Thursday 12 September 2019

Full of falafel

I ought to write a book entitled 'Red Kidney Beans - Your Lifelong Friends.'
The really rich chocolate cake I serve to my gluten-free mates is yummy. It has a smashing chocolate ganache and a healthy (sugar-free) cream cheese filling.
Fudgey chocolate brownies, also made with a red kidney bean base, are a delight. And in both cases I use truvia sweetener rather than sugar. Very healthy.

I have taken to eating falafel in a big way since experiencing vegan and Levantine cuisines. Our local Lebanese does a full-of-flavour falafel lunch and our closest, newest vegan restaurant bathes their falafels in a pomegranate salad. Highly recommended.

While Richard has been between surgeries ( one with general anaesthetic, another local) I've been 'In and Out of the Kitchen' a la Damien Trench as portrayed by comedian Miles Jupp on radio 4. This week's episode of 'In and Out...' on iplayer/ BBC Sounds sees Jupp, as culinary expert Trench, giving up his command of the kitchen so his partner can cook. A bit like in our house. Richard is usually the cookist. But now the kitchen is, temporarily, my domain.

I'm cooking shop-bought falafels for our evening meal tonight but have cobbled together a recipe for homemade ones. It’s awfully easy! And I'll be making more at the weekend, with my friends the red kidney beans.


For 15 falafel balls

400 g can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 chopped onion
#4 tbsp Farchioni Il Casolere cold-pressed olive oil
1 glove garlic ( or the equivalent amount in chopped leeks or chives)
3 tbsp gluten-free flour eg buckwheat or oat flour*
1 tsp black sesame seeds ( or flax seeds)
(2 tbsp crushed cashew nuts - optional)
2 tsp ground cumin or paprika
1/2 tsp chilli powder or chilli flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper 
1 further tsp olive oil

(Add salt to taste if desired)

* oat flour is made in the food processor by grinding down porridge oats until they resemble the consistency of flour


1 Using only 1 tsp oil and 1 tbsp flour pulse all the ingredients in the food processor. Leave the rest of the oil and flour for the moment.

2 When mixed transfer to a bowl, fold in the rest of the flour and put the whole in the fridge for half an hour to make a firmer 'dough'. Have something in a glass and put your feet up! 

3 After half an hour heat the 4 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Meanwhile remove the 'dough' from the fridge and break it up then roll it into roughly one inch-wide balls. If you prefer you can omit the extra #olive oil and the frying stage: you can bake the falafels instead. They do come out less crispy but bear in mind baked falafels contain fewer calories. If you stick to the frying method each ball should be around 95 calories and take approximately six minutes per side to cook. They are ready when brown on each side. If you bake them in a pre-heated oven put them on a baking tray at 375 deg F,190 deg C, 170 fan, flipping them over half way through, for 25 minutes.

Serve with a flat bread, sweet freshly picked  tomatoes or Fage Greek yogurt. It's a quick,easy and nutritious meal. And the red kidney bean, a lifelong friend, is a superb base. You can add a little cooked, mashed beetroot if you like added colour and flavour. If you have any falafel balls left over they will keep in the fridge, covered, for up to four days. 

I hope you enjoy my cobbled-together recipe. There are many versions in cookery books and online but we love this one with red kidney beans! 

Sent from my ipad

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Two Soups?

Not content, last week, with resorting to stilton and broccoli soup, nor pea and ham, for lunch, I found I needed another recipe. Fresh kale was sitting in fridge number one, as were larger than average carrots. What to do?

Kale soup, perhaps? Now there's an idea.

Not only does the recipe leave us with plenty of kale for another day and in another way but it also uses up many of our many carrots. Kale is vitamin rich: it contains vitamins K, A, C, B6, B1, B2, B3, D and can also provide us with manganese, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Eating foods containing magnesium may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Kale is known as one of the most nutritious foods in existence.

It also contains antioxidants that help reverse damage by free radicals. These devils are known to drive aging and cancer. Antioxidants found in kale also lower blood pressure, and are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-depressant. When cooked it wilts like spinach but it contains 4 1/2 times as much vitamin C as spinach. What’s more a cup of kale has more vitamin C than a whole orange! Kale contains bile acid sequestrants too. They bind bile acids in the digestive system which reduces the total amount of cholesterol in the body. A juice made from this super superfood, when drunk daily over 12 weeks, increases good HDL cholesterol and lowers LDL cholesterol.

Macular degeneration can be supported by eating orange foods eg apricots, carrots, orange peppers but also kale. These foods contain lutein which reduces the risk of macular degeneration development. And eating kale is much better for your digestive system than taking lutein-containing supplements. It can be eaten as a salad or made into kale crisps:simply drizzle olive oil over kale leaves, add salt and bake in the oven until dry.

However, today, I am sharing with you my kale soup recipe, having been very pleased with the taste. The sweetness is from the carrots and it certainly doesn't feel like you are being forced to eat boiled cabbage, even though kale is a brassica!

2 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion - finely chopped
4 medium carrots - roughly chopped
200 g curly kale - chopped
2 garlic cloves - crushed
700 ml chicken stock or vegetable stock

( some recipes suggest adding pepper for flavour and milk for extra creaminess)

The method is a straightforward soup-making one:

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, sweat the vegetables, minus the kale, for 10 minutes to soften the onion. Introduce the kale and sweat for 5 minutes whereby it should have wilted. Add the stock, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20  minutes. I cool the soup if I'm not wanting to serve it immediately and finish off by blending it for 30 seconds in the food processor until it is smooth.

I don't find the soup needs added creaminess and I leave out the milk. If you have chives or leeks growing in the garden they are an excellent substitute for garlic. The garlic taste isn't, however, too strong. And the colour of the soup is a golden yellow with green speckles. Magnificent!

Eating or drinking kale on a daily basis is one of the simplest ways you can ensure your body is in a good position to fight free radicals and it's a good support for your whole system.

But I'm told kale is a bugger to grow in your back garden, requiring time, manure and a lot of 'fiddling' ... unlike spinach which is a doddle!

Friday 6 September 2019

Brownies - but not the Girl Guides

To get some semblance of order into our household, following Richard’s various trips to out-of-hours GPs, specialist nurses and our local surgery I’ve been interested in brownies:
(No, not the younger versions of the Girl Guide movement, but chocolate brownies, those appetising snacks which can be dressed up or down.)

Brownies are an interesting phenomenon. They are not quite cake, not quite chocolate, not quite a biscuit but ever so slightly great as a simple pudding. In my bid to stay healthy and get thin(ner) this September I’m casting around for low sugar, low carb recipes. And, having signed up for Cancer Research UK’s Sweatember event I exercise daily, have my sponsors and will thereby endeavour to stay fit. 

My breakfast is still either steel-cut, whole-grain porridge with berries - a low GI start to the day, or eggs. Both morning choices are filling. Healthy soups for lunch are about right for September onwards, now that temperatures are dropping. Lentil falafel - a speciality of vegan restaurants - are a great alternative for lunch if I’m eating out. 

Over the summer I haven’t had a particularly sweet tooth. Perhaps because it was so warm glasses of water and plenty of fruit or good, thick Greek yogurt were satisfying enough. But as we head into autumn (the sun is lower in the sky, it’s dark by 8:15pm and counting, vegetation growth is slowing down, plants are raggedy and need trimming or removing) I have a greater need for sweetness.

I love baking my red kidney bean chocolate cake but last week I wanted something I could bake and eat without having to make a ganache or a filling. And I happened upon a red kidney bean brownie recipe. 

I had no idea whether the end result would be brittle, hard, fudge-like or cakey. I just followed the recipe, with minor amendments and sought further advice at the end stage. The tooth pick to test whether the mixture has baked properly should not come out clean: be warned!! I go into more details in point 6 below.


  • 11/2 cans of red kidney beans - drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup creamy butter 
  • 2 tablespoons Mernier cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (brown) Truvia sweetener (this is the Truvia equivalent of 1/3 cup of brown sugar
  • 3/4 tabspoon Truvia sweetener (equivalent of white sugar)
  • 1/4 cup cold-pressed virgin olive oil 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/2 cup grated Belgian Cachet chocolate (56% cocoa) - their cherry and almonds variety is especially marvellous

In order to make this sweet sugar-free it’s important to be gluten-free too. If wheat-based flours are used the carbohydrates reduce down to sugar. Red kidney beans are a much better alternative.

The only major decision I pondered over in my prep was the depth of the baking tin. I read that a shallow, swiss roll type tin would yield a thin, rather hard brownie. Anything too deep like the average cake pan would produce a cakey, slightly undercooked brownie. I chose a *shallow, rectangular, pyrex dish which I lined with greaseproof paper. Another time I may use a half-size swiss roll tin and aim not to spread the mixture too thinly.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg f, 150 c fan. 
  2. Combine all ingredients except the grated chocolate in a food processor. Pulse for 30 seconds until smooth and creamy. Remove the mixture to another bowl. 
  3. Break the chocolate into smaller pieces and pulse in the food processor. The noise is terrific at first, but after 20-30 seconds the chocolate should have broken down. Stir the pulsed chocolate into the mixture or add the mixture to the chocolate in the food processor and do a final pulse so that the chocolate pieces are evenly distributed.
  4. Line a rectangular glass pyrex dish* or smaller swiss roll tin* and pour the brownie mixture in it. Take a spatula to smooth out the top.
  5. Bake the brownies for 20-22minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin or dish. Take out of the oven.
  6. When a tooth pick comes out slightly gooey and crumbly it’s done. If it’s clean it’s overcooked but if it’s runny and liquid brown it’s undercooked. 
  7. Cool for two hours and then slice and serve.If it is properly cooked it should slice into squares without crumbling or breaking up.

The brownies I make using this mixture are more fudge-like than cake. The pieces are rich and good enough as a snack with a coffee or a cuppa. However it’s rather lovely to warm through the brownie shapes and serve with caramel or toffee ice cream, vanilla ice cream or Fage Total Greek yogurt ( the 5% Fage yogurt is thick, rich and creamy.

Your brownies won’t hang around in a tin for long! 

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Boris and Iain Duncan Smith

Richard has had, for them, minor surgery but, for him, a very disruptive summer. We have a flower-filled suntrap of a patio and have enjoyed sitting there in the intense heat since June. But the glorious sunshine has been marred by hospital appointments, waiting for results, various procedures ( Richard called these invasions Boris and Iain Duncan-Smith), side effects, further diagnoses, calls to 111 and numerous visits to our GP and out-of-hours... Thanks to the NHS someone has always been available to see and reassure him.

The overriding effect of his having a mild hernia, and other non life-threatening conditions, is his feeling of nausea in the mornings. He assures me he’s not pregnant. Of course he has had lots of new medication...And other parts of his anatomy are working overtime meaning he’s suffering from disrupted sleep. Going to the loo in the wee hours ( geddit?) is rather a frequent occurrence for him...

So who is doing the cooking in our household? Yep, it’s not the cat, that leaves only me.

Yesterday, having enjoyed a bowl at a Tewkesbury pub, sampled on one of Richard’s better days in August, I tried my hand at stilton and broccoli soup. Easy peasy and, for me, as I’m a convert to low carb meals, cheese is good... For years I avoided strong, blue cheeses. I found them a harsh taste but together with broccoli the mix is good and mild. And it’ll be an alternative to pea and ham soup now the sun is lower in the sky and it’s dark not long after 8 pm. Yes it’s 2 1/2 months since Longest Day. Where have we been all this time? In hospital that’s where.

I altered the found recipe slightly to incorporate cold-pressed olive oil ( rather than rapeseed) and left out the celery.

Broccoli and stilton soup
140g stilton,crumbled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 medium potato, diced
1 knob butter
1litre chicken or vegetable stock
1 head broccoli, roughly chopped

As I made a boo-boo and we have bags of red onions from our supermarket home delivery, I thought I’d ordered three loose medium onions, but clearly not, we’ve been enjoying onion soup. Lots of it. And for the above recipe I have leeks growing in the garden, potatoes still to lift and broccoli from our farm shop. I only have to buy the stilton from our deli. And I need a walk. Last week I succumbed to four days of lying flat to support my neck. While Richard’s been incapacitated I’ve done more in the garden, pulling at hefty brambles and stubborn bindweed, and caused myself severe neck pain. Needless to say we have a gardener coming in next week.

Back to the broccoli and stilton concoction: The method is straightforward, a standard soup-making procedure. I find I like a little less liquid as I enjoy a thick soup, but each to his own:

  1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepanand then add the finely chopped onion. Cook on a medium heat until soft.
  2. Add 1 sliced leek, 1 diced medium potato and a knob of butter. Stir until melted, then cover. Allow to sweat for 5 minutes and remove the lid.
  3. Pour in 1litre ( or less) of chicken stock and add the chopped, chunky stalk from the head of broccoli. Cook for 10-15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
  4. Add the rest of the chopped broccoli and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Allow to cool a little and pour the whole in to a food processor and blitz until thick and smooth.
  6. Stir in the crumbled cheese, allowing a few lumps on the top as garnish. Season with black pepper and serve hot. 

You can adjust the amount of stilton downwards if you find it a very strong taste but in a soup it’s beautifully absorbed, rich and creamy. Other blue cheeses are available.

Yummy, healthy and low carb. Hoorah for autumn!