Saturday, 1 February 2014

Ingredient of the Month 28: Maca Powder

Maca root commonly comes as a powder.
Here is another wonderful superfood from South America; a remote lakeside area in Peru, to be precise. Grown and used by the Inca people and still cultivated there today, maca is the powdered root of the Lepidium Meyenii plant, a member of the cruciferous family that also includes cabbages and radishes. It has been used as currency, food and even as an aphrodisiac. (So very appropriate for the month which includes Valentine's Day!) It is sometimes known as Peruvian Ginseng. 

Dried maca root is high in carbs (60-75%), is 10-14% protein and also contains some fibre. Maca has low sodium content, but is rich in calcium and potassium. It also contains iron, iodine, copper, manganese, zinc, magnesium, selenium, phosphorous and essential fatty acids. Vitamins B, C and E are also found in maca.

Health benefits:
It is said that maca can improve libido and fertility, and it is also a hormone balancer, making it a good supplement for women with menstrual issues or menopause symptoms; it can relieve cramps, hot flushes ("flashes") and mood swings. However, pregnant or lactating women should avoid taking maca.
For some people. maca seems to clear acne and blemishes (maybe because it balances hormones?), and perhaps because of all nutrients, taking maca powder does seem to give increased energy and endurance.

Eating maca:
Maca is definitely an acquired taste! It is kind of woody, sweet, bitter and pungent all at the same time. I can vouch for the fact that you can get used to it, and it does hide itself well amongst other ingredients. So how much maca should you have? It is recommended that you start with smaller amounts, say a teaspoon a day, and build up. That way you can take note of the effects and avoid overdoing it (too much maca can throw your hormones out of balance). A tablespoon a day is considered average.
You can add maca to smoothies, salads, puddings, drinks etc. but the benefits are lost if it is added to very hot food or cooked.
Here's a smoothie recipe to start you off:

Cacao Maca Shake


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Baisen Halva with Flax- Indian-inspired vegan sweet

This is a great way to round off an Indian meal!
It's funny how- and I've said this before- sometimes you can start off cooking one thing and end up with quite something else! I was going to make ladu, as we heard lately that toasted baisen (gram/ chickpea flour) is great for colds/ flu, which my husband has had this week. However, I couldn't resist adding some coconut milk to the pan and seem to have ended up with halwa instead. It's delicious, vegan and the flax means it's good for you too. Despite the fact this is my first go at these particular sweets, my husband took a bite and said: "Don't change the recipe." The flavour is almost treacly and the gour lends a dark and velvety texture, but they still taste like mithai (Indian sweets). These amounts will make 16-20 pieces of halwa, depending on the size.

200g gram flour (baisen)
4 tabs cold-pressed sunflower oil (or similar)
300g gour- to find out about this natural cane sugar, look here
1 tsp ground cardamom- I grind my own, pods and all
2-3 tabs ground flax (aka linseeds)
3 tabs coconut milk, the canned sort
melon seeds (ek magaz or char magaz) for sprinkling- find them in Asian grocery stores. (You could use slivered almonds or cashews instead.)
  • Set the gour to melt in a small but sturdy pan on a low heat.
  • Meanwhile, toast the baisen in a larger, thick-bottomed pan. This is the bit you can't afford to mess up: KEEP THE FLOUR MOVING or it will burn and you'll have to start all over again. When you can smell the flour toasting, add the oil and keep stirring fast until the mixture has darkened a shade.(But not too much or it will taste scorched. Not enough, and it will taste too beany). 
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the flax, gour and cardamom.
  • Lastly, mix in the coconut milk and heat very gently, stirring all the while, until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides and bottom of the pan. I found this happened almost instantaneously.
  • Remove from heat and wait until cool enough to handle.
  • Press down using wet hands or a wet spatula, into a dish lined with baking parchment/ greaseproof paper. Sprinkle with melon seeds or slivered nuts and cut into diamond shapes when they have cooled down and firmed up a bit.
What are your favourite Indian sweets? Have you tried veganising them?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Ekadasi Dosa with Coconut Chutney and Potato Sambar- vegan, gluten free

This dish manages to capture some contrasting textures and flavours despite the fact it is made from a limited selection of ingredients.
There's something so satisfying about dipping chunks of crispy-at-the-edges dosa into peppery sambar with soft chunks of potato and parsnip, and mopping up clouds of gingery sweet coconut chutney- when my husband gets inspired, he really gets inspired! This is what I came home to today, so despite the fact it is an Ekadasi (a no-grains fast, and often hard to do a day's work on the very limited fare) we managed to eat something other than jacket potato. Granted, I did roll up my sleeves and make the chutney, but the entire concept is my husband's. (How he got that dosa batter just right first time, I will never know...) This makes 6-8 dosas, with just about the right amount of sambar and chutney. Recipe below the picture:

Dosa batter:
100g roasted buckwheat (kasha), ground into flour
150g potato flour
320ml water approx.
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Whisk the batter and let it stand while you make the sambar and chutney.
  • When the sambar and chutney are done, use a lightly-oiled frying pan to cook the thin, round dosas. Don't make them too big, as when the bottom is getting crispy, you're going to flip them like pancakes!
  • Tip: Whisk a little more water in before you pour the batter, as it thickens on standing.
150g potato and parsnip, diced small
150g courgette, diced small
300ml water approx.
1 tsp turmeric
10g grated fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsps sunflower oil
  • Simmer the potato/ parsnip cubes in the water, spices and oil and when they are half cooked, add the courgette.
  • Continue to cook until the vegetables are nice and soft.
  • Serve hot with dosas.
Coconut Chutney:
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/2 roast buckwheat, ground into flour
about 1/2" of grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp seasalt
1 tab sunflower oil
1 tab lemon juice
water to mix
  • Grind about 2 tabs of the coconut into a fine powder and mix with water to a creamy consistency.
  • Stir-fry the ginger in the oil and add the buckwheat briefly before removing from the heat.
  • Add this to the creamy coconut, and throw in the desiccated coconut along with the salt and lemon juice. Voila!
Serve the dosas alongside little bowls of sambar and chutney (see below) and get dipping!

Tangy BBQ Sauce- vegan, gluten free

Summer may be far away, but you can still dream of al fresco dining, and conjure up your favourite outdoor flavours in the kitchen, to eat indoors. This is a very quick and easy sauce to put together- you may like it a bit sweeter, or a bit spicier, and if so just adjust the amount of sweeteners or chilli to your liking. The flavour is definitely tamarind-dominant, which gives it the tang, but there's smokiness and sweetness in there too. We used our sauce to accompany veggieburgers and roast potatoes, but I'm pretty sure it would be an awesome tofu dish as well. 

350ml tamarind pulp (use about 100g of tamarind block soaked in warm water, then passed through a seive. It  should be fairly liquid, but contain some pulp)
4 tabs tomato puree
3 tabs agave nectar
2-3 tsps gour
1 1/2 tsps seasalt
1 tab soy sauce
1 tab sweet smoked paprika
1/3 tsp black pepper
a pinch of compound hing
a pinch of red chilli powder 
  • In a saucepan, gently heat the tamarind, tomato puree, agave, gour, seasalt and soy sauce. It should quite quickly become the consistency of ketchup.
  • Add the smoked paprika, pepper, hing and chilli powder. 

What would you use this sauce to accompany?