Millet and vegetable bake

With the weather so wild and windy at the moment, it’s great to have some tasty comfort foods to help stay warm and cosy. This delicious bake is easy to make, is totally satisfying as well as packed full with healthful nutrients including a good dose of plant-based protein.

You may think that millet is just for bird seed, but you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s an ancient grain (although officially it’s a seed) that has been used as a key staple throughout the world for thousands of years. It was widely used in Europe during the Middle Ages but fell out of fashion, replaced by newer, cultivated grains.

It has many guises – in India its ‘ragi’ and in Africa ‘teff’. You can find it as grains or ground into flour. If you follow a gluten free diet, you may well already be cooking with teff flour (and if you haven’t tried it, do. It’s delicious!). When we were living in India, ragi porridge and pancakes were common.

So why do I get excited about millet? Apart from the fact I’m a bit of a nerd about these things, it’s because:

  • it’s packed with amazing nutrients plus a shed load of gut loving fibre
  • it tastes delightful, which is of course most important!
  • the grains have a light but firm texture so feel good in the mouth
  • it’s great to cook with something different for a change.

Apart from plant protein and fibre, millet is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and potassium in particular as well as some of the B vitamins and choline (something the anti-plant eaters say is lacking in a plant-based diet….). Millet also contains quercitin, a powerful phytonutrient that has anti-oxidant properties plus helps support the body right at cellular level. Quercitin is often taken as supplement by people with chronic health problems. And indeed it can help deal with a crisis but once the body is back in balance, it’s always better to have it in food (again, in my humble opinion).

Millet doesn’t take long to cook; there’s no soaking or long boiling times required. I like to lightly toast millet grains before popping them in boiling water or stock. It only takes a couple more minutes and enhances the lovely nutty flavour. But you can by-pass this if you’re in a hurry.

The amount of fluid you need depends on what you are planning on doing with it. For a porridge or pudding, extra fluid is good so it’s soft and sticky. For a savoury dish like the recipe below you want to retain some texture, so a little less fluid is good. Letting it steam for a while after all the fluid has been absorbed also helps to fluff up the grains, but again is not vital if you are in a hurry.

As a general rule, use a ratio of 1:3 – 1 measurement of millet to 3 measurements of fluid. If you use cups then this is easy! If not, then try grabbing a small tea cup or bowl and measuring that way. The amounts in the recipe below is just under 1:3 as the grains needs to be cooked but not soggy before going into the oven to be baked.

One of the objections I hear from people is whole-food plant-based eating requires spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Which is true – it can do. But there are recipes which don’t need you to be standing over a cooker all of the time – this is one of them. It may look like there’s a lot to do, but everything can be done at the same time – roast the veg whilst the millet cooks and the sauce is prepared. Then bake it in the oven and the job is done.

What veg you add to this dish is entirely up to you. This recipe is actually a great way of using up bits and bobs left over in the bottom of the veg drawer, reducing food waste and your shopping bills. In fact that’s another thing to love about millet – it’s super cheap (currently you can get it for £1.29 for 500g in Grape Tree), helping to make a plant-based diet affordable. I’ve used Brussel sprouts and green beans in this version, but I’ve added anything from broccoli to mushrooms to radishes. It really is so adaptable.

If you are nut free, use a plant-based cream like oat or soya instead of making the cashew nut cream. And if you have to avoid nutritional yeast, add a little more garlic powder and/or mustard and adjust the seasoning to how you like it.

The bake is filling and can sustain the hungriest of appetites. I usually serve it with some extra green veggies on the side, just to push up the daily veg count 😉

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Do let me know if you make it and how you get on.

Millet and vegetable bake

A tasty nutrient packed and adaptable main meal that won't dent the food budget.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course
Servings 4 portions

Equipment

  • 1 High speed blender like a nutri-bullet
  • 1 large baking dish

Ingredients
  

For the millet

  • 150 g millet grain
  • 450 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 large bay leaf

For the veggies

  • 1 medium red or white onion sliced
  • 200 g Brussel sprouts rough outer leaves trimmed
  • 150 g green beans cut into 2 cms pieces OR
  • 1 medium head of broccol trimmed and cut into florets

For the sauce

  • 75 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for at least 2 hours
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 heaped teaspoon mixed herbs
  • salt and pepper to taste

To top

  • 3 tbsp sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Instructions
 

For the veggies

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC
  • Add the sliced onion, trimmed Brussel sprouts and trimmed beans or broccoli to the baking dish. Drizzle a little water or olive oil over the top and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the veg and stir a couple of times.

For the millet

  • If you are toasting the millet, pop it into a large non-stick frying pan and toast on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, giving it a good shake every now and then. When you smell nutty aromas, turn off the heat. Do not let it burn!
  • Whilst the millet is toasting, pour the vegetable stock into a pan along with the bay leaf and bring to the boil.
  • Carefully pour the millet into the vegetable stock (it can really bubble up so beware), pop on the lid and reduce the heat. Leave it to simmer for 10 minutes then check the pan - most of the stock will have been absorbed. Once it's all gone, turn off the heat and leave it to steam with the lid on for a couple of minutes.
  • Remove the bay leaf from the millet.

For the sauce

  • Drain the cashew nuts into a sieve and rinse. Pop the nuts into a blender jug and cover with water - you want about 1 cm above the nuts. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
  • If the cream is super thick, add more water - you want a single cream pouring consistency. Taste the cream and add more flavours if desired. Season well.

Make the bake

  • Once the veggies are just soft and lightly roasted and the millet is cooked, remove the veg from the oven. Carefully tip them into the millet pan. Pour over the cashew cream and mix well to coat everything. If it still feels a little dry, add a little extra water but don't overdo it!
  • Spoon the mix back into the oven proof dish, sprinkle the seeds over the top and pop the dish back into the oven.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Serve straight away piping hot.
Keyword easy vegan, OMS friendly, plant based, plant protein

 

Smoky tofu slices

“Now I’m plant-based, I get really stuck with what to put in a sandwich.” Does this sound familiar? I get sent a lot of messages about this or it comes up in conversations with my nutrition clinic clients. And of course, no matter how much you love hummus (and I do love hummus!),  you don’t necessarily want it every day, and neither does your microbiome. Those friendly bacteria that hang out in the gut love a bit of variety; the same thing every day can make them fade not flourish. Continue reading “Smoky tofu slices”

Celebrating pulses

Did you know that today, 10th February is World Pulses Day? And why not, as pulses — beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – are awesome for so many reasons and play a key role in a whole-food plant-based diet.

But why have they been designated their own special day? As with most international or national ‘days’, it’s really a campaign to increase awareness of the importance of pulses in our global food system. And for us as humans, the impact of climate change, growing populations and food scarcity and security, finding a sustainable food source that provides excellent nutrition and minimal environmental impact is key to our future survival on this planet. And pulses may just be the answer.So what difference can pulses make?

Firstly, they are good for health. And in a world where chronic health problems are on a massive increase, that’s a major factor. Research shows that pulses can contribute towards reducing health problems like heart disease and obesity, a major issue in countries that have an excess of food products but malnutrition (ie: getting too much of the bulk nutrients, not enough of essential micronutrients). Equally, they are great for those populations that still suffer from food scarcity and undernutrition. Because beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed full of wonderful nutrients ranging from plant-base proteins to tiny rainbow phytonutrients. This infographic explains more.

As well as being good for us, they’re also good for the environment. They enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for harsh chemicals and fertilisers, which is better for the local ecosystem and waterways. They grow in harsh environments, areas of the world where many things won’t grow, a plus for remote populations. And they also have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group, requiring fewer natural resources. For example, approximately 1800 gallons of water is needed to produce 1lb of meat, whereas only 43 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of pulses. That’s a huge difference.

There are so many different ways to use pulses in every day meals, ranging from super snacks like hummus and falafels, to curries, savoury bakes and even bread. Here are links to some of my favourite recipes where beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas are the star.

If you want to know more about pulses and World Pulses Day, have a look at their website https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses – there’s some fascinating information on there.

So on World Pulses Day, are you going to celebrate with a special dish? Do let me know what you choose to eat!

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.

 

Fabulous flaxseeds

It's no surprise to anyone who follows my blog that cake features high on my list of favourite things! When I first went dairy free, I still used eggs in my recipes but this changed once I turned to eating a plant based diet. The question was, how to still make good cake when it was both dairy and egg free?

I soon discovered there are many different alternatives which yield awesomely delicious results. Many of my recipes actually don't need a direct egg replacement, but when required, a flax egg comes to the rescue.

A flax egg is very simple to make, so don't be put off if a recipe asks for one. Just mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and leave to thicken for 5 minutes or so. You will end up with a thick, gloopy mix, similar to a whisked egg. It doesn't look that appetising, but you won't notice it once added to your recipe.

Flaxseed, otherwise known as linseed, is a tiny powerhouse of plant based nutrients; if you haven't yet discovered these seeds, then you really might want to! Packed full of super healthy essential omega 3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a fabulous source of complete plant protein, minerals like manganese and magnesium as well as some of the B vitamins and phytonutrients called lignans that act as anti-oxidants and help to balance hormones. On top of that is the fibre; packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, flaxseeds not only keep you regular but also feed friendly gut bacteria (a pre-biotic), so promoting gut health. All that fibre also helps to steady blood sugar levels and fills you up too. So much goodness in one little seed! But a word of warning - if you are not used to a high fibre diet, then go easy to start off with and have a little at a time, building up slowly otherwise your gut might get a bit overwhelmed!

To get the nutritional benefits, flaxseed need to be ground as the tough outer coating is too much for our digestive systems to crack into properly. You can buy it ready ground, but many products are quite expensive, and once ground the seeds start to lose some of their nutritional powers. So it's much better to grind your own in small batches, then keep them in the fridge ready for use. You will need a coffee grinder or high-speed blender for this - an average food processor just isn't up to the job! I do a small batch at a time in my NutriBlend and store them in an old jam jar.

So what else can you use flaxseed in apart from cake? Lots of things - here's a few suggestions:

  • in raw snacks and cakes
  • sprinkled on breakfast cereals
  • on yoghurt
  • added to a crumble topping
  • as a binder for pastry
  • added to smoothies
  • thicken soups or stews
  • in homemade bread or crackers

Flaxseed oil also has some amazing nutritional uses, but that's a blog post for another day! In the meantime, why not grab some flaxseed the next time you're shopping and add it into your daily diet. Let me know how you get on!

 

 

Odds and end smoky tomato and parsnip stew

Last day of the veg box blogging challenge, and I have to say, the ingredients on offer look rather forlorn! Tuesday evening tends to be my ‘creative’ night, using up as much produce as possible. It always makes me think of the Goodness Gracious Me character Mrs’ I can make it at home for
nothing’. All she needed was a small aubergine and piece of string to create anything. Sometimes I feel like that!

So what was left? We had one onion, a large parsnip and a handful of chard leaves. Doesn’t look much to start with, but thankfully I have a well stocked store cupboard.

Random ingredients like this usually work well in a one pot stew, adding in herbs and spices to jazz things up a bit. My go-to spice in these situations is smoked paprika – as my daughter wisely states, everything tastes better with a little smoked paprika!

We always have tins of beans in the cupboard; a great plant based source of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre, beans give texture and substance to a dish, and can fill up the hungriest of stomachs. And because of their high fibre content, they’re really healthy, particularly good for reducing cholesterol and maintaining blood sugar levels. Adding the tomatoes brightens everything up, as well as adding another load of phytonutrients.

I used pinto beans for this dish for their texture and colour. Random fact – these beans have brown speckles, like splashes of colour in a painting. Pinto means ‘painted’ in Spanish, hence the name. May come in handy one day in a quiz, you never know.

So here it is, my odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew. Served with some mixed quinoa, it has a protein punch and a little spicy kick to make it interesting. And no string in sight!

Odds and ends smoky tomato and parsnip stew.
1 onion, diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
2 small potatoes, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 small celery sticks, chopped
handful of chard, washed and chopped
2 handfuls frozen peas
1 tin pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon thyme
black pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and sauté the onion, potato, celery and parsnip for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chard stems and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and add the spices and herbs. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnip is soft. Stir in the beans and peas, and season with black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, check the seasoning and add more if needed. Enjoy!