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Tocana – a Transylvanian autumn treat

20 Oct
Gogosar is the Romanian word for rounded peppers, compared to the long, pointed ones known as ardei

Gogosar, the sweet capsicum you find in their natural shape and colours in Transylvanian markets

This is a fabulous foodie treat that hasn’t yet escaped its home cuisine in Transylvania (Romania). Tocana is a relish of the last summer vegetables, for sale in the market for buttons in October as the autumn takes hold and winter beckons. [Zacusca is a close relative, made by roasting the vegetables rather than cooking in oil like a confit.]

Housewives buy 20 kilo sacks of peppers and aubergines to cook and put in jars for a reminder of summer in the depths of a harsh winter, with smaller sacks of onions and carrots grown in the smallholdings of rural Transylvania.

Sweet with a hint of smoky bitterness, full of flavour and colour, the autumn peppers (ardei and gogosar) from the south of Romania and imported from Turkey are a far cry from the pretty but tasteless peppers you find in British supermarkets, grown in Dutch polytunnels without benefit of mineral-rich soils and southern summers. These aren’t perfectly shaped, uniformly coloured things, but organic vine fruit folded and twisted and coloured by the sun, grown without the synthetic encouragement of agrotechnology; the difference in taste is so marked that they might be different species altogether.

Tocana, the Transylvanian foodie secret that is one of the treats of the year

Tocana, organic, simple, naturally colourful and bursting with late summer flavour

So – tocana. A simple recipe, but cleaning and chopping takes time, so it’s best done as a family, or with a group of friends; if you’re on your own put some music on and surrender yourself to an annual ritual of aroma and maturing textures. Then you have the delicious reward of warm tocana for supper, and the looking forward to helping yourself to a jar of tocana from time to time through the long, frozen winter.

This is a dish of such rich summery colour and flavour that I’m amazed it hasn’t been swiped by savvy chefs in Britain, or exported by canny Transylvanians. An opportunity for you to make a coup, and worth every minute of preparation.

Ingredients

5kg red peppers

1kg carrots

1kg onions

800g tin of tomato paste

1 litre oil (sunflower or another mild-flavoured oil)

seasoning to taste

NB You’ll need a big pan for this amount, and several large jamjars. If you live in a northern climate, peppers might be prohibitively expensive in these quantities, but the 5:1:1:1 ratio of ingredients is easy to scale down for an occasional dish.

How to do it

Clean and deseed the peppers, skin the onions and peel the carrots. Chop the veg to a fine dice in a food processor (stop short of a paste) and put in a large pan (a jam pan is ideal) with the tomato paste, oil, salt, black pepper and/or cayenne, and if you like, a little sweet paprika. (Better to add a little seasoning and add a little more if needed, rather than overdoing it all at once.)

Cook over a high heat until the mixture is bubbling. The veg release plenty of water, so once boiling, turn the heat down and leave to cook (stirring often to stop burning) for a good couple of hours, until the water has evaporated, and the mixture is a thick, rich, glossy red conserve. Adjust the seasoning if you need to, then let it cool to blood temperature.

While still warm, put into sterilised jars and seal thoroughly. It should last for weeks, if not several months, in a dark place. Eat with a spoon straight from the jar, or if you want to be a bit more civilised, serve with toast or oatcakes. You can use it as a sauce for pasta, or as a relish with cold meat or cheese.

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Let’s demand Jaggery!

27 Sep

I read a recipe for Goodi Huggi from Namita’s Kitchen today which included jaggery. Never heard of it, so hit Google, and this is what I found on the  Sugarindia site:

A solid block of natural, simply produced jaggery (sugar)

A block of Indian jaggery

Jaggery or “Gur” or whole sugar is a pure, wholesome, traditional, unrefined, whole sugar. It contains the natural goodness of minerals and vitamins inherently present in sugarcane juice & this crowns it as one of the most wholesome and healthy sugars in the world. It Mexico & South America, it is also known as panela.

Jaggery, being a wholesome sugar, without doubt is rich in the vitally important mineral salts: 2.8 grams per 100 grams, that is to say 28 grams per kilogram, while only 300 milligrams per kilogram is found in refined sugar. Magnesium strengthens the nervous system & potassium is vital to conserve the acid balance in the cells and combats acids and acetone. Jaggery is very rich in iron, which, a composite of hemoglobin prevents anemia.

So why are we being sold fancy sugars and sugar substitutes instead of this simple, natural, healthy and cheap-to-produce stuff? Because there’s no profit in it? Because… why on earth not?

Refining – even filtering out the ‘unwanted’ bits – can remove the very substances that keep the balance of health in foodstuffs. I’m not saying that diabetics could chuck their regimes and munch jaggery to their pancreas’s content, but we should look very hard at the refining and processing of basic foodstuffs. All right, all foodstuffs.

Who’s with me? And where can I get hold of jaggery? (in the UK, Romania, Hungary, Germany or Belgium)?

25 Aug

(from Arabella) Another scrumptious way of cooking sprouts. I love them in all variations, raw and cooked, but some people are sproutphobic, usually because they were forced to eat overcooked soggy sulphurous sprouts at school. And for British Christmas lunch eaters, sprouts can be an annual nightmare. But no more! Try this for starters. Maybe not as a starter, but as a first pro-sprout recipe.  

Weed salad

27 Jul
All picked less than 10ft from the back door - weeds and home grown lettuce

Goose-foot orache, comfrey, red and white clover, vetch, woodruff, ox-eye daisy flowers, basil, thyme, chives, feta and salami; with a lemon and olive oil dressing

It’s been a bad summer for growing things here – two weeks of wind and rain when the seeds were just planted, then unrelenting sun ever since. Result – lots of seeds never germinating, and anything that did start growing has not thrived. Except, that is, for the weeds. Hurrah for weeds! Many of them are good to eat, most are packed with nutritional goodness, and some are both. One of my favourites is goose-foot, which is a form of orache which grows with abandon on turned earth – building sites, dug over gardens, and so on. Another is Good King Henry, which is a relative, and grows happily in meadows and fields. A third is comfrey, which I thought was good for healing wounds and feeding other plants until I picked one of the pretty purply-pinky-mauvy-creamy flowers and ate it, just to see. Delicious, sweet with nectar, and so pretty. More than just a decoration on top of the salad – a distinct honey flavour.

I picked about fifteen fresh new tips of goose-foot, and two leaves from each little lettuce plant (cut and come again type); I cut a few chives and basil leaves, and added one spring onion (from neighbour’s garden) and an inch or so of cucumber. A slice of feta and a few slices of salami, a dressing of olive oil and freshly-squeezed lime juice, with cracked black pepper.

Delicious, very cheap, as easy as it gets, and capital H, capital EALTHY.

Arabella FullofLife photo of self-seeded garden orache or goosefoot

Goose-foot or orache, self-seeded and growing abundantly in lime-rich soil.

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.

Coronation slaw

10 Jul

I love coleslaw. I love coronation chicken. This way I get both in one mouthful. 

What you need:

– cold chicken

– cabbage (white or green, possibly red – your fave cabbage to eat raw – or a mix – very pretty)

– carrots

– greek yoghurt (full-fat)

Curry in the spice-bazaar (egypitan) in Istanbul

Curry in the spice-bazaar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– curry powder

– olive oil

Optional: sultanas, flaked almonds, toasted sesame seeds

What to do:

– Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a small pan, and add two tablespoons of curry powder. Over low heat, warm through for five minutes to release the flavours of the curry powder. Let it cool.

– chop the chicken into bite-sized bits and put in a large mixing bowl

– slice the cabbage finely or grate in a food processor; add to chicken in bowl

– grate the carrots

NB ratio of cabbage : carrot : chicken = 3:2:1, but change if you prefer.

– Spoon yoghurt into a separate mixing bowl and add the curry-flavoured oil to yoghurt and mix well.

– Pour spicy yoghurt over cabbage mix, add optional sultanas, almonds, sesame, and mix well.

– Serve with tomato and onion salad and crusty bread.

Delicious for summer lunch or as a dinner party starter.

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.