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Small dishes to beat the blues

Although it is unusually mild, the light is starting to fade and I’m aware of the long fingers of winter tugging at my mood. Over the decades I’ve found ways to manage the seasonal blues. Spending time in the fresh air during daylight hours definitely helps, whether it’s a stroll in the park or pottering in the garden. Wrapping myself in gorgeous woollens also lifts the mood as does surrounding myself with golden and russet hues, whether in the form of fabric or flowers. In short, come autumn I look to pique my senses to keep the blues at bay, and no where more so than in the kitchen.

As it’s still warm, I am not yet longing for hearty stews, ragù or fish soups, like Mr M’s superb venison goulash, a rich pheasant ragù or a steaming cullen skink. Instead I look to foods charged with herbs or spices to soothe my melancholic disposition and, in particular, to tapas/meze style food inspired by the Mediterranean, Maghreb and Levant.

A mix of meze

An array of small flavoursome dishes not only tantalises my sense of smell and my taste buds, it also looks good on the table. What is more, in my experience, the more tasty a dish is, the more satisfied I feel with smaller portions. How many of us feel replete after tapas or meze starters in a restaurant?

At the weekend Mr M and I enjoyed a particularly satisfying meze meal. Pretty much everything on the table was homemade and some of the ingredients had been homegrown too for good measure.

The dishes included aioli, using The Zero Waste Chef’s recipe and homegrown garlic, served with crudités, including our carrots; hummus, once again complete with my garlic and smoked paprika (but minus tahini for allergy reasons); chestnut mushrooms sautéed in oil and, yes, garlic; the last of the fresh garden beans cooked in tomatoes and our oregano; and some flatbread that I rustled up.

Aioli and hummus

Garlic and vegetable dips and crudités

And in true contrary style, the meal was all the more enjoyable as virtually all dishes were served in bowls made by yours truly… Talk about taking homemade to its natural and gloriously satisfying extreme!

Flatbread, an ancient staple

Flatbread is ridiculously easy too make. This humble ancient staple is barely given a second thought but is worth having in your armoury as it is a quick and efficient way of making at least some of your own bread.

For two people simply, take 4 oz of plain or bread flour, stir in half a teaspoon of salt, a small glug of olive oil (officially half a tablespoon but I tend to work by eye and feel) and about half a small glass of warm water (approximately 75 ml). Knead the ingredients together by hand to form a smooth dough. It’s worth doing this manually as the mix is easy to manipulate and it allows you to gauge when the dough starts to feel elastic. This consistency is a sign that the gluten in the flour is working, which makes the flatbread puff up a little despite the lack of yeast.

Set aside the dough in a bowl for 30 minutes to an hour. Recipe books tell you to wrap it in cling film but as I consider film one of the most pointless plastics known to man, I just cover the bowl with a tea towel. After all, it’s a method that has worked fine for centuries!

Just before you’re ready to serve dinner heat a frying pan or griddle. Turn the heat up high but don’t add any fat. Break the dough into walnut sized balls and roll them out very thinly. (Use plenty of flour on the counter top/pastry board to stop the breads sticking!) Pop a flatbread in the pan and cook it for about two or three minutes on the first side. Don’t flip it over till it starts to puff up. Then give it a couple more minutes on the other side. Pop the bread in a bowl or basket and cover it with a tea towel or serviette to keep it warm while you cook the others.


Flatbread – the perfect accompaniment to many meze

Maximum benefit from minimum input

Although making flatbread is really easy, it’s worth making more than you need – I typically make double the amount – as it will keep for a day or two. I generally reinvigorate the flatbreads in a dry frying pan before serving them but you could just pop them in the toaster for a few seconds. Cut them into triangles or strips and serve them as an alternative to nachos or pita bread with aioli, tapenade, guacamole or bean paté, particularly as it is almost impossible to make these in small portions.

Alternatively, you can heat the flatbreads in the pan for a few minutes to soften them and pile them up with a beans, chilli or leftover chicken, some soured cream* and a healthy helping of salad and serve them as a light supper.

Food is a great way of beating the winter blues, and by taking inspiration from the lands around the Mediterranean, dishes needn’t be large, complicated, meat-heavy or expensive to have a real impact!


 * If like me you’re not a big fan of dairy products and struggle to finish a whole tub of cream, don’t bother buying soured cream. Instead go for double cream. Use half of it for desserts (e.g. stewed fruit, crumbles, scones…) and squeeze some lemon juice into the rest to achieve a taste similar to soured cream. It saves money and avoids waste!

  • A lazy Girl Goes green October 20, 2014, 9:14 am

    Delicious ideas, I have never actually made flatbread and these look really easy! Thanks for sharing 🙂 x

    • Meg and Gosia October 20, 2014, 6:05 pm

      You can add in seeds/spices/herbs to ring the changes. Depending on what I’m serving it with I might add fennel seeds, a sprinkling of thyme or a pinch of smoky paprika.

  • rachellestrauss October 20, 2014, 10:35 am

    Such perfect timing. My daughter has undertaken a sugar and yeast free diet – the fact she can’t eat wraps or bread is the most challenging for her and you’ve just provided me with the answer – thank you SO much!

    So maybe I can now share something that has helped me with SAD. I cannot tell you how much a light box has revolutionised my life. I put off the decision of buying one for years because of the cost, but found a place online where you could rent for a month. Well within 10 days I was a different person. Although I wouldn’t say I lept out of bed on a dark morning, I could certainly get up, and most importantly, I no longer needed an afternoon sleep…

    I now use mine religiously from Sept 1st, along with using uplifting essential oils such as bergamot. Getting outside, although I know it works wonders, is a challenge for me because I’m currently learning to release agoraphobia … But at this time of year I honour the way I feel, honour my needs, go to bed early with a good book and don’t beat myself up for not being like everyone else.
    All that self love works wonders for SAD too 😉

    • Meg and Gosia October 20, 2014, 6:07 pm

      Thank you for sharing the benefits you’ve experienced from a lightbox. Mr M and I have recently been considering one. Part of me likes to embrace hibernation – in centuries gone by that is what we would have done – but another part of me wants me to ‘snap out of it’.

      • Rachelle Strauss October 21, 2014, 8:22 am

        Oh I totally hear you on the desire to embrace hibernation. I absolutely have that desire and I’m all for following our body’s wisdom, BUT I have a child that needs my attention in the mornings and in all honesty I would probably sleep until 10am and be ready for bed again at 4:30pm. When my beautiful girl has left home I may well put the lightbox away and indulge myself – it will be interesting to see how long it takes to recalibrate!

  • jackiemania October 20, 2014, 2:44 pm

    Yum — as beautiful as it is delicious looking! Those bowls!

    How do you make your hummus? I never use up all the tahini when I make it so have stopped. It never registered that I should just make it without tahini!

  • Meg and Gosia October 20, 2014, 6:12 pm

    Thanks. I blitz chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil together and add some smokey paprika. I just use a little more oil and lemon juice to make up for the lack of tahini paste. It’s not quite the same as proper hummus but more than fit for purpose. I tend to be an intuitive cook, rather sticking religiously to recipes, so occasionally I might add a pinch of cumin or a few drops of amontillado sherry.

    • jackiemania October 20, 2014, 7:38 pm

      Thanks! I’m going to try it over the weekend when I have some time to soak and simmer chick peas. Maybe I’ll roast the garlic … I’m an experimenter too 🙂

  • The Zero-Waste Chef October 20, 2014, 9:14 pm

    I love your bowls. You are multi-talented 🙂 Your delicious-looking spread would certainly satisfy me. I make tortillas in a similar way, but use lard if I have it. Lately I’ve been trying to make them with sourdough, but I have yet to perfect that recipe. They’re tasty, but not soft like the un-soured ones. Thank you for the mention!

  • Wendy Shillam October 22, 2014, 6:20 am

    A lovely cheery blog. I’ve never made flatbread. It doesn’t sound too difficult. I tried making crispbreads once – not a great success!
    One lovely autumn solace is to curl up with a good cookery book. My recommendation would be Elizabeth Davies great tome on bread cookery. This satisfying brick of a book is part cookbook, part history, part call to arms against steam baked cotton wool.

    • Meg and Gosia October 22, 2014, 7:23 am

      Ooh… I love that volume. A real treat: grand cookery book with a super mix of social and economic history and a good dose of gentle but resounding common sense. A far cry from today’s pretty picture celebrity cookery books!


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