Celebrating pulses

Did you know that today, 10th February is World Pulses Day? And why not, as pulses — beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – are awesome for so many reasons and play a key role in a whole-food plant-based diet.

But why have they been designated their own special day? As with most international or national ‘days’, it’s really a campaign to increase awareness of the importance of pulses in our global food system. And for us as humans, the impact of climate change, growing populations and food scarcity and security, finding a sustainable food source that provides excellent nutrition and minimal environmental impact is key to our future survival on this planet. And pulses may just be the answer.So what difference can pulses make?

Firstly, they are good for health. And in a world where chronic health problems are on a massive increase, that’s a major factor. Research shows that pulses can contribute towards reducing health problems like heart disease and obesity, a major issue in countries that have an excess of food products but malnutrition (ie: getting too much of the bulk nutrients, not enough of essential micronutrients). Equally, they are great for those populations that still suffer from food scarcity and undernutrition. Because beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed full of wonderful nutrients ranging from plant-base proteins to tiny rainbow phytonutrients. This infographic explains more.

As well as being good for us, they’re also good for the environment. They enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for harsh chemicals and fertilisers, which is better for the local ecosystem and waterways. They grow in harsh environments, areas of the world where many things won’t grow, a plus for remote populations. And they also have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group, requiring fewer natural resources. For example, approximately 1800 gallons of water is needed to produce 1lb of meat, whereas only 43 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of pulses. That’s a huge difference.

There are so many different ways to use pulses in every day meals, ranging from super snacks like hummus and falafels, to curries, savoury bakes and even bread. Here are links to some of my favourite recipes where beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas are the star.

If you want to know more about pulses and World Pulses Day, have a look at their website https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses – there’s some fascinating information on there.

So on World Pulses Day, are you going to celebrate with a special dish? Do let me know what you choose to eat!

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine

Luckily my lovely husband is really open to eating my creations; he celebrates the successes and tolerates the disasters! He’ll try most things but there are two vegetables he just can’t get to grips with – aubergine and beetroot, which is a shame as I love them both. But as he’s away a lot with work, I make sure I get my fill then, rather than torturing him with things he just won’t like.

Hopefully you don’t have the same dislike as him because I have two delicious recipes to share with you – one beetroot coming up soon and this aubergine dish.  This recipe is super easy and ridiculously tasty, and is packed full of amazing plant-based nutrients. It also features two great sources of plant protein and a shed load of fibre to keep your gut microbes happy.

In the past, the tiny seeds found in the flesh of aubergine have given it a reputation of being bitter. You may be surprised to hear that it’s nicotine in the seeds that create that bitter flavour. There’s only a small amount though, so don’t fret that you’ll suddenly find yourself on a 20 aubergine a day habit! The traditional way of modifying this was to coat it in salt which would draw out the water from the flesh along with the bitterness, but it’s rare to find a really bitter one these days as cross-breeding has modified the flavour to make it more palatable.

The exciting thing about aubergine is it’s colour. In the world of rainbow eating, purple foods are hard to come by. And aubergine skin has a gorgeously deep purple hue. It’s colour comes from a powerful phytonutrient called nasunin and is helps to protect cell membranes from damage. It also helps to remove excess iron from the blood stream. This may sound like something you don’t want to happen, but excess iron can cause havoc in the body if left circulating and some people have problems excreting it. So anything that helps is a good thing, although you’d need to eat it on a regular basis!

This recipe is perfect for using up leftover rice or quinoa. It’s so easy to cook too much of both. I never want to waste food, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up, and making a tasty stuffing is perfect. Both wholegrain brown rice and quinoa are good sources of plant protein, as are black beans. Until fairly recently, these small legumes were not that easy to find in the shops, but their rising popularity in the plant-based food world has got them up on the shelf – hooray! High in protein and insoluble fibre, they also contain a wide range of minerals including zinc which is essential for healthy immune system. Interestingly, black beans contain phytonutrients from the same group as aubergine, and are really a deep red/purple colour, so you’re getting a double whammy on the purple nutrient compounds with anti-oxidants that support our cells.

This recipe can be used for 2 or 4 people – if you are catering for four, serve one half with some spicy roasted sweet potatoes and a green veg like broccoli or stir fried cabbage. If you want to keep it simple, just serve on a bed of mixed green leaves. And if you are cooking for one, just halve the recipe and enjoy it all by yourself! If you have time, whizz up coriander dairy-free yoghurt to drizzle over the top. It finishes it off perfectly.

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine (serves 2-4 people)
2 medium sized aubergines
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 fat garlic cloves, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper
100g cooked wholegrain rice and quinoa (one or both)
2 big handfuls spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, stems and leaves, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Rinse and dry the aubergines then slice in half lengthways. You need to remove most of the flesh, so leaving a 1cm rim, cut a round into the flesh, score through the centre bit to make a dice and scoop it out with a teaspoon. Rub a smidge of olive oil onto the outside of the skin, place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or so until it starts to soften and become pliable.

Whilst the skin is baking, chop the removed aubergine flesh and put to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a non-stick frying pan and sauté the onion and mustard seeds for 5 minutes until the seeds are lightly toasted and the onion starts to soften.Stir in the garlic and chopped aubergine flesh cook for a minute, then add the tomato and chopped mushrooms. Continue to cook for another few minutes until the tomatoes and aubergine are soft and mushy and water runs out of the mushrooms. Add the spices, salt and pepper, black beans and cooked rice/quinoa. Stir well to combine. Finally add the chopped spinach and most of the chopped coriander (retaining a few leaves for garnish) and simmer for another few minutes until the spinach has wilted and everything is hot and steamy. Check the flavour and add more spices or seasoning as needed. Once you’re happy with your flavour, turn off the heat.

Remove the aubergine shells from the oven. Carefully spoon in the stuffing mix, pressing it in lightly to make sure its well filled. Place back in the oven and back for another 15 minutes until the shell is lovely and soft and the top lightly browned. Remove from the oven and garnish with the reserved coriander. Drizzle coriander yoghurt dressing over the top if using and serve. Enjoy.

 

Fabulous flaxseeds

It's no surprise to anyone who follows my blog that cake features high on my list of favourite things! When I first went dairy free, I still used eggs in my recipes but this changed once I turned to eating a plant based diet. The question was, how to still make good cake when it was both dairy and egg free?

I soon discovered there are many different alternatives which yield awesomely delicious results. Many of my recipes actually don't need a direct egg replacement, but when required, a flax egg comes to the rescue.

A flax egg is very simple to make, so don't be put off if a recipe asks for one. Just mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and leave to thicken for 5 minutes or so. You will end up with a thick, gloopy mix, similar to a whisked egg. It doesn't look that appetising, but you won't notice it once added to your recipe.

Flaxseed, otherwise known as linseed, is a tiny powerhouse of plant based nutrients; if you haven't yet discovered these seeds, then you really might want to! Packed full of super healthy essential omega 3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a fabulous source of complete plant protein, minerals like manganese and magnesium as well as some of the B vitamins and phytonutrients called lignans that act as anti-oxidants and help to balance hormones. On top of that is the fibre; packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, flaxseeds not only keep you regular but also feed friendly gut bacteria (a pre-biotic), so promoting gut health. All that fibre also helps to steady blood sugar levels and fills you up too. So much goodness in one little seed! But a word of warning - if you are not used to a high fibre diet, then go easy to start off with and have a little at a time, building up slowly otherwise your gut might get a bit overwhelmed!

To get the nutritional benefits, flaxseed need to be ground as the tough outer coating is too much for our digestive systems to crack into properly. You can buy it ready ground, but many products are quite expensive, and once ground the seeds start to lose some of their nutritional powers. So it's much better to grind your own in small batches, then keep them in the fridge ready for use. You will need a coffee grinder or high-speed blender for this - an average food processor just isn't up to the job! I do a small batch at a time in my NutriBlend and store them in an old jam jar.

So what else can you use flaxseed in apart from cake? Lots of things - here's a few suggestions:

  • in raw snacks and cakes
  • sprinkled on breakfast cereals
  • on yoghurt
  • added to a crumble topping
  • as a binder for pastry
  • added to smoothies
  • thicken soups or stews
  • in homemade bread or crackers

Flaxseed oil also has some amazing nutritional uses, but that's a blog post for another day! In the meantime, why not grab some flaxseed the next time you're shopping and add it into your daily diet. Let me know how you get on!

 

 

Odds and end smoky tomato and parsnip stew

Last day of the veg box blogging challenge, and I have to say, the ingredients on offer look rather forlorn! Tuesday evening tends to be my ‘creative’ night, using up as much produce as possible. It always makes me think of the Goodness Gracious Me character Mrs’ I can make it at home for
nothing’. All she needed was a small aubergine and piece of string to create anything. Sometimes I feel like that!

So what was left? We had one onion, a large parsnip and a handful of chard leaves. Doesn’t look much to start with, but thankfully I have a well stocked store cupboard.

Random ingredients like this usually work well in a one pot stew, adding in herbs and spices to jazz things up a bit. My go-to spice in these situations is smoked paprika – as my daughter wisely states, everything tastes better with a little smoked paprika!

We always have tins of beans in the cupboard; a great plant based source of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre, beans give texture and substance to a dish, and can fill up the hungriest of stomachs. And because of their high fibre content, they’re really healthy, particularly good for reducing cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. Adding the tomatoes brightens everything up, as well as adding another load of phytonutrients.

I used pinto beans for this dish for their texture and colour. Random fact – these beans have brown speckles, like splashes of colour in a painting. Pinto means ‘painted’ in Spanish, hence the name. May come in handy one day in a quiz, you never know.

So here it is, my odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew. Served with some mixed quinoa, it has a protein punch and a little spicy kick to make it interesting. And no string in sight!

Odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew.
1 onion, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 small celery sticks, chopped
handful of chard, washed and chopped
2 handfuls frozen peas
1 tin pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon thyme
black pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and sauté the onion, potato, celery and parsnip for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and add the spices and herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnip is soft. Stir in the beans and peas, and season with black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, check the seasoning and add more if needed. Enjoy!

Friday night rainbow savoury pancakes

Friday night dinners have to be quick and easy, just because it’s Friday, really! Rainbow pancakes are ideal as they are super tasty and don’t take much time to make.

So what was used from the veg box? One of the carrots (I’m gradually making my way through them), a handful of chard and then the cherry tomatoes, not for the pancakes but roasted on the side – oh and they tasted sublime!

For the sharp eyed, you’ll notice there is an interloper in the veg ingredients – I snuck in some sweet potato, not just for the gorgeous colour but to use as a binding agent. Once steamed and puréed, sweet potato goes a little gloopy, and works brilliantly helping to hold everything together in gluten free plant based recipes. They also contribute towards the texture and can be added in surprisingly well to a variety of recipes – anyone tried my sweet potato chocolate brownies…..?

The other key ingredient in the pancakes is the flour – for this particular pancake I’ve used chickpea flour (otherwise known as besan or gram flour). I first discovered this flour when living in India, and find myself using it more and more, simply because it’s amazing! First it has a strong flavour so contributes a savoury taste. It’s packed with minerals, particularly magnesium, B vitamins and is a great source of protein and of course fibre. Finally, it’s gluten free and really adaptable for all sorts of recipes. Don’t try to lick the bowl though, as it tastes pretty foul when raw!

To finish off the dish, I made a spinach and walnut pesto sauce as it needed a little something on the side, and that’s what I had in the fridge!

So give this a go – it takes about 20 minutes in total if you already have some sweet potato pureé to hand. Enjoy!

rainbow pancakes
Rainbow pancakes

Rainbow savoury pancakes
1 cup chickpea flour/besan/gram flour
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
200ml water
1 medium carrot, grated
2 small sweet potatoes, steamed and mashed
handful chard
handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
cherry tomatoes
olive oil
First, heat the oven to 180ºC, place the cherry tomatoes still on their stems into a baking tray with a splash of olive oil and pop in the oven to roast for 15 minutes or so.
Wash the chard and separate the stem and leaves. Finely chop the stem and put to one side. Place the leaves into a frying pan and dry fry for a couple of minutes to remove some of the water. Leave to cool.
Whilst the tomatoes are roasting, make the pancakes. Place the flour, turmeric, baking powder and salt into a bowl and mix together well. Add most of the water to make a thick batter. Stir in the sweet potato, chopped chard stems, chopped chard leaves, grated carrot and parsley and mix together really well until everything is combined. Add a little more water if needed. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a drop of oil in a pan and dollop 2-3 spoonfuls into the middle, spreading it out to make a large pancake. Cook for a couple of minutes until starting to brown, then flip and cook the other side. Slide out onto a warm plate and repeat until all the mixture is used up.
Cut each pancake into fours, then serve with the roasted tomatoes and some pesto or sauce of choice.