Pan con Tomate (Tomatoes on toast!)

My husband travels a lot with his job. Whilst it takes him to all sorts of interesting places, some locations can be a bit challenging when it comes to finding healthy plant-based food options. Each country has its local breakfast options – this week he’s off to Bangalore and so he’s looking forward to getting a delicious masala dosa in the morning. Continue reading “Pan con Tomate (Tomatoes on toast!)”

Apple and oat muffins

Muffins were in the news earlier this year following a report that outed many shop-bought versions as being the less-than healthy option they might appear to be (click here for the link). Some blueberry ones tested didn’t have anything close to a real blueberry in them, just some synthetic sugar replacement. Plus lots of refined sugar and oils. That’s definitely not a healthy muffin!

These muffins on the other hand are on the complete other end of the scale. Being a whole-food plant-based version, they contain no refined oils, eggs or sugar but do have wholegrain and oats plus lots of healthy fibre and phytonutrients. Perfect for a breakfast on-the-go, mid-morning snack, lunch box treat or to fuel some exercise. Or you could just eat them because they taste delicious!

The key difference with these muffins to those made with lots of oil and sugar is the texture. Apple puree replaces the oil and it’s heavy. This makes it more difficult for the baking agents to elicit a light fluffy rise, resulting in a dense and somewhat heavy muffin. Pick it up and you know that muffin is going to be good for you!

Apple also replaces much of the normal added sugar; eating apples do not need to be sweetened and cook down into a good puree. The ones I made for the photos used some puree I had in the freezer from my own prolific apple tree, so maybe they tasted even better for being home grown! The combination of apple and cinnamon not only tastes amazing but does magic tricks in your body. Cooked apple is a wonderful pre-biotic, feeding the friendly bacteria that live in the gut – they love it! And cinnamon helps the body to absorb sugar from the bloodstream into the cells, promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism.

A word of warning – because these muffins contain no oil, they have a habit of sticking to the muffin paper, although oddly only on the day they are baked (which is also the day they taste the best, fresh out of the oven). This is frustrating, especially if you want to dive in and end up consuming more fibre than you anticipated by nibbling on wrapper! One way around this is to skip using the cases and bake directly into a well-greased non-stick muffin tin. If you’re not too worried about have extra oil, you could add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to the mix. I just know the one I eat the day I make them will require some paper nibbling and just enjoy them as they are!

So if you are looking for a tasty muffin that’s filling, full of healthy nutrients and ticks all the ‘good’ boxes, then try a batch of these. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Oat and apple muffins (makes 12)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
200mls non-dairy milk (preferably soya)
Squeeze of lemon or ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
220g unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
80ml maple syrup
200g oats (gluten free if needed)
200g wholemeal or gluten free self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt
1 medium/large eating apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon coconut sugar to top (optional)

Mix the flaxseed and water together in a small bowl and leave to one side to thicken – this makes a flax-egg. Whisk the dairy-free milk and lemon or vinegar together in a bowl and leave to stand for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line muffin tins with 12 muffin wrappers or grease non-stick muffin tins with a little oil.

Mix the applesauce, maple syrup, vanilla and flaxseed egg with the milk and whisk together well. Place the flour, oats, baking powder, salt and spices to a large bowl and mix to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together quickly. Do not over mix. Quickly fold in the chopped apple.

Spoon out mix into muffin cases, filling each one just under the rim. Tap the tin than place in the oven and bake for 17-19 minutes.

Once firm and lightly browned on top, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooking rack. Sprinkle a little extra ground cinnamon on the top if so desired and leave to cool completely.


Wholesome soda bread

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread. It always makes my nose tingle and mouth water, but unfortunately my yeast intolerance rules most tempting loaves out. I do make a few different types of ‘bread’ myself which might be described as ‘interesting’, but the best one by far is soda bread.

I fell in love with soda bread over 20 years on a holiday in the Republic of Ireland. We went for a little road trip around the gorgeous countryside after attending a friends wedding. Sounds idyllic, but it was February and whilst the views were amazing, it was exceedingly cold. We also nearly got stranded in the snow when our very cheap hire car was no match to a sudden snow storm on a steep country hill. Fortunately, my husband saved the day and managed to get away before it all went horribly wrong! On our trip we stayed in small pubs and guest houses. Every one of them served freshly baked warm soda bread with lashings of butter and jam. It was so filling and comforting, it warmed us up ready for the freezing cold weather outside.

Soda bread is a super quick type of loaf, made with bicarbonate of soda instead of yeast. The bubbles from the bicarb gives the lift, and can be surprisingly light (but still hearty). The problem for any dairy-free diners is that it’s also traditionally made with buttermilk. Certainly any loaves I have found in the supermarket contain dairy. I made it for some time with just water, but it didn’t have the same fluffy texture inside, so was even heavier and more dense than normal. This of course was solved when I discovered how to make vegan buttermilk (as on a previous post) and now my loaves have just the right crumb.

One of the tricks with soda bread is to use just the right amount of baking soda. Too little, and it won’t rise and have texture, too much and it tastes a bit like wee! If you’ve had a pot in the cupboard for a few years, I would suggest buying a fresh one. You may be tempted to use more if it’s old, which may not give you a lift but will definitely give you the wee flavour!  The other trick to get a good crust on the outside and soft bread on the inside is to place a bowl of water in the bottom of the oven whilst it bakes. This produces steam that helps create the best type of loaf.

For this recipe, I’ve used half spelt flour, half wholemeal flour, but you can use all of one or the other. I like spelt as it has a lovely nutty flavour, and being a more ancient grain it’s potentially easier to digest than some of the modern flour strains. It does still contain gluten, so if you are gluten intolerant please avoid (even though I picked up a vegan baking book recently that classified it as gluten-free). I have to admit that I haven’t tried making soda bread with a gluten-free mix so cannot say if it works or not – that will have to be an experiment for another day.

I love making this fresh for breakfast (it takes less than 30 minutes all up) or have it for lunch to dip in some tasty soup. It may not be as glamorous as some types of bread, but for the yeast and dairy intolerant eaters, it’s a fabulous alternative.

Dairy-free soda bread
200g wholemeal flour + 200g spelt flour (or just 400g of one type)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
210ml dairy-free buttermilk (click here for recipe)

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour into a bowl with the bicarb and salt. Mix together well to make sure it’s all combined – you really don’t want to eat a mouthful of soda! Carefully pour in the buttermilk, mixing together with a spoon as you go. Once the mix starts to get stiff, use your fingers to bring it together, kneading lightly for a couple of minutes, but not too much. Form a ball with the mix, then transfer to the baking sheet, moulding it lightly into a round loaf. Gently cut a large cross into the top, but don’t cut through more than the top few centimetres.

Place the loaf in the oven, with a bowl of water on the shelf below to provide some steam. Bake for 20 minutes until it’s crusty on the outside. Remove from the oven and pick up the loaf with an oven glove or tea towel. Tap the bottom – it should be firm and sound slightly hollow. If you feel your loaf is not quite ready, return to the oven for a couple more minutes.

Once ready, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or cold. To store, wrap up in baking paper and keep in an air-tight tin for up to 3 days.

Top tips for perfect plant-based pancakes

It’s Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. Traditionally made with milk, eggs and flour, at first glance it might seem pancakes are off the menu for sensitive eaters or plant-based diners. Fortunately, that’s not the case. There’s a whole assortment of plant-based pancake recipes available that are egg, dairy and even gluten free.

Here are three versions on the website you could try:

  1. A simple buckwheat pancake, so gluten free as well as dairy free, more like a traditional pancake and still just as good!
  2. A lovely thick and fluffy pancake made with apple and maple syrup –
  3. If you fancy something even more unusual, why not give these pumpkin pancakes a go?

Whatever type of plant-based pancakes you try, there is the potential for disaster in creating the mix or cooking the pancake. So to avoid disappointment and frustration, and to have wonderfully light and tasty pancakes to devour tonight, here are my top tips for a perfect Pancake Day. Enjoy!

  1. If you are making a flax-egg, make sure you use freshly ground flaxseed and leave the mix to thicken for a few minutes before pouring into the pan. You need to let the flaxseed to do it’s magic and help stop the pancake falling apart when you flip it.
  2. Use a good quality non-stick pancake pan or thin frying pan. Pre-heat the pan on a medium heat for a couple of minutes before pouring in the first dollop of batter. This will help the pancake to cook through more evenly, preventing it from either burning, or just not cooking at all!
  3. Patience is key. Once you have poured in your pancake mix and spread it around the pan, leave it be until the surface is covered with lots of bubbles. If you have the heat right, it won’t burn and will be set enough to flip successfully. Go to soon, and it will collapse in a soggy heap.
  4. Be adventurous – plant-based cooking is the perfect opportunity to let your creativity run wild, either with the mix or with the toppings.
  5. Have fun. Letting the kids help with creating and cooking your pancakes is the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with them, as well as help them learn about real food and flavours.

Soaked breakfast oats

Oats are amazing. That’s all I need to say really. But then it wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I just wrote 3 words!

Much has been researched and written about the benefits of eating oats in the last few years, and rightly so. It seems that the traditional porridge breakfast is not just cheap, filling and convenient, but goes a long way to keep people healthy; a fabulous whole food. Oats have been linked to:

  • reducing heart disease
  • lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) levels
  • maintaining blood sugar levels
  • helping with asthma and eczema
  • relieving constipation
  • increasing resistance to infections
  • reducing the risk of breast cancer

Not bad for a small, seemingly insignificant grain. So what’s the secret to oat’s success? For a start, oats are packed full of minerals like manganese and molybdenum, micronutrients that play an essential role in a range of enzyme and metabolic processes. There’s also a good helping of a few B vitamins as well as magnesium, chromium and zinc. These last three are particularly needed for heart health, managing blood sugars and keeping the immune system on track.

Most importantly, though, seems to be the particular type of fibre found in them – beta-glucan. It’s this special fibre that helps to lower cholesterol levels by removing excess amounts from the gut in an effective manner (and deals with the problem of constipation and help keep gut bacteria happy at the same time!). Oats also contain certain anti-oxidants that reduce free radical damage on LDL cholesterol, thereby reducing the damaging effect it can have on the body. So a double win.

Oats are great for the skin too, both on the inside and out. The nutrients digested help to reducing inflammation and nourish the skin from the inside, but you can also use oats in the bath to soothe itchy and irritated skin (wrapped up in a pouch not loose). I used to do that for my son when he was little, even though he would complain that I was making him bath in porridge!

The main bonus is that oats are delicious! I use them in all sorts of plant based dishes, either as the star ingredient or as a filler to provide extra fibre or a creamy texture. Pure oats are gluten free but do contain a protein – avenin – that is similar to gluten so people with celiac disease might be sensitive to oats as well. The problem with oats is cross contamination when they are processed in factories dealing with wheat and other gluten containing products, so if you want to aire on the side of caution, buy gluten free oats to be safe.

This breakfast is really simple and so delicious. When I used to do night shifts, this is what I’d take with me – it’s perfect when the 4am hunger hits and you need satisfying sustenance to see you through until the morning staff arrived. 4am hunger is the worst – ask any night shift worker!

If you’re in a hurry in the morning, make it the night before and then it’s ready and waiting for you first thing. If you forget though, it still taste good with less soaking. I usually get up, make my tea and put a bowl together, then go off and get showered etc. Once I’m all ready, so is breakfast. If you’re really short of time, my daughter says even 5 minutes is enough (if you’re a disorganised teenager!).

Toppings are up to you. I love a few blueberries and ground flaxseed, but any mix will do. Give it a go and see what works for you.  Your body will love you for it!

Soaked oats and chia seeds
50g oats
1 tablespoon chia seeds
Approx 150ml dairy free milk
a handful raisins
sprinkle of cinnamon
toppings – blueberries, seeds, ground flaxseeds, nuts, grated apple, banana – the choice is yours!

Place the oats in a bowl, stir in the chia seeds, raisins and cinnamon. Pour over the milk and leave it to soak in the fridge overnight, or for as long as you have. Add toppings of choice and enjoy.

Embellished avocado toast

I’ve realised the breakfast section in my recipe index is a bit thin on the ground. Strange, as I love breakfast and can never go without. Even when I used to start work early in the morning, I still had to munch through something to power me up for the day, even if it was before the birds had even thought about waking up. And I’ve never understood people who say they don’t like breakfast – how can that be?

The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been questioned in the last few years. Various experiments and studies have been undertaken to determine if you are likely to gain or lose weight if you miss out a morning meal. Guess what – the answers differ! Some people do, some people don’t. The idea that if you do a physical job you need to eat more, but if sedentary should consume less are all connected to the old idea that food is about energy units. But of course food is about so much more than energy!

Away from weight gain or loss, there is a consensus that people who eat breakfast are more likely to consume more micronutrients during the day as well as fibre, which is all good. But then again, if breakfast consists of sugary cereal and a bunch of empty calories then that’s no help at all! Eating breakfast does appear to help balance blood sugar levels during the day, but only if refined carbohydrates and sugar are avoided – so coco-pops are not helpful!

I guess the key to these studies shows that there is no right answer, because we are all different. Getting to know our bodies, what works for us and keeps us healthy and understanding the value and benefit of what we are doing makes a real difference. Since I started eating whole foods and dairy free, I’ve found my breakfast keeps me going much longer with no sugar lows or shakes until lunchtime. Some days I only feel like a light breakfast – some fruit and dairy free yoghurt maybe. Other days I’m up for something more substantial like scrambled tofu, especially at the weekend when things are more relaxed and sometimes breakfast is more brunch!

Avocado toast is one of my favourite breakfasts, easy and quick on a busy morning, simple to embellish on a lazy one. The toast for me is either wholegrain sourdough or a home made superfood bread, a gluten free and nutrition-packed lovely (the recipe will appear some time soon!). There’s fibre and minerals in the wholegrain and fabulous monounsaturated fats in the avocado, the healthy, anti-inflammatory fat that our bodies just love. The fat and protein in the avocado also help keep me feeling full for longer.

I like to add a good swirl of organic flaxseed oil on my toast before smashing the avocado on top; packed full of super health omega 3 fatty acids, it adds a lovely rich flavour, a great dairy free alternative to butter.

To add a few more goodies and start getting my 10 a day, adding some lightly sautéed mushrooms and a handful of fresh rocket or spinach really embellishes ordinary avocado toast and I highly recommend it. You may feel this is more of a lunch idea than breakfast, but all over the world, peoples idea of breakfast is different – my son was served spaghetti carbonara for breakfast in Vietnam!

So if you are a breakfast lover like me, give this little dish a go one morning – it will put a smile on your face and joy in your tummy!

Pumpkin pancakes

Pancake Day, or rather Shrove Tuesday, is coming up, the last day before the beginning of Lent and the start of the lead up to Easter. I’ve written about this before in this blog post:

I’ve never been that keen on traditional pancakes, even when I’ve managed to give them the Sensitive Foodie makeover! But I do like thick and spongy American style pancakes. The problem is they are often packed with dairy and refined sugar and oil. So these pumpkin pancakes are a real winner as they not only taste great and have a lovely soft fluffy texture, but they’re also full of whole foods and are dairy free and gluten free too.

As a parent, I know it can be hard to get your kids to eat vegetables at times; a contentious issue that can create family stress, especially if your child just refuses to eat the food you have prepared for them. Using vegetables like pumpkin in popular kids foods like pancakes is therefore a win win situation. The pancakes taste great; sweet and fluffy and a choice of toppings helps them be creative in the kitchen. Win for them. Super healthy ingredients like pumpkin (packed fully of betacarotene and other helpful phytonutrients as well as natural fibre and vitamins and minerals), buckwheat and cinnamon mean that you know they are getting powerful nutrients that are good for them – a win for you.

If you think it’s a bit odd using pumpkin in pancakes, it’s actually really useful as it takes on a couple of roles. One is it’s natural sweetness reduces the amount of sugar you need to add in to the recipe – complex sugars always win over refined. On top of that, pumpkin can be used to replace eggs in a lot of egg free and vegan baking, as it acts as a binding agent, one of the major roles eggs play in baking.  Practical and healthy all in one.

I’ve noticed that a lot of American recipes with pumpkin use canned pumpkin in their list of ingredients. Whilst I’m sure you can buy it in the UK, the only time I’ve ever seen it were some exceedingly expensive tins on the self in the local expat supermarket whilst we were living in India!  If you do find canned pumpkin, make sure there’s no added sugar (it really doesn’t need it). For me though, the key thing about buying tinned pumpkin puree is that much of the vital nutrients and anti-oxidants are lost in processing. So even if I saw it on the shelf, I would always make may own to ensure it’s as fresh as possible. And it’s so easy – for these pancakes, I peeled half a butternut squash and chopped it into chunks, then steamed it for 10 minutes or so until soft. Once cool, it got popped in the fridge ready to be mashed to a pulp for these pancakes. There’s even some chunks left over, so they’ll get added to a rainbow salad later on today.

So, for Pancake Day this year, why not make a new tradition and try these gorgeous pumpkin pancakes? And of course, you don’t have to keep them for one day a year! Once you’ve tried these out, I’m sure they’ll become a firm favourite throughout the year.

Pumpkin Pancakes (makes 12 smallish pancakes)
300ml soya or other dairy free milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or cider vinegar
95g pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3 tablespoons maple syrup or coconut sugar
160g buckwheat flour (or flour of choice)
1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free if needed)
pinch of Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of mace or nutmeg
toppings of choice (blueberries, maple syrup, banana etc)

Pour the dairy free milk into a bowl and add the lemon juice or vinegar to make it curdle, creating a non-dairy buttermilk. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in another bowl and mix well. Then pour the pumpkin puree, oil, vanilla essence and maple syrup into the dairy free buttermilk and whisk well to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisk again and ensure all the ingredients are mixed well then leave to rest for 5 minutes.

Heat a crepe pan or a light frying pan to a medium heat. Pour two tablespoons of mix onto the pan and spread slightly. Cook on one side for a few minutes until bubbles appear, turn with a fish slice then cook the other side until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Turn out onto a warmed plate and repeat the process until all the mix is used up.  Serve warm with topping of choice.


Chia-up – breakfast cheer

Getting a good breakfast can be a challenge at times, especially if you’re short of time or have run out of inspiration. It’s easy to get stuck in the same routine, grab the nearest empty calorie cereal or, worse, have nothing at all.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day – your body has been fasting over night and needs good fuel to get it going again. And it doesn’t have to be boring, even though cereals and toast sometimes seems like the only things to have. When you’re eating a dairy or gluten free diet, you do need to get a bit imaginative at times.

There’s loads of different things on offer to power you up for the day – just because you don’t have time for a full English (or it’s veggie equivalent!) doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

Planning the morning meal is as important as any other during the day, so keep ahead of the game, and if mornings are a rush, prepare it the night before.

This chia breakfast bowl is one of the recipes that features in my Eat Well, Live Well course, a five week foray into the world of eating a whole food plant based diet. It’s so simple to make, tastes fabulous and is packed full of amazing nutrients and fibre that will keep you going all the way to lunch. Because of it’s high fibre content and lack of refined sugar, you won’t get that sugar dip mid-morning.

Chia seeds are part of the ‘in crowd’ at the moment. But rather than just another nutrition fad, these tiny little black seeds really are worth the hype. Just a couple of tablespoons gives you 5g of protein, 11g of fibre and are a great source of plant based omega 3 fatty acids. There’s also fabulous amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous, plus zinc and vitamins B1, 2 and 3. Not only that, there are loads of anti-oxidants that help munch up free radicals that damage our bodies and contribute towards the ageing process.

The fibre content of chia seeds is amazing – not only will it help keep you full for longer, it helps keep your gut happy, providing food for the friendly bacteria deep down that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also keeps our guts a healthy and happy place. And the nutrient profile of these seeds is perfect for bone health – a clean source of protein and lots of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, all essential to keep bones healthy and strong.

This chia breakfast bowl only takes a couple of minutes to make before you go to bed;  the chia seeds swell up in the milk overnight, so when you grab it in the morning, it’s all thick and gooey, and ready to get you going. There’s all sorts of toppings you can add – hemp seeds, fruit, coconut etc – or just eat it as it is. On the photo, I’ve added some ground hemp seeds with goji berries and passion fruit.

So think ahead, and have a chia-full day!

Chia seed breakfast bowl
1 small banana
2 tablespoons chia seeds
200ml dairy free milk of choice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Toppings: passion fruit, berries, mango, strawberries – whatever you enjoy really!

Mash the banana in the bottom of a bowl. Pour the chia seeds in then add the milk. Stir in the cinnamon, then place in the fridge overnight. Add your toppings of choice in the morning, and enjoy!