Tuesday 31 July 2007

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

Anyone remember tabbouleh? This crunchy Lebanese salad, made with bulgur (or cracked wheat) , mint, parsley, tomatoes and spring onions, was a huge hit among health-conscious suburbanites during the eighties, but hardly anyone seems to make it nowadays. I suspect that the reason why it’s fallen out of favour is because it was so rough and filling (and more so when when washed down with few beers) that you ended up spending the entire night craftily flapping the duvet as you deflated in the dark.

I was feeling a bit nostalgic about my mom's tabbouleh, however, so I devised a new version, similar to the original but made with quinoa. This ancient South American staple is becoming increasingly popular among lentil-heads because of its unusually high protein content, its bouquet of healthy amino acids, and its romantic spiritual history*. It’s similar to bulgur, but lighter, fluffier and tastier - and I can assure you it’s lot less aggressive on the farting and bloating front.

What makes this salad so tasty is its abundance of chopped fresh herbs. Leave out the coriander if you must, but the mint and parsley are essential. Ask your local health shop for quinoa, or, if you live in Joeys, get it at Thrupps.

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

For the salad:
3-4 young beetroot, washed, topped and tailed (if you don't like beetroot, use finely sliced baby red cabbage, or grated radishes)
a lick of olive oil
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
½ cucumber, finely diced
2 plump, ripe tomatoes, diced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 cup (250 ml) finely chopped parsley
¾ cup (190 ml) finely chopped mint
¾ cup (190 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander
salt and milled black pepper
1 handful shelled pumpkin seeds (optional)
2 disks feta cheese, crumbled

For the dressing:
1 cup all-purpose cooking elixir**
Juice of one fat lemon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the the beetroot on a large piece of tin foil, add a dribble of oive oil and a grinding of salt and pepper, and toss well to coat. Wrap into a loose parcel, place in the oven and bake until tender right through. (This can take between an hour and three, depending on the size and age of the beetroot). Remove, allow to cool slightly and slice into slim wedges. Put the dried quinoa into a sieve and rinse well under cold running water. Now put the quinoa, water and salt into a saucepan, set over a high flame and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa is fluffy and tender. While it’s cooking, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, spring onion and chopped herbs in a salad bowl. Drain the quinoa in a sieve and allow to cool for five minutes. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Now tip the warm quinoa into the salad bowl, pour over all but 2 tablespoons of the dressing and toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Top with the beetroot slices, crumbled feta and pumpkin seeds. Shake the remaining dressing over the top of the salad so everything looks glossy. Allow to stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. Serve at room temperature with hot pita bread.

Serves 6.

** If you haven’t made all-purpose cooking elixir, use the following dressing:

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup good olive oil
1/3 cup sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil)
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon or seed mustard
2 tsp tahina (optional)

* Wikipedia says: 'The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as "chisaya mama" or "mother of all grains", and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using 'golden implements'. During the European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as "food for Indians", and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.'
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Saturday 28 July 2007

Oven-roasted Chicken with Tomato, Feta and Olives

Here is a good recipe for a crowd. If you judge the cooking time right, and you use good, fresh, free-range chicken, you'll end up with the most succulent, tender chicken, infused with a summery flavour of tomatoes and basil. This recipe was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe that I saw while browsing one of his books in Exclusive Books. I tried to memorise the ingredients, but by the time I'd got home I'd forgotten them. I remembered the tomatoes, both chopped ones and cherry ones, and had to invent the rest of the recipe. Here's a quick version using my all-purpose cooking elixir.

Oven-roasted Chicken with Tomato, Feta and Olives

For the marinade:
1 cup (250 ml) cooking elixir*
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles
finely grated rind of 1 lemon

For the dish:
8 pieces of free-range chicken (thighs and breasts are best)
salt and milled black pepper
1 large punnet ripe cherry tomatoes
4 plump, ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
a handful fresh basil leaves
1/2 (125 ml) cup black olives
2 disks feta cheese (about 1 heaped cup when crumbled). I use Simonsberg black-pepper feta, which crumbles beautifully. Don't use Danish feta cheese.
½ cup (125 ml) cream (optional)

To garnish:
Fresh basil

Place the chicken pieces in a large ceramic or stainless-steel oven dish. Season well with salt and pepper. With a fork, aggressively prick the chicken pieces all over, top and bottom. Shake your jar of cooking elixir well, measure out a cup and pour it over the chicken pieces, turning each one well to coat. Place in a cool spot and allow to marinate for at least an hour (or overnight, in the fridge).

Preheat the oven to its highest setting (22o°C on most ovens), and place the dish in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the chicken skin is golden and beginning to blister.

Remove the dish from the oven and drain off excess fat by tilting the dish over the sink. Scatter the cherry tomatoes and quartered tomatoes all over and in between the chicken pieces. Pour in the wine. Roughly tear the basil pieces and tuck down between the chicken pieces.

Return the dish to the oven, turn the the heat down to 180°C and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are cooked right through. (Test by poking a knife into the thickest part of the chicken thigh: if the juices are crystal clear and unbloody, the chicken is ready). Remove the dish from the oven, and toss the chicken pieces so they are well covered with juices. If you are feeling decadent, add the cream now. Scatter with olives and crumbled feta cheese. Put the dish back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Allow to rest for five minutes before serving. Scatter with freshly torn basil and serve with new potatoes or crusty bread, and a green salad.

* If you haven't made a batch of cooking elixir, use this marinade:

3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
Juice and finely grated rind of two lemons
1 T (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
100 ml olive oil
10 ml dried oregano

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 26 July 2007

Squashed Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary and Parmesan

My sainted auntie Gilly Walters (who is possibly South Africa's most talented home cook and definitely the Nougat Queen of the universe) invented this recipe when she over-boiled a pot of potatoes. I've altered it slightly so it uses my All-Purpose Cooking Elixir.

Squashed Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary and Parmesan
6-8 huge, floury potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose cooking elixir
10 fresh rosemary needles, chopped
salt and milled black pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 200 C. Put the potatoes, skin and all, into a big pot of salted boiling water. Cook until the potatoes are tender right through and are starting to split. Drain in a colander and allow to dry out for 5 minutes. Now arrange the potatoes in a large, lightly oiled baking tray or oven dish. Cut a cross in the top of each potato. Squeeze the potatoes so that the flesh squidges up and out, and the skins flatten against the base of the tray. Using a fork, fluff the potato flesh into generous crumbs and crags. Using a pastry brush, liberally paint the cooking elixir all over the potatoes, making sure every bit is well coated (add more elixir if necessary). Season with salt and pepper and top with the rosemary and the Parmesan. Bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, or until the potato is golden brown and crispy.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Alll-purpose Cooking Elixir: seven quick family meals from one easy mixture

It's tedious crushing garlic, chopping herbs and squeezing lemons every night, when you're tired and grumpy, right? I have a solution: make a big quantity of this all-purpose flavouring elixir at the beginning of the week, put it in a jar in the fridge and use it to add zip, zing and ka-pow to your next seven meals. Over the next seven days, I'll be posting simple, tasty family-meal recipes that use The Elixir.

The Elixir, admittedly, contains a lot of garlic, but please don't be put off by this. The garlic's pungency will fade to almost nothing when you add it to a hot dish. Please don't use pre-crushed or bottled garlic, which has a horrible oxidised tasted. Buy your own fat, firm cloves, and peel and crush them yourself.

The Elixir

5 -7 cloves of fresh garlic, finely crushed
1 tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1 cup (250 ml) good olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) white or red wine vinegar (avoid the Balsamic!)
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon Mustard
3 tsp (15 ml) good soy sauce (Kikkoman brand is the best)
1 tsp (5 ml) runny honey, or 1 tsp sugar
4 teaspoons (20 ml) tahina (a sesame-seed paste, available at health shops and most Spars)
2 tsp (10 ml) good-quality dried herbs (or a handful, finely chopped, of parsley, thyme and oreganum)
milled black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake well to combine. Open lid, taste, and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Store in the fridge. Shake well before using.

Makes about 800 ml. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 5 July 2007

Blender Iced Coffee: long, cold and creamy

I love a simple recipe that works like a bomb and tastes amazing, and nothing could be quicker and plainer than this one. When it's blitzed, the mixture develops a thick, amazingly creamy foam, like the head on a good pint of Guinness. Excellent for hangovers. Don't try this unless your blender/liquidizer is robust enough to chop ice. The amount of sugar and coffee you add depends entirely on you. I tend to use less, rather than more, of both.

Blender Iced Coffee
500 ml very cold water
3-5 teaspoons (15ml - 75 ml) sugar, to taste
500 ml cold milk
3-5 teaspoons (15ml - 75 ml) instant coffee (Nescafe or similar), to taste
8 ice cubes

Put the water and sugar into the goblet of a blender and process for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar. Now add the remaining ingredients and blitz until a good foamy head has developed. Serve in tall glasses, poured over ice cubes.

Makes about 1 litre. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Mexican-Style Sweetcorn Soup: bliss in a bowl, for adults and tots

I wish I could remember who gave me this recipe, because I'd like to thank them very much for it. It's everything I want in a recipe: quick as a flash, filling, nourishing and tasty. Best of all is that it can be spiced to the eyebrows for adults who appreciate heat and crunch, or served plain and creamy to young and picky eaters.

White wine and mustard powder are not traditional ingredients in Sopa de Maiz, but I find that they elevate what is essentially a sweetcorn (and thus very sweet) purée to another level.  A good home-made stock adds lovely depth of flavour: when I have time, I made a chicken stock from scratch using a whole chicken, and add the cooked chicken flesh to the soup.  If you'd like a really rich soup for vegetarians, stir in two cups of grated Cheddar just before you serve it.

Mexican-Style Sweetcorn Soup

6 cups frozen mielie (corn) kernels
2 cups (500 ml) very hot chicken or vegetable stock, or boiling water
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
1½ cups (375 ml) milk
2 tsp (10 ml) good dried oreganum
1 tsp (5 ml) Hot English Mustard Powder
salt and milled black pepper
a squeeze of lime juice

For adults, add any or all of the following, to taste:
green chillies, finely minced
red chilli flakes
a few shakes of Tabasco sauce

To serve:
grated Cheddar
sour cream or plain white yoghurt
finely sliced spring onions
finely chopped tomatoes
chopped fresh coriander
fresh lime wedges

Put the mielie (corn) kernels, still frozen, or thawed if you have time, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pour in the hot stock or water and process to a thick, creamy purée. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more stock or water. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the garlic and cook for a minute, without letting the garlic brown. Pour in the white wine and bubble briskly for five minutes, or until the wine has reduced by half. Now add the puréed sweetcorn mixture, milk, oreganum and mustard powder. Stir well and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises.  If the mixture seems too thick and is bubbling volcanically, thin it down with more stock.

If you're making the soup for adults, add your choice of the ingredients listed above, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Just before you serve the soup, add a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice - just enough to give it a pleasant sharpness. Don't add too much, though, or the soup may curdle, and make sure the heat is turned off when you add the juice. If the soup looks a bit grainy, give it a good blitz with a stick blender (or in a liquidiser) until it is creamy again.

Serve in heated bowls, topped with grated Cheddar, a dollop of sour cream or white yoghurt, and  a flurry of crunchy and/or silky toppings. Avocado Whip is gorgeous blobbed onto this soup.

Serves 8. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Quick Oven-Baked Meatballs with Tomato and Spag

A heap of hot, herby meatballs in a tangle of tomatoey spaghetti is my idea of heaven on a grey winter day. This nourishing and comforting family classic has 'Mom' written all over it. The problem, though, is that this particular Mom doesn't have the patience to stand over a hot stove frying things, and nor do I fancy having to make a tomato sauce from scratch - so I came up with this method of oven-baking them dry, then smothering them with a garlicky tin-derived tomato sauce, then baking them again. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients: like a curry, this dish has lots of things in it but - provided you have a food processor - is really quick to make.

This is a low-fat version of the classic (there is no added fat) but even so it has a lovely unctuous texture. A garnish of rocket leaves or torn basil leaves adds a lovely final bite. My instructions assume you have a food processor; if not, you’ll have to chop the ingredients by hand. You can soften the minced onion in a little olive oil before you add it to the meatballs, but I never bother - the onion adds a gentle crunch to the meatballs. Don't omit the yoghurt - it keeps the meatballs soft and juicy.

Quick Oven-Baked Meatballs with Tomato and Spag

For the meatballs:
4 slices brown bread
Small bunch each of parsley and (optional) fresh coriander
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 kg lean minced beef
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered cumin
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered coriander
2 tablespoons (30 ml) dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) Tabasco sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) tomato sauce (ketchup)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) plain white yoghurt
1 large egg, lightly whisked
Salt and milled black pepper, to taste

For the sauce:
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp good dried oreganum (or fresh herbs of your choice)
2 tins plum tomatoes (or tomato-and-onion mix)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar
500 ml white wine (or chicken stock, or water)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) flour
Salt and milled black pepper to taste

To garnish:
grated Parmesan or Pecorino
Fresh rocket or basil

Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Place the bread in the bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade, and blitz until you have fine breadcrumbs. Now add the fresh herbs and pulse a few times so that they are finely chopped. Tip into a big mixing bowl. Place the onion and garlic in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until finely minced (scrape down the sides with a spatula if necessary). Add the onion and garlic to the the breadcrumb mixture. Now put all the remaining meatball ingredients into the mixing bowl and, using your hands, squish and squeeze until the mixture is well combined.

Roll into golf-ball-sized balls. Rub a thin film of olive or sunflower oil over the base of a large, flat, ovenproof dish and place the meatballs in the dish, about 10 mm apart. Brush with a little olive oil, place in the hot oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until sizzling and browned on top.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: put all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse once or twice to combine (the sauce should be slightly chunky).

Remove the meatballs from the oven and drain off any fat by tilting the dish over the sink. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs, and give the dish a good shake to coat the meatballs evenly. Replace the dish in the oven and reduce the heat to 180 C. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich goo. Serve on a pile of spaghetti, covered with torn rocket or basil leaves and a shower of grated Parmesan.

Serves 6.

Recipe rating:

My rating: 7/10
Teenagers' rating: 8/10
Small-daughter rating: 5/10 ('Something tastes funny in the meatballs') Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly