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”

Stuffed squash for Thursday

Second day of my veg box challenge, and the beautifully voluptuous sweet mama squash just had to get on the menu! Like sweet potato, pumpkin and squash are high on my list of ‘important foods to eat each week’ list. Their bright orange flesh is just packed full of betacarotene which converts to vitamin A in our bodies, necessary for beautiful skin, hair and eyes (get that sparkle!) and readily available in a plant based diet.

Finding different varieties of squash and pumpkin in the supermarkets can be a challenge at times – often butternut squash is the only one on the shelf, so getting a veg box means variety in the squash department! I’ve sometimes bought a pumpkin box from Riverford which contains an amazingly eclectic mix to experiment with.

Sweet mama squash has a really hard outer skin, so needs attacking with gusto and a sharp knife! The flesh inside is dense and very orange, so you know it’s going to be good for you. Once cooked, it’s very sweet and works well with spices (spoiler alert – I’m saving half for a Saturday night curry!).
My decision on what to cook every day is influenced by what’s going on in the house, and what I’m doing work wise. This Thursday, everyone was coming home and going out at different times, and as I actually had a little extra time for cooking, I decided to do stuffed squash. Once all the prep has been done, it sits in the oven quite happily and so can be eaten as and when needed.

I tend to use brown rice for my stuffing, usually because there’s some left over in the fridge, and of course there’s so much more nutrition wise in wholegrain. But you could use quinoa, millet or even couscous if you’re not going gluten free.

You can see from the photo that there are a few interlopers in the stuffing ingredients – celery and courgette are still left over from last weeks box. Going away for a couple of days left me with more goodies to use up this week, although sometimes I do buy extras that are not in the box, just for variety. Trying to balance what we need with what we’re doing and what we’d like is tricky at times!

All these different lovely ingredients provide a whole array of fabulous nutrients that our bodies love. The squash alone has more than just the betacarotene I’ve mentioned above. For a start, it has masses of fibre formed from good starchy carbs that have a beneficial effect in the body and also help to keep the gut healthy. There’s a mix of B vitamins, and minerals, as well as a lovely dose of vitamin C, which will be retained better by being baked. Vitamin C is water soluble so is easily lost by boiling and even steaming.

My top tip for the stuffing is make sure you get the seasoning to how you want it. I used thyme as my herb of choice as I like it with squash, but mixed or Italian herbs would have worked too, along with a lengthy grinding of black pepper. Keep tasting your mix until you’ve got it right for you – the sweet and savoury flavours are seriously satisfying.

Stuffed sweet mama squash (served 3)
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 leek, diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
handful mushrooms, chopped
handful chard leaves
1/2 courgette, chopped
1/2 sweet mama squash, deseeded
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon tamari (optional)
salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and lightly grease a large piece of tin foil. Heat a dash of olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion, leek, celery and carrot until soft. Chop the stems of the chard and add them to the pan with the mushrooms and courgette. Cook for another couple of minutes until they start to soften, then add the garlic, stirring well so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the thyme, chopped chard leaves, rice, tamari, salt and pepper and cook for another couple of minutes. Sprinkle in the parsley, stir well, turn off the heat and leave to cool for a moment.
Wipe out the squash half with a damp piece of kitchen roll and season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a little extra thyme into the cavity. Pack in spoonfuls of the rice stuffing until full. Place the stuffed squash onto the tin foil, wrap it up loosely then place on a tin and into the oven for about 45 minutes. Once the squash flesh is soft and tender, it’s ready for eating. Remove from the oven and slice into 3 equal portions. Serve with accompanying vegetables of choice (we had potato wedges and peas – yum!).

Comforting cabbage

There’s no getting away from it, winter is looming. The cold, frosty mornings and all-too-early dark evenings say it all. At this time, I’m rummaging in the cupboard for my woolly hat and gloves, and dipping into my old cookbooks to hunt out my favourite comfort recipes to warm me up.

What constitutes ‘comfort food’ is different for everyone, but generally they’re warming, satisfying, and, if not careful, can be lethal for the waistline! Now that I eat plant based and dairy and gluten free, I still have my comfort foods – thick sumptuous stews, heart warming soups and gorgeous puddings – they’re just slightly different.

Nutritionally, cabbage is an amazing vegetable, packed full of nutrients and phytonutrients that have a range of beneficial properties. It’s part of the cruciferous family, a group of veg that you may well have heard me go on about (it includes cauliflower and broccoli), that’s anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants and specific phytonutrients that have anti-cancer properties. Plus, cabbage is really good for the stomach and gut lining, keep unfriendly bacteria under control.

Red cabbage is even better than green. Its deep rich colour contains even more antioxidants and polyphenols, a specific group of phyto-nutrients as well as loads more vitamin C, B6 and manganese. Mix that with the probiotic properties of cooked apple (see apple cake posting for more info) and the super sulphur properties of onion, you’ve got a pretty nutritionally packed dish that also tastes gorgeous! So why not try this one chilly evening, and curl up in front of the fire with a dish that will give your taste buds and your body a big healing hug!

Slow braised red cabbage
1 medium sized red cabbage shredded
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large cooking apple, sliced
2 teaspoons dried mix herbs
couple handfuls raisins
salt and pepper
50ml vegetable stoc
Dairy free spread or olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and grease an oven proof dish that has a lid (I use my old faithful Le Creuset dish). Place a layer of sliced onions on the bottom, then cabbage, then apple. Sprinkle with the herbs and raisins and season with salt and pepper. Repeat these layers one or two more times (depending on how much you have, how big your pot is etc). Add the vegetable stock, cover with the lid and place in the oven for an hour. Remove and check there’s enough fluid so it doesn’t burn, then return to the oven for another half to one hour until everything is super soft and the flavours are concentrated. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for up to 30 minutes with the lid on before serving. Enjoy!

Happy New Year hangover juice

It’s time to reflect on the year that has been, and celebrate the arrival of a new one. In recent years, we’ve seen in the New Year in some pretty different places – an Indian jungle, on the street in the centre of Bangkok and, last year, in a local Chinese restaurant. All have been memorable, but this year is my favourite way of celebrating – a crowd at a friends house. Good conversation, lots of laughs and a relaxed atmosphere. And of course, lots of alcohol!

No matter how careful I am, I always seem to feel hungover on New Year’s Day, even if I’ve not been drinking! Maybe it’s the combination of excitement and a late night, but telling signs of headache, tiredness and lethargy always seem to rear their unpleasant head.

A hangover is a combination of dehydration and an accumulation of toxins from the alcohol plus a low blood sugar which affects your brain. This can lead to a stonking headache, nausea, vomiting, lethargy and insomnia. Keeping well hydrated is key, so having a glass of water to every glass of alcohol helps. An extra good guzzle of water before going to bed along with a little snack should also smooth the way to a better morning after along with a milk thistle tablet (this helps support your liver detoxifying everything). Of course, you need to be in a reasonable state to do all this before collapsing in a post-party heap!

This year I’m armed with vegetables and fruit that will aid a faster recovery in the morning. – a juice that helps rehydrate, detox and settle a disturbed stomach. A combination of beetroot, celery, apple, carrot, lemon and ginger should do the trick.Beetroot is your liver’s best friend when it comes to excess as it helps remove toxins and is packed full of anti-oxidants. Celery is high in potassium and sodium and so helps with replacing those electrolytes lost with dehydration. Carrots are packed full of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, B6 (good for the liver) as well as potassium. Apples also rate high with vitamin C and potassium and can help settle the digestion; ginger does the same and can reduce any nausea that might be hanging around. Finally, lemon provides another shot of vitamin C and can also provide some additional phyto-nutrients.  If you fancy, a couple of handfuls of spinach can be thrown in for good measure; loads of B vitamins provide additional support to your liver.

There’s still time to make sure your fridge is stocked up ready for the morning after – give it a go and your body will love you for it!

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Hangover juice (serves 1 poorly person)
1 medium beetroot
1 large carrot
1-2 sticks celery
1 large apple
chunk fresh ginger
1/2 lemon
couple of handfuls spinach (optional)
Put all the ingredients into a juicer to extract all the goodness. I like to add my spinach separately, by putting the juice into a blender, then popping in the spinach and whizzing it all up.  Add water if you desire and consume with gusto, or great care, depending on how delicate you’re feeling!

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!

Lip-smacking lime dressing

If you read my post about vitamin C and, like me, are looking for ways to increase your daily intake, try this amazingly gorgeous lime, ginger and chilli dressing. So often dressings contain some form of dairy, it’s great to have one that’s completely dairy free. And it’s so tasty you can’t believe it’s so good for you!

The combination of fresh lime, ginger and chilli is so fresh and wonderfully healthy that it puts a smile on your face, and in your belly! Lime is packed full of vitamin C and flavonoids which act as anti-oxidants and also have antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic properties. It’s great for the digestion, stimulating the release of digestive juices as well as aiding the whole digestive process.

Ginger has fabulous medicinal properties, and the good news is you only need a little to get the benefits. It also works on the digestive system, particularly on reducing gas! It has many anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and is particularly good for joint pains. It’s also anti-carcinogenic and boosts your immunity – amazing properties in such an ordinary looking root.

Finally, chilli is also packed with vitamin C, A and B complex and adds a fiery kick to this zingy dressing.

This dressing works brilliantly in Thai style salads, with baked salmon, or any dish that can handle a fresh, sharp dressing – in this case with roasted sweet potato slices and watercress – a seriously delicious, nutrient-packed lunch. All dairy free but definitely not taste free!

Ginger, lime and chilli dressing
Juice of one large lime
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
salt
2 teaspoons agave syrup*
Mix all the ingredients together and taste – adjust the flavours accordingly before pouring over your dish of choice and enjoy!

*I used agave syrup to make this dressing vegan, but runny honey can be used instead, just check how strong the flavour is before using too much

Gorgeous dairy free kohlrabi and potato gratin

Sometimes, though, some of the items can be a bit of a challenge. Jerusalem artichokes are a nightmare, as none of the family can eat them without some seriously embarrassing results (we call them fartichokes!). Wild garlic leaves need to be avoided as I’m fairly dramatically allergic to them (odd but true).

Recently, kohlrabi have been a feature in the box; odd knobbly spheres which look like they have fallen from outer space, they are delicious raw or cooked, and are surprising nutritious.

Although they look like a root veg, kohlrabi is actually a brassica; its a bulb at the base of swollen stem.  It has a crisp, fresh flavour and texture, similar to broccoli stem or young turnips. In fact, kohlrabi in

I have an organic vegetable box delivered to my door Every week, a habit I started a few years ago, and one I even managed to continue in India (for some of the time anyway). The items delivered are fresh, seasonal and full of fabulous nutrients and free of nasty chemicals.

German means cabbage turnip. Even though they do look a bit weird, they’re really easy to prepare; if you have young, organic ones you don’t even need to peel it.

So what to do with it? Combined with grated carrots, grated kohlrabi makes a beautiful fresh, crunchy coleslaw with a slightly different flavour – add in a little thinly sliced onion and some toasted black mustard seeds, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds and it’s coleslaw with different flavours and textures. Kohlrabi also works brilliantly with sliced potato to make a gratin – a dish that is not so easy to make dairy free, but with the help of a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whillingstall, a good non-dairy milk and a bit of adaptation, anything is possible!

Gratin dishes are indulgently rich and creamy (and full of fat!) and definitely not dairy free! Whilst many non-dairy milks are great replacements for cereals and baking, I don’t think they work so well in savoury dishes. Rice milk is too watery, almond milk too delicate and soya milk either too sweet or too strongly flavoured. The best one I’ve found is called Kara, or Koko (it’s been rebranded). It’s made from coconut milk but doesn’t have a strong flavour and works in cooking pretty much like dairy milk; it’s particularly good for making a white sauce.

I used Kara instead of cream in this gratin – you obviously get a thinner sauce so need less but it does add a certain creamy texture which would just be missing if you used vegetable stock only. Plus, the potatoes release some of their starch as they cook, adding to the ‘creamy’ texture.
Make sure you use your kohlrabi leaves as well in this dish; they are packed full of betacarotene and B vitamins. The kohlrabi bulb itself has amazing amounts of vitamin C as well as B vitamins and a good amount of potassium, and of course it’s low in fat, high in fibre and just generally good for you!

I had some nut cheese http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/dairy-and-yeast-free-pizza-its-tasty.html made up in the fridge so used that for the topping, but you could just use bread crumbs (gluten free if needed) and dairy free spread if you don’t have a cheese alternative to hand – it will still be gorgeous!

Dairy free kohlrabi and potato gratin 
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
some dairy free spread for greasing
1 medium sized kohlrabi, finely sliced
1 large potato, finely sliced
1 teaspoon thyme
200mls dairy free milk
200mls veg stock
salt and pepper
kohlrabi leaves chopped
handful spinach, chopped (optional)
Topping:
70g bread crumbs (or alternatives)
20g butter
40g nut cheese (optional)
First, pre heat the oven to 190oC then heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion with a little salt on a low heat until they are soft and slightly caramelised (about 12 minutes or so). Add the garlic and cook through for a few minutes but don’t let it burn, then the kohlrabi, potato and thyme and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in the veg stock and non dairy milk and cook over a medium heat until the fluid has reduced by half. Season well. Generously grease a large oven proof dish with the dairy free spread and carefully pour in the gratin mix. Blitz the breadcrumbs, non-dairy spread, seasoning and nut cheese (if using) together in a blender and sprinkle over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or so until the gratin is bubbling and browned on top.

Enjoy!!
* As I have an intolerance to yeast as well as dairy, normal breadcrumbs are a none starter, so I blitz up a wholewheat wrap or tortilla to make the crumbs. If you have a wheat allergy, there are gluten free breadcrumbs available on the market, or of course blitz your gluten free bread!

Vitamin C surprises

Recently, I completed an analysis of the vitamin content of my food over a few days. Eating a wholefood, plant based diet, I thought my intake would be fabulous. For some, like vitamin A and folate, it was amazing, for others, like B12 which is only found in animal products and yeasts, it was non-existent. No real shocks there.

What did surprise me was the vitamin C content. Whilst pretty good, and above the official recommended daily intake (RDI), it was still only moderate in comparison to the levels that are thought to really promote health, 500mg or above.

I don’t want to get bogged down in figures or controversies surrounding vitamin C (as there are quite a few!!), but think there’s a few things worth pointing out. RDIs are established to state the amount of a vitamin or mineral you should have to prevent specific, identifiable diseases. In the case of vitamin C, it’s scurvy, a horrible condition that used to hit sailors out on the high seas for long periods of time without any fresh fruit or vegetables. You don’t actually need much vitamin C to prevent scurvy, so the current recommendation of 40mg/day is higher than absolutely necessary. Which is great, because vitamin C does much more than stop your gums from bleeding.

In the 1970s, research suggested that vitamin C could prevent the common cold; many people still believe this and religiously take vitamin C supplements. In fact, vitamin C is the most commonly purchased food supplement in the UK. However, since then, loads more research as been undertaken which disagrees with Pauling’s original conclusion.

What has been found is that vitamin C is a highly active anti-oxidant. A co-factor for many enzymes, it’s essential for key metabolic functions in the body, including processing fatty acids, controlling blood cholesterol levels and processing drugs and toxins in the liver. Vitamin C is attributed to improving a multitude of common complaints including allergies, arthritis, asthma, eczema, PMT, osteoporosis – the list goes on. Eating processed foods, high in fat and protein, and taking medication for acute and chronic illnesses further exposes our bodies to stress; it seems to me that good doses of vitamin C are essential for everyone!

I want to get my vitamin C from my diet rather than taking pills, so what are the best foods to eat?  Everyone thinks that citrus fruits are the best source and whilst oranges and lemons are pretty well loaded with vitamin C, they are trumped by peppers and greens. I was amazed to discover that the best source by far is peppers – chilli, bell, all sorts and of all colours. This is swiftly followed by those marvellous greens – kale, spring greens, broccoli, watercress, sprouts – again the list can go on. The best fruits are actually blackcurrants and strawberries, which is great at this time of year in the UK, as strawberry season is upon us and I’m in strawberry heaven!! There’s nothing quite like a freshly picked, succulently sweet British strawberry!

By including more of these vitamin C packed foods its pretty easy to increase vitamin C intake – almost triple it. And of course, all fruits and vegetables contain a whole array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that help our bodies not only function more efficiently, but heal from within.