Always wanted to try cooking polenta? Just can’t seem to get your filo pastry perfect? Read on for the HFG guide to cooking with some of these delicious and healthier choice ingredients
What is filo?
Filo pastry has a huge health advantage because it contains almost no fat. It is made solely from flour and water and stretched to form thin sheets, with only a little oil or butter added (depending on the manufacturer) to keep the sheets separated while frozen. The majority of fat comes in when cooking, as oil or butter is brushed on the layers as they are assembled for recipes. Per 100g (approximately 5–6 sheets), filo only has 0–4g fat (depending on the brand or if it is home-made), compared to shortcrust with around 22g fat; reduced-fat shortcrust with around 16g; regular puff pastry with about 16g; or reduced-fat puff pastry with about 12g.
While most recipes using filo are liberal in the amount of butter or oil they suggest, large quantities are rarely necessary. A standard strudel can be made perfectly with as little as one or two tablespoons of melted reduced-fat table spread or oil, which is much better for our health and waistlines.
How do you use it?
Buy filo pastry fresh or frozen, (although fresh is better) and use at room temperature. It is possible to freeze leftover sheets, but this tends to dry filo pastry out – making it prone to crumbling once defrosted. If you do freeze filo, limit freezer time and defrost at room temperature – don’t microwave to defrost.
Since filo dries out quickly, it’s important to minimise its contact with air. Try to get organised with equipment and ingredients before unrolling the filo. Cover the pile of sheets with plastic film or a damp tea towel in between taking individual sheets off when assembling your stack.
Use oil spray or melted, reduced-fat table spread instead of butter to brush each sheet of filo – and be frugal with the quantity. A light spray or brush is all that is needed between layers. Brush a little skim milk or beaten egg on the outside layer to develop crispiness and golden colour when cooking.
If making a strudel, layer filo sheets and roll up on the tray you will bake it on. This minimises transfer damage.
Use leftover filo creatively – you could make another filo-based recipe at the same time and freeze it. Make sure you wrap it well and use within a couple of weeks or it will dry out and lose quality.
Alternatively, roll up leftover sheets, wrap tightly in several layers of plastic film and refrigerate or freeze. However you store the filo, make a plan for when and how you will use it to avoid having to throw it away.
Old, crumbly or dry sheets of filo can be crumbled on top of stewed fruit, sprayed lightly with oil and then baked for an interesting crunchy pie topping!
Polenta is made from ground yellow or white cornmeal. ‘Instant’ polenta is readily available from supermarkets and is quick and easy to prepare. Fine and coarse varieties are available and both are prepared in the same way.
How do you use it?
When cooked, polenta has a smooth, creamy texture. It can be served soft as an accompaniment to meat and other dishes in a similar way to mashed potato. Polenta works well with ‘saucy’ dishes like casseroles. It has a subtle corn flavour, which makes it perfect for mixing with stronger-flavoured ingredients, such as a little parmesan cheese or pesto. It can also be set, then cut into pieces and grilled as an alternative to potato chips. Set polenta can also be chargrilled and served as an accompaniment to stews and casseroles.
Step by step
This quantity makes 4–6 servings of soft consistency polenta.
Step 1 Pour 2 cups water and 1 cup of stock into a heavy-based pan. Bring to the boil. Gradually pour in 150g instant polenta, whisking continuously to ensure no lumps form.
Step 2 Reduce heat and continue cooking over medium heat until thickened, continually whisking.
Step 3 Keep stirring for about 6–7 minutes until the mixture is thickened and smooth. (Use a spoon to stir in a figure-of-eight movement in the pan). Season with pepper and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Use as required.
To add extra flavour
Replace water with reduced-salt stock.
Once soft polenta is cooked, vary the flavour by adding
Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are versatile, nutritious legumes. Chickpeas are high in fibre and protein, low in energy and count towards your daily vegie serves. Most people are familiar with canned chickpeas, but dried chickpeas are also simple to prepare (see below) and cheaper.
Chickpeas have a slightly nutty flavour and go particularly well with garlic and coriander – hence the delicious dip, hommous.
How do you use them?
Cooked chickpeas can be added to casseroles, soups, stews and salads (with or without meat). They add extra flavour and texture, extend meat by adding bulk, and fill tummies by adding protein and fibre.
Other than hommous, chickpeas often feature in Middle Eastern dishes such as falafel (chickpea patties). Chickpeas can be used in all sorts of Italian dishes and they are one of the ingredients in three-bean salads. Dried chickpeas have a firmer texture than the canned variety. They are a great choice in salads as they absorb dressing ingredients well.
How to prepare dried chickpeas
Dried chickpeas need soaking before cooking. There are two ways to do this:
Place chickpeas into a large bowl. Pour over enough cold water to cover completely (for 1 cup chickpeas, add about 4 cups water). Set aside and soak overnight. After soaking, transfer chickpeas to a colander to drain. Remove and then discard any discoloured chickpeas. They are now ready for cooking.
Place chickpeas into a large pan. Cover with 3 times their volume of cold water. Bring quickly to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and leave to soak for 1–2 hours. Drain. The chickpeas are now ready for cooking.
To cook chickpeas
Place soaked chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh, cold water. Simmer for approximately 1 hour, testing until plump and tender enough for your liking. Drain. The chickpeas are now ready to use.
Chickpea and haloumi salad: Combine baby spinach leaves with chopped cherry tomatoes, roasted sweet potato, cooked chickpeas, chopped coriander and grilled haloumi. Top with chopped fresh chilli if desired.
Vegie chilli: Cook 1 onion until soft. Add 250g chopped mushrooms and cook for 1–2 minutes. Add a 400g can each of rinsed and drained lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and 1 can of no-added-salt tomatoes. Add chopped fresh basil and 1 teaspoon chilli. Cook for 5–10 minutes until heated through. Serve with rice or corn bread. Serves 6.
Lamb and chickpea salad: Add cooked lean lamb to the chickpea and haloumi salad (above). Serve with low-fat Greek yoghurt.
Whichever method you choose to prepare chickpeas, store any excess cooked chickpeas in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Alternatively, freeze cooked chickpeas.
What are they?
Rice noodles are often used in Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian cooking. They are made from rice flour, water and sometimes other ingredients such as tapioca or cornstarch are added to improve transparency or increase the chewy texture of the noodles.
Rice noodles can be bought in various widths such as rice sticks (long straight ribbons) and rice vermicelli (very thin noodles).
Did you know? The name ‘vermicelli’ (literally ‘little worms’) can also refer to the noodle made from mung beans, which is translucent when cooked. Rice vermicelli is opaque and white when cooked.
How do you use them?
Rice noodles are ideal for busy cooks as they hardly need any cooking. Once cooked, the noodles can be used hot or cold in all sorts of Asian dishes, from stir-fries to salads. Rice noodles are perfect for stir-fries as they soak up strong flavours often used in stir-fry sauces. They can be used as an accompaniment to meat and vegie dishes, or in a variety of Asian-style salads. Most rice noodles are gluten-free (always check the label), making them a great alternative to wheat noodles for coeliacs and people with a gluten or wheat intolerance.
Step by step
Step 1 Place noodles into a large heatproof bowl.
Step 2 Pour over enough boiling water to completely cover noodles. Leave to soak for 2–8 minutes, depending on noodles’ thickness. Vermicelli noodles only need 2–3 minutes to soak. Rice sticks need 6–7 minutes to soak.
Step 3 Drain noodles and use a fork or spatula to separate them. Toss with a little oil to prevent them sticking if not using immediately. Use as required.