Sunday, 26 March 2017

Just a Coffee.... at Damascena

Last Sunday was just one of those lovely Sunday afternoons that flowed from one nice thing to another.   Having walked around Birmingham Botanical Gardens first, taking in that early spring sunshine, en route home, we popped to Moseley for a coffee.  Just a coffee I thought.

Ushering My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) towards Damascena, I was surprised at how busy it was - it was 3pm, I thought it would've been quite empty but alas no.  Lucky to find a table, we found it all rather delightful, like being in the midst of a quaint souk, if you can imagine such a thing.  Middle Eastern inspired furniture and soft furnishings adorn every corner and ceiling point, complemented by a Middle Eastern menu.  

Falafel, halloumi and aubergine are the staple three items that feature heavily within the menu in different guises - in wraps and mezzes to name a couple.  The desserts are amazing too such as baklava glossed in sticky honey, hot drinks ranging from Turkish/Arabic strong coffee to the sharp freshness of a Moroccan Mint Tea.  But of course, you can have a mug of good old fashioned 'builder's tea' or a cup of decaf if that's all you're after.

The 'just a coffee' idea soon expanded to include a Halloumi Wrap and a Baklava Mini Selection.  MCH pinched a couple of pieces off my plate, equally I had a decent mouthful of his wrap and instantly wished I'd have ordered my own.  Never mind.  Not able to take the pace of strong coffee, I stuck with my usual Cappuccino and MCH had a large Turkish Coffee served in a beautiful Turkish silver cup with pouring jug.

He ate his pieces of Turkish Delight that accompanied his coffee before I could make claim on one of them.  He told me they were delicious, I can only vouch that they looked delicious.

Baklava Mini Selection
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I'm afraid that I only took one photo, we were somewhat caught up in the gastro-moment, a bit too endeared with our food and coupled with sticky baklava covered fingers, photos were way down on our list of things to do. Sorry.  But I hope you take that as a sign of us enjoying our time there.

With Damascena now in Birmingham city centre (Temple Row West, by Snow Hill) as well as in Moseley, you have double the opportunity to visit 'just for a coffee'........



Thursday, 9 February 2017

Seasonal Food in February

So it’s February. 

February seems to float in and out of winter’s spectrum quite swiftly, with it being a short month smattered with a quick celebratory offering of Valentine’s Day and Shrove Tuesday - it’s then gone.

That to one side, thinking about food (as always), I was asked by Central England Co-op to explore the scope of seasonal goods available in February.

So whilst we’ll all familiar with seasonal goods in summer and even at Christmastime, what’s around in February?  Quite a lot actually. 

On the cusp of remaining seasonal are: cabbage, cauliflower, rhubarb, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, leek, parsnip and swede - whilst oranges, kale, purple sprouting broccoli are at their peak.  All of which lend themselves well in many recipes.

My first recipe suggestion, in lieu of purple sprouting broccoli, I made some griddled Tenderstem Broccoli, a snack I make when I don’t want a full meal, but when I just want ‘something’ or equally, it makes for a nice side dish.  Flavoured with oil, salt and lemon juice, it’s simple and quick.  Ideal.  This time, I ate it alongside a few Co-op Olives on one of those days when something ‘picky’ was just enough.

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Tenderstem Broccoli (Or Purple Sprouting Broccoli)

200g Tenderstem Broccoli
Drizzle of Co-op Olive Oil
Grinding of Salt (preferably Pink Himalayan Salt)
Juice of Half a Lemon

·         Shallow fry the broccoli in water in a griddle pan (just enough water to cover the base of the griddle).

·         Shallow fry until the water has evaporated and the broccoli has slightly wilted.

·         Drizzle over the oil, lemon juice and salt.

·         Continue to fry for another 2 minutes until the broccoli has absorbed all the flavours before serving.

One dish which encompasses a lot of the goodness in February’s repertoire is Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie which I made and tweaked, inspired by Lorraine Pascale’s recipe featured on the BBC programme The Hairy Bikers and Lorraine Pascale: Cooking the Nation's Favourite Food

With vitamin C rich cauliflower, leeks packed with fibre and vitamins A, B1, B6 and C there is plenty of nutrition within and ingredients are available at Co-op Stores with some support from a few store cupboard essentials. 

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie

For the filling

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 leek, trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 75g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 200g Ready to Eat Puy Lentils (from a tin <drained> or a packet)
  • 200g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 100ml vegetable stock
  • 100ml red wine
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

  • 1 (2 if small) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
  • 2 potatoes peeled and cut into 2cm/¾in chunks
  • ½ small cauliflower, leaves and root removed, separated into florets
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp finely grated cheese (cheddar)

For the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the leek and fry for 4-5 minutes, or until beginning to soften.

Add the carrots, mushrooms and garlic and continue to cook, stirring regularly, for 4-5 minutes.

Add the dried mixed herbs, lentils, tinned tomatoes, stock and red wine and stir together until well combined. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat until it is simmering and continue to simmer for 15 minutes while you make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6.

For the topping, add the sweet potato and potato to boiling water and boil for 10-12 minutes. Add the cauliflower and boil for a further 8 minutes, or until tender.

Drain the vegetables well and return them to the pan. Add the oil, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then mash until smooth. Set aside and keep warm.

Add the chilli flakes (if using) into the filling mixture, which should have thickened during cooking. Continue to simmer for a further 1-2 minutes, adding a little water if the mixture is too dry (simmer for longer if the mixture is too watery). Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Transfer the filling mixture to an ovenproof baking dish, then spoon over the topping and spread into an even layer. If you like a crispy topping, create peaks in the mash using a fork. Sprinkle over the cheese.

Take the shepherd’s pie in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the topping is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling.


Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
A quick easy-peasy dessert is an Instant Chocolate Mousse which was inspired by a recipe taken from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express book.
Taking a seasonal orange (or blood orange if you can get one) as the signature flavour here, I used the recipe in the link below, however, I removed the marshmallows, swapped the butter for olive oil and the water for juice from the orange. 

Taking the orange theme one step further, I used Co-op 56% Cocoa Dark Chocolate with Orange from the ‘Irresistible’ range. 

Chocolately, citrusy, creamy – it’s got it all!

Click here for the recipe.


More information is available on the Co-op Food website about seasonal food via this link. 

Disclosure:  I was sent complementary Co-op vouchers to explore seasonal foods.  The review was conducted honestly without bias. For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.



Saturday, 28 January 2017

Baxters Souper Swap Challenge

Lunch during the working week can sometimes come and go  without any aplomb, with choices made on autopilot or with only 'hobson's choice' from the local shop or food delivery van it can be all quite groundhog day.  And there are times when you don't even bring anything in from home.

I have soup at least once a week anyway to give myself an alternative to sandwiches and salads, whether that be a home-made portion or a shop bought one.

Baxters approached me to see if I fancy stepping it up a gear and having soup more often in the week via their Souper Swap Challenge.  So I thought why not!

Easy for me, as my workplace has a microwave that I can use so having hot soup is feasible.  The first thing that came to mind was apart from having to source some crusty bread (a must!) to go with it, is that I don't have to think about where and how I'll be lunching.  Here's a can - ready to go.

So what do Baxters have on offer?  I think most people recognise it as one of the main soup manufacturers on the market and found in most shops.  They have their own Vegetarian range as well as their Hearty range which also features vegetarian flavours. 

Charts c/o Baxters

They are very keen to demonstrate the benefits their soups offer.  In addition to the variety of ranges within the brand, they include calorie scales for those that are conscious of that as well as options that are low fat and/or gluten free.  It seems there is something for everyone's dietary needs.


So I started my challenge off with Baxters Garden Pea & Mint flavour.   It was very hearty, the taste of pea came through fully with a hint of mint but it wasn't overbearing.  It's traditional, but it is a nice neutral flavour.


Baxters Lentil & Vegetable flavour again was hearty with lots of small vegetables within.  A good balance of ingredients and equally wasn't too 'lentily'.

Lastly I tried Baxters Minestrone & Wholewheat Pasta.  A flavoursome soup and the one thing I was impressed with was that the pasta came as whole shapes - like conchigliette, not just cut off pieces.  Very enjoyable.

The soups are really good especially as they come in cans.  As mentioned above, the challenge is easy to do and this time of year, some warming soup is exactly what you need.  Grab a can and go.  Also, I felt fuller for longer during the day, a typical trait of soup in general, so I was less likely to snack later on which is a good thing.

Adding commentary to the challenge's benefit, Fiona Hunter, expert nutritionist says: 

The Souper Swap Challenge is an excellent way to kick start your healthy eating regimen. A bowl of soup is a nutritious and filling lunch and has much less fat and calories than many other lunch time options, and with some types of soup contributing up to three portions of vegetables reaching your five a day target should be a doddle. The Souper challenger will also help you save time (no more queuing at the sandwich shop) and money.”

Will you take up The Souper Swap Challenge?


Disclosure:  This review was conducted following receipt of a complementary samples from Baxters.  The review was conducted honestly without bias. For further information about reviews, please see the Disclosure tab on this website.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Ukrainian Christmas Festivals

January is always very busy for me, hence I'm only now just sitting down to write.  Reason being, I have my second Christmas in January - my Ukrainian Christmas as I call it.

Through my Ukrainian parentage, my religion, Ukrainian Greek Catholic, we use the old Julian calendar, similarly to the Orthodox faith and as such when everyone else is wrapping up their celebrations, mine are starting (again).

6th January is Christmas Eve which is celebrated arguably with more ceremony than 7th January which is Christmas Day itself.  Prompted by the first star seen in the sky that evening, a 12 course pescatarian meal commences with Kutia to start with (a wheatberry, honey and poppy seed mix) and ends with a dried fruit compote known as Uzvar with plenty of hot dishes in between. 

Image:  Owner unknown, sourced from internet

The table is laid with a candle in the middle to mark the star that guided the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, straw is scattered around the table to symbolise the straw from the manger and a straw wheat arrangement (known as a Didukh) which represents one's ancestors is placed at the end of the table.  A small gesture to remember those that are no longer with us.

Homemade Pampushky Garlic Bread
Eaten on Christmas Eve
Image:  Word In Veg Ways

Christmas Day (7th) traditionally commences with a mass at church and more feasting. 

New Year's Eve on 13th January (known as Malanka) brings about its own style of merriment with a Zabava (a dance) being held the old villages and towns in Ukraine, just like it is in a lot of the Ukrainian communities here in the UK.  (I've never left one sober....)

It all ends with Epiphany on 19th January, known as 'Jordan' (Йордан) as this marks the day that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan.  In Ukraine, church services are held for the whole village by the riverside, ice sculptures are made in the shape of a crucifix, water is blessed which is consumed and often houses are blessed with holy water by the priest.  Some brave souls even swim in the icy cold water and with typical temperatures of -3 degrees - rather them than me!

So I always endeavour to celebrate as much as I can, hence my January is busy, busy, busy!  I do my best to make the 12 dishes, I lay the table just so, I dance my heart out on the 13th and yesterday, I sprinkled holy water around my house for Йордан.

You can understand  now why there is no way I can take part in any faddy diet or participate in Dry January!  What sort of Christmas would that be?! 

I've got the best of both worlds and I love it!


Saturday, 31 December 2016

Merry Christmas & Happy 2017!

It's New Year's Eve and I can't believe it is 'that time' of year again!  Honestly, where has it gone??!

Just thinking about the blogging part of my life, I've enjoyed trying out all the new places opening up in and around Birmingham and checking out their vegetarian offerings and there is plenty more to come in 2017!  (Rumours of London's famous The Ivy for one.....)

I was also thrilled this year to be a short listed finalist for the Birmingham Food Drink & Hospitality Awards in the Best Food & Drink Blogger category!  A glorious plaudit - a true highlight of the year!

I hope Christmas has been a joyful and peaceful time for you all, that you've had some quality time with those who are special in your lives, some time to recharge those internal batteries and the opportunity to devour the lovely food that the Christmas season always brings.

As we countdown to the new year, I just want to say a big thank you for your support with Word In Veg Ways - whether that is reading each post or following me on social media or even by voting for me in the BFDH Awards this year, I treasure every single gesture of support - I thank you wholeheartedly!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the Christmas break and I wish you lots of happiness and health  for 2017!

Anna xx

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Rise of Social Enterprises

Having frequently seen Miss Macaroon on the Birmingham food scene over the years, I was really pleased to hear when MD Rosie Ginday announced that she was opening a shop in Birmingham's Great Western Arcade.

The shop focuses on selling macaroons which can be consumed over a glass of Prosecco.

Rosie operates Miss Macaroon as a social enterprise which provides employment and training for unemployed young people.

Social enterprises are on the increase with many businesses wanting to not only have  commercial success but to also 'give back' to the community.

My recently written article for Midlands publication Express & Star, focuses on Miss Macaroon and the popularity of social enterprises and how they benefit the community.

To read the article, click here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Food Roots Interview - Joudie Kalla

After thoroughly enjoying reading and reviewing Joudie Kalla’s cookbook – Palestine On A Plate, I thought it would be interesting to interview Joudie via my Food Roots Interview series to find out about her and her heritage and how it fits in with her personal and professional life.

Joudie Kalla
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Joudie has been working as a chef in London for 16 years focusing her cooking around Palestinian cuisine, promoting healthy, vibrant, moreish dishes that are packed full of goodness.

She trained at the prestigious Leith’s School of Food and Wine and has worked at restaurants such as Pengelley’s (a Gordon Ramsey restaurant), under Ian Pengelley, Daphne’s and Papillon under head chef David Duverger.   

Her book and her work has been applauded by Ottolenghi chef Sami Tamimi (who has also taken part in my Food Roots interview series).
Photo:  Ria Osbourne

Palestine On A Plate makes for a really fascinating read (click here for the review) and the Q&A below will offer insight into the nuances of this branch of Middle Eastern food with an appetite to find out more.


In the book, you talk a lot about re-connecting with your Palestinian roots in recent years, what do you feel was the catalyst for this and how do you incorporate honouring your roots into your daily life?
Reconnecting with my Palestinian roots came quite suddenly but in two stages. Once where I found myself lost in Beirut and realised I couldn't really communicate with anyone properly to get back to home, and secondly was when I lived in Paris on my own and really felt food sick. I missed the meals we were eating at home and things that were usually on the dinner table and it just sparked something in me to really think about who I am and where I am from. I started to learn how to read and write properly in Arabic and began a year long course at Leiths school of food and wine also. This was combined with my mother teaching me all her recipes. I went to Leiths because I wanted to become a chef and putting all those skills together with what I was learning at home just opened up a whole new world for me.


Do you feel the supper clubs that you host have brought you closer to your roots as well as introducing many to Palestinian cuisine?
My supper clubs are the most recent thing. I used to run my own deli serving Palestinian food and catering as well. It brought me closer to my roots and my background, learning all the secrets from my mother. The supper clubs just helped me reach out to more people as they were more public and very specific. So many lovely people attended these events, which continue each month, and it brings me so much pleasure to see them all enjoying the food, meeting new friends and learning about Palestine. I also get to meet them and chat about dishes that they have never heard of or had before. So it’s always a good thing.


What kind of dishes would you choose if catering for a vegetarian dinner party?
Well this is an easy subject as we generally eat vegetarian food. You know, we didn't have labels before. It was just food. And when I was writing the book I realised that about 90% of it was vegetarian by default. So I had to change it and add different things to balance it out for every reader. For a dinner party I would probably make a selection of things as this is traditionally how we eat.

I would have a delicious tangy Yalanji, which is a tabbouleh stuffed vine leaf,
Hindbeh salad - which is a dandelion sumac, paprika and caramelized onion dish served with pomegranate seeds, my charred cauliflower and tahini salad.

And to finalise the meal it would add my Burghul (cracked dark wheat) tomato and courgette stew.


On special feast days, festivals or holy days, what are the special things that you cook and do they have any symbolism?
Wow, on feast days it can be so many things. But it’s usually a Makloubeh which can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish and something we do often. This is a real showstopper of layered vegetables that have been previously cooked, layered with fragrant rice and then cooked slowly and flipped over in one piece like a cake.

We always have mamas Muttabal on every special occasion as it is so delicious and goes well with everything.
My feta wrapped vine leaves also come out to play as they are so beautiful and take such little effort that it’s always good to have something simple when things can get a bit messy and complicated in the kitchen.

I would also say that we have the feta and spinach pies as they remind me of my aunties as they love pastry making and this is something very reminiscent of them.
I think rather than symbolism, we have an emotional connection to them. The fact that they are traditions and that my grandmothers would make them and serve them is something that is important to us. We like to feel connected to our food not just in taste, but in history. So my mother does it and I do it too. It feels like home and all the family is around is when the food is down, even if it is just a few of us at the table. Every dish reminds us of someone.


What are the key items you’d suggest having if wishing to replicate a Palestinian pantry?
Ok so my pantry is INSANE. I learnt from my mother to always buy in bulk as you never know what you want to cook or eat on any given day. I literally have everything and then some.

To replicate a Palestinian Pantry I would suggest the basic ingredients:

Palestinian pearl cous cous
Dark Burghul
Vine leaves
Pomegranate molasses
Olive oil
Orange blossom
Lots of  tomato passata and tomato puree
Egyptian rice

The list can go on. But I think this is a great way to start with things that I use all the time to create many dishes and their bases.


Palestine on a Plate: Memories from my mother’s kitchen by Joudie Kalla, photography by Ria Osbourne, is published by Jacqui Small (£25).


Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Joudie Kalla for her time in participating in the interview.
For my review of Palestine On A Plate:   Click here.
Find @Palestinesplate to follow Joudie on Twitter