Tag Archives: health

“Ajo Blanco”, star soup of the Med Diet!

My Spanish born great grand-mother on my maternal side had a wonderful family recipe for “Ajo Blanco”, or so I am told because alas nobody recorded it and therefore nobody can recall its details… So, to complete my family recipe archives, I can only try to recreate this recipe with voices others than hers… Why does it seem so important to me to do so? Because Ajo Blanco is a bit of an iconic Andalucian soup and because it happens to be at the same time a very healthy and rejuvenating combination of almond meal and garlic. Popular and traditional cuisine often combine the qualities of being at once tasty and healthy and this very ancient recipe proves the point with its elegant simplicity.

I am just back from a long week end in Seville where summer was already warm and dry and the beautiful gardens of the Mudejar palaces where full of the most generous and fragrant blossoms. The photos below were taken inside the Casa de Pilatos in Seville Old quarter. But Seville is full of secret gardens that you can visit or sometimes just glimpse, past a patio of azulejos opening onto the heat scorched street… IMG_4397 IMG_4401

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Ingredients list

  • Raw peeled almonds ,200 gr
  • Garlic cloves,2
  • Olive oil, 70 ml
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Bread, 100 gr 70 gr de aceite de oliva virgen extra
  • Jerez or wine vinegar, 50ml
  • Water, 1L
  • Grapes or cucumber chunks to serve

This is a Thermomix adapted recipe but any good blender will do.

A fresh and crisp taste

A fresh and crisp taste for this “white garlic” soup

Soak the almond and bread in water separately for a few hours, if possible. Remove and do not use this water,

Mix the garlic, salt and almonds for 30 sec at speed 5. Add the chopped bread (no crust) and mix another 15 sec. You should get a sort of thick paste.

Keep at speed 5 and add the olive oil, followed by the vinegar and the water. Mix for 1 min at speed 7 to 8.

Season with a little salt and serve cold with the chopped cucumber or grapes to decorate and give a nice biting texture.

I like to serve this in glasses decorated with a mini skewer with fresh grapes and to sprinkle a few flaked almonds and some fried toast on top.

This is a strengthening, wholesome,  cold soup; a godsend in summer and a little miracle of health…

Favourite gardens in Seville:

  • Parque Maria Louisa – I had a beautiful morning run there, but you can take a horse carriage to it if you are no runner!
  • Los Jardines del Real Alcazar – The beautiful gardens of the moors kings… A treasure!
  • Gardens and patios of the Museo de Bellas Artes
  • Gardens of Casa de Pilatos – see pictures above.
  • And many more!!!
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Cold gaspacho of melon, cucumber and mint – as fresh as a kiss!

A sweet and savoury soup as cool and healthy as a salty kiss, the kind you get when you are flirting in the waves! Try it!

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Ingredients list:

  • Honeydew melon, 1 small
  • Cucumber, seeded, 1/2
  • Grape, one small bunch  (if the melon is not sweet enough)
  • Yogurt, 150g
  • Chopped sweet shallots, 2  small ones
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Lemon juice, 1 lemon
  • Olive oil, 50 ml
  • Mint, small bunch plus sprigs to decorate

    A peek at the mix!

    A peek at the mix!

Scoop out the melon’s flesh, peel the cucumber and take the seeds out.

Peel the garlic and took out the inner shoot if green.

Chop and mix all of the above ingredients then blitz into a blender (or Thermomix). Add the chopped mint and blitz again. Keep a few sprigs aside.

Reserve and chill until ready to eat.

Decorate with fresh  mint and a little stick with fruit on it. Add a few ice cubes when serving.

Freshly made

Freshly made

We had this in a little “chiringuito” in El Palmar, not far from the Roche beach that I have pictured above. I fell in love with the sweetness and coolness of this perfect summer combination. Soups are a great summer dish – a welcome alternative to the salads… The beauty of cold soup is that they are choking-full of watery fruit and veg and therefore so hydrating and refreshing in the heat. Plus the extra shot of vitamins will leave you radiant when returning from the beach.

This is the second in my series of Spanish themed soups for summer goodness. Hope you are loving them as much as I do! Third one soon on it’s way and it is the famous and mysterious “Ajo Blanco”…

 

Healthy eating – the imperative read on the matter!

Whether you are training for the London Marathon, putting an end to Dec/Jan excesses or just keen to stay in shape, Healthy Eating is for you!

Here I have compiled a list of the important tips and food lists to keep in mind and of the sort of meals you should be eating to feel great throughout winter and look even better when summer arrives! I get quite evangelical about all this, as my long suffering kids and husband know only too well…

The best place to start is with the Harvard Healthy eating plate:

The Harvard eating plate

The Harvard eating plate

Basically, half of your plate should be covered in vegetable, fruit and plant -based food and the other half divided between whole grains (carbs, cereals, wholewheat flours) and lean, healthy protein – some of which can again come from plant, and some from animal sources. If you stick to these ratios, you can pretty much add anything to your plate and eat a variety of food – so long as you respect the general ratios on this mock plate you will be fine!

Food is generally what makes us ill as research shows all cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and even most cancers have their roots in unbalanced eating habits; so by the same token, food can become our medicine and should be treated as such.

Make sure you eat plenty of raw and cooked vegetable and that your intake of fibre is at least 15 to 30g per day: This means eating two slices of wholegrain bread, a helping of cooked sweet potato and a handful of nuts every day as a minimum.

Smoothies are great for vitamins but juicing and blending breaks up the fibre so it is important to have enough of the whole plant as well as the juice! Meat and animal based food contain no fibre so make sure you eat fibre with it in order to help digestion and to clean the fat deposits off.

Protein should come in the shape of fish and especially fatty fish because you need the good omegas and the real thing is always better absorbed than the supplement. Try sardines, salmon, haddock and more. You can also find essential oils in nuts  and olive oil. Lean protein include tofu, chicken, fish, eggs. Liver is a good source of amino acids and some important vitamins and minerals.

Avoid white flour and white bread for the “fibre” reason again: wholegrain and brown grains contain more! So use brown rice, bulgur, oats, brown couscous.

Choose fibrous vegetable such as kale, chard, cabbage, parsnip, celery, sweet potato, spinach and green beans. There are plenty of recipes on this blog!

Try to avoid eating animal protein and carbohydrates at the same meal and rather combine veg with meat or carbs with veg. It is also one way to make sure you will be eating enough plant based food at every meal. There is only so much greens you can add to a plate full of steak and fries!

Try and limit cheese and dairy, reserve red meat to special occasions, limit alcohol and sugar.

To give you plenty of energy, make your own healthy flapjacks and nut balls, bake cakes rather than buy them, try using honey or agave in yogurt or no sugar at all and drink pure and filtered water. Swap black tea for green or white and use herbal tea in the evening. I love an infusion of rosemary or lavender…

The advice seems to be that unless you are exercising a lot, 6 glasses of water is enough – beyond that you might just use it for water retention!

Embrace good fats such as olive oil, ghee, goose fat, rapeseed oil, linseed and avoid low-fat products which tend to be full of sugar and/or preservatives and seem to encourage an enlarged waistline, according to some recent studies.

If you exercise, drink as soon as you are thirsty, eat bananas to recover and make sure you eat enough carbs (in the form of pasta, rice, quinoa etc…) on the days that you train. Remember also that the rest days are as important for your overall fitness as the exercise days and do not overdo it,  that is the best way to avoid injury.

Also, give your pancreas a proper eight to nine hours rest by eating early in the evening and nothing until the morning. Something I am definitely working on…

At the moment I am gearing up for a big personal challenge and training for the London Marathon so as I learn more I might be able to let this new found wisdom trickle into this blog! I will keep you up to speed with what I will be gleaning on this journey: I still have 10 weeks before the big day…

So that my efforts might benefit a good cause, I am raising funds to fight abuse and child cruelty so if you want to help, please donate on this page to the NSPCC or click the link below. Anything you can give will go towards helping a vulnerable child and there is no better cause, I think. Thanks for visiting.

I hope you enjoyed this post. And if you have, please sponsor me!

 

By the serpentine, at the week end - love this bird!

By the serpentine, at the week end – love this bird!

 

Can’t cook without it: The beauty of Ghee!

I discovered Ghee last summer when attending an Ayuvedic cooking workshop with a lovely friend in Putney, and I fell under its spell for both taste and health reasons. Here I tell you how…

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Ghee is simply butter that has been allowed to simmer for at least 20 minutes, so all water and cream have either evaporated or have caramelised at the bottom and on the sides of the pan: The result is a honey-smelling liquid gold that can be used for cooking – even at high temperatures when butter would quickly burn.

Once strained, you can keep Ghee in a jar and it will remain fresh for a few good weeks, but not as long as oil will. I keep mine in the fridge  where it solidifies but it can be kept in its liquid state at room temperature.

Star with two or more packets of unsalted butter and let them melt then simmer in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Skim impurities off the top at regular intervals. Towards the end, raise the heat for a few minutes to allow the last impurities to burn off. Then strain the butter through a fine sieve or muslin into a few clean jars. Label and store in the fridge.

I use it to pan fry vegetables, to cook lentils, tofu, rice or really anything else… It gives a subtle, honey taste to the dish, never burns or smell, and is much better for your heart and arteries than straight butter. It lasts a long time and looks so beautiful that you could even package it with a nice label and bow to give away at Christmas!

Learn more about le health benefits of Ghee by visiting http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=newtip&dbid=9

Which ingredients are on your “can’t cook without it” list? Tell me and you might get a jar of Ghee in return!

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Porridge days – Why not?!

Porridge is a warm, satisfying and healthy breakfast. I always recommend it to  children because oats has so many health benefits. I enjoy it with nuts, dry fruit, a pinch a cinnamon, some seeds and a drop of maple syrup. Seeds are great to give you healthy springtime energy!

A spring time version of an old classic

A spring time version of an old classic

If you are in a bit of a hurry, there is no need to cook it: you can just soak the rolled oats into the same volume of boiling water and let it steep for a few minutes while you prepare your bag. Then just flavour it with anything you fancy and “Bob’s your uncle”!

Other mornings, when you might be a little bit better organised, just cook one cup of porridge in two cups of boiling water for a 5/8 minutes, until it starts swelling and getting creamy. Then put a tiny pinch of salt, a dash of single cream (or soya cream like me) and spoon it out into two bowls. It is better to cook it with water then add the cream when you serve it, I find. If your children still prefer it cooked in milk that’s fine but the Scots always do it in water and it is much surprisingly creamier and better digested that way – try it for yourself!

Add raisins, pine nuts, seeds or just cinnamon and maple syrup. I don’t even bother with the syrup and instead add half a grated apple and some dry raisins for sweetness.

It is the best way to start a day and your tummy will feel grateful and comfy for a long time after it- so no hunger pangs at 11am while you are trying to get this important contract buckled down!..

Quick ingredients list – the obvious ones… for two bowls

  • One cup porridge oats (Quaker Oats or Flahavan’s)
  • Two cup of boiling water
  • Pinch of salt
  • Cinnamon OR ANY TOPPING YOU FANCY…