Category Archives: Jibber Jabber

Being good: Lentil Soup

Lentil-Soup-(5993)

There’s no denying it: I love food and spending time in the kitchen, but sometimes there is a limit, even for me. I don’t feel guilty about it – I used to but not anymore. J and I eat well throughout the week. Dinner prep is easy and quick most of the time anyway but I try to make every meal as varied as possible. Again, sometimes within limits, because you cannot be superwoman everyday. If you are, I applaud you. Really. No sarcasm here.

Times like these call for easy solutions, especially when I’m eating alone. I find that there’s no joy in that but it happens sometimes when J is abroad for work. He found a recipe by Alton Brown for lentil soup a few years back and we come back to it repeatedly, changing the ingredients according what we have in the fridge at the time. You know that I love a good steak, but there’s plenty of room for hearty soups in my life as I’m sure there is in yours. It might not be attractive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good; and comforting.

I remember one day, quite a few years back (I think I must have been 6 or 7 years old), when my mum and I went over to my grandma’s house. My nan had a large blue kitchen with a huge table in the middle. I opened the pantry and found two packets of small round pasta. I poured some water in a pan, emptied the packets of pasta into the water and swirled it around with a wooden spoon. I had no idea how to switch on the hob (thank goodness for that), so I left the pasta just there, imagining it was cooking. By the end of the afternoon this concoction was a gloopy mess; it would not magically turn into pasta soup obviously, but it was my creation and I felt so proud of it, until my nan told me off.

Fast forward almost 30 years, and this memory has stuck with me ever since. Every time I make an easy soup I am transported back in time to that sunny kitchen. For the life of me I cannot copy and paste the link onto this website so I’m giving the recipe here. It’s just a guide. What I don’t suggest though is adding potatoes. You will end up with cement. Take it from me: been there, done that and I won’t do it again!

Don’t be intimidated by the last ingredient. You can use a number of spices instead. I go for ground cardamom, ground ginger or even sumac. You need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 450g red lentils
  • 400g can of chopped tomatoes (optional)
  • 2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (you can use mixed spice or cumin)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, ground ginger or sumac (Alton suggests ground grains of paradise but stick to my suggestions if you don’t have it.)

All you need to do is sweat the onions, carrot, celery and salt into a large pot. (You need the salt to soften the veggies.) Add the lentils, tomatoes, stock and spices. Stir to combine the ingredients. Turn the heat up till everything comes up to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. If you want to, blend everything with a stick blender. (I would invest in one of these.) Taste and add some more seasoning if required. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Rob x

Runner beans

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A few weeks ago a very kind friend gave me some runner beans. Shame on me I didn’t know exactly what they were! I know it’s stupid. I can see you rolling your eyes. In my defense though, I never really seen them, or ate them, neither here nor in Malta. (I could have been living on Mars…) On the rock (what we *Maltese*, not *Maltesers* please, sometimes affectionately call our little island) you can get broad beans, known as ful, almost everywhere. Many like to eat them raw, shelled of course, with their outer coating removed. There’s something therapeutic about doing all this while watching your favourite tv show. (Like CSI perhaps?) In Malta you can find them cooked in minestra (a variant of the Italian minestrone), simply cooked with garlic and tomatoes, or in our famous bigilla, a tasty concoction which has cooked beans as the base ingredient, crushed, to which you add olive oil, garlic, chilli if you like spice and any herb you fancy. Anne and Helen Caruana Galizia suggest using either marjoram or mint – the latter grows like you wouldn’t believe in Malta. (See The Food and Cookery of Malta, Pax, 1999.)

We were talking about runner beans…? Yes. So I didn’t know what to do with them. J kept telling me that they don’t need to be shelled, but I would’t listen. I did eventually though and after doing some quiet research (quiet because he didn’t see me, ha!) I simply washed them, sliced them diagonally, sort of diamond-shaped, finally chopped an onion, squashed two cloves of garlic, chopped some chorizo and some fresh parsley, lightly cooked everything up in a pan and bam, it’s ready.

In the meantime I had a couple of rainbow trout in the oven and there you have a great meal on the table in 30 minutes. The same method and ingredients can also be used with any kind of green vegetable. Kale is fantastic and full of good things, and broccoli too. You won’t have any excuse not to eat your veg or 5-a-day. Enjoy!

Rob x

It’s Chocolate Week…

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Everyday-Brownies-(6359)

…so I baked my favourite chocolate brownies to date and Nigella’s chocolate and banana muffins from Kitchen, which I adapted to some degree. Only because my oven has a mind of its own. I will write about these again very soon. As for the photos, I took some with my mini camera, but they turned out to be really grainy, so here are some updated ones. You will find both recipes on this blog (links are above). It’s Chocolate Week here in the UK so do yourself a favour and bake some of you favourite treats. We only live once!

Rob x

Some more good reads…

Although I do plenty of reading during the winter months, like many of you I find more time to read in summer. One of the things I am truly happy about right now is that one of the major libraries in my area has finally opened after a massive refurbishment project. During the past nine months we were left with a meagre selection of books in the temporary building, which I only visited once. No surprise there. However the new library opened a few weeks ago and I was pleased to see that it’s now bigger and better. It’s not really local to me unfortunately; it’s in a different town and I have to drive to get there, but the library in my town frankly doesn’t cut it. Since it’s an effort I get loads of books in one go, just in case (and I use this phrase a lot) I finish a book in one sitting (which happens rarely) and I need another one!

So during my first visit I borrowed nine books, almost all travel-related, specifically about Italy. I have really been obsessed about the country since our trip to Rome. I felt nostalgic and wanted to return. I cannot physically go right now, so I read about it instead. Still good. I started off with Bella Tuscany, Francis Mayes’ sequel to Under the Tuscan Sun. She published it quite a while ago but I thought it would make a fun read. And it did. Even though I have watched Under the Tuscan Sun (the movie), it is a different story than the book, which admittedly I have yet to read. In Bella Tuscany (I just love this title) Mayes introduces new people and events in her and her partner/later husband Ed’s life, as well as revisiting other characters which she writes about in the first book. And, the renovations of Bramasole continue in full swing, with some glitches, as with all things in life.

What made it even more fun is the food, if that’s your kind of thing. What I was not aware of is that apart from being a travel writer, Mayes is also a gourmet cook. I would love to find some time to try her take on the recipes. She doesn’t give loads, which can be a good thing; this is not a cookery book. It’s about life, relationships, gardening, wine-making, food of course, hope and spring, with it’s beautiful Italian produce. There’s also an incident with a snake which is no big whoop – for you – but it still gives me the creeps! (Incidentally there’s a snake incident in the next book I just read. What is it with the Italian countryside and these things??)

I’m no literary expert. I just love to read, but I like the simplicity in this book. I like difficult prose, and have learnt to appreciate it over the years (not when I was at school) but as time goes by I decided that life is too short. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of good literature, and I am in no way promoting trashy novels or mags. What I mean to say is that you don’t necessarily need big words or complex explanations to write well. Bella Tuscany is a good example of this.

The next book I quickly picked up because I quite like the cover is Extra Virgin: amongst the olive groves of Liguria by Annie Hawes. (Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that!) Apart the occasional snake story, (alas I think I might have to get used to it), this time Hawes writes about her impulse buy, obviously an old house in Liguria. Specifically near tiny Diano San Pietro. Annie is originally from London, but when she was persuaded by her sister to travel to Northern Italy for some work experience, she was hooked. No time like the present to get herself a little rustico, clean it up, repair it with the help of some inquisitive new neighbours who cannot really understand why two strange women wanted to live in the area, and why they had to walk everywhere! There are the funny moments and the not-so-funny ones, but it’s all good. Great food, how-to and how-not-to construction advice, including some for the new orto, and hard-working people is what you’ll find here. Absolutely beautiful.

Rob x

Images: More Maltese food.

Bigilla-(5502)

These are some more photos taken in Malta. I don’t get to go often, simply because visiting the rock is never completely a holiday. What was different this time round is that I did a fair amount of cooking and of course, learning. Cooking rabbit was like an adventure. Sounds a bit silly I know, but I felt like a kid in a candy shop. All it took was a bit of white wine, onions, garlic and spice (sweet mixed preferably but recipes differ in nature), firstly seared in a large pan. My big mistake: not having my trusted notebook with me in case I wanted to write the recipe. I have a bad long-term memory. I learnt my lesson. Same goes for the Bigilla (a typical Maltese dip made out of beans). I still have to find someone who doesn’t like it as much as I do, but you never know.

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Rabbit-(5505)

Enjoy the pics!

Rob x