Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dairy-free (or not) creamed spinach

I love creamed spinach. It is the perfect creamy savory heavenly comfort food veg. It is both old fashioned and timeless. In South Africa if you order a meal which comes with hot veg of the day, you are more than likely going to get creamed spinach and butternut mash. It's something we have grown up with and love (or hate). 

That said until a few months ago I had never made it at home. I read up about it online and was surprised to find that one needs to cook it for a good 30 - 45 minutes. I had thought that a leafy veg would become soft in minutes. After testing this out for myself (as I am not a fan of veggies cooked to death) I found that it really is necessary to cook it for that long. That is, if you want it to be melt in your mouth soft and creamy. 

Before I give you the recipe I feel it is necessary to bring up something I am always surprised so few people know: the difference between spinach and Swiss chard. The spinach I grew up with in South Africa is a big dark green curly leaf with a thick white stem running up the center. Well it's not, it's actually called Swiss chard

The leaves which later hit our shelves called baby leaf spinach or English spinach are actually real spinach. Real spinach is a small bright green oval leaf and has no white stem growing through the leaf. If you are confused - go to google images and search for Swiss chard and then search for spinach. You will quickly see the difference.  

The relevance of this differentiation is twofold for my recipe for creamed spinach. In preparing Swiss chard for cooking, you need to wash it even more thoroughly as the curly leaves trap more dirt than flat spinach leaves. You also then need to trim the white stems out of the leaves and chop these finely, so that they are not stringy and tough.

In cooking Swiss chard, because of its tougher leaf, it needs to be cooked longer than spinach before it becomes tender and creamy. So be aware of this before tackling any recipe including spinach when you are in fact using Swiss chard. 

Creamed spinach
Serves 4 side portions

600g of chopped spinach, well washed
1 Tbsp of olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup of coconut cream (or regular cream)
½ tsp of salt (or to taste)
black pepper, to taste
nutmeg, to taste

Wash your spinach really really well and drain it. In a large pot dry fry the still wet spinach till it is soft and reduced. Drain and rinse it in a colander with cold water. Then squeeze the spinach between your hands, squeezing as much moisture out as you can. Chop it roughly.

In a medium sized pot fry the onions in the oil until soft. Add the spinach and simmer for a minute or two. Add the coconut cream and turn the heat down to a low simmer.

Leave the lid off the pot and let the spinach simmer for about 30 minutes stirring from time to time until the spinach is soft and creamy and the cream has thickened. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. A tiny dash of soya sauce can also add a bit of depth but is totally optional.  

This is a great side veg for meat and also lovely for breakfast on toast topped with a poached egg. One of my favourite veggie meals is mashed potato with creamed spinach topped with pouched eggs. Super yum.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sugar-free granola and going organic.

For quite some time now I have been erring towards organic products where it has been convenient and easy to do. But since last week, while being caught up in all the Monsanto protests, we have decided to go as organic as it is possible for us be. We get our weekly veggie box from Ethical Co-op and add selected products from their website to bulk up our order. 

I get a lot of my organic grains, nuts, dried fruits and seeds from Komati Foods which is just round the corner from me. They have an online shop too but the selection is much bigger in store. It really is worth popping in every month or two to stock up, even if you don't live in the area. The prices and selection are good. 

Some of the larger Woolies stores have a fabulous organic selection of fresh and dried goods. I buy their organic dairy products and eggs and they have a nice selection of organic dry, tinned and bottled pantry items. I love their organic veggies as they are so picture perfect and beautifully packaged but I need to keep and eye on budget too. So I mostly stick to my Ethical co-op veggie boxes. 

In the picture above was the organic breakfast I made myself yesterday. I had some lovely yogurt and banana's but no granola to give it sweetness and crunch. But I did have most of the basic ingredients in my pantry. So this is what happened. 

Organic sugar-free wheat-free granola

2 cups of organic whole rolled spelt (rolled oats would be great too)
1 tsp of vanilla essence
a few drops of almond essence
a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp of xylitol stevia blend (I mix about 1 - 2% of stevia powder to my xylitol)
1/4 cup of flaked almonds
1/2 a cup of organic flaked coconut
1 tbsp of organic cold pressed coconut oil
6 dates chopped into little pieces

In a large non stick pan on medium heat dry toast the spelt for a few minutes until hot. Add the vanilla, almond essence, salt and xylitol to it while tossing and toasting continually. Add the almonds, coconut and coconut oil and combine. While allowing this to slowly toast and crisp up, I chopped up some organic dates into very small pieces. Once the granola was toasted and crisp I allowed it to cool a little before adding the dates and tossing them around with my finger tips breaking them up into bits until the spelt and coconut coated the dates and stopped them from sticking to each other. 

This I sprinkled onto my yogurt and banana and felt very virtuous while eating it. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Aubergine concoction with a story

When I say story, it's less of a 'once upon a time' and more of 'a Frenchman an Indian and a South African meet in a bar' kind of story. My favourite dish for my mom to make for me when I'm feeling the need for comfort food has always been a dish we called Eggs Milanese. I found out that it is actually called eggs Provencal and the way we've been making is not strictly speaking the traditional way either. This was all very confusing as the more traditional version has aubergines and peppers in it and even sometime courgettes, which sounds more like ratatouille to me. 

I also make a much loved Indian dish, called Aubergine Masala which in the end is closer to the recipe for eggs Provencal than my mom's dish ever was. So if this is all very confusing for you, suffice it to say - I have chucked all the traditions out and made up my own recipe taking the elements I like most from these recipes, putting them together into one super comfort food meal which just rocks my world. 

I have made it at least five times this year already and am still in the process of perfecting it, but here is the recipe as it stands now. It is so yum. Trust me. 

Masala Provencal Eggs a la Thekla
Serves 6

2 Tbsp of olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 medium aubergines, (about 600g – 700g) diced
1 tsp of salt
4 tsp of chopped garlic
2 tsp of garam marsala
2 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of ground coriander
1 tsp of chilli powder (optional)
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
100ml of tomato puree
1 Tbsp of Herbs de Provence
(or a combo of marjoram, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary)
2 Tbsp of sugar, or to taste
2 green, yellow or orange peppers, cut into chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized pot fry the onions and aubergines in the oil with the salt. If it starts to stick and dry out, add a dash of water as needed to remove any bits that are sticking and encourage the softening of the veggies.

When they start to soften, in about 10 minutes or so, add the spices and fry for a minute. Add the tomatoes and herbs and simmer until the aubergines and onions are soft and the sauce has become a thick gravy, about half an hour. Add sugar to taste, then add the peppers.

You can switch off the stove, put on the lid and leave the stew for 30 minutes before serving. The heat in the pot will cook the peppers. Or you can carry on simmering the stew for about 10 minutes until the peppers are cooked but still firm. Check seasoning and serve.

This dish is great for breakfast served with poached eggs and whole wheat toast. It also makes a great main meal served with rice and salad, or my personal favourite, served on a bed of creamy mashed potato with soft boiled eggs.

For the mash
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
50g of butter or coconut oil (optional)
¾ cup of regular milk or coconut milk (more if needed)
1 Tbsp of smooth Dijon mustard
1 tsp of salt (or to taste)

Boil the potatoes until just done. Pour off the hot water from the potatoes and mash them with the butter until fluffy with no lumps. Add the milk, salt and mustard and mash until smooth and creamy.