Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Charosa Vineyards

Charosa makes a splash in the Indian wine market

The name Charosa invokes images of the Italian countryside - soft hills lined with rows of vines, medieval houses; valleys dotted with dark green cypresses and olive trees. What sounds Italian is actually Indian. Charosa Vineyards, located in the Nashik valley northeast of Mumbai, added its name to the list of vineyards on the subcontinent.

Recently the management introduced its wines to culinary experts and journalists in Goa. I left this wine tasting with mixed emotions. Two wines really excited me, several disappointed me, but overall I was impressed with the event.

Although the one million plus of Goa’s population is tiny compared to the more than 1.2 billions of the total Indian population, Goa’s wine market makes up about 20 percent of the national market. That means every fifth bottle of wine in India is sold in Goa. For this reason, Charosa Vineyards deigned Goa fit for a presentation of its brand new wines.

While perusing the glamorous press kit, I remembered when I started to live in India. The year was 1994 and it was impossible to find a good bottle of Indian wine. Marquise de Pompadour, a sparkling wine, was the only national brand worth buying. If you were lucky, the cork really popped. If not, you were left with a flat brew resembling white wine.

If memory serves right, in 1997 Grover vineyards delivered its wine in Goa and a new era started for us. We said good-bye to the insipid Kingfisher beer and began to indulge in wine – not too much because Grover charged 500 Rs per bottle even then. In 2000, Sula wines destroyed Grover’s monopole. Since then, many vineyards have opened and wine lovers all over India can rejoice.

The youngest player in this blooming industry, Charosa vineyards, dwarfs the rest of the competition. Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), a giant that constructed the sea link in Mumbai, owns these vineyards. HCC’s boss Ajit Gulabchand invested more than 100 crore Rs in the wine bowl of Nashik district in Maharashtra. 230 acres, not yet fully developed, make Charosa vineyards the biggest in India. A five-star-resort with a Tuscan look will be added to the vineyards.

The goals of the company are equally huge. According to undisclosed sources, over the next three years the company intends to be the market leader in super premium and premium wine. “We want to create wines that compete in the international market”, said Parag Kamat, chief operating officer at the wine tasting. For sure, the prices of Charosa wines place them into the premium segment. The company introduced seven different wines at the event with the cheapest, Pleasures Sauvignon Blanc, demanding 600 Rs per bottle.

For me, the highlight of the varieties was the Charosa Selections Viognier, a wonderfully luscious white wine with the distinct aroma of apricots and a bit of cinnamon. I am not a wine expert and I cannot stand the way of experts describing wines in all kinds of fruity flavours. After all, wine is made from grapes and grapes taste like grapes, not chocolate or tropical fruits. But apricot really applies to this wine. The viognier grape comes from the Rhône valley, an ancient grape brought to France by the Romans. 850 Rs for this bottle does not seem overprized to me. It requires a lot of skill to produce a good wine from these grapes. Obviously the investment has paid off for this variety.

Kamat said that Charosa vineyards, as the only Indian company, cool the grapes before turning them into juice to preserve the phenols, responsible for the taste. The company’s equipment comes from Italy. For winemaking expertise, Charosa settled on Australian expertise – in contrast to other Indian companies who prefer French and Italian viniculteurs.

So far, I think Charosa vineyards have produced some good quality wines. The second best for me was the Charosa Selections Sauvignon Blanc (850 Rs), a remarkably fruity white wine and the perfect companion for a great meal.

However, I was deeply disappointed by the two showpieces, the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Reserve Tempranillo. Both wines, priced at 1700 Rs (!), tasted really rough. The press note promises well-balanced tannins but I beg to differ. I blame the new French oak barrels, used for maturing the wine, for the quite unpleasant taste. When my palate is left with a scent echoing an old cupboard, I cannot recommend a wine. I think currently fresh oak barrels are overrated. I believe these barrels need some time to lose their harsh taste.

I also have to express my concern here about the liberal use of the term reserve. Charosa vineyards call the wines reserve when they are aged for a mere 12 months. In the USA, wine makers use this term equally freely while in Europe reserve really means something. In Europe laws determine the amount of time a wine has to mature before it can carry the name reserve. The length of time differs according to region, but a reserve wine must be matured at least three years on average. A Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino Riserva must be aged for five years at least.

Although I don’t like Charosa’s red wines at the moment, in two or three years the situation might look completely different. Vallonné Vineyards, who sponsor my book launches, introduced merlot to the Indian market and immediately won a prize for it. I did not like this merlot at all in the beginning for similar reasons, far too many tannins and a quite unpleasant aftertaste. Some years after, the situation has changed completely and the merlot has turned into a really good red wine. Let’s wait and see what Charosa will present in the future.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Piggy Moons

‘Piggy Moons’: A high fiber shell hides a naughty filling

My son Valentino never ceases to amaze me. The other day we watched a food show on television featuring diners specialized in deep frying all over the United States of America. Although deep fried food clogs your arteries and leaves its fans looking bloated, it tends to make our gastric juices flow. “Why don’t we make something deep fried together?” was Valentino’s innocent reaction to the health hazards we had just watched. (One of them was huge strips of bacon dipped in batter and then deep fried…)

“I want something with bacon and carrots”, he continued. Luckily he included something healthy. Carrots belong to the few vegetables he likes. Being an obedient Mama, the next day I went to work. Bacon it had to be, carrots also. I decided to balance the bacon with a wrapping made with the new diabetic flour you find now in the supermarkets. It is a mix of whole wheat with different dry beans flour. It has a lot more fiber and protein than the normal whole wheat flour and a low glycemic index – in short, something really good for our bodies. I used it to make simple dough with eggs and oil which we stuffed with bacon bits mixed with spring onions, garlic, carrots and mozzarella. “Now we also have to name it”, said Valentino after our work was done. Because of the shape we agreed to call our creation ‘Piggy Moons’.

My men liked them so much, they disappeared in one day. Our ‘Piggy Moons’ are great snacks and they go very well in Tiffin boxes. Just freeze them spread out on a plate, then pack them into an airtight container and fry them, whenever needed. I am always happy to have some easy meals for Tiffin boxes stand by – they make my mornings easy.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro with family

The following ingredients make around 35 ‘Piggy Moons’.

Ingredients for the filling:
  • 1 packet bacon (200 grams)
  • 1 packet mozzarella cheese (250 grams)
  • 1 big carrot
  • 1 bundle spring onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
Ingredients for the dough:
  • 2 cups flour (preferably whole wheat)
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • water
You also need:
  • flour for rolling of the dough
  • 1 egg for brushing the moons
  • peanut oil for deep frying



Cut the bacon into small pieces. I find this easier to accomplish when the bacon is frozen. Put it into a nonstick pan and fry it over a small flame to release the fat slowly, but surely. While the bacon is frying, clean and chop the spring onions, the carrot and the garlic. I just throw them into a blender; you can also use a grater for the ingredients. Grate the mozzarella cheese as well. When the bacon bits have turned crispy and released their fat, add the spring onions, the carrot and the garlic and fry them all together for about 2 or 3 minutes. The onions should turn translucent. At this point a mouthwatering aroma ought to fill your kitchen. Let the filling cool down before you mix it with the mozzarella cheese.

Now it is time to work on the dough. Put the flour in a bowl, add the eggs, the oil and the salt and start combining it with a spoon. Once it is mixed, take some cold water, put aside the spoon and go in with your hands. Knead the dough thoroughly with just enough water to make it smooth. If by mistake you have added too much water and the dough remains sticky, you can add some more flour.

Finally we are ready to make the moons. Take about a third of the dough, knead it into a ball and dust it with flour. On a smooth surface – I use my granite kitchen counter top – roll out the dough as thinly as possible. Now stamp out dough circles with a big glass or a round cookie cutter. Put one egg in a small bowl or a cup and jumble it up. Brush the dough circles with the egg wash to make the borders stick together. Place one teaspoon of filling on a circle and fold it into half, making sure the dough covers the filling well. Secure the round border by pressing it together first with your fingers and then by pressing it down with a fork. This not only secures the edge, it gives it also a nice pattern.

When you have made your way through all the dough, your ‘Piggy Moons’ are ready for frying – or freezing, if you want to fry them later on. For freezing spread them out on a plate and put them into the freezer. Once they are hard you can pack them properly. In this way they will not stick together and you can take out the pieces easily.

Now heat up enough peanut oil for deep frying your moons. I prefer peanut oil because it can be heated to high temperatures. The oil should be so hot, that the ‘Piggy Moons’ don’t stick to the bottom of the wok, but float up immediately. Fry them until they are golden brown on both sides, drain excess fat on a kitchen towel and serve. If you want your piggy moons spicy, just add some chopped green chilly to the filling.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Asparagus two ways

Asparagus for a natural body flush

When I buy asparagus, I prepare two different dishes from these lovely green spears into: I boil the tender halves and serve them with a dressing together with meat or fish dishes and I use the lower halves to make a luscious asparagus-cream-soup.

The first time I cooked asparagus here in Goa I just cut off the end of the stems, boiled it and served it with some melted butter. As a good German I had no quivers at all to eat the full length of the vegetable. My Italian husband however just cut off the tender tips and left the rest to be thrown away…this quite shocked me. I cannot deny my austere German character traits: I hate wasting anything, especially expensive food. So the next time I just served only the tender bits and used the lower parts to make soup – which my spoiled husband ate happily without complaints.

The tips of the vegetable are the best parts, but very delicate. Fresh asparagus has green tips which look alive and healthy. If the tips are dark or withered, don’t bother to spend the money for it. When you buy asparagus, make sure the vendor carefully covers the tips of the spears in a plastic bag. Then put the asparagus bundles on top of your other shopping so it does not get damaged. You absolutely have to cook asparagus the day you are buying it to get the best from this rather expensive treat. Serve the vegetable immediately. The base for the soup can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.

The Indian variety of asparagus has little to do with what we grow in Bavaria, Germany. In my ‘Vaterland’ asparagus is a highly priced delicacy which is available only during harvest time around June. The Bavarian asparagus is white in color and at least a finger thick. In India green asparagus is cultivated. It is harvested when it is really thin, almost all year round. Just yesterday I found fresh asparagus here in the market. Although it looks tiny, the taste is great and it flushes out excess water from your body.

By the way, it is really difficult to give exact amounts for asparagus. In India, this vegetable is sold in bundles whose sizes vary largely. I would propose you buy at least one bundle per head when you prepare asparagus for your family.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro with family

 Luscious Asparagus-Cream-Soup

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • the lower halves of 4 bundles of asparagus
  • 1 packet (0.2 liter) of cream
  • salt
  • pepper

How to prepare asparagus-cream-soup:

Take the asparagus stems and cut them into small pieces, as small as you can. Bring the water from cooking the upper halves to a boil, drop the asparagus pieces into it and let them simmer for 5 minutes. If you don’t want to serve the soup immediately, you can let this broth cool down and store it in the fridge for up to one week. To finish the soup, smash the asparagus pieces with a blender stick (or fill the broth into a blender and crush the vegetable pieces). Now pour the cream into the soup, combine everything well and bring it to a quick boil. If the liquid is not enough for 4 servings you might need to add some water and salt according to your taste. Pour the soup into 4 bowls, garnish with liberal quantities of freshly grated pepper and serve.

 Boiled Asparagus

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • the upper halves of 4 bundles of asparagus
  • water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pepper
  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

How to prepare boiled asparagus:

Keep the bundles of asparagus tied up and cut off 3 centimeters from the end of the spears. Discard these pieces. Now rinse your asparagus well with water, align it and cut off half of the stems. Boil the half with the tips to serve as vegetable.

For boiling, put the asparagus in a sufficiently big pot which allows the spears to lie down easily. Then cover them with water. Add the salt and sugar and the olive oil. The sugar balances any bitterness from the asparagus and the oil helps our bodies absorb the precious nutrients. Bring the water to a boil and simmer the spears for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want them to have a bit of bite, boil 5 minutes or even less; if you want them really soft let them simmer for 10 minutes. 

Drain the stems and put them on a plate for serving. Keep the cooking water for the soup. Melt the butter, pour it over the asparagus and serve immediately. You can grate some black pepper over it. This is one of the ways Germans eat their asparagus

My husband however prefers boiled asparagus with a vinaigrette sauce. For this simply dissolve half a teaspoon salt in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar. Mix well with 3 tablespoons olive oil, dress the boiled asparagus with this and serve immediately.


A Natural Diuretic

Asparagus is a very good source of potassium (288 mg per cup) and quite low in sodium (19.8 mg per cup). Its mineral profile, combined with an active amino acid in asparagus, asparagine, gives asparagus a diuretic effect. Although some popular articles on asparagine link this amino acid to the distinct urinary odor that can follow along after consumption of asparagus, research studies suggest that this odor stems from a variety of sulfur-containing compounds. Historically, asparagus has been used to treat problems involving swelling, such as arthritis and rheumatism, and may also be useful for PMS-related water retention.

Food for Healthy Gut Flora

Asparagus contains a special kind of carbohydrate called inulin that we don't digest, but the health-promoting friendly bacteria in our large intestine, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, do. When our diet contains good amounts of inulin, the growth and activity of these friendly bacteria increase. And when populations of health-promoting bacteria are large, it is much more difficult for unfriendly bacteria to gain a foothold in our intestinal tract.
Especially if you're thinking about becoming pregnant or are in the early stages of pregnancy, make asparagus a frequent addition to your meals. A cup of asparagus supplies approximately 263 mcg of folate, a B-vitamin essential for proper cellular division because it is necessary in DNA synthesis. Without folate, the fetus' nervous system cells do not divide properly. Inadequate folate during pregnancy has been linked to several birth defects, including neural tube defects like spina bifida. Despite folate's wide availability in food (it's name comes from the Latin word folium, meaning "foliage," because it's found in green leafy vegetables), folate deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world.

Monday, 10 March 2014

My mission statement

Why I don’t believe in serving sizes and calorie counting

Nutrition facts are printed on every packaged food you buy. They inform about serving sizes, calories and many other details. I always read them with interest but I refuse to add similar information to my recipes. Although my publisher strongly suggested it, I have put my foot down and said no, no and no.

I believe that we should listen to our bodies instead of counting calories and measuring the food on our plates. In today’s world we tend to suppress our instincts and feelings. We tackle most problems with our minds. But there is so much more to life than logical thinking.

Our bodies own an inborn wisdom. They communicate with our mind through subtle hints. When it comes to food, these are cravings and appetites. They know when something in our diet is amiss and tell you so.

If you stick to a diet or eating plan, these subtle hints usually don’t play a role. A diet may be well balanced and meet the needs of your body according to scientific knowledge. However, that does not mean your body submits to these standards. I believe that is the reason why diets fail so many times.

I believe, the way to stay fit and slim cannot be found in books or on the Internet. We have to take matters into our own hands and trust ourselves, especially our appetites and cravings.

Of course I don’t mean to abuse food as emotional band-aid. There is nothing wrong with indulging in a bit of chocolate or ice cream. Stuffing yourself, however, is sick. I have struggled with eating disorders for a big part of my life. If you belong to the many persons with an eating disorder, get professional help.

Another reason why I refuse nutrition facts in form of serving sizes and calorie amounts is of a more practical nature. I don’t feel like measuring food in cups to know how much exactly I am ingesting. Nor do I want to impart to the members of my family this highly restrictive approach.

I serve the food at our dinner table and everybody takes as much he or she wants. If they really like a meal, they are welcome to second and third helpings. Maybe sometimes we overeat a little, but who cares?

I believe measuring your food and adhering to serving sizes takes the fun out of eating. Our meals should be a source of joy and pleasure also, not only the intake or correct amounts of food. In our daily world we use our brains so much, the meal times should be dedicated to sensations and emotional well being.

That does not mean I promote ignorance – far from it. I believe we need to know as much as possible about nutrients in the food. That’s why I have added so much information about the value of ingredients. When we eat a diet with a lot of vegetables and fruits, we should be well nourished – no need to overanalyse our meals. When our bodies need something extra, they will tell us through cravings and appetites.

Saturday, 8 March 2014


Chicken and pesto for a festive dinner

Ingredients (for about 4 servings):

  • 2 packets (900 grams) frozen boneless chicken, either breasts or boneless legs
  • wooden toothpicks
  • 5 tablespoons pesto
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 big, red onions
  • 1 cup white whine
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock (or water, if you don’t have any stock available)


For this recipe you can use either commercial or homemade pesto. Please check out my recipe at
When you buy the frozen chicken, please verify the manufacturing date and pay attention, that the packing is not damaged or ice crystals bloom all over the meat. A layer of ice crystals around frozen meat indicates it has thawed during one of the frequent power cuts and then been refrozen.

Start with preparing the meat. If you have boneless legs, cut away all sinewy parts. If you have chicken breasts, carefully slice each breast into 2 big, thin peaces. Although rolls made from breasts look nicer, the meat from the legs tastes better. Spread pesto thinly over each piece of meat. Then roll them up with the pesto facing inside and secure them with toothpicks. Put your flour in a plate and turn the rolls in the flour, so all sides are well coated.

Heat the olive oil in a big pan and fry your rolls until they have a lovely, golden color all over. While the rolls are frying, peel your onions and chop them as finely as possible. I use a mini-blender for this purpose. Take your rolls out of the pan and keep them aside. Bronze your onions in the pan until they start to brown. Then add the white wine and the stock, season according to your taste with salt and freshly grated pepper.

When I write according to your taste, please take it literally and really taste your dish. I normally use stock for this dish from cooking beef in my pressure cooker. This leaves me with about 1 liter of stock which can be kept for weeks in the fridge. You can also use stock made from cubes or from extract, preferably without monosodium glutamate. If you don’t have stock available, simply use water.

Let the sauce boil for about 2 minutes while stirring well, then add your chicken rolls and keep on simmering on low heat for 15 minutes. Your rolls are now ready to be served. Together with steamed rice, boiled potatoes or bread and a nice salad or some other vegetables, you have a beautiful dinner fit also for demanding guests.
A short description of the other ingredients used in this recipe:

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


‘Can't you make some different muffins?’

My son asked this question some time ago with the impatience of a little maharaja. Being an obedient Mama, who loves her only offspring dearly, I set out to work.  I read my way through a couple of recipes in cookbooks and cooking websites. Then I entered my kitchen with a concept in mind. Like always I tried to combine a maximum of nutritious ingredients with a minimum of not so healthy stuff…and failed miserably. 

My first attempt at muffins produced not even a lukewarm response from my men. ‘Really not my favorite, sorry’, said my Italian husband after the first bite. ‘They taste so much like oats’, complained my son. ‘What is wrong with oats? I like oats’, was my resigned response. I ended up eating most of the high fiber muffins myself. They definitely tasted like oats, but not in a bad way…

That’s why I decided to play it safe. With my men that means chocolate, lots of chocolate - or in the case of these muffins cocoa powder. What’s more, I got inspired by a book I found with the title ‘Coconut diet’, in which the American author Cherie Calbom reveals everything there is to know about this ‘secret ingredient for effortless weight loss’ (that’s how she refers to the humble coconut). I have written a short summary about coconuts for my first book, (check Kornelia's Kitchen  ).

After some more experiments in my kitchen with results, who found gradually more mercy in the eyes of my men, I am happy to present the recipe for my ‘Choco-Coco-Muffins’ to you. They are loaded with nutritious ingredients like coconut oil, grated coconut, whole wheat flour, oats and cacao (check Kornelia's Kitchen )

I hope you enjoy these muffins as much as my men do. They make a great breakfast or snack and I put them into my son’s tiffin boxes.


Ingredients (for 22 small muffins or 12 big muffins):

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla essence
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup cold pressed coconut oil
  • 100 grams desiccated, grated coconut
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 and ½ cups milk
  • butter to grease the muffin moulds
  • paper lining for the moulds
  • icing sugar for dusting the muffins

How to make Choco-Coco-Muffins:

Start with greasing the muffin moulds. The easiest way is getting your hands dirty by grabbing a piece of soft butter and wiping it all around the moulds. Then place a piece of paper lining into each mould and make sure the lining sticks properly to the sides all around. This takes a bit of patience, but it is the most demanding job when making these muffins, so don’t despair…

Next step is switching on your oven to 190 Degrees Celsius. When making dough with baking powder it is always better to preheat the oven. The baking powder loses its power waiting around to be cooked. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add the vanilla essence and the sugar. Stir with a hand mixer until the ingredients are combined. Then sift the cocoa powder over the mixture, add the grated coconut and the coconut oil and mix everything well. Finally blend the baking powder and the baking soda with the flour and put this into the mixing bowl. Join the oats and give everything a stir, so the dough is roughly combined. I use baking soda and baking powder because the combination of both has more power to raise this rather heavy muffin mix.

Distribute the dough evenly in your muffin moulds and bake the small moulds for 25 minutes, topping the baking off with 5 minutes of grill. If you use big moulds you have to bake them 5 more minutes in the oven. Just be careful not to overcook them. Overcooked muffins tend to turn dry. Dust the muffins with icing sugar, once they have cooled down.

Fats: The good, the bad and the really ugly

When it comes to fat and the human health, it is difficult to figure out what is really happening, not to mention forming an educated opinion. Until recently, scientists promoted polyunsaturated oils to keep cholesterol levels under control. Now it seems that the experts might have been wrong by condemning saturated fats. I, a humble lay person, cannot help but feel confused. Maybe all this scientific research cannot be taken too seriously. After all, there is always somebody paying the bills and this might influence the outcome of any research.

For me it is time to apply some common sense to the subject: I strongly believe the more natural the fat, the better. That means in short: I trust butter and cold pressed oils. Generally I use only butter and olive oil in my kitchen. However, now a book has changed my mind: In future I will include cold pressed coconut oil as well.

In the book “Coconut diet” (ISBN-13: 978-0-00-727284-6, available from HarperCollins Publishers India) the author Cherie Calbom provides some interesting information about coconut oil. According to her, coconut oil got a bad reputation due to negative media reports during the latter half of the previous century. Saturated fats were widely held responsible for the increase of heart disease in the USA, condemning butter as well as coconut oil. Polyunsaturated oils were hailed as healthy.

Nowadays it seems exactly the opposite may be true. I believe refined vegetable oils – even if they are polyunsaturated – are bad for our bodies. Vegetable oils produce highly damaging trans fatty acids when refined or heated. These trans fatty acids, according to latest research, are the really ugly when it comes to our health. The clog our blood vessels and they inflate the fat cells on our hips in no time at all, not to mention they become quickly rancid, flooding our body with poison. Most packaged food contains oil of questionable quality.

On the other hand, saturated fats like butter and coconut oil are absolutely vital for the human body (the following points are taken from the “Coconut diet”):
  • About half of cell membranes are made from saturated fatty acids.
  • Our bones need saturated fatty acids to incorporate calcium.
  • Saturated fatty acids protect the liver and enhance the immune system.
  • Tissues retain omega-3 fatty acids better when you eat saturated fat at the same time. (Check Kornelia's Kitchen  ).
  • The heart muscle is embedded in tissue made from saturated fat.
  • Short and medium-chain saturated fatty acids combat harmful microorganisms.
More recipes at Kornelia's Kitchen
Sign up for my monthly newsletter

Monday, 3 March 2014

Red beans salad

Red beans for a spicy interlude

Normally I don’t really like raw onions. They leave a disgusting aftertaste in my mouth which lingers for hours, even if I brush my teeth and use a mouthwash. In this salad however, finely minced raw onions fit nicely. This is one of the few dishes, where I not only tolerate raw onions, I love them. I discovered this salad about two decades ago at my best friend’s hotel. She owns a 400 year old mansion, a ‘Hammerschloss”, nestled in the idyllic Bavarian countryside close to Regensburg. In luscious green surroundings she serves every Sunday a delicious brunch buffet. One of the plates regularly offered there is this salad. Here in Goa, rajma beans belong to the traditional cuisine and you can find them practically everywhere. I often make a big bowl of this salad and keep it in the fridge, where it stays fresh for up to a week. Whenever somebody feels hungry, they can help themselves to a nutritious meal.

Ingredients (for about 4 servings):

  • 200 grams red rajma beans
  • 2 big, green peppers
  • 2 big, red onions
  • 1 cup boiled corn kernels
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, red chili flakes and freshly ground black pepper according to your taste

Start the evening before cooking with soaking the red beans. Spread them out on a flat surface and discard any broken or discolored beans. Then put the beans into a container, cover them with plenty of water and leave them to soak in the fridge over night.
The next day drain your beans and rinse them well. Then cook your beans in plenty of salt water until they are tender. This takes about 45 minutes in a pressure cooker and up to 2 hours in a normal pot. Drain them and let them cool down.

Wash your green peppers and slice them finely. Peel the onions and mince them as fine as you can. I always use a blender for this job. It is not really necessary to use red onions in this recipe, but I love their purplish hue and slightly sweet aroma in this dish. Combine the beans with the vegetables in a big bowl. Dissolve the salt, around half a teaspoon, in the vinegar and blend it well with the olive oil. Add chili flakes and black pepper according to your taste. I like this salad with plenty of punch so I always use a lot of both. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix all the ingredients well. Let it rest at least 1 hour in the fridge before serving, so the beans soak up all the flavors of the dressing.

Red beans detoxify your body

Rajma or kidney beans and other beans are known as ‘Phaseolus vulgaris’, which means ‘common beans’. They all trace their origin to a common ancestor bean in Peru. Spanish explorers brought them Europe in the 15th century and Portuguese traders introduced them to Asia.

Beans are not only a cheap source of good protein; they also contain plenty of cholesterol-lowering fiber. A cup of cooked kidney beans provides almost half of the recommended daily intake for fiber. This fiber also prevents blood sugar levels from bouncing up and down after a meal, making beans easy digestible for people with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.

Furthermore they supply us with the trace mineral molybdenum which helps our bodies getting rid of sulfites. Sulfites are preservatives found in many industrial foods. Big amounts of folate, magnesium, manganese, iron and niacin (Vitamin B1) make red beans an excellent ingredient for any healthy diet. These minerals and vitamins support a healthy heart, improve your memory, help keep your heart healthy, boost your antioxidant defense and provide plenty of fat-free energy. If you want to lose weight, eat plenty of beans.

More recipes at Kornelia's Kitchen 
Sign up for my monthly newsletter

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Gigantes, giant white beans Greek style

Kornelia's Kitchen
Dear all,

This month I suggest one of my favourite dishes, a traditional Greek recipe: Gigantes. These giant white beans are baked in a luscious tomato sauce in the oven. I remember from my time in Greece housewives proclaiming proudly that they add a full bottle of olive oil to one tray of Gigantes. Indeed, when you consume this dish in Greece, the sauce resembles red tinted oil. This tastes delicious. However, I think nowadays only hardworking peasants need this kind of sustenance.

That’s why I have edited this dish to my more modern likings and needs. I use considerably less olive oil and I hide as many vegetables as possible in my tomato sauce. Both my men are not too keen on consuming these vital contributions to any healthy diet so I smuggle my vegetables in whenever I can. I even incorporate beetroot, which adds a lovely deep red tone to the sauce.

Gigantes can be served on many occasions. The Greeks usually eat them as a main course with a big chunk of feta, their wonderful goat cheese. Gigantes also make a great contribution to any antipasti buffet. I like to prepare a big tray of gigantes, serve them as a main dish and then keep the leftovers in the fridge, ready to be eaten as a healthy snack.

In recent years, many nutritionists warn us to about eating a lot of whole grains, legumes and nuts. The reason is their high content of phytic acid, nature’s own preservative. The inventors of the paleo diet, one of the latest additions to the numerous diets out there, even avoid grains completely. I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the conflicting opinions presented mostly as scientifically proven facts.

At this point in time, I think we all should trust our bodies. If they agree with a certain kind of food or dish, chances are high they are not bad for us. When something tastes yummy, it might even be healthy.

Gigantes – the Giants

 Baked Gigantes
Ingredients:Forms of Gigantes
  • 500 grams giant white beans
  • 1 big tin of peeled Italian tomatoes (800 grams) or
  • 1 kg fresh tomatoes
  • 2 big carrots
  • 2 medium beetroots
  • 3 medium onions
  • 8 big cloves garlic
  • 3 bundles parsley
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper


Soaking GigantesMy method of cooking these beans differs considerably from the original recipe. Greeks assemble all the ingredients in a tray and then bake it in the oven until everything is done, which takes some hours and kills most of the vitamins. I precook the beans, and then bake them with the tomato sauce only as long as necessary, around one hour. I don’t know if this preserves many vitamins, but it makes me feel health conscious and I can pad myself on the shoulder.

Like most legumes, gigantes need soaking before the actual cooking. After reading a lot about the controversial phytic acid, I have adopted the following method of soaking legumes. I place them into a big bowl, cover them with water and add a big dash of vinegar. The addition of an acid medium is supposed to help draw out the phytic acid. Experts advise one tablespoon for every cup of water. I just throw in a big dash. Honestly, I cannot be bothered with measuring out the vinegar for the soaking water. I soak the beans for about 24 hours now. Before learning about phytic acid, I soaked my legumes overnight, which works just as fine for cooking.

During the soaking period, I add more water when needed. Before cooking, I drain the gigantes and rinse them well. Then I place them into a big pressure cooker, cover them with water and cook them for about fifteen minutes after the first whistle. At this point, they are almost done. It is quite easy to overcook gigantes, that’s why you have to pay attention not to cook them too long in the pressure cooker. The first times I tried to make gigantes I ended up with a mush.

While the beans are in the pressure cooker, you can prep your vegetables. Peel and chop them. A food processor helps a lot with this work. If you use fresh tomatoes, drop them into boiling water for around 1 minute so the skin detaches itself. Then peel them and remove the stalks and the seeds. Chop the cleaned tomatoes into small pieces. However, I think nothing equals Italian peeled tomatoes in a tin for making tomato sauce. Not only is it a lot easier to open a tin, they also taste better than your average tomato. On the other hand, they have to be transported a long way thus causing a lot of pollution if you don’t live in Italy.

Tomato sauce for GigantesSpread the chopped vegetables over the bottom of a sufficiently big and deep baking tray. Add the tomatoes and the olive oil and stir everything well together. Add the drained gigantes and around 250 millilitres water. You might to need a bit more water during the baking.

Place the tray into an oven and bake for around one hour at 200 degrees Celsius. The ingredients of the tomato sauce should melt nicely together resulting in a thick sauce. The gigantes should turn really soft without losing their shape.

While the beans are baking, wash and chop the parsley. Three bundles might seem like a lot of parsley but these beans can take a heavy dose of this herb. I add the parsley shortly before the beans are done to preserve most of its vitamins. At the same time, I add salt and freshly grated pepper.

By the way, did you ever notice that the famous chefs on television hardly ever wash their vegetables? This is something that drives me crazy. You can do a lot of damage to your produce if you wash or clean them the wrong way. Also, a big part of my time in the kitchen is spent washing and cleaning stuff. I cannot just rip apart a bundle of parsley. Usually, I have to wash it properly, check for damaged leaves, shake it dry and then pick away the leaves from the stalks, because the stalks are not good for eating.

I keep a bit of chopped parsley to sprinkle over the gigantes when they leave the oven. This gives a nice green touch. I also drizzle a bit of olive oil over them before serving. Enjoy.

Phytic acid – friend or foe?

Structure of phytic acidIn recent years, I have read a lot about phytic acid. This acid, also called phytate, is part of legumes, grains and nuts. Its function is to preserve the seed until conditions are ripe for sprouting and developing a new plant. That means, soaking and fermenting breaks down most of the phytic acid in seeds so the plant can grow.

At some point, I had the impression that phytic acid is a horrible substance for human beings. People who believe in the paleo diet don’t eat grains at all, mostly because of their phytic acid content. Scientists agree that phytic acid can block the uptake of essential minerals – calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc – in the intestinal tract. When you look at the structure of phytic acid, you can understand why. All these arms are ready to react with something. Remains the question, what is it reacting with? Some scientists think that phytic acid binds all available minerals in our intestines.

This might lead to mineral deficiencies if you eat a lot of untreated whole grains, legumes and nuts. Some nutritionists recommend fermenting or soaking all these seeds before you eat them. The described procedures take a long time. Honestly, I never got around to soaking my nuts in salt water for several days and then dehydrating them in the oven.

Luckily, I found some other experts who disagree about the effects of phytic acid on our bodies. They believe (or think or reason) that phytic acid exerts its anti-oxidation properties even in our gut. Some experts even say this substance might fight cancer. At this point, I think I better listen to my belly. It tells me that nuts are really yummy and I like them without soaking, salting and dehydrating.

The problem with studying the effects of food on human bodies is the nature of our existence itself. Scientists cannot cut us up immediately after consuming something to see what might be the effect. They need to rely on long-term studies and these are only as reliable as the test subjects. Can you imagine sticking to a strict diet for the sake of a scientific study? I can, but only for one or two weeks at the most.

Over the years, there has been so much advice from experts, which turned out to be plain wrong. We were not supposed to eat many eggs. Coconuts were considered unhealthy because of the saturated fat content. Butter was said to contribute to high levels of cholesterol.
I follow with interest what scientists discover all over the world. But in the end, I believe I better trust myself. When something tastes delicious, at the least it makes me happy for a little while – and that is healthy, no matter what. 

More recipes at Kornelia's Kitchen

Sign up for my monthly newsletter