Saturday, 3 September 2011

Herby sprouted mung and hemp crackers-raw and vegan

I now love making up new concoctions of healthy nuts, seeds, veg etc. to dehydrate into savoury crackers; it's so quick and easy, and you can really be creative with ingredients...perfect for eating with fresh sprouts, salad, tahini, yeast extract, miso, peanut butter, hummus,  bean pate... or just on their own instead of crisps, tortilla chips or salted nuts as they are way healthier. Getting a dehydrator has revolutionised my lunchtimes! I have found that adding whole sesame seeds and not making them too thick ensures a satisfyingly crunchy result.
Having explored chilli crackers, I decided to turn to herbs for flavour, so these are markedly basil-ish- selected for its strong and distinctive taste, but you could substitute your own favourite herb or combo. Anyway, here's what I came up with. (The quantities given here made about 16 cookie-sized crackers.)
2 handfuls of mung sprouts
1/2 cup hemp protein powder
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup unhulled whole sesame seeds
Plenty of black pepper and dried basil (taste to make sure it's to your liking)
Tamari/soy sauce/liquid aminos, seasalt, hing and paprika to taste
  • First, blend the mung sprouts with a little water and soy sauce until they resemble a thin paste (like single cream or thick gravy). If your blender can cope then add less water so long as the cracker mixture holds together okay.
  • Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl: the finished mixture should be thick and spreadable, somewhere between a batter and a dough.
  • Spread evenly on a Paraflexx sheet laid on a dehydrator tray and score into 16 crackers. It's worth taking a bit of time over this to get the edges reasonably straight and an even thickness of about 3mm.
  • Dehydrate for about 10 hours at 135F/ 57C, inverting them onto another mesh tray and separating them after the first couple of hours. Simple!

    Wednesday, 31 August 2011

    Buckwheat- the nutritional benefits

    You may have noticed that I use buckwheat flour a lot in my recipes; this is because not only is it useful on ekdasi days, but also it is a very nutritious food. It is also gluten-free, so good for anyone who is coeliac or allergic/ sensitive to wheat or gluten. Buckwheat is technically a fruit rather than a grain, and belongs to the ploygonaceae  family of plants which also includes knotweed and rhubarb. Here are some of the facts I found out about the health benefits of buckwheat:

    • Canadian scientists have found that buckwheat may help balance blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, and could be a  “safe, easy and inexpensive way to lower glucose levels and reduce the risk of complications.” This is because buckwheat contains a substance called inusitol.
    • The inusitol in buckwheat has recently been shown to have a positive effect on PCOs (polycystic ovary syndrome) and research into this is ongoing.
    • The carbohydrates in buckwheat act as a "prebiotic", encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut. 
    • .Buckwheat contains no gluten: grains with gluten are known to "glue up the works", thus inhibiting vitamin absorption and maybe even wearing out your digestive system prematurely.
    • While it is 18% protein, buckwheat nevertheless is equivalent to 90% protein because of its high-quality  protein consisting of all the essential aminoacids, especially lysine, threonine, tryptophan and sulphur-containing aminoacids.
    • Buckwheat is rich in iron (60-100ppm), zinc (20-30 ppm) and selenium (20-50 ppb)
    • It is also a source of the antioxidants rutin (10-200ppm) and tannin (0.1-2%). Rutin strengthens capillary walls and helps prevent damage in cases of high blood pressure and chronic venous insufficiency. (Buckwheat leaf tea is better than the seed for this.)
    • One of the proteins in buckwheat has been found to bind tightly to chloresterol, and studies are now being conducted to observe the effects of buckwheat protein on people with high blood lipids.
    Buckwheat is a versatile food; the dark, speckly flour has traditionally been made into pancakes in Northern and Eastern Europe, and soba noodles in Japan. These days it is often found as an ingredient in gluten-free products such as breads, pastas and biscuits, though it is often combined with other flours such as corn or rice flour, maybe because of its unique flavour and dark colouration. I have used buckwheat flour to make cakes, pakoras amd dumplings, and will soon be trying out making my own soba noodles and dehydrating them. The buckwheat groats ("kasha") are traditionally roasted and made into a kind of porridge and they can also be cooked pretty much like rice and used for pilaffs, stuffings etc. in the same way. They have a delicate but earthy flavour all of their own. There is even a brand of healthy breakfast cereal made from puffed buckwheat seeds, which I have used in baking as a change from puffed rice or wheat. It is also apparently very easy to grow buckwheat sprouts and use them in a raw diet, but I have seen warnings to be sure that the coating on the seeds is washed off first. With a little imagination you can incorporate buckwheat into your regular diet quite easily, and by the looks of the above facts, it will be well worth it for the health benefits. Happy cooking!

    PS: I have read that buckwheat can cause severe allergic reactions and sensitivities in some people, so if you've never tried it before and you know you have food allergies perhaps it would be wise to go easy on it at first.

      Tuesday, 30 August 2011

      Fried buckwheat banana dumplings- vegan, ekadasi- friendly, gluten and wheat-free

      Last Thursday was ekadasi, and because we've had twice as many ekadasi fast days lately, what with Baladeva Purnima the week before last and Sri Krishna Janmasthami last Monday as well as 2 regular ekadasis, I was needing something different from potato and pumpkin sabji! Plus there were some very ripe bananas left over from the Janmasthami cooking that needed using up... and this dessert was born. I wouldn't normally recommend deep-frying anything, but this is a bit of a treat! If you put them in yoghurt after cooking, or shallow-fried them as flat cakes they would be a kind of malpura. The quantities below would comfortably go round 4-6 people, as the dumplings are quite filling.

      4 ripe bananas
      300g buckwheat flour
      200g gour, powdered/ finely crumbled
      2 tabs fresh lemon juice
      1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

      • Mash the bananas
      • Mix together with flour and gour in a large bowl
      • Add the bicarb and the lemon juice (watch it fizz!) The batter should now be like a thick cake mix, or a wet, sticky dough
      • Drop into hot sunflower oil in batches, about a teaspoon of batter for each one. There is a knack to this, which I began to acquire about halfway through the third batch... basically, keep the dumplings on the small side and the oil not too hot so that they don't overbrown on the outside while still being raw and gooey on the inside. Gently investigate with the tip of a sharp knife or cut one in half once out of the oil if you're not sure. The cooked dunplings will be quite dark because of the buckwheat, and crispy on the outside but softer and paler on the inside (see pic).
      • I like to serve them hot/ warm, although they are still good cold. You could soften them in yoghurt or pour a little syrup over them for a really naughty treat. Personally, I find plain is good.

      Sunday, 28 August 2011

      Zucchini walnut salad (suitable for ekadasi)

      Sometimes it's nice to have a vegetable raw that you usually have cooked, and courgettes (zucchini) are no exception, We have rather a glut of them at the moment so I was thinking up new ways to use them and came up with this. It being an ekadasi day when I made this salad, the courgette ribbons were an excellent substitute for lettuce.
      The recipe below makes enough for 4 servings as a side dish, or 2-3 as a main dish.

      1 medium courgette (zucchini)
      2 medium apples
      1/2 a cucumber (or a whole ridge cucumber)
      A good handful of walnut halves
      A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
      1 tab fresh lemon juice
      seasalt and black pepper to taste

      • Prepare the vegetables and apples and mix together in a bowl:
      • Wash, top and tail the zucchini and shave into ribbons using a y-shaped peeler
      • Peel and dice the cucumber
      • Gently crush the walnut halves with a rolling pin
      • Slice or dice the apples (do this last so they don't get the chance to go brown before you add the lemon juice)
      • Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, mixing well