On average, how many of your government recommended 5-a-day do you manage to eat?
Despite, or perhaps (in part) because of, my love of baking and this blog, I’m very conscious of getting my daily quota of fruit and vegetables. In the UK it’s fairly easy to stick to, with the government recommending a modest five 80g portions. However in Australia it’s seven, Spain eat eight and in Japan they suggest a staggering seventeen, although I’m guessing each serving size is slightly smaller than ours given that consuming over a kilo of even the most ambrosial fruit would be a struggle for most sensible human beings in any given day.
I have my Mum to thank for my love of all things fruit and vegetables. Not only is she a wonderful cook, she champions local and home grown ingredients, often turning the most unassuming clutches of earthy veg into tangles of leafy deliciousness, brought to life by expert cooking and a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt or a drizzle of fruity olive oil. My Mum definitely knows her veg, she cooks it well and she also eats a lot of it.
After university I spent some time living back home with my parents, a large proportion of which Carnivorous Boyfriend was also there for, having moved his life down to London to be with me. Any situation in which four fully grown adults are living under one roof has the potential for problems –I won’t even go into when my older brother moved back with his girlfriend in tow, bumping our household number up to six (my poor Mum) – but despite any differences, one thing that was always wonderful was sitting down to a family meal together at the end of the day.
At the time we used to tease my Mum about her slight obsession. As dinner was served up several dishes would appear, showcasing not one, not two, but often three, four or more different types of vegetables. Nutmeg scented spinach, cauliflower puree, tender borlotti beans, leafy greens and every sort of salad under the sun – before Plenty was even the seed (no pun intended) of an idea in Ottolenghi’s mind, my Mum was churning out the kind of simple, delicious, flavour filled vegetable dishes that everyone should be eating on a regular basis.
Now that Carnivorous Boyfriend and I live together and cook all our own meals, the tables have turned and it’s me who gets teased. Where once I thought my Mum was just a little bit crazy to serve so many different variations on veg, I find myself doing exactly what she did. While he loves (or says he does) all the different dishes I serve, if Carnivorous Boyfriend turned bachelor, I have no doubt that he could happily exist on a rotating fruit and veg diet of broccoli, bananas and frozen petit pois. Me? I like to mix it up – salads made from lots of leafy green veg, the finest shaved fennel, ribbons of carrot and cucumber or slices of freshly cooked artichoke, rich red tomatoes, roast cauliflower with cumin and grilled courgettes with chilli and mint. I could talk about vegetables all day and never get bored, but I won’t because you probably will . . .
And this is a baking blog after all (trust a little loaf to find a way to get her fix of veg from bread). The recipe below is brilliant for anyone who doesn’t quite get enough nutrients in their diet. Consumption of fruit and veg by Britains has historically always been pretty poor and (according to this article on Love Food) last year the Department of Health released a white paper showing that only thirty percent of us consume our daily five a day. That’s the equivalent to a glass of juice at breakfast, an apple after lunch and a couple of florets of broccoli for supper, so if that sounds normal to you, I’d give these muffins a try to at least begin to boost you daily intake.
The recipe is adapted from the Spinach English Muffins in The Fabulous Baker Brothers book. The original recipe is delicious, but this is a lovely alternative, brought to life with a feisty kick of chilli and a handful of curly kale, rich in vitamins and chemicals known for their potent anti-cancer properties. We had these muffins for breakfast last Saturday, Carnivorous Boyfriend eating them alongside bacon and eggs while I topped mine with avocado, a little more chilli and a tangle of peppery rocket – the greenest breakfast I’ve ever seen. Because of the earthy green undertones, they’re also delicious with anything salty – paprika-laced chorizo, sundried tomatoes, crumbled feta or simply a slick of salty butter.
Four heaped tablespoons of kale is the equivalent of one of your five daily portions, so eat a couple of these muffins for breakfast and you’re well on your way. Or don’t even think about the health inducing properties and just enjoy them for what they are. Popeye – and the Department of Health – would be proud.
Kale, Chilli & Buckwheat Breakfast Muffins (adapted from The Fabulous Baker Brothers book)
(makes about 12)
20g olive oil
Large pinch dried chilli flakes (adjust depending on your tolerance to spice)
300ml semi skimmed milk
220g curly kale, finely chopped
10g dried yeast
300g strong white bread flour
150g buckwheat flour
Pinch sea salt
Cornmeal or semolina for dusting
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium flame, then add the chilli and fry a couple of minutes to release the flavour, making sure not to burn. Add the butter and allow to melt, then throw in the milk and curly kale, stirring until the kale is wilted into the mixture. Set aside to cool slightly.
Weigh the flours into a mixing bowl and add the yeast and salt. Add the tepid wet mix and work together into a dough before kneading on a work surface for about fifteen minutes. Your dough will be very wet at first. Once the dough is soft, smooth and elastic, put it into a clean bowl, cover and leave to rise for thirty minutes.
Warm a heavy based saucepan over a low heat. Dust your work surface with the cornmeal or semolina then tip out your dough and gently stretch it out (don’t roll) until it has a uniform thickness of about 2cm. Using a 7.5cm cutter or similar (I used an inverted water glass), carefully cut discs from the dough then place them in the in the saucepan to dry fry, making sure they don’t touch each other. They will need about five minutes on one side before flipping and frying for a further three or four minutes on the other, although do check occasionally to make sure they aren’t burning.
When ready, remove from the pan, break open and enjoy.