Monday 28 February 2011

Spiced Carrot Salad

This colourful carrot salad couldn't be simpler yet it never fails to satisfy. Serve it for lunch with a salad,  for dinner with a tagine or anytime as a healthy snack!  

It's best made the day before to give all the flavours a chance to develop and to allow the raisins to plump up.   Just add the toasted flaked almonds when serving to retain their crunchiness.

Ingredients       Serves 6

450g carrots, washed but not peeled
80g raisins
55g flaked almonds
1 tsp ground cumin

For the dressing
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp cider or wine vinegar
freshly ground salt and pepper

First make the dressing.   Place the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until well blended.

Grate the carrots, either by hand or in a food processor using the grater attachment.

Immediately place in the bowl containing the dressing and mix well. Stir in the raisins and ground cumin.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Toast the flaked almonds by spreading them out on a large baking tray. Heat your grill to it's highest setting, then place the almonds on a high shelf.  They don't take long to brown so keep an eye on them and turn once or twice.

When they have cooled, transfer to an airtight container.

The next day, when you're ready to serve the salad, give it a good stir adding most of the flaked almonds, reserving a few to decorate the top.  A few coriander leaves add colour and flavour too.

Monday 21 February 2011

Red Pepper Hummus

It seems like everyone is talking about lowering their cholesterol these days. What's more, they seem really stressed about it, worried about the onset of heart disease and complaining they'll have to give up creamy desserts forever. 

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance transported around the body in the bloodstream. It can build up inside our arteries as a result of eating too much saturated fat, much of which comes from animal products. There's plenty of evidence to show that increasing our intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and cutting out meat, eggs and dairy products as well as processed foods can reduce cholesterol levels considerably.

Drugs that are prescribed for lowering cholesterol often have side effects such as kidney and liver damage.  Lowering cholesterol naturally seems a far safer option and has so many more life-enhancing benefits too, such as weightloss and added vitality. What's more, there's evidence to show that, in the long run, dietary change is far more effective.

In addition to eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables,  other foods low in fat include soya milk, olive oil and pulses.  So, instead of cheese or eggs for lunch, why not try this deliciously smooth pate made with a can of chickpeas and red peppers.  Serve it with warm ciabatta or toasted pitta bread and salad for a tasty well-balanced meal.  It's also good served as a dip with crudites e.g. strips of carrot, celery, cucumber and red pepper.  

You can either use two red peppers or, for extra quickness, use ready roasted ones from a jar or a combination of the two as I've done here.   I buy peppers marinated in olive oil and herbs but if you find yours contain vinegar, I would leave out the lemon juice in the recipe.

This keeps really well in the fridge for a week and definitely improves in flavour a day or two after being made, if you can wait that long!


I red pepper
1 400g can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 60g roasted red peppers in oil 
2 - 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

First prepare the red pepper if using. Quarter and remove the core and seeds from the pepper.  Place on a baking sheet skin side up and brush with a little olive oil. 

Grill for 5 to 10 mins on a high heat until charred. 
Remove and place a bowl over the top (or put them in a plastic bag and seal) until cool enough to handle, by which time the skin should peel away quite easily.

Chop the skinned pepper into small pieces, place in a bowl and set aside whilst you make the hummus.

Drain the chickpeas and place in a food processor with the crushed garlic and lemon juice.

Blend until smooth, stopping frequently to stir around the side of the bowl with a spatula to make sure everything has blended.

Add the roasted red peppers from the jar.  Whizz again adding 2 tbsp of olive oil a little at a time until it becomes a light, soft consistency.

Spoon into a bowl with the skinned and chopped red pepper and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Before serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and garnish with red pepper pieces or a light dusting of paprika.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Make your own Dairyfree Yogurts

I've always loved fruit yogurts and grew up eating Ski yogurts which were one of the first to be launched in the UK in the 1960's.  Forty years on, I'm still enjoying yogurts though now I only eat dairyfree ones.

These days, there are plenty to choose from and, whether you are normally dairyfree or not, soya fruit yogurts are a popular healthy snack/dessert. It goes without saying that Alpro is the brand leader in the UK, readily available in all the supermarkets.  Healthfood shops also stock Provamel and Sojasun which are all delicious and there's also a French manufacturer Sojade who make a range of organic yogurts.  Asda have their own brand of soya yogurt, a cheaper alternative, that also tastes quite good.

Most manufacturers make a plain unflavoured yogurt and again, Alpro is the most readily available. It has a really creamy texture that's delicious on it's own or you can add your own fruit. 

Making your own plain yogurt is very easy, works out cheaper and, even better, means you are not adding to landfill with all those endless plastic cartons  (though for years, I've recycled mine as plant pots in the greenhouse, with a hole in the bottom for drainage, or taken them to our local recycling centre.)  You don't need any special equipment or ingredients and the end result is lovely, maybe a little milder than a bought one, but ideal if you want to combine fruit with it, or use it in savoury dishes.  More about that later ....

Making your own fruit yogurts is fun too as you can create so many more flavours and add less sugar too.   One of our favourites is pear with stem ginger and crushed ginger biscuits.
We also love banana yogurt - handy when you have lots of ripe fruit to use up! 

For one generous portion, you'll need one ripe banana,  a teaspoon of golden castor sugar and about 3 level tablespoons of plain natural yogurt.

Banana yogurt is made in moments with a hand-blender but you could also mash it by hand for a chunkier version or reserve slices of banana to add in later.  

For the smooth version,  put one peeled banana in a tallish container with the sugar and blitz down.
Add the yogurt and blend thoroughly before pouring into a dish. 

Banana yogurt tastes wonderful but can look boring and will also discolour if you don't eat it fairly soon (which never seems to happen in our house!)  So it's best to jazz it up by serving it in a nice dish or fancy glass and adding a topping like chopped roasted hazelnuts and sliced kiwi fruit.


1 small ball (or half a large one) stem ginger
2 ripe pears
3 tbsp plain yogurt

Some crushed ginger biscuits (e.g. Fox's Ginger Crinkles) go well with this yogurt and are a lovely surprise when you find them at the bottom of the dish!

Place four biscuits in a bag and crush with a rolling pin.

Melt about 15g dairyfree margarine in a bowl (takes seconds in a microwave) then add your biscuit crumbs. 

Place at the bottom of two glass dishes.

To make the yogurt, peel and chop the pears and place in a bowl.  

Cut a few thin slices of stem ginger to save as a garnish and finely chop the rest.  Add to the pears with the natural yogurt and mix.

Spoon the yogurt mixture on top of the crushed biscuits.  Place your reserved slices of ginger on top.  Eat immediately or chill until required.


I use a Salton Yogurt Maker (circa 1980!)  but a yogurt maker isn't essential.  A thermos flask or any container that you can keep in a warm place will do just as well. I don't use a thermometer either or do any other technical things many books tell you to do.  Simply use a bought plain soya yogurt as your starter.  After that, keep back some of your own home-made yogurt to start the next batch.


If you want to make a smaller quantity, just halve the ingredients.

1 litre unsweetened soya milk
3 tbsp Alpro plain yogurt at room temperature
(or use some of your previous batch as starter)

First, plug in your yogurt maker to heat up or pour some warm water into your thermos flask/yogurt container.

Pour the milk into a pan and heat gently.  It's best not to do this in a hurry. You don't want the milk to boil or heat too quickly as the bottom of the pan can easily burn and ruin the taste.  When the milk is getting hot and steamy, but not boiling, remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. 

Then, once you can dip your finger in and it's still hot but not uncomfortable, add your plain yogurt starter and whisk in well to distribute.

Pour into a yogurt maker/thermos flask and leave for about 10 to 12 hours.

If using an ordinary container, leave in a warm place.
Transfer to the fridge and leave for at least 12 hours before using. 

It will keep for well over a week and don't forget to save a few tablespoons to make your next batch!

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille with Chickpeas

I always think you can tell quite a lot about someone by noticing what they have in their shopping trolley!  Whether it's piled high with ready-made dishes, fast-food snacks or filled with a colourful selection of fresh raw ingredients, their choice of foods can reveal much about their attitude to health and well-being.

Because Eric and I don't eat any meat, eggs or dairy produce,  many of the products lining the supermarket shelves are simply "off limits" to me so I just pass them by.  I have spent years studying the contents labels on new products and generally know what I can and cannot eat. This is some of the shopping I brought home one day last week. It looked so colourful and appetising, I couldn't resist taking a photo! 

Other weekly basics include soya milk, dairy free margarine, multi grain bread, pasta and rice plus extras such as sun-dried tomatoes, olives and hummus, ready to eat apricots, dairy free yogurts and some dairy-free dark chocolate!

Living on a mostly plant-based diet, we do eat a lot of fresh vegetables and here's a lovely way to prepare them that's good either served hot with rice, pasta or potatoes or cold for lunch another day.  The chickpeas are an optional extra, the recipe works just as well without them.   In the summer and autumn, I use fresh tomatoes and courgettes from the garden but tinned tomatoes are a good substitute at other times.

Ingredients          Serves four

1 large onion
1 aubergine
2 red peppers
2 courgettes
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic
40g sundried tomatoes in oil
400g tin good quality tomatoes
 (or 500g fresh tomatoes, skinned)
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of fresh basil leaves


Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas Mark 7.  

Put the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and grind into pieces.

Wash and then cut the peppers, aubergine and courgettes into pieces approximately 2.5cm or 1” square.  Mix the peppers in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

Transfer to a roasting tray and spread out neatly. Repeat with the courgettes and aubergine, using two trays if necessary rather than squashing all the vegetables on one tray.  Scatter the crushed coriander seeds over the vegetables.

Place the trays in the preheated oven and bake for about 30 - 35 minutes. Check the vegetables once or twice, turning them over so they become evenly cooked.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and crush the garlic cloves and place in a large pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir, then cover with a lid and cook gently for about 10 minutes until tender, without browning.  

Now cut up your tomatoes roughly in the tin with a sharp knife and add to the pan together with the chopped sundried tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

When the roasted vegetables are ready, add them to your tomato sauce with the drained chickpeas.

Stir well and taste to check the seasoning.  Cover and continue to simmer on the hob for about 15 minutes. Alternatively place in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C.   

Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with rice, pasta or potatoes and a green vegetable.