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!

Vegetable and butter bean soup or stew

This winter seems to have been very long! The wet, grey days are beginning to take their toll, although any time the sun does manage to make an appearance is a wonderful moment to behold! March is the beginning of spring; the crocuses and daffodils have bravely popped their colourful heads up, but I definitely don’t feel it’s time to move from comforting soups and stews to lighter, more spring-like meals. Continue reading “Vegetable and butter bean soup or stew”

Sweet potato and bean soup

Autumn is definitely here.  Crisp mornings with air that tingles the end of your nose, leaves turning an array of colours before they drop to the ground in a pile ready to be jump in. Or, more sadly, stormy grey days with enough rain to send you into the back of the cupboard to hunt out the wellies. But whatever the weather, autumn is also time for thick, soul-soothing soup. Continue reading “Sweet potato and bean soup”

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!

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. 

 

Chickpea and spring greens soup (aka ‘Sludge soup’!)

It’s day 4 of my week of recipe blogging (to make up for the weeks I haven’t had time to write). So it must be time for soup! There’s not many days that go by in the year that I don’t eat soup. Even when the weather is boiling hot (which to be honest in the UK doesn’t happen very often!), there’s still so many soup options, although I have to say I still prefer mine hot rather than chilled.

My soup is often inspired by whatever I find in the fridge. It’s a great way of using up odds and ends of veggies (like broccoli stems and celery leaves) and cutting down on food waste which can only be a good thing. Sometimes though, what’s left in the fridge can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to creating a soup that not only tastes fab but looks attractive too. Anything that includes a vibrant red or orange like tomato or squash is easy. But when you’re left with greens and carrots the visuals can be a bit more challenge, as once they’re combined you’re entering the visual sludge zone!

Whenever I’ve served up a green/brown tinged soup, my kids have always groaned and said ‘oh, sludge soup’. But once tasted the bowls always end up empty, so unless they’re been depositing it on the house-plants it’s still a hit!

Spring greens, or any greens, are fabulous. Yet another member of the powerful cruciferous family, they are fresh, vibrant and vary slightly throughout the year depending on the season. I usually steam or stir fry shredded leaves with some garlic, but they taste equally amazing when added to soup. Combine them with chickpeas and a little hit of chilli and it’s a bowl of super-tasty, nutrient packed warming sludge soup. If you don’t have any greens in the fridge, use a dark green cabbage or even some chard or spinach – it will taste slightly different but still make it awesomely green!

Often I blend soups until their smooth, but this one definitely benefits from having half the mix left chunky. Blending half makes the background texture creamy with some awesome green lumpy bits, which possibly could make it look more swamp-like than sludge, but it really works. A little dairy-free yoghurt added at the end really does finish it off, especially if your chilli powder is a bit frisky and it ends up being more fiery than you expected!

So if you’re feeling brave, go for sludge – it’s surprisingly tasty!

Chickpea and spring greens soup (serves 4)
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 medium sticks of celery including leaves, chopped
1-2 broccoli stems, trimmed and chopped (if available)
1 fat clove of garlic, finely chopped
150g spring greens, rinsed and shredded
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon chilli powder
400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper
750ml water or vegetable stock
soya yoghurt and lemon juice to serve

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large saucepan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and broccoli stems for five minutes or so until they start to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then stir in the greens, chickpeas and spices. Cook for another minute stirring all the time then pour in the water or stock. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes or so until the veggies are cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Ladle half the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth. Return to the pan and re-heat gently until steaming hot. Check the flavour and add more seasoning if required then serve with a dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Warming bean and tomato soup

Winter has definitely kicked in; the beautiful old oak tree that over-hangs our garden is unceremoniously dumping piles of leaves on the grass that takes a lot of energy and effort to clear. And the cold bitter wind dotted with tiny snowflakes fluttering around are a sure sign that it’s time to keep warm on the inside as well as the outside.

This is the time of year when thick, warming soups and stews are best, offering comforting and tasty nourishment that keeps the chills away. I love this bean and tomato soup as it’s incredibly easy to make and is packed full of healthy phytonutrients that help boost the immune system. And with a hefty helping of lentils and beans, it’s also packed full of plant-based protein. It’s rather lovely too!

So next time you’re shopping, make sure all these ingredients are in your basket and give yourself a ‘souper’ warming treat!

Bean and tomato soup (serves 4-6)
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 cup red lentils
750ml vegetable stock
400g tin mixed beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper

Put a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large pan and heat until bubbling or spray the bottom with olive oil. Add the onion, leek, carrot and celery, and sweat with the lid on over a medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the veg start to soften. Add the garlic and  lentils and cook for another minute, stirring all the time so they don’t stick to the pan. Pour in the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, smoked paprika, cumin and thyme and mix well, then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Once boiling, pop on the lid, reduce the heat and cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are mushy.

Turn off the heat, leave to cool for a couple of minutes then blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Stir in the rinsed beans, season to taste with salt and pepper and gently heat through until the soup is bubbling and the beans are hot. Serve piping hot and feel instantly warmed from head to toe!

Portuguese pumpkin soup

It’s grey and damp outside, a dull October day. It’s only a few weeks since I returned from the sunny skies of Portugal, but it already seems like an age ago. But the memories are still bright and clear and all the photos transport me back to sunnier climes.

The fresh fruit and vegetables were gorgeous in Portugal. Blessed by the hot days, the flavours were intense after ripening in the bright sun. One of the things that surprised me about the local produce was the amount of squashes grown in home vegetable gardens. Driving along the narrow country roads, having a nose at people’s gardens, I could see the squash plants spread out over their patch, the bulbs nestling in the fading leaves; some were even grown as climbers, clinging to walls or trestle. I’m not sure why I was surprised, as there were plenty grown in India, but butternut squash and similar always strike me as something for a cooler, more Northerly climate.

But hey, what do I know? There are lots of Portuguese recipes using this lovely, nutrient-packed vegetable, including jam, fritters, cake (that one has to be tried!) and, of course, soup. This recipe is delicious and the veggies are the star, naturally plant-based and dairy free – perfect!

The ingredients are very simple, the technique super-healthy and it tastes gorgeous. The difference to the way I normally make soup is that none of the vegetables are sautéed at the beginning, everything is just simmered together. No oil is added, and nothing can get burnt (which can create potential toxins in altered fats, or excess carbon). With the right seasoning, it tastes clear and fresh.

And instead of throwing away the seeds hiding in the centre, use them as a garnish for the soup. These fresh seeds offer a good amount of fibre and healthy fats as well as minerals like magnesium and iron, plus vitamin E and K. On top of that, whole pumpkin seeds contain more zinc than the shelled variety. Zinc is vital for good immunity, perfect for warding off winter colds. Remove any excess flesh, rinse and pat dry, then pop on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or so in a hot oven. You can sprinkle paprika or chilli powder over the top to give an additional kick.

I made this out on my friend’s covered patio, cooking it on her trusty camping gas stove – simplicity all the way! Now back in the UK, it’s not really the weather for outside cooking, but give this lovely soup a go and let the sun shine on the inside even it it’s not out the window!

Portuguese pumpkin soup (serves 4 big portions)

1 large onion, chopped
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 courgette, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 handfuls parsley
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper

Peel, chop and deseed the pumpkin or squash – cut into medium chunks. Keep the seeds for decoration (optional, see above). Place all the prepared vegetables into a large pan. Cover with the stock, add a little salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are well cooked.

Leave to cool. Remove a couple of ladles full of vegetables, then blend the rest until smooth. Add more stock if too thick. Return to the pan with the reserved vegetables, season and reheat. Serve with a glug of flaxseed oil and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Autumnal delights – pumpkin and squash

This is the first year I’ve tried to grow squash in my little vegetable patch. A bit late in planting them out, they’re still not quite ready despite the weather beginning to change. They seem happy where they are though, for now, and will hopefully grow and ripen a little more than this!

You will find a number of links to different pumpkin or squash recipes on my blog – I have a bit of a thing for this wonderful veg! During the autumn and winter months, it’s a staple in our house, appearing in recipes at least twice a week. Apart from their versatility, sweet flavour and smooth velvety texture, these wonderful vegetables are an amazing source of nutrients, bringing a burst of veggie sunshine in the long, grey months.

Pumpkins and squash really can help to keep the body healthy during winter. You only have to look at the amazing orange coloured flesh to know it’s packed full of goodies. Winter squash have been found to have the highest percentage of beta-carotene of any vegetable. Beta-carotene is the plant form of vitamin A (easily converted in the body), essential for healthy eyes, skin and immune system. There are many types of beta-carotenes, wonderful little phytonutrients that acts as co-enzymes and catalysts for metabolic processes – all things that keep us functioning properly. On top of that, pumpkin and squash also contains an amazing array of anti-oxidants, including vitamin C, that help mop up harmful free-radicals, and a great selection of B vitamins, and essential minerals like magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium.

And it doesn’t stop there. The sugars in pumpkin and squash are super-healthy too. Not only are they full of fibre, they also contain a specific type of polysaccharide sugar called homogalacturonan (I haven’t just made that name up, honest!) that has special anti-inflammatory effects on the body particularly for heart disease and diabetes. The fibre also contains pectin, a favourite food for friendly gut bacteria, so benefiting gut health too.

So what’s not to love? Unfortunately, all good things have a not so good side – with pumpkins and squash, it’s how they’re grown. These water-loving veggies can be used to de-contaminate land, as they readily absorb anything in the soil and water. So if there is a lot of soil pollution, that will end up in the final product – and inside you. So it’s best to buy organic whenever possible, or from a reliable source. There is a small organic farm near me that always has a wonderful selection – here’s their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lainesorganicfarm/.

To celebrate this pumpkinlicious time of year, I’m going to add some extra recipes over the next few week. In the meantime, why not check out one of the yummy recipes already here on the blog? They’re all fully plant-based, dairy free and really tasty. Here are the links to take you there.

Pumpkin pancakes, perfect for breakfast, lunch or any time! http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/pumpkin-pancakes/

These tasty pumpkin scones are easy to make and freeze well https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/savoury-pumpkin-scones/

How about this tasty dish that matches squash with the nutrient power-house of brussel sprouts! https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/roasted-squash-red-onion-and-brussel-sprouts/

Pumpkins and squash work wonderfully in soup. Here’s two to try – a gorgeous soup to warm you through http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/happy-earth-day-have-some-gorgeous-squash-soup-to-celebrate/ and a filling winter warmer https://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/roasted-squash-and-barley-soup/

Try this stuffed squash for a satisfying and filling supper http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/stuffed-squash-for-thursday/

This hubby-inspired curry is a winner every time http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/steves-saturday-night-squash-curry/

Watch this youtube video about a family friendly dip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HuweHV24ao&t=16s

Happy eating!