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Mediterranean veg with seedy mamaliga (polenta)

2 Oct

When I get a visitor with food needs I haven’t met before, it’s a challenge I love. This week’s visitor eats meat, but has allergies to dairy and gluten. No dairy, no problem, but no gluten (wheat, oats, rye, barley) is a restriction I haven’t catered for yet.

Mamaliga, polenta, aubergine, red pepper, garlic, seeds

Colourful and flavoursome

Last night I made this and served it with late-summer Romanian yellow beans (and I had feta cheese crumbled on top).  There are endless variations you can try, including a bit of chicken or tuna grilled or pan-fried, any green veg such as Savoy cabbage, broccoli or chard; you can try different herbs with the polenta, different cheeses, either crumbled or melted on top… The choice is yours. But here’s what I concocted last night. [This long list of ingredients and instructions might look as if this post doesn’t qualify as “easy”, but I’d say it does – the recipe is flexible and forgiving, so unless you leave the polenta cooking while you have a bath, or don’t cook the Med Veg for long enough, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s not fiddly or over-precise, so it’s a good one for less experienced cooks.]

Seeded mamaliga

Mamaliga is the Romanian word for polenta, and is a staple food here. I find it – as normally served – like wallpaper paste, tasteless and gluey. but with a little extra something, then sliced and grilled, it becomes something altogether different.

Ingredients

300g maize meal or instant polenta

Boiling water

Big handful of fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons of dried), chopped finely

Handful of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds

Toast the seeds till pale brown and set aside

Boil a kettleful of water and pour half into a large pan on full heat – when boiling, add the dry polenta/maize meal and stir vigorously (use a whisk to get rid of the lumps) for 15 mins or so (follow cooking instructions on packet), topping up with water as polenta thickens. Add the toasted seeds and the parsley, and a salt to taste – check seasoning several times. You want the polenta thick, but still pourable. When it gets to that point, pour it into a shallow dish and let it cool while you cook the veg.

Meanwhile…

Mediterranean veg

I call this Arthritis Relish because it consists of all the veg that do no good for arthritic hands – but they’re all so delicious I put up with a couple of days of discomfort.

Ingredients

1 aubergine (eggplant) –  cubed into 1” pieces, skin on.

2 red peppers (bell peppers) – chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 medium onion

2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 chilli pepper, chopped – with out without seeds, depending on how hot you want it

Herbs of choice – basil, thyme, marjoram or a Provencal mix

A teaspoon of a spice mix like Baharat or Ras al Hanout

Salt & pepper

How to do it

Put all the ingredients in a big pot with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive, for preference) and frazzle slowly for at least 45 mins, so the aubergine has softened thoroughly and tastes sweet and rich. Check flavours and adjust seasoning if needed.

When cooked down to a jammy chunkiness, take off the heat and keep the lid on the pan.

By now the polenta wshould have cooled and set so that you can slice it; cut a slice for each person and put them under the grill or in the microwave for a few minutes to heat through. (If you’re all cheese-eaters, a bit of grated cheese of choice goes well on top of the polenta slices.)

On each plate: a slice of polenta, a scoop of Mediterranean veg, something green and leafy, and perhaps some crumbled feta cheese or grated Pecorino, and a good twist of black pepper.

NB There should be polenta left over (it’s very filling) – a grilled slice works very well as breakfast, topped with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, mushrooms or grilled tomatoes. And/or bacon, if you’re so inclined.

 

Pick-me-up porridge

23 Jul

Pick-me-up recipe with cocoa, oats and spices

Good-for-you chocolate oats – what better to perk you up when you need it?

This morning I wasn’t hungry, so breakfast (unusually for me) was just a cup of coffee. I felt a bit bleurgh, a bit soggy. Not enough sleep, a bit too much stress… you know how it is.

But around 11.30am  I was feeling a bit light-headed as well as soggy, so although still not hungry, I knew I needed something.

Oats. Easy, quick. Boring. But jazzed up with gusto (did you know that ‘gustos’ in Romanian means taste or flavour? from the Latin, of course…) and rude health, I’m waiting for the zing to zap through me any minute now.

For oomph, the oats. For pick-me-up yum, organic cocoa. For zing, cayenne. For zap, cinnamon. For vim, raw cane sugar. For vigour, flax seeds. For a bit of extra zing, a sprig of mint.

Needless to say the closer you can get to home-grown, organic, free-range, etc, the better. In this picture the mint is from my garden and the cherries from my orchard. The rest is from packets, but organic packets. If organic, home-grown etc is out of reach, then it’s still a pretty damn’ good indulgent health-kick.

What you need

1 mug rolled oats (I like them coarse, but fine if you prefer)

1.5 mugs water

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons raw cane sugar (or soft brown)

2 shakes of cayenne pepper

3 shakes of cinnamon

1 tablespoon flax (lin) seeds

 What to do

Put it all in a pan and bring gently to the boil and simmer till it all goes gloopy. Add a bit more water if it needs it. Should be no more than 10 mins.

Decorate with a sprig of fresh mint and some fruit – cherries, strawberries, pear, raspberries all go well.

Add a few flaked almonds or chopped hazelnuts if you like, and top with some milk or a slug of double cream.

Positive health ingredients: oats, cayenne, cinnamon, cocoa, flax, fruit

PS I’m feeling the zap and the zing already.

PPS This does at any time of day – breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea, supper or midnight snack. As well as or instead of – a purely pleasurable pick-me-up.

PPPS Oops – I forget to mention the coconut. Half a handful of organic unsweetened coconut flakes gives you lots more health benefits, a bit of extra bite, and a subtle extra flavour.

Scrumptious = health for breakfast

10 Jun
fruit with yoghurt

fruit with yoghurt (Photo credit: Peet Sneekes)

Today, at last, summer is here. Over 30C but fresh, with a light breeze. Sunday, so extra quiet – no work today with everyone at church (except heathens like me). Time for breakfast outside under the mirabel tree. Feed cats, next door’s dog, horse and chickens first, or you’ll have no peace.

What: yoghurt (preferably home-made from organic full cream raw milk but Greek style is the next best); whatever fruit is in season or in the fridge (today I had a banana and an apricot), seeds and nuts to hand (I had toasted sesame, organic coconut flakes, almond flakes, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds (linseed); black pepper, cinnamon and if you like, a bit of cayenne.

How: chop the fruit into a bowl, shake and scatter the seeds, nuts and spices, dollop the yoghurt on top and mix. Eat slowly, relishing every texture and taste. Seriously good start to the day – and never boring because of the almost limitless variations, even in winter.

When it’s cold, I sometimes toast a bit of muesli or just oats, gently, in a frying pan (no oil) and tip on top of the fruit/yoghurt as an extra bit of warmth and crunch.

Zingy porridge

20 May

Image

I was in Vienna, and had just said goodbye to my kind chum who’d put me up en route from Romania to England; she worked in the Naschmarkt and had to start work, and I had to drive to London. But before I left I wanted a decent breakfast, and in one of the many eateries in the market I ordered a Swiss breakfast. Warm, soft oats and other grains, fresh fruit, creamy yoghurt – and black pepper. That was a surprise, and one that I’ve repeated with every bowl of porridge at home since. The pepper adds a spicy warmth and that glorious aromatic flavour to the creamy oats, with the fruit adding crunch, tang and sweetness.

I now add a bit of cayenne and a good shake of cinammon as well as the black pepper, and switch between my neighbour’s raw organic full cream milk, oat or rice milk, or when I have it, the cream skimmed from the same milk. I’ve found great German coarse rolled oats, to which I add a spoonful of flaxseeds, water (about 5mm above the oats in the saucepan) and the spices, and leave it all to soak while I have my shower. Then I cook over a gentle heat for about five minutes and serve with milk, cream, flaked almonds, some coconut, maybe some sliced apple or whatever’s in season. Quick, easy, very satisfying, aromatic, complex and healthy. A pretty damn’ good start to the day, if you ask me.

How do you do your porridge?