Magnifique Matcha macaroons, Oh mon Dieu!

Look what came in the mail for me today.

kawaii kenko

kawaii kenko

How cute is that?  It’s right up there along with giggling infants, dimples, Mini Coopers and baby pandas.

It was sent by Melbourne-based Kenko Tea, a premium matcha online retailer.  I’d used matcha in a past post whereby I concocted a raw vanilla cheesecake using a mung bean crust.  However only a dusting of matcha was used – it was not the centre of attention.

I did a lil more digging around and discovered there’s matcha.. and there’s MATCHA.  Let me explain.  Like any fruit or vegetable, the more vibrant the colour = the more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it contains.  Makes sense.  Who’d want a light mauve eggplant over one a fetching deep shade of royal purple?

I took the photos below to illustrate the varying grades of this wonder powder.

gorgeous green

gorgeous green

Yeah, this is mine… all mine.  Note the intensity of the hue.  And the smell when I popped open the container was just wow.  Pure freshness in a can.  Eau de fresh!

not so green

not so green

Yeah, the above pic is not my matcha obviously.

I was keen to do two things:  brew myself a well-earned cuppa matcha.  Check.  Experiment with Kenko Tea’s premium matcha in the kitchen.  A ha…

This is what transpired.

Raw Magic Matcha Macaroons

2 tbs matcha green tea powder
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried coconut
3-4 tbs tahini
3-4 tbs cup agave
¼ tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
Optional: carob nibs, orange zest

Food process the coconut and sunflower seeds first until they resemble breadcrumbs.  Food process everything else and shape into cute macaroon-esque balls.  Done.  Haha, short and sweet right.

If it’s too dry, gradually add more tahini, vanilla extract or agave.  Conversely, if you went overboard on the liquid, add more dried coconut bit by bit.  I had carob nibs in the pantry so threw them in there for an extra crunch factor.

Shape into macaroons and pop in the freezer for 5 minutes.

matcha macaroon heaven

matcha macaroon heaven

I was interested to find out more about the Man behind the Matcha.  This is what I discovered….

Sam James, 27, has called the kitchen a second home ever since embarking on a chef apprenticeship at the age of 16.  He works on Kenko Tea during the day before working the evening shift at a Melbourne restaurant. 

Kenko Tea creatively fuses together his passions for quality ingredients, health and funky packaging.

Why did you start Kenko Tea?

I decided to start my own project as after living in Melbourne CBD for the last few years, I’d noticed the specialty coffee culture in Melbourne explode.   I’ve always had an eye for food trends and first came across matcha online when researching its health benefits and high levels of antioxidants.

I couldn’t find any GOOD matcha in Melbourne.  I read about matcha being an amazing, sweet, fresh and bright green super tea that whisks up a layer of crema.  The ones I tasted were horrible unless mixed with loads of sugar and milk. So that’s why I started Kenko Tea, to bring high grade matcha to Australia.

What prompted you on the health and wellness path?

I’ve had a growing interest in nutrition, food and health for a few years now. I was miserable in my early 20’s – the lifestyle that comes with working in kitchens is characterised by long hours, high stress, bad diet, no social life.

I started searching for healthier ways to manage stress. This led me down all sorts of paths – meditation, yoga, martial arts, gym, cutting out sugar/processed foods etc.  These days I notice straight away if I haven’t exercised for a few days or go back to eating junk.  I am still learning what works best for me.

Why the interest in matcha?

Besides the health benefits, it was the intense colour that appealed to me.  It was something new and exciting, an ingredient I’d never experimented with.  It’s incredibly versatile – to drink on its own as a tea, made into a green smoothie, or added to desserts and sweets.

The history behind matcha is fascinating.  It was used by samurai and Zen monks for meditation and the stone grinding production methods are the same methods they’ve used for centuries.  The more I learn about matcha, the more I Iove it.

How matcha benefits me:

Matcha makes me feel energized, refreshed, alert and focused without the jittery or wired feeling of coffee.  Matcha’s high levels of L-theanine which when combined with caffeine, delivers caffeine to the bloodstream over a longer period, so you feel calm and alert for 4-6 hours without coffee’s massive ups and downs.  I receive emails constantly from customers saying exactly this regarding their energy levels.

Describe a typical day for you: 

Wake up 9am, make a matcha smoothie, check emails, pack any orders and go to post office, check emails, write more content for my website, experiment with matcha recipes, send out any more orders before post office shuts. Then I head to work.

Life motto:

If you don’t design your own life someone else will happily do it for you.

The Kenko Tea Co in 5 years’ time: 

Matcha is the superfood of superfoods.  It’s the next gojiberry, acai berry, maca, cacao and spirulina all rolled into one. Kenko Tea will be the number one source of high grade, artisanal matcha green tea in Australia, and the world.

my matcha

my matcha

Raw. Decadent. Thick. Pudding. Psyllium?

Spot the odd one out.  Psyllium… first off, what is it?

Psyllium is usually sold as psyllium husk in powder form. You can find it in health food stores, and its stocked in IGA, Coles and Woolies too.  Its often marketed as a colon cleanser, a reliable and natural remedy for constipation.  So sexy – not.

This recipe came by accident.

My intention was to make chia pudding, but instead of reaching for the chia seed container I poured in psyllium husks instead!  D’oh!  My mistake turned into a discovery… pysllium has the same effect as chia seeds poured into liquid, mixed and left to set.  Thickens to a pudding or jelly very nicely!

Why I didn’t realise this earlier I don’t know.  I’d known about psyllium for quite a number of years, but the usual M.O. of taking psyllium is mixing a tablespoon with water or juice, or sprinkling it over cereal.  As I’d never had a problem with *ahem* regularity, I didn’t investigate further uses and applications.

At a fraction of the price of chia seeds, I’ve found a new egg (1 tbs psyllium + 2 tbs water) and agar-agar replacer for raw treats.  Win!  For my gluten-intolerant bakers, you can morph baked goods into gluten-free versions by substituting psyllium for regular flour.  I imagine it would give an extra ‘lift’ when baking.  Taking advantage of its thickening ability, it could be added to soups and stews to generate a creamier consistency too.

psyllium pudding

psyllium pudding

Important notes:  make sure you drink extra water to ensure the psyllium can move easily through the colon. Its fibres absorb waste in the stomach and carry it out from the colon.  Psyllium should be taken on an empty stomach.  Regular intake is said to promote weight loss as it shifts stubborn built-up body toxins.

Without further ado, here’s a pudding recipe even a man can’t stuff up.

Raw Cacao Coconut Pudding

1-2 tbs psyllium husk (start with 1 tbs if you’re not accustomed to taking psyllium)
stevia or agave, to taste
2-3 tbs raw cacao powder
2-3 tbs shredded coconut
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used oat)

Mix ingredients into a large mug or small bowl.  Let it thicken – leave for an hour or so.

As it was a blistery cold and windy night, I heated the oat milk and poured it in.  The heat enabled it to thicken instantly.. probably less than a minute of stirring it.

I had a thick rich gooey chocolatey treat – minus the guilt!

What other flavour variations can you come up with?

Hope you’re staying warm and toasty … till next time.

pudding in a cup

pudding in a cup

Raw Vanilla Matcha Cheesecake with Sprouted Mung Bean Crust

This is by far my most experimental creation yet.  I must have been channeling Heston Blumenthal in a serious way!

I love my raw cheesecakes as much as anyone else, however the generous use of nuts in both the crust and the filling leave me feeling a little heavy.

I wanted to maintain the slight crunch factor characteristic of crushed nuts and thought sprouted mung beans would be a good substitute.

Mung beans are a common dessert in Asia, able to be served hot or cold and usually accompanied with generous lashings of sweetened coconut milk.

In keeping with the Asian influences, I opted for a regular vanilla filling using silken tofu, and sprinkled matcha powder on top.

For those that don’t know, matcha is finely milled or finely ground Japanese green tea.  The difference is you are consuming the whole tea leaf, not just the liquid from steeping it.  Therefore its nutritional benefits far outweigh traditional green tea (10x more in fact).  Here’s a concise matcha article which is quite informative – on a bodybuilding website out of all places!

In short, matcha….

  • Is packed with antioxidants including the powerful EGCg
  • Boosts metabolism and burns calories
  • Is a natural and effective detoxer
  • Mood and concentration enhancer
  • Rich in fibre, vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
  • Fights against viruses and bacteria
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar

Raw Vanilla Matcha Tofu Cheesecake

Crust:

1 1/2 cups sprouted mung beans
1 tbs coconut oil
1/2 cup chopped soaked dates (reserve liquid)
1/4 cup desiccated coconut

protein-rich mung bean crust

protein-rich mung bean crust

Filling:

250g silken tofu
2-3 tbs coconut oil
1 tbs vanilla essence
3 tbs agave
reserved date liquid (to taste)
1 tbs lemon juice

To make the crust, simply food process all the ingredients until they come together.  Press the resulting paste into a springform pan and put in the freezer to harden while you make the filling.

Blend or food process the filling ingredients.  Taste test and adjust seasonings.  If it tastes a bit “tofu-ish” add more lemon juice and agave.

Once you’re happy with the taste of the filling, spoon it over the prepared crust.  Leave in the freezer to firm up, approx 1-2 hours.

Sprinkle with raw matcha powder for an antioxidant hit!

P.S. I mixed then froze leftover filling and mung beans… it’s like mung bean vanilla icecream!

raw vanilla matcha cheesecake

raw vanilla matcha cheesecake

Ballistic about Buckwheat: Raw sprouted buckwheat bars

Hands up who loved Coco Pops or Rice Bubbles for breakfast when they were kids?  I for one, was a Coco Pop Princess.  My day commenced with hearing the “snap, crackle, pop” of rice puffed cereal swimming in milk.

This favourite childhood snack of mine is traditionally devoid of nutritional value – cue white rice and generous lashings of white sugar and preservatives.  I loved Coco Pops made into bars (similar to the Kellogg’s LCM crispy treat bars you find in the supermarkets) and set about imitating it.

But briefly, here’s some information on buckwheat.  The first foods that come to mind are soba noodles and buckwheat pancakes.  A reliable option for the gluten-intolerant, buckwheat flour is used in baking, replaces barley in the manufacturing of gluten-free beer and is a protein-packed nutritious substitute for rice.  It’s adaptable to use in almost any recipe – buckwheat porridge or buckwheat stuffed capsicums anyone?

The health benefits of buckwheat consumption include improving blood flow, lowering blood pressure and diabetes, and the prevention of gall stones, heart disease, heart failure and breast cancer among others.  The nutritional content is impressive.

  • Loaded with minerals – high in manganese, fibre, copper and magnesium; contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium
  • Low in saturated fat and sodium
  • No sugar or cholesterol
  • High in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, protein and essential amino acids
  • Vitamin-rich – thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid

Alright, without further ado is the recipe for raw veganised ‘rice crispy treats’.

Raw Sprouted Buckwheat Bars

1 1/2 cups sprouted buckwheat groats
1/2 cup chopped dates – soaked in filtered water the day before
1/4 cup raw cacao powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 heaped tbs tahini
1 heaped tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup chopped nuts of choice (I mixed almond and cashew together)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
A few days beforehand….

Firstly, soak the buckwheat groats in filtered water. I covered them overnight.

The next day wash the ‘sludge’ off thoroughly, drain them and give them a rinse with water.  I rinsed daily for about 4 days.

You can tell when they’re done as little tails start sprouting, signifying that nutritional content is at optimum levels.

I left the sprouted buckwheat out overnight as the humidity was low and I am operating sans dehydrator.  It worked a treat.

They’re now ready to be consumed!

blending buckwheat + dates + cacao

blending buckwheat + dates + cacao

The day before….

Soak the dates in enough water to cover them.  If you’re short on time soak for about 20 mins in warm water, until they soften.

 

Now finally the how-to…

  1. Remove the dates from their water but save it in case you need some of the liquid.
  2. Use a food processor to blend the dates, vanilla, sea salt, tahini, coconut oil, cacao powder and cinnamon until a paste forms.
  3. Turn off the food processor and mix in the sprouted buckwheat and chopped nuts until well combined.  Add some date soaking water if necessary, working slowly and bit by bit.
  4. Scoop out mixture into a pan or baking tray, flatten with a spatula or back of a spoon.  You can also shape into balls if you prefer.
  5. Freeze for at least 30 minutes to allow it to firm.
  6. Cut into slices with a sharp knife.  Store the bars in the freezer for extra crunch

 

raw buckwheat bars

raw buckwheat bars

Snap, crackle and pop your way through the day without the guilt.  So satisfying and kicks those cravings to the curb.

I’ve tried making them with prunes (instead of dates) and carob powder (instead of cacao) for a slight variation on flavour as well.  Tested both versions on my friends’ children – there was a flurry of seconds, thirds and enthusiastic finger-licking!

Next time I’ll try out an adulterated version, chai or coffee flavoured?  Let me know what flavours you come up with.

veganised rice crispy treats

veganised rice crispy treats

Kefir: The hush-hush nutritional gem of the Caucasian Region

First off, I bet a few of you are wondering what the heck is kefir?

Kefir is a probiotic drink made with either kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture.  There are two types of grains, milk kefir and water kefir.  Milk (dairy) kefir grains are (duh!) used with milks such as goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk.  Water kefir is used with sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water.

Kefir grains are comprised of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship.  NB:  It is not an actual ‘grain’ such as wheat or oat,  ‘grain’ merely describes the appearance of the culture.  Think cottage cheese.  It looks very similar!

milk kefir grains

milk kefir grains

The dominant micro-organisms in kefir are Saccharomyces kefir, Torula kefir, Lactobacillus caucasicus, Leuconnostoc species and Lactic Streptococci.  These beneficial micro-organisms are what makes kefir stand out from virtually all other cultured milk products.  Typical cultured milk and yoghurt products on the market today usually use only one, and rarely more than three species in the culturing process.  Furthermore, the heat-treating manufacturing process characteristic of these products kills the beneficial live ferments.

Centuries old kefir was first discovered when the shepherds of the Caucasus mountains noticed the fresh milk they transported in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into a tarty beverage.

Mystery surrounds kefir as legend has it that kefir grains were gifted to the Caucasus people from Mohammed, who instructed them on how to use the grains.  Mohammed forbade them from teaching others how to prepare kefir, or passing kefir grains to anyone else, because they would supposedly lose their ‘magical strength.’  This may explain why kefir grains and their preparation are shrouded in such secrecy.  Check out the historical tale involving a beautiful woman, Irina Sakharova, who reportedly enticed the then-prince of Russia into giving her kefir grains.

Ferments (sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh et al) are said to be an essential part of overall nutrition. These ‘super-metabolizers’  assist in gut health, increase digestability of foods, minimise constipation, preserve foods, and increase nutrient assimilation.

Kefir’s Health Benefits

New York Times best-selling author Dr Perricone is also a renowned healthy aging expert and dermatologist.  He rates kefir as one of his Top 10 Superfoods, reporting the drink has been “famously credited with the extraordinary longevity of people in the Caucasus.  Hospitals in the former Soviet Union use kefir—especially when no modern medical treatment is available—to treat conditions ranging from atherosclerosis, allergic disease, metabolic and digestive disorders and tuberculosis to cancer and gastrointestinal disorders.

A number of studies conducted to date have documented kefir’s ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance lactose digestion, and inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens— including the bacteria that cause most ulcers. This makes a lot of sense as scientists have since discovered that most ulcers are caused by an infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori and not spicy food, stomach acid or stress, as physicians erroneously believed for years.”

Veering off the traditional dessert route, this take combines the tartness of homemade coconut kefir with the sweetness of mangoes.  I had chopped mango stored in the freezer already, due to a buying frenzy in the summer months!  You can use whatever fruit is in season.

The chia seeds thicken the mixture into a pudding or custard consistency, and reminds me of the sago pudding served in Chinese restaurants during yum cha.

coconut + mango + chia

coconut + mango + chia

Coconut Kefir Chia Pudding

500ml homemade coconut milk kefir drink
handful of diced frozen mangoes
heaped tbs of chia seeds (how many tbs depends how many puddings you want to make)
stevia, to taste

Mix chia seeds and stevia with coconut kefir.

Pour approx 150ml of coconut chia mixture in each serving glass or bowl.

Drop in a few diced frozen mangoes in each glass.

Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to thicken.

Optional: decorate with drizzles of agave and some fresh mint leaves to garnish.

Coconut Kefir

2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup milk kefir grains

I simply made the coconut kefir drink by combining approx 1/4 cup milk kefir grains with 2 cups coconut milk.

This was left to ferment in a tightly closed glass jar for 24 hours (in the pantry).

I then strained the milk kefir grains and put the fermented milk in the fridge, reusing the kefir grains for another batch.

If it’s too tart for your tastebuds, you can add some agave or honey to the strained milk.

The resulting taste is very similar to the drinking yoghurts widely available in Europe.

Took these babies to a friend’s house for dinner where it brought back all-too-distant memories of sun, sand, surf and mango daiquiris!

tropical kefir pudding