Month: November 2013

Herby Artichoke Casserole from England

The cuisines of Italy, France, China, India and Mexico have managed to earn worldwide fame, thanks to their distinctive flavours. The English kitchen has never managed to establish a fame or even a good reputation for itself, which is a bit of a shame. The world outside the United Kingdom – in my view – is losing quite a bit by simply throughout not knowing about English dishes, beyond fish & chips.

The English kitchen is traditionally simple in terms of cooking methods. Also, the dishes of England tend to use high-quality local and natural ingredients. Stews and broths are very popular and very delicious, so are the desserts.

UKTV’s Good Food Channel describes the cuisine as “unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it”. This describes well the essence of traditional English cuisine.

Today I’m bringing a very easy to make vegetarian casserole from Nigel Slater, to you. He is one of the most established food writers in the United Kingdom, who tends to create traditional, simple, honest but very flavourful recipes. The Herby Artichoke Casserole is a perfect dish. It is very simple to prepare but its various ingredients and herbs merge together into a stunning combination of flavours.

I love to make it any time, but perhaps autumn and winter suits this dish best. The colours and flavours of this healthy and hearty meal evoke such times in my view.

herby_artichoke_BBC FOOD_25299_16x9
BBC Food


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 parsnip, chopped
  • 1 turnip, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp lemon thyme leaves
  • 500ml/18fl oz vegetable stock
  • 400g/14oz canned flageolet beans
  • 200g/7oz jar artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Preparation method:

  • Add the oil, celery, onion, carrots, parsnip and turnip to a large pan.
  • Put the herbs into the pan and fry until soft and browning slightly. Add the stock and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add the beans and artichokes and simmer for another five minutes. Add the chopped parsley at the end and serve.

Bon Apetit!

If you try this dish, let me know your opinion. Also, if you have similar recipes, I would love to try them, so don’t hesitate to send them to me.

Marvellous Mauritius

Mauritius is a lovely island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is beautiful and its culturally diverse population makes it a fantastic travel destination. The island offers beautiful scenery, spectacular beaches, interesting cultural sights, wildlife and natural parks and an absolutely delicious cuisine. Its people are very friendly and welcoming and it’s very safe to explore the island. Besides being enchanting, Mauritius has a special place in my heart as I got married on this beautiful and romantic island. It was indeed a perfect wedding destination.

The Pearl of Africa

Mauritius is a tiny island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The country belongs to Africa. However, its main island lies 2,000 miles away from the south-east coast of the continent, as part of the Mascarene Islands.

Mauritius is the main island of the country, which also encompasses the islands of Rodrigues and Agaléga, as well as the archipelago of Saint Brandon. I had the good fortune to explore the principal island as well as Rodrigues, which lies 560 kilometres (350 miles) east of Mauritius. (Nonetheless, I did not visit the two smaller dependencies, Agaléga and Saint Brandon. Both of these are very far from the main island: 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) and 430 kilometres (267 miles), respectively. They are tiny and barely inhabited, so I guess there is very little to see there anyway!)

Adrienne Hunt, Pinterest

Island with History

The islands known as Mauritius & Rodrigues today were first discovered by Arab merchant sailors during the Middle Ages. At the time of its discovery, the islands were uninhabited and unknown to the world. The Arab sailors had the privilege of naming these beautiful pieces of land in the middle of the ocean. They chose to call the two islands Dina Arobi and Dina Mozare.

At the beginning of the 1500s, Portuguese sailors were aware of the existence of the islands discovered by the Arabs and launched their own expedition, renaming the island to “Ihla Do Cirne”, i.e. “Swan Island”. Later, at the end of the century, Dutch explorers visited the island and renamed it to “Mauritius” after the Dutch Prince, Maurits van Nassau. The Dutch then claimed ownership over the island, establishing the farming of sugar cane and domestic animals; and logging of ebony trees. However, after just 100 years, the governor and settlers were forced to leave the island after a cyclone had devastated it. Later, the French, who were at that time present in nearby territories that they called Bourbon Island (currently Reunion) and Madagascar, decided to seize Mauritius, renaming it to “Isle de France”.

Under French ownership, colonisation took place at an accelerated pace. The French developed the island, established a significant naval base on it and built the capital city of Port Louis. Thanks to the location of the island being along the Spice Route, the French East India Company established its capital here and was authorised to administer the island. As the island became a significant commercial hub, slaves from Madagascar and Mozambique were brought to the land. Following a peak economic period commercial activity declined, a new governor was appointed.  He launched various projects to revitalise the island. By the late 1700s trade was liberalised with India and the island’s port became busy again.

In 1810 ,the British took over the island and returned to its Dutch name “Mauritius”. Nonetheless, the French settlers were allowed to stay. The French legal system, language, traditions and religious practices remained in place, despite English rule. The English abolished slavery in 1835. The abolishment prompted indentured labourers from India to appear on the island, changing its ethnic profile forever. In the subsequent period, malaria epidemics and industrialisation caused the population to move around the island, which resulted in various residential settlements being established, all over the island.

In 1968 the island gained its independence and the Republic of Mauritius was declared. Nonetheless, it continues to be a member of the Commonwealth. Currently the island nation is the only fully democratic nation in Africa, according to The Economist.

Diverse and Friendly Population

There are roughly 1.3 million inhabitants on the main island, while Rodrigues is occupied by less than 40 thousand people. The two tiny territories of Agaléga and Saint Brandon provide a home to less than 300 people altogether. The country is home to various ethnicities, including Indo-Mauritians, Franco-Mauritians, Creoles and Sino-Mauritians and all cultures and religious are equally respected. The population is very diverse. Various languages are used and several religions are widely practiced. The country is a prime example of peaceful and harmonious co-existence. In order to bridge the diversity of languages, most Mauritians speak English and French is widely spoken, too.

Unbeatable Cuisine 

The cuisine of Mauritius is absolutely unique and delicious. It is unique as it is influenced by Creole, Indian, European and Chinese gastronomies. The combination of flavours has produced something very distinct.

French gastronomy has been popular since the era of French rule on the island. Bouillon, civet de lièvre and coq au vin, amongst others, are popular dishes. The island adds some ingredients and spices, which offer some different flavours to traditional French cuisine. At the time of the arrival of Indians, their particular dishes came with them and their flavours were added into the Mauritian cuisine. Flavours and tastes from several Indian culinary traditions appeared, including various curries, chutneys and rougaille. When Chinese migrants appeared on the island, they brought with them south-eastern Chinese recipes, including rice-based dishes and noodles. Hakien and crispy meats were added to the culinary mix of Mauritius.

The different gastronomic traditions were mixed and matched, adjusted and developed, creating the uniquely flavourful Mauritian cuisine. It is a real treat to eat out in Mauritius, so if you have a chance to go, take a chance to explore the country’s culinary traditions. Also, do try a tot of Mauritian rum, which is fairly famous all around the world.

Paula and Fauvel Pelletier Pinterest
Paula and Fauvel Pelletier, Pinterest

Worth Visiting

Depending on how long you stay in Mauritius, it may be worth splitting your holiday in various locations on Mauritius and potentially visiting Rodrigues. For my own experience, I am happy to recommend staying in Flic en Flac, in the west, and around Mahébourg at the south-east of the island. It is a historic town, which was built where the Dutch first landed on the island.

Take a day trip to Port Louis, where you can wander around this compact city and take a look at some of the remaining colonial architecture. You can also pop in to the Blue Penny Museum, where you may take a look at a dodo skeleton, the famous extinct, indigenous bird of the island. You can also see the world’s first colonial stamp in this museum. You will come across churches, temples, mosques. The port area of the city is charming, it is worth spending some time with a walk along the promenade.

Hannes Wimmer, Pinterest

If you are big into nature, the Casela Nature & Leisure Park is for you. This is a sanctuary for rare birds, but you can walk with lions here, too. Mini-safaris are on offer, too. The Black River Gorges National Park is home to macaque monkeys, as well as to the highest point of the island, where you can trek.

For enthusiasts of colonial history, visiting the French colonial mansion, Eureka, is a real adventure. It used to be owned by the biggest sugar cane plantation owner on the island and was equipped with all the luxuries of the era.

Don’t miss the crater lake of Ganga Talao (or Grand Bassin), which is considered sacred by the Hindus of Mauritius. You can find temples here and you may encounter pilgrims walking bare feet to the lake, from their homes.

If you feel like visiting Rodrigues, you need to take a flight from Mauritius. On doing so, you will encounter a very quiet island where African culture is much stronger than in multicultural Mauritius. It is a charming and quiet island, which you may explore within two or three days. You can’t miss Port Mathurin, the capital city.  It is home to roughly 6,000 people. A tropical Roman Catholic Church is a local attraction, so is the viewpoint of Mount Fanal and the Church of Saint Gabriel. You may explore wonderful, secluded beaches and islets here. If you want to be all on your own, it is the place for you!

David Gervel, Pinterest

I loved Mauritius and Rodrigues and I am hoping that destiny may give me the chance to return to this wonderful country with my husband in future. If you go before I return, let me know what you think!

Terrific Turmeric

Turmeric has recently became a hot topic in health and nutrition books & journals. There is talk of it being a new superfood.  Or more precisely a super spice, which may reduce cancer risk and ward off a wide variety of other illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, allergies and arthritis . Let’s see why turmeric is considered to be so beneficial to health and how it can help us protect us.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is a plant, with its root being used both in fresh and preserved forms. The preserved form, turmeric powder, is widespread. It is made by boiling the fresh root of the plant for 30 to 45 minutes.  It is then dried in a hot oven and ground into a powder. Fresh turmeric leaves may also be used to wrap food. While turmeric spice can be consumed both in a fresh and in a preserved form, the leaves tend to be used in fresh form only.

BBC Food

Turmeric grows in tropical climates where rain is plentiful. It is indigenous in South and South-East Asia, in particular in India and Indonesia. Nonetheless, turmeric can be found in the cuisines of Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam too. In addition to these regions, it can be found in the gastronomy of the Middle East, notably so in Iran. It is a distinctive spice, but it is neither super hot, nor does it have a flavour. It adds a bit of an earthy quality to food, as long as only moderate amounts are used. Where it is used in a plentiful manner, it has a slightly bitter flavour and a smell which reminiscent of mustard. It is primarily used in curry sauces, including commercially available ones, in which it tends to be mixed with coriander, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek and pepper. If you ever wondered why curry has a distinct colour, turmeric may be responsible as it can constituent one fifth to one third of some curry sauces.

Turmeric is not only used for its flavour. Its strong yellow colour makes it a good colouring agent too. Packaged food products including canned and bottled beverages and juices, packaged sauces, bakery products, dairy products, cakes and biscuits, cereals, sweets, mustards and condiments may contain turmeric. The food industry often uses turmeric as a food additive under the name “E100” to derive natural colouring.

Turmeric as a medicinal plant 

Turmeric has been in use in South Asia, South-East Asia and the Middle East, both as a spice and as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. It has been used as a cooking ingredient not only for its taste, but for maintaining health. Plus it was used to cure various diseases.

The Ayurvedic tradition in India recognised the health benefits of turmeric consumption thousands of years ago. Ever since, it has been thought to have cleansing and purifying qualities; and has been used to treat a wide range of conditions including digestive disorders, fever, infection, arthritis, dysentery, jaundice and other diseases of the liver. Similarly to Ayurveda, Chinese medicine has also used turmeric to treat diseases of the liver, bleeding and congestion. The Assyrians noted turmeric as one of two hundred and fifty medicinal plants. It was also widely used both as a medicinal plant and as a spice in the Ryukyuan Kingdom, in the Okinawa region of present-day Japan to maintain health and cure diseases.

Utsav Shashvatt, Pinterest

Due to the presence of turmeric in these ancient medicinal traditions, scientists of the modern era have also gravitated toward researching turmeric in recent years.

Recent research assumes that turmeric may be capable of inhibiting cancer growth. Although epidemiological research on turmeric has not yet been completed – which would have found a definitive link between turmeric intake and the prevalence of cancer – laboratory research shows impressive results. On this basis, scientists believe that frequent and relative large-scale consumption of turmeric may make a significant contribution to the low cancer rates found in India. This health property may be arise from turmeric’s active ingredient called “curcumin”, which possesses complex pharmacological activity; and has a very strong potential as an anticancer agent. This substance seems to be responsible for the health benefits of eating turmeric and might be able to prevent and treat stomach, intestinal, colon, skin and liver tumours. Furthermore, it may assist in fighting infections, reducing inflammation, and treating digestive problems. All this sound good enough to give it a go and include turmeric into your diet, doesn’t it?

According to leading researchers in nutritional science,  the health benefits of turmeric are enhanced by the consumption of pepper at the same time, thanks to it increasing the extent of the absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream. Simply put, this means that we need to add some pepper to our turmeric consumption for maximum health benefit. As pepper has always been used in curries in India, the culinary synergy between these two ingredients may be behind the proven low cancer rates in India.

How to use turmeric?

Try to add a dash of turmeric & pepper to soups, curries, stews, pasta sauces and green smoothies. I always do that and as long as it is only a dash, it won’t change flavours in any way, let alone dramatically. Nonetheless, even these small dashes can have a huge impact on your health.

If you are interested in the topic, check out my book recommendation on “Foods to Fight Cancer” by Richard Béliveau, PhD. and Denis Gingras, PhD.

The Perfect Pad Thai

Pad Thai is probably the most famous item of Thai gastronomy. It is not only popular all over Thailand, it tends to make its way to the heart of most people who taste it, all around the world. Let’s see what is behind the sweeping success of this dish.

Pad Thai tends to be the first introductory dish to Thai cuisine thanks to the fact that the dish has a particular taste, it balances well the salty, sour and sweet flavours characteristic to Thai food and it is not too spicy. It evokes an exotic cuisine without being unusually strong, sharp or spicy. In my view it expresses the gentle nature of the people of Thailand and it represents well the Thai take on life itself. It’s delicious, light and flavourful.

Jenna McJenna, Pinterest

The base of the dish contains rice noodles, which are stir-fried with various ingredients. The combination of these ingredients creates the unique flavours of Pad Thai. The original recipe contains tamarind, palm sugar, eggs, garlic, salted radish, tofu, bean sprouts, peanuts, prawns, chicken and pork as well as fish and soy sauce. Nonetheless, the recipe is tweaked according to region and taste; and basically every cook interprets Pad Thai in a slightly different way. To cook a good Pad Thai, one must feel the dish. That’s why one simply cannot find the same Pad Thai in two different places, even though it is served at thousands of food stalls, eateries and households on a regular basis. Still, the characteristic flavours can be found in every single Pad Thai. This diversity makes it extremely exciting and truly Thai.

Although the dish is known as “Pad Thai”, it has a “proper” name, i.e. “Kway Teow Pad Thai”, which simply means stir-fried rice noodles in Thai-style. Although it is the flagship dish of Thai gastronomy, Pad Thai probably originates in China as the term “Kway Teow” refers to rice noodles in Chinese. According to food historians, noodles hail from China and the cooking style of stir-frying is of Chinese origin, too. So, the basic characteristics of Pad Thai may originate from China’s southwestern region. Nonetheless, the distinct flavour and the texture of Pad Thai makes it different to any other Chinese noodle dish.

Although the dish is very delicious, there is something other than just its flavour that accounts for its widespread popularity. Namely,  a political decision made by Prime Minister and Field Marshall Plaek Phibunsongkhram aka Phibun. This gentleman was behind the original recipe of Pad Thai and what’s more, he was the driving force behind making it known and popular among the Thai people. Phibun was the Prime Minister of Thailand between 1938 and 1944 and between 1948 and 1957. He renamed the country from Siam to Thailand, which literally means “The Land of the Free”. He introduced various measures to modernise the country and to strengthen its economy.

The introduction of Pad Thai into the country took place during the Second World War. It was probably invented in Phibun’s own household with the aim of making the diet of the poor more nutritious, compared to the plain rice they ate with chilli paste, salt and green leaves. Also, the dish was promoted as a sanitary food due to the cooking method, using stir frying at high temperatures. It was also very cheap, at that time a portion cost no more than 1 Baht (which was equivalent to a few pennies). The objective of inventing a national Thai dish also had the aim of boosting the national pride of the Thai as it was different to the Chinese noodle dishes that were available in Thailand at that time. Further, it helped local farmers sell their produce to wheeled food-stalls in Bangkok, sponsored by the government, which specialised in making the new dish, based on the original Pad Thai recipe. These mobile food stalls made the dish widely available in Bangkok and thanks to its delicious taste and cheap price, it quickly set off on the path toward worldwide fame.

If you are Thai, you may feel the dish and can create a perfect one without any recipe. For beginners, though, the following recipe by Jill Dupleix from BBC Food – and tweaked by myself to suit vegetarians – is  good guidance and a starting point.


  • 100g dried rice stick noodles
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 200g tofu chopped up to cubes or slices
  • 100g bean sprouts, rinsed
  • 2 spring onion greens, chopped into 3cm/1in lengths
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • ½ tsp dried chilli flakes or cayenne
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (palm sugar is preferred but you may replace it with brown sugar)
  • 2 tbsp roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
  • 2 tbsp coriander sprigs or dry coriander according to taste
  • 1 lime, quartered for garnish

 Preparation method:

  • Cover the noodles with boiling water and leave for 15 minutes or until al dente. Rinse in cold water and drain well, then use 1 tsp of oil to coat your hands and run them through the noodles to help prevent sticking.
  • To make the omelette, heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a wok and swirl to coat the surface. Pour in the beaten eggs and swirl to make a very thin omelette. Run a knife around the edge, turn out, slice into strips and set aside. (If you are vegan, you may leave the eggs out entirely. The dish will taste different and it will no longer be a Pad Thai, but you will still get a decent Asian-style noodle dish.)
  • To cook the noodles, add remaining oil to the wok and heat. Add the garlic and the tofu and toss over high heat.
  • Add the noodles, omelette strips, bean sprouts, spring onions, soy sauce, lime juice, chilli and sugar, tossing constantly over high heat until it combines well.
  • To serve, scatter with crushed peanuts, coriander leaves and quartered limes.

Jill Dupleix, BBC

I hope you enjoy trying the dish.  In the Comments below, let us know if you have any favourite Thai dishes and what it is about them that make them so appealing!