Seriously scintillating sesame slaw

The summer sunshine is lingering – salad is definitely still on the menu. But so many salad dressings are packed full of no no ingredients, keeping to a dairy and yeast free diet can make them a little boring at times. I love lemon and olive oil on my leaves, but repetition makes it a bit dull.

Browsing through my fabulous Leon cookbook, I stumbled across a double page spread of coleslaw recipes. I love coleslaw – my favourite sandwich used to be cheese piled high with creamy coleslaw – but so often the dressing is laden with some form of dairy it’s a rare treat to find one I can eat. Even the Leon one has had to be modified to leave out any vinegar or fermented products, but the overall taste is still marvellous.

Having soya milk or cream as a dressing base hadn’t occurred to me before – goodness knows why! The sesame is a strong base flavour but isn’t overwhelming and stands alone as a great salad dressing for strong green leaves and cucumber, as well as this slightly different coleslaw. And of course, being high in calcium and other minerals, it’s pretty good for you too!

The slaw contains edamame beans. If you’re not into Japanese food, these may be a mystery to you – it’s just green soya beans, rebranded! Soya gets a bad name some times, especially in the States where GM is an issue. But these beans really are worth a try as they are not only delicious but packed full of goodness. One of the few vegetable products that is a complete protein (contains the full complement of essential amino acids), they are high in fibre, low in fat (and being a veg contain no cholesterol) and have impressive amounts of vitamin C, folate and thiamin, as well as magnesium, iron and a superb dollop of manganese. Often served in the pod as an appetiser at apanese restaurants, they are juicy, sweet and a much more interesting and less bitter alternative to broad beans. I’ve only found them fresh in the pod in a specialist store in London, but luckily my local supermarket stocks bags of frozen beans – not as much fun but still pretty tasty.

I’m definitely going to be trying out some other non-dairy creamy dressings – in the mean time, try this Asian-ish coleslaw and give your taste buds a sesame treat.

Creamy sesame dressing
3 1/2 tbspn soya milk or 2 tbspn soya cream mixed with 1 1/2 tbspn of water
1 tsp Dijon mustard (or mustard powder)
2 tbspn lemon juice
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 1/2 tbspn sesame oil
100mls light olive oil
salt and pepper
Apart from the oil, combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and continue whisking until the dressing has emulsified. Add an extra tablespoon of water if it’s too thick and extra seasoning to taste.

Sesame slaw
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
200g peas (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
110g edamame beans (defrosted if you can’t find fresh)
1/4 white cabbage shredded
2 medium carrots grated
1 portion of creamy sesame dressing
handful chopped parsley
Toasted the seeds and leave to cool. Prepare the vegetables and combine everything except the parsley in a bowl. Pour over the gorgeous dressing and leave for a while for the flavours to fuse. Sprinkle the parsley over the top when you’re ready to eat and enjoy!

Green gunge – but it’s good for you!!!

One of my dear friends recently lost loads of weight by following a juicing diet. I was sceptical at first –  how couldjust drinking juice be good for you. It may be full of vitamins and minerals, but what about the fibre and surely you get too hungry (I like my food fairly solid!) and end up bingeing? But she practically glowed with good health as she dropped 2 dress sizes, so there must be something to it.

Health, whether good or bad, comes from the food we put in to our bodies. Juicing provides extra shots of vital goodies to help our bodies deal with the constant stresses and toxins we are exposed to, both external and internal, although I believe in the long run it’s best to eat the whole food rather than just the juicy parts. But if you want to know more about juicing, including some great recipes and tips on when to drink them, check out this article on the Health Ambition website –

Our bodies know what we need if we learn to listen to it. Since living in India, I have craved green leaves which must mean I’m low in B vitamins, iron or calcium (not sure which) and have even been known to stir fry cauliflower leaves that are usually discarded just because green leaves are hard to come by. On my recent trip to Kashmir, I came across hak which is grown locally in Srinigar. It’s similar to kale and I couldn’t get enough of it and begged the hotel to serve it to me at every meal, it was so gorgeous. It was sautéed in water along with mustard oil, Kashmiri red chilli, salt and a little local masala, or seasoning. Occasionally a little spicy, it’s deep rich green flavours were just divine!

After attending a healthy eating cooking seminar a few months ago, I discovered green smoothies. Made up of 60% fruit and 40% green leaves, they really are quite delicious and leave you feeling revitalised and full of energy – that’s after you’ve managed to get your head around the fact that the green gunge in the glass is actually something you want to ingest! Spinach is pretty easy to come by here; the little organic grocers stocks some beautifully green bunches, leaves not too big. It tastes pretty strong, much more so than the lovely baby leaves you can by in the supermarkets in the UK, so it’s green hard core from the off. Called palak, it’s not traditionally eaten raw here – my maid was horrified to find out I ate uncooked leaves, and surprised to find out I lived to tell the tale!

Green smoothies can be made with any green leaf as it’s base – spinach, celery or beetroot tops even mint. The key is to vary your intake and not have them every day – raw green leaves contain oxalic acid. Consuming large amounts of oxalic acid can be toxic (you would need a lot of greens every day for this to happen). It binds to metals, such as iron, making it unavailable for absorption in to the body. This therefore means that spinach isn’t a great source of iron in the diet, despite what Popeye might say. However, vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so matching spinach with lemon for example counteracts the negative effects of oxalic acid. And green leaves are an amazing source of vitamin B, calcium and magnesium to name a few.

I’ve featured my favourite green smoothie combination, but you can make up whatever you like. Grind the green leaves in the blender first before adding the other ingredients as the cellulose in the cell walls takes some time to break down.

Spinach, watermelon and banana smoothie
Handful of spinach leaves, thoroughly washed
Big chunk of watermelon
2 small ripe bananas or 1 medium
juice of sweet lime
flaxseed powder (if you want an omega 3 shot).
Place the spinach in the blender and blast on full power until the leaves are broken and mushy. Add in the fruit and juice and blast again until everything is incorporated and fluid – this may take up to 2 minutes depending on the speed of your blender. Sprinkle in flaxseed powder if you are using it and whizz again for a moment. Poor into a glass, close your eyes and deceive your brain as you knock it back. I managed to get my son to try it despite his dubious face – he actually admitted it tasted good but preferred his fresh pineapple juice as it looked more normal!

Nutrient popping pesto

I love the smell of fresh sweet basil; one waft captures images of warm summer days, luscious ripe juicy tomatoes draped with fresh basil leaves accompanied by a crisp cool glass of wine. Opening up a jar of pesto can capture this image, even on the coldest winter day, an ideal sauce or marinade for a quick weekday supper. Of course, one of the main ingredients for traditional pesto is cheese so this is usually a no go area for me, unless I can find a jar in a “free from” range – fairly rare in the UK, non-existent here in India.

Recently I came across a bunch of sweet basil in the local vegetable store and just craved for pesto. There are many kinds of basil; Asian basil has a quite different flavour to the Medterranean type, harsher and reminiscent of cloves which doesn’t work quite so well on pasta, so finding sweet basil was a real boon. Basil is full of nutrient goodies and the oil in the leaves carry anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties so not only taste good but are good for you too. One agent, eugenol, inhibits the enzymes that mediate the inflammatory cascade and can  provide symptomatic relief in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel disease. Basil is also packed full of vitamin A which is essential for healthy eyes, skin and mucous membranes as well as vitamin K, essential for blood clotting and strengthening bones. Not only that but basil contains good amounts of iron, manganese and potassium, essential for healthy functional cells. So much in one leaf!

Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but these are also hard to find here and always seem to be rancid. On a recent trip to Kashmir, I was so excited to find a box of pine nuts, guaranteed not to have turned rancid, or so I was told. When I returned home and eagerly opened the box, I discovered that was because they were still in their shell. Peeling 100g of pine nuts is a seriously boring job!! So a nutrient popping alternative is walnuts (I also bought a massive bag of these, ready shelled!). People often shy away from nuts, fearful of their high fat content. But walnuts contain unsaturated fats and fabulous amounts of omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid, one of the few plant based foods to have this essential fatty acid. Omega 3 fats keep your heart and brain healthy – a walnut looks a bit like a brain and really is brain food. They also have fabulous amounts of the micro-mineral manganese, essential for blood sugar control, cellular energy and bone growth, and other minerals such as magnesium, copper and phosphate as well as a whole range of vitamins.

So for the pesto you need:

Dairy free pesto

2 cups of basil leaves
1/3 cup of walnuts, lightly toasted and cooled
3 cloves of garlic crushed
1/2 cup of olive oil
salt to taste
Firstly place the walnuts in your blender or grinder and blitz for a couple of seconds. Add the basil and garlic and blitz again until broken down. Then add the olive oil a bit at a time, blitzing in between until you get the consistency you want and season with salt to taste. That’s it! Same as normal pesto, just no cheese! Because there are no additives and preservatives apart from the salt, the bright fresh green colour fades pretty quickly, but it still keeps well in the fridge for a few days, or you can freeze it in small quantities if you want, but I think this takes out some of the active ingrediants and lowers it’s healing properties. Of course then you can do whatever you want with it – spoon in to pasta, add more oil and use as a salad dressing or marinade or even a topping for a baked potato.
Dairy free, super healthy and delicious – what’s not to like?