Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Surprisingly substantial breakfast smoothie

I'm not a fan of smoothies for breakfast. I am never confident that a liquid breakfast could ever be substantial enough to last until 9.30, let alone lunch.

Smoothies are, of course, incredibly delectable and a great way of using up bananas. But whenever I make one, I always have to make a piece of toast as well. Just in case. Wouldn't want to starve now, would we.

Recently, however, my daughter showed me a recipe from Martha Rose Shulman on her iPhone. I was astonished that she was sitting there reading the NY Times, but she's downloaded the app. 'It makes me feel smart.'

It's a lovely recipe for Seeded Banana Frappe, a smoothie given extra muscle with nuts and seeds. It sounded as if it would make a solid, delicious, protein-rich, low-carb start to the working day, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Shopping and prepping
It took some organising. First of all, shopping. I had to buy the nuts and seeds and I decided also to use this as an opportunity to try almond milk. The affordable Soygood product in the supermarket lists cane sugar as its 2nd ingredient, ewww. Instead I purchased a sugar-free, organic almond milk in the healthfood shop - for $8.50.

Martha Rose says to peel bananas that are ripening faster than you can eat them and freeze them to use in the smoothie. Great tip! But ripe bananas are not that easy to come by, so there was much scrutiny of yellowing skins before I had 4 good specimens.

The first day I planned to frappe, I had forgotten to soak my seeds the night before. Probably because I do not normally do this, but Martha Rose is a recent convert to soaking and recommended it for the recipe. As with grains, it is to break down the phytic acid and protease inhibitors that block enzyme function and prevent the absorption of minerals.

A day later, I was ready: bananas frozen (hey, it works!), seeds soaked and all other ingredients assembled. It was a fiddly operation, but the result was appetisingly thick and rich and not over sweet. Martha Rose suggests adding 2 teaspoons of almond or peanut butter for extra heft, and the second time I made the frappe, I added 2 teaspoons of macadamia nut butter (because that's what I had in the cupboard). It did thicken the texture nicely and added a delicate flavour note. Highly recommended step.

Seeded Banana Frappe
Serves 1
6 almonds
1 tbs sunflower seeds, soaked overnight and drained
1 tbs pumpkin seeds (ditto)
1 tps toasted flaxseeds or sesame seeds (ditto; but I used a tps flaxseed oil)
1 ripe banana, frozen if poss
1 cup imported, fancy-schmancy almond milk (or cow's or rice, whatever your budget runs to)
1/4 tps vanilla extract
1 tps honey
1/8 tps turmeric (had enough of all the fiddly teaspoons yet?!)
2 ice cubes
2 tps nut butter of your choice
Freshly grated nutmeg for garnish (so didn't bother with this)

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed for a full, noisy minute. Pour into a glass and enjoy while you madly finish packing your bag, making the bed, straightening your hair and trying not to be late again. Particularly recommended for organised morning types.

Didn't feel like that piece of toast. That might have something to do with the number of calories listed on the nutritional info: 388.

What's your favourite breakfast smoothie? Does it keep you satisfied all morning? Ever frozen a banana, you thrifty thing? Speak to me in the comments, folks!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Velvety smooth pearl barley broth

It's been raining for an endless number of days. Or so it seems. Definitely the weather for what Hugh calls a hefty soup.

I never cook with barley, so I'm not sure why this recipe caught my eye. It also calls for mace, a stranger to my spice cupboard. But I'm willing to try new tastes at the moment, so I purchased 2 large packets of 2 unfamiliar ingredients this week. Methinks there will be a few barley meals to come before the rainy weather clears.

To soak or not to soak
I didn't. Soak, that is, although Jude recommends doing so with hardier grains such as barley. This is to allow lactobaccilli bacteria to break down the phytic acids contained in grains, beans and legumes that interfere with the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. It also improves digestibility and reduces cooking times.

Her method is to soak grains and beans at room temperature overnight in a large bowl with a couple of teaspoons of yoghurt stirred through.

I'll be more barley-savvy next time, but in this recipe I just rinsed it and chucked it in all free and easy like. It still softened up beautifully.

Velvety texture
Hugh recommends pureeing a couple of ladles of the broth in for a thicker texture. I heartily recommend this step, despite the palaver of setting up and washing up the blender. It makes the soup silky smooth and creamy. A most luxurious mouthfeel.

And the mace? Left to my own devices I would have added oregano or sage instead of nutmeg and mace, but they added a delicate sweet flavour that seems characteristically English. Glad to meet you, mace. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

Pearl barley broth
15 g butter
2 large onions (I used one: 2 seemed like a lot)
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped (fiddly)
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small parsnip, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or a few gratings of fresh, if you're all fixed up with a grater)
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
A good pinch of ground mace
100 g pearl barley, rinsed
1.5 L vegetable stock
Small handful of fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and gently sweat the onions with the bay leaf and thyme for about 15 mins until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot and parsnip and saute for a further 5 mins. Stir in the spices.

Add the barley, pour in the stock and add some salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 25-30 mins until the barley is soft. Remove the bay leaf.

You can serve as is or scoop out a couple of ladlefuls and puree them in a blender of food processor. Or whizz away with your stick blender. (I could never use mine without ending up with soup on the ceiling.) Return to the pot and warm through. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasoning if nec.

Hugh serves his barley broth with big fat croutons. sizzled in olive oil. This would be a sublime addition if you were serving it immediately. As I'm taking mine to work, I'm adding some pre-steamed ribbons of kale and keeping my carb count low as befits my sedentary day.

I'd love to hear from you. What's your favourite use for mace? Do you soak? Spill the beans in the comments.