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Big Bowl of Mexico

This is the only vegetable that sounds like an exciting substance. Maybe that’s why everyone loves a pepper. 

Most other veggies are used in a pejorative sense. Turnip reminds us of our Taoiseach. Pumpkin is one of the clumsy twits from a children’s novel. Aubergine belongs to a thousand bridesmaid dresses. And tomato is the shade many of us sport from May to August. That’s if you’re a ginger.

Pepper’s hell-raising nephews and nieces, the chillies, are indeed responsible for pepping up moods with their ability to release natural endorphins in our body. 

The larger equivalent however is juicier, sweeter and sensationally flavoursome minus the sting. Don’t ignore the plain pepper on your next supermarket trip, especially if you’re a smoker. Peppers contain plenty of beta-carotene, protective carotenoids and vitamin C to toughen up your immunity. Go for the yellow, orange and red ones raw. Green peppers are a little shy and therefore best roasted, grilled or ignored.

 

big bowl of mexico ingredients_edited-1

 

A Big Bowl of Mexico

This is the ultimate comfort food intended to feed indolent limbs and massage achy heads. You’ll find feisty chillis, potent garlic, sharp lime and fragrant coriander – a goblet of goodness. The recipe is a classic Jamie Oliver, morphed into the confines of my kitchen cupboard. He uses tortilla chips the way you would with croutons in a French soup. Let them soak up the soup and carry extra flavour.

Do try sourcing organic tortillas by R.W.Garcia. Celestial stuff. These particular tortillas don’t carry nasty fats or unpronounceable ingredients. You’ll find them in most health food stores and online from Ireland’s organic supermarket.

 

guacamole making with fresh limes
 

I like to lob in loads of fresh red onion. It’s a cheap superfood with a big personality. Think Katie Price. It can tart up a dish and lend some heat with its bite. Chefs, French men and scientists go mad for this bulbous little beaut.

Here’s why. Onions are flush with flavonoids, otherwise known as heavyweight antioxidants that fight ageing and disease. A growing body of research suggests that flavonoids help reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease (but not bad breath. Oh well. Small price to pay for a healthier hummer, no?). According to the Irish Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease is the most common form of death in Ireland.  No harm in putting onions on your shopping list then, eh?

Quercetin is the red onion’s hallmark flavonoid, the one that robs all the limelight. Quercetin acts like an anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory in the body. Interestingly, quercetin is not destroyed through cooking. It is thought to be transferred into the cooking liquid. That chicken soup granny does for indolent hangovers and the sniffles? It all makes sense now.  

Various studies also point to the onion’s role in maintaining strong bones. One such study, in the journal Nature, fed rats a small amount of dried onion and noted a 17% increase in calcium absorption. Imagine a pill that could promise the same?

 

For the soup:

1 large onion, peeled and diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 carrots, peeled and cut into mouth-sized chunks

4 peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 cup of cooked black beans

2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 fresh bay leaves (pinch them from a neighbour’s tree)

4-5 cups good vegetable stock

1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika powder

 

For the best bit:

2 ripe avocados

1 lime

2 chillis, deseeded and finely sliced

organic tortilla chips

1 large handful of fresh coriander, torn

 

Put a large, deep-based pan on a low heat and splash in some olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, peppers and gently heat for 10-15 minutes until softened. Stir every-so-often to prevent burning at the bottom.

Add remaining soup ingredients, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

While the soup is gurgling away, peel and dice the avocado. Grate some lime zest over the avocado chunks, and squeeze on the juice to keep it from turning brown. Put in the centre of the table, next to the bowl of fragrant green chilli, torn coriander and plate of tortillas. You can also heat the tortillas in the oven for a few minutes at 180 degrees.

Have a taste of the soup, season, taste again, and once you’re happy, call in the troops.

 

black beans

 

Worried about the social side-effect of eating beans? I ask Harold McGee about the science behind trouser trumpets and beans, here on BBC’s food programme January 4th. Harold is everyone’s hero, but most famously, Heston Blumenthal’s culinary guru. ‘Nuff said.  

 

black beans tinned 

 

These beans are the best tinned variety on the market. Find them in Picado, a Mexican pantry on Portobello Bridge Dublin 2, or order them into your local grocers. The others are yaktastic in comparison …

 

 

 

 

 

Events, Treats & Snacks, Vegan &/or Raw, Videos, x For Freezer x

Cooking with Donal, and raw chocolate

Apparently, women think about chocolate more than men. Some scientists think this is because eating cacao helps release a cavalry of dopamine in the female brain, the same substance released during orgasm. It’s even been suggested that when women eat raw chocolate, it affects activity in the cerebral hemisphere responsible for regulating sexual desire. Just saying. Like.

The brave Donal Skehan invited me into his kitchen, to test my theory.

KIDDING.

But we did make a block of raw chocolate nib toffee, to help him and his missus kickstart their healthy new year resolutions. Join us over on Donal’s YouYube channel

 

 

Donal Skehan Susan Janecoffee bean halva

 

You can add some sneaky coffee beans on top, to cause some hipsteria.

 

 

 

Treats & Snacks, x For Freezer x

Chocolate Cups with Bee Pollen & Ginger

There’s something desperate about resorting to dust, scraped from the knuckles of bees. But who am I to judge? I’m suckered into superfood fandangos like iron filings to a magnet.

Bee pollen looks tots amazeballs on chocolate, yoghurt, smoothies and ice cream. It’s an extraordinarily healthy food, and tastes like fermented ear wax so I like to freeze all flavour from it. If the queen bee thrives on it, sign me up! 

Unusual for a plant substance, bee pollen contains all 22 amino acids making it a whopping member of the protein clan. It is naturally rich in enzymes to stoke digestion, iron (tough luck Popeye) and B vitamins to resuscitate dead batteries. Madame queen needs to lay hundreds of eggs, daily, and lives forty times longer than the working bee so her stamina is probably testament to this luminous superfood.

 

bee pollen chocolates

 

There are, no doubt, delicious varieties. Think about it – the taste of pollen is directly influenced by the flowers and shrubs that the bees forage. So don’t give up on your first taste. Ask a friend to buy a different brand to yours, and go halfies. It will keep for a year in the freezer (3 years in the fridge). I’ve seen some folk chew on bee pollen straight from the jar, without flinching. There’s a PhD there, in anthropology. Or psychology. Maybe one day.

Hiding it in chocolate is the easiest thing to do. Here’s one to get you started.

 

Chocolate Cups with Bee Pollen & Ginger

Makes 12-18 little chocolate cups, for storage in the freezer. Just double the portions to make a tart at the same time as the little cups.

 

Base:

3/4 cup sticky dates, like Medjool (150g)
1&1/2 cups walnuts (165g)
Pinch, good organic unrefined salt

 

Filling:

¼ cup hot water
5 tablespoons raw cacao or cocoa powder
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1x 170g jar cashew nut butter
2 teaspoons tamari soya sauce
5 drops culinary grade ginger oil, like Neal’s Yard or freshly grated ginger
3 tablespoons cacao butter, melted
Decorate with bee pollen (I like this one the best)

 

To make the base, chop the dates into small pieces and pulse with the walnuts and salt. You will need the teeniest splash of water to bring it together.

Press the mixture firmly into a dinky tray of small cupcake holders. Silicone ones, like in the photo, are the best because the mixture won’t get stuck. Freeze. You can also use an 18-inch spring-form cake pan instead if it all seems too tedious. The mini-cups are useful for parties though.

To make the filling, give the hot water, cacao powder, maple, cashew butter and tamari a good whizz in the blender. You should have a dense, dark, glossy ganache by now. While the motor is running, slowly add a steady stream of melted cacao butter and 4-5 drops of ginger. You can use fresh ginger, grated on a lemon zester. Sometimes the mixture inexplicably splits for me if I use fresh ginger instead of ginger oil, so I fear this is a question best put to Harold McGee. Taste, and decide whether you’d like more sweetness, or perhaps more saltiness from tamari.

Once happy, spoon the filling into each of your prepped nut cups, and smooth the top with your tongue or spoon.

We store our platoon of chocolate cups in the freezer, ready to serve at late notice. The base is excellent to use with hummus too, for small hungry hands, or pureed avocado and mint.

 

bee pollen chocolate tartsbee pollen recipe

 

If you’re curious about the science behind food, I ask kitchen guru and scientist Harold McGee the all-important one on the BBC Food Programme here. Click on January 4 2015. Night!