Discovering chia seeds

Chia seedsChia seeds may be tiny, but they are packed with vital nutrients so if, like me, you hadn’t tried them previously, it’s well worth starting to include them in your diet. They come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Central and South America and a member of the mint family. It’s said that they were used in the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations as a source of energy (the word ‘chia’ means ‘strength’ in the Mayan language).

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

The seeds are rich in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of plant protein. They taste a bit neutral, compared with other seeds, but they do have the interesting property of rapidly absorbing liquid to form a gel. This is the basis of ‘chia pudding’ (see recipe below) and also means you can use chia seeds as an egg substitute or thickening agent if you’re vegan.

There’s some (albeit rather limited) evidence that chia seeds might help you lose weight and, maybe, help prevent diabetes and heart disease. As ever, don’t rely on getting direct health benefits from chia seeds, but perhaps try including them in the ‘healthy balanced diet’ we always advocate to add variety and interest.

Autumn smoothie

I’ve been collecting blackberries from my local nature reserve and used them with chia seeds to create this beautiful pink-purple smoothie, with my usual cacao and matcha boosts.

Serves one
Around 300g blackberries
One tsp chia seeds, soaked for five mins in 3 tsp water
Almond milk, as required to make a thick, or thinner, drink
One tsp matcha
One tsp cacao powder
Blend all ingredients in a Nutribullet, or similar and drink immediately.

Carrot and chia salad

I’ve added chia seeds to my usual mix of sunflower, pumpkin and linseeds that I use for adding to salads.
Serves two
Four carrots, sliced into ribbons with a mandolin or spiralizer
Ten radishes, sliced
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
One tbsp. mixed pumpkin, sunflower, linseed and chia seeds
100g pomegranate seeds

Mix all the ingredients except the pomegranate seeds. Dress the salad with linseed oil, cider vinegar and lemon juice and top with the pomegranate seeds.

Chocolate ‘blancmange’

I saw the possibility of creating a very healthy chocolate pudding with chia seeds. No sugar, no dairy and with, hopefully, the texture of chocolate blancmange (anyone seem blancmange in recent years?) or mousse. There are many recipes online and lots of yummy pictures. I did some research and here’s my experiment. To be fair, the texture is a bit more tapioca (if you’re old enough to remember that pudding!) than blancmange/mousse, but I’m excited by my discovery of a cacao powder blended with cinnamon, which adds a luxurious depth of flavour to this dessert.

Serves four
400ml coconut milk (or almond/hazelnut/hemp milk, or a mixture)
60g chia seeds
2 tbsp cacao powder with cinnamon
1 tsp coconut palm sugar

Whisk all these ingredients together in a bowl and chill overnight. Serve topped with berries.

Next time: Experiments without potatoes

Experiments with low carb

raspberries low carbsWithout getting too heavily involved in the low carb, low sugar, low glycaemic index debate, I’d like to offer up just a few suggestions…My first thought was to look for lower carb versions of favourite pasta, rice and potato dishes. But I couldn’t face fish pie or shepherd’s pie with ‘alternative’ mash in this weather (I’ll be back with those in a couple of months) – so I’ve gone for a refreshing fruit smoothie instead. And when I say sugar, I generally mean a simple natural carbohydrate like fructose rather than added sugar, which is usually sucrose.

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

Refreshing raspberry smoothie

All fruit contains some sugar but the amount varies quite dramatically. Check these amounts in grams per serving:
• Lime – 1.1
• Raspberries – 5
• Kiwi – 6
• Orange – 12
• Banana – 17
• Mango – 46

I’d usually make up a smoothie with hemp/almond/coconut milk, but the presence of the lime will make it go lumpy, so I used cactus water, which is lower in sugar than coconut water. I’ve added the matcha and cacao, as I do to all my smoothies for an extra healthy boost. The result has a refreshing sharpness that I think you’ll love!

Serves one
Four limes, juiced
Large carton of raspberries
Four kiwi fruit, peeled and halved
Cactus water
One tsp matcha powder
One tsp cacao power
Add all ingredients to your blender/Nutribullet, using the cactus water to make up the volume. Blend and drink immediately.

Protein pasta

You can find pasta made with a wide variety of grains, with lentil and spelt pasta being the most readily available. The one with the highest protein/carb ratio I discovered was edamame fettucine.
For comparison, per 100g.
Wholewheat fusilli 30.2g carb 5.2g protein
Edamame fettucine 15g carb 44g protein

I made up my favourite sauce to serve with the pasta…substitute your own.
Serves two

Large carton cherry tomatoes, halved
One large red chilli, finely chopped
Two cloves garlic, crushed
400g tin tomatoes
One tbsp. tomato puree
One tsp. mixed herbs
Fresh basil
Grated pecorino cheese

Fry the garlic and chilli till soft in olive oil then add the other ingredients and simmer until thick. Cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet, drain and serve with the sauce. Finish with torn basil and grated pecorino. Makes a good pasta salad when cold, or reheat.

Summer vegetable risotto

Use quinoa instead of rice, and twice as many green veg as in a traditional risotto recipe.
Serves 3–4

600g broad beans/peas/tenderstem broccoli/asparagus
250g quinoa
Bunch spring onions, chopped
Carton cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fresh herbs
Grated pecorino cheese

Cook the green veg and quinoa. Mix together and add the spring onion and tomatoes. Finish with chopped herbs and grated pecorino cheese.
Next month. Discovering chia seeds

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