Wild Garlic Pesto & Asparagus Pasta

IMG_1950 smaller adjusted 2 Wild garlic is one of the most amazing examples of nature’s gifts to us. Come spring it sprouts out of the ground in abundance with sleek leaves and beautiful white-star flowers, and it’s just there for the taking! It’s the easiest wild food to harvest in the world – you simply pick the leaves and bam you’ve got a bundle of flavoursome garlicky goodness which can be added to any salad or dish to enhance both its nutrition and taste. No prickly thorns to outmanoeuvre or having to peel anything or discard lots of outer layers or worry that it might be poisonous. It’s almost as if the plant wants other creatures to eat it. And personally I think it’s crazy not to take advantage of such a local, seasonal wonder, especially when it’s free and there’s almost no effort involved. It’s so simple to find – just follow your nose! I picked my leaves less than two minutes’ walk from my house. How great is that? IMG_1886 smaller Wild garlic’s health benefits are numerous – it’s antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic, and it can be effective at lowering blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. And the best thing about picking it yourself is you know the leaves are perfectly fresh, so it’s as nutritious as it can be. The combination of wild garlic and seasonal spring onions really gives this pesto a piquant essence. It proves that vegan food doesn’t mean an automatic diminution of taste – trust me, it’s a rival to any parmesan-stuffed pesto out there!

The asparagus season is well under way and it’s such a yummy and special spring vegetable – I look forward to it all summer, autumn and winter. Its window is narrow though so you’ve got to take advantage of it now and in the next few weeks. It’ll never taste as good as it does at the moment so grab yourself a bunch. It complements the wild garlic pesto so well and adds a subtle crunch to this hearty spring pasta dish. IMG_1899 adjusted 2 Serves 4

For the pesto:

  • 110g wild garlic leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 spring onions
  • 110ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 40g pine nuts
  • 40g pecans
  • 1½ tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • ½ a lime
  • A small handful of basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300g asparagus
  • 300g gluten free pasta (or your favourite durum wheat pasta)

IMG_1945 smaller adjusted 2 To make the pesto, start by crushing the garlic gloves in a garlic press. Slice the spring onions finely. Place a pan on a medium heat and add a little olive oil. Once the oil’s hot, add the crushed garlic and spring onions and gently fry for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn and once softened remove from the heat and set aside.

In a dry frying pan, lightly toast the pecans and pine nuts (on a medium heat) until they’re starting to turn a golden brown and then pour them into a food processor. Once the fried garlic and spring onions have cooled a little, add them to the food processor along with the extra virgin olive oil, yeast flakes, basil leaves and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of the ½ lime in as well and then roughly slice about a third of the wild garlic leaves. Add these to the processor and blend until combined. Slice another third of the garlic leaves and blend once more, repeating with the final third until it’s all mixed into a paste.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta, simmering for about 9 minutes or until you have the desired softness (I like mine al dente). While the pasta cooks, steam the asparagus for about 2-3 minutes, poking the spears with a knife to check when they’re soft but not turning to mush. Chop the spears into inch-length pieces and drain the pasta. Place everything back into the pasta saucepan and mix together (making sure the pesto is coating the pasta and asparagus evenly) and serve without delay. IMG_1864 good

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Matcha Courgette Muffins

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Green muffins might look and sound a little strange but in truth they’re natural, healthy and packed with vegetables. Although courgettes aren’t quite yet in season in the UK the ones I used were grown in Spain, so they haven’t travelled too far from soil to chopping board. And they’re the secret to these moist, juicy cakes – giving them a soft density and squishiness which is delightful to bite into.

Matcha green tea has spiralled up into popularity in recent years, and for many good reasons. Unlike standard green tea you brew with a tea bag, matcha is the concentrated powder of the whole leaf, so matcha’s nutritional value far exceeds regular tea. It’s one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which have a whole host of benefits, one of which is fighting against the negative effects of UV radiation. Matcha is also brimming with chlorophyll (giving it that amazing green colour) which is a great detoxifier for the body. Furthermore, matcha contains the amino acid L-Theanine which can help us to relax (by the promotion of production of alpha waves in the brain) as well as boost energy levels, memory and concentration.

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Along with all of this, matcha green tea has a wonderful flavour which, in these muffins, is really complemented by the warm vanilla essence. You also get a slight tang of banana that adds a subtle sweetness to the agave nectar – so they’re totally refined sugar free. This makes them really versatile – you can enjoy them for breakfast or as an afternoon pick me up or even as pudding. They’re also gluten free and vegan, and the roasted pistachio crumb on top really gives them that edge.

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Makes 12 muffins:

  • 420g/1½ cups of shredded courgette (about 3 whole courgettes worth)
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 210g/1 cup of brown rice or buckwheat flour
  • 120g/½ cup of coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon of matcha green tea powder
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed
  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of ground vanilla powder)
  • 5 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons of agave or maple syrup
  • 250ml of rice milk (or other plant-based milk of your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 35g of raw pistachios

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Start by adding 5 tablespoons of water to the ground flaxseed and whisking together before setting aside to thicken. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Sieve the flours, matcha powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and stir until fully combined.

Place the coconut oil into a saucepan and set to a low heat so it melts. Once melted, add the agave syrup. Slice open your vanilla pod and scrape all the seeds into the pan as well. Give this a stir so it’s all mixed up and leave on a low heat for at least 5 minutes so the vanilla has a chance to infuse into the oil and syrup.

Mash the banana and place in a separate bowl to your dry ingredients. To this add the flaxseed and water mixture along with the oil and syrup mixture, the shredded courgette and rice milk. Stir it all up well and then add half to your dry ingredients. Mix until combined and then add the second half of the wet ingredients and do the same until you have a cake batter.

Spoon the batter into muffin cases, filling them almost to the top until you have 12 equal amounts. At this point, place the pistachios into a pestle and mortar and bash them up until they’re in small pieces and large crumbs. Sprinkle this evenly onto each of the muffins before placing them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they’ve risen and are starting to turn a little golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving and savouring!

Foodie’s Paradise: Partridges Food Market

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Food markets are a wonderful, traditional and natural thing – something humanity has been doing for hundreds of years as a way of trading, exchanging and buying food. They create a physical and visual circumstance where consumers can see, smell and often taste (the most important aspect of anything we eat!) food before they buy it. We can literally ‘feast’ our eyes on an array of delicious fare.

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Markets are direct, personal and unambiguous presentations of fresh ingredients and real produce, usually handmade or cooked or baked on a small scale, by passionate people. They operate on an intimate level, and not only foster interaction between one person and another, but between producer and consumer, farmer and customer, maker and eater. Furthermore, they characteristically encourage the sale and consumption of local and seasonal food. That was why and how markets first began – a local farmer or baker would set up a stall for those who lived nearby to come and purchase locally grown vegetables, or bread kneaded and baked from local wheat or rye flour, or meat reared from cows or pigs living in neighbouring fields. Today, people all over Britain and the western world are doing the same thing; in a kind of revival of something we’d lost and forgotten about for a good fifty years.

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Everything about food markets is positive and nurturing – natural, sensual, personal, local. So different to the experience we as people have when buying food at supermarkets; pushing our trolley round aisles and aisles of plastic-wrapped food in a sterile, odourless and artificial atmosphere, as if food was made by machines and just appears on the shelves out of thin air, with no human being or plant or animal or particle of soil involved in its growth and production at all.

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The great news is food and farmers markets are on the rise, becoming more and more popular, attractive, accessible and prevalent. They are quickly starting to be seen as valuable, exciting ways of purchasing and enjoying food, both in terms of buying ingredients for home cooking and as a delicious lunch or snack. Partridges Food Market is one such market, where every Saturday tens of growers, producers and companies set up their stalls in Duke of York Square for anyone in London to enjoy. It’s always heaving, and for a good reason – the array of food on offer is both amazing and mouth-watering.

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There’s raw honey from Spain; organic vegetables from Riverdale Organic Farm; cheeses from France, Wiltshire and Somerset; raw super foods by Detox Delivered; a hog roast; Chinese dumplings; paella; French crêpes and galettes; speciality curries and Indian dishes; haggis toasties; sushi made right in front of you at the stall; burgers with a range of toppings; a Brazilian pastelaria and deli; vegan cakes and biscuits; petit fours; organic sourdough breads; handmade ravioli and gnocchi… The list goes on!

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My absolute favourite stall is Rainforest Creations. Their spread of tropical-style raw salads, dips, flans, cakes and sweets is like a rainbow of vegan, plant-based, refined sugar free delight and goodness. It makes natural, healthy vegetables look like the food of the gods. And it all tastes incredible. Their salads range from tropical coleslaw and angel kale and avocado to mungbean-lentils and red quinoa. And their sprouted hummus is the best I’ve ever tasted, with subtle hints of spice, herbs and turmeric. You can get almost everything wrapped up in a corn and split lentil roti, or just a tub bursting with salad, an akashe ball and a good dollop of hummus.

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If you haven’t been to Partridges Food Market, Rainforest Creations alone is a reason to get yourself there. But it’s wonderful to just go and wander round; to see, smell and take in all the food and bustling people – to experience genuine food out in the open air and have your fill of fresh, delicious produce that’s natural, personal and real.

French Lentil & Mushroom Casserole

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Lentils and mushrooms make for a somewhat brown combination, but together they really complement each other and create a nutritious, delicious stew. Puy lentils are probably the tastiest lentil out there and hence, over the years, the French have seized on them for their cooking, so they’re often known as French lentils. As a legume (the seed of its plant), they really are powerhouses of protein, but so often they’re served as a side dish. This seems silly to me because a thick, warming lentil casserole is such a hearty, satisfying meal all on its own – it deserves to be the main, the focus of your plate. Taking inspiration from the lentils’ link to France, this casserole is bursting with French flavours, from the red wine to the rosemary and mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-rich mushrooms out there. They’re a fantastic source of bioavailable iron and protein, which is always good news for vegetarians and vegans. They also have a strong antiviral effect – perfect for the colder months of the year when our bodies are naturally more disposed to catching viruses. But the best thing about these shiitake mushrooms is that they were grown here in the UK, so they are local fungi through and through. The chestnut mushrooms also come from a few counties away, and the rosemary’s from a little bush in my garden, so as a whole this casserole is a local pleasure.

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Serves 6:

  • 50g dried shiitake mushrooms (porcini also work well)
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms
  • 120g shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 medium onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 litre of hot vegetable stock
  • 150ml red wine
  • 400g of puy lentils
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons of miso paste

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First, give your dried shiitake mushrooms a quick rinse before placing them in a large bowl and pouring over the hot stock, leaving them to soak for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and crush the garlic cloves through a press. Chop both the fresh shiitake and chestnut mushrooms into discs, making them all a vaguely similar size. Place the lentils in a sieve and give them a thorough rinse.

When the dried shiitake mushrooms have soaked for twenty minutes, use a slotted spoon to take them out, letting as much liquid as possible drip off so they’re fairly dry. Chop these mushrooms, discarding any hard stalk ends.

Place a large casserole dish (I like to use Le Creuset) over a medium to high heat and pour in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil’s hot, tip in the onions and fry for a few minutes until they’re starting to soften. Add the garlic and a few rosemary leaves and allow to cook for another couple of minutes, turning the heat down to medium. At this point add all the mushrooms and fry for approximately 5-10 minutes until they’ve all softened and shrunk down, cooked through.

Pour in the mushroom vegetable stock and the red wine, give it a good stir and then add the lentils. Stir once more, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle in the rest of the rosemary leaves. Make sure all the lentils are down in the liquid before placing the lid on and reducing the heat to a simmer. They should take about 45-60 minutes to cook, but every 10 minutes check it’s gently simmering and give the stew a good stir. You may find you have to add a little more liquid as the lentils soak it up – do a small amount at a time as you want a thick casserole by the end.

Once the lentils are soft and the flavours have all come together, mix up the miso paste with a tiny bit of water and then stir into the mix, turning the heat off. Serve with rice or roast potatoes for a traditional winter supper, or try it in a lunch bowl with some roasted vegetables and salad.

Turmeric Tangerine Porridge with Blackcurrant Compote

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Turmeric should be called a superspice. It’s got the most amazing colour, distinct flavour and even better it’s one of the best things you can eat, especially in these winter months when your body needs a good immune boost. It has a host of medicinal properties and nutrients – the most significant of which is curcumin. This compound is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and recent studies have shown that it can prevent heart attacks, delay the onset of diabetes and fight cancer by helping to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.

You most probably associate turmeric with curry and savoury dishes, but it’s such a warming spice that it goes perfectly with porridge and, in general, with sweet, fruity flavours. Tangerines have a citrusy sweetness with subtle sour tangs, which combined with the turmeric creates a unique, mildly exotic taste, making every spoonful of porridge delicious. Tangerines are such a great seasonal fruit – they’re my go-to for a naturally sweet afternoon snack in the winter. Not only are they chock-full of vitamin C, they’re also grown in Spain, so they haven’t had to travel too far to my greengrocer in southern England.

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Swirling blackcurrant compote through this porridge really is the cherry on top of the cake. Blackcurrants are so overlooked as a berry, which is mad because they’re so good for you – packed with iron, as well as B vitamins and vitamin A. I use blackcurrants handpicked from my very own garden, which to me is just the most wonderful thing – truly organic, local and with no one else involved in the growing and gathering apart from me. These babies have been frozen since last summer, so if you can’t get your hands on any right now then try alternative berries for the compote and be ready for the blackcurrant season this year. They’re little gems.

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Serves 2

For the porridge:

  • 1 cup of oats
  • ½ cup of coconut milk or almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 tangerines
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg

For the blackcurrant compote:

  • ½ cup of blackcurrants (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of yacon syrup, maple syrup or honey

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First of all, place the blackcurrants in a saucepan along with the water and sweetener of your choice and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot, keep stirring the blackcurrants until their juices start to come out and the berries are just starting to burst. At this point reduce the heat to low.

Juice the tangerines either by peeling their skins and squeezing out the juice from the segments by hand, or by putting them through a juicer if you have one. In another saucepan, pour in the oats, water and milk and bring to the boil. Once the oats are starting to absorb the liquid and break down, add the tangerine juice, turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg. Give it a good stir to make sure everything is combined.

After 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you’ve used jumbo or porridge oats and how soft you like them, pour the porridge into two bowls and then top with the blackcurrant compote. I like to serve mine with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut.

Warm Winter Sprout & Quinoa Salad

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Quinoa is a slightly contentious topic in the food world at the moment (as this article highlights), due to the west’s sudden love and demand for this little grain. There’s no doubt that quinoa is one of the world’s greatest foods, especially for vegetarians and vegans out there: it’s a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, it has almost twice as much fibre as most other grains and it’s packed with magnesium. In most ways, it trumps all other grains, but when poor Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford their staple food because of US and European demand raising prices, it’s not an easy or particularly acceptable thing to buy a packet of South American-grown quinoa and simply shrug and ignore this unethical fact.

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But here in Britain we have the perfect solution – Hodmedod’s British quinoa from the fields of Essex. A truly local grain grown in English soil which has only travelled a few miles and hasn’t cheated South American farmers and civilians out of their food – what can be better than that? And, pairing this with Brussel sprouts and a few swirls of carrot, which are both in season, this salad is a local and seasonal bowl of rainbow-coloured goodness. Sprouts receive an unfair nose-wrinkling bad name, but they can be so delicious if cooked in an imaginative way, rather than simply boiling all the taste and nutrients out of them. Infusing this warm winter salad with rosemary and chilli flakes gives both the quinoa and sprouts an aromatic flavour, and topping it off with lightly toasted sunflower seeds adds a crunch which makes every mouthful a protein-packed, plant-filled pleasure.

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Serves 3:

  • 2 cups/310g of Brussel sprouts
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons of chilli flakes
  • Sea salt

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Preheat your oven to 170°C. Start by chopping the bottom end off the Brussel sprouts and removing the outer leaves. Give them a good wash before cutting them in half. Then place them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and toss until evenly coated. Roast them in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Whilst they’re baking, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the quinoa and apple cider vinegar. Give it a stir and reduce to a simmer, letting it cook for about 15 minutes, or however long your specific quinoa takes.

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At this point, peel the outer skin of the carrots off and then use the peeler to make thin strips, from one end to the other. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems. Once the sprouts have been in the oven for 10 minutes take them out and sprinkle over the chilli flakes and rosemary leaves. Give them a stir to make sure they’re roasting evenly and return them to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until they’re starting to go golden brown and slightly crispy.

Using a dry pan, turn it up to a medium heat and gently toast the sunflower seeds, tossing them about a bit to make sure all sides go lightly brown. Once your quinoa’s cooked, drain any excess water and remove the sprouts from the oven. Toss all the elements together and serve – I like mine sprinkled with a few extra chilli flakes for a mildly spicy tang.

Almond Butter & Maca Energy Bites

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Almond butter (and I know I am not alone here) is something of an obsession for me. I just absolutely love it. Since I was little I’ve always adored peanut butter because that was the only nut butter available or that I’d come across, but since I tried almond butter last year (Meridian’s is the best – no added sugar and just pure almonds) it trumped peanut butter, and I still tend to gorge on it. The base for these energy bites is almond butter, along with a few raw almonds, walnuts, dates and maca.

Although almonds aren’t in season here in Britain at the moment, I make sure I use almonds which have come from Spain, where they are currently seasonal and so they also haven’t had to travel too far (Meridian states that their organic almonds are grown in Spain, which is fab). Almonds are packed with slow releasing energy, and they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium, both of which help maintain healthy bones and teeth. The addition of walnuts to these little snacks is also great because they are still in season in the UK – so these nutty balls are fresh, seasonal heaven.

The mix of creamy almond butter, almonds, walnuts, dates and ground flax seeds gives these bites so much flavour, and you just know you’re giving your body a health and energy kick because almost all the ingredients are raw. In health cafes maca is often offered as a drink alternative to coffee, because of its naturally invigorating and revitalizing effects, so it gives these balls that little bit extra for an afternoon pick-me-up or a morning boost. Even better, maca has a unique spiciness and subtle sweetness which is so delicious. These little titans of energy really are so easy to whip up – it’s great to make a quick batch at the weekend ready for the trials of the week ahead.

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Makes between 12-15 balls:

  • 4 tablespoons of almond butter
  • ⅓ cup of almonds (50g)
  • ⅓ cup of walnuts (45g)
  • 10 dates (80g)
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds
  • 3 teaspoons of maca
  • 3 tablespoons of jumbo oats
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • Sea salt

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Simply place the raw almonds, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, oats and maca in a food processor and blend until the nuts are broken down into fine pieces and it starts to resemble a flour (though not totally ground).

After that, add the almond butter, dates, coconut oil, water and a good grinding of sea salt before blending once more until the mixture has all come together and is starting to stick into one big ball of dough.

Scoop out a small amount of the mixture and roll around in your palms to make smooth balls. Store them in the fridge, or if you’re restrained and don’t think you’ll eat them within a week, place them in the freezer. Nibble (or pop into your mouth in one) and enjoy!