Last night was my first ever Smarter Fitter Supperclub held here at my digs in the Cotswolds featuring a vegan, raw, gluten-free theme. There were 11 of us in total, and what fun it was having so many like-minded and adventurous people over to try some of my creations, share ideas, drink wine and have some great chat. It went amazingly well and I hope all of my guests had as much fun as I did. The stand-out dishes seemed to be the beetroot and walnut dip, sweet potato kofte, raw raspberry cheesecake and, funny enough, the “Juicer Dreg Crisps” I made in the dehydrator with leftover juicer pulp.
My only regret is not taking enough pictures! The only pictures I did take were of the beverages (which might explain a thing or two).
Will I do it again? I think so! The social opportunities alone make it worthwhile – I met some really interesting people and made a few new friends. Plus, it was great hanging out with people who are actually local to me – something I don’t do as much as I’d like to.
So I’m thinking a summertime veggie BBQ camp. Any interest?
The menu from last night is below, with links to a few recipes for some favourite dishes.
Last night I hosted my New Year Reboot cooking workshop at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School in Bath. The whole “reboot” concept is all about giving the body a chance to rest and recover after a season of excess, and get back to (or get started with) feeling awesome all of the time. The aim of the class was to provide strategies and recipes to help people design their own “reboot” according to their own personal tastes.
One of the strategies involves eating foods that are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free. Another strategy involves eating a lot of soup (easy to digest, nutrient rich meals – kinda like smoothies)!
One of the soups I demonstrated was this “Cream” of Cauilflower soup. Blended cashews give this soup its velvety creamy texture – no dairy required! And based on the mmm’s of the students, I’d say this was one of the top recipes of the evening.
You don’t need milk, cream or potato to make soups creamy – use cashews instead. You also get the protein and healthy fat bonus that comes from using cashews. Plus, adding cashews or any nut to your soup will ultimately make them more satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer and keep you from needing to snack later in the day. You can use this same recipe to make all kinds of vegan creamy soups – broccoli and celery are great here.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
salt, to taste
1 liter of water or stock
a large handful of raw cashews
Freshly ground black pepper
Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottom pan. Cook the onion on a medium heat until it is soft, without letting it brown.
Add the cauliflower and 125ml water. Raise the heat slightly, cover and let the cauliflower cook for 15-18 minutes, until tender.
Working in batches, puree the cooked cauliflower with the stock and the cashews, then return to the pot and heat thoroughly.
Serve garnished with sauteed mushrooms, kale chips or whatever tasty garnish you can think of!
Given yesterday’s news that nuts are tied to lower risk of cancer and heart disease, I thought I’d share this cashew curry recipe which I made recently as part of an Indian feast for my friend Sam’s birthday a couple weekends ago. The recipe is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s “Cashews in a Rich Coconut Sauce” from Rice, Spice and All Things Nice. Yes, this is a curry based entirely on nuts! A strange idea, I thought, but it works really well and makes a most interesting option for a vegetarian curry.
And if you’re worried about the fat content of nuts, don’t be! The study showed that people who ate nuts actually tended to be slimmer than their non-nutty counterparts. And, bonus, they also had:
29% reduced risk of heart disease
11% reduced risk of cancer
20% reduced risk of death
The results applied to all nuts, even peanuts, which are actually a legume, not a nut (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who eat legumes regularly experience the same benefits as nut fiends).
My mom and I recently took a trip to Marrakech. It was our first time in Morocco and one of the things we looked forward to the most was the food. We both thought we knew what Moroccan food was like, but in retrospect, we hadn’t a clue beyond couscous and vegetable tagine. However, we quickly learned…
Our education began at our riad, Riad Tizwa, in Marrakech’s Old City. A riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard; in Marrakech many of these riads operate as guest houses and provide a much more intimate experience of the city than a traditional hotel. Ours was hidden amongst the maze of the Medina’s winding passages and we wouldn’t have found it were it not for our taxi driver (word to the wise traveller: if your hotel or riad offers airport transport, take them up on it). But behind an unmarked door was a beautiful palatial home scented with local perfume and full of light, greenery, fruit trees and flowers.
Our host greeted us with Moroccan mint tea (which I only knew about thanks to Urvashi Roe’s excellent write-up on the Art of Moroccan Mint Tea) and some sound advice on where we should go for great Moroccan food. As a result, we had some amazing, epic meals – most notably at Ksar Essaoussan and Le Tobsil - that were real lessons in how to feast Moroccan style.
To our collective vegetarian delight, meals started with a selection of cooked and raw salads, but not salads as I’m used too. These were more like little tasting plates of vegetables in various chopped, grated or pureed form. As a result, you didn’t quite know what you were eating until you tried it, making each dish an exciting surprise. Memorable salads include a celery and tomato diced salad with herbs which reminded us of tabbouleh without bulgar. We also had some amazing cooked peppers and tomato seasoned with paprika, cumin and garlic. Spices. Spices were used across the dishes in all kinds of crazy unexpected ways (tomato and cinnamon, for example, and it works).
Main courses were less of a surprise, but I think this is largely due to the vegetarian thing. Everywhere we went we got couscous and vegetable tagine, all delicious and wonderful, but with surprisingly very little variation. Carrots and parsnip was par for the tagine course, with the occasional cauliflower or green pepper. Only once did we get chickpeas in our tagine. We kept talking about how good the tagines were, but how much we wished they had more of this or that, particularly cauliflower (my mother and I both are cauliflower fiends). But a glance at the city’s food markets made it pretty clear that these people were working with a pretty limited selection of ingredients, purely dictated by what was in season at the time. But isn’t that the way it should be?
In a way, this makes the tagine the ultimate seasonal stew, and one of the first things I did when I came home from Marrakech was to make a tagine.
In case you’re unaware, a tagine is a fragrant spicy stew named after the earthenware pot in which it is made (a normal pot, preferably cast iron, also works). With Marrakech in mind, I made my tagine using what was in season, but this time I was working with British ingredients: carrots, romanesco cauliflower and the last of the season’s courgettes and green beans. But this dish would work with almost anything and seems particularly adept to autumn and winter vegetables like swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower. I like to keep the vegetables in large chunks and serve it with sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s the perfect thing on a cold, wet, dreary British day. And oddly, it also happens to be the perfect thing on a sweltering hot and sunny afternoon in Morocco: further proof that the tagine is one of the most miraculous dishes around, globe-spanning and eternally versatile.
1-3 tsp harissa (start with 1tsp and adjust to suit your spice tolerance)
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 lemon, juice and zest
a handful fresh cilantro
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, broken into big florets
½ cup cooked chickpeas
a handful of raisins
toasted sliced almonds
couscous to serve
Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it softens.
Add garlic, ginger and the spices and stir around a bit.
Add the harissa, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the vegetables and stir around, make sure that all vegetables are somewhat covered in tomato sauce. Put the lid on and simmer for about an hour. Stir carefully once or twice, otherwise leave the lid on – and be patient!
Serve with couscous and a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds.
I invented this smoothie as part of the Clean Detox and it was good enough to deserve its own blog post. I love the combination of the fresh crisp apple and earthy beetroot. It also happens to be fiber-rich!
It’s not a very sweet smoothie, so add more prunes (or dates) if you’d like it sweeter.
1/2 raw beetroot
1cm piece of ginger
a few fresh mint leaves
~1 cup of ice
Add enough water to blend and blitz on high until silky smooth.
I’ve had a jar of Danival Organic Puree Pumpkin languishing in the back of my cupboard (bottom shelf) for years. I bought two jars of the stuff to make pumpkin pie and a failed experiment with the first jar led me to conclude that was NOT the pumpkin pie puree I was looking for (but really, is there any substitute for Libbys?).
But with this recent detox and the sudden inclusion of lots of soup in my life, I decided to unleash the pumpkin in hopes of a quick lunch soup fix. The fix was a success, using a recipe from the ever reliable How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It’s my most loved and most used cookbook and once again it delivered the goods. His recipe uses fresh pumpkin but here’s how I did it using pumpkin puree.
500g jarred or canned pumpkin puree (or 3lbs fresh winter squash like butternut or acorn, peeled and chopped)
vegetable stock or water
Heat the oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the curry powder, garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or so until fragrant.
If using pureed pumpkin, remove the pot from the heat. Add a little water and scrape up any spices that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. (If using fresh pumpkin, add the pumpkin with enough water or stock to cover and simmer until the pumpkin is soft.)
Put the onion mixture into a blender with the pumpkin and enough water or stock to achieve a desirable soup consistency.
Put the blender contents back into the pot and on the heat. Let it heat thoroughly. Taste, season and serve.
Breakfast: A variation on the black and blue smoothie, made with blackberries, mango, avocado, kale, flax seeds plus a dash of cinnamon and a couple drops of orange flower water.
Lunch: Besan cheelas (Indian chickpea flour pancakes) with Indian cabbage salad and coconut coriander chutney. Not sure why I took so long to make these pancakes – they’re quick, easy and awesomely delicious, plus that have that eat-with-your hands delight that makes them all the more satisfying. You can also make them non-Indian style (the Italian version is called farinata). I love to wrap the cabbage salad inside the besan cheela and eat with chutney, so I made some coconut coriander chutney following this recipe but it was a little mealy (the recipe uses desiccated/dried coconut). Maybe I should have soaked the coconut first? Or maybe I need to face a real coconut and bust out the hammer.
Dinner: If I’ve learned one thing on my detox, it’s that if you saute any kind of vegetable with onions and garlic, then puree it with cashews and veggie stock, you get the most amazing silky smooth soup that’s basically a vegan version of all those “Cream of” style soups that I have such fond memories of. Today’s was a “cream” of celery soup inspired by my friend Sharon, garnished with that crispy kale I’m so into at the moment.
I’m now scheming all kinds of other creamy soups I can make… cream of cauliflower… cream of broccoli… cream of asparagus! And let’s just give a shout out to the whole vegan protein bonus that the cashews bring to the soup. I reckon other nuts will be worth trying… almonds, brazil nuts… pistachios!
When tomatoes and peppers are back in my life, I’m thinking an almond version of the classic African peanut soup will be worth a try. Next week!
Breakfast: Another green smoothie with mango, flax seeds, avocado and kale. I autumnalized this one with a dash of cinnamon.
Lunch: Pureed courgette soup with cucumber and dill salsa. Leftovers from day 12. Loved this.
Dinner: Black beans, avocado and a mixed fruit & veg salsa made with finely diced carrots, courgettes, white onion, mango, pomegranate, radish, cilantro and lime (it sounds weird but it’s actually very good). Not shown: the pretend tacos I made with all of these fixins and little gem lettuce leaves. Sort of like this.
Snacks: I never mention snacks but I should. I usually have a piece of fruit in the afternoon (today an apple with some almond butter) and another piece of fruit (or two) in the evening (today a pear and a nectarine).
Only one week to go of the detox and I’m already feeling a little reluctant to “let it go”. I’m really enjoying this and feel good. The phrase “permanent detox” keeps spinning in my head. If I kept this up for a few months, I think I would be a solidly changed person, both physically and mentally. This won’t happen, because there are things coming up for which a “retox” is desirable (equinox and Marrakech just to name two) but aside from these anomalies, I can totally see keeping up with many aspects of this “diet” in the future. For example, I’m surprised by how much I’ve come to love smoothies for breakfast. And I can really groove on soup, which doesn’t have to be boring, especially when pureed with cashews and adorned with adequate garnishes like tahini and crispy kale.
The bottom line is something I’ve always known: I feel a lot better when I’m not eating lots of bread or sugar, and when I’m not drinking alcohol on a regular basis. The structure of the detox has made it fairly easy to undo those habits, however, I wonder how easy it will be to continue those habits without the detox-imposed restrictions. I guess I’ll just have to learn self control, and to choose my pizza-and-beer nights with care!
It will be interesting to re-introduce other foods into my life that I always thought “healthy” – tomatoes, tofu, eggs – and see how they make me feel. I don’t think I have any sensitivities to such things but who knows?
It’s too soon to know whether this detox has affected my progress at the gym and pool. I think it would take a few months to really test this out and see if I’m getting weaker or stronger. On some days I feel exhausted and hungry. Others (today at the pool) I feel great. I do know that it seems to take me a while to recover from a heavy weights session (2-3 days) but this is nothing new and begs the eternal question for a mostly-vegan person: am I getting enough protein?
I have been saving grocery receipts and will report on the cost of this detox at the end of the week. I’ve been doing this frugally and as mentioned, mostly vegan, saving money by using dried beans which cost very little, and of course the courgette glut which seems endless (but girl cannot live on courgette soup alone). The smoothies are expensive – the orchard apples and pears are still a little early yet, but I have foraged lots of blackberries which come in handy. Writing all this I’m feeling very lucky for the abundance of free food around at the moment! This detox would definitely cost more in the winter. Now there’s an ebook: How to Detox by the Seasons!
This smoothie has become a staple of mine in recent weeks, largely thanks to the abundance of blackberries in the hedgerows at the moment. If only avocados grew so readily, alas, I have to rely on Lidl for my avocado fix (yes, Lidl, where avocados seem to be both cheaper and tastier than those from other supermarkets, the exception being The Organic Farm Shop which occasionally has organic avocados from Mexico which are pure bliss).
But I digress. I like to add interest to this smoothie with mint and orange flower water, but if you don’t have those it’s not the end of the world. This is really all about the berries, and the avocados and dates make it creamy sweet deliciousness.