5 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 “5 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!