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!

Dairy-free coriander yoghurt dressing

Here’s a super-quick and tasty dressing to liven up any salad or to drizzle over a spicy soup, curry or baked dish (like the Baked Spicy Stuffed Aubergine).

I prefer unsweetened soya yoghurt for this dressing. If you can find Sojade, I would highly recommend as I think it has the best flavour. Otherwise I use Tesco own brand soya yoghurt. If you are soya-free you could try a coconut based yoghurt but make sure there’s no added sugar. It would taste foul!

If you are not a fan of coriander (and I know there are a few people out there who have a passionate dislike) you could add fresh mint leaves instead; they would have a similar cooling effect.

As this is so easy to make, I usually make it in small amounts for a specific dish, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days so if you want to make a larger amount just double or quadruple the amounts.

I hope you enjoy making this super-quick but tasty dressing – let me know how you get on.

Dairy-free coriander yoghurt dressing
150ml dairy-free yoghurt of choice
1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or mint) leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice (optional but makes it zing)
salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a small blender pot and whizz for 10 seconds or so to combine. Taste and add more seasoning, lime or coriander as needed and whizz again. Serve chilled.

Chia up with jam

My son recently declared “I just love jam”. It made us all laugh as we hadn’t actually been talking about jam at the time, it was just a random statement that came from nowhere. Of course!

Mind you, he does have a point. I particularly like a rustic homemade conserve jam-packed (excuse the pun!) with ripe fruit. Of course, the problem with jam is it’s high sugar content, the key ingredient for preserving the fruit. Once a jar is open, how to resist eating it all at once?

According to food trend pundits, ‘low sugar’ is going to be a key feature in 2017. Eating a mainly whole food plant based diet, my sugar tends to come in it’s natural form; I try to avoid highly refined sugars partly because of the strain it puts on the body, but mainly because I seem to be particularly susceptible to sugar lows if I eat anything with high levels of the white stuff. I become more ‘panicgry’ than ‘hangry”, not a pleasant experience!

And being the beginning of the year with many people resolving to eat better and/or lose weight, I figured some healthy ‘jam’ would be just the thing to keep the spirits up.

If you haven’t come across chia seeds yet, then this is a good recipe to start with as it’s so simple. Chia seeds are tiny nutrient dense seeds that are a fabulous source of healthy omega 3 fatty acids, protein, fibre and and other nutrients like manganese, magnesium and various vitamins. You only need a small amount as they swell in fluid, softening and releasing all the goodness hidden within. This swelling thickens up the fruit purée, creating the jammy consistency you want in a fruit conserve. Chia seed jam works best with berries as they contain their own seeds – apricot jam might look a bit odd with lots of swollen seeds in it.

I like to use frozen mixed berries for my jam, but raspberries by themselves are also lovely. And that’s it, no sweetener or other flavours. This can make it a bit tart, but you can really taste the real fruit flavour.

Once made, you can use it wherever you would use jam; on porridge, toast, rice pudding, ice cream, yoghurt (all dairy free versions of course!), in cake fillings, on meringues, scones or rice cakes – on whatever you like really!

Of course, the thing to bear in mind is that without the added sugar, chia jam doesn’t have the same
shelf life as a normal jar. It keeps fresh in the fridge for 5 days or so, that’s if a resident jam lover doesn’t finish it all in one go.

So give this a go; one of my key rules of eating well is never to feel deprived. So it you’re on a New Year health kick, this will definitely hit the jam spot!

Chia seed jam
150g frozen berries of choice ***
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds
30-45ml water
Place the frozen fruit into a saucepan, add the water and simmer until fully defrosted and soft. Mash any remaining whole fruit into a pulp. Add a little more water if needed, Stir in the chia seeds, simmer for a minute, then turn off the heat. Leave to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a small bowl to cool completely. Once cool, it
should be thick and gloopy. Transfer to the fridge, or eat straight away. Enjoy!

** In the summer, if you have a glut of fresh berries, make up a big batch of jam then divide into portions and freeze to use when berries are not in season.