The bare bones of the plants we eat

Category Archive: Herbs and spices

Upside down spiced apple cake

Posted by t4ni4 Leave a Comment

Once upon the time there were 5 old wrinkling apples. They were getting older by the day but could still remember their life journey. From firm fruits attached to the branches of the tree to falling on the garden grass, picked from the garden grass and placed into Elena’s basket, passed from Elena’s basket to Tania’s plastic bag, from Tania’s plastic bag to the Algerian ceramic dish on top of the fridge. And there, with some other fruits the apples looked at me for a couple of weeks. Gone were the days when the sun would wake them up and the rain would shower them. Now they seemed to ignore the time passing, resigned to see the electric light at the end of the day and maybe waiting to see the first signs of softness in their flesh. For some strange (or not so strange) reason they were not getting rotten … they were giving me a chance. Finally, their glorious day arrived, I thought I would make an upside down cake with them! I looked for recipes on the web and on my cooking books and notes, and in a Frankensteinly way I made this upside down spiced apple cake taking elements from a supermarket recipe card and from the Girl Interrupted Eating blog (

Think about the Little Prince next time when you are about to throw some food away and remember: L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

Upside down spiced apple cake


  • 5 apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 110 g butter
  • 110 g soft brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110 g self-raising flour
  • 55 g ground almond
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ginger powder
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg


Cut the apples in slices (you decide the thickness) and sprinkle them with the lemon juice, the table spoon of sugar, and the half tea spoons of cinnamon and allspice. Set aside.  Cream together butter and sugar and when creamy, add the eggs. Incorporate all the dry ingredients (preferably sifted) to the creamy mixture. You will have a thick batter. In a silicone tin, greased pyrex or cake tin lined with baking paper place the apple slices. Put the batter on top and even the surface (don’t be shy and use your fingers if necessary). Place in a preheated oven at 200 ºC / Gas 6 for 15-20 minutes. Check if the cake is fully cooked by inserting a toothpick in the middle, it should come out clean. This cake can be kept for a few days and works very well with vanilla ice cream.

What is Turmeric?

Posted by vilb 1 Comment

Also known as Indian saffron, turmeric is the dried underground stem or rhizome of the tropical plant Curcuma longa and belongs to the ginger family. Rhizomes are stems that grow horizontally and under the ground that set down roots and sends up shoots. These rhizomes are the part used either fresh or dried as a spice, or as a dye to color bodies and clothing for ceremonies surrounding marriage and death. It is also the major component of most prepared curry powders and is used extensively in many Indian and South Asian cusine.

I took this photograph during the festival of Pongal in Coimbatore when the whole plant and rhizome is offered as thanksgiving to the sun God.

To make the spice turmeric the rhizomes are steamed or boiled in slightly alkaline water to set the colour and the abundant starch pre-cooked and then dried either in the sun or in ovens. It is usually sold pre-ground, although fresh and dried rhizomes can be found in most ethnic markets.

Powdered Turmeric sold in Coimbatore market

The very first time I saw turmeric used as a dye was when we went to see the Theyyam, the traditional tribal ritulist dance of the Dravidians performed in the Kaavu or sacred groves in Kannur in Kerala. Here the bodies are painstaking painted using plant pigments and turmeric was one of them. Although used to the tribal dances of the Massai’s and Sukuma tribes in Tanzania, this was different. The particular one I first saw was the Kalichan theyyam where the man was dressed in this beautiful costume and body painted mostly with turmeric. As the drum beats increased to a crescendo and the percussion instruments reached a crescendo the man started his delirious dancing while wielding and brandishing his scary looking machetes around him, while I tried to make myself invisible by shrinking into my father’s side.

Kalichan theyyam with kannakkathi – Rajeshodayanchal at ml.wikipedia

Not being very light fast, you can get rid of turmeric stains quite easily by exposing the stained garment or tablecloth to sunlight which just fades the yellow colour. Copyright to Sreejith and taken at Taliparamba, Kannur, Kerala. A close of of one of the Theyyam masks

Hummus with black olives

Posted by t4ni4 4 Comments

Last week I was making a concotion with chickpeas, spinach and chorizo and decided to ‘save’ some freshly cooked chickpeas to make hummus. I love it with coriander but did not have any, so I made it with black olives. Here is the very precise recipe (I’ve measured everything) and this time I did not forget to take pictures !!!


  • 2 cups/420 g cooked chickpeas
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp olive oil
  • 7 tbsp warm water
  • 1/2 cup/135 g olives (106 g pitted olives)
  • 1 1/2 lime juice
  • 1-2 tbsp sesame seeds or tahini


The main ingredient of this recipe are the chickpeas (also called ‘garbanzo beans’ … ‘garbanzo’ been actually the name of the chickpeas in Spanish). I always use my pressure cooker for cooking beans, lentils and chickpeas soaking them the night before. Make sure you don’t add salt to your pulses until they are almost cooked as that makes the cooking process longer, in this case I did not add salt at all as that ingredient is added during the preparation of the hummus. If you prefer buy a can of ready cooked chickpeas (410 g chickpeas in a can, I think). Mix all the ingredients with a hand mixer and vary the consistency by adding more or less oil and water. Taste it while you make it so you add more or less of the spices, garlic and lime juice to suit your taste! You can make the basic hummus without the black olives, or vary the classic recipe by adding coriander leaves or roasted pepper. I have also tried hummus with pumpkin and with beetroot, both are sweeter than the classic version. Most of the recipes I have read use tahini, I usually have sesame seeds at home so I tend to use that ingredient instead (toasting the seeds a bit in a hot pan), after all tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds.  Enjoy it and if you try other alternative ingredients to make a special hummus share your recipe with us !

Happy hummus with olives eyes and paprika smile!

Fabulous quinoa!

Posted by t4ni4 5 Comments

Together with a couple of colleagues we have decided to share our food (or cooking experiments), once a week one cook for the 3 of us and brings the meal to work to have lunch together. Today was my turn, and I thought I would use the occasion to introduce a new ingredient to them: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). It was not a random choice, quinoa is produced in the Andes, I am Peruvian-Belgian and the mountains are very special to me. I made a delicious (yes, I have to admit it!) and very nutritious ‘bake’ with quinoa and spinach (Spinacia oleracea). See the recipe below! Did you know that those two ingredients are botanically related ? Both plants are from the Amaranthaceae family. Although quinoa leaves are edible you might only find the seeds in some supermarkets and health food shops in the UK, and those seeds come mainly from Bolivia and Peru. What is quite surprising for me is that when I was in Peru people in the coast or amazonian region would not know and eat quinoa (thought to be food for the poor?) and now that there is a whole wave of ‘Peruvian nouvelle cuisine’ more Peruvians are starting to appreciate quinoa in its different varieties (white, golden, red), forms (grain, flour, flaked, popped) and recipes (sweet or savoury). I have made with good success: chocolate cake with quinoa (ideal for coeliacs), quinoa madeleines, quinotto (like risotto but with quinoa instead of rice), quinua and courgette bake … the possibilities are endless! I forgot to take a picture of my bake, but here is the recipe …

Quinoa and spinach bake (recipe for 3-4 people)


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 450 g spinach
  • 200 g feta cheese, chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • Salt & pepper


I first tried the quinoa and spinach bake from a friend who made it for a picnic (you can eat it hot, warm or cold). I looked for the recipe on the web and then modified it to my taste. Wash, drain and cook a cup of quinoa. Put in the pan enough water to cover the grains and a bit more, put the lid on, turn the heat down as soon as it boils and turn the heat off when most of the water has been used up (the rest of it will be absorbed by the quinoa or evaporate). Meanwhile, chop 1 onion (I don’t mind if white or red) and 2-3 garlic cloves (depending how much you like garlic), gently fry them until they become nicely caramelised. Add 450 g of spinach (I’ve used packed baby spinach, if using a fresh bunch wash and chop it first), cook for a few minutes, turn off the heat and add the cooked quinoa, about 200 g feta or salad cheese chopped, 1 tsp cinnamon powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, ½ tsp grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, 3 beaten eggs, 1 tsp baking powder.  Place the mixture in a cake tin or similar and put in the oven at 180⁰C/Gas  4/350⁰F for 40 minutes or until set.

Optional: add some grated parmesan to the mixture, put some strips of feta or salad cheese on top of the mixture before baking it.