Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping
I have never been one for going on a ‘diet’ or consuming trendy foods just because. I have always eaten what I wanted to yet in moderation, most of the time. I’ve always looked in the mirror and seen room for improvement, but I like bread, cheese and steaming hot pakora. But.
Just before I got married, during the run-up I had decided that I wanted to look every bit the blooming bride. I was only 23 and I wanted pictures to look back on, proudly, of me looking my finest on a glorious day. I wanted no pleats of belly-fat as I sat on the throne-like chair bearing my midriff and neither did I want wobbly arms fanning the guests as I took my vows in the Hindu manner. I didn’t want those shadows around my nose to show and I certainly did not want to reveal stained teeth. There needed to be classy cheek bones, not cute chubby cheeks. I imagined gliding, slender and light whilst greeting and mingling with my guests. And so it started with eating lean salads at lunch time. I ruled out even miniature chocolates but at work, where celebratory birthday treats decorated communal cupboard tops daily, this was hard. When we were in our favourite Chinese restaurant we ordered stuff that wasn’t deep fried and a curry with salad instead of rice or noodles. I went to the gym every, single day.
I thought it was working. I was wearing white, sheer cotton tops and hot pants that summer.
But as I called my then fiancé into the room whilst trembling, I knew it had not worked. Every time I ran my hand through my hair a bunch fell out. It had worn out to a wispy and flyaway state. That’s what ‘dieting’ did.
After I had my boy I adhered to the dietary requirements stipulated by female elders and ancestors. I overdosed on fenugreek, millet flour, spinach, roasted aubergines and mung beans. I ruled out cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, spice, potatoes and many other items that lend to a balanced diet. I was borderline diabetic but consumed ghee, jaggery and nuts in the name of natural healing. And I do think that they are useful and nutritious, when they complement a balanced diet.
Again, the horror of losing fistfuls of hair in the bath was upon me. I wore a headband to disguise the thinning, especially around the temples. I was fearful of washing my hair but the greasy look didn’t do me any favours. I felt sluggish, heavy and I just wanted my hair back.
My recipe today offers carbohydrates and cheese and plenty of taste. Let us embrace them with our taste buds, hearts and tummies. I have used Chinese 5-spice in the stuffing and I know it does sound unusual, but really, truly. It’s good. I could the stuffing on its own as a salad, in fact…
Ingredients to serve 4
A pack of cannelloni tubes
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
3 red bell peppers
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Chilli flakes to taste
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 large leeks cut into bite sized pieces
200g feta cheese
3 medium potatoes, cubed
1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce
3 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tsp. cumin seeds
- Wash, cut and drizzle the peppers with oil and roast them until they brown lightly
- Head the vegetable oil in a pan and the cumin seeds and once they sizzle, stir in the garlic and sauté for a minute before pouring in the tomatoes and the roasted peppers. Sprinkle in the chilli and water and then cook for 5 minutes before blitzing it smooth.
- Boil the potatoes for 4-5 minutes and then drain then and allow them to cook
- Heat the sesame oil in a deep dish and then add the leeks and then once they start to soften, sprinkle in the Chinese 5 spice and soy sauce and then cook them for 4-5 minutes on a medium flame.
- Stir in the potatoes and then crumble in the feta and then remove the mixture from the heat.
- Pour some of the sauce into a deep dish, then turn your attention to stuffing the cannelloni evenly and then place each tube into the sauce. The sauce should almost cover the cannelloni tubes.
- Once the tubes are stuffed, sprinkle the top of the dish with panko breadcrumbs and then bake the cannelloni in the oven at 180 degrees until the topping is golden brown and the tubes can be pierced all the way through.