Freekeh salad with sumac dressing

For those of you who are not familiar with “sumac” here’s the definition: its a powder made from the fruits of the flowering plant Rhus coriaria. It is generally used in Middle Eastern and south Asian cuisine.

Sumac has very high antioxidant levels. It helps lower blood sugar levels and sumac juice is high in vitamin C.

This spice has a tangy, lemony taste and can be used with fish, meat and salads.

I bought my sumac from Borough Market in London. However, if you do not find it locally, you can get it online.

In this simple freekeh salad I used sumac to give the salad a fresh citrussy flavour.

Freekeh salad with sumac dressing
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
30 mins

This is a very light and simple salad. It can be used as a standalone for lunch or supper or as a side served with grilled fish or meat.

Course: Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Keyword: Freekeh, salad, Sumac
Servings: 4 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
  • 200 grms Greenwheat Freekeh
  • 2 tsps Lebanese Sumac
  • 1 telegraph cucumber
  • 15 teardrop cherry tomatoes
  • 2 spring onions
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  1. Boil freekeh grains in 200ml of water for 15 minutes (or according to packet instructions).

  2. Drain the grains and stand them in a colander to cool down whilst you're preparing the other ingredients.

  3. Rinse the tomatoes and mint and scrub the cucumber and lemon.

  4. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and chop the mint. Cut the cucumber into small cubes and slice the white part of the spring onions.

  5. Put the freekeh into a salad container and add the chopped ingredients - mix well.

  6. Grate the lemon rind and extract lemon juice. Add the rind to the freekeh mixture and put the lemon juice in a screw-top jar.

  7. Add 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil to the lemon juice, 2 tsps sumac and salt and pepper to taste. Close the jar and shake well.

  8. Divide the salad into four portions and serve each portion with 2 tbsps of sumac dressing.

Recipe Notes

Some facts about freekeh - it has four times the amount of fibre as brown rice and twice the amount of protein as white rice. It's a low GI food which means it keeps you full for longer. Freekeh is also high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron.

Freekeh has a nutty taste and can be used in pilafs, soups and salads.  

How to benefit from Medjool dates

Have you ever used Medjool dates to sweeten your cereals or smoothies? I use Medjool dates as a sweet treat, either on their own or paired with walnuts … heavenly!

These very large dates are native to the Middle East and North Africa. They’re the first ever cultivated fruit and their cultivation dates back some 6000 years. Historically, they were known as “the king of fruits” or “the fruit of kings”, however nowadays they’re widely available all year round.

Medjool dates are soft, chewy and juicy. There’s a hint of caramel in their taste (without the added sugar). These dates are sweeter than the regular Deglet Noor dates which are smaller, firmer in texture and have a delicate taste when compared to the full, rich taste of the Medjools.

Nutritional benefits of Medjool dates

Medjool dates are rich in vitamins and minerals.  They contain 50% more potassium than bananas. Both Medjools as well as Deglet Noors are good sources of selenium (helps anti-aging process in the body), copper (together with iron enables the body to form red blood cells), potassium (helps lower blood pressure) and magnesium (supports healthy immune system). Dates also contain vitamins B3 and B6 and are rich in fibre.

Today I thought I’d share with you this recipe inspired by Dr Axe. I used it for the last session of my cooking instruction programme and it was very well received. Dr Axe’s original recipe calls for hemp seeds. I replaced them with chia seeds, simply because hemps were not available. The result was great!

Pecan Coconut Balls
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins

This recipe is so quick and easy to make. It's the ideal recipe to involve children help in the kitchen. 

Course: Dessert, Sweet treat
Cuisine: gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 10
Author: Colette Cumbo
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Process pecans in food processor until ground.

  2. Add roughly chopped dates and process further until mixture is sticky and binds.

  3. Add the chia seeds, coconut flakes and the vanilla extract. Pulse process for a few seconds.

  4. Roll mixture into small balls and refrigerate for an hour until firm.

  5. (pulse processing does not break the coconut flakes completely and the white bits of coconut contrast nicely with the dark brown colour of the dates)

Recipe Notes

Makes 40 small coconut balls.

I used these balls as a sweet treat after supper on the terrace. They can also be used as a snack.

My thanks go to:

Is it time Governments introduce a tax on junk food?

Statistics issued in May 2018 reveal that Malta has the highest rate of child obesity in Europe, the highest rate of type II diabetes and the lowest level of activity (1).

Similarly, UK stats for 2017 show that 617 thousand admissions in NHS hospitals were obesity-related. And in 2016, 26 per cent of British adults were considered obese (2).



How does it compare to 50 years ago?

In the 60s only one per cent of men and two per cent of women were considered obese in the UK (3).

The major differences are attributed to a more sedentary lifestyle and a higher consumption of processed foods.  Despite the fact that in the 60s gyms were hardly heard of, people were significantly more active. They walked more and spent less time in front of TVs and computers. Children played active games as opposed to hours spent on a tablet and ready-made foods were hard to come by.  The majority of households cooked their meals from scratch, using fresh products. People’s diets were not full of preservatives and dining out was an occasional treat.

Another factor that contributed towards weight gain is food portions. The average dinner plate in the 60s had a diameter of 7-9 inches (17.78-22.86 centimetres). Nowadays, plates have a diameter of 11-12 inches (27.94-30.48 centimetres) in Europe and 13 inches (33.02 centimetres) in America (4).

Public Health vs Votes?

Do you think it’s time Governments take serious action?  In the same way taxes were imposed and regulations enforced on cigarettes and alcohol,  it may be high time something’s done about the amount of junk food consumed.

If there is more awareness about the consequences of fat, sugar and salt in junk food and ready-made meals and if fresh food is more affordable, maybe people will be in a better position to make healthier choices.

Why are fast food chains allowed to be become richer and the average tax payer has to foot the bill of obesity-related diseases?  Why doesn’t junk food packaging come with sickening images, similar to the ones found on cigarette packets? Should junk food companies be allowed to brainwash children and youngsters thanks to their strong marketing position?

In the UK, Jamie Oliver is campaigning to control the advertising of junk food, especially for children (5). You would think it’s in the interest of Governments to promote the health of its citizens by making fresh food more affordable.

No; I’m not kidding myself into thinking that if junk food is more expensive than healthy food, people will make an overnight change – they won’t.  Besides, as we’ve seen above, there are various factors that lead to obesity.  Junk food is just one of them.  However, in a similar way awareness and levies brought down smoking rates (6), serious campaigns, taxes on junk food (including ready-made foods) and subsidies of good fresh food, may lead to health improvement.

What do you think?


My thanks go to:


(2) NHS Digital

(3) The Telegraph

(4) Quora

(5) Jamie Oliver – #AdEnough


Infographic thanks to

Springtime Barley Risotto

Have you ever thought about the nutritional benefits of asparagus?  It’s a very unusual looking veggie and comes in thick stems (like the ones in the photo which I took at Borough Market) or with thinner stems which do not require peeling. The thinner asparagus are known as “baby asparagus”.

Spring is asparagus season in most of Europe.  Although, nowadays, it is not unusual to find asparagus in supermarkets almost all year round.

Is asparagus good for you?

If I say asparagus is a powerhouse, you probably say that I think most veggies are. But if I had to list all the vitamins and minerals found in asparagus you will probably agree with me.  So I’ll just highlight a handful of benefits which explain why I chose asparagus to be the star ingredient for today’s recipe.


  1. is a good source of Vitamin K, the blood clotting vitamin;
  2. contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties – protects your body against free radicals;
  3. acts as a natural diuretic – i.e. it makes you pass water which helps you get rid of excess salt and lowers high blood pressure;
  4. the nutrient inulin provides food for the good bacteria in your body, protecting you against colon cancer;
  5. provides you with folate, an essential requirement for the production of red blood cells;
  6. good source of fibre;
  7. good source of Vitamin B1 (thiamine);
  8. contains glutathione, an antioxidant which helps fight cancer.

The ladies attending my cookery classes asked if I can help them make a “healthy” risotto. We cooked two risottos – the typical Italian recipe inspired by Gennaro Contaldo and then we cooked a tweaked version, with barley. My springtime barley risotto is completely vegan too.

Springtime Barley Risotto
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Resting time
5 mins
Total Time
40 mins

This recipe requires less attention than the typical risotto as you do not have to stand by and stir continuously. I replaced the rice for barley, a grain which is by far healthier than rice.  It helps control your cholesterol levels and protects against heart disease. It also contains more fibre than rice and keeps you full for longer. 

I gave this recipe a vegan spin and left out the wine, butter and cheese.

It is inspired by the Springtime Risotto of Gennaro Contaldo, a chef I truly admire.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Plant-based, vegan
Servings: 4 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
  • 1 cup pearl barley rinsed
  • 1 medium-sized onion chopped finely
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp smoked crushed chillies optional
  • 2 cups asparagus chopped
  • 1 cup fresh garden peas shelled
  • 1 1/2 cups zucchini sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ltr vegetable stock hot
  • 1 tbsp lemon rind grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint chopped finely
  1. In a heavy-based pan heat the oil and gently fry the onion.  When it starts to soften, add the crushed garlic and smoked chilli flakes (if using). Stir to avoid sticking.

  2. Add the chopped asparagus and the sliced zucchini to the pan. Stir until the vegetables are covered with the onion mixture. Keep stirring gently for a couple of minutes for the vegetables to soak up the flavours.

  3. Add the rinsed barley and stir well into the vegetable mixture. After stirring for one minute or so, add 500ml of hot vegetable stock.  Give the mixture a good stir, bring to the boil, cover with tight fitting lid and lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.

  4. After 10 minutes, check the barley, add more hot water as needed.  Do not let the mixture stick to the pan.  Add your peas, stir and cover.  Simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add more hot water as required, stir, cover and simmer for the last 10 minutes. Barley takes between 30-40 minutes to cook, depending on your preferred texture.

  5. After 30 minutes of simmering, check the texture of the barley. I like my grains al dente, but you may prefer a softer texture, in which case, add a little bit more hot water and simmer for a further 5 minutes. When barley is ready all your stock should be absorbed, but the mixture should not be too dry. Give the barley and vegetable mixture a gentle stir, cover and leave to rest for 5 minutes. 

  6. Add the chopped mint and lemon zest and give the mixture one final stir (if it is slightly dry add half a cup of hot stock and stir).

    Your barley risotto is now ready to serve.  

Recipe Notes

As the name implies this recipe is made with springtime vegetables which are in season. In this recipe, I used baby asparagus to avoid having to peel the stems. I just trimmed the very end of the stem and used the rest. When using seasonal vegetables you benefit from full flavour, better taste and less money.

You may wish to leave out the smoked chilli flakes for a truly fresh taste.  However I find that a tiny amount of smoked chilli flakes give the dish a nice kick.  

I would love to receive your comments after having tried my springtime barley risotto.

My thanks go to

Gennaro Contaldo for the inspiration

Dr Axe 

Food to Live


Balanced Diet vs Healthy Diet

Is your diet balanced? Is it healthy? Or maybe it’s both?

What is a Healthy Diet?

Easy! A healthy diet is made up of fruit, veg, some meat and / or fish, low in fat with limited amounts of alcohol. Sounds good?  Actually, it’s not too bad.

What is the difference between a healthy and a balanced diet?

A balanced diet is healthy, with extras thrown in for good measure.

What makes a Healthy Diet “Balanced”?

  • A balanced diet provides the body with sufficient nutrients (macro – i.e. carbohydrates, fat, protein and micro – vitamins and minerals);
  • A balanced diet provides the body with the right amount of energy (calories) – an imbalanced diet leads to weight gain or weight loss;
  • A balanced diet includes sufficient fluids (mainly water) to keep the body well-hydrated;
  • A balanced diet limits counter-productive foods such as sugar and salt.
  • A balanced diet forms part of a healthy lifestyle which includes regular exercise.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) makes five recommendations:

  • Consume the amount of calories your body requires to function;
  • Limit your fats;
  • Eat more fruit and veg;
  • Limit your sugars;
  • Limit your salts.

Why is a Balanced Diet good for you?

A balanced diet keeps you feeling good about yourself.  You can enjoy good quality life, preventing diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer.

A balanced diet also provides you with high levels of energy.  It gives you shiny hair and strong nails.  Your skin looks plump and clear.  Your waist line remains in check, without too much effort.  Who’s complaining?

How do you “Balance” your Diet?

Most countries have their recommended dietary guidelines. These guidelines are set keeping culture in mind. So for example, the Eatwell Plate – the dietary guidelines for the UK – includes foods such as baked beans, crisps and porridge.  The Mediterranean diet includes olive oil and wine in moderation. The Chinese dietary guidelines recommend a diet based on whole grains, fruit and vegetables with tiny portions of protein, dairy and fats. Both the Mediterranean and the Chinese guidelines recommend plenty of water as well as exercise.

All good, but how does this work for you?

  • Establish your recommended calorie intake according to your lifestyle. If you have a sedentary job and you do not exercise regularly, your body needs less calories than a person who exercises seven days a week. A person who does not have a sedentary job also requires more energy to keep them going.
  • Get your energy (calories) in the right amounts:
    • 50-55% from carbohydrates
    • 33-35% from fat
    • 10-15% from protein.
  • Drink plenty of water – recommended guidelines 1ml water / 1kcal of food you consume.
  • Exercise regularly.

You are probably wondering how you can lose weight or maintain good weight when 50% of your energy intake comes from carbs.

Carbs are not only found in starchy foods such as potatoes, rice and pasta. You can get your carbs from fruit and veg. One important fact to bear in mind is that your brain requires carbohydrates. Carbs, in the form of glucose, are the only food the brain uses to function properly.

Balance out your healthy diet by eating a variety of foods in the right amounts. With the right food intake, water and exercise you’re on your way to healthy lifestyle.

Watch this space for more on the subject.


May thanks go to:




Why is obesity such a serious problem?

Our waistlines started increasing after World War II (WWII).  The end of the war marked an end to manual exertion and an increase in technological development.  The car started replacing the bicycle and the corner store or the farmers’ market were seriously challenged by the Co-Op chains which started sprouting all over the place.

Change of lifestyle post WWII

In 1954 television started entering households and physical activity started on a downward spiral.  By the eighties TV was transmitting round the clock and leisure activities plummeted even further. The birth of the microwave in the early 1980s brought plenty of ready-made, frozen foods available at very cheap prices.


  • a high supply of convenience food
  • the advent of fast food chains
  • lack of physical activity and
  • an increase in a sedentary lifestyle (brought about with the birth of the computer at work and at home)

resulted in a surplus of energy intake and lack of its expenditure.


How do you gain weight on healthy food?

This is not the whole picture.  A recent study, undertaken by an American insurance company in March 2018, shows that it is not just our lifestyle which is contributing to our expanding waistlines. Our lack of knowledge and awareness of nutritional values is another contributing factor.

The study worked with a sample of 1000 Americans from various walks of life.  They were asked to guess the nutritional values of a number of foods – healthy foods as well as ‘junk’ food.  Results show that, in the majority of cases, the respondents got their facts wrong. Why?

We tend to think that, as long as we eat healthy food – raw almonds, avocados and such like – we can eat as much as we want.  This is not the case.  Weight gain is a result of greater energy (calories) intake than expenditure.  You can get your calories (energy) from healthy food – nuts, fruit, fish, grains, olive oil … the list is endless – however, if you take in more energy than your body is using for your lifestyle, you still gain weight.

Roger Highfield of The Telegraph quotes Jane Wardle, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University College London as saying; “… most obese people don’t overeat by a lot, but an energy excess of only 70kcals a day – no more than a ginger biscuit – adds up to 70lbs (31.75kgs) of extra weight in 10 years; enough to turn a slim 25 year old into an obese 35 year old.”

What is portion distortion?

This brings me to the famous “portion distortion”. You can gain weight on a very healthy diet and you can lose weight on a very unhealthy diet.  Weight loss is all about calorie deficit: energy in < energy out = weight loss.  Similarly, if energy in > energy out it results in weight gain, irrespective of where the energy comes from.

Example:  100g of walnuts contain 654cals whereas 100g of pizza margherita contains 275cals.

Am I suggesting you eat pizza instead of walnuts to lose weight?  No.  I’m just highlighting the importance of moderation and an awareness of the nutritional value of the foods we eat.  Nowadays, food labels are obligatory.  Benefit from them.  Take the time to read what they say.  True, your pizza delivery does not come with its nutritional value on the box, but there are ways to check it out.

Alternatively, go back to roots and base your diet on foods which come from the soil.  Like the pizza, they do not come with a label either, but they guarantee you a smaller waistline.

My thanks go to:

Insurance Quotes and their sources

The Telegraph (online)

The State of

Image:  credit to Insurance Quote who were the inspiration behind this article