Refreshing melon, mint and lime salad

When I think of August, it brings to mind long, hot, sunny days (hopefully!), chilled glasses of Pimms and gorgeously ripe melons. The memories of sunny days and melon go back to my childhood (not so much the Pimms 🙂 ) when a slice of sweet melon was a delicious treat. Then as a teenager we holidayed in the Algarve and ate deliciously sweet, fragrant melon for breakfast every day. Wonderful memories.

Even though you’ll find melon in the supermarkets all year round, now really is the time to enjoy them at their best. The flavour is sublime (something that’s definitely missing in out of season fruit) and the nutrients hidden inside are perfect for supporting the body when you might be exposing it to a little bit too much sunshine.

All melons contain special phytonutrients, those tiny little natural chemicals that help keep our bodies working well. Cantaloupe melons, with their orange-coloured flesh and slightly green, textured outer skins are particularly good as they’re packed full of betacarotene, the plant precursor to vitamin A which is essential for skin, hair and eye health. There’s also a shedload of vitamin C, polyphenols plus potassium. This is essential for good cell function and can help keep your blood pressure within healthy limits. Vitamin C and phytonutrients have a strong antioxidant effect in the body, helping to reduce inflammation and keep damaging free radicals under control. This occurs everywhere, but particularly in your skin at this time of year.

“But what about the sugar?” I hear you cry. Yes, there are natural plant sugars in melon but it’s all tied up in the fibre plus the large water content. If you eat melon in chunks rather than add it to a smoothie (which by-passes the first stage of digestion, the chewing bit), the sugar is released slowly as the fibre is digested, giving a stable and sustained energy release that your body can handle.

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The flavours in this salad complement each other rather wonderfully. The sweet crunch of the melon mixed with peppery salad leaves, minty freshness and sour lime juice create a taste sensation on your tongue that is light, refreshing and so thoroughly enjoyable that you will forget it’s also good for you too! Enjoy.

Melon, mint and lime salad

A fresh, light summer salad packed full of body-loving nutrients and flavour.
Prep Time 7 mins
Total Time 7 mins
Course Salad
Servings 2 portions

Ingredients
  

  • 1/4 medium cantaloupe melon cut into small chunks
  • 2 handfuls peppery salad leaves
  • 8 cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1/2 small ripe avocado cut into small chunks
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 medium lime juice only
  • salt and pepper to taste

Optional additions

  • 1/4 small red onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp balasmic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed flaxseed oil

Instructions
 

  • Grab two plates. Scatter the green leaves over each plate. Top with melon, red onion (if using), tomatoes and avocado.
  • Scatter mint leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper. Finish with the lime juice. Garnish with balasamic vinegar and/or oil if using.
  • Eat straight away.
Keyword antioxidants, phytonutrients, summer salad

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!

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!