With the kids back at school and more people at their place of work rather than at home, packed lunches are back in focus. It can be hard to know what to put in that’s healthy, unprocessed and, of course, tasty. It’s even more challenging if you are creating packed lunches for a nut free environment, particularly schools. Continue reading “Savoury carrot flapjacks”
If you’ve been feeling a big sluggish and weighed down by heavy seasonal treats and comfort food, then this delicious winter salad might just hit the spot for you. It’s easy to make and full of fresh, seasonal ingredients that will delight your tastebuds and give your body just what it needs on a dull, January day. Continue reading “Orange and pomegranate salad”
One of the things discussed on my Eat Well Live Well course is how to successfully transition to eating a whole-food plant-based diet with minimal pain and maximum pleasure. Change can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be an austere process. One of the most frequent difficulties I hear is “but what do I eat for lunch?”.
If you’re used to making a cheese or ham salad sandwich, or going to your local sandwich shop or deli for chicken or tuna mayo baps, thinking of new and tasty fillings can seem a bit daunting. Of course there’s always hummus – and who doesn’t love hummus? – but not every day!
You could go for the vegan alternative and have fake meats or vegan cheese. But these ultra processed, factory-made products are often full of damaged fats, concentrated proteins and few nourishing nutrients. Maybe ok every now and then, but certainly not a staple and not if you are eating a whole-food plant-based diet to transform a health condition. For that, you need real food that’s had limited processing.
This chickpea sandwich spread is a mix between a tuna mayo alternative and the acidic sandwich spread filling I used to get as a child (did you ever have that? I’m not sure if I ever liked it, but I do have fond memories of it – weird!).
Chickpeas are an awesome source of plant-based protein, fibre, potassium, iron and magnesium (to name a few). They share the fabulousness of all pulses (this blog post tells you more). They also take on other flavours well so can be used for all sorts of recipes. Which is handy as they are also super cheap so good if you are feeding a family on a budget or relying on a student loan to keep you fed and watered.
This filling can be used for sandwiches, baps or wraps. If you are gluten free or avoid bread, then pop it on a baked potato or use as the star of a simple salad. Vary the fresh herbs to whatever you have to hand or the season. Parsley and chives work well as standard flavour. If you use coriander, swap the lemon for lime juice and add a little ginger for an Eastern flavour. Basil or oregano create a more Mediterranean vibe, so swap the spring onion for a little red onion if you have it. Or, if you can’t tolerate onion, just leave it out and try adding a few capers for a more sour taste.
As you can see, this base recipe is so flexible you can create a different combination for every day, or for the season. And as eating and socialising outside are going to be more popular if you want to meet up with friends (due to the pandemic), you might find this recipe features a lot over the next few month. Just adapt it to what you have available and what you like to eat. And enjoy!
Chickpea sandwich spread
- 4 heaped tbsp cooked chickpeas
- 1 lemon, juice only grated rind optional
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or pinch of mustard powder if you can't have vinegar
- water if needed
- 1 medium spring onion finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley and chives chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped optional
- Place the chickpeas in a bowl with the lemon juice and Dijon. Mash with a fork, adding a little water if it's too dry. You want soft, mushed chickpeas with a little texture and a thick sauce.
- Stir in the spring onion, herbs and seasoning (plus capers if using). Mix together well and taste for flavour - add more seasoning, lemon or Dijon as required.
- Use to filling your bread of choice or as suggested above. Keeps in the fridge for 2 days.
Yesterday was a busy one in The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen – not that we went anywhere of course, well not physically anyway. For yesterday I beamed live into other peoples homes via my first live cooking demo via Facebook.
I had no idea if it would work, but it did! And rather wonderfully there were people popping by from all sorts of countries. The internet really is an incredible asset for these current times, helping us all keep in touch in times of physical isolation.
I started off with one of the most popular hands-on cooking experiences on my workshops – easy baked veggie cakes. These super tasty bites are great because:
- they are really easy to make
- they are super adaptable and work for most veggies hanging around in your fridge
- if you include a range of veggies they’re packed full of amazing phytonutrients
- they get you in contact with your food
- kids can have fun making them – and hopefully eating them too
Popping these in the oven means there’s no added oil; the caramelisation of the sugars in the veggies makes them go brown and crispy all by themselves. And that way you lovely natural flavours too.
These make great snacks and lunches; make a bigger batch and keep some in the freezer for those days when you’re out and about and don’t have time to cook (which will happen again at some point in the future…….).
I know not everyone is on Facebook, so here is the video from yesterday in case you wanted to see it. And I’ve added the full recipe below so you don’t have to sit through it if you have better things to do!
I hope you enjoy making these tasty little bites – do let me know how you get on. And stay safe and well.
Easy baked veggie cakes
- 500 grams grated vegetables eg a mix of carrot and/or parsnip and/or courgette and/or celeriac and/or sweet potato and/or turnip
- 1 medium red or white onion, sliced or 4 spring onions or 1 shredded leek
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 cm piece fresh ginger grated
- 50 grams chickpea (gram) flour or whatever flour you have
- salt and pepper
- 1 handful fresh herbs, chopped
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4
- Place the grated veggies into a bowl with the finely sliced onion, garlic and ginger. Mix together well with your hands then add a teaspoon of salt and the fresh herbs and mix together well again.
- Add the chickpea flour, mix well, then leave to stand for 10 minutes. The salt will draw the water out of the veggies and help bind it together.
- Take a spoonful of mix and squeeze it together in the palm of your hand. If it binds well, it's ready to use. If it doesn't stick, add more flour as needed until it does. The exact amount depends on how watery your veggies are (ie: courgette will need more than parsnip)
- Press a big spoonful of the mix into a round patty in the palms of your hand and place on the baking tray. Repeat until all the mix is used up.
- Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Once the top of the veggie cakes are firm, carefully turn them over and bake for another 5 minutes or so until browned and crispy.
- Serve hot or leave to cool and eat when you're ready.
One of the most common questions I get asked by people trying to move to a more whole-food plant-based diet is “What do I have for lunch?”. It’s particularly challenging for people who are avoiding gluten due to an intolerance or chronic health problem. It’s not so easy to rely on a sandwich or other bread option. Continue reading “Wholesome rice salad”
Do you get stuck thinking of things to have for lunch to take to work or college, or even at home? If you’re lucky enough to have access to a canteen or take-away that has whole-food plant-based options that’s great. But it can become an expensive habit. And whilst hummus is a wonderful thing, it’s fair to say that not everyone wants to eat it every day for lunch!
This creamy bean recipe is super tasty and versatile too. You can eat it as a stand alone salad, pack it into a wrap or sandwich as a filling or use to top a baked potato. I’ve even served it in crunchy lettuce leaves for a buffet lunch, as you can see in the photo below.
The mix of raw veggies give it a satisfying crunch. The beans are filling and absorb the flavours well. They also help create the creamy texture alongside the gorgeous dairy-free tofu mayo.
Apart from the versatility in uses, you can also easily adapt the ingredients in case of food intolerances or dislikes, or just to mix it up. I’ve used celery, peppers and red onion, but you could use spring onion, cucumber, courgette, sweetcorn, carrot or any other finely chopped veg you like. And with the mayo you could add in fresh herbs like coriander or chives to create delicious fresh flavours.
And of course the other thing that can be varied is the bean. I’ve used cannelloni beans, but chickpeas or butter beans would work well too. One base recipe, many options!
The mayo is super easy to make and will keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. It’s also perfect for anyone with a nut allergy or who has to eat nut free for some reason. Make sure you use soft or silken tofu rather than a firmer one, otherwise it won’t blend well to create the creamy texture. If you cannot tolerate fresh garlic, then leave it out, but it does give a little extra flavour. And the extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil provides that final creamy embellish, as well as some wonderfully helpful anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, making it a great option for anyone following a low saturated fat programme like OMS.
So if you want a lunch time alternative, why not give this a go? Do let me know how you get on, and what flavour combinations work for you.
Creamy mashed beans mix
400g tin white beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 medium stick celery, finely diced
For the mayo:
100g silken tofu, drained
1 small clove garlic, mashed
1/2 teaspoon french mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or hempseed oil
salt and pepper to taste
Make the mayo by placing the tofu, garlic, mustard and lemon juice into a small blender bowl and blend until smooth. Add the oil and seasoning and blitz again. Taste and add more mustard, lemon, oil or seasoning as needed. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Place the drained beans into a medium-sized bowl and roughly mash. You want them broken up but retain a little texture. Add the finely chopped vegetables then stir in enough mayo to cover – don’t add too much if you’re using it for sandwiches otherwise it will ooze out! Check the flavour, add more seasoning if needed and either use straight away or cover and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
One of the many wonderful things about eating a whole-food plant-based diet is that it’s a constant voyage of discovery. Wherever I am, there are always new ingredients to try out, or local recipes to adapt. Some experiments are a success, others not so much. It’s definitely not dull, that’s for sure.
Some of the tastiest ideas come from necessity rather than choice. Todays recipe is the perfect example; we needed lunch but there was only a random mix of bits and bobs left in the fridge. Fortunately, one of those things was a tub of fresh borlotti beans bought at the market the previous weekend, cooked and waiting for inspiration.
I’m over in our new house in Portugal at the moment. One of the many things I love about this area is the local fruit and vegetable market held in the local town square every morning. It’s everything you could want from a farmers market – small, local producers selling fresh seasonal products direct to the buyer. There’s colour fruit and vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds as well as fresh bread and the odd jam or chutney. This photo is of me waiting patiently at my favourite tomato stall. The elderly lady you can see is the mother of the chap who grows this amazing crop at his farm just down the road to my house. It really is local produce!
Some stalls sell freshly podded beans. And I mean fresh – you can watch them do it, nimble fingers with many years experience popping out beans at quite a speed. This fresh means they are packed with many more nutrients than anything that’s tinned or dried. I bought a huge bag for just €3 which made four different meals – cost effective as well as super healthy.
This mashed bean recipe has been floating round my head for a while. It’s super simple but amazingly tasty, although it’s not the prettiest one to look at! But ugly ducklings can bloom into something wonderful, so don’t be put off by its appearance. With the thyme, garlic and lemon juice, it’s like a Mediterranean version of recooked beans, super tasty and rather moreish.
Lunchtime can be a bit of challenge at times when eating plant-based. I’m often asked for lunchbox ideas, anything that’s not hummus. Not that there’s anything wrong with hummus! It’s just good to have a change. Although this recipe is served warm here, it can be enjoyed just as much cold as a sandwich or wrap filling with some crunchy vegetables and an extra pinch of salt.
If you don’t have access to fresh borlotti beans, don’t worry, tinned will work. Rinse them well first then pop them in the pan with everything else. If you are using fresh, pre-cook them in a little vegetable stock before mashing together will the herbs and lemon to make sure they are soft and creamy. If you can’t find borlotti beans, use cannelloni or even flageolet instead.
I served these crushed beans with a spinach and tomato salad and a couple of slices of homemade sourdough bread. Fresh, simple and delicious. If you make these, let me know how it goes, and how you ate it too. Enjoy!
Warm mashed beans with lemon and thyme (serves 3-4)
400g fresh or tinned borlotti beans
2 fat cloves garlic finely chopped
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
juice 1 lemon
salt and pepper
flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives or parsley to garnish
Place the beans and the garlic in a small pan along with 4 tablespoons of water. Heat gently stirring regularly to stop the garlic from burning. Add the thyme. When the garlic releases its aroma, carefully mash the beans until they are all broken down but with some texture. Turn off the heat, pour in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and pour in a good glug of flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. Finally garnish with the chives and serve.
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
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.
Just in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m all about eating amazingly tasty food that just so happens to be good for the body too. Just as well, as I use the food I eat to keep myself healthy, and keep my multiple sclerosis under control.
Near the end of last year, I took on the role of Ambassador for the OMS programme, setting up and running a support group for people living in my county (Sussex). OMS stands for Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a seven step, research-based programme that empowers people with MS to manage their condition with diet and lifestyle, as well as medication if needed. Food is a major part of the programme; the research indicates that a mainly whole-food plant-based diet is the way to go, which is why I wanted to get involved, as that’s my thing! This programme has had a fabulous impact on people’s lives, but it can be challenging, so being an Ambassador means that I can help give support to others nearby, and it also helps me too.
Yesterday we had our latest meet up. Everyone brings an OMS-friendly dish to share. We had a veritable feast, including three different cakes (I of course had to try them all). I had been pondering for a few days about what to take, but then remembered a recipe I had made years ago for my then boyfriend (who is my now husband!). This was in early days of veggie cooking, and I remember it was a bit too hard-core for him. He’d never heard of buckwheat and wasn’t very impressed with my ‘hippie’ offering. The recipe has been improved and refined since then so I decided to see how it went down with the OMS group. Fortunately, everyone loved it, and wanted the recipe, hence this blog post.
Buckwheat benefits from being soaked if you have time, in order to remove some of the phytic acid that can make it less digestible for some people. Phytic acid is a naturally occurring enzyme found in grains, seeds, pulses and nuts that prevents the produce from growing until the conditions are right. This is good for storage, not so good if you struggle to absorb nutrients due to poor gut health. Different foods have different amounts. Cooking often removes most of it; soaking beforehand also helps too – if you remember! Sometimes even an hour in some warm water will help. If you do that with buckwheat, you’ll see the drained water contains a cloudy gloop. That’s the phytic acid making an exit. If you don’t have time, don’t worry too much – the buckwheat gets a good boiling before being baked.
This dish takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes in total to make, so might seem a bit too much like hard work. Don’t be put off though as it can be eaten hot or cold, and freezes really well, perfect to grab for a packed lunch or quick evening meal. Play around with the flavours to fit your tastes. I like the addition of a few chilli flakes to give it a bit extra pizzazz.
So if you fancy a tasty, versatile, thoroughly fibre and plant protein packed meal, this lentil and buckwheat bake is for you. If you would like to know more about the OMS programme, or discover your nearest OMS group, check out their website here.
Lentil and buckwheat bake (makes 9-12 slices depending on how you cut them)
100g buckwheat groats***
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 small bay leaves
1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
175g red lentils
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon tamari
800ml water or vegetable stock
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
salt and pepper
Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan and toast the buckwheat groats for 5 minutes or so until they release a nutty aroma and start to brown slightly. Turn off the heat and tip out onto a plate to stop any further toasting.
Grab a medium-sized saucepan and heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom. When bubbling, add the onion, carrot and bay leaf. Sauté for 5 minutes over a medium heat until both start to soften. Stir frequently and don’t let the onion stick to the bottom of the pan – add a little more water if needed. Add the chopped tomato, herbs and tamari and cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the red lentils and toasted buckwheat. Mix together well and cook for a minute, so the flavours start to absorb into the lentils. Carefully pour in the water or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, pop on the lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the fluid has been absorbed and the mix is thick and gloopy. You may need to remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to evaporate the last bit of water.
Whilst the mix is simmering, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a square baking tray or dish with baking paper.
Once the mix is thick and gloopy, turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and stir in the chilli flakes, nutritional yeast and season with salt and pepper. Check the flavour and add more seasoning if needed. Spoon the mix into the prepared baking tin – you may wish to sprinkle a few more chilli flakes over the top if you like a little kick. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and leave to settle for 10 minutes or so before cutting – if it’s too hot the mix will fall apart when you cut it.
Using the baking paper, transfer the bake onto a board and cut into 9 – 12 slices (depending on how big you like them). Can be served hot or cold, keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days and freezes well.
*** Soak for 1 hour or over night if needed. Rinse well and pat dry on some kitchen roll before toasting. You will need to toast for about 10 minutes.
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!