Experiments with cacao

CacaoIf you love chocolate, it’s worthwhile starting to include cacao powder in your daily diet. Unlike chocolate, raw cacao is naturally fermented, unprocessed and free of sugar, milk and other additives. This concentrates the true chocolate and coffee flavour compounds, allowing for a deeper taste experience, writes Dr Susan Aldridge,  Healthy Soul’s  guest blogger,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Cacao contains over 700 different phytochemicals. Some of these have powerful antioxidant properties; cacao compares favourably with dark chocolate, green tea and blueberries as a source of antioxidants. It is also rich in magnesium. Research suggests that cacao might help prevent blood clots, improve cognitive function and insulin resistance and lower blood pressure.

These recipes use an organic cacao powder that is pressed from raw cacao beans, and has no additives.

Cacao smoothie

A luxurious, tasty and nutritious drink
Serves one
One punnet of strawberries
250mul almond milk
One tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp cacao powder
Blend everything in a Nutribullet or similar device and drink immediately.

Vegetarian chilli

I replaced the mince with a packet of quinoa with seeds (many other varieties of packet quinoa available!)

Serves 2–3 (reheats well and great for a summer party if you scale up)
Two cloves of garlic, chopped finely
Two chopped red chillis
One red onion, chopped
One yellow Romano pepper, chopped
One red Romano pepper, chopped
400g tin tomatoes
400g tin mixed beans
Two tbsp. tomato puree
250g pack quinoa, ready cooked
One tbsp. raw cacao powder
Fry the onion, peppers, garlic, chilli and cacao powder in olive oil till the vegetables are soft. Then add the tomatoes, beans, tomato puree and quinoa. Cook for 15–20 minutes.
Serve with grated cheese/sour cream/finely chopped chillis/sliced avocado. Drizzle with chilli oil if you like it hot.

Cacao peach melba

A healthy take on this classic dessert.
Serves two
250g of the thickest, most luxurious yoghurt you can find
Two tsp raw organic cacao powder
Two peaches, sliced
Handful of raspberries
Stir the cacao powder into the yoghurt and divide between two dessert glasses. Top with the sliced peaches and raspberries and refrigerate, preferably overnight.

Next month. Experiments with fermented foods

Experiments with pineapple

PineappleWhen I heard that sales of pineapple are booming in the UK, with one buyer claiming that it might start to rival avocado in popularity, I just had to put together a pineapple blog to follow on from last month’s avocado blog, 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’ve got bad memories of pineapple from the 1960s. Tinned pineapple chunks, soggy pineapple rings with evaporated milk and pineapple and cheese cubes on cocktail sticks. Time for a re-think, because pineapples are rich in vitamin C (one serving supplies more than your daily recommended intake), potassium and the enzyme bromelain, which can reduce inflammation. One word of caution though – a serving of pineapple contains 16g sugar (compared with raspberries, which contain 5g sugar per serving). So, rather than eat it on its own, try the three recipes below where the sweetness is balanced by lots of other healthy ingredients.

Green pineapple juice
Serves one

The addition of pineapple lifts this classic green juice.

One cucumber, roughly chopped
Three sticks of celery, halved
Two handfuls of spinach leaves
Half a pineapple, sliced
One inch peeled ginger, chopped
Juice all ingredients and drink immediately.

Crunchy salad
Serves two

Three types of green leaves – I used a bag of pea shoots, two baby gem lettuce and a bag of watercress

50g pomegranate seeds
100g pineapple, cut into small chunks
Handful of mixed seeds (linseed, pumpkin and sunflower)
One sliced avocado
Toss all ingredients in a dressing of flaxseed oil, cider vinegar and lemon. To make more of a main meal of this salad, add an extra avocado and some prawns.

Fruity curry
Serves two to three

Two onions, chopped
One inch grated ginger
Two Tbsp curry paste
100g oily toor dhal (or red lentils or similar pulse)
400g coconut milk
400g tin tomatoes
400g mushrooms, sliced
100g frozen peas
one-quarter pineapple, chopped
half mango, chopped

Fry the onion and ginger in coconut oil till soft and add the curry paste and dhal. Stir and add the coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then add the mushrooms and peas. Stir for a few minutes, then add the pineapple and mango and heat through.
Next month – experiments with cacao

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.