Sunday, July 18, 2021

Focaccia with Olive Herb l Focaccia mit Olivenkraut

Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread, served as a side or (depending on whether you top it with herbs, veggies and fruits or not) made into a sandwich. Basically, it only requires five ingredients, flour, water, yeast, olive oil and salt. Accordingly, my rustic Herb Focaccia recipe is easy to make and to adapt with whatever herbs you have on hand.

While there are countless recipes and variations of Focaccia, for my version of Herb Focaccia, I chose one of my favorite herbs, the so-called ‘olive herb’ (bot. Santolina viridis or Santolina rosmarinifolia), also known as ‘holy flax’. 

It is a perennial, hardy and woody plant that is rather low maintenance. It grows as a small, compact shrub up to 30 to 50cm (12 to 20in) high which makes it ideal as a hedge and in borders, it is also well suited to growing in containers which means it can easily go on a sunny terrace or balcony.

This culinary plant has dark green needle-like leaves that are reminiscent of rosemary and which have the flavor and aroma of marinated green olives. Come summertime, it is known to produce small yellow button flowers, which I used for dressing up my Focaccia as well.

The olive herb can be grown from seed but they are not always easy to find. After the plant flowers, it produces achenes (source), a type of nut fruit which can be sown in early spring. In spring, it can be propagated through cuttings, much the same as you would do for propagating rosemary.

The plant is so low maintenance that you can simply plant it and forget it. Like most woody herbs, it likes full sun and well-drained soil. And, according to my humble experience, it seems to be tolerant of most diseases and garden pests. 

The culinary uses of olive herb are countless. It adds a savory flavor to many dishes and once you start using it, you will find it to be very versatile in the kitchen. For example, you can add it to salads, or pasta, but also to marinades, pesto, mushroom dishes, pizza, and, of course to focaccia. You can also use it in place of rosemary, with fish or roast meats and make flavored salts. To make flavored salt, start with about 75g (0.25 cup) coarse salt plus ½ tsp dried olive herb.

The little branches can also be used for cocktails and drinks or cut and hung to dry for later use.

Focaccia with Olive Herb l Focaccia mit Olivenkraut


  • 300g strong baking flour ( '00')
  • 1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 21g fresh yeast OR 7gr dried yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (suitable for cooking), plus some for drizzling the dough and for brushing the herbs just before baking
  • 200ml warm water 
  • a few sprigs of olive herb or other woody herbs such as thyme, rosemary, lavender, bay, marjoram, sage or hyssop

To finish and for dipping

  • olive oil, mild, preferably a fruity olive oil
  • flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon


  1. Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 100ml of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough, then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
  2. Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the center, turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the process for about five minutes.
  3. Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size.
  4. Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and flatten the dough onto the prepared tray, pushing to the corners, cover with a large plastic bag, making sure it does not touch the top of the dough, then leave to prove again - for about one hour.
  5. Preheat your oven to 220°C or as hot as it will go.
  6. Now, if you wish to top the Focaccia with herbs, just before you drizzle the bread with olive oil, make small indentations all over the dough, then break off small sprigs of the herb you are using from a couple of larger sprigs, and push the small sprigs into each indentation or try to tush them into the dough as best as you can. OR just drizzle the Focaccia with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt then bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden.
  7. When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve straight from the oven or warm/at room temperature.

Recipe Tips

  • Try adding other garden herbs or leave the focaccia herb free.
  • Serve with your favorite fruity, high-quality olive oil for dipping, some additional fleur de sel or Maldon salt for sprinkling and some olives for munching alongside.
  • When stale, cut or break into chunks and fry in olive oil (the one that is suitable for cooking) – so you will end up with lovely croutons for your salad – maybe a for a Panzanella (a summery Italian bread and tomato salad) or an American Caesar salad.

More Focaccia inspiration from my blog:

Focaccia with Butternut Squash and Winter Sage (Focaccia mit Butternut Kürbis und Wintersalbei) (HERE)

Focaccia with Za’atar (Focaccia mit Za'atar) (HERE)

Wild Garlic and Cheese Focaccia (Focaccia mit Bärlauch und Käse) (HERE)

Fennel and Grape Focaccia (Fenchel-Trauben Focaccia) (HERE)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Seasonal Baking: Apricot-Mixed Grain Crumb Bars

These summery bars have three components, the buttery, shortbread-y crust, the fruity filling with homemade apricot jam and apricot slices and the mixed grain-almond crumble. None of the three require the use of an electric mixer, meaning that they can be made entirely by hand. 

And I would even go so far as to say that when you compare these bars to other dessert bars, they do have a certain healthy-ish, feel-good advantage -  as I use spelt flour for the base and mixed grain flakes as well as almonds for the crumble, as well as fresh seasonal stone fruit for the filling – all in all resulting in wonderfully delicious, summery dessert bar that is also fantastic for breakfast or simply as a snack. Of course, coarse oats can be used instead of the coarse mixed grain flakes.

First up the buttery crust, once all the components are roughly mixed together, butter and line a square (brownie) baking pan with baking parchment, dump the buttery mix into the pan and, using a floured measuring cup (or similar suitable piece of equipment with a flat bottom) make sure to flatten and only slightly press on the ingredients, until you have a uniform layer of crust. Then freeze that for about 15 minutes. Pre-heat your oven in the meantime and prepare the filling and the topping while the crust is freezing and baking. Pre-baking for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on your oven) is a must here - just until the crust is golden.

For the fruity filling use homemade or good-quality (meaning a high ratio of fruit to sugar) jam or preserve. You will also add a layer of peeled and thinly sliced apricots. Apricots are in season and abundantly available these days. Make sure to try a few before using, just to make sure they are ripe but not too soft for peeling. To peel, mark the fruit with an x, boil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (depending on the ripeness of your fruit), transfer to a bowl with ice water, peel, de-stone and slice (depending on the size of the apricot, about 4 slices per half). If apricots are not your thing, you can substitute equal amounts of stone-fruits and jam/preserve, like peaches, nectarines or later in the season, even plums.

Lastly, prepare the crumble layer. Once you finished the crumble, leave it in the freezer while the shortbread crust is baking and cooling. Now I love the taste and bite of mixed grains and coarse oats but if you don’t, just use quick cooking oats instead of the coarse oats. As far as the coarse oats are concerned, I use a mix of organic grain flakes consisting of coarse oats, wheat, rye, spelt and barley but all coarse oats is just as delicious. And I add flaked almonds to the crumble mix as well but you can omit them if you prefer a nut free recipe.

The apricots: fresh apricots are loose-stoned fruit that range in color from pale yellow to flushed pink. When they are ripe, their flesh is sweet, soft and juicy. They can vary greatly in quality. If they taste somewhat mealy when eaten fresh, cook them into a dish and they will become very flavorsome.

Apricots make wonderful jam if cooked with sugar and lemon juice. The jam is commonly used as a glaze on pastries, tarts and cakes, just melt the jam with water and strain before applying. And the strong sweet-tart taste of apricots makes them generally popular in desserts and sauces. 

The seeds or kernals of the apricot pits, which are poisonous until roasted, are used in confections and to flavor liqueurs. Seeds or kernels of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. Did you realize that the popular Italian liqueur Amaretto as well as the wonderful Amaretti Biscotti are flavored with extract of apricot kernels rather than almonds. And oil pressed from these cultivars has been used as cooking oil as well (Aprikosenkernöl).

While the amazing flavor of the apricots is undisputed, the origin of the apricot is another story. The apricot was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long that it is often thought to have originated there. Its scientific name Prunus armeniaca (translated as Armenian plum) derives from that very assumption. And the Belgian arborist Baron de Poerderlé, writing in the 1770s, stated that "Cet arbre tire son nom de l'Arménie, province d'Asie, d'où il est originaire et d'où il fut porté en Europe ..." ("this tree takes its name from Armenia, province of Asia, where it is native, and whence it was brought to Europe ..."). Others, however, argue that apricots originated in China or were first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC. It is said Alexander the Great brought them to Greece and they were first introduced to the New World in the early 18th century by Spanish missionaries in California. Wherever apricots were cultivated first, they are delicious and healthy with a rather short season, so indulge while you can.

Apricot-Mixed Grain Crumb Bars


For the Shortbread Crust 

  • 200g (1 ½ cups) white spelt flour OR use all purpose (plain) flour
  • 70g (1/3 cup) superfine (baking) sugar 
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar
  • 1 pinch of fine salt
  • 140g (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Fruity Filling

  • 140g (5 ounces) apricot jam or preserves (preferably homemade)
  • 8 to 10 smallish fresh apricots (peeled and pitted, they weigh about 250g)

For the Crumbly Topping

  • 45g (1/3 cup) white spelt flour OR use all purpose (plain) flour
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar OR use light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp superfine (baking) sugar
  • 8g pure vanilla sugar
  • a pinch of fine salt
  • ¼ tsp Ceylon cinnamon OR go with ground cardamom instead if cinnamon is not your thing
  • 45g (½ cup) coarse multi gran flakes OR coarse oats OR use quick-cooking oats if you prefer 
  • 45g (½ cup) flaked almonds
  • 45g (3 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature


  1. Butter a 20x20cm (8inx8in) square baking pan (such as a brownie pan) and line with parchment paper (preferably with overlapping baking paper, so the baked bars can easily be lifted from the pan without breaking).
  2. For the crust: in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture and mix, using your hands. until it comes together in a crumbly batter. Dump this into the parchment lined pan and press into an even layer, corner to corner. Then cover and put the crust into the freezer for 15 minutes or until nice and firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375° F). 
  4. For the filling: while the crust is in the freezer, peel your apricots. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cut a small X into the bottom of each fruit. Dunk the apricots into the boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. The skin should peel off easily starting from the X. Slice the apricot flesh into small wedges and set aside.
  5. Remove the pan with the crust from freezer and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until deep golden.
  6. For the topping: assemble the topping by placing all the ingredients into a bowl and squeazing them together with a fork or your fingers. Place in the freezer until ready to use.
  7. Once you removed the baked crust from the oven, you should allow it to cool slightly before coating with the jam/preserves, followed by the fresh slices, spaced to cover. Then top that with the cooled crumble topping and return to the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and baked through.
  8. Transfer to a cooling rack and make sure to allow to cool completely before cutting so that the jam/preserve and fruit filling can set properly. NOTE: These are definitely best eaten the day they are made but leftovers can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a day (well wrapped, of course to keep moisture away from their buttery goodness).

Below is a collage of Yotam Ottolanghi's Apricot & Rosemary Galette, that I made a while ago, for more on this lovely, seasonal apricot recipe, pls go HERE

In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. And dreaming of apricots, in English folklore, is said to be good luck. 

"Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,

With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries,"

William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene 1

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Zucchini-Red Lentil Fritters With Lemony Yogurt Dip

These crispy, crackly Zucchini-Red Lentil Fritters take inspiration from the traditional Bengali onion snacks called Piyaju (red lentil fritters with onions). Soaked and blended red lentils make up the batter, which is then spiked with turmeric and chile powder. Onion, zucchini and parsley add texture. And frying them in ghee (a hard fat that is obtained by heating butter made from the milk of a cow or a buffalo, used in Indian cooking) at relatively high heat until they turn deep golden brown makes them crunchy on the outside, while the inside stays moist.

While these fritters look like Pakoras or Onion Bhaji known from Indian cuisine, they take their main texture from the soaked and ground red lentils rather than from chickpea flour. Also, the veggie ratio in these frittres is somewhat higher than with a Pakora or Bhaji. 

A few years back we made Onion Bhajis with gram flour (aka chickpea flour) as well as Cauliflower Pakoras with Tamarind Raita for the Cottage Cooking Club, both recipes being from the 2011 edition of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookbook, "River Cottage Everyday Veg". See the pics/collages below. And the whole family loved these. So when I came across the recipe for these Red Lentil-Zucchini Fritters, I knew I had to give it a try.

Before you get started on the recipe, you have to soak the red lentils for a while – I soaked them for a good four hours before proceeding with the recipe.

Also, about an hour before you want to fry these, you have to cut up the onion and the zucchini, salt them and place them in a colander to drain off any extra liquid or moisture before continuing on with the recipe. After you drained the liquid from the veg, make sure to blot them with a kitchen towel, no need to squeeze them, as that will break up the veggies too much and leave you with less texture after frying.

You are aiming for a crispy outside with lots of texture from the added onions as well as the parsley with the tender stems attached – make sure to give them a good two minutes per side, so they fry up to a nice golden brown crunchiness. 

Zucchini-Red Lentil Fritters With Lemony Yogurt

(inspired by Sohla El-Waylly)


For the Lemony Yogurt

  • ¾ cup whole-milk yogurt (if you prefer, you can use Greek yogurt)
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • salt

For the Fritters

  • 200g (1 cup) red lentils (I used organic lentils from my favorite health food store - althought these are bright orange, they are called red lentils)
  • 1 zucchini (M) 
  • ½ onion (M), thinly sliced
  • 1¾ tsp salt, divided, plus more
  • ½ tsp chile powder (such as Kashmiri chile powder) or ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cup Italian/flat-leaf parsley leaves with tender stems
  • 1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest (organic or untreated)
  • 1 cup ghee or neutral vegetable oil (such as rapeseed or sunflower oil, suitable for frying)


Lemony Yogurt

  1. Whisk yogurt, lemon juice, and sugar in a small bowl to combine. Season with salt and whisk again to combine. NOTE: Yogurt can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.


  1. Rinse red lentils, then soak in 2 cups water at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 12 (again, I soaked them for 4 hours). Soaking the lentils will make it easier to blend them.
  2. Slice the zuchini into matchsticks (about the size of a skinny french fry). Transfer zucchini to a colander set in a medium bowl. Add the sliced onion and 1 tsp salt to colander and toss to combine. Let zucchini and onion sit until about 1 Tbsp liquid has released and the vegetables look wilted and soft, 30mins to 2 hours (for me, 1 hour usually does the trick). Gently blot dry to remove any excess moisture. NOTE: the less moisture in the veggies, the less soggy your fritters will be, so be sure not to skip this step.
  3. Drain lentils and transfer to a food processor. Add chile powder, turmeric, and ¾ tsp salt. Pulse, scraping down sides, until a purée forms. Transfer to a medium bowl and add zucchini and onion mixture, parsley, and lemon zest. Toss well with a rubber spatula to combine.
  4. Heat ghee in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high until a small amount of batter added to the fat sizzles and sputters. Carefully drop ¼ cup batter into ghee, then flatten to a pancake with the back of a large metal spoon dipped into the hot ghee to prevent sticking. Repeat 3 times for a total of 4 fritters. Fry until deep golden brown on one side (look for the color of a well-fried falafel), about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn with a slotted spatula or large spoon and continue to fry until deep golden brown on the second side, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer fritters to a wire rack set in a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain. Season immediately with salt. Repeat with remaining batter (you should have about 8 to 10 fritters).
  5. Transfer fritters to a platter. Serve hot with lemony yogurt alongside.

For more on the Onion Bhajis, pls take a look HERE.

For more on the Cauliflower Pakoras with Tamarind Raita, pls thake a look HERE.