31 December, 2012

My Favorite Recipes of 2012

It's the last day of the year 2012, can you believe it? Every year on New Year's Eve day I have to confirm that time goes past so much quicker as you get older. What have I been doing this year? Before I run the risk of boring you with a summary of little details of my private life ( I guess you get a good share of it in my posts anyway), I'll rather present you with my favorite Top 10 recipes of this year. Recipes that became staples in our house and recipes that surprised us by their deliciousness and simplicity. Enjoy!

Broccoli Tahini Salad with Almonds and Sesame
This Broccoli Salad with Tahini has become a lunch staple of mine. I often swap the veggies around, depending on what I have in the fridge. Most often I'd use cauliflower, carrots and broccoli or a combination of these.

Carrot Coconut Breakfast Loaf
Another staple that I bake at least once a month. It's nutritious enough to have for breakfast, filling enough to serve as marathon fuel, and surely tasty enough to serve warm as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chicken Curry in a Hurry
If the first two recipes were our breakfast and lunch staples, this chicken curry is our dinner staple: Cooked up in no time (if you have the chickpeas ready), it's our go-to recipe when something hearty and meaty is wanted on the dinner table. To add some variety, I often make the sauce in advance (just leave out the chicken), and cook some prawns and squid rings in it just before serving.

Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Balls
Finally a new Christmas cookie recipe. We got to love our three or four recipes so much over the past couple of years, that no-one wanted anything different. The gluten free hazelnut balls will be a welcome addition. And I already know that I will make them not just for Christmas.

Coconut Chocolate Muffins
My kids' favorite muffins when they come home from school. More than once I had to whip up a batch on the spot, as the previous one was eaten up sooner than I thought. They are grain free and sweetened with honey. Goodness all around.

Lemon Frozen Yogurt
2012 has been our year of homemade ice creams and sorbets, after I brought an ice cream maker home from Europe after our summer vacation. Most of them don't need more than two or three ingredients. Simplicity at its best, and a healthy dessert too.

Lentil Pancakes with Coriander Yogurt Dip
Whenever I need something more substantial than steamed veggies for lunch, I'll have lentil pancakes. Delicious earthy ground lentils spiced with cumin and chili flakes,then dipped into a refreshing yogurt dip. I can hardly think of anything more fulfilling. Fellow Dubai blogger Rajani from Eat Write Think was posting this recipe, and I had it numerous times since.

Pavlova with Summer Berries
Pavlovas don't really fit into the "health food" category, no matter how hard you try. I use raw sugar to make the meringues and put and extra load of fresh berries on top to keep the guilt factor small. This is our favorite dessert when we have dinner guests.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cherries
Brussels Sprouts are not everyone's cup of tea. I think they have a good chance to convert a few people when served roasted and topped with dried cherries and toasted almonds. It takes them to a whole new level.

Savory Smoothie
I am not a big smoothie drinker. I prefer to eat fruit rather than drink. But when I discovered a recipe for a savory smoothie that includes a variety of vegetables and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as fresh ginger and cumin, I was immediately intrigued. Wonderfully refreshing in the summer, and surely flu and cold fighting in winter. Give it a try!
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22 December, 2012

Vegan Pumpkin Orange Spice Squares

There is many good things about Christmas in Dubai. If you can get your head around sunshine, blue skies and rather warm weather (which is something you have to get used to when you grew up in more Northern regions of the world), the rest is just mind-blowingly good.

The city is quiet, as many expatriates have left to their home country for Christmas and New Year. The weather is actually really good: just in the middle between the hot summers that last for an eternity and the coldest time of the year which usually hits in January and February.

The good weather serves very well for another thing: outdoor running. No longer do you have to run at crazy early or late hours to avoid the heat of the sun. And now the best: Christmas coincides with the toughest part of marathon training for the Dubai Marathon on 25 January. The longest long runs are to be done during this time of the year. Last week I did a 29k run among a weekly mileage of 70+km. Yesterday I ran 32k. For next week, the longest long run of 35k is on the schedule.

This high mileage translates into higher energy needs. Which is well timed, as Christmas sweets and treats are available everywhere. And I can dig in without any guilty feelings!! Anything that looks like cookie, square, bar or cake will not be safe from me these days. My hunger pangs after a long run trickle slowly through the day. Little bits and bites are my favorite foods.

Today's Pumpkin Orange Spice Squares I ate all by myself. Not in one day, but it surely didn't take much longer than that. The spices and orange zest give it that Christmas-sy flavor. The lemon icing on top gives it extra zing that I wouldn't want to miss. These squares serve all the purposes: a vegan Christmas treat and marathon fuel at the same time. Enjoy!


(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cloves

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
100g coconut sugar or grated Jaggery
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice

1 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin, coarsely grated

Lemon Icing (optional)
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Yields 16 squares
Preheat oven to 180C. Line 20cm square tin with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine flax meal with water and whisk until well combined. Let stand for at least 15 minutes, or up to an hour.

In a large bowl, combine almond meal baking powder and spices. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk sugar and coconut oil until fluffy. Add the flax water mixture and whisk again. Stir in orange zest and orange juice.

Add wet to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in grated pumpkin.
Transfer batter to prepared square tin. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Lemon Icing
In a coffee or spice grinder, pulse the raw sugar until it has the consistency of powdered sugar. Transfer to bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and stir until the mixture becomes a thick liquid. Use more lemon juice to if the mixture is too thick, and more powdered sugar if's too runny. Drizzle over the cake and let harden before serving.

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17 December, 2012

Chocolate Covered Hazelnut Balls

With less than 10 days to go before Christmas, it's time for a little indulgence. I won't bore you with more broccoli recipes before the end of the year. Instead, I'll share some of my new Christmas cookie recipes with you.

What makes a cookie a Christmas cookie, anyway? I never really understood. Fact is, although it is totally unscientific, cookies taste somehow better around Christmas. Perhaps it's my cultural upbringing that makes me believe that you HAVE TO HAVE cookies of some sorts in the house.

I baked three sorts of Christmas cookies and a gingerbread house on the weekend, and the whole house still smells like a bakery. The weather in Dubai has been almost Northern-Hemisphere-Christmas-sy in the past few days: lots of rain and temperatures below 20C invite to cuddle up inside the house and get some baking done.

Today's recipe is inspired by David Lebovitz' Baci Di Dama Cookie recipe. Looking at the ingredients list, they resemble pretty much the Mexican Wedding Cookie or Snowball Cookie recipe. But hazelnuts are being used in these, and I realized that I haven't baked with hazelnuts for far too long. I substituted rice flour with brown rice flour, and plain white sugar with coconut sugar or Jaggery to make them more nutritious and a bit healthier.

Working on the dough, I thought I'd treat it the same way as my snowball cookies. This would simplify Lebovitz' recipe a lot. The results were a success all over. Honestly, I even believe that Lebovitz' complicated rolling, refrigerating and cutting of the dough would not result in a better cookie.

I found the size of each cookie big enough to count as one cookie. So I decided to just drizzle a little chocolate over the top, instead of sticking two cookies together with a chocolate layer in the middle. I have baked these cookies twice within a week. My son goes straight to the cookie jar  when he comes home from school. If you love hazelnuts, you will love these! No matter if it's Christmas or not.
inspired by David Lebovitz

(Print Recipe)

100g whole raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup brown rice flour
pinch of salt 

50g butter
1/3 cup coconut sugar or Jaggery

1-2 ounces dark chocolate (I used Lindt with 85% cocoa)
raw icing sugar* (optional)

* You can make your own raw icing sugar by grinding regular raw sugar in a coffee/spice grinder

Yields ca. 25
Toast hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium low heat for 6-8 minutes, or until skin starts peeling off. Take off the heat, Let the nuts cool a little and rub off the skin as soon as you can handle the nuts. Set aside and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 165C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Grind the cooled hazelnuts in a food processor or coffee grinder to a fine meal.
In a large bowl, combine hazelnut meal with brown rice flour, sugar and a pinch of salt.

Cut the butter into small pieces and rub them into the nut flour mixture. The mixture should become cohesive enough to roll balls out of it. Form the dough into small balls (approx. size of cherry tomato) and place on the baking sheet. Leave some space between the cookies on the sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Dust the cookies slightly with icing sugar (optional).

Chop the chocolate and place into a small bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water until chocolate is melted and smooth. With a small spoon or piping bag, drizzle warm liquid chocolate over the cookies and leave until chocolate is firm.
Keep in airtight container.
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06 December, 2012

Cranberry Chocolate Nut Squares

Tomorrow is the previously mentioned Dubai Creek Striders Half Marathon, and I am gonna run it!! Yes, I will. If you have read my previous post, you will know that I got a muscle tear in my thigh two weeks ago. My first injury ever. Complete new territory for me. How to handle it when the most important half marathon is just around the corner and when you are in the middle of the most crucial part of full marathon training ? How to stay calm? What to do to speed up recovery?

I went to see a doctor only 5 days after the pain started. At that time my thigh muscle felt as hard and stiff as a brick.  The physio treatments were pure torture. Bu they helped. I was supposed to put tiger balm onto the thigh and keep on massaging it to increase blood circulation and mobilization of the area. I was recommended two instruments for self massage to help me do it. Meet my new best friends:
Trigger Point Foam Roller
The Stick
I warn you: Be ready for pain. That's all I can say. Those two are self-torture tools. But they do  loosen up knotted muscular tissue in the same way a physiotherapist will do in several sessions, just for so much less money, as you can do it as often as you can stand the pain. If you have masochistic tendencies, it will be of advantage.

Sufficient rest and a lot of massaging got me to recover well enough and just in time for the half marathon. I got the green light from the doctor too, although he said I should be wise enough to stop if the pain flares up again to an extent that is not healthy.

So here I am, alarm clock set for 4am, bag packed, clothes laid out, and water bottle beside me so I'll arrive well hydrated at the start line tomorrow. I ran a half marathon about a month ago and my time was 1:37:11. I want to get to 1:35:00. I am not sure if tomorrow ill be the day. It is quite warm (a tad too warm), and there is a chance for rain.

If anything will help me get there in 1:35, it's my well rested legs, as I have hardly been running for two weeks. I'll keep you posted on the results.

Meanwhile I have been cooking, baking and photographing quite a lot over the past two weeks. The time that I used to spend running had to be spent otherwise. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Today's recipe is another grain-free granola bar that I have been throwing together with whatever I had at hand. I love having these in the fridge, especially at times when I run a lot and hunger hits me often and hard. These are sweet and satisfying with all the goodness of nuts, flax meal and cocoa. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I finished the half marathon in 1:38:33. Not a PB, but my leg was not to blame for it. It was the weather conditions: far too warm and humid. I felt I was putting a lot of effort into my running, but wouldn't move fast enough accordingly. Thanks for your support and all your comments.

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/4 cup prunes, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cranberries

3-4 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce

Yields 16
Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20cm square tin with parchment paper.

Put the raw almonds in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add all other ingredients, except the apple sauce, and pulse a few times until medium to finely chopped. Add the apple sauce and blend until mixture sticks together in one lump.

Press the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes or until edges become golden brown. Let cool before cutting into squares. Keeps well in the fridge.
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30 November, 2012

Asian Broccoli Salad

Bad news today ! Be prepared for a big whine. 

I've got my first ever running injury. After last week's 25k long run (which was part of my marathon training), I realized that I was limping and that I had pains in my left thigh that were beyond the usual aches after a long run. Two days later it was still not better, and I tried a little self diagnosis by looking up the symptoms on the Internet. Everything pointed to a grade I muscle tear. 

Next and most important question was: How long does it take to heal and how long am I not able to run? The timing could not have been any worse. The most popular Dubai half marathon is coming up in one (!) week. I am also in the most crucial part of marathon training for the Dubai Marathon at the end of January. Damn!

It's hard to sit still and do nothing, apart from rubbing tiger balm on my leg and massaging it with a rolling pin. I've got stuff to do, races to run, mileage to get in. It's the wrongest time in the season to have an injury!!

After 4-5 days, I was slightly deluded when I was able to walk without a limp and the thigh not being as sensitive to touch. But my follow-up appointment with the doctor this morning left me with a less optimistic outlook. It showed that the muscle is far from healed and still very sore when pressing on the injured spots. I am now allowed a 5 minute jog. That's not even worth the effort of putting my trainers on. 

I don't know what to do about this. I have never been injured. Right now, I feel I have to decide which race is more important to me: the half marathon next week or the full marathon in January. If I run the half next week, I might risk not even finishing it and extended injury that will keep me from preparing for the full marathon. If I give it a miss, I will miss out on the biggest Dubai running event. But I might be able to recover properly and be ready to train properly for the full marathon. What do I want? I don't know. I still want both!

I have been giving my diet extra care in the past week, making sure I eat a lot of anti-inflammatory foods to support recovery. I sprinkled in turmeric and cumin wherever I could. The veggies couldn't be green enough and raw ginger was a must in all dressings. I also allowed myself a very anti-anti-inflammatory glass of wine in the evening. To mend my broken spirits. With temporary but reasonable results.

Today's Asian broccoli salad has been on my a few times in the past week. Full of anti-inflammatory ingredients, light, and good to keep in the fridge for a few hours. A true keeper that I will sure eat, even without injury. Wish me luck that this muscle tear is healing up quickly. I'd be devastated if it keeps me from running for much longer.


(Print Recipe)

4 cups broccoli florets

2 cups bean sprouts
2 spring onions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce divided
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar 
1 teaspoon honey (or raw sugar for a vegan version)

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
pinch of red chili flakes
Serves 4-6
Steam the broccoli until just tender, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer broccoli to a bowl of ice cold water to stop cooking process. Drain and set aside.
In a small pan, heat one teaspoon of sesame oil. Fry the almonds, stirring frequently until nuts are toasted, 3-4 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of soy sauce to the pan and stir until nuts are just coated. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and honey.  Stir in garlic, ginger and chili flakes.

Combine cooked broccoli, bean sprouts, spring onions and cilantro in a serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and stir until evenly coated. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge for up to 4 hours before serving.
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23 November, 2012

Grain Free Vanilla Cookies

Christmas is only a month away. It's a scary thought: I will have my parents over from Europe for 2 weeks. So the pressure is on. They have never really spend Christmas in warm weather. I find it so much easier to get into Christmas mood when it's cold, dark and wet outside. Candles make more sense in such environment. In Dubai, we'll probably be in the swimming pool at lunchtime, and definitely in shirts and shorts during the day. Candles? While having the air-conditioner on at the same time? Please......

I have always put up Christmas decoration half-heartedly and much later than people would usually do in Germany. Yet, I think it's time to replace ALL of our Christmas decoration (as our house looked exactly the same every Christmas for several years with the same stuff in the same places). While I am at it, probably even buy a new Christmas tree. Our old one has lasted several years, and I am sick and tired of it too.

I checked my Christmas cookie recipes, and even they need an overhaul. We've eaten the same ones for years now. Don't get me wrong, I will still make our all-time favorites: The Gingerbread Cookies (the kids love these) and the Snowballs (husband could live on them during the festive season). But it was time to add something new.

My grain-free nutrition phase is still very high on my priority list, as I feel it impacts on my well -being more than any other diet. I tried gluten free and it didn't make much of a difference. I tried dairy free, and I couldn't see any changes.

Developing a grain free cookie cutter recipe would be a logical next step. Over the summer, I tried again and again to make something out of coconut flour, but it would go straight to the bin in all cases. Coconut flour doesn't really crisp up in a cookie. If you try and google coconut-flour-based cookies, you will not find much. For exactly that reason. A combination of almond meal and coconut flour finally gave the satisfactory results.

My kids and I have been gobbling up these cookies in the shortest amount of time, always in need of the next batch within a day or two. These cookies are tried, tested and approved. I hope you will enjoy them as much as we do.


(Print Recipe)

1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs
100g coconut sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter (room temperature)

Yields ca. 25-30 cookies
In a bowl combine almond meal, coconut flour and baking soda. Mix well and set aside.

With a handheld mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add butter in small pieces and blend until fully incorporated.

Add the flour mixture in small portions and blend until a dough forms. You may want to do this with your hands, once the mixture gets thick. If the dough doesn't stick together in a ball, add small amounts of coconut flour until you achieve the results.
Dive the dough into two balls, flatten them to a disc and wrap in cling wrap. Keep in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 160C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Take one disc out of the refrigerator. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness with a rolling pin. Remove the top parchment paper. Cut the dough into shapes with cookie cutters of your choice. Lift the cut-out dough with a spatula and place it onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the other disc of dough.

Bake for 9 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. To get your cookies extra crispy, you may flip the cookies upside down and leave them in the switched-off oven for another few minutes.
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19 November, 2012

Kiwi Sorbet

Do you agree with me that certain foods should not be transformed and processed through cooking? Lettuce, cucumbers, grapefruits, and kiwi fruit fall into this category.

Lettuce will loose all its fresh crispness and become a wilted watery lukewarm pathetic vegetable. Cucumbers, due to their high water content, will have similar results as lettuce. Grapefruit I find best raw, either in form of its segments in a salad or juiced.

A few weeks back I was asked to come up with a recipe that includes kiwi fruit. I was at a total loss. What can you do with kiwi without destroying its delicate flavor and texture? I was hoping to get some inspiration through Google, but nothing came up that would tickle my fancy. In fact, most recipes confirmed my argument that kiwi fruit should be left raw, and just be added to salads.

During our summer vacation in Europe, I bought an ice cream maker as my husband loves sorbet. We have been making  sorbet out of many fruits. Many of them were raw, pureed fruit sweetened with a little honey and with some fresh lemon juice to add some zing. In fact, these kind of sorbets are a perfect way to get some raw fruit into people who are otherwise not great fruit lovers.

Making kiwi sorbet would be worth a try! My very first attempt was a total success, and I must say that of all sorbets that we have made (raspberry, mango, pineapple, citrus fruit), I find the kiwi sorbet the most addictive. A dessert that is a vitamin C bomb in disguise. To be eaten without any guilty feelings. Give it a go! I bet you will like it.

(Print Recipe)

8 ripe kiwi fruits
1 lemon, juice of

4 tablespoons honey

Yields about 8-10 scoops
Peel the kiwi fruits and chop them roughly. Blend kiwis in food processor until smooth. Add lemon juice and honey and pulse until well combined.

Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and follow its instructions.

Alternatively, chill the mixture in the fridge until thoroughly cooled.
Pour the kiwi mixture into a shallow bowl or pan. Freeze until almost solid. Take out of the freezer, and thoroughly stir it with a fork. Put back into freezer and freeze until solid.
Scoop out the frozen mixture and place it into a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Transfer sorbet to airtight container and return to freezer until ready to serve.

You may want to take out the sorbet and leave it at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving to soften the sorbet and make scooping easier.
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11 November, 2012

Grandma's Sweet and Sour Cucumber Salad

I was recently asked to contribute four German recipes to a publication whose topic would be international cuisine. It had to be a soup, an entree, a salad and a dessert. While desserts and entrees are fairly easy when it comes to German cuisine (think tons of eggs in sugar laden cakes or heavy meats with rich gravy), it took a bit more thought to come up with a typical soup and salad, as I wanted those two categories to fit into my ideas of healthy food.

I went through all the dishes that we ate at family houses while on vacation back in the summer. Until my grandma's cucumber salad came to my mind.

My grandma is 80 years old and has been living alone for most of her life. She loves children, and used to be a nursery teacher in the village nursery school before becoming a pensioner. She has got a big heart. One can feel that she has always been surrounded by children as noise and a little mess don't bug her at all. It is also inevitable that she has been living alone for very long. There is certain rules in her house that cannot be messed with. Like lunch time at 11.30am sharp.

Whenever we go visit her on our summer vacation, she loves to have us over to have lunch with her. My husband and I usually skip breakfast on that day, as lunch at granny's house will be a 3-course meal with a light broth soup as a starter, some major meat roast with several sides and potato dumplings as main, and of course pudding. When we arrive just 10 minutes late, she will not say anything, but I can see that she has been waiting impatiently and that food was ready to be served for at least 15 minutes.

Grandma's cucumber salad has been around for as long as I can remember. She would grow the cucumbers in her garden behind the house, a huge patch that has several apple and walnut trees, plum and pear trees, gooseberry and redcurrant bushes, and all sorts of vegetables from potatoes over carrots, green beans to savoy cabbage.

Grandma's cucumber salad is one of the most simple and most refreshing salads I know. It's perfect on hot summer days, or to lighten up a heavy meat-laden entree. Here is my German salad recipe for you. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 English cucumber OR 6 Lebanese cucumbers
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. sunflower or canola oil)
1 tablespoon raw sugar

freshly ground pepper

Serves 4
Thinly slice the cucumbers. Sprinkle with salt and let stand for about 30 minutes. Squeeze them gently to get rid of excess water. Transfer to serving bowl.

Combine the white vinegar, oil and sugar. Mix into cucumbers and adjust seasoning, e.g add more sugar if the vinegar is too dominant. Top with freshly ground pepper. This salad is especially refreshing when cooled in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving.
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03 November, 2012

Lentil Pumpkin Salad with Arugula and Feta

Lentils are the perfect autumn/winter food, don't you think? Comforting, warming and filling and very versatile when it comes to its usage in a dish. I bookmark almost every lentil recipe that I come across. I have the whole array of lentils in my pantry.

Yet, I hardly ever get to make one of these recipes. My lentil bags in the pantry are mostly untouched. God knows why. To be honest, only red lentils I use on a regular basis for soups and dals. I am hoping that this will change in the coming weeks and months when it's cooler. A good start were the Lentil Pancakes that I posted a few weeks ago.

Today's salad is a good follow-up recipe, as it couldn't be any more autumn-y. Roasted pumpkin seasoned with cumin, paprika and chili flakes with black lentils. Arugula adds some more earthy freshness, and little feta cheese crumbs add some creaminess. So many layers of textures and flavors in one single bowl. Enjoy!
adapted slightly from Bon Appetit

(Print Recipe)

1/2 cup black lentils

3 cups pumpkin, peeled and de-seeded and cut into cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 cups arugula leaves
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Serves 4
Soak lentils in cold water for a few hours. Drain.
Cook lentils in boiling salted water until tender, but still with a bite, around 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 220C.
Toss pumpkin cubes with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, spices and salt. Place pumpkin on a baking tray in a single layer and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Turn over halfway. Set aside.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with lemon juice.

Transfer lentils to a serving bowl. Stir in the lemon dressing. Add pumpkin cubes and arugula leaves. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Ready to serve.
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28 October, 2012

Vanilla Pumpkin Almond Bread

Halloween is around the corner. I will have to go Trick or Treating with my kids again. My son wants to dress up as a devil. My daughter doesn't like scary creatures and therefore wants to be a fairy. Both my kids want me to dress up as witch again. I must have looked quite convincing last year.

October also means the start of the running season in Dubai. I had a 8k race and a 10k race on the last two weekends. My summer training seems to be paying off. I was happy with my times and even made it onto the podium at the 8k race.
Nice setting of the podium in front of the Burj Al Arab Hotel
October also marks the beginning of my marathon training for the Dubai Marathon on 25 January 2013. The marathon training, more than anything else, means primarily three things: I will run a lot more. I will eat a lot more. And I will need a lot more sleep to recover.

The sleep issue is basically solved for me as long as I do my runs in the late afternoon/evening. I have never been an avid morning runner (unless it is a race). So running in the evening, come home to have shower and dinner and then crash onto the sofa or straight into bed has worked quite well for me in the past. After a good nights sleep, my legs might still feel a bit tired, but I can function and my head is clear.
Whenever I do run in the morning (especially if it is long runs), I feel tired for the rest of the day. Today was one of those days, where I squeezed in a 19k (12mi) run in the morning. By lunchtime I had splitting headaches, and my body was just screaming for rest and sleep. Needs to be avoided.

The food issue: especially at marathon training time, I am glad that I am small and slim. While I run, I do burn a good amount of calories, but by far not as much as a 80kg/175lb guy would burn. I sometimes wonder how much time these guys spend eating. I already spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen preparing and eating food. So imagine that with someone who easily burns double the amount. Food portions increase enormously during this time, and grab-and-go snacks need to be ready at all times: preferably in form of muffins, cakes, granola bars, etc.
Today's recipe is therefore a grain free seasonal loaf cake with fresh grated pumpkin. The pumpkin is used in the same way, you would use carrots in a carrot cake. The ingredients list is incredibly simple and short. The cake can be whipped up in no time. The cake itself is moist and sweet and extremely satisfying as breakfast cake, mid morning snack or as afternoon cake. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs
1/2 cup/100g coconut sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups/200g fresh pumpkin, coarsley grated

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 180C. Grease or line loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine almond meal and baking powder. Set aside.
In another bowl, beat two eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add coconut oil and vanilla extract.
Combine wet and dry ingredients until well mixed. Gently fold in grated pumpkin.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in the tin, before taking it out. Let cool completely on wire rack.
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24 October, 2012

Autumn Favorites 2012

It's about time that I compiled a seasonal Favorite Recipe list - with autumnal fruit and vegetables, combined with a whole array of immune-strengthening spices, like turmeric and cumin, cinnamon and chili, to be well prepared for all the winter colds and flus that may come (and hopefully go without us even noticing). Here are my Top 10 favorite autumn recipes in alphabetical order:

Barley and Root Vegetable Soup:
I love chunky vegetable soups when the days get colder. You get a good amount of veggies in, and with it comes a good amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Cumin-Scented Chickpea Soup:
This the ideal midweek dinner soup that is can be made from precooked or canned chickpeas. Seasoned with a good amount of cumin and turmeric, it has numerous health benefits that ranging from improved digestion to keeping flu at bay.

Dukkah Spiced Pumpkin Salad:
An amazing salad with seasonal pumpkin that wows with many layers of textures and flavors: roasted pumpkin, steamed green beans, feta cheese sprinkled with dukkah (and Egyptian nut spice mix).

Frozen Chocolate Nut Bars:
When the weather gets to cold for ice cream, it might be time for a frozen chocolate nut bar: this is nutrition in dessert form as it includes the goodness of raw nuts, flaxseed, coconut oil and and the antioxidant properties of cocoa.

Grain Free Apple Walnut Bread:
This little loaf is made with coconut flour and almond meal, sweetened with dates only and gets extra crunch from chopped walnuts.

Orange-Scented Hazelnut Prune Truffles:
Every year in autumn, I fall in love again with orange zest. I put it into any dessert. These truffles are made of dried fruit and nuts and orange zest. Heavenly and healthy at the same time.

Red Lentil Dal:
Ever since I reduced my grain intake to a minimum, I find myself resorting to legumes when I need some comfort food. This red lentil dal is my favorite dinner in front of the TV food when I am alone.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Goat Cheese:
These filled butternut squashes are a true flavor explosion. The butternuts are seasoned with chili, garlic and thyme. The filling consists of Parmesan, goat cheese and pine nuts and more veggies. Vegetarian food can't get much better.

Roasted Pumpkin & Pomegranate Salad:
This is a simple salad in which roasted pumpkin, carrots, pomegranate, arugula and crumbled feta cheese bounce their flavors off each other.

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas:
These roasted chickpeas are spiced with cumin for depth and chili for heat. My family loves them that I usually do double or triple portions, as they disappear as soon as I take them out of the oven.
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17 October, 2012

Grain Free Orange Chocolate Cookies

One of my favorite autumn and winter flavors is orange zest in combination with dried dates or some deep dark chocolate. Or both. It cannot be deep or dark enough.

Here are some of my other orange zesty recipes:
There we go: all sorts of flavored granolas, granola bars, snack bars, cakes and truffles. Notice something? Yes, no cookie recipe yet. That will change with today's recipe that I am particularly proud of: Grain Free Orange Chocolate Cookies, sweetened with date syrup and honey. First of all: my kids absolutely love them. They are grain free and nut free (so I can pack them into my son's lunch box for school). They can be whipped in no time with very little ingredients that might have sitting in pantry and fridge anyway.

I am usually a fan of small amounts when cooking and baking (e.g. who wants to eat the same stuff for days in row...), but these cookies have disappeared so quickly, that it is not necessary halving the recipe. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 cups dried coconut flakes
1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 eggs
1/4 cup date syrup (or alternatively honey)
1/4 cup honey
1 orange, zest of

Yields 20-25
Preheat oven to 180C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine coconut flakes and cocoa powder. Mix well.  In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in date syrup, honey and orange zest. Combine wet and dry ingredients.

Take one tablespoon of the batter and form discs of about 1,5 inches diameter. Place them onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Or until golden brown.

If you want your cookies slightly more crispy, switch off the oven after 18-20 minutes. Flip the cookies upside down and put back into switched-off but warm oven  for another few minutes.
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10 October, 2012

Carrot Tahini Soup

May I make a very bold statement today? Here we go: Everything tastes better with tahini.There, I said it. These days, I hardly have a meal without tahini. It's either in my hummus, or in the dressing over a huge bowl of veggies or as a sauce to go with my falafels or some noodles. And now also in my soup.

As summer comes to a close, it's time to cook more soups again. Something comforting with a variety of vegetables and spices inside that help you protect from the colds and flus that often come along with a change of season.

My spice mix includes coriander, cumin and turmeric. Especially the two latter ones are known to have great anti inflammatory effects on your body and should actually be consumed regularly. They strengthen the immune system and help weight loss by increasing fat metabolism.
Garlic promotes the well-being of the immune systems with antioxidant properties. It is also cholesterol lowering. Carrots have great antioxidant properties and and are full of vitamin A, B and E. Tahini is a gold mine for vitamin B and calcium. Because it's ground up, it is very easy to digest, and the nutritional properties will be in your bloodstream within 30 minutes after consumption.

After this little scientific list of nutritional properties I will not leave you before emphasizing how good this soup tastes. The sweetness of the carrots is bounced off against the punch of the spices and the tahini adds a lovely nutty flavor to it. That's carrot soup taken to another level. Enjoy!

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves, of garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon  ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1lb carrots, chopped
 3 cups water

3 tablespoons tahini

pumpkin seeds (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)

Serves 2-3
In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute.

Stir in all spices, salt and pepper. Now add the chopped carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add water, increase heat to high until it comes to a boil. Cover with lid then cook over medium heat until carrots are thoroughly cooked. Take off the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes before stirring in the tahini. In a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Reheat of necessary.

Transfer soup to serving bowls and garnish with pumpkin or sesame seeds (optional). Serve immediately.
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04 October, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dried Cherries

Autumn is here, I'd like to think. The morning temperatures are just below 30C which feels almost fresh after several months of 35+C. However, during the day my autumnal feeling still dwindle a bit with temperatures around 40C around lunchtime. That's not fresh. It's plain hot.

Never mind the temperatures, Dubai seems to have awoken from its lazy summer slumber. Kids are back in school, kids' birthday parties are lined up until November. My running season has just started and several races have been lined up until April next year. My training for the Dubai marathon will start just after Halloween.

Before Halloween, I have to organize my son's birthday party. He will be seven. He wants a sports party. I was thinking of doing athletics with them: sprint runs, long jump (into a sandpit), high jump (over a broom stick), relay runs, ball throwing, etc. Accompanying parents can be marshals and referees. All kids get a bib number upon arrival. After the competition, everyone gets a medal and a certificate with their personal results in each discipline. No direct winners, or losers. Everyone to their abilities and capabilities. Can't wait to chase them all around.

With all this busy-ness, one mustn't forget to eat properly. Instead of raw salads, I start craving warm foods. Still nothing too heavy. These days, my go-to meal is a big bowl of cooked vegetables with some sauce or dressing, sprinkled with roasted nuts or seeds. But warm it must be.
One autumnal vegetable, pumpkin, has already become a regular ingredient in those huge batches of roasted vegetables that I  cook (and eat) several times per week.
But I was happy to pick up some Brussels sprouts the other day. Ever since I was pregnant with my second child (during that pregnancy I was craving green leafy vegetables - I am sure I have told you several times before - sorry), I am in love with Brussels sprouts. I acknowledge the fact that many people (and especially children) don't like the slightly bitter taste. The nutritional value of Brussels sprouts, however,  are tremendous: anti-inflammatory, full antioxidants, good for the digestive tract, and provides great cancer protection. That's reason enough to try and come up with a dish, that may convert a Brussels sprouts hater.

Bouncing off the taste of the Brussels sprouts with something totally different, is the way to go. I decided to go with dried cherries, something tart and sweet to compete with the bitterness of the Brussels sprouts. Initially, I even had a tahini dressing with it. But then I decided that all it needs is a good splash of good olive oil and some dried fruit. I can't help myself but sprinkle tasted nuts or seeds on everything. So here we go: Brussels sprouts with dried cherries and toasted almonds. I'd eat a big bowl of this at any day for lunch.


1lb Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

1/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup almonds
olive oil to taste

(Serves 3-4)
Preheat oven to 220C.

Place Brussels sprouts in a bowl and plash over the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir so the olive oil coats the vegetables evenly.
Spread Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Turn them over once for even roasting.

Meanwhile, roast the almonds in a dry pan over medium low heat for a few minutes. Shake the pan regularly to provide even roasting.  Let cool a little. Then chop roughly.

If the dried cherries are very dry, soak them in warm water for a few minutes. Drain.
Mix dried cherries into the roasted Brussels sprouts. Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with roasted almonds. Sprinkle with more olive oil if desired. Serve immediately.
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28 September, 2012

Lentil Pancakes with Coriander Yogurt Dip

It's end of September and the Dubai running season has officially started. A few weeks ago, I signed up for all the races that I want to participate in. It adds up to this: from October until April I'll be doing four 10k races, four Half Marathons and a Full Marathon. I am still considering another 10k race and a 10 mile race. The season opener was a 5k race last week.

In previous years I have been cutting down my running during the summer to almost nothing, due to the heat and lack of motivation as there was no immediate races to train for.  This summer was different. I did a fitness analysis back in July, and asked them what I must do to become faster over any distance from 10k to 42k . They told me to run long and slow for 10-12 weeks and then come back to see how much it has helped (read more about this here). Next week I am going back for a follow-up analysis.

It's been 10 weeks since the last check, and I am definitely feeling fit. I can run for 90 minutes at any day, no problem. The 5k race last week seemed to show first signs of success of my slow training over the last 2 months. 5k are usually not my favorite distance. I prefer longer runs where I can run a little slower. On a 5k race, there is no time to lose. It's a flat all-out race from start to finish. But I managed: I felt good and strong and kept a steady pace for about 4,5k. Only the last 500m (which didn't even have a hill - if anything it went downhill) were a bit of a struggle. I ran a Personal Best, and that was in extreme heat and humidity and a hilly course.

With all the running all the time, I find myself very, very hungry at times. There is days where I constantly raid the fridge for something to eat. It feels like a deficit of energy is adding up over a few days, and then it hits me one day. Hence, I spend the whole day in search of the next thing I can eat.
If I have my breakfast around 8am, I'll be ready for lunch at 11am. That often even includes a little snack in between.

On those days, a simple veggie salad is usually not enough. I need something more substantial, if I don't want to spend the whole day by the fridge. How happy was I when my friend Rajani from Eat Write Think posted a Lentil Pancake recipe a few days ago. Lentil and beans, as opposed to grains,  are my first choice when I need something to fill me up. And savory? Even better, so I can have them for lunch or dinner (although Rajani eats this for breakfast). I love the flavor and texture of these pancakes: spiced with cumin and chili they get a full round flavor (something I, as a German, wouldn't want for breakfast yet :-). The texture is that of a typical pancake - easy to flip in the pan and spongy enough to roll them up. The dip is refreshing and I love to have a big slab of yogurt dip onto the hot pancakes straight from the pan. An absolutely satisfying meal: it keeps you full for longer, is nutritious and tastes just amazing.These pancakes fit the bill in many perspectives. Enjoy!
adapted from Eat Write Think

(Print Recipe)

Lentil Pancakes
1/4 yellow moong dal
1/4 cup split green moong dal

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

olive oil

Coriander Yogurt Dip
1 carrot, coarsely grated
1 cucumber, deseeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup Greek or strained yogurt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch of chili flakes
salt to taste

Serves 1-2
Lentil Pancakes
Soak the dal for at least 2 hours (or overnight in the fridge). Drain excess water, and transfer dal to food processor. Blend to a smooth and thick paste with about 1/2 cup of water. Add cumin, chili flakes and salt and pulse a few times to mix. The batter should be thick and spreadable but not runny.

Heat pan over medium heat, and coat the bottom with a little olive oil. Spread a heaped tablespoon of batter into the hot pan. Make sure the spread is not too thin. Cook over medium low heat for 1-2 minutes. When the bottom separates easily from the pan, flip pancake over and cook the other side until slightly browned. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter until all is used up.

Coriander Yogurt Dip
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and let stand in the fridge for an hour or so for the flavors to blend.

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22 September, 2012

Raw Raspberry Sorbet

When you travel with small kids, you will most probably have a lot of luggage. Whenever we leave Dubai for our annual leave in summer, I am glad to travel with Emirates Airlines, as they allow 30kgs luggage per person. We often needed that.

As the kids get older, the luggage gets less/lighter. You don't need a big toy bag anymore (only a small one), or 7 sets of clothes to change which can easily be soiled by a baby or toddler in 24 hours.
Now that my kids are 4 and almost 7 years old, we have more space for newly-bought things to bring back to Dubai: things that are cheaper in Europe, or are simply not available in Dubai. Or sometimes, because it's more fun buying things when you are on holiday.

From my previous post you may know that we also had several kilos of dried salted codfish and German smoked ham in our luggage. This year's purchases also included: coconut flour, new trainers (Saucony Kinvara), German books, vanilla extract, and an ice cream maker!!

My family loves ice cream and especially sorbet. The summer temperatures in Dubai justify any amount of ice cream eaten on any day.We have been looking around for ice cream makers in Dubai. Given the hot temperatures and long summer in Dubai, common sense would make you think that they would be a huge variety to chose from. In real life, it's the opposite. After checking several shops, I found exactly one (!) ice cream maker. And guess what: it was the most expensive one that you can get.

While on holidays in Germany, I did some ice cream maker research, and finally ordered one on Amazon. The rather bulky box had to be squeezed into our luggage, but I managed. And never regretted.
For the past two weeks I've been making sorbets and frozen yogurts almost on a daily basis. Always small-ish amounts, as I have a hundred flavor ideas in my head that need to be tried and tested.
One of the first sorbet flavors that had to be tried had to be raspberry, as this was the store-bought one that my husband loved the most. I wanted to come up with something identical in flavor but without all the additives.

With raspberries, it was one of the easiest tasks. I have made several batches with frozen raspberries. All it needs is a sweetener: now it is up to you to choose between honey, maple or agave syrup. It is as simple as that: puree the raspberries, sweeten to taste and put into ice cream maker. Done!

You'll get the most refreshing dessert, made of raw fruit with all its vitamins and minerals. I think only eating fresh raspberries straight from the bush is healthier than this. Enjoy!

(Print Recipe)

2 1/2 cups (12oz) raspberries (fresh or frozen)
3 tablespoons honey or agave syrup

yields 4-6 scoops

Combine raspberries and honey/agave in a food processor and blend on high speed until smooth.
If you use frozen raspberries, you may get sorbet immediately. Serve immediately or transfer to container and keep in the freezer.
If using fresh or thawed raspberries, pour mixture into ice cream maker, and follow ice cream maker's instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to container and keep in freezer.
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19 September, 2012

Race Report: Iftar Challenge 2012

The Iftar Challenge is the usual curtain opener for the Dubai running season. It's a 5k race on a hilly course.

5k are not my favorite distance. The distance is too short for me to get going. I am not a fast runner per se. I am more like a diesel engine. My strength lies in slow to medium paces over longer distances.

Nevertheless I love to participate, as I feel the itch of measuring myself against competitors after a long summer break. In addition, I also wanted to see what my comprehensive and specific summer training has done to my form and speed.

In all those 8 years of running in Dubai, during the summer months, my weekly mileage would always go down to almost nothing. I t was too hot, and while being on our monthly summer holidays, the running never really fitted in.

This year was different. I did a fitness analysis in the beginning of July, which would come with recommendations of how to change my training in order to run faster and longer (I am planning to write a more comprehensive report about this test). In short, the recommendations included to run long and slow, at least three times per week. Long meant at least 75 to 90min, slow meant below 70% of my max. heart rate. It sounds strange but it does work: train slow, race fast.

The slow running suited me over the hot summer months. I had to run at paces of  around 7min/k to stay below 70% of the max HR because my heart rate was also increase by the high temperatures. I really enjoyed the slow running in more than one way: I could hardly feel my legs (as it was very low intensity), I felt as if I was only moving my feet. Because the runs were not as tiring, I could run more often without exhausting myself or running the risk of over-training.

After 10 weeks of this kind of long slow running I felt incredibly fast and fit. The 5k race would put things to the test and I was looking forward to it.  I usually do some calculations before a race, as to what pace I know I am able to run and what pace I need to run to achieve my goal time. I wanted to run under 22 minutes and get as close to 21minutes as possible.

Before the race I was helping giving out the race numbers. I got lots of concerned questions: "Are you not running today?" Oh yes, I will.

About 300 people lined up at the starting line. I was near the front. I told myself repeatedly not to be carried away by the very fast runners. To give you an idea: we have a few Kenyans and Ethiopian runners in Dubai. Not that I would in any way be able to keep up with them for 100m, but I would try and keep up with the people who try and keep up with the Africans.

A few 100m down the course I checked my Garmin and saw that my pace was under 4min/k. Waaaayyyyyyyyyyy too fast. I needed to slow down immediately or I would blow up halfway through the race, especially with the little hills that were still to come. I settled into a 4:15-4:20 pace and was hoping for the best. The course was a two-lap course. I felt good and still fresh after the first lap.
The second lap would be the proof in the pudding. The hills were definitely more of a struggle the second way round, but I was mentally prepared to tackle them. I was only thinking of the hills. Save your energy, run them steadily. Don't go all crazy on the downhill part! - Those were my mantras. What I didn't think of was the half kilometer after the last hill. Once I managed myself up the last hill, there was still 500m or so to go. I was finished. I could have dropped on the tarmac right there, but yet another bit to go.
I saw a few familiar runners in front of me and I would have loved to overtake them on the home stretch. I only managed to not being overtaken by someone else. I finished in 21:30, one minute faster than the same race in 2011. I was happy with my time. I think that is a great improvement over 5k. I credit my summer training for that. A good start to the running season for sure!
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14 September, 2012

Arroz de Bacalhau

Did you ever lose luggage while traveling by aeroplane? Did you ever have to go to the lost luggage depot of an airport? We get visitors very regularly here in Dubai. Once or twice it happened that their luggage was not on their plane. A day later it usually arrives and can be picked up in the Lost Luggage Depot. In the depot, suitcases are kept on huge shelves, put into order of airlines on which the lost bag was found or not picked up. The depot is so big  that little tractors and forklifts have enough space to drive through. Upon arrival one is asked to follow the supervisor to the shelves of your particular airline. Then you have to give a description of your lost luggage and labels will be checked against. The procedure can take a while. But what's worse is the smell in this depot. It comes from the lost luggage.

Have you ever wondered what people have in their suitcases when traveling? I do, every time I enter an airport. Especially here in Dubai where people come from all over the world.
At Dubai International Airport you get to see any kind of luggage: regular suitcases and travel bags in all sizes, but also over-sized card board boxes, taped all the way round. Heavy-duty plastic bags, probably several layers, also taped together, with addresses written on them in huge letters with permanent markers, in the hope that piece of luggage will survive the journey.

Many people in Dubai are expatriates that go home to their native countries only once or twice per year. I can tell you from recent conversations I had that people travel with a lot of food (from their home countries, and obviously not available in Dubai) in their suitcases. Here are some examples:

Woman from Britain brings 6 month supply of British chocolate upon return to Dubai.
French woman brings French ham and cheeses (both quite critical when in lost luggage).
Indian woman took frozen fish fingers, sliced cheese and fresh cherries back to India and returned with I dunno what fresh foods (all needed to be put straight in the freezer, that I know).

And then there is us. From our holidays in Portugal we brought about 3kgs of salted air-dried codfish, an essential Portuguese ingredient in many of their specialties - also known as bacalhau) via Germany back to Dubai. While there is little chance that something dried goes off quickly, it still has distinct smell to it. Which can be kept under control when wrapped very tightly in many layers of plastic bags. But if a suitcase with 3kgs of dried fish gets lost and is never picked up for whatever reasons, as obviously happens to many of the suitcases in the Dubai Airport Lost Luggage Depot.

I fell in love with bacalhau in Portugal. In fact, I fell in love with Portuguese food. So simple, straightforward, non-fussy, with just a handful of ingredients. Proper honest home fare, with lots of seafood. One of the first dishes that I tried to recreate was Arroz de Bacalhau. I refuse to translate this into English. It sounds much better in Portuguese (says me who doesn't speak more than a handful of Portuguese words). It's not a risotto, it's more simple rice with stirred-in codfish. I bet the word-for word translation of Arroz de Bacalhau is Rice with Codfish.

The dominant flavors and textures are salty codfish and in white wine cooked chewy brown rice with a little tomato. Add some black olives and you'll have the most satisfying dish that you can make from pantry staples. Enjoy.

(Print Recipe)

1 1/2 cups bacalhau (dried salted cod fish)

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 onion, chopped

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 cup brown rice, uncooked

1 cup water
1 cup white wine

10-15 black olives

chopped parsley

Serves 4

In a bowl, cover the bacalhau with water. Rehydrate for at least 12 hours. Drain and rinse the fish, then peel off the skin and remove bones. Flake into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

In a pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped tomatoes and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper and fry for another minute. Stir in brown rice, then add water and white wine. Cover with lid and cook over low heat, until rice is cooked and most liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat the other one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they become translucent. Add the bacalhau flakes and fry until cooked, about 4-5 minutes. Take off the heat and set aside.

When the rice is done, stir in the bacalhau. Transfer to serving dish. Garnish with black olives and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
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08 September, 2012

Lemon Coconut Loaf

School is starting again tomorrow for my son. It's been lovely summer holidays that we spent in the Dubai heat, in Germany and in Portugal. It's been long too, about 10 weeks. But by no way boring.

My kids come to an age where they play more and more sophisticated games. It lies in the genes of my family  that we love to play card and board games. I can confirm that for at least 5 generations - my great-grandmother used to love playing and my children seem to be have the same bug. So even the month that we spent in the Dubai summer heat, didn't feel long at all as we were always busy.

Tomorrow morning at 6.30am the alarm clock will ring, and I will have to prepare breakfast for a sleepy family and lunch boxes to be taken to school.

I have to come up with a few new lunch box ideas, as I was informed by the teacher that at mid-morning break, kids are only allowed a piece of fruit or a cereal bar. I must admit, I find that a tad too little. 6 and 7 year old kids having just that between breakfast at 6.30am and lunch after 12pm?

As school lunchboxes have to be nut free, I have been de-nutting all my granola bars. This works pretty well if you replace the nuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Here is a list of granola bar recipes that can be easily adapted for school lunch boxes. Most of them are sweetened with dried fruit only, ideal for a healthy snack:

- Breakfast Oatmeal Bars
- Banana Molasses Granola Bars
- Quinoa Granola Bars
- Banana Pecan Granola Bars
- No Bake Granola Bars
- Cocoa Orange Granola Bars

When it comes to gluten/grain free flours, I am left with coconut flour and chickpea flour as almond meal is out of the picture.

This Lemon Coconut Loaf has become a staple over the summer. It's light and fresh, sweetened with banana and honey. The batter is good enough to make either muffins or a loaf out of it. A good solution for the lunch box that the kids will enjoy. I am sure the rest will fall into place as soon as school starts.

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs
2 tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup mashed banana (1 ripe small banana)
1/2 lemon, zest of 
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons pistachios, finely chopped 
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Yields 1 small loaf or 6 muffins
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Grease or line small loaf pan. Alternatively grease or line six muffin molds.

In a bowl, sift together coconut and flour and baking soda. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in coconut oil, honey and mashed banana until well combined. Add lemon zest and lemon juice.

Combine wet and dry ingredients. Make sure the batter is lump free. Spoon batter into loaf pan or muffins molds. Sprinkle with some chopped pistachios and coconut. Bake for about 25 minutes (muffins) to 35 minutes (loaf), or until tester comes out clean.
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