Aglio Rosso di Nubia

A bunch of Nubian garlic in “Nonna’s kitchen”

Aside from keeping vampires at bay garlic is perhaps one of the most important ingredients to keep in ones kitchen.

Red Nubian garlic in a wooden bowl

The nutritional and health benefits of garlic have been known for thousands of years. In sicily, certainly in and around the town of Trapani, the Aglio Rosso di Nubia is a common sight. It is grown in the countryside centred on the village of Nubia, just outside Trapani in the direction of Marsala.

While a single clove of garlic is not going to have a significant impact, health-wise, a 100 gms (rather a lot even spread throughout the day) offers significant qualtities of vitamins B6 and C, and the dietary minerals manganese and phosphorus (approx 20% of daily need).

I once ate a whole garlic bulb that had been roasted. Delicious at the time but I suspect those near me weren’t so pleased with the garlic smell that stayed with me till next day!

Source: US Department of Agriculture

Garlic has been used medicinally as a cold remedy, though it seems there is no evidence to prove it works. It does have anti-bacterial properties and may be beneficial in reducing hypertension and some forms of cancer.

Personally I enjoy garlic with soups, sauces and salads and will take it with honey if I have a cold.

Where it is from:

Arancina Siciliana

Ragu arancina with kebab

The famous Sicilian rice balls, known as arancini in view of their size, shape and colour that remind one of oranges, have to be on the list of the “must try” treats to experience when visiting the island.

The rice balls made with a filling, coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. The most common fillings are ragù, mozzarella, or ham and mozzarella.

The best in my opinion are the arancini made with ragu filling (minced beef, tomato and herbs – similar to a bolognese sauce).

It is common to find arancini, regarded as snacks or street food, in bakeries, supermarkets and in cafes.

In some parts of Sicily the arancini are formed into a conical shape. In both cases, round or conical, there are similar looking products served in Brazil where they are known as “coxinha” as a result of their taking the approximate shape of a chicken thigh (that’s another story for when I return to Brazil), ball-shaped but with different ingredients.

It is believed that arancini have been around in Sicily since the days of the muslim occupation of the island ie 1000 years or more.

As with many traditional foods the arancina is considered a meal in itself. Like the cornish pastie, or sandwich, arancini were made to be carried and eaten on the move. The original take-aways.

Burik

Burik served in the form of a tube, served with radicchio and olive salad.

Burik (the “u” is short, barely pronounced so the word sounds like bric) is a form of food found in Libya and Tunisia that is normally made in a triangular shape. It looks a bit like a samosa, perhaps having similar ingredients, but the pastry is different.

The ones we bought from Dar El Medina restaurant in Trapani (where I had couscous a couple of years ago) were made in the form of a large rolled tube, like a crepe. The filling was not the tastiest that I had eaten and, to be honest, I had to guess what it was made from: possibly fish, potato and parsley. I would have preferred some middle-eastern spice in the mix but the restaurant seems to try to over-localise their dishes.

The “pastry” itself is a thin layer of batter similar to the crepe, but thinner and lighter. The fillings can be made with whatever there is to hand: eggs, potato, left-overs, meat etc. Literally any filling that takes your fancy.

The filling, a spoonful or two, is placed in the centre of the batter. It is then folded to create a closed triangular shape before being fried.

Burik can be served hot or cold. They can be treated as appetisers, snacks, street-food, served with soup, or served at special occasions.

Dar El Medina is a couscous restaurant and pizzeria with in the heart of Trapani, Sicily. The owners are Sicilian of Tunisian descent and prefer to offer Sicilianised versions of Tunisian food. The restaurant would, in my view, benefit from providing a Tunisian ambience rather than the more neutral, even clinical, one that it has.

How to make burik at home

The quick and easy way to make burik at home, for casual dinners, barbecues, picnics or snacks etc, is to use filo pastry. The authentic batter actually differs by country and ethnic group (there are Arab and Jewish versions) so it isn’t cheating

Prepare the filo pastry by rolling it out and cutting into squares.

Prepare the fillings by placing whatever ingredients you choose in a bowl. Add herbs or spices eg paprika, salt and pepper to taste and mix loosely.

Place one or two spoonfuls of the filling into a square of pastry.

Fold the pastry into a triangular or square shape (alternatively roll into a tube form).

Fry until golden brown then place on kitchen roll to remove excess oil.

Can be served immediately or later when cold.

Nutritional notes

Vegan when using traditional filo/phyllo (vegetable oil-based) pastry.

Gluten-free pastry is available in supermarkets.

Nutritional content will depend on filling used.

A day trip to Dundee (part 1)

Literally the only thing I knew about Dundee, till now, was that the city had given its name to a marmalade and a cake. In fact someone mentioned that the city was founded on jute, jam and journalism (the latter referring, I believe, to the Beano and Dandy comics!).

It took about 90 minutes to reach Dundee by train from Edinburgh. It was a cold grey day with a mist hiding the horizon. Exiting the station we crossed the road and entered the newly built V&A Museum on the Riverside Esplanade, next to SS Discovery, an exploration ship built about 115 years ago. The museum opened just less than six months ago (SEP18).

 

Water feature near the entrance to the V&A

The receptionist indicated that there were just two exhibitions on, both free admission: the Scottish Design Galleries covering elements and examples of Scottish design through the ages, and Rules of Play which featured work and interactive displays by a local artist.

Spacious cafe area on the ground floor

Downstairs, ahead of the reception area, was a cafe that seemed to provide self-service snacks, drinks and light lunches. We decided that it woukd be better to see the exhibitions first and then have lunch.

Across from the cafe was an area selling books, writing and drawing materials and souvenirs of the V&A visit.

We took a lift up to the second level where we found a restaurant – Tatha Bar and Kitchen – where we booked a table for 12:45 before heading off to see the exhibits, starting at the Design Exhibition.

Inside the Design exhibition

The Design exhibition was interesting as it provided examples of everything from traditional tartan designs to modern dresses, architecture and electronics. Some designs were modern but some dated back hundreds of years, thus highlighting the important contribution of Scottish designers in the world.

The Rules of Play featured the artist Gabriella Marcela creating her own unique wooden structures using KAPLA planks. Visitors were encouraged to construct towers or bridges or whatever they wanted, with one man building a tall tower than ither visitors secretly hoped would collapse!

Colourful structures produced by Gabriella Marcela

At 12:40 we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant where a menu stand provided us with an idea of what food choices were available. Our table was ready so we were soon seated and able to order. It proved to be a good idea to make reservations as the restaurant was full.

I ordered an americano coffee while, to eat, I decided on the Arbroath Smokie Royale featuring a small smoked smoked fillet of haddocka speciality of the town of Arbroath (though actually in the fishing village of Auchmithie, a few miles outside Arbroath) served on a tatti (potato) scone topped by a couple of poached eggs with hollandaise sauce and spinach.

I then had a traditional fruit scone with strawberry jam to fininsh.

Arbroath Smokie Royale

Nicely cooked poached eggs sitting on the Arbroath Smokie

Traditional fruit scone with strawberry jam

After lunch, before leaving the V&A, we had a look at the open plan shop area in which one can buy souvenirs, books, art materials etc. One of the featured momentos was a print of the original design sketch of the V&A building, designed by Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates.

View of the shop space on the ground floor 

 

The V&A Dundee is a new, airy and interesting building. It has almost 8,500 m2 of space with a mixed yet simple decoration comprising black floors, plain white wall and oak panels. There are stairs and glass lifts that provide nice views all round.

Worth visiting

Part 2 to follow – visit to the SS Discovery museum.

I could go vegan! At least for a day!

Full vegan breakfast at Brunch & Supper, Edinburgh (vegan haggis, vegan sausage, baked beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, tofu, mushroom, potato bread and couscous)

I have to admit that quite a few years ago I regarded vegans as folk that were a bit off the rails. My first experience of a vegetarian (not vegan) was a lady who was on an eight-day trek with me near Machu Picchu in Peru. The cook, who seemingly forgot her dietary preferences, had prepared a rabbit stew – as far as I was concerned a very welcome and warming lunch at the end of the morning’s trek in the rain. To cut a short story shorter she had started to eat the stew before it was confirmed to be a non-veg meal. She sobbed – it was the first time in her (50+ years) life that she had strayed from her meat-free lifestyle. I had to sympathise, mistakes can happen, but was not really able to empathise.

My own life has been a meat-full one. I have been used to meat-and-two-veg meals for lunch and dinner since I was young. My mother liked to experiment in the kitchen so we had a variety of international and traditionally British meals at home with various animal parts as the core component of the meal.

I have lived for many years in Brazil where meat is a staple. The Brazilian barbecue restaurants are world famous through the health benefits of mounds of beef coated in crystals of salt are definitely negative.

The family of one of my daughters is vegan so I am now able to understand this lifestyle choice. With age comes wisdom. In recent years I have tried to limit my intake of meat. I spent a few years in India where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, so I managed to adapt to and enjoy, local meat-less dishes interspersed with delicious, spicy non-veg meals.

More recently I have tried to eat more vegan dishes. On the most recent occasion, I tried a vegan brunch at Brunch & Supper (a restaurant in Old Town, Edinburgh).

I enjoy a Full Breakfast be it Full English, Full Scottish, Full Cornish or Full Veggie so, while lunching with my daughter and a friend of hers I opted for a Full Vegan breakfast in order to compare the food to other full breakfast meals. Such a comparison is a bit subjective as, unlike in a wine tasting, for example, I was comparing the dish to memories of previous dishes.

The plate came, nicely arranged with a pair of asparagus spears pointing out from the centre of the plate. I found the meal satisfyingly filling and tasty though I have to say, in respect of all of the Scottish breakfast that I have tried, regardless of the restaurant, that the haggis has always been disappointing. I guess I was spoilt by having haggis for the first time (and a couple of other occasions) served at top restaurants ie real deal haggis. Still, I enjoyed the meal and enjoyed the vegan experience

I honestly doubt if I will ever become a vegan, nor even wholly vegetarian, but I can say with certainty that I am reducing the amount of meat in my diet. I don’t have issues with vegan meals, good food us good food, but I would certainly recommend to any restaurant that they include vegetarian and vegan options on their menu – even non-vegetarians like to vary their diet occasionally. And I recommend Brunch & Supper as a place to eat if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh. Need to book as the place is small and popular!

Brunch & Supper

37-39 George IV Bridge,

Edinburgh,

EH1 1EL

Phone: +44 131 225 6690

Url: brunchandsupper.co.uk

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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.

V and V+

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Want to become vegetarian (V)? Or even vegan (V+)? Much easier to do so at home where ingredients are under control. More difficult if the entire household sticks to being omnivorous! Like most people I like to eat out occasionally and, while vegetarian food can be found in many restaurants it is rare to find vegan-friendly establishments.

The search for vegan food can become frustrating.

If restaurants in the area don’t offer vegan food on their menu how do you get them to start doing so? Firstly, perhaps, by planting the idea. When calling to make a reservation, ask if they have both vegetarian and vegan options. If they do, great.

If they don’t, suggest that they consider doing so. One reservation perhaps lost, but possibly a new option in future if they take the message seriously.

Secondly, make meal suggestions if the V+ menu is thin. The benefit here is that vegan dishes are by default vegetarian while vegetarian dishes are not all acceptable to vegans. Many pasta dishes are vegan by nature (using an egg-less pasta recipe!).

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Third, pass the message to others if you find a good vegan restaurant.

Restaurants may not change overnight, and some may not change their menus too often but when they do they can add V+!

By suggesting amendments to the menu and V can become V+. Educate.

Note: I am neither vegetarian nor vegan but I am reducing the non-veg content of my meals by moving to healthier options.

(V) and (V+) are the annotations that I have adopted for my reviews of vegan food and restaurant. V = vegetarian and V+ is vegan ie more than vegetarian

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Caponata di Marsala

We had a nice light veggie lunch at “Natura a Tavola” in Marsala the other day. The restaurant is located on via Garibaldi near the Chiesa Madre and a short walk from Garibaldi Gate.

The place, not only a bar/restaurant, sat in a plastic tent on the pedestrian road while the building next to the tent houses both the kitchen and a shop selling wines, spirits and a multitude of local deli foods. The tent provided protection from both any rain that may present itself but also the cold wind that comes off the sea without respite in the winter. In warmer seasons the plastic sheeting is removed to leave only the large parasols.

Natura a Tavola serves a variety of foods typical of the ancient port town. I ordered the Caponata, the subject of this post, that is said to have originated hundreds of years ago, to the time of the saracen occupation, though the recipe now includes tomatoes that were introduced to Europe only in the late 16th century, and not used much in cooking till the 18th century!

The exact recipe for this dish is no doubt a secret cherished by the family-owned restaurant but I have listed below the key ingredients that I could identify.

We also had a tuna salad – a bowl full of rocket, tomato, mozzarella, olives and canned tuna. Very good.

Ratatouille is very similar to caponata but, in comparison, is a much younger concoction. There are other similar dishes from various parts of the Med, no doubt based on an original recipe carried by boat in the hands of a cook of that era!

The caponata was accompanied by a basket of bread – sliced italian bread that had been placed on a grill to give it a light toasty texture. Nicely done and helped soak up the sauce.

A glass of wine would have been nice but as I was driving I had to abstain, drinking water instead. I did however finish off the meal with a small glass of almond liqueur!

Caponata Ingredients

  • Olives – green (but the original recipe uses black olives)
  • Capers
  • Pine nuts
  • Almonds
  • Peppers (capsicum)
  • Celery
  • Tomato
  • Aubergines
  • Sultanas
  • Basil / oregano
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper

I am not a person that follows recipes to the letter – the ingredients are what count rather than the exact quantity. Sometimes what one has in stock dictates the end result. I am not sure if the restaurant cooked the ingredients with wine but I would normally pour in a touch of red wine to provide a bit of extra flavour to the caponata. Marsala wine would add a hint of sweetness particularly if green olives are in the pot.

More posts on food and drink from the region coming soon.

Posted via my iPhone

More Sicilian subjects

Custonaci village, Sicily Bar Vassallo, an ice cream parlour in Custonaci village, Sicily[/caption]

Coming soon … notes on food, drink and places in Sicily. Also adding articles on Lisbon and more.

I normally write weekly articles but over the last two months I have been involved in other projects, and holiday, so have been somewhat quiet on this site. Things will be back to normal from this month onwards, including a broadening of subject matter as I begin to rationalise channels.

Belatedly, wishing all seasons greetings – hope you have enjoyed the holidays as much as I did – and best wishes for 2018.

Couscous – Blissfully Tunisian food

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Meat and vegetable couscous

Couscous is a regular meal for me, I eat it at least once a week when I am at home and, while I lived alone, I used to cook it myself. This form of couscous was always the pre-prepared form of that comes in a packet, usually pre-cooked ie just add water and heat! Brazilian couscous is served with a variety of accompaniments ie traditional (lamb / vegetable) or non-traditional (chopped hot-dog sausage, mushrooms etc) .

Part of my family lived in Tunisia and later in Libya (where I was born) and thus couscous formed a core part of our diet. My great-grandmother used to lead the preparation of couscous in the kitchen, working the durum semolina into the small, round pellets that would be cooked – meat and vegetables in a pot with the steam passing through the couscous, adding flavour as it filtered up through the semolina.

Tucked down a side road near the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele car park in the centre of Trapani is the Tunisian restaurant Dar El Medina which has a reputation not only for its traditional Tunisian dishes but also for Trapanese seafood.

I ordered the meat and vegetable couscous.  This arrived in a traditional-style bowl filled with couscous, topped with meat and vegetables. A separate bowl contained the wonderful juice that would soak nicely into the couscous accompanied the dish. No wine as I was driving!

While I could have easily shared the food with another person, such was the size, I managed to consume all of it myself. It isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a form of fast food. I was happy to take my time and savour the flavours without rushing.

The couscous served in Brazil, which is known as cuscuz, is different – it is corn-based and thus has a different flavour. It is prepared both as a savoury dish (with chicken and vegetables) or as a dessert with coconut cream poured over it. The North African and South American variants are very different. In my opinion the original North African couscous is by far the best, but variety is good.

 

Dar El Medina

Via Marchese Enrico Platamone, 12

Trapani

91100

Sicily

 

+39 0923 196 4100

 

 

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Just back from month-long trip that covered places, restaurants, hotels and food in Portugal (Lisbon), Veneto (Venice / Mestre, Caorle/Porto Santa Margherita, and Treviso),  France (Paris and Franconville), Scotland (Edinburgh), England (London and Stockport), Sicily (Erice, Trapani, Marsala, Mazara del Vallo and Mozia).

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