Spicy Indian pancakes

It only seems like a few weeks since I wrote my last pancake post for Shrove Tuesday, and yet here we are again. How time flies!

Last years post shared my top tips for achieving perfect plant-based pancakes – click here to check it out. This year I thought I’d give you something a little different, inspired by my time in India. They’re dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free plus wonderfully tasty – suitable for everyone! Continue reading “Spicy Indian pancakes”

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

The last few weeks have been so busy, getting the last bits of my new book finalised. It’s very exciting – I have 250 copies of Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie currently being printed and hopefully being delivered tomorrow. I’m at the Horsham Vegan Festival on Saturday (click here for details) where I’ll be giving a talk and selling my book for the first time! If you’re in the area, do pop by and say hi.

In the meantime, there’s still some baking going on (if nothing else it’s therapy to being on the computer for hours on end!). And as its half term, I thought you might like something simple to do with the kids, especially if you’ve run out of ideas that don’t cost money, as school holidays can be such an expensive time.

I used to love baking with my children when they were young, but it had to be simple otherwise 1) they would run out of patience and 2) the kitchen would turn into a baking bomb-site! And sometimes is was wise not to do highly sugar-laden cookies otherwise it would send them a bit bonkers – not ideal on a wet February day!

These cookies are super easy to make and contain no refined sugar, the sweetness coming from the ripe banana and dried fruit. If they are not sweet enough for your family’s taste-buds, add a little maple syrup. I’ve used raisins and almonds in my recipe, but there’s lots of alternatives like cranberries, pecan nuts, peanuts or chocolate drops (dairy-free of course!).

These can be made strictly gluten-free if that’s important to you by using gluten-free oats. And there’s loads of lovely fibre here from both the oats and the flaxseed to keep your gut bacteria happy. The flaxseed also provides health omega 3 fatty acids which help boost brain power and reduce inflammation in the body. Yay!

Of course, you don’ have to be a child to enjoy these! Just a lover of cookies! Perfect for lunch-boxes and snacks, you could even get away with eating them for breakfast. And as they are fully plant-based and low in fat, they are suitable for many specialist health programmes like Overcoming MS and reversing diabetes and heart disease.

I hope you give these a go. If you do, let me know how you get on. And if you can come to Horsham on Saturday – see you there! If not, I’ll be posting details on how to buy my book very soon.

Healthy oat and flaxseed cookies

Quick and tasty oat based cookies with no added sugar but lots of yummy flavour.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Snack
Keyword: cookies, dairy free, gluten free, no added sugar, plant based
Servings: 10 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 large ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 100 grams oats gluten free if needed
  • 50 grams ground flaxseed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 30 grams raisins
  • 30 grams sliced almonds
  • 3 tablespoons dairy-free milk

Instructions

  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper or a silicon mat. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan). 
  • Hunt out 10 good almond flakes and put to one side for decoration. Roughly chop the remaining almonds
  • Place the ripe banana in a bowl and mash it until soft and smooth. Add the oats, ground flaxseed, salt, cinnamon, raisins and almonds to the banana and mix well to combine. Pour in the dairy-free milk and stir to form a thick dough. Leave it to settle for 5 minutes. If the dough is really dry, add a little more dairy-free milk but take care not to make it soggy.
  • Split the dough into 10 equal sections. Roll each one into a ball, place on the baking sheet and flatten with your hand until it’s approximately 2cm thick. Repeat with the remaining sections. 
  • Press a sliced almond into the top then place the tray in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 10 until firm and lightly browned. 
  • Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. That’s if they don’t all get eaten at once!

Notes

Don’t forget you can swap the raisins and almonds for any dried fruit, nut or seed of choice, or use dairy-free chocolate drops.

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

The snow may have gone, but it’s still definitely winter! Whilst my husband sends me pictures of brilliant blue skies and crisp white snow from his skiing holiday, I sit here looking at a dull grey February day, the type where you wonder if it’s ever really going to get light.

There are signs of spring though – I snapped these brave little snowdrops yesterday outside a friends house – and I’ve notice the daffodil leaves beginning to sprout. All hopeful signs of better weather to come.

In the meantime, comfort food is needed! Something to warm, sustain and give you a little hug on the inside. This deliciously quick mushroom and lentil stew should hit the spot. Packed full of rainbow veggies, it tastes wonderful and provides a whole range of helpful anti-oxidants and nutrients that help support the immune system. Not only that, but it contains a range of fibre that helps keep helpful gut microbiome happy too. That’s important, as this time of year can be hard for people suffering from depression and low mood. Recent research from the Gut Project suggests that the make-up of gut bacteria and psychological health are directly connected. So the food we eat really can make a difference to how we feel.

I’ve used tinned lentils for this recipe, purely to save time. If you want to cook your own, feel free to do so, just add extra water and give yourself more time. Using tinned makes this a quick plant-based and gluten-free mid-week supper when time is short. This also freezes well, so get ahead of the game and double the amount, keeping half aside to freeze for another day.

I’ve added a little balsamic vinegar to the recipe. This is optional, to add a little extra flavour. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, then try a little tamari or even vegan Worcesteshire sauce, but take care not to overdo it, as they are strong flavours that easily dominate.

I hope you enjoy this recipe; it certainly hit the comfort food spots for me! Let me know what you think if you make it – don’t forget you can now print it out now I’m using the WP recipe maker plug in. I hope it makes it more user friendly. And remember, winter always turns to spring!

Comforting mushroom and lentil stew

Quick and tasty, this is a perfect mid-week plant-based dish. Serve on pasta or baked potatoes (it’s particularly good with sweet potato) and a seasonal green like broccoli or kale.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time30 mins
Keyword: comfort food, dairy free, dinner, gluten free, plant based, vegan
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 large celery stick diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fat clove garlic finely chopped
  • 200 grams mushrooms sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian herbs
  • 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 400 grams tinned cooked lentils rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Heat 2 tablespoons water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if it does
  • Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and add the herbs. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the tinned lentils and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove the bay leaf and serve.

Beany ‘cheesy’ pasta bake

How’s 2019 treating you so far? You may be sticking with a determination to lose weight, or trying out Veganuary or similar plant-based eating programme. It could be you’ve started training for a marathon or half marathon (yay go for it!) or been stuck in bed with one of the nasty winter bugs going around and just want some comfort food.

Good news – todays recipe will hit the spot with all of these situations, and more – like you just want something super tasty for dinner!

One of the wonderful things about eating whole-foods is the focus is not on one nutritional element – the protein, fat or carbohydrate content. Rather, it’s on how all  the constituent elements work together as a team and provide the right balance of nutrients for over all health. With no refined products, this dish is full of lovely fibre, making it filling, satisfying and something your gut will just love. Because, as researchers are discovering, gut health is key to overall health, including weight management, mental wellness plus prevention and management of chronic health problems.

So although this dish contains pasta, it doesn’t make it the devil incarnate as some ‘low-carb’ enthusiasts might declare. Wholegrains retain more of the original beneficial elements like complex carbohydrates that feed friendly gut bacteria, slow release energy to power your body’s processes and even proteins, minerals and, in some forms, essential fatty acids. If you have a gluten sensitivity, then rather than wheat-based pasta, choose brown rice or other gluten-free options (but take care it’s not too refined).

If you’re trying plant-based for the first time, I’m sure you’ve already been asked ‘where do you get your protein from?’. Beans are a fantastic source of plant-based protein. But because whole-foods have more than one macronutrient, they also contain complex fibre and other nutrients too. Nuts are another great protein source, as well as fats, as is tofu. So there’s plenty here, no chance of missing out.

On top of all that, this recipe is full of delicious vegetables, packed with minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients. All these nutrients support the body right at cellular level, maintaining your internal equilibrium but also helping you to heal and then stay well. So if you’ve been feeling a bit under the weather or you’re training hard, these nutrients will work together to help you feel great.

Ultimately, though, the key thing about this dish is that it tastes absolutely delicious. And after all, isn’t that really what we get out of eating? It is for me! There’s no joy in eating dull, bland food no matter how ‘good’ it’s supposed to be. Whole plant foods retain their wonderful flavours, so even if you’re restricted in some way, ‘on a diet’, have food intolerances, a health problem or training for an event, you never have to miss out on taste!

So why not give this one a go this week? To help you get more from the recipes, you’ll notice I’ve changed the format so you can adjust number of servings or print it out – no more sticky fingers on the iPad screen. Hope it works well for you! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Print Recipe
Beany 'cheesy' pasta bake
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Course Main Dish
Servings
hungry people
Ingredients
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 sticks celery diced
  • 2 small carrots diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely diced
  • 4 medium mushrooms chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 4 florets broccoli chopped
  • 400 grams tin borlotti beans rinsed and drained
  • 150 grams whole-wheat pasta or gluten free alternative
  • salt and pepper
For the sauce
  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • 100 grams silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 clove crushed garlic (optional)
Instructions
For the pasta and beany sauce
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the dried whole-wheat pasta. Pop on the lid, turn down the heat and cook on a gentle boil for 20 minutes until al dente. Turn off the heat, leave to rest in the pan for a couple of minutes then drain and keep warm in the pan until the beany sauce is ready.
  2. To make the beany sauce, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large non-stick pan and sauté the onion, celery, carrots and red pepper until soft, around 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for another couple of minutes.
  3. Mix the tomato puree with 50ml of water. Add the oregano, chilli flakes and diluted tomato puree to the pan and stir well. Simmer for 5 minutes on a low heat then add the chopped broccoli florets and beans along with a little salt and pepper. Continue to cook on a low heat for up to 10 minutes until all the veggies are cooked and soft.
  4. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan and stir well to ensure its all covered with the beany sauce.
For the 'cheesy' sauce
  1. Drain the cashews and place in a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover then blend until smooth. Add more water if it's too thick. Taste and add more flavourings as needed.
To finish off
  1. Pre-heat the grill to high. Tip the pasta beany sauce into a large serving dish. Pour the cheesy sauce over the top - there will be a lot but that's ok as you want it to create a good layer. Place under the grill for 5 minutes to brown, then remove and serve straight away - a green salad on the side will finish it off perfectly!

The perfect roast potato

I’m not one for bragging, but I do know for sure that I make amazing roast potatoes. So for day 17 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I’m giving you my top tips for getting perfectly crunchy crispy spuds without really making that much effort.

I honed my roast potato skills soon after I left home to do my nursing training. I always seemed to be on a diet – often that was Rosemary Conley’s Hip and Thigh Diet, a low fat programme. Looking back now, I realise that there was a lot missing from this way of eating, but then hind-sight is a wonderful thing. But it did introduce me to dry roast potatoes.

If you search how to cook roast potatoes, there are a multitude of opinions on what fat to use, and how much. Ranging from normal vegetable oil to expensive goose or duck fat, the aim of the fat is to create a crispy outside and a soft fluffy potato on the inside. Using large amounts of fat on a high oven heat means that large amounts of liquid fat gets absorbed into the potato, which then gets absorbed into you. This high heat can also damage fat structure, which is not good for your body.

I have been making roast potatoes without all this fat for so long that I find I don’t really enjoy them when we eat out purely because they often seem overcooked and all I can taste is the fat. Since I’ve been following a whole-food plant-based diet it seems even more of a problem as my taste-buds have completely changed. And for anyone who follows a special diet like the Overcoming MS programme, fat soaked potatoes are off the menu. 

Rather than the fat being key, for me it’s the potato, and how it is prepared before it goes into the oven. Most recipes suggest par boiling potatoes, but often this isn’t enough. You want the surface structure to be breaking down properly before going in the oven – this is what goes all crunchy once roasted. And you don’t need lots of fat to do it.

So here are my top tips. If you don’t already roast your spuds this way, why not give it a go this Christmas? And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

  1. Use floury potatoes not waxy. Maris Piper or King Edwards are the best. Also try to by organic or more naturally grown ones. They taste better too.
  2. Don’t make them too big or too small. And try to keep them a similar size. I find medium-sized chunks work best.
  3. Boil the potatoes so they are properly cooked. Keep an eye on them though as you don’t want them to fall apart into mush. Boiling time will depend on the type of potato and how many you have in the pan. Once they’re beginning to be flaking on the outside and you can easily pierce them with a knife, turn off the heat.
  4. Drain as soon as the heat if off. Give them a good shake to clear away excess water and break the surface a bit more. If they are still a little soggy, pop them back in the pan on a low heat for a minute to dry off.
  5. Make sure the oven is pre-heated at 200ºC. Fan ovens work best, but electric and gas still produce good potatoes. I can’t comment on an AGA.
  6. Use a good, non-stick baking tray with no scratches. You can pre-heat it if you like, but I tend to forget so it’s not necessary.
  7. Tip the potatoes onto the baking tray and give it another shake. You can add a little oil now if you like. I tend to use a few squirts of an olive oil spray just to mist the top.
  8. Pop the tray in the oven and let the potatoes roast for 15 minutes, then remove the tray and turn the spuds. You will see a lovely golden crust forming when you turn. Move them around the tray if you need to if the outside ones are cooking faster than the inside ones. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until they are all crispy and brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and transfer to a hot dish. Serve straight away and enjoy that lovely crunch without the grease.

The incredible rise of plant-based eating

If you’ve noticed lots of plant-based eating trivia in the news today, it’s because it’s World Vegan Day. Whilst the rise of plant-based eating may upset some, I for one am (unsurprisingly) delighted that more and more people, of all ages, are beginning to make changes to the way they eat.

Research by Waitrose (click here)  indicates that 1:8 people in the UK now classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, with many more declaring they are ‘meat-reducers’. I’m sure the irony that the editor of Waitrose magazine resigned this week over his unnecessarily aggressive comments on vegans is not lost on them!

It’s amazing how quickly things have changed in a very short period of time. I think back to when I first started The Sensitive Foodie blog in 2012 – it was all shiny and new then! Now plant-based cookbooks are the third most popular genre and it’s even featured on Great British Bake-off! It’s now much easier to eat out, with most restaurants offering at least one option and supermarkets are employing chefs to develop new ranges of vegan ready meals.

And it’s not just the UK; the movement is growing throughout Europe and further afield.

Whilst detractors may dismiss these changes as a short-term fad fuelled by social media, there are many good solid reasons why people are making the move to a more plant-based lifestyle

  • Health. Basically, eating a diet that’s high in plant foods is good for you. And there’s piles of research that backs it up. In particular, a whole-food plant-based diet can be used to reverse chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and halt a whole host of other health challenges ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer.
  • Weight. Eating plant-based food that is packed with fibre helps you lose weight. Lots of people who have come on my Eat Well Live Well course have had amazing success, some losing up to a stone in only three months. That’s eating whole plant-food not refined and processed ready meals. Sorry to be a bore, but junk food is still junk food!
  • Environment. Humans have a devastating impact on the world. The food industry, particularly animal-based food, uses huge amounts of natural resources and produces lots of waste. And an every-increasing world population that continues to pillage and pollute means the problem is only going to get worse unless action is taken. There are many things we can do as individuals to help care for our beautiful world; eating a plant-based diet has the most direct impact.
  • Animals. The internet has helped opened people’s eyes to the reality of using animals as food, something that many of us were brought up to believe was totally normal, natural and necessary. Footage of intensively farmed animals fighting to survive, processes in abattoirs or the heart-broken cry of a cow parted from her new-born calf is now readily available. And it’s making people think.

The food industry is changing too. As demand increases, so does the variety of products available. This year alone has seen a 61% increase in new vegan products on the market.

But a word of warning; if you are increasing the amount of plant-based food in your diet for your health or to lose weight, swapping to vegan versions of processed foods will not yield the results you are looking for. Many of these new products, or ‘accidently vegan’ products like Oreo cookies or Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream are packed with refined sugars and fats as well as food-like chemicals, just like their mainstream versions.

When I changed to a whole-food plant-based diet because of my food intolerances, there was much less to tempt me away – there just wasn’t the option. Now it’s much harder and I think I would struggle if my new ways of eating weren’t firmly established. My taste-buds are definitely attuned to whole foods; anything with refined sugar in is just way too sweet and not enjoyable at all.

The good thing about more options though is that it’s much easier to make positive changes. There are more resources available too, from organisations like Viva and Veganuary, on-line programmes and Facebook groups and a whole variety of cookery books. And websites, like The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen of course. My blog has a whole variety of simple but tasty recipes that have been road-tested and work, which is most important.

If you find the world of plant-based eating for health fascinating and want to read more, my new book The Sensitive Foodie: Eat Yourself Well will be for you. Being published early 2019, it covers all sorts of information you may not have come across before as well as over 100 recipes to try yourself at home.

In the meantime, if you’ve started your own plant-based journey, congratulations for taking action that helps not only yourself but the world around you. Happy eating!

 

 

 

 

Delicious plant-based Pad thai

It’s supposed to be the first day of autumn today. After a couple of weeks of distinctly autumnal weather, today’s glorious sunshine surely signals that summer has just a bit more to give. That’s good news as I’m defiantly not ready for the colder temperatures and early evenings just yet.

I’ve had a real hankering for pad thai recently, a dish that reminds me of hot holidays and sultry evenings out during our time in India. I know it’s not an Indian dish, but during that time I seemed to have it on a regular basis, giving it a particularly warm place in my memory!

The flavours in Pad Thai traditionally come from fish sauce and tamarind. To make it fully plant-based and super tasty, I prefer a peanut-based sauce. And I use a mix of tamari and lime juice rather than tamarind for the deeper flavour, just because they are more common stables in my kitchen. Blitzing the sauce all together  takes seconds and by using brown rice noodles that take only a couple of minutes to soften this really is a rapidly assembled dish that doesn’t miss out on those distinctly Asian flavours. I guess this sauce is more like Gado Gado and tastes wonderful with simple steamed veggies and rice.

Peanut butter supplies a good helping of fats in this dish. Sources of whole fats are a key feature of a whole-food plant-based way of eating – as long as the peanut butter in your jar is 100%. To make it cheap, most brands of peanut butter include extra refined oils, salt and often sugar. None of these are needed and turns this simple nut butter (even though it’s not a nut!) from health food to junk food in one foul swoop.

So what’s the solution? The easiest is to buy only 100% peanut butter. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive, although some home-brand supermarket versions are now available at a good price. The other solution is to make your own – it’s not that difficult and once you’ve made it once, you’re suddenly much more mindful about how many peanuts are needed to make just a small amount of peanut butter. I’ll do another blog post soon showing you how. There is something rather wonderfully satisfying about making your own; I’ve found I eat less now I’ve seen just how many peanuts are in one spoonful of peanut butter.

As soon as anything is ground down and processed, it’s difficult to calculate how much you are actually eating. Even eating a handful of shelled peanuts means you are probably consuming more than you would if you were shelling them yourself. Anything that Mother Nature has wrapped up in packaging should be eaten with more care. After all, if you are sitting eating nuts that have to be shelled, you can’t eat palmfuls at a time and you reach satiation point way before the packet has gone, unlike shelled (and often salted) nuts that are just so easy to wolf down.

If you cannot tolerate peanuts, then almond butter will work but the underlying flavour will be slightly different. And if you’re completely nut-free, try some sunflower seed butter instead. Again, a slightly different flavour but worth experimenting with.

Back to the Pad Thai. Apart from the yummy sauce, it’s the textures that tick my boxes, with lightly stir-fried broccoli or beans and lovely fresh crunchy bean sprouts mixed with sweet red pepper. It’s a definite rainbow in a dish. Make sure the tofu you use is extra firm otherwise it will just crumble in the pan rather than brown. Smoked works as well as plain, if you fancy something different, or leave it out all together if you just fancy the veg.

Of course, this dish can be made any time of the year, not just summer. In fact, it’s the perfect bit of warming sunshine on a cold winters day! Do let me know if you make it – and if the sun shines for you too!

Plant-based pad thai (serves 2)
2 nests of brown rice noodles
1 red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 spears broccoli with stems, sliced
handful of green beans, sliced
100g bean sprouts
100g extra firm tofu cut into small chunks
handful of chopped fresh coriander
handful of chopped peanuts
chopped fresh red chilli (optional)
For the sauce:
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
juice of 2 limes
4-5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Place all the sauce ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz until thick and well-combined. If it’s too thick, add water to loosen. Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes until soft. Drain.

Heat a little water in a non-stick frying pan and fry the tofu until it starts to become lightly browned. Tip into a bowl, then add a little more water and stir fry all the vegetables except the beansprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften but remain crunchy.  Return the tofu to the pan along with the beansprouts and noodles, mix together well then pour over the sauce. Cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Serve in large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander, peanuts and red chilli if using. Eat straight away.

Super quick quinoa and brown rice salad

I’m so excited now that the weather is finally improving and we are beginning to see more sunshine. Add that to the long light evenings that we have at this time of year and I’m positively brimming with the joys of Spring!   Some days have already been lovely and warm – fabulous opportunities to get outdoors. Which leads me neatly on to one of my favourite warmer month activities – eating outside.

There’s something so wonderfully compelling about al fresco dining, whether it’s a quick snack, lazy lunch or full on evening gathering with friends. Unfortunately, evening outside eating is still a rarity in the UK, even in the height of summer – or at least it is for me, I get cold too easily! I guess that’s why we find spending time further down in Europe so attractive. It’s certainly one of the influencing factors for our latest adventure – we’re buying a home from home in Portugal! More about that another time though.

It’s great to get invites round to friends for a BBQ or an impromptu dinner; eating whole-food and plant-based means I always offer to takes something with me, partly to take the pressure of the host who may not be used to cooking that way, and partly to make sure I get something to eat! Sometimes this can be a bit of a challenge though, especially if it’s a last-minute arrangement and the fridge is looking rather empty! That’s when you need a quick and easy fall-back dish to take; this wholegrain salad can be rustled up in a minute. Literally!

Since changing the way I eat, I spend little time in the supermarket aisles dominated by packets of processed foods. It actually makes shopping much quicker! There are however still a few items that I always make sure we have in the cupboard – sachets of pre-cooked wholegrain is one of them.

It’s not the cheapest way of buying whole-grains, but a fantastic time-saver and remarkably versatile. You still need to take care and check the ingredients label, as some brands add in a wide selection of flavourings and preservatives, as well as refined oils. Plus you need to make sure the word ‘wholegrain’ is on the packet otherwise you will be losing vital nutrients and fibre. Quinoa and wholegrain rice is my favourite combination; a tiny bit of olive oil helps it not to stick together in the pack, otherwise that’s all there is in the sachet. That means that the only other flavours are the ones I choose to add, ones that are natural and as whole as possible. They are a great quick option for people with food intolerances or sensitivities too, or for anyone who needs to look for gluten-free options.

I always have fresh herbs in my fridge – this is a great way to use up any bits and bobs left over from other recipes. My little herb garden out the back is also coming to life, giving me another source of flavour. This particular recipe asks for a combination of parsley, coriander and mint – that’s what I had in the fridge! But they are a naturally a great combo anyway (phew!). Add in some alfalfa or other sprouted seeds if you have them along with some toasted seeds like pumpkin and a good amount of seasoning and bam, there you have it – a simple yet super-tasty salad in the blink of an eye. Not only that, but it’s a great way to use up left-overs and reduce food waste (herbs are one of the most commonly thrown away foods). If you have a bit more time, soak some sultanas or raisins in hot water to plump them up before adding them in. Or chop up bits of cucumber or radish for an extra crunch. Let your imagination fly and see what combo you can come up with, and enjoy it with friends – or just yourself if you prefer!

Super quick quinoa and brown rice salad
1 sachet (250g) cooked quinoa and brown rice
3 tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, mint etc) finely chopped
2 tablespoons sprouted seeds (alfalfa, broccoli seeds etc)
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons raisins, soaked in hot water and drained
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil (optional)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir well then taste, add more seasoning or herbs as needed. Serve chilled.

 

 

Not all calories are equal

In a quest to fight against the continual growth (literally!) of obesity in both children and adults, Public Health England have altered their healthy eating advice. Action to help improve long term health is a good thing, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, I don’t believe they are focusing on the right issue to create the level of change that’s required.

The new guidelines focus on the amount of calories consumed at each meal, broken down into a 400-600-600 parameter for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To anyone who has spent any modicum of time on a diet, this might seem a reasonable guide. But if calorie counting actually worked, would there still be such a huge problem with obesity and other weight-related issues?

I believe Public Health England are missing the point. For it’s not just the amount of calories consumed during a day that’s the issue, but the quality of the food itself that’s causing the problem. Anyone who eats processed and refined products are just not getting the nutrients they need to keep their weight under control, their digestive tract happy and their body healthy. Low calorie processed foods are bereft of the very nutrients the body needs to function well – essentially they’re full of empty calories.

One of the things I share with people who come along to my Eat Well Live Well course is that all calories are not equal. For what is a calorie in the first place? Simply put, its a unit of energy, fuel for the body to function effectively. We use different sources of energy to fuel our metabolic functions. Diet gurus will tell you that you need a certain balance of fat, protein and carbohydrate to do this, and then argue about what that balance it. Food packaging details the amount of each group, and how many calories there are contained within. But what they miss out is all the other important nutrients contained in the food, all of which are equally essential for the body to function. Micronutrients, phytonutrients and fibre all have massively important jobs to do – and many of these are lost as soon as you start processing a food source. This leads to an imbalance in the nutrient profile, which has led many people to the current state of being overfed and undernourished.

When you follow a mainly whole-food plant-based way of eating, the focus is not on calories. It’s on the whole-food! When you eat the whole product, you consume more fibre, more nutrients and – very importantly – more vitality. All of these things benefit your body. Let’s have a look how:

  • You feel full up more readily because of the high fibre content
  • You don’t experience sudden sugar lows that make you ‘hangry’ and head for the biscuit tin
  • You consume wonderful amounts of nutrients found in fresh fruit and vegetables than benefit your skin, hair and nails, as well as your health, and give you more energy and vitality
  • You naturally lose weight as your body is flooded with the right nutrient combination
  • Your body stops being under attack from toxic, highly processed chemicals and fats
  • You look after your telomeres, the key to slowing ageing, and minimise chronic health problems
  • You can reverse and even cure some chronic health problems
  • Lastly, and most importantly, you can eat loads of food!

Some health insurance companies in the US are beginning to recognise the value of using a whole-food plant-based diet as their first line treatment for ‘lifestyle’ health conditions. Here in the UK, we’re a little behind. It can be hard finding how to eat the right way, but with the right help, knowledge and support, it can be a real journey of food love.

As someone who spent many years ‘on a diet’ to lose weight, I love that I no longer have to  count calories. It’s a shame that Public Health England still think that’s the way to go. Hopefully they’ll change soon. But you don’t have to wait for them, just start making your own changes. And if you need some support, I’m always here to help.

 

Raw salted caramel cheesecake

I’ve never had a dairy-based salted caramel cheesecake – I was dairy free before salted caramel was a bit thing! But if it takes anything as good as this, then I can see what the fuss is about.

This lovely alternative is a delight, and can be eaten in the safe knowledge that all the ingredients are whole food and plant based, and therefore good for your body as well as your tastebuds. The caramel is rich and deep, not too sweet, but definitely hits the sugar receptors. This sweetness comes from the dates – and there’s a lot of them in this recipe! So I am never going to claim this is a low calorie number (it is dessert after all!), but it is packed full of fibre and nutritional benefits – minerals like iron and zinc, phytonutrients that are particularly good for gut health and a reasonable smattering of B vitamins. The type of fibre contained in dates also help keep beneficial bacteria happy; a happy gut = a happy body!

You may notice that I use Himalayan salt in the recipe – that’s my preference, but feel free to use whatever type you like or have in the house at the time. Don’t decide you can’t make this if you’re missing the salt I’ve specified, that would be too sad!

There’s lots of claims and counter claims on the internet about the benefits or otherwise of Himalayan salt. Having read around the subject, I’ve decided in favour of the pink salt as it is less refined and contains slightly more natural balance of sodium chloride with other trace minerals. As for the claims about energy levels, health benefits and potential elemental toxins, that’s for everyone to decide for themselves (I do, however, have my Himalayan salt lamp next to the modem in the house – it looks pretty in the hall and if it helps manage EMF in the house, why not?).

Back to the recipe. There are a lot of stages in this cheesecake, but each stage doesn’t take too long so don’t be overwhelmed. It really needs making the day before, but you can always make it a few hours before hand and pop it in the freezer if needed. Or prepare in advance and freeze, ready to pull out when you have the need for a salted caramel cheesecake! I would advise leaving the chocolate layer off if you are planning on freezing, and adding it just at the end once it’s defrosted with the decorations. Or you can omit the chocolate layer altogether, it will still taste wonderfully delicious and indulgent. Enjoy!

Raw salted caramel cheesecake (serves 10)

For the base:
140g oats (gluten free if needed)
80g ground flaxseed
130g dessicated coconut
240g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the caramel:
180g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
60-80ml water or dairy free milk
4 tablespoons of almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt

For the cheesecake layer:
260g cashew nuts (soaked for at least 2 hours)
80g dates (soaked in hot water if dry)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
125ml coconut milk (the thick part is best)
good pinch of Himalayan salt

For the chocolate topping:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 tablespoons raw cacao powder
To decorate:
Frozen black/red currents, freeze dried strawberries

You will need a 23cm springform cake tin.

Unless you are using super sticky and expensive Medjool dates, you will probably need to soak your dates in hot water for 10 minutes or so to make them easier to blend. Weigh out the dates for each component in separate bowls and soak them whilst you’re getting everything else ready. Don’t forget to drain them before you start!

For the base layer: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blitz until combined and sticky. Add a little of the date soaking water if it doesn’t come together, but not too much as you don’t want it too wet. Press the dough into the base of the springform cake tin and up the sides slightly using your hands. Try to spread it out equally and firmly. Place the tin in the fridge to chill whilst you make the next layers. Remember to clean the processor bowl before moving on!

For the caramel: Place all the ingredients into the food processor and blend until a thick, creamy caramel is formed. Check the flavour and add a little more salt if needed – remember this is salted caramel so you need to use more than feels normal. Pour out into a bowl and try not to eat it all whilst you make the next layer!

For the cheesecake: Wash the food processor bowl again then add all the ingredients for this layer and blend together until thick and creamy. This may take a few minutes, depending on how long you have soaked the cashew nuts for. Carry on until the mix is smooth and not grainy (means you have to keep tasting it!)

To construct, remove the tin with the base from the fridge. Pour in the caramel to cover the bottom equally, then cover it with the cheesecake mix. Grab a thin spoon or chopstick and gently swirl it around in the mix to slightly combine the two levels – you should see a little caramel swirl appear on the top. Place in the fridge to set for at least 6 hours, or cover and pop in the freezer.

For the chocolate topping and decoration: Melt the coconut oil so it is liquid. In another bowl, mix the cacao and maple syrup together – it takes a little hard stirring to get them to combine. Add the coconut oil and stir well. Taste. If too thick or not sweet enough, add more maple syrup. If too thin or not chocolatey enough, add more cacao powder. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top, spread out equally to the edges, decorate with scattered berries and freeze-dried strawberries and return to the fridge to set.

To serve, release the clip on the side of the cake tin and very carefully push the cheesecake up and away from the sides. Leave on the base of the tin to serve (it’s safer!). Cut into slices with a sharp knife. Decorate each serving with an extra sprinkle of freeze dried strawberries or fresh berries. Enjoy!