May 2015

ROSEMARY SUMMER VEGGIE AND WHITE BEAN STEW

ROSEMARY SUMMER VEGGIE AND WHITE BEAN STEW

My lovely neighbour brought me a huge bunch of rosemary the other day. She was cutting her out of control rosemary plant and didn’t want to compost the lovely herb. She knew I would be a grateful recipient of such a gift. I do have grow rosemary in my garden but I admit any surplus produce from the neighbours is more than welcome in my household.

At college, one of my friends used to bring rosemary oil before exams. The tiny bottle was travelling around the room and we all had a good sniff to help our concentration and memory. I am not sure if it had any impact but research shows that blood levels of rosemary oil component correlate with improved cognitive performance.

Rosemary is beneficial for our brain health, it may prevent brain ageing and protect against neurodegeneration. Carnosic acid, a component in rosemary, is able to fight off free radical damage in the brain and promotes eye health thus protecting against macular degeneration.

The herb is high in antioxidants that neutralise free radical damage. There is also evidence that rosemary has anti-cancer properties. Research shows it may be an effective anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour agent. Cooking meat with rosemary reduces the formation of carcinogens associated with cooking meat at high temperatures.

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Rosemary is not one of those herbs you can just sprinkle raw over your meals. It is a very hardy, woody herb and needs to be cooked. I like to gently sauté it in olive oil first, this helps to release the flavour, but if you follow a strict no oil added plant based diet you can add rosemary to your pot of sauce or soup and still get the rosemary fragrance and flavour. I love adding it to roasted potatoes or butternut squash. The needle like leaves become very crunchy, it’s quite delicious.

I used 2 tablespoons of rosemary in my recipe, not an amount I would normally use but I am happy to say it didn’t overpower the delicate summer vegetables. Rosemary goes so well with the garlic and lemon in this light vegetable stew, it’s such a classic Mediterranean combination. Enjoy with some crusty sourdough bread or as I did with new season Jersey Royal potatoes (or any well flavoured new potatoes).

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ROSEMARY SUMMER VEGGIE AND WHITE BEAN STEW

1 Tbs of olive oil (I used extra virgin)
2 Tbs heaped fresh rosemary, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, cut into bite size pieces ( I used thin skinned Romano pepper)
1 bulb of fennel, cut into bite size pieces
1 courgette, cut into bite size pieces
1 tin of artichoke hearts, cut in halve
1 tin of white beans, drained ( I like canellini)
1 cup of light vegetable stock (or white wine)
15 green olives, halved
lemon juice to taste (I used I whole lemon)


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  • Use a large lidded sauté pan or casserole. Heat the oil and gently sauté the rosemary, garlic and onion till softened. (For oil free version, use 1/4 - 60 mil of water, cover with lid and cook till softened)
  • Next add all the rest of ingredients apart from lemon juice, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add lemon juice to taste, season and enjoy. I love the sauce that develops, it’s perfect mopped up with crushed potato or crusty bread.

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VEGAN BASIL PESTO and 2 BONUS RECIPES

VEGAN BASIL PESTO and 2 BONUS RECIPES

It’s the annual Vegetarian Week and people may be choosing to transition to vegetarian or vegan diets. When done right, eating the plant based way can do wonders for person’s health.

The key in a successful transition to a plant based diet is to focus on all the wonderful foods you can have rather than mourning those you have lost. What about cauliflower buffallo wings, cashew nut cheese, or homemade plant strong parmesan made out of nutritional yeast flakes and nuts? All these come pretty close to the real thing. And some, I think, taste even better.

Yesterday I went to a business lunch and ended up with one of the most tasteless vegan dishes I had in a long time. On the menu it sounded reasonable, stuffed pepper with roasted vegetables and herby couscous with a side salad. The reality was different. The couscous was overcooked, bland, flavoured poorly with herbs of the dried variety. The roasted vegetables were far and few between I did struggle to taste them. The pepper itself was undercooked. I was very happy that I didn’t end up with a green pepper and felt sorry for those who did. The only saving grace was the bottle of balsamic vinegar brought as a dressing for our side salad (the usual lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber - yawn!), I wasn’t the only person who splashed it onto the meal to add some flavour. This is the type of meal that will never make people consider becoming vegetarian or vegan.

Why is it so hard for some chefs to make a decent vegan meal? Surely, with a little imagination, you can halve the peppers lengthways, roast them till soft, stuff them with couscous bursting with roasted veggies, chickpeas and lots of fresh herbs. What about toasted pine nuts to top it all of? How about a lush zingy dressing or a tomato sauce spiced with Moroccan spices to go with it??? Vegans and vegetarians don’t want their dish to be an afterthought, we want flavour!

My pesto recipe is full of flavour and I am giving you two different recipes to use it in :)

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VEGAN BASIL PESTO

2 cups basil pesto leaves, packed (you can also use parsley, or half and half)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbs nutritional yeast
1/2 cup (50g) pine nuts ( walnuts or pistachios work well too)
juice of half lemon
5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (best quality)
salt to taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor or a blender and process till combined. Add more olive oil if the pesto is too thick.

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ROASTED VEGETABLE CIABBATA WITH PESTO
I don’t buy the commercial oil sprays, I have a Pampered Chef oil pump and use my own, good quality oil in it. No added rubbish.

3 bel peppers (red, orange, yellow)
1 large aubergine (eggplant)
olive oil (in spray bottle)
10 sun dried tomatoes
1 ciabbata loaf
vegan basil pesto above

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  • Preheat oven to 220C. Line a baking tray or dish with parchment paper. Pierce the peppers with a knife in few places (to prevent them from exploding), place on the tray and bake till the skin is blistered all over (turn halfway through) about 30-40min. Place the peppers in a glass bowl, cover the bowl with cling film and let the peppers steam, this will make it easier to peel them. When cooled peel off the skin, remove the core and seeds. Best done under running water. Tear into large pieces.
  • Slice the aubergine into thin round slices, about half centimetre thick. Preheat a griddle pan. Spray the aubergine slices with olive oil on both sides, grill on both sides till the aubergine is cooked through (it should be easy to pierce with a fork). Set aside.
  • To make the giant sub sandwich halve the ciabbata lengthways. Spread the inside of both ciabbata halves with the pesto, be generous (I was left with about 2 Tbs of the above recipe after doing this).
  • First cover the bottom half of ciabbata with a layer of aubergine slices, than add a layer of pepper pieces. Next layer is the sun-dried tomatoes, than peppers and lastly the remaining aubergine slices. Top with the other ciabbata half.
  • Wrap the whole sandwich tightly in a cling film and refrigerate for at least half hour.
  • When ready to eat, unwrap the sandwich and cut into individual portions.
  • PS: There is no tidy way of eating it. Have a napkin on hand.

When making the above recipe I used 2 aubergines and found myself with slices from one left over. There was also 2 tbs worth of pesto. This is what I made for lunch with these leftovers. It was delicious and I will be making a large dish for the whole family soon!


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AUBERGINE, TOMATO AND PESTO BAKE FOR ONE

1 aubergine, sliced and slices grilled (see above)
2 tbs vegan pesto
1 tin of crushed tomatoes (or passata)
6 sliced olives, sliced


  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • In a small baking dish, place couple tablespoons of the crushed tomatoes. Sandwich the aubergine slices with the pesto.
  • Make a layer of the aubergine pesto slices, cover with half the tin tomatoes, scatter with olive slices. Next repeat with rest of aubergine slices and top with the remaining tomatoes and olives. Season between laters.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
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CREAMY ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH SAGE




CREAMY ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH SAGE

Butternut squash is one of my favourite vegetables, I especially love to make it into a soup. It pairs up beautifully with different fruits, veggies and spices. I love roasting it to concentrate its rich sweetness. I could eat a whole bowl of roasted butternut squash, especially with some chilli, lime and coriander dressing poured over it.

Nutritionists always talk about nutrient density. This means we look how much nutrition (nutrients) you get in relation to calories. Butternut squash is a nutrient rich vegetable containing only 40 calories per 100g but it delivers 6.6g of fibre (the average person in the UK gets about 12g per day, our palaeolithic ancestors ate around 100g per day), over 200% of your daily vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) and a 1/4 of your vitamin C requirement. It also contains whole host of other vitamins and minerals however in much smaller quantities.

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If I ask you to name omega 3 fatty acid sources you may say fish, flax seeds or walnuts. Did you know that vegetables also contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) better known as omega 3 fatty acid? Butternut squash will give you 24mg of ALA in 100g. Kale for example contains 180mg per 100g. OK these are not huge quantities but us plant based folk tend to eat lots of vegetables and can get quite important amount of omega 3 this way. I have added 1 Tbs of hemp seed to each portion of soup to add a further 1000mg of ALA . The required daily amount for ALA for an adult is about 1-2g.

CREAMY ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH SAGE
Serves 2-4. I am greedy and don’t eat bread with my soups so I like my portions rather big. This will serve 4 as a starter, 3 as a main meal or 2 greedy ones.
For oil free version roast the butternut squash in a roasting dish that has been lined with parchment paper.

ingredients
2 tsp coconut oil (divided)
1 medium size butternut squash
1 medium to large onion, thinly sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sage leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)
1/2 tsp ground dried chilli powder (I used Kashmiri chilli, Cayenne is also great)
1 tsp dried ginger powder
3-4 cups of vegetable stock (depending on the size of your squash)
a handful (1/3 cup) of cashews
lemon juice to taste

method
  • Preheat oven to 200C (fan oven).
  • Peel and deseed the butternut squash. Cut into large dice.
  • Place 1 tsp coconut oil into a roasting dish that will hold the butternut squash pieces in one layer. Place the roasting dish briefly into the oven to melt (about 1 min)
  • Next add the squash and roast for 40 min or till soft and caramelised.
  • In a medium sauce pan heat the other tsp of coconut oil (or use 60ml, 1/4 cup water). Add the sliced onion and cook till softened. Next add the garlic and sage, cook for further minute before adding the spices, cook these about 30seconds while stirring constantly.
  • Add the roasted squash and enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables by 2cm (just under 1 inch). Cook for 20 min.
  • Puree the soup in a blender with the cashew nuts till smooth. Add lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve garnished with some sage leaves and hemp seeds.

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