I’m back!

I just wanted to write a quick post to explain the absence of blog updates in the last six months.  I had been working really hard on the blog up to my trip to Nicaragua last September.  All the hard work paid off when I was short listed for the Irish Blog Awards.  I was delighted to have reached my goal and took a break while I was on my travels.  When I returned I found that my focus had shifted slightly.  I began a yoga teacher training course when in October and since then most of my energy has been going towards that.

Initially I felt a lot of guilt and stress at neglecting the blog, as I struggled to juggle my full time job, as well as working on the blog which is very time consuming, as well as yoga practice and study, as well as working on my other goals and not to mention finding time for a social life and relaxation!

I decided to just go with the flow and do what felt right.  I allowed my work on the blog to slide for a little while.  Many people asked me when I would be updating it or if I had given it up.  I didn’t have an answer for them but I knew that there was no point in working on the blog if it was becoming stressful or a chore, whereas it had begun from a place of passion, creativity, fun and excitement.

In the last  couple of months I have been missing blogging, and my enthusiasm and passion for Natural Fuel has been returning.  I have a lot less time to dedicate to the blog compared to what I had last year but I am planning to continue!  I am hoping to design a completely new website in the coming months.  In the meantime I will be posting new entries here when I can and I will be active on social media.

I am really looking forward to interacting with the blogging world again and seeing where life will take me (and the blog) next! :-)

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Raw Lemon Tart

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I am by no means a raw foodie.  While I do see the huge benefit of consuming plenty of raw plant based foods, I love cooking as well as the flavour and texture of cooked food so I am happy with maintaining a balance between both.   Raw cauliflower ‘rice’ and ‘notatoes’ are just not for me!  My obsession with raw cakes and desserts however continues to grow and grow!  Unlike some underwhelming raw savoury dishes that I have tried (I have also tried many very tasty ones!) I have never ever eaten a raw cake or raw dessert that was not totally delicious.  They are usually bursting with as much yummy flavour as their dairy and sugar laden counterparts, but leave you feeling much healthier, better and lighter afterwards, even after several slices…

This month’s raw cake experiment was this raw lemon tart.  I used the same type of base that I use for all my ‘cheesecake’ bases and like my white chocolate and strawberry cake, used cashews for the filling, along with the ‘secret’ ingredient… seaweed! This was required in order to get a texture closer to lemon curd and lemon meringue pie.  It works,  it doesn’t taste of fish, and no one has to know! ;-)  But they might be pretty interested if you tell them!

The seaweed or ‘sea vegetable’ I used is Carrageen ‘Chondrus Crispus’ also called Carageenan and ‘Irish Moss’.  This food was traditionally eaten along Ireland’s coast lines, particularly the Western sea board, for centuries, where it was steamed and eaten with potatoes.  It has become popular in vegetarian and vegan cooking as it has thickening, binding and gelling properties similar to gelatin so that it can be used to make animal free jellies and desserts.   Many see it as a super food, containing masses of trace minerals, as well as protein, calcium and magnesium while others claim that it should be entirely avoided as it will cause inflammation and digestive issues.  It seems that this mostly refers to carageenan gum which has been highly processed and is in a entirely different form than unprocessed sun dried carrageen straight from the sea.

There is no evidence for either side of the argument so my stance here is moderation is key!  If you eat kilos of carrageen it probably wouldn’t be very good for your body, just like if you ate kilos of anything else.  A slice or three of raw lemon curd cake is just fine in my opinion!   As with all sea vegetables, I would only use organic varieties due to the massive pollution and contamination which we are destroying the oceans with! I pick organic nori for my sushi and salads as well.

The agave syrup in this recipe is another controversial ingredient in the health world, as above, I use it in moderation, but if you avoid it entirely, experiment with using a different liquid based sweetener instead.  The turmeric in this recipe is just to add a yellow colour, don’t use too much or you’ll get an Indian spiced lemon cake! That has actually just given me an idea for chai lemon blondie bars but I’ll leave that to another day!!…  I served this cake with raw vanilla cashew cream, just blend one cup of soaked cashews with one third cup of water, vanilla and sweetener.

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INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • 1 cup walnuts (soaked overnight)
  • 1 cup almonds (soaked overnight)
  • 6 – 10 dates
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 50g carrageenan or Irish moss  (soaked overnight)
  • 1 cup lemon juice (4- 5 lemons)
  • 1 cup agave syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup cashews (soaked overnight)
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • Pinch of turmeric powder

To make the crust, soak the almonds and walnuts in a large bowl of filtered water for 8 – 12 hours.  Drain and put in a food processor along with the dates, vanilla essence  and salt.  If you are unsure of the moisture content of your dates, add six and pulse the mixture.  If you think that it needs a bit moisture to bind together,  then add an extra two and pulse each time, until you get a consistency like moist breadcrumbs.  Line the base of a spring form pan with parchment paper and press the mixture in to the pan.  Press down firmly with your fingers or the back of a spoon to ensure that the filling is smooth, solid and compacted.  Place in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Soak 50g of carrageenan in one cups of water overnight.   Make sure to use a big bowl as it’s volume will expand.  Remove from the water and rinse in a sieve.  Place the carrageenan and 1 cup of water in a blender and process until very smooth.  Rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers,  if it feels a bit grainy, process it again until it’s totally smooth.  It’s volume will expand and it will become warm from the processing, this is okay!  When smooth and thickened, add the lemon juice and agave nectar and process until well combined and smooth.  You want everything about this cake to be smooth, smooth, smooth!  Add the cashews, vanilla, turmeric and continue to blend until… smooth!  Finally add the coconut oil and blend thoroughly.  Pour into the crust and chill for an hour or two in the fridge before serving.  You can also pour this filling in to individual soufflé pots.

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Soft Spinach Polenta with Grilled Tomatoes and Pinenuts

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This is a simple and quite filling lunch or brunch.  I’ll admit that I haven’t always been a fan of polenta in it’s softer, creamy form. Sometimes it reminds me of bland mushy gruel!  And it never looks too appetising either, a bit grainy and lumpy and bleugh!  I usually prefer it to be hardened and then baked or fried to add texture and flavour.   Soft polenta on it’s own is certainly not very exciting… (Does anyone disagree?!)
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However depending on what you combine it with, you can create a soft polenta with great texture and flavour. The pine nuts add texture and wonderful earthy flavour while the juice of the warm tomatoes add a sharper taste and moisture to the creamy thick polenta.   To be honest I only made this meal because I was too lazy and hungry to wait for the polenta to set as I usually do, so I decided to try to make soft polenta more tasty and appetising.  Trust me, it worked!
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This quantity also makes enough for some of the polenta mixture to be reserved and set, to be fried or baked later.  You may as well if you’re already boiling some up!  Simply pour the remaining soft polenta in to a shallow oiled dish or tray and allow to harden.  The hardened polenta can then be sliced and baked or fried.
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Polenta is made from finely ground corn meal.  It is a great alternative to use for wheat free or gluten free cooking.  I always try to use all organic ingredients where possible, although I understand that this is not always feasible.  I have however stressed organic polenta in this recipe due to the high levels of GMO corn on the market.  Polenta is a great source of dietary fibre and anti oxidant phytonutrients.  It is also high in complex carbohydrates, which means that it is slowly digested by the body and is great for providing long term energy.
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INGREDIENTS:
  • 120g organic polenta
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 big handfuls spinach leaves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
 Boil 750ml of water along with some salt, and then lower the heat.  Slowly pour the polenta in to the water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Add the herbs, some pepper and the garlic.  Stir to combine.  Pour in the olive oil.  Tear the spinach and stir in to the mixture. Continue to simmer, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick.  Meanwhile cut the tomato in half and place on a baking tray under the grill/broiler, along with the pinenuts.  Spoon half of the polenta in to a bowl and top with the tomatoes and pine nuts.  Season with salt and pepper.
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Organic Red Quinoa Tabbouleh with Chickpea Flat Bread

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I have just recently discovered a whole new food that I never knew existed.  A mind blowingly delicious food.  A healthy, protein filled, wheat and gluten free food.  A super quick and easy food.  I feel cheated that I have been going through life unaware of the existance of Socca!  For those of you who don’t know, Socca, also known as Farinata, Torta Di Ceci or Cecina is a type of flat bread made from chickpea flour, popular mainly along the Ligurian Sea coast from Nice, France to Pisa, Italy -having apparently originated in Genoa.   There is also a very similar dish from Algeria called Karantita.
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 I came across the basic recipe for Socca or Farinatta while browsing popular cooking blog The Kitchn.  Chickpeas are one of my favourite foods ever and I am always eager to find new wheat free versions of bread so I began experimenting with it straight away.  I expected that I would mess it up a few times before I got it right, but on my first go it came out perfect, illustrating just how easy it is.  You simply make a batter of chickpea flour, water, oil and seasoning.  This can then be cooked under the grill/broiler, or oven baked, and it can be varied to a thin or thick consistency.  Olive oil is more traditionally used but I find coconut oil particularly delicious with Socca.   I sprinkle the wedges liberally with salt and pepper when done.  They are best eaten piping hot.  Chickpea flour or Gram Flour as it is also know can be easily found in Middle Eastern and South Asian stores.
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I have mostly just been eating Socca on it’s own as it is so tasty, quick and easy -perfect for a snack.  I wanted however to begin experimenting by using it as a bread and pizza substitute also.  This quinoa tabbouleh goes brilliantly with thin wedges of Socca instead of Lebanese flat bread -making this meal perfect for people avoiding wheat and gluten.   Middle Eastern cuisine is probably my favourite type of food.  There are great vegetarian and vegan options and it tends to be very healthy.  I usually do a twist on classic taboulleh salad by using quinoa instead of bulghar wheat.  The flavour remains pretty much exactly the same but the wheat and gluten is cut out, while raising the protein content massively.
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INGREDIENTS:

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 1/2 cup red quinoa
  • 1 handful fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint (finely chopped)
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Socca / Chickpea Flatbread

  • 1 cup gram flour
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1-2 clove garlic (grated)
  • 3-4 tbsp Coconut Oil

Cook the quinoa and combine it with all of the other ingredients.  I like to do this in a food processor as I hate chopping onions and herbs!  To make the Socca, sieve the gram flour plus one cup of water in to a bowl.  Add the spices and herbs, then whisk vigorously to remove some of the lumps.  Allow to stand for ten minutes to half an hour.  To cook under the grill/broiler, melt some coconut oil in a frying pan underneath the grill.   Make sure that you use plenty of oil so that the mixture doesn’t stick.  When melted, pour the batter in to the pan and place under the grill until cooked, crisping and browning.  Remove with a spatula.  For a thinner pancake, split the batter in half and make two batches.  This is what I did for this recipe.  Each crepe took about 10 minutes but it will depend on the heat level and distance from the grill.  For a thicker pancake, you will obviously need to leave it under the heat much longer.  Alternatively you can bake the batter on a rimmed pizza stone or similar tray until set and cooked through.

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Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

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Lately I have really been noticing how bright the evenings are getting and it makes me very happy and positive!  I am planning to do loads of hiking and exploring nature this year so I can’t wait until the days are little bit longer to facilitate this better.  I am yet to see my first snowdrop, but they are out, and the other spring flowers will be following soon.  Although sadly the seasons are getting increasingly altered -I did a double take when I spotted my favourite tree, cherry, fully blossoming in the middle of december so perhaps I shouldn’t be using flowers to gauge the arrival of spring!
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Although spring is somewhat in the air, it’s not quite in the weather yet, and here in Ireland the coldest winter weather can last into March so I am still making lots of warming winter dishes like this creamy roasted root vegetable soup.  Root veggies such as these are in season here at the moment, making them plentiful and cheap.  Roasting the vegetables and using fresh herbs instead of dried really adds flavour to this soup, while the cashew nuts add a creamy texture along with some extra protein.  I brought a big tub of this in to work for my lunches last week.  I had no wheat free bread so I dipped dark rye crispbreads in to it which was delicious!
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I made this soup in my new high powered blender, my new favourite thing!  I’ve been having green smoothies every morning for breakfast made with my own homemade almond milk, and love making my own blend of almond butter with a hint of coconut. I had been wanting to get a Vitamix for months, but I couldn’t justify the expense.  I ended up buying a similar blender for half the price, but with all the same functionality.  Time will tell if I would have been better off buying the Vitamix but my brand has a seven year warranty so that sounds good to me!  I think that the extra money would just have be paying for the brand name!
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Obviously I am going to be using my blender for a lot of recipes from now on, but I still want my recipes to be adaptable and accessible,, so wherever possible I will adapt the recipe to be made with more standard kitchen equipment also.  Take this soup for example -I made mine in the blender but you can make it on the stove also.  If you don’t have a high powdered blender to blend the cashews, use unsweetened almond milk instead to add some creaminess.  I list both ways in the recipe below.
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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 medium Turnip
  • 1 medium Parsnip
  • 2 medium Carrot
  • 1 small bulb Fennell
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Rosemary
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Up to 1 litre boiling water or stock
  • 1/2 cup cashews (soaked overnight) or 200ml unsweetened almond milk

Roast cubes of the turnip, parsnip, carrot and fennell at 200 degrees celcius for 30 – 40 minutes until browned and tender.  Cooking time will depend on the size of your cubes. Add the garlic about half way through.

To make in a high powered blender, transfer the drained, soaked cashews to the blender along with about 100ml of water. Blend until smooth.  You can adjust the quantity of water to get the creamy consistency which you prefer. Then add the stock or water, followed by the roast vegetables and herbs.  You might need to do this in batches.  Season and blend until you get your desired consistency.  Depending on your vegetables, you may want to add some more water.  I like to serve this as a very smooth, but thick soup.  If you want to eat the soup straight away, check if it’s warm enough for you.  If not, if you run the blender long enough, the friction heat will have it warmed up after a few minutes.  You can also just reheat it on the stove.

To make this soup entirely on the stove, transfer the roast vegetables to a large pot, add the unsweetened non dairy milk along with the water or stock (reduced to about 800ml) and herbs.  Season and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about twenty minutes to allow the flavours to infuse, and then puree with a hand held blender if desired.
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Moroccan Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine

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I originally posted this recipe as a guest post on Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary’s blog.  They are a wonderful organisation who do amazing compassionate work with farm animals.   I will explain more about their organisation after I have explained the recipe!

This Moroccan inspired vegetable tagine is bursting with flavour as well as nutrients.  The wide variety of vegetables ensure you are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Moroccan cooking requires some specialised ingredients, but I am all for being flexible and creative in the kitchen!  You can easily adapt this dish if you don’t have them to hand.  Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice mix. Traditionally this was an individual mixture of the most common and best available spices sold by each vendor in the market, the name ‘Ras El Hanout’ meaning ‘best of the shop’.

Ras El Hanout is widely available as a ready made spice blend but if you can’t get your hands on it, try making up your own blend using traditional Moroccan spices according to your own tastes.  Some of the traditional spices used in Moroccan cooking are cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, sweet paprika, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg and anise.  Harissa is a fiery paste made from red chilli peppers and garlic.  It is what gives this dish it’s kick.  If you can’t get any harissa, try adding in some dried red chilli pepper flakes and an extra clove of garlic.  Preserved lemons are lemons which have been pickled in fermented brine and spices. Replace with two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice if you have no preserved lemon, but if they are available near you it is worth trying them out as they add a wonderful depth of flavour.

Tagines are traditionally served with couscous or bulgar wheat. If you are avoiding wheat you could try spelt couscous. For gluten free options try serving with Moroccan rice, or quinoa for a really nutritious meal!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 butternut squash, diced
  • 1 can chickpeas (240g drained)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ⅓ cup flaked almonds (reserve some for garnish)
  • 2 tsp Moroccan ras el hanout
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1/2 preserved lemon
  • 20 mint leaves (some extra for garnish)

Dry fry the almonds on a low heat until browning and set aside. Heat some oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and red pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and spices and stir well. Add the stock, harissa, mint and preserved lemon.  Stir to combine and then add the carrots and butternut squash. Bring the saucepan to the boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the apricots, almonds and cherry tomatoes and then simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the squash and carrots are tender.  Garnish with some more toasted almonds and fresh mint leaves.

Now on to the wonderful work of Mino Valley farm animal sanctuary, whose owners were originally from the UK but moved to Gallica, Northern Spain looking for a simpler life.  Those behind Mino Valley believe that all animals deserve our love, respect and kindness, and they aim to create a safe haven for rescued farm animals to live out their lives in freedom -free from pain, suffering and the burden of expectation. Their very admirable mission is Rescue. Rehabilitate. Educate.

I shed a tear (ok, definitely more than one tear!!) reading the stories of the animals which have been lucky enough to have found a new home at Mino Valley.  Here are just two examples.

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Arwen Gandalf

“Since arriving at Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary our lives have been transformed beyond our wildest dreams, and for the first time we believe that we may actually have a chance at happiness.  Before coming here all we had ever known was the inside of a tiny cage barely big enough to even turn around.  We led a lonely life only knowing of each others existence by sound but never sight.  We never knew sunlight, and we were never allowed outside to stretch our legs.

Not being able to exercise caused me to lose all strength in my back legs and now I can only drag myself from place to place.  Us pigs are naturally clean animals that would never go to toilet where we sleep and eat, but our cages were never cleaned out and we were forced to live in a pile of our own excrement for years, to the point that our legs and feet are badly damaged.  We were only given just enough food to keep us alive.

The farmer had a short temper and I never understood why he was so aggressive and cruel towards us. Eagerly we awaited food, yet equally we feared our tormentors arrival not knowing what blow he would deliver next.  For years we lived like this, and each day felt longer than the last, especially those when no-one came to give us food and water.

When someone found out about the terrible conditions we were living in they tried to find us a new home where we would be loved and cared for.   Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary chanced across our story and set to work immediately to get us out of there.  When the people finally came to rescue us they were horrified when they saw we were all skin and bones and desperately malnourished.   After a long 9 hour journey across Spain we arrived at the sanctuary.  With our new lives come our new names; Gandalf, Frodo and Arwen.

We never knew that beyond those four walls that confined us was a whole other world.   A kind world where we get to feel the sunshine on our backs and earth under our feet.   A world where we can snuffle from morning to night, feast on fresh fruit and vegetables and explore the wonders of the forest.”

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“We are Mario and Olivia and we have travelled all the way from Seville to get to Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.  When we were very little we lived in a terrible place where it was considered normal to kill us sheep with a kick in the head when we are small or by slitting the throat when we are adults.  Our owner didn’t look after us properly and he said we were worthless, so he decided he was going to stamp on our heads too.

Someone from one of the local dog shelters heard about us and came to our rescue.  When they saw us they couldn’t believe the awful state we were in. They bottle fed us and gave us so much love and attention, and we came to learn that not all humans were as bad as we thought.  We enjoyed our time at Fundación Benjamín Mehnert very much but it was only ever a temporary home for us.

Fundación Benjamín Mehnert searched high and low for the perfect place for us to spend the rest of our lives where we could live free, and in the end they decided that place was Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.”

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I am so in awe of the fantastic difference that this farm sanctuary makes to the lives of the animals, as well as raising awareness of the suffering and cruelty which is inflicted on these innocent, defencless animals, and billions more like them.

To learn more about the sanctuary, adopt a farm animal, or make a donation, check out their website, blog, facebook and twitter!

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Crispy Potato & Fennel Rosti with Herby Bean Mash

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This is a lovely vegan brunch option.  Just fancy enough to give you that pampered Sunday morning feeling, but simple and quick enough for lazy Sunday heads, with the exception of hungover ones!  If you’re hungover, get someone else to make this for you! ;-)

Fennel is a vegetable that I don’t ever buy myself to cook with, but once again my weekly organic fruit & veggies box delivery brought me a new opportunity.   Much like when I was presented with four beetroot, when I saw the leafy fronds of fennel sticking out of my order I was excited to get the opportunity to try out cooking a vegetable which I rarely eat, and never cook with.   I became converted to beetroot a few weeks ago, and now I am converted to fennel!   Nutrition wise, fennel has strong anti oxidant activity and is an excellent source of vitamin C.   It also offers a very good source of fibre and potassium, and a good source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins.   And what a beautiful flavour!   It adds a wonderful fresh, sweet, lightness to the rosti without overpowering the traditional potato flavour.   The crispy rosti pairs great with the warm, soft, herby bean mash.   Perfect for setting you up for a busy Sunday afternoon, or you could do what I did, and take it back to bed with you while you decide how to spend your day!

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 small onion
  • Cooked beans of your choice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Fresh rosemary and thyme to season
Grate the raw potato, fennel and onion coarsely.   Use a medium sized hole and try to get the strips as long as possible.   Place them all in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.   I put them all in the middle of the towel, make a ball, and twist the edges of the tea towel around to make a little package.   With one hand, twist the free ends as tightly as you can.   Squeeze the moisture out of the ball with the other.   When you think you have gotten as much as you can, squeeze again!!  Aaand again!  Let it sit for two minutes, and squeeze once more!  The mixture will not work if there is too much water.Place the mixture in a bowl and season well with pepper, and a little of the chopped herbs if you like.  You can fry these on a pan, or bake in the oven for a healthier recipe.   To fry, heat a good amount of oil in a pan on high heat.   Reduce the heat to medium after a minute or two.  Take a heaped tablespoon of the of the mixture and place in the hot oil.   Push down hard several times with a spatula to make a flat compacted cake.   If you have a chef’s ring, these are useful to help form the rostis and keep their shape.   Push down regularly for even browning and flip once one side is browned.  Make sure that they are cooked through -this will depend on how thick your rosti is.   You could also lightly brown both sides and then finish in an oven at 170 degrees Celsius if your mixture is not holding together well (did you squeeze like I told you?! :-) ).  For a healthier option with less oil, you can oven bake completely. Form the rostis on an oiled baking tray and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about thirty minutes until crisping.Serve with the white bean herb mash -simply lightly fry some onion and garlic in a pan, add some cooked beans (white beans are nice with this), season and add plenty of fresh rosemary and thyme.  Mash the beans and cook on a low heat until warmed through.

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