Alle Yakhyin – Bottle Gourd in Yoghurt.

So if you are not from Kashmir, and if you have been following my blog, then you know by now, hopefully,  that when I say Yakhni, (or Yakhyin in Kashmiri) I do not mean what most people in North India/ Pakistan mean when they use that word. The north Indian Yakhni is basically a broth. The Kashmiri Yakhni is a mild, creamy, yoghurt-y base, used mostly to make the always amazing lamb yakhni, but – and here’s where it’s beauty lies – you can make a Yakhni with pretty much anything. Alle, or doodhi, or bottle gourd is a Kashmiri favourite to do the Yakhni magic on. Aubergines too. But let’s stick with Alle for the time.

I must confess, this was the first time in many many years that I bought alle, because, well, at first sight it isn’t the kind of vegetable that screams out to your imagination, is it? Oh and I have lived through enough excruciating North Indian summers (first in Ludhiana, then Delhi) to develop a sort of an exasperation, for lack of a better word, for any of the lauki/tinde/doodhi family of vegetables. (For those of you who don’t know, the summers are so so hot that nothing grows, and the only fresh vegetables you get for what seems like months and months are these – so by the time monsoon brings its rainbow coloured bounty, everyone is thoroughly sick of tinde ki sabzi. Fact.)

But if I go a little further back than my time in the north Indian plains, back to my childhood in Srinagar, alle – on their own, as a yakhni, with lamb – were much loved in my mum’s kitchen, and so good too.

So anyway, the point is I’m going to hopefully start doing more with these beauties.

Should we begin with the Yakhni? Good.

Ingredients:

For the Yakhni:

500 gms of Natural Greek Yoghurt

For the Alle (Bottle Gourd)

2-3 medium sized bottle gourds – scrape the skin off, split them lengthwise, get rid of the fluffy seedy bit inside, and then cut in to chunks.

3 small shallots, finely sliced

2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed

Oil

Whole Spices:

1 teaspoon of cumin

1/2 inch of cassia stick

1-2 black cardamoms

2-3 green cardamoms

Ground Spices:

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional -I don’t use any turmeric in any Yakhni, but you could if you want to)

1/2 teaspoon of fennel powder (optional)

Method:

So you know how to get the yoghurt cooked down for our Yakhni, dont you? (You dont! You havent read my original Yakhni post? For shame! Click. Now.) So let’s assume our yoghurt is all cooked down, and ready.

What you need to do next, is fairly simple. Take a wide, thick bottomed pan, and put it on a high flame. When the pan is hot add a good glug of oil. And when that is hot, add your bottle gourd chunks. Fry them for a few minutes on the same high flame, stirring gently. Then sprinkle a bit of salt all over them, cover and bring the heat down to medium. What this will do is make the bottle gourd chunks sweat. Let them cook in their own juices till everything is almost dry. Do check from time to time to make sure your alle are not getting scorched – you might have to adjust the heat accordingly. Now once the vegetables are all dry and you can see oil in the pan again, what you do is let them fry for a couple of minutes – it’ll all be fairly soft by now, so be careful not to turn it in to a blooming mash!

Next take the bottle gourd chunks out of the pan, in to a bowl. In to the same pan, add 2 of your sliced shallots, and fry them, on a medium flame,  till they are translucent and soft. Then add the crushed garlic, and fry it all together for a minute or so. Next put all your whole spices in, and fry them for a minute or two. Once the spices are nice and fragrant add your turmeric and fennel powders, if using them. Stir everything together. Now return the fried bottle gourd chunks to the pan, and stir carefully making surely all your chunks are coated with all those lovely spices. Fry everything together for a minute or two. To this then add, say about a cup of water, maybe a bit more depending. Mix everything up and bring it to boil on a high flame.

At this stage all you need to do is add your prepared Yakhni yoghurt reduction, and stir everything together. Check for salt.

This last step here is optional but will take this up a significant notch. Or ten. In a small frying pan heat up a tablespoon of oil. Add your one remaining sliced shallot, and fry on a high flame till the shallots are completely caramelised and almost black. Take your pan off the heat, and pour this tempering all over your Yakhni.

Uff. The Beauty.

Garnish with dried or fresh mint.

That’s right, you are now officially in love with doodhi. I know.

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WeekDay Daanival Korme Pulao

Okay, so this one’s been a long time coming, and isn’t so much a recipe as it is a weekday dinner improvisation. So what happened was that it was a Monday night, we had just come back from our weekend away in Paris, I had a box or two of DaanivalKorme in the freezer, and suddenly felt like the Universe was whispering in to my ear that magical word Kashmiris hear only once in a while — Pulao.  If you know anything about Kashmiris by now it is that we are big rice eaters. And that when we say rice, we mean rice – plain, cooked, white rice. No fancy shmancy pulaos and biryanis for us. Except on that rare occasion when the Universe whispers certain words in to our ears, you know.

Just to give you an idea of how down on our list of *things to do with rice* Pulao is – you know Wazwan, the definitive Kashmiri feast, a proper-sit-down-at-least 7 course meal, each course more refined, more spectacular than the one before – all of it served with plain white rice – in that feast of indulgence and excess Pulao is served as an accompaniment alongside an assortment of chutneys – and for a traami of 4 people there is just enough for each person to get one mouthful. Basically. And that’s it.

And Biryani, you say? I say, what?

Anyway, you get the point. It was a very unusual Monday night. I had no fresh meat to hand. But I had DaanivalKorme in the freezer. And I had rice, soaking, as usual. So here’s what I did.

(This makes 2-3 generous servings.)

Ingredients:

Around 250 gms of lamb, cooked – That’s your DaanivalKorma (Click for link to recipe, please!)

3-4 finely sliced shallots

1/2 cup of peas (Optional. Frozen or fresh. I used frozen)

2 cups of basmati (Rinsed thoroughly at least thrice. Then soaked for at least an hour. Make sure you get rid of the soaking water before cooking.)

Oil – I always use olive oil, but you could ghee, butter. (Remember vegetable oils are not as healthy as you might have thought. You are better off with butter than sunflower oil. Here.)

Spices:

Well, since your DaanivalKorme already has all the spices, all you need is:

1 teaspoon of cumin seeds

2 green cardamoms

2-3 black pepper corns

1 clove

Method:

So take a deep, thick bottomed pan, and pour in a glug of oil – remember though, your Korma already has oil in it, so don’t over do it. Once the oil is hot add the cumin seeds, cardamoms, clove, and pepper corns. After about a minute or so add your sliced shallots. These you want to fry till they are completely caramelised and almost black. You’ll have to work quickly when you come to this stage because there’s a very fine line between perfectly done shallots and burnt shallots – I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there, but anyway.

Add your peas, and fry for a minute or two. In goes your frozen Korma. Add a bit of water, bring it to boil on a high flame, and then basically let it simmer till the korma has thawed and heated through. This will take about 10-15 mins.

What you do next is our all of your korma out in to a bowl. Drain and rinse your rice, and put it in the same pan. To this add the pieces of meat – use a slotted spoon so that you don’t get any of the gravy in at this stage. Then measure the gravy out using the same cup that you used to measure the rice. I got about 2 cups of gravy. So I added those, and then 2 cups of water. You’re looking for a 1:2 ratio between rice and water here.

Mix everything up, gently – you’re rice has been soaking, if you arent gentle it will break and you wont get that lovely long grain effect. Check for salt. Then bring everything to boil on a high flame. Cook uncovered for about a minute. Then cover, simmer and cook till the liquid is all gone and the rice is tender – about 15-20 mins, but it pays to check.

That’s it, really. You’re done. You could add other vegetables – sliced carrots, beans, whatever you want – to the fried shallots, and turn this in to a real one-pot dinner, but hey rice, meat, maybe peas – the Kashmiri in me didn’t want to mess with that kind of perfection. Plus shallots ARE vegetables, aren’t they. Ahem.

And if you are really lucky, if you have been really good, then maybe you will get a bit of the *phoherr* too. What is that you ask? You really should learn Kashmiri, you guys. But anyway, phoherr is the layer of rice at the bottom of the pan, that basically gets overcooked, and in a *pulao situation*, ahem, fried to a lovely, crunchy crisp. You never serve that to your guests of course. Because, you know, it doesn’t look great, the perfectly cooked pulao, or indeed rice should have no phoherr, and because YOU WANT TO KEEP IT ALL FOR YOURSELF. Hah.

And you can see I ate mine with, ahem, tomato koftas (recipe here – what can I say, it’s your lucky day. Ahem). Because tomatoes are vegetables, or fruits, or whatever – and there is no such thing as too much meat. Clearly.  Oh and I also dotted mine with salted butter just before I served it. Because you know, ButterMakesBetter. Fact.

You’re welcome.

Gogjje ti Maaz (Turnips with Lamb)

So you know I’m from Kashmir. Which means I know a lot of, you know, Kashmiris. Ahem. All sorts, really. Village folk. From the north. The south. City people.  Downtown-ians. Civil liners. Every single shade of the political spectrum. Ahem. They don’t always agree on things. They will sometimes slag each other off. In ways that are sometimes subtle, sometimes not. You know.

But what if I tell you there is one thing that is true of every single Kashmiri I know. Like, you know, all of them. What is it, you ask? Would you like to take a guess? No, we are not talking about politics. Ahem. (Yes, you’re probably right. Ahem.) They all *love* turnips. It’s true. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Even my 7 year old who’s more London-ian than Kashmiri. It’s in our DNA, obviously. What other explanation can there be. Ahem.

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Okay, so the point of all that was this : Turnips – On their own. Fresh. Dried. Amazing.

But Turnips with lamb – next level. Thing of beauty. And joy. Obviously.

Shall we?

Ingredients:

500 grams of lamb – this works with pretty much any cut. I used boneless chunks of leg because that’s what I had. A bit of bone will add lots to the flavour though.

7-8 medium turnips – pick the smaller ones out at the grocer’s, they’re sweeter and cook quicker.

2-3 small shallots, sliced

3-4 fat cloves of garlic (2 minced, 2 whole)

Whole spices:

2 black cardamom pods

5 green cardamom pods

1 inch piece of cinnamon/ cassia

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

Ground spices:

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of Kashmiri chili powder

Salt

Oil

Method:

Okay, so first things first – wash your meat and put it in a big enough thick bottomed pan. Add all your whole spices, 2 whole cloves of garlic, fennel powder, and salt. Pour enough water to cover everything, in to the pan. Bring to boil on a high heat, cover, and simmer. And do what we do with pretty much every single lamb recipe : forget about it for the next 1.5 to 2 hours, till the meat is super soft and tender.

Now while your lamb is going about its ah, tender business, here’s what you need to sort out : your turnips! Wash, peel and chop them in to chunks. Take another pan, heat it up and then add a good glug or two of oil. Once the oil is hot and shimmering add your turnips. Fry for a couple of minutes on high heat. Sprinkle of salt all over, cover, and bring the heat down to medium/low. What this will do is make the turnips sweat, and cook in their own juices. Once all the water has evaporated, turn the heat up and fry them for a couple of minutes. By this point your turnips should be changing colour. Beauties! Push them to one side of the pan – add shallots, fry them for a bit and then mix everything up. Next, do the same with your minced garlic. Fry everything together for a couple of minutes, and then add your turmeric and chili powders. Good old stir again. (You could take the turnips out of course, and then add the shallots/ garlic/ turmeric/ chili powder, and then return the turnips to the pan, but hey ho. Hah.)

So by this point if your lamb is all done all you need to do is add it to the turnips, bring everything back to boil, check for salt, cover, and cook on a medium/ low flame for another 10 minutes. If your lamb is still cooking, take the turnips off the heat and wait till your lamb is done before you do the whole mixing bit.

And that’s it. Every Kashmiri’s comfort/ soul/ love food. Promise.

(What will you serve this with? Let’s see. Hmmm. Ummm. I wonder. Hah.)

Sea bass with ginger and garlic.

So you know the way Kashmiris cook fish is pretty epic – chunks of fresh water fish, trout is a favourite,  are deep fried, then layered in a deep pan, with various seasonal vegetables, and a spice mix, and then the whole thing is cooked on slow heat for hours, sometimes even overnight – and obviously the way it tastes is even more epic – the fish is melt in your mouth tender and the vegetables have this other-worldly flavour that is impossible to describe. Sorry to lead you on a bit, but this is not a post about Kashmiri fish. What? Did you not read the title?

What I’m trying to say is that my fish-standards are pretty high. But this recipe, right here, lives up to even those. Add to this the fact that this recipe does not take hours, and is in fact one of the quickest, easiest ways to get a super delicious, healthy dinner on to the table in less than half an hour. Yep. Winner.

Prepare to be amazed.

Ingredients:

4 SeaBass fillets – you could use the whole fish cut up in to pieces, but the fillets are easier to cook, and lets face it no bones = easier to eat.

2-3 small shallots – sliced thinly

3-4 fat cloves of garlic – finely chopped

1 inch piece of fresh ginger – julliened

4-5 stems of spring onions – chopped

1 green chilli – more if you’d like it hotter of course – deseeded and chopped

Dash of soy sauce

Salt and pepper

Oil

Method:

So this is easy peasy. Take your fillets, wash and scale them (fillets are usually scaled but hello I am Kashmiri – no point cooking fish unless you scale it. Hah). Next with a small sharp knife score your fillets. Then season them generously with salt and pepper – both sides.

Next what you want to do is heat up a frying pan. Once it’s hot, add some oil, not too much, but enough to cover the pan. In to this add your fish fillets, skin side down. You might have to do this in batches, depending on how big your pan is.

This will splutter a bit, so be aware of that. This fish cooks quite quickly, but don’t be tempted to flip it to the other side too soon. Let it cook on the skin side for a good 5-7 minutes, maybe even longer depending on how hot your flame is. Once the skin is nice and crisp flip over, carefully, to the other side and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Once the fish is cooked, take the fish out – carefully because you really don’t want to break it now, do you – and transfer it to the serving dish (cover with foil to keep in warm).

Now, in to the same pan add your shallots, and fry till soft and translucent. To this add your garlic and ginger, and the green chillies – make sure the flame is high so you get a nice sizzle on. Once the garlic starts changing colour – 2-3 minutes – bring the flame right down and add the spring onions. As soon as the spring onions heat through turn the flame off and then add a dash of soy sauce to the pan. Give everything a little stir and pour all over your waiting fish.

That. Is It. Really.

You can, if you want garnish with a bit of coriander, but you really don’t need to. This is so yummy that there have been times when it has been eaten straight out of the serving dish. But if your self control is better than mine, ahem, this is beautiful served with white rice, or if you are watching those carbs even with a side of stir fried vegetables.

Ruvaangan Kuffte (Lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce)

Every family kitchen has at least one staple dish – you know the one that will be cooked every week, irrespective of whatever else is going on. In my mum’s kitchen it was, well, basically this or that variation on what was essentially a lamb curry : syun. We always had syun with rice, and anything else was sort of, extra. Well in my kitchen, (and this is thanks entirely to the seven year old who has taken over my life and owns me heart and soul), its meatballs. Koftas in Urdu, Kuffte moenjje in Kashmiri. These are delicately flavoured lamb meatballs, cooked in a tangy tomato sauce. (There is of course a meatballs-with-spinach variant that goes down a treat as well – but that’s another post.)

Like I said, I make these pretty much every week. And I promise this is an easy recipe – kitchen to table in about an hour.

Also, I must say, that I use a couple of spices in this recipe that are not traditionally used in Kashmiri cooking. Coriander seeds, for example. I feel that these and black peppercorns add a lovely depth to the flavours here, though. But please do feel free to leave these out if you prefer a more traditional flavour.

Let’s get to it then –

Ingredients:

For the Koftas –

1 kilo of good quality lamb mince – find a butcher who sells organic. So worth it.

3-4 fat cloves of garlic.

1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger

Handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 small shallot – Finely chopped

Whole Spices:

2-3 pods of black cardamoms

1-2 teaspoons of cumin

1-2 teaspoons of coriander seeds

2-3 whole pepper corns

Ground spices:

1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons of fennel powder

1/2 teaspoon of Kashmiri red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Pinch or two of cinnamon powder


For the Tomato Sauce:

1 kilo of fresh tomatoes – roughy chopped, if you’re crazy like me and like to de-seed your tomatoes, well don’t let me stop you (You can substitute fresh tomatoes with good quality organic Passata, with fabulous results – also cuts down on cooking down when you’re up against it).

1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

2-3 fat cloves of garlic – crushed

3-4 shallots – sliced

Oil – I’m an olive oil kind of girl – but you know that

Method:

For the Koftas:

So first of all what you need to do is find yourself a big old pan and dry roast the following : cumin, coriander seeds, seeds from the black cardamom pods, black peppercorns – till everything is lovely and fragrant, about 3-4 mins. Now transfer all these lovely roasted spices in to a pestle and mortar and grind everything up into a smooth powder. To this add your garlic, ginger, chopped shallot, and grind everything up into a smooth paste. Next put your ground spices, and salt in, and mix everything together. Thats your spice paste ready.

What you need to do now is put your lamb mince in a big enough bowl, add your home-made-extra-delicious-spice-paste and some of that chopped coriander. Now comes the fun part: you basically need to make sure that all the spices are evenly distributed throughout the mince, and you could use a big spoon, some people use forks etc but seriously the best way to do this is to get stuck in there with your hands. Go on. You know you want to.

So once everything is all mixed up, (and take your time. In many ways this is the most critical step. We don’t want lumpy masala in your koftas now, do we?) wash your hands and pour 2-3 fingers worth of water in your pan and put it on a medium flame. What you are going to do next is use your hands to shape your mince into oblong “balls”, and drop them in to the water. Once all the koftas are in, and the pan comes to a boil, cover, simmer and let it be. For now.

For the Tomato sauce:

While the koftas are doing their thing, take another pan, and add a good glug of oil to it. Then add your sliced shallots and fry till they are soft and translucent – about 4-5 minutes. To this add your crushed garlic, and fry for a minute or two till fragrant. in goes the cinnamon/ cassia stick. (You could add a bit of turmeric at this point, but I don’t because I like my tomato sauce to be really really red! Also you could put some chilli powder in, if you fancy a hotter sauce.) Next add your tomatoes and fry some more. Sprinkle of salt, cover, turn the heat to med-low and let the tomatoes sweat. You basically want to fry them down to the point where all the water’s gone and you can see oil in the pan.

And Finally:

So when you get there and your tomatoes are nicely fried all you need to do is pour them all over the nicely simmering koftas. Give everything a good old stir, bring the pan back to boil, cover and simmer for another 10 mins or so.

And there you are. Perfect Koftas. Lovely Sauce.

Please tell me you remembered to put the rice on? Yes? Good.

 

 

Tchoek vaangan/ Kashmiri khattey baingan/ Baby aubergines in a tamarind sauce

So usually one vegetable will have one name in one language, yes? In English a tomato, for example, is a tomato, a carrot is called a carrot, and an onion an onion.

Oh and then there are some that are called by two different names, in the same language, depending on where you are. When I first came to this country, for example, no one knew what I was talking about when I asked for capsicum, because here they call them peppers – green, red, yellow, orange. Coriander is apparently called cilantro in America etc.

And then there are aubergines. Or eggplants. Or brinjals. *eye roll*. For the longest time I thought these were all different varieties. And in as much as there are white/ yellow eggplants etc, maybe that’s true. In any case I’ve made my peace with all these names, though I have to say I prefer the Kashmiri “vaangan”.

And that brings me, quite neatly, to Kashmiri tchoek vaangan. These are baby aubergines cooked in a spicy tamarind sauce. No onions. No tomatoes. And in the Kashmiri Pandit version, no garlic.

Fun fact – most Kashmiri recipes don’t use tomatoes, because tomatoes came to the region after these brilliant recipes had already been perfected. Ahem.

Anyway.

This is one of those quintessential Kashmiri recipes – up there with RoghanJosh and Yakhni. There aren’t many purely vegetarian dishes that get Kashmiris going, but this is definitely one.

Mum’s recipe again, this. What I love about calling her up for recipes is how she assumes a certain level of knowledge. For this recipe, for example, I asked her at the very end, “so no garlic? Or ginger powder?” And she goes, “tch of course you put garlic with the haldi/ mirch. And ginger powder at the end.” 🙄😊

She’s the best ❤.

Should we get to it then?

Ingredients –

1 kilo of baby aubergines. Washed. The idea is to leave the stems on, and cut them lengthwise twice, so you have four long slices, still attached at the stem. Easier than it sounds. Believe me.

2-3 fat cloves of garlic. Crushed.

About 1-2 teaspoons of tamarind. You can use fresh whole tamarind, dried, paste, all work. You can substitute this with lemon/ lime juice, even vinegar. This is where the tartness comes from.

Whole spices –
2-3 pods of black cardamoms
1-2 teaspoons of cumin
1-2 inch piece of Cinnamon/ cassia

Ground spices –
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1-2 teaspoons of kashmiri red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger powder
1 teaspoon of ground fennel powder

Salt

Oil

Method:

So first of all you take a pan full of boiling water and drop your washed, slices aubergines in, just long enough for everything to come back to the boil. Then using a sieve, or a colander, drain all the water out and let the aubergines dry a bit.

In another pan put your tamarind in with some water and bring to boil. Then simmer and cook till the pulp separates from the stones and you have a fairly homogeneous tamarind-water. Sieve to get rid of the stones and skins, and set aside.

Next heat a generous amount of oil in a thick bottomed wide pan. In to this add your blanched, drained aubergines, in a single layer. You’re basically trying to deep fry them, on all sides, without actually deep frying them, and making sure they don’t break in the process, so go easy with the stirring. Once you’re happy with your aubergines take them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Now in the same pan add your cumin, Kashmiri chilli powder, turmeric, and garlic. In the Kashmiri Pandit version of this garlic is substituted with asafoetida. Fry everything together till fragrant – 2-3 minutes, then add a little of the tamarind water and cook it down, then do this again, and one more time, till you’ve used up all your tamarind water.

Now return your aubergines to the pan, making sure to coat them in the sauce. Add some water, not too much, because the idea is to cook it all down without turning the aubergines in to a pulp. To this then add the black cardamoms, cassia/ cinnamon, fennel and ginger powders. Salt to taste. Stir everything in. Bring it all to boil. Cover. Simmer, till the water is all gone and your aubergines and soft and cooked through. A bit of coriander to garnish, if you like, and you’re done.

This is served with, yep, lots of white fluffy rice. Usually alongside at least one meat dish. But it’s okay, you focus on the aubergines. Ahem.

 

Green Beet Smoothie

So you know I’m a bit smoothie obsessed these days. And really if it isn’t green it isn’t super. You do the usual spinach, kale, Spring greens thing. And then you get a bit bored of the lovely, but same-old smoothies. So, in honour of Saturday I decided to shake things up a bit.

What are your thoughts on black cabbage? I confess I’d never even heard of it till yesterday. Turns out its Kale’s Italian cousin. All the goodness of Kale, slightly bitter and peppery. What’s not to love! (Having said that if you’re not of the *the-bitterer-the-better* school of thought, maybe just substitute black cabbage with regular kale. Yes? Good.)

Oh and beetroot, which is what gives this smoothie it’s lovely purple colour. Anyway let’s get to it then.

Ingredients:

1-2 leaves of black cabbage.

3-4 leaves of heart of lettuce.

Handful of coriander.

1 clementine.

Half a beetroot.

1/4 of a cucumber.

1 red raddish.

1 banana.

About an inch of ginger.

Half an inch of fresh turmeric.

2 Mejdool dates.

1/2 a cup of fresh/frozen strawberries.

3 walnuts.

4 cashews.

Method:

So basically all you do is prepare your ingredients – wash everything, peel, remove shells, stones – put everything in your blender, top up with water, and blend. And voilà, one super-green-purple-smoothie!

 

 

Best Ever Granola

So here’s the thing about breakfast cereals: I do not like them. At all. Not one little bit. Why? Well. They taste awful. Very little nutrition. And really not all that good for you either. In fact with most breakfast cereals all you can really taste is the sugar. (And cardboard?) In my mind, the worst, unhealthiest breakfast you can think of is still better than most ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But – and if you are a time-strapped-working-parent this is a very very significant but – oh but the convenience of it! You open a box, pour a portion out into a bowl, add milk/ yoghurt, and within 30 seconds you’ve got breakfast on the table. But – yup another but – my point is this need not be and either/or proposition. In one word – GRANOLA. Yup. Make it at home and you get to control exactly what goes in, so you can make it as healthy or as naughty as you want knowing that even the naughtiest granola you make at home is going to be only a gazillion times better than your boxed cereals. Win-win, I say.

(I like my granola crunchy and not too sweet, but you can up the sweetness by adding an extra dash of honey if thats what rocks your boat.)

So, here we go.

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil.

3-4 tablespoons of agave nectar.

2-3 tablespoons of honey.

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

300g rolled oats.

125g of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed).

100g of nuts (I used pecans this time, but you could used chopped almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashew – or even a mixture of some or all of these).

50g of desiccated coconut.

100g of dried fruit (I don’t really like dried fruit in this, but it can be done and works quite well. You could use dried berries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, whatever tickles your fancy.)

 

Method:

This is the easiest thing to make. In the Universe. Really. All you need to do is pre-heat your oven to 150C, which is 130C with fan, prepare two baking sheets/trays, and find yourself a big mixing bowl. Into the bowl add the oil, agave nectar, honey and vanilla, and mix. Tip in all the other ingredients, except the coconut. Give everything a good strong stir or five.

Now pour the granola mix onto the two trays and spread it out into an even layer. Into the oven for about 20-25 minutes. At this point get your trays out, mix in the coconut and dried fruit, and put them back in for another 15-20 minutes. Get out of the oven and let it cool before having a taste. Oh well, at least try.

Once completely cooled, you can store this is an airtight container for up to a month. (Though I admit I’ll be shocked if it lasts that long in your kitchen. In mine its all gone in a week, at the most :).) Absolutely fantastic with cold milk, over yoghurt, or on its own. Breakfast on the table in 30 seconds. And with good carbs, good fats and protein, fabulously good for you. Yay.

So. What have we learnt today? The best breakfast cereal is the one you make at home. Yes? Good.

Baked Banana Blueberry Date Oats

So I realise that I’m very very lucky in that I actually enjoy my work and don’t quite understand *monday blues*. In fact I quite love Mondays. And all the other days. My only gripe with working weekdays is that I don’t have enough time for a proper cooked breakfast. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that when I say proper cooked breakfast I mean porridge, of course. Oh and baked oatmeal. The real reason I love weekends? I can actually spend half an hour in the morning baking oats. Seriously. So here’s a Sunday morning ritual : pot of tea – loose leaf first flush Assam these days, get boy started on some warm golden milk and a homemade granola bar, and then bake oats. Oh yes.

This morning it was banana, blueberries, dates, almonds, and a splash of Agave nectar. So so beautiful.

Let’s get to it then:

Ingredients:

1 cup organic rolled oats. (You know how I feel about organic, unprocessed food by now. Yes? Good.)

2 small bananas. Sliced

2-3 dates. I used Mejdool – roughly chopped.

1 cup of blueberries – rinsed.

1/2 cup of rice milk. You could use almond milk, even regular milk.

11 almonds – roughly chopped.

1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

1 tablespoon of agave nectar (totally optional this).

Some boiling water.

Method:

So, first of all you need to pre-heat your oven to 190C, which is 170C with a fan. Then pour your oats into a bowl, cover with just enough boiling water and let them soak for about 10 minutes.

While the oats are doing their thing, prep all your other ingredients – fruits nuts etc. Then stir everything including the rice milk, agave nectar, and cinnamon powder into your oats.

Transfer to a baking dish. I like to put some banana slices on top just because it looks pretty :).

In it goes into your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, till it’s nice and golden on top.

And you’re done. So awesome this is. Baking fruits caramelises natural sugars so everything is sweeter, the flavours deeper. And in any case you know you’re winning when boy wants seconds. Oh yes.

 

Best Spiced (Christmas) Porridge Ever

Oh my god this is seriously the best porridge I’ve ever made, or eaten. And given my forever, unending love for porridge, and the sheer amount of the stuff I eat, that is saying something. In fact that is saying A LOT. Slightly seasonal this, with cinnamon, nutmeg and/ or mixed spice. I added extra dates for garnish but you could make it even more christmassy with dried cranberries, if you like those.

Okay, so, without further ado, let’s do do do. (Or Ho Ho Ho. Ahem. Merry christmas y’all :).)

Ingredients:

(Serves one by the way. Me. Obviously.)

1/2 cup of rolled oats. I use organic jumbo oats – lots more texture, flavour etc, but any kind of rolled oats work. (I have to admit I do not like the ready-in-two-minutes- quick-oats though *oats-snob-alert* HoHoHo.)

Half an apple. Cored. Grated. Or could chop it up quite fine and that would work also.

Half a carrot. Grated.

3 dates. Pitted.

1 teaspoon of almond butter.

1 teaspoon of coconut oil.

1 cup of water.

1/2 cup of almond milk.

Spices:

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg powder. (Of course freshly grated nutmeg is what you really want, but I didn’t have any at hand, and the powder worked pretty well.)

Pinch or two of mixed spice (optional).

 

Method:

So basically all you do is put your oats, water, almond milk, carrot, apple and 2 of the 3 dates into a saucepan, give it a good mix and cook it on a low to medium flame for about 8-10 minutes till its all lovely and gooey and porridge-y. Remember the more you stir, the creamier your porridge will be, so don’t be shy.

Once your porridge is ready. Take it off the heat and add your almond butter and coconut oil to the saucepan and give it a good stir till everything is nicely mixed together. The almond butter and coconut oil take this porridge to another level altogether. The creaminess is plain ridiculous. Anyway, time to put your spices in, and stir some more. By this point your kitchen actually smells like “’tis the season to be jolly!” Truly.

Now, pour your porridge into your serving bowl. And go crazy with the toppings! I used sliced apples, dates, almonds and toasted coconut flakes. But hey, whatever you fancy!

Christmas for breakfast. In a bowl. And so good for you, its not even funny. SoMuchWin.