Talking humous with Aldo

We’re really proud to call Aldo Zilli a “friend of Moorish”

Despite being extremely busy with his business and young family; he recently IMG_5118managed to squeeze in a chat with us about humous and all things tasty…

We asked; “What do you like to eat with Humous?”

“Humous is one of my favourites. I love it simply with breadsticks or crudites. However it is a great fresh item to use in cooking, whether it’s stuffing a pepper or courgette or simply topping a great piece of grilled meat.”

“How important is it to use fresh, good quality ingredients?”

“Fresh, good quality ingredients are vital to cooking. You cannot make a great quality tasting dish with poor ingredients. Wherever possible use seasonal foods.”

“Do you enjoy smoked food back home in Italy?”

“In Italy, smoked cheeses, such as Scamorza and also a smoked Burrata are popular. Speck, a cured meat native to Northern Italy is also well known.”

“Do you have a favourite Chickpea dish?”

“Apart from simply great tasting Humous. I make a hearty Tuscan Bean Soup which is packed full of sun-ripened Italian Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Haricot beans. Seasoned with garlic, crushed black pepper, rosemary and thyme.”

“Is it ever OK to ‘meddle” with a traditional recipe?”

“I am always excited about cooking! Taste is subjective. Whatever the individual likes is fine with me. Traditional is good and is the foundation of cuisine, but giving that modern twist to old recipes still excites me.”  

About Aldo Zilli

If you’re not familiar with Aldo Zilli, he’s an award-winning chef and restaurateur specialising in Italian, vegetarian and seafood cuisine. One of nine children, he was born in the small seaside town of Alba Adriatica in the central Italian region of Abruzzo and first learnt Italian home cooking from his mother in Italy.

Recently Aldo has been busy working with the San Carlo group (which owns Cicchetti and Signor Sassi in London as well as an international portfolio including venues in Kuwait, Beirut and Bangkok). You might even have seen him in glorious action on Celebrity Masterchef.

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As if you need a reason – here’s 10 reasons why you should eat more humous!

Well, it’s difficult not to keep going back for more: especially when it’s extra-yummy. At Moorish, we naturally smoke chickpeas over oak chips and add them to our recipes; which gives them an irresistible earthiness. Here’s why you can let yourself indulge…

  1. Humous can make you happy! Not only in a taste-sensation kind of way; but especially for women. Tahini has a high calcium content which can help your mood (and reduce cramps) whilst the B6 and manganese in chickpeas are also mood-boosters. Magnesium in chickpeas is also good for reducing bloating, water retention and cramps.happy chickpeas
  2. A great, healthy source of protein – especially for the veggies in your life who may be suffering from cheese overload.


cheese

 

  1. It’s more versatile than you think – of course you can use your favourite dippers and it’s great in a flatbread with crunchy salad; but have you tried humous instead of tomato on a pizza base? Stirred into pasta? Or how about as a topping on mushrooms with crunchy breadcumbs? Yum. Check out http://www.lovemoorish.co.uk/recipes for more great ideas.

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  1. It’s easy and quick – a much better fast food option when you’re in a hurry.


nofastfood

  1. With a low GI index, the carbs in chickpeas are broken down and digested slowly – helping you control your appetite – which is great if you’re managing your weight. And especially good for those who have insulin resistance, hypoglycaemia or diabetes.

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  1. Hold off those colds with immune-boosting lemon and garlic.

lemon

  1. It’s great for sharing – an easy ice breaker or appetiser at your party – or just with crisps in front of your favourite girls-night-in movie.

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  1. All of our smoked humous is made with British rapeseed oil, which is surprisingly rich in omega 3 and 6.

British rape field

  1. It’s important to get enough fibre in your diet and humous is a great way to do it – give it a super-boost by dipping wholewheat pitta or homemade flatbread.

flatbread 1

  1. Kids love it – and it’s not-very-secretly good for them. So who cares if they dip their fingers in the pot?!

muffins 1

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Cracking the scale conumdrum: getting Moorish Smoked Humous onto the shelves at Waitrose

Taking our story back to 2012, we were delighted to have had Moorish Smoked Humous stocked in some gorgeous London retailers (Wholefoods and Planet Organic).

But now I decided that it was time to contact Waitrose, as with our premium “foodie” product; they were an obvious choice for getting our products out to more of our likely customers.

Plus, I was conscious that we’d be copied once people saw our success (we were, but a very poor copy so it helped rather than hindered) and I wanted Waitrose to hear about my smoked humous first.

Amazing luck – and a buyer with a great palate!

I thought it would probably take a year or two to get on the shelf at Waitrose, but a day after sending in my email, they replied asking me to come in. I brought samples to the buyer in the meeting and was delighted that she couldn’t stop eating them. A couple of weeks later I got the phone call any food entrepreneur would love: Waitrose wanted to list my products within the next couple of months. Champagne was on the menu at home that night; big smiles all round.

Getting on to the shelves was no mean feat; but the right combination of supportive help, friendly buyers, luck and sheer determination got us there!

Getting on to the shelves was no mean feat; but the right combination of supportive help, friendly buyers and luck, plus sheer determination, got us there!

The listing with Waitrose now secured, I suddenly had to find a way to fulfil large orders, improve the packaging and find a bigger smokery to take on the smoked chickpea work for me. Not surprisingly though, telling people I had a Waitrose listing made them much more interested in talking to me.

Steps to larger production

  1. First, I found a smokery and spent a fair bit of time there trialling the wood used, the length of time of smoking and the other technical aspects involved in making the end product just right.
  2. Naturally, I also asked my existing factory in Birmingham if they’d like the Waitrose contract. Unfortunately they were unable to take it on – they only made dips for me so they’d have had to invest in large machinery – not feasible in the space they had available. Fortunately my ever-helpful mentor was able to put me in touch with a manufacturing consultant who helped me to find the right factory to supply Waitrose. One of those we found seemed like a winner, as they specialised in dips and so had the machinery we needed. They also already had product going into Waitrose; which would make supply lines easier to manage.
  3. It’s worth mentioning the steps I took at this point to protect my idea: I know how important our unique recipes have been to our success. That’s why I always ask potential business associates to sign a non-disclosure agreement before discussing details. Only after this did I discuss my idea with the factory: after all, they already worked with a competitor firm.
  4. Happily, once we’d discussed my idea and the recipe, and i’d supplied raw ingredients; I was really pleased with the prototype the factory kitchen produced. More crucially, we all seemed to get on well, with an honest and upfront working relationship from the outset, which has stood us in good stead through the ups and downs.
  5. My manufacturing consultant then helped me draw up a contract to agree that the factory would source all my ingredients, make the products and help with distribution. Crucially this would all be to my specifications; for example, the quality of the ingredients is really important in our recipes. We also insist on Rapeseed oil as we can source it from the UK. And the recipe is only right when I’m happy!
  6. We then agreed on the costings and started working together – but nothing is ever-straightforward. Moving factory meant having to repeat some steps in the process I’d already been through, e.g. Shelf life testing, since every factory gets different results even with the same recipe. The packaging also needed to be re-formatted to suit the needs of the production line as well as the supermarket shelves.
  7. The last major piece of the jigsaw was to set up a distributor to physically get our products from the factory to the shelves. Luckily with a product already going along this route from the factory, the same distributor agreed to take Moorish as well.
  8. In October last year, excitingly, we started larger scale production for Moorish in London and started delivering in to Waitrose on a regular basis.
waitrose store

Moorish Humous (and now our new smoked aubergine dip) have been retailing in Waitrose since late Autumn 2012; thanks to their helpful buyer and store managers. And lovely customers of course!

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Values we do business by

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Not all businesses place a great focus on their ‘brand values’; and when they don’t, they become empty marketing claptrap. But they can be so much more than that. In my business, our values give us clear guidance and help to differentiate ourselves in the market.

At the moment, we’re still small and it feels very personal. My business’s values directly reflect my own; and I’m proud to share them with you. We constantly refer to them to evaluate our decisions, about everything from product development, to supply chain, to our people. I know that if we stay true to our values, the business will grow in the way I want it to.

Once I’d found a idea that fitted with my personal beliefs, I knew I could make something great. So the Little Smoked Food Company (through which I make Moorish Smoked Humous), has just 3 clear and simple tenets that we ‘live by’, which inform everything we do. Not too many to become cumbersome or meaningless.

1. Being different

The desire to create something different is what drove me to create my business and still drives us, every day. It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily come up with a business idea that is 100% new: you may be able to improve on something, or reinvent it, with an interesting twist. You could find something which is different in your local area, or done in a unique way. What’s important is to try and avoid ‘me too’ or ‘good enough’ – if you want to launch a new company in a competitive market, there’s no such thing as ‘good enough’.

Being different can be hard work. If something is truly unique like Moorish, you have to be sure that customers will pick it up off the shelf with interest, even if they don’t know exactly what it will be like. That’s why going for a twist on a classic worked for us, we know people love humous and love smoked food so putting those together was a relatively safe bet. But be sure that the twist is attractive and not off-putting.

This is not just about product development, it’s also about the way we work. We don’t worry too much about the “usual” way things are done. We just make things happen, without cutting corners or treading on toes. We’re small enough to be nimble and hope to hang on to that way of working, as we grow: like a mountain goat on a dam: http://goo.gl/ng05H.

Whatever your business, it needs to have a reason to be there, against everything else available. You need to be very clear about what that is, keeping it front of mind when people try and persuade you not to be different, and sticking to your values.

Marketing people call this a brand promise, a short, compelling and distinctive statement of what your customers can expect from your brand. It’s not usually your slogan, it’s about a mantra to (always) live by; defining why you exist and what makes you different. Disney’s is “magical family fun”; Marks & Spencers is “Quality worth paying more for”, McDonald’s promises affordable, predictable food. Ours is probably something along the lines of, “Smoked Mmmmmmm”.

2)      Being natural

Like all of our values, this applies across the business. Products for example: since the beginning, I’ve been constantly under pressure to change our processes from naturally cold smoking our chickpeas to using an artificial flavouring. I’m sure you can guess why – price. But you know what? Using a smoked flavouring makes a product that just doesn’t taste the same as doing it properly. So I have insisted on producing the smoked chickpeas naturally and it has paid off in buckets.

Then there’s the preservatives… yes, shelf life is very important so the longer the food lasts the better especially for a chilled product. We were told about a preservative which adds shelf life to dips and other products, but it’s a nasty and having started the business because I wanted to make something healthy – humous – taste amazing, it would be crazy to put something artificial in the products.

Another way to add shelf life is the addition of more lemon juice, which – judging by their flavour – some of our competitors use to try and extend shelf life naturally, but those products taste distinctly sour.

Luckily sticking to doing things naturally has given us a great advantage:  we discovered that cold smoking our chickpeas gives a naturally longer shelf life. This helps a great deal when talking to buyers, as combined with our rate of sale, we are a great proposition on the shelves.

Being natural also applies to the people I have brought in to the business. My marketing strategist is a self effacing genius but makes no bones about her views and her natural easy charm wins me over in the board room and delights customers when she is helping them sample our wares. I have recently taken on a sales executive who is also natural, charming and extremely effective.

We’ve been told by our buyers and distributors alike that not only are our products selling better than many others on the market, but that they actually enjoy dealing with us personally. We treat people as we like to be treated and I have been careful to build a team that is as respectful as it is superbly effective.

We tell the truth when we meet people too, if we tell a potential customer that we are selling better than others it’s because that’s what we’ve been told by our buyers. No smooth talking here: we operate by offering something that’s different and delicious and we work hard to make it a success.

3. Being caring

This doesn’t mean I’m a pushover, far from it. I relish negotiating and make sure I protect the business at every turn. So what does it mean to be a caring business?

On a commercial level, this was about the importance to us of our smaller, independent retailer customers; who gave us our first break. Then, once we had Waitrose on-board, this gave us the buying power to negotiate with our key suppliers, to get a lower price on the Waitrose shelves. I was always adamant that achieving a listing in a supermarket would only enhance our relationship with independent retailers and not destroy it. So I kept my promise and immediately passed on the lower price to my local and independent retailers, too.

I didn’t have to do this as the products were selling well, but I wanted to give the shops the best price possible (to pass on to consumers of course). In fact, although our sales were excellent at the original price, they absolutely rocketed once I offered a better deal on the shelves. Overnight our listings went from a handful of independent retailers to around 50 and it’s still growing today. I have always responded to customers’ comments from our delis as quickly as from those Waitrose and people like that and see that we care.

Caring for me is also about giving something back. Whilst working at the BBC I had the privilege to interview Carmel McConnell from a charity called Magic Breakfast and that interview has stayed with me ever since. Childhood nutrition is a particular passion of mine – I was inspired to invent Moorish to find something different and healthy to feed my young son.

Carmel told me that thousands of children across the UK go to school hungry each day. In my house, we already called it a ‘magic breakfast’; as my children went from being pretty monstrous to much more angelic once they had had the first meal of the day. I couldn’t dream of sending them out the door hungry, grumpy and without the energy they needed to cope with their days.

After interviewing Carmel, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to help those kids who needed a free breakfast. As soon as my business turned a small profit I called up Magic Breakfast and said I wanted to donate every month. I explained that it would only be a small amount, but that as we grew so would our donations. It started with a standing order for £3.50 a month (which gives one child a breakfast) as that was literally all we could afford from the business bank account, but I am happy to say we recently upped it tenfold to £35 a month and will soon reach our first target of supporting a whole new breakfast club in a school. I don’t do this to show off, or be ‘seen to do CSR’ but only because it gives me great pleasure to know that I can make a difference to some kids who need help and that is incredibly fulfilling. http://www.magicbreakfast.com/

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Esther Walker – She’s wrong but she’s right

So, Esther Walker – wife of one of the most famous restaurant critics in the land, Giles Coren (and let’s be very clear here, I only bring in who she is married to as it’s relevant to the story) – is having a pop at what parents say about their kids’ eating habits.

It’s tough enough parenting these days with all the food messages out there. STOP THE SUGAR. EAT 10 A DAY. ETCETERA!

I don’t agree with her and neither does her husband, it seems. But then again I do….

Esther has penned an article for the Times Weekend, informing us of the results of some recent research which cites that “under-fives have more exotic diets than their parents”.

This, she says, should stop one arm of the competitive parent brigade in their tracks.  We should all just accept the fact our children are now eating plenty of diverse foods and that should be that.

But as Esther explains there is still a huge amount of cringe-worthy showing off and one-upmanship that goes on amongst middle class parents about what adventurous food their offspring will eat.

She is, she says, deeply depressed by one restaurant experience with a friend and their respective offspring (in which Esther herself could be accused of showing off about her fabulously uninhibited daughter who wolfs down chicken drumsticks “like a starving alsatian”), where her friend insists, somewhat forcefully, that her son eats chicken breast and salad. The point being that this friend somehow seems to feel that she is a better parent as she is super-managing what her child eats, putting a huge amount of thought and indeed pressure, into every bite.

But what really gets Esther’s goat is that parents use their children’s dietary adventurousness as a badge of honour in recognition that this is good parenting…the elusive medal we all strive for. She says it’s the same as the good sleeper/bad sleeper reflection on parental input.

Finally, we get 3 of Esther’s recipes for her children’s favourite dinners – 1 of which my children wouldn’t touch incidentally as it’s way too adventurous. Hmmm…

My first thought upon reading this article is that, as we are all well aware, this child-rearing business is blisteringly hard. Knocking any parent for a win of any sort (getting their darling Persephone to try mussels) is simply not helpful. Take the wins where you can I say, shout them from the rooftops. As we all know, for every win that day there were at least fifty nine losses.

Esther enjoys rebelliously waxing lyrical about letting her daughter take a sip of her diet coke in front of a friend she knows will find this shockingly offensive.

Her husband, Giles, it seems, disagrees with her laissez-faire attitude to not endorsing the food variety competition.

Worse, he is himself guilty of the middle-class-extreme-variety-feeding of his children and the accompanying showing off.

I have no doubt that some of Esther’s vitriol against these show-off parents, stems from her frustration at her own children’s lack of mutual adventurousness. In fact, there are only a handful of meals that both of her children will happily eat.

But actually I am with her on this. I was discussing this with my husband last night, after yet another dinner battle where we tried to introduce something ever so slightly new to our children who are 12 and 9 years old.

Just like Mary Berry did recently on TV, I took the meat out of my normal lasagne recipe and replaced it with aubergine. Unlike Mary Berry and her beautiful, ever-sunny garden festooned with Boden wearing children and adults, it resulted in dinner Armageddon.

So we too have limited, mutually acceptable dinners.

The truth is – watch out Esther, here comes the showy-offy bit – my daughter will gorge on anything from prawns to mussels, snails, vegetable soup and salad. BUT…

My son would not touch these things if hell froze over, he prefers meat of any kind (she mostly hates meat), raw vegetables only and very spicy food (if my daughter gets so much of a whiff of black pepper, steam starts coming out of her ears). They even disagree on staples; he loves rice, she hates it. She adores potatoes of any kind, he retches if they go anywhere near him.

So on accepting the limited repertoire of non battle-inducing foods, I agree.

I also think Esther is right that parents using children’s exotic food choices as a way of convincing themselves that they’re doing a great job is wrong, not because it’s a reflection of said parent’s insecurity which is Esther’s complaint, but if it’s used as a comparative judgement.

I think what Esther is actually saying is… by all means, show off to me (and yourself) about your child’s wondrously adventurous eating. But do NOT try to extrapolate from this that we can judge each other’s quality of parenting using this as the benchmark and where you’ll try to make me look like I come off worse.  And with this I whole-heartedly agree. Solidarity sister and enough with the judging thank you very much.

If Esther is able to genuinely make meal times battle free then I take my mothering hat off to her, for even with my limited repertoire, mealtimes can still be a huge source of stress and conflict. My children are older than Esther’s and I WILL insist that my children eat at least some of the vegetables on their plate, I will try and make different dishes now and again and I expect my children to at least try them.

Esther is also right about how labelling food “good” or “bad” is storing up problems for later. But personally, I think it’s incredibly difficult not to want your children to eat these things as we KNOW it’s good for them. Especially if your children are older than pre-school, they need to understand how to make healthy choices around food and to take this knowledge with them in to their adult life.

In short, I believe we need a solutions-based approach. If you find something that works, share it. It might just work for somebody else too.

My way of beating the dinner battles it to try very hard to make food taste so totally delicious that my kids will eat it, I find ways to get their 10 a day into them in which require thought, planning and creativity. Luckily, I love cooking and being creative in the kitchen. In fact, I invented smoked humous to make something healthy taste amazing so the kids would eat loads of it, and it’s now an award-winning product. I’ve recently created a range of vegetable based kips dips to get children eating veg without the battles (www.lovemoorish.co.uk/dipity). So my solution is being creative. But that’s because this kind of work is my passion, it doesn’t make me a better person than you.

I don’t do it every day and it doesn’t always work, but for those who are getting their kids to try new food and to eat a healthy diet my view is…. go on, show-off, revel in the good bits as there are plenty of bad bits, which by the way, we should all be sharing too.

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The simplest soup ever – fresh kale, coconut and Devil-ish Moorish Smoked Humous

soup close up
Ingredients serves 4-ish
  • 1 150g pot of Devil-ish Moorish Smoked Humous
  • Few handfuls/bag full of fresh Kale
  • Veg stock cube
  • 2 tbsp Maggi coconut milk powder – or just use half a tin of milk
  • Carrot (optional)

Side view Devil-ish

I firmly believe that cooking should be simple, wherever possible – let the ingredients shine and give the cook chance to join in the banter with friends!

This is such an easy soup; healthy and delicious, ideally using a few handfuls of kale picked straight from the garden.

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Give it a good wash (unless you’re a fan of extra insect protein!), cut off the tough stems, chop roughly and pop it in the pan. JUST cover with water; add a couple of tablespoons of Coconut milk powder and a veg stock cube. Add a chopped carrot, if you like; for extra sweetness.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins or so until it’s soft but with a little bite left. Cool slightly, then tip into a blender (reserve some of the cooking water so you can adjust the thickness to your taste), add a pot of Devil-ish, and blend. If you don’t like spicy, Smokey-ish or Zingy-ish would also work well.

Serve with some lovely granary bread. Yum!

soup

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A cracking team! Moorish and Arden’s

ARD-Moorish for news story

It’s great when we’re able to work with other small, British, growing businesses like ours – that’s why we were so happy to be selected as #SBS winners – it meant we had the opportunity to make connections and learn from fellow entrepreneurial companies.

Even better when they share our passion for yummy food; and better still when the two product lines go together so brilliantly – that’s why we’re really happy to be able to work with Arden’s

Bakes

Arden’s are a family of foodies who love great food and have travelled the continent to bring you irresistible nibbles that will delight and satisfy your taste buds. And their delicious range of snacks pair perfectly with our smoked dips 🙂

Look out for joint promos coming very soon.

 

Ardens can be found at www.ardens.co.uk 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quick comp – vote to win all 8 yummy smoked Moorish flavours

heartstripBored of the politics yet? Let’s have a bit of fun with a quick comp.

It might be hard to choose your “party colours” but if dips ruled the country, which Moorish “colour” would you vote for? Tell us and you could win all 8 delicious smoked flavours of Moorish, in 150g pots.

To enter on Facebook, please like our page and comment on the competition post with your favourite Moorish flavour and what colour it is, e.g. “Devil-ish red”.

To enter on Twitter, please follow us and reply to the competition post in the same way.

Closing date with the polls at 10pm on 7th May. We’ll pick a winner at random on the 8th from all entries with correct entries as above.

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When two great ideas come together

There are many great things about running a small business. One unexpected delight is the camaraderie I experience with other entrepreneurs.

I met Emma Heathcote-James from the Little Soap Company at a mentoring event and we discovered we had a lot in common. Both of our businesses share the aim of producing artisan luxury, British products using natural, traditional methods and ingredients.

We also both enjoy the odd glass of wine, which led to a discussion about how the long hours of running a start up can take a toll on one’s skin. And the lightbulb moment! Why not combine the natural richness of Moorish Smoked Humous ingredients; with rapeseed oil, rich tahini and hormone-boosting chickpeas with Emma’s luxury green beauty expertise?!

The next day I visited Emma’s wonderful inventing workshop. She talked me through her green beauty facemask recipe. We discovered that we barely needed to change the recipe, as the oatmeal which provides exfoliation could be replaced with crushed chickpeas.

I tried it out of course and even my husband admitted my skin was particularly glowing. After leaving on for 5 minutes then washing off gently with tepid water; the sweet scent of garlic with musty smoked undertones smelt temptingly delicious and only a little lingering.

moorish facemask

On sale through www.lovemoorish.co.uk/humousonmyface  from today; costing £6.50 for 150ml.

About the Little Soap Company: Emma develops her artisan soap products, sought after by all the leading supermarkets, including Waitrose customers and surprisingly, dogs (there’s a special “Little Beast” pet shampoo bar) all in her idyllic Cotswold-based workshop in the village of Broadway; where she even helps customers create their very own scented bars, lotions and potions in group or individual courses at their Little Soap School.  Emma can be contacted at emma@littlesoapcompany.co.uk or on 01386 853 025.

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