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

 

Make your own herbal medicines

I was given a great book for Christmas: ‘Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong’, the companion to the BBC TV show that has also aired here in Australia.  James Wong is an ethnobotanist interested in medicinal plants and home grown remedies (and quite easy on the eye).

James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs

I haven’t seen the show but the book is fantastic and filled with great ideas for turning fresh and dried herbs, essential oils and other simple ingredients into homemade herbal medicines.  Some of the herbs in his recipes are not readily available in Australia, at least to my knowledge, but I found plenty that are and so I had a go..

TummySoother1

The first thing that caught my eye was his “Peppermint Tummy Soother for Indigestion”, a peppermint and chamomile syrup to take as needed for stomach cramps and nervous indigestion.  Most people have herbal tea bags in the cupboard so this is super easy.  I used dried peppermint leaves, 4 chamomile tea bags and some beautiful fresh chamomile flowers from J’s sister.

TummySoother2

I basically made a really strong tea, simmering the herbs in water for 20 mins, then leaving to cool and straining through a sieve and muslin.  He recommends pushing on the herby bits with a spoon (I used my fingers) to squeeze out all the therapeutic juices.  This is what I ended up with:

TummySoother3

I returned this to the clean pot and simmered for ages to reduce to 200ml volume.  James Wong suggested to simmer gently and I possibly took this slightly too far as it took about 40 mins to reduce!  Anyway, I was able to put a lot of love into my liquid herbs by spending so much time with them.  When the volume was right I added a cup and a bit of honey (from my cousins’ bees!) and 75ml of good cloudy apple cider vinegar.  This stuff is a great digestive tonic, alkaliser and all around friend to your body.

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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.

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!