M is for May

Salad leavesThis month I’ve made lettuce, radishes and pak choi my seasonal choices. They’re all low in calories and a good source of vitamins, including the key nutrient folic acid, and minerals. And I’ve given my three recipes a bit of retro feel, updating them with a healthy twist, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Lettuce party

Time was when salad was a few leaves of cos lettuce, a bit of diced beetroot, a couple of slices of tomato, half a hard-boiled egg, finished off with salad cream. Nothing wrong with that simple approach if the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced. I’ve made this into an exclusive lettuce party, by gathering together (at least) four types of leaves and adding extra flavour and texture with the cheese and seeds.

Serves four
Romaine lettuce, shredded
Two little Gem lettuce, torn into individual leaves
Bag of lamb’s lettuce
Bag of baby mixed leaves
Grated Pecorino (or other hard Italian) cheese
Pomegranate seeds
Mixed seeds (pumpkin, linseed and so on).

Mix the leaves, add the seeds and finish with the cheese. Make up a dressing with your favourite oil, vinegar, lemon juice and chopped herb.

Radish fondue party

I received a coffee percolator for my 21st – but many of my friends were given fondue sets, which were very trendy in the 1970s. I’ve used radishes (instead of steak or bread cubes) to recreate the fondue party scene and used it as an excuse to create a new healthy dip instead of melted cheese with wine. This recipe is also a bit of a throwback to 1960s/1970s party canapes with pineapple and cheese on sticks, and so on…This would work well at a BBQ party!

Serves up to six
Radishes
Pineapple cubes
Feta cubes
Cherry tomatoes
Olives
For the dip
One tub of high-quality hummus
One tbsp. horseradish sauce
One tbsp. peanut butter
Flaxseed or olive oil to thin

Make little ‘kebabs’ by sticking the radishes on wooden sticks, pairing them with the pineapple and so on. Dip the kebabs into the horseradish hummus.

Sweet and sour stir fry

When I was a student, my favourite takeaway or meal out was sweet and sour pork. Here’s a healthier version – still sweet and sour, but focusing on pak choi and mushrooms.
Serves two
Two heads of pak choi
100g mixed mushrooms, sliced
100g shredded pineapple
Pineapple juice
One tbsp. peanut butter
Soy sauce

Heat coconut or sesame oil in a wok or big frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms and pak choi till the leaves are wilted. Then add the peanut butter, pineapple juice and soy sauce to make a sweet and sour sauce. Stir till heated through. Serve with two nests of high-protein wholewheat noodles (I used spelt, but other varieties are available).
Next time. Celebrate early summer with peas, broad beans and cherries.

M is for March – three early spring recipes

Citrus MarchFor the next few months, I’m going to go seasonal and pay more attention to when my fruits and vegetables are at their best and to buy local, where possible, for best freshness and quality, and loose from a high-quality greengrocer, rather than pre-packaged from a supermarket writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

I used the BBC Good Food seasonality table as a guide (other such tables are, of course, available). For March, I chose the following from the list:

• Bramley apples
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Grapefruit
• Leek
• Lemon
• Onion and spring onion
• Pak choi
• Peppers
• Purple sprouting broccoli
• Rhubarb (Netherlands)
• Oranges (Italy)

Unless indicated otherwise, all of these are available as UK grown (indeed, you might even be inspired to grow your own, or maybe join an allotment swap scheme).

Bramley apple and red grapefruit juice with ginger

Professor Jane Plant survived breast cancer from 1993 to 2016 and devised a dairy-free diet to help her fight the disease. She has some interesting recipes in her book The Plant Programme, where she suggests using Bramley apples for juicing for their folic acid and vitamin C content. Red grapefruit, which also rich in vitamin C, contains the antioxidants hesperidin and naringenin. The combination, with ginger, makes a refreshing, tangy juice.

Serves two

Three to four Bramley apples, chopped into large pieces
Two to three red (white or pink) grapefruit, peeled and pulled into segments
Two inches root ginger, peeled and chopped into large pieces
Juice everything and drink immediately.

Spring stir fry with high protein noodles

No need for exact quantities in this recipe. Just choose three or four of the seasonal vegetables from the list above, all of which are healthy choices. The brassicas (cabbage and so on) contain sulphoraphane and indoles, which are said to have an anti-cancer benefit, while onions and leeks contain alliums, which can help lower blood pressure, as well as being prebiotic, which will encourage a healthy gut flora.

Serves two
Chop/shred the vegetables finely and stir fry with soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic and ginger (add chopped chilli/chilli sauce if you like it hot). Serve with high protein noodles and/or salmon baked in foil with pesto (200˚C, 20 minutes).

Rhubarb, orange and strawberry crumble

I’ll admit that, apart from some soluble fibre, rhubarb does not have much going for it healthwise. But, like asparagus in May, it is one of my seasonal treats, especially in a crumble. It is delicious combined with oranges (which come into season in the first quarter of the year). I included the strawberries (not seasonal, of course) to add some sweetness to the fruit mix, so you don’t need to add any sugar. For the crumble, I experimented with coconut flour, which nicely absorbs some of the juices from the fruit layer.

Serves four
One pack of rhubarb, chopped
One or two oranges, segmented
One pack of strawberries, sliced
For the topping
150g wholemeal or coconut flour
100g butter, chopped
One tsp. coconut blossom nectar to sweeten
Cinnamon

Layer the fruit in a baking dish. Rub the butter into the flour, coconut blossom nectar and cinnamon mix, to make crumbs. Then top the fruit with it. Bake at 200˚C for 35 to 40 mins till top is brown.

Next time. A is for April: recipes for a healthy Easter break.

P is for peanut butter

peanut butterWhen I was a student, I used to eke out my grant (giving my age away!) by eating peanut butter and cream crackers towards the end of term, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger, freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition. Surprisingly, perhaps, peanut butter has been one of my favourite foods ever since! True, it is high in calories and fat but it is far healthier than butter. It contains fibre, protein and a high proportion of unsaturated fat.

You can also get peanut butter made with high oleic acid containing peanuts (two brands readily available in the UK). Oleic acid is the fatty acid found in olive oil and avocado, and it can improve your blood lipid profile, tipping the balance towards ‘healthy’ HDL cholesterol, and away from ‘unhealthy’ LDL cholesterol. There are also peanut butters blended with seeds, which gives an added health boost. Here are three of my ‘go to’ peanut butter recipes, all of which work well a cold February day (the flapjacks would make a nice Valentine’s Day treat).

Peanut butter smoothie

Serves one

This is a milk-shake type smoothie which is good for days when you are on the go and don’t have time for breakfast or lunch.

225g/400g carton of strawberries or raspberries

One tbsp. peanut butter

250ml almond milk

half-tsp matcha powder

Two tsp. cacao and cinnamon powder

Blend all ingredients and drink immediately.

Ultimate peanut butter sandwich

Serves one

This combines two ideas. First, a little café I visited in Crouch End (Hot Pepper Jelly) does a range of sandwiches with peanut butter and chilli jam. Second, I saw a colleague combine avocado and Marmite last week…it works well. Finish off with something fresh/crunchy. I used alfalfa sprouts but you could have cucumber, tomato, watercress… We had this for dinner, with a salad last Saturday night.

Two slices of your favourite fresh bread

Peanut butter

Chilli jam

Sliced avocado, lightly mashed

Marmite

Alfalfa sprouts

Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread, chilli jam on the other. Layer the avocado, Marmite and sprouts. Eat with soup or salad for a main meal. Also works as a packed lunch if you slip in the avocado layer just before you eat it.

Peanut butter flapjacks

Makes 12–14 flapjacks

Classic flapjacks – oats, sugar, syrup and butter – are great, but taste too sweet. I did a bit of recipe research to see if it’s possible to replace at least some of the sugar/syrup without affecting texture or taste. You could also experiment with replacing the butter, maybe with coconut oil, and using banana or apple instead of the sugar.

300g butter

200g ‘sugar’ – I used coconut flavoured Choc Shot, which is a fruit syrup with cacao, but there are many other options.

100g golden syrup (a ‘bad’ ingredient, I know, but I had some in the cupboard that needed using up)

100g peanut butter

450g oats (I used oats combined with flax, pumpkin and linseeds)

One tbsp. cacao with cinnamon

Melt butter, add syrup, peanut butter and ‘sugar’, Stir in oats and cacao, Bake at 180˚C for 25 min. Cool and cut into pieces.

Next time. Some seasonal recipes to welcome spring.

 

P is for pomegranates

pomegranatesWhile researching this post, I learned that pomegranates have a very long history and have often appeared in art, literature and mythology, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

I came across the painting Prosperine, painted by the pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1874. I’d seen the painting before but had forgotten that the Roman goddess is holding a pomegranate. According to myth, she was kidnapped by Pluto, the god of the underworld and could only return to earth if she had not consumed any underworld food! Unfortunately, she had eaten six seeds from the pomegranate and was condemned to spend six months of the year in Hades. Thus, the pomegranate in the Rossetti’s painting is a symbol of captivity.

This is a happy coincidence, for Rossetti’s Prosperine is in Tate Britain and we’re off there this afternoon, as part of NYE outing to see the Edward Burne-Jones (another pre-Raphaelite) exhibition. So I’ll take another look at that famous pomegranate.

The pomegranate fruit should be a symbol of health, rather than captivity, because the hundreds of tiny seeds (known of arils) that it contains are packed with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals called punicalagins. They also contain a conjugated linolenic acid (CLAs) called punicic acid. Research on cells, lab animals and humans suggest that the punicalagins may help prevent or manage a whole range of health problems, including cancer, arthritis, joint pain heart disease, high blood pressure, while CLAs have been shown to help with obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

You can buy a whole pomegranate for about a pound at the greengrocer – much cheaper than the pre-packaged seeds. Releasing the seeds can be messy though – I scored the fruit around the centre and twisted it into two halves and then just break the seeds out from the clumps inside into a bowl, and then picked out the bits of pith. Then there’s 100% pomegranate juice which is more expensive than other fruit juices, but is great to add to plain water with a slice of lemon as a healthy hydrating drink or to top up a home-made juice.

Winter pomegranate juice

Serves one

This combines pomegranate with cranberries, another winter fruit. Two pomegranates provide about 100ml of juice. The spinach adds a touch of green, without detracting from the delicious taste of this juice.

One box of cranberries

Two pomegranates, seeded
8 oranges, peeled

100g spinach

One inch piece of root ginger, peeled

Juice all ingredients and drink immediately.

Super pomegranate salad

Baby kale leaves

Olives

Cubed feta

Seeds

Walnuts

Avocado

Pomegranate seeds

 

Pomegranate fruit salad

Four to six oranges/satsumas/clementines, peeled and segmented

One mango, peeled and cubed

50g pomegranate seeds

Mint leaves, chopped, to decorate

Cinammon, to sprinkle
Mix the oranges/citrus fruit with the mango.  Scatter with the pomegranate seeds, decorate with the mint leaves and finish with a sprinkle of cinammon.

Next time. P is for Peanut Butter

 

Festive recipes

Festive SusanI’m already seeing too many articles about how to deal with excessive consumption at Christmas. My advice is simple, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Use the season as an opportunity to give your food a festive touch by including a touch more spice. In this blog, I’m focusing on ginger and cinnamon, both of which contain some interesting phytochemicals which are good for your health.
Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds known as gingerols. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I include ginger in every juice I make. You can also make it into a tea, by merely pouring boiling water onto a few thin slices of peeled root ginger. Add a pinch of turmeric and/or squeeze of lemon if you like, to make a healthy hot drink.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is the inner bark of the tree of the same name. The bark is either used direct, in stick form, or ground to make a powder. The characteristic festive odour of cinnamon comes from the compound cinnamaldehyde, which is thought to be responsible for its glucose-lowering properties (below). It also has anti-bacterial properties, which is why cinnamon oil/candles are good to burn in the winter months – they might help you ward off colds and flu. Like ginger, cinnamon is also rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. A sprinkle of cinnamon goes well with a healthy breakfast of Greek yoghurt and blueberries.

Studies suggest that an intake of up to two tbsp. per day of cinnamon may help reduce blood glucose and increase insulin sensitivity, which could help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Ginger and berry smoothie

I made a discovery here – frozen mixed berries contain redcurrants and blackcurrants which are hard to source at the greengrocers. They work better in a smoothie than a juice, so this has to be made in two stages – extract the ginger into a juice which is then added to the smoothie.

Two servings
1kg bag of frozen berries
Pomegranate juice
Large piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
Defrost the berries. Take a handful and juice with the ginger. Then make a smoothie with this juice and the rest of the berries. Top up with pomegranate juice.

Festive soup

My mother used to make a delicious carrot and ginger soup. This is an extended version with more veg from the orange part of the spectrum and some pulses for added protein.

Four to five servings
Large piece of ginger, peeled and grated
Two tsps. ground cinnamon
Two onions, peeled and chopped
Four carrots, peeled and chopped
One red pepper, peeled and chopped
One yellow pepper, peeled and chopped
Two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
100g soup mix pulses or red lentils
Rosemary and/or mixed herbs
Fry all the peeled vegetables with the ginger and cinnamon till softened. Add the tomatoes, pulses/lentils and herbs and simmer till pulses/lentils are soft. Top up with vegetable stock if the mix is too thick. You can serve this chunky or blend with a hand blender for a smoother soup.
Walnut turkey

When I cooked my first vegetarian Christmas dinner, friends joked about my ‘walnut turkey’. The recipe for my festive nut roast is slightly different every time and, this year, I’m returning to the walnut theme – not forgetting to add some cinnamon. Don’t wait for Christmas day – I’m rehearsing my walnut turkey this weekend!

Festive Susan
Serves four to six
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
200g mixed mushrooms, finely chopped
100g spinach
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
4 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
I tbsp. mixed herbs
100g walnuts, chopped
50g hazelnuts, chopped
100g crumbled Weetabix
3 large eggs, beaten
100g Pecorino cheese, grated
1 tsp Marmite
2 tbsp tomato puree

Fry the onion in the coconut oil till soft, then add the mushrooms and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the spinach and stir till wilted. Make a paste with the Marmite and tomato puree in a little boiling water and add this to the vegetable mixture, with the tin of tomatoes. Set aside to cool. Stir in the Weetabix crumbs, nuts, cheese, herbs and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.  Stir until well mixed and transfer to a loaf tin lined with greased foil. Bake for around an hour. I served this with onion gravy, Brussels sprouts and carrots in the rehearsal meal. On Christmas Day, I’ll make a tomato and cranberry sauce and add roast potatoes with rosemary to the vegetables.
Have a happy and healthy Christmas!
Next time
. P is for pomegranates