Nourishing traditions

2013 has been the year of getting back to my roots. By this I mean reconnecting with family, deepening my community in Sydney and establishing a routine of work and life that involves some new hobbies and grounding rituals. I will tell the story of my edible gardening adventures in another post – now I want to focus on a wonderful book that it took me far too long to read and a simple, delicious food that has become a nourishing staple.

Nourishing traditions by Sally Fallon will be familiar to anyone who is interested in the Weston A Price Foundation and their approach to food. Their website has lots of information about the health benefits of traditional diets as well as guidelines for avoiding diet-related chronic disease.

They advocate the proper preparation of grains and legumes to increase digestibility, the consumption of healthy fats (with an interesting slant on what these are considered to be) and the preparation of fermented dairy and vegetable foods to add natural probiotics and digestion boosting enzymes to your daily meals.

One of the simplest fermented recipes to try is Sauerkraut or pickled cabbage. I have always felt an affinity with this juicy, tangy side dish thanks to my Polish roots and it was so exciting to have a go at making my own.

The king of Sauerkraut – beautiful organic cabbage

The recipe is pretty simple:

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded

1 tablespoon sea salt

4 tablespoons whey (optional – extra salt can be used instead)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional – but delicious)

Whey from strained yoghurt aids the lacto-fermentation process

The fermentation process is known as lacto-fermentation and involves the breakdown of carbohydrates by bacteria making them more digestible. Whey aids this process by providing probiotic bacteria to help encourage a healthy balance in your Sauerkraut and also adds a tangy flavour to the finished batch.

I got my whey by straining some plain organic yoghurt through a clean tea towel over a colander over night in the fridge. The whey can be kept in the fridge for up a few weeks for use in other fermented recipes and the solids are called yoghurt cheese and can be used in the same way as cream cheese (and is absolutely delicious!)

Pounding the ingredients releases juices and encourages fermentation

The method is simple and quite therapeutic!

Mix all your ingredients in a big sturdy bowl and grab something solid with which to pound. I use an ice cream scoop, I have seen others suggest a potato masher. The idea is to pound the cabbage until it has reduced in volume and release lots of juices. This might take 15-30 mins with breaks, depending on your tool and strength. Then pack it all into a clean jar, pressing down firmly and pouring in all the juices. You need a one inch gap at the top of your jar to allow for expansion (heed this warning – it will expand). Make sure that the cabbage is pretty well covered by its liquids to avoid mould forming.

My finished jar of Sauerkraut with not quite enough of a gap left at the top..

I left my jar in a room temperature cupboard for 3 days, checking daily to watch as bubbles formed and then liquid expanded. One day I opened the jar and released a build up of gas (apparently this is called ‘burping’). I tasted it after the third day and it was tangy but still crunchy (it seems the salt contributes to this, according to this great website).

At that point I put it in the fridge. And spent the next month enjoying colourful breakfasts and delicious salads. Sauerkraut can be eaten daily, can be added as a condiment to any meal and is a brilliant way to boost your digestion and nutrition. The flavour continued to develop over time and I enjoyed every mouthful!

A colourful breakfast - rye toast with yoghurt cheese and sauerkraut

For more information about the Weston A Price Foundation you can have a look here.

Any questions about this recipe or the benefits of fermented foods, feel free to email me at sgnaturopath@gmail.com

 

London Permaculture festival

It has been nearly 7 months and we are preparing to head home to Australia.  I have been working through a list of last minute London must-dos, like lunch in Brixton and visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden.  Last weekend I took the opportunity to visit the London Permaculture festival, a day long event filled with friendly faces and informative sessions. We have been doing some reading about permaculture whilst we have been here, ironic I know considering the idea was born in our home land!   The festival was a nice first connection with the permaculture community and I came away really inspired!

The first talk I wandered into was by Matt Morton from Oxford, introducing his research into the concept of a city block as a potential farming space, where individual residents come together to share land and/or resources to provide food for the block community.  A great idea in theory, faced with lots of difficulties in practice and raising interesting ideas around the way we perceive our usable space, often growing ornamental gardens rather than food gardens.

The edible landscape idea was continued by Pam Warhurst from Todmorden, a small town in northern England, who has pioneered a concept called Incredible Edible Todmorden.  She and her ever growing team of volunteers have gradually filled their town with edible gardens, making use of public spaces that are otherwise bare or ornamental, and building a strong community around growing food and sharing knowledge.  They have encouraged schools, police and fire services, health workers, residents of housing estates and local business people to get involved in community gardens and make real food a priority.  There are now cities all around the world who have taken up the same goal and the town has become a popular tourist destination.

The point that Pam made at the end of sharing the evolution of this project with us is that it all began with a simple idea and a small action and, most importantly, it started a conversation.  That’s what I got from attending the festival, my first taste of being part of conversations around permaculture and food growing.  To be continued when we get home to Australia!

Exploring new ingredients

Since moving to London earlier this year I have found that I have access to so many new ingredients!  My kitchen has bravely ventured into previously unchartered culinary waters, from ‘classics’ like a black pudding fry up and Toad in the Hole to cooking gorgeous local fish and Singapore style chilli crab (ok, that last one wasn’t me – I’m still a shellfish novice).

I have a couple of great independent health food stores near me in North London and love browsing for inspiration.  Today I made these delicious muffins:

Soaked Millet, Banana & Barberry muffins

I am not the best with recipes when I bake.  I know it’s risky, but I always seem to use a little less sugar, or flour, or add things.  So this recipe was loosely appropriated from the Millet Muffin recipe from Passionate Homemaking.  I started by leaving some organic millet flakes to soak overnight, out of the fridge in buttermilk, because I am exploring the benefits of soaking grains to improve their digestibility (you can read more about this here).

This morning I realised I should have also added the flour to the soaking mixture so I added wholemeal wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and about 1/3 cup honey with 1/3 cup sunflower oil. I also added a little soy milk to help the mix stay moist.  Then I covered with my tea towel and left it soaking out of the fridge for around 5 hours.  Possible not enough time for the “anti-nutrients” (I still have a bit of trouble with that word) to be neutralised but I hope better than nothing.

Before spooning into my muffin tin I added 2 chopped bananas, a good shake of dried barberries (see below!), one beaten egg and some cinnamon.  I’m happy to say I added no other sugar or sweetners and that the honey and banana have done the job beautifully.

Oven fresh muffins with Greek yoghurt and raspberries

Of course it’s always great to tuck into fresh home-made muffins, but I also get very excited about the health benefits of these ingredients.  Millet is a wonderful gluten-free wholegrain that is high in B vitamins, magnesium and protein. It is a great source of nutrients and fibre.  Barberries are not available at home in Australia (as far as I’m aware..) so I am thrilled to get to experiment with them here in London.

The berries are the fruit of the herb Berberis vulgaris,  and have a range of medicinal actions focusing on the digestive system.  They contain plant chemicals which are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and regenerating to the lining of the gut, as well as being immune boosting.  They have a tart, almost sour flavour which offsets the sweet banana very well.  It could be because they are a great digestive stimulant, but I think I need to eat another muffin..

Food as medicine

Thanks to my lovely colleague Cath Bender for sending me the link to this TED talk.

United States based physician and scientist Dr Terry Wahls tells the amazing story of how she used diet to cure her MS.  She followed a logical process of research to highlight the specific nutrients necessary to maintain the health of her brain and nervous system and then built a diet abundant with these nutrients. Her recovery is incredible.

What we can all take from this is the inspiration to make the effort to include these important foods in our diet as much as possible.  It is not always easy to eat the amounts of fresh greens, brightly coloured vegetables and berries and essential fatty acids that were effective in halting and turning around the nervous system degeneration experienced by Dr Wahls.  But for anybody who is looking to prevent chronic disease these foods are here waiting to offer you their benefits, even if you start to gradually include them alongside your normal diet.  Start slow, get into good habits and build from there.

I was inspired to take these suggestions and use them to make breakfast.  This is my free range egg omelette filled with sautéed red onion and fresh sorrel, silverbeet and parsley from our garden.  I crumbled some goats cheese through the eggs, which may or may not have been in keeping with the diet, but tasted excellent.

Hunter gatherer omelette

 

No Meat November

In early November my partner had an interesting idea:  why don’t we have a meat-free month in preparation for Christmas?  This was his version of a spring detox and a great idea as reducing animal proteins and tending your diet more towards plant proteins, fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to improve digestion, reduce inflammation and boost protective antioxidants (and maybe even lose weight!)

I was thrilled at the suggestion, thinking to myself that this would be a great break for him and not really that hard for me.  I had it in mind that I only eat meat a few times a week anyway.  So we set some rules: fish and seafood were allowed but all other meats excluded with the exception of one meat meal per week (a safety measure that I find handy in any restrictive diet to avoid binges that result in throwing the whole idea out).

Broad Bean, Leek & Rocket Pizza

Broad Bean, Leek & Rocket Pizza

No Meat November was a great opportunity to explore delicious vegetarian meals like this green pizza.

We got through it, or I should say, he got through it.  I faltered at the last weekend, spent with family in country Queensland, where meat was very much on the menu.  To be honest though, by that point I had realised that I do eat meat more than once or twice a week, and I like having that option.  This is not a comment on the ethics of vegetarianism, I have huge respect for those who make the effort required to follow their own nutritional path, ensuring they still gain the nutrients usually provided by the foods they avoid.  During my (largely) pescetarian month I felt real opposition to my diet plan from a variety of sources and was reminded how little choice there is on the average menu for those that choose not to eat meat.

What we both gained from this month was awareness.  Eating can often be quite unconscious: I thought it would be a breeze to cut out meat to once a week but was surprised at the number of opportunities that arose throughout the weeks where I would have normally chosen meat.  We tell ourselves certain things about the way we eat, but sometimes it can take a process that encourages greater awareness, like keeping a diet diary or reducing sugar, to bring the reality of our food choices into focus.

My goal is conscious eating, enjoying the choices I make and being aware of the impact of what I eat on my health and wellbeing.  This requires self-awareness, honesty and a bit of education to make sure you are well equipped to give your body what it needs every day.  In the lead up to Christmas, I will ask myself: have I eaten any vegetables today?

Take your immune system to lunch

Last week I succumbed to the spring cold that has been going around so I decided to raid the fridge for an immune boosting lunch.

The basic elements I was looking for were:

  • Protein: to give my body the building blocks it needs to fight viruses and make antibodies.  This could be a small amount of lean meat, fish, soy or egg, or a combination of plant proteins such as grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Vegetables: filled with vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals that boost our immune function and help cleanse our bodies of waste.  The more variety and colour, the better.
  • Spices: the edible medical cabinet, all culinary herbs and spices have medicinal properties and are used in cultures around the world for their health enhancing effects.
  • Grains: carbohydrates are our primary energy source and a small amount of a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa with veges and protein makes a well rounded meal.

Any combination of ingredients will do, as long as you try to include the elements above.  Here is what I made:

Immunelunch

Tofu & green vegetable stir fry with garlic, tumeric and quinoa

It only took about half an hour and left me feeling well nourished!

The protein:  Tofu and tempeh, both great vegetarian protein sources, cubed and stir fried in chilli oil.  Set aside to wait.

The vegetables: Greens!! Brocolli, zucchini, green beans and shallots, sliced and slowly stir fried with peanut oil, a little sesame oil and sliced garlic.  Garlic is one of the best immune boosting ingredients we have, acting like a natural antibiotic.

The spices: fennel and cumin seeds are great digestion boosters; I added the whole seeds with the oil and veges.  Tumeric is an amazing root with anti-inflammatory and immune building properties; I added the powder with a little water when the veges were almost done.  Also sea salt, black pepper and a little bit of spicy seasoning (Trocomare).

The grains:  Left over cooked rice and red quinoa (from the fridge or cooked in the rice cooker as required), added at the end after the spices, stir fried to warm through and take on the flavours.  Quinoa is a high protein grain that contains good levels of the amino acid lysine which helps your body fight viral infections.

The best part was the delicious and health promoting leftovers that I found in the fridge the next time I went searching for an immune boosting meal.

In defence of food

A quick but hearty recommendation for an important book. ‘In Defense of Food‘, by Michael Pollan, offers a welcome perspective for anyone who is confused about what to eat, perhaps as a result of conflicting nutrition advice or the current scientific tendency to reductionist thinking which has resulted in an emphasis on nutrients over wholefoods. I am as concerned as Pollan about the current status of food science, where it seems to be a good idea to develop products such as omega 3 fatty acid fortified bacon. Nature did not intend this. We can (and it is getting pretty close to a must) tap into our own instincts and common sense about what to nourish ourselves with. Pollan explains more on his site: http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/.

Fish #2 (Europe)

My trip to Europe was a fantastic excuse to explore local cuisines and try foods that I don’t usually come across in Australia. I continued my mission to encourage variety in my fish consumption by taking every opportunity to eat dishes that included new types of fish. Some of these were prepared in restaurants or pubs, like the wonderful battered Haddock and pan-fried Halibut with chunky chips and mushy peas at Steels in the English seaside town of Cleethorpes, and some were cooked for me by friends.  Here is a selection of the highlights for me:

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

Grilled Sardines with sea salt crust, Matoshinos, Porto

These giant sardines were cooked in front of us on a barbeque out in the street and served with garlic and olive oil potatoes, char-grilled capsicum and grilled squid.  Small fish like this are a great choice especially if, like me, you tend to eat a lot of much bigger fish like salmon.  The smaller the fish, the less time spent in the ocean accumulating waste.  If you can eat the whole fish there are other benefits: skin and organs contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and bones are a great source of calcium.

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

Codfish with Cornbread, Porto

This dish had a simple name but stacks of flavour.  Based around Bacalhau, dried cod which is a specialty of Portugal (although often imported from Norway or Newfoundland), this was a new take on a fish pie with potato and leeks mixed with shredded cod and topped with a delicious cornbread crust.  I love a good fish pie, an excellent way to include some vegetables in your meal.

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

Scorpion Fish with zucchini, olives and piquillo peppers, Le Train Bleu, Paris

The full title for this dish is much longer and fancier than my description, but that is to be expected from one of the most incredible restaurants in Paris.  High above the hectic bustle of the Gare de Lyon, Le Train Bleu is an oasis.  Scorpion fish is a notoriously venomous species, however I found the flavour was lacking something, until I tried all the elements of the dish together and realised that the fish had been balanced to take the vegetables into account.  What a nice approach  – a meal where the meat and veges work together in perfect harmony!

Fresh Girelles royales

Fresh Girelles royales

Our friends in Provence introduced these beautiful fish as Girelles royales.  They were bought fresh that day and cooked for us on a barbeque hot plate.  We ate them whole with bread, white wine and sunshine. Magnifique.

Grilled Girelles royales

Grilled Girelles royales, Provence

Does sugar make us fat?

I have just finished reading a very interesting book.  Sweet Poison: Why sugar makes us fat, by Australian David Gillespie, explores the possibility that the obesity epidemic may rest on our sugar consumption.  This challenges the long held perspective that it is fat in our diet that is primarily to blame for making us fat.

Gillespie was clinically obese and trying diet after diet with few long term results, until he cut foods and drink containing fructose out of his daily meals.  Fructose is a simple sugar that is half of the sucrose molecule and occurs naturally in many foods including fruit, honey and fruit juice and is also added to most processed foods, especially soft drinks, flavoured water and flavoured milk.  Basically any food or drink with added sugar contains fructose.  Gillespie noticed changes to his weight almost immediately and over a healthy two year period lost 40kg.

Gillespie is not a scientist but a consumer who embarked on his own research.  He has put together an easy to read but still very informative book that looks at the history of sugar consumption and the biochemical fate of excess sugar in our diet.  Fructose is unique as it seems to bypasses our inbuilt appetite control mechanisms and encourages the production of fatty acids by the liver, and thus leads directly to weight gain when eaten in excess.  The fructose in a piece of fruit is usually balanced out by the fibre in fruit which fills you up and prevents you from eating too much.  Fruit juice on the other hand has no fibre and thus you can consume much more before you feel full, leading to the consumption of a lot more fructose.  Fruit is a great source of vitamins, fibre and antioxidants, but still needs to be consumed in moderation: 1-2 pieces of fruit a day is ideal.

The overall message from this book is to trust your taste buds – if it tastes sweet then it will lead to greater energy production in your body and if this energy is not used by physical activity then you will gain weight.

I’m sure Gillespie will have been very pleased to see the study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study by Welsh et al (2010) explored the association between the consumption of dietary added sugars and blood lipid levels in US adults.  They found that increased dietary sugars are associated with  a variety of cardiovascular disease risk factors: low HDL cholesterol (the good type that helps clear gunk out of your arteries, high triglycerides (free fats that float around in your blood) and a high ratio of triglycerides to HDL-C.

The tides might be starting to turn in favour of the sugar makes us fat argument.

- Welsh, JA  et al. 2010 Caloric Sweetener Consumption and Dyslipidemia Among US Adults;JAMA;303(15):1490-1497

Fish #1

I have already cooked a few fish dishes that I was quite happy with this year.  For Dad’s birthday I did a Salmon with Rice in Green Tea which involved pouring freshly brewed tea over the dish at the table – a brilliant twist on a broth! Another was a Baked Salmon with Leeks, Herbs and Garlic for a salicylate-free feast.  You might notice that there is a bit of a theme here – salmon is the only fish I ever seem to cook.  Sure it is wonderful for you, but I am also a big fan of variety and sustainability and so I am setting a new rule that I must try cooking a variety of fish for the rest of the year.

Today I watched the Neil Perry fish episode of Poh’s Kitchen and then found his elegant fish curry recipe on the lifestyle food website  http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/238/fish-curry.

He uses blue eye cod, garam masala, ginger, garlic, paprika, tumeric and lime juice.  Sounds good!  I am also going to do a vegetable side dish, to try to use up some of the beautiful pumpkin and baby eggplant we picked up from J’s sister’s community garden.  So far the plan is to roast the veges with a bit of the garam spice and nigella seeds to tie the side dish in with the curry.  We will see!

It was delicious!