Experimenting with ‘superfoods’: cider vinegar

Cider vinegarFor 2018, I’m setting the alphabet theme aside and, instead, I’m going to experiment with some so-called superfoods, looking at how to include them in your diet, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.  I’m not planning to take an in-depth look at the evidence base – just at how to add some fun, imagination and maybe even a bit of healthy input into everyday eating.

So, let’s kick off by experimenting with cider vinegar, which has long been recommended for treating osteoarthritis and high blood glucose. It’s also said to aid weight loss. In an experiment carried out by Michael Mosley for the BBC a couple of years ago, taking cider vinegar did lower blood glucose and cholesterol when taken before a meal (while malt vinegar did not), although there was no impact on participants’ weight.

Cider vinegar is made by fermenting chopped up apples to make acetic acid (also the main component of malt vinegar). Culinary cider vinegar is clear, as it has been filtered and pasteurised. Head for the health food shop and pick up a bottle of cider vinegar with ‘the mother’, which is the cloudy complex mixture of yeast, bacteria, enzymes and so on remaining when the product is neither filtered nor pasteurised. It’s the presence of ‘the mother’ which is said to account for cider vinegar’s therapeutic properties.

Cider vinegar cocktail

Though I’m not keen on the concept of ‘cleansing’ or ‘detoxing’, I quite like to set the tone for the day’s eating by sipping a concoction that is meant to do just that! I like hot water and lemon, but we’ve now switched to a cider vinegar cocktail, drunk sometime mid-morning. At the moment. the recipe is one tablespoon cider vinegar, a teaspoon of Manuka honey, and one vitamin C tablet, topped up with fizzy water. Sometimes I add the juice of half a lemon. Or you could keep it very simple and just have a tablespoon of cider vinegar with hot water.

Orange & Green Juice

Instead of (or as well as?) your daily cider vinegar cocktail, why not add cider vinegar to a healthy juice? This one combines ‘something green’ with ‘something sweet’.

Serves one
Two oranges
One large carrot
Bag of spinach
One inch peeled ginger root
Juice all these ingredients, and add one tbsp. cider vinegar. Drink immediately.

Leafy avocado salad

This is a nice mixture of colours and textures, with a good dose of healthy fats from the avocado and seeds.
Serves two
Bunch or bag of watercress
Other leaves – spinach, baby kale, pea shoots
One avocado, chopped
Two tbsp. pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Two tbsp. pomegranate seeds

Dressing

One tbsp. cider vinegar
One tbsp. extra virgin flax seed oil
Mix all salad ingredients and toss with the oil and vinegar.

Sweet and sour vegan stir fry

Although I didn’t do Veganuary (or, indeed, ‘dry’ January), I am interested in the vegan approach – so I’m going to experiment with some non-animal recipes.

Serves two
100g mushrooms, sliced
One leek, sliced finely
Small white or Savoy cabbage, sliced finely
Half a pineapple, sliced finely
Bunch of spring onions, sliced finely
One tbsp. cider vinegar
Two tbsp. pineapple juice, from the pineapple listed above
One tbsp. soy sauce or equivalent (eg mixed aminos)
One tbsp. tomato puree
Heat coconut oil in a frying pan or wok and add all veg and pineapple and fry for a few minutes. Then add the vinegar, juice, soy sauce and tomato puree and stir fry for another five minutes. Serve with brown rice or wholewheat noodles.

Next month – experimenting with turmeric. 

P is for Purple (and Blue)

Purple grapesBlack grapes are a rich source of anthocyanins, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Of all the superfood colours, purple is perhaps the best known. The deep colour of black grapes, purple cabbage, blackcurrant, blueberries, pomegranate and aubergine is attributable to a group of phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Many studies link a high intake of anthocyanins to improved cardiovascular health and prevention of cancer and dementia.

You may remember a recent BBC documentary that looked at the contribution of large amounts of purple sweet potato to the longevity and low dementia rates among the people of Okinawa. If you’re interested, read more about the work of Professor Craig Wilcox and his brother Dr Bradley Wilcox here. I went looking for purple sweet potato and came back with purple carrots (see below)! Why not also try purple versions potato chips, tortilla chips, and ordinary potatoes, if you can find them?
Purple power juice

In this juice, the sweetness of the grapes is perfectly balanced by the astringency of the pomegranate and cranberries, while the lemon and ginger add a seasonal touch.
Serves one

200g black grapes
200ml pure pomegranate juice
100g fresh cranberries
One lemon, halved
One inch peeled ginger
Juice all ingredients and top up your glass with the pomegranate juice.

Braised red cabbage

We had our Christmas dinner on 31 December last year and we always use this recipe for the red cabbage to go alongside the nut roast.

Serves four (leftovers heat up well the following day)

One small red cabbage, finely shredded
One large (or two small) Bramley apples, chopped
Two red onions, chopped
Handful of dried cranberries
One tsp cinnamon
Fresh grated nutmeg
1tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp cider

Preheat oven to 150℃. Mix everything in a big casserole dish, put on the lid and cook slowly for two to two and a half hours.

Purple carrot salad

I make up a snack mix that currently consists of cranberries, goji berries, almonds, soy-coated sunflower seeds (sometimes it also contains pumpkin seeds and/or wasabi peanuts). The idea is to get a nutritious sweet/savoury mixture with lots of crunchy texture. It works well in a salad with any ingredients and here I try it out with purple carrots.
Serves one

Two purple carrots, grated
Cranberry, nut and seed mix
Mix the carrots and snack mix and dress with flaxseed oil and cider vinegar. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh chopped herbs.

I will be giving the ‘alphabet’ a rest in 2018 and carrying out some experiments on ingredients with a ‘healthy’ reputation. Experiment 1 will be on cider vinegar. Watch this space!

Y is for yellow (and O is for orange)

fruit and vegetablesThe autumn colours we’re currently enjoying are the ‘big reveal’ of the yellow, orange and red pigments that are normally masked, in summer, by the green of chlorophyll, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

In autumn, chlorophyll molecules break down. So, for the next two months, let’s look at the health benefits of the yellows, oranges and reds in fruits and vegetables and make the most of them in my new juice, main and salad recipes.

The yellow, orange and red pigments belong to a family phytochemicals called the carotenoids. They all have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cancer protective properties. The best-known carotenoids are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene, but there are over 600 different pigments in the family, so lots more research to do!

Within the carotenoid family there are two broad groups – the xanthophylls (the yellows) and the carotenes (the oranges). Lutein and zeaxanthin are xanthophylls and are both important for eye health, with research suggesting that a high intake may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Yellow fruits are a particularly good source of these phytochemicals. Another of the xanthophylls is beta-cryptoxanthin, which is found in yellow peppers and sweetcorn. Some studies have suggested that beta-cryptoxanthin may be effective in preventing lung cancer.

Carrots are rich in beta-carotene as are mangoes and sweet potatoes. One study suggests that beta-carotene may help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Meanwhile, alpha-carotene has been linked to a reduced risk of death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, with carrots and tangerines being good sources. We’ll take a closer look at lycopene, a red pigment, in next month’s post.

Super Orange Juice
Serves One

Two oranges
Three carrots
One yellow (or orange) pepper
One inch peeled ginger

Yellow split pea dahl
Serves four

100g red lentils
100g yellow split peas
two onions
three cloves garlic
Spices include a mixture of black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, all blasted in a Nutribullet miller or ground in a mortar and pestle, one tsp each of ground turmeric and ground cinnamon
Tbsp chilli jam
Two tbsp. tomato puree
Bag frozen peas or mixed veg

Fry onion and garlic in coconut oil, add spices, tomato puree and chilli jam. Cook for around 10 minutes, until soft. Then stir in the lentils and split peas and add the water. Cook until soft and then add the mixed vegetables, cooking for a few more minutes.
This is a good dish to serve over two days. Day one, add a baked sweet potato and the next day, re-heat and serve with a packet of microwaveable basmati microwave rice (or similar) with some interesting additions (I used one with pinto beans, chilli and lime – there are lots of options). A dollop of mint and cucumber raita and some mango chutney wouldn’t go amiss either.
Sunny salad

Serves two

This is an (almost) all-yellow salad, packed with nutrients and a sweet addition to grilled salmon, smoked salmon or halloumi.

Pineapple
Sweetcorn
Grated carrot
Yellow pepper
Almonds
Seeds
Yellow and orange tomatoes
Nasturtium flower

Mix all ingredients with flaxseed oil and cider vinegar, and decorate with the nasturtium flower.

G is for Green

GreensEat your greens – it’s one of the simplest ways of improving your health! Forget boiled cabbage and tired lettuce – green vegetables (and fruits) can be tasty and satisfying (as I’ve tried to show in the recipes below), according to Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives green plants their colour and it is the most abundant pigment in nature. Research has shown that chlorophyll can prevent the absorption of carcinogens in the diet and is capable of killing cancer cells. Chlorophyll’s intense colour masks the presence of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pigments, like carotenoids, in green fruits and vegetables.

Greens are also high in potassium, vitamin C and magnesium and leafy greens are rich in folic acid (the word ‘folic’ means ‘leafy’ in Latin). Finally, greens also low in calories, high in fibre and have a low glycaemic index. So why not challenge yourself to eat something green every day, if you feel your diet could do with a nutrient boost?

CKC juice

Couldn’t be easier and the kiwi adds a touch of sweetness.
Serves one

Two big handfuls of kale
One inch piece of peeled ginger
Two peeled kiwi fruits
One cucumber, chopped into big chunks
Juice everything and drink immediately.

Green Curry
Serves two

Jar of green curry sauce
One tbsp grated ginger
One chopped green chilli
Two cloves crushed garlic
Two heads of pak choi, chopped
Two leeks, finely chopped
One pack tenderstem broccoli, chopped
One green pepper, finely chopped

Stir fry everything for five minutes in coconut oil, add curry sauce, turn down the heat and simmer till tender (about 15 mins). Serve with a ‘healthy’ grain, like red rice, freekeh, amaranth, quinoa…

Super Green Salad
Serves two to four

Assemble as many green ingredients as you can – e.g.

Cooked French beans
Cooked runner beans
Cooked/raw peas
Watercress
Lettuce
Chopped cucumber
Kiwi fruit, sliced
Diced celery
Watercress
Baby kale….
Serve with avocado dressing

For the avocado dressing

One avocado
Two tbsp flax seed oil
Two cloves garlic
One red chilli
Handful of mint leaves
Juice of one lime

Blast the above in a Nutribullet to make a dressing of mayonnaise like consistency. Add more oil or lime juice if it comes out too thick. Scale up as needed to dress the amount of salad greens you have.

F is for French: the Mediterranean Diet Part Four

Lavender SusanA report at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggested that following a Mediterranean diet can help preserve cognitive function in later life and thereby reduce the risk of dementia. The research is part of the US Health and Retirement Study which involves nearly 6,000 adults. Those who stuck most closely to the Mediterranean diet had a 30 to 35 per cent lower risk of cognitive impairment, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.

For the final (for now) instalment of the Mediterranean diet blogs, we visit France. I’ll admit that, although I’ve travelled a lot in France, the prospect of writing about French food is a little intimidating! So I thought about my ideal, simple, French meal and have applied the Eatwell plate/food pyramid principles to it. This is for a French style dinner party, where you make the starter the largest course, the main the simplest and the dessert the smallest.

Rainbow Crudites
Serves two

Two cooked beetroot, chopped
One pack cherry tomatoes, halved
One tub of your favourite olives
100g grated carrot
100g fine French beans, cooked and cooled
50g sweetcorn
Arrange all the ingredients like an artist’s palette and dress with raspberry vinegar and extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil.
Omelette aux fines herbes

2/3 eggs per person
Chopped herbs
Beat the eggs, add the herbs. Heat olive oil in a pan till it begins to smoke and add the egg mixture. When it begins to go frilly round the edges, tip the pan and let the liquid mixture run into the base and continue like this till set. Serve immediately, with a green vegetable (asparagus, tender stem broccoli or runner beans (in season now) on the side.

Lavender chocolate pot
Serves four

Provence is famous for lavender and it’s often included in cooking in that regions. You could also make this dessert with rose or violet flavoured chocolate. I buy rose-flavoured and lavender and lime-flavoured milk chocolate from the shop at Kew Gardens and it provides all the sweetness you need in this recipe – no need for added sugar.

100g bar of lavender (rose or violet) flavoured chocolate, finely chopped
200ml double cream
75ml whole milk
One egg yolk
Berries to serve

Put chocolate in a bowl. Warm cream to boiling point, pour over chocolate and stir till chocolate melts. Mix egg and milk in separate bowl. Pour into chocolate mix, stir and strain, put into pretty teacups or glasses (the smallest you can find) and refrigerate overnight. Top with an edible flower before serving with berries.

Coming next: G is for Green