Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Breaking the Lentil Barrier

I recently consulted to a retirement home where I was asked to implement a new menu. One elderly lady took issue with a lentil dish I had suggested. “When you’re old like me you won’t want to eat these new fangled foods either!” she told me witheringly. I forbore to tell her that not only have lentils been around longer than she has, but they date back to the ancient Egyptians. Lentils are often looked upon with suspicion or considered the preserve of vegetarians, so many kids miss out on their wonderful earthy flavours and distinctive textures.
Apart from being packed full of goodness, they are incredibly versatile. They can be thrown into soups and stews, made into great burgers and dips, and puy lentils, which hold their shape during cooking, are fantastic for salads. Lentils are perfect for busy parents as, unlike other legumes, they need no soaking.
If your kids have never tried them, start by simply adding a handful of red lentils to pumpkin or vegetable soup or using them in a tomato based pasta sauce. Then move onto the stronger flavoured brown lentils and add some to casseroles or stews, use them in place of beef in spaghetti bolognaise or make lentil and vegetable pies. When the brood is ready, try offering dahl or even lentil burgers. I created a pumpkin dahl recipe one night when I was in the mood for something warm and nourishing, and deliberately kept it light on the spices. It’s been a big hit with my kids – who love it - and me - it is so easy!

Pumpkin Dahl

Serve with basmati rice, a dollop of yoghurt and pappadums.

Serves 4

2 tblsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
400g pumpkin, diced
¾ cup red lentils
100g spinach, chopped
¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped
3 cups water
½ tsp sea salt

Sauté onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric and cumin seeds in oil 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add pumpkin, lentils, spinach, coriander, salt and water.
Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring regularly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Seriously Cereal

Isn’t it interesting the way we have developed an entire love affair with breakfast cereals in this country? The cereal section in the supermarket probably takes up more space than soft drink and that's saying something! For many Australians it is the only way to start the day. Travelling in France one year, after weeks of feasting on croissants, breads, cheeses and cafĂ© au lait every morning, I couldn’t believe it when I began craving a good old bowl of cereal and milk. But then, I almost had to hire a detective to find me some! The French aren't particularly fond of starting the day with cereal.

But if you or your kids like the munch and crunch of cereal the best sort to eat is your own. Muesli is so ridiculously easy to make and you can do it just as your kids like it. Some will like lots of dried fruit and not so many nuts, some may like the unusual dried fruits such as cranberries, paw paw and figs, and some may prefer it toasted and really crunchy. So experiment with the ingredients. Try adding toasted coconut, grating in some fresh nutmeg or lightly toasting the sesame seeds, or throwing in a handful of puffed rice or corn for extra crunch.
My quick Bircher muesli (who ever remembers to soak the oats overnight?) is to simply mix the muesli with grated apple, sliced banana, some yoghurt and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Sometimes I blend cream or ricotta cheese with the yoghurt too. Kids love this version because it is so sweet and needs no milk – a sort of wet muesli bar!

MUMS MAGICAL MUESLI - so named by my son!


6 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
½ cup linseeds
1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamias etc)
1 cup chopped dried fruit (sultanas, dried apricots, peaches, currants, figs, cranberries etc)


In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients well.
Store in an airtight container.
For toasted muesli, warm ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup honey together.
Stir into the oat and seed mixture (add the dried fruit later) and lay in a thin layer on baking trays.
Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until golden.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cooking for Pleasure

So many children are missing out on the simple pleasures of good home cooking. Many of the new generation don't even know how to cook as they have been brought up on the quick and easy option of convenience foods, take away or fast food dining. As they in turn become parents their children are subjected to the same food values and have little or no experience of fresh, home made food. They also miss out on the special childhood experiences associated with a warm, cosy, centre-of-the-family kitchen filled with the wonderful aromas of good food. What better way to be greeted after school than with a fresh batch of cookies or muffins? Or to sit down to a bowl of hot soup on a winters evening or enjoy the tantalizing appeal of a roasting Sunday joint? I am not by any means suggesting that we all need to don our aprons and be tied to the kitchen, lost amidst piles of dirty dishes and a throng of hungry kids. We lead our lives very differently from even a generation ago and values, beliefs and expectations have changed enormously. However, there is much to be gained for ourselves and our children in getting back to basics and enjoying the simple pleasures associated with home cooking. It is time-consuming and at times tedious, but ultimately satisfying and rewarding. Yes, there are occasions when cooking means throwing together whatever we can find in the fridge and getting it on the table in 20 minutes just to feed a hungry and tired family. There are also occasions when we can allow ourselves (and our kids!) the time to really enjoy the experience. Shopping for the right ingredients and planning a special meal, or trying out that recipe someone was raving about, or even experimenting with bread making! A friend recently gave me a 150 year old!!! sourdough culture and I have been having a wonderful time baking the most amazing breads. It is the most enjoyable and the simplest bread making I have ever done. I prepare it in the evening, leave it in the oven overnight to prove and set it on automatic so that in the morning we are greeted by the fantastic aroma of newly baked bread! And my kids love it! My 11 year old son is a true little gourmet and we are planning a special dinner this weekend, tossing around ideas about what we will cook, anything from sushi and dolmades to curry and home made ravioli. Yet for many children, these simple pleasures are missing. Home and hearth is an essential ingredient in raising children and I fully believe that the hearth needs to be warm and welcoming. Sorry, but a microwave just doesn't cut it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Kids Won't Eat Salad!

How often I have heard this from parents! Do your kids say that too? Let’s look at why! and how we can change that to “Can I please have some more salad?”

Salad for many kids (and many adults) means iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber and bottled dressing. How many times, when eating out, have we been faced with a plate of unappetising greens, a wedge of tomato, a pile of onion and a vinegary dressing, all under the guise of salad? It is enough to turn anyone’s palate away from the thought of greens.
The thing to remember about salad is that it can be awful and it can be wonderful. If kids get to know the awful version, they’ll probably refuse to eat it. On the other hand, if they get to taste the wonderful version, they’ll gobble it up and ask for seconds! If we can think of salad as a wonderful array of flavours and textures instead of a little bit of green next to something else it opens up a whole world of potential easy meals.

Let’s lift those salads out of the doldrums!

10 ways to get our kids to say ‘yes’ to salad!
If we want our kids not only to eat salad but to really enjoy it and even ask for it, we need to

1. Ditch the iceberg lettuce, or at the very least sideline it! It has too little flavour and not much visual appeal. Start with some beautifully coloured and flavoured leaves like baby spinach, rocket, cos and radicchio. These will give zing and dazzle to any salad but remember to use the freshest available.

2. Wash them really well. (Bugs and dirt often delight kids but not on their plate!) Then dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner and refrigerate them uncovered for 15 minutes to let crisp them up. There is nothing worse than limp lettuce!

3. Work out what your kids like and add it to the greens. Salad can be so much more than tomato and cucumber. Do they like roast chicken, baked pumpkin, cheese, bacon, mango, cashews, tuna, carrots, hard boiled egg? Then toss them in the salad and call it a chicken/mango/egg/tuna or my favourite salad.

4. Throw in some grains. Pasta, couscous, rice, noodles, and bourghal (cracked wheat) are the foundation of brilliant salads and give them more staying power. Kids who love pasta will go for a pasta salad too!

5. Make the salad interesting and give it texture by using a combination of tempting ingredients – baby potatoes, tinned beans or chickpeas, roasted garlic, baked beetroot (forget the canned stuff!), toasted sesame seeds, roast chicken, poached egg….

6. Try salad as a main course too. Centre the salad on a protein ingredient such as chicken, tuna, tofu, chickpeas, or egg, add lots of greens and something to give it extra zest such as avocado, feta cheese or mango…

7. Know that salad doesn’t have to mean greens. It can be baked vegetables with couscous, tomato and onion, tuna and beans, chicken and mango..…

8. Always have something on hand to complete the salad. A handful of crumbled feta cheese, a scattering of olives, a sprinkling of parmesan, some chopped nuts…….

9. Dress it in its finest and leave the bottled dressing on the shelf! Lots of kids don’t like salad because it is often either swamped in cheap, bottled dressing or has no dressing at all. Kids will devour salad that is dressed properly and looks and tastes good. Use good quality olive oil and lemon juice or a little balsamic vinegar. And to change the flavour – fresh garlic, mustard, fresh herbs, spices, chilli… Remember not to use too much on the salad but make sure each leaf gets a thorough coating.

10. Know that if you use your kids favourite things and stick to the tips above you can lift your salads out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary and the kids will love it!