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Butternut squash and chickpea cakes


While we’ve been quite adventurous letting Nicholas try some foods (at 16 months he’s already tried frog legs, mussels, veal, pink beef and, if you’re not European maybe skip the next word… horse). I have, however, been quite cautious introducing stronger spices. Herbs like basil, oregano, chives, thyme and parsley I had no problem in adding pretty much immediately; they help give flavour when you’re not adding salt. But I’ve been concerned about spices like cumin and coriander and also garlic, possibly irritating Nicholas’ tummy.

If you’re interested in reading some more about introducing spices to your little one’s food as well as the health benefits of spices, this article gives a good overview and it also has links to Indian recipes for babies (suitable from 7-8 months) and toddlers (suitable from 10-12 months).

So in my quest to start introducing some stronger spices into Nicholas’ diet I thought I’d adapt Cook Eat Live Vegetarian’s wonderful butternut squash and chickpea cakes. Have a look at Natalie’s fabulous plating of her creations and I dare you not to drool! In fact maybe just look at her photos rather than my poor efforts!

This is an easy recipe to do two ways – cakes for your toddler and cakes for the rest of the family. I make my toddler version first (eliminating some of the spices and reducing others) then add the missing spices to the remaining mixture before making the adult cakes. I serve the toddler cakes with some yogurt to dip them into (toddlers love dipping!) and the adult cakes with whatever chutney we have in the fridge (will definitely make Natalie’s red onion marmalade soon though).

I don’t peel the butternut squash… I’m lazy. If I was serving this to guests I probably would just to be sure they didn’t find any big bits of peel. I also mix my ingredients in a food processor (the original recipe mixes them by hand). Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients as they’re actually very easy to make.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CHICKPEA CAKES

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins (roasting the squash) plus 15 mins (cooking the cakes)
Makes 2-3 toddler servings (about 12 mini cakes) and 2 adult servings (6 cakes)
Freezable

400g butternut squash, chopped (unpeeled) into chunks of about 4cm
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Drizzle of olive oil
1 400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup (40g) breadcrumbs (or polenta or cornmeal), plus extra for coating
1 tsp ground cumin
1 small clove of finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 egg
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of black pepper

To add for family version:
1/2 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 small-medium clove of finely chopped garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C. Put the butternut squash chunks on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle with the cinnamon. Roast for 20-30 minutes until golden and soft when pierced with a knife.

While the butternut squash is cooking, put the rest of the ingredients for the toddler version (chickpeas, breadcrumbs, cumin, garlic, lemon juice, egg, parsley, salt and pepper) into a food processor.

Once the butternut squash is cooked, you can decide whether or not to leave the skin on or peel it off. If leaving it on, you just need to blend your mixture a bit more to ensure the peel is broken up and you can always still check for big bits of skin when shaping your cakes.

Mix everything together until the butternut squash has broken up and the mixture is sticking together. If you have time, cover your bowl with cling film and put in the fridge for at least half an hour so the mixture firms up and it’s easier to shape your cakes. If not, it’s easier to drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the breadcrumbs and shape each one as you’re covering it.

Shape about half the mixture into little balls. Dip into breadcrumbs to cover completely.

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a medium frying pan at medium heat. Cook the balls for a couple of minutes each side, pressing them down into cake shapes, until they have a lovely golden crispy coating.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt.

For grown ups:

With the remaining mixture add the rest of the ingredients (garam masala, cumin, garlic, cayenne pepper, and extra salt and pepper) and mix well. Shape into 6 equal balls and dip into breadcrumbs to coat. Add some more olive oil to the frying pan and cook them for 4-5 minutes each side, pressing them flat.

Serve immediately with some fruit chutney and salad.

Variations:

  • the original recipe uses fresh coriander rather than parsley
  • replace the butternut squash with sweet potato

How do you feel about giving your little one strong spices?

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Cheesy Falafels

This is my (slight) adaptation of this recipe from the Sainsbury’s Little Ones recipe site.

The first time I made them (following the recipe exactly), I wasn’t very impressed. To me they tasted rather bland and dry. However, Nicholas loved them, wolfing down five in quick succession! This reminded me firstly not to make assumptions about my child’s taste buds and secondly that I’ve always found falafels too crumbly in texture.

I’ve since tried them out on other babies and toddlers, and they’ve gone down a treat every single time. There you go, never make assumptions!

Unlike authentic falafel recipes, these are baked in the oven rather than fried. This makes them much healthier for our munchkins but also makes them drier in texture.

I’ve increased the cheese (can you ever have too much cheese?!) and added a little bit of spice to give more of the Middle Eastern flavour. I want to start introducing some spices to Nicholas and what I’ve read is you should introduce just one spice at a time to your little one. But if you’re not sure about adding it for your munchkin, just leave it out.

I can imagine slightly older toddlers would have fun shaping the falafel mixture into balls (or other shapes), maybe even using the food processor (supervised of course). I can’t wait for Nicholas to be old enough to start helping me in the kitchen. If you haven’t watched Junior MasterChef Australia, you must! You’ll see eight to thirteen-year-olds making soufflés, tempering chocolate, inventing dishes, all more calmly and with more imagination than most adults. My child making me dinner in a few years? Yes please!

These cheesy falafels are quick and easy, a fabulous finger food, high in protein, freeze really well and are a different snack to have in your bag. Why not give them a try?

CHEESY FALAFELSWaiting to be whizzed

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes about 30
Freezable

2 x 420g tins of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp plain flour
100g cheddar, grated
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 egg
Pinch of salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper.

Place all of the ingredients into a food processor and whizz together until combined.

Shape the mixture into small balls (about 3cm in diameter) and place on the prepared baking tray.

Bake for 20 minutes until the falafels turn a light golden colour.

Transfer to a rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Variations:

  • add finely diced red onion or shallot
  • add 1 tsp ground coriander
  • add chopped fresh coriander

Other uses:

  • serve in a pita bread or wrapped in a flatbread with salad
  • dip them into a tomato salsa
  • dip them into houmous
  • make a herby yogurt dip (plain yogurt with chopped herbs mixed in)

Tip: wet your hands before shaping the mixture to avoid it sticking badly to your hands. After making two or three, wet them again.

How do you feel about adding spices to your baby’s food? At what age would you start?

Try another recipe with added spices – my vegetable korma.