Saturday, November 19, 2011

All the leftovers become.... Veggie Burgers!

Now I make about a litre of Almond milk every three days or so (see below) and Christiane feeds copious amounts of vegetables into the juicer from time to time. Both these activities produce wonderful things to drink…. And lots of leftovers. Like Almond and Vegetable pulp respectively. I always think it’s a shame to just throw this stuff away; there’s still so much nutrition and flavour in there.

I’ve already written about making a very tasty hummus* from Almond pulp and you can also make a passable cheese alternative from it (there’s a recipe for that here:

But for something different try this twist on a veggieburger….

I use a cup and half of Almond pulp and the same amount of Vegetable pulp to make six burgers. This time around the vegetable pulp was beetroot and carrot… next time? Who knows? There is no fixed formula here.

Add one egg, a tablespoon of tahini, two tablespoons of Olive oil, a chopped onion, a cup of fine chopped celery, some fine chopped dill, a little salt, pepper, a teaspoon of ground coriander and a little Garam Masala.
Vary the spices according to your taste. These work for me.

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. You need to have a stiff paste that will hold together so if it is too moist then add a little more vegetable pulp. Leave the mixture to stand for half an hour or so before cooking.

Form the mix into burger sized patties, dust with flour and cook on a very hot griddle for about five minutes each side. It helps to oil the griddle plate lightly and even to drizzle a little oil over the burgers as they cook.

My personal opinion is that veggie burgers often taste nice but can be dry and have a bland texture. The tahini keeps to them moist and adding the onion and celery along with the raw vegetable pulp helps to vary the texture. As with everything, experiment and twist it round to your own liking!

* Since writing that recipe I have learned that ‘Hummus’ is in fact an Arabic word for chickpea. My dip has no chickpeas in it so I guess I’ll have to rename it. Hey ho….

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Magic! How to get 4 Onions into one jar.

Sometime ago I was picking up some stuff in a supermarket in England when I spotted a jar of ‘Caramelised Onions’. Hmmm… nice idea, I thought and brought them home to my Greek island.

4 medium Onions. 1 small jar
When the jar was opened, they disappeared so quickly that Christiane and I were left rueing the idea of having to wait until our next trip to abroad; or at least to one of the big supermarkets in Athens for another jar.

Not so! They are actually very easy to make……

For the jar in the picture I use 4 medium size onions.

Peel and chop them fairly coarsely.

Use a lightly oiled frying pan that is large enough to spread them out on and cook on a medium heat. You need to turn the onions from time to time to stop them catching and burning on the pan but try not to do this too often otherwise they don’t brown nicely. I usually check them every 10 minutes or so.

Seasoning. I use honey for the caramelising but I guess plain old sugar will do the job too. One good teaspoon of honey per onion and I add this after they have been cooking for 15 minutes. Add the honey straight into the pan and stir it in.

The whole cooking process takes around an hour although this does vary according to the onions so do keep an eye on them. If it looks like they are cooking too fast then turn the heat down a little; they need that time on the heat to really soften and brown.

After about 45 minutes I add the final ingredient; a couple of teaspoons of Balsamic vinegar. This helps to deglaze the pan, adds a little more colour and a twist to the flavour too.

Test the onions as the time ticks by and they soften and occupy less and less of the pan. Try to leave some for later and for guests though!

When you are happy with the result, remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool and then spoon the onions into a jar.

They are just great with cheese, in an omelette or a salad and adding a spoonful can just transform anyone of a host of savoury dishes. Be bold and experiment!
Da da!

Keep them in the fridge. How long you can store them? That is something I cannot answer. I read somewhere that they would keep for a week. I have no idea if that is true because for me, actually the real magic is just how quickly those onions disappear from the jar!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Principles. Start at the Very Beginning

Many years ago I invited a friend to dinner and decided to cook a risotto. I knew that this friend had spent a lot of time in Italy and I was confident that she would be impressed with my culinary prowess.


As I was to learn, this lady was pretty uncompromising in her views. She scowled through the meal and eventually announced that if I was ever to cook a risotto for her again then I had better find out how to make one properly.  

Briefly offended, I listened and soon realised that what she said made sense. I was trying to go full speed in the kitchen without having understood the basic controls. Like… well when I was about 14, I taught myself to play the opening 10 bars or so of a Beethoven piano sonata. Nothing more than that. I could play it passably well too, but the 11th bar forever remained a mystery, as did just about every other piece of piano music…. Because at the end of the day I never did learn the basics of piano playing.

I hunted around and found a good Italian recipe for a Risotto Milanese….. and invited her around again.


In fact I learned a lot from that experience. On the Risotto front, it had never occurred to me that the base recipe was so simple, that the type of rice was so important, that you put all that cheese in at the end of the cooking.

But once I had mastered that I was able to expand my vision and build my own variations…. But this time from a solid foundation. I’ve repeated the same exercise many times since with other dishes, learning traditional recipes and methods and literally working from the ground up.

Don’t just open that jar of sauce or ready mixed powder. Find out how the basic traditional recipe works. You’ll probably be surprised at how simple and easy it is.

Here’s one variation on those basic Risotto principles….

Spetses Wild Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto
This is a good meal for two or perhaps a starter for four people.

250gr. Arborio Rice (Arborio Rice is traditionally used in Italy; but not in my local super market. I use a medium grain Greek variety called Karolina which is very similar).
Vegetable Stock/Dried Mushrooms.
1 medium sized onion
Wild Mushrooms
Wild Asparagus
Graviera Cheese
Vegetable Oil.
Salt & Pepper to taste.

I use a commercial vegetable stock cube and add several dried forest mushrooms broken up into small pieces before adding 500ml of boiling water and leaving it all to soak for at least fifteen minutes before adding it to the pan.

Heat a little oil in a good sized saucepan, finely chop the onion and fry for a few minutes in the oil.

Once the onion starts to soften, add the rice (it’s about one coffee mug full if you don’t want to weigh it) and stir it until it gets a good covering of the hot oil. Now start to add the stock along with half a teaspoon of salt and some fresh ground black pepper. Most books will tell you to add the stock bit by bit, stirring as it gets absorbed by the rice. Okay, I shortcut that bit and tend to throw in most of the stock in one go! It works, but do keep an eye on progress and don’t let the mix get too dry. Once all the stock is in the pan, if you do need to add more liquid then fresh water will do just fine. Cover and cook on medium heat.

Wash and chop the mushrooms and asparagus. Now I realise that you may not be lucky enough to find either in the wild in which case substitute at the market. The stems of Wild Asparagus I find around my home are very small by comparison to those that are commercially grown but they are full of flavour. 

Quantities? A couple of medium sized mushrooms and a good handful of chopped Asparagus should suffice for this amount of rice.

Seasoning. During cooking, it is best to under salt a risotto. You will be adding a lot of cheese at the end of the cooking and this will add it’s own saltiness to the flavour.

If you are using shop bought mushrooms or harder textured wild ones, add them to the pan after rice has been cooking for about 5 minutes. Otherwise add the asparagus and mushrooms together after about 15 minutes.

Test the rice every few minutes after the first 15 minutes of cooking. Take it off the heat when it is just at that ‘al dente’ point; probably after about 20 minutes. Make sure the mix is not too dry and if necessary add water. Now add the cheese.

I use Greek Graviera hard white cheese from the island of Crete. In Italy they usually use Parmesan or Pecorino. They all work well; adjust according to taste or availability. You need a good handful of cheese, coarsely grated, whatever variety you opt for. Stir it into the risotto, cover and leave to stand for another 5 minutes or so. The whole lot will go on cooking steadily during that time, which is why you don’t want the rice too soft when you add the cheese. Stir in a little more water before serving if the risotto is now too dry.

Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Pulp of an Almond

So, you’ve made and enjoyed your Almond Milk (see my February 27 post). But now you’ve got a cup full of Almond Pulp/Paste left over. What are going to do with that? Throw it away? Seems like a shameful waste.

And indeed, although the pulp doesn’t have much taste to offer, there is a lot of nutritional value there; carbs, dietary fibre and fat. As with the milk itself… finding a consensus on just how much of each turns up some wildly varying opinions and numbers.

The pulp will work in many recipes that call for ground almonds, although be aware that it won’t impart that distinctive almond tang to your creation.

So….. type ‘Almond Pulp Recipes’ into Google and you’ll find quite a variety of ideas on how to use this up. Most of them I’ve found tend to be for sweet dishes…. Ice creams, cakes and so on. It works very well in place of the Carrots or Apple in any such cake.

But you can also use this pulp up in all sorts of other more savoury ways. I often stir a spoonful into a soup or use it to bulk out a pancake batter and sometimes a whole cupful might go to add texture to a curry.

My favourite is the ‘Hummus’ recipe below. And if you can’t find a use for the pulp on the day you make it…. Well, it freezes well for future use.

Almond Hummus

Fresh strained Almond Pulp.  This is fine used moist, no need to dry it out in the oven or anything!
Oil (Olive or Sesame)
Ground Coriander
1 or 2 Cloves of Garlic
Salt (optional to taste)

Method. Is oh, so simple. Put everything in a bowl and mix!

Seriously, add enough Tahini to make a stiff paste with the Almond pulp.

Crush and add the garlic plus teaspoon or so of Coriander and stir together. You may wish to add salt to taste… personally I don’t.

Then slowly add oil (Sesame or Virgin Olive Oil) as you stir until get to the texture you want. There are no rules on this. I like Hummus that will spread easily with a knife, others like it drier or more liquid…. Your call.

Tip. Make this at least a day before you want to use it. This gives the flavours a chance to really blend together.

Put in sealable container and it will keep in the fridge for ages. But be warned, if you use a plastic container you may never be able to use it for anything without garlic in it ever again!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Milk Tree

Milk, a vital part of everyone’s diet. At least for the first few months of our lives anyway. But most of us go on drinking the stuff, long after we are weaned from mother’s breast. Are human beings and cats the only adult animals that drink milk? Not sure about that.

Except, and here’s the sting. The majority of human beings have some level of allergy or intolerance to drinking milk. Exactly how many people are affected like this is hard to ascertain. Researching for this article turned up some widely varying ‘expert’ opinions. But a figure of 75% of the adult human population having some level of intolerance to cows milk is a statistic I found quoted in several sources. At least one article I read stated that cows milk intolerance is ‘extremely rare’ in white people. Well all I can say to that is that I’m white and I have a milk intolerance, so does my daughter, my wife….. and I know whole load of other people too.

In my case it’s not a life threatening thing. I’ll happily enjoy a spoonful of cream on a dessert, or the froth on a cappuccino from time to time. And eating yoghurt or cheese are no problem. But if I pour milk (cow’s, goat’s or sheep) on my cornflakes for a few days in succession I start to feel the effects.

I guess I could cure that easily enough. Trouble is, I like my cornflakes in the morning.

Non dairy alternatives? I’ve tried Soya milk a few times and whilst I acknowledge that I have enjoyed some brands, I have also tasted some that I thought were simply horrible. I’ve enjoyed Rice milk; I just can’t get it here on the island and (please correct me if I’m wrong here) I’ve read in many places that Rice milk has negligible nutritional value until they add it as an extra in the factory.

Actually, all I really ask is that the milk tastes good and doesn’t do me any harm. A friend suggested Almond Milk. Where do I buy that? Certainly not on this island. ‘It’s so easy to make.’ said my friend. I checked it out and, Hey! It really is easy to make.

Not only that it tastes good too. Creamy and only very slightly nutty in flavour.

I’ve been using Almond Milk for about three years now. It really is easy to make at home, nutritious and versatile. I use it in cooking in most situations that call for milk; it works well in Bechamel sauce for example. I’ve also served it to friends as a drink or in their coffee and never once has anybody sent it back or asked what was wrong with the milk.

Nutritionally, Almond Milk is comparable to Semi Skimmed Cows milk. Less calories, sugar and (of course) the fat is not saturated fat. The calcium content is not so easy to get to. I have two so called ‘authoritative’ articles on my desktop as I write this. One gives the Calcium content of Almond milk as negligible, whilst the other states that the Calcium content that is ‘comparable to 2 percent reduced fat milk’.

Take your choice. I drink it because it tastes good on my cornflakes!

The picture shows an Almond tree in blossom near my house. A familiar winter sight in Greece

Almond Milk

Use Whole Almonds (Nuts with the brown skins intact).

Soak one cup of almonds in fresh cold water for about six hours, wash and drain them and put them in the blender.

Add one cup of cold water and blend for about thirty seconds. The quality of the water can affect the taste and shelf life of the milk. I use bottled spring water; maybe your mains supply is better than mine.

Stop the blender, add two more cups of water and blend together for about a minute. I always think it’s wonderful to see those nut brown kernels almost exploding in the water to become a flask of white liquid milk.

Once the blending is finished, you need to strain the milk. I use a muslin cloth draped across a large jug. Pour in the contents, gather the corners, being careful not to let any liquid escape over the edge and then squeeze the contents gently through the cloth.

The whole process from putting the nuts in the blender to putting the milk in the bottle shouldn’t take much above 5 minutes. And…. If you’re making it use on your breakfast, make it the night before so it has a chance to chill in the fridge before use.

Quantity. I’m not into accurate weights and measures, but the large coffee cup 9not mug) of Almonds that I use each time makes about 700 ml of milk.

Storage. I keep milk in a glass bottle in the fridge and it’s fine for three to five days. Things that can affect the storage life are : the quality of the nuts, the quality of the water and … the cleanliness of the storage bottle. The milk will tend to separate out overnight in the fridge; just give the bottle a shake before using it.

Quality. You may find an occasional batch tastes different to normal. It’s all down to the quality of the nuts. Making such a small quantity of milk, you can find that just a single, slightly ’off’ nut can taint the milk. It’s not always a change for the worse (the change can be really good sometimes) but be prepared for this.

Variations. I read that some people like to add a squeeze of lemon juice or even a fresh date at the blending stage to flavour of sweeten the milk. My take? Tried it and I really don't think it needs it, but don't let me stop you trying your own variations.

Commercial Brands of Almond Milk. To be honest, I have never tasted a commercially produced brand of Almond Milk. I know they tend to be fortified with extra vitamins and so on…. If you have it available locally, try it. It might be just wonderful

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Food from Garbage?

A friend came by today and told me that they had just seen a branch laden with chilli peppers lying by the garbage bins at the end of the street. 

On the whole, people in this part of Greece don’t go for hot and spicy food that much. An extra twist on the pepper grinder may already be too much for many people I know!

You can often see chilli plants growing in gardens though. Why? Because they’re colourful and attractive! The owners wouldn’t dream of actually eating the fruit.

This branch turned out to be an entire plant that had lost it’s leaves and (I guess) was no longer regarded as attractive enough to warrant it’s place in the garden. At least the gardener here had put the plant, roots and all beside the bins rather than actually in one of them (I might have drawn the line at that).

Anyway, seizing the moment, I retrieved the branch and now I have a supply of hot red chilli peppers in the cupboard that should last until... well, a long time anyway.

Like everywhere else in life. You have to take the opportunities when they present themselves.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Magic of Mushrooms

Every winter you will find local people here on my Greek island out in the forest; shooting at wild birds and rabbits, picking wild herbs and gathering χόρτα (horta in English) which can be any one of a whole variety of green plants that grow wild here and are cooked to eat or make drinks with.

I pick the wild mushrooms that grow here and I get treated with a great deal of suspicion! Even friends who have seen me picking these regularly for more than 10 years now will sometimes tell me where they have seen them growing... but then recoil in horror at the thought of actually eating one. ‘But it might be poisonous. How can you know?’  I always thought that country folk knew these things. Not so it turns out. At least not on this small island populated by seafarers.

How do I know? Research! Trial and error is not advised in selecting wild mushrooms to eat. A famous old adage runs....  There are old mushroom eaters, and there are bold mushroom eaters, but there are no old, bold mushroom eaters.’

Now to be honest there are very few deadly poisonous varieties about although there are quite a few that might give you an uncomfortable night in the bathroom. But deadly means exactly that…. This is not a mistake you can change your mind about, so be careful. Most wild mushrooms are not worth the effort of picking because they taste bad, they taste of nothing or they’re too tough to get your teeth through.

Research. Find out what you are doing. A long time ago I armed myself with a copy of ‘Mushrooms’ by Roger Phillips. There are plenty of other books about on the subject, but personally I find Phillips’ work to be the most comprehensive and accessible book around.

Early on I adopted the policy of ‘throw it out if there’s any doubt’. Even with a good book, sorting out exactly which variety have in your hand is not always straight forward. They just don’t grow conveniently looking exactly like the photos in the book! For example, there is a large white mushroom that grows locally in the autumn. In my more ignorant days I once picked some thinking them to be very edible St Georges Mushrooms.  A check in the book quickly put me right…. Nearly. They turned out to be 90% certainly ‘Amanita Solitaria’…. But that missing 10%? Well, they could be ‘Amanita Virosa’. The first one is edible and the second one is better known as The Destroying Angel and is deadly poisonous. Many gamblers might bet on odds like that. I don’t…. not for those stakes anyway.

What do I find? A limited range given the poor soil and almost exclusive pine forest habitat here. Nevertheless, from late October until early February, I can find occasional Wood Mushrooms and Parasol Mushrooms which are all delicious. More common are two varieties of Boletus which look like Ceps but aren’t as good. Personally I don’t much like their texture, but they dry well for use in stock and soup etc. And then we get Amethyst Deceivers, and several other varieties which are all eminently edible but sometime best enjoyed as part of a sauce or soup rather than as dish on their own.

And now and then I come home with a basket of Saffron Milk Caps. It took me a while to find out how to cook these properly. They’re very hard and need more cooking than normal shop mushrooms…. But well worth the effort.

Saffron Milk Caps with Cream
Here’s a recipe I adapted from a couple of sources on the web…
Important: Never eat wild mushrooms whole. Many little grubs and maggots like to eat them too…. You might be eating more than you bargained for. Milk Caps are usually, but not always free of maggots…. But a knife through the middle will quickly tell you whether they’re for the pan or the garbage.
225g   Saffron Milk Caps (you'll never find exactly that amount.... adapt!)
2tbsp  Vegetable Oil
1          Garlic Clove
6tbsp  Double Cream or Cream Cheese with milk (see recipe)
2tbsp  Parsley
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Blanch the mushrooms for two or three minutes in boiling water then put them to dry.  This is generally good policy with the harder mushroom varieties and helps to tenderize them for cooking. These Milk Caps will turn green when you blanch them… this is perfectly normal.
Cut up into small pieces then gently heat them in a frying pan until any liquid has evaporated. Add the oil, garlic, parsley and seasoning and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.

Add the cream and cook for a further 15 minutes. I use a cheese/milk mix here; double cream is often a non-existent supermarket item on my island. A spoonful of cream cheese thinned with a little milk to the consistency of double cream works perfectly well.
Serve…. this goes really well with pasta such as Penne. Just drizzle some olive oil over the dish and maybe garnish with a little more fresh parsley.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

An Artist in the Kitchen

An artist in the kitchen? Well, that’s my profession. I am a writer and painter and I happen to do most of the cooking in our household.

I live with my wife, Christiane on a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea and lovely as that is (I could write pages about all the things wrong here. But would you believe me? After all, when all’s said and done, we choose to remain here)… yes,, lovely as that is, it does present a would be chef with it’s own set of limitations.  

For example: the recipe calls for fresh Coriander? Forget it! Fresh Parsley or fresh Dill are no problem. But Coriander? Comes as a powder in a small jar or, because I remember to buy the stuff in Athens, as whole seeds to grind at home. Forget anything that calls for fresh leaf Coriander…. Or improvise! And on the whole, that’s what I do.

Neither of us are vegetarian although I rarely cook meat at home. So you will find mostly Vegetarian and maybe even Raw Food thoughts in this blog. Repertoire? Pretty cosmopolitan really, although variations on traditional Greek, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes tend to be at the forefront.

Anyway, I’ll start this going with something sweet and a twist on a traditional Greek favourite. I have never got into the habit of writing recipes down in the past…. but I put  this together some time ago for a friend who just wanted to know how…..

You can find dishes called Halva in all sorts of variations anywhere from the Balkan countries (Greece, Albania, Romania etc) right across the Eastern world to South East Asia. This is my twist on what we call ‘Country Halva’ in Greece…….

Chocolate Halvas.
  • 200gm Butter
  • 1 cup: peeled and chopped Almonds
  • 2 cups: Brown Sugar or Honey. I’ve seen recipes that suggest using more than twice this amount of sugar. Believe me, the quantity I use will satisfy most peoples sweet tooth.
  • 5 cups: Water (A little less if you add the brandy or rum)
  • 5 heaped teaspoons: Cocoa Powder (experiment!)
  • 500gm coarse or fine Semolina (either will work, depending on your preference)
  • Option: Soak a handful of Raisins overnight in Brandy (or Rum)

Put the butter in large saucepan and melt over moderate heat. If you wish you can add the almonds to the melted butter and fry them a little at this stage. Add the semolina and heat with the butter; it is important to monitor this and keep stirring it regularly so it doesn’t burn. 

Whilst the semolina is heating prepare the other ingredients. Mix the cocoa, sugar, almonds (if not already added) and raisins/brandy (if using them) in one bowl and measure out the water in another.

The semolina takes about 12 – 15 minutes to cook. It will turn light golden brown and become pleasantly aromatic. Keep stirring and do not let it catch on the bottom of the pan. Add the sugar, cocoa mix and stir so that it is thoroughly mixed in. Then…

Add the water steadily with one hand, stirring constantly with the other. The mixture will bubble and froth at first…. keep stirring! Once all the water is added continue to stir the mixture on the heat. It will start to thicken quite quickly. Then, as it is thickening but is still reasonably stirrable remove the pan from the heat and pour the mix into a mould. Shake the mould a little to make sure it gets into all the corners.

Leave to stand and cool. Once the halva is reasonable firmly set turn it out onto a serving plate.

Allow to cool – at least to a comfortable temperature before succumbing to the temptation to try it! It will keep (if allowed) for quite a while.