Tag Archives: Feta

Chickpea Salad and Other Stories

Last week we celebrated The Bristol Food Connections Festival and I was in a whirlwind of cooking (plenty of pulses), teaching, writing, cooking and a bit of gallivanting too. Of course the very mention of the “wind” word will have probably unleashed a bit of school boy humour amongst some of you and I’ll address that at the bottom (oh dear!) of the post.

Food Connections

My demo’ at the festival focused on chickpeas (perhaps my favourite pulse of all, and certainly the variety I use the most) and I had decided, rather bonkersly, to cook 10 recipes in an hour. I often feel that people don’t realise how versatile and easy chickpeas are to use and so, with the help of nine year old Imi, we flew through loads of simple ideas. We did also have some help from the wonderful Clare Hargreaves and Steve Ashcroft – thanks so much to both of you.

Some of the recipes are on my blog already, just click on the links for recipes. We kicked off with farinata , the gram (chickpea) flour flatbread which is super cheap and incredibly moreish (even Gwyneth has included a recipe in her latest cook book, she uses the French name Socca,…. love the idea of putting sardines and tomatoes on the top). Our simple  soup has been a go-to-recipe of mine for years, a real store-cupboard standby, with chilli and lemon juice. The zingy  Southern Indian chickpea stir fry  is a winner if you’re up for some Indian flavours . I only cooked one dish with meat and that was a simple one pot supper dish using a little chorizo , it’s a recipe that really does demonstrate my belief that a small quantity of well-sourced meat can feed a crowd when you cook with pulses. So those are your bonus recipes, and I’ll do my best to post all of the dishes I cooked over time, but today I wanted to talk about salads.

I’d quite happily eat salad every day of my life as long as it was more than a pile of leaves. Nowadays many of the hipster cooks and chefs seem to refer to a large plate of cold goodies as a buddha bowl or wellness plate, I just call it salad. It’s a great option instead of the daily sandwich that so many of us snatch at lunchtime, as long as it tastes fab’, fills you up and keeps you going for the afternoon. As you may know pulses are packed with fibre, are digested slowly and will keep you feeling satisfied and energised for hours. Another upside of chickpeas, beans and lentils in a lunch box is that they actually benefit from a few hours sitting in the dressing, herbs and spices that you may have decided to add. I could bang on about the low fat, no cholesterol, the protein ( when accompanied by grains, nuts or dairy), manganese and folate that chickpeas bring onboard but sometimes singing the health benefits of an ingredient makes people imagine that it will be a trial to eat. THIS SALAD IS DELICIOUS; one of my all time favourites from my book Pulse. I’ve taken a cheeky shot – of the salad pic’ by the fabulous Clare Winfield in my book (I’m up against it, I have a book launch on Wednesday and everything to get ready, so I do hope you’ll forgive).

 

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Chickpea, Beetroot and Feta Salad.
Serves 4

1/2 red onion, sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
500 g/ 1 lb home cooked or 2 x 400g/14 oz tinned chickpeas, (well rinsed and drained)
200 g/ 7 oz feta cheese, cut into large 2 1/2  cm/1 inch dice
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
100 g/4 oz baby spinach or other salad leaves
1/2 cucumber, diced
a large bunch continental parsley, chopped
About 20 mint leaves
2 small cooked beetroot (vacuum packed or home-cooked) , roughly diced
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
salt, pepper, wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to taste.

Soak the sliced onion in the vinegar, it will turn a glorious fuschia pink and become softer and more digestible.

Gently warm the olive oil and the garlic in a saucepan for about 5 minutes. The idea is not to fry the garlic but to infuse the oil and soften the the garlic’s flavour. Remove the pan from the heat and take out the garlic, it will be soft by now, chop it finely and return it to the pan with the chickpeas. Stir them around in the warm oil, season with a little salt and pepper and then set aside to cool.

Toast the sesame and fennel seeds in a frying pan until the sesame seeds dance around and turn gold. Tip the seeds onto a plate and carefully toss the feta around, covering each dice in a speckled crust.

Place the onion, chickpeas with their garlic oil, salad leaves, cucumber, parsley and most of the mint in a bowl and mix carefully. Now add the feta and beetroot and toss carefully just a couple of times otherwise the entire salad will turn a milky pink. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a few mint leaves and serve with toasted pitta or some fabulous sourdough and a dash of olive oil.

How about?
Adding  a few pitted Kalamata olives
Some roasted pistachios along with the pomegranate
Grilled or char-grilled sliced aubergine
Chopped coriander instead of the mint

TIP: Warming the chickpeas in the garlicky oil makes them sing, if you’re not keen on garlic then try infusing with lemon zest or spices. This technique will make a difference to any beans or lentils, especially if they’ve come out of a tin

The Wind Factor

I’m always extolling the virtues of legumes and yet I’ve still to address the wind problem on my blog, it’s probably because it doesn’t really affect me (there are also plenty of things that help reduce the flatulence in any case ).

SO, why the wind? (Here’s a quote from my book – Pulse) “Legumes contain certain indigestible carbohydrates, the most troublesome being the oligosaccharides, that can’t be dealt with by the digestive enzymes in the stomach. So these carbohydrates pass through the upper intestine largely unchanged and are finally fermented and broken down by harmless bacteria in the lower intestine. This rise in bacterial activity results in gas. There’s also the high fibre factor; if your normal diet is low in fibre then a sudden rise will cause gas too.”

And what to do about it? Firstly, your body will gradually adapt to eating more pulses and fibre and then any wind will become less of an issue.
Secondly, the great pulse eaters of the world offer up plenty of calming options.
-You can add a small piece of Kombu seaweed to the beans as they cook as the Japanese do (available dried next to the Miso etc in health food shops)
-The Mexicans add a few leaves of epazote to the pot (available dried on line at Sous Chef  along with almost any other ingredient that you need to track down)
-Indians use asafoetida, cumin, turmeric or fennel in their dals and curries
-Italians swear by fennel and sage.

 

AND THE NEWS …….. COOL KIDS COOK is out this week

and of course there are a few pulse recipes thrown in, including 4 variations on a quick bean salad, ideal for the lunchbox. You can read more about it on my blog here

 

Falling for Freekeh

It might seem bonkers to be writing about a grain, a green wheat infact, that’s virtually impossible to track down (I bought mine from the fabulous Ottolenghi online store) but Freekeh, Freekah, Frikeeh, Farik, or however you like to spell it, is really worth tasting. You’ll find it in Middle Eastern shops and, if you’re lucky enough to live in Bristol, at the fabulous Sweetmart. It’s tipped to be the next big “superfood” so no doubt it will be on the healthfood shop and supermarket shelves very soon too.

There’s nothing new about Freekeh, it’s been prepared in the Middle East for thousands of years but now the Aussies are on the case as well, as its popularity soars. The green wheat is harvested before it’s ripe and mature and then roasted over wood fires to remove the chaff, leaving you with stunningly smoky and nutritious grains. You can buy it cracked or whole. I went for whole grains even though they take about 30-40 minutes to cook (cracked cooks in about half the time) as I wanted to keep a bit of chew in my salad.

Our friends, the Pearsons, were meant to be coming for lunch on Sunday, but with sun on the horizon at last and our very small (let’s say bijou rather than pokey) city garden we decided to take our food to their airier, roomier and infinitely tidier abode in Tetbury. I’m not jealous at all! So we rocked up with my tripod, camera and an entire basket of cooked ingredients still requiring assembly. It was all rather idyllic, sipping chilled summery rosé whilst the children set up a woodlouse theme park in the garden and the birds seemed to be on a mission to out-chirp each other up in the leafy boughs above the terrace. After just a few minutes and a bit of minor faffing, as I took a couple of photos, we had this (and I’ll say so myself) very good salad.

Chicken, Roasted Roots and Freekeh Salad (Serves 4 as a main)

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It makes sense to cook extra vegetables whenever you’ re roasting a chicken or joint of meat. My carrots and beetroot took up a spare shelf in the oven whilst my chicken was on the go, so that the following day I had everything ready on hand for the salad.

200 g freekeh
a handful of green beans
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tsps Ras al hanout  (or a mix of cumin, coriander & a pinch of cinnamon)
About 1/2 of a small roasted chicken, ideally leftovers
5 or 6 small beetroot, roasted wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes or until tender
6 small carrots, peeled and roasted with a drizzle of oil for about 20 minutes
Plenty of fresh mint and parsley

Rinse the freekeh and then pour it into a saucepan with a pinch of salt, cover in just about double its volume of water and bring it up to the boil. Give the grains a quick stir once boiling and then put on the lid and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until cooked but still slightly chewy. You may need to add a little water to the pan as you go but ideally the grains will have absorbed the water and there will be no need to drain them.

If you are using green beans, as I did, you can place a steamer on top of the freekeh and cook the beans for a few minutes on top of the pan. Refresh the beans in cool water as soon as they are tender.

Add red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and the Ras al hanout whilst the freekeh is still warm so that the flavours can mingle and develop.

Once ready to serve, shred your chicken and arrange the carrots (cut in half lengthwise), the beetroot (no need to peel as long as you washed it well), the green beans and herbs over the grains. Play around with the seasoning and then I can’t help but splash a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top.

Chargrilled Courgette, Butternut and Feta salad with Freekeh
(Serves 4 as a light main)

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I’ve fallen back in love with the garden since Imi and I did some feverish weeding and planting yesterday. A six-year-old’s excitement and enthusiasm is just so fantastically infectious although she does seem slightly more excited about our very healthy snail population than the seedlings. Anyhow I fancied a light lunch outside and had plenty of left over freekeh (I’d definitely always cook up a double batch) in the fridge. I had a couple of courgettes and a small butternut squash from my veg box just shrieking to be eaten and so this salad was born. I devoured it as a veggie lunch but a lamb kebab straight from the barbie would turn this into a feast.

200g freekeh (cook as above) or a few spoonfuls of leftover grain from the fridge.
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
200 g butternut squash, peeled and finely sliced
2-3 courgettes, sliced finely lengthwise
1 small hot red chilli pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon ( or to taste)
a good handful of mint leaves
150g feta cheese

Mix up the cooked freekeh with the onion, oil, vinegar and seasoning.

Toss the squash and courgette slice with a dash of oil, literally a dash or you’ll smoke out the kitchen. Get a ridged griddle pan really hot and sear the vegetables on both sides until nicely charred with stripes. Don’t overcook, it’s good to leave a bit of bite.

Now stir most of the vegetables along with the chilli, cinnamon and mint into the freekeh. Arrange the remaining vegetables on top and crumble over the feta.

& what to do with the rest of the packet…..

Substitute freekeh for bulghur wheat in Tabbouleh or any other Middle Eastern or Turkish style salads.
Use as a stuffing for peppers, tomatoes or even a chicken with dried fruits, nuts and seeds.