Healthier versions of traditional Maltese recipes
Ah, Maltese food! There’s nothing like those rich, Mediterranean flavours. Perfected by generations of home cooks and professional chefs, these are the dishes that bring a smile to our hearts.
While some are happy to enjoy them as they are, the health-conscious amongst us might rather change things up a bit to reduce the fat and slash the salt. A few simple tweaks can turn these traditional treats into healthier versions of themselves. Here are a couple of examples.
1. Homemade tomato sauce
Let’s start with the basics. Many traditional Maltese recipes include tomato sauce. So, instead of opting for the canned stuff, how about making it yourself from fresh, local tomatoes?
3 kilos (approx) ripe tomatoes, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or you can use spray olive oil to minimise oil use), 1 large onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 sprigs fresh basil, salt and pepper.
Optional ingredients: 1 bayleaf, pinch of dried oregano.
De-skin the tomatoes by covering them in boiling water for about a minute then rinsing them in cold water. This will ensure the peel comes off easily. Deseed and roughly chop the skinned tomatoes and place them in a large saucepan with the basil (and bay leaves and oregano, if using). Cook until tomatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil (or spray version) until the onions are translucent. Add the onion mixture to the tomato mixture. Add some salt and pepper and let it simmer on a low heat until thick (about 2 hours).
2. Mqarrun (baked pasta)
One of the nation’s favourite dishes, mqarrun can be made healthier by replacing some of the beef with deliciously nutritious aubergines and opting for brown or gluten-free pasta.
Spray olive oil, 2 medium aubergines, 200g ground beef, 500g brown pasta (macaroni), 1 large onion finely chopped, 2 garlic cloves finely sliced, 2 cups homemade tomato sauce, a pinch of nutmeg, 2 beaten eggs, 4 tablespoons grated mozzarella, salt and pepper.
Optional ingredient: a cup of red wine.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Sprinkle the aubergines with salt, pepper and olive oil and place in the oven until they soften. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool. Then peel off the skin and dice them into small cubes.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, fry the onion and garlic until soft. Add the beef and cook until browned. Then add the diced aubergines, the homemade tomato sauce, nutmeg and red wine (if using). Bring all to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until thickened.
In the meantime, cook the brown pasta until al dente, drain and set aside. Once the sauce is done, add the pasta, beaten eggs, 3 tablespoons of grated mozzarella, and season with salt and pepper. Gently mix everything and place in a large baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and place in the oven for 45 minutes.
3. Qarabagħli mimli (stuffed marrows)
The original recipe involves lots of minced beef and pork as well as cheese. But this can be made healthier by opting for lean turkey and adding more veggies to the mix.
2 large marrows, 400g lean turkey mince, 1 large onion chopped, 1 garlic clove, 2 carrots grated, 1 cup homemade tomato sauce, salt and pepper.
Optional ingredients: 2 tablespoons grated mozzarella, chilli flakes.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Start by cutting the marrows in half and scooping out the inside. Drizzle the marrow halves with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven until slightly softened (about 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic until soft then add the mince and fry until completely cooked through. Add the carrot and half of the marrow filling you previously scooped out (chopped into small pieces). Cook for a few minutes until the marrow filling softens. Add the tomato sauce, chilli flakes (if using), salt and pepper. Let it simmer until you have a thick mixture.
Fill the baked marrow halves with the mixture. You can either serve immediately of place a bit of mozzarella on each marrow half and return them to the oven for about 15 minutes.
Bonus tip: You can freeze the unused marrow filling and use it when making another sauce or pie.
One of the most comforting traditional Maltese meals, kusksu can be made even healthier by adding more veggies and reducing the amount of pasta used.
2 onions, 2 garlic cloves, 2 marrows chopped into cubes, 1 cup peas, 2 cups ful (broad beans), 1 celery stick, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 litre low-salt vegetable stock, 150g kusksu pasta, 4 fresh cheeslets (ġbejniet), spray olive oil, freshly ground pepper.
Peel the beans from both skins. Spray a pan with olive oil and fry the onions and garlic until softened. Stir in the tomato paste then add the marrows, beans and peas.
Add the stock and the pepper. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in the kusksu and gently immerse the cheeslets into the liquid. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
5. Stuffed cabbage rolls
Perhaps not as popular as mqarrun or ross il-forn, but the stuffed cabbage has been a favourite in many Maltese households. Here’s a dish that offers the perfect platform to experiment with a range of healthy ingredients.
1 cabbage, 2 garlic cloves, spray olive oil, 2 leeks, 1 kilo chestnut mushrooms thickly sliced, 6 medium carrots chopped, 4 cups spinach (fresh or frozen), 2 cups tomato sauce, 1 cup white wine, 1 cup low-salt vegetable stock, salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. For the filling, fry the leeks and garlic in olive oil until softened then add the mushrooms, carrots and spinach and season with salt and pepper. Once the vegetables have softened, remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, separate the cabbage leaves and lightly blanch them (place them in a colander and pour boiling water over them). Once the leaves cool, roll up a generous amount of filling into each leaf and hold it together with a toothpick.
In a big oven-proof dish add the tomato sauce, white wine and stock and stir them together. Place the cabbage rolls in the liquid, cover in foil and bake for 30-45 minutes until the leaves crunch up. Check regularly to ensure the liquid does not dry out. Cook uncovered for the last 10 minutes.
6. Ricotta pie
The beloved ricotta pie can be made healthier by turning it crust-less and adding in some vegetables such as ful (broad beans), spinach or even kale.
Spray olive oil, 2 eggs, 250g ricotta, 3 tablespoons grated ġbejna (or any hard cheese of your liking), 1 cup peeled broad beans (ful), 1 teaspoon nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Optional ingredient: 1 tomato.
Preheat oven to 180 degrees and spray a pie dish with olive oil. Whisk the eggs and ricotta together in a large bowl. Add the beans, nutmeg, cheese and salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture into the greased pie dish. At this point, you can add the thinly sliced tomatoes on the top, if using. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the centre of the pie feels firm to touch and edges are browning.
When it comes to food, the sky’s the limit to how much you can experiment. So, go on, have fun tweaking traditional Maltese recipes to make them healthier.
If you need support on your journey towards healthier living you might want to call one of the nutritionists listed on Yellow.
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