Moroccan Chick Pea Soup

Sadly, I have no idea where I first found this recipe. It’s a shame because it is absolutely delicious, very filling, quick to make and ridiculously low in calories. Somebody deserves credit for this dish, and though I have tweaked it over the years that somebody isn’t me.

You can vary the amount of chilli you put in depending on your own taste, but if you put in just one regular chilli, with the seeds, it will give you a background hum without being overpowering.  Don’t be afraid of using a good heaped teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout though, they provide the depth of flavour that makes this dish so good, and none of them are ‘hot’ spices.

Don’t overlook the final garnish of lime juice, za’atar and coriander. It raises the dish from the delicious to the spectacular. Diet food isn’t supposed to be this good!

Total calories per portion are 224 if you divide it among four people. If you are spectacularly hungry then you can eat half of it all by yourself  – that’s a challenge – and still have eaten less than 500 calories. That makes it ideal for anyone following the 5:2 diet.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

200g dried chickpeas (or one 440g tin)

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 red chilli, seeds in, finely chopped

1 tsp chilli flakes

1 large thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp cumin

1 heaped tsp cinnamon

1 heaped tsp ras al hanout

200g roasted red peppers (from a jar is fine), finely chopped

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

400ml light vegetable stock

1 preserved lemon, pulp discarded, rind finely chopped

1 tbsp runny honey

50g couscous

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, finely chopped

To garnish:

the zest and juice of a lime

1 tsp za’atar

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use one tin; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan, then gently cook the chopped onion under a lid for around 5 minutes, over a low heat.

Meanwhile, put the cumin, cinnamon and ras al hanout into a small bowl and add sufficient water to mix to a stiff paste.

Add the garlic, chopped chilli and chilli flakes, ginger and the spice paste, stir well, turn the heat up to medium and cook out for a minute or so until deeply aromatic.

Add the roasted red peppers, tomatoes and stock, mix well and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid for ten minutes.

Stir in the chick peas, preserved lemon rind and honey, stir well and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tastes good doesn’t it? Just wait, there’s more…

At this point you can set the soup aside for minutes or hours, to allow the flavours to develop, deepen and mellow. Or you can just move straight on…

Five minutes before serving, add the couscous and coriander stalks, stir well and keep at a gentle simmer until ready to serve.

Just before serving, give it a final stir, remove from the heat then sprinkle the zest of the lime over the top of the soup, followed by all the juice. Do not stir!

Scatter the za’atar evenly over the top, and then scatter the coriander leaves over that. Once again, do not stir, the garnish will sit on top and retain its vivacity. Even when you serve, dip your ladle down to the bottom of the pan and come up underneath the soup to retain the garnish layer. It might sound like a nuisance, but your taste buds will love you for it.

Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin

A few years ago Si King and Dave Myers – aka The Hairy Bikers – released a series of diet books that completely transformed my outlook on dieting. I’ve always kept myself fit and healthy, but creeping age and a slowing metabolism meant that the pounds crept on over the years. Sound familiar?

Dieting though? Everybody I have ever known who has been on a traditional diet – one that is based on denying yourself treats and cutting down your food intake – has lost loads of weight, only to put it all back on again, and a little more, once they return to ‘normal’ eating. There are complex metabolic (and mental) reasons why this happens, so, it struck me that the way to lose weight and keep it off isn’t by denying yourself but by finding other ways to satisfy yourself. The way to do that is by eating food that is low in calories but delicious, filling and satisfying. That way you don’t feel like you’re doing some kind of penance. Coupling that outlook with cycling through the 5:2 diet a few times a year, I changed the way I view treats and I have kept the weight off as I approach my mid-fifties.

Those Hairy Bikers books contain recipes that could be tailor-made for a 5:2 eating plan: low-calorie, healthy and absolutely delicious. I’m not a diet guru, but if you’re struggling with your diet then try this recipe, try it even if you’re not. My wife is one of those lucky people who will probably be slender forever, but when I am not on the 5:2 diet she still asks me to make stuff like this, just because she loves it.

Total calories per portion are 287. Yep, just 287 – that means you can have a fat boy portion if you want but not turn out to be a fat boy!

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

100g raw, peeled king prawns

400g white fish fillets (cod, hake, pollock etc)

150g undyed smoked haddock

400ml semi-skimmed milk

2 bay leaves

1/2 small onion, or 1 banana shallot, peeled and finely chopped

3 tbsp cornflour

3 tbsp water

100g frozen peas

2 tbsp vermouth

40g coarse breadcrumbs

25g cheddar, grated

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Cut the fish into 3cm chunks.

Gently heat the milk in a large pan, with the onion and bay leaves. Bring it to scalding point (where the milk at the edges of the pan just starts to foam) and keep it there.

Add the water to the cornflour to make a smooth paste, then add to the milk, stirring constantly over low heat for 5 minutes until the sauce is thick, rich and glossy.

Meanwhile, heat your grill to high.

Season the sauce, then add the vermouth and peas, cook for a minute or so then add the fish, stirring gently a couple of times and cook for two minutes. Add the prawns and again stir gently a couple of times for a further two minutes.

Transfer to a large warmed oven dish or, if you are serving individually, to whatever number of heatproof serving dishes you require. Combine the breadcrumbs and cheese, scatter over the top and grill for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted and the crumbs are lightly browned.

Serve alongside green vegetables, broccoli and/or cauliflower are excellent low-calorie and filling accompaniments.