30 April, 2011

Orange Cinnamon Granola

After a series of kitchen disasters, during which several new dishes went straight into the bin, I tend to cook and bake things that are well known to me and disaster-proof. Like granola. Apart from the fact that it is still my favorite breakfast, it just feels good to pull something out of the oven that's edible.

With my granolas, I have experienced a lot with all sorts of flavor combination (as you can see by the length on my granola list). I think I get the proportions right between oats, crunchy nuts and seeds and some coconut sprinkles, and I know how to get it nice and crunchy and full of flavor. I like my granola not too sweet and with as many healthy ingredients as possible.

This orange cinnamon granola is in fact not too sweet. It only contains a few tablespoon  of sweetener. I used date syrup (check this recipe to make your own). The flavors of orange and cinnamon dominate without being overpowering. It's further made with olive oil instead of vegetable oil. And that's all there is.

Oats are a well-known health food, that keeps the blood sugar stable, is full of anti-oxidants and insoluble fibre. Flax seeds, almonds and hazelnuts contain lots of healthy fats and vitamin E.
Just good for you and tasty.

3 cups rolled oats
1 cups chopped nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts)
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
3 tablespoons date syrup or honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup mixed dried fruit (optional)
Preheat oven to 165C/350F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine oats, chopped nuts and flax seeds. Set aside.
In a small pot, combine orange juice, zest, syrup/honey, oil and cinnamon. Heat gently and let sit for 5 minutes for the flavors to merge.
Pour the orange mixture over the oat mixture and stir until well coated.
Spread out in single layer onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool completely. Stir in desiccated coconut and dried fruit, if you choose to use them. Store in airtight container.
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26 April, 2011

Herbed Chickpea Pancakes

Chickpea flour is still new in my kitchen, but the fact that it is gluten free, grain free and has a higher protein content than regular grain flour makes me want to explore all possible ways of cooking with it.
I admit, I am still in the trial and error phase. Some disaster experiments included, but that's fine. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way, right?
For instance, I got hold of a delicious sounding apple cake (yes, CAKE) made of chickpea flour. As a lover of quirky ingredients, that was something I had to try immediately. Well, the cake turned out more chickpea-y and not very apple-y. Nothing that you would want to have with your afternoon tea. After a little research I think I found out what went wrong: there is two types of chickpea flours out there. One is made of white European chickpeas, the other one (usually used in Indian cooking) is made of the brown chickpeas and is called besan. I used besan, a flour that already smells quite strongly of chickpeas when you open the package. I was a little in doubt that a couple of apples and some honey could override its strong flavor. As I suspected, they didn't and the savory chickpea taste remained in the cake. I can only conclude that the original recipe was to be used with the European white chickpea flour. I still have to find this particular chickpea flour in Dubai to get final confirmation.
For now, I can only confirm that besan flour goes very very very well with savory recipes. If you like chickpeas, you will  definitely like this: herbed chickpea pancakes. They are vegan, full of flavor, and very filling. I spiced the batter of my soon to be chickpea pancakes with fresh herbs, capers and black olives. Try and cook these pancakes as thin as possible. Then spread a generous dollop of refreshing herbed yogurt on top and eat them immediately. I have just one word for this: addictive.

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
3 tablespoons olive oil + more for greasing
2/3 to 3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon black olives, pitted and chopped

Herbed Yogurt
1 cup full fat yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme), finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pepper to taste

Serves 4
In a large bowl, sift together chickpea flour, salt and herbs. Add oil and water and mix until well combined. The batter should be runny, but not watery. Add chopped capers and olives.

Lightly grease a large frying pan over medium. Pour about 1/4 of the batter into the pan, and shake it so the batter spreads evenly and thinly to all sides. Turn heat down to low and cook until pancake is cooked through and solid, and just slightly browned underneath. Grease pan again and repeat with the remaining batter. Serve immediately with a dollop of herbed yogurt.

Herbed Yogurt
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until well combined and smooth. Ready to serve.

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22 April, 2011

Lemon Almond Cake

If I had to appoint one fruit or vegetable to each season of the year, my spring fruit would definitely be lemon. Each year in the spring months, I find myself buying lemons by the kilo. I crave the tart and loud flavor, be it in homemade iced teas, cakes, salad dressings or as seasonings for fish and chicken. I love it being so refreshing. and although the Dubai winters are not exactly long, dark, cold or sleepy, I don't mind a little lemon kick in the spring to get me going.

Now here is my latest cake concoction: it's ticking all the health boxes for being flourless, gluten free, dairy free and by using wholesome palm sugar. The list of ingredients is incredibly short, the cake is easy to make and amazing in taste. Just what you'll want in the spring time.

1 1/2 cups whole almonds
8 tablespoons palm sugar (divided)

3 eggs (divided)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon zest

1/4 cup icing sugar (optional)

Serves 8
Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line bottom of 8 inch spring form or flan form with parchment paper and/or lightly grease the sides with olive oil.
In a food processor, blend whole almonds until finely chopped, almost a meal.  Add 4 tablespoons of palm sugar and blend again. Transfer to large bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, remaining 4 tablespoons palm sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and salt. Mix until creamy. Add to chopped almonds and stir until well combined.
Beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold egg whites into the almond mixture.
Pour batter into prepared spring form. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before taking out of the spring form. When cooled, sprinkle the top lightly with icing sugar.

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19 April, 2011

Roasted Green Asparagus

White asparagus is probably THE German classic spring vegetable that everyone is looking forward to after a long winter and that everyone is eating until they drop. It's locally grown and only available for a few weeks in April and May.
Now that we live in Dubai, white asparagus is quite expensive and flown in from Peru which is basically halfway round the globe from here. Green asparagus, however, is better available and the quality is more consistent. No matter if green or white, it is spring, and the German in me comes out and wants asparagus.
While the white asparagus is usually boiled, the green asparagus is best roasted. A little drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning brings out the mild flavor best. Wrapped in some salty cured ham, doesn't only give a lovely contrast of red and green, but is an amazing flavor combination. It's so good, I seldomly have this as a side dish. I usually polish off the batch myself as a whole meal. That's how good it is. What makes it even better, that it is so easy and quick to prepare. Within 20 minutes you'll have this dish on the table. Bon Appetit.

1lb green asparagus spears (about 25 spears)
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for greasing
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices Serrano or Parma ham

Serves 4-6
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In order to remove the tough parts of the asparagus, bend each spear until it breaks naturally. Discard lower ends. Spread asparagus onto baking sheet and toss in olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Toss again until well coated. Take 4 or 5 spears and wrap them in one slice of ham. Tighten ham with a small wooden stick (toothpicks work well). Repeat until all asparagus is used. Place the bundles back on the baking sheet. Roast in preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until cooked. Serve immediately.
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16 April, 2011

Banana Molasses Muffins

Do you know the feeling when you know you are not ready for any new things, news of any kind, be it good or bad? Let me explain what it could be caused by: you do freelance work and you have taken on a new job a few days back, in addition to another one that you have had for some time. At the same time, in the middle of the day you get robbed, and your handbag disappears with credit and other cards, driving license, keys, etc. Then, your parents are coming for a visit in a few days time and your place needs some major cleaning in certain corners. Oh, and your husband is occupied at work for the whole weekend and you have two children to keep happy.

Yet, everyone needs to eat. Instead of trying new recipes that could have potential to result in disaster, I cook and bake things that are tested and approved. Recipes whose ingredients I probably have at home at all times. Like these Banana Molasses Muffins. I think, on 350 out of 365 days per year I'd be able to bake these without leaving the house. Muffins like these have several major advantages: they are whipped up and baked within 30 minutes. A healthy breakfast and snacks are saved for the next day.
Bon Appetit.

1/2 cup rolled oats
6 tablespoons whole almonds (divided)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 medium bananas)
1 egg
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
4 tablespoons plain yogurt

Yields 8
Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line or lightly grease muffin tins.
In food processor, grind oats and 3 tablespoons of almonds to a coarse meal. Transfer to mixing bowl and whisk in flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Stir in raisins. 
In another bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add bananas, oil, molasses and yogurt and beat until smooth. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fill into prepared muffins tin.
Chop the remaining almonds and sprinkle  on top of the muffin batter.
Bake 20 minutes, or until tops are firm to the touch.
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12 April, 2011

Spicy Cocktail Almonds

Do you have certain flavor combination that you absolutely dislike? I have. I hate chocolate and mint. I cannot in the least understand how this can go together. It's like brushing your teeth and then have chocolate, or the other way around. Just the thought of it is horrible, the smell would be utterly appalling, and the rest I don't even want to describe.

Something similar seems to be the case with a certain member of our family that often comes home peckish, raiding the fridge and pantry for some snack, about 1-2 hours before dinner. What do you eat when you come home from a long day at work or some errands that you ran? It's almost dinner time, but not quite yet? You don't want to spoil your appetite, but you need to EAT SOMETHING RIGHT HERE AND NOW?
This member was only finding home-made sweet spicy nuts which he particularly dislikes. Good for me, as there would be more for me. But in the end of the day, still a peckish family member in the house.  Alright, I am getting the message. Let's try some savory-spicy nuts for a change. Easier than I thought, and a simple but effective spice mixture does the trick. Salt and Cayenne Pepper for the spiciness and turmeric, paprika and cumin for the depth. That's all it takes. Happy/healthy snacking guaranteed and the mood in our household back in balance!

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons sea salt

2 cups whole almonds
Preheat oven to 160C/325F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small pan, heat butter and oil over low heat. Stir in cumin, paprika, cayenne, turmeric and salt. Simmer gently over low heat for 1-2 minutes.
Put almonds in a large bowl. Add spice mixture and toss until well coated. Spread nuts in one layer on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, turn over once or twice while baking.

Let cool completely before storing in airtight container.
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07 April, 2011

Sauteed Greens with Mustard Seeds and Cashews

We live in Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, one of the hottest and most arid places on earth. Temperatures go up to 50C/120F in summer. The annual rain does not extend 20cm/7inches. It's desert. In the past, this region was not highly populated, apart from cities near the sea due to better access.
Recently, I read an interview with the CEO of an Dubai-based Organic supermarket. He claims the carbon footprint is smaller if organic produce is imported from overseas than growing organic produce locally, as the water used is desalinated which comes at a very big ecological price.
In fact, all water we use here is desalinated: when I bath, when I wash my dishes and clothes, when I water my garden. In fact, any green spot in Dubai is green because it is irrigated. Irrigated with desalinated water. We have the air conditioner running 24/7 for at least 6 months per year. Public buildings are probably air-conditioned all year round. The carbon footprint of the residents in the United Arab Emirates is one, if not THE highest in the world.
I have no knowledge of the exact carbon-footprint related numbers of imported and local produce. Both alternatives feel wrong to me. If I step a few steps back and look at the region, the climate and the original population, I come to the conclusion that this part of the world was not meant to be populated by so many people as live here now. Only half a century ago, natural oil and gas resources were discovered that are now exploited by men. With the exploitation, the wealth came. Whole economies are built on it. Whole countries live off it. And they can afford, at least from a monetary point of view, to accommodate hundreds of thousands of expats living in these countries. In Saudi Arabia, 20% of the population are expats. Here in the UAE it's almost 90%. This means, nine times more people need to be fed, housed and transported. It's not natural, in the very literal sense of the word.
My only conclusion is a very drastic one: to be ecologically responsible, one shouldn't live here, at least not with the lifestyle that we are currently leading. What are we contributing that would justify the damage? We have been living here for 7 years, both my kids were born here.... Food for thought.

We have always been gardening in our little garden, more or less for the kids. They love to sow the seeds, check the following days if they had sprouted over night, get all excited when flowers blossomed, or when the first tomato could be harvested. Last year we planted some rocket seeds. It now grows like weed in my garden. Neighbors come over and pick whenever they need some arugula. I made pesto out of it. Now summer is approaching fast, and I still have an abundance of arugula. Before it dies in the heat, I am trying to use it as much as I can.
Ever since my second pregnancy (I know this is very unusual) I have been addicted to green leafy vegetables. I crave the bitterness that comes with it. My latest favorite use is the sauteed version. It's spiced with cumin, mustard seeds, cayenne and a little tomato, and sprinkled with sweet roasted cashews. Healthy, hearty, heavenly. A good side dish for any roast meat or if you you want to keep it vegetarian, on top of brown rice.


2 tablespoons ground nut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 tomato, finely diced or pureed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup water

3 cups arugula or spinach leaves, torn and tough stems removed
3 cups bok choy, torn and tough ends removed

1/4 cup cashews nuts

Serves 4-6
Preheat oven to 150C/325F.
Place cashews on baking sheet and roast for 3-5 minutes, or until lightly golden. Set aside.

Heat the nut oil in a large pan over medium high heat.  Add cumin seeds and let sizzle for 30 seconds to a minute while stirring. Stir in diced/pureed tomato, mustard seeds, turmeric, cayenne pepper and salt. Reduce heat, cover with lid and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat again and let simmer on low heat to reduce. Add the greens and cook until wilted, stirring regularly, about 2-3 minutes.

Transfer greens to serving bowl and sprinkle with roasted cashews. Serve immediately.
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03 April, 2011

Chickpea Crackers with Mustard Seeds

Due to my recent concerns about the growing number of people with food allergies and food intolerance, I got a little obsessed with creating and eating gluten free and dairy free dishes. I am not allergic or intolerant to any of these, but I would like to know if it would improve my health and well-being if I omitted them from my diet. I am not a die-hard bread and cake eater (anymore), but I love my granola in the mornings. And when it comes to dairy, I like yogurt a lot (I buy the 1kg buckets for the family), and I also like milk in my tea or coffee.
Now there is all sorts of vegan milk alternatives. Soy milk is good to have in porridge, etc. but unusable in tea or coffee. Today I tried rice milk for the first time. It is actually nice in taste and works well when added to tea. It surely needs further testing. If I'd only find a way around my yogurt consumption...
For a gluten free flour alternative, I bought some chickpea flour. I had bought it before, but abandoned it in my pantry, because I didn't really know what to do with it. I have been a big fan of pulses for a long time. The nutritional values of legumes like chickpeas are well known: low GI, good source of proteins and dietary fiber. And gluten free.
Off I go to make some crackers out of my new flour. I added some garlic and and mustard seeds for seasoning, and they turned out amazing. The chickpea flour has an amazing taste supported by a generous hint of garlic and mustard seeds. I had some leftover hummus to dip, and thought it might be a bit to much chickpea in one go: chickpea crackers with chickpea dip? But it turned out a great combination. Any light dip will work well with these crackers: salsa or herbed yogurt (if you are not on a dairy-free diet) will fit the bill.
It is most important to roll out the crackers as thin as possible. If you leave them to thick, they won't get crunchy, but this is what's most important with the crackers. Like the name says.....

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup water

Yields 15-20
Preheat oven to 175C/375F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine chickpea flour, salt, mustard seeds and garlic. Add oil and water and mix until dough is formed. Add more water if dough seems to dry, or more flour if it seems to wet. Form into a disc.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough evenly and as thin as possible, to 1/8 inch thickness. With a knife or cookie cutter, cut the dough into desired shapes. Poke each cracker with a fork to prevent puffing. Transfer onto baking sheet. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until edges turn golden.
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