Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lebanese Brunch

Brunch is my favourite meal. It's my luxury meal. My slow-down-and-linger meal.

Brunch: my slow-down-and-linger meal
A typical Sunday brunch in AK's Kitchen means massive omelettes, pancakes, sausages, cheeses and fruit. And of course, pots of strong coffee and morsels of dark chocolate. When I'm too lazy to cook, I serve up a Montreal-style brunch with bagels, cream cheese and lox. And of course, pots of strong coffee and morsels of dark chocolate.

My dear friend Maya wanted to introduce me to new brunch flavours, sans chocolate. She invited me to a traditional Lebanese brunch prepared by her favourite cook, her mom, Raja.

Traditional Lebanese brunch 
When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by a symphony of wonderful aromas. Lemon. Mint. Garlic. Thyme. Raja was rolling out her fresh dough for our Lebanese pizzas. The pizzas were just the starters for a delightful three-hour meal.

The main dishes were fool and fatteh. Fool is a mixture of chickpeas and beans. Fatteh is made with a layer pita bread, topped with yogurt, sprinkled with fried minced beef and toasted pine nuts. A pinch of cumin and a drizzle of olive oil add another layer of taste. Raja served fresh parsley and mint to help us digest the heavy fatteh.
This is the kind of dish I can eat anytime. It sticks to your ribs. It's loaded with good stuff -- probiotics from the yogurt; anti-inflammatory ingredients from the olive oil; vitamins and dietary fibre from the pine nuts. Raja she makes fatteh only on weekends because, she says, "It's so heavy, you have to have a nap after you eat it."

Assorted dried fruit and nuts
We went from savoury to sweet with a platter of dates, dried cranberries, goji berries, along with hazelnuts and walnuts. I was so satisfied, I didn't even miss my chocolate.

We topped off our traditional Lebanese brunch with high-octane Turkish coffee.

Many, many thanks to Raja and Maya for giving me a taste of Lebannon. I can't wait to return the favour and a few new flavours of my own.

Note: Aren't the photos sharp and luscious? They were all taken by Maya Shoucair. Her camera and eyes are much better than mine.   

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cocoa Swirl Banana Bread

I'm shaking up an old favourite. Sometimes all it takes is one ingredient, a pinch of something you hadn't considered, to re-invent the same old, same old.

Cocoa powder is always a welcome ingredient in AK's Kitchen. When I came across a new recipe for banana loaf with a chocolate swirl, I figured it was time to modernise my 20-year-old banana loaf.

I made some modifications to the recipe by nutritionist Leslie Beck. My version is free of gluten, dairy and sugar. You can add maple syrup, honey or chopped dates to sweeten. Coconut flour in the batter boosts the protein and fibre content. It also adds density to the loaf.

My kids and I enjoyed a slice for breakfast, with a bowl of yogurt and energy crunch on the side. We were fuelled up for the morning.

Cocoa Swirl Banana Bread
Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free 

1 1/2 cup gluten free flour (3/4 cup rice flour + 1/4 cup coconut flour + 1/2 cup tapioca flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup oil (grapeseed or canola)
1 Tablespoon plain almond or coconut milk
3 overripe bananas, mashed
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
(maple syrup, honey or chopped dates are optional for extra sweetness)

Grease two loaf pans. (See note below.)
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients.
Transfer banana mixture to flour mixture and stir well.
For the cocoa swirl: Scoop out 1/4 cup of the batter and stir in cocoa. Set aside. 
Pour the batter into loaf pans.
Spoon the cocoa swirl over the centre of the loaf pans and drag a knife through to create a marble effect.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Let batter sit for 10 minutes while the oven pre-heats.
Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Important note: Use two 9x5 inch loaf pans. I tried to make one large loaf, and it flopped. The batter did not rise properly. Gluten free flour has very different properties than regular flour. I make my gluten free baked goods in shallow batches. To achieve a thick cake or loaf, you can stack them once they are baked.