for the mind. Hing gives the food that pungency it might miss without those vegetables. Those who want to go on a sattvic diet might want to introduce this spice in their everyday kitchen. I, personally, use hing together with onion and garlic because I can’t really think a life without them.

I have just prepared a new batch of hinguashtaka powder, a mixture of eight herbs with asafetida. If you have problems with digestion and elimination you can order some from me. It tastes disgusting but it works wonders.

Raw Coconut chutney

Coconut chutneyIt’s late summer and to celebrate it here’s the last of my seasons recipes. This brings me back to the days I was studying in India. We always dined at my teacher’s house and ate heavenly. Here’s one recipe from Nani, the grandmother. She shared her recipes gladly and we were eager to learn. Here’s one of them. It’s the good old coconut chutney. Obviously you can have it as a condiment for your meal but in India we often had it as a main with chapatis, freshly made and dripping with home made ghee. Here in London I like to use buckwheat flour to make the flatbread. You can find the recipe in my previous blog post of “Buckwheat flatbread with spinach and ricotta filling”.

Ideally you would use a fresh coconut but I just use the dry grated one and soak it in coconut milk (or cream if I want to be decadent). Mix all ingredients together and let soak for a few hours before enjoying. As for quantities of ingredients, all I can say, play it by ear or by your palate.

Grated coconut soaked in raw coconut milk/cream

Finely chopped fresh green chillies

Salt

Chopped fresh coriander

Curry leaves

Cumin seeds

Garlic

Come and buy come ingredients from our shop like the organic coconut flakes and milk. We also now stock 100% raw coconut milky Rhythm.

 

Tabbouleh a la Anu

SAMSUNG CSCTabbouleh is nice ‘n easy summer food and it is full of garden herbs, which are in season now. I’ve come to have unusual cravings for Mint. Mint is the herb of choice of this season as it is cooling in quality and a great digestive aid. I am going to share with you a recipe I just can’t get enough of. It is nothing new, the good old tabbouleh, variations of which are copious. Here below you can find another one of them, from my kitchen.

I have to admit, this plate formed in my kitchen because I was very hungry and needed food quick. I usually prefer to make everything from scratch and, by all means, why not this one as well. But I was hit by a lightning bolt in the Lebanese corner shop near by. I think their tabbouleh, made almost in its entirety of parsley and mint with a small addition of chopped tomatoes and onions, is too acidic for me, so, I thought I’ll cook some more bulghur to it. Here’s what else went into it. I can’t remember the doses as I use measures usually for baking only. Play it by ear and have a look at the image if it helps.

1 pack of ready-made plain parsley and mint tabbouleh

(There usually is a bit of raw tomatoes, onion, lemon already)

Bulghur wheat

Sultanas

Pine nuts

Cucumber

Olive oil

Salt

Cracked black pepper

 

Cook the bulghur until it is al dente, add with tabbouleh in a bowl and mix together with a handful of sultanas, roasted pine nuts and half a cucumber cut to small dices. Add olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

I keep enjoying it with houmous and/or goats yoghurt. So good, so tasty and great picnic food by the way!

 

 

 

Cooling summer drink

Ingredients for cooling summer drinkSweet bitter and astringent are the tastes that pacify pitta energy, the one governing in the warmest third of the year. The summer heat is best pacified by what the nature provides in harvest at the moment and the tastes mentioned earlier are present in this produce. A great cooling summer fruit is pomegranate. Add some of its seeds to your salads and squeeze some fresh fruit out of it. We here in the shop also have pomegranate juice and a pomegranate molasses, all great additions to your summer kitchen. A great cooling summer juice to cool you down is

1 part pomegranate juice

1 part aloe vera juice

1 part cucumber

Fresh mint

Mix together in a mixer and enjoy, preferably room temperature or without ice. Anything cold slows down your digestion and creates sluggishness and mucous in your digestive system. Also, cold drinks do not quench your thirst well but are likely to increase mucous, which easily creates when you have e.g. an unnamed black fizzy drink. Highly sugary drinks generally are not good to drink for thirst so between an occasional juice like the above, drink plenty of warm or room temperature water and enjoy the sun!

Ghee is the love of my life

SAMSUNG CSCGhee is the love of my life. My story with this healthiest of the healthy fats is a story with a happy ending.

Ghee has myriad health benefits, not least being the best one to fry with. You might have heard about fats going rancid or turning into those harmful, trans fat ones when heated. Ghee does not go bad quickly. In fact Teflon goes bad before ghee does. So, if you need to enjoy fried food, make sure you fry it in ghee. I have even changed olive oil in my Italian kitchen to ghee. I add the olive oil at the end of cooking so that it keeps its good qualities and I get the flavour I want.

When good quality ghee is used in reasonable quantities it reduces blood cholesterol, enhances digestion and metabolism. In fact, the gut produces ghee on its own, called butyric acid, and without it the gut cannot function properly. Ghee is also brain food, it nourishes and lubricates the nervous system and is very good for the eyes. In fact, I often prescribe an application of ghee straight into the eyes for those having problems with dryness, heat and tiredness. I also heal eye infections with ghee, the last one being those of my 3-year-old. Talk to my previous receptionist. She had an infection in both eyes and it was dealt within three days with a frequent application of ghee. It works wonders.

Here’s how to make it:

  • Melt 2-3 packs of organic unsalted butter in a pot

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  • Let the butter melt really, really slowly so the milk residue (proteins) settle at the bottom of the pot

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  • Pour the mixture through a muslin cloth and what is strained through the cloth is fresh ghee

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If your hob is too hot to let the butter melt slowly, don’t worry – you can still obtain good ghee by slowly letting it boil for a few hours. The milk solids then come to the surface and you can peel them off and, in the end, pour the mixture through a muslin cloth to get your homemade ghee.

Buckwheat flat bread with spinach and ricotta filling

I’ve really been enjoying making flat bread from buckwheat flour. It is a great alternative to white flour and yeasted bread. To make the dough it only takes two minutes and it is very easy to work with. I’ve been using it as a wrap or a crepe, stuffed it with whatever the season provides. These wraps are a great addition to the lunch box menu and, in fact, my three year old loves them for their playfulness. She rolls them into easy to pack and eat rolls and I never find any leftovers.  photo

I usually fry the bread in ghee or coconut oil, which are the only fats that do not turn bad when heated. Sometimes I don’t use fat at all and bake them dry.

This recipe is just one of the variations and is my great favourite. I love pasta with spinach and ricotta cheese. Here is a friendlier version for the slow spring digestion.  Although ricotta cheese is not the best option for this season I find it necessary as it smoothens down the pungency of spinach. Also a little chilli makes dairy much easier to digest. I might also add a bit of parmesan cheese to the mix.

 

100g buckwheat flour

¼ tsp salt

12 tbs water

ghee or coconut oil for frying

 

Filling:

Ghee for frying

1 clove of garlic

Chilli

1 big bag of spinach

½ tub of ricotta cheese

Himalayan rock salt

Pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

 

Work the dough into flat circles depending on the size of your baking pan. Add ghee or coconut oil in the pan and fry on both sides until golden brown.

In another pan fry the garlic and chilli lightly in ghee and add the spinach. Cook until soft and then add the ricotta cheese. Savour with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Enjoy together with the flat bread.