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.

Roasted squash and barley soup

Day 5 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar and it’s a gorgeously warming soup recipe. Perfect for chilly winter days, its comforting and restorative after the stresses and strains of Christmas shopping. Packed full of nourishing rainbow veggies, it is ‘souper’ filling with a large dose of fibre from the barley.

Barley is one of those grains more likely to be found in processed foods than eaten as an every-day grain. Overshadowed by rice and wheat, it actually has a surprising amount of beneficial properties. It’s also fairly cheap unlike other more trendy pseudo-grains like quinoa and buckwheat. The downside for sensitive eaters is it does contain gluten so if you follow a gluten-free diet it has to be avoided.

If you can tolerate barley, it’s definitely worth adding to your repertoire of foods. Containing both soluble and insoluble fibre, it’s can help look after your gut health by aiding good digestion and providing sustenance for the beneficial bacteria hidden deep away in the microbiome. And in a time of over-indulgence, it’s a good idea to take extra care of the microbiome, particularly when seasonal viruses are rife.

As with all grains, it’s best to use wholegrain rather than refined. Pearl barley has been polished, effectively removing some of the beneficial fibre and nutrients. In the UK, look for pot barley; it may take a little longer to cook, but your body will love you for it. Soaking reduces the cooking time; it also helps to remove enzymes that may prevent all the nutrients from being released, so worth doing if you think ahead.

Apart from fibre, barley contains a whole range of nutrients including magnesium and chromium and special compounds called lignans that have been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Maybe now you can see how this soup really is souper!

If you can’t tolerate gluten in any form, swap the barley for wholegrain rice, buckwheat or millet. It will have a different texture, but still taste delicious.

Let me know if you give this a go; you don’t have to add the pumpkin sprinkle for the top by the way, but it’s lovely if you do.

Roasted squash and barley soup (serves 4-6)
1 medium butternut squash
1 red onion
1 medium leek
1 medium stick celery
1 fat clove garlic
1 litre vegetable stock
100g barley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper
To garnish:
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon fresh sage
salt to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Wash the outside of the squash, chop into chunks and remove the seeds. Cut the onion into quarters. Place both on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until soft and lightly caramelised.

Tip the barley into a large non-stick frying pan and toast for a few minutes until the aromas are released. Remove from the heat.

Heat a small amount of the stock in the bottom of a saucepan and add the leek and celery. Sauté for a couple of minutes until they start to soften then add the garlic. Add three quarters of the toasted barley, mix well then add 750ml of the stock, the sage and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 

The squash will be ready so remove from the oven, cut off any tough bits of skin. Keep a third of the squash to one side and add the remainder to the pan with the onion and simmer for another 15 minutes or so until everything is soft. Remove from the heat, blend until smooth then return to the heat and add the remaining barley and stock.

Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally add the remaining squash, cook for another 10 minutes and it is ready to serve.

To make the pumpkin sprinkle, place the ingredients in the small bowl of a blender and pulse until it has a breadcrumb texture. 

Serve the soup in a large bowl with a glug of flaxseed oil and pumpkin sprinkle on top. 

 

Comforting cabbage

There’s no getting away from it, winter is looming. The cold, frosty mornings and all-too-early dark evenings say it all. At this time, I’m rummaging in the cupboard for my woolly hat and gloves, and dipping into my old cookbooks to hunt out my favourite comfort recipes to warm me up.

What constitutes ‘comfort food’ is different for everyone, but generally they’re warming, satisfying, and, if not careful, can be lethal for the waistline! Now that I eat plant based and dairy and gluten free, I still have my comfort foods – thick sumptuous stews, heart warming soups and gorgeous puddings – they’re just slightly different.

Nutritionally, cabbage is an amazing vegetable, packed full of nutrients and phytonutrients that have a range of beneficial properties. It’s part of the cruciferous family, a group of veg that you may well have heard me go on about (it includes cauliflower and broccoli), that’s anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants and specific phytonutrients that have anti-cancer properties. Plus, cabbage is really good for the stomach and gut lining, keep unfriendly bacteria under control.

Red cabbage is even better than green. Its deep rich colour contains even more antioxidants and polyphenols, a specific group of phyto-nutrients as well as loads more vitamin C, B6 and manganese. Mix that with the probiotic properties of cooked apple (see apple cake posting for more info) and the super sulphur properties of onion, you’ve got a pretty nutritionally packed dish that also tastes gorgeous! So why not try this one chilly evening, and curl up in front of the fire with a dish that will give your taste buds and your body a big healing hug!

Slow braised red cabbage
1 medium sized red cabbage shredded
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large cooking apple, sliced
2 teaspoons dried mix herbs
couple handfuls raisins
salt and pepper
50ml vegetable stoc
Dairy free spread or olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and grease an oven proof dish that has a lid (I use my old faithful Le Creuset dish). Place a layer of sliced onions on the bottom, then cabbage, then apple. Sprinkle with the herbs and raisins and season with salt and pepper. Repeat these layers one or two more times (depending on how much you have, how big your pot is etc). Add the vegetable stock, cover with the lid and place in the oven for an hour. Remove and check there’s enough fluid so it doesn’t burn, then return to the oven for another half to one hour until everything is super soft and the flavours are concentrated. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for up to 30 minutes with the lid on before serving. Enjoy!

Warming dairy-free squash soup (updated 10/2018)

Soup is an all year round staple in our house, but particularly during winter. And at the moment, I need all the help I can get to warm up, on the inside as well as out! When my children were small, the vegetable eating battle commenced as they started to express their opinion over what they would or would not eat.  I discovered that soup didn’t seem to count as a problem. As long as it was smooth and didn’t look like it might be too good for them (ie: not green!), they guzzled down fresh vegetable soup with no problem.

Over time, certain soups have become associated with specific events. There’s ‘Holiday Soup’ – red lentil and tomato soup taken away in a big flask to eat on the journey to our holiday destination. ‘Lunchtime With Friends Soup’, a marvellously hearty vegetable and tarragon soup which never fails to impress. So feeling cold and missing the warm, sunny days of a Bangalore winter, I’ve turned to one of my favourite soups I’ve made over the last couple of years whilst we’ve been away – pumpkin (or squash), ginger, garlic and coconut soup – ‘Warming Soup’!

Eating soup in India may seem a little odd, and I must admit it wasn’t on the menu during the extreme summer heat, but somehow it didn’t feel out of place. Small pumpkins are readily available all year round, as of course are the other main ingredients, so it was easy to buy and simple to make. And it’s utterly delicious as well as dairy free, and pretty much free of any allergens which makes it suitable for anyone.

It’s the perfect soup for a cold winters day, as the ginger warms you from the inside and the coconut makes you think of warmer climes! In ayurvedic medicine, ginger is used to fuel the body’s ‘fire’, so it really does warm you up on the inside. It’s well known for aiding digestion and apparently helps improve circulation, reduce inflammation and ease colds. Garlic also has warming properties and is great for helping to improve circulation and fighting off colds. Ginger and garlic together are the perfect winter pairing!

I used butternut squash for my soup but this works with any orangey pumpkin or squash. Butternut squash is pretty good for you too, with no fat, low in carbohydrates and offers a good amount of vitamin A and C along with  potassium, manganese and a tad of magnesium.

The weights and measurements for this recipe are approximates – it all depends on what squash you are working with, how much you have and how much ginger and garlic you like. I do like my ginger fairly pungent, so you may want to use less to start. It’s important to add the coconut milk at the end and don’t let it boil otherwise it may split. The soup tastes ok, but doesn’t look as appetising! If your accidentally put in too much stock and the soup ends up too runny once the coconut milk has been added, don’t worry – serve it in a mug instead of bowl, it still works brilliantly.

Warming winter squash soup
1 butternut squash/small pumpkin, skinned, deseeded and cut in to small chunks
1 onion finely diced
3 cm chunk of ginger, peeled and finely chopped (add more or less as desired)
2-3 cloves of garlic (varies according to size or taste) finely chopped
800mls – 1 litre vegetable stock (or water if you have a yeast intolerance)
200ml coconut milk (omit if you follow the Overcoming MS programme)
salt and pepper

Heat the a couple of tablespoons of water in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until it starts to soften. Do not brown. Add the ginger and stir constantly for a couple of minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so. Tip in the squash, stir to incorporate then pour over the stock or water until the squash is covered (you may need more or less water depending on how much squash you have).

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer until the squash is soft. Add the coconut milk If using and heat through without boiling. Turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly, then pour into a blender and blitz until smooth. If it’s really thick, add some more water or stock. Season with salt and pepper then reheat gently.

Serve with a glug of flaxseed oil and swirl of dairy-free cream if you haven’t used coconut milk.