Super crunchy red cabbage and walnut salad

With all the hot weather that’s been around, salad is definitely on the menu. If you find it hard to think up quick and tasty alternatives to satisfy the taste-buds, this crunchy red cabbage and walnut  mix will hit the spot.

I love red cabbage, and enjoy it just as much raw as cooked. My family are not so keen however, as it does have quite a pungent, bitter taste. That’s actually all the marvellous phytonutrients packed within the crisp leaves. Bitter flavours often contain the most medicinal properties, but most of us are not so keen on them. Many types of produce have been cultivated to remove the bitterness to make them more palatable for the general market – think how harsh brussel sprouts used to be. Nowadays they tend to be small and sweet, unlike the tough, bitter bullets I remember from my childhood.

So although these veggies taste more delicious, some of their healing properties have been removed. Not that it’s a waste of time eating them, far from it. They’re not just quite as helpful as they used to be.

One way to make raw cabbage less bitter, and therefore more palatable, is to let it marinate in something salty or acidic for a while. Sauerkraut for example tastes much less bitter, plus contains helpful friendly bacteria from natural fermentation, but it takes a while to make. Leaving cabbage to soak in an acidic dressing for a short period of time does the job really well – and keeps the satisfying crunch too.

Vinegar works well, but for anyone like me who cannot tolerate fermented products that’s not an option. I prefer to keep it simple – fresh lemon juice does the job just as well. Add a little salt and the two combine to help draw out some of the fluid and bitterness, making the cabbage slightly softer and easy one the palate. Try to remember to marinate for a minimum of an hour – longer is even better. But if you forget, do it as soon as you can then finish off constructing the salad at the last minute.

This also works for raw onion. It seems to help make it more digestible and less repeatable later on in the day, something many people suffer from. I’ve used red onion in this recipe, partly because it’s slightly less harsh than yellow but mainly because the red pigments contains extra super-healthy phytonutrients and anti-oxidants.

If you have a nut allergy or intolerance, then walnuts can be replaced with toasted pumpkin seeds. Try and find some big ones to stand out in the salad. Or if you wish to dress it up, add some gorgeous sparkly pomegranate seeds or dairy-free feta or labneh cheese.

That’s it! So with the weather to stay warm for the foreseeable future, why not give this super crunchy simple salad a go? Let me know how you get on.

Red cabbage and walnut salad (4-6 servings)
1/3 medium-sized red cabbage, finely shredded
1 medium red or white onion, finely sliced
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
1 big lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley, coriander and mint)

Place the red cabbage and onion together in a large bowl. Use you fingers to ensure they are combined well. Whisk the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper together in a small jug then pour it into the bowl. Toss well to ensure everything is coated, then leave to marinate.

When you’re ready to serve, add the chopped herbs and walnuts, season with a little extra black pepper, toss together well and serve. That’s it! Enjoy.

 

Purple power

Broccoli is definitely part of the ‘in’ crowd when it comes to superfood veg. Once only served as over-cooked mush (and sadly still is in some establishments), broccoli comes into its own when prepared and served with a little thought and attention. As much as I love those bright green tight florets, and eat them whenever I can, there’s a purple sibling that, in my mind, trumps green every time – the beautiful, delicate and seasonal purple sprouting broccoli (PSB).

Green broccoli by itself is pretty amazing, packed full of healthy nutrients like vitamins A, C and some B vitamins, as well as manganese, iron, various phytonutrients and of course fibre. The phytonutrients in broccoli are amazing at helping to support the body’s detoxification and one in particular helps eliminates the nasty leftovers out of the body. So it’s great ingredient to use for a body spring clean.

So what’s so good about the purple stuff? Simply put, it just is! PSB has all of the benefits of green – and more. A higher amount of nutrients like zinc and iron, more B vitamins and more fibre, as the stems and leaves are eaten as well as the florets. And it’s purple, and purple food is good!

Even with normal broccoli, I always eat as much of the stem as possible, saving the thick stalk to use in soups or stir fries. The stem is packed with fibre and nutrients so is just as important as the florets. And because the stems of PSB are so much thinner, they’re easier to eat. And the leaves of PSB – now they really are a winner as they are packed full of calcium, potassium and vitamin C, so great for your bones and immune system. In fact, PSB just has more antioxidants than it’s green counterpart, but needs care as they are also more readily lost in the cooking process.

It’s rare to find PSB in supermarkets, although I have noticed it a couple of times. I’ve tried to grow my own as it’s one of those veg that is so gorgeous picked and eaten within a short period of time, but the slugs love them too and my crop is woeful to say the least! Veg boxes are your best bet for fresh, good quality PSB.

We had a gorgeous bagful this week in our Riverford veg box and I couldn’t wait to dive in and munch it all up. I find the best way to prepare it to retain as many as the nutrient goodies as possible is to give it a quick wash, trim off the woody end and then slice up the the stalk so it’s thinner, then steam briefly or stir fry quickly. It’s beautiful deep flavour and colour is retained that way, along with the goodness.

I made this simple pasta dish and it was wolfed down – even the teenage boy who suddenly declared he doesn’t like broccoli (!) tucked in with gusto, so it’s confirmed teenage friendly. Keeping the PSB lightly cooked gives texture and flavour. If you can’t get your hands on any PSB, then of course use green – it’s still fabulous, even without the purple power!

Purples sprouting and walnut spaghetti
250g purple sprouting broccoli
1 onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
extra virgin olive oil
spaghetti – wholewheat or gluten free
Start cooking your spaghetti as this will takes the longest. Once this is up and bubbling, prepare the PSB. Rinse under a running tap, trim any woody ends then slice the stalks up the centre to make thinner. Place in a steamer and steam for a couple of minutes – do not over cook as you’ll loose the nutrients. Meanwhile, sauté the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and steamed PSB and stir fry on a low heat for a few more minutes – add a little of the steaming water if the pan gets a bit dry so the garlic doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper. Add the PSB mix to the cooked spaghetti, and serve topped with the walnuts and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.

Sweet treat – raw and dairy free!

Last month, I disappear off with a friend for a few days to visit Auroville, an alternative community nestled in the countryside near to Pondicherry on the Tamil Nadu coast. Auroville is a fascinating experiment in human unity and focuses on sustainable living as well as the environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. We spent a lovely few days relaxing under immense banyan trees, participating in yoga, pottery and a lot of chatting! The food was amazing, much of it organic and locally grown, and of course they had a wide choice which included dairy-free and vegan options, so I, and my stomach, were happy!

One evening, we found ourselves at a farm house within the settlement, in a group gathered around a big bonfire singing ‘mindful’ songs – it was a truly hippy experience! We arrived a little late, and the vegan spread provided must have been delicious, as the only thing left were a few small dark balls scattered on a plate, covered in white flecks. Someone said they were pudding; unconvinced, I tried one as I was so hungry and discovered much to my surprise and delight that they were little balls of sweet heaven! Looks were very deceiving! The host told me they were raw date and nut balls – that was it!  How can that taste of chocolate though?

I know that many people believe that we should be eating mostly or all of our food raw. There is a great film called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead about a guy juicing his way to health, which is really worth watching, if only for the people watching experience. Check out http://www.jointhereboot.com to find out more.

But I digress! So I do include lots of raw veggies in my diet, but I’m not a complete raw foodie, so hadn’t come across these raw date balls before.  Doing some research on the internet, I found a guideline recipe on Yummly.com, but then changed it a little to suit what we have available here in Bangalore. If you’re a committed calorie counter, then all these nuts and dried fruits might freak you out a little, but do note there is no added sugar. A handful of nuts is the same amount of fat as a teaspoon of refined oil, plus you get all the extra nutritious goodies such as vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre, but that’s a whole posting in itself. My husband and son love these balls and they’re difficult to binge on; they are really filling!

Vegan choco-nutty-fruity balls
1 cup/120g of nuts, raw and unsalted – I used almonds, walnuts and cashews
1/2 cup/120g organic pitted dates, chopped
1/2 cup/ 120g dried cranberries or apricots
1/2 cup raisins
2 tbspns cocoa powder
1 tbspoon fresh orange juice
few drops almond essence
for coating:
1/2 tspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup/30g fresh or dessicated coconut
Place nuts, dates and rest of dried fruit in a food processor along with cocoa powder and almond essence. Blitz until everything is ground together – add orange juice a few drops at a time until the mixture binds together – you probably won’t need all of it. On a plate, combine the cinnamon and coconut. Roll small portions of the mix into balls, then roll them in the coconut mix until covered. Once all done, place in a container and refrigerate. Then enjoy over a relaxing cup of tea, after a workout or at any time you fancy a sweet nibble!

 

Nutrient popping pesto

I love the smell of fresh sweet basil; one waft captures images of warm summer days, luscious ripe juicy tomatoes draped with fresh basil leaves accompanied by a crisp cool glass of wine. Opening up a jar of pesto can capture this image, even on the coldest winter day, an ideal sauce or marinade for a quick weekday supper. Of course, one of the main ingredients for traditional pesto is cheese so this is usually a no go area for me, unless I can find a jar in a “free from” range – fairly rare in the UK, non-existent here in India.

Recently I came across a bunch of sweet basil in the local vegetable store and just craved for pesto. There are many kinds of basil; Asian basil has a quite different flavour to the Medterranean type, harsher and reminiscent of cloves which doesn’t work quite so well on pasta, so finding sweet basil was a real boon. Basil is full of nutrient goodies and the oil in the leaves carry anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties so not only taste good but are good for you too. One agent, eugenol, inhibits the enzymes that mediate the inflammatory cascade and can  provide symptomatic relief in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel disease. Basil is also packed full of vitamin A which is essential for healthy eyes, skin and mucous membranes as well as vitamin K, essential for blood clotting and strengthening bones. Not only that but basil contains good amounts of iron, manganese and potassium, essential for healthy functional cells. So much in one leaf!

Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but these are also hard to find here and always seem to be rancid. On a recent trip to Kashmir, I was so excited to find a box of pine nuts, guaranteed not to have turned rancid, or so I was told. When I returned home and eagerly opened the box, I discovered that was because they were still in their shell. Peeling 100g of pine nuts is a seriously boring job!! So a nutrient popping alternative is walnuts (I also bought a massive bag of these, ready shelled!). People often shy away from nuts, fearful of their high fat content. But walnuts contain unsaturated fats and fabulous amounts of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid, one of the few plant based foods to have this essential fatty acid. Omega 3 fats keep your heart and brain healthy – a walnut looks a bit like a brain and really is brain food. They also have fabulous amounts of the micro-mineral manganese, essential for blood sugar control, cellular energy and bone growth, and other minerals such as magnesium, copper and phosphate as well as a whole range of vitamins.

So for the pesto you need:

Dairy free pesto

2 cups of basil leaves
1/3 cup of walnuts, lightly toasted and cooled
3 cloves of garlic crushed
1/2 cup of olive oil
salt to taste
Firstly place the walnuts in your blender or grinder and blitz for a couple of seconds. Add the basil and garlic and blitz again until broken down. Then add the olive oil a bit at a time, blitzing in between until you get the consistency you want and season with salt to taste. That’s it! Same as normal pesto, just no cheese! Because there are no additives and preservatives apart from the salt, the bright fresh green colour fades pretty quickly, but it still keeps well in the fridge for a few days, or you can freeze it in small quantities if you want, but I think this takes out some of the active ingrediants and lowers it’s healing properties. Of course then you can do whatever you want with it – spoon in to pasta, add more oil and use as a salad dressing or marinade or even a topping for a baked potato.
Dairy free, super healthy and delicious – what’s not to like?