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Nourishing comfort food

In the cold winter, we all want warm and healthy food that is comforting and nutritious, yet still quick to prepare.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the term ‘comfort food’ first appeared in the 1970s and we associate it with home-cooked meals that are nostalgic and foods that boost our mood and energy levels.

The result does not need to be stodgy and, to prepare our favourite meals, ingredients with artificial additives can be eliminated or replaced by those that are associated with the prevention of disease and are high in antioxidants and fibre. The addition of moisture-rich fresh vegetables is ideal to enhance nourishing meals and provide a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Hot baked bananas with quick banana ice cream

For the baked bananas you will need:
1 banana each portion
1 tsp lime juice
1 tbsp of your favourite liquor or use 1 tbsp aronia liquid concentrate
1 tbsp Muscovado sugar
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
½ vanilla stick
¼ tsp olive oil
¼ tsp butter

For the banana ice-cream you will need:
Allow half a ripe banana per portion
Vanilla
¼ tsp fresh lime juice

To serve: fresh raspberries, strawberries and blackberries

For the baked bananas:

Prepare an ovenproof dish with non-stick baking spray.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Peel the bananas and slice in half lengthwise. Lay them on the ovenproof dish. Mix together the vanilla and liquor or aronia, cinnamon, olive oil, melted butter, nutmeg, lime juice and rum and pour half of the mixture evenly over the bananas.

Sprinkle the Muscovado sugar over the bananas. Drizzle the remainder of the liquid ingredients on top.

Cook in a pre-heated oven for 25 minutes.

For the banana ice-cream:

Peel the bananas and chop them roughly. Add the lime juice.

Cover with cling film and freeze for a couple of hours.

Add the vanilla.

Use a hand blender to process the bananas. The mixture will break up, keep going and eventually this will turn creamy and very thick, just like soft serve ice cream.

You can also put it in an airtight container and freeze to solidify like traditional ice cream or serve as it is.

To assemble:

Scatter some fresh blackberries and strawberries onto the serving dish. Lay two baked banana halves on top of the berries. Then pipe some soft serve banana ice cream or use a tablespoon if you have refrozen it. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

This recipe is gluten free.

Healthier lax pudding with sweet potatoes

Photos: CJ Baldacchino, George Aquilina, Daniel BalzanPhotos: CJ Baldacchino, George Aquilina, Daniel Balzan

You will need:
2 large sweet potatoes
200g smoked salmon
8 eggs
1 cup Greek yoghurt
4 tbsp fresh dill
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp sesame seeds
½ tsp butter

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Mix the yoghurt with the eggs and season with salt and pepper.

Chop the fresh dill finely and add half of it to the yoghurt mixture.

Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly and cut them into very thin slices with the skin on.

Melt the butter and mix with the olive oil. Use a brush to lightly coat the ovenproof dish with this mixture. Cover the bottom of the dish with sweet potato slices.

Then place a layer of smoked salmon pieces on top of the sweet potato slices.  Repeat the process with alternative layers of sweet potatoes and smoked salmon.

Pour the egg and yoghurt mixture over the potatoes and salmon.

Scatter some more chopped dill and keep some aside to garnish before serving.  Finish off with a layer of sweet potato slices. Brush with the mixture of olive oil and butter, then scatter the sesame seeds on top.

Bake in a hot oven for 40 minutes. Garnish with the rest of the chopped fresh dill.  Allow the dish to rest for five minutes before serving. The lax pudding is also delicious refrigerated and cut into small squares to serve as finger food.

This is a gluten free recipe.

Chicken mushroom soup

You will need:
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp butter
200g mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
½ sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
2 tbsp cornflour
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp mascarpone mixed with 6 tbsp water OR
6 tbsp single cream
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper

For the mini meat balls
250g minced chicken
2 tbsp oats
1 tbsp tomato puree
salt and pepper

Start by mixing the minced chicken meat with the oats and tomato purée. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour. Then form tiny meatballs and place on a dish lined with baking paper.

For the soup, heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook for five minutes until it becomes translucent. Then add the garlic, potato, chopped carrots, mushrooms and sweet potato and stir.

Cook for five minutes on medium heat then add the stock.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the cornflour mixture and mix until the soup thickens a little.

Drop the chicken meatballs into the boiling soup one by one. They will cook very quickly depending on the size of course.  The ones we made were miniscule and cooked in five minutes. If the soup is too thick, add some water. Season and add fresh parsley or the herbs of your choice.

Garnish with more sliced, cooked mushrooms and chopped fresh parsley.

This recipe is gluten free.

Frothy Turmeric Tea with Cashew Milk

You will need:
2 cups cashew milk
3 cm piece of fresh ginger
½  turmeric root
¼ tsp mixed spice
A pinch of maca powder
1 tbsp agave
1 tbsp stevia
A pinch of salt and ground pepper

Grate the fresh ginger and turmeric. Add the cashew milk and mixed spice. Mix well and transfer to a saucepan over low heat. Just before it starts to boil remove from the heat and strain the liquid by passing it through a sieve. Place the hot liquid in a liquidizer, add the maca powder, agave and stevia and blend until frothy. Serve while still hot.

This recipe is gluten free, diabetic friendly, vegan, lactose free and dairy free.

Lea’s new book Good Food Everyday is available in most bookshops in Malta and Gozo.You can watch Lea Cook everyday on Smash TV and find more of her recipes on www.timesofmalta.com.

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