December: Some healthy comfort food for the festive season

Cranberries ChristmasHad enough of Christmas food ads already? Let’s plan ahead and make sure to include some healthy home-cooked dishes amid the festive frenzy. I recently had some very delicious mulligatawny soup at a posh Indian restaurant and decided to recreate it (particularly as I’ve just been at a conference where the health benefits of lentil soup were being promoted), writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. At the same restaurant, I had some amazing spiced roast potatoes, so decided to recreate those too, with a healthy twist. And, as always, let’s kick off with a seasonal juice recipe.

Winter boost juice

If you’re partying a lot – be it the office do or a family dinner (or, of course, both), it’s a good idea to juice a lot as well. Fresh cranberries are in the shops now, grapefruit is in season and it’s always good to top up with pure pomegranate juice.

Serves two
Three red grapefruit, peeled and segmented
One carton fresh cranberries
Two inch ginger root, peeled and chopped roughly
Pure pomegranate juice
Juice the grapefruit, cranberries and ginger, pour into two glasses and top up with pomegranate juice.

Swede and Leek Mulligatawny soup

Serves two to three
Parsnips, swedes and turnips are in season and are a great source of fibre, vitamin C and antioxidant phytochemicals, while leeks are prebiotic, which support the health of the gut microbiome.
Half a swede chopped (or substitute turnips, parsnips)
One large leek, chopped
One large onion, finely chopped
100g or so of lentils (reduce or omit for a thinner soup)
Two inch piece of root ginger, grated
Four cloves of garlic, chopped
One tbps. curry powder
500ml (or more to top up) vegetable stock

Tomato puree

Cook the swede, onion, garlic, ginger and leek in coconut oil until soft and add the curry powder and lentils. Cook for a further five minutes, then add the stock. Simmer until everything is soft then add tomato puree to taste, liquidise (add more stock if too thick).

Turmeric and rosemary roasties
Serves two

Serve with a roast/Christmas dinner or in wedges with dips for a buffet.
500g roasting potatoes, whole, halved or cut in wedges
One tbsp. turmeric powder
One tbsp. chopped rosemary
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Boil the potatoes till tender, drain and shake them around a bit in the pan. Heat one tbsp. coconut oil in a saucepan. Toss the potatoes with the turmeric and rosemary in the oil till coated. Cook in a foil lined tray in the oven for 30 minutes or until they’re crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
Next time: It’s a citrus New Year…

Spotlight on seeds for November

Seeds NovemberSeeds are probably more nutrient-dense than any other food – after all, they contain everything a plant needs to grow to maturity. They are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Here are just a few reasons why my recipes this month are all about seeds, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

• Pumpkin seeds ¬ – rich in zinc
• Chia seeds ¬– high in fibre
• Linseeds or flax seeds ¬– an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid, which is important for cardiovascular health
• Sunflower seeds ¬– a good source of vitamin E
• Hemp seeds – contain a healthy 3:1 ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fatty acids.

Along with the seeds themselves, sprouting seeds are also rich in nutrients. High in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, they are useful for adding texture to salads, soups and pasta dishes.

Hemp and raspberry smoothie
Three types of seeds in one delicious pink smoothie. Hemp seed milk is made from pulverized hemp seeds blended with water – it’s creamier than nut milks and worth a try if you’re experimenting with non-dairy milks.

Serves one
One carton of raspberries
One tsp. ground linseeds
One tsp. chia seeds
One tsp. cacao powder
Half tsp. matcha
One tsp. turmeric latte powder
Hemp seed milk.

Mix all ingredients, using enough hemp seed milk to make a smoothie of your desired consistency. How many seeds can you pack into a juice?

Insalata tricolore with pumpkin and sunflower seeds

This dish is inspired by a delicious snack I had in a café recently – avocado on sourdough toast, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. The smoothness of the avocado contrasts very nicely with the crunch of the seeds. So, I’ve translated this idea into one of my favourite Italian dishes – insalata tricolore.

Serves two
One large avocado, sliced
Six tomatoes, sliced
100g mozzarella or burrata, sliced
One tub of sundried tomatoes
One tbsp. pumpkin seeds
One tbsp. sunflower seeds
Olives (optional)
Fresh basil leaves
Flax seed oil, balsamic vinegar to dress

The classic way of serving this dish is to layer the green, white and red elegantly together – but you could just mix them up. Add a bit of extra interest by scattering sundried tomatoes on the top, then the seeds. Finish with the torn basil and a drizzle of flax seed oil (more seeds!) and balsamic vinegar (for that real Italian flavour). You could also add in some olives to make it extra special!

Sprouts, seeds and salad

This is super healthy. A recent study showed that regular consumption of asparagus improved insulin production and lowered blood glucose – so could help protect against Type 2 diabetes. And I don’t need to remind you of the health benefits of broccoli. Combined with seeds, sprouts and a flax seed oil dressing, this salad ticks all the boxes…

Serves two
Two bunches of asparagus
Two bunches of tenderstem broccoli
One tbsp. mixed seeds
Two handfuls of mixed sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, mung bean and so on)
Dressing: one clove of garlic, crushed with herbed rock salt to a puree, then whisked with flax seed oil and lemon juice
Cook the broccoli and asparagus, set aside to cool and chop into small pieces. Mix with the seeds and sprouts, then dress with the oil and lemon mixture.
Next month: Some Winter comfort food

Going purple for September

aubergine beetroot blackberriesThe A, B&B trio (Aubergine, Beetroot and Blackberries) group are all in season now. They’re high in fibre, low in calories, rich in minerals, vitamins and the antioxidant phytochemicals that given them their deep colour writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. The purple of aubergine skin comes from nasunin, a potent antioxidant which was found (in lab experiments only, to be fair) to protect brain cell membranes from damage.

Back to School juice

There are still plenty of blackberries around, so pick them while you can. Blended with frozen berries and grapefruit, this makes a delicious healthy juice with just the right acidity balance. Amounts of berries can be varied.

Serves two

Fresh picked blackberries
Bag of frozen berries, defrosted
Two red grapefruit
One inch ginger root, peeled and chopped
Pomegranate juice
Juice all berries, grapefruit and ginger and top up glasses with pomegranate juice.

Ratatouille

I have been studying ethnobotanist James Wong’s new book 10-a-day The Easy Way and wondered how many veg I could add to my aubergine in a ratatouille recipe. Here goes…

Serves four

One aubergine, chopped
One red pepper, chopped
One green pepper, chopped
One yellow pepper, chopped
Three courgettes, sliced
Handful of runner beans, sliced
Two red onions, chopped
Two red chillis, chopped
Two garlic cloves, diced
Two 400g tins of tomatoes
Two tbsp. tomato puree
One tbsp. dried mixed herbs
100g pot of mixed olives
Fresh basil, torn
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat some coconut or olive oil and fry the onions, garlic and chilli for a few minutes till soft. Stir in all the other vegetables and soften. Then add tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs and simmer till all the veg are tender. Add the olives. Finish with the fresh herbs and maybe a drizzle of olive or flax seed oil.

This is incredibly versatile. Serve with rice, pasta, baked potato or sweet potato, hot or cold. I put this recipe into my nutrition calculator and it ‘only’ contains 2.5 portions of fruit and veg per serving. Now my challenge is to adapt this recipe to up this total. Fancy joining me in this challenge?

Beetroot and horseradish hummus – new food processor

I have just bought a new food processor. So, to celebrate, I put together a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for a while.

Serves four

Three boiled beets, chopped
One 400g tin chick peas, drained
Two tbsp horseradish
Two tsp spices (many hummus recipes call for cumin, but I used ras el hanout and sumac)
Flax seed or olive oil as required

Process the beets, chick peas, horseradish and spices. Add oil to create the consistency you want.

This beautiful deep pink-purple dip is great with pitta bread, crackers and crudites and keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Next time: Going nuts in October.

J is for July – with nasturtium leaves and runner beans

NasturtiumsUK-grown runner beans should be readily available now – maybe you can even pick them fresh from the garden. You can’t go wrong, health wise, by eating lots of runner beans – they’re a rich source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K, soluble fibre and minerals. Don’t just use them as a side – I’ve come up with a simple pasta dish and a summer potato salad here, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Meanwhile, I’ve planted nasturtiums everywhere this year – in the vegetable plot, in our hanging baskets and in pots. The leaves are flourishing though I’m still waiting for the flowers. Did you know every part of the nasturtium plant is edible? The leaves are a bit like watercress and are high in vitamin C. Add them to a salad for a green boost – here I’ve combined them with watercress, but they go well with any leaves.

Nasturtium and watercress salad

This is super healthy and a great mixture of colours, textures and flavours.

Serves two
Handful of nasturtium leaves, chopped
Bunch or bag of watercress
Heritage tomatoes (I found a box of green, orange, yellow and red), chopped
One tbsp. mixed seeds
Box of alfalfa sprouts
Chopped herbs (I used mint and basil)
Flax seed oil, cider vinegar and lemon to dress
Mix the leaves, seeds and tomatoes. Dress and top with the sprouts and chopped/torn herbs.

Runner bean pasta with chilli oil and pecorino and herbs

I was lucky enough to be invited to pick some runner beans from a colleague’s sunny terrace recently. Took them straight home and made this simple pasta dish – I really noticed the difference between these beans and those flown in to the supermarket from abroad. So, see if you can buy local or, better still, grow your own. I also think it’s good to experiment with tipping the balance towards more beans, less pasta and maybe even try this dish with one of the vegetable pastas.

Serves one
Around 10 runner beans, sliced
50g pasta
Pecorino cheese, grated
Fresh basil

Cook the beans for around 4 minutes and drain. Cook the pasta. Add the beans and finish with grated pecorino, torn basil and a drizzle of oil (I used chilli-infused flax seed oil).

Runner bean and new potato salad

This would be great with freshly picked beans and freshly dug potatoes. Go for as fresh and local as you can find!

Serves two
Around 20 runner beans, sliced
10 to 12 new potatoes
One tbsp. mixed seeds
For the dressing:
Horseradish mustard
Flax seed oil
Greek or other high-protein yoghurt
Fresh mint leaves, chopped.

Cook the beans for around 4 minutes, drain and leave to cool. Cook the potatoes till tender and leave to cool. Combine the dressing ingredients to taste (exact quantities don’t matter). Mix the beans, potatoes and seeds and toss in the dressing. Finish with chopped mint leaves.

Next time. August – bring on the watermelons.

W is for watermelon

Water melonIt’s the time of year when big wedges of watermelon start to appear on fruit stalls.  Watermelon is 90% water, so a slice makes a refreshing snack on a hot day, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.  It’s also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as being an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which gives the fruit its red colour.

However, watermelon does have a glycaemic index (GI) of 72, which is considered high, although its glycaemic load (GL) of 2, is low. The GL value reflects the fact that the carbohydrate content of watermelon is low, so it shouldn’t cause a ‘spike’ in your blood glucose after consumption. But if you are bothered by the high GI element, try combining watermelon with other foods, as in this month’s recipes!

Summer watermelon juice

I was curious about how much juice I might get from a watermelon. The answer is 250ml from a whole small watermelon (much less than I was expecting). Here it is used as the basis for a slightly tart and very refreshing juice that will energise you when temperatures soar.

Serves one

One watermelon, quartered with the flesh sliced into chunks

Two red grapefruit, peeled and segmented

400g raspberries

One inch of root ginger, peeled

Pure pomegranate juice

Juice the fruits and ginger and top up with the pomegranate juice.

 

Feta, olive and watermelon salad

In this salad, the salty creamy feta cheese complements the crisp sweet watermelon perfectly.

Serves two

200g pack of barrel-aged feta cheese, cubed

One tub of black, green or mixed olives

One red onion, thinly sliced

One red pepper or Romano pepper, thinly sliced

Watermelon chunks cut from a wedge

Oil

Lemon

Green leaves

Herbs

Mix the cheese, olives, onion, pepper and watermelon and serve on a bed of green leaves. Dress with oil and lemon and top with mint and basil.

 

Watermelon fruit salad

I was invited into a school recently and treated to lunch. I was interested to see what was on offer and very impressed by one of the best fruit salads I’ve had for a long time. It contained sliced plums so I’ve included these in the recipe below. Note, plums and raspberries are low GI fruits, so they balance the watermelon well.

Serves two to three

Watermelon chunks cut from a wedge

400g raspberries

400g strawberries

Six plums cut into quarters

Next month – late summer recipes with aubergines, beetroot and blackberries