Original kedgeree

Every now and then my husband gets the urge to have a session in the kitchen. Apart from the inevitable mess, I love it when he’s inspired to try out something different – not only does it give me the night off, but it’s usually something he’s been thinking about for a while and researched within an inch of it’s life. Big contrast to my sudden inspiration, throwing things together to see what happens approach!

He’s been mainly plant based for over a year and a half now which is quite a surprise to both of us! Having gone for it, he’s quite happy not to go back eating to meat and dairy for now as it stops him from pigging out on pastries and burgers. There are a few things he misses though (thankfully beer is plant based). Oddly, one is kedgeree, something we rarely ate but obviously on his list of ‘foods I love’. So he decided to get researching to make a completely plant based version.

It didn’t take him long to discover the original version of kedgeree – kichiri, a simple Indian comfort food, traditionally given to those under the weather. Legend has it that kedgeree, which includes milk, fish and egg, was devised by Colonial Brits in India, then brought back to England, although according to Wikipedia, there is some contention that it appeared in Scotland in the 1700’s; the India connection remains intact though. When exactly a fish, rice and egg combo became a breakfast dish, I’m not so sure.

Kichiri is the perfectly balanced plant based dish. A mixture of rice, lentils and some super spices, it’s tasty, satisfying and remarkably moreish despite the simplicity. The lentils give it a little bit of texture and it’s aromatic rather than spiciness, so gentler on the palate.

Rice and lentils create the perfect plant based protein – both these lovelies contain the full range of essential amino acids. Even though it’s one of the top arguments detractors will come up with when you decide to go plant based, there’s no fear about missing out on protein as long as you eat a wide range of products. And of course wholegrain is best as more nutrients are retained. And lentils give you much more than just protein – they also have a wonderful dollop of fibre, manganese, iron and B vitamins amongst others.

A cucumber raita completes this dish perfectly – using dairy free yoghurt of course! You could get flashy and add make a little spicy tempering to go on the top – toasted cumin and mustard seeds with a couple of dried red chillis and some fresh curry leaves to finish. Lovely.

So why not give this a go and see what you think – is definitely different to kedgeree but still comfortably familiar!

Kichiri (serves 4)
160g green lentils
270g wholegrain basmati rice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of salt
1 litre water
couple of handfuls fresh coriander
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the cumin and black mustard seeds until they start to pop. Add the onion and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring so it doesn’t burn. Add the carrot and red pepper and cook for another minute or so, then add the garlic, rice and lentils as well as the ground coriander, turmeric and salt and cook on a low heat stirring all the time. After a minute or so, carefully pour in the water, bring to the boil and pop on the lid. Turn the heat down low and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. Turn off the heat, and leave to steam for a couple of minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle fresh coriander over the top to serve. Enjoy!

Let us eat soup!

On to the second to last day of my week long veg box challenge, and much of the gorgeous organic produce has been used. We have plenty of leftovers from both Saturday night’s squash curry and the pie and mash from Sunday night, so dinner is sorted.

So what to cook on Monday? The one item mainly untouched is the green batavia lettuce. It’s not that we don’t like lettuce, far from it, but I have to say I prefer warm, comforting foods at this time of year rather than cold, crisp dishes. So there’s only one thing to do with it – make soup!

When chatting with my mum about what I was going to make, she was more than a little unimpressed! But lettuce soup is actually really tasty as well as healthy. Known in my house as ‘sludge soup’ due to its rather pond-like hue, it’s packed full of nutrients like vitamins A and B complex, calcium and iron, and a whole range of phytonutrients that help support the body. As lettuce has a high water content, the soup doesn’t need much fluid added to the pot, keeping the nutrients readily available.

The other important thing about making lettuce soup is that it reduces food waste – lettuce is top of the league when it comes to fresh food items thrown away each week. I’ve always tried not to waste food, but ever since Hugh’s War on Waste recently, I’ve really made a concerted effort to use everything up, which is one reason why a veg box can be such a good idea, as you base your meals for the week around the box and add in as necessary, rather than just buy random items and see what works.

So why not try this soup if you have a desolate lettuce hanging around? Open head, leafy ones like this gorgeous green batavia, romaine or little gem lettuces all work well. I’ve not tried it with lollo rosso, and I don’t think an iceberg would be quite right (although can’t remember the last time I bought one). It’s so green, you just know it’s good for you!

Lettuce soup
1 onion, diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large lettuce, washed well and chopped
a handful of chard leaves, chopped
500ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Heat a glug of olive oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and sauté the onion and potato for 5 minutes on a low heat with the lid on until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Stir in enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables and simmer for 10 minutes or so until the potato is cooked and soft. Add the lettuce and chard leaves. Pour in some more vegetable stock, but don’t fully cover the leaves as remember they will wilt and add more fluid to the pan, potentially making your soup too watery. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, pop on the lid and simmer for 5 minutes until the leaves have fully wilted. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then blend until smooth, adding more stock if needed.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice (to help with iron absorption) and a swirl of dairy free yoghurt or cream. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Let us eat soup!”

Home-made almond butter

Eating a dairy free, whole food plant based diet is becoming less labour intensive as more products become available in the shops. This is great for convenience, but does carry a pretty hefty price tag, especially if that tag is headed ‘free from’! And because of the need for an extended shelf life, products may not be as whole as they should be, with added extras – sugar, salt and oil are added to not only improve flavour as the natural taste fades over time, but also to act as preservatives. There are many other natural preservatives, and colours, many of which are now grown on yeasts, so are a no no for someone with a yeast intolerance.

My daughter has recently developed a passion for almond butter. Always declaring an innate dislike of peanut butter (despite never tasting it!!), I bought a jar of almond butter one day which she tried under protest. To her surprise, she loved it and has be adding it to her food in imaginative ways ever since (baked sweet potato with almond butter topping?). The jars found at the supermarket are pretty small and don’t last long. They are also not cheap. I tried to make it myself, my ever reliable food processor working hard, but just ended up with a dry powder. I could have added oil, but then it wouldn’t be a whole food, so never tried again.

Until recently that is. Browsing on the internet one day, I ended up on a discussion forum about making almond butter (it continues to amaze me what you can stumble upon on the web). According to this chat, almond butter was easy to make, only requiring whole almonds but needed one vital ingredient – patience!

I realised the dry powder I had created was only the middle stage of the butter making process. If I have let my processor continue for another five minutes or so, the nuts would have broken down enough to start releasing the natural oils which change the ground nuts from a dry paste into a beautifully rich, moist spread. And not only is the flavour remarkable, you know exactly what is in your almond butter. If you roast the nuts before hand, you don’t even need to store it in the fridge, although I do, although more out of habit than necessity, because to be honest, it gets eaten up pretty quickly.

Almonds are amazingly healthy. They do contain lots of fat, but it’s healthy monounsaturated, the type which has been proven to help lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your body and improve heart health. They also contain fabulous amounts of vitamin E, and anti-oxidant that helps in heart health, but also in your whole health, and is great for your skin and helps slow the ageing process. Almonds also have a shed load of fibre, a good amount of magnesium, which is also essential for heart and general health, B vitamins and phytonutrients essential for overall health, so what’s not to like?

And of course, this process is applicable to any nut or seed. So I’ve made my own tahini, which is way more tasty and powerful than anything in a jar, plus the oil doesn’t separate from the solids, which always seems to happen with shop bought. I also made peanut butter, which is seriously intense! So if you have a few spare minutes and fancy experimenting, give this a go and revel in the extraordinary flavours you’ll create.

Almond Butter
1 1/2 cups almonds
a food processor
a small jar, cleaned and rinsed with boiling water
Heat your oven to 180oC. Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Take them out the oven, check they’re not getting burnt and pop them back for another couple of minutes. You don’t want to over roast them otherwise they become too dry and you won’t get a good butter. Remove
from the oven and leave to cool.Once cool, pop in your food processor and blitz on a medium speed until the nuts are broken down and stuck up the side of the bowl. Stop, get a spatula and scrap down to the bottom again. Resume processing. Repeat this process until the nuts eventually start  releasing their oil and stay at the bottom of the bowl. Increase the speed slightly and leave on until a beautifully unctuous butter is created. This will take about 10 minutes in total. Stop the processor and check the texture – continue until you get a smooth texture. Then spoon out into the clean jar and enjoy!

Dal or lentil – it’s a name thing

Before I came to India, I thought lentils were either red, puy and occasionally green, and that dal was a soupy kind of spicy dish. Then I went shopping in the local supermarket and discovered a whole array of “dal” with different names, some of those being the same product but hailing from a different part of India and called by the local name.

Just to make it even more confusing, whole lentils tend to be called “gram”, a generic name for pulses, so includes chickpeas and other dried peas I hadn’t come across before – cow pea and horse gram, both of which are really tasty (I have a great little easy cow pea dish I’ll share with you soon). Once the pulse is split, and it’s outer coating shed, the gram becomes a dal, or a lentil, in the right form for cooking dal. Confused? Me too!

I’ve worked out there are four main ‘dals’:
yellow dal: or yellow split peas as I knew them in the UK, or toor/tuvar dal in Hindi. This is split pigeon pea and used most commonly for your standard dal

mung dal which comes from the mung bean, a pale green lentil that has a real earthy look to it. Mung beans are a deep green when whole but paler and flecked with white when split

masoor dal, or red split lentils, the one I am most familiar with

urad dal, which comes from black gram, but is white when split. This is most common in South India and usually soaked and ground to make dosas and idlis, iconic breakfast items.

Whatever the name or colour, dals are really healthy, a tiny powerhouse of nutritious goodies, packed with protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and a whole array of B vitamins. Dal is made up of 20-30% protein, better than most meat products but without the saturated fat and cholesterol. It is not, however, a complete protein in the same way as meat. Pulses are low in the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) methionine and cysteine. So they should be eaten with another food which is high in these missing amino acids. Traditionally, dal is eaten with rice or some form of bread – chapati, roti etc. Whole rice and whole wheat are high in both methionine and cysteine, but low in lysine, another essential amino acid. Pulses just happen to be teaming with lysine and so dal and rice or chapati is the perfect dish!

Due to their high dietary fibre content, dal/lentils are very good for your bowels, but do have a reputation for creating rather a lot of wind – urad dal is the worst offender apparently, and mung the least and is often given to convalescents as it’s easy on the digestion.  I always buy organic dals which are really widely available here, and only a few rupees more than the non-organic version.

The key to a good tasty dal is the tempering – the seeds and spices that are fried separately and then added at the end. If you want a low fat dish, go easy on the oil otherwise it will become loaded with fat. Ghee is often used for the tempering, which gives it a distinctive flavour but is pretty high in fat. Theoretically, ghee is non-dairy, but I’m not convinced so avoid using it at home. I’ve tried various different recipes since I’ve been in India, some more successful than others (dal and the pressure cooker just don’t seem to work for me!). This is my favourite – big fat juicy tomatoes are the key to this dish!

Dal fry/Tarka Dal
1 cup of red split lentils, rinsed well and drained
1 finely chopped onion
2 x juicy tomatoes
1 -2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 tsp tumeric
(lemon juice)
For the tempering:
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1-2 dried red chilli or 1 fresh green chilli
2 inch piece ginger, julienned
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
handful curry leaves
fresh coriander for garnishing
First, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in a pan and fry the onion and salt for a few minutes then add the garlic and keep stirring until it’s lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lentils and turmeric, heat through and add 3 cups (ish) of water – if you want a thicker dal, add less than 3. Cook on a low heat for 20-25 minutes until the lentils are soft and mushy. In a separate pan, heat the cumin and mustard seeds. Once they start to pop, add all the other ingredients except the coriander and cook for a few minutes. Tip the tempering into the cooked lentils, mix together and simmer for a couple of minutes, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to help make the proteins more available, garnish with the coriander and serve with cooked brown rice or some whole wheat chapatis.

Green gunge – but it’s good for you!!!

One of my dear friends recently lost loads of weight by following a juicing diet. I was sceptical at first –  how couldjust drinking juice be good for you. It may be full of vitamins and minerals, but what about the fibre and surely you get too hungry (I like my food fairly solid!) and end up bingeing? But she practically glowed with good health as she dropped 2 dress sizes, so there must be something to it.

Health, whether good or bad, comes from the food we put in to our bodies. Juicing provides extra shots of vital goodies to help our bodies deal with the constant stresses and toxins we are exposed to, both external and internal, although I believe in the long run it’s best to eat the whole food rather than just the juicy parts. But if you want to know more about juicing, including some great recipes and tips on when to drink them, check out this article on the Health Ambition website –https://www.healthambition.com/juicing-recipes-for-weight-loss/.

Our bodies know what we need if we learn to listen to it. Since living in India, I have craved green leaves which must mean I’m low in B vitamins, iron or calcium (not sure which) and have even been known to stir fry cauliflower leaves that are usually discarded just because green leaves are hard to come by. On my recent trip to Kashmir, I came across hak which is grown locally in Srinigar. It’s similar to kale and I couldn’t get enough of it and begged the hotel to serve it to me at every meal, it was so gorgeous. It was sautéed in water along with mustard oil, Kashmiri red chilli, salt and a little local masala, or seasoning. Occasionally a little spicy, it’s deep rich green flavours were just divine!

After attending a healthy eating cooking seminar a few months ago, I discovered green smoothies. Made up of 60% fruit and 40% green leaves, they really are quite delicious and leave you feeling revitalised and full of energy – that’s after you’ve managed to get your head around the fact that the green gunge in the glass is actually something you want to ingest! Spinach is pretty easy to come by here; the little organic grocers stocks some beautifully green bunches, leaves not too big. It tastes pretty strong, much more so than the lovely baby leaves you can by in the supermarkets in the UK, so it’s green hard core from the off. Called palak, it’s not traditionally eaten raw here – my maid was horrified to find out I ate uncooked leaves, and surprised to find out I lived to tell the tale!

Green smoothies can be made with any green leaf as it’s base – spinach, celery or beetroot tops even mint. The key is to vary your intake and not have them every day – raw green leaves contain oxalic acid. Consuming large amounts of oxalic acid can be toxic (you would need a lot of greens every day for this to happen). It binds to metals, such as iron, making it unavailable for absorption in to the body. This therefore means that spinach isn’t a great source of iron in the diet, despite what Popeye might say. However, vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so matching spinach with lemon for example counteracts the negative effects of oxalic acid. And green leaves are an amazing source of vitamin B, calcium and magnesium to name a few.

I’ve featured my favourite green smoothie combination, but you can make up whatever you like. Grind the green leaves in the blender first before adding the other ingredients as the cellulose in the cell walls takes some time to break down.

Spinach, watermelon and banana smoothie
Handful of spinach leaves, thoroughly washed
Big chunk of watermelon
2 small ripe bananas or 1 medium
juice of sweet lime
flaxseed powder (if you want an omega 3 shot).
Place the spinach in the blender and blast on full power until the leaves are broken and mushy. Add in the fruit and juice and blast again until everything is incorporated and fluid – this may take up to 2 minutes depending on the speed of your blender. Sprinkle in flaxseed powder if you are using it and whizz again for a moment. Poor into a glass, close your eyes and deceive your brain as you knock it back. I managed to get my son to try it despite his dubious face – he actually admitted it tasted good but preferred his fresh pineapple juice as it looked more normal!