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
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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:

DrAxe.com

Healwithfood.org

Dateland.com

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.

Asparagus

  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
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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

 

Roast Root Vegetables

How to make Roast Root Vegetables

Do you like root vegetables?  Do you use them often?  I used to use them sparingly, until on New Year’s Day I decided to roast a selection of root vegetables as a side dish.  It was devoured!  Some members of my family got up for second helpings of vegetables.

Since then, roasted root vegetables have become one of my staples for Sunday lunch.

Are root vegetables good for you?

The yellow-orangish root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are loaded with beta-carotene, which is either converted into vitamin A in the body or acts as an antioxidant protecting you against harmful free radicals.

Beetroots are super good for you.  They are very high in iron and folate.  They also contain nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants.  Recent studies suggest that beetroots can help lower blood pressure.

Fennel is another bulbous vegetable which is high in vitamin C and fibre.  It has a sweet taste of licorice. The entire plant is edible and it makes a fresh, crunchy addition to salads.  Roasting brings out the sweetness of the vegetable, although admittedly it loses some of its nutrients through cooking.

Are root vegetables good for diabetics?

Some root vegetables are higher in sugars than others.  Or shall I say, they have a high GI which means their sugars enter the blood stream quickly.  However, eaten in small to moderate amounts and accompanied by foods, predominantly high in fibre, the effect of the sugar content is slowed down, significantly.

To accompany the roasted root vegetables, today I chose an ingredient which is high in protein and fibre – pasta made with red lentil flour. I also added zucchini to help digestion and add ‘green’ to my plate.

Lentil Pasta with Roast Root Vegetables
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

An unusual plate of pasta bulked up with sweet roast vegetables and zucchini. I served it warm, but it is equally tasty served at room temperature.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: legumes, Plant-based
Servings: 2 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 160 grms Pasta made with red lentil flour
  • 190 grms Sweet potato
  • 100 grms New potatoes
  • 120 grms Onions
  • 150 grms Carrots
  • 150 grms Parsnips
  • 250 grms Fennel bulb
  • 300 grms Zucchini
  • 40 grms Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp Ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp Parsley (chopped)
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 240o C. Peel the onions, scrub the root vegetables and chop into equal size pieces. Do not peel the garlic head.

  2. Line a roasting dish with heavy duty foil and place the vegetables in a single layer.  You may need to use a couple of dishes, but keep vegetables in a single layer, because otherwise they steam not roast.

  3. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with ground cumin, coriander and pepper.  

  4. Roast in warm oven for 25-30 minutes, turning vegetables over every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.

  5. Whilst roasting the vegetables, bring a small pot of water to the boil.  Add 1/2 tsp of cooking salt and add the pasta.  Stir, and follow cooking instructions on the packet.  (The pasta I used required 5-7 minutes for al dente pasta).  Drain.

  6. When the vegetables are roasted, peel the garlic and add the cloves to the rest of the vegetables.  Serve with warm pasta and a good sprinkle of chopped parsley.

    Roast Root Vegetables
Recipe Notes

Nowadays, supermarkets carry various gluten free pasta.  I opted for one made from red lentil flour. It has no other flour added.  

If you do not wish to use gluten free pasta, the recipe works well with wholegrain pasta.

You may add a tablespoon of dressing (extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar and 1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard) to your pasta.  This is optional as the roasting juices from the vegetables are enough to dress the pasta.

 

 

How to make the best of your Broccoli

Do you benefit from cooking seasonal vegetables?  Going for fruit and veg when in season is kind to your health and to your pocket.

From October through to April, broccoli are at their best. They’re not expensive to buy and you can use them in a variety of ways. Once harvested, the shelf-life of the broccoli is rather short and a yellowish hue is the first indication that the broccoli head is not fresh.  When shopping, choose broccoli heads which are tight and heavy in weight.

If you buy your veg from a farmers market or similar, ask for broccoli heads with leaves intact. Ideally, you get organic vegetables but if it’s not possible, wash your broccoli head and leaves well, under running water to remove all traces of pesticide.

Why are Broccoli good for you?

Broccoli are a member of the cabbage family.  Together with a number of other vegetables such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, brussels sprouts and a number of others, they’re known as cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with vitamins and promote weight loss.

Broccoli are often referred to as a superfood.  The florets are a great source of vitamins K and C.  They also provide folic acid, potassium and fiber. The leaves are also high in fibre and they are an very good source of vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, selenium, vitamin C, riboflavin, folate, and potassium.

Baking your broccoli is one way of enjoying this super nutritious vegetable.

Quinoa with Roasted Broccoli and Almonds

Broccoli leaves are tender and nutritious.  For maximum benefit, eat your broccoli florets and chopped leaves raw, by adding them to your salad. Broccoli leaves can also be sautéed or baked in the oven.

Quinoa with Roasted Broccoli and Almonds
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

This warm salad provides you with protein from the quinoa, healthy fat from the almonds and plenty of vitamins from the broccoli head and its leaves.  A cup of broccoli also provides you with 11 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of protein.

Course: Main Course, Salad
Cuisine: Plant-based
Servings: 2 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 2 Fresh onions (you can use leeks)
  • 1 Medium-sized broccoli head (leaves intact)
  • 10 Baby plum tomatoes (halved)
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 50 grms Roasted almonds (chopped)
  • 1 cup Quinoa (I used white, red and black quinoa)
  • 1 3/4 cups Vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • 2 tbsp Apple cider vinegar (raw)
  • 2 tbsp Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
Instructions
  1. Peel onions and rinse vegetables under running water

  2. Break broccoli head into florets and tear leaves into pieces (do not tear them into tiny pieces). 

  3. Line a roasting dish with heavy duty foil, place the broccoli florets, onions and tomatoes.  Add 2 tbsp olive oil.

  4. Roast at 200C for 10 minutes. Bring dish out of the oven and add the broccoli leaves. Turn with a spatula so that the leaves get a light covering of oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for a further 10 minute.

  5. In the meantime, rinse the quinoa under running water and bring the vegetable stock to the boil. Tip in quinoa and stir well. Cover with tight fitting lid, bring back to the boil and lower heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 12-13 minutes until stock is completely absorbed.

  6. When stock is absorbed, turn off the heat and leave the quinoa to stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

  7. In a screw top jar mix the extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and maple syrup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Shake well.

  8. Mix quinoa with roasted vegetables and plate.  Serve with roasted almonds on top and 2 tbsp dressing.

My thanks go to:

Dr Axe and

Plant Smart Living

 

Curried Soups Will Make You Feel Warm

Do you find soups to be a complete meal in a bowl?

Curried Marrow and Sweet Potato
Curried Marrows and Sweet Potato Soup with Roasted Cashews

This is one of those soups which I knocked together, on the spur of the moment, with store cupboard ingredients.

 

The result is a heart-warming and nutritious comfort food, ideal for a cold winter’s day.  It makes an excellent meal for the lunch box as well as a satisfying supper, when eaten with some crusty bread.

 

 

Curried Marrows and Sweet Potato with Roast Cashews
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
50 mins
Total Time
1 hr
 
In this soup, the curry enhances the mild taste of marrows and sweet potato. It gives the soup a kick - a come-to winter warmer. The ground cashews add bite and body to the soup.
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Plant-based
Servings: 4 people
Author: Colette Cumbo
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (raw)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • fresh ginger (one inch piece)
  • 2 tbsps curry powder (medium heat)
  • 800 grms marrows (long thin ones)
  • 350 grms sweet potato (with skin on)
  • 900 ml vegetable stock
  • 165 ml coconut milk (full fat)
  • 70 grms roasted cashews (ground)
  • 10 grms roasted cashews (whole)
  • coriander leaves
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Wash marrows and scrub sweet potato - chop roughly.

  2. Roughly mince chopped onion, garlic and ginger in food processor. (If you do not have a food processor or chopper, chop very finely with knife).

  3. In a large pot, heat coconut oil and add minced onion, garlic and ginger. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking or burning. Add the curry and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.

  4. Add the roughly chopped marrows and potatoes to the curry mixture and stir until vegetables are well-coated. You may need to add some of the vegetable stock, if the mixture is too dry.

  5. Lower the heat, cover the pot and sweat the vegetables for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

  6. Pour in the vegetable stock. Shake the canned coconut milk well and add, along with the stock. Give the soup a good stir and cover with a tight-fitting lid.

  7. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to barest minimum and simmer for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave soup to cool for 10-15 minutes.

  8. With a hand blender, process the vegetables until smooth and stir in the ground cashews.

  9. Warm soup gently for a few minutes, stirring in the cashews to blend completely. Season to taste.

  10. Serve piping hot with whole roasted cashews and coriander.

Recipe Notes

 

Sweet potatoes are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals.  They're packed with vitamin A (beta-carotene), essential for good vision and to help the immune system.  They are also a good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6.  Sweet potatoes are also a source of dietary fibre, niacin, phosphorus, vitamins B1 and B2.

Marrows are very low in calories but their nutritional value packs a punch. The peel of the marrow is rich in beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant which can help prevent free radicals from causing damage to DNA tissue.

Cashews, similar to all other nuts, are a good source of unsaturated fat.  Eaten in moderation, nuts and seeds form an essential part of a healthy, plant-based diet.

 Coconut milk provides a plant-based protein which is good for you. But both coconut milk and oil contain saturated fats - best you use these in moderation. 

 

Sharing is caring.  Share this recipe with your friends and ask them to let me know what they think.