Amazingly tasty lentil and walnut paté

Life has been so busy over the last month, The Sensitive Foodie blog has been somewhat abandoned and forlorn. However, there’s been lots of activity in the kitchen so there’s plenty of new recipes and ideas to share – I just need to find more time to write about them!

Now I may have mentioned before (once or twice!) that I do love a bit of hummus – it makes a fantastic dairy free lunch option, is easy to make, even easier to buy. But no matter how much I like it, there is only so much hummus that one girl can eat! It’s time for a new lunch time option that’s equally enjoyable and flavoursome.

One of the objections people have when it comes to dairy free or plant based food is that it lacks flavour and depth. As The Sensitive Foodie, it’s my mission to prove them wrong, and I can definitely say that this paté hits the mark with both of these. On top of that, it’s packed with essential omega 3 fatty acids, tonnes of fibre and protein as well as fabulous amounts of magnesium, folate, manganese and iron.

When I used to eat meat, I did enjoy eating paté but did have my concerns about what exactly was in it – especially those with a course texture that had chewy bits in! Checking on the ingredients list, an ardenne pate, for example contains pork liver, pork, pork fat as well as pork rind with some dextrose (sugar), salt, herbs and preservatives added in. Hmmm, not really sounding too tasty now. Flavoursome, maybe, but packed full of saturated fat and cholesterol and no fibre, it’s a combination of toxins heading straight for the belly.

This lentil and walnut paté, however, is packed full of fibre, as the whole food has been included, and no cholesterol or preservatives. Texture wise, it’s pretty similar to a smooth meat paté, only softer due to the lower fat levels. It will last in the fridge for about 5 days. Oh and don’t forget that this is not only dairy free but gluten free too.

Personally, I cook my own lentils from the dried pulse, usually preparing a big batch to use in more than one dish. If you just haven’t got the time, or the lentils to hand, then used tinned, but don’t forget to drain and rinse really well under running water to wash away the salty fluid from the tin.
Everyone who has tasted this has been impressed – even my father in law – so give it a go and give your tongue, and body, a tasty lunch time treat.

Lentil and walnut pate
3/4 cup walnuts
1 cup cooked green lentils
1 onion diced
2 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
2 tablespoons tamari*
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
First, heat the oven to 160oC and toast your walnuts for a few minutes so they’re lightly browned. Take out and cool. Heat a little olive oil or water in a small pan and sauté the onion and bay leaf together until it’s lightly browned and soft. Leave to cool and remove the bay leaf. Once the onion and walnuts are cool, pop the walnuts, lentils, onion, garlic, tamari and lemon juice into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Taste and add extra tamari, lemon juice and salt and pepper as required.
Serve as you would any paté and enjoy!

*tamari is a wheat free, gluten free soya sauce, made from whole soya beans and brewed in wooden kegs. I buy mine in Holland and Barrett.

Broad bean spread – surprisingly good.

Bearing in mind I eat a plant based diet, it’s just as well that I like most vegetables. And as time goes by and tastes change, I’ve found those that I didn’t like when I was younger seem to be more palatable today; celery is an example of this. I couldn’t stand the stuff and had no idea how people could just munch away on celery sticks and nothing else to disguise the flavour. Nowadays, I have to admit I’ve discovered it’s not as bad as previously thought, and can munch away quite happily with the rest of them!

Broad beans, however, have been more of a challenge. I developed a real aversion to them, maybe connected tochildhood memories of my dad’s vegetable patch. I can’t remember him growing anything else but broad beans (which I’m sure is not true!) and vividly recall having them served up as a vegetable, forcing myself to eat them so as not to offend his wonderful green fingered efforts. But to me they were bitter, woody nuggets that had an odd tangy aroma and I really didn’t enjoy them one bit.

My dad eventually gave up growing veg and so for years I managed to avoid broad beans; if they appeared in a dish at a restaurant I would pick them out and leave them on the side as even the smell of them was too much.

Broad beans seems to have become quite trendy in the last few years, popularised by celebrity chefs and featuring as a seasonal crop in my weekly veg box. But still I managed to avoid them, changing my box order to ensure they didn’t get delivered. Browsing through recipes recently, I realised that maybe the broad beans of my childhood could have been more tasty if they had been served in a different way.

The beans come in a large, thick fibrous pod that, unlike other beans, can’t be eaten. Once shelled, they have a greyish-green outer cover – if the beans are very young and tender, apparently this layer tastes ok, but if the beans are larger and more mature, it’s bitter and unpleasant – the feature of my childhood memories! Broad beans have to be double podded. This may be well known, but it was a revelation to me!  Once shelled, they should be popped into boiling water and simmered for a few minutes, drained and refreshed with cold water. Then the outer skin comes off quite easily to reveal gorgeously vibrant, tender green beans underneath.

Now, they still have a ‘broad bean taint’ to them, but they certainly taste quite different, and the bitterness changes to a fresh, almost sweet taste. For me, I still can’t eat them by themselves, but fortunately they combine well with other flavours, particularly mint for a vibrant, spring flavour. Which is good news, as broad beans are actually really good for you and a great source of protein in a plant based whole food diet. On top of that, they are an amazing source of fibre, essential for maintaining gut health, as well as a whole range of B vitamins, iron, manganese and potassium, although some of that will be lost in the cooking process.

Even though I find broad beans slightly more acceptable, I still avoid having them; last week I forgot to change my veg box order though, and a whole bag of them arrived. Eating dairy free and plant based can sometimes create lunch time challenges, especially with sandwich fillings; sometimes even hummus can get boring.  So I decided to create a broad bean based spread; I found a couple of recipes but they included a large amount of oil which I try to avoid. So instead, I just went the natural route and simply combined broad beans, mint, peas and a little seasoning. It makes a green gloop which has a fabulously rich but fresh flavour and is amazingly healthy with no added fat and all that great fibre.

With a taste like this, I seem to have become a broad bean convert – give a go and see what you think.

Broad bean, pea and mint spread
300g broad bean, podded150g peas (frozen is fine)
handful fresh mint
small clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
Bring a pan of water to the boil and simmer broad beans for a few minutes until the skin starts to wrinkle (try to ignore the strong broad bean aroma that reminds you of your childhood!). Add the peas near the end to cook for a couple of minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Once the eans are cool enough to handle, peel off the tough outer layer. Put the beans, peas, mint, garlic, salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add extra seasoning if required. Serve either on toasted baguette, baked potato, as a dip, with a salad, or however you so desire.

Home-made almond butter

Eating a dairy free, whole food plant based diet is becoming less labour intensive as more products become available in the shops. This is great for convenience, but does carry a pretty hefty price tag, especially if that tag is headed ‘free from’! And because of the need for an extended shelf life, products may not be as whole as they should be, with added extras – sugar, salt and oil are added to not only improve flavour as the natural taste fades over time, but also to act as preservatives. There are many other natural preservatives, and colours, many of which are now grown on yeasts, so are a no no for someone with a yeast intolerance.

My daughter has recently developed a passion for almond butter. Always declaring an innate dislike of peanut butter (despite never tasting it!!), I bought a jar of almond butter one day which she tried under protest. To her surprise, she loved it and has be adding it to her food in imaginative ways ever since (baked sweet potato with almond butter topping?). The jars found at the supermarket are pretty small and don’t last long. They are also not cheap. I tried to make it myself, my ever reliable food processor working hard, but just ended up with a dry powder. I could have added oil, but then it wouldn’t be a whole food, so never tried again.

Until recently that is. Browsing on the internet one day, I ended up on a discussion forum about making almond butter (it continues to amaze me what you can stumble upon on the web). According to this chat, almond butter was easy to make, only requiring whole almonds but needed one vital ingredient – patience!

I realised the dry powder I had created was only the middle stage of the butter making process. If I have let my processor continue for another five minutes or so, the nuts would have broken down enough to start releasing the natural oils which change the ground nuts from a dry paste into a beautifully rich, moist spread. And not only is the flavour remarkable, you know exactly what is in your almond butter. If you roast the nuts before hand, you don’t even need to store it in the fridge, although I do, although more out of habit than necessity, because to be honest, it gets eaten up pretty quickly.

Almonds are amazingly healthy. They do contain lots of fat, but it’s healthy monounsaturated, the type which has been proven to help lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body and improve heart health. They also contain fabulous amounts of vitamin E, and anti-oxidant that helps in heart health, but also in your whole health, and is great for your skin and helps slow the ageing process. Almonds also have a shed load of fibre, a good amount of magnesium, which is also essential for heart and general health, B vitamins and phytonutrients essential for overall health, so what’s not to like?

And of course, this process is applicable to any nut or seed. So I’ve made my own tahini, which is way more tasty and powerful than anything in a jar, plus the oil doesn’t separate from the solids, which always seems to happen with shop bought. I also made peanut butter, which is seriously intense! So if you have a few spare minutes and fancy experimenting, give this a go and revel in the extraordinary flavours you’ll create.

Almond Butter
1 1/2 cups almonds
a food processor
a small jar, cleaned and rinsed with boiling water
Heat your oven to 180oC. Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Take them out the oven, check they’re not getting burnt and pop them back for another couple of minutes. You don’t want to over roast them otherwise they become too dry and you won’t get a good butter. Remove
from the oven and leave to cool.Once cool, pop in your food processor and blitz on a medium speed until the nuts are broken down and stuck up the side of the bowl. Stop, get a spatula and scrap down to the bottom again. Resume processing. Repeat this process until the nuts eventually start  releasing their oil and stay at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed slightly and leave on until a beautifully unctuous butter is created. This will take about 10 minutes in total. Stop the processor and check the texture – continue until you get a smooth texture. Then spoon out into the clean jar and enjoy!

Beetroot hummus – seriously pink!

Packed lunches can be a bind, but buying food at school or work can be a challenge when you’re eating a free-from diet. Choice is limited, expensive and often just junk, which is OK from time to time, but not on a daily basis. So hummus is a permanent feature in our fridge, but even that can get a little dull after time – variety is the key.

This beetroot hummus can never be described as dull; the vibrant, almost neon bright pink of the hummus can brighten up any packed lunch, lighting up the senses with colour and taste.
Beetroot is a fabulous vegetable to munch on in the winter months. Sweet and juicy, it’s packed full of nutrients that help get you through the short, wet days and fight off those winter bugs. And if you manage to find some with the leaves still attached, then even better, as this deep green foliage contains even more nutritional goodies that will boost your immunity.

Beetroot is great for your liver, helping it to detoxify, perfect at this time of year when the body is still recovering from excesses over the festive season! Its high fibre content is good for gut health, helping to relieve constipation – it also contains good amounts of the amino acid glutamine, essential for the health of your gut lining. As well as the fibre, beetroot also has good amounts of folic acid, manganese and potassium; the leaves zing with calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.

Beetroot and chickpeas combined make a super-nutrient packed dish. Chickpeas are one of my favourite beans, with it’s strong earthy flavour and high fibre content, they’re good for your taste buds and your body, and an essential ingredient of a whole food, plant based diet. Although they’re not a complete protein, chickpeas are still a good source of protein and packed full of fibre, manganese, folate, iron and zinc as well as other phytonutrients that are beneficial to gut and heart health. And for those with blood sugar problems or looking to lose weight, research shows that chickpeas help regulate blood sugar levels as well as keep you feeling full for longer, so reducing the need to binge on other sugary foods. Phew!

So if you’re not too worn out thinking about how amazing these ingredients are, give this beetroot hummus a go and taste their amazingness! It’s easy to make, and definitely easy to eat!  A perfect snack or lunch companion, dairy free and super healthy.

Beetroot hummus.
400g cooked chickpeas (rinsed if from a tin or soaked and cooked)
2 medium sized cooked beetroot (not in vinegar)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 small clove of garlic crushed and chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons ground cumin
up to 100ml olive oil
Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and blitz until combined. Keep the processor on, add the olive oil gradually until you reach a good texture and ‘dippy’ consistency. Serve garnished with parsley and a little sprinkling of cumin.

* If you cooked the chickpeas rather than use tinned, retain some of the cooking fluid and use this to replace some of the oil. This reduces the fat content, plus adds in some of the nutrients lost in the cooking fluid. Never do this with tinned chickpeas, as the fluid often cotains added salt and sugar.

Gorgeous Dairy Free “Boursin”

I keep searching the ‘free from’ and health food shop shelves for a decent ready made cheese alternative, and as yet have failed to find one that works on both taste and texture. So many have a dodgy after tang or a seemingly never ending list of ingredients that I just don’t want to try. There really isn’t any point in trying to eat a healthy free from diet if a product is loaded with additives and preservatives. And since I found out about citric acid and how natural flavours and colours are created there really isn’t anything on the market that I can actually eat!

Recently, I had some friends round for dinner and wanted to give them an inspiring, flavourful plant-based, whole food meal. Whilst in India I attended a number of cooking demonstrations with Dr Nandita Shah from SHARAN; browsing through some of my notes, I came across a vegan boursin recipe that I had forgotten about with “delicious” scribbled next to it. My mouth started to water at the memory so I just had to make it – and I’m so glad I did, as my guests appeared to enjoy it just as much as I did!

Although there is a little soaking time, this is really easy to make and is really adaptable. It’s gorgeous raw and can be used as a dip, dressing or baked potato filling. It works equally well cooked and even browns a little so you get that crispy crunch that I really miss from baked cheese (the crunchy bits on macaroni cheese are always the best!). So either use it stirred in to pasta, as a pizza cheese topping or a savoury sauce. The key is the flavour balance – you want enough garlic to give flavour without overwhelming it, and a nice selection of herbs to complement each other. And it needs quite a lot of salt, certainly more than I would use normally in cooking, to bring it alive, so it’s important to taste as you go.

This dairy free ‘boursin’ is gorgeous stuffed into some button mushrooms and baked in the oven – the mushroom juices and texture complement the salty filling; the flavours just make your mouth sing! Much better than any alternatives I’ve found on a supermarket shelf.

Dairy free ‘Boursin’
200g silken tofu
200g cashew nuts, soaked for a minimum of 2 hours
1 tsp finely minced garlic
1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, basil etc)
1 – 2 tsps salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fresh lemon/lime juice
First, drain the cashew nuts and discard the soaking water. Place cashews in a food processor or grinder and blitz to get a smooth paste – you may need to add up to 1/3 cup of water, but don’t add too much otherwise your boursin will be too runny. Once your cashew nut paste is smooth, add the tofu, salt and garlic and blend until well mixed and smooth. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and carefully stir in your fresh herbs, juice and season with black pepper. Check your flavours and add in more salt or pepper as needed.
To make the boursin baked mushrooms, simply wash a handful of button mushrooms and remove the stems. Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the centre and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so until the mushroom has softened and the boursin has browned on the top. Gorgeous!!

Pumpkin-licious dip

Over the last few years, pumpkin has become a regular component of our family meals. There is so much you can do with it – steam, boil, bake, roast. Each method brings out a different pumpkin characteristic – steaming keeps the water content as well as the nutrients, making it ideal to mash or puree, whereas roasting concentrates the flavours and the nutrients by removing some of the water content and caramelises some of the natural sugars.

Being pretty sweet, it’s great for both savoury and sweet dishes; it works brilliantly with spices too, creating a sweet and spicy base for various Asian dishes.

Generally, pumpkin and squash can be interchanged in recipes, although some varieties do have slightly different flavours and levels of sweetness. Depending on the time of year, supply in the shops may be limited to one type – often butternut squash over here in the UK – unless you can find a local farm that grows a wide variety and manages to store them well throughout the year.

Pumpkins and squash are part of the same family of gourds, and of course are really ‘gourd’ for you!! Despite their sweet flavour, they are pretty low in carbohydrates, contain no fat or cholesterol and are packed full of fibre, vitamin A (it’s back again!!), B vitamins, vitamin C and a little vitamin E. It also contains a pretty good whack of potassium and iron to complete the package. So, alongside sweet potatoes and tomatoes, pumpkin is great for maintaining eye and skin health, as well as fighting off signs of ageing and attacks by carcinogenic substances. Recent research also suggests two phytochemicals contained in pumpkin helps improve diabetes.

There are so many amazing pumpkin recipes – my favourites include my warming dairy free squash soup, pumpkin scones and pumpkin and spinach curry. Seems like I have a lot of pumpkin posts to come! As yet, I haven’t managed to create a good dairy free pumpkin pie recipe, although I’m sure it’s possible.

One dish I have created is a Moroccan inspired pumpkin dip. Eating dairy free can create some lunchtime challenges; as much as I love it, there are only so many times in a week I can have a hummus and salad wrap for lunch. This dip is a fabulous alternative.

The sweetness of pumpkin works brilliantly with coriander, cumin and cinnamon. Using sesame seeds as the base continues with the Moroccan theme, as well as adding in a good dose of manganese, magnesium, calcium and amino acids. If sesame seeds are not your thing, try using cashew nuts instead – it needs something to give the dip some structure, as pumpkin by itself creates a slightly watery dish.

Play around with the flavours, the spice amounts are just a guideline. Every time I make this, it’s slightly different. What doesn’t change is the overall yumminess of the dish – it is gorgeous! Serve in wraps, as a dip, with salad or just eat indulgently straight out the bowl with a spoon!

Moroccan style pumpkin dip
1 medium sized pumpkin or squash
dash of olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, coriander and cumin
>Heat the oven to 180oC. Chop the pumpkin or squash into slices, deseed but leave the skin on and place in a baking tray. Using your hands or a pastry brush, lightly cover the flesh with olive oil – you really don’t need much. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so, until the flesh is soft to touch but not over roasted – you may need to turn the heat down a little if you have a fan oven. Once done, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Place the sesame seeds (or nuts if using) into a blender and blitz until fine. You can roast them before hand if you like; this creates a richer, deeper flavour to the dip. Remove the skin from the roasted pumpkin and place the flesh into the blender with the ground sesame seeds. Blend again for a few seconds until loosely combined. Add the salt, spices and fresh coriander and blitz again until everything is well combined and smooth. Check the flavouring and add more spices if you need to. That’s it – it’s ready. Tip out into a dish and enjoy (this goes really well with the chickpea and sesame seed dippers –

Creamy baba ghanoush

During my time in India, I started a love affair – with the fabulously tasty aubergine! There was so much more to this vegetable than I had ever imagined, with an ancient history, multiple varieties and different guises, it was easy to be enticed into a whole new realm of culinary possibilities.

I was surprised to discover  that, botanically, aubergine is actually a fruit; a berry to be precise. Before my departure to sunny climes, I thought aubergines were only large, oval, deep purple and went bitter and mushy when cooked. I discovered that there are around 2000 different varieties of aubergine in India alone, ranging from tiny to giant (1kg in weight), oval, round, long, thin, bulbous, prickly and in many hues – deep purple, red-purple, green, yellow, white, striped and even orange.

Native to India, aubergines are known by the generic name of brinjal, although this varies from area to area depending on the local language. In Hindi, it’s ‘baingan’ which literally translated means “no exceptional qualities” which is rather sad!! In the US and Australia, aubergines are eggplants; some early 18th century versions were white and egg shaped, hence the name. Western Europe tends to use aubergine, apparently coming from Arabic (useful information for your next pub quiz!)

Aubergine is a key ingredient in many Indian dishes.  Highly nutritious, it’s known as both “poor man’s meat” and the “king of vegetables” possibly from a Tamil folk tale (it has a crown!).  So adaptable, it can be cooked in many ways – baked, roasted, bbq’ed, fried, pickled, used for dips and chutneys and even soufflé.  And of course, aubergine pops up in all sorts of cuisine from around the world – Middle Eastern, Arabic, Mediterranean and Asian. 

Aubergine have a high water content, and are excellent source of potassium and other key nutrients such as calcium, folic acid, vitamin C and other anti-oxidants.  Unfortunately, they absorb oil and so become high calorie if fried, but also highly delicious, delectably melting in the mouth.

Its a great vegetable for use in a plant based wholefood diet, as when cooked it produces a delicious creamy texture that can provide additional richness to a dairy free dish. One of my favourite is Baba ghanoush, aubergine dip, a rich and flavoursome dish – I made this the other day for some friends and it disappeared off the table in a flash!  Traditionally, olive oil is added, but I find that baking the aubergine in the oven first until cooked creates enough soft, rich flesh that oil just isn’t needed. Beware with the amount of garlic you use though – the flesh absorbs other flavours so well that it can be pretty strong without meaning to – maybe not one to prepare for a romantic date!!

I have a number of delicious, aubergine dishes to share, including a great brinjal curry my maid taught me and an Italian inspired stuffed aubergine roll, but for now, here’s healthy, low fat baba ghanoush. Enjoy with toasted flatbread, or my chickpea dippers

Tantilisingly creamy baba ghanoush
1 large aubergine
1 tablespoon tahini
1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
To get a smoky flavour, first place your aubergine directly onto a gas flame (if you have a gas hob) and scorch the skin. Once slightly toasted, wrap in tin foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so at 200 degrees C until soft to touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool – don’t open the tin foil yet. Once cool, carefully unwrap the aubergine, pouring the juices that will have collected in the foil into a blender. Cut open and scoop out the cooked flesh, leaving behind the tougher skin, and place in blender with the juice. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz until combined and really smooth. Check for seasoning, adding more salt and a little black pepper if required, and more lemon juice if it’s not quite tangy enough. Share with others if you dare, or indulge by yourself!


No dairy, no calcium?

We are taught from an early age that milk is an essential part of our diet. If we drink lots of it, we grow up big and strong. Without it, we will have weak bones and teeth. Milk and dairy products are the best source of dietary calcium, as well as other essential nutrients – this is the message put out by dairy producers and successive governments.

So being dairy intolerant, how do I get enough calcium? This was a big concern form me when I first cut dairy from my diet. What I’ve come to realise is that eating a wholefood plant based diet, it’s easy to consume fantastic amounts of easily absorbed calcium to keep my bones and teeth healthy and strong, maybe even better than dairy.

Although the marketing says otherwise, cow’s milk is not the best dietary source of calcium. For example, it has about a 10th of the calcium levels as sesame seeds and only 30% of the calcium in milk is absorbed by the human gut, whereas with seeds and nuts it’s much higher.

So where do I get my dietary calcium from? Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds are the best source. 100g of watercress contains 151mg of calcium, compared to 120mg in the equivalent of milk. Oats, beans, chickpeas (there they are again!) and tofu also all have good amounts, so it’s really not too hard to reach the recommended daily intake of calcium of 800mg. A large green salad has as much calcium as a glass of milk, plus it’s well absorbed (as long as there’s not too much spinach in it, as this can block calcium absorption). A bowl of porridge made with rolled oats has 100mg of calcium – add some fortified soya milk and some dried figs, and it’s getting up to half your daily dose, just in one bowl!

As a relatively fit and healthy woman in her mid 40’s, I don’t have to worry too much at the moment about my bone health, but in 10 years time or so, once the menopause has hit big stylie, then calcium becomes more of an issue. Osteoporosis is a massive problem in the western world, and dairy is promoted as a necessity to keep bones healthy. However, it seems that maybe dairy might be part of the problem. Countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest number of people with osteoporosis – something to discuss another day.

Sesame seeds really are an incredible source of calcium – there is a fabulous 975mg in just 100g. However, being so tiny, that’s a lot of seeds to consume in one day! By incorporating them into a wholefood diet, it’s pretty easy. Being a hummus addict, I get a good dollop of sesame in the tahini, one of the key hummus ingredients. They can be added to cereals, baking, salads, stews and used in lots of Asian dishes. Sesame can be an allergen for some though, so it’s not for everyone which is a shame, as it’s also an amazing source of iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Quite something for such a tiny seed.
I have found an amazing ‘bread’ stick for dipping that not only tastes amazing (almost cheesy without the cheese) but is gluten free and contains calcium boosting sesame and chickpea all in one. Use it to dip in some hummus or other tahini containing dip, and your bones will be just zinging with strength and happiness!

Chickpea and sesame dipper sticks
1 cup chickpea flour (gram/besan/garbanzo)
3 tbspoon sesame seeds
1/2 tspoon salt
2 tbspoon fresh lemon thyme
1 tspoon olive/sesame oil
up to 1/4 cup water
Heat the oven to 180oC. You can toast your sesame seeds if you like to bring out the flavour, but the sticks work just as well untoasted.
Place the flour, sesame seeds, salt and thyme into a bowl and mix together. Stir in the oil then add the water a little at a time, stirring all the time, until you get a good supple dough. Knead for a couple of minutes until all the ingredients are incorporated, adding a little more flour if it gets a bit sticky. Flatten the dough into a disk, then place on a sheet of baking paper. Place another sheet on top and roll out until the dough is really thin – 3-5 mm if possible. Carefully peel off the top layer, leaving the dough on the bottom layer, and slice the dough into sticks with a knife. Prick each stick with a fork a few times so it doesn’t puff up when cooking. Place the dough and the baking paper underneath onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or so but check after 10 –  you want a golden brown top. Too light and the sticks are not crispy, too browned and they’re a bit hard on your teeth! Once ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Then break up the sticks where you have previously cut them and they’re ready to eat. Happy dipping!
NB: these sticks soften after a few hours, so are best eaten soon after cooking. If you have any left over, leave out in the kitchen, not in a plastic tub, or they will sadly go soft.


Humdinging hummus

Thank goodness for hummus! Not the usual thing to say, but for me it’s a lunch time saviour. Finding healthy, easy dairy free snacks can be a bit challenging at times, especially when all you want to eat is cheese, but hummus is just perfect. Back in the UK, it was easy to pick up a pot from the supermarket, but over here in India, it’s not available, so I had to learn how to make it myself. Finding tinned chickpeas is not so easy either and cooking them from scratch takes a long time. Then I discovered the joys of a pressure cooker!

There are many noises that I will always associate with India – horns, mopeds, random men shouting “hoy” and the ubiquitous pressure cooker. Early in the morning, and at odd times throughout the day, a symphony of pressure cooker whistles can be heard all around the compound I live in as various breakfast and lunch dishes are prepared. I soon realised that pressure cookers are used so much to save time – Indian cooking involves a lot of preparing from the basics. Boiling items not only takes time, but also energy, and when your gas supply comes from canisters which are rationed, you want to use as little as possible. Two hours of boiling beans until they are tender is out.

Soaking chickpeas overnight for pressure cooking the next morning has become a way of life. For hummus, not only is this so much cheaper, even for organic goods, but healthier as the tinned version soaks in fluid containing added sugar and salt. The carbohydrates in chickpeas are complex, and so take longer to digest by the body, releasing a smooth flow of energy that lasts some time. Added sugar is refined and is rapidly released, giving your body extra work to do and adding stress.  I use the cooking water in the hummus as it contains extra flavour and any vitamins and minerals that may have leeched out from the pulses during cooking, whereas the tinned version I throw it away and so that extra flavour.

If you’ve never used a pressure cooker before, it’s really easy but a bit scary!! Simply place your bean or pulse in the bottom of the pan, add water until their covered plus a little more. You don’t want too much excess fluid in the pan, but equally you need enough so it doesn’t burn dry. Attach the lid until it’s secure, and turn on the heat to a medium level. Once the pressure has built up, it it suddenly whistle and releases a load of steam – don’t stand too close when this happens. Apart from anything else, it’s really loud, but you could get burnt. I usually cook my chickpeas for 10 minutes after the first whistle, then turn off the heat and leave until it’s cooled down. It’s really important not to remove the lid until all the built up steam has dissipated otherwise you will get a nasty burn.

Once the chickpeas are ready, it’s time to whip up your hummus.  Packed with goodies, it combines the excellent protein source of chickpeas and the nutritional powerhouse of sesame seeds, the main ingredient of tahini. There’s so much to say about both of these and not room here but be sure to know that both will have their own feature on the blog soon!

The best thing about home made hummus is being able to customise it to how you like it. Shop bought versions can be quite high in fat and tend to contain preservatives and additives. The fat content can be controlled by using less olive oil and more cooking water, or home made tahini that has less added oil into it. The lemon not only added a beautiful sharp flavour but helps release the protein and B vitamins locked up in the pulse. There’s also variety, as mine seems to come out different every time I make it!! So have a play around – don’t be tied to measurements too much and experiment.

Homemade hummus
250 grams of dried chickpeas soaked over night or one tin, rinsed and drained
approx 1/4 cup cooking liquid or water
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves of garlic crushed (or more if you like it strong)
salt to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil – less or more depending on how much fat you want added
ground cumin to garnish
Put all the ingredients except the cumin and the liquid or water into a food processor. Add a little of the liquid and blitz until you get a smoothish paste. Add a little more liquid if the mix is too dry and blitz again. Stop and check, taste and add more of any of the ingredients (except chickpeas) to customise your flavour and texture. Once you’re happy, place in a serving dish and sprinkle ground cumin on the top. Enjoy with raw veggies, pita or in a wrap. Or just on the end of your finger if you can’t wait!