One of the advantages of my new healthy eating regimen since the new year is that I get to rediscover some rather tasty Arabic recipes. This soup is filling enough to be a meal on its own – it’s often made during Ramadan to sate hungry people breaking their fast – and it ticks my healthy eating checklist as it’s thickened with oats, not flour.
This is a very well known soup in my native Saudi Arabia. They call it Quaker soup after the leading brand in the market, Quaker oats. I don’t know why I haven’t made it for so many years. It’s delicious and easy to prepare. I’m thinking of making a big batch and freezing individual portions which I can then take to work for my lunch. Much better, and cheaper, than shop-bought soup.
Here’s the recipe. This makes enough for two hungry adults.
1 medium onion, chopped
4 chicken thigh fillets, cut into small pieces (the packet says it’s 360g)
Half a can of crushed tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes)
2 chicken stock cubes, dissolved in 1/2 litre of boiling water (I use very low salt stock cubes, as I like to salt the food myself)
Around 16 tablespoons of oats
1 level tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt & pepper to taste
Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onions. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes until softened. Add the chicken, and brown on high heat for a minute or two. Next add the tomatoes, spices and chicken stock. Bring to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. While the contents in the pot simmer, mix the oats with a cup of water and leave them to soak. When the 10 minutes are up, add the soaked oats to the saucepan, mixing thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks at the bottom of the pan. When the soup is ready, give it a taste and add salt and pepper as required. Serve and enjoy!
It sounds like a cliché, starting a new healthy eating regimen in the new year. My only defence is that in my case, the start happened in December after I got Jamie Oliver’s “Everyday Super Food” as a birthday present. I can’t pretend that I’ve tried all the recipes yet and as with most cookbooks, I usually end up narrowing it down to a core handful of good recipes while discarding the rest. Two particular dishes stand out for me because they are so, well, tasty! I have tweaked them a bit and one of them, the “Vegeree” is used as a lunch dish rather than for breakfast as stated in the book. Here’s my take on them.
Poached Egg, Smashed Avo & Seeded Toast
This one does require a bit of effort to bring all the different elements together in good time, but I have got better at it with practice and can whip it up fairly quickly in the mornings now. I have altered the measurements so that it serves 1 person only. I haven’t managed yet to convert the rest of the family to having this kind of meal for breakfast!
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 of a fresh red chilli
1 large egg
1 ripe tomato
1 spring onion
1/2 a lime or lemon
1/4 of a ripe avocado
1 thick slice of seeded wholemeal bread
a small handful of coriander
I find it best to start by finely slicing the spring onion, red chilli and coriander (leaving a few sprigs aside for garnish at the end). Mash up the avocado and mix in a few squeezes of lime or lemon. Set aside.
Place a medium saucepan two thirds filled with water on the hob and bring to a simmer. Using a sharp knife, remove the core from the tomato then drop it into the boiling water for about a minute. Remove it with a spoon, place on a chopping board, peel and slice into eights, discarding the seedy centre. Place the tomato segments in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the remainder of the lime juice. Mix in the sliced spring onion and coriander and season with salt and pepper.
Now for the egg. If you have a silicone egg poacher, use this rather than the cling film method. Grease the egg poacher with a little olive oil and scatter the red chilli inside before breaking the egg on top of it. Season with salt and then place in the saucepan, cover with a lid and leave for 4 minutes to get a soft poached egg. The alternative method if you don’t have an egg poacher is to lay a 30cm sheet of good-quality cling film flat on the work surface and brush it with a little olive oil. Scatter the chilli over it, then break the egg on top and season. Carefully pull in the sides of the cling film, squeezing out any air around the egg, then tie a knot in the clingfilm to secure the egg snugly inside. Poach the egg in the saucepan as described above.
While the egg is cooking, toast the bread then spread the avocado mixture on it like butter. Spoon over the dressed tomato then unwrap your poached egg and place it proudly on top. Finish off with a scattering of torn coriander leaves.
This is a standby for lunch these days, easy and quick to make and delicious. Again I have tweaked the recipe. What’s the point of spending half an hour cooking brown rice when you can buy it pre-cooked in pouches that microwave in two minutes? This serves 2 but you can halve the amounts easily to make it a lunch for one.
250g pouch of microwable brown rice
2 large eggs
4 chestnut mushrooms
3cm piece of ginger
1/2 or 1 whole fresh red chilli (depending on how spicy you like it)
small bunch of fresh coriander
2 spring onions
2 teaspoons medium curry powder
100g cherry tomatoes
100g frozen peas
100g baby spinach
2 heaped tablespoons fat-free or low fat yoghurt
On a chopping board, quarter the mushrooms, finely slice the spring onions, chilli and the coriander. Peel the piece of ginger and finely grate onto the chopping board.
Poach or soft boil your eggs in a medium saucepan of simmering water. Meanwhile, place a large non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat and add the mushrooms, searing them for a minute or two. Move the mushrooms to the side of the pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the spring onions, chilli and ginger with 2 teaspoons of curry powder. Fry gently for 2 minutes while you halve the tomatoes. Now add the spinach, coriander, tomatoes and peas followed by the rice from the pouch. Stir fry for 4 minutes then squeeze the lemon juice over it and serve. Place the poached/boiled eggs sliced in half on top with dollops of yoghurt and a scattering of torn coriander leaves.
I have been making this smoothie lately as part of my son’s breakfast. He loves it, drinks it up with a straw in a flash and then asks for more. The best thing is it’s loaded with nutrients to give him a healthy start to his day. I have found this smoothie works very well for me during Ramadan, giving me a quick boost of energy at iftar. Almond milk is easy to find these days in most good supermarkets, though make sure you buy the unsweetened kind. If you don’t have almond milk, ordinary milk mixed half and half with water should be ok too. This recipe makes enough for 3 glasses (as shown above).
250ml unsweetened almond milk
1 ripe banana
3 level tablespoons wholegrain rolled oats
2 handfuls of young leaf spinach leaves
3 heaped tablespoons of frozen (or fresh if you like) berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until you get a smooth mixture. Serve immediately.
The sun is shining and Summer is in the air. Not for long I know – this is England after all – but the peaches in my fridge were beckoning and I thought I would try my hand at a peach cobbler. I only had three peaches left so I improvised and added a pear. Absolutely delicious!
For the peach filling:
4 peaches, peeled, stoned and sliced
3 tbs sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp ginger (powder, not fresh)
For the cobbler:
1 cup self raising flour
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 tbs unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 180C. Place all the peach filling ingredients in a saucepan and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid it sticking at the bottom of the pan. Next put the butter in an oven proof dish (mine was 22x 15 cm but you could use a slightly bigger dish) and place it in the oven to melt. In a bowl, mix together the flour and sugar then whisk in the milk to make a smooth batter.
Remove the dish from the oven and pour the batter into it, without stirring. Pour the peach filling on top and place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the batter is well risen and golden brown.
This is a salad bursting with flavour. The sweetness of the peaches married with the sharpness of the feta cheese sounds counter-intuitive but it works wonderfully well. You can of course save time and buy a ready prepared herb salad but I prefer to make it fresh myself.
Two handfuls of young leaf spinach
A handful of watercress
Three or four lettuce leaves, sliced
A handful of coriander, roughly chopped
One peach, sliced into 8 segments
50 g of feta cheese
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs cider vinegar
pinch of salt
1 tsp honey
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and add the peach segments, flesh side down. Fry gently until golden brown on each side. Set aside.
Place all the spinach, watercress, lettuce and coriander in a bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients together then toss with the salad leaves. Transfer the dressed salad leaves on to a plate, place the peaches on top and then crumble the feta on top. And that’s it really, very simple and easy to make. Enjoy!
Growing up Coussa Mehshi (stuffed courgettes) was one of my favourite dishes. I have not eaten it in ages though because it requires the special Arabic courgettes (the short pale green ones) which are only available in specialist shops here. The other day I wondered what it would be like to make this dish with ordinary courgettes from the supermarket. It turned out to be rather tasty. Not the real thing of course, but a close second. It takes a bit of effort but not too much to make. Here’s the recipe (makes enough for 4 people).
250g lamb mince
1 cup pudding or other short grain rice
2 tins of peeled plum tomatoes (or a bottle of passata)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate
2 tsp baharat spice mix (or make your own by combining cumin, coriander, allspice, black pepper & cinnamon)
1/2 tsp dried mint
First wash the courgettes, slice of the stalk and trim off ever so slightly the coarse bit at the bottom. Slice the courgettes in two and then hollow out the inside from one end using an apple corer. Don’t throw away the inside bits, these can be used to make a courgette cake or fried courgette patties.
Once done hollowing out the courgettes, set them aside and make the stuffing. Place the rice in a bowl and wash it a few times in water then drain. It’s alright if there is a bit of residual water left in the bowl – this will assist the rice to cook. Now add the mince meat, a teaspoon of salt and the spices. Mix it all up with your hands until everything is combined.
Stuff the courgettes with this meat mixture but make sure you leave a centimetre gap a the top to allow for the expansion of the stuffing during cooking.
Pour the passata into a large saucepan (or if you are using tinned tomato, whizz it up in the processor first ). Add the crushed garlic cloves, the tamarind paste and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the tomato to a simmer then drop in the stuffed courgettes. Make sure the courgettes are well submerged in the tomato sauce. Add a bit of water to it if necessary.
Cover and simmer gently for approximately 40 minutes, until the stuffing is cooked. You can test this by taking out a piece and slicing it in half on a plate. If the rice still looks a bit al dente, you may wish to cook for a bit longer. When the courgettes are cooked sprinkle the dried mint on top and mix it into the sauce gently. To serve, place two halves of a courgette on a plate and pour a generous amount of tomato sauce on top.
I thought I would share this simple but tasty Arabic dish which makes for a quick and easy lunch. I am not going to be bogged down by measures here as this is really so simple. This makes enough for two hungry people. All you need are:
a 250g pack of mince (preferably lamb)
a 500g pot of plain yoghurt
1 garlic clove
a handful of pine nuts
pasta of your choice (this works well with penne)
First of all, fry the mince in a saucepan and season with salt, pepper and bharat (Arabic spice) or failing that, garam masala will do. Once the mince is cooked, set aside but keep it warm. Cook your pasta according to the instructions on the pack.
While the pasta is cooking, empty the yoghurt pot into a serving bowl. Crush the garlic clove (if you really like your garlic crush two cloves instead of one) and mix it into the yoghurt. Season well with salt and white pepper. Now saute your pine nuts in a non stick frying pan until they turn golden brown. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and mix into the yoghurt in the bowl. Add the mince meat on top and then sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts.
Serve immediately with a salad on the side. Word of warning: make sure you don’t add the yoghurt to the pasta in the saucepan as you don’t want the yoghurt to cook and go lumpy.
This cake doesn’t last long in my household, after one slice you just keep coming back for more! As with most of my favourite recipes, it is quick and easy to make.
300g carrots (approx 3 medium carrots)
225g self raising flour
125ml sunflower oil
65g caster sugar
65g brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the icing:
3 tbs unsalted butter, softened
5 tbs cream cheese
8 tbs icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a square 20cm x 20cm baking tin. Cut the ends off the carrots and grate coarsely. In a separate bowl beat together the eggs, sugar and oil. Sift in the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and cinnamon. Lastly fold in the carrots then pour into baking tin and bake for about 40 minutes. Leave to cool.
To make the icing beat together the butter and sugar then gradually beat in the cream cheese and vanilla. Once the cake is cooled, spread the icing on top and serve immediately.
These cup cakes are so easy to make and perfect for a Valentines treat.
250g plain flour
200g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
175ml buttermilk (or juice 1/2 lemon mixed with milk to make up 3/4 cup)
2 tbs cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp red food colouring
For the icing:
100g unsalted butter
100g cream cheese
150g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda in a bowl (no need to sift it, just mix it with a spoon to get rid of lumps). In a separate bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar together, then mix in the vanilla extract and red food colouring. Beat in the eggs then finally alternate mixing in the flour mixture and the soured milk or buttermilk until you get a smooth batter. Divide the batter between the cupcake cases and place in the centre of your oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
While the cakes are baking, prepare the icing. Put the softened butter in a bowl (I soften it in the microwave on the lowest setting) and add the icing sugar. Beat with a small whisk until smooth. Now add the vanilla extract and cream cheese and beat well to get rid of any lumps. Taste your icing and add a squeeze of lemon juice if it is too sweet for you.
Once the cup cakes have cooled, ice them and for a decorative touch add some chocolate or pink sprinkles on top. Enjoy!