A fresh start to the year with a salad full of rainbow colours

 

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Sometimes our own bodies are our best guide to what is good for our health. At this time of the year, after the season of socialising and eating out, our bodies often crave fresh, light, clean, vibrant foods. A salad full of rainbow colours fits the bill. Bright colours in vegetables, fruits and salads often indicate high  nutrient and antioxidant content, and apart from that, look appetising – enjoyment of eating food forms part of the promotion of good health.

The author of the latest cookbook I’ve been reading is a woman after my own heart. She suggests that making greens the foundation of the plate can be used as a daily strategy for increasing vegetable intake (Kelley, J. (2012) “Salad for Dinner”, Rizzoli International Publications, NY, USA). As I’ve mentioned before, and as Kelley points out, the preparation of a salad is an art, requiring balance of colour, flavour and texture. Salads don’t need to be all raw, they are lovely with a balance of cooked and raw vegetables, protein foods such as chicken, fish or eggs and additions such as avocado and olives. They don’t need to be complicated – but an oily dressing is essential, around 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or lemon juice. Good quality oil is another essential – I  recommend fresh organic extra virgin olive oil from Australia, and/or Udo’s organic 3:6:9 blend, which should be kept refrigerated. Oils promote absorption of nutrients from the salad ingredients, good digestion, brain and hormone function, amongst other things.

Including more salads regularly in your diet is a beautiful way of incorporating more vegetables. Here is one of my current favourite recipes – however try creating your own with your favourite ingredients! It just takes some practice to get the balance right. Enjoy!

Tuna and avocado salad with roasted pumpkin, beetroot and greens

Serves 2

Sustainably fished tuna in oil, 180g can, drained

Avocado medium, 1/2, chopped into small pieces*

Beetroot, 1 medium, peeled, grated or sliced thinly with a peeler*

Jap Pumpkin chopped into small pieces, 1/2 – 3/4 cup, and 1 tsp organic ghee or coconut oil, to roast

4 cups mixed greens, or enough to fill two salad bowls, washed and drained

4 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil or Udo’s organic 3:6:9 oil, or a blend

1 tsp whole grain mustard

1 tsp apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar

two beautiful wide salad bowls

Optional – shallots and spinach lightly sauted in a little ghee or coconut oil, with water added as required, until cooked, then drained

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease baking dish with ghee or coconut oil. Place pumpkin in the baking dish and rub a little ghee or coconut oil over the pumpkin. Roast for 20 – 30 minutes or until soft.
  2. Make dressing – place extra virgin olive/Udo’s oil, mustard and vinegar in a small bowl or jar, and mix well.
  3. Arrange greens in the two salad bowls, then artfully place the beetroot, pumpkin, tuna and avocado and the optional cooked shallots and greens on top.
  4. Drizzle over the dressing, then season with salt and freshly ground pepper – and enjoy!

*for low FODMAP diets, reduce avocado to 1/8th medium per serve, and reduce beetroot to less than 40g per serve (which is approximately 2 tbsp grated)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thyme roasted pumpkin, pan-fried shallots and sweet potato leaf salad with a mustard and red wine vinegar dressing

imageIt can be challenging to find nourishing food that meets your body’s needs when you are out and about, working or studying. In our often rushed daily lives, having a nourishing lunch is often last on our priority lists. Packing your own lunch can help by providing a ready-prepared meal with ingredients of your choice, to provide your body with healthy fuel to keep going. Taking the time to sit and enjoy a meal is no longer considered important in today’s society, however it is so important for ourdigestion, health and relationships.

This salad is a simple recipe that can be packed the night before, and can be adapted to include leftovers or whatever is in your fridge. It is designed to go in  your lunch bag as an accompaniment to things like sustainable tuna or salmon, nitrate-free ham, leftover roast chicken, boiled eggs, avocado, olives and home-made mayonnaise. You can also use leftover roasted vegetables in the salad. A nice finishing touch to this lunch, if you prefer not to have grain-based foods, is a hot nutritious drink such as my warm banana, almond, macadamia and coconut milk with cinnamon and vanilla recipe.

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Sweet potato leaves are a relatively undiscovered gem. They are packed with nutrients and beneficial compounds, and can be used in both salads and cooked dishes. In a salad, I prefer to have them mixed with other greens, such as rocket, mizuna, and light coral and butter lettuces. They are beautiful cooked, and go well in a frittata, and also in a coconut-milk based chicken curry with pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and kaffir lime leaves. Sweet potato leaves have been found to contain a higher amount of iron than spinach and kale, around 4mg per cup of raw leaves, which is around 1/2 of an adult male daily requirement, and 1/4 of a female’s daily requirement (1, 2). They do have a significant level of oxalates though, which can interfere with nutrient absorption and increase the risk of kidney stones. These can be reduced significantly by blanching in water before adding them to your dish.

We are lucky here to be able to get fresh sweet potato leaves from our local markets – they can be found seasonally at both the Gold Coast Organic Farmers Market and the Mullumbimby Farmers markets. I am always very grateful when Tanya from Summit Organics brings her beautiful sweet potato leaves along to the Gold Coast markets! You can try them in this recipe, which is fresh, light and nourishing – enjoy!

Recipe

Serves 1

2 big handfuls of sweet potato leaves, washed (you can include them raw, or blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes first, before adding them to your salad)

1 -2 cup of mixed green salad leaves

1/4/-1/2 cup of pumpkin, chopped

1 tsp dried thyme

2 handfuls of shallots

2-3 tsp organic ghee, or sunflower oil

Dressing – 1 tbsp flaxseed oil, 1 tsp organic wholegrain mustard, 1 tsp red wine vinegar

1. Rub some ghee or sunflower oil over the pumpkin pieces, and roast in a small baking dish for around 15 minutes at 200 degrees Celcius.

2. Heat the remaining ghee or sunflower oil in a small pan, and pan-fry the chopped shallots for a few minutes, until they are soft.

3. Mix dressing ingredients together in a small jar.

4. Place your sweet potato leaves and mixed grains in a transportable lunch container, and place the shallots and pumpkin decoratively on top once they are ready. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper And chopped chives on top if desired.

5. Pack in your lunch bag, along with the dressing and some sustainable tuna or salmon, or nitrate-free ham, or boiled eggs, plus some olives and/or avocado, and/or mayonnaise.

6. Take a break from work or study around the middle of the day, and take the time to enjoy your kindly prepared lunch!

References:

1. Antici B.S., Akpan E.J. Okon P.A. & Umoren I.U. (2006) ‘Nutritive and anti-nutritive evaluation of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) leaves’, Pakistan Journal of Nutrition, 5(2), pp.166-168.

2. Oduro I., Ellis W.O. & Owuso D. (2008) ‘Nutritional potential of two leafy vegetables: Moringa oleifera and Ipomoea batatas leaves’, Scientific Research & Essay, 3(2), pp.57-60.

Japanese inspired warm organic chicken salad, with daikon, carrots, shallots and a dashi-based sauce

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Warm salads are a perfect light evening meal for warm climates. Here where I live on the sun-filled Gold Coast of Australia, we are still amidst summer weather. If you are in need of something light and easy to digest, combining some cooked chicken and vegetables with soft greens and a warm sauce makes an ideal meal.

This salad is inspired by Japanese flavours. The chicken and vegetables are cooked in home-made shiitake mushroom dashi and mirin (Japanese rice wine), providing a subtle, sweet flavour that is deeply nourishing and balanced by adding a sesame oil and umeboshi vinegar dressing and a little salt, such as beautiful pink Himilayan crystal salt, or sea salt. The home-made dashi is immune boosting thanks to the shiitake mushroom, and mineral rich from the konbu (a particular type of seaweed) and bonito flakes it is made from. The simmered root vegetables, carrot and daikon are considered to be grounding from a traditional medicine perspective, and to provide warming yang energy from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, nourishing the kidneys. When cooked with the chicken, they provide a warming balance to the light and energising greens.

This recipe is low FODMAP, SCD friendly, Paleo, grain free, gluten and dairy free. For those who eat grains, adding some rice as a side dish would provide some carbohydrates with the meal. For those who are avoiding grains, having a warm drink after your meal such as banana, vanilla and cinnamon almond, macadamia and coconut milk (see my recipe) can provide additional nourishment.

Recipe

Serves 1

1 tsp organic ghee

1 chicken drumsticks

1/2 cup shallots, chopped

1 tsp organic mirin*

1 tsp organic apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup water, 1 dried shiitake mushroom*, 2cm x 2cm piece of konbu* for home-made dashi

1/4 – 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and chopped

1/4 – 1/2 cup daikon*, peeled and chopped

1 bowl full of soft organic greens, such as butter lettuce, mizuna, shiso leaves, rocket and lemon sorrell, washed

1-2 tsp chives, chopped, for garnish

Dressing:

1/2 tbsp flaxseed oil

1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil*

1-2 tsp umeboshi vinegar*

1. Put the ghee in a saucepan placed on medium heat. Add in the chicken drumstick, shallots, carrots, daikon and mirin. Stir, and gently fry over medium heat for a couple of minutes. The mirin should smell fragrant. Cover, and turn down the heat to low, and let it cook while you make the dashi. Keep an eye on it, and add some water if it becomes dry and starts sticking.

2. Put the 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Add in the shiitake mushroom and konbu, and simmer on low heat for ten minutes.

3. While the dashi is simmering, place your washed greens in an elegant bowl. For the dressing, place the flaxseed oil, toasted sesame oil and umeboshi vinegar in a small jar or bowl and mix well. Pour the dressing evenly over the salad and mix through with your hands or salad tongs.

4. After the dashi has simmered for 10 minutes, take it off the heat, and add in the one tsp of bonito flakes. Let it sit for one minute, then pour it through a tea strainer into the saucepan with the chicken and vegetables. Add in the teaspoon of Apple cider vinegar, to assist with the leaching of minerals from the chicken bone into the broth. You may wish to add a dessertspoon of grass-fed gelatin for additional nourishment and digestability. Adding some dark leafy greens in here is also lovely, I usually put in a couple of handfuls of water spinach or sweet potato leaves. Cover, and let it simmer over medium heat until the liquid is nearly reduced down completely, this usually takes around 15 minutes or so depending on your saucepan and the heat of your stovetop.

5. Taste the liquid in your simmering pot – it should be quite sweet and rich. If not, reduce it down more until a smaller amount of liquid is left. There should be just a few spoonfuls.

6. Using a rounded spoon, place the chicken and vegetables on top of the salad artistically, then pour the remaining sauce over the top of your finished dish.

7. Garnish with the chives and season with a little pink Himilayan or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper……enjoy……and be nourished! This dish is lovely with a sprinkling of gomasio (ground toasted sesame seeds and salt…. recipe coming soon!)……

*available from asian grocery and health food stores

Sustainable tuna, roasted capsicum, pan fried shallots and local greens, with organic homemade mayonnaise

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I am am not a fan of green smoothies.  My body cringes looking at one – it knows it is cold and will not provide the same lovely feeling and satisfaction that warm drinks and proper meals, taken slowly and savoured, give you. I am however, a fan of salads. Our local climate is warm-hot all year round, so here salads are in tune with the season. Made of local fresh greens and a balance of ingredients, including some foods with protein and fats, to give a beautiful flavour and satisfaction. This is real food, giving natural nourishment, gentle energy. Taken slowly and chewed properly, they can stimulates your digestive juices promoting proper digestion. Preferably taken at a regular meal time and with company. I prefer to get my greens this way. There is an interesting article on an Ayurvedic viewpoint of green smoothies here.

David Thompson in “Thai Food” comments that salads are one of the most difficult dishes to achieve the correct balance of taste. From experience, I agree – there are many individual flavour aspects to consider – the degree of bitterness of your greens, the texture and level of sweetness or astringency of any additional vegetables and salad dressings, adding enough fats for balance, taste and digestion e.g. through olives, avocado, home-made mayonnaise, and the achieving the right level of saltiness. I prefer to have the salad with either sustainable canned fish, organic ham or cooked fish/chicken/meat. Overall the aim is always to achieve balance.

Here is my recipe for one of my recent creations where I managed to achieve a lovely balance of flavours. Taking the time to prepare and slowly savour your meals makes such a difference, providing a deep nourishment that I have never found in green smoothies…….

Sustainable tuna, roasted capsicum, pan fried shallots and local greens salad

Serves 2

1 can of sustainably fished tuna in oil, drained

Fresh, organic, local greens – I used a mix of endive, baby cos, and red coral- washed, drained, and torn into bite size pieces, with any hard thick stems removed – enough to fill two medium sized salad bowls

1/2 red capsicum, chopped into thick strips

1-2 shallots (green part only for low FODMAP), chopped

Sunflower oil

Ghee (organic, biodynamic, from grass fed cows if possible)

Home – made mayonnaise

Flaxseed oil, 1 tbsp

Apple cider vinegar, 3 tsp

Wholegrain mustard, 1-2 tsp, or to taste

Dried thyme, 1/2 tsp

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper and 2 wedges of organic lemons, to serve

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celcius (fan forced). Place the chopped capscium in a small ceramic baking dish, and drizzle with sunflower oil. Sprinkle the dried thyme over the capsicum and then rub the oil and herb over the surface of your capsicum pieces with your hands. Place in the oven and roast for about 10-15 mins. Keep an eye on it, and take it out when the capscium flesh is soft and the skin blistered. Put it to the side to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.

2. Put some ghee in a small frypan (I use Neoflam) and melt it over a gentle heat. Place the shallots in the frypan, cover and cook gently for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let the shallots sit on the warmed stovetop while you make the dressing and assemble the salad.

3. To make the dressing, place the flaxseed oil, mustard and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl, and stir well with a small spoon or fork until the dressing is combined.

4. To assemble the salad, get out two beautiful medium-sized salad bowls. Place half of the prepared green leaves in each. Place the capsicum pieces decoratively over the top of the leaves, then the shallots, and drizzle the dressing over the salad. Place the tuna pieces over the top of the salad.

5. Place a bowl of your home-made mayonnaise on the table, along with the lemon wedges, salt and pepper, so each person can add these condiments to their liking. Sit down with the salad at the table, eat, and savour.

Food for friends- roasted chicken with thyme; cos, Egyptian spinach and red capsicum salad and roast pumpkin salad with tahini dressing

Good friends are so wonderful. People who you can spend time with and come away feeling nourished and loved. They are respectful, are there when they say they will be, and getting together is an exchange of mutual updates and sharing of ideas. Person to person relationships that are so valuable in this day and age of social media.

I like to extend hospitality to my friends, perhaps is is from my Italian cultural background, providing a spread of beautiful food to sit down and share together. This can be challenging if it involves people following particularly dietary regimens. I recently held a gathering and made organic roasted chicken with thyme; a cos, Egyptian spinach and capsicum salad with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing, and a roast pumpkin salad with tahini dressing. I also made simple steamed basmati rice as an accompaniment. I got the ingredients fresh from the local organic markets that morning, and had pre-purchased an organic chicken from my local butcher. The lunch was lovely, with everyone serving themselves from platters in the middle of the table,  and the choices suited everyone’s dietary needs, be they vegetarian, grain free, low fodmap and/or sensitive digestion.

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Recipes for four people:

Roasted organic thyme chicken

1/2 an organic 1.2kg chicken, jointed (For the technique on how to do this, see this website

sunflower oil

Fresh thyme, 3-4 sprigs (or dried thyme, 1/2-1 tsp)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius.

2. Place the chicken pieces in a small baking dish. Drizzle over some sunflower oil, enough to rub over the chicken. Put the fresh or dried thyme in with the chicken and rub the oil and thyme into the chicken. Push the fresh thyme sprigs into any cavities.

3. Place in the oven and roast for around 30 mins, turning the chicken every 10-15 mins. Insert a knife to check for doneness – continue cooking if there is still any pink flesh. If you need to continue cooking, turn the oven temperature down to 180 degrees Celcius and roast until the flesh of the chicken is all white, this may be 10-30 mins, keep checking it every 10 mins to avoid over cooking.

4. Remove from the oven when done, and cover with a lid or alfoil to keep it moist. Place baking dish on the table (placing a heat safe mat under it if still hot) and serve straight from the dish.

 

Cos, egyptian spinach and red capsicum salad with red wine vinegar dressing

1 small cos lettuce

1 small bunch of egyptian spinach (I got this from the local organic farmers markets, substitute with baby spinach)

1 red capsicum

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

 

1. After washing the lettuce and egyptian spinach and draining off the water, tear the cos into bite-size pieces and place in a large salad bowl.. Take the egyptian spinach leaves off the stalks and place into the bowl, and mix the leaves through.

2. Cut the red capsicum into strips and place decoratively over the leaves.

3. Mix the oil and red wine vinegar in a jar and shake to mix.

4. Place the salad bowl and the dressing on the table for guest to serve themselves.

 

I also made Yottam Ottolenghi’s beautiful Roasted butternut squash & red onion salad with tahini & za’atar

 

Enjoy the company of your friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organic lemon mayonnaise

I never used to be a fan of mayonnaise. I had only experienced it whilst eating out, usually being served it in  a large quantity, smothering the meal. I don’t recall the taste ever being that great, perhaps the ones I had were commercially made mayonnaises. Then I tried making my own, using organic, free range eggs, good quality local extra virgin olive oil, and my favourite whole grain mustard…..I was immediately converted! Now I make it regularly, and find it beautifully balances grilled white fish, wild-caught salmon, salads, ham, eggs and olives.

ham salad

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Recipe: Organic lemon mayonnaise

Ingredients:

1 organic, free range egg yolk (at room temperature)

1/2 tsp organic whole grain mustard

a pinch of salt

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. After you have separated your egg yolk from the white, place it in a bowl. Add the mustard and the salt, and whisk with a fork until well combined.

2. Pour in a few drops of the oil, and whisk well with the fork using a rhythmic stirring motion, until the oil is emulsified/completely combined into the egg yolk mixture.

3. Keep adding in small amounts of the oil at a time, then whisking after each small addition, until you have added all the oil. You should have a beautiful creamy yellow mixture.

4. Add in the lemon juice, and again whisk with the fork until mixed through.

5. Add to a meal of your choice and savour your lovely creation……

Note: this recipe only makes a small quantity since it is best eaten fresh, as it contains raw egg yolk. Use within 7 days.

Local greens and a Kingfish salad with organic lemon mayonnaise

This morning I went to buy some freshly picked locally grown organic greens at Harvest, Currumbin Valley. I realised at the last minute that I had no cash with me, and being a small farm, they have no EFPTOS. No problem, one of the lovely owners said. Just pay me next week when you’re in (I’m a regular). This is one of the things that I love about buying local produce direct from growers. Not only does it taste beautiful, it is freshly picked (or in the case with Harvest, you can pick it yourself), in season and you can develop relationships with growers. They always seem to have time to talk with you, and live in tune with the rhythms of nature instead of the clock of the Western world. You become connected.

Locally grown organic greens
Locally grown organic greens

I created a beautiful salad with my freshly picked greens, baked some local Kingfish with thyme, added an organic red wine vinegar dressing, some homemade organic lemon mayonnaise, and chopped chives. With salads, I’ve found success comes with balancing the flavours, so you don’t have too much bitterness, and most importantly, using good quality ingredients. In this salad, I’ve used just a small amount of the bitter greens (rocket, basil), and more of the green soft lettuce and lemon sorrel. The fish and the mayonnaise also balance out the greens. I hope you enjoy the recipe. A hot chocolate made on homemade hazlenut and macadamia nut milk and raw cacao afterwards is a lovely finishing touch!

Baked Kingfish salad with thyme, organic lemon mayonnaise and a red wine vinegar dressing
Baked Kingfish salad with thyme, organic lemon mayonnaise and a red wine vinegar dressing

Recipe:

Baked Kingfish salad with thyme, organic lemon mayonnaise and a red wine vinegar dressing

Serves 1

Ingredients

3-4 handfuls of locally grown organic greens (e.g. soft lettuce, lemon sorrel, rocket, basil, chives)

1 small carrot

A sprig of fresh thyme (or substitute dried)

Organic red wine vinegar, 1/2 tbsp

Organic Flaxseed oil, 1/2 tbsp

Organic sunflower oil, for baking the fish (a drizzle)

Homemade organic lemon mayonnaise

A piece of fresh local fish e.g. kingfish, or other white fish

Method

1. Wash your salad greens, removing the stems and leave to drain.

2. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Grate your carrot or peel thin slices off using a hand peeler. Make your dressing – mix the red wine vinegar with the flaxseed oil in a small dish.

3. Drizzle some sunflower oil into a small ceramic or clay baking dish – I use La Chamba. Place the thyme sprig in the oil, and rub over the fish. Then put the thyme in the base of the dish, place the fish on top, and bake in your 200 degree Celcius oven for 5-10 minutes (depending on the thickness of your fish – check frequently to see if it is cooked to avoid overcooking it – this makes it tough. When it is opaque white and firm to touch, it is done).

4. Choose a beautiful medium sized bowl or plate, pile the greens into the bowl, and arrange the carrot on top. Drizzle over the red wine vinegar dressing and rub it into the salad with your hands. When the fish is done, place it on top of the salad, add a dollop of the organic homemade lemon mayonnaise, and sprinkle with chopped chives. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5. Enjoy!