Being a parent has taught me to stick to my guns and do things my own way. Whether it be your parents, in-laws, friends or the health visitor, there is always a mainstream line of action being touted and it doesn’t always fit with your reality. Statistics are based on averages and these are a good guideline but often let you down because noone is an average person all of the time.
One of the first ways in which I had to throw mainstream advice to the wind was when my babies decided to sprout teeth terribly early. They weren’t born with them – which can happen, apparently! (some say there is a correlation between early birth and teeth appearing) – and mine were on the early side of normal, but anyhow, there they were, my first two babies had 4 teeth by the age of 3 months. Even though I knew from my mother that I had got mine quite early, it still came as a shock when I felt those first points coming through while breast-feeding (I know). In essence the teething meant a year or so of very disturbed moods and sleep for them – and therefore me – but it also posed a specific issue when it came to weaning and self-feeding that I just hadn’t expected and for which no-one had prepared me. There are actual some practical considerations (read “risks”) when your child has teeth yet no skills in eating. Not only have they not had the practice or developed the fine motor skills required for chewing and swallowing, they also don’t have the molars to grind and chew their food once in the mouth. You really run the risk of them choking, and there is not mention of this in mainstream family health and advice. I remember feeling totally behind the curve on the BLW (Baby Lead Weaning) – an acronym that I had to look up online, bashfully at the time. It baffled and frustrated me then and still irks me – in how it is touted as a panacea for feeding and weaning – to this day. The statements from the NHS were along the lines of “let your child explore and feed themselves” (*yawn*) “and top up with breast milk where possible or formula”. Apparently human breastmilk is lighter and more digestible by the infant than formula therefore it requires more regular and round the clock feeding. Tie this in with teething at a young age and you get a picture of the 4 years of almost entirely broken sleep I was getting. There was no footnote for families like ours where the babies were big and heavy from the get-go, ravenous and betoothed, impatient and insomniac… I had huge hungry babies with huge, gorgeous pneumatic cheeks and huge curious eyes, who quickly pulled off the breast and craned their fold-decorated necks, manoeuvring their huge crania to see what everyone else was eating. They were hungry ALL the time. I just couldn’t keep up. When I did give
up in and turned to weaning, at only just 5 months or so (scandal!!) to try and up their food intake in the hope of improving their sleep, on cue I was on the receiving end of plenty of disapproval that I hadn’t held out as far as the almost arbitrarily observed 6-month mark. I bore criticism from the health-visitor that my children’s BMIs were worrying (90the percentile and over for weight), and was told with conviction that it was a fallacy that feeding would improve their sleep. I really had tried every other line of approach and felt I had no other real choice. So rotund were they (even exclusively breastfed) that I had to prop them up for they were not even able to sit up well unaided. I had to buy them short bloomers for three year olds to wear as trousers and or leggings and tights otherwise their clothing was so restrictive they couldn’t sit with their legs apart. When I adhered to the “guidelines” which purported that the fool-proof method was not to spoon-feed and relentlessly puree, but to cheerfully present the child with an array of interesting textures and colours of food pieces that they would gingerly explore and gum and hurl to the ground, they grimaced and cried with frustration and then, famished, refused to nap. They also precipitated a number of “oh my God she’s choking, hang her upside down!” moments. The issue was mainly mechanical: My kids could lop off whole bites with their razor-sharp, new little front teeth instead of gumming their food into a digestible slop – only then to find that they had no molars to grind the food down in to manageable pieces once in the mouth. Too frequently for comfort they would turn mute their airless little rosebud mouths frozen in a horrifying O shape, panicking and going blue. They were a risk unto themselves unless I spoon-fed them or broke their food into minuscule particles once they could pick bits up on their own. There was an agonizingly slow phase between 5-8 months when they were bored of the boob, bored of puree and inefficient at self-feeding. Food had to be chewy enough to become sloppy with saliva or shredded very small. Every blueberry and every grape had to be squished manually by me, toast sliced into match stick thin battons. By the time my 3rd baby was around 9 months old, of necessity, I had bloody-well nailed a handful of perfect meals that dispensed with much of the fuss and this was one of them…
These pancakes are so versatile. From the time they can start feeding themselves they are a godsend. My youngest is still – despite our attempt at intervention – napping at 11.30 like a little Swiss clock. This means he is sleeping over lunchtime (so inconvenient if you want to go out at the weekend!) and upon waking is ravenous and miserable unless he has a fast, light lunch beforehand, often consumed in the stroller while out and about. These are the perfect solution. Also, I defy anyone, even adults, not to enjoy them when slathered in cream cheese, humous or a plume of coconut or regular butter. They are basically jumbo blini’s for kids. In fact, in composing this piece, I remade them for the baby’s lunch and I am eating one myself as I type (see pic). Also, parenting will change what you appreciate in the short term somewhat – delicacy and refinement might take a backseat and practicality and convenience might get the upper hand… these pancakes encapsulate what many of us as parents appreciate: versatility, wholesomeness, endless customization to suit one’s needs and tastes, without compromising too much on flavour or something that is not visually appetizing. They are fab to have in your arsenal because:
- they retain their moisture pretty well and so are great toasted second time round, and are almost as good reheated as made fresh
- they keep for 3 days in the fridge if you store them in an airtight box or ziplock bag
- they can be used as a snack or as a full meal so over the course of a few days I may serve them a few times in different guises, meaning means that they really reduce the net amount of food prep, cooking, washing up you have to do
- they are still pretty tasty when eaten cold, whether plain or dressed
- they are highly portable as they keep their shape and are easy to wrap in clingfilm or foil
- they can be made into a sandwich and therefore are brill to eat in a pram or car seat as they don’t make many crumbs and mess
- nutritionally speaking are the whole “package” (whole grain carbs, vegetables, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals)
- they can be made in countless permutations of the basic recipe with whichever vegetables and pulses and herbs you happen to have to hand
Today when I remade these to test my measures and quantities for this recipe, I used roughly a brimming soup-bowl’s amount of raw vegetables (about 500-700g of veg) equivalent to about 2-3 cups of pureed veg (and herbs if you desire / have them to hand) – basically a mismatched rabble of veg that I had kicking about in the fridge drawer:
- A clutch of ribbons left over from this week’s famous chard (I know, I had LOADS of it)
- A medium sized sweet potato
- 2 and half carrots in assorted colours
- 4 decent little florets of broccoli (about half a head of broccoli)
- a couple of small florets of romanesco cauliflower and purple cauliflower
- I had jumbo bunches of herbs in the fridge this week so I used a table spoon of fresh sage, another of fresh of parsley and a little pile of fresh oregano
Usually I make these utterly by eye, as over the years making mistakes I have come to realize that the quantities change according to the levels of moisture in the vegetables you pick. I know some people hate cooking this way so today I will share what worked for me as a rough guideline. Please be aware that sometimes I have to throw in a sprinkling more flour or an extra egg (if they are small) or more milk or a bit of stock to puree my veg and so I might end up with 12 pancakes one time and 8 another. I was out of Khorasan (Kamut) flour today so I used wholemeal spelt and amazingly they were still fine, light and succulent. Kamut flour is the most like plain flour in these types of recipes and works a dream, with the added benefit of having a lower GI and higher protein level and, if you ask me, much more flavour.
The basic principle to adhere to is essentially this:
- You can use lentils and other pulses, tubers and root veg, brassicas and anything from the gourd family (courgettes, pumpkin) and spinach and chard and pretty much any vegetable that is not too acidic or especially watery (eg tomato). All the veg you select to combine can be boiled or steamed in the same pot, starting with the hardest veg cut into inch chunks and then staggering the introduction of the more delicate veg in to the pot as cooking continues.
- Use some kind of sour binding liquid eg. buttermilk or milk curdled with lemon or lime juice (I explain how it is a doddle here) or milk with the addition of yoghurt as it makes them infinitely more manageable, tender, tasty and light (I have no idea how the chemistry of it works)
- Use at least a couple of good sized eggs, as these help give the pancakes retain their elasticity and shape and stops them falling apart when cooked and handled (I will investigate if chia seeds are a good substitute for vegans and those allergic to eggs like my goddaughters).
- DO NOT FORGET THE BAKING POWDER! I usually put in a couple of teaspoons as the veg and alternative grain flours are quite a bit heavier than normal unadulterated plain flour
- Don’t over mix, a few lumps are preferable to a smooth and uniform mixture, this prevents them from being tough and rubbery
- Unless you have a baby under 1, then season a little with salt (it makes a world of difference)
- The consitency should be like that of lightly congealing oatmeal or porridge or thick Greek yoghurt, ie. should drop off a spoon with a plop and a delay of a second or two. Too runny and they will be soft and fall apart, too dry and they will be mealy and hard.
- Make sure you cook them on medium to high heat until they bubble and these turn into little holes. They are then ready to flip.
Here we go:
Basically you can use most vegetables and pulses to make these - but this is one recipe where you will have to be flexible because it will really depend on what you have to hand and modifying the moisture / dryness accordingly as all vegetables varieties and species vary greatly. Even the same vegetables will have a different outcome depending on how big, perky and fresh they are, and when in the season you are using them, as moisture content will vary significantly.
The only rules to respect are : 1. that the consistency resemble that of congealing oatmeal or thick Greek yoghurt and 2. that you have a teaspoon of baking powder for every cereal bowl's quantity of veg so that they don't end up too flat and hard
You can thicken up your mixture / batter when necessary by adding flour (and a pinch or two of baking powder) or by adding more vegetables that are water absorbent (lentils, potatoes etc.)
You can loosen your mixture by adding milk or an extra egg or by gradually stirring in the buttermilk. I find that small variations in flour or buttermilk vs. egg doesn't radically affect the outcome as these pancakes are very forgiving.
I also love to add frozen peas or sweetcorn to the mix as they are great for introducing texture and interest.
- With the exception of tomatoes (puree from a tube would be ok as it is not too acidic or too watery) pretty much any pulse or vegetable can be used to make these:
- Lentils, root veg (potato, sweet potato), brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, chard) and anything from the gourd family (courgettes, pumpkin), spinach...
- For today's pancakes I used about 600g of raw veg (you decide which) equating to...
- for the veggie puree
- 1 sweet potato
- 2 carrots
- 1/2 head broccoli
- 1 handful of ribboned chard
- approx. 2 cups of water if steaming (or if boiling even stock can work well)
- for the binding mixture
- 2 large eggs
- c.150g (roughly 1 cup / 8 heaped tbsp) kamut (khorasan) / spelt flour - wholemeal or not, your call
- c. 200-250ml dairy liquid that can be a combination of buttermilk (or whole milk with a squeeze of lemon introduced to make it curdle, mimicking buttermilk) or Greek yoghurt or soured cream or regular milk. I tend to use yoghurt instead of buttermilk if my vegetables are quite runny as it is stiffer and drier and balances out the wateriness.
- 1 generous pinch of salt (if your baby is over 1 year old)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- I find the best method is to begin with you your vegetable component as after you have boiled it all up and blitzed it you will be able to assess whether to use more or less flour only when you are stirring the puree mixture you have made. If you end up using very watery veg (eg. courgettes and spinach, then you can use more flour at the mixing stage, or introduce a balancing vegetable such as potato or lentil to absorb the excess moisture).
- If this is your first time making a veggie puree blend, then I suggest you boil your various vegetables separately (although overcooking one of them a minute or two doesn't change the result that much) so that you be sure they are all cooked through properly. Or you could keep it simple and start with a one-vegetable ingredient pancake. I have made beautiful beetroot pancakes before (akin to the ones you can see in the main picture) and they give you a vibrant magenta result. If on the other hand you are confident that you can gauge the rough cooking-time of the various veg you have selected, then you can combine them for boiling or steaming in the same pot, starting with the hardest (slowest-cooking) veg eg. potato or pumpkin cut into inch or smaller chunks, or lentils, and then every few minutes staggering the introduction of the more delicate veg in to the pot as cooking progresses. It is stating the obvious but if you are in a hurry, cut the slow-cooking veg in to the smallest pieces possible to accelerate their cooking time.
- Red lentils are small and cook in about 20 minutes, as will green lentils so I tend to start with these in a pot and prep my other veg while these bubble away. Then potato and pumpkin and the like will generally cook in about 10 minutes, if cut in to inch chunks or smaller, but test with the point of a knife and when they yield easily, then you know that they will give a nice, smooth puree.
- Step by step
- Boil / steam your vegetables
- Drain and if you like reserve the boiling liquid should your mixture end up very dry (in which case you can add some of it later) - or compensate with milk.
- Blitz the veg with a blender and allow to cool (else the egg will cook when combining in to the batter)
- For the batter (I do this by hand)
- Pour the cooled puree in to a generous mixing bowl
- add the buttermilk gradually in stages and mix, and fold in half the flour
- add the eggs, whisk them in
- add the salt and baking powder
- WARNING: Don't over mix, a few lumps are preferable to a smooth and uniform mixture, as this prevents the pancakes from becoming tough and rubbery.
- Assess the consitency at this point: add small amounts of flour / buttermilk according to whether you need your mixture drier or wetter, until you have a slightly deeper than pastel-coloured batter the texture of lightly congealing oatmeal or porridge / thick Greek yoghurt. It should drop off a spoon with a plop and a delay of a second or two. Personally I tend add the flour to the veg puree first, gradually as you can always loosen it up more easily with milk or the reserved boiling liquid while still roughly respecting the ratio of veg and flour. If you do it the other way around and add loads of liquid to the puree, it is hard to correct as you then have to alter your ratios considerably and may have to add lots of flour and they will be light on veg.
- Too runny and they will be soft and fall apart, too dry and they will be mealy and hard.
- Light your griddle or heat a large frying pan and lightly grease.
- When hot enough that it is sizzling, with a ladle, spoon half-ladle-fulls of the batter on to the surface in order to make 10cm rounds.
- Make sure you cook them on medium-high heat.
- You should see them begin to bubble after 5 minutes or so. They take longer to cook than regular pancakes as they are more substantial but when the bubbles become small open holes on the top of the pancake, they are then ready to flip.
- Allow them to cook for another 3-5 minutes on the second side and remove from the heat and serve. Obviously take care not to serve them hot to little ones!