Spring cleaning

So this post is coming a little late my lovelies! But as I'm sure you've noticed the website has been exceedingly en-shiny-ed.

In the coming weeks the logistics will:

  • Translate the images from the old hoster and re-draft some of the blog posts
  • Add a gallery page for photos
  • Add some of the many and various bits of dried herbs, mushrooms and other foraged delights for sale to the shop
  • Add details of preserving courses and how they can be booked
  • Enable blog commenting, customer feedback and various other interactive bits and bobs that worked on the old website but we're still getting to grips with the new engine.

The database for the old website, including the comments will be shredded once we've transferred as much as we can to the new site. We're not going to leave it on a train or something silly like that!

There's still plenty of space for the taster walks this weekend (28th & 29th May) at Kirkstall Abbey. Taster walks are all pay-as-you-feel so are completely free to book through the website and after the event you pay what you are able and you feel the event was worth.

Bananas for bread (Or how to make GF Swahili coconut bread)

As you might have gathered, I’m still in Mombasa. In Mombasa, I can forage things like banana leaves (and not just in my mums garden which is the lazy forager’s option). Banana leaves make a truly amazing wrapping for all sorts of foods but the most delicious and uniquely Swahili of them all is Mkate Wa Fushi. Mkate Wa Fushi is a naturally Gluten Free, regional speciality bread originating in Lamu, which is where my mum grew up. It’s completely unlike any bread you have ever tasted and is 100% worth the faff of tracking down fresh banana leaves, grating coconuts and blending rice. Lightly spiced with cardamom seeds and so very fragrantly coconutty, it is by far my favourite bread-type product. So much so that I polished off four of them in one sitting at dinner! The banana leaves aren’t just a form to give the bread structure. They are integral to the final flavour profile of it so do try and find some. If you’re not in a tropical country, banana leaves can be bought from really good Chinese supermarkets that also supply Thai foods. If you can’t find any, I’ve included an alternative method for people stuck in the boonies with no access to tropical ingredients!

Swahili method for Mkate Wa Fushi

2 cups rice
1tbsp sugar
2 coconuts, flesh removed
1tsp yeast
2 small red onions
1tsp salt
1/2tsp freshly ground cardamom
1 sachet Eno salts (or 1tsp Andrews liver salts)

Grind the rice in a spice mill until it becomes a coarse powder. Put into a large bowl.

Put coconut flesh into a blender. Add chopped onion, cardamom, salt and yeast and enough water to just cover so you can blend it. Blend to a paste and scoop out into the bowl with the rice stir until mixed through completely. Leave to rise until it’s 50% greater by volume.

Add your sachet of eno and stir through. The eno will fizz and help the bread to rise and go fluffy.

Meanwhile, prepare your banana leaves into cones as per the step by step photos below.

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Fill your banana leaf cones with your mixture and place in a round oven dish which will hold the cones relatively snugly. Your coconut milk will probably leak out of the banana cones but that’s ok. Don’t panic! If your mixture is too dry, your breads won’t be soft and fluffy on the inside.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the ends of the breads are golden brown.

Remove from the oven, cover with a lid and allow to cool slightly and release from the baking dish before serving.

To serve: unwrap first! 

Truly epic with coconut chicken curry!

Stuck in the boonies alternative

2 cups rice
2 cups water
1 cup dessicated coconut
1/4 block of coconut
1tbsp sugar
1tsp yeast
2 small red onions
1tsp salt
1/2tsp freshly ground cardamom
1 sachet Eno salts (or 1tsp Andrews liver salts)

Put dessicated coconut into a bowl. Put coconut block into a pan with the water and heat till melted. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Pour over the dessicated coconut. Leave for at least 1 hour to rehydrate.

Grind the rice in a spice mill until it becomes a coarse powder. Put into a large bowl.

Put coconut mixture into a blender and add chopped onion, cardamom, salt and yeast and enough water to just cover so you can blend it. Blend to a paste. Add to the rice meal and stir to a paste. Cover and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm place until it’s risen by about 50%.

Take an oven dish and cover the base with foil. Oil it well and put it into your oven then preheat your oven to 200C. 

Stir the Eno into the bread batter then it form into patties about the size of a saucer. Plop onto your hot baking tray. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes before removing the foil and baking for a further 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, cover with the foil and leave to cool slightly and release from the foil before serving. Truly epic with coconut chicken curry!

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp
Lady fingers to big pharma (or how to treat acne & more with a vegetable)

This post is all about okra. Yes…I know you’re not going to be able to forage okra in the UK like I’ve been able to in Mombasa, but I thought I’d talk about it anyway as it’s widely available in any Asian supermarket near you!

Okra is a member of the same family as hibiscus and marsh mallow. It has gorgeous flowers that are followed by long, pointy seed pods that someone, somewhere, thought looked like lady’s fingers. I’m in Mombasa at the moment and lucky enough to be able to forage this amazing vegetable right in the garden where it’s thriving. Like its cousin marsh mallow, it is full of mucilage that helps to soothe the gut, tons of dietary fibre, plenty of vitamins and lots more!

 
Also known as lady fingers, binda, or “that snotty vegetable”, okra was my least favourite vegetable growing up, second only to spinach. But as I grow older, it’s starting to grow on me. And now that I’ve learned more about it, it is something that I will be eating a lot more of. Did you know that okra can help you to balance your hormones if they’re out of whack? Did you know that you can use them to make your periods more regular, help in the management of Type 2 diabetes*, banish acne, condition your hair and stop your constipation? Neither did I!

  

Okra Water for balancing your cycle, conditioning your hair & battling acne

At night, take 3 small okra, chop them into 1cm pieces and put them into a glass and cover with water. The next morning, drain out the okra and drink the water for balancing your cycle and spread it onto your face for acne. If you want to use it as a leave in conditioner, just pour into your hair and comb it through.

  

If you have irregular periods and acne, you need to continue this treatment for 3 months to see real changes. My aunt has now treated so many people with this simple home remedy in her herbal clinic. The first one she treated was my cousin who has been plagued with truly horrible acne since she hit puberty. Her periods were always very irregular and could go on for weeks at a time. She has tried every pharmaceutical drug her dermatologist could think of and spent hundreds of pounds on pills, ointments, hormone therapy and injections and none of them worked. She’s now been able to ditch all of the expensive drugs and treats herself with nothing more than 3 okra a day.

Swahili Okra Curry – the tastiest and most gentle laxative ever

1 cup chopped Tomatoes (tinned is fine)

3 whole Green chillies

3 cups Okra (chopped into 1cm pieces)

2 large Red onions (thinly sliced)

Carrots (diced)

1.5 cups Potatoes (diced and parboiled until cooked)

1tbsp tomato paste

2tbsp chopped green capsicum

3 garlic cloves (minced)

Juice of 1 small lime

To give you a better idea of how much the above list of ingredients is, there’s a photo of all of the prepped ones below to give you a better idea.

Cook your onions in olive oil until translucent and add garlic.

Add your carrots and cook over a low heat until they’ve softened slightly.

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Add tomatoes.

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Cook until pulpy.

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Add tomato purée, okra and 1 cup of water and cook until okra soften.

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Add potatoes, capsicum and chillies. Cook for a further 8 minutes on a low heat. Don’t worry about the chillies making your curry spicy. As long as you don’t burst them when stirring, all they will do is give a wonderful fragrance to your curry.

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Serve with chapatis or rice.

*A recent study about okra done on diabetic lab rats had the following conclusion: “Use of dietary fiber has been correlated with the prevention of many life-threatening diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancers and so forth. Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus L.) is a rich source of dietary fibers and is traditionally used in the management of diabetes mellitus. Moreover, hypolipidemic effect of Abelmoschus esculentus L has been reported which also benefits the diabetic patients. In this study, we also found that viscous soluble dietary fiber of Abelmoschus esculentus L. significantly reduced the intestinal absorption of glucose in fasting rats. So, okra may be beneficial for diabetic patients to control the postprandial blood glucose level. But, we also observed that both CMC and WSF of okra significantly reduced the absorption of metformin in vivo. These observations suggest that type 2 DM patients should be careful in taking metformin with a meal that contains lady’s fingers. Further studies are required to elucidate the effects of other fiber-containing foods on the effect of antidiabetic drugs. This study was done in experimental rats. To properly interpret these interesting findings, the study should be done using human subjects.”

The full paper can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3263724/ If you have the time and fancy some very interesting reading, search for the latin name of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) in that database. So much research has been done into it!

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp
Effleurage your tea! (Or how to make exquisite herbal infusions)

My mother is a herbal marvel, my inspiration and the person who filled my heart with the love of plants from when I was big enough to hold her hand and walk around the garden with her. I grew up in a lush tropical paradise, in a house on 2.5 acres of flowers, plants and animals. Over the years we’ve kept everything from chickens and Guinea pigs (64 of them at one point!) to ostriches and horses (briefly…they escaped one morning by running over my dad’s beloved car and out the gate just as it was opened for us to be driven to school and they got sent back to the farm the next day) and now, my mum is tending what is possibly the most diverse garden on the whole of the Kenyan coast.

 
It is teeming with indigenous plants you won’t find in any other garden. Like the old Victorian plant hunters, her passion is collecting rare and endangered plants from around Kenya (and a few from even further afield). But it’s not just about beauty, it’s also about preserving our indigenous medicinal plants which are being eschewed in favour of pharmaceuticals and with time, are being forgotten. Her long term goal is to open her garden up as a botanical garden and she wants to set up a herb and plant school to teach others about these incredible plants. Some of them you will probably never have heard of and the names she knows for them are just in Swahili. While others she has driven hours to go find the last wild places where they grow to collect seeds and cuttings to transplant (such as ashwagandha which grows in just one place on the whole coast that mum and her fellow herbal warriors have found).

 At breakfast on my first morning in Mombasa, she presented me with a cup of tea cooked in the Swahili way by boiling tea leaves, milk and a bit of water together. Basically, it’s chai. But unlike every other cup of tea she’s served me, this one didn’t smell of cardamom and cinnamon. It smelled of jasmine! And the flavour was the stuff of legend. So in this blog post, I’ll be teaching you to make effleurage teas in the same way she’s taught me.

 
I love herb teas. People who’ve come to one of my workshops or courses can attest to the fact that I have cupboards full of the stuff! I buy it wherever I go and make oodles of it too from herbs I forage and dry myself. Herb teas are an excellent way to partake of the healing powers of plants. Most people have chucked a couple of sprigs of mint in a pot of boiling water. But isn’t it time we got a bit more adventurous with our herb teas? This is one for you foraging caffeine junkies and people who just love a great cup of tea.

Mum makes herb infused teas using a process known as effleurage. This process is traditionally used as a means of making perfumes by covering fat with highly aromatic flowers then replacing them with fresh blooms every day until the fat was rich with the scent of flowers. I’ve not heard of someone using this process for tea though and I think it’s genius!

Effleurage black tea

3 cups Black or green tea

Fresh flowers or leaves from aromatic herbs (we’re using jasmine) (1/2 cup or more every other day)

This process takes 2 weeks so start it at the beginning of the season of any flower you want to use. It would be divine with rose petals, elderflower, honeysuckle, meadowsweet, or rosemary but do experiment!

 
In the picture is jasmine tea. Every other evening, pick the jasmine blooms just before they open, when their scent is at their peak, and layer them in between strong black tea leaves, ending with a layer of tea. The tea draws all the moisture, flavour and fragrance out, leaving dry blooms.

 

48 hours later, find yourself a colander with relatively small holes. In the photo below is a traditional Swahili colander. They’re absolutely gorgeous and incredibly useful!

 
Put in your jasminey tea leaves and, holding it over a much larger bowl, start to shake it. As you do, the tea leaves will fall through the holes, leaving you with fewer and fewer leaves.

 
Keep shaking your colander until no tea leaves remain and you’re left with all your dried blossoms.

 
Put your tea back into your glass jar, alternating black tea leaves with flowers and ending with a layer of tea.

This process should be repeated every 2 days for 14 days. After the last infusion, spread your tea leaves out on a tray and leave in a warm and well ventilated place (or in a dehydrator) until completely dry before storing in a glass jar. 

The final product is headily fragrant and makes the most unbelievable chai you’ve ever tasted.

Happy experimenting!

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp