Friday, 11 April 2014

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

This luscious salad celebrates all the glorious reds of autumn fruits in South Africa. Plums, prickly pears, red grapes, raspberries and pomegranate seeds are here, plus a few triangles of startling-magenta dragon fruit, which I'm pretty sure is not grown in this country.  Still, I couldn't resist adding them: they may taste disappointingly insipid, but they are real lookers in a fruit salad.

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

I have a slight horror of multicoloured fruit salads, particularly the finely sliced extravaganzas that were such a hit during the health-food revolution of the late Seventies.  I appreciated the idea of the fruit salads my mum prepared with such devotion, but the furry slices of banana and the cubes of paw-paw and the triangles of apple browning in their juices made my tastebuds shrivel, particularly if the salad had been sulking in the fridge overnight.  

Also, someone told me a story that made my toes curl.  A boy scout was charged with the task of making fruit salad for his pack.  "Please clean your nails before you begin," asked the scout master. "Oh, don't worry about that," replied the boy. "By the time I'm finished chopping and mixing all the fruit, my nails will be beautifully clean."

This salad is a red version of my Black Fruit Salad, featured in my cookbook and here (left) in a magazine whose name I can't remember.  

Scarlet Fruit Salad with Greek Yoghurt

4 firm red plums, stones removed, halved and sliced into crescents
250 g raspberries
250 g strawberries, hulled and halved
4 red prickly pears, chilled, peeled and cut into crescents
the seeds of a pomegranate
250 g red grapes, halved and depipped
a small dragon fruit, peeled and cut into triangles [optional]
2 Tbsp (30 ml) icing sugar, or more, to taste
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 cup (250 ml) thick creamy Greek yoghurt

Put all the fruit pieces in a big bowl.  Strew the icing sugar over the fruit, add a spritz of lemon juice and toss gently to combine.  Taste the mixture - if it's very sweet, add a little more lemon juice.

Chill the fruit for an hour or two, or until a light syrup has formed at the bottom of the bowl.  Serve in pretty bowls or glasses, topped with dollops of very cold and creamy Greek yoghurt, or whipped cream, or good vanilla ice cream.  Or you might like to try the voluptuous topping I've used for my black fruit salad - crème fraîche or mascarpone mixed with a little brown sugar and vanilla extract.

Serves 6

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Low-Carb Pea, Spinach and Parsley Soup with Bacon Bows

Sequinned with olive oil, swirled with cream and flourished with a bacon bow, this fresh-flavoured soup is quick to make and tastes as lovely as a spring morning. The bacon bow is twee, I admit, but I added it to my soup as a personal reminder a) to have fun with food and b) that a bit o' bacon is SO allowed on my new diabetic regime.

Low-Carb Pea, Spinach and Parsley Soup with a Bacon Bow

What I love about this soup is that a fast cooking time allows its individual flavours - leeks, peas, baby spinach leaves and curly parsley - to sing in clean voices. I hesitated to use frozen peas as a thickener for this soup, believing them to be rather starchy (and thus verboten along with potatoes and cornflour), but was pleased to discover that they are not to be feared, having an average glycaemic index value of 48. All three of the South African frozen-pea brands I checked contain fewer than 6g of carbohydrate per 100 g, which is a piffling amount in the broader scheme of things.  However, as I'm not (yet) an expert on these matters, I advise you to read the nutrition labels on your pack of frozen peas if you're on a low-carb or diabetic diet.  

A dribble of fruity olive oil brings all the flavours to life.

In this recipe I've asked you to use proper chicken or veggie stock, but if you don't have a home-made stash in your freezer, you can feel no shame in using a good-quality jellied stockpot or fond (see my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe). 

A dobbling of extra-virgin olive oil just before serving takes this soup to a new level, because the residual heat in the bowl releases lovely fruity aromas.  (But you need not stick to olive oil.  I don't want to own up to this for fear of sounding piggy, but today I stirred a big blob of Hellmann's mayonnaise into my mug of left-over soup, and it tasted like Christmas.)

Low-Carb Pea, Spinach and Parsley Soup with Bacon Bows

3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive or sunflower oil
2 large leeks, white parts only, finely sliced
1 plump clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock (see Cook's Notes, below)
4 cups (250 ml x 4) frozen baby peas
1 x 400 g pack baby spinach leaves
a large bunch of curly parsley, de-stalked, well rinsed and coarsely chopped (about 3 cups, loosely packed)
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
5 Tbsp (75 ml) cream
fruity extra-virgin olive oil, for sprinkling
salt and milled black pepper

For the bacon bows: 
8 rashers streaky bacon

Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the sliced leeks over a medium heat for 5 minutes, or until they are translucent.  Don't allow them to brown or catch.  Stir in the garlic, fry gently for one more minute, then pour in the stock.  Turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil.  

Add the frozen peas, all in one go. Stir to break up any frozen lumps, and cover the pot with a lid. Turn down the heat and cook at a gentle burble for five minutes, or until all ice crystals have disappeared. Now add the baby spinach leaves and chopped parsley to the pot, pressing them down with a spoon so they're submerged in liquid. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 5-7 minutes, or until the spinach and parsley are tender, but still a lively bright green.

Bacon bows!
Whip the pot off the stove and blitz it to a fairly fine purée, using a stick blender or liquidiser.  Return the soup to the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Now stir in the cream.  Serve hot, with bacon bows or crisp-fried crumbled bacon.

For the bacon bows: heat the oven to 200 ºC. Trim the bacon rashers so each one is perfectly straight and neat.  Cut off one quarter, crossways, of each rasher, and set aside: these will be the centres of the bows. Place the long strips of bacon on a baking sheet and fold them into bowtie-shapes by bringing their short edges together on the underside. Wrap the reserved short pieces around their middles to form neat bowties, and press out the bow ends using your fingertips.  Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. 

Serves 8 as a starter or snack; 6 as a main course.   

Cook's Notes

An excellent chicken stock will add fine depth of flavour to this soup.  If you're in a hurry, you can use good boxed chicken stock, or boiling water plus a few teaspoonsful of a Nomu fond or a jellied Knorr Stock Pot.

If you can't find baby spinach leaves, you can use well-rinsed, finely chopped fresh chard instead.

Flat-leaf parsley will do for this dish, but I find that old-fashioned curly parsley has a distinctive perky flavour quite lacking in modern parsley hybrids.

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Hello diabetes, and how I have had to adjust my cooking style

In January this year I was diagnosed with severe Type II diabetes. I was dismayed and shocked, but mostly childishly infuriated. After all, AFTER ALL, I whinged to myself, I've never had a sweet tooth, and haven't eaten a slice of cake, a bun, a biccie or a pudding for at least five years. What's more: I was maddened with my own mulishness in ignoring signals from my body that something was very wrong.

In October 2013, a spectacularly stressful time career-wise, I embarked on a punishing low-carb regime, after a slow transition over the course of two years to an eating plan that cut out most processed carbs.  The weight peeled off, and after a few weeks my appetite had all but disappeared. Excellent, I thought!

A month later, I had the confidence to hoist myself onto a scale, and I was extremely pleased to find I'd lost 8 kilograms.  By that time, I was on a diet so low in calories that it bordered it on starvation, and I was exhausted and demotivated.  By December 2013, I'd shed 15 kg, and I was mildly interested to note that I'd lost a fair amount of muscle mass on my thighs and arms.  But, hey ho! Who's complaining?

It was only in January 2014, after a dramatic weight-loss of another 5 kg, that I finally went to see my doctor, and then only because I noticed my hair was thinning. When I mentioned to her  that my vision was a bit blurry, my tongue was crisscrossed by deep cracks, and my toes, feet and shins were feeling tingly and numb, she insisted on a fasting glucose test, and that came back with very bad news.  A few weeks later I was hospitalised for a few days, on the advice of a thorough and caring endocrinologist, and I came home with a panoply of drugs, including slow-release insulin that I have to inject into tummy rolls every night.

I have to admit that I'm feeling downhearted about this.  But there is also much to be grateful for - my blood sugar has stabilised thanks to medication, a stringent diet and a brutal fitness regime. I'm 22 kg lighter than I was five months ago, I've lost four dress sizes and I'm as fit as a fiddle thanks to daily workouts. I've had great support from a nutritionist, a specialist diabetic nurse and kind friends who are also diabetics.

The biggest challenge of all has been working out what to eat. You can't cut out all carbs when you're a diabetic. It's tempting to do so, when in a panic, but then you run the risk of depriving your body and brain of essential fuel.  So you have to figure out just how many carbs your body can tolerate.

Another big shock - perhaps the biggest fright of all - has been learning to read labels on food packaging, and discovering that almost everything is packed with sugar.  I didn't realise how pervasive sugar was before I came down with diabetes, but I have to tell you that my jaw is on the floor. You will find gazillions of low-fat foods out there, but virtually no sugar-free options.

So how does this pertain to my blog?  From now on, I'll be featuring many more low-carb and diabetic-friendly recipes, and I hope you will enjoy my suggestions. But, because my family needs puddings and sweet things occasionally, I won't deprive you of these treats.

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

I can't get enough of this light, flavour-packed cucumber salad, and luckily I get plenty of it, because my kids think it's vile. They just don't understand my love affair with Scandinavian flavours such as dill, capers, lemon, salmon, boiled eggs and anchovies, possibly because their Norwegian DNA - courtesy of my Great-Grandma - has been diluted to the point that it makes up just one pitiful eighth of their gene profiles.

Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

This low-carb salad is quick and easy to make, and gorgeous eaten on its own, or as an accompaniment to grilled salmon or tuna, or smoked salmon, or a platter of tenderly boiled eggs. You can leave out the bottled anchovies if their fishiness doesn't appeal to you, but I encourage you to include them, because they add an intense, salty punch to the salad.

Fresh dill is an essential ingredient, because it's that delicate aniseed taste that brings all the flavours together.

I use my easy home-made Greek-style yoghurt in this dish, but you can use any thick and luscious store-bought natural yoghurt in its place.

Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

1 large English cucumber
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fine salt
1 cup (250 ml) thick Greek-style yoghurt
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely chopped fresh dill
4 Tbsp (60 ml) capers, drained of brine
the juice of a small lemon
white pepper
6 anchovy fillets, drained of any oil
a little olive oil, for sprinkling

Trim the ends of the cucumber and remove the skin, using a light touch and a sharp potato peeler. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, and use a teaspoon to scrape out the soft pulp and seeds. (Alternatively, and for a neater result, you can cut the peeled cucumber crossways into three sections, bore out the softy pulpy centre using an apple corer, and then cut each section in half lengthways.)

Neatly slice the peeled, de-seeded cucumber into fine crescents.  I use a mandolin for this.  Place the slices in a colander set over your sink and sprinkle over the salt. Toss well, using your hands, and set aside for 20-30 minutes.   During this time, the salt will draw the excess liquid from the cucumber.

Rinse the cucumber slices under cold running water to remove excess salt and pat them dry on a few sheets of kitchen paper, or a clean towel.

Place in a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, dill, capers and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper.  Tip the salad onto a platter - or individual bowls - and top with anchovy fillets.  (You can chop these into small pieces, or drape them in pairs over the top of each serving, as shown in the picture above.)

Sprinkle with a little olive oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish. 

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