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5 Prebiotic Foods To Ferment

Photo credit: Lesley Lau

As you will know, fermented foods that contain live bacteria, are a great source of probiotics (live beneficial bacteria) and even provide a great source of prebiotic too. Prebiotic fiber is the indigestible parts of fruit & veg, whole grains and nuts & seeds that goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the colon. This the dietary fibre that our microbes love and uses to create additional nutrients to keep us healthy. 

And when you think about it, taking an already prebiotic rich food and fermenting it is like a double or maybe even a triple win? It goes like this: Fibre? Check. Good bacteria? Check. More bioavailable/useable nutrients and antioxidants? Check. So yes, a triple win indeed. 

Here’s a quick ‘How to’ use five great prebiotic foods that are delicious fermented. If you don’t already, you should consider both eating more of and adding these foods to your next ferment to boost the prebiotic fibre-y goodness and feed your microbes.

  1. Apples–Try mixing these in with vegetable ferments and/or using them in drinks. I use apples in my kimchis and sauerkrauts, but also use them in my kvass and to flavour water kefir or kombucha. I have also cooked and then fermented them with miso to make a miso apple caramel (it was delicious).
  1. Onions–These are so easy to make and easy to keep. I keep fermented sliced onions as part of my ‘fermented larder’ as these go great in salads on sandwiches, tacos…pretty much anything that can do with a lovely crunch. But you can also add these into sauerkrauts, kimchis and chutneys! I also regularly use my onion brine (it’s deliciously punchy) to make salad dressings.
  2. Garlic–Again, one to add to ferments or ferment on its own. These form part of my staples, I ferment these whole to use in various ways, but also on their own to create little remedies when anyone is under the weather. But these also work beautifully in sauerkrauts, is one of the backbones of a kimchi and can even be brined with other ferments. If you’re worried about the bite, don’t. Fermenting mellows the flavour.
  3. Jerusalem Artichokes–We jokingly call these ‘fartichokes’ in my house as they do just that. They are a great source of prebiotic fiber, but fermenting them makes them (make you) less farty. I slice and ferment these in a 2% brine along with other spices and enjoy them mixed into salad or just as part of a pickle selection with a snack or cheese board.
  4. Seaweed–Perhaps not one you’d think of fermenting, but it works brilliantly when you want an added umami kick to any ferment. I use dried seaweed (I rehydrate this in water first) in my radish kimchi and also have use it sauerkrauts too.  

Signs and symptoms of gut troubles

Your gut plays a vital role in how you process and absorb nutrients. It also helps to regulate your immune system and produces vital nutrients, hormones and neurotransmitters. Unless you have some sort of magic camera, to see what’s going on inside, it’s hard to know exactly what is going on in there, that is until you start experiencing some negative symptoms.

But what are the symptoms of an unhealthy gut, I hear you ask? Well, there are several, but here are a few common signs and symptoms that can indicate something is up with your gut. Of course your gut may not be the only reason you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, but its definitely worth considering how your gut might be playing a part.

These symptoms could be linked to a bacterial imbalance (aka dysbiosis), such as an overgrowth of one variety of bacteria or they could be linked to your gut’s ability to grow and house healthy bacteria. It is important to listen to your body and think holistically about what is going on with your health before acting.

And as always, if your symptoms are distressing and severely impacting on your day-to-day life, do seek medical advice.

Constipation or diarrhoea—If you’re not going poo every day or your stools are hard or loose it could mean that something is amiss with your microbes.

Excessive wind and bloating—A certain amount of wind is a normal part of the natural fermentation process that takes place in your gut. But, there are some bad bacteria that produce excessive wind, which can get trapped and cause bloating.

Skin complaints—Suffering with eczema, psoriasis or acne? Your gut bacteria may be to blame. Many of the nutrients vital for healthy skin (i.e. Vitamin E and antioxidants) are made more accessible for absorption as a result of the fermentation process that takes place in a healthy gut.

Food allergies or sensitivities—You can’t have dairy or certain fruits or vegetables? Allergic reactions are immune responses. About 80% of your immune system, your body’s natural defence, is in your gut and can be compromised by an imbalance in your gut microbes.

Bad breath—H. Pylori bacteria imbalances can cause bad breath as well as ulcerations (ie stomach ulcers).

Sugar cravings—There are certain bacteria living in your gut, and more prevalent in the gut of those who eat lots of sugar. These bacteria essentially send messages to your brain asking for more, causing them to outnumber other beneficial bacterial groups.

Mood disorders and/or brain fog–The gut produces hundreds of neurochemicals that regulate mental processes such as learning, cognition and mood. Your gut bacteria also produce and help you to absorb key micronutrients associated with brain health.

If you are experience one or more of these symptoms and would like to improve your gut health and reduce experiences of these symptoms using food, get in touch and book a call to discuss how I can help.

Psychobiotics and Anxiety

Given the current uncertainty, it’s natural that many of us are feeling quite anxious, but there is no denying that for some people, myself included, anxiety is a bit of an ongoing struggle. Whether it’s just low level, constant worry about things that are beyond our control or something more debilitating, it’s safe to say those with anxiety are finding the times we’re in particularly difficult.

I thought it might be a good idea to share, as a follow-on from my post on the links between gut health and mental health, a closer look at anxiety and the impact of probiotics, in particular psychobiotics in managing the symptoms.

But first, what on Earth are psychobiotics? Essentially, this term refers to probiotics (aka good gut bacteria) with mental health benefits. The gut-brain connection as per my last post is well recognised, but there is more research looking at the use of probiotics specifically for conferring neural (aka brain) effects. Research has show that the use of psychobiotics have wide reaching implications for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to Autism, and even anxiety.

If you know a bit about anxiety, you’ll know that general anxiety disorder is the most frequently reported common mental health problem in England (1).  Many of us feel worried, afraid or anxious at times, but for some these feelings take over and can manifest in panic attacks or distressing behaviours that feel hard to control. Whether you’re experiencing mild or more several symptoms of anxiety, it is important to think about how best to manage these symptoms in order to minimise their impact on everyday life, and it looks like starting with your diet and your gut is a pretty great place to make some adjustments.

This form of probiotics has shown to regulate neurotransmitters and hormones, as well as have an overall effect on mood. There are links between psychobiotics to improved mental and cognitive health and more specifically, for anxiety there are a few strains that have been shown to improve anxiety symptoms, in particular, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, but also others such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus hevelticus and Lactobacillus caesi, as well as, Biffidobacterium longum. I’m speaking Latin here (literally, but hang on it will makes more sense in a moment).

Lactobacillus rhamnosus is one of the many strains of lactobacillus found in the gut and also a popular species to include in probiotic supplements. Supplementing and already balanced and healthy diet with L. rhamnosus has been shown to lower anxiety, reduce stress-induced anxiety by altering the production neurological receptors, making them more receptive to neurotransmitters (such as GABA) in the central nervous system (2, 3, 4, 5, 7). It has also been shown to be as effective at treating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as common SSRi antidepressant treatments (6). It is also good at surviving acidic environments, means that it can handle transit via the intestinal tract and is able to make it itself at home in the intestinal walls. (8)

So where can you find these bacterial strains? Well, Lactobacillus rhamnosus can be found in some yogurts (check your labels), cheese ( it plays an important role in the maturing process), milk kefir, and other dairy products or it can also be taken in supplements.  If you are going down the supplement route, my advice is to always choose organic and start with a low dose build up once your gut has a handle on things.

Now that I have stopped throwing Latin at you might be wondering, what is your point. Well, the point, if you struggle with or know someone who struggles with anxiety, it might be worth taking a closer look the research and try to get more of these foods and these particular strains of psychobiotic bacteria into your diet. The End.

(1) https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.XYIhkXdFxYe

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150/

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25879690

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934620/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5225647/

(6) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24257436

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4200314/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15933002

Our Gut and Our Brain: A brief look at the research

As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to share with you some of the research on the impact of your gut health on brain health and mental health.

There’s a growing body of absolutely fascinating research that looks at the impact that our gut has on our brain and our gut’s ability to produce some of the crucial hormones and nutrients that we need to keep our brain’s healthy and help combat low mood, anxiety and even anger.

Our gut is the biggest producer of serotonin, the mood regulating hormone, meaning if your experiencing gut problems you may also be experiencing low moods. More people are turning to looking at their gut health and adding fermented foods into their diet to help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and for better memory and cognition. I am also one of them. My experience, like others may seem anecdotal, but there’s research to support the mental health improvements that come with focused attention on looking after your gut. 

So here’s a quick run-down of some of the recently published evidence, this is by no mean an exhaustive list, but rather provides some insight into a growing body of fascinating research that links our gut health and mental health. Believe me, there is more out there and more on its way!  

(1) Modern diet and lifestyle can compromise the gut lining, making it permeable to toxins and food, allowing them to enter the bloodstream which can initiate an inflammatory response.

  • This inflammatory response has been linked to depression (1), schizophrenia (2), autism spectrum disorder (3) and anorexia (4)

(2) A growing body of research suggests that beneficial bacteria, or probiotics have a range of positive effects on mental health ranging from helping with depression to processing of emotion.

  • Consumption of fermented beverages containing Lactobacillus caesi for 3 weeks was found to improve mood and cognition in adults with digestive complaints (5)
  • Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterum longum improved depression, anxiety and anger in adults (6)
  • One month consumption of fermented dairy products were found to influence the regions of the brain involved in the central processing of emotion (7)
  • Host of research into the reciprocal relationship between the brain and degeneration associated with disease such as Alzheimer’s and dementia and Multiple Sclerosis (8)

(3) Probiotics appear to influence mental health by sending signals through the gut-brain microbiome axis, which connects the body’s central nervous system (which houses the brain and the spinal cord) and the enteric nervous system of the gastrointestinal tract (9)

(4) These beneficial bacteria can also promote mental health by increasing the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals that regulate mood, such as B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and polyphenols (10).

(1) Maes, M et al (2008) The Gut-Brain Barrier in Major Depression: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18283240

(2) Wood, N C et al (2018)Abnormal Intestinal Permeability https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/abnormal-intestinal-permeability/869C13A62CEA5977FDA79511221339D3

(3) de Magistris, L et al (2010) Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683204

(4) Herpertz-Dahlmann, B et al (2017) Food matters: how the microbiome and gut–brain interaction might impact the development and course of anorexia nervosa https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591351/

(5) Benton, D et al (2010) Impact of consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic on mood and cognition https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17151594

(6) Messaoudi, M et al (2011) Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015

(7) Tillisch, K et al (2013) Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23474283

(8) majeri, M (2019) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30781628 

(9)Mayer, E et al (2015) https://www.jci.org/articles/view/76304

(10) Filiosa, S, et al (2018) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199944/

5 Tips for Engaging your Kids in the Kitchen

Getting your kids involved in the kitchen can encourage trying new foods as well as helping to reduce food waste, and now it is more important than ever to look at how to make use of every last morsel of food.

Looking at how much we waste and wasting less is part of this, but also honing our kitchen skills also helps to ensure we know how to be more versatile in our cooking. And for those of us with children, we have the added challenge of making food that they will eat. Times are hard, and we’re stressed and our tiny dictator’s food demands can’t always be met. So what to do? Get them involved in the kitchen!

If you think engaging your kids in the household food preparation will help you to waste less and to try more, here are a few of my top tips for engaging your kids in the kitchen, which from my experience and a food educator, cookery teacher (and a mum of 2) helps them to be more adventurous with trying different foods, more likely to eat what’s on their plate and more importantly, less likely to waste it!

  1. Grow what you can (even veg scraps)—You don’t need a garden, but if you do have one, that’s a bonus. Things like herbs can be grown indoors or outdoors. Other easy growing projects include sprouting cress or seeds indoors or re-growing veg scraps—spring onions, celery stalks and lettuce works a treat. If you do have a garden and green fingers, there are a wealth of possibilities. Even you don’t some kill proof veg are tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce and kale. Watching their food grow gives them a better understanding of how food gets to their plate.
  2. Come up with meal ideas/plans together—Depending on their age you may need to offer some suggestions, but this helps to get them involved and take ownership of what comes to the table. Enjoying this food together also helps to reinforce the notion of eating as a social activity and now just shovelling it down you can leave the table. You’ll have some good chats and make some good memories over those family meals.
  3. Teach them about food waste and the impact on the planet (and your finances)—When you think about the fact 1/3 of all food produced globally gets wasted, that is equivalent to buying 10 bags of shopping and dropping 3 bags in the bin before you even leave the shop. They will start to get it. Research also suggest that the average family of 4 wastes £50-60 of food a month, use this to entice them to waste less and think about putting that money towards a family day out or a family treat.
  4. Make cooking and trying new foods fun—If your kids prefer a challenge or experiment, make kitchen time and eating less about the food and more about the challenge/experiment. You can try using a single ingredient in lots of different ways, like seeing how many different ways you can use oats or use a rainbow food chart to tick off and/or challenge you/your kids to eat a more varied diet.
  5. Teach them how and what foods support their nutritional and performance needs—This may take a bit of swotting up on your part, but I find kids love knowing how their bodies work and what’s in their food. And if they need more convincing, tie this to their particular interest, like dance, sport, maths, etc. If you want them to consider beetroot, tell him how it supports their blood and oxygen support, which means they can run faster, jump higher and for longer. Or if they are more of the cerebral type, share with them info on the brain boosting benefits of berries or walnuts (and a shelled walnut half looks like a brain).
  6. Choose the right recipes (interest and level of difficulty)—Let’s face it, cooking with kids can be STRESSFUL. Especially when like me, you’re a bit of a perfectionist (and a touch critique) in the kitchen. But you can make things much easier by choosing the right recipes to cook with them or engaging them in with particular tasks. Choose quick or easy recipes or give them specific, age-appropriate tasks like mashing, bashing, grating, crumbing or rolling (to name a few). My kids love grating anything and can often be found snaffling whilst grating, even raw courgette which my eldest contends he hates.

And remember it’s never going to be a linear process. Children are people (very opinionated ones without much of a filter), so you’ve got to ride the waves, but definitely, getting them involved in getting the food to their plate helps to improve what and how much they eat.

Beetroot & Apple Kvass

I am sharing my recipe for one of my favourite ferments, beetroot kvass. I start my day with a shot of this and also find it also great to take just before exercise. Beetroot is great for circulation and supporting the flow of oxygen around your body and also a great source of iron and potassium (great for lowering blood pressure).

Beetroot, Apple & Ginger Kvass

Kvass is traditionally a Russian fermented beverage often made from beetroot and is touted as a general health tonic. This recipe is inspired by the Russian version, but this recipe adds additional spices and sweetness that comes with the added apple, a great source of gut-loving fibre, dates and spices. There’s no need for grains with a kvass, as the skins of the beetroot are a plentiful source of lactobacillus, so simply wash your beetroot and keep those skins on!

To make this you will need a 1.5L airtight jar. Once fermented you can drink the brine as well as eat the fruit and veg.

Yields approx 1.25L

1-1.25L mineral water

350 g beetroot, chopped (washed and skin on)

200g apple, sliced in wedges (washed and skin on)

50 g ginger, sliced (skin on)

40 g dried figs or dates, chopped

½ tsp Himalayan pink salt

6 cardamom pods

2 star anise

  1. Add the beetroot, apples, ginger and dates to the fermenting jar. Next, add the spice.
  2. Fill the jar with the remaining water, leaving a 3cm gap at the top. 
  3. Ferment at room temperature for one week, giving it a gentle shake every day. Taste and check the flavour, it should be slightly fizzy.  You may want and I would recommend to ferment it for an additional 24-36 hours for the flavours to further develop.
  4. Strain the liquid using a plastic sieve into a jug. Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a swing top drinks bottle. You can enjoy straight away or store at room temperature for another day or two three days to created additionally fizz. 
  5. If storing at room temp, make sure that you let the gases escape from the drink daily, by releasing the lid on the bottle for a few seconds.  Once you are happy with the flavour and fizziness, store in the refrigerator.

Notes: Vary the spices according to your preference.  Feel free to add more spices to taste. You can sub apples for pear or use only beetroot (550g).

Source:  Nena Foster (www.nenafosterfood.com )

Allergy advice:  none

5 Tips for Cooking Intuitively in The Times of Corona

I’ve been thinking about how I learned to cook. Yes, I trained as a chef, which helped to elevate my cooking and helped me to hone my skills. But to cook delicious food, you don’t need to be a chef, you just need a good understanding of food–the basics ingredients you need to create a dish, as well as an understand of flavour. And you need practice.

I used to think that if you could read a recipe, you could cook. No, you can follow someone else’s instructions on how to produce an perfectly adequate plate of food. But cooking is more than reading a set of instructions, following them to the letter and then being lost should you have to recreate the dish without that set of instructions. Cooking should and needs to be more intuitive.

Photo credit: Luke Albert

If cooking in the Times of Corona (I joke that this is going to be the next post-corona best selling cookbook title, maybe I’ll write it, who knows), has taught me one thing, to produce a delicious and satisfying meal, you need to know how to cook, not simply follow a recipe because chances are you won’t have or can’t get out to buy half of the ingredents in the recipe, in which case you have failed before you have even started.

So here are my 5 tips for Cooking Intuitively in the Time of Corona. These tips will help you cook more intuitively, without a recipe, boost your kitchen confidence and deliver delicious results.

1. Balance flavours. You can counter salty or acidic with a bit of sweetness–this doesn’t have to be sugar, it could be a naturally sweet veg (e.g. beetroot and balsamic vinegar). If your flavours are a bit flat and need a bit of a lift, use lemon (juice, zest or even preserved lemon), pinch of chilli or a pinch of sea salt (you’ll be surprised that a pinch of salt can work wonders for lifitng the flavour of an unsalted dish). If it’s roundedness or umami you’re after–this is when the flavour just sings, think about adding specific things like cheese, anchovies, miso, brines from ferments or another fermented foods to do the trick. If it’s too spicy, cool it down with a bit of sweet or something creamy.

2. Swot up on your food groups, particularly when it comes to pulses, legumes, grains and veg. Knowing the basic properties of your raw ingredients in terms of their flavour, consistency, cooking times, etc can really help when you need to make a substitution or are building a meal completely from scratch. For example, if you need to replace a soft leafy green in a recipe, what do you choose? Chard or kale? CHARD. The answer is chard. Or soft herbs (but no in the same quantities). Or maybe even lettuce. Yes, you can cook lettuce and it is delicious.

Labneh and ricotta dip (Photo by Luke Albert)

3. Work out how flavour works. Start with classic flavour pairings first and work out why they work before going all Heston. Take leeks and butter for example, the combination is simple, but delicious. It’s the sweetness of the butter that compliments the sharp allium flavour, which then mellows when cooked slowly until soft. The creaminess of the butter meet the creaminess of the slowly cooked leeks, and then my friends, you find yourself uncontrollably scoffing spoonfuls of leek straight from the pan. So, once you understand how and why these classic pairings work you can then start analysing how and why other flavours work together.

4. Buy as good quality ingredients as you can afford. This feels a bit like a cheat when I’m talking about cooking and flavouring, but if you buy good quality ingredients they pack more flavour, which means you have to do very little to get a delicious end result. The rule of thumb I live by when working with anything that’s beautifully fresh and often seasonal is, beautfiul and simple. Repeat, ‘beautiful and simple.’

Photo credit: Indi Petrucci

5. Use your senses. Your eyes, nose and mouth are perfect for judging what looks, smells and tastes nice, so do not be afraid to use them! Providing you manage to rustle up a meal, do not panic if you haven’t nailed it on the first tasting. Taste, adjust, taste, adjust and taste again. And make any adjustments gradually. You can always add more, but you can’t take out half a packet of chilli flakes. And again, if you’re not sure what the dish needs, refer back to #1.

And remember that bit about practice, yes it does require practice. Not every meal will be a success, but each meal you create will give you the confidence and skill to keep at it.

Tips for Cracking Covid Snacking

Sometimes, little pause and refuel is what we all need, but being at home and being closer to the cupboards can make it feel like snack time is never ending and you find yourself reaching for one carby snack after another. Here’s some insight into how to snack to, not only curb hunger, but also keep you sated until your next meal.

Oat cakes w/ nut butter and berries
Photo by: Gabriel Bertog

The crux of it all, and this may come as no surprise, snacks much like our meals need to be balanced. When we snack on sugary or starchy foods alone we make it difficult for our bodies to manage our blood sugar effectively, keeping it balanced so that we feel, well, balanced. When we eat and drink we provide our bodies with much needed glucose to keep going, and how much glucose depends on how much sugar or simple carbs (which our bodies use much like sugar) we eat.  And it will also come as no surprise that when we snack on that packet of crisps, chocolate bar or even lots of fruit, you’ll experience a brief period of satiety and a blood sugar peak, which not long after is followed by a trough. And it is in these troughs where parents hear the dreaded phrase, ‘Can I have a snack?’ and we reach for another snack, often carby and sugary to pick ourselves up.

When we eat, also need certain key nutrients to feel sated or full and these are fat, fibre and protein. Every meal and every snack should have these components. These also help with blood sugar balance. So how do we stop this cycle of highs, lows, hunger and endless snacks? Here are my top tips to help you crack your Covid snacking:

1)    Include a source of healthy fat, fibre and protein in your snacks. I often make little snack platters with cut fruit, veg, oat cakes with nut butter or toasted nuts/seeds. I also make up energy balls that contain these key nutrients and pair them with fruit. There are lots of ways to do this, and you can still include rice cakes or crisps, but make sure there are other nutrient dense options alongside. If you’re interested in learning how to make your own balanced snacks with and for your children, check out my online Kids Cookery Classes.

2)    Any parent of children will know, snacking is their absolute favourite past time. My 4 year old, if given the chance, would snack all day forgoing meals entirely. BUT eating three balanced meals a day will mean you are less likely to snack because your body has the fuel it needs to get you from one meal to the next. What does a balanced meal look like? Well, it’s 2-3 portions of fruit and veg with the addition of healthy fats, protein and source of wholegrain fibre.

3)    Take a look at why you are snacking. Is it boredom? Stress? Reward? Or is just because it is in the cupboard?  We eat for many reasons, not just because we’re hungry. Take a pause before you snack check in with yourself. This hands down works for me. With the kids, this may mean building in set snack times and sticking to those.

4)    Take a drink. This advice is here for me as well. I am also terrible at drinking water, and hunger gets mistaken for needing fluids—it’s your body’s way of trying to get fluids.  So sometimes, getting a drink instead can solve the need for a snack.

5)    Clean up that snack cupboard. Think less processed things in packets and try to get things as close to the whole food as possible. Fresh fruit and veg, homemade dips, nuts, seeds, oat cakes as well as homemade things can be prepped in advanced and just as easily accessible as opening a packet. And it can be cheaper!  

Feel free to get in touch if you’re looking for more ideas on snack ideas or book in a cookery class as we can dedicate 2 whole hours to talking and making snacks!

Stocking a Healthy Pantry

Here’s my list of Healthy Pantry Essentials

In these uncertain and slightly chaotic times, it is more important than ever to look after ourselves and those we love with health-focused food. Rather than stockpiling readymeals and packets, get in some healthy staples that will help you to ensure you can make as meals as you need and eat well to support both your physical and mental health.

 Stocking a healthy pantry can be daunting and may seem expensive, but can be done cost effectively. Buying whole or dry ingredients that might mean a bit more time in meal prep stages, but it will mean that nutritious family meals can be made more cost-effectively and efficiently from the pantry by adding 1 or 2 fresh ingredients.

So in addition to any fresh ingredients, here are some staples to add:

Oils

Olive oil

Coconut oil

Ghee

Tinned items

Tinned tomatoes

Passata

Sweet corn (in water with no added salt or sugar)

Coconut milk (full-fat)

Sardines

Tuna

Grains

Brown rice

White rice

Quinoa

Polenta

Barley

Oats (GF)

Buckwheat groats (GF)

Flour

Chickpea (Gram) flour

White/wholemeal spelt

Wholemeal flour

Teff flour (GF)

Brown rice (GF)

Buckwheat (GF)

Pulses & legumes (dried or tins)

Puy lentils

Green lentils

Red lentils

Split peas

Moong dhal

Chickpeas

White beans

Haricot beans

Kidney beans

Black beans

Black eyed beans

Nuts & Seeds

Almonds

Cashews

Peanuts

Chia

Hazelnuts

Sunflower Seeds

Pumpkin seeds

Sesame Seeds

Flaxseeds

Sweetners

Maple syrup

Honey

Coconut sugar

Molasses

Dried fruit

Apricots

Raisins

Prunes

Figs

Dates

Coconut flakes/desiccated coconut

Freezer

Peas

Spinach

Broad beans

Edamame

Berries

Other

Eggs

Onions

Garlic

Tahini

Baking Powder/baking soda

Milks (e.g oat, brown rice, almond, dairy, etc)

Fermented foods

Spices & Flavourings

Sea salt

Cumin seeds

Coriander seeds

Mustard seeds

Paprika

Turmeric

Smoked paprika

Curry leaves (dried)

Fennel seeds

Fenugreek

Chilli powder

Cinnamon

Cardamom

Dijon Mustard

Whole grain mustard

Veg stock powder ( Marigold is a personal favourite)

Dark/Raw cocoa powder

Vinegars

Balsamic

Red wine

Apple Cider (raw, preferably)

Notes on buying:

  • Ensure that when choosing tinned goods organic is ideal, but if not, the best quality you can find
  • It is more cost effective to buy in bulk and batch cook pulses
  • It is more cost-effective and nutritious to make your own plant-based milks, nut and seed butters
  • Buy your spices whole (and in bulk) grind as needed

Family Focused gut-health

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5 tips to eating your way to a healthier, happier healthier gut

Looking after your own gut health can be daunting, but can be all the more difficult when you have to factor in the rest of the family. Here are 5 tips from me on eating your way to a happier, healthier gut.


1. Eat more veg, and don’t peel them! You have probably heard this before, most likely from your own parents. But yes, eating more veg provides not only a range of nutrients that you can’t get anywhere else, but veg are also a great source of fibre. Gut bacteria love and need fibre to carry on doing their job, so a diet rich in veg is key to a happy, healthy gut. Many veg, like carrots, beetroot and potatoes don’t need to be peeled before you eat or cook them–all they need is a good wash, particularly if they are organic. That goes for fruit apples and pears too. So, upping your veg intake and eating them with the skins saves time and feeds your gut bacteria!

2. Take out refined sugar and cut down on the starchy carbs–A lot of foods now are geared towards convenience, and convenience is often crucial to busy family life; however, many of these convenience foods are processed, laden with sugar, sodium, preservatives and are distinctively beige. Many of these beige foods are targeted at children and have become staples in many households, particularly when time is tight. But many parents will attest, a child fuelled on sugars and starchy stuff can be moody, lacking in concentration largely due to blood sugar imbalance. These foods can also damage the gut lining, which impacts your gut’s ability to house and grow beneficial bacteria. Taking out refined sugars and carbs can be a challenge, particularly when you’re short on time and when there is seemingly no end to the children’s parties (aka Sugarfests). So, start at home by swapping out refined sugars for natural ones, and ones that contain, you guessed it–fibre. Think of replacing sugar with fruit, honey or maple syrup, raw cane sugar or coconut sugar, and of course using these in moderation. Also read your food labels and try to buy and eat more natural, preservative-free foods. And last, which leads on to my next tip, swap your simple carbs for complex carbs, like wholegrains. A healthy gut lining makes a happy home for our probiotic pals.

3. Eat more wholegrains– Several nutritional studies suggest that swapping refined grains for wholegrains has an impact on the variety and function of gut microbes. Wholegrains appear to help keep balance between inflammatory and non-inflammatory bacteria, they also help the bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are an important food source for the bacteria in your colon and also contribute to your immune and metabolic health. But what does that all mean? It largely comes back to fibre. Wholegrains are full of fibre (soluble and insoluble) and your gut microbes use and ferment fibre to replicate, and this process creates a host of beneficial nutrients. Making the wholegrain swap doesn’t have to be expensive or labour-intensive. Start by making changes to your pasta, breads and cereals. Pasta is a staple in many households, it is easy, delicious and a sure win with most children. Try swapping your usual white pasta for a wholegrain variety like wholewheat, spelt, buckwheat or brown rice. Opt for wholegrain bread containing grains like rye, spelt, wheat and/or other pseudo-grains like buckwheat, teff and quinoa– and make sure your bread doesn’t contain lots of sugar and preservatives, which can particularly be an issue with store-bought gluten-free bread. As for cereals, oats, buckwheat groats and puffed cereals like brown rice, quinoa and spelt make gut-friendlier options. With cereals again, the challenge is avoiding additives and sugars. A fun way to ensure a more balanced breakfast cereal is to make your own. My kids enjoy making their own breakfast blends using whole grains with nuts, seeds, coconut chips, dried fruit, cacao nibs and spices– whatever takes their fancy, toasted with a bit of coconut oil.

4. Eat a varied diet– In my kid’s cookery classes we talk about eating a rainbow. And this is just a simpler way of saying it is important to eat a variety of different and different colour foods. Variety is key to supporting diverse gut flora. There are trillions of bacteria of different varieties living in your gut. These different types of bacteria flourish when they have a range of different food sources. Think of your gut like your garden, the flower, bushes, insects, trees and birds require some of the same things, but also different things to grow. So, keep your and your family’s ‘gut garden’ growing and flourishing by eating a varied diet of fruit, veg, pulses, legumes, nuts & seeds, healthy fats and complex carbs. Translating that to family meal-times can require a bit of inventiveness, but doesn’t have to be difficult. Some of our favourite ‘rainbow’ meals include make your own tacos to my ‘chuck it all in’ lentil bolognaise or sushi. And getting the kids to count up and keep track of the different colours they’ve eaten can spur them on to embracing a more varied diet.

5. Add fermented foods into your daily diet–Adding fermented foods to your diet is a guaranteed way to ensure you are getting a good dose of probiotics, aka good bacteria. But let’s be honest you won’t convince many kids to munch on sauerkraut, especially if they’ve never eaten it before. But they are several fermented foods that you can incorporate regularly to improve gut health that the whole family can enjoy. I get asked often ‘what probiotic foods can I give to my children?’ My answer is all of them, but the key is to start with small amounts and start with flavours that their palate will recognise. Things like live natural yogurt, milk kefir (coconut if you don’t have dairy), probiotic lemonade, water kefir fermented jams or compotes and even salsa work well. These can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into milkshakes, smoothies or work as toppings for soaked oats, porridge or even on toast. Serve up the salsa as a side or mixed in with mashed avocado. The ‘fizzy’ drinks feel like a treat without the sugar and nasties. Not to mention they make great cocktail mixers for us adults. And get the kids involved in making them. The process is fascinating and quite science-y, which many kids will enjoy. So getting everyone to enjoy fermented foods means starting small, having them often and starting with things that won’t completely shock their taste buds. Eventually you can build up to things like sauerkraut and try putting it into salad or sandwiches to make the taste less obvious if you’re worried about the taste putting them off. But once the taste is recognisable feel free to try anything!

Quick, Easy Xmas Spiced Orange Choc Truffles

20171220_022555

I have made a lot of truffles this festive period, more than I have ever made or eaten in my life. We’re talking several hundred! Spirulina, beetroot, orange, regular choc, vegan, fermented… you get the gist. I have made these for clients, given these as gifts and taught 9 children how to make them (that was MESSY)! How ever you like them, here is a quick recipe that can easily be whipped up and gifted or snaffled on your own, but ’tis the season for sharing, so I’d recommend sharing one or two. The recipe below is for the vegan, spiced orange version pictured above. If you’d like to make a fermented version, replace the coconut cream with milk kefir (cow, coconut or goat) and add a few tsp of maple syrup to balance the flavours.

Makes 40-50 truffles

300g good quality dark chocolate (85% or higher)

2tbsp raw cacao/cocoa powder, plus more for rolling

1tsp ground cinnamon

1/4tsp mixed spice

1/8tsp cayenne pepper

165ml coconut cream

1tbsp orange blossom nectar

1tsp maple syrup (optional)

1. In a bain marie, melt the chocolate, stirring to prevent burning.

2. When the chocolate has melted, whisk in the cacao and and spices. Followed by the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.

3. Pour the truffle mixture into a container and place it in the fridge to cool for at least 2 hours. The mixture should be fairly solid.

4. When the mixture is cooled remove it from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes before using a melon baller or 1tsp metal measuring spoon to scoop out the mixture.

5. Roll the mixture into a ball and roll into cacao/cocoa powder. Carry on until all the mixture is used.

6. Enjoy these straightaway or keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Allergy info: none

 

 

 

 

 

 

As part of my prep for my fermented drinks workshops, I brew bigger batches of milk kefir. To make sure nothing goes to waste, I like to cook with it. It adds a lovely tang which works well with sweet as well as savoury dishes, just like buttermilk. Of course, heating it kills off the beneficial gut bacteria, but there are still other nutritional benefits. Kefir is high in calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, tryptophan, folic acid, biotin, Vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K. So still pretty great, right? If you are after the little gut helpers, cooked kefir isn’t your best option, but does help to showcase the different ways kefir, can be used to add flavour as well as nutrients to your cooking.

Here is a quick recipe for little cakes, a breakfast, snack or anytime go-to treat. I used plums as they needed using up, but you can add any fruit, whatever is in season!

plum kefir cakes

 

Mini Plum Kefir Cakes

110 g wholegrain spelt flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
Pinch sea salt
1 tbsp milled flax seeds
1 egg
83 g coconut oil or 110g butter, melted
3 tbsp goat milk kefir
3 ripe plums, 2 chopped and 1 cut into slices for garnishing
Maple syrup to taste

Makes 8-10 cakes (depending on the size of the tins)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients until well combined.
3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the coconut oil, kefir and egg. Stir well to combine.
4. Stir through the chopped plums and add the maple syrup to taste (I tend to add less sweetener when using sweet fruit). The mixture should be a ‘dropping’ consistency.
5. Fill the cases and pop into the oven to bake for 10-15 mins or until the skewer comes out clean.

Allergy info: wheat, goat milk

Sauerkraut: Good for the gut and easy to make

golden sauerjraut

Lacto-fermentation is a great way to preserve vegetables, and locking in their nutrients and increasing the gut-friendly bacteria. Almost any vegetable (and fruit) can be fermented, but perhaps the most famous and fuss-free ferment is sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is made when the sugar in the cabbage is converted to lactic acid, which happens when salt helps to facilitate the growth of good bacteria, lactobacillus. Sauerkraut can be enjoyed several ways, as a side dish, on salad, in a soup and can even be dehydrated into crackers. It is easy to make and can be enjoyed for several months. Once you get the hang of it, it is fun and easy to experiment with spices and flavours.

If you want to learn more about fermentation as well as few other recipes, I run workshops in Brockley, SE4 at the Sunflower Centre.

Golden Sauerkraut

This recipe is for a powerhouse of a sauerkraut, full of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, heart and brain-loving nutrients, thanks to the turmeric, garlic and mustard seeds. The addition of the black pepper also adds to the anti-inflammatory properties, but it also helps to aid digestion by increasing nutrient absorption and increasing the secretion of stomach acid. Enjoy this sauerkraut as part of any meal or on its own!

1kg white cabbage, washed and shredded (reserve the outer leaves and core)
15g Himalayan salt
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1tbsp turmeric powder
1tbsp black mustard seeds
½ tbsp black peppercorns

Yields 1 litre jar
1. Chop or grate the cabbage (finely or coarsely, depending on your taste) and be sure to save some of the outer leaves as well as the core for packing the jar.
2. Place the cabbage in a large plastic bowl once chopped, sprinkling the salt on the cabbage.
3. Massage the cabbage for about 5 minutes to break down the cabbage and start to draw the water out. Alternatively, you can leave this for 15-30 mins and allow the water to be drawn out naturally.
4. Next, add the garlic and spices and mix until well combined.
5. Once mixed, start packing the cabbage into an airtight preserving jar (i.e. a clip top Kilner or screw top Mason jar). As you pack, tamp it down hard using your fists (if they fit into the jar), a rolling pin or muddling stick. You want to leave about a 3cm gap at the top of the jar.
6. Make sure the cabbage is submersed in liquid, and cover the cabbage with a few of the leftover leaves (you may have to tear these to fit).
7. Place a clean weight (a ramekin, fermenting weight, sterilised stone or the core of the cabbage).
8. Seal the jar and leave the sauerkraut to ferment on the kitchen counter for three days (you will need to ‘burp’ the jar once or twice a day) before transferring it to a cool dark cupboard to ferment from 1-6 weeks—the longer the better.
9. You can check the flavour of the sauerkraut using a wooden or plastic spoon. Once you are happy with the flavour you can transfer the sauerkraut into smaller jars and store it in the fridge. This will keep for 7 or 8 months in the fridge and the flavour will continue to develop.
Allergy info: None

 

 

Move over pancakes…

Pancakes are a weekend staple round ours and I have made pretty much every combination you can imagine (including the less than well received matcha, dark choc chip combo). I recently bought a waffle iron, and waffles have now replaced the pancake as our weekend breakfast favourite. I’ve also recently started experimenting with milk kefir thanks to my army of milk kefir grains, which now makes a regular appearance in my baking and now my waffles. The kefir gives a slightly tang, similar to buttermilk, but with probiotic goodness.  And blackberries are another firm favourite in our house, which I love to forage and my youngest eats by the punnet. We’ve enjoyed these waffles several times and  I’ll be looking for a seasonal fruit alternative to add once blackberry season (sadly) ends.

waffles

 

Blackberry & Milk Kefir Waffles

Waffles are always treat—and make a great breakfast, lunch or dinner and even work for afters as pudding. These waffles, are made with nutrient-rich spelt flour, but any wholegrain, including oat, will do, but you may need an extra splash or 2 of liquid. I have also used milk kefir here, which gives them a slight buttermilk tang, with the added benefit of gut-friendly bacteria. The blackberries, a later summer/early autumn favourite, are rich in fibre and Vitamin C and are great for boosting brain health. Be sure to the waffles until they are crisp. Enjoy with extra berries, chopped nuts, and of course, maple syrup!
225g Spelt or wholegrain flour
2tsp baking powder
¼tsp salt
3tsp coconut sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
300ml milk kefir (cow or goat milk)
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla paste
5tbsp coconut oil, melted + extra for greasing
200g blackberries, lightly mashed + extra for serving
Maple syrup, for serving

Serves 4 (8 or 10 waffles, depending on the size of your waffle iron)

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
2. Measure out the milk kefir, crack in the eggs, add the coconut sugar, vanilla and melted coconut oil and whisk.
3. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and whisk until well combined.
4. Fold in the blackberries into the batter and allow the batter to sit for 10 mins so that the spelt can fully absorb the liquid.
5. While the batter rests, heat your waffle iron.
6. Grease the mould, ensuring that both sides of the iron are well oiled.
7. Once the iron is hot, ladle the batter into the mould until it is about ¾ full and allow it to cook 3-5 minutes, or until crisp. Repeat until all the batter is used.
8. Serve with extra berries, chopped nuts and maple syrup.
Allergy info: dairy

 

A wholegrain take on choc chip biscuits

rye choc chip biscuits

I found out recently from my son’s school that they want to feature a recipe that we created for his February half-term homework as part of a cookbook that will be sold during  ‘Healthy Living Week’ at the school. I’m chuffed. He’s not really bothered. Either way, I had fun making these with him and these are now in my repertoire of healthy treats. Anyone with kids knows how difficult it is to avoid the sugary, preservative-laden chocolates and biscuits that seem to be in every party bag and on supermarket shelves. Don’t get me wrong, my children do eat these things on occasion, but I try my best to and provide better alternatives, things that still taste delicious, but have some form of nutrients. While there is still some sugar in these compliments of the maple syrup, it is balanced with protein (seeds) and fibre (rye is an excellent source), both of which are important for insulin production and blood sugar regulation, which means they are less likely to lead to the post-treat peaks and troughs. And because of the added fibre and protein they are more filling, and perhaps one, rather than a whole packet, just may be enough. Have a go, and hopefully the adults, as well as the kidlets, will enjoy.

Rye and Maple Chocolate Chip Biscuits

These biscuits were inspired by what was in the cupboard, but also our love of dark chocolate! These biscuits are moreish with their wholegrain texture and subtle malty sweetness. They are slightly healthier than your average chocolate chip biscuit thanks to the added protein (sunflower seeds), are higher in fibre (rye flour) and have much less refined sugar, as maple syrup is used instead of sugar. But despite being relatively healthy or grown up, they are still delicious and pleasing to little tastebuds!

Makes 1 dozen

180g rye flour

45g sunflower flour (or sunflower seeds finely ground)

½ tsp bicarbonate soda

Pinch of sea salt

150g butter, melted

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

60ml maple syrup

150g dark chocolate (preferably 100% cocoa), roughly chopped

 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C and line a baking tray with parchment/baking paper.
  2. Add the dry ingredients to a bowl and whisk together to combine and distribute any lumps.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, vanilla, and maple syrup.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and fold to combine.
  5. Fold in the chocolate until well combined.
  6. Use a spoon to scoop the mixture into one hand and roll into golf ball-sized balls and place these on the tray, gently pressing to flatten. Repeat until you have used all the mixture.
  7. Place the tray in the heated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are slightly golden and crisp.
  8. Leave the biscuits to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, before transferring to a baking rack to cool. Be sure to sample a few while still warm!

Allergy info: dairy

 

One for the sun…

gazpacho
Green gazpacho w/sesame seed, chilli and paprika sprinkle

Hopefully like me, you are willing the sun to stick around. I’m dreaming of sun-filled afternoons in the garden and going on summer holiday somewhere, anywhere warm. This recipe is inspired by my love of summer holidays in Spain, where I drink gazpacho by the litre. After all, I don’t eat meat, so this is one of the few dishes I can safely eat and not worry about sneaky jamón (though, it has happened). But seriously, I love it. There is just something so unctuous about the flavour combination and there is of course the nostalgia–I spent a large part of my 20s speaking bad Spanish in Spain. In developing this recipe, I realised that gazpacho isn’t just delicious, but nutritionally packed full of vitamins and minerals. Though this recipe is for a slightly less traditional variation, it still tastes of sun and is probably an even better hangover cure than a carton of Don Simón’s.

Enjoy!

Gorgeous Green Gazpacho

There is just some so delicious and refreshing about the combination of sun-ripened tomatoes, cooling cucumber, fresh herbs and subtle heat. Not only is gazpacho refreshing, but packed full of nutrients. Tomatoes are nutrient rich, providing an excellent source of Vitamin C, biotin, and Vitamin K. They are also a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fibre, Vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), Vitamin B6, folate, niacin, Vitamin E and phosphorus. Cucumber is of course, refreshing, but also a good source of silica, a mineral that is good for bone and connective tissue health as well as long list of other vitamins and minerals. Avocados provide a great source of omega-3s and good source of fat that our bodies need to maintain health and they also help to make this a creamy, and more filling soup. In short, this is a refreshing, vitamin and mineral packed soup perfect for cooling off and reminiscing of summer holidays in Spain.

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter

400g ripe, green tomatoes (I used a mixture of green and yellow), roughly chopped

1 ½ limes, juiced

2 large, ripe avocados

200g cucumber, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped

1 serrano chilli, roughly chopped (with or without seeds depending on your preference)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp sherry vinegar

3-4 sprigs of tarragon, chopped

Small handful of basil, chopped with stems

Generous handful of coriander, chopped with stems

Good drizzle of olive oil

Salt to taste

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tsp smoked paprika

1tsp Aleppo chilli

2 limes, cut into 4 cheeks

Finely diced cucumber and coriander to serve

  1. Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes and lime juice.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until well combined.
  3. Add salt to taste.
  4. Grind the seeds, paprika and chilli and set aside for garnishing along with chopped cucumber, lime cheeks and extra coriander.

 

 

When you want a curry, but can’t stomach the spice

After reading the title, you will realise that there’s a bad pun lurking. Apologies, but it was too good to pass up. Puns aside, this recipe was developed for the boyfriend of a friend who loves curry, but not the after effects.  Despite being a very keen cook, curries being amongst his favourites, he eats a lot of processed food, sweets, fried food, rarely drinks water and drinks beer nightly. So it’s not really a surprise that he suffers from extreme heartburn and ulcers. So this recipe was designed to go easy on the gut, but still provide with him something that he’d love to eat and cook. Even if you don’t have gut trouble, you can still make this recipe, and if you choose to, toss in a green chilli or two when making the paste.  Enjoy!

curry

Coconut Prawn, Lentil and Spinach Curry

This curry is packed with flavour, but without the traditional curry heat, making it delicious, but easy on the digestive system. It is packed with soluble fibre from the onions and lentils (also good sources of prebiotics) and aromatics (ginger and turmeric) and spices that aid in digestion (fenugreek). The aromatics have been pureed for ease of digestion. The shellfish as well as the fenugreek offer good sources of zinc, an essential mineral for gut repair. The recipe uses baby spinach, which is lower in oxalic acid to regular spinach, makes the leafy greens easier to digest. Additional digestive benefits are provided by the fresh coriander. The curry can be served with any variety of gluten-free grains, but my favourite is cooked buckwheat groats, spiced with cardamom pods, cinnamon bark and star anise, also great digestives.

Serves 2

100g yellow mung dahl

1 small red onion, quartered

3cm thumb ginger, washed

3 cm fresh turmeric root

2tbsp water

1tbsp coconut oil

1 ½tsp fenugreek seeds

1 ½tsp black mustard seeds

14 curry leaves

1tsp black peppercorns, cracked

1x 400 ml tin coconut milk

250g jumbo prawns, headed and deveined

100g baby spinach, washed

1 large handful of chopped coriander

1 lime, cut into cheeks

Toasted coconut flakes (optional)

  1. Rinse the lentils and soak in 2 times the amount of cold water for 2-3 hours. Drain, rinse, cover with 2 times the amount of water and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
  2. Add the onion, ginger, turmeric and water to a blender/food processor and blend to form a paste. Set aside.
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan and add the fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaves and black peppercorns and cook until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  4. Next, add the onion, ginger and turmeric paste to the pan and fry for 3-5 mins, stirring frequently, until the onion in the paste becomes translucent.
  5. Add the coconut milk and cooked lentils. Allow the dish to simmer 10 minutes to reheat the lentils and allow them to break up a bit and thicken the sauce.
  6. Then, add the prawns and cook for 3-4 mins before adding the spinach. Simmer until the spinach has wilted into the dish.
  7. Finish with a squeeze of lime (reserve the cheeks for serving) and stir through half of the chopped coriander.
  8. Serve with toasted coconut flakes, lime cheeks, the remaining coriander and a gluten free grain (instead of rice), such as cooked buckwheat groats.

Allergy info: Shellfish

A hearty salad: What to eat when the weather can’t make up its mind

I love salad, a hearty salad, mind you. This means my salads often include grains, pulses and seeds, as well as veg (the more colourful the better, I say) which creates a filling and nutrient dense meal. The combination of pulses, grains and proteins, is not only a winner in terms of taste and texture, but it also helps to ensure that your essential amino acids are covered. So combine away, is what I say.

Hearty salads also provide a way to make the most of seasonal vegetables, and in can bridge the seasons nicely when one veg is going out and another is coming into season. As of late, it’s not clear what season we’ve entered, weather-wise. Some days the it feels like spring, and I am itching to cook spring-like food, and other days it seems like we’ve headed back into winter and all I want is something warming and earthy. The other day I made a salad which seemed to reflect this season/climate confusion. Though a bit mixed up, it tasted great.  Take a look at the salad recipe below and feel free to create something similarly hearty–whatever the season.

salad

Freekeh and Roasted Veg Salad with Wild Garlic and Spring Onion Dressing

This salad is another versatile dish that accommodates any vegetable combination, just roast up whatever is in the fridge and toss in some fresh greens. It is a great recipe that can be adapted with whatever veg is in season and whatever nut or seed you fancy. It is also a good recipe for using up leftover roast veg. The freekeh makes the salad more filling and the wild garlic dressing adds a freshness. The salad can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Serves 2-4

3 handfuls of vegetables (i.e. carrots, beetroot, sweet potato, squash–whatever is in season), chopped

1 tbsp coconut oil

A few springs of thyme or rosemary

Sea salt and pepper

100g freekeh

600ml boiling water

2 spring onions, trimmed

Good sized handful of wild garlic leaves

1/2 lemon, juiced

4 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

60g pumpkin or mixed seeds, toasted

2 handfuls of fresh greens (i.e. spinach, rocket or kale)

Additional salt and pepper to taste

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C.
  2. Chop the vegetables and add to a roasting dish along with the just over half of oil (save the rest for greasing the frying pan), herbs, salt and pepper. Roast for the vegetables for 20-25 minutes until they can be pierced easily by a fork.
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, put a frying pan over the heat and brush the inside of the pan with a bit of the coconut oil. Place the lemon halves in the frying pan, cut side down and griddle until fragrant and brown. Set aside.
  4. In a saucepan, add the freekeh and boiling water. Bring to a rapid boil, then turn the heat down and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes until it is al dente.
  5. Next make the dressing by adding the olive oil, wild garlic, garlic cloves, spring onion, lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper to a food processer. Whizz together, check the seasoning and pour into a  glass jar.
  6. When the veg are done, transfer them to a large bowl and fold the freekeh through.
  7. Add the toasted seeds and fresh greens then drizzle over the dressing before serving.
  8. Add and additional salt and pepper to taste.

Allergy info: gluten

Smoothies for anytime of the day

I have to confess, I don’t drink many smoothies and when I do, I often over-zealously add in too many ingredients and end up with a green/brown sludge, which I realise is not necessarily appetising or visually appealing. But smoothies can be enjoyed any time of day, not just breakfast. And depending on what you put in can serve as a great meal replacement or a snack. Here are three recipes for smoothies packed with nutrients, flavour as well as full of colour (good old phytochemicals)! Enjoy!

rise and shine

Rise and Shine Smoothie

This smoothie is a breakfast in a glass and provides the much needed boost that many of us desperately need in order to start a dark winter’s day. Packed with a number of essential vitamins from the oranges (Vitamin C), carrots (Vitamin A) and protein from the sunflower seeds (also a rich source of Vitamins B1 and E) and the bee pollen, as well as helping to boost the digestive system (ginger), kick-start your metabolism (cayenne pepper), increase blood sugar control (oats) and provides you with the strength and endurance needed to face the long (often grey) day ahead (bee pollen). The added flavour from the cinnamon, maple water and maple syrup make this smoothie taste like a weekend breakfast, but with weekday convenience.

Serves 1

1 blood orange, peeled and segmented

1 carrot, roughly chopped

10 g ginger

20 g gluten-free oats

20 g sunflower seeds

½ teaspoon bee pollen

¼ tsp maple syrup

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch cayenne pepper

200 ml maple water

  1. Wash and prepare the fruit and veg, then add the ingredients to the jug of a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

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 sprouted and green

Sprouted and Green Smoothie

This recipe is packed with leafy greens and provides a quick remedy for sneaking in a host of essential nutrients. Rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, chlorophyll and magnesium, this smoothie is a great at detoxifying (green leafy veg), supporting your immune system (parsley) and is also a great source of protein (sprouts) and energy support (avocado). Enjoy this smoothie as a late morning or late afternoon snack and it is particularly nourishing when combatting the ill-effects of food and alcohol excesses!

 

Serves 2

30 g watercress, rinsed

30 g romaine lettuce, rinsed and torn

10 g parsley

¼ fennel bulb

10 g broccoli sprouts

20 g mung bean sprouts

½ avocado

½ pear

20 g lemon, skin on

200 ml filtered water

  1. Wash and prepare the fruit and veg before, then add the ingredients above to a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Pour into two glasses and enjoy!

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beets and berries

Martha’s Afterschool Berries & Beets Smoothie

This recipe is inspired by one of my son’s friends who comes over on Tuesdays for a play afterschool, Martha (who also happens to love beetroot). Packed with brain boosting nutrients (berries) and nitrates (beetroot) this smoothie provides a ‘pick-me up’, helping to re-focus and re-energise after a long school day. There are also additional digestive benefits provided by the pear (pectin) and it is made more filling with the addition of the avocado. And the additional sweetness from the pear, honey and brown rice milk helps to make the taste of the earthy beetroot more inviting to little palates. You can use frozen or fresh berries (if in season), and using frozen berries help to make this smoothie rich and creamy, a bit more like ice cream.

 

Serves 2 (child-sized portions)

20 g blackberries, fresh or frozen

20 g raspberries, fresh or frozen

½ beetroot, washed

¼ pear

¼ avocado, flesh only

¼ teaspoon raw honey

150 ml brown rice milk

  1. Wash and prepare fruit and vegetables, then add to the above ingredients into the jug of of a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Pour into two glasses and enjoy!

 

Healthier takes on two old favourites

Who doesn’t love baked beans? And who doesn’t love curry? Both are staples in British cuisine,  and are great comfort foods. While most people rely on unhealthy takeaways or tins to satisfy the craving, there are quick, easy ways to create healthier alternatives home. Both of these recipes were developed for a cookery lesson with a client who wanted quick, easy meal options (and things that he could use to stock the freezer) and things that were family-friendly. The recipes came about when I asked him what he liked to eat and cook and both came up, so I wanted to take all of these factors into account and give him some recipes that he would be more likely to make and enjoy. I also make these regularly for my own family and they go down well. Depending on who you are cooking for, feel free to add more spice.

Have a go and  let me know what you think!

 

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

This curry recipe uses an easy masala as its base. The masala recipe has been adapted from one given to me by a Punjabi friend’s mum, Mama Jhita (as I like to call her). Use the masala base to create a range of curries, but this recipe uses chickpeas and spinach, a firm curry favourite. Enjoy this curry with brown rice, chopped coriander and the cucumber raita on the side.

Serves 4 (as a main) or 6 (as a side)

1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil

1 large onion, quartered

¼ red or green chilli, de-seeded (use more if you’d like this spicy)

5 cm piece of ginger

4 large, ripe tomatoes diced

½ tsp garam masala

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground tumeric

400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I often use the Navarrico beans from a jar–they are superb)

3 handfuls of chopped spinach

Sea salt to taste

1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped

A few wedges of lime to squeeze over

  1. First make the masala by putting the onion, chilli and ginger into a food processer and blending it into a paste.
  2. Heat a large frying pan and melt the oil. Cook the onion, chilli and ginger paste in the oil for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped tomatoes into the pan allow these to cook down for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pan’s content resembles a sauce.
  4. Add in the spices and stir.
  5. Add the chickpeas to the pan and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  6. Add the chopped spinach and stir. Allow this to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  7. Sea salt to taste and garnish with fresh coriander and a squeeze or two of lime. Serve with brown or white basmati rice, depending on your preference.

Allergy info: none

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beans

Better Baked Beans

This recipe is inspired by a UK favourite, baked beans. Beans are a great source of protein and can enjoyed by veggies and non-veggies alike. This recipe makes a more flavourful version, which less sugar and salt. The mixture of the spices, molasses and apple cider vinegar give the beans a smokey, sweetness with a bit of a kick. These beans go perfectly on sourdough toast, in a jacket potato with cheese or work well as side dish.

 

Serves 4

 

1tbsp olive or cocont oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped

1 ½tsp cumin seeds

1 ½tsp smoked sweet paprika

1 ½tsp paprika

1 tsp crushed chilli (optional)

300ml tomato passata

1tsp unpasteurised apple cider vinegar

800g tinned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (for an special treat, I use a jar of Navarrico haricot beans)

½ tbsp molasses

1tsp brown rice syrup

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Fresh parsley to garnish (optional)

 

  1. Heat the oil in the pan and add the finely chopped onion. Cook for 5 minutes, over a medium heat and stir frequently to avoid burning.
  2. After 5 minutes, add the celery the frying pan and cook, stirring continuously.
  3. Next add the garlic and spices and cook until the spices become aromatic and the mixture is slightly sticky (about 5-8 minutes). Again, stir frequently to avoid burning.
  4. Stir the passata and vinegar into the mixture and allow this to cook for about 5 minutes before adding the beans and the molasses.
  5. Allow the mixture to reduce and the sauce to thicken, this should take about 10 minutes.
  6. Add sea salt and pepper to taste and scatter with freshly chopped parsley, if you wish.

Allergy info: celery