Ways to support your immune system

Daily life is in flux at the moment with the current corona virus Covid 19 spreading like wild fire around the globe. Out of the many different reactions to the situation, ranging from panic to none, feeling powerless is one of the most negative. And there’s no need to, because there are some very simple things that can be done to help support your body’s defence mechanism. Continue reading “Ways to support your immune system”

Rainbow roasted carrot and thyme salad

I’m a big fan of carrots. And of rainbow eating. So you can imagine how excited I get when I find rainbow carrots!  I’m like a kid in a sweet shop, much to the embarrassment of whoever I’m with.  Sometimes hard to find in mainstream supermarkets (although I have noticed them appearing more, along with a premium price), they seem to be easier to find at farmers markets and farm shops. Or even better, try and grow your own – they’ll taste so good! Continue reading “Rainbow roasted carrot and thyme salad”

Creamy mushroom pasta

Following on from my ‘brain food’ post yesterday (plant-based foods that are particularly good for the old grey matter) I wanted to share one more with you – mushrooms. According to an article on the BBC website this week, a research study suggests that people who eat mushrooms more than twice a week have less age-related cognitive decline that those who didn’t. This means they performed better on memory and recall tests, good news for mushroom lovers!

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The study was small and the research cannot make a direct cause and effect link (so hard to do as there are so many other factors to take into account). However, it does suggest there is something in mushrooms that can benefit the brain. As with all fresh produce, mushrooms contain a whole array of micronutrients and phytonutrients. In fact, mushrooms as medicine is a huge area of research at the moment. Continue reading “Creamy mushroom pasta”

Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts

[adventcalendar calendar=”sensitive-foodie-advent-calendar”]

It’s Day 2 of the Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar. Today I have a simple vegetable dish that can be eaten hot as a side or cold as a salad, useful if you are going to a pot-luck and need to take a dish.

Butternut squash are now readily available all year round. Their thin skins means they soften easily when roasted so you don’t need to spend ages peeling or trying not to cut your fingers off. Lots of the beneficial nutrients are held just under the skin too, so it’s a double bonus.

Many people are still not keen on sprouts, maybe haunted with memories of over-cooked mush served up by eagle-eyed grandparents who insisted they were eaten with no exceptions. But sprouts can be delicious, and roasting in particular brings out their natural sweet flavour. It’s also hard to over-cook them this way too, so no more risk of mush.

The balsamic adds some tartness to the sweet caramelised veg. If you cannot tolerate vinegar, make a simple lemon and olive oil dressing instead. It will still taste delicious.

This simple dish is a cacophony of rainbow phytonutrients that your body will love. All will help keep your cells working well and help support your immune system at this time of year when there’s a multitude of bugs vying to spoil your festive season. So add this to a meal time soon, and don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Roasted squash, red onion and Brussel sprouts (serves 4-6)
1 medium butternut squash
1 red onion
400g Brussel sprouts
Olive oil
salt and pepper
For the dressing:
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Wash the skin of the squash and trim any rough edges but do not peel. Cut in half, deseed then cut into 2cm thick slices. Wash and trim the sprouts. Peel the onion and cut into thick slices. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top, season with salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes until the veggies are lightly caramelised and soft to the touch. Remove from the oven.

Mix the dressing ingredients together in a small jar and pour over the veg. Either serve warm, or leave to cool and serve as a salad.

 

Rainbow dal

If I ever ask my family what they fancy for dinner, more often than not the answer is dal. Ever since our time living in India, it has become a firm favourite for all of us. And we’re not the only ones as the page with my simple dal recipe (find it here) is one of the most frequently visited on the website.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love a bit of rainbow eating. Adding a variety of colourful vegetables to dishes can increase their micro and phytonutrient properties enormously. And dal is the perfect base for a rainbow make-over, so it just had to happen!

Just changing from white to red onion improves the phytonutrient profile, as the red pigment contains anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals help support cell functions and act as anti-oxidants, neutralising free radical activity. Essentially, they contribute to supporting our health. There are a huge number of different types of anthocyanins, and as with all phytonutrients they work best together as a team, hence why whole-foods are always the best option.

Sweet potatoes and spinach contains their own variety of micro and phytonutrients too, as does turmeric, tomato and the curry leaves. In fact this rainbow dal really is a veritable smorgasbord of pigments! Add in the fab fibre content and this dish really is one that will make both your taste-buds and your body buzz with joy!

The most important thing about this rainbow dal, though, is that it tastes gorgeous! Adding the extra vegetable gives it more body and texture, so all the senses are cared for. Serve it with a good dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and some steamed wholegrain rice and it will fill the hungriest of stomachs too.

So next time you’re cooking up a dal, bring a bit more rainbow power to the dinner table and give this one a go. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!

Rainbow dal – serves 4
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
750ml water
150g spinach
for the tempering:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 dried red chillis and/or 2 fresh red chillis sliced lengthways
2cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander

Chop the onion and tomatoes, finely chop the garlic. Peel and dice the sweet potato.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan until bubbling then add the onion. Lower the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped tomato, curry leaves and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the ground tumeric, lentils or yellow split peas and a good pinch of salt. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes then add the water. Pop on the saucepan lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed, the sweet potato soft and the dal is thick and sumptuous. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted.

Heat a small non-stick pan and add the cumin and black mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop and release their aromas (about 1 1/2 minutes), turn off the heat and add the dried red chillis and ginger. Shake the pan and let them cook in the residual pan heat. After a couple of minutes, tip the tempering into the dal, stir well to combine and heat through gently.

Finally, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the fresh chopped coriander then serve.

Warm beetroot salad with creamy tahini ginger dressing

Summer is still hanging on in there just about. I’m still enjoying dining on big hearty salads packed full of fresh seasonal goodies and a big flavour hit.

I’m a big fan of beetroot – it’s wonderfully vibrant pink after all! Unfortunately, my husband is not a fan, or rather his body isn’t and he has an unpleasantly strong reaction to it (I won’t share the details to save him a little dignity!). It’s a shame, as beetroots are packed full of incredible phytonutrients that have a strong anti-oxidant and detoxifying effect as well as a type of fibre that supports gut health.

Sweet and firm, beetroot is incredibly versatile and can be a key ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes, although I have to say I’m not a huge fan of it in cake as it can come across a bit strong. Which is unusual as anything that can make cake a health food is normally a winner for me!

Some people avoid beetroot as it gives them beeturia – pink wee. I have read that this is only a small percentage of people and it could be indicative of a problem with metabolising iron in certain circumstances. If you love beetroot but you’re worried about red wee, best seek some medical advice just in case. Just improving you diet by eating more fresh produce could improve your iron metabolism though as well as support your gut, so don’t panic if this affects you.

This simple warm salad is so quick to make and super tasty to eat. It’s packed full of healthy sources of plant proteins and fats as well as lots of different micro and phytonutrients. Why not give it a go, and let me know what you think?

Warm beetroot salad with creamy tahini ginger dressing (serves 2 for a hearty lunch portion, 4 as a side)
3-4 medium sized beetroots
3-4 handfuls mixed salad leaves of choice
half an avocado, sliced
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
3-4 tablespoons cooked chickpeas
handful of fresh coriander or parsley, chopped
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons tahini
juice of a lime
1 teaspoon maple syrup
4 tablespoons water
1-2cm knob of ginger, peeled and grated
1 small clove garlic, peeled and grated
salt and pepper

Scrub the beetroots well but do not peel. Place in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the beets are soft. Turn off the heat, drain and cover (you can also roast in the oven if you prefer).

Place all the dressing ingredients in the cup of a high-speed blender and blitz for 15 seconds or so until smooth and well combined.

Scatter the leaves in the bottom of large pasta bowls. Carefully peel the still warm beetroot, cut into eights and divide between the two bowls along with the cherry tomatoes, chickpeas and sliced avocado. Drizzle the dressing over the top followed by the chopped fresh herbs and finish with extra salt and pepper if desired. Eat warm, or leave until cool if you prefer. Either way, it’s delicious!

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine

Luckily my lovely husband is really open to eating my creations; he celebrates the successes and tolerates the disasters! He’ll try most things but there are two vegetables he just can’t get to grips with – aubergine and beetroot, which is a shame as I love them both. But as he’s away a lot with work, I make sure I get my fill then, rather than torturing him with things he just won’t like.

Hopefully you don’t have the same dislike as him because I have two delicious recipes to share with you – one beetroot coming up soon and this aubergine dish.  This recipe is super easy and ridiculously tasty, and is packed full of amazing plant-based nutrients. It also features two great sources of plant protein and a shed load of fibre to keep your gut microbes happy.

In the past, the tiny seeds found in the flesh of aubergine have given it a reputation of being bitter. You may be surprised to hear that it’s nicotine in the seeds that create that bitter flavour. There’s only a small amount though, so don’t fret that you’ll suddenly find yourself on a 20 aubergine a day habit! The traditional way of modifying this was to coat it in salt which would draw out the water from the flesh along with the bitterness, but it’s rare to find a really bitter one these days as cross-breeding has modified the flavour to make it more palatable.

The exciting thing about aubergine is it’s colour. In the world of rainbow eating, purple foods are hard to come by. And aubergine skin has a gorgeously deep purple hue. It’s colour comes from a powerful phytonutrient called nasunin and is helps to protect cell membranes from damage. It also helps to remove excess iron from the blood stream. This may sound like something you don’t want to happen, but excess iron can cause havoc in the body if left circulating and some people have problems excreting it. So anything that helps is a good thing, although you’d need to eat it on a regular basis!

This recipe is perfect for using up leftover rice or quinoa. It’s so easy to cook too much of both. I never want to waste food, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up, and making a tasty stuffing is perfect. Both wholegrain brown rice and quinoa are good sources of plant protein, as are black beans. Until fairly recently, these small legumes were not that easy to find in the shops, but their rising popularity in the plant-based food world has got them up on the shelf – hooray! High in protein and insoluble fibre, they also contain a wide range of minerals including zinc which is essential for healthy immune system. Interestingly, black beans contain phytonutrients from the same group as aubergine, and are really a deep red/purple colour, so you’re getting a double whammy on the purple nutrient compounds with anti-oxidants that support our cells.

This recipe can be used for 2 or 4 people – if you are catering for four, serve one half with some spicy roasted sweet potatoes and a green veg like broccoli or stir fried cabbage. If you want to keep it simple, just serve on a bed of mixed green leaves. And if you are cooking for one, just halve the recipe and enjoy it all by yourself! If you have time, whizz up coriander dairy-free yoghurt to drizzle over the top. It finishes it off perfectly.

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine (serves 2-4 people)
2 medium sized aubergines
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 fat garlic cloves, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper
100g cooked wholegrain rice and quinoa (one or both)
2 big handfuls spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, stems and leaves, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Rinse and dry the aubergines then slice in half lengthways. You need to remove most of the flesh, so leaving a 1cm rim, cut a round into the flesh, score through the centre bit to make a dice and scoop it out with a teaspoon. Rub a smidge of olive oil onto the outside of the skin, place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or so until it starts to soften and become pliable.

Whilst the skin is baking, chop the removed aubergine flesh and put to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a non-stick frying pan and sauté the onion and mustard seeds for 5 minutes until the seeds are lightly toasted and the onion starts to soften.Stir in the garlic and chopped aubergine flesh cook for a minute, then add the tomato and chopped mushrooms. Continue to cook for another few minutes until the tomatoes and aubergine are soft and mushy and water runs out of the mushrooms. Add the spices, salt and pepper, black beans and cooked rice/quinoa. Stir well to combine. Finally add the chopped spinach and most of the chopped coriander (retaining a few leaves for garnish) and simmer for another few minutes until the spinach has wilted and everything is hot and steamy. Check the flavour and add more spices or seasoning as needed. Once you’re happy with your flavour, turn off the heat.

Remove the aubergine shells from the oven. Carefully spoon in the stuffing mix, pressing it in lightly to make sure its well filled. Place back in the oven and back for another 15 minutes until the shell is lovely and soft and the top lightly browned. Remove from the oven and garnish with the reserved coriander. Drizzle coriander yoghurt dressing over the top if using and serve. Enjoy.

 

Super crunchy red cabbage and walnut salad

With all the hot weather that’s been around, salad is definitely on the menu. If you find it hard to think up quick and tasty alternatives to satisfy the taste-buds, this crunchy red cabbage and walnut  mix will hit the spot.

I love red cabbage, and enjoy it just as much raw as cooked. My family are not so keen however, as it does have quite a pungent, bitter taste. That’s actually all the marvellous phytonutrients packed within the crisp leaves. Bitter flavours often contain the most medicinal properties, but most of us are not so keen on them. Many types of produce have been cultivated to remove the bitterness to make them more palatable for the general market – think how harsh brussel sprouts used to be. Nowadays they tend to be small and sweet, unlike the tough, bitter bullets I remember from my childhood.

So although these veggies taste more delicious, some of their healing properties have been removed. Not that it’s a waste of time eating them, far from it. They’re not just quite as helpful as they used to be.

One way to make raw cabbage less bitter, and therefore more palatable, is to let it marinate in something salty or acidic for a while. Sauerkraut for example tastes much less bitter, plus contains helpful friendly bacteria from natural fermentation, but it takes a while to make. Leaving cabbage to soak in an acidic dressing for a short period of time does the job really well – and keeps the satisfying crunch too.

Vinegar works well, but for anyone like me who cannot tolerate fermented products that’s not an option. I prefer to keep it simple – fresh lemon juice does the job just as well. Add a little salt and the two combine to help draw out some of the fluid and bitterness, making the cabbage slightly softer and easy one the palate. Try to remember to marinate for a minimum of an hour – longer is even better. But if you forget, do it as soon as you can then finish off constructing the salad at the last minute.

This also works for raw onion. It seems to help make it more digestible and less repeatable later on in the day, something many people suffer from. I’ve used red onion in this recipe, partly because it’s slightly less harsh than yellow but mainly because the red pigments contains extra super-healthy phytonutrients and anti-oxidants.

If you have a nut allergy or intolerance, then walnuts can be replaced with toasted pumpkin seeds. Try and find some big ones to stand out in the salad. Or if you wish to dress it up, add some gorgeous sparkly pomegranate seeds or dairy-free feta or labneh cheese.

That’s it! So with the weather to stay warm for the foreseeable future, why not give this super crunchy simple salad a go? Let me know how you get on.

Red cabbage and walnut salad (4-6 servings)
1/3 medium-sized red cabbage, finely shredded
1 medium red or white onion, finely sliced
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
1 big lemon, juice only
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or flaxseed oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs (I used parsley, coriander and mint)

Place the red cabbage and onion together in a large bowl. Use you fingers to ensure they are combined well. Whisk the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper together in a small jug then pour it into the bowl. Toss well to ensure everything is coated, then leave to marinate.

When you’re ready to serve, add the chopped herbs and walnuts, season with a little extra black pepper, toss together well and serve. That’s it! Enjoy.

 

Red rice risotto with rainbow roasted veg

I have a bit of a gripe about risotto. It’s not that I don’t like it, far from it; it’s a regular weekday staple in our house. It also tends to be the go-to dish for restaurants wanting to offer a vegetarian or vegan option. It’s a safe option, but safe can also be boring. And that’s the gripe! At the risk of sounding ungrateful, it doesn’t take much imagination to create a normal run-of-the-mill risotto, and equally it doesn’t take much to jazz things up a bit. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons for going out for dinner?

So why am I posting a risotto recipe? Well, if I can knock up a super tasty and slightly different risotto, I’m sure a professional chef can too! This recipe is packed full of flavour and textures as well as a whole host of wonderful nutrients that will make your body sing with joy! And it doesn’t need a pile of butter and cheese to make it taste good. The star of the dish is the rice – red rice.

I first discovered red rice whilst living in India. The little organic shop I visited down the road had a selection of different types all locally grown. It was quite an education browsing the shelves! Red rice has two key benefits over it’s more common relative, brown. The taste and the nutrients.

Taste wise, red rice has a slightly nutty earthy flavour that comes through in the dish but doesn’t dominate. It holds it’s texture well but is still quite starchy so becomes slightly sticky like arborio rice when cooked. On the nutrients side, because it’s a whole-grain it still contains the healthy fibre and bran, as well as protein and essential omega 3 fatty acid. Then there’s a whole host of micronutrients like manganese and magnesium, similar to whole-grain brown rice. The key to red rice is it’s colour.

Red plant-based foods contain special phytonutrients called anthocyanins, the same as those found in strong  red and purple veggies like red cabbage, red onions and radicchio. These phytonutrients are very active anti-oxidants and help mop up damaging free-radicals that harm the body. There’s much research going on about these wonderful nutrients and just how they work in the body. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows they are particularly good for eye health and inhibiting the growth of tumours. I get very excited about phytonutrients and their wonderful effect on the body!

Most of the veggies in this risotto are roasted whilst the risotto is cooking and then laid over the top. This helps to preserve and develop the flavours and nutrients rather than them getting boiled away. It doesn’t take any longer than adding them the traditional way, as both can be done at the same time. The watercress pesto is an added final extra dollop of flavour just to top it all off. It’s eye-catching colourful, deliciously tasty and completely dairy-free.

Red rice can be found in large supermarkets and independent health food shops, so have a look out for it and next time you’re planning risotto for tea, give this version a go – your taste-buds and body will be very happy if you do!

Red rice risotto with roasted rainbow veg (serves 4)
300g red rice rinsed and soaked for 20 minutes or so
6 medium carrots, rinsed and sliced in half horizontally
2 red peppers
5-8 asparagus spears (if in season) trimmed and sliced in half if they’re fat or 1 large courgette sliced lengthways
dash of olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 fat cloves garlic, finely diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
up to 1500ml vegetable stock
100g peas, defrosted
salt and pepper
fresh oregano (optional)
watercress pesto to serve (optional)

Red rice takes a bit longer than arborio rice, so start cooking that before roasting the vegetables. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a large pan and sauté the onion for 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and continue to cook. Drain the rice then add to the pan, stirring well to coat with the onion and garlic. Stir in the thyme then pour in half the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Once most the stock has been absorbed, add more to cover and continue cooking. Repeat this until the rice is soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed then add the peas and cook for another few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Whilst the rice is cooking, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Whilst it is warming up prepare the vegetables. Arrange the carrots and pepper on a large baking tray, drizzle a little olive oil over the top and place in the oven. Add the asparagus once the carrots and pepper start to soften, about 10 minutes before the end. Once soft and caramelised, remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or so. Remove any blistered skin from the red pepper and cut it into slices.

If you are using pesto, follow the recipe here, replacing the basil leaves with a bunch of washed and trimmed watercress.

Once the rice is cooked, stir in the fresh oregano (if using) and check the flavour – add more salt and/or pepper as need.  Serve the red rice risotto in bowls then layer the roasted vegetables on the top. Finish with a dollop of watercress pesto (if using) and serve.