Friday, 30 May 2014

Low-Carb Double-Bacon Cheese & Herb Mini Quiches

I have called these cheesy puffs 'Double-Bacon' quiches because they contain two doses of what is arguably the world's most delicious ingredient. There are crisp bacon bits on the inside, and more strips to line the muffin pans. If you're a vegetarian, or don't eat bacon for whatever reason, you can use fine courgette 'leaves' as a casing for these easy quiches - please see my Cook's Notes at the end of this page. Serve these hot and puffed for breakfast, or warm as a light lunch, with crisp green leaves.

Low-Carb Double-Bacon Cheese & Herb Mini Quiches. The two at the
back of the platter have been lined with courgette slices (see above).

One of the things I miss on my  low-carb diet is quiche with feather-light pastry, so I've spent some time this past week dreaming up recipes that are satisfying and delicious, but that can be made without a pastry case.

This is a quick and easy recipe that will fill your tummy with joy if you're on a low-carb, #LCHF, banting or diabetic regime.

The ingredients for this easy dish: eggs, cream, fresh herbs and crisp bacon bits.

Use good-quality back bacon in this recipe, because it's perfect for tearing apart to line the bases and sides of the hollows in a muffin pan. The 'oyster' of each bacon strip goes on the bottom of each hollow, and the fattier strip is pressed around its edges.

Here are two more of my low-carb tart recipes you might enjoy: Double-Egged Crustless Spinach & Bacon Tart and Easy Crustless Courgette, Mint and Feta Tart.

Low-Carb Double-Bacon Cheese & Herb Mini Quiches

2 x 250 g packs back bacon
the juice of a lemon
7 extra-large free-range eggs
¾ cup (180 ml) cream
a small bunch of chives, finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp/45 ml)
a small bunch of parsley, finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp/45 ml)
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar, and extra to top
salt & milled black pepper
small herb sprigs, to garnish (I used oregano from my garden)

Heat the oven to 200 °C, with the fan on, or 210 °C if your oven has no fan.

First prepare the bacon bits for the filling. Cut 8 rashers of bacon into a small dice, put them into a dry non-stick frying pan and crisp them up over a medium-high heat. Don't allow them to burn - the trick here is to take your time and keep a watchful eye, turning the heat down under the pan if the bacon is browning too quickly.

Drain all the fat from the pan, set it back on the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir briskly to dislodge any sticky golden bits, and when all the lemon juice has evaporated, remove from the heat and set aside.

Line the bottoms and sides of a non-stick muffin pan as follows:  pull away the big non-fatty 'oysters' of bacon from each rasher, and press them neatly to the bottoms of the depressions in your pan.

Now wrap the remaining strips of bacon - fatty side up - around the edges of the hollows, stretching and pressing them so they stick to the sides and form a cup.  If you find your rashers are curling inwards, make a few small vertical snips, using sharp scissors, around the uppermost edge of the fat.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, chives and parsley, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.  I usually whisk my quiche mixture by hand for at least a minute, because this helps to incorporate air and produce a puffy result.

Put the crispy bacon bits into the muffin pans, and divide the cup of grated Cheddar between them.   Gently pour over the egg mixture, filling each bacon 'cup' to about two-thirds of its depth.  Top each quiche with another little heap of Cheddar.

Bake at 200 °C for 10-12 minutes, or until the quiches are well risen, golden and just set in their middles.

Run the tip of a sharp knife around the edges of each quiche to remove it from the pan, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as main meal with salad, or 12 as a starter or snack.  

Cook's Notes
  • If you don't fancy bacon, use courgette (baby marrow/zucchini) strips to line your muffin tins. Here's how: rinse the courgettes under cold running water to remove any grit, then slice them horizontally into thin (3 mm) 'leaves'.  I do this using a mandolin, which produces beautiful even slices. Place the slices in a hot pan - or on a very hot griddle - with a little olive oil and fry them until they are lightly brown and just pliable.  Line each of your muffin pans with two slices, pressing them firmly against their sides.
  • You can add any other ingredients you like to these quiches. How about finely sliced fried mushrooms, wilted spinach or nuggets of feta or blue cheese?

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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans and Olives

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans & Olives 
An easy family dinner with gutsy tomato and olive flavours, freshened with snappy green beans. My fixation with excellent paprika  - both smoked and sweet - has not abated, and I can't get enough of this gorgeous ingredient. This dish is low in carbohydrates and suitable for anyone on a #LCHF or diabetic regime.

I'm sorry the picture is a bit fuzzy. I always snap pictures for this blog as I'm cooking the food, and that's usually in the late afternoon when the light is fading fast. This was demolished by my family before I had a chance to put some aside to photograph the next day.

Good tinned tomatoes are convenient, but they vary in quality and can be rather acidic, with a tinny taste, so I always use a large quantity of fresh ones in any tomato-based sauce, chucking in a tin for good measure. Tomatoes are packed with umami, and they are great for low-carb sauces because they reduce and thicken quickly.

I don't believe in peeling tomatoes for sauces, nor do I chop them. It's so easy to sling them into a blender or processor and whiz them to a pulp, and cherry tomatoes in particular are a breeze to liquidise because they're small enough to fit between the blades.

I have used both sweet paprika and smoked hot paprika in this recipe. The smoked paprika adds heavenly flavour, and it's well worth hunting for. You can find it at Woolworths, or order my favourite brand - La Dalia - from Yuppiechef. Use it sparingly though, as it is robust and can easily overpower the other ingredients.

A modest splash of cream at the end rounds out all the flavours, but you can use yoghurt instead - find tips for cooking with yoghurt here. I use leeks because I often can't face peeling onions, but if you don't have any to hand, you can use three onions, finely chopped.

Low-Carb Paprika Chicken with Tomatoes, Green Beans and Olives

8 chicken thighs and 8 drumsticks
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower or olive oil, for frying
3 large leeks or 6 small ones (about 300 g)
1 x 500 g punnet ripe cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
½ cup (125 ml) water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup (125 ml) white wine
1 x 410 g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
a pinch of sugar
2 bay leaves
a large sprig of thyme
salt and milled black pepper, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked hot paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) sweet paprika
1 x 300 g punnet slim green beans, topped, tailed and cut in half crossways
¾ cup (180 ml) pitted Calamata olives, or a mixture of green and black olives
4 Tbps (60 ml) cream

Trim any visible fat off the chicken pieces and set aside.

Some of the ingredients for Paprika Chicken.
Heat the oil in a large shallow pan, over a medium-high heat, and cook the chicken pieces, skin-side down and in two batches, for 4-5 minutes, until the skin is crisp and golden. Take your time about this. Don't overcrowd the pan, and resist the temptation to poke or stir them - the skin will loosen from the bottom of the pan when it's ready.

Remove the chicken pieces - they will still be raw on their insides - and set aside on a plate.

While the chicken is frying, prepare the leeks by trimming off the dark-green upper parts and making a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths.  Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap to rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves.  Now cut them into thick slices and set aside.

 Put the cherry tomatoes, vinegar and water into a liquidiser (or a food processor fitted with a metal blade) and whizz to a fairly fine pink purée.  If you don't have a liquidizer, chop them finely. Set aside.

Drain all but two teaspoons of fat from the pan, add the leeks and fry gently for 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened and beginning to take on a little colour. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, without allowing it to brown.

Turn up the heat and pour in the wine.  As it bubbles furiously, use a wooden spatula to scrape away the golden residue on the bottom of the pan so it dissolves into the wine.  Tip in the reserved tomato/vinegar/water mixture, the tin of tomatoes, the sugar, bay leaves and thyme sprig. Cook over a medium-high heat, uncovered,  for 15-20 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced by a third and has thickened (see picture below).

When the tomato sauce has thickened, it's time to add the
paprika and the browned chicken pieces.
You can tell when the sauce is right by dragging a wooden spoon or spatula across the pan: if it forms a channel that closes reluctantly, it's ready.

Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Add the two paprikas and return the chicken pieces to the pan, skin-sides up, along with any juices that have accumulated beneath them. Cover with a tilted lid and braise over a medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to the bone.

Now add the green beans, olives and cream, give the pan a good shake, and simmer, covered, for a further 4-5 minutes, or until the beans are bright green and just cooked through.

Serve immediately with (if you're on a low-carb regime) Cauliflower Mash or (if you're not) normal creamy mash, or rice.

Serves 8. 

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Monday, 26 May 2014

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli, Garlic & Cream

I'm excited to share this recipe with you because it's so quick and surprisingly delicious. It takes about eight minutes to cook from start to finish, and I eat it at least three times a week because I'm smitten by Woolies' tender-stem broccoli, which has become one of the mainstays of my low-carb regime.

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli,
 Garlic, Green Peppercorns & Cream

I've always loved broccoli, but it's become something of an obsession since I cut out carbs. I find tender-stem broccoli utterly scrumptious - up there with fresh asparagus - and as far as I know it's available only from Woolworths. If you can't find it, use small florets of ordinary broccoli for this dish.

This recipe serves one, but you can easy double or quadruple it. Please use a large, shallow pan that allows for fast reduction (a big wok will do).

Although this recipe contains a considerable amount of cream - so allowed on a low-carb, high-fat diabetic regime - its main ingredients are good for you, provided you use top-quality lean gammon steak, with all visible fat trimmed away.  You can use Greek yoghurt instead of cream - please see my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe.

This dish is so convenient because it's made in one pan, in a flash.

The gammon adds a lovely smoky, caramelised note to the sauce, and I wouldn't consider making this dish without it.  If you're not a pork eater, you might try this with a fillet of firm-fleshed white linefish, but I don't think it will taste as good.

I had to leave brined green peppercorns out of the recipe title because they would have made it too long, but I urge you to try them in this dish - they add a wonderful warm peppery pop and pull all the flavours together.

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli, Garlic & Cream

1 lean gammon steak, all visible fat trimmed away
1 tsp (5 ml) olive oil
12 spears tender-stem broccoli
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard [optional]
1 Tbsp (15 ml) green peppercorns, drained of their brine and lightly crushed using a mortar & pestle [optional]
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
milled black pepper, to taste

Pat the gammon steak dry on kitchen paper.  Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large frying pan, over a high heat. When the oil is just beginning to shimmer, fry the gammon steak on one side for 2-3 minutes, or until its underside is brown and caramelised.

In the meantime, cut the broccoli spears crossways into thirds.

Turn the steak over. Now add the broccoli to the pan, arranging it around the edges of the gammon steak, and pour in the water. Cover immediately with a lid (or with an upturned plate, if your frying pan doesn't have a lid).

Turn down the heat and cook at a brisk bubble for 3-5 minutes, or until the broccoli is just tender when you poke the thickest stalk with the tip of a sharp knife.  If you've covered the pan with a plate, please be very careful when you lift it off, as you risk an excruciating steam burn (see Cook's Notes, below.)

If the pan looks a little dry, add another splash of water.

While the broccoli is cooking, combine the grated garlic, mustard, crushed peppercorns and cream in a small bowl.

When the broccoli is tender, take off the lid, turn up the heat and pour in the garlic/cream mixture.  It will bubble furiously and immediately turn a caramel colour at the edges. Toss the pan energetically while it does so, not taking your eye off it for a moment, and let it bubble for 30 to 60 seconds, or until the cream has thickened and the sting has gone out of the garlic.

If you haven't used green peppercorns in the dish, add a few generous grinds of black pepper. The sauce shouldn't need any salt, as gammon is salty enough in its own right.

Remove from the heat and add a small spritz of lemon - just enough to add a whisper of acidity.  Serve immediately.

Serves 1.

Cook's Notes
  • You can serve the gammon steak whole, or slice it into strips or cubes, as shown in the picture below. 
  • If you've covered your frying pan with a plate, use a fork to lift up its edge, which will allow puffs of steam to escape. Or wrap a thick dishcloth around your hand as you lift the plate away. 
  • You can use thick Greek yoghurt in place of cream, but be sure to add it to the pan a few tablespoons at a time, over a low heat.  When the yoghurt is hot and slightly reduced, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a little lemon juice.  Here are my tips for cooking with yoghurt
  • This recipe also works beautifully with thinly sliced baby marrows [courgettes/zucchini].

Cut the gammon into cubes, or leave it whole.

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Friday, 23 May 2014

Creamy Low-Carb Cauliflower-Cheese Soup with Lemon Butter & Bacon

A quick yet deep-flavoured soup with a whisper of nutmeg, a luxurious topping of crisped bacon and swirls of lemony butter. This is a new low-carb version of my 2009 recipe for Cauliflower-Cheese Soup: because I've given up on carbs it contains not a speck of flour, not a cube of potato, nor any similar starchy thickening agent.  This is gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, and well suited to anyone on a Low-Carb High Fat (#LCHF) regime.

Creamy Low-Carb Cauliflower-Cheese Soup with Lemon Butter & Bacon

The zesty lemon butter adds extra gorgeousness, and I've thrown in a few tablespoons of baby capers because I love their mysterious sage-green flavour. You can omit both of these if you like, and serve the soup on its own, or with my no-carb halloumi 'croutons', or a dobble of extra cream plus a shower of snipped chives.

This is lovely topped with crumbled blue cheese - try it with creamy Gorgonzola - and also good with slices of pan-crisped chorizo, plus fresh sage leaves frizzled in olive oil.

This soup takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish.  To find out why I think many soups should be cooked quickly and not boiled for hours, read my 10 Top Tips for Making Memorable Soup.

The only important watchpoint in this easy soup is adding the right amount of water. Too much and your soup won't be thick enough. Follow my recipe to the letter, and you can't go wrong.

Creamy Low-Carb Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Bacon Bits, Lemon Butter & Capers

2 small heads (500 g each) cauliflower
2 large onions
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
a sprig of fresh thyme [optional]
1 litre hot chicken or veggie stock (if you don't have home-made stock to hand, make one by combining a few teaspoons of a Nomu fond or a Knorr Stock Pot with a litre of hot water.)
1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar, loosely packed in the cup
a pinch or two of nutmeg, to taste (See Cook's Notes, below)
½ cup (125 ml) cream
salt & milled black or white pepper, to taste

For the topping:
8 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
the zest and juice of half a small lemon
3 Tbsp (45 ml) baby capers

Trim the cauliflowers by slicing away the thick stalks and removing any green leaves.  Break the florets into small even-sized pieces and set aside.

Peel the onions, cut in half lengthways and slice into thin crescents.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the onions over a very gentle heat for 6-8 minutes, or until they are soft and just beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and thyme sprig and cook for another minute, stirring, without allowing the garlic to brown. Add the cauliflower florets, all in one go.

Now pour in the hot stock. It should just cover the cauliflower florets - it's okay if a few of them are poking their heads above the water line. Cover the pot with a tilted lid, turn up the heat to a brisk bubble and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the thickest cauliflower stalk feels very tender when poked with the tip of a sharp knife.  Remove the thyme sprig.

Blitz the soup to a fine, thick purée using a stick blender, liquidiser or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Gently reheat the soup, and when it is just beginning to boil remove it from the heat and stir in the grated Cheddar.  When the cheese has melted into the soup, add the nutmeg and cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

If the soup seems too thick, thin it down with a splash of milk.

To prepare the toppings:  Fry the bacon bits over a medium heat until they're crisp.  Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

Gently melt the butter (you can do this in your microwave oven, or over a very low heat in a small saucepan). When the butter has just melted, stir in the lemon zest and juice.

To serve the soup, ladle it into bowls and top with crisp bacon bits, a dobble of hot lemon butter and a sprinkling of capers.

Serves 6. 

Cook's Notes:
  • Nutmeg and cauliflower have a great affinity, but use the spice sparingly as it can easily overpower the delicate flavour of this soup.  A few gratings from a whole nutmeg will do fine, or use a pinch from a bottle of powdered spice.  Let the soup stand for a few minutes, so the spice can 'blossom', then taste it. If you can just detect the nutmeg, that's perfect!  If not, add another pinch.
  • The same applies to white pepper - it's delicious with cauliflower, but if you add too much, its pungent somewhat dusty flavour will take over.  Again, start with a pinch.

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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Creamy Low-Carb Chicken Breasts, Fennel & Bacon with a Cauliflower and Nutmeg Mash

A luscious dish packed with all the delectables permitted on a low-carb diet: bacon, cream, dry white wine and golden chicken skin. I've developed this recipe for Woolworths's new Flavour Society, on May's theme of winter food. Along with my friend Nina Timm, I'm one of the bloggers contributing my original recipes to Woolies' Flavour Society Winter Pinterest board - hop over and have a look!

Creamy Low-Carb Chicken, Fennel &  Bacon, with a Cauliflower and Nutmeg Mash

Chicken breasts toughen fast in the pan, so it's important to cook them gently over a very low heat once you've added them to the sauce. I always cut the breasts in half crossways - making the thickest end into a slightly smaller piece than the thinner end - because I think whole ones look ungainly and intimidating on a plate.

Another crucial step in this recipe is to a achieve a handsome golden crust on the chicken pieces.  The golden stickiness left on the bottom of the pan (that holy grail among flavours) will add gorgous depth to the sauce.

Cauliflower - the new darling of the low-carb world - is a good enough substitute for mashed potatoes (I'm stifling a sob as I type because I sorely miss mash, particularly buttery champ), and is much improved by cream, butter and particularly nutmeg, with which it has a wonderful affinity.

I've tried many different ways of preparing cauliflower mash, purée and 'couscous', and concluded that microwaving is the best method, because it keeps the florets nice and dry, and minimises that farty whiff so characteristic of boiled brassicas.  If you don't believe in microwaving, you can steam the florets instead.

Fennel isn't everyone's cup of tea (though I've managed to convert my family) and if you don't fancy its delicate aniseed flavour, you can leave it out and use two more big leeks in the recipe.

This luscious dish depends for its depth of flavour on the gorgeous golden
residue that forms on the bottom of the pan when you fry the chicken skin.

Creamy Low-Carb Chicken, Fennel &  Bacon, with a Cauliflower and Nutmeg Mash

8 large bone-in chicken breasts, skin on
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower oil, for frying
500 g baby fennel bulbs
3 large leeks
1½ cups (375 ml) dry white wine
1½ cups (375 ml) organic Woolies chicken stock (or water to which you've added two teaspoonsful of a good condensed chicken stock, such as a Nomu fond, or a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot)
1½ cups (375 ml) cream
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard
250 g bacon, chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
milled black pepper
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely chopped curly parsley

For the cauliflower mash:
2 heads cauliflower, trimmed of leaves
1 Tbsp (15 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) cream, or milk, or a mixture (plus a little extra, see recipe below)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter
a pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt and white pepper

Trim all globules of fat from the chicken breasts. If the breasts have skinny little ribs attached to them, snip these off using kitchen scissors and discard. Slice each breast in half, crossways, using a heavy knife and a chopping action to cut through the small bone. 

The breasts should still be raw on the insides after frying.
Heat the oil over a medium-high flame in a large shallow pan. When it is very hot and just beginning to shimmer, fry the breast pieces, skin-side down, in batches of 8 at a time, for 3-5 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and a beautiful golden-brown. (See Cook's Notes at the end of this post).

Set the chicken pieces aside, skin-side up, on a plate. The insides of the breasts must still be quite raw.

In the meantime, prepare the veggies. Trim the fennel pieces and remove any tough stalks or out leaves, leaving about half a centimetre of stalk on each bulb. Slice off the dark-green upper parts of the leeks and make a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths. Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap and rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves. Now cut them into slices 4 mm thick. 

Drain away all but a teaspoon or two of the fat from the pan in which you fried the chicken, return it to a medium heat and gently fry the fennel and leeks for 3-4 minutes, or until lightly coloured. Now turn up the heat, add the wine and briskly deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape away the sticky residue so it dissolves into the liquid. 

The stock and wine will reduce to a rich syrup.
Cover and gently braise the vegetables for 10-12 minutes, or until the fennel pieces are just tender, the leeks are soft, and the wine reduced by half.  

Add the chicken stock and bubble over a low heat, uncovered, for a further 6-8 minutes, or until the liquid in the pan has halved, and looks slightly thickened.

Add the cream and mustard and stir well. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, skin-side up, along with any juices that have accumulated underneath them. The sauce should come about a third of the way up the sides of the breasts. 

Turn the heat down to its lowest setting, cover the pan with a tilted lid and let it burble for 12-17 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through to the bone, but is still very tender and succulent.  How long this will take depends on the size of your chicken breasts (see Cook's Note's, below). 

While the chicken is braising, fry the bacon bits in a hot pan until crisp. Blot on kitchen paper and keep warm. 

Sprinkle the crisped bacon bits over the chicken at the end.
To make the cauliflower mash, cut off the florets - discarding any thick stalks -  and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with one tablespoon of water.

Cover and microwave on high for 12-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very soft and yielding. Alternatively, you can steam the cauliflower over boiling water. 

Drain the cauliflower in a colander and let it dry out for at least 10 minutes. Process it together with the cream (or cream/milk mixture) to a fine, smooth mash using a stick blender or food processor, adding more cream if necessary to keep the blades turning.

Stir in the butter and nutmeg, season with salt and a pinch of white pepper, and keep hot.  

When you're ready to serve the chicken, sprinkle with a little fresh lemon juice to give the sauce a whisper of acidity, and stir gently.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Scatter over the bacon bits and parsley, and serve hot with the cauliflower mash.

Serves 8.

Cook's Notes

  • Take your time frying the chicken breasts so they brown nicely without catching or burning. Don't prod them or turn them over. The skin may stick to the bottom of the pan at first, but as the fat renders and turns golden, you will find that the pieces can easily be lifted out.  The trick here is to keep adjusting the heat under the pan. 
  • Be careful not to over-cook the breasts, or they will become stiff and dry.  To check whether they are done, poke the tip of a sharp knife into the thickest part of the biggest piece. If the juices run clear and the bone feels very hot to a finger-touch, they're ready, and you must remove the pan from the heat. 
  • This dish can be prepared well in advance. When the chicken pieces are almost cooked through, with just a touch of pinkness in the middle, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside to cool.  If you're going to reheat the dish within two hours, you can leave it on the counter. If it's a very hot day, or you'd like to serve it the next day, refrigerate the whole pan, covered.  To serve, remove the pan from the fridge, let it come up to room temperature for an hour or more, and then reheat it over a very gentle flame until the sauce is bubbling and the chicken is hot to the bone.

Note: I was paid a fee by Woolworths for this recipe. 

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Two Scrumptious Low-Carb Cheese, Nut & Herb Pestos

Feta, Blue Cheese, Herb & Toasted-Walnut Pesto with
Griddled Courgettes (recipe below). 
One of the things I miss most on my low-carb regime is glorious garlicky hummous.  Although hummous has a relatively low glycaemic-index ranking and load - depending on how much tahini it includes - it is still fairly packed with carbohydrates, so I avoid it these days.

Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with combinations of cheese, nuts, herbs, garlic and olive oil to create vibrant low-carb pastes packed with singing flavours.

Because these pestos contain both nuts and cheese, they're crammed with calories, but all you need is a single dollop to add beautiful aroma and crunch to steamed fresh green beans or broccoli or griddled sliced courgettes.

You can also serve these as a dip with hot and cold crudités, or dobbled on flash-fried chicken or fish fillets If you're not on a low-carb regime, try tossing these through hot pasta, or spreading them over hot toasty ciabatta bread (with a topping of roasted tomatoes or some melty mozzarella) to make scrumptious bruschettas.

First, a gorgeous nutty pesto with fresh Mediterranean flavours.  I know this looks a bit like window putty, but I promise you won't be disappointed by the punchy flavours of this easy and versatile sauce.

Low-Carb Pesto of Roast Aubergine, Macadamia Nuts,
Feta, Lemon & Rosemary. This nutty pesto is delicious
 with steamed green beans lightly dressed with olive oil 
and lemon juice.
Low-Carb Pesto of Roast Aubergine, Macadamia Nuts, Feta, Lemon & Rosemary

1 large aubergine [eggplant or brinjal]
½ cup (125 ml) macadamia nuts
a big pinch of flaky sea salt
2 'wheels' (about 140 g) feta cheese, crumbled
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lemon zest
the juice of a medium lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) very finely chopped fresh rosemary needles
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely grated
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
salt and milled black pepper 
a pinch of smoked paprika or cayenne pepper, for dusting [optional; see Cook's Notes, below.]

Heat the oven to 200 ºC.  Put the whole aubergine directly onto a middle rack of the oven.  Let it bake for 40-50 minutes, or until it is very soft and slightly shrunken.  Remove and set aside to cool for 25 minutes.  

Now toast the macadamias. Heat a frying pan over a medium-low heat and dry-roast the nuts for three to four minutes, tossing and turning them frequently, until they are a light golden colour and freckled here and there with dark-brown spots. 

Put the macadamias, still warm, into the jug attachment of a stick blender, or into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add a big pinch of flaky sea salt and press the pulse button repeatedly to process the nuts to fairly big crumbs. Don't over-process them, or they may turn into an oily paste. Tip the crumbled macadamia nuts into a mixing bowl.  

When the aubergine has cooled, cut it in half lengthways and use the blade of a knife to scrape out all the flesh, seeds and all. Tip this flesh into your food processor, and discard the tough outer peel of the aubergine.

To the food processor, add the feta cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and seven tablespoons (105 ml) of olive oil.  Process until you have a fairly smooth paste.  If the blade is reluctant to turn, add a tablespoon or two of warm water. 

Scrape this mixture into the bowl containing the macadamia crumbs and stir well to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip the pesto into a glass lidded jar and pour the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top to seal it and prevent oxidisation.

To serve, pile the pesto into a small pretty bowl, and drizzle with more olive oil.  Grind some pepper over the top, and dust with smoked paprika or cayenne pepper. 

Keeps for a week in the fridge, and freezes well.

Makes about 1½ cups. 

Cook's Notes: 
  • When I make this, I dust it very lightly with smoked paprika, which adds a final flavour flourish. Do use smoked paprika sparingly, though, as its pungency can overwhelm the other flavours.
  • I love the crunch and interesting meaty texture of macadamias, but if you can't find these where you live, try using blanched almonds instead.  
  • You can roast the aubergine a day or more in advance, and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. 
  • If you'd like to add some extra colour to this pesto, whizz it up with 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of chopped fresh parsley.

Feta, Blue Cheese, Herb & Walnut Pesto with Griddled Courgettes

See picture at the top of this post. 

50 g (about 25) shelled walnuts
a small bunch (about 40 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
half a pillow-pack (about 40 g) fresh wild rocket, roughly chopped
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice
a small clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
a small block (40 g) creamy blue cheese, crumbled
one 'wheel' (70 g) feta cheese
milled black pepper
24 young courgettes [zucchini or baby marrows], rinsed to remove any grit

To serve: 
olive oil and fresh lemon juice, for sprinkling
salt and milled black pepper

First toast the walnuts. Place them in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and dry-roast them for a minute or two, tossing frequently, and watching them like a hawk as they burn quickly.  When they are hot, and smelling pleasantly nutty, take the pan off the heat.  Remove 6 toasted walnuts and set them aside for your garnish.  Tip the remaining nuts into the jug attachment of a stick blender, or into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process the nuts to a rough crumb, and set aside.

Remove the stalks from the parsley and add the leaves to the food processor along with the rocket, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Process to a fairly fine paste. Don't worry if the blades won't whizz freely - the next step will sort this out.

Add the blue cheese bits and process the mixture till smooth. You will find that the mixture magically smooths out into a soft paste.  But if the blades still won't turn freely, add a few drops of warm water.  Now add the feta and process again.  Season with plenty of black pepper.  You shouldn't need to add any salt, but go ahead and add a pinch or two if necessary. If the mixture needs a little more acidity, add a drop or two more of lemon juice.

Scrape the mixture into a small serving bowl or glass jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Seal with clingfilm and refrigerate.

To prepare the courgettes, slice them lengthways into 'leaves' 3 mm thick.  I do this using a mandolin, which produces perfect shavings. If you don't have a mandolin, you can use a very sharp knife, held with its blade horizontal to your chopping board.

Put a large griddle pan or a frying pan over a high flame until it's blazing hot, add a lick of olive oil and fry the courgettes slices for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they are tiger-striped, toasty and just soft. Tip the slices into a bowl and sprinkle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot with spoonfuls of the pesto, and the crumbled toasted walnuts you set aside earlier.

Makes about ¾ cup of pesto. With the courgettes, serves 6. 

Cook's Notes: 
  • If you'd like to give this pesto even more fragrance, add a small handful of fresh basil. 
  • This is very good with pan-fried beef, lamb or ostrich steaks.
  • You can freeze this paste in a small lidded box.  Let it defrost overnight in the fridge. 

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Friday, 9 May 2014

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken & Tomato Soup with Halloumi Croutons

This creamy winter soup is spiced with a light touch because I want its hero ingredients (glorious roast chicken and ripe tomatoes) to sing out like a two-angel choir. I cannot resist a ready-roasted chicken, with its sticky golden skin and melting flakes, and fresh tomatoes - packed as they are with lip-smacking umami - add irresistible depth of flavour. This recipe contains not a speck of wheat or corn, nor any similar thickening agent. Although cooked tomatoes contain some teeny-weeny carbs, they have a low glycaemic-index ranking, making this recipe suitable for diabetics, or anyone on a low-carb, high fat regime.

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken & Tomato Soup with Halloumi Croutons

You can, of course, roast your own chickens from scratch, but why bother? I don't think it's possible to achieve, in a domestic oven, the fall-apart texture and all-over goldenness produced by an industrial rotisserie. I use Woolies roast chickens because I think they're the best, but any good ready-roasted bird will do.

Like all good soups and stews, this dish tastes more beautiful and complex the day after you've made it.

Because it contains no starch, this soup relies for thickening on fast and furious boiling. It's an old-fashioned idea that soups need to be simmered for hours; I believe that a quick cooking time helps to retain the sparkle of the fresh ingredients. (More about that here - My Top Tips for Making Memorable Soup.)

This soup relies on fast boiling to reduce its tomato & leek base to a beautiful intense thickness.

If you're in a rush and don't want to make the quick stock called for in this recipe, use two 500 ml cartons of chicken stock in its place.

I've added the halloumi croutons because I desperately miss the carb-packed bready ones. Halloumi cheese makes a gorgeous substitute for crunchy cubes of oil-sizzled white bread, but it is bulging with calories, so I try to add just a few nuggets to soups, and to the top of steamed or braised veggies.

Please choose a very firm halloumi cheese for perfect croutons - if it's at all soft or yielding to a finger-prod, it will collapse in the pan and leave its sticky brown crust behind when you try to prise it away. For more advice about frying halloumi, click here > Top tips for frying halloumi.

Low-Carb Roast Chicken & Tomato Soup with Halloumi Croutons

2 small ready-roasted chickens
1 litre water
500 ml boxed liquid chicken stock (or two teaspoons of concentrated chicken stock or jelly - such as a Nomu fond, or a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot - dissolved in the same amount of water)
4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
9 ripe tomatoes
1 x 410 g tin whole or chopped Italian tomatoes
1/3 cup (80 ml) dry white wine
salt and milled black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli flakes, or more, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) ginger [the dried powder]
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
¼ tsp (just a pinch!) cinnamon
1/3 cup (80 ml) cream
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped curly parsley

For the halloumi croutons:

a small block (about 150 g) halloumi cheese
4 Tbsp (60 ml) sunflower or a similar vegetable oil, for frying

Rotisseried chickens like these Woolworths ones drive me
into rapures. They're always a bit flabby the time I
get them home, but the flavour of the skin is gorgeous.
Remove the wishbones at the neck ends of the chickens (this is easily done by hooking your fingers underneath the bones and tugging them away). Using a sharp knife, remove all four breasts, each in one piece, taking care not to dislodge the skin.  Set to one side and keep warm.

Strip the remaining flesh from the chickens, removing any skin or gristle. Tear it into shreds, cover and set aside. Put all the bones and skin into a small deep pot and add a litre of water plus 500 ml chicken stock (see my notes in the ingredient list and opening paragraphs, above).  Bring to the boil and cook at a lively bubble, uncovered, for 30 minutes, skimming off any scum as it rises.

While the stock is boiling, prepare the leeks by trimming off the dark-green upper parts and making a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths.  Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap and rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves.  Now cut the leeks into fine slices.

Heat the olive oil in a new pot and add the sliced leeks. Fry them over a medium heat for 5 minutes, then cover with a lid and braise gently for 10-15 minutes, or until they are soft.  Stir in the garlic and cook uncovered for a further 3 minutes, without allowing the garlic to burn or catch.

In the meantime, cut the tomatoes into quarters and place half of them in the jug of a liquidiser (or a food processor fitted with a metal blade).  Add a ladle or two of the hot chicken stock so the blades can turn freely, and whizz to a fine pink liquid. Now add the remaining quartered tomatoes and the tin of tomatoes, and blitz until just blended. If you don't have a liquidiser, you will need to grate all the tomatoes, or chop them finely.

Tip the whizzed-up tomatoes into the pot containing the leeks, add the wine, and season with salt and pepper. Turn up the heat under the pot and cook over a very high heat for 15 minutes, skimming off any pink foam that rises to the top.  This mixture will reduce and thicken quite quickly. Pour the stock into a colander set over a bowl, and discard the bones and skin (or give them to the dogs).

Now measure out one litre of your chicken stock and add it to the pot containing the leeks and tomatoes. Reserve any remaining stock. Turn up the heat and cook at a fast rolling boil for about 25 minutes. You'll know it's ready for blitzing when the liquid has reduced by about a quarter, and is beginning to look thicker.

Blitz the soup using a stick blender, then add the
chicken and spices.
Blend the soup to a fairly fine purée using a stick blender (or a liquidiser). Add the chilli flakes, ginger, cumin and cinnamon, along with the shredded chicken bits you set aside earlier. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 6-8 minutes.

Add the cream - a dribble at a time, stirring well between each addition to prevent it from curdling - and check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. If the soup seems a little thick, thin it down with a little of your reserved chicken stock.

Now for some last-minute preparation. To make the halloumi croutons, heat the oil in a small frying pan.  Cut the cheese into pieces the size of playing dice, and pat them very dry on kitchen paper to remove any brine. Fry the cubes over a medium-high heat for a minute or two, turning once, and watching them like a hawk because they brown and burn in a flash!

Drain the cubes on several layers of kitchen paper, blotting them well to remove any oil.

Cut the reserved warm chicken breasts into 7-mm slices, making sure each slice is topped with a strip of golden skin.

To serve the soup, ladle it into bowls, scatter with a few halloumi croutons and top with slices of roast chicken breast. Shower with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 6-8.

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Monday, 5 May 2014

Low-Carb Tomato & Onion Beef Curry with Herby Cauliflower 'Couscous'

An aromatic slow-cooked curry in a tomato and onion gravy, served with low-carb cauliflower & turmeric 'couscous' and a refreshing cucumber, mint and coriander raita.  This curry takes some time to put together, but once you've assembled it, you can boot it into the oven and leave it to burble for several hours, during which time you can drift into the kitchen to make the raita and cauliflower couscous.

Low-Carb Tomato & Onion Beef Curry with a fresh yoghurt/cucumber raita.

This is a delicately spiced curry, just the way I like them.  Although I'm smitten by the warming spices of Indian cuisine, I don't like aggressive curries with bitter or overly pungent spices. Last year, watching one of the interminable series of MasterChef Australia, I wanted to tweak the nose of one of the judges, who added fistfuls of every spice known to mankind to his curry. No need for that, boet!

Some spices are so powerfully perfumed that they can easily ruin the taste of a curry - cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves are good examples.  I like a curry with many subtle layers of flavour, with no one spice stomping bossily over all the others. A subtle hand with spicing is the secret to creating complex and intriguing curries.

Having said that, I think you might quail when you read the long list of ingredients in my recipe, and I don't blame you. Because of my love of curry, I have tightly sealed jars of all these whole spices in my cupboard, and I restock them by visiting my favourite specialist spice shops every three months. I also buy packets of spanking-fresh pre-ground spices such as cumin and coriander every fortnight or so. (By the way, it's not true that you'll get better flavour from your spices by roasting and grinding them yourself. This is a foodie affectation, in my view. Roasting and blending spices should be left to the professionals; buy fresh powdered spices from a reputable merchant and you cannot go wrong.)

If you don't have a similar array of spices in your cupboard, you can make this curry using whatever you have available or - at a push - a few tablespoons of a good fresh generic curry powder, such as Rajah Medium Strength.

What sort of beef to use in this recipe?  I always use shin in stews because in my opinion it's the best cut for this purpose - not too fatty, and soft, flavoursome and fork-tender after a few hours of cooking. Be sure to cut away the membrane that encircles the slices of shin and, if you'd like your curry to have wonderful depth of flavour, toss in the bones so their marrow melts into the stew. You can also make this with bog-standard 'goulash' cubes, or topside, but the meat will be somewhat dry.

This recipe contains a large quantity of fresh ripe tomatoes, which I always add to stews because they have a delectable umami-ness that somehow is lacking in tinned tomatoes. I throw in a tin of chopped Italian tomatoes and a few tablespoons of tomato paste anyhow, to help create deep colour.  It's time-consuming to peel fresh tomatoes - and I have no objections to tomato peel - so now I chuck them whole into my blender to create a thin tomato purée that cooks down over 15-20 minutes to a beautiful thick brick-red.

The 'couscous' that accompanies this curry is made from the new darling of low-carb and diabetic cooking: cauliflower.  I've become a big fan of cauliflower since I switched to a very low-carb regime, and this is one of my favourite ways to eat it.  Most people steam or boil cauliflower 'couscous' and what's known as 'cauli-rice', but I've found that the best way to cook it is to zap it quickly in the microwave, which retains its flavour and gentle bite.

The low-carb 'couscous' in this picture is made of blitzed cauliflower yellowed
with healthy turmeric and flavoured with butter, toasted almonds and fresh herbs.
There is no need to brown the beef cubes before you add them to the tomato base, but be sure to take time over cooking the onions to a rich golden tangle.

Low-Carb Tomato & Onion Beef Curry with Turmeric & Almond Cauliflower 'Couscous'

For the curry: 
2.3 kg stewing beef, such as boneless shin
4 Tbsp (60 ml) sunflower oil, or a similar vegetable oil
1 stick cinnamon, or a thumb-sized piece of cassia bark
1 whole star anise
16 dried curry leaves
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black mustard seeds
2 fresh bay leaves, or 3 dried ones
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
5 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
900 g very ripe fresh tomatoes
1 x 410 g tin low-fat coconut milk
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
3 Tbsp (45 ml) tomato paste
1 x 410 g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder (or more, to taste)
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander powder
2 tsp (5 ml) tumeric
2½ tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
salt and milled black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice
fresh chopped coriander, to serve

For the cucumber raita: 
1 large English cucumber
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1 cup (250 ml) thick Greek yoghurt
the juice of a small lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander [dhania; cilantro]
2 Tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh mint
milled black pepper

For the cauliflower 'couscous'
2 heads of fresh crisp cauliflower
2 Tbsp (30 ml) warm water
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter, or olive oil if you like
½ cup (125 ml) toasted whole almonds or almond flakes
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley, mint or coriander - or all three
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 160 ºC. Trim any fat or sinew off the beef, cut it into large cubes and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pot, wait until it is very hot (but not yet shimmering or smoking) and add the cinnamon stick, star anise, curry leaves, mustard seeds, bay leaves, cloves and cardamom pods. Fry the whole spices for a minute or so, or until the mustard seeds begin to crackle and pop.

Tip in all the sliced onions and fry them over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they have reduced by about half and are golden. Don't let them to catch or burn!

In the meantime, prepare the fresh tomatoes. Roughly chop them and put them in the goblet of a liquidizer or a food processor, along with a third of the contents of the tin of coconut milk.  Whizz them to a fairly fine, pale-pink purée and set aside. If you don't have a liquidizer, you will need to grate the tomatoes, or chop them very finely.

When the onions are ready, stir in the garlic, ginger and tomato paste and fry gently for a further minute. Don't allow the garlic to brown, or it will add a bitter taste to the curry

Tip in the puréed tomatoes, the remaining coconut milk, and the tin of chopped tomatoes.  Now stir in the chilli powder, coriander, turmeric and cumin.  Season the mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Let the sauce bubble briskly for 10-15 minutes, lid off, or until it has thickened and reduced by about one third.  Stir now and then, and skim off any foam that rises to the top.

Now add all the beef cubes and stir well. Bring back up to the boil, and then put the pot into the oven, with its lid on.  Cook your stew at 160 ºC for two to two-and-a-half hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and falling apart. If the sauce seems a little thin, place the pot back on your hob and simmer it briskly so the sauce can reduce.

In the meantime, make the cauliflower 'couscous'. Break off the florets and discard the stalks.  Place the florets - several batches at a time -  in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, or in the jug attachment of a stick blender. Whizz to fine crumbs. Place 2 tablespoons of warm water in the bottom of a microwave-safe bowl and stir in the turmeric.  Now add the cauliflower crumbs, stirring well to distribute the colour.  Cover with clingfilm and microwave on high for 6-8 minutes, or until the crumbs are just tender, but retain a slight bite.  Drain well in a sieve, tip back into the bowl, and stir in the butter. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then mix in the toasted almonds and chopped herbs.

Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the curry and serve it with the turmeric couscous, a dollop of raita and a shower of fresh coriander.

Serves 8. 

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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Low-Carb Lemon & Turmeric Meatballs in Lettuce Cups, with a Creamy Tahini Sauce

You can add any spices and aromatics you fancy to these juicy no-carb meatballs. I've included two hefty teaspoons of turmeric (because scientists keep discovering the amazing health benefits of this interesting yellow root) plus lemon zest for zing, and the usual warming spices I love so much -  cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. These are quick and easy to make because there's no arduous peeling, chopping or frying of onions involved, nor any whizzing-up of breadcrumbs.

Lemon & Turmeric Meatballs in Lettuce Cups, with a Creamy Tahini Sauce

Chives add a mild oniony bite, and a few dollops of  Greek yoghurt keep the meatballs nice and soft. If I wasn't on a low-carb regime, I'd serve these heaped over hot couscous perfumed with fresh mint and coriander, or perhaps with my aromatic naartjie couscous or Citrus Couscous Salad.  But I have to say they're also very good in crisp little iceberg lettuce cups piled with chopped cucumber, fresh mint and a creamy tahini sauce.

I particularly love the combination of hot and cold in this dish.  The meatballs must be very hot when you add them to the lettuce cups, and the tahini cream sauce very cold. The sauce is mild, delicate and creamy, containing Greek yoghurt and - something that is so allowed on my diabetic regime - a little cream to round out the flavours. I like tahini, but I often find traditional Mediterranean tahini sauces (basically, sesame-seed paste whisked with water, garlic and lemon juice) thin and somewhat bitter.

The only important watchpoint is to use fresh tahini that is still fairly runny.  Tahini tends to stiffen in the jar as it ages, and it also oxidises quite quickly, even if you've stored it in the fridge. If you can't easily spoon it out of the jar, throw it out and buy a fresh jar.

If you're not a fan of tahini, serve these meatballs with hummous, or tzatziki, or garlicky home-made mayonnaise.

This recipe makes a large quantity - around 48, depending on the size you roll them to.  Put the raw meatballs into a lidded plastic box, and they will keep in the fridge for two days. Alternatively, you can freeze them - still raw - then defrost them overnight in the fridge before frying them. You can make these using beef mince alone, or a combination of pork and mince (I often add ground pork to meatballs because it adds a special juiciness), or even with chicken mince.

Lemon & Turmeric Meatballs in Lettuce Cups, with a Creamy Tahini Sauce

For the meatballs:
1 kg beef mince, or a combination of beef and pork mince; or chicken mince
finely grated zest of a big lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) Greek yoghurt
1 large free-range egg, lightly whisked
a bunch of chives, finely snipped (about 5 Tbsp/75 ml)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (or more, to taste)
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander powder
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika [optional]
2 tsp (10 ml) turmeric
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, for frying

To serve:
tahini cream sauce (see below)
2 iceberg lettuces
1 large English cucumber, finely chopped
a few sprigs of fresh mint

For the tahini cream sauce:
4 tsp (20 ml) fresh tahini
1 cup (250 ml) thick Greek yoghurt
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed (or more, to taste)
the juice of half a big lemon
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream
salt and a pinch of white pepper

First make the meatballs. Combine all the ingredients in a  big bowl, and use your hands to squish and squeeze the mixture so everything is very well combined.  Be warned: turmeric can stain your hands! I use thin plastic deli gloves when I'm making these.

To test the seasoning, make a tiny patty with the mixture and fry it in a lick of oil until it's cooked through.  If you think it needs more salt or spiciness, adjust the mixture to your liking.

Roll the mixture into small neat balls, each about the size of a large marble, and arrange them on a big plate or tray. Place them, uncovered, in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up.

Heat the oven to 180 ºC and place a baking sheet or roasting tray in it to heat up.

While the meatballs are chilling, make the tahini cream sauce.  Place all the ingredients in a  bowl and whisk until smooth. If your tahini paste is a little stiff, use a blender to whizz everything together. Tip the sauce into a bowl, cover it with clingfilm and refrigerate.

Arrange the meatballs in a circle in your pan, so
you can flip them over in the order in which
you added them.
Now cook the meatballs. Heat a little sunflower oil in a large frying pan, and when it is hot and shimmering, add eight to ten meatballs.  When I'm frying meatballs, I always arrange them in a circle in the pan so I can flip them over in the order in which I added them.

Fry the meatballs for one or two minutes, or until golden and crusty on the underside, then flip them over and continue to fry for a further two minutes. Lift the meatballs out of the pan, and slide them onto the preheated roasting pan in the oven so they can finish cooking for a further ten minutes or so. Repeat this process with the remaining meatballs.

In the meantime, use a sharp knife to cut out the cores of the iceberg lettuces.  Strip off and discard the outer limp leaves, and remove the inner leaves, each in one piece.  Arrange the lettuce cups on a platter, and add a few tablespoons of chopped cucumber to each one.

Tuck a few hot meatballs into each lettuce cup, drizzle over the cold tahini sauce and top with a sprig of mint.

Makes about 48 meatballs, and serves 6-8. 

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