Thursday, 24 June 2010

Braġjoli – Maltese Beef Olives

Beef olives are found all over Europe, the Maltese have their own variation called Braġjoli which is either baked or braised in a wine or tomato sauce. I made these last week and served them with the Patata fil Forn from my last post. It went down a treat with a very good friend asking if he could have the leftovers for his lunch (I have the Maltese tendency of cooking too much!).

My preferred way of cooking them is to brown them, then braise them in a wine, garlic and tomato sauce with lots of bay leaves and marjoram. They go fantastically well with Patata fil Forn and steamed veg (I served them with thickly cut carrots and broccoli florets here), as well as creamy mashed potato. You can prepare the beef olives ahead of time as they do need quite a bit of time to cook – this is very much a slow food dish.

Braġjoli – Maltese Beef Olives

Serves 4 - 6 (About 270 cal per beef olive)


For the braġjoli:

30g breadcrumbs
100g lean bacon or thick cut ham, chopped into small pieces
200g extra lean beef mince
2 medium hard boiled eggs, chopped into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp each of salt and pepper
500g lean topside beef, cut into 8 thin slices (any cut with too much fat marbling won't stand up to being flattened out as it will tend to collapse)

For the sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
150ml red wine (the stronger, the better)
1 beef stock bullion, dissolved in 100ml boiled water
400g chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon marjoram (dried is fine)
4 large bay leaves
1 tbsp chopped parsley
season to taste

Method for the Braġjoli:

1. In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, bacon, mince, eggs, garlic, onion, parsley and seasoning, mixing thoroughly.

2. On a protected surface, take a slice of the topside and flatten out further by beating it out with a meat mallet (or a rolling pin) until it's about 3mm thick.

3. Take 1-2 heaped tablespoons of the stuffing and spoon onto the centre of the flattened out "steak". Roll up tightly by tucking the sides over the stuffing and rolling up. Secure with cocktail sticks.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other slices. Set aside. If preparing ahead, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate.

Method for the sauce:

1. In a large casserole dish or heavy-based saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat and brown the braġjoli all over with the bay leaves, you may need to do this in a couple of batches. Set aside.

2. In the same oil, brown the onions and garlic. If it sticks, add a little of the wine to get at the crispy bits.

3. Pour in the rest of the wine, add the chopped tomatoes, stock and marjoram, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and carefully add the braġjoli, making sure they are well covered by the sauce.

4. Cover and simmer over a low heat for about an hour and a half to two hours, checking the moisture level. If need be, add a little water now and then.

5. Stir through the rest of the parsley at the end of cooking, check the seasoning and remove all the cocktail sticks before serving – this can be a little bit of a messy job, so take out the braġjoli first and do it on a separate plate before spooning over the sauce.

Any left over stuffing can be made into patties by beating an egg through it and dipping into breadcrumbs. Fry in a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until golden brown.

Patata fil Forn - Maltese Roast Potatoes

Maltese Roast Potatoes are quite different from the usual Sunday "roasties" we get here in the UK. For a start, the potatoes aren't par-boiled in large chunks, but sliced finely. These are incredibly popular and in our family we almost have to fight to the death for the last crunchy. Most of the time slices of thickly cut meat or chicken pieces will be laid underneath so that they poach along with the potatoes. Normally a lot of salt and pepper is used along with a little curry powder, but my mother's variation uses powdered vegetable stock, so I have omitted the salt here.

Patata fil Forn (Maltese Roast Potatoes) - Serves 4 large portions


1 large onion, sliced in to rings
4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced, lengthways into 5mm rounds
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons powdered vegetable stock
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons of oil


1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Layer the base of a baking dish with a layer of half the onions, over this layer half the potatoes. Sprinkle with half the garlic, stock, pepper, curry powder and drizzle a tablespoon of oil over the top.

3. Repeat with the second layer.

4. Slowly pour in some water to just come up with the bottom layer of the potatoes (about 5 - 10 mm).

5. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top layer is golden brown and most of the water has evaporated. Serve with your usual roast, stews, or even between a couple of slices of bread with your favourite chutney (great for when you have left overs!)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Kusksu (Maltese Spring Soup)

This soup is traditionally made in May when fresh broad beans are at their best and almost always served on Good Friday. With frozen broad beans available it's now made all year round, but is still delicious. It was a major comfort food for me and everyone has a preference on how it is served, some families add cauliflower, others peas or potatoes.

My mother would crack an egg into hers to poach, I loved to scoop on some ricotta, which would then set in the hot broth, best though is fresh Maltese sheep cheese, collectively called ġbejniet.

Kusksu (Maltese Spring Soup)
Serves 4-6 - About 200 cal per serving, not including garnishes.

2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion (about 200g), finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
120g tomato concentrate
180g dried kusksu (sometimes labeled as Israeli couscous, pasta beads will be fine or orzo pasta in a pinch. The one I get is a Neil's Yard one available at Holland & Barret)
300g broad beans (fresh is better, but frozen can still be used, skins removed from the larger beans)
1.5 L water or chicken stock
5 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp torn, fresh basil

To garnish (optional):
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
or preferably fresh ġbejniet (Maltese cheese) - if you can get a hold of it!

1. In a large pan, heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic until it starts to brown.

2. Add the tomato paste, fry for a few more minutes, add the broad beans (if using frozen, add later with the couscous), seasoning, bay leaves and half the basil.

3. Pour in the water (or stock), bring to the boil, then reduce heat so it gently simmers.

4. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stir in the kusksu cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Check the seasoning and turn off the heat

5. Serve in bowls with a dollop of ricotta or ġbejna, or poach an egg in the broth before serving. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and fresh basil.

(Image appreciatively stolen from here as we got carried away and ate the soup before we could take a picture! Though my variation doesn't use peas, you can add them if you like).

Friday, 18 June 2010

Breakfast Club #1: Asian Challenge - Baby Clam Rolled Omelette with Ssamjang

Having been challenged to create an Asian breakfast via Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Sarah from Fingers and Toes, as part of The Breakfast Club, here is my entry.

At first I was going to make Nasi Lemak, but left with facing a jar of left over baby clams and wondering what to do with them, the idea hit me to make an omelette based on the oyster omelettes found all over East Asia. Instead of serving it with the usual chilli sauces, I've served it here with the highly addictive condiment, ssamjang, a Korean mixed chilli-bean paste usually made up of doenjang, garlic, gochujang. And I mean addictive - when ever The Tallest and I go to our favourite Korean restaurant, Kimchee in Golders Green, the waitress always smiles knowingly when ever we ask for more.

Baby Clam Rolled Omelette with Ssamjang

Serves 1 - 310 Calories per serving


2 medium eggs
50g shelled, cooked baby clams
2 spring onions, finely chopped
50g carrot, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp groundnut oil
1 large sheet of roasted seaweed (sushi nori is fine)
a heaped tablespoon of ssamjang (I use the Sunchang branded stuff, you can find it in green tubs at Korean grocers and in China Town)
gem lettuce leaves to serve


1. Whisk the eggs with the clams, onions, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper.

2. In a large, heavy based pan, heat the oil gently, keeping it on a low heat.

3. Slowly pour in the egg mixture, making sure it spreads evenly. It's very important that you keep the heat low, you want to cook this gently.

4. When it has started to set, place the sheet of seaweed on top of the omelette.

5. Using a spatula, carefully roll up the omelette in the pan.

6. Take the omelette out of the pan and rest for a couple of minutes, this will set it a little more so you can slice it easier. Slice into 2cm thick pieces.

7. Serve cross-section side up and eat it by placing the omelette into the lettuce leaf, dolloping on a little ssamjang, rolling it up and eating it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Quick Mid-Week Seafood Stew

I'd hesitate to call this Maltese, but it certainly uses the flavours of capers, garlic, bay leaves, a little curry powder and garlic. I'm hoping to get my hands on Octopus soon so I can do this properly. I've bought my ingredients separately from the fish monger, but you can use anything you like or pre-mixed seafood, totally up to you.

Quick Mid-Week Seafood Stew (Serves 2) - Roughly 310 calories per serving


1 tsp olive oil
100g diced shallots
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
2 bay leaves
about a tablespoon thyme (remove the stalks)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt (season to taste)
juice of half a lemon
50g capers
60g black olives, sliced
100g monkfish, cut into thick chunks
100g cooked prawns
100g squid, sliced into rings, or scored pieces
50g cooked, shelled baby clams
75g cooked, shelled mussels
Lemon zest for garnish


1. In a medium to large saucepan, over a medium heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the onions and stir, cook until it starts to become translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking until they have browned.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and spices, vinegar, capers and olives, bring to the boil then lower heat to a gentle simmer.

3. After about 10 minutes, add the monkfish, make sure it's well covered. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes.

4. Add all remaining seafood and continue cooking for about 5 minutes.

5. Serve with spaghetti or fresh crusty bread. Garnish with lemon zest and you're done.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Maltese Fair - Saturday 26th June 2010

In a couple of weeks there's a Maltese fair in East London run by the Maltese Culture Movement, it's mainly to celebrate the feast of St. Paul & St Peter (Imnarja), but stalls will be set up where you can buy traditional Maltese food, snacks and drinks including frozen pastizzi you can take home to cook and the national soft drink, Kinnie.

Date: Saturday 26 June 2010

Roland Philipps Scouts Centre in East London, 65 Copley Street, (off Stepney Way) London E1 3DF.

Time: It's after mass (11am), so the stalls should be up and running by noon.

Click on the picture for the link:

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bulgar wheat with broadbeans, tomatoes and ricotta

Perfect for a light lunch, either eaten cold as a salad, or can be heated up for a mock risotto. I usually make this the night before for my work lunches, I find it tastes better the next day. It's dead easy to make too. For a non-vegetarian variety you can add shredded pieces of roast chicken or grilled lamb.

Serves One (315 calories)

40g dry bulgar wheat
100g broad beans (can use fresh or frozen)
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
50g ricotta cheese
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
1/4 tsp sumac
salt and pepper to taste

1. Make up bulgar wheat according to packet instructions. Usually I just soak it in about 125ml just boiled water for 20-30 minutes.

2. Peel the outer skins the broad beans (as they can taste bitter). If using frozen, boil in a small pan of water for 1 minute, plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process, then peel the skins.

3. Stir the broad beans, tomatoes, ricotta, lemon juice, mint and sumac, season to taste and Serve.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

On gifts and things

The Tallest and I have sent out the invitations and keep getting asked "so what do we give you as a gift?". To be honest, we don't need anything, money is helpful but not necessary, we've lived together for over 5 and a half years, so have most of the things we need, though a heavy duty broom for the patio and some gardening equipment will be much appreciated by me (really need to start my herb and veg garden).

But if I were one of those freak brides who through a tantrum because they want some overpriced piece of gadgetry, any of the following will be much appreciated by me (I'm kidding of course, I'll get them for myself eventually):

So what do you eat?

I get this question a lot, I mean at least once a day. It doesn't take long to work out that my eating habits aren't the norm. My work colleagues, bless them, know and understand why I have a "second lunch" at 3pm.

Since November last year I was determined to get healthy and feel better about myself, especially with the impending nuptials in a few months time. So, I started going to the gym. This soon led to analysing and completely redesigning my diet. I stopped having sugar in my tea and coffee, eventually I'd cut coffee out almost completely and only have one or two cups of black tea a day. I started eating 5 - 6 meals a day to give my metabolism a boost and keep my blood sugars regular. I eat more raw fruit, veg and wholegrains than I ever did (for me this was one of the bigger achievements, since I never touched fruit as a kid and salad? FORGET IT!).

To support my body, since the gym sessions turned into 3, then 4 and before I knew it I was going 5 - 6 days a week, I do take supplements and protein in the form of either shakes or bars (but strictly only after workouts) to help repair and maintain the muscle. My calorie intake is quite low compared to average (but quite normal and safe for someone of my height), so I have to be very, very careful with food choices.

So here's the breakdown of an average day:

Meal One: Usually porridge made with water, with fresh fruit, some nuts and a little honey. Though I have experimented and made rice porridges, semolina and polenta for breakfast. If I do have toast, it'll be a seeded wholegrain bread topped with things like ricotta and peaches.


Meal Two: A protein bar or protein shake, and I'll eat some fruit with a cup of tea when I get to the office.

Meal Three: Lunch will always have a complex carb added to it to keep me going the rest of the day, for example, yesterdays lunch was sushi and rice, today it's wholemeal pitta, ham, tomatoes and goats cheese, tomorrow is bulgar wheat with ricotta, chicken and broadbeans.

Meal Four: Usually steamed veg or a salad with some chicken, or I'll have fruit and a raw chocolate bar (such as the Nakd bars) as a treat, though I usually have yoghurt and some carrot sticks with low fat hummus. Depends my mood.

Meal Five: Something snacky like a handful of blueberries, a few nuts or some crudites.

Meal Six: I avoid complex carbs in the evening since my body does not need the energy before I go to bed, so to wind down I'll have a herbal tea (fresh mint or chamomile) and dinner will consist of veg and meat in some form (more often lately I omit the meat, but The Tallest will grump about it). E.g. an vegetable and fish curry (made with a little oil and tomato based), or a clear broth with loads of veg and free range chicken, or the summer favourite, griddled lamb steaks with harissa rub, courgettes, peppers and aubergine.

I've found eating this way had helped a lot, I don't have sugar crashes any more, I wake up feeling much better without any bloating from cutting out complex carbs in the evening, my complexion has improved. I'm slowly moving towards cooking methods that are as quick as possible, especially when it comes to vegetables to make sure as little of the nutrients as possible are damaged.

Mind you, I still will make a roast from time to time, and stews are fantastic, as they're usually packed full of veg (great way for sneaking in vegetables for kids to eat since they won't see them as easily). Though I've laid off the cakes and biscuits almost entirely but will very occasionally make low-far bran muffins (fantastic for breakfast too, with a bit of ham and soft white cheese, yum).

And with that, I'm off to the gym.

Monday, 7 June 2010

More food discoveries

Found a New Favourite Food™ at the supermarket the other day. With my determination to eat a better diet, I'm always on the lookout for foods to snack on which are a bit better for me than the average chocolate bar. Enter raw fruit, nut and cocoa bars in the form of Nakd Cocoa Loco:

Seriously addictive, I had two bars yesterday and another today, at about 100cal a bar, it's a lot better for you than the average chocolate bar and you get one of your 5 a day too (really, you should be eating a lot more than this, but that's another rant). They have other flavours too including Apple Pie, Berry Cheeky and Banana Bread (sadly I can't have this one because I'm allergic to banana), but will definitely be up for trying the others – possibly even work out how to make my own, since the ingredients are all easily sourced. For now, I'm quite happy scoffing on a Cocoa Loco bar with my cup of coffee for morning tea.

Friday, 4 June 2010

On things grown locally

I, and I assume, like a lot of my fellow foodies try and buy produce locally, rather than the sort that is shipped in from other countries (obviously with exceptions where some fruits and vegetables just can't be grown in the British climate).

Since I moved to the UK five and a half years ago, I've made a lot of firsts when it comes to eating food in season. It DOES taste better, lasts longer and without the overwhelming guilt of air miles. I remember the first time my future-mother-in-law cooked me asparagus, it was the beginning of the very short season and she simply steamed it and served it with salt, pepper and butter. It was heaven.

Jersey Royal potatoes are another and I make a point of buying a couple of bags every year, savoy cabbage too...the list goes on.

Today brings me to my newest discovery, while feeling a little peckish, I was about to pick up my usual tub of blueberries (sadly grown in Turkey) when I glanced up and saw these strange extra large blackberries grown in Kent. I've never been a major fan of blackberries because of the tartness, but thought I'd give these a go. My lord, they were delicious, the right amount of sweetness and tartness and with a size that makes it feel like a proper snack food – I scoffed the lot.

A little research (I read the label) led me to discover they were Karaka Blacks, originally from New Zealand, but grown in the UK and are the sweetest variety. They look like mini corn cobs to me, but definitely a new favourite. I bought them in Waitrose, but I'm sure they'll be available elsewhere.