Freekeh salad with sumac dressing

For those of you who are not familiar with “sumac” here’s the definition: its a powder made from the fruits of the flowering plant Rhus coriaria. It is generally used in Middle Eastern and south Asian cuisine.

Sumac has very high antioxidant levels. It helps lower blood sugar levels and sumac juice is high in vitamin C.

This spice has a tangy, lemony taste and can be used with fish, meat and salads.

I bought my sumac from Borough Market in London. However, if you do not find it locally, you can get it online.

In this simple freekeh salad I used sumac to give the salad a fresh citrussy flavour.

Freekeh salad with sumac dressing
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
30 mins
 

This is a very light and simple salad. It can be used as a standalone for lunch or supper or as a side served with grilled fish or meat.

Course: Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Keyword: Freekeh, salad, Sumac
Servings: 4 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 200 grms Greenwheat Freekeh
  • 2 tsps Lebanese Sumac
  • 1 telegraph cucumber
  • 15 teardrop cherry tomatoes
  • 2 spring onions
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Boil freekeh grains in 200ml of water for 15 minutes (or according to packet instructions).

  2. Drain the grains and stand them in a colander to cool down whilst you're preparing the other ingredients.

  3. Rinse the tomatoes and mint and scrub the cucumber and lemon.

  4. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and chop the mint. Cut the cucumber into small cubes and slice the white part of the spring onions.

  5. Put the freekeh into a salad container and add the chopped ingredients - mix well.

  6. Grate the lemon rind and extract lemon juice. Add the rind to the freekeh mixture and put the lemon juice in a screw-top jar.

  7. Add 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil to the lemon juice, 2 tsps sumac and salt and pepper to taste. Close the jar and shake well.

  8. Divide the salad into four portions and serve each portion with 2 tbsps of sumac dressing.

Recipe Notes

Some facts about freekeh - it has four times the amount of fibre as brown rice and twice the amount of protein as white rice. It's a low GI food which means it keeps you full for longer. Freekeh is also high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron.

Freekeh has a nutty taste and can be used in pilafs, soups and salads.  

How to benefit from Medjool dates

Have you ever used Medjool dates to sweeten your cereals or smoothies? I use Medjool dates as a sweet treat, either on their own or paired with walnuts … heavenly!

These very large dates are native to the Middle East and North Africa. They’re the first ever cultivated fruit and their cultivation dates back some 6000 years. Historically, they were known as “the king of fruits” or “the fruit of kings”, however nowadays they’re widely available all year round.

Medjool dates are soft, chewy and juicy. There’s a hint of caramel in their taste (without the added sugar). These dates are sweeter than the regular Deglet Noor dates which are smaller, firmer in texture and have a delicate taste when compared to the full, rich taste of the Medjools.

Nutritional benefits of Medjool dates

Medjool dates are rich in vitamins and minerals.  They contain 50% more potassium than bananas. Both Medjools as well as Deglet Noors are good sources of selenium (helps anti-aging process in the body), copper (together with iron enables the body to form red blood cells), potassium (helps lower blood pressure) and magnesium (supports healthy immune system). Dates also contain vitamins B3 and B6 and are rich in fibre.

Today I thought I’d share with you this recipe inspired by Dr Axe. I used it for the last session of my cooking instruction programme and it was very well received. Dr Axe’s original recipe calls for hemp seeds. I replaced them with chia seeds, simply because hemps were not available. The result was great!

Pecan Coconut Balls
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
 

This recipe is so quick and easy to make. It's the ideal recipe to involve children help in the kitchen. 

Course: Dessert, Sweet treat
Cuisine: gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 10
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Process pecans in food processor until ground.

  2. Add roughly chopped dates and process further until mixture is sticky and binds.

  3. Add the chia seeds, coconut flakes and the vanilla extract. Pulse process for a few seconds.

  4. Roll mixture into small balls and refrigerate for an hour until firm.

  5. (pulse processing does not break the coconut flakes completely and the white bits of coconut contrast nicely with the dark brown colour of the dates)

Recipe Notes

Makes 40 small coconut balls.

I used these balls as a sweet treat after supper on the terrace. They can also be used as a snack.

My thanks go to:

DrAxe.com

Healwithfood.org

Dateland.com

Springtime Barley Risotto

Have you ever thought about the nutritional benefits of asparagus?  It’s a very unusual looking veggie and comes in thick stems (like the ones in the photo which I took at Borough Market) or with thinner stems which do not require peeling. The thinner asparagus are known as “baby asparagus”.

Spring is asparagus season in most of Europe.  Although, nowadays, it is not unusual to find asparagus in supermarkets almost all year round.

Is asparagus good for you?

If I say asparagus is a powerhouse, you probably say that I think most veggies are. But if I had to list all the vitamins and minerals found in asparagus you will probably agree with me.  So I’ll just highlight a handful of benefits which explain why I chose asparagus to be the star ingredient for today’s recipe.

Asparagus

  1. is a good source of Vitamin K, the blood clotting vitamin;
  2. contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties – protects your body against free radicals;
  3. acts as a natural diuretic – i.e. it makes you pass water which helps you get rid of excess salt and lowers high blood pressure;
  4. the nutrient inulin provides food for the good bacteria in your body, protecting you against colon cancer;
  5. provides you with folate, an essential requirement for the production of red blood cells;
  6. good source of fibre;
  7. good source of Vitamin B1 (thiamine);
  8. contains glutathione, an antioxidant which helps fight cancer.

The ladies attending my cookery classes asked if I can help them make a “healthy” risotto. We cooked two risottos – the typical Italian recipe inspired by Gennaro Contaldo and then we cooked a tweaked version, with barley. My springtime barley risotto is completely vegan too.

Springtime Barley Risotto
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Resting time
5 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

This recipe requires less attention than the typical risotto as you do not have to stand by and stir continuously. I replaced the rice for barley, a grain which is by far healthier than rice.  It helps control your cholesterol levels and protects against heart disease. It also contains more fibre than rice and keeps you full for longer. 

I gave this recipe a vegan spin and left out the wine, butter and cheese.

It is inspired by the Springtime Risotto of Gennaro Contaldo, a chef I truly admire.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Plant-based, vegan
Servings: 4 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 1 cup pearl barley rinsed
  • 1 medium-sized onion chopped finely
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp smoked crushed chillies optional
  • 2 cups asparagus chopped
  • 1 cup fresh garden peas shelled
  • 1 1/2 cups zucchini sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ltr vegetable stock hot
  • 1 tbsp lemon rind grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint chopped finely
Instructions
  1. In a heavy-based pan heat the oil and gently fry the onion.  When it starts to soften, add the crushed garlic and smoked chilli flakes (if using). Stir to avoid sticking.

  2. Add the chopped asparagus and the sliced zucchini to the pan. Stir until the vegetables are covered with the onion mixture. Keep stirring gently for a couple of minutes for the vegetables to soak up the flavours.

  3. Add the rinsed barley and stir well into the vegetable mixture. After stirring for one minute or so, add 500ml of hot vegetable stock.  Give the mixture a good stir, bring to the boil, cover with tight fitting lid and lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.

  4. After 10 minutes, check the barley, add more hot water as needed.  Do not let the mixture stick to the pan.  Add your peas, stir and cover.  Simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add more hot water as required, stir, cover and simmer for the last 10 minutes. Barley takes between 30-40 minutes to cook, depending on your preferred texture.

  5. After 30 minutes of simmering, check the texture of the barley. I like my grains al dente, but you may prefer a softer texture, in which case, add a little bit more hot water and simmer for a further 5 minutes. When barley is ready all your stock should be absorbed, but the mixture should not be too dry. Give the barley and vegetable mixture a gentle stir, cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes. 

  6. Add the chopped mint and lemon zest and give the mixture one final stir (if it is slightly dry add half a cup of hot stock and stir).

    Your barley risotto is now ready to serve.  

Recipe Notes

As the name implies this recipe is made with springtime vegetables which are in season. In this recipe, I used baby asparagus to avoid having to peel the stems. I just trimmed the very end of the stem and used the rest. When using seasonal vegetables you benefit from full flavour, better taste and less money.

You may wish to leave out the smoked chilli flakes for a truly fresh taste.  However I find that a tiny amount of smoked chilli flakes give the dish a nice kick.  

I would love to receive your comments after having tried my springtime barley risotto.

My thanks go to

Gennaro Contaldo for the inspiration

Dr Axe 

Food to Live

 

Spinach and Chickpea Korma with mushrooms

Does the story of spinach and Popeye ring a bell? I think it’s a good idea for children to be encouraged to eat leafy greens by assimilating to a “strong” persona. Spinach is one leafy green which is truly a powerhouse!

Spinach

Cooked vs raw spinach is a bit like swings and roundabouts – what you lose on one you gain on the other.  Raw spinach is rich in folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium whilst cooked spinach is richer in vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin – antioxidants located in the eye – which are absorbed better from cooked spinach.

Chickpeas

On the other hand, chickpeas are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron, zinc, phosphorus, B vitamins and more. I prefer cooking my own chickpeas to avoid preservatives and for the legumes to have a bite to them. Chickpeas are really simple to cook.  All you need to do is plan when you want to cook them and soak them from at least eight hours before.  Drain the soaking water, put the chickpeas in a large pot, cover with 5-6 cms of water and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Bring to the boil then lower the heat and keep lid partially open.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes.  Turn off the heat and leave to stand in hot water for a further 15 minutes.  Drain, saving the water (called aquafaba) for use in the main dish.

Mushrooms

The last star ingredient of this recipe is mushrooms.  The trend these days is to “eat a rainbow” – i.e. vary your diet with colourful vegetables and fruit.  Although field mushrooms are white, they contain plenty of antioxidants as well as selenium, vitamin D and folate. In other words … treat this humble-looking fungus with respect.

Ingredients for 4 persons:

1 kg spinach chopped
250 grms dried chickpeas (cooked)
250 grms field mushrooms quartered
1 large onion finely chopped
5 cloves garlic crushed
4 cm-piece fresh ginger finely chopped
3-4 tsps Korma curry powder
250 grms tomatoes roughly chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
250 grms wholegrain basmati rice
 salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Method:

  1. Cook chickpeas as above.
  2. In a large pan, dry fry the onion, adding a quarter cup aquafaba (see above) to prevent it sticking to the pan. Using the water in which you boiled the chickpeas is a win win: you benefit from any nutrients lost in the water whilst cooking and it gives your dish a delicious, nutty taste.
  3. Add crushed garlic and chopped ginger, stir and continue dry frying for a further two minutes.
  4. When the mixture is fragrant, add the Korma powder and 2-3 tbsps aquafaba. Continue dry frying, stiring continuously to prevent sticking. Add a little bit more aquafaba, if necessary.
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes, the tomato paste and 3/4 cup aquafaba. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Add the quartered mushrooms – stir and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add the chopped spinach and cooked chickpeas. Give the mixture a good stir and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Stir occasionally.
  8. Simmer gently until the spinach is completely wilted. Turn off the heat and leave to stand whilst the you’re cooking the rice.
  9. Steam the rice – rinse the rice under running water; bring 500ml of water to the boil; add rice and stir well; cover with a tight-fitting lid; bring the water back to the boil; lower the heat and leave the pot to simmer for 25 minutes.  Turn off the heat and leave the rice to stand for 5 minutes.  Uncover and give the rice a good stir.
  10.  Serve the spinach and chickpea Korma with steamed rice.

This is one of those recipes which I knocked together at 6am, before going to the office. It’s so quick and easy to make, especially if you cook the chickpeas from before.

Try it for yourself and let me have your comments.

My thanks go to:

Vegetarian Times

Dr Axe Food is Medicine

Medical News Today

Wikipedia

Risi e Bisi made simple

Have you ever tasted the renowned Venetian dish risi e bisi? I stick to variations of it, to avoid the pancetta. Rizi e bisi is a springtime specialty in Venice, used to celebrate the feast of San Marco on 25th April.

Green Garden Peas

Springtime is the season for garden peas.  You can get frozen peas, or even canned, but their taste doesn’t come anywhere close to that of fresh peas. The sweetest peas are the smaller ones, before their sugar content starts changing to starch.

You’d be surprised to find that 100 grams of raw fresh peas provide you with 67% of your daily Vitamin C intake and 15% of Vitamin A requirements. It’s such a simple vegetable (a legume actually), which many people grow in their back garden, yet it’s a powerhouse of nutrients. Peas are low in calories and high in fibre.  They also provide you with calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese.

How to use Garden Peas

Garden peas can be used in a variety of ways.  Paired with fresh mint they make an excellent cold summer soup.  You can mash them or use them in purees or simply use them as a side.  Raw fresh peas also make a great salad ingredient.  The simpler the recipe, the more you get to appreciate the sweet taste of fresh peas.

Here is a simple way of making a vegetarian version of the famous risi e bisi mentioned earlier.  It makes a hearty and filling supper. Quick and easy to make in just over half an hour.

Ingredients:

makes two portions as main course

1 Large onion
5 Cloves garlic (in springtime you can replace with fresh garlic)
Pinch Crushed chillies (optional)
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 cup Wholemeal basmati rice
2 cups Fresh peas (shelled)
2 cups Vegetable broth
Grated Parmesan and parsley to serve

Method:

  1. Finely chop the onion and crush the garlic. (If using fresh garlic use two / three heads of garlic).
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until it is translucent. Add the crushed garlic and the chillies (if using) and fry gently for one or two minutes.
  3. Rinse and drain the rice.  Tip into the pan and stir into the mixture of onion, garlic and chillies. Fry gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the hot broth, and give the rice a good stir.
  5. Bring to the boil and lower heat to minimum.  Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  6. Add the shelled peas to the pan and cover quickly, without stirring. Continue simmering for a further 10 minutes.
  7. By this time, all the stock should be absorbed.  Turn off the heat and allow the rice to rest (with the lid in place) for a further 5 minutes.
  8. Serve with grated Parmesan (optional) and finely chopped parsley.

For a vegan version, omit the Parmesan.  You may replace the wholemeal basmati with carnaroli or arborio rice, in which case the end result would be closer to a risotto.

One main difference between my version of risi e bisi and the renowned Venetian recipe is that my recipe is eaten with a fork.  The authentic recipe is very similar to a thick soup which is eaten with a spoon.

Feel free to try both, and leave a comment to let me know which you prefer.

My thanks go to:

Food Facts by Mercola and

The Guardian

How to make Maltese Easter “Figolli”

L-Għid it-tajjeb … Happy Easter … Buona Pasqua … If you are celebrating Easter, I wish you and your loved ones a blessed, peaceful day.

How do you celebrate Easter in your part of the world?

The run-up to Easter in Malta

In Malta, Easter time is full of pageantry and tradition.  The run-up to Easter starts with Ash Wednesday – the first day of a 40-day period called Lent.  During mass the priest symbolizes morality and repentance by marking the sign of the Cross in ashes on the forehead of the faithful.

Throughout these 40 days the Catholic church commemorates the way to the Cross in various ways.  Different countries would have their own traditions, I guess, with a certain amount of similarities thrown in.

Here in Malta, there are a number of street processions in connection with the Easter festivities.  On the last Friday before Holy Week, a great number of towns and villages hold processions in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows.  This is followed by Palm Sunday (last Sunday before Easter) remembering the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. On Maundy Thursday, after the commemoration of the last supper and washing of the feet of the twelve apostles, the faithful visit seven different churches, saying prayers as they go.  These processions spill over into Friday morning.

A relatively new(ish) event on the Maltese calendar is the walk for charity which takes place on Thursday night. The walk starts in the north of the island, leaving Mellieħa sometime after midnight and ends in the southern city of Senglea around dawn, on Good Friday.

Friday is a day of mourning and no mass is said. However, at 15.00 hours the faithful gather in churches for prayers, after which processions with statues and live characters, depicting scenes from the biblical story of the passion of Christ, flow through the streets.

Saturday is mainly a day of reflection, until late in the evening when churches come alive with plenty of light and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with solemn mass.  On Sunday morning there’s more pageantry throughout the streets of certain towns and villages.  Bells ring out and flags are hoisted as a sign of victory.  In Birgu, the traditional uphill run with the statue of the Risen Christ, is truly spectacular.

Traditional Easter Food in Malta 

And where does food come into all of this?

Some 50 years ago, a vast majority of the Maltese population would fast for the whole 40 days of Lent.  Fasting meant people ate three small meals a day with no snacking in between, save for black coffee or tea. During these 40 days, meat was consumed only on Sundays.

One form of penance, which is still very popular to this very day, is the abstinence from all things sweet. The kwarezimal (quaresima meaning 40-day in Latin) is a traditional sweet made during Lent.  The main ingredients are ground almonds, flour, ground rice, cocoa powder and grated citrus peel.  Despite the intended sacrifice, kwarezimal still contains a significant amount of sugar.

Another traditional food, consumed mainly on Maundy Thursday, is the qagħqa tal-appostli – apostles ring.  This is typically a large ring of bread studded with whole almonds.  This ring is meant to signify the breaking and sharing of bread during the last supper. Steamed spinach is another food associated with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Traditionally, stuffed globe artichokes and fish soups formed an integral part of Maltese Good Friday food.  Other options were homemade ricotta pies with fresh peas or broad beans and spaghetti Napolitana.

Modern Days

But times move on, I remember a time when restaurants did not open on Good Friday.  Nowadays, however, a good number of restaurants open serving their regular menus.  The younger generation take advantage of the typically fine weather and spend the day outdoors with family and friends, enjoying picnic food in the countryside or at the beach (weather permitting).

On Easter Sunday families and friends get together for lunch at home or in restaurants.  Roast lamb is very much a traditional food.  However, possibly because of its particular taste, various other options such as fish, turkey, beef, pork and rabbit are also available.

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The Figolla

And what is Easter without the traditional figolla?  In an effort to be understood, we Maltese tend to translate figolla as “Easter cake”.  However, the figolla is anything but the typical cake.  The traditional figolla used to be in the shape of biblical images such as a fish or a lamb.  However, nowadays figolli (plural) come in various shapes with one of the most popular shapes being that of a heart.

Figolli tal-Għid (Easter Figolli – pronounced fi-gol (g as in gate)-li)

Ingredients for two figolli:

500grms flour grated rind of half lemon
150grms sugar 2 eggs
150grms butter few drops of vanilla essence
Filling:
200grms pure ground almonds egg white
200grms sugar few drops of water
few drops of almond essence

Method:

Pastry – mix the flour and the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the sugar and the grated lemon rind.  Beat the eggs and fold into the mixture.  Add a few drops of vanilla essence and work the mixture to form a stiff(ish) dough.  If the dough is too stiff you may make it more pliable by adding a little bit of milk.

Filling – mix the sugar and the ground almonds. Beat the egg white and fold into the almond mixture.  Add a few drops of almond essence.  If the mixture is too dry, you may add a few drops of water to soften the paste.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of approximately six millimeters.  With a large pastry cutter, or cardboard shape, cut out two identical shapes. Take half of the filling and flatten it out with your hands or using a rolling pin.  The filling has to cover the bottom pastry shape, leaving a one-centimeter edge all round.  Cover the filling with the second pastry shape and brush the edges with water or milk. Press them tightly together, sandwiching the filling between the two pastry shapes.

Line a cookie sheet with baking paper and bake the two figolli for twenty minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a cooling rack for them to cool completely.

When the figolli are completely cool, cover with glacé icing or melted chocolate and decorate with edible coloured beads, Smarties and a small Easter egg.

My thanks go to