Tuesday 25 January 2011

Aubergine with Spicy Red Lentils


I've been interested in healthy eating for so long now, it's hard to imagine a time when I wasn't!  I do remember when Eric and I decided to stop eating meat. It was soon after I moved back to the south-east, close to London, in 1978.  We started eating at vegetarian restaurants and going to Health Shows like the Festival for Mind and Body which were just beginning at Olympia then. 

I remember there was a lovely vegetarian restaurant close to where I lived in Wimbledon Village and, after a particularly enjoyable evening there, we both agreed that giving up meat wouldn't be difficult if we could eat as well as that all the time.  So we did and never looked back!

At the time, vegetarian cookbooks were pretty thin on the ground. Some of the first recipes I used were by Rose Elliott from books such as The Bean Book and Not Just a Load of Old Lentils. They may seem overly simple nowadays but, at the time, they offered a wide range of meat-free alternatives designed to fill the gap left by cutting out meat. 

These days, vegetarian food has been transformed thanks to the influence of many world cuisines, such as Indian, Thai, Chinese and Lebanese, which are often high on vegetables and low on animal fats.   Eating out has never been easier and lentils are no longer the preserve of cranky vegetarians!  Here's a very cheap and tasty recipe using red lentils which can be ready in half an hour.  With the addition of delicious fried aubergines, this makes a great supper dish.

By the way, many recipes suggest salting aubergines and then rinsing to remove bitterness. Unless they are very overgrown and full of dark seeds, I've never found this necessary.

Ingredients               Serves Four

1 large aubergine
1 large onion, peeled 
2 garlic cloves, peeled 
Small piece of root ginger (about 1" or 2.5cm) peeled
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder 
125g red split lentils
400g tin of good quality tomatoes
1 tbsp sundried tomato puree
Olive oil
Small handful of fresh coriander leaves

Wash the aubergine and cut into large chunks.  Peel if the skin looks old or tough.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan (preferably one with a lid).   Fry the aubergine chunks until dark and golden, about 5 minutes on a highish heat.  Turn often so they cook evenly and drizzle over a little more oil if they look dry. 

Remove from the pan and place on a plate till later.

Put the lentils in a sieve and wash under running cold water. Drain.

Chop the onions, crush the garlic cloves and finely grate the root ginger.

Reusing the same saute pan,  heat a tbsp of olive oil and fry the onions, garlic and ginger for about 5 minutes.   Then stir in the ground cumin and chilli powder. 

Add the tinned tomatoes, sundried tomato puree, washed lentils and about 480ml water.  Bring to a simmer and cover with a lid.    Cook for about 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked and the mixture has thickened.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now stir in the aubergine pieces and the chopped coriander.

Serve with fluffy basmati rice and a green vegetable, such as green beans or curly kale.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Mushroom Soup

I made this soup last week as some friends were coming to dinner and I wanted a warming starter for a cold January evening. Served with some lovely organic bread, crisped up under the grill or in the oven, you can't go wrong!

For years,  I used flour to thicken mushroom soup but this doesn't need any.  It's full of flavour and goodness yet creamy and smooth too!

You can use any variety of mushrooms.  I normally go for the open cap varieties. The dark gills give the soup a rich colour and intense flavour.  


About 500g mushrooms
A knob of dairyfree margarine
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 small leek, sliced
1 small potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

1 organic vegetable stock cube (Kallo)
750ml boiling water
About 250ml unsweetened soya milk
A few chestnut mushrooms and some
chopped parsley to garnish

Melt the margarine with the olive oil in a large pan, add the sliced leek, diced potato, chopped onion.   Cover and cook for a few minutes then add the chopped garlic.  Stir well and continue to cook for a couple more minutes.

Roughly chop the mushrooms.

Add the mushrooms to the pan and stir.  Cover and sweat until they have started to cook down a little.

Dissolve the stock cube in the hot water. Pour into the pan and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Allow the soup to to cool a little then, using a hand blender, whizz until completely smooth.  Alternatively transfer the soup to a blender and then return to the pan.

Add enough soya milk to make a smooth creamy consistency.   Taste and check for seasoning and flavour.

For special occasions, I sometimes add a tablespoon of sherry. 

As a garnish, quickly fry some sliced chestnut mushrooms in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Stir in some chopped parsley and then spoon a little of the mixture into the middle of the soup.

Serve with crispy bread for a delicious winter lunch!

Monday 10 January 2011

Root Vegetable Rosti

"The secret to maintaining a healthy mind and body is to forget the word "dieting" and think instead of introducing some balance and variety into every aspect of life." 

This quote is from "Mind Mood Foods" by Hazel Courteney and Kathryn Marsden. It's a book that has been around for a while, published in 1998, but it's message is just as relevant today, probably more so.  Mood swings, constant tiredness and inability to concentrate are all symptoms that are commonplace today and they can all be caused by what we eat.  Cutting down on sugar, caffeine, processed foods and animal products can transform our well-being, not only feeding our bodies but helping to lift our spirits and calm our mind too.

What I like about this particular quote is that it highlights the fact that it's important to feed our whole self, not just our stomachs!   Everything we do each day, our work, hobbies, interactions with others, etc. impacts how we feel.  The health of our mind depends totally on the quality of our thinking. The health of our bodies does too. When we're fulfilled and happy in our lives, our bodies respond to those good feelings.  When we're bored and frustrated, our bodies feel it too and no amount of good food can make up for that.  When food is just an escape, a quick-fix to get us through the day, our bodies are forced to cope and they usually do, for a while.  In the long-run though, it's about finding "balance and variety,"  that vital combination of good food, good thinking, good living that ultimately creates a healthy mind and body.

I have to admit the book concentrates on nutritional values a little too much for me.  Worrying about vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins has never been a priority for me.  I like to keep things simple and I know my body well enough by now. It works best on a daily supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, taken regularly through the day, with occasional fish, rice and pasta,  a minimum of sugar, very few processed foods and no meat or animal produce.  This has worked fine for me for the past thirty years and couldn't be easier!

Eating lots of freshly cooked vegetables need never be boring if you make your plate look appetising, taking into account colour, texture and flavour.  Here's a lovely vegetable recipe from "Mind Mood Foods" (with a few added comments of my own!) that I've enjoyed and I hope you do too. I've always loved potato rosti and this one contains parsnips and carrots too which add both colour and flavour.  You can use sweet potatoes instead of ordinary ones or swede instead of carrot. Also it's easy to reduce the quantities if you're only cooking for one or two. 

Ingredients              Serves four

225g (8oz) medium-sized potatoes, peeled
2 medium carrots, washed
2 small or 1 large parsnip, peeled
2 tbsp fresh chopped chives or parsley
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped (or 2 shallots)


Cut the potatoes into quarters if large.  Cut the parsnips in quarters lengthwise and remove the woody centres. Slice the carrots  in half lengthwise. 

Place in a large saucepan of lightly salted water and boil for for 6 minutes.  Drain well.  When cool enough to handle, grate the parboiled vegetables into a bowl (or use the grater attachment on your food processor).  Stir in the chopped parsley and seasoning.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan, add the chopped onion and cook for a few minutes until golden.  Add the vegetable mixture, stir briefly to mix, then form into a large cake the size of the frying pan, pressing down gently with a fork.  Fry over a medium heat until golden brown underneath.

Carefully turn the cake over. I find the best way is to slide it out onto a large dinner plate,  then holding the sides of the plate firmly,  flip it over as you return it the pan.   This needs to be done quickly with a certain amount of precision!

Fry until the under side is browned and crisp too.   Cut into wedges and serve with  freshly cooked vegetables, such as green beans and baby spinach leaves.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Cinnamon Plums with Coconut Rice Pudding

There's something about rice pudding that's wonderfully comforting and adding coconut milk and vanilla essence gives it that extra special touch.  Whilst it's always delicious warm, coconut rice pudding is also lovely served cold with poached fruit such as pears, blackcurrants or spiced plums.

I find most dessert recipes contain far too much sugar and overpower the flavour of the natural ingredients.  Adding a little light muscovado sugar to the plums gives a rich rather than sugary taste.  With the rice pudding, using Alpro soya milk which is naturally  sweetened with apple juice means you can also reduce the sugar content in this dish to a minimum.


8 - 10 Red Plums
60g (2 oz) unrefined sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 green cardamon pods

For the Coconut Rice Pudding:

115g (4 oz) short-grain pudding rice
1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk
800ml Alpro original soya milk
30g  (2 tbsp) golden castor sugar
1 tsp natural vanilla essence

Wash the plums, halve and stone them.  Put them in a saucepan with the sugar, cinnamon stick and cardamon pods. Add 200ml cold water.

Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, gently turning the plums over until they soften but still keep their shape.

Remove the cinnamon stick and cardamon pods and leave to cool.

Meanwhile,  you can make your rice pudding.  Put the rice in a sieve and rinse well under cold running water.  Drain. 

Place the rice, coconut milk and soya milk into a large saucepan and slowly heat to simmering, stirring frequently to make sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom.
Don't leave the pan for a moment. Somehow milk always boils over just when you turn your back!

Reduce to a low heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now add the sugar and vanilla essence, stir a little to dissolve, then continue to simmer for a further 10 minutes until the rice is tender.

The mixture will probably still be runny but don't worry, it will thicken up as it cools.

You can serve the rice pudding and plums whilst they are both still warm or, for a special occasion, it's fun to fill dariol or pudding moulds or ramekins with the cooked rice. 

Line the moulds with cling film, spoon in the cooled rice and leave to set in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. 

When you are ready to serve, turn out onto a plate, remove the cling film and spoon the plums around the side.