Celebrating garlic

Out of all the ‘national days’ and ‘awareness’ weeks that pop up during the year, National Garlic Day (19th April) is one that really is worth celebrating. As well as adding flavour and pungency to even the most simplest of dishes, this small, stinky bulb also has some wonderful medicinal properties too. Food as medicine is certainly true when it comes to garlic!

Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world, with Sanskrit records documenting its use 5000 year ago. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian also document it’s use, and it has been used around the world to treat coughs, colds, dysentery, heart disease and toothache to name a few. And that’s not forgetting it’s magical powers to ward off vampires – or at least a bad date! One of my books about food quotes this 17th century poem by Sir John Harrington about the pros and cons of garlic, although I’m not sure why it ‘maketh men wink’!

There is so much to write about garlic, more for a book than a blog post. Instead, I want to share a couple of top tips about making the most of garlic’s beneficial properties, as well as a couple of alternative ways to use it in cooking plant based dishes to add more flavour and depth.

Garlic has a multitude of different health-giving active compounds that work together. Many of these are sulphur-containing compound which activate enzyme functions within the body. One particularly beneficial substance is alliinase (yes, two i’s!), an enzyme that is released when a garlic clove is crushed. This aids the formation of allicin, one of the active organo-sulphur compounds in garlic, that is associated with many of garlic’s healthy attributes, as well as the recognisably pungent garlic aroma.

Cooking for more than a few minutes can kill off the alliinase and therefore reduce the health giving properties within the garlic, so a top tip is to crush garlic and leave it to stand for 10 minutes before frying or boiling in a sauce to enable the alliinase to do it’s job and activate the allicin before it’s killed off.  It seems that baking, however, keeps many of the active properties intact – research done in 2007 found that baking did not significantly affect it’s anti-clotting properties, although over cooking did. This is good news for those who find raw garlic rather indigestible but still want to get the goodness in.

Amongst its many medicinal uses, raw garlic has been shown to be effective in the treatment of cancers, particularly in the digestive system. It is also has anti-fungal effects and can be used to treat candida infections. This requires more than your normal clove in a pasta sauce though, and often adding garlic into a green juice is recommended. Not that I have tried this as yet, I’m not that brave! But my trusty healing foods encyclopaedia suggests wrapping the garlic up in a green vegetable like parsley. The cloves are juiced more effectively, and this also helps reduce some of the after odour, as the chlorophyll in the greens binds up some of the sulphurous compounds. Good to know if you’re planning on trying it and socialising the same day!

I use a lot of garlic in my recipes, raw and cooked, as it’s a great way to infuse flavour. To add extra depth, I often add roasted garlic. Roasting is easy to do and, as we have seen above, preserves it’s medicinal properties. Just wrap a clove or two up in tin foil and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes or so whilst you are cooking something else – you’ll know when it’s ready as delicious, garlicky wafts start emanating out of the oven! Leave to cool then wrap in clean foil or baking paper and keep in the fridge until you want to use it. Add it to dips, plant based patés, sauces, mashed veggies – even spread it directly on toast, it’s delicious! The flavour is sweeter, less pungent and doesn’t linger in the the same way as raw.

The other way of infusing strong flavour into dishes is to use smoked garlic. If you haven’t already done so, this is really worth a go – but be careful, it’s powerful stuff and will create a flavour explosion with only a small amount. Previously I have bought mine from farm shops (if you’re ever visiting the Isle of Wight, the Garlic Farm is amazing and has some wonderful smoked garlic), although I did see it recently in my local supermarket as well. I have some garlic growing in my little veg patch, and want to smoke my own, but think I’ll wait until BBQ season to give it a go, as creating an indoor smoker looks like a major fire hazard!

So enjoy National Garlic Day, and don’t forget to crush your garlic and leave it to activate before cooking. And if you happen to have a friend who has their own smoker in their shed, then let me know!

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:   http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/buckwheat-pancakes-for-pancake-day/

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.


Let us eat soup!

On to the second to last day of my week long veg box challenge, and much of the gorgeous organic produce has been used. We have plenty of leftovers from both Saturday night’s squash curry and the pie and mash from Sunday night, so dinner is sorted.

So what to cook on Monday? The one item mainly untouched is the green batavia lettuce. It’s not that we don’t like lettuce, far from it, but I have to say I prefer warm, comforting foods at this time of year rather than cold, crisp dishes. So there’s only one thing to do with it – make soup!

When chatting with my mum about what I was going to make, she was more than a little unimpressed! But lettuce soup is actually really tasty as well as healthy. Known in my house as ‘sludge soup’ due to its rather pond-like hue, it’s packed full of nutrients like vitamins A and B complex, calcium and iron, and a whole range of phytonutrients that help support the body. As lettuce has a high water content, the soup doesn’t need much fluid added to the pot, keeping the nutrients readily available.

The other important thing about making lettuce soup is that it reduces food waste – lettuce is top of the league when it comes to fresh food items thrown away each week. I’ve always tried not to waste food, but ever since Hugh’s War on Waste recently, I’ve really made a concerted effort to use everything up, which is one reason why a veg box can be such a good idea, as you base your meals for the week around the box and add in as necessary, rather than just buy random items and see what works.

So why not try this soup if you have a desolate lettuce hanging around? Open head, leafy ones like this gorgeous green batavia, romaine or little gem lettuces all work well. I’ve not tried it with lollo rosso, and I don’t think an iceberg would be quite right (although can’t remember the last time I bought one). It’s so green, you just know it’s good for you!

Lettuce soup
1 onion, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large lettuce, washed well and chopped
a handful of chard leaves, chopped
500ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat a glug of olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and sauté the onion and potato for 5 minutes on a low heat with the lid on until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables and simmer for 10 minutes or so until the potato is cooked and soft. Add the lettuce and chard leaves. Pour in some more vegetable stock, but don’t fully cover the leaves as remember they will wilt and add more fluid to the pan, potentially making your soup too watery. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, pop on the lid and simmer for 5 minutes until the leaves have fully wilted. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then blend until smooth, adding more stock if needed.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice (to help with iron absorption) and a swirl of dairy free yoghurt or cream. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Let us eat soup!”

Carrot and ginger – grey day soup

I’ve realised that I write about soup more than another type of dish, but then that’s not surprising really, as soup is truly awesome! For a start, it’s hard to go wrong (although I have tasted some really bad ones in my time, so it is possible!), it’s pretty quick and easy, and nutritionally it’s the best way to retain all the gorgeous vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Continue reading “Carrot and ginger – grey day soup”

Happy New Year hangover juice

It’s time to reflect on the year that has been, and celebrate the arrival of a new one. In recent years, we’ve seen in the New Year in some pretty different places – an Indian jungle, on the street in the centre of Bangkok and, last year, in a local Chinese restaurant. All have been memorable, but this year is my favourite way of celebrating – a crowd at a friends house. Good conversation, lots of laughs and a relaxed atmosphere. And of course, lots of alcohol!

No matter how careful I am, I always seem to feel hungover on New Year’s Day, even if I’ve not been drinking! Maybe it’s the combination of excitement and a late night, but telling signs of headache, tiredness and lethargy always seem to rear their unpleasant head.

A hangover is a combination of dehydration and an accumulation of toxins from the alcohol plus a low blood sugar which affects your brain. This can lead to a stonking headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and insomnia. Keeping well hydrated is key, so having a glass of water to every glass of alcohol helps. An extra good guzzle of water before going to bed along with a little snack should also smooth the way to a better morning after along with a milk thistle tablet (this helps support your liver detoxifying everything). Of course, you need to be in a reasonable state to do all this before collapsing in a post-party heap!

This year I’m armed with vegetables and fruit that will aid a faster recovery in the morning. – a juice that helps rehydrate, detox and settle a disturbed stomach. A combination of beetroot, celery, apple, carrot, lemon and ginger should do the trick.Beetroot is your liver’s best friend when it comes to excess as it helps remove toxins and is packed full of anti-oxidants. Celery is high in potassium and sodium and so helps with replacing those electrolytes lost with dehydration. Carrots are packed full of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, B6 (good for the liver) as well as potassium. Apples also rate high with vitamin C and potassium and can help settle the digestion; ginger does the same and can reduce any nausea that might be hanging around. Finally, lemon provides another shot of vitamin C and can also provide some additional phyto-nutrients.  If you fancy, a couple of handfuls of spinach can be thrown in for good measure; loads of B vitamins provide additional support to your liver.

There’s still time to make sure your fridge is stocked up ready for the morning after – give it a go and your body will love you for it!

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Hangover juice (serves 1 poorly person)
1 medium beetroot
1 large carrot
1-2 sticks celery
1 large apple
chunk fresh ginger
1/2 lemon
couple of handfuls spinach (optional)
Put all the ingredients into a juicer to extract all the goodness. I like to add my spinach separately, by putting the juice into a blender, then popping in the spinach and whizzing it all up.  Add water if you desire and consume with gusto, or great care, depending on how delicate you’re feeling!

Farinata or frittata?

I have to say, I’ve become obsessed by food! I love reading articles, recipes, blogs and watching various food programmes on the TV. And as for recipes books – well my collection is growing! Sitting down with a cuppa and a pile of recipes is the perfect way to spend a few minutes.

The constant thought in the back of my mind is “can I eat this?” Eating dairy and yeast free, and now completely plant based, can create a number of challenges, but with a bit of imagination and creativity, it’s amazing what you can come up with. Although I have to say, experimentation can be accompanied by disaster!

Recently, I was browsing a vegan cookbook and I came across a recipe for farinata, something I hadn’t heard of before. Originating in Northern Italy, farinata is a type of flat bread that’s made from chickpea flour and baked at a high temperature so that it’s crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. The thing that had caught my eye though was the featured photo looked like pizza!

For once, I decided to follow the recipe diligently, even down to the recommended tin size. This was where things didn’t quite add up though. The photo showed a really thin base with a topping of tomato, onion and olive delicately resting on the top. However, the batter was really deep in the tin, and all my toppings just sank! So I baked it anyway, a bit grumpy that things were not going to work out.

I was right, it didn’t turn out as expected – but it certainly wasn’t a disaster. I ended up with a plant based version of a frittata, so egg-like in texture and taste it was a real surprise. My grumpiness soon turned to delight.

Perfect for breakfast, lunch, picnic or a light supper, this dish is pretty simple to make, you just need to plan ahead a little as the batter has to sit for a couple of hours. And as it’s make with chickpea flour, it’s got lots of fibre as well as protein and various minerals so it’s a really healthy, cholesterol free alternative to eggs. As for the filling, you could add whatever you would to any frittata. I’ve stuck with tomatoes, olives and onions as the combination tastes great.
My only problem is what to call it, as I don’t think it’s either a farinata or a frittata. Why not try it – seriously tasty as well as healthy, and maybe you can think of a good name!  And in the meantime, I will try to make a thin farinata with the toppings on top…..maybe that pizza alternative is close!

Tomato, olive and onion farinata/frittatafarinata
250g chickpea flour (gram flour)
1/2 teaspoon salt
450mls warm water
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion diced
handful black olives, halved
sprig fresh rosemary and oregano, chopped
chilli flakes (optional)

Stir the chickpea flour and salt together, then stir in the warm water until well mixed and no lumps. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm for a couple of hours, or even overnight (I put it on the draining board which is above the dishwasher – gets slightly warm and worked perfectly!). When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220oC. Put one tablespoon of olive oil in a 20×20 baking tin and pop in the oven to get really hot. Stir the rest of the oil into the batter, then pour into the sizzling hot tin. Sprinkle the topping ingredients equally over the batter – they will sink into it, season with more salt and pepper and finish with a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you so desire. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the top is lightly browned and coming away from the side of the tin. This can be eaten hot, or left to cool. Don’t over cook as it dries out and eat the same day if possible as it won’t be as good tomorrow. Enjoy!farinata