Thursday, 28 March 2013

Saffron - Real vs Fake

I love getting presents (who doesn't?). 
One present I received recently was a bag of goodies from my friend Lucy who visited Marrakech.  Amongst the edible rose buds and preserved lemons that she gave me, was a bag of saffron.

Moroccan Rosebuds & Preserved Lemons. 
Photo courtesy of L Ruffieux

For me, saffron has always been saffron – sold in compact little packs for a high price.  But Lucy came back enthused and educated following a tutorial from a Moroccan souk trader who explained why saffron is so expensive and how to tell the real McCoy from the counterfeits.  Here are Lucy’s findings…..

Spices from the Souks of Marrakech.
Photo courtesy of L Ruffieux

The Labour of Producing Saffron
Saffron is by far the most expensive spice to purchase, more expensive than truffles and caviar and its price is reflective of the labour that goes into producing it.
Saffron is harvested by hand from the saffron crocus flower.  It takes 150 flowers to produce a single gram of dried saffron with each crocus bearing only three stigmas.
The stigmas must be picked on the same day the bud breaks and the flower starts to bloom.  Then they are dried in a warm oven or out in the sun before being sold.
This intense process is the reason why prices are so high for such small quantities.

Real & Fake Saffron
It can be assumed if you are buying saffron from a supermarket or an established store then it is actual saffron and your purchase is bona fide.  Unfortunately as saffron can be so easy to emulate and the command price for it is high, fake saffron can be found in abundance. 
The main sign is if it’s cheap, it’s probably fake.  Fake saffron may be sold using mixtures made up of marigold flowers or old saffron stems to bulk out the pack, thus qualifying its cheap selling price.
Here are some other tell-tale signs of how to spot the real thing versus the imposters!

*  Saffron has a distinct floral, spicy aroma.
*  Real saffron should be long, fine, separate threads.   The threads should have a thin    
    yellow tendril on one end and a red trumpet-like flute on the other.
*  Another key indicator is that the majority of the thread should be a vivid, bright    
    reddish colour and when soaked in warm water, the water should turn bright yellow.
A Pinch of Real Saffron
A Thread of Real Saffron -
Note the Red Trumpet-like top end and the Yellow Tendril at the bottom end.

*  Threads tend to be clumped together and are slightly torn. 
Another give away is that the yellow tendril may not be connected to the main red 
    thread of saffron.

Uses for Saffron:
Although used heavily in Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, it can be used to flavour and colour so many dishes such as spaghetti, rice and barley.   
It can also be used in desserts including ice cream, as it bears a resemblance to vanilla and lends itself well to sweet foods.

Cooking With Saffron
In view of real saffron being expensive, it is important to try and maximise each strand and make the most of this ingredient.  Here are some suggestions:
*  Add strands quite early on into the cooking process so that it can blend and infuse with
    the other ingredients.
*  Soak a few strands in about 10-15ml of warm water for about quarter of an hour to
    intensify, and then add to your dish as you would with a stock.

If the souks of Marrakesh aren’t on your agenda right now, then on a more local level, saffron can be purchased at most leading supermarkets within the herbs & spices section and is definitely worth the investment, even if only used sparingly. 
So now you know the real saffron from the fake, treat your spice rack to a pot of saffron to use next time you want to add the golden touch to meal times.




Monday, 25 March 2013

London's tibits Restaurant Cookbook

My book shelf has a dedicated section to cookery books and I always welcome new additions to my collection, especially if they're vegetarian ones.

So when I received a copy of 'tibits at Home:  Stylish Vegetarian Cuisine' I was elated!

tibits are a group of Swiss-based vegetarian restaurants, launched in Switzerland by the Frei brothers (Reto, Christian and Daniel), in conjunction with Rolf and Marielle Hiltl from Hiltl, (the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world - as declared by the Guinness Book of Records).

Their popular London restaurant opened in 2008 and is based in the fashionable Heddon Street Food Quarter off Regents Street, patronised by veggie food lovers and celebrities alike.

Following a demand by customers and fans, tibits have released a cookbook featuring some of their most popular recipes providing the opportunity for everyone to re-create the flavour of tibits at home.  

One of the things I liked about the book was that it was split into four sections, each one denoting a different season and showcasing the different foods synonymous within each; like summer berries or squashes for autumn.  In addition, each recipe is accompanied by a photograph which I also appreciate as it helps to know what you are aiming to achieve!

The recipes themselves are an eclectic mix of international cuisine dishes accommodating all dining courses.  Many of the recipes featured are also suitable for vegans as well as catering for those on gluten-free or nut-free diets.

Worth noting on one of the front pages, is that it states all recipes cater for 4 people unless otherwise stated, which you need to be aware of before commencing cooking.

Some of the recipes I have earmarked to make are: the three antipasto recipes for mixed vegetable, mushroom and aubergine and the Middle Eastern tabouli.  All sound delicious!

One of the recipes from the book that I've already made is the Spinach & Feta Lasagne. Perfect hearty fodder as needed for these snowy episodes of late!

Here's the recipe (serves 4):

Spinach and Feta Lasagne

160 g feta cheese
200 g tomatoes
500 g fresh spinach
1 onion
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
550 ml soy milk
250 ml vegetable stock
½ tsp chilli oil
4-5 tsp cornflour
8 tbsp cold water
200 g fresh green lasagne sheets

1  Grate the feta cheese roughly on a cheese grater. Cut the tomatoes into 0.5 cm slices.

2  Wash the spinach and remove the stalks. Peel the onion and chop finely.

3  Heat a frying pan, add the oil and sweat the onion until transparent. Add the spinach and cook for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4  Bring soy milk, vegetable stock and chilli oil to the boil. Mix the cornflour with the cold water, add to the liquid and cook for about 1 minute until it thickens.

5  Assemble the lasagne in a 15 × 22 cm gratin dish: 200 g sauce; a layer of pasta; half of the spinach and half of the feta cheese; a layer of pasta; 300 g sauce, the remaining spinach and the tomato slices; a layer of pasta, followed by the remaining sauce and feta cheese.

6  Prick the lasagne a few times with a sharp knife (this prevents the lasagne from inflating while cooking). Bake in a preheated oven at 180 ยบ C for 25-30 minutes.

Preparation time: 60 minutes


The book is a really enjoyable read, with easy to follow recipes and accompanying imagery, featuring contemporary vegetarian ideas to be devoured by all food fans regardless of dietary lifestyle.

For more information about tibits (including the restaurant and cookbook) visit:


Disclosure:  This post was written following receipt of a copy of:   - 'tibits at home: stylish vegetarian cuisine'.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Maslenitsa (Butter Week)

A traditional Eastern European village scene depicting the Maslenitsa Festival

As you may know from my previous blog posts, I love honouring my Eastern European roots - especially when it comes to food!

Referring back to my Ukrainian Easter blog post last year, as I follow my family's religion -  Ukrainian Greek Catholic (similar to the Eastern Orthodox faith), our Easter occasionally falls on the same day as Western Easter, but nearly always falls at least a week afterwards.  For 2013, Easter will be quite late into Spring and will fall on 5th May.

Pre-Easter preparations follow in a similar vain to Western Easter with the Maslenitsa festival bearing synergy to the principles of Shrove Tuesday.

Maslenitsa (translated means 'Butter Week') and is marked by not only Ukrainians, but by Russians and other Slavic/Orthodox nations as well.  It is celebrated the week before Great Lent commences, the seventh week before Pascha (Easter) and starts on a Monday.  For 2013, it falls on 11th March - 17th March.

In essence, Maslenitsa marks the imminent end of winter and the beginning of spring.  With regards to food, during this week meat is forbidden and it is the last opportunity to consume dairy products (eg: milk, cheese etc) plus it is the last chance to revel in social jollities before Lent commences.

As with all festivals, there are regional variations and in many parts of the Ukraine celebrations include merriment in the snow (as snow is still prevalent) with snowball fights and sledding forming part of the fun.

One common factor unites Western and Eastern pre-Lent festivities and that's pancakes!  Again, as per Shrove Tuesday, pancakes are the main way of using up dairy products with typical Ukrainian toppings being sour cream or jam.

Hands-up, I'm celebrating a week late (more practical for me to celebrate this week)!  But I am still marking the occasion, the countdown to Easter begins and again my kitchen is filled with batter mixture and hopes that my pancakes will flip-over in one piece!  

Monday, 18 March 2013

Manic Organic Cafe (Kings Heath) Review

Manic Organic Cafe - Kings Heath

I'm always on the look out for restaurants with quality vegetarian offerings and so I was elated to come across The Manic Organic Cafe nestled in the suburban side streets of Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Echoing a feel of London’s Notting Hill or Clapham, and only a minute from the main High Street it provides 100% vegetarian fayre with a focus on, (where possible) locally sourced, organic food.

I have written a review about The Manic Organic Cafe for Dine Birmingham, which is an online guide to Birmingham's restaurants and bars, featuring restaurant reviews, events, news and things to do in Birmingham.

To whet your appetite, click onto this link to read the full review and become acquainted with The Manic Organic Cafe experience!

Please note that I received no compensation or incentive for this review.  It was conducted at my own expense and produced without bias.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Lizi's Granola - New Cereal on the Block

I love eating muesli and granola type products for breakfast, especially when mixed with yoghurt and fresh fruit.  So, when I was recently offered the opportunity to sample Lizi’s Granola, I welcomed the chance to do so.

Getting to know the product a little better, I was quite charmed by Lizi’s own history and how her granola brand came to fruition.  Starting as a granola mix that she created herself for her guests at her Oxfordshire B&B guest house, it then went to market and became an established brand with  Lizi’s Granola now available nationwide.

One of its benefits is that as Lizi’s Granola is consumed, it provides  a slow release energy/GI  mechanism, releasing sugars slowly into the system so that you don’t have an immediate sugar rush or cravings soon after.  And true to its word, I am ordinarily one for my ‘elevenses’ and always become peckish at that time of day, however, when eating the granola, I have to admit I stayed full until lunchtime which proves it works as per its claim.

The ingredients are all natural, each has their own respective health benefit and the granola is packed with oats, seeds and nuts. In addition, there is an ingredient present called Oligofrutose which is a natural soluble fibre derived from chicory which acts as a prebiotic to maintain a healthy digestive system.  I'm all for that!

I sampled the Pecan & Treacle flavour which I anticipated to be quite sweet, however it was balanced perfectly, offering just enough sweetness and crunch, without it being overwhelming.  

There was a good mix of the ingredients (as outlined on the packet), which all complemented each other well.  I ate it with yoghurt which was delicious although with milk I’m sure would work well too.  Having chopped fruit on top would add an extra dimension to the granola as well as boosting your 5-a-day intake – a suggested fruit that would work well would be persimmon/Sharon fruit – see my former blog post for details .  Another suggested option on the packet was to sprinkle some granola onto ice-cream to give it a crunchy topping and a variation for dessert.

Available from a number of nationwide supermarkets, a 400g pack on average would cost £3.69. Perhaps not economical for everyday breakfasts, however, I would certainly buy it to eat at weekends or when I’m having time-off, when I’m in a position to have leisurely breakfasts and can take my time to enjoy it with a nice mug of tea and the daily papers.  

All in all, well worth trying and a welcomed addition to my kitchen’s cereal cupboard!


Disclosure:  This post was written following receipt of a sample of Lizi's Granola.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website. 

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Happy Birthday Word In Veg Ways!

I can't believe it!  A year has flown by and my Word In Veg Ways blog is one year old today!  From what started as a daydream has now become an established blog with a wealth of followers and supporters joining me on my journey.

I would love to say a huge thank you to each and every person who has visited the blog, commented, joined me on Facebook, Tweeted me on Twitter, invited me to events, given me the chance to sample goods, offered me the opportunity to write for their publications, shared ideas with me or just given me a good old pat on the back - THANK YOU!

Here's to the next year and beyond and I look forward to having you on board.

Thanks to you all and Happy Birthday Word In Veg Ways!

To celebrate Word In Veg Ways Birthday I made a cake (above) which I shared with family to mark the occasion and thank them for their support too.  When thinking of what kind of cake to make, I thought it would be apt to choose a carrot cake, incorporating a vegetable element to acknowledge the blog.

One of my favourite recipes comes from the book 'Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery' written by Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas.  Primrose Bakery is based in Primrose Hill in London and having been there and sampled their carrot cupcakes (eaten whilst taking in the vista of London from the top of the hill), I decided to buy their book.  Packed with cake and icing recipes for all seasons and occasions, it really does tempt you to get the mixing bowls out and bake.

The carrot cake recipe in the book are for multiple cupcakes but I made my version as one large cake and using their Lemon Buttercream Icing recipe to top the cake with,  I substituted the lemon juice for fresh orange juice (saved from the orange I used for the zest whilst making the cake).  

Carrot Cake
Buttercream Icing

For a slice of the action, take a look Primrose Bakery's website which also features the Cupcake book and details of cupcake classes.  Enjoy and happy baking! 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Cook Vegetarian Magazine Ice Cream Feature

I love making my own ice cream and you may recall I wrote a blog post about it last year.  

Following on from my blog post, I have written an article about how to make your own ice cream for the April 2013 edition of 'Cook Vegetarian' magazine.

Perfect for the spring and summer seasons ahead - happy ice cream making everyone!


Related Articles (click on links below)

Monday, 4 March 2013

Non-Meat Protein Sources (Ideal for Meat Free Mondays)!

Non-Meat Protein Sources

Highlighted by the media and abundant cookery programmes on TV, people are becoming more and more aware of what they eat and what their food contains in terms of ingredients and nutrients.  As well as the focus on nutrition through the ‘5-a-day’ fruit/vegetable campaign, another nutrient that always remains focal is protein.

Protein is essential to the human body for development, growth and general body maintenance – including the production of blood cells.  The main source of protein for the majority of humans is through the consumption of meat.

However, since the ‘horse meat scandal’ broke in the news, I have had quite a few conversations with people who are debating whether to reduce their meat intake or who are investigating/ contemplating adopting a meat-free lifestyle.  The main question I am asked – as I’m sure other vegetarians do too – is how do I ensure I get sufficient protein in my diet with the omission of meat?

In reality, protein is present in so many food sources that reliance on meat being a primary provision of protein isn’t entirely necessary.

If you are looking for alternative protein foods, here are some to consider, many of which already feature in most people’s diets:

  • Dairy products (including milk, cheese, yoghurt etc) – are a great source of protein with the added benefits of calcium and vitamins A and B12.
  • Eggs are also an excellent source of protein which also boast a wealth of B vitamins and can be cooked and eaten in so many ways.
  • Pulses (including lentils, beans, chickpeas etc) are synonymous with a vegetarian diet and in addition to its protein benefits; they are low in fat and contain vitamins and fibre.
  • Nuts and seeds are full of protein although do possess a high fat content.  Protein packed nuts include:  almonds, cashews, peanuts and walnuts.  High in protein seeds include: sunflower, pumpkin and sesame.  Nutty spreads such as peanut butter contain good levels of protein and provide a delicious alternative to eating nuts raw/whole.
  • Mock-meat options are now on sale in all mainstream supermarkets and are perfect for vegetarian versions of tea-time favourites such as chilli con carne or sausage bakes.  Mock-steaks make for great Sunday roast substitutes and are perfect for barbeques.  They come in varying forms such as mycoprotein (eg: Quorn brand), tofu and tempeh and some emulate the style of meat products eg: sausages, steaks, fillets, bacon rashers, fish etc.  Brands such as Quorn or Linda McCartney Foods hold the lion-share of the market place for such products.
  • Whole grains such as barley, brown rice and quinoa (similar to cous cous) are also high in protein.  Quinoa especially so, as one cup of cooked quinoa contains approximately 18g of protein – great served with iron boosting leafy vegetables such as spinach.

Combinations of the above increase the potential for protein intake beyond the carnivorous arena of meat – whether you are after a protein packed main course or a quick protein snack, the options are endless.

So, add some new items to the shopping list get the stove warmed up and experiment with grains, beans and mock-meat alternatives for delicious meat-free meals which will bring variety to the dining table and a new culinary trend of no-meat and two veg!

Note that the references to protein intake are from personal knowledge/experience with some internet verification.  Food sources possess varying protein levels.  To gain a full nutritional review or advice, please seek guidance from a nutritionist and/or medical professional.  A further suggested point of reference would be via:
Anna Rose blogs at
Facebook:  Word In Veg Ways (Vegetarian Blog)
Twitter:  @wordinvegways


This article has been published on The Birmingham Press website.