Courgette compendium

One of the outcomes of lockdown for us is we have had time to create new raised beds to start growing our own veggies. This is actually the third time we’ve done this (we kept moving!) and these ones are by far the best. For a start, we have much more space (oh boy do we have space!) rather than squeezing them into a small corner of a small garden as before. That’s not to say that growing veggies in a small space is not worth it. It definitely is. We also spent more time researching and learning how to grow in tandem with nature. Less impact, more output.

This end bed isn’t finished yet – a good place to deposit grass cuttings.

Not that I can really take much credit for our lovely new beds! My hubby spent more time and energy researching and building them. After much debate he chose to use a technique called hugelkultur. A centuries old technique from Germany and Easter Europe, it uses garden debris as the source of nutrients needed for new plants to grow. It’s basically a big compost heap!

We wanted to build up a structure to our beds, so we used wood to create an outline and dug down a little into the soil, taking off the grass layer and a little more. This gave a large area that needed filling – fortunately we have a lot of garden debris to use! A few logs on the base were covered with more tree cuttings, then grass cuttings, stuff from the compost bins, more grass, some sand, then the top grass layer we cut out, the soil dug out and finally finished with some bought organic compost (as we wanted to use them now). We buried so much! Covered up, the debris will break down, releasing nutrients into the soil providing nourishment for our fresh produce. Well that was the plan – we were not too sure how well it would work year one…..

Beans and squash going rampant!

I am pleased to say, so far so good! The squash in particular are going crazy and the beans are prolific. And the courgettes that were planted rather late are just beginning to flourish. So much so, I see a glut coming in a few weeks time!

Courgettes are funny vegetables. I love them now, but used to hate them as a kid. Their high water content can make them tricky to cook. In soups and stews they have the potential to make them too watery, fritters and veggie cakes too wet and steamed they can go from firm to a horrid mush in the blink of an eye. But on a good day, with the right treatment, they are a delight.

Nutrition wise, courgettes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium and phytonutrients like betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. You’ll also find a reasonable does of B vitamins, manganese and vitamin K (which is in the news at the moment relating to the Covid 19 virus). Vitamin C and phytonutrients play an antioxidant role in the body, quashing damaging free radicals. Betacarotene, zeaxanthin and lutein all support eye health which is good to know if you are at risk of macular degeneration or other age-related eye conditions. Potassium is important for good blood pressure control and is a key player in cell health. It’s easily lost once food is processed, so eating courgettes raw or lightly cooked can really support your health. If you’re interested in how to manage your blood pressure or health issues with food, we discuss this in much more detail in my online course.

If you are heading into a glut of courgettes – lucky you! There’s so much you can make with them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Make summer soups. This courgette and cumin soup is particularly tasty
  • Add them to pasta sauces, veggie chillis, stir fries, fajitas or risotto. This red rice risotto works well with courgettes.
  • Stuff them! One of the recipes on my Eat Well Live Well course is a gorgeous aduki bean stuffed courgette boat (another good reason to take the course 😉 )
  • It’s getting a bit retro now, but use them to make courgetti. Here’s a BBC Food article about what to do.
  • If you squeeze out excess water, courgettes make tasty fritters and veggie cakes.
  • sweet courgette loaf

    Make cake! Oh yes, courgettes provide moisture and nutrients to cake – it’s a great way to get courgette haters on board! Try this easy courgette loaf cake.

I’ll be experimenting with more recipes over the next few months by the looks of it, so no doubt you’ll see more ideas on the blog soon as we work our way through them. What are your favourite courgette recipes? I’d love to know.

As for our veg garden, it has a lot of room for development. I can see many more beds being built over the next couple of years as we learn more about growing our own food in a way that supports and sustains our local ecosystem. We’re not aiming for self-sufficiency, but being plant-based we certainly hope to grow more than we buy. Let’s see what happens!

Chickpea sandwich spread

One of the things discussed on my Eat Well Live Well course is how to successfully transition to eating a whole-food plant-based diet with minimal pain and maximum pleasure. Change can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be an austere process. One of the most frequent difficulties I hear is “but what do I eat for lunch?”.

If you’re used to making a cheese or ham salad sandwich, or going to your local sandwich shop or deli for chicken or tuna mayo baps, thinking of new and tasty fillings can seem a bit daunting. Of course there’s always hummus – and who doesn’t love hummus? – but not every day!

You could go for the vegan alternative and have fake meats or vegan cheese. But these ultra processed, factory-made products are often full of damaged fats, concentrated proteins and few nourishing nutrients. Maybe ok every now and then, but certainly not a staple and not if you are eating a whole-food plant-based diet to transform a health condition. For that, you need real food that’s had limited processing.

This chickpea sandwich spread is a mix between a tuna mayo alternative and the acidic sandwich spread filling I used to get as a child (did you ever have that? I’m not sure if I ever liked it, but I do have fond memories of it – weird!).

Chickpeas are an awesome source of plant-based protein, fibre, potassium, iron and magnesium (to name a few). They share the fabulousness of all pulses (this blog post tells you more). They also take on other flavours well so can be used for all sorts of recipes. Which is handy as they are also super cheap so good if you are feeding a family on a budget or relying on a student loan to keep you fed and watered.

This filling can be used for sandwiches, baps or wraps. If you are gluten free or avoid bread, then pop it on a baked potato or use as the star of a simple salad. Vary the fresh herbs to whatever you have to hand or the season. Parsley and chives work well as standard flavour. If you use coriander, swap the lemon for lime juice and add a little ginger for an Eastern flavour. Basil or oregano create a more Mediterranean vibe, so swap the spring onion for a little red onion if you have it. Or, if you can’t tolerate onion, just leave it out and try adding a few capers for a more sour taste.

As you can see, this base recipe is so flexible you can create a different combination for every day, or for the season. And as eating and socialising outside are going to be more popular if you want to meet up with friends (due to the pandemic), you might find this recipe features a lot over the next few month. Just adapt it to what you have available and what you like to eat. And enjoy!

Chickpea sandwich spread

A quick and tasty filling for sandwiches, wraps and more that's easy to adapt to taste and fridge contents.
Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 5 mins
Course lunch, picnics
Servings 2 portions

Ingredients
  

  • 4 heaped tbsp cooked chickpeas
  • 1 lemon, juice only grated rind optional
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • water if needed
  • 1 medium spring onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley and chives chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped optional

Instructions
 

  • Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the lemon juice and Dijon. Mash with a fork, adding a little water if it's too dry. You want soft, mushed chickpeas with a little texture and a thick sauce.
  • Stir in the spring onion, herbs and seasoning (plus capers if using). Mix together well and taste for flavour - add more seasoning, lemon or Dijon as required.
  • Use to filling your bread of choice or as suggested above. Keeps in the fridge for 2 days.
Keyword gluten free, lunch, picnic food, plant-based diet, sandwich

Chocolate and banana muffins

One of the positive things about the Covid 19 lockdown is that more people are getting in the kitchen and cooking. It may be due to an increase in free time or a  lack of access to shopping options. But I would like to think – and hope that – it’s down to a sudden awareness that food is really important to health and to wealth and that giving it the attention it deserves is a key way forward in staying well. Mind you, I’ve always been an optimist….! Continue reading “Chocolate and banana muffins”