Category Archives: Basics

How to make chia eggs (and what to do with them)

If you are allergic or intolerant to eggs, chances are you’ve been missing out on some of your favourite dishes.

Fortunately, nature has provided a workaround in the form of chia and flax seeds. Once soaked, these seeds become gelatinous – similar to egg white. This means that they are a good substitute in recipes which need eggs to bind ingredients together.

Now, it is important to know that chia or flax eggs will not always work in all traditional baking recipes like sponges or custards. They are a decent stand-in, but cannot completely fill all the roles of the egg.

Ground chia and flax seeds are useful alternatives for those following a gluten or grain-free diet as they can be used to substitute traditional foods that ‘hold’ ingredients together. For example:

  • Thickening sauces and gravies instead of wheat or corn flour
  • Making grain free crackers (their gelatinous consistency when soaked holds ingredients together, much like psyllium husk)
  • A substitute for breadcrumbs in meatballs or fishcakes
  • Chia puddings (chia seeds only)

I’ve included a list of chia-egg recipes from around the internet (and my own blog) below the tutorial. I recommend trying a recipe you feel most comfortable with and be open to experimentation.

STEP 1: Choose your seeds: 1 tablespoon for 1 egg. You can use whole or ground chia seeds, but flax seeds must be ground.

Seeds

 

STEP 2: Soak for five minutes. 3 tablespoons water to 1 tablespoon seeds. Soaking seeds

 

STEP 3: Get cooking. Your egg substitutes are now ready to be added to your recipe. 3 Soaked seeds

 

Recipes using chia or flax eggs

Egg-free Banana Bread

Cherry Coconut Chia Pudding

Black Bean Chocolate Cookies

Walnut and Date Cookies

Egg-free Almond Pancakes

 

 

 

 

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Heart healthy beetroot hummus

Beetroot Hummus (and why you need to eat it)

Escalate hummus to a vibrant, earthy treat with the addition of beautiful beetroot.

Hummus is one of my all-time favourite foods. It is a simple Middle Eastern staple that is both delicious and super-nutritious at the same time. A winning combination!

Made from chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and tahini (sesame seed paste), hummus (or houmous), has become increasingly popular in the last decade with tubs available at most supermarkets, corner shops and delis.

The good stuff

Besides being absolutely delicious, hummus is a popular ‘go-to’ food for nutritionists.

Here are five reasons why hummus should be a fridge staple.

    1. Hummus is high in fibre. Chickpeas are an excellent source of dietary fibre. Most western diets do not include good levels of fibre which is necessary to keep your cholesterol in check, balance your blood sugar levels and keep your hormones in harmony.
    2. Hummus is high in protein. Chickpeas are rich in the amino acids lycine, isoleucine and tryptophan. This makes hummus an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Amino acids are the building blocks of our cells, so it is important to include a variety of sources in our diets.
    3. Hummus keeps your blood sugar balanced. In order to avoid peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels, I always recommend that snacks should contain an element of fibre, protein or fat (as these slow down the release of sugar into your blood stream). Swapping sugary snacks for wholesome alternatives like hummus will help you maintain your energy levels and help you manage sugar cravings.
    4. Hummus is rich in phytonutrients. Garlic, chickpeas and the sesames in tahini are a holy trinity of superfoods. Your heart and liver will be jumping for joy. Garlic’s medicinal benefits have been recognised for decades. Its compounds have been shown to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, help with inflammation and enhance the immune system. Sesame seeds and chickpeas are rich in a group of phytonutrients called lignans.  Lignans have mild oestrogenic properties, which is why lignan-containing foods are recommended for women moving into menopause or for those with hormonal imbalances. Lignans have also been associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    5. Hummus is convenient. Hummus is portable, so makes a great snack on the go. A tub in the workplace fridge will last a few days and, paired with an oatcake, carrot sticks or some rye bread will provide a quick, easy, filling snack.

Homemade beetroot hummus

Beetroot Boost

This version of hummus incorporates the marvellous superfood beetroot. Its vivid colour is a tell-tale sign that this vegetable is packed full of health-promoting nutrients.

Besides gifting this hummus dip with its awesome colour, beetroot also lends a slightly earthy taste to the recipe, as well as additional fibre and antioxidants.

Studies have shown that beetroot may be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, the prominent phytonutrient in beetroot, betaine, protects cells and enzymes from environmental stress and fights inflammation. Beetroot also supports Phase 2 liver detoxification.

So, while hummus is excellent in its traditional form, adding beetroot takes it to another level.

Enjoy this delicious dip with a virtuous smile on your face. It is also a great way to get children’s lunchboxes healthy and bright.

The ultimate healthy snack

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 250g cooked beetroot (about 2 medium beetroot), peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 250ml water (approx.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Put the chickpeas, beetroot, tahini, lemon juice, cumin and half the water into a food processor and blend, scraping down the sides with a spatula a few times.
  2. Continue blending and slowly add the rest of the water until you have the consistency you desire – you may need to add a bit more.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste and give it a final whizz.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Serve as a snack with oatcakes or vegetable batons, on rye toast for breakfast or lunch with avocado and pumpkin seeds or inside a pita with salads. This beetroot hummus pairs well with horseradish, mint and halloumi (not necessarily all together!).

 

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Kitchen essentials (2)

Essentials for a healthy kitchen

If you are transitioning to a diet that is focussed on fresh whole foods and light on packaged food, then you may find that preparing meals takes a little longer than you’re used to. This isn’t a bad thing – you know, ‘good things come to those who wait’…

I encourage my clients to consume 6-7 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables daily (at least five of those should be vegetables). Don’t panic! It is possible and you don’t have to spend your day cleaning  a juicer to achieve the target. Eating clean, doesn’t have to be hard work. However, it does help to be prepared, organised and have a few kitchen tools that make preparation work a little easier.

For the remainder of this post, I’m going to list out the items that I find indispensable in my kitchen. If you are thinking of taking your cooking to a healthier level, some of these may help.

I am not promoting products on behalf of any brands. These are items that I have tried and tested and can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ve provided links to each item for visual purposes – these link to amazon.co.uk*, but you should be able to purchase most of these at any good cook shop or department store.

So, in no particular order of preference, here we go.

Microplane Fine Grater

This little guy is great for zesting citrus fruit, finely mincing garlic or finely grating chocolate or fresh coconut. I bought mine about 7 years ago with my first London pay check as a treat to myself. If you want to get delicate flavour and texture into your sauces, dips, baking and stews, this is a wonderful tool.

Food processor with liquidising jug

If there is one thing you invest in this year, let it be a food processor. It doesn’t have to break the bank and it will save you loads of time and effort (which makes eating healthier easier). I use mine almost daily to make pesto, energy balls, banana ice-cream, nut butters etc.

There are plenty of food processors to choose from. However, I would encourage you to look into one that is at least mid-range in price. Because I use mine so much, I know that a cheaper model would succumb to ‘wear and tear’. It’s a false economy to buy any electronics on the cheap, and, let’s be honest, it’s your health we’re talking about, so invest a little. This is the version similar to the one I use, but have a look, see what’s available and what you can afford. Sites like Amazon have customer reviews which may be helpful.

Kenwood food processor

 

Food processors come with a variety of attachments. I would recommend that you get one with at least a liquidiser/blender jug and grater attachments. The liquidiser is essential for smoothies, nut milks and sauces, and with the grater, you can literally whip up a healthy salad in 10 minutes – no fuss. An added bonus is a spice grinder, but you can also purchase this separately (see below).

Of course, the daddy of all processors is the Vitamix. If you can afford one, it’s a great investment, but a decent food processor will do all the key things you need.

Stove-top steamerStove-top steamer

If you want to get the best out of your veg, steaming is the way to go. I use this stove-stop steamer. I prefer it to a plastic plug-in version and it’s extremely versatile. Use it for vegetables, steaming fish or warming up meals (as I don’t use a microwave).

Spice grinder

If you don’t have a grinder attachment with your blender, I highly advise purchasing a separate spice grinder.

I use mine mostly for grinding flax seeds. They pop up in many healthy dishes and need to be ground in order to make the omega 3 oils available for absorption. You can always buy ready-ground seeds, but making your own is more economical.

Non-toxic, non-stick pans

If you’re going to go to all the effort of preparing healthy meals, ensure that your cookware isn’t leaching toxic chemicals into your food.

Cheaper non-stick coated pans, like Teflon, are likely coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE is made from a chemical that can leach into cooking and release toxins into the air. Studies have been done to show that PTFE is not great for our health – do some research and decide for yourself. I also prefer not to use aluminum pots and pans.

There are other, non-toxic pans available on the market. I use ceramic, stainless steel or cast iron. These items are more expensive, but last much longer. I really believe that your pots and pans are a lifetime investment – if you buy good quality items they will be with you forever and have fewer ‘side effects’. I also advise buying pans that are oven-proof (very handy and less washing up!).

GreenPan

Ceramic, stainless steel and cast iron items can be pricey. So, start off with the items you use most at highest temperatures (frying, roasting etc) and replace those first. Take advantage of birthdays, wedding gifts or seasonal sales to get the most value for money.

Stick blender

If you have a liquidiser, a stick blender is technically not necessary. However, I have both and find the stick blender very useful for some tasks such as liquidising soups (in the pot), making pancakes or smaller quantities of sauces, dips and pestos.

Again, there is a spectrum of blenders available to suit your needs and budget. I have a fairly cheap version which keeps me going, but you may wish to invest in a more powerful blender.

Garlic crusher

Life is too short to chop garlic.

Besides that, crushing garlic is the best way to release the activate the compound, allicin. Allicin has been shown to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, so the more you can get the better!

Invest in a decent quality crusher to make your life easier and get the most benefit from this brilliant food.

Good quality knives Good knives

Poor quality, dull knives make preparing food a trial. On the other hand, a set of quality, sharpened knives can make food preparation a pleasure. It may sound extreme, but it is true.

Please, please invest in some good knives and look after them (i.e. don’t put them in the dishwasher). For my smaller, serrated knives, I love Victorinox – my grandmother’s are still in operation, so I can testify to the quality. These are my essential kitchen knives, but ask around for recommendations:

Victorinox Parer

Victorinox – Tomato Knife 11cm

Victorinox Chefs Knife

Thin, flat egg lifter

It may sound strange to have an egg lifter on the list of essentials, but I truly couldn’t do without mine. It must be thin, so make flipping pancakes a breeze. It should ideally be of a good quality plastic to protect your lovely pans and heat resistant to avoid the inadvertent melt when left on the side of the cooker.

This is one of my favourites:

SprouterJar sprouter

Sprouts are nutrient dense and easy to grow on a window sill. They are a great addition to your weekly diet – scattered on a salad, blended into a dip, pesto or smoothie, or eaten as a snack.

If you’re starting off, a BioSnacky is a good option. Try to source organic seeds – I use this distributor.

Good set of measuring cups / jugMeasuring cups

Getting portion sizes right is key. Having a good set of measuring cups or a well-marked jug will make things much simpler for you when preparing delicious meals.

Good quality pepper grinder Peugeot pepper grinder

Believe me, buying cheap pepper grinders is a waste of time, money and adds to our landfill problem. I recommend investing in a good quality pepper grinder, such as Peugeot. It has a lifetime guarantee on the mechanism. They are more expensive than other mills, but you will have it forever.

These also make great gifts by the way.

 

Have I missed something off that you can’t live without? Leave your suggestions in the comment box below.

 

*I belong to an affiliate programme with Amazon which rewards me when you buy a product. This helps me run and maintain the blog, but don’t feel obliged to buy through Amazon. I would be even happier if you supported your local, independent kitchen shop.

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Preparing butternut (for beginners)

Don’t let the tough-looking exterior of butternut put you off cooking with this fabulous squash.

Butternut is delicious, versatile and packed with nutrients.

Choosing your butternut….

In order to get the most out of your butternut, you need to pick the right one. The rule of thumb when choosing a butternut is to go for one that has a long slender neck and a smaller round base. The neck has a solid core of butternut and the base houses the seeds – the more neck you get, the more butternut you get.

You want your butternut to be fairly heavy and firm to the touch. If it’s light and feels a bit spongy, it’s not worth investing in.

Slice and dice

For most recipes, I keep the skin on (to increase the fibre content), so please make sure to use a sturdy sharp knife and a board that won’t slide (place it on a tea towel for grip). If you do peel the squash (to make a mash for example), simply use a potato peeler.

Here are my tips to prepare butternut for cooking:

  • Give the squash a good scrub and dry. Keep the skin on.
  • Cut a thin slice off each end to remove the top and bottom.
  • Next, cut in half at the point where the top slender part starts to bulge. You’ll now have a narrow cylindrical top half and the rounded bottom half.IMG_3001
  • Cut each half vertically down the middle to be left with four quarters.Butternut 3
  • Use a spoon to remove the seeds from the rounded quarters and cut into equal sized chunks.Butternut 4

Now cook your butternut – roast, steam, boil or barbeque whole (double-wrap in tinfoil and place in hot coals, turning regularly).

Butternut is versatile and matches well with most herbs (especially mint, sage, rosemary and thyme) and spices (coriander, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, chilli) and can also be used for sweet baking.

Try this Autumn Spiced Butternut Soup for an easy, delicious butternut dish.

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