Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Amazing legumes

various legums
The chickpea – like all other members of the legumes family – offers a lot of proteins, minerals and fibre.  Just one cup of uncooked legumes delivers 14 to 20 grams of fibre, more than whole wheat. Nutrition experts nowadays recommend to eat at least 25 grams of fibre a day, a huge amount for most people.

Fibre helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, making chickpeas an excellent choice for diabetics and people with insulin resistance or hypoglycaemia. A 2012 study of people with type 2 diabetes has shown that eating one cup of legumes a day for three months lowered blood sugar and blood pressure.

Furthermore, fibre traps bile loaded with cholesterol in the digestive tract and helps bowel movement, preventing digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. Eating legumes regularly also lowers bad cholesterol levels in the blood.

Legumes provide a wealth of minerals as well. For example chickpeas contain plenty of folic acid, manganese and iron needed for healthy bones and blood production. They contain large amounts of the trace mineral molybdenum that flushes out the preservative sulphite from our bodies.

Legumes are also rich in various antioxidants and phytonutrients. At the moment, scientists continue to discover new varieties of these substances all the time. Antioxidants fight free radicals, atoms that miss an electron in their outer shell. In their search for missing electrons they grab them where they can get them and damaging healthy body cells. Free radicals are a normal by-product of our digestion. Smoking, drinking and pollution increase the amount of free radicals in our bodies. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals by providing them with missing electrons.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The history of pretzels

still life with pretzels
The origins of our pretzels goes back to antique Rome where rings of bread were used in religious ceremonies. In the second century AD early Christians used this kind of bread to celebrate communion during mass.

Italian monks invented the shape of the pretzel in 610 AD. Food historians say that the shape symbolized the form of crossed arms, the traditional posture for prayer. Pretzels became popular all over Europe and its shape was associated with the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and good luck, long life and prosperity.
mediaval pretzel baker
In 1510, pretzel bakers saved Vienna from an attack by Ottoman Turks. The Turks dug tunnels under the city walls but monks baking pretzels heard them and alerted the city. As a reward, the Austrian emperor gave the pretzel bakers their own coat of arms.
pretzels at wedding
In the 17th century, royal couples in Switzerland used pretzels in their wedding ceremonies, symbolising the tying of the knot. Around the same time in Germany, children wore pretzels around their necks on New Year for good luck and prosperity.

Legend says the pretzels reached the USA with the Mayflower. For sure, German settlers brought them to Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Pennsylvania remains the American Pretzel capital. 80 percent of the country’s pretzels are made there. In Europe, pretzels remain popular mostly in Germany and other German speaking countries. In Bavaria we eat them for a late breakfast together with ‘Weißwürste’ and beer.

Hummus, A Healthy Classic

Dear all,

The other day I received an email with a link to 32 different chickpea recipes ‘to dug me out of my hummus hole’. So far, I had been unaware of the existence of such a hole.

I love hummus and serve it regularly at dinner parties. Often I eat it as a healthy lunch with a little salad and some whole wheat crackers – very refreshing, especially during the current heat wave in India.

Although hummus has lost its exotic factor in the country where we live, many people still ask me for the recipe. Although it is as simple as can be, some manage to get it wrong. I think, the biggest mistake commonly made is to add too much tahini, the sesame paste from Middle East. Although tahini is wonderfully healthy, it has a strange texture. When you eat it by itself, it feels very sticky and tastes slightly bitter. Too much tahini can ruin your hummus.

Of course, you can also add to much lemon and too much garlic, although this is largely a matter of personal taste. One time, I dropped too much pepper powder in my blender. There was no way I could get rid of it, so this one time we had a very peppery hummus – my guests liked it though.

In general, I think we should eat as many legumes as possible. They provide cheap protein in combination with fibre, complex carbohydrates (the good ones) and many minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients.

Legumes are great to keep slim and fit and hummus is the perfect recipe. You can keep it up to one week in the fridge and you can even freeze it. When you open the door of my freezer, you will always find a container with hummus, next to some pasta sauces and homemade pâtés.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro with family

Hummus - a classic dip

Hummus with crackers
(for 8 servings)
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  •  2 tablespoons tahini
  •  4 tablespoons lemon juice
  •  3 tablespoons olive oil
  •  2 cloves garlic
  •  salt
  •  pepper
  • ½ cup cooking liquid
Spread out the beans and check them for small stones, debris and damaged beans. Wash the chickpeas and soak them in plenty of water overnight. The next day, drain the soaked chickpeas, put them into a pot, cover with two litres salt water and boil them until soft.
cooked chickpeas
If you use a pressure cooker, add only one litre of water with the chickpeas and cook for 30 minutes after the first whistle. The chickpeas need to become really soft. Drain the chickpeas, but save half a cup of the liquid.

You can prepare humus either with a blender stick or in a blender. With a blender stick, mash the chickpeas first, and then add the tahini, the lemon juice, the olive oil and the crushed garlic. Combine with some cooking liquid to obtain a smooth paste.
chickpeas and ingredients with blender
If you use a blender, throw in all the ingredients and blend away. It is better to crush the garlic before adding it.

Whole-wheat Pretzels

Dear all,

We love pretzels. As a Bavarian I call them ‘Brezen’. There is something about these dark brown breads that makes them very addictive. I prefer pretzels the Bavarian way: a soft centre covered by a deliciously salty skin that offers a bit of crunchy resistance to the bite. The fat pretzels sold everywhere in Manhattan do nothing for me (excuse me bakers of New York). They lack flavour and texture.

Unfortunately, here in India pretzels are hard to come by. For a long time I wanted to bake them at home and I finally succeeded for the sake of my newsletter.

When I was a teenager and living in Bavaria, I tried one time to make pretzels but that experiment resulted in utter failure. Something went wrong with the alkali solution that you dip the pretzels in before baking them – the secret behind the brown skin of pretzels. My pretzels did not change colour at all and I gave up on baking them.

A few days ago, I set out again to bake homemade pretzels. I wanted to make them with whole-wheat flour because I avoid white flour whenever possible. Thanks to the Internet I found plenty of recipes. Nevertheless, my latest pretzel experiment turned out as a kind of hit and miss.

You need to dip the pretzels before baking into a boiling solution of water with salt and baking soda. My first pretzels did not like this at all. They disintegrated almost immediately when they hit the solution.

I thought I have to find another recipe for this month’s newsletter. Fortunately I remembered a German website recommending to freeze them before dipping them to ‘keep the shape better’. Honestly, my pretzels needed one hour in the freezer to keep their shape at all.

The flavour of my pretzels came pretty close to the original. They tasted good enough to disappear almost immediately. I like to slice open my pretzels and smother them with fresh butter, accompanied by a cold beer.

At this point I would like to announce that I am taking a two-month holiday from writing because we will be travelling in Europe. I have worked very hard to finish the manuscript of my new book with the working title ‘Cooking for Happiness’. I am proud to announce that HarperCollins India will publish it towards the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro with family

Whole-wheat Pretzels

(for 8 large pretzels)
  • 500 g whole-wheat flour
  • 2 packets dry yeast
  • 50 g butter
  • 200 ml milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 100 g baking soda
  • Salt
  • Water

Pretzels are made with yeast dough. When you replace white flour with whole-wheat flour, you have to remember that you need more rising power because whole-wheat dough tends to be denser. Normally one packet of yeast would be sufficient for 500 g flour. But pretzels need to be light that’s why we need two packets to do the job.

Making yeast dough is not difficult but you need to remember some basic facts: yeast is a fungus that likes moisture and warm temperature. You cannot make yeast dough in a hurry because it needs time to rise. If you heat yeast to more than 60 degrees, it dies.
yeast bubbles
First of all, you need to wake up the dry yeast. Place the sugar into a bowl, mix it with a cup of water and add the yeast. Stir well and wait until bubbles develop.
flour well
Place the flour into a bowl and dig out a well. Fill the bubbling yeast into the well and cover it with flour.
yeast with flour
When the yeast bubbles out of the flour, start adding the milk and ½ tablespoon salt.
butter melting
Melt the butter and add it to the bowl. It is not really necessary to melt the butter but it makes mixing a lot easier.
kneading dough with hand mixer
Yeast dough needs severe kneading, when you use whole-wheat flour even more so. Kneading activates the gluten that holds the dough together and makes it rise. I start off to incorporate enough liquid to obtain smooth dough with the help of the kneading hooks of my hand mixer. It is rather impossible to predict how much liquid you need exactly. Remember that the extra fibre of whole-wheat flour soaks up quite a bit of liquid. Work the dough for at least 15 minutes.
kneading dough by hand
I gave it 10 minutes with my hand mixer and then I kneaded some more by hand. You can also lift up the dough and through it hard onto your kitchen counter.
dough before rising
You can stop when you have dough that does not stick to your fingers and that gives the impression that it is growing by the minute. If you have added too much liquid and the dough remains sticky, incorporate more flour until you feel the consistency is right.
dough after rising
Cover the dough with a moist cloth and let it rise until it has doubled in volume.
Knead it through one more time and divide it into equal pieces. One German website suggests to weigh it but that seems a bit exaggerated to me.
forming pretzels 1
Roll each piece of dough into a long string that is thicker in the middle. You might need a little bit of flour to prevent it sticking to your work surface.
forming pretzels 2
Cross the ends.
forming pretzels 4
Turn them around one time and fasten them to the opposite side to get the typical pretzel shape.
forming pretzels 5
Place the pretzels onto baking paper so you can remove them easily. Let them rise for half an hour or so. They should visibly grow. Don’t cover them; they need to develop a kind of skin. When they have risen enough place them into the freezer for at least half an hour. They need to be hard to the touch.pretzels rising
In the meantime, prepare the dipping solution. Place 1.5 litres water into a pot and add one-tablespoon salt. Bring it to a boil. Switch off the fire and add the baking soda gradually. Be careful, it tends to bubble up quite a bit. Bring it to the boil again. Your solution is ready now.
dipping solution
When your pretzels are ready to be dipped, bring the solution to a boil and preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Drop each pretzel into the solution and let it swim for at least 30 seconds. Keep pressing it carefully down with a slotted spoon to make sure that the whole skin is immersed in the solution.
pretzel in solution

After 30 seconds take them out with a spatula or the slotted spoon and place them onto a cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with salt. Some people like rough salt on their pretzels.
I use a silicone sheet to avoid sticking. If you don’t have one, butter the cookie sheet generously. If any pretzels disintegrate - like my first ones did - form them into balls or just keep the fragments. Keep them longer in the freezer before dipping them.
pretzels on cookie sheet
Probably you will need to bake your pretzels in two batches.

They need around 20 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees. In my gas oven I finish them with five minutes under the grill to make sure they are crispy. Let them cool down and eat them as soon as possible. Pretzels tend to turn soggy quickly. However, you can always crisp them up again. 10 minutes in the oven by 200 degrees should do the trick.