Layered lentil and creamy spinach bake- a delicious low carb veggie dish

As I was whipping up a storm in the kitchen yesterday, I realised that most of my recipes tend to be developed from scratch-i.e. what’s in the cupboard/fridge/garden?  I have also started reading up on the so-called “Banting” diet, which promotes a very low-carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) lifestyle.  This diet is being promoted quite widely in South Africa at the moment, especially by Prof. Tim Noakes, who is a well-known sport scientist.  I am not going to give an opinion about the LCHF diet specifically, but a quick search of peer-reviewed journal articles shows that a low-carbohydrate diet, with either restricted or no-restriction calorie intake (Mediterranean diet; 1,2) , does result in greater weigh loss and better prognosis for blood sugar and cholesterol than a low-fat diet.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my boyfriend requested that we cut back on the carbs last year after a visit to Germany (I believed he survived on pomme frites and curry wurst).  The LCHF diet doesn’t quite fit this, because it does promote very high protein intake, and with the current cost of red meat (and even chicken) in SA, it doesn’t quite fit our pocket to dish up steaks every night.  I thus wanted to create a vegetarian (and economic) dish that fits the low-carb, high protein profile, without the high fat, and came up with this deliciously layered lentils in tomato sauce and creamy spinach dish. I replaced the white sauce with double thick Greek yoghurt (which has many health benefits of its own), and added mozzarella but this can be left out if preferred. Lentils, as I have mentioned previously, is also low G.I., very low carb, high in fibre and protein. The perfect replacement for meat!

This recipe gives 4 large portions (and I am looking forward to leftovers as lunch!)

dash olive oil

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon good-quality paprika

3 sprigs spring onion, sliced

1 handful fresh basil, finely chopped

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leafs only

1 tin tomato paste (70 grams)

1 can cherry tomatoes

1 1/2 cup brown lentils

1/2 cup water

large bunch spinach (approximately 100 grams, stems removed and finely chopped)

1 cup Greek double cream yoghurt

1 1/2 cup mozzarella

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 5 minutes, before adding the cumin, coriander and paprika. Fry for 2 minutes before adding the lentils. Once the lentils has been added, stir well, and add the tomato paste and canned cherry tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes). Add the thyme and the water, stir, and allow to simmer over low heat for 40 minutes or until thickened, reduced and the lentils are cooked through. Add the fresh basil at the end. To keep the layers separated to a degree, you don’t want the lentils to be too saucy. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

In a separate pot, add the finely chopped spinach with a tablespoon of water, and allow to cook for 5 minutes or until completely wilted. Add the yoghurt, stir through and add 1/2 a cup of mozzarella cheese. Allow to cook for 5 minutes and add salt to taste.

In a square 20 cm oven proof dish, layer the lentils and spinach. I started with a layer of lentils, followed by spinach, and managed to layers, ending with the spinach on top. I covered this with the remaining mozzarella cheese and baked it at 180 degrees Celsius until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (which lets the dish set) before serving with a side of salad.

References:

1) Brehm, B. J., Seeley, R. J., Daniels, S. R., D’Alessio, D. A. (2003) A randomized trail comparing a very low carbohydrate diet and a calorie-restricted low-fat diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2002-021480

2) Shai, I., Schwarzfuchs, D., Henkin, Y., Shahar, D. R., Witkow, S., Greenberg, I., Golan, R., Fraser, D., Bolotin, A., Vardi, H., Tangi-Rozental, O., Zuk-Ramot, R., Sarusi, B., Brickner, D., Schwartz, Z., Sheiner, E., Marko, R., Katorza, E., Thiery, J., Fiedler, G. M., Blüher, M., Stumvoll, M., Stampfer, M. J. (2008) Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterreanean, or low-fat diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 359:229-241; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0708681

Cumin chickpeas and aubergine with cous cous

Another chickpea recipe!  In a previous post, I mentioned how versatile chickpeas are. And how very underrated!  Chickpeas, like aubergine (eggplant) tend to soak up the tastes around them, and as I couldn’t quite decide what I felt like for dinner, this is what I came up with.  I started off with typical Moroccan flavours for the chickpeas, which meant frying them in olive oil with cumin, chilli and coriander, when I discovered one lost aubergine in the fridge.  I added the aubergine, then balanced the flavours with canned cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and parsley. The result?  A fresh, well-balanced, satisfying meal with a hint of chilli!

This recipe gives 4 portions:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for 6-8 hours, rinsed and cooked for another hour.

1 medium aubergine, cut into cubes (no need to salt beforehand if the aubergine is fresh and firm), skin on

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2-3 chillies (depending on taste)

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed or very finely chopped

5-6 leafs fresh basil, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh, chopped coriander

2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley

1 can cherry tomatoes

cous cous, made according to manufacturer’s instructions

Heat a dash of olive oil in a pan over moderate heat.  Sauté the chopped onion, garlic and chilli for 5 minutes, before adding the chickpeas. Fry for another 5 minutes, add the aubergine cubes, and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato, place a lid on the pan and allow to reduce for approximately 20 minutes or until most of the fluid has evaporated. Add the basil and parsley, as well as salt and course black pepper to taste and set aside. Prepare the cous cous in a separate pot according to the instructions on the box.  Serve the cumin chickpeas and aubergine hot on a bed of cous cous and garnish with fresh parsley. Dinner in 30 minutes!

Spinach, basil and mushroom stir fry

Another one of my favourite blank-canvas recipes!  Anything goes with a stir fry, and this recipe encompasses all of my favourites-fresh, colourful and flavoursome.  I had some left-over steak that I used for this stir fry, but chicken or beef strips will work just as well, whilst keeping it meat-free might work even better.

Although I am incredibly privileged to life in South Africa with our vast, open space, beautiful beaches and stunning Mediterranean climate, I envy Europeans with their fresh food markets and abundance of fresh produce without ever having to visit a mall or retail outlet.  I am specifically remembering the Great Market Hall in Budapest today, where local producers sells the most amazing, colourful variety of fresh produce and a little outdoor market in Kiel, Germany, where you can buy home-made cheeses, juicy fresh berries, and home-baked German brotchen.

In South Africa, we have the Food Lover’s market, but this is just another retailer and is often based or associated with another shopping mall. We do have smaller farmer markets over weekends, and although you can buy food and craft-beer in abundance, it is not often that you can buy fresh fruit or veggies.  As an alternative, I have started growing my own veggies (tomatoes, spinach, basil,  coriander,chilli ect,) and I am very happy to announce that this is the first meal largely comprised from what grows in my own garden!

This recipe give 3 large portions:

8-10 medium sized spinach leaves, stems included, finely chopped

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, julienne

1/2 red pepper, finely sliced

7-8 basil leaves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander, finely chopped

2-3 chillies, finely chopped (optional and to taste!)

2 tablespoons olive oil

5-6 button mushrooms, sliced

100-200 grams egg noodles, prepared according to packet instructions

2-3 tablespoons soya sauce (salty, so add to taste)

Left-over steak, chicken breast strip or meat of you choice if you wish to include meat. As mentioned earlier, I had 100 grams of left-over steak that I cut into thin strips and added at the end

Prepare you egg noodles according to instruction and set aside.  Heat oil in a pan over high heat, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes. Now add the carrot and allow to fry for another 5 minutes, before adding the spinach (yes, stems included if you use fresh, young spinach leaves!) and red pepper.  Stirfry for another 5 minutes, add the herbs and mushrooms and stir fry for another 5 minutes or until the veggies are al dente. I like to keep my veggies crisp and towards the fresher side.  I added my beef strips at the end to heat it through. Remove from heat.

In a separate pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the noodles and stirfry for 5 minutes. Add the soya sauce, mix through, stir fry another 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Serve the stir fry on a bed of noodles and enjoy!  A quick, easy and fresh dinner (that also makes good leftovers!).

Spicy chickpea and wilted spinach salad

It is summer in South Africa!  The mercury is hitting lower 30 degrees Celsius and salads are the order of the day.

I do not cook only for myself (I would very happily only munch on lettuce if I had a choice!), but I can imagine that my boyfriend will complain if I had to feed him only so-called “rabbit food”. Hence, when I make salad for dinner I “beef” it up by adding some low-GI carbs and proteins. I would thus like to introduce you to chickpeas.  Chickpeas are very under-rated but can form the staple of an incredible amount of dishes (think falafel, humus and tagine). They can be spiced, cooked, mashed or bought in a tin, ready to serve.  Many recipes ask for the tinned version.  It is quick and easy as the chickpeas are already prepared and can be served, heated or used as required with as little effort as opening a can. I, of course, like to take the hard route.  It is much cheaper to buy dry chickpeas but they require work (or careful planning!). Also, you can prepare only as much as you require whereas an opened can is an opened can.  Another disadvantage of canned chickpeas are their soft consistency- it turns into humus when trying to blend them in order to make falafel (read failed dinner but interesting experiment).

To prepare dried chickpeas you need to soak them overnight.  Being an impatient cook, I usually only soak my chickpeas on the day that I use them, and have realised that 6-8 hours is enough. Pop them in a container with water before going to work-they’ll be ready when you get home. They do still need to cook which takes another hour. Chickpeas have a low glycemic index (G.I) and is high in protein, so it is definitely worth going through the effort to prepare them.

This recipe serves 2 large or 4 small portions

1 cup dried chickpeas, covered in water and allowed to soak until double their original size (6-8 hours).

Rinse chickpeas and place them in a pot on the stove over moderate heat. Again cover with water, cover the pot with a lid and bring to boil. Cook chickpeas for an hour or until soft and ready. Remove from heat.

Spicy chickpeas and wilted spinach:

1 cup dried chickpeas, cooked and prepared as mentioned above

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2-3 fresh chillis, finely chopped

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

100 grams fresh, chopped spinach

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan over moderate heat. Add the onion and brown for 5 minutes. Add the cumin and chilli and fry for another 3-4 minutes.  Now add the chickpeas and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the spinach, stir well and fry for another 5-8 minutes until the spinach has wilted and is mixed through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

Salad assembly:

Previously prepared chickpeas and spinach, cooled

2-3 cups fresh, chopped lettuce of your choice (I use mixed lettuce as well as Iceberg)

1 tomato, sliced in wedges

1/2 green pepper, sliced

3 chives, finely chopped

1/2 wheel feta

10-12 olives

Assemble you salad according to your liking. I first add my lettuce and then layer my salad with the tomato, peppers and olive. I end with the chickpeas, and lastly crumble my feta over.  This is really a scrumptios low G.I, high protein salad that is satisfying for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Home-baked caramelised onion and parsley bread

I mentioned in earlier posts that I’m not the greatest fan of bread, and generally try to decrease the carbs, but if we do eat bread, we do it properly!  There are few things as delicious as warm bread, fresh out of the oven, served with a dollop of butter, grated cheese and jam.  It reminds me of fond memories from my childhood, literally watching my gran’s oven and waiting for the bread to come out. And then of course fighting for the crust-the best part of fresh bread.

This is a basic bread recipe that I’ve adjusted to include caramelized onions, and we did this one on the braai in a  little bread pan. This recipe works just as well, if not better, in a normal oven @ 180 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes to 1 hour and gives a medium loaf.

For one bread:

Caramelized onions:

1 onion, finely chopped

dash balsamic

1 teaspoon honey

dash olive oil

Heat the olive oil over moderate heat in a pan. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes before adding balsamic and honey. Allow balsamic to reduce completely, stirring in between to prevent onions from burning. The balsamic should evaporate, leaving behind sticky, perfectly caramelized onions.  Set aside and allow to cool

1 1/2 cup brown bread flour

1 1/2 cup white cake flour

90 ml olive oil

pinch salt

1 sachet instant yeast

2 tablespoons castor sugar

1 cup luke warm water

caramelized onion described above

3 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley

Add your brown bread flour, 1 cup of the cake flour and salt to  large mixing bowl and make a hole in the middle. Throw the olive oil in the hollow. Do not mix yet!  Empty your sachet yeast in a separate measuring jug and add your castor sugar (normal sugar will also do!).  Now add 1/2 of your luke-warm water to the measuring jug and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes.  The mixture will become frothy.  Once it’s frothy, add it to the olive oil in the hollow of your flour, and gently mix with a wooden spoon.  The mixture will still be very dry.  Now add 1/4 of the remaining water, and gently start to knead the dough with your hands in the mixing bowl. If it’s still to dry, add some more of the remaining water.  Gently knead. The more you knead, the wetter the dough will become. I never finish my cup of water!  Once the dough is starting to come together (about 5 minutes of kneading), spread it out a bit and add your onions, and parsley.  Gently knead in the onion. It will be quite sticky by now, so add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Knead again gently for another 5 minutes. Your dough will become silky to the touch, and if you press it with your finger should be elastic, lessening the indentation made with your finger. Do not over knead! Once smooth, rub with a little bit of oil (to prevent it from cracking and drying out whilst rising). Cover the bowl with a damp cloth, and place in a warm, draft-free area.  Allow to rise for and hour (should double in size), before punching down (literally give your dough a little punch and press it down) and shaping it into a greased bread pan.  Allow to rise for another half an hour before placing it in a preheated oven  (180 degrees Celsius) and baking until golden brown (50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your oven). Test with a knife or cake tester. If t comes out clean your bread is ready!  Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before cutting or it might just crumble.

Now add butter to your slice of home-baked fresh, warm bread and enjoy!

Cinnamon flapjacks with grilled honey apricots

Another weekend breakfast recipe!  This recipe has been adjusted and made up over the years from so many other flapjack recipes that it has almost taken on a live of its own.  Last weekend I made the flapjacks with cumin and served them with poached eggs. This morning I decided to go the sweet route and added a touch of sugar and cinnamon. I don’t know how healthy this breakfast is, but it was absolutely scrumptious!

Enough for 2 to 3 portion (and of course the recipe can be doubled if so desired!)

For the apricots:

Switch the grill on for the the oven.  Half the apricots (I used 1 1/2 apricots per serving), remove the pip, and place half a teaspoon of honey in the middle of the halved apricot and place on a greased baking tray in the oven. Grill until the honey is runny and the apricots start turning golden. Remove from the oven.

For the flapjacks:

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup uncooked oats

2 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon

pinch of salt

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 egg

1 tablespoon cooking oil to fry

Whisk the egg in a mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup milk and the melted butter. Whisk everything together. Slowly add all the dry ingredients whilst mixing after each addition.  I usually start with the flour, followed by the oats, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and the salt. Add the rest of your milk and mix together until the dough has a runny consistency.

Heat the oil in a large pan over moderate heat and place heaped tablespoon dollops of dough in the pan. They are ready to be flipped once you see bubbles forming on the surface of the flap jack. Turn once and fry for another 3 minutes or until brown on the other side. Serve warm, covered with apricots and melted honey!

Perfectly scrambled cheesy eggs

There are few things as nice as lazing around over the weekend and actually having time to make and eat breakfast. Weekend breakfast is the one meal that I really try to concentrate on the carbs present, because we cheat throughout the week with quick muesli or rusks on the run. Also not being the greatest fan of bread, I generally try to serve my breakfast without having to rely on filling up on bread.  Here is a recipe for perfectly scrambled, herby cheesy eggs that can be served on rye, or with fresh tomatoes and some cold meats or other veggies if preferred. This serves 2

3 fresh eggs

1/2 cup of milk

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 spring onion

3-4 leaves fresh basil

2 tablespoon fresh, chopped parsley

1/2 cup grated Gouda or cheddar

1 tablespoon grated Gruyère or parmesan (optional)

Melt the butter in a pan over moderate heat.  In the meantime, whisk your eggs, milk, salt and pepper and parsley together together.  Chop you spring onion and fry for 2 minutes in the pan, then add you egg mixture. Cover the pan with a lid. Let it cook through and solidify like an omelette, and add your chopped basil and cheese. Now try to flip over as much of the egg as possible (again like an omelette) to cover the cheese, close the lid and give another 2-3 minutes. remove the lid, mix through with a spatula and serve! I topped mine with parmesan and freshly chopped chives.

Easiest Macaroni cheese ever

This is a staple for me when I’m home alone and want to make something that is really fast, but still sort of nutritious. This recipe makes a very large portion for one or two smaller portion for 2 and all depends on the amount of pasta you add. Double everything up if you are cooking for a larger crowd. You can of course also add things like tomato, bacon, other herbs and spices. It really is a bit of a blank canvas recipe!

Ingredients:

1 cup macaroni,

tablespoon oil, salt and boiling water.

Add salt, oil and water in pot, bring to boil and cook your macaroni for 7-10 minutes until al dente. Once done, decant and put macaroni in an oven-proof dish.

For the bachamel sauce (creamy white sauce):

1 heaped tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated cheese such as gouda (which is what I use) or cheddar

1/2 spring onion, chopped

Switch the grill on in your oven. In the same pot that you’ve just cooked your pasta in, add the butter and allow to melt on the stove. Now add your flour. It should still be runny when mixed in-if it is a bit dry add a touch more butter.  Now slowly add you milk, whisking well between each addition.  Also allow it to thicken a bit between additions.  Once your sauce has reached the correct consistency (if it is too thick, add a bit more milk), add half your cheese, salt to taste and spring onion.  Now through your pasta back in the pot, mix through, and place the pasta back in greased oven proof dish.  Sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese, place under the grill and allow to brown. The whole process from starting to cook the macaroni to dishing it up shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. Dinner is served! Enjoy!

Spice, rice and lentils

This recipe is based on a Lebanese mujadara (rice, lentils and caramelized onion) recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/) but I have changed the recipe to add more flavour and spices. It is a highly adaptable recipe that can be made to taste and whatever you have available in your cupboard. It requires little effort, is economical and great for meat-free Monday! Leftovers also make great lunch the next day.

This recipe gives 4 main portions

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup lentils, cooked according to instruction

1 brown onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed/finely chopped

1 cup rice (I used brown rice, but any type should do)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon good quality paprika

1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

4-6 leaves mint, finely chopped (optional)

1 cup frozen peas

1-3 chillies, finely chopped (optional)

4-5 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan over moderate heat and sauté onions until softened. Add garlic, fry for another minute or two, then add the cumin, coriander, paprika and turmeric. Fry for another minute, then add rice. Fry for another 2 minutes, then add 2 cups of water. Turn down the heat, do not cover, and let simmer for approximately 40-45 minutes, adding water throughout (every 15 minutes on my stove) to prevent it cooking dry. Simmer until rice is cooked.  I added my peas, lentils, chilli and mint at 35 minutes whilst there was still fluid in the pan left and simmered it until dry (keep an eye during this last stage to prevent it from burning!). Serve hot with a fresh green salad and garnish with fresh parsley. The water can be replaced with stock if so preferred.

Buttered pumpkin gnocchi

This is the first recipe that I will share with you.  My hunt for an alternative to potato gnocchi came about when my boyfriend insisted that we need to cut back on the carbs.  Pumpkin gnocchi is a low-carb option and can be served with about any topping of your choice!  I found some ricotta-pumpkin gnocchi recipes but being on a budget and cutting down on the carbs (which mean less flour) meant some serious reconstruction of the recipe.  Also, I have masses of frozen, cooked Hubbard squash in my freezer…

For 2 large portions:

To make the gnocchi you need:

500 gr cooked squash (e.g. Hubbard, butternut)
1/2- 3/4 cup cake flour
salt to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 egg, separated

Ideally, once the squash has cooked and been drained, return the squash to the warm pot for 5-10 minutes to get rid of any remaining water. Whilst the squash is cooling, separate the egg, and whisk the white until soft peaks form. Keep separate for time being.  Once the squash has cooled, puree it with a blender, add the egg, salt and cumin and mix well. Now slowly add the flour whilst mixing. The consistency will never be stiff, but add enough flour to bring everything together.  Now gently mix in your egg white. Your gnocchi mix should have the consistency of a mousse.

Bring water to boil, and add small teaspoons full of gnocchi mix to boiling water. The gnocchi should float when it’s done.  Scoop the gnocchi out of the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside until ready to proceed.

Butter sauce:

I used the herbs available in my garden at the moment, but the most popular choice for pumpkin gnocchi seems to be a sage and butter sauce.  I really do belive you can serve this gnocchi with any sauce of your choice.

2-3 tablespoons butter
1-2 chillies (optional)
fresh parsley to taste
chives or sping onion to taste

Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat and gently add you gnocchi to the pan. Do not stir as it will make the gnocchi sticky and break it up. Now add all the herbs of your choice the pan and fry for 10-15 minutes.  Prevent the gnocchi from sticking to the bottom of the pan by gently shaking and flipping the pan as you would do with a pancake.  Once done, and browned to taste dish, and garnish with fresh herbs, parmesan or any topping of your choice!