In Praise of Dirt

“You’ll eat a bushel full of dirt by the time you die.” My grandpa told me that once when I was little. I supposed it’s a reminder that a little bit of soil won’t harm you, and in fact might be healthy.

I just cleaned loads of dirt out of my sink. Peeled carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, onions, leeks leave behind a LOT of dirt and sand. Then it occurred to me that this could be considered an anomaly in today’s modern world.

The majority of people buy their food at mega supermarkets, where fruits and vegetables are often picked prematurely, shipped from far away and sold in sterile packages. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they ‘don’t like’ fruit and vegetables because they don’t taste like anything. No wonder!

Of course there are a lot of people who have vegetable gardens, shop at farmers markets or belong to a co-op, but we live in a pretty dense city and growing much more than herbs on the balcony isn’t really realistic.

What really made me appreciate the dirt in the sink was that I did buy my vegetables at the supermarket. There’s a small supermarket near our house that’s a local chain, there are about 4 locations in Barcelona. I feel really fortunate that we live in a place where you can conveniently buy fresh, seasonal produce that’s still got a connection to the Earth, that you know this plant came from the ground and not from a plastic crate.

So, love the dirt and appreciate what it means, but don’t forget to wash it out. No one likes gritty soup.

 

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Falafel

falafel + garnishesI have been attempting to post this falafel recipe for weeks now, and I kept getting stuck. Reason being? I couldn’t think of a clever intro or witty anecdote about why I decided to make homemade falafel. Truth of the matter is I wanted falafel and that was that.

Ps. Once you make homemade falafel you’ll never go back.

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar (400 g) chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1/2 cup green spring onions (white and light green parts)
  • handful fresh cilantro (coriander)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4-6 TB all-purpose flour
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Sunflower oil for frying
  • chopped tomato, cucumber and mint salad for garnish
  • pita bread
  • tahini sauce

Instructions:

chickpea mixIn a food processor, pulse garlic, cilantro, onion, hot pepper flakes, salt and cumin until it’s finely chopped (not quite a paste). Scrape down sides and add baking powder, lemon juice and chickpeas. Pulse until well-blended but not pureed, scraping down sides every 10 pulses or so to make sure that everything is well mixed.

Turn the chickpea mixture out into a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle mix with 2 TB of flour and blend in using a spatula. Add another 2 TB of flour and blend in. You may need to add 1-2 TB more depending on how wet the mix still is. If you try to make a small ball in your hands and a lot of the chickpea mix sticks to your skin, you will need to add a bit more flour.

Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I use this time to make the garnishes – a fresh chopped tomato, cucumber, lemon juice and mint salad is easy to do, and you can make yoghurt sauce with 150 ml greek yoghurt, 1/2 cup peeled and finely diced cucumber, 1 finely diced clove of garlic and salt to taste.

In a deep frying pan heat 1/2″ of oil over medium heat (it’s ready when it seems shimmery). Test one small ball of falafel, if it starts to fall apart when frying you need to add more flour to the chickpea mix. Form evenly sized balls of the mixture and flatten slightly with a spatula. I like to make falafel “burgers” so the mixture makes about eight 3-inch patties, but you can make them smaller if you like.

tomato cucumber saladFry over medium heat, about 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown.

Serve with pita bread, fresh garnishes and tahini sauce.

Servings: Four. 250 calories.

Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

crackly chewy goodness

Mmm ginger. I love crystallized ginger, ginger ale, ginger ice cream, ginger in my gin & tonic, the list goes on and on!

I’ve been hankering for some gingerbread cookies for some time now, but I wanted chewy, not crispy gingersnap type cookies. This recipe is perfect and uses ingredients I can easily source here in Barcelona.

The cookies are fabulous right out of the oven, of course, but I found that if you stored them overnight in an airtight container they became EVEN chewier, how awesome is that?!

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams) brown sugar*
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower oil
  • 1/3 cup (70 ml) ginger marmalade OR molasses**
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 cup (115 grams) crystallized ginger, chopped into small pieces
  • a mix of white and brown sugar for rolling cookies

* The brown sugar I find readily available here isn’t exactly like the soft brown sugar you can get in the States or in the UK, but based on experience I like the Azucarera brand best for baking.

** Perhaps more resourceful BCN bakers can find molasses without traipsing all over town, but I cannot be bothered. Ginger preserves are pretty easy to find (Robertson’s, Wilkin & Sons and St Dalfour are all available at my neighborhood supermarket!), so marmalade in, molasses out!

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, oil, eggs and ginger marmalade until well combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet while stirring gently. Mix until a homogeneous dough is formed. Add the crystallized ginger and stir to combine. Refrigerate covered for at least 15 minutes.

Using a pair of tablespoons, scoop the dough into 24 balls and roll them in the white/brown sugar mix until fully coated. Place the cookies at least 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 13 minutes, rotating halfway through if necessary. When fully baked, the cookies will be cracked on top, but still soft to the touch. Allow cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheets. Store the cookies up to five days in an airtight container, if they last that long!

Servings: 24 cookies. 121 calories each.

Roasted Garlic & Rosemary Mashed Potatoes

It’s wintertime (a relative concept in Barcelona) and nothing goes better than a bit of stodge. There’s not much commentary needed for this post as mashed potatoes are pretty standard, but I feel as if this beloved side dish has been unfairly maligned. Potatoes aren’t terrible in and of themselves, it’s when you cover them with cheese and bacon and sour cream that they become calorie bombs. I think that the addition of rosemary and roasted garlic adds the flavor kick that you need with just a little butter and milk for creaminess.

Ingredients:

  • Three medium-sized yellow skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • a sprig (about 4″ long) of fresh rosemary, or a 1/2 TB of dried rosemary
  • 4-5 cloves (half a head) of roasted garlic*
  • 75 ml semi-skim milk
  • 1 TB butter
  • cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

* To make roasted garlic just drizzle a few cloves with olive oil and wrap them in aluminum foil to make a little packet. Place in oven on one of the top racks and roast under high heat for 20 minutes or so, until you can smell the garlic. The garlic will be soft and you can just squeeze it out of the papery skin.

Instructions:

Bring salted water to a boil and add potatoes and sprig of rosemary. Boil for 12-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Drain and remove the rosemary stem if you’ve used a fresh sprig. Return potatoes to pot and add roasted garlic, milk and butter. Mash potatoes using a hand masher or a ricer. If you use a mixer you run the risk of over-mashing them and then they become gluey. Add salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.

Servings: Two generous portions. 273 calories.