Crunchy Christmas biscotti

Day 3 of my Sensitive Foodie advent calendar, and it’s another sweet treat. Perfect for dunking in a hot coffee or dairy-free chocolate on a soggy or chilly winter’s day, these super crunchy biscotti are packed with seasonal spices and a satisfying crunch.

I have a friend who makes amazing biscotti, or rather cantuccini.  Being Italian, she follows a traditional recipe using eggs, lots of refined sugar, baked with passion and love. Cantuccini are made with almonds and are designed to dip in sweet wine rather than coffee, which sounds like a wonderful idea!

Biscotti means ‘twice baked’. This process of double baking is what makes these biscuits so crunchy and dipable. It does take a little more time than your normal cookie or biscuit, but it’s well worth the effort.

I’ve sat in my friend’s kitchen watching her make her gorgeous cantuccini, the wonderful aroma wafting in the air and wondered how to make them fully plant-based and less refined. After a few experiments, I’m very pleased with the outcome. They can be made gluten-free as well, which is good news for anyone avoiding gluten. They keep in an air-tight container for a few weeks, so you can make a big batch to tide you over the Christmas season.

There’s all sorts of flavour combinations you can use; to make these seasonal I’ve added some dried cranberries with the almonds as well as some all spice flavouring to bring in the Christmas taste. You could use cinnamon or cloves, or a combination – whatever you have to hand. If you’re feel like making some home-made gifts, you could bake a batch then pop them in pretty gift bags.
So why not give these a go and get ready for some seasonal dunking? Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Almond, cranberry and spice biscotti (makes approx 26)
165ml dairy-free milk
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
75g coconut sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce
4 tablespoons hempseed or olive oil
200g spelt flour/gluten free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon almond essence85g almonds, sliced
65g dried cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Put a silicon baking sheet onto to tray, or line with baking paper.
Pour the dairy-free milk into a bowl and add the ground flaxseed, coconut sugar, apple sauce, hempseed oil, and almond essence. Whisk well to combine and then leave to thicken for a few minutes.

Place the flour, baking powder, all spice and salt into another bowl and stir to mix well. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir to combine – it’s a dry mix so hands will be needed to finally pull it all together. If it’s a little wet and soft, add some more flour so it doesn’t stick. Add the almonds and cranberries, working them into the dough with your fingers so none stick out the sides. This takes a couple of minutes to ensure everything is spread throughout the dough. Cut the dough in half.

Place one half onto the baking sheet and press out out into an oblong shape, pushing the edges and ends straight with your hands. It should be approximately 28×8 cms in size. Repeat with the other half of dough, then place the baking sheet in the oven for 25 minutes or until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for about 30 minutes.

Once cool, cut into slices approximately 2cm thick; place each slice back onto the baking tray lying on it’s side. Pop back in the oven for 6 minutes, then remove, turn each slice over and pop back again for another 5 minutes. Remove one the slices are very firm to the touch and golden brown. Remove, leave to cool (they harden a bit more) and then keep in an air-tight tin if you don’t eat them all at once. Enjoy!

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry

Veggie curries are always on the menu in our house. They can be super quick and easy to make as well as full of rainbow plant based ingredients packed with nutrients and flavour. They are also perfect for using up veggie odds and ends that you don’t know what else to do with, thereby cutting down on food waste. And of course they are easy to make dairy and gluten free.

Whilst in India, I learnt some top tips about prepping for curries that made life easier, as there can be rather a lot of peeling and chopping. That’s where a small blender comes in handy for getting ingredients like onion, ginger and garlic ready – a quick peel, a couple of rough chops, a little tip into the blender pot and a few whizzes later you have a fine dice ready to cook. If you add a little water, you can also create your own paste, cutting out the need for any oil if you want to go oil free too. And as the veggies are prepped small, they don’t take as long to cook, saving you time.  It also makes the sauce smoother, especially useful if you have someone in the house fussy about lumpy bits!

I also discovered asafoetida in India, otherwise known as Hing (which is much easier to say and spell!). This is another India spice commonly used in veggie dishes that has a very pungent and savoury flavour. In fact, if you take a sniff of the pot, it may put you off. But in cooking, it mellows out and adds a depth to the taste of your dish. You can buy it in most larger supermarkets or local Indian stores. And you only need a little, so a pot lasts a long time. It’s really worth a try.

Asafoetida aids the digestive system, as does ginger and cumin, also part of this dish. Add that with the anti-inflammatory properties and general fabulousness of turmeric, this dish is not only wonderfully tasty, but can help the body heal too. That’s even before the impressive phytonutrients found in the sweet potatoes and spinach are looked at.

So why not give this rainbow curry a go one evening and let the flavour soothe your tastebuds and the magic within soothe your body!

Sweet potato, spinach and chickpea curry (serves 4)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 inch piece fresh ginger
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
400g tin chickpeas rinsed and drained
400g tin chopped tomatoes
200g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

Peel the onion, garlic and ginger. Chop a couple of times and put in the bowl of a small food processor. Wash the chilli, deseed and chop a couple of times then put in the pot. Blitz for a few seconds until chopped into tiny pieces.

Heat a large pan on a medium heat and sprinkle the asafoetida on the bottom for a minute until you smell the pungent aroma. Add a little oil or water then tip in the blitzed veg. Sauté for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown – don’t let it burn or the garlic will be bitter. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and simmer for a couple of minutes, then stir in the sweet potato and cover with the tomato sauce. Add a little extra water if needed, but not too much as you want a dryish curry. Turn down the heat, pop on the lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer again for another 10 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked. Stir in the spinach, pop the lid back on and simmer for another couple of minutes until the spinach is fully wilted and incorporated.

Season with salt and pepper as needed and serve with some steamed brown rice or chapattis. Enjoy!

Odds and end smoky tomato and parsnip stew

Last day of the veg box blogging challenge, and I have to say, the ingredients on offer look rather forlorn! Tuesday evening tends to be my ‘creative’ night, using up as much produce as possible. It always makes me think of the Goodness Gracious Me character Mrs’ I can make it at home for
nothing’. All she needed was a small aubergine and piece of string to create anything. Sometimes I feel like that!

So what was left? We had one onion, a large parsnip and a handful of chard leaves. Doesn’t look much to start with, but thankfully I have a well stocked store cupboard.

Random ingredients like this usually work well in a one pot stew, adding in herbs and spices to jazz things up a bit. My go-to spice in these situations is smoked paprika – as my daughter wisely states, everything tastes better with a little smoked paprika!

We always have tins of beans in the cupboard; a great plant based source of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre, beans give texture and substance to a dish, and can fill up the hungriest of stomachs. And because of their high fibre content, they’re really healthy, particularly good for reducing cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. Adding the tomatoes brightens everything up, as well as adding another load of phytonutrients.

I used pinto beans for this dish for their texture and colour. Random fact – these beans have brown speckles, like splashes of colour in a painting. Pinto means ‘painted’ in Spanish, hence the name. May come in handy one day in a quiz, you never know.

So here it is, my odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew. Served with some mixed quinoa, it has a protein punch and a little spicy kick to make it interesting. And no string in sight!

Odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew.
1 onion, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 small celery sticks, chopped
handful of chard, washed and chopped
2 handfuls frozen peas
1 tin pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon thyme
black pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and sauté the onion, potato, celery and parsnip for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and add the spices and herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnip is soft. Stir in the beans and peas, and season with black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, check the seasoning and add more if needed. Enjoy!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry

As much as I love cooking, it’s always a treat when someone else does it for a change. Because of work and travel commitments, my hubby Steve doesn’t get many opportunities to get creative in the kitchen, so when he offers to cook it’s always a treat, especially as I was out all day yesterday, so it was a real relief to come home and be served with a piping hot dinner.

Steve does what I call ‘man’s cooking’ – lots of ingredients all prepped before hand (often with lots of washing up!), loud music and always a beer on the go. Not that this is a criticism, just a little observation – whatever is needed to maximise the cooking experience (although the number of beers could potentially be directly linked to the outcome of the dish – “hic!”).

Having lived in India and spent time in South Africa, Steve has picked up a few tricks and makes a mean veggie curry, all dairy free of course. Aware of my veg box blogging challenge, he did check what I had planned to make – a sweet mama squash and chickpea curry – so now I’m writing about his version of what I had planned in my head!

Squash and chickpeas go together really well in terms of flavour, texture and nutrition. I’ve already talked about what nutritional powerhouses they are (Thursday stuffed squash and Friday’s pancakes), as well as fabulous sources of fibre that your gut will love. They also both work wonderfully with spices, and complement each other superbly.

Of course, spices add more than just colour and flavour to a dish; they contain amazing healing properties that have been used for thousands of years, but science is only just beginning to understand how.

Cumin, for example Turmeric has long been used for it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, but the active ingredient – curcumin – has only recently been identified and researched. It seems that the amazing properties in turmeric can help relieve all sorts of ailments from period problems, to IBS, to joint pain to cancer. In fact, there is so much to say about turmeric, there’s no way enough room here, so let’s just say it’s amazing and should be included in your diet as much as possible!

Steve likes the base of his curry sauces to cook down over a period of time to concentrate the flavours; this doesn’t take that much longer, but really does deepen the flavour.

There are a couple of interloper ingredients again, but from the veg box he used an onion, two of the carrots and the second half of the sweet mama squash. There was (and still is!) loads, so this recipe feeds a hungry crew easily.

Play around with the spices to get the heat level you desire – I’ve only given approximations here, as I’m not really too sure exactly how much was put in! Needless to say, it was super tasty, and all the more special as I didn’t have to cook!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 red chilli, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder/garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
water
1/2 sweet mama squash cut into smallish chunks
2 carrots, diced
1 courgette, diced
1/3 small cauliflower, chopped (optional)
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and cook the onion for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and chill and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook down for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and add some water to make a thick sauce. Cook down on a low heat, adding a bit more water for 15 minutes or so until the flavours have developed.
Add the squash and carrot chunks, covering them well with the sauce, adding a little more water to almost cover. Pop on a lid, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 -10 minutes until the veg begin to soften. Add in the courgette, cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer until all the veg are soft and the sauce has thickened up nicely. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with popadoms and steamed brown rice.

Curry comfort

Our time living in Indian widened our horizons in many ways. Food wise, we discovered a cornucopia of different South Indian ‘curries’ most of which we had never come across before in the UK. Most curry houses in the UK serve North Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani routed food, adapted to the British taste (lots of sauce!). These dishes tend to be rich, tomato based, heavy with cream and featuring meat. South Indian food consists of a huge amount of vegetarian dishes, many enhanced with coconut, either milk or freshly ground, making them rich but not heavy.

Coconut is a regular ingredient on my blog – I love it, not only for it’s wonderful creamy taste, but it’s amazing health benefits. Coconut meat and milk are high in fat, there’s no getting away from it, but the fat is medium-chain saturated fats which research shows is actually health promoting rather than detrimental like many saturated animal fats. And of course, being plant based, it contains no cholesterol, a fact my friend was surprised about when I told her. Placed on a cholesterol reducing diet by her GP (better than being given statins that’s for sure), it was on the list of food to avoid due to  it’s high cholesterol content. In fact the oil in coconut helps improve a person’s cholesterol, increasing healthy HDL cholesterol.

Lauric acid is one of the main fatty acids in coconut; this converts to other compounds in the body and had an array of beneficial effects including acting as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and if eaten as coconut meat, the fibre promotes these properties, contributing to a healthy gut.

I love to make vegetable Malabar curry on a cold and windy day as there’s just something so warming and comforting about it. Rich and flavoursome, I feel wrapped in a soothing warmth. Malabar curries come from the Kerala area, often as a fish curry. Although truly Indian, it has Chinese roots and developed along the coast. The warm, comforting element comes from the inclusion of a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, all medicinal herbs in their own right. Cloves have an anti-inflammatory effect as well as a mild anaesthetic (oil of cloves for toothache), cinnamon has compounds that aid digestion and help reduce muscle spasm (amongst other effects) and cardamon is sometimes used as an anti-depressant.

Make this super healthy by using red, orange and green vegetables, packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants to keep the winter bugs at bay. And of course by using coconut, it’s completely dairy free.
Although there is a long list of ingredients in this recipe, it’s actually pretty easy to make. You can buy a malabar curry mix from your local Indian store, but be careful, as these can contain a large amount of salt. It’s pretty easy to make your own, so I make it fresh each time. Serve this up on a blustery evening with a warm roti or pile of steamed rice (brown of course!) and let yourself be enveloped with a soothing warmth which, with any luck, will transport your mind, if not your body, to warmer climes.

Vegetable Malabar Curry<
Spice mix:2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves
4 cardamon pods
Vegetable mix:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 spring curry leaves
Asafoetida – pinch (miss if you can’t find it)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 onions chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, pureed
1 cup chopped carrot or sweet potato
1 cup green veg (beans, broccoli)
couple of handfuls sweetcorn or peas
1 tin coconut milk
up to 1 cup warm water
fresh coriander to garnish
First, make your spice mix. Bash the cardamon pods in a pestle and mortar to release the seeds. Grind seeds with the cloves until fine and mix in the cinnamon.

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the mustard seed, asafoetida and curry leaves until the seeds splutter. Add the onion and ginger and cook until the onion is soft. Pour in the pureed tomatoes and a pinch of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the chilli powder, turmeric, spice mix, vegetables and mix well to coat. Pour in the water and simmer with the lid on until the vegetables are cooked.
Turn off the heat and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well and heat on a low flame for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed, sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top, and enjoy

Tasty cabbage – Indian style

One of the wonderful things about living in Southern India was the food. Dishes are simply classified into veg or non-veg, and the choice of veg dishes was vast! Using this classification, veg excludes egg but does include dairy, so eating dairy free was still a challenge. I often grilled a poor waiter about the potential dairy content of a dish, only to find it laden with paneer or ghee. I had to become very un-British and be very specific with my food order!

Eating at friends houses was much simpler,  once they knew what to avoid. And many of my Indian friends just loved to feed me, which was such a joy! They all had cooks who created these amazingly simple yet delicious dishes – 2 or 3 different ones for a light lunch! It was often a dhal, bean based curry and a dry vegetable dish (sauce, or gravy as they call it, is definitely more of a ‘Briti
sher’ requirement!). And I fell in love with stuffed parathas and freshly made chapattis; I still make heavy-handed attempts to make my own at home.

One of my favourite simple dry vegetable dishes is called poriyal. It’s basically a cooked vegetable – green bean, cabbage, carrot or a mixture of different ones – garnished with a tasty tempering and grated coconut. It’s ever so simple to make and is gorgeously tasty.

Cabbage has been a dominant feature of my veg box just recently; cabbage poriyal makes a tasty change to plain simply steamed cabbage or one of my many versions of coleslaw!

One of the wonderful cruciferous family, cabbage is amazingly good for you, particularly if it’s steamed rather than boiled to death as per school dinners! It’s packed full of phytonutrients that help protect against cancer, loads of fibre which will help reduce cholesterol levels and vitamin C, a natural antioxidant. On top of that, it has a whole variety of B vitamins, potassium and manganese. So it is definitely good to eat your greens!

Tempering is a method used in Indian cooking in which the whole spices are heated in oil (or ghee) until the aromas are released then poured on top of the dish prior to serving. Briefly cooking at a high heat releases the essential oils in the spices, and therefore their delicious flavour. If you want to be low or no fat, omit the oil and just heat in a non-stick pan – once the mustard seeds start popping, add the other spices and turn off the heat whilst still stirring. This stops the spices singeing but still releases their flavour. Give this a go and see what you think – you won’t find it in your local curry house, that’s for sure!

Cabbage poriyal
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium sized cabbage, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated coconut, fresh or frozen (defrosted)
tempering:
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dahl (split lentils)
pinch asafedtida
ginger chilli paste
1 red chilli, chopped
5 curry leaves
salt
tumeric
fresh coriander
Steam the cabbage until just done. When it’s nearly ready, heat the oil in a pan and toast the mustard seeds. Once they start to splutter, add the grad dahl, turmeric and asafoetida. Once you can smell the gorgeous aromas, add the chilli and curry leaves, stir briefly then turn off the heat. Continue to stir for a moment then mix the tempering into the cabbage along with the coconut and ginger chilli paste (if you so desire). Season with a tiny sprinkle of salt if you need to, garnish with fresh coriander and serve alongside another veg dish such as a dahl and freshly cooked chapattis. Enjoy!