The bare bones of the plants we eat


Quinoa – Inca gold

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Lake Titicaca, for me even the name has a ring to it. The first time I read about this lake was when we covered all the Great Lakes of the world in our geography class in School. We had a good teacher in Sr Hazel and a great textbook in Jasper Stembridges’s -The world, A general regional geography. I managed to salvage this textbook from my school days, all 532 pages and well sellotaped covers, with its emphasis on the human side of geography. I still enjoy reading how man is conditioned by his environment and how, he in turn, responds to this environment.

12,500 feet above sea level and high up in the Andes mountains, Lake Titicaca straddles both Peru and Bolivia. This is believed to be the place or the area around where quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah, was first domesticated. Since Tania has been blogging a lot about these little protein rich seeds, I thought I would share some bare bones of this plant. Although considered a cereal it is not a true cereal like rice, wheat or corn to name just a few as it does not belong to the grass family. Quinoa is really a false cereal like amaranth and buckwheat, and unlike the true cereals are far superior in proteins and also gluten-free.

Quinoa plants near Cachora, Apurímac, Peru. Altitude: 3800m
Quinoa plants near Cachora, Apurímac, Peru. Altitude: 3800m

A beautiful plant to look at, you can imagine a whole field of this growing at this high altitude and arid conditions. This ancient staple plant of the Incas, with archaeological evidence of its use dating back to 5000 BC, the plant has evolved and adapted to protect itself from the intense UV radiation and arid conditions. Bitter tasting saponins also deter the birds. The seeds can range from white, yellow, grey, light brown, pink, black or red but what we get most commonly on the market are the white or red quinoa and sometimes the black.

Broccoli and quinoa bake

Posted by t4ni4 2 Comments

Here I am again … with another quinoa recipe. Despite what some of you might think, I do have other ingredients in my kitchen and not just quinoa but I was trying to come up with a different version of the spinach and quinoa bake. So, as soon as I felt that ray of inspiration coming I put my Marimekko apron and armed with the digital camera in one hand and the knife on the other I ‘invented’ the following recipe with a cabbage cousin (cabbage and broccoli are both from the Brassicaceae family). As usual, feel free to replace some of the ingredients, for example change the broccoli by another vegetable or the smoked salmon by another fish or any other source of protein (cheese is the first one that comes to my mind … mmhhh pieces of halloumi or feta!). As I learnt from my mother: you have to think about the colours when choosing your ingredients … the eyes are the first ones ‘tasting’ the food!

Easy peasy tricolour quinoa bake to be eaten hot or cold, as main dish or pic nic snack, for two or more people.

Broccoli and quinoa bake


  • 120 g smoked salmon trimmings
  • 1 small broccoli head
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 80 g or ½ cup quinoa
  • ½ fresh chilli
  • 2 eggs


Wash and drain the quinoa, place it in the pan with 1 1/3 cup of water, bring to the boil and then lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. In the meantime, cut the broccoli into small florets, place in a small pan, add boiling water and cook at a medium heat for about 3 minutes, drain the little green trees. Finely chop half of a fresh chilli (or a whole one if you like to spice things up!). Mix all the ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste. Place in a loaf tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 180 ºC / Gas 4. Eat hot or cold. Serves 2 small stomachs like mine or maybe just one if you like big portions (like my friend Elena does!)

The humble cabbage

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White, red or the crinkly leaved Savoy, this humble vegetable is used by almost all people around the world and eaten raw, cooked or pickled. This is the way my Mum cooked cabbage and is very easy to make.


  • 1 pointed cabbage or Savoy cabbage.
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee or oil of your choice
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of Urid dhal
  • 1/4 teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • 1 – 2 green chillies slit lengthwise (optional)
  • Salt to taste

If you don’t have Urid dhal or mustard seeds use a handful of pine nuts or sesame seeds to give that extra crunch and taste.

Shred the cabbage very finely, the finer the better. Heat the oil or ghee and place the Urid dhal in it and shake the pan until it turns pale brown. Then add the mustard seeds and when it pops add the cabbage, turmeric, chillies and salt and just stir fry for a few minutes. I like it still slightly crunchy, but cook for a longer time to suit your palate. This dish goes well with lentils rice, a dollop of yoghurt and maybe the odd papadum.

Like the cabbage , mustard seeds are also Brassicas so a very close relative. Urid Dhal is used extensively in South Indian cooking to make idlis, dosais, or papadums to name just a few dishes.

Pancake Tuesday on a Wednesday

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This morning at work, Suzy asked Yeliz if she had made any pancakes yesterday as it was pancake Tuesday. In the Christian calendar this is the last day of indulgence before the ritual fasting associated with Lent. Historically it was the last day to use and eat “rich” foods like eggs, milk and sugar and pancakes were the most convenient way to use up these ingredients. A last fling before the long fast.of Lent.
Overhearing this conversation was Saimir who had never eaten a freshly made pancake and asked if they could make some during their lunch break. Now, this is a GP surgery, and the kitchen is not kitted out to cook food, but just to heat things up. Both Yeliz and Suzy were still up for it and by then word got round and expectations were running high. But, we did not have a frying pan but luckily across the road is Roneford, the catering supply company, and Saimir very generously bought a nice ceramic frying pan that he said the girls could borrow to make the pancakes.

Rough approximations and fed 16 people with 1 pancake each, well 3 greedy ones had 2 each.

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 desert spoons sugar
  • 4 ½ cups milk
  • Butter for cooking (a small knob each time)
  • Lemons

Three lots were made as we did not have any mixing bowls, just small soup bowls and a small saucepan. Both were used to mix the ingredients. Roughly one cup of flour to 1 egg and a cup and a half of milk and 1 desert spoon of sugar were used each time round and mixed and gently hand whisked with a fork for around 5-8 minutes. We do not have a whisk. At one time Suzy had flour in the bowl and then added the egg and milk and gradually blended them together until smooth and at the other time she beat the egg and milk together and then added the flour. Yeliz and Saimir did the cooking and served the pancakes with a twist of lemon juice sprinkled over with sugar and they were delicious.

We could have done with more but then time is limited and an hour does not last forever.

What is Turmeric?

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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

Quinua chaufa

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Following Vilma’s comment on quinoa and her question about ‘pesque’ I asked my mum if she knew what pesque was, she remembered from her childhood in Cuzco, Peru that they called pesque the cooked quinoa that was given to baby chicks. Beside that she wrote some comments (in Spanish) that I have translated below.

Maria wrote:

“To the marvellous qualities of this tiny grain I have to add the beauty of its plants, spikes of 2.5 – 3 meters high that appear like lovely bunch of flowers in different shades that go from crimson red to yellow and orange … all of which you can see in the Andean fields.
Regarding its nutritious value it has as many or even more proteines than red meat. The cuisine Novo Andina (Andean-Peruvian nouvelle cuisine) is wisely using this ingredient to give colour to salads with white, red or black quinoa, to make crusty buttered see food, lamb or pork meat or even in bakery. I have to add that NASA includes quinoa amongst the food given to astronauts.”

While chefs in Peru are experimenting with quinoa … how much do we dare to experiment in our kitchens? Just by replacing some ingredients we could be reinventing dishes and that is how I ended up making ‘Quinua chaufa’ (stir fried quinoa). The original dish I took my inspiration from is ‘Arroz chaufa’ (stir fried rice) which is something you will find in any ‘chifa’ which is how we call the Chinese restaurants in Peru. I don’t know how much chifa’s food are a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese culture, and I would guess that chifa’s dishes might not all be like in China (I haven’t been to China to compared though) and the stir fried rice or noodles in Peru are not like the ones I had here in London. Anyhow, now that you know a bit of the story behind the dish here is my recipe, now enjoy your cooking!

The photographic step by step guide to make Quinua chaufa.


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 bunch of spring onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (about 3 cm )
  • Soya sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste


Start by boiling the chicken breast, you will then have to shred it (if you boil it with something else like that lost carrot hiding in the fridge and that lonely little onion you can then use that chicken stock for a soup or another preparation!). Wash and drain the quinoa and toast on a hot pan until the grains are brown-ish and a lovely smell comes out of them. Add 2 cups of boiling water, cover the pan, turn the heat to the minimum and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is all absorbed. While the quinoa cooks fry the shredded chicken in a little bit of oil (wish a dash of soya sauce if you like). Keeping an eye on the chicken sun tanning in the pan wash and finely chop the spring onions and grate the ginger or chop it very finely. Whisk the eggs with some salt and pepper and make an omelette with them, you can optionally add some of your chopped spring onions to the omelette while it’s cooking, when done use a wooden spoon or spatula to ‘chop’ your omelette. Now you add to your fluffy quinoa the shredded chicken, pieces of omelette, ginger and spring onions, mix everything, add soya sauce to taste and some salt if you must. Eat as soon as it is ready! This recipe can have so many variations depending what you have in your fridge and what you like, here are some examples: replace the chicken by any other (edible) bird such as turkey or by any meat such as bacon strips (roasted meat leftovers are great for this dish!), if you are vegetarian replace the bird or meat pieces by mushrooms or tofu fried with crushed garlic. Your turn to come up with other vegetables that will work out well with this dish!

Rendezvous in a soup pot

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It is still winter and that time of the week we call the weekend. The snow is still on the grass and the sun bright but the air is sharp and very cold. Mmm… I think to myself, what about a nice bowl of steaming hot soup, and I do have a few left over vegetables languishing in the kitchen cupboard. Why not give them a rendezvous in a soup pot and this is what I found.
Add or subtract and tailor make it to what is available in your cupboards and experiment. The quantity I made was enough to serve 6 people, but just multiply or divide the quantity according to your needs.


  • 1 fat potato with its jacket on
  • 2 carrots (these were slightly wrinkled)
  • 2 sticks of celery (more like 2 wilting sticks)
  • 2 leeks
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of oil (I used sunflower, but you use olive or any other single oils)
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee or butter (this just adds a wonderful caramel flavour)
  • ½ cup of red lentils (wash a few times)
  • 7 unsalted cashew nuts (found in a bottle)
  • 8 whole almonds (lying in a packet)
  • ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary (you can use mixed herbs or any other combination that suits your palette)
  • ¼ teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1 desert spoon of desiccated coconut (optional)
  • Salt to taste


In a heavy bottomed saucepan, add 3 tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of ghee. Finely slice the leeks, dice the potatoes, carrots and celery and once the oil is medium hot, sauté all these vegetables until transparent but not brown. Then add the washed lentils and enough water to cover the vegetables so that the level stands about a centimetre above the vegetables and bring to the boil. Now add the nuts, roughly chopped so they are easier to blend, herbs and salt and lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When the vegetables are soft I puréed all this with a hand held blender until nearly smooth. Add more water if you want a thinner consistency and simmer for a few more minutes.

We had it with fresh buttered baguettes and the smell of the soup wafting up my nostrils just made my senses dance with joy.

A simple lentil dish for Aubelia, Ambroise and Ellodie

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This dish is a particular favourite of mine as the ingredients are basic, quick to make and very tasty. You can use either red or yellow lentils and compliment it by adding fresh tomatoes or spinach, toasted fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander leaves.


  • 1 cup red or yellow lentils
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, cut in strips
  • 2 – 3 green chillies slit lenghtwise
  • ¼ teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut powder
  • Salt to taste


Rinse the lentils well in cold water and tip into a saucepan. To this add the sliced onion, chillies, ginger, turmeric and 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil over a high heat and give it a stir now and then so it does not boil over. When nearly cooked add the coconut powder and salt and simmer until the lentils have disintegrated into a soft mash. Now add the ghee and coriander leaves and eat hot with rice, pita bread or chapattis. Some like it served like a soup in which case you add a little more water.

Hot or cold it is delicious and nutritious!

Vegetable moilee

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Originally from Goa, the Moilee is an Indian curry made with fish, or any seafood and coconut milk. This simple dish made with vegetables and coconut milk, has been slightly adapted from Thangam Philip’s recipe book, Modern cookery for teaching and the trade.

Coconut oil is ideal for this dish but I used sunflower oil. I always add a teaspoon of ghee, which I make myself, as it adds that little twist of caramel like undertones. Add more chillies and ginger to stimulate your taste buds, and very often I add a teaspoon of freshly toasted and ground fennel seeds to the sautéed onions before adding the potatoes.

The first time I made this dish I measured everything have included the weights as a guide. But cooking is about experimenting so just mix and match and maybe just add 2 carrots instead of 3, or broccoli instead of cauliflower, or cumin seed or coriander, less or more oil and so on.

Ingredients – serves 6

  • Onions finely sliced 200 gm
  • Potatoes diced 250 gm
  • Carrots diced 100 gm
  • Cauliflower florets 100 gm
  • Peas fresh or frozen 200 gm
  • 1 tin of tomatoes or 3-4 chopped fresh tomatoes
  • Fresh ginger ½ inch piece
  • Green chillies 4 – 5
  • Lemon or lime 1
  • Coconut powder 1 cup, I use Maggi coconut milk powder
  • Turmeric ¼ teaspoon
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil 50 ml
  • Ghee – 1 teaspoon


Slice the onions and ginger and slit the green chillies lengthwise. Wash peel and dice the potatoes and carrots, separate the cauliflower into florets and shell the peas if using fresh ones. Prepare the coconut milk by dissolving 1 cup of powdered coconut milk with 2 cups of hot water.

Heat the oil and ghee and sauté the onions, ginger and green chillies until soft and transparent. Add turmeric and potatoes and fry for a few minutes and add 1 cup of the prepared coconut milk with an extra cup of hot water. Cook gently until the potatoes are a quarter done. Add the carrots, cauliflower, peas, tomatoes, the second cup of coconut milk and salt to taste. If it looks too thick then just add more hot water, just experiment until you can mix the ingredients easily. Cook gently until the vegetables are done and add the third cup of coconut milk and simmer. Add the lemon juice, taste, taste and taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed, remove from fire and finally add the chopped coriander leaves and cover. Great served with rice, chappatis, pitta bread, quinoa or couscous.

The vegetable moilee showing how I slice my onions, ginger and slit green chillies

Hummus with black olives

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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!