Do you ever fantasize about having a private chef? If I were super rich I’d employ someone brilliant to cook all my meals. Everything would be delicious and super healthy, full of amazing tastes and fresh ingredients. Tangy, flavourful, packed with texture, colour and brimming with vitality, each dish would delight and nourish.
Until then though, cookbooks will just have to do – I mean the ones I can be bothered get down from the high shelf I can hardly reach. Most of them sit there unused, their pictures devoured but the dishes never made. Recipe books capture the zeitgeist like no other and lure us with dreams in which we can share.
But in every kitchen there are a few well-used cookbooks that embody something special their owners love. Naomi Devlin (the fantasy chef above) wrote one of mine - and she’s just brought out another, Food for a Happy Gut.
In a previous life, Naomi was a homeopath. I found her beautifully-written blog a few years before she published her first book with River Cottage. The latest is a book of pickles, ferments and tummy-friendly food with recipes designed to restore diversity and health to a troubled gut and digestive system.
Naomi is the go-to expert on gluten-free grains and starches for cooking. She uses little refined-sugar, avoids processed foods and has an irresistible instinct for flavour that makes her recipes the sort of food I simply want to eat.
I couldn’t wait to dive into this book and start cooking; sourdough crumpets, radish bombs, kimchi, labneh, dukka, gomasio, fresh turmeric and rose tea, teff and sesame pancakes – the recipes are all easy and so packed with flavour they’ll make you clap your hands with happiness. Don’t be frightened by unfamiliar names; nothing in this book is difficult or time consuming to prepare.
This is my dried seaweed waiting to make the gomasio.
If you miss the strong, sour taste of rye, the comforting nuttiness of wholemeal pastry, then you’ll love these recipes. There are meals to take you through the day - healthy, flavourful, and diverse. Everything is inherently gluten-free, or can be made so - though a few do contain oats.
After the flurry of excitement that comes with a new book, you’ll find plenty of information here if you have a food intolerance or just want to eat your way to better health. Maybe you’d like to try fermented food for the first time, or want to experiment with probiotics or an anti-inflammatory diet.
For those who bake bread, buy the book for the sourdough-starter recipe (and the crumpets that will be the inevitable result of the leftover mixture). I’ve made fermented food for years and periodically struggled with my teff starter. Now, after using Naomi’s trick, it always works a treat and happily rests in the fridge in between uses - sometimes lending its special flavour to other items as well.
Here are 2 recipes from the book: Teff and Sesame Pancakes and Fig and Orange Chocolate Babycakes. I haven’t tried the latter yet – I look forward to a report from someone who has. Happy eating…..
TEFF AND SESAME PANCAKES
Serves 4 (Makes about 8–10 pancakes)
A tiny, nutritional powerhouse of a grain, teff is packed with resistant starch, prebiotic fibre, iron, magnesium and calcium. Teff has a malty, savoury flavour akin to rye flour, which you can use as an alternative in this recipe. I soak the pancakes overnight with some yoghurt or sourdough starter to make silky pancakes that are easier to digest.
300ml (1⁄2 pint) milk or dairy-free milk
130g (41⁄2oz) brown teff or oat flour
1 tablespoon live natural yoghurt or Sourdough Starter (see pages 35–37)
2 large organic eggs
Large pinch of sea salt
50g (2oz) black or white sesame seeds
Clarified butter, duck fat, lard or coconut oil, for frying
At least 6 hours before you plan to make your pancakes, whisk together the milk, flour and yoghurt or sourdough starter. Cover and leave at room temperature for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
When you are ready to make the pancakes, whisk in the eggs, salt and sesame seeds. Check that the batter is not too thick and add a little more milk if it is – you’ll know after your first pancake either way!
Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Brush lightly with fat, or use a wad of kitchen paper to give you a nice thin coating. Pour in some pancake batter and swirl it around the pan to give you a thin crêpe. When the underneath is golden brown, about 2–3 minutes, loosen gently with a palette knife and ip over to cook the other side briefly, about 1 minute. Keep warm in a low oven (if you are eating them immediately), while you cook the remainder in the same way, and pop a piece of greaseproof paper between each pancake to stop them sticking together.
These pancakes freeze beautifully for a month or two and are great to have stashed in the freezer for impromptu wraps, burritos and chimichangas. Just let them defrost at room temperature for 10 minutes or pop into a dry frying pan and reheat from frozen.
Although these pancakes are delicious for breakfast with some fruit and yoghurt, they also make a great alternative to flatbreads for scooping up hummus (see Broad Bean Hummus on page 120) or curry, to accompany Shakshuka (see page 119), or for making Teff Burritos (see page 163).
FIG AND ORANGE CHOCOLATE BABYCAKES
Although these rich, melting morsels of chocolate sponge do contain some very beneficial ingredients, their main purpose is to bring you joy. There is at least one study to show that the more you enjoy your food, the more nutrients you absorb. So treat yourself to these babycakes every so often, safe in the knowledge that each gooey spoonful is delighting your microbes almost as much as your taste buds.
90g (31⁄4oz) dried figs (or stoned prunes), chopped into small pieces
120g (41⁄2oz) salted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
120g (41⁄2oz) dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids), roughly chopped
2 large organic eggs, separated
2 large organic egg yolks
20g (3⁄4oz) brown teff flour (or chestnut flour), plus extra for dusting
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
Pinch of sea salt
120g (41⁄2oz) dark muscovado sugar
4 dariole moulds or small teacups
Generously butter the dariole moulds or teacups, dust with flour and then chill in the fridge. Put the figs into a small pan with 100ml (31⁄2 oz) of water, cover and bring to the boil, then simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 10–15 minutes. Leave to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stir to combine, then set aside to cool a little. Stir all the egg yolks, the flour, orange zest and soaked figs into the cooled chocolate mixture until incorporated, then set aside.
Whisk the egg whites with the salt in a clean mixing bowl using an electric whisk, until frothy and opaque, then tip in the sugar and whisk again until it forms a stiff, shiny meringue. It won’t hold stiff peaks, but it will hold its shape well. Gently fold the meringue into the chocolate mixture, just until there is no white showing.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared moulds or teacups, dividing evenly, then bake for about 8 minutes, until risen and firm on the top, but still wobbly if pressed. The top should look like cake, not glossy at all. If you don’t want a gooey centre, bake the cakes for 10-12 minutes in total.
Leave for a couple of minutes to settle – the centres will fall. Check that the cakes are not stuck around the edge and then tip each one out onto a plate and tuck in! Softly whipped cream makes an excellent companion.
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