Welcome to Eat Well Every Day

Welcome to Eat Well Every Day!

I've spent years researching nutritional information, food ideas and recipes, because cooking and eating - especially with family & friends - are some of life's great pleasures. And guess what- healthy food doesn't have to be boring! It can be exciting and delicious!


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Friday, September 10, 2010

Mmmarvelous mushrooms!

It’s early Spring here in Australia and so, naturally, we’re enjoying a return to winter with cold grey days, rain and gusty winds. Thank goodness, another winter specialty is hanging around – mushrooms. Especially the big flat meaty ones. These are just the final maturing of the little white cap mushrooms grown commercially, but they have by far he best flavour, rich, dark, strong, and work equally well with beef or lamb in hearty winter stews or as a dish in their own right.

As well as the commonly available button mushrooms in all stages from tightly closed to the wide open ‘flat mushrooms’, mushroom lovers can enjoy portobellos, swiss brown, oyster, shiitake, enoki, chestnut, crimini and other exotic varieties, as well as the highly prized and hugely expensive truffle. Regardless of the variety, all mushrooms contain health giving vitamins and minerals along with their tempting flavours.

What’s good about mushrooms? Antioxidants!

Mushrooms are a surprising source of antioxidants. Eating mushrooms regularly can boost your immune system and these fungi have even been credited by some researchers as helping to fight cancers, thanks to their high antioxidant content. Japanese mushrooms are also believed to help lower blood pressure.

The specific antioxidant in mushrooms is L-ergothioneine, also found in wheatgerm and chicken livers. Mushrooms have about 12 times as much L-ergothioneine as wheat germ and four times more than chicken liver. What’s more, this powerful antioxidant is not destroyed when mushrooms are cooked.

Mushrooms also contain valuable amounts of the mineral selenium. Working together with vitamin E, selenium ensures the proper functioning of numerous vital antioxidant systems throughout the body.

Selenium’s antioxidant activity is helpful in protecting colon cells from cancer-causing toxins, and is also credited with decreasing asthma and arthritis symptoms and in the prevention of heart disease. In addition, selenium is involved in DNA repair, associated with a reduced risk for cancer.

B vitamins, valuable minerals and protein

All mushrooms are an excellent source of riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), as well as the minerals selenium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium and phosphorus. Mushrooms’ B vitamin content is a boost for vegans who, as a result of a restricted diet compared to vegetarians and omnivores, often struggle getting enough of these vitamins.

Both iron and copper are necessary for the body to synthesis haemoglobin to carry oxygen around in the blood. These two minerals are also quite difficult for non-meat eaters to get enough of, so mushrooms are a valuable addition to vegan or vegetarian meals

While mushrooms are not particularly high in protein at around 3 per cent by weight, they combine well with other animal and vegetable proteins to increase the total protein intake.

Cheap mushrooms as good as expensive varieties

While the World’s 100 Healthiest Foods lists exotic mushrooms such as crimini and shiitake, French food chemists at the Institut National de la Recherche Agrinomique have shown that ordinary commercial button mushrooms have as much or even more anti-oxidant activity as more expensive varieties.

Lead researcher and co-author of the paper published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Jean-Michel Savoie commented: "It can be reasonably assumed that white button mushrooms have as much, if not more, radical scavenging power as mushrooms currently touted for their health benefit. The good thing is button mushrooms are available all year round, are cheap and may be an excellent source of nutrition as part of a healthy diet."

Not only that, you can even buy mushroom kits and grow your own!

mushroom makingsSo, to the recipes. As mushrooms have a place in both omnivore and non-meat eating diets, I’m offering both options – a basic cream of mushroom soup and an easy baked fish and mushrooms.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

60g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
600 grams (about 20 ounces) of cap mushrooms, sliced
about 5 tablesp of plain (all purpose) flour
1.25 litre (5 cups) vegetable stock (or water plus 2 stock cubes)
1/2 cup light cream* OR 1 egg beaten up in 1/4 cup of milk*
about 5 tablesp of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt & ground black pepper

Heat the butter or oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for three or four minutes or until soft. Then add the chopped mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or so until the mushrooms are tender. Remove 1/4 cup of mushrooms and set aside.

Add the flour to remaining mushrooms and cook, stirring for two minutes. Gradually add the stock, stirring constantly until all the stock has been added and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to simmering and cook the soup, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat, and blend in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth. Return to the saucepan over low heat. Stir in the cream* and parsley. Heat over medium-low heat until slightly thickened.

Season with salt and pepper, ladle into bowls and serve topped with reserved mushrooms and more parsley, if liked. Serves 4 as a starter.

*Vegans: I’m sorry, you’ll have to work out how to substitute the cream.

Baked Fish and Mushrooms

4 fresh or frozen fish fillets (about 500 grams or a pound), ½ to ¾ inch thick
2 tablesp butter or oil
1 ½ cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 small or one large onion, sliced
1 teasp snipped fresh tarragon or thyme, (or ¼ teaspoon dried tarragon or thyme, crushed)
juice of ½ small lemon

Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into serving-size pieces, if necessary and arrange in a rectangular baking dish, turning under thin edges, so all pieces are approximately the same thickness. Sprinkle with salt.

In a small saucepan melt butter or oil; add the mushrooms, sliced onions, and dried herbs, if using. Cook over medium heat until mushrooms and onions are tender.

Spread mushroom mixture evenly over fish pieces and sprinkle with any fresh herbs. Squeeze over a little lemon juice. Cover with foil or a lid and bake in a hot oven (220C, 450F) for between 12-18 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Sprinkle more lemon juice and more fresh herbs if you have them, and serve with steamed buttered vegetables. Serves 4

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Would you like some zucchinis?

When my children were young we were trying, fairly unsuccessfully, to live an alternative and self-sustaining lifestyle in a dairying and vegetable-growing area of rural Tasmania. Our farmlet was surrounded by huge vegetable paddocks of growers supplying the big frozen vegetable companies, but thanks to a silted up spring, broken pipes and no money to fix them, we could barely grow anything.

Fortunately, our friends on other small holdings in the district were both productive and generous, and we were frequently offered bounty from their gardens. Tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkin, potatoes, parsnips, swedes (a small turnip). One offer we came to dread was “Would you like some zucchinis?” “Some”, in this case, generally being an understatement. Zucchinis (courgettes) are very easy to grow, given water and sunshine, and they are very prolific, even a small patch producing a glut rather than moderation. We became very inventive in ways of using them, even attempting deep-fried zucchini chips, and thank goodness our chooks would happily eat any discarded experiment and repay us with eggs.

I was reminded of this time in our lives when a friend and I were offered a bag of cheap zucchinis at the local greengrocers. Not so much offered, as had them pressed on us, with many exclamations of affection, by the Italian greengrocer. Having avoided zucchinis for most of the 20 years since our rural experience, I actually had to look for a recipe to deal with this unexpected bounty!

One of the world's oldest vegetables

People have been eating zucchinis for thousands of years, probably because of their ease of growing and their generous cropping. Apparently they are one of the oldest families of vegetables that humans have domesticated, after their appearance in the Americas. (Zucchinis are botanically a fruit, as evidenced by the seeds insde them, but are generally considered a vegetable.) However, it was when they were taken up by the Italians, Greeks, Turks and Lebanese that zucchinis took off, becoming an important part of many European and Middle Eastern cuisines, as their mild flavour combines well with herbs, spices and other strongly flavoured ingredients.

While zucchinis are not in the top 100 healthy foods, they do provide some useful vitamins and minerals and a tiny amount of protein. As well as similar amounts of Vitamin C as potatoes, they provide some calcium, folate, potassium, manganese and vitamin A, all of which would contribute to a healthy diet if the vegetable was eaten regularly. In fact, they play a part in the healthy Mediterranean Diet. Like most vegetables, they contain no fat, no starch and are low in calories. And if you can’t grow them yourself, they are usually one of the cheapest veggies to buy.

Zucchini recipes

So, to the recipes. There are lots of delicious dishes using zucchinis together with stronger flavours, such as the colourful ratatouille. However, I decided to focus on zucchini’s own delicate flavour, and today being a grey and wintry day, chose to make a quick and easy zucchini soup. I modified the recipe I found to make it a little tangier, but resisted the urge to add any animal protein, so this is a vegetarian and vegan recipe. Omnivores may like to add sausage, bacon, and/or cheese, but the ‘naked’ soup is delicious in its own right.

zucchin soupZucchini Soup

A big slurp of olive oil (about 2 tablesp)
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 or more garlic cloves, chopped
750 grams (1½ pounds/about 7) zucchini, grated
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
500 ml (2 cups) water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
½ teasp cumin
salt and white pepper to taste

In a large heavy saucepan sauté onion and celery gently in oil for about five minutes, until softening. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add cumin and fry gently for a minute.

Tip the grated zucchini into the pot and stir to mix with the other ingredients. Add the salt and pepper. Pour in the liquid and bring to the boil. (If using plain water, either add extra salt and pepper, or dissolve 2 stock cubes in the water before adding.) When the soup is boiling, cover, turn down heat and simmer for about 8 minutes.

Take the soup from the heat and blend in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth. It should be a pale green with tiny dark green speckles. Adjust seasonings and reheat for a few minutes before serving. A dollop of sour cream or Greek-style yoghurt can be added to each bowl for extra richness.

Serves 4

If I hadn’t made the soup, I’d have baked some Zucchini Herb Muffins.

1 cup zucchini, grated
1 or more garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup of herbs, chopped fine – basil, parsley, chives, oregano, whatever you have
Salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten,
2 tablesp oil
1 cup milk or milk and yoghurt mixed
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour and baking powder to make 2 cups SR

Sift flour and baking powder together. In another, larger bowl, combine all other ingredients and mix well together. Stir in flour until just mixed.

Line muffin tray with paper pans and 2/3rds fill with mixture. Bake at 180C (350F) for 15-20 minutes.

Makes 12

Buon Appetito!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ironing out Anaemia

Every body needs dietary iron to build healthy red blood cells and mitochondria (‘cellular power plants') producing energy.

Iron is vital for producing healthy red blood cells (erythrocytes) which help carry oxygen around the body. As well as haemoglobin, iron is needed for myoglobin, another oxygen-carrying molecule, which distributes oxygen to muscles cells, especially to skeletal muscles and to the heart.

It also helps keep the immune system strong and helps the body produce energy from the foods eaten, through chemical reactions from enzymes produced via the mitochondria.

Too little iron and you can become anaemic, lethargic, susceptible to infections, dizziness and headaches. Really low levels of iron can make you unable to concentrate and can contribute to depression.

Women Need More Iron than Men

Women between the stages of puberty and menopause need higher levels of iron than men of equivalent age, to replace the iron lost through menstrual blood. Pregnant women can be at risk of anaemia if they don’t watch their iron levels, as the developing foetus draws on the mother’s iron for its developmental needs. Breast feeding mothers also need to increase their iron intake.

People who donate blood regularly, elderly people, vegetarians, and children are often unaware of being low in dietary iron. Young children, especially, need adequate iron levels as their rapidly growing bodies consume iron to build muscle and blood cells.

Men, on the other hand, as they don’t lose blood each month, bear children or lactate, are at risk of having too much iron. Chronic iron overload, or excessive iron storage, can cause loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, headaches, bronze or grey hue to the skin, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. Too much iron has been suggested as a factor in heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

Which Iron Do You Eat?

There are two sorts of iron the body can absorb and use – haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found only in meat, as it is derived from the haemoglobin and myoglobin in animal tissues. Non-haem iron is found in plant foods and dairy products.

Vegetarians and vegans will be dependent on non-haem iron for all their dietary iron, so it’s important to eat as wide a range of foods as possible to maximise iron intake.

Good Sources of Iron

Excellent food sources of iron include chard (our green friend, silverbeet), spinach, thyme, and, surprisingly, turmeric. A good reason to eat lots of golden curries.

Very good sources include parsley, romaine lettuce, blackstrap molasses, tofu, mustard greens, turnip greens, string beans and shiitake mushrooms.

Good sources of iron include beef, lamb, offal (liver, kidneys, heart), lentils, cocoa powder, eggs, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, venison, garbanzo beans, broccoli, leeks and kelp.

Be aware that cooking with iron cookware will add iron to food, so for men, watch out for iron toxicity from that steak sizzling on the hot iron plate!

Vitamin C and Non-haem Iron

Non-haem iron is harder for the body to absorb than haem iron. A combination of haem and non-haem iron in the same meal – eg red meat and green vegetables – makes the non-haem iron more easily absorbed.

However, vegetarians and vegans are dependent entirely on non-haem iron, so as well as eating a wide choice of foods, they should make sure they have adequate Vitamin C and copper in the meal to maximise their iron absorption.

Vitamin C is easy – just add tomatoes, orange slices or capsicum (bell peppers) to a salad, or a squirt of fresh lemon juice over steamed green vegetables.

Copper and Iron

Copper assists the body to metabolise iron to create haemoglobin and myoglobin. Unfortunately, it is another of those minerals that many people are likely to be low on, and some sources suggest that anaemia is actually the result of a copper deficiency.

However, there is no indication that cooking with a copper pan, like my favourite omelette pan, will add copper to the diet!

The best sources of dietary copper other than seafood and offal are nuts, yeast, bran and cocoa powder.

So, to the recipes. As the weather is heading through autumn to winter here in Australia, I’m going for home cooking of distinctly British origin – an old-fashioned lamb chop stew, known as Lancashire Hotpot, and a chocolate self-saucing pudding.

Lancashire HotpotLancashire Hotpot

1kg (2 pounds) of lamb cutlets
2 lamb kidneys, peeled, cored and sliced
4 medium onions, sliced
250 grams (1/2 a pound) of mushrooms, sliced
750 grams (1 & ½ pounds) potatoes, scrubbed & sliced thin
1 tablesp flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
500 ml (3/4 pint) of stock, or warm water plus 2 stock cubes or Worcester Sauce

Trim any fat off the chops and coat them and the kidney slices in seasoned flour. Place layers of meat, onions, kidneys, mushrooms and potatoes in a large casserole, finishing with a layer of potatoes.

Pour over the stock, and bake, covered in a moderate oven (180C, 350F) for two hours. Remove the lid and cook for another half hour to brown the potato topping.

Serve with carrots or pumpkin and a green vegetables such as beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or spinach. Sprinkle servings with chopped parsley for extra Vitamin C and iron.

Serves 4

Self-Saucing Chocolate Fruit Pudding

This would be a great winter pud to have after the Lancashire Hotpot – real comfort food. It would also be a nice treat after a vegetarian meal such as rice and dhal, although vegans would need to make some changes to this recipe. Both the cocoa powder and the dried fruit provide iron, and cocoa contributes copper and antioxidants.

½ cup milk
60 grams (2 ounces) butter or margarine
¾ cup caster sugar
1 teasp vanilla essence
1 cup self-raising flour, or plain (all purpose flour) and baking powder
¼ cup dried fruit – sultanas, currants or mixed dried fruit
1 tablesp cocoa powder
¾ cup brown sugar
2 cups boiling water
1 extra tablesp cocoa

Sift together flour (baking powder), cocoa and caster sugar. Stir in dried fruit to coat fruit completely.

In a small saucepan or a glass jug in the microwave, melt together the butter and milk, stir in the vanilla essence.

Combine the liquids and the flour mixture until just mixed and pour into a greased 6-cup casserole dish.

Sift the extra cocoa and brown sugar over the pudding. Slowly pour the boiling water over the mixture.

Bake in moderate oven (180C, 350F) for 30-40 minutes, until a skewer in the centre comes out clean (apart from the sauce).

Serves 6 (or 4 with left-overs for breakfast).

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Limes and Seasons

Continuing my meditation on eating locally, seasonally and sustainably - with recipes.

To read the first half of this meditation, go to Local and Seasonal

To continue the theme of eating locally and sustainably, here's how some inner-city denizens tackled the challenge. They might not produce enough to feed all of them all the time, but at least they have the pleasure of adding home-grownh produce to their meals.

Sustainability in a city street
Photo courtesy Saim Ali

With the support of Sydney City Council, residents of the inner-city of Chippendale have planted garden beds at the ends of residential streets. These were originally a guerrilla garden effort, but luckily for the residents, the Council saw sense and gave them support to build more.

Making the Most of What's Available

We might not be able to dig up inner-urban streets, or find a bit of waste ground, or forage from the local park, but we can buy what produce is in season, when it’s tasty and cheap, and make the most of it.

Since it’s the end of summer, I recently converted 12 really cheap limes into lime marmalade and a refreshing lime drink. The marmalade took 24 hours, the drink, five minutes.

Limes, like lemons, are high in vitamin C; they also contain small amounts of vitamins A, B, and E, folate and pantothenic acid, plus the minerals boron, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and a tiny amount of sodium.

To the Recipes

Although the vitamin C will be destroyed by the long boiling in making marmalade, all the other elements and the tangy flavour will reman.

Lime Marmalade

This recipe is from a 1970s English paperback, long out of print: Let’s Preserve It, by Beryl Wood. If you can find it, it’s a delight, and has helpful hints about making jams, jellies and relishes. I use it about once a year.

  • 1lb (500 gms) of limes (about 6)
  • 2 ½ pints (1400 ml)of water
  • 2 ½ lbs (just over a kilogram) of fine white sugar
  • Jam pan – a preserving pan bought from a kitchen store, or a stock pot, or a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. It must be big enough that your boiling sugar mixture does not boil over.
Makes about 5 medium jars

Finely cut the limes – this is vital as lime peel is amazingly tough to cook. Put the lime slices in the jam pan with the water, cover and leave overnight.

At least 2 hours before you’re ready to make marmalade, start cooking the lime slices. Bring the water to the boil, and simmer covered, for at least 1 ½ hours, or until the peel is soft.

When the peel is almost ready, rinse out your jam jars and put in a low oven to dry and warm up. Add the sugar to the simmering peel, stir until it is all dissolved, then bring the heat up to high.

Boil rapidly for about 20 minutes until your marmalade is setting. Test by dropping a small amount onto a cold saucer – it should gel, and wrinkle to the touch, or divide and not run together if you pull a finger through it. Remove your pan from the heat while testing for set so as not to over-boil your marmalade.

Fill your jars and seal while hot and wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Lime Drink
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teasp sugar or to taste
  • 350 ml (approx) iced water, soda water or lemonade.
Mix together juice and sugar, stirring vigorously; dilute with iced water.

It is possible to make lime cordial by boiling sugar and water to make a syrup, but it’s not worth the effort unless you’re making enough for a party or a picnic.

Buon Appetito!

Local and Seasonal

A meditation on some ways of eating sustainably

While I've been buying fresh produce from my local farmer's market and trying to nurture some green vegetables and herbs on my tiny balcony, I’ve noticed an interesting trend on television and in the foodie magazines I sub-edit. It seems top of the line chefs have fallen in love not with only seasonal foods, but the gratification of growing and in some cases, breeding organic produce for themselves. Of course, if they run restaurants or bistros, they can’t produce enough for their commercial kitchens, but have to source local growers of the esoteric produce they’ve discovered.

Because not only are some of these chefs sudden converts to the joys of growing veggies and fruit – being food specialists they naturally fall for the rarer or old fashioned heritage produce.

This month I’ve subbed articles with gardening chefs extolling the joys of purple carrots, heirloom tomatoes in every shade from pale yellow to bright orange, beetroot that aren’t magenta in colour, but warm gold, or even a parsnip off-white. Except that cream-coloured parsnip is rather passé – they also come in a range of hues similar to non-orange carrots.

Starting from Scratch

Paralleling this trend is the one where food lovers, who may or may not have a connection to commercial cooking, decide to start from scratch producing food the pre-industrial way. It may have started with Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall and his delightful attempts to show ordinary English folk how to feed themselves sustainably and seasonally from tiny patches of waste land, hedgerows and local parks.

But he’s not alone – ex-UK marine Monty Halls, lived for six months on the West Coast of Scotland at Beachcomber Cottage, an old crofter’s cottage, where he grew vegetables for the first time and attempted to survive by hunting and fishing (and the odd cappuccino in the village café).

In Australia, ex-Sydney restaurant critic Matthew Evans moved to Tasmania, to a small farm to plant vegetables, keep chickens, goats and a dairy cow, and generally enjoy the good life away from the city crowds and smog.

So what has this to do with the real world of sourcing and cooking healthy food, given that most of us can’t flee to a beautiful but relatively isolated spot and live for a year or so on our bank account while we reinvent agriculture? Some inner-city denizens may have one answer.

Continued on Limes and Seasons

Friday, January 22, 2010

Calcium – moo-ve away from dairy and still have strong bones

As an older woman in a family where the women have typically fine bones and tend to develop osteoarthritis and even osteoporosis, I’ve been aware for many years of the need for adequate calcium in my diet.

But it isn’t just older women who need sufficient calcium circulating in their blood for physiological functions like blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. We all need it, from babies to elderlies, boys and men as well as girls and women.

Pregnant women need to get enough calcium for their own body's needs, as well as those of the baby developing inside her. And young children need plenty of calcium in the first five years of life to build their growing bones and teeth, as well as their central nervous systems.

And when it comes to building strong bones, the more calcium laid down before the age of 35, the better structure there will be to deal with later deprivations. After about 35, the depletions are greater than the additions when it comes to calcium and bones.

Although it’s well-known that women are at risk of osteoporosis after menopause, when oestrogen’s protective power is removed, it’s not so well-known that men can get osteoporosis, too. In either case, when the dietary intake of calcium is too low to maintain normal blood levels of calcium, the body draws on calcium stored in the bones to maintain normal blood concentrations, and after many years, this can lead to osteoporosis.

However, our bones can be strengthened right through to old age with a good calcium-rich diet and resistance exercises.

Cheese, Yoghurt, Milk (and Dairy Milk Chocolate)

Dairy farmers, food manufacturers and chocolate companies would like us to believe that dairy products are the best sources of calcium. And, as one who grew up in a dairying state that produces some of the world’s finest cheeses and ‘gourmet’ cream, and who still has a soft spot for dairy farmers (and for a chocolate company that promotes the “glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk in every block”), I have to admit they have a point.

But dairy products are not the best sources of calcium, and they are generally high in fat – at least all the good tasting ones are! Then there’s the problem of lactose–intolerant people and vegans. How are they to get enough calcium without going to supplements?

Strangely enough – the same way as dairy cows do!

Eat Green for Good Calcium Intake

I’m not suggesting we all get down and attempt to graze our lawns or the grass in our local park, but it turns out that bright green and dark green vegetables are the best way to eat calcium.

There are some non-green foods (apart from dairy), but green is go when you’re chasing calcium.

Excellent sources of calcium include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens and collard greens. Very good sources include Swiss chard (silverbeet), kale, basil, thyme, and, surprisingly, peppermint leaves.

(For an in-depth look at the health benefits of Swiss chard, see my article Swiss Chard - Phytonutrient Power for Diabetic and Bone Health. )

Good calcium sources include romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, oregano, rosemary, parsley, kombu, and kelp.

Non-green foods that have surprising amounts of calcium are blackstrap molasses, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, garlic, tofu, oranges, summer squash, crimini mushrooms, dill seed, cinnamon and dried figs.

So, to the recipes. Although I’ve just finished up the last of a delicious home-made spanakopitta, in which lots of dark green silverbeet combined with three types of cheese for a calcium-rich savoury dish, I won’t give that recipe, as it would discriminate against people who don’t eat dairy. Instead, I offer these:

Stir-Fried Green Vegetables with Tofu and Almonds

This is a basic stir-fry in which you use as many different green vegs as you have in the fridge, together with garlic, ginger, tofu and almonds. All the quantities are estimates.

  • About 500 grams (1 lb) of green vegs – broccoli, broccolini, bok choy, choy sum, spinach, silverbeet, washed dried, stems cut into similar sized pieces, & leaves roughly torn
  • 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like it, crushed,
  • 250 grams (8 oz) firm tofu, in small cubes,
  • 2 teasp finely grated fresh ginger,
  • 1 tablesp soy sauce or tamari
  • About 2 tablesp cooking oil (a biggish slurp)
  • 1 teasp sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoon of almonds, can be blanched & slivered or left whole

Heat the oil in the wok and add the ginger and garlic. Cook over high heat for a minute, stirring. Add tofu cubes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Remove tofu with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
Add the vegetable stems to the hot oil and stirfry for one to two minutes (no more). Add the leaves and wilt them in the hot oil. Toss in the almonds. Toss the tofu cubes back in and pour over the soy sauce/tamari and the sesame oil. Toss all together to combine and serve immediately on steamed rice or noodles.
Serves 4

Provençal Parsley Soup

This is one to make if you have masses of parsley growing in your garden, or have just bought a huge bunch of it at the market. This is another with estimates for quantities.

  • About 800 grams (1½ lb) mashing potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • A very large bunch of parsley – at least several handfuls when chopped
  • About 2 tablesp butter or olive oil
  • Garlic (optional, but if using, put in at least 2 cloves, crushed)
  • Stock to just cover potatoes, with more kept hot
  • Salt & pepper

Cook potatoes in as little stock as possible until soft enough to mash. Mash or puree with the garlic and the butter/olive oil. Mix in the chopped parsley, and simmer with a little extra stock for five to 10 minutes.
Adjust seasonings, add more hot stock if soup seems too thick. Serve with crusty bread.
Serves 4

Buon Appetito!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Making the Most of Mangos

"Let me tell you 'bout my mango..."
Some time in the mid-80s or maybe early 90s, there was a sexy Calypso-style song on the radio, that started "Let me tell you 'bout my man-go.." I don't remember any more, but it certainly tied mangos and warm sultry weather together in my mind, long before I ever got to taste the luscious fruit.

Along with tomatoes, mangos represent summer to me. Specifically, the long, hot, Australian summer. Growing up in Tasmania, which has a more English climate than mainland Australia (or some would say more Irish and others, more Scottish), summers were fairly short, and Christmas could often be cold and drizzly, or occasionally snowing. Fresh cherries were the seasonal fruit to look forward to at Christmas and the start of summer. I didn’t taste mangos until I was in my 40s. And when I did, I fell in love!

Now I live in Sydney, I can indulge myself with mangos each summer – truly a seasonal delight!

Now, mangos may not be on the list of the The Top ten Good Mood Foods, or even in the list of worlds’ 100 healthiest foods (a list compiled in the US, where mangos are apparently considered exotic), but for my money they are both a very healthy fruit, and better still, an amazing mood lifter.

Who could not feel joyous eating a fresh mango, with its luscious aroma and sweet juicy flesh, the juice dripping down your face and hands – truly sensual experience! When I first read about mangos as a child, the advice on eating these fragrant and mythical fruit – surely the Golden Apples of the Hesperides – was to “sit in a cool bath, so the juice can drip over you and be washed off.”

What Mangos Add to a Healthy Diet

Australian nutritionist Catherine Saxelby votes in favour of the mango as part of a healthy diet (assuming you live somewhere that mangos are cheap and easily available in season).

With their bright golden-yellow colour, mangos are high in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, so they’re a good source of vitamin A. Apart from their flavour, that’s probably their main claim to nutrition fame.

They also offer good levels of vitamin C and potassium, and smaller amounts of other vitamins and minerals, plus a tiny amount of protein.

Golden-yellow is a good colour to add to the rainbow on your plate.

Eating and Cooking with Mangos

The best way to eat a mango is au naturel – whether or not you choose to sit in a bath. By au naturel, I mean straight from the skin in chunks, or in a fruit salad.

Mango puree makes fabulous icecream, sorbets and mousses, so if you can get a large quantity of mangos cheap during the peak season (December and January), it’s worth the mess of cutting up and freezing them for later use.

Mango chunks and mango puree work well to make sauces and accompaniments for chicken, pork and fish dishes.

Mangos can also be bought frozen or canned, and o course, there is always wonderfully hot and flavourful Indian mango chutney! You could make your own if you can get enough mangos that are not fully ripe.

So, to the recipes. First up is one I’ve used with variations for several years – a simple mango sauce for stir-fried pork or chicken. I haven’t tried it with tofu, as a vegetarian alternative, but I’m willing to bet it would do something magical to that meat alternative.

Mango Stirfry Sauce

  • ¼ cup lime or lemon juice
  • ¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 500g chicken or pork stirfry strips
  • 1 onion, cut into wedges or rings
  • 200g broccoli or broccolini, cut into small florets
  • 400g bok choy leaves or baby spinach, or small silverbeet leaves torn roughly,
  • any other small vegs like baby corn, capsicum strips, snowpeas, whatever you have that will cook quickly & not overcook
  • pulp or chunks of 2 medium mangoes,
  • fresh mint leaves and/or fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Mix together the mango chunks/pulp with the citrus juice and sauces in a glass bowl.

Heat the oil in a wok, stirfry the onion and meat, until meat is just cooked. Take meat out and put aside.

Throw in all the vegetables, starting with the biggest or most solid, leaving the leaves till last. Stirfy quickly until vegs are just done but still crispy.

Add the meat and sauce. Bring back to the boil, simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve or steamed rice or rice noodles, and top with torn mint and coriander. A dollop of yoghurt on the side is good as well.

Serves 4

Mango Icecream

I’ve found a mango icecream recipe I’d love to make, if only I had an icecream machine. I’m not a great icecream fan, but homemade icecream is another seasonal treat that I enjoy occasionally.

This one uses yoghurt and no eggs, is so quite different in flavour and texture from a rich custardy icecream. I could make it with the wonderful yoghurt I get from the farmers’ market, if I could work out how to churn it.

Buon appetito!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Vegetarian Option

As I posted last time on the joys of eating meat, occasionally, it’s only fair to look at the other side of the plate and consider the vegetarian option.

As millions of people worldwide – notably the Hindus and Jains of the Indian sub-continent, among others, it is possible not only to eat healthily without any animal foods, it’s possible to create a colourful and richly flavoured cuisine at the same time.

Since this blog is about healthy eating, let’s tackle the health aspects first. No less a conservative authority than the American Dietetic Association has given a vegetarian diet a tick of approval.

The ADA says "a properly planned vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy" – surely the greatest challenge - with both mother and baby remaining healthy. It is also suitable for growing children, adolescents and adults and even athletes.

The trick is balancing your food combinations so as to build amino acids from grains and legumes to get the full complement needed to make human muscle protein. Vegetarians, and vegans even more so, also need to ensure sufficient variety to meet all their calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and other mineral and micronutrients that would otherwise come from meat, eggs, fish and dairy.

The advantage that vegetarians gain over omnivores – even the omnivore following the Mediterranean diet is enhanced protection from many of the degenerative diseases that attack Western people, particularly as we age. It confers protection from or improved health with heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), Type 2 diabetes, many cancers, lowers LDL cholesterol levels and helps maintain a healthy body weight.

Be Veg Go Green Save Our Planet

This is the motto of a religious and humanitarian organisation under the leadership of Supreme Master Ching Hai. It emphasises the contribution of livestock production on climate change and the “planet saving” effects of taking up the vegetarian lifestyle, and its followers hand out free dvds of vegan and vegetarian recipes at climate change and sustainability rallies.

Whatever I might think about Supreme Master Ching Hai’s recipes – very few of the ones on the free dvd I received appealed to me – she is right about the environmental impact of trying to create meat from grasses and grains, instead of eating them ourselves.

Vegetarian Food Need Not be Difficult or Dull

Despite the need to be more aware of food sources and food combinations, vegetarian cuisine need never be dull. There is a huge range of ethnic cuisines from many of the poorer, agrarian cultures of the world, which, while low or absent in animal products, still provide balanced nutrition. Indian, Mexican, South American, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, are just some of the cuisines that are predominantly vegetarian. There are probably hundreds of others.

A creative cook can also convert meat-based western cuisines such as French, Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, and Australian – once described by a visiting British food critic as “large slabs of protein” – into tasty and appetising vegetarian alternatives.

What’s Today’s Recipe?

Despite not having fully converted to vegetarian eating, as I confessed in In Praise of Meat as a Treat, I do still enjoy lots of meatless meals. I dive into my battered Indian cookbook, the 20-year-old paperback copy of Sameen Rushdie’s Indian Cookery.

So here’s the first dhal recipe I learnt to make, and still eat about once a month. It’s simple and tasty, the kitchen smells fantastic as the spices are frying, and combined with rice you get your complete protein.

Khari Kali Masoor ki Daal

This is made with whole green lentils, which the Indian grocery near me sells as Masoor lentils.

  • 225 grams/1 cup whole Masoor lentils
  • 1 small onion peeled and blended to a smooth paste (or just chopped fine)
  • ½ teasp red chili powder (or to taste)
  • ½ teasp turmeric (or to taste)
  • 1 teasp ground coriander
  • dollop of butter or 1 tablesp oil
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 tablesp thick tamarind juice or lemon juice
  • 1 dessertsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 green chilies (or to taste) finely chopped
  • 1 tablesp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped.

For the Bhagar
  • Cooking oil
  • 1 small onion peeled and finely chopped into rings or half rings
  • 2 small garlic cloves finely sliced into rounds

Wash the lentils in several changes of water. Into a heavy bottomed saucepan put a dollop of butter or some oil and fry the spices for a few minutes. Then add the lentils and stir to mix in the spices. Add the onion paste and 3 cups of water and salt to taste. Bring to the boil.

When it boils, turn down the heat as low as possible, and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes, checking every so often to see it doesn’t boil dry. When the dhal has softened, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Only add extra water if it has all evaporated and the lentils seem dry, when you can stir in about half a cup.

Now add the tamarind or lemon juice, grated ginger, green chillies and about half the mint, and continue cooking over a low heat, covered for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile make the bhagar. Fry the onion slices in hot oil until golden and sizzling. Add the sliced garlic and as soon as they turn golden, pour the whole sizzling mixture over the dhal.
Garnish with the remaining mint.

Serve with plain boiled rice and steamed green vegetables such as bok choy.