Woah – meet quinoa!

Hard to spell or pronounce (Keen-wa not Kin-oo-ah, as Mr Ethivore keeps telling me), It is all the rage so I decided to investigate. What I found out is fascinating. It was one of those things I had in the back of the cupboard; another grain to eat instead of rice, but now I know more, it will be moved to the front.

Quinoa might be new to us but it a staple food in many areas of South American and especially the Andes where it has been grown and eaten to thousands of years.

We tend to think of it as a grain, but it’s not it’s a seed. It is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard. The leaves are edible too but the bit we eat is the seed. The United Nations, FAO made 2013 ‘International year of Quinoa’ to promote it’s importance as a food crop.

Why is it good for you?

It is celebrated for being of the most nutritionally rich food on the planet, compared with both plant and animal sources. Quinoa is a complete protein food, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food. This is also true of the soya bean (edamame). Making them a perfect source of plant based protein. In the debate around the best source of protein, quinoa and soya win over meat with their added benefit of also reducing cholesterol whilst meat proteins can increase it. It is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

It is easy to digest and good source of calcium, phosphorus, copper, folate, zinc and iron, rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium which relaxes blood vessels so provide cardio vascular health. Protects against breast cancer and acts as anti oxidant.

Quinoa has many qualities that make it a weight loss friendly food. It is high in protein and fiber, and has a relatively low glycemic index value.

Cooking with quinoa

There are reported to be around 120 varieties of the quinoa plant. We typically eat three types, white, red and black. White being the most common. Red quinoa is more often used in meals like salads since it tends to hold its shape better after cooking. Black quinoa has an “earthier and sweeter” taste. You can also find quinoa flakes and flour which are great for baking. Quinoa is also gluten free so a great alternative to wheat flours.

You can buy dried, raw or pre cooked quinoa. Before cooking the dried version give it a good rinse in cold water, the seeds are coated in a compound that is quite bitter. Follow the instructions on the packet. Typically, add it to the pan with 2-3 times the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins, the water should absorb, the quinoa turns translucent and the little ‘tails’ uncurl when it is ready.

Because quinoa has a fairly neutral taste it is good to use in both sweet or savoury. It makes a nice porridge cooked in 50/50 apple juice and water or milk. You can also cook in stock to give it more flavour if you are eating it as a savoury side dish. Once cooked it can be cooled and stored in the fridge for several days.

The pre cooked version is usually open and serve. They often add oil so it is slightly higher in fat, but handy to have in store and good to check in a salad or when making a quick lunch.

I wouldn’t bother with quinoa mixed with other grains as a source of quinoa, it is a bit of a sales gimmick really, they are often very high in the other product e.g. rice 90%, quinoa 10%.

Is all quinoa the same?

No. The main exporters of the quinoa in the word are Bolivia, Peru and Chile. It is also now being grown in UAE, EU, Canada, basically anywhere it will grow, now over 50 countries!

The champagne equivalent of quinoa is grown in Bolivia; Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa it is grown in the same way the Incas have for thousands of years. It is organic and traditionally grown, harvested and prepared. Soil preparation is fully manual, it’s fertilized with llama dung and pests are controlled using extracts of indigenous plants. Sounds good to me!

Quinoa is big business and where there is big business there are ethical challenges. Reports that the Western demand of quinoa caused a sharp price increase and meant local people could no longer afford it, have been balanced in recent years with reports of improved economic conditions for farmers and communities. Buying Fairtrade or organic approved products is a way to ensure you are supporting an ethical choice.

Waitrose Duchy Organic British Quinoa

Parting thoughts, as quinoa is grown in the UK and the prices even for the organic version are similar, it seems like a good choice, considering Airmiles, ethical issues and supporting UK farmers.

Long and short is we should add quinoa in our diet because it is easy to grow, highly nutritive, medicinally important, economical and versatile food.

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What is a ‘plant powered diet’?

A whole food plant based diet, or plant powered diet (PP) is exactly that. It is preparing dishes from whole foods that grow naturally from the earth – soil, sun, rain. The food chain starts with plants, that is where all food energy and nutrition originates. By moving to a plant based diet you are simply getting closer to the original source of food energy.

  1. Producers – plants, create all food energy
  2. Consumers primary – herbivores, eat plants
  3. Consumers secondary – omnivores, eat both plants and herbivores
  4. Consumers tertiary – carnivores, eat herbivores and omnivores
  5. Consumers quaternary – carnivores, eat other carnivores and have no natural predators

Learning to enjoy a whole food plant based diet (PP) and recognising all of the benefits is like throwing a good bowling ball and knocking down the majority of pins, maybe all of them! A plant based diet is the healthiest, most sustainable, affordable diet we can eat.

There are lots of organisations and diets available in this arena. I favour a whole food plant based diet rather than meat replacement products as I avoid eating highly processed foods. I found the easiest one to follow is Michael Greger’s daily dozen checklist, see this video clip:

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist

I have made a chart and check list to help keep track Daily dozen. As with everything, moderation and variety is the key. Saying broccoli is good for you doesn’t mean eat only broccoli it is all about eating a variety of foods.

And the question most of us ask: ‘Can I get everything I need from a plant based diet?’ The answer is: Yes you can get everything you need from a plant based diet. In fact it is the best way to get everything you need!

And the next question: ‘what about the taste, is plant food bland?’ You are in for a great surprise. You might have picked up from reading this blog that I love food and I plan my day around it. I can personally reassure you that all the food I eat is delicious. There is a wealth of food, flavours and dishes to discover and once you do you’ll never go back. There are an estimated 20,000 species of edible plants so plenty to try!

When we look at food choices and concerns, we tend to focus on one thing at a time; meat or non meat, processed or non processed foods, good or bad fats, too much sugar, too much salt, eat ‘5-A-Day’. A whole-food plant based diet isn’t another one to add to the list, it is the one, it means you get rid of the list.

The focus is not on cutting things out or being restrictive. You focus on what you should eat, increasing your intake of foods that give you all the nutrition you need and will thrive on. Focusing on a plant based diet and then choosing to add fats, meat, sugar, fish, processed foods, dairy, salt etc. gives you the freedom to enjoy a healthy, flexible diet, include only the best versions of animal products and enjoy extras like chocolate, crisps etc as a treat. You’ll find the more you change you diet the less you will crave or want to eat unhealthy foods, but it is good to know you have choice so you don’t freak out or lack the motivation to try.

In summary: Plants means:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Berries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Grains
  • Herbs, spices
  • Legumes (bean, pulses, peas)

Whole foods means:

  • Prepared food or eating a whole product or close to it, e.g. A whole apple rather than apple juice
  • Minimal processing only, for purpose of preserving, e.g. dried beans, fruits, herbs etc.
  • Intact nutrition e.g. wholewheat bread or pasta, brown rice etc.
  • Maximum nutrition, preparing food to maximise nutritional value, e.g. cooking techniques, eating raw foods.
  • Preparing food without added sugar, fats or salt.

* You will recognise some of those terms from the post about Ultra processed foods.

Parting thoughts, how far you go with the diet is your choice. Some people will make it 100%, which is recommended for maximum health benefits, but any shift you make will give you benefits. The key message here is that once you have learnt how to enjoy a PB diet and feel confident you better understand nutrition and unpick certain food myths for example read https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77 and https://wp.me/p7RDjy-6h the easier it is to make ethical food choices.

Don’t take me word for it, Google ‘plant based athlete’ for some inspiration, from Lewis Hamilton, Venus Williams, David Haye, Scott Jurek, Rich Roll to name but just a few.

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Spaghetti Puy-ognese

A delicious veg based alternative to beef Bolognese. All dishes that are traditionally made with meat mince can be made with pulses; shepherds or cottage pie (try https://wp.me/p7RDjy-52), chilli (try https://wp.me/p7RDjy-fk) . A very healthy dish, great to aid weight loss, by reducing fat and calories, whilst increasing nutrients and fibre. Pulses are super cheap so it is also a good way to improve you diet and watch your budget.

I prefer to make large batches of such dishes and freeze extra portions so this recipe makes around 6-8 servings. I used dried lentils, but you can also use the pre cooked canned or packet versions. Ingredients are marked as bold text:

  • Cook the lentils:
    • 500g dried Puy lentils – follow the instructions on the packet, e.g. soak in cold water for at least 20 mins, I leave mine longer and refresh the water a couple of times. Finally drain the water and rinse.
    • Cover with fresh water and bring to the boil, follow instructions on the packet, typically 40 mins.
    • Drain and rinse, set aside.
  • To make the sauce:
    • heat a pan, medium heat, add a splash of apple juice (use oil if you prefer).
    • Finely chop a large onion and add to the pan, sweat for 4-5 mins.
    • Crush and chop 4 cloves of garlic add them to the pan and sweat for a further 1-2 mins.
    • Finely chop 2 large carrots, 1 medium sweet potato (optional) and dice 3-4 large tomatoes add to the pan, with enough water to keep it wet (use a can of tinned tomatoes if easier).
    • Cover and cook on high heat for 5-10 mins.
    • Add cooked lentils.
    • Add a generous sprinkle (3-4 pinches or to taste) of italian style herbs – basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary bay. Use dried or fresh.
    • Add approx 400ml tomato passata.
    • Optional for extra flavour – add 100g finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes or 30g paste and or a glass of red wine.
    • Add salt and pepper to taste or leave for people to add themselves. Remember most stocks have salt so air on side of caution.
    • Add veg stock, just enough to cover the mixture, put the lid on and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
    • Simmer for at least 30 mins. Check to make sure it doesn’t stick or dry out, add more stock if needed. Past the 30 mins continue to cook for as long as you want, depending on how soft you want the veg to be. The longer you cook the more the flavours will mature.
  • Serve: 
    • Serve with pasta and / or garlic bread.
    • If you are making the dish as a plant based dish or for vegans use dried pasta as fresh pasta often contains egg.
    • For healthy option serve as it is as a complete dish without pasta, or with a green salad or cooked greens such as broccoli, Swiss chard, kale.
    • Once cooked you can leave it and reheat later. It will keep for around 5 days in the fridge and freezes very well.

Ramen – Japan we salute you

Warning Ramen is addictive! Fortunately it is easy to make and healthy.

The majority of the recipes I post are veg dishes. We all know how to cook with meat and fish but most people don’t know how to cook without them. The idea is easy dishes to make, that serve as a good way to cut down on meat intake, to try dishes without feeling any compromise of flavour or texture. Ramen is perfect for this 🙂 Ramen has a deep rooted history in Japanese cuisine, with each region having it’s own take on the dish. The beauty of it is, start the basic broth, then add whatever you want. You can make this veg version or add meat or fish if you want, there are no set rules.

Basic ingredients list, serves 2:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (or alternative)
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons ginger, grated
  • 4 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold vegan Swiss boullion)
  • 100g fresh shiitake mushrooms (I use dried mushrooms, soaked to rehydrate)
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 100g green veg finely chopped (baby spinach, swiss chard, kale, sprouting broccoli etc)
  • 100g packs dried ramen noodles (rice or soba noodles)
  • Handful chopped spring green onions (optional)
  • 1 large carrot, finely sliced with potato peeler, then chopped.

Method, approx 15 mins to make:

  1. Heat the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and onion and cook for a couple minutes until soft and fragrant. Stir in the soy sauce and mirin and cook for another minute. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a soft yolk. Remove eggs from the pot and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. After a few minutes, peel the shells off carefully and slice the eggs in half, lengthwise. Set aside.
  4. In another pot heat a splash of apple juice or water, add the green veg, cover and cook for several minutes, until just wilted. Remove from the heat.
  5. Add ramen noodles to stock mixture and cook 2-3 minutes or according to package instructions.
  6. Divide the soup into 2 large bowls.
  7. Decorate the top with egg, veg, carrots and green onions, don’t stir the fun is picking it as you eat, serve and enjoy.

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10 bean and lentil chilli

Super easy, healthy and delicious. I love a bowl of spicy, rich, smokey chilli, it is high on my list of comfort foods. Mexican dishes are very well suited to reduced or zero meat dinners. Chilli was my first attempt at cutting down our meat intake. I started by adding extra kidney beans, chickpeas and veg to make the beef mince go further. I soon realised that I didn’t need the meat for the taste or the texture. Fast forward through my experiments, I now make a knock out chilli using a ten bean mix and lentils. It is full of fibre and nutrients and very low in fat.

As I have mentioned before I am a ‘throw it all in’ cook. I love lots of flavour but not too much work! Hopefully I can translate this into a recipe that works for you.

Any beans will work. I use dried beans but cans will work too. I use a 10 bean mix from Waitrose (£1.19 – 500g). I make a big batch and freeze extra portions. The quantities would make around 8-10 portions.

  • 500g dried mixed beans, soak in cold water over night. Rinse well.
  • Cover in fresh water and bring to the boil for 10 mins, simmer for approx a further 1.5 hrs. The instructions state 45 mins but I prefer the beans to be soft so cook as long as you wish.
  • Once cooked, drain the cooking water.
  • Separately cook 250g of lentils. Green, red or 50/50. Follow instructions on the packet. Drain cooking water.
  • Add cooked beans and lentils to a large pan. Add enough water to cover 1/2 of the mix. (about 1 pint).
  • Add the following:
    • two teaspoons of stock powder (I use Marigold vegan Swiss bouillon).
    • one teaspoon of cocoa powder (trust me).
    • one teaspoon of ground cumin powder.
    • half teaspoon of hot chilli powder or 2 whole red chilli roughly chopped (add chilli to taste, more or less depending on the heat). I make it quite mild so it suits everyone, then we add chopped jalapeño peppers to taste when serving.
    • one teaspoon of chipotle pepper powder (chipotle is smoked jalapeño pepper, you can buy whole or in a mix).
    • two teaspoons of smoked paprika powder.
    • Large pinch of dark muscovado sugar (sugar is also to taste and can be left out. I use it to equal the acidity in the tomatoes.
    • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes chopped or a can of chopped tomatoes.
    • 1/2 litre of tomato passata. You can add more tomato rather than water if you prefer it tomatoey.
    • All of the spices are to taste, so let it cook down, then taste it and add more if you need to. Remember you can add but you can’t take away.
  • In a separate pan brown 1-2 finely chopped medium onions. Use apple juice instead of oil for healthy option.
  • Add 4 crushed and chopped garlic cloves, fry for further 30 secs.
  • Add garlic and onion to the chill, stir well. The mixture should be wet but not swimming.
  • Cover, bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer for around 1hr. You can cook for less but I like to leave it, the longer the better as all the flavour mature. Check consistency, if too thick add more water, if too runny simmer with the lid off to reduce the liquid.

It is a long cooking time, but very little actual prep time. Hence I make a big batch and freeze it.

The beauty of the dish is that it isn’t an exact science, start with the receipt above but chuck things in and experiment, sweet potato, peppers, mushroom, courgette etc. I serve with brown rice, chopped jalapeño peppers, diced fresh avocado and cashew cream (in place of sour cream) see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y. It is also good on a jacket potato, taco or wrap for lunch.

This recipe is for a non-meat version. If you do want to add meat I would opt for a high quality diced beef, brown it off, add to chilli and slow cook it until tender.

If you aren’t used to eating a lot of fibre and have a fear of beans, read the post below. Beans only cause gas and bloating if they are not prepared correctly or/and if you are not used to eating them. Introduce them gradually and you’ll still be able bend forward.

Beans beans good for your heart…

Enjoy 🙂

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