Comforting yellow split pea soup

I’m always amazed by people who manage to be ready for Christmas way before the actual big day arrives. I used to be, but then when I was pregnant with my son he decided to arrive one week before Christmas, 4 weeks early and it’s all been chaotic ever since!

It’s easy to become frazzled in the busy run up, so for day 21 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I give you a gorgeously warming and comforting yellow split pea soup.

This soup is packed full of healthy nutrients and healing spices, perfect to help keep the seasonal bugs at bay and soothe frayed nerves. Yellow peas are grown specifically for drying; their natural break in the middle allows them to be split than stored. In India they’re used for dal and traditionally in the UK for making pease pudding, something I remember being fed as a child but seems to have gone out of fashion.

Yellow split peas contain fabulous amount of fibre, perfect to promote gut health, a key part of our immune system. And it’s yellow, so another addition to rainbow phytonutrients that support the body’s metabolism. In fact, this soup is a cacophony of rainbow colours and flavours and will bring a little sunshine to a dull December day.

So why not take a moment to sit and enjoy the wonderful flavours and switch off from all the craziness going on around you. Your body and mind will love you for it, that I guarantee.

Comforting split yellow pea soup (serves 4-6)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium leek, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large celery stick, diced
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 100g yellow spilt peas]
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 800ml vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • flaxseed oil to serve (optional)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water to a large saucepan and add the onion, leek, carrot and celery. Stir well and sauté for 5 minutes until the veg starts to soften. Add the garlic and tomato and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the spices and yellow split peas to the pan, stir well to combine and cook for a minute, then add the tinned tomatoes and stock. Stir well, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and pop on the lid. Simmer for 35 minutes or until the yellow split peas are soft and the veg is mushy. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for a minute.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup, but not completely to leave a little texture. Season with salt and pepper, and serve steaming hot in bowls with a glug of flaxseed oil if desired. Enjoy!

Celeriac ‘steak’ and red wine gravy

It’s 2 for the price of 1 for day 20 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – another gravy for you to try, and a super easy yet delicious celeriac ‘steak’ to pair it with.

Celeriac or Ood?

If you’ve not tried celeriac before, I’d definitely recommend it. It has a mild celery flavour, but not overpoweringly so, that is also slightly nutty. Incredibly versatile, you can use it for soup, mash or roast is. It’s also lovely raw in salads; celeriac remoulade is delicious! Eating it raw also retains the wonderful nutrients hidden inside this funny looking root (we always think it looks like an Ood from Dr Who!). Vitamin  C and potassium can be found in good amounts, but can seep away when cooked. There are other benefits as well including vitamin K and B6, and lots of lovely fibre.

Of course, to get a ‘steak’ you need to cook it! They are super simple to make, in fact the most difficult bit is cutting it into equal sized slices. Once cut, celeriac starts to oxidise quite quickly. I like a little savoury marinade on my steaks, so I coat each slice as soon as it’s cut. Then it’s just a matter of popping it on a baking tray and cooking. Job done. 

Red wine gravy is the perfect pairing for celeriac steaks, or any roast including Christmas dinner. I’ve added this one for those who cannot tolerate the red onion gravy from day 16. Although it’s featured in the recipe, it’s optional (as opposed to red onion gravy when it’s kinda essential!). If you have food intolerances or are 100% vegan, don’t forget to check the red wine label to make sure there aren’t any hidden ingredients that might ruin your day. 

If nut roasts or chestnut tarts are just too much like hard work for you this Christmas season, or you fancy something a little lighter and easier on the waistline, then why not give this delicious pairing a go? And if you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Celeriac steak (serves 4)

  • 1 medium sized celeriac
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  •  

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Mix the marinade ingredients together in bowl. Peel the celeriac with a sharp knife, and carefully slice into 2cm thick slices.  Coat each slice with the marinade and place on a non-stick baking tray. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once to ensure both sides are browned. Serve immediately.

Red wine gravy

  • 1 onion, chopped (optional)
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
  • bay leaf
  • fresh rosemary (optional)
  • 250ml red wine (vegan)
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • 2 tablespoons cornflower or arrowroot powder
  • salt and pepper

Place the cornflower/arrowroot into a small dish and stir in a little of the vegetable stock to make a thick gloopy mix. Put to one side for now.

Heat a little water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot and celery for a few minutes. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for another couple of minutes until things start to brown. Pour in the wine, scrapping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then add the vegetable stock, tamari, rosemary and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the cornflower mix to thicken, simmer for another couple of minutes then turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Place a sieve over a large bowl or wide jug and pour in the mix, mashing it down so that as much fluid and flavour comes out into the bowl. Discard the veggie leftovers. Once ready to use, reheat gently and spoon over the bake.

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Christmas tipples

As well as fine food, Christmas is a time for a little alcoholic indulgence too – some more than others! Whether it’s the office party, a friends gathering or the main meal itself, there’s usually a glass or two on offer. But when you’re following a plant-based diet, or have restrictions due to allergies or intolerances, it can create another whole dilemma, as there can be many hidden ingredients in your drink of choice.

So for day 19 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, lets have a look at booze!

One of the reasons I started my journey to wellness was to make sure I could drink wine again. That may seem a little shallow, but discovering I had an intolerance to yeast meant that wine was off the menu. And that was very disappointing, but equally a great incentive to make positive changes. It wasn’t that I couldn’t live without wine, it’s just a very social and enjoyable thing. But one of the things I learnt about wine really surprised me – the agents used for fining, or in layman’s terms getting all the gunky fermented leftovers out.

This old blog post explains more, but basically ingredients like milk protein, egg white and isinglass (fish bladders!) are used to filter out the gunk. This means that elements of these are left behind (although some wine makers deny this), creating potential problems for anyone with a intolerance to dairy, egg or fish, or who has chosen to follow a vegan diet. Legislation has meant that labelling is supposed to clearly state what may be lurking in the wine, but this is not as good as it’s supposed to be.

And even if you find one make that seems to be ok, that might only apply for one year’s batch, not another. I realised this whilst browsing the wine in a local supermarket. A particular white wine labelled vegetarian on the shelf, but when I examined the bottle label it contain shellfish. Looking more closely, there were 2016 and 2017 batches next to each other on the shelf. One was with shellfish, the other without. It would have been very easy to pick the wrong one when the shelf label clearly said vegetarian.

Supermarket own brand wines are generally clearly labelled, which is great. The other sure way to ensure no animal product has been near your wine is to choose those clearly labelled vegan. This can be tricky when you’re actually in the supermarket, so do some research before hand on their website. Wine store like Majestic Wine have some useful information about their vegan wines and I’ve found independent wine shops are generally very helpful. Barnivore is still a great resource for getting the right wine and beer (as you can have the same issue here).  If you’re looking for some recommendations, here’s two useful articles that might help –  20 best vegan wines and 10 vegan beers.

What about the expensive stuff, champagne? Although the double fermentation process removes the problem for people with yeast sensitivities, animal products may still be used for fining. But there are well-known brands that are safe to purchase. Check out this great article on champagne, and prepare your credit card for a battering!

Sometimes it’s not the fining that’s the problem, but sulfites. These are produced as a natural by-product of fermentation, so it’s impossible to have completely sulphite-free wine. But extra is often added as a preservative, creating problems for those with a sulphite or nitrite intolerance.  If it’s an allergy then wine is just a no-go area. If a small amount is ok, look for low-sulphite options. Some organic wines fit this bill. Have a look on supermarket websites or Majestic Wine again for options. But remember that sulphites act as a preservative, so will need drinking more quickly. Not often a problem at this time of year!

As for other drinks, most clear spirits are free from animal additives, although I did come across a special Christmas gin infused with wafts of roast turkey! Needless to say, we didn’t buy it. Creamy liquors are not an option though for anyone avoiding dairy products. Good news for Baileys lovers though, as their Bailey’s Almonde is now available in the UK, although it carries a hefty price tag. I will be making my own version again this year – check out this recipe to see how. It may not taste like exactly like the original, but it’s pretty close and delicious.

Whatever your tipple choice this Christmas, please do remember to drink responsibly, particularly if you have a health problem or are taking medication and never if you are the designated driver. The older I get, the less I can tolerate, so it’s important to drink quality rather than quantity!

What’s your favourite tipple? Do let me know, especially if I haven’t mentioned it here. 

Nut butter pastry

It’s day 18 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar – only a week until Christmas! It’s also my son’s birthday, so I will be whipping a chocolate birthday cake for him – all plant-based of course.

Back on day 6, I shared my recipe for mincemeat. Full of unrefined sugars and no added fats, it still tastes, and works, like traditional mincemeat, just slightly healthier.

But of course, mincemeat by itself is no good. It can be used in various recipes, but the key one for this time of year just has to be mince pies. The challenge is what pastry to use?

If you are not managing a health problem, then it is easy – buy ready-made pastry! Brands like Just-rol are dairy-free, using various vegetable fats instead of butter (just make sure you don’t buy an all-butter pastry by mistake!). There are gluten-free alternatives available now too, including one by Just-rol which is also vegan. But they do use palm oil, so if you are trying to avoid that then this might not be the option for you.

You can make pastry at home using Trex, a vegetable fat with similar properties and looks like lard. Similar effects on your body too! This also contains palm oil. It does however make great pastry, so the choice is yours.

None of these options work for me. Following the OMS (Overcoming MS) programme means avoiding products containing saturated fats like palm oil and coconut oil. So I make my own pastry. In the past I’ve used olive oil; it works but it’s a little bland. Christmas is a time of rich, luxurious flavours; nut butter does the job really well, especially pecan nut butter.

You may not have seen pecan nut butter on the supermarket shelves. That’s probably because they are more expensive than other nuts. I bought a jar from an artisan market stall and hid it in the cupboard as it was too much for general usage! You can make your own by lightly toasting a few handfuls and popping them into a high-speed blender or food processor. It takes a little while as you have to keep stopping the machine and scrapping it off the sides to blend again, but once the oils are releases it all comes together beautifully.  

I use the minimal amount of pecan nut butter as a fat replacement as possible. Partly because of the expense, but mainly because it is super rich and I don’t want it to dominate as a flavour over the mince meat. It’s not essential to use pecan nut butter. It will work with almond or cashew nut; I would avoid peanut butter though. And if you are nut-free, then try it with sunflower seed butter instead. 

This pastry comes together as any pastry would, but it bakes a little firmer and is somewhat solid. So please don’t expect to get a light and fluffy casing for your mince pies. It does however taste delicious. Plus, when it’s hard to find a pastry to eat, it somehow tastes even better! It also works just as well with gluten free flour, just make sure there’s a little xanthum gum in the mix to help it stay together.

So if you are struggling to find a pastry to meet your needs, or just fancy trying something a little different, then why not give this a go? If you do, don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Pecan nut butter pastry mince pies (makes 7-8)

  • 125g wholemeal or gluten free flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional but good)
  • 2 tablespoons pecan nut butter (or chosen alternative)
  • 5 tablespoons cold water
  • mincemeat to fill

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the coconut sugar. Add the pecan nut butter and lightly rub in with your finger tips until it’s incorporated and has a bread-crumb like texture.

Pour in 4 1/2 tablespoons of the water and bring together with your hands to form a soft dough. Add the final drops of water if required. Knead gently to make sure everything is well combined, then place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Roll the dough out on a silicon mat or sheet of greaseproof paper and cut out circles to fit whatever baking tin you’re using to make your mince pies. Place in the baking tray inserts and fill with mincemeat. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out enough lids to top. Brush with soya milk and place on top of each of the pie bases. Press gently to seal and repeat until everything is used up. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pastry lids to let the steam escape and brush with a little more soya milk. 

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the tray and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. 

Red onion gravy

I love gravy! To me it’s a key part of any roast dinner, but particularly Christmas dinner. I think it’s so key that I’m giving you two versions as part of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar (spoilers!). For day 16, I bring you a delicious red onion version.

If you’ve not made gravy from scratch before, particularly a meat-free version, you’ll be glad to know it’s not difficult. It does tastes different from shop-bought or instant versions (which often contain added extras you may want to avoid like gluten or yeast), and takes a little time. But you’ll be glad to know it is not too labour intensive and not only do you know what’s in it, it tastes gorgeous too!

Red onion is the key ingredient. Giving a slightly sweeter flavour than white, it gives a rich, caramelised flavour when cooked down. That’s the key to the depth of flavour which is why it’s worth giving it a little time to brew.

Red onions also have some extra nutritional properties that can benefit your health; the red pigment contains flavonoids, phytonutrients that can help reduce inflammation and are particularly good for people with allergies and asthma, a bonus for the sensitive eater. Eating red onion raw provides the best amounts, but if you cook slowly on a low heat like this gravy, much of the beneficial properties remain. Horray!

I make this plant-based gravy throughout the year, but for Christmas I’ve added a little extra sweetness by including some of my homemade rosemary jelly. Shop-bought recurrent jelly or something similar works just as well.

So if you need a gravy that’s tasty but safe to eat, then give this a go. But if you’re not an onion lover, don’t fret – there’s another option to come!

Red onion gravy

  • 2 red onions chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • Sprig of rosemary or thyme
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • 1-2 tablespoons rosemary or redcurrant jelly
  • salt and pepper

Heat 3 tablespoons of stock in the bottom of a large pan. Add the onions, bay leaf and a pinch of salt and sauté on a low heat until soft and caramelised. Stir from time to time to make sure they don’t burn. Add a little extra stock if needed and make sure you scrape up any caramelised bit from the bottom of the pan.  Once they are super soft, turn off the heat, pour in 250ml of stock then leave to cool. Pop the mix into a blender and blend until smooth – remember to remove the bay leaf beforehand.

Pour the onion mix into a clean saucepan. Mix the cornflour with a little of the remaining stock. Pour the rest of the stock into the pan with the tamari, rosemary jelly, salt and pepper. Heat gently then once simmering, add the cornflour mix and stir continuously as it thickens and becomes glossy.

Taste and add more seasoning or jelly as needed. Serve piping hot, but remember to remove any whole herbs before hand. 

Christmas quinoa

I love recipes that can be used for more than one function – it makes life so much easier. So for day 15 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, I bring you a super tasty recipe that can be served as it is, or used as a filling mix.

Quinoa is one of those ingredients that’s very handy to use when you’re catering for people who follow a gluten-free plant-based diet. It’s packed full of plant protein, fabulous fibre as well as a multitude of nutrients – check out this old blog post to find out more http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/quinoa-being-celebrated-all-year/

On it’s own, quinoa can have a distinct flavour that puts many people off. Fortunately it rapidly absorbs other flavours so even cooking in vegetable stock makes a difference. Care needs to be taken not to overcook it though as it can go from hard and crunch to a mushy mess in a relatively short period of time. Measuring out the right amount of dried quinoa to water is key – follow the recipe and you should be ok.

This mix can be eaten as a stand alone dinner, used as a side-dish or as a filling for vegetables. I served this stuffed inside a sweet mama squash at our Eat Well Live Well group lunch and it worked a treat. You can use it in any vegetable suitable for stuffing though, but please not green bell peppers, unless it’s for you and you like them. I’m yet to meet anyone who enjoys a stuffed green pepper – please do correct me if I’m wrong!

Christmas quinoa (serves 4-6)

  • 180g quinoa
  • 700ml vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 50g dried cranberries 
  • 1 medium leek, shredded
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 medium parsnip, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme or sage
  • 100g cooked chestnuts, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • pinch ground cloves
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • finely chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Place the quinoa in a sieve and rinse well under a running tap. Pour the vegetable stock into a pan, add the bay leaf and bring to the boil. Add the quinoa and stir well. Pop on the lid and bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat right down and simmer for 10-15 minutes until all the stock is absorbed and the quinoa is soft. Turn off the heat and leave to steam for a couple of minutes. If you are not using straight away, tip out into a large bowl to cool, otherwise it will become over-cooked and mushy.

Put the dried cranberries in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few minutes to plump up.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium-sized pan and sauté the leek for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly so it doesn’t stick. Add the garlic and cook for another minute then the dried herbs and grated vegetables. Stir well and pour in a little of the cranberry soaking water to make sure the mix doesn’t stick to the pan. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the chopped chestnuts, sunflower seeds and the soaked cranberries, along with a little more of the soaking water and cook for another 5 minutes so everything is cooked through. Finally add the cloves, lemon rind, salt and pepper. Stir well and taste. Add more seasoning or herbs as needed.

Tip the veg mix into the cooked quinoa and stir well. Either serve hot straight away with a little parsley to garnish or leave to cool and use later.

Luscious lemon curd

The days leading up to Christmas are getting super busy – one reason why my post for day 14 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar is a bit late. In all this busyness, it’s handy to have tasty jars of things on hand to jazz things up a bit. 

One of those things is lemon curd. Until recently, I hadn’t eaten lemon curd for years. Traditionally made with butter and eggs that doesn’t fit the whole-food plant-based way of eating, it just wasn’t on my radar. Then suddenly out the blue I had a sudden craving for it, so just had to find out how to make it.

Thinking it would be rather complicated, I was delighted to discover that it was actually incredibly simple. As well as dairy-free, it’s oil free and contains a minimal amount of sugar. Plus with all the vitamin C in the lemons and the wonderful anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, you could almost say it is good for you – maybe!

This recipe makes a jam jar full of luscious lemon curd and will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Use it for topping toast, scones or rice cakes or for dolloping on pancakes. Add it to porridge or rice pudding for something different. You could use it for a lemon tart filling or of course lemon meringue pie. And it works fantastically as a filling for cakes instead of buttercream. I’m looking forward to making some lemon curd cupcakes at some point, but maybe after Christmas!

So if you fancy something slightly unChristmasy this Christmas, then give this a go. And don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Luscious lemon curd

Juice and rind of 2 lemons
250ml dairy-free milk of choice
3 1/2 tablespoons corn flour or arrowroot powder
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/8th teaspoon ground turmeric

Place all the ingredients into the jug of a blender and whizz for 10 seconds or so to combine well.

Pour into a medium-sized pan and heat gently, stirring constantly. It starts to thicken quite quickly and you don’t want lumps to form. Keep whisking until it’s very thick and sticking to the spoon or whisk. Leave to cool slightly then transfer to a clean jar. Cool completely then keep in the fridge until you’re ready to use.

Gingerbread

It is Gingerbread House Day today, so of course the recipe for day 12 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar is gingerbread.

This recipe ticks most of the boxes when it comes to ‘free from’ baking. It’s dairy-free, egg-free and works brilliantly with gluten-free flour. It does have added sugar though in the form of coconut sugar. Whilst this is the least refined type, it still may not suit you if you are sugar-free. The raw gingerbread balls from day 7 may be better for you. I have tried baking that mix too with mixed results! It makes a gingery biscuit, just not gingerbread.

Texture is important with gingerbread. You want a crunch crack when you break it with a softer inside. That comes from the fat and sugar combo. When it comes to eating a whole-food plant-based diet, getting an unrefined fat source is challenging. That is why for this recipe there are three options stated.

If you are ok eating refined fats, then dairy-free spread like Pure work just fine. But if not, then a neutral nut butter like cashew is an excellent alternative. And if you are nut-free, then tahini (sesame seed paste) is your option. They all work well. The flavour is slightly different, but I think the cashew nut butter creates a lovely deep rich flavour. Unfortunately cashew nut butter is also quite expensive to buy, but with these three options you can find something that works for you.

A word of warning when making up the mix – be very careful with how much water you add. You want to create a soft dough. It can however go from too dry to a wet soggy mess that you can’t do anything with in a very short period of time. 

So on Gingerbread House Day, why not use this recipe to create your own house at home? Or you could just cut out Christmas cookie shaped ones and enjoy them as they are, no building required. Do let me know how you get on.

Gingerbread

  • 250g whole-wheat or gluten free flour (with ½ teaspoon xanthum gum if none in mix)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 70g butter alternative – dairy-free spread, cashew butter, tahini etc
  • 100g coconut sugar
  • 80-100ml hot water
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Grab 2 baking trays and cover with greaseproof paper. 

Place the flour, baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and mix together well to combine. In another bowl, beat the butter alternative and 50g of coconut sugar and the maple syrup together until it’s well combined and creamy.  Place the remaining coconut sugar in another bowl and pour in 80ml hot water. Stir together then pour into the ‘butter’ mixture. Stir well to combine.

Add the flour and mix in with a metal spoon. The mix should come together to form a soft dough. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour, if it’s too dry add some extra water. Don’t make too soft or it’s difficult to roll and cut.

Cut the dough in half. Cover the worktop well with flour and roll out one section to 1/2 cm thick. Cut out the shape you require with cutters or template and transfer to the prepared baking trays. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Place the trays the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to cool on a rack. Decorate as desired, or just eat plain as they are.