Experiments with avocado

avocadoAvocado is used increasingly to make dishes vegan – instead of butter on toast and in main course salads instead of ham or chicken. But avocado is far more than an animal product substitute, 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 fruit of the Persea Americana tree is rich in vitamins, including vitamin E, and contains more potassium than a banana.  It has a glycaemic index of zero and contains more fat than any other fruit. This is ‘heart healthy’ monounsaturated fat – specifically, oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil. Here are three easy ways to include more avocados in your diet.

Avocado green smoothie

This is a lovely, creamy drink which is rather like a super-healthy chocolate milk shake.

Serves one
50g Spinach
One avocado, peeled, stoned and sliced
Cacao
50g strawberries
50g raspberries
300ml hemp, almond or coconut milk (or a mixture)
Blend all the ingrdients in a Nutribullet or similar device. Drink immediately.
Avocado on toast

This is my version of avocado on toast, where I replace the traditional poached egg with a version of the classic Italian dish insalata tricolore, which combines avocado with tomatoes and mozzarella.

Serves one as a light main, or make double quantities/add salad for a main for two. You could also cut this into smaller pieces for a party canape dish.

Thick slice of interesting bread (I used walnut, but you could use olive or sourdough), toasted
One sliced avocado
Sundried tomatoes
Soft cheese (I used Cornish brie, but mozzarella or feta would also work well)
Chopped mint/basil/microgreens to finish.

Layer the avocado, tomatoes and cheese on the toast and heat under the grill until the cheese has melted. Finish with the herbs/microgreens.

Avocado hummus

This spread is packed with healthy fats from the avocado and the oils.

Makes around four servings

Tub of hummus (suggest going for an ‘artisan’ or home-made version with extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil, rather than standard supermarket product)
One avocado, peeled and sliced
One tbsp. flax seed oil (I used the chilli-steeped version, but the plain version is just as good)
Juice of one lemon

Blitz all ingredients in a Nutribullet or food processor. Serve with crudites and/or pitta bread. Keeps for a day or two in the fridge.
Next month: Experiments with pineapple

Experiments with turmeric

Turmeric rootTurmeric, Curcuma longa, a spice related to ginger, is becoming increasingly popular – with coffee shops offering turmeric latte and turmeric tea, while health foods stores are expanding their ranges of supplements and other turmeric-containing products, 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 the world of medical research, a recent study showed that taking a highly bioavailable turmeric supplement improved memory and attention in a group of older adults. Brain scans done as part of the study suggested that the supplement helped prevent the accumulation of amyloid and tau protein deposits in the parts of the brain linked to mood and memory. The findings led the researchers to speculate that turmeric might prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as well as improving memory in older age.

Turmeric has been used for 4,000 years as a traditional remedy. Research has suggested anti-inflammatory properties can help fight osteoarthritis and prevent cancer – although many of these studies are confined to cells and animal models. It’s long been believed that the active ingredient is curcumin although there are many other compounds in turmeric which may be of equal, if not greater, therapeutic value. The problem is that curcumin is not very easily absorbed by the body so, if you are taking it as a supplement, look for one of the (usually more expensive) ‘bioactive’ brands.

This month, my experiments substitute fresh turmeric root for the usual turmeric powder. Be warned – it really does stain when you grate it. I turned up for a manicure last week, desperate to have the polish cover up my bright yellow nails!

Turmeric Rainbow Juice

I always use ginger in my juices. In this one I add turmeric, rather than substituting it for ginger. I’ve been reading some good things about the therapeutic effects of beetroot recently so I added this as well, along with the usual ‘something green’, carrot and orange.

Serves one
Three oranges, peeled and halved
One lemon
Three carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
One small beetroot, roughly chopped
Handful of kale (or spinach)
Two inches turmeric root, peeled
Two inches root ginger, peeled

Juice everything and drink immediately.

Turmeric lentil soup

I am Up North as I write this and there has been a heavy snowfall. I made this soup last week, but it would be the ideal warm comforter for today.

Makes around three servings
Two onions, chopped
Two inches turmeric root, peeled and grated
Two inches root ginger, peeled and treated
One tsp cinnamon
One tsp cumin
100g red lentils
100g yellow split peas
One 400g tin tomatoes
500ml stock

Fry the turmeric, ginger, onions and spices in coconut oil till soft. Add the lentils and split peas, stir till coated, then add tomatoes and cook gently till the pulses soften. Add the stock and spice up with black pepper and chilli flakes if it needs it. Cook until lentils are done and blend.

Weekend Curry

Experimenting with turmeric root was a good excuse to invent a new curry recipe. This is probably not very original, but it is quick, easy and delicious.

Two to three servings
One red chilli, chopped
Two crushed cloves of garlic
One inch section turmeric root, grated
One inch section of ginger root, grated
One 400g jar curry sauce or, if you’re trying to cut down on processed food, substitute a 400g tin chopped tomatoes
One 400g tin coconut milk
Packet of Quorn mince
200g fresh or frozen peas
200g sliced mushrooms
Two onions, chopped
One tbsp. tomato puree
Squeeze of lemon

Fry the onions, chilli, garlic, turmeric and ginger in coconut oil and add the mince. Cook for about 10 minutes, till mince is brown and then add the coconut milk and curry sauce/tomatoes. Simmer for 30 minutes, then throw in the peas and mushrooms. Finish with the tomato puree and lemon.
Next month – experiments with avocado

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.