Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Best proteins for health

One of the things that many people worry about is whether they are obtaining enough protein from their diet, especially if vegetarian or vegan.

Plants have sufficient protein to grow giraffes, elephants, and cows, so obviously they have enough to grow relatively small people - please CLICK to Tweet.

All twenty amino acids, including the 10 essential ones, needed for good health are abundant in plants.

In real life there is no such thing as protein deficiency, provided you eat enough food in general, yet the meat and dairy industries generate huge profit with these universally accepted myths.

UK government dietary guidelines suggest that males between 19-50 years require 55.5 g protein per day and women of the same age range require 45 g protein per day.

It is very easy to achieve these targets, for example:
  • A large egg contains 6 g protein
  • 2 slices of bread contain 6 g protein
  • 6 fl oz (170ml) milk contains 6 g protein
  • 100g (4oz) chickpeas contains 16 g protein
  • A tin of tuna contains 20 g protein
  • 100g (40z) tofu contains 20 g protein
  • 170g (6oz) beef contains 40 g protein
All living organisms contain protein, so even if you are only eating whole plants, you will still obtain adequate quantities - please CLICK to tweet.

The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK showed that average protein consumption is at least 1.5 times higher, and often 2-4 times higher, than the recommended amounts.

There is evidence that protein significantly in excess of our bodily needs may be damaging to our health, though further research is needed on this.

Animal protein and vegetable protein per se probably have similar effects on health. It's the protein package that's likely to make a difference.

A 6-ounce steak is a great source of protein—38 grams worth. But it also delivers 44 grams of fat, 16 of them saturated. That's almost three-quarters of the recommended daily intake for saturated fat.

The same amount of salmon gives you 34 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated.

A cup of cooked lentils has 18 grams of protein, but under 1 gram of fat.

So when choosing protein-rich foods, pay attention to what comes along with the protein.

Vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, are excellent choices, and they offer healthy fibre, vitamins and minerals.

If you like the idea of a plant-based diet but cannot fully give up eating meat and other other animal products, you can try to reduce your intake gradually, whilst increasing the number of vegetables dishes you eat.

You can also pay attention to the type of animal products you consume and the balance between them.

The best animal protein choice is oily fish. Next best is poultry. If you are partial to red meat, stick with the leanest cuts, choose moderate portion sizes, and make it only an occasional part of your diet.

Tips for choosing the best protein packages:

  1. Mix it up. Most reasonable diets provide enough protein for healthy people. Eating a variety of foods will ensure that you get all of the amino acids you need.
  2. Go low on saturated fat. Beans and oily fish provide plenty of protein, without much saturated fat. Steer clear of fatty meats and use whole-milk dairy products sparingly or preferably not at all.
  3. Limit red meat—and avoid processed meat. Research suggests that people who eat more than 18 ounces a week of red meat have a higher risk of colon cancer. So make red meat—beef, pork, lamb—only an occasional part of your diet, if you eat it at all. Skip the processed stuff—bacon, hot dogs, and deli meats—since that's also been linked to higher cancer risk.
  4. Eat soy in moderation. Tofu and other soy foods are an excellent red meat alternative, but don't go overboard; 2 to 4 servings a week is a good target. Stay away from supplements that contain concentrated soy protein or extracts, such as isoflavones, as we just don't know the long term effects
  5. Balance carbohydrates and protein. Cutting back on highly processed carbohydrates and consuming unprocessed carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and vegetables helps to maintain a healthy balance between protein and carbohydrate in your diet. Eating such foods helps to regulate blood sugar, lower 'bad' cholesterol and and levels of blood triglycerides, thus reducing your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or other form of cardiovascular disease. It will also make you feel full longer, and help to stave off hunger pangs.
For an excellent discussion of some of the myths about protein in the diet please see John McDougall MD's newsletter.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Portion sizes of fruit and vegetables

The UK government advises everyone to consume a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. What does this mean in practice?

Fruit – one portion is, for example
  • Half a large grapefruit
  • A slice of melon
  • 2 satsumas
  • One portion of dried fruit counts
    •3 dried apricots
    •1 tablespoon of raisins
    •other types of fruit and vegetables should be eaten to meet the rest of the 5 A DAY target
  • A glass of 100% juice (fruit or vegetable juice) counts as 1 portion
    •But you can only count juice as 1 portion a day , however much you drink. This is because it has very little fibre. Also, the juicing process 'squashes' the natural sugars out of the cells that normally contain them, which means that drinking juice in between meals isn't good for your teeth.

Vegetables – one portion is, for example
  • 3 tablespoonfuls of cooked carrots (6-7 baby carrots) or peas or sweetcorn, 6 asparagus spears
  • 1 cereal bowl of mixed salad
  • Beans and other pulse vegetables - such as kidney beans, lentils and chick peas - count only once a day, however much you eat
  • While pulses contain fibre, they don't give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables
  • Because they are considered a 'starchy' food, potatoes don't count towards 5 A DAY.
  • However, starchy foods are also an important part of a balanced diet.
  • These portion sizes are for adults. Children should also eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day, but the portion sizes may be smaller.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Recipe for carrot and onion dip

One of my children claims to hate onions and isn't wild about carrots but he loves this recipe, which he frequently requests for supper.

  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 medium carrots (chopped)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 100-200 ml water
  • 1 tsp shiro (white) miso
  • 1-2 tbsp ground almonds
  • Heat the oil in a cooking pot, add a small pinch of salt, the onions and carrots and saute gently until the onions are soft and translucent
  • Add the water to the pan, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are soft. You may need to add more water to prevent the vegetables from drying out, but don't add too much otherwise the sauce will become too runny. If there is excess liquid in the bottom of the pan after the vegetables have cooked, drain it into a jug and reserve it for later.
  • Add 1 tsp white miso and 1-2 tbsp ground almonds to the vegetables and puree using a hand blender. Taste and add another tsp of white miso if necessary. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more ground almonds. If the mixture is too thick, add some of the reserved vegetable cooking water from earlier.
  • The resulting sauce should have a similar consistency to a dip such as hummus or guacamole

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad with Tahini Mustard Dressing

February and March are the best months of the year for eating purple sprouting broccoli. Eat it freshly picked if possible.

Though low in calories, broccoli is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. It is especially rich in vitamin C. A one-cup serving of broccoli contains about the same amount of protein as a cup of corn or rice but less than one-third of the calories.

Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamins K, C and A, as well as folic acid and fibre. It is also a very good source of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins B6 and E.

It contains substances called glucosinolates, which have powerful anti-cancer properties, and the carotenoid lutein, which is a potent antioxidant and is protective against macular degeneration in eyes.

Recipe for Purple Sprouting Broccoli Salad with Tahini Mustard Dressing


  • Broccoli (cut into florets). Ordinary broccoli can also be used.
  • Sugar snap peas
  • 2 red onions (cut in rings)
  • ½ cup sweetcorn


  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 1 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp white miso
  • 1 tbsp apple juice concentrate
  • Boiling water as required


  • Bring a pot of water to boil and add a pinch of salt
  • Boil the vegetables one at a time for 1-3 minutes, depending on texture and size, leaving them crunchy and crisp, keeping the ones with the strongest colour and flavour to the end. When the red onion has been boiled (1-2 minutes), rinse under cold water, put on a plate and sprinkle immediately with umeboshi vinegar which will help to maintain the red colour
  • If the vegetables are not to be eaten immediately, rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process and maintain their colour and texture.
  • Mix ingredients for the dressing and serve on the side.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Practical suggestions for ways to include more healthy fats in your diet

We need fat in our diet for a wide range of reasons; it is the type of fat we consume that is important.

Fat is needed for manufacturing hormones, for building cell membranes, for immunity, and for the receptors in our brain which are involved in mood regulation, memory, movement and a host of other vital bodily functions.
Fat is also important as a source of energy.
The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK showed that, on average, people are consuming 13 per cent of their energy as saturated fat, when the guideline maximum is 10 per cent.

Societies in the world which are noted for their healthy longevity typically consume less than 10 per cent of their energy as saturated fat. Instead, they eat more of the healthy unsaturated fats, mostly found in plant oils and in fish.

Here are some practical ideas for incorporating more of the healthy unsaturated fats into your diet:

  1. Use virgin olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil or avocado oil for cooking as they are more stable than other oils and also contain beneficial antioxidants. 
  2. Mix flax seeds in a jar with hemp, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds in equal portions. Take out 2 heaped tbsp daily and grind in a coffee grinder or food processor. Add to smoothies, soups, porridge.
  3. Add 1 tbsp cold-pressed polyunsaturated oils to your salads daily, e.g., flax, walnut, pumpkin, sesame. Keep oils in dark bottles in the fridge and use within 8 weeks of opening.
  4. Eat three portions of oily fish a week. The best choices are mackerel, sardines, salmon, anchovies, pilchards, pink trout, tuna. Canned fish is fine, except for tuna which, during canning, is rendered low in healthy fats. There is concern about pollutants in fish but current research suggests that the benefits of eating oily fish outweigh the potential disadvantages.
  5. Spread choices to use instead of butter: hummus, tahini, pumpkin, almond, sunflower nut butters, guacamole, vegetable pâtés.
  6. Limit fat from meat and dairy sources by trimming visible fat, choosing lean or low-fat versions and limiting yourself to one portion a day. Choose leaner meat options such as skinless fish, chicken, turkey or game. Preferably avoid meat and dairy produce altogether.
  7. Avoid hydrogenated fats in margarines and processed foods - check the food label to see whether it says "contains no hydrogenated fats". If it doesn't, avoid it.
  8. Also avoid cooking with sunflower, corn or oils other than olive, canola, or avocado oil, unless they are the high oleic acid varieties.
  9. Deep-fry food only occasionally. High temperatures change the nature of fats and create carcinogenic (cancer-generating) compounds.
  10. The quantity of fat is nearly as important as quality. The recommended intake of fats is 30-35% of calories. For a woman eating 2000 calories per day, this equates to about 70g fat. Of this, no more than 22g should be saturated fats. Check food labels to find out how much of the different types of fat your food contains. 


It is always best to obtain nutrients from food. It can, however, be helpful to use supplements therapeutically for a while.

GLA (gamma linolenic acid) is found in oil of evening primrose and borage oil and is helpful for hormonal conditions such as PMS and hot flushes.

EPA/DHA in fish oil capsules are useful for conditions such as inflammation, heart disease, breast cancer, arthritis and mental health problems. We should aim for at least 1g per day of EPA. Check the label of the bottle for the concentration of EPA.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Easy tips for eating more fruit and vegetables

We all know that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is vital for our health and well-being.

It just isn't always that easy to do.

So here are some ideas and tips to help you reach your 5-a-day and maybe even in time your 10-a-day - please CLICK to tweet.

The vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients contained in fruit and vegetables are essential for all bodily functions, such as digestion, detoxification, immunity, mood regulation and our hormone system. The more fruit and vegetables we eat, the better we look and feel.

Government dietary guidelines in the UK and the USA suggest eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Cancer experts say that consuming 8 to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is even better for protecting our health.

The last National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK revealed that the majority of the population is not even managing to eat the minimum guideline of 5 portions per day - only 13 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women met this goal.

Average intake of fruit and vegetables was 2.7 portions for men and 2.9 portions for women. Of the men surveyed, 21 per cent ate no fruit in the survey week and 2 per cent ate no vegetables.

Women did a little better, with 15 per cent eating no fruit and 2 per cent eating no vegetables. One per cent reported eating no fruit or vegetables in the survey week.

Mean daily consumption was lowest in the youngest group (19–24 years) at 1.3 and 1.8 portions for men and women respectively, and was highest in the oldest group (50–64 years) at 3.6 and 3.8 portions.

Here are some tips for increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet

1.            Buy many kinds of fruits and vegetables when you shop so you have plenty of choices
2.            Stock up on frozen vegetables for easy cooking, so that you always have a vegetable dish with every dinner
3.            Use the fruits and vegetables that go bad easily (peaches, asparagus) first. Save hardier varieties (apple, squash) or frozen goods for later in the week
4.            Keep fruits and vegetables where you can see them. The more often you see them, the more likely you are to eat them.
5.            Keep a bowl of cut-up vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator
6.            Cut up a selection of fruit and leave the plate on the table when the children come home from school - you will find that it all miraculously disappears
7.            Choose fresh fruit for dessert or make a simple fruit compote (e.g., apple and apricot). Cooking apples can be steamed in a matter of minutes and served with a simple sauce, e.g., peanut butter and rice malt syrup, or dried pears, cinnamon and tahini.
8.            Keep a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter table, or desk at work.
9.            Pack a piece of fruit or some cut-up vegetables in your briefcase or backpack; carry moist towelettes for easy cleanup.
10.       Add fruits and vegetables to lunch by having them in a soup or salad, or cut up raw.
11.       Soups are an excellent way to combine a wide range of different vegetables. Simple combinations allow you to create variety throughout the week.
12.       Experiment with fruit smoothies. Use a simple hand blender to blend a selection of fruits, e.g., blueberries, strawberries, banana with rice milk and some ground seeds.
13.       Experiment with home-made vegetable juices prepared using a juicing machine.
14.       Make a carrot and apple base and add vegetables such as cabbage, cucumber, celery, fennel, beetroot, radish and red cabbage. Herbs such as mint and parsley can also be added. Numerous combinations can be created, such as apple, cucumber and mint; carrot and beetroot; apple, red cabbage and beetroot; carrot, apple and celery; apple, celery and lime.
15.       Experiment with cooking vegetables in different ways: stir-frying, steaming and sautéing are quick and easy methods. Vegetables can also be baked – although the cooking time is longer, the preparation is quick.
16.       Add extra varieties of vegetables when you prepare soups, sauces and casseroles (for example, add grated carrots and courgettes to spaghetti sauce)
17.       Take advantage of salad bars, which offer ready-to-eat raw vegetables and fruits and prepared salads made with fruits and vegetables
18.       Use vegetable based juices such as carrot juice when preparing sauces.

Here is a handy guide I wrote suggesting over 50 ways to add portions of fruit and vegetables to your dishes.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Millet and salmon croquettes

In my last post I explained a bit about millet and its health benefits. Now you can have a go at a delicious recipe using millet, which my students and children love.

Given the variation in plant species that may be described as "millet", the batches of millet grain you buy at health food stores can be a bit variable in quality.

You may thus need to experiment a little with the quantity of water you add when cooking millet. Millet tends to absorb water readily, so I usually find that I need 3 cups of water to 1 cup of millet.

When cooking whole grains, the important thing is to bring the cooking water to a boil (I usually add boiling water from a kettle in the first place to speed up the process), then turn the heat right down low and put the lid on tightly, so that the water simmers without boiling over.

You will need a good quality pan with a thick base and possibly also a heat disperser, depending on how easily you can control the heat source on your cooker. If possible, use a gas flame rather than an electric cooker.

Do not be tempted to take off the lid and check your millet for at least 15 to 20 minutes after it has started simmering - you want to keep the steam inside the pan as this helps to cook the grain without the pan drying out.

Your aim is to end up with soft cooked millet, no water in the pan and no burnt bits!


Millet and salmon croquettes


  • 1 cup millet
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 fillet fresh salmon
  • ½ red pepper (grilled, peeled, washed and cut finely)
  • 3 spring onions (scallions) or chives (chopped finely)
  • 3 sprigs fresh herbs, e.g., dill or basil or parsley (finely chopped)
  • Black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons white miso (or more to taste)
  • Rice flour
  • Olive oil


  • Steam the fresh fish with bay leaves and a pinch of sea salt for 5 minutes or until cooked.
  • Wash the millet, add 3 cups of water and a bay leaf, bring to the boil and then turn the heat down low and cook with the lid tightly on for 35 minutes, until all the water has evaporated and the millet is soft.
  • Break up the steamed salmon with a fork and mix with the millet, spring onions, red pepper, black pepper, fresh herbs, and 2 tsp white miso (N.B. do not dilute the miso in water otherwise the croquettes will be too soggy to stick together). Check for taste and add more miso if necessary.
  • Shape the mixture into croquettes, coat with some rice flour and put in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool down, as this helps to stop the croquettes from crumbling.
  • Brush with a little olive oil and bake in the oven until golden brown all over. Alternatively, you can pan fry them if you wish.

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Millet and its health benefits


The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one.

Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments.

It was millets, rather than rice, that formed important parts of the prehistoric diet in Chinese Neolithic and Korean Mumun societies.

The millets include species in several genera. The most widely cultivated species in order of worldwide production are:
  • Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
  • Foxtail millet (Setaria italica)
  • Proso millet also known as common millet, broom corn millet, hog millet or white millet (Panicum miliaceum)
  • Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)
Minor millets include:
  • Barnyard millet (Echinochloa spp.)
  • Kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum)
  • Little millet (Panicum sumatrense)
  • Guinea millet (Brachiaria deflexa = Urochloa deflexa)
  • Browntop millet (Urochloa ramosa = Brachiaria ramosa = Panicum ramosum)
Millet is very easy to digest; it contains a high amount of lecithin and is excellent for strengthening the nervous system.

Millets are rich in B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.

Millets contain no gluten, so they are not suitable for raised bread, but they are good for people who are gluten-intolerant.

Millet has a tiny, pale, yellow seed with a nutty flavour which lends itself well to being cooked and eaten whole.

Soft millet can be used to prepare creamy porridges; it can be mashed or used in soups, hot pots, casseroles, croquettes and burgers, generally combining well with root vegetables, which have a sweet, relaxing effect.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cooking with beans and pulses

Nutrients in beans

Beans are seeds that grow inside pods.

After harvesting, beans are removed from the pod and dried, which accounts for their hardness.

The protein of beans is a nutritional complement to that of whole grains. Together they can provide all of the essential amino acids without resort to animal foods.

The major nutrients in beans are:
  • Fibre
  • B-vitamins (plus vitamin C if sprouted)
  • Minerals (especially iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus)
  • Proteins (in large quantity)
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
As a source of protein, the obvious advantages of beans over animal foods is their abundance of fibre, unsaturated fats and lack of harmful toxins.

Buying and storing beans

When shopping for beans, look for ones that are well-formed, uniform in size, smooth-skinned, and full and shiny in colour. Spots, flecks, wrinkles and pitting indicate that beans have lost their vitality. Fish-eyes are beans that are open at the seams; this indicates oxidation from drying too quickly. A batch of quality beans has no more than 1-2% broken skins and surface chips.

To test for sufficient dryness, bite into a bean. Properly dried beans will crackle and shatter. Improperly dried beans will show only a dent.

Beans must be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dark place. Preserved in this way, they should retain their energy almost indefinitely.

Washing and soaking beans

Cooking time varies with dryness. The drier the bean, the longer it needs to be soaked and the more time is required on the stove.

Before cooking, pour the beans onto a plate and remove any stones or dirt. Then put them in a large pot, cover them with cold water, and swirl them round with your hand. The light dust will come out with the water during draining. Scooping the beans by hand or a slotted spoon into the strainer will leave any heavy residues at the bottom of the pot. Beans may need to be rinsed 2 or 3 times before they are clean.

Except for lentils, split peas and other light beans, most beans are hard and require soaking in order to improve their digestibility. Intestinal gas results from inadequate soaking of beans, cooking that is too short, insufficient chewing or over-eating.

To soak, put the beans in a pot, cover them with almost boiling water, and let them sit from several hours to overnight. If you are in a hurry or forget to soak them overnight, you can bring dried beans to the boil, drain the water, add cold water and bring them to the boil again. If you do this 2-3 times before leaving them to simmer, you can accelerate the soaking process. You can use the soaking water in the final dish.

If using beans from a can, it is likely that you will need to cook them some more before use as canned beans are rarely soft enough. This is particularly true of chickpeas and larger beans such as pinto beans. Aduki beans are usually fine straight from the can.

Cooking beans

Beans can be boiled, pressure-cooked or baked. The cooking time varies according to the size and nature of the bean, which in turn will be affected by climate, soil conditions, season, altitude etc. When boiling beans, add water to cover the beans plus at least two fingers depth of water on top. Adding a sea vegetable such as kombu to the cooking water will enhance the softness and digestibility of the beans. Season the beans with some salty seasoning at the end when cooked, then simmer for a further 5 to 10 minutes. Do not add salt at the beginning as this will make the beans contract and harden rather than expand and soften.

Small, soft beans, e.g., green lentils, red lentils, mung beans, split peas require little soaking and about 1 hour of cooking (45 minutes in a pressure cooker).

Medium beans, e.g., small, light aduki beans, pinto beans, navy beans , lima beans, turtle beans need to be soaked for 2-4 hours, then cooked for 2 hours (1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Hard beans, e.g., big, dark aduki beans, chick peas, black, white and yellow soybeans need to be soaked for 6-8 hours or overnight, then cooked for 4 hours (1.5-2 hours in a pressure cooker).

Soybeans especially, although they are extremely rich in protein and natural fats, can be indigestible unless thoroughly cooked. For this reason, throughout the long history of their use in the Far East, they have invariably been processed or fermented before use to allow for ready assimilation of their nutrients.

Aduki Bean and Squash Stew


  • 1 cup aduki beans (soaked overnight in plenty of boiling water)
  • 1 strip kombu
  • 2 onions (cut in half moons)
  • 1 small squash (cut in chunky style)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Spring onions (finely chopped)
  • Barley (mugi) miso to taste (approximately 1 dessertspoon)


  • Place the soaked aduki beans in a cooking pot, together with the kombu, and add hot water to cover. Simmer for an hour or more until completely tender and soft.
  • Heat a large cooking pot, add some oil, the onions and a pinch of sea salt. Sauté uncovered until soft and 
  • translucent.
  • Add the squash, bay leaves and the cooked beans and kombu. Simmer until the squash is soft.
  • Mix the barley (mugi) miso in a little water and add to taste.
  • Serve with a garnish of chopped spring onions.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Naturally fermented home made vegetable pickles

Pickles are one of the most widely used forms of fermented foods. Many ancient cultures developed various pickling methods as a way of preserving vegetables through the winter.

Pickles increase the appetite, aid digestion, and strengthen the intestine by enhancing the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

During the fermentation process, enzymes and bacteria change the sugars in foods into lactic acid. Lactic acid strengthens the flora in the intestines.

Whilst many modern people are familiar only with highly spiced and vinegary cucumber pickles, an assortment of root, round and greeny leafy vegetables may be pickled as well as some sea vegetables, fruits, fish and seafood, and even flowers.

In addition to salt, pickles may be aged in tamari soy sauce, miso, umeboshi vinegar and other substances.

Pickles come in several strengths.

Short pickles can be made in a few hours to a few days or weeks. These light pickles are especially good in hot weather or for those who need to limit their consumption of salt.

Long pickles take from several weeks to several months to make and they can keep for several years. They are good all year round but are especially helpful for those who are weak or lacking in vitality.

If pickles taste too salty they can be soaked in cold water for half an hour before using.

Making pickles at home is great fun as there are so many combinations of ingredients and pickling solutions that you can let your imagination run riot.

When making pickles, use fresh vegetables that are firm, crisp and bright in colour.

Radish pickles

10-12 radishes, finely sliced
¾ cup water
¼ cup red plum (umeboshi) seasoning
½ tsp fine sea salt

1. Wash and sterilize some jam jars
2. Mix the water, red plum seasoning and sea salt until dissolved
3. Place sliced radishes in jar. Pour in the liquid until the radishes are covered.
4. Cover the jar with muslin and leave in a cool dark place for 2-3 days
5. Remove muslin and put on lid of jam jar
6. Store in the fridge for at least a week

Carrot pickles

2 medium carrots, cut into thin slices
1 cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
½ tsp salt
2 thin slices fresh ginger root

1. Place all ingredients in a clean, sterilised glass jar

2. Repeat the same process as for the first recipe

White cabbage pickles

3 cups white cabbage, finely cut
2 cups water
2 tsp fine sea salt

1. Place all the ingredients in a clean, sterilised glass jar. Mix well.
2. Repeat the same process as for the other recipes. Pickle for 10 days.

After pickling the vegetables should still be as firm and crunchy as when raw but with a pleasant sour flavour from the pickling.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cooking with miso

Different types of miso
Miso is a traditional Japanese food produced by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans, with salt and a microbial culture called koji.

It contains living enzymes which aid digestion, beneficial bacteria essential for enhancing gut flora and digestive health, and provides a nutritious balance of natural carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and proteins. 

Miso also contains phytonutrients in the form of soy isoflavones, including genistein and daidzein, which are known to be protective against cancer.

The most typical miso is made with soy. The typical result is a thick paste used for sauces and spreads, pickling vegetables or meats, and mixing with soup stock to serve as miso soup.

In Japanese, the word miso literally means “source of taste”. Miso is typically salty, but its flavour and aroma depend on various factors in the ingredients and fermentation process. 

Different varieties of miso have been described as salty, sweet, earthy, fruity, and savoury, and there is an extremely wide variety of miso available. The most common ones available in the UK are:
  • Shiro or white miso – fermented for 2-8 weeks. High in carbohydrates and koji but lower in soybeans than the dark varieties

  • Mugi or barley/soy miso – fermented from one summer up to 3 years
  • Genmai or rice/soy miso – fermented from one summer up to 3 years

  • Hatcho or soy miso – fermented from one summer up to 3 years

Some of the health benefits of miso:
  • For stamina: miso contains carbohydrates which give us energy
  • For proper body metabolism: miso is rich in minerals
  • For proper digestion: miso contains living enzymes and beneficial bacteria for enhancing the health of the gut
  • For beauty: miso nourishes the skin and blood, thus promoting cell renewal and the building of skin tissues
  • For the heart: miso contains linoleic acid and lecithin, which are helpful in preventing heart disease
You can use miso to season dishes instead of stock cubes. It is salty, so care must be taken not to use too much, but unlike stock cubes it contains many other beneficial nutrients.

White miso is sweeter than the darker varieties, so is used in sweeter dishes and when using light-coloured ingredients. Mugi, genmai and hatcho miso are rich and dark and are used in nourishing casseroles.

For a typical recipe for a soup or a casserole to serve 4 people, mix approximately one dessertspoon of miso in a little water and add to the dish about 2 to 3 minutes before the end of the cooking process, and simmer gently over a low heat.

Adding the miso at the end helps to minimise damage to the enzymes and live bacteria it contains. 

Miso can also be used to season recipes such as croquettes, bean burgers and fish cakes. In this case, you do not dilute the miso in water, otherwise the grain becomes too soggy and will not bind together.

You must always taste your dish before serving and adjust the seasoning accordingly, because the amount of miso required depends very much on the quantity of food present and on personal taste.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

School lunches and the junk food generation

A while ago I was invited to a networking meeting for school dinner ladies to discuss marketing of school lunches.

Several dinner ladies from large local secondary schools reported selling between zero and ten cooked lunches per day to over 1000 pupils. This is a take-up of less than 1 per cent, in contrast to 70 to 90 per cent at various local primary schools.

One reported that part of the problem is that their school lunch break has been reduced to 25 minutes as a measure to deal with poor behaviour. This does not leave enough time for the children to queue up and eat a proper meal. Another suggested that teenagers perceive healthy eating to be “uncool” and mention of Jamie Oliver is definitely inadvisable.

According to trainers at the local College of Further Education, who were also present, some young people on their courses have never seen a whole chicken – only frozen bits covered in breadcrumbs – and look on in horror as the chefs wield their poultry scissors.

So it seems we have a whole generation of young people raised on ‘ready meals’, whose parents neither support nor appreciate valiant efforts to provide their offspring with nutritious food.

But can we blame parents for this sorry state of affairs?

The cost of living in the UK is now such that it is becoming increasingly necessary for both partners to work to make ends meet. After a full day at work, the last thing most people feel like doing is cooking a meal from scratch. On top of this, successive governments have pulled funding from school meal provision and from teaching cookery in schools.

Reports on the nation's health show that the UK population is suffering disproportionately from disorders such as obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Poor nutrition increases the risk of incidence of all of these conditions. The long-term health of our population is in jeopardy if we do not persuade our young people to eat well, as they will in turn pass on their poor eating habits to their own children.

So what is the solution? More time for children to cook and eat at school and more money to bring the cost of school lunches down would help.

For information on children's nutrition and practical tuition in preparing delicious food for children of different ages, come along to a course on Healthy Cooking for Your Children.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Encourage children to eat more vegetables by growing your own

Preschool children in rural areas eat more fruits and vegetables when the produce is homegrown.

"It was a simple, clear finding," said Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University's Obesity Prevention Center and a study author. "Whether a food is homegrown makes a difference. Garden produce creates what we call a 'positive food environment.'"

Researchers interviewed about 1,600 parents of preschool-aged children who live in the countryside. They found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown fruits and vegetables were more than twice as likely to eat five servings a day than those who rarely or never ate homegrown produce.

The UK government recommends a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Children who grow up eating fresh-from-the-garden produce also prefer the taste of fruits and vegetables to other foods, the parents told researchers.

The study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found the garden-fed children were more likely to see their parents eating fruits and vegetables.

A greater variety of fruits and vegetables -- more tomatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, beans and carrots -- also were available in the homes of families who nearly always had homegrown produce.

The implications of the research are important because they point to a simple way of getting kids to eat more healthily, Haire-Joshu said. Plant a garden or encourage your school to do so.

For more ideas on how to encourage your children to eat more fruit and vegetables, come along to a Cooking for Health course on Healthy Cooking for Your Children, in Somerset, UK.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recipe for buckwheat croquettes with beetroot sauce

The term buckwheat refers to plants in two genera of the family Polygonaceae: the Eurasian genus Fagopyrum, and the North American genus Eriogonum. The crop plant, common buckwheat, is Fagopyrum esculentum. Tartary buckwheat (F. tataricum Gaertn.) or "bitter buckwheat" is also used as a crop, but it is much less common. Despite the common name and the grain-like use of the crop, buckwheats are not grasses and are not related to wheat. Indeed, buckwheat is in the same plant family as rhubarb.

Common buckwheat was domesticated and first cultivated in southeast Asia, possibly around 6000 BC, and from there spread to Europe and to Central Asia and Tibet. It was cultivated in Europe in the Balkans around 4000 BC.

Buckwheat contains about 75 per cent carbohydrate, 18 per cent protein and is rich in iron, zinc and selenium. Its protein contains all of the essential amino acids except lysine, so its protein value is over 90 per cent. It also contains significant quantities of anti-oxidants. One of these is called rutin, a medicinal chemical that strengthens capillary walls, reducing haemorrhaging in people with high blood pressure.

Buckwheat is either eaten whole or ground into flour to be used in breads, pancakes or thin noodles (Soba). It can be purchased raw to be lightly dry-roasted at home before cooking and generally combines well with vegetables. In recent years, buckwheat has been used as a substitute for other grain in gluten free beer.


Buckwheat Croquettes with Beetroot Sauce


  • 1 cup raw buckwheat
  • 2 cups water
  • Pinch sea salt
  • ½ onion (finely diced)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp barley miso


  • 2 onions (diced)
  • 4 carrots (diced)
  • ½ cooked beetroot (diced)
  • Small piece of dulse sea vegetable
  • 1 garlic clove (crushed)
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil
  • Umeboshi vinegar
  • Dried basil
  • Apple juice concentrate



  • Wash the buckwheat, drain and dry roast in a frying pan with no oil until the water has evaporated and the buckwheat is warm throughout (but do not burn!)
  • Place buckwheat in a pot with the water and a pinch of sea salt. Put on the lid and cook on a medium flame until it boils, then reduce to a minimum flame and simmer for 30 minutes until all the water has gone.
  • Add some oil to a frying pan, add the onions and sauté until the onions are translucent and soft.
  • Add the thyme and stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Mix the onion, thyme and 1 tsp miso with the cooked buckwheat. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. While the buckwheat mixture is still warm, form into sausage-shaped croquettes.
  • Pan fry croquettes until they are golden brown all over. This quantity of buckwheat will make about 8 croquettes.

Beetroot sauce

  • Sauté the diced onions and garlic with some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt until soft and translucent.
  • Add the carrots, herbs, dulse and a small amount of water. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the carrots are soft, taking care not to let the water dry out completely (it will stick and burn otherwise).
  • Add the beetroot and blend all the vegetables, adding some umeboshi vinegar and apple juice concentrate to taste. Serve hot.

For information and practical tuition on cooking with whole grains, why not come along to a Cooking for Health class on Cooking with Whole Foods, in Somerset, UK, with nutrition consultant and healthy cookery teacher, Dr Jane Philpott.