Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Spinach and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Salad

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I always used to think of salads as a summer thing, but an autumn or winter salad can be so delicious and can easily be warming, especially with a good zesty dressing. The best thing about this salad is how easy it is to make. Purple sprouting broccoli is so tasty raw and by not cooking or heating it in any way it retains all 100% of possible nutrients available, meaning it’s packed with goodness. Not only is broccoli a rich source of vitamin C, it’s also full of iron, calcium, vitamin A and the phytochemical sulphoraphane which can help protect against diabetes, cancer and heart damage.

Even better, the little bunch of purple sprouting broccoli I used for this salad was grown in the UK, in a county just west of my home, so it’s the epitome of seasonal, local and fresh. Similarly, spinach is still just about in season in Britain, which is fantastic, so I just had to make something with it. And again, by eating raw spinach our bodies have the chance to soak up more vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which is always a good thing. The avocado adds a creamy dimension and the toasted pumpkin seeds are bursting with flavour – lightly crunchy and warm. They also give the salad an autumnal element, as now is the perfect time for pumpkins and squash. Drizzling all the ingredients with an olive oil, lime and tahini dressing really tops this salad off, making it scrummy and the complete opposite of what many people think of as salad. This is far from a boring and tasteless collection of flaccid iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber. It’s so healthy, packed with protein and is a seasonal feast which will fill you up without any stodge – perfect for a light autumn lunch. So whip it up and tuck in!

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Serves 1

For the salad:

  • 3 or 4 stems of purple sprouting broccoli (depending on their size)
  • A large handful of spinach leaves
  • ½ an avocado
  • A handful of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of tahini
  • 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper

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Simply wash the broccoli, dry it and then slice into small pieces. Wash the spinach in a salad spinner and place in a bowl along with the broccoli pieces. Cut open your avocado into two halves then scoop out the flesh from one of the halves before slicing it into small cubes. Add them to the salad bowl as well and toss with the spinach and broccoli.

To make the dressing, cut the lime in half and squeeze out all its juice into a jug before adding all the other ingredients. Then stir with a fork to make sure it all combines nicely.

Next, place the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan and turn the hob on to a medium heat. After a minute or two they’ll start to toast so make sure you turn them and shift them about so they cook evenly. Once they start going a little brown remove them from the heat. Sprinkle them over the salad, drizzle over the dressing and mix it all up before enjoying!

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The Easiest Nut Milk

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I’ve never liked cow’s milk. My mother used to make my brothers drink glasses of the stuff when we were little, but for some reason (I’m not sure why) she never made me. Dairy has just never seemed to sit well in my body, never seemed to do me much good. For years I used to have rice milk on my cereal, which is delicious, but fairly sugary, if only made up of natural sugars from rice. I still have it sometimes, along with unsweetened soya milk, which is great as it has a fair bit of protein in it, but it can be tricky to find a soya milk that is literally just soya beans and water, without added sugar or things like monopotassium phosphate or gellan gum. The latter is supposedly a ‘stabiliser’ – something to artifically make all the ingredients blend and stick evenly together to make sure it ‘looks’ nice for consumers.

The best kind of milk, hands down, is nut milk. Almond milk is probably my favourite, but hazelnut milk and cashew milk are also scrumptious. When you take a sip and get that faintly sweet, nutty taste, it’s divine, especially splashed over porridge. But like soya milk most of the ones you find in supermarkets have those mysterious added ingredients which aren’t actually food, and most people have no idea what they are or stop to question them or what they might be doing to their bodies. Just the way food companies and corporations like Alpro and Tesco like it.

The freshest and most nutritious nut milk you can drink is (as with everything) the homemade from scratch kind. And when you make it at home, you know it’s literally nuts and water. When I have the time, I soak nuts overnight and then blend them with water before straining out the milk through a cheesecloth. But a lot of us in this 21st century world don’t have the time, especially first thing in the morning, or else we forget to soak the nuts the night before or often feel lazy. I’m guilty of all those things. That’s why a couple of weeks ago, I had a light bulb moment.

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I adore nut butters, forever spreading them on rye bread or rice cakes or just licking them straight off a spoon. Like nut milks I try to make them as often as possible but most of the time I live off nut butters bought from my local health food shop. I always either get Meridian or Carley’s. Carley’s is so great as they supply raw white almond butter, so it’s full of nutrients, having not been heated and lost some of its goodness. You can’t beat the creaminess of Meridian nut butters though. Either way, they’re both fantastic as they are literally just nuts, completely natural and with no added ingredients. You may be surprised that almost all shop bought peanut butters have added palm oil – for some reason (even the Whole Earth brand which purports to be sustainable and environmentally friendly) the people making peanut butter feel the need to take the natural peanut oil out and put palm oil in. Which just seems totally crazy to me.

But the crucial point here is that you can use these nut butters to make nut milks. Simply by scooping a couple of teaspoons of the butter out and then whizzing it up with water. Done in under a minute and voilà! You’ve got nut milk. And, especially if you use raw nut butter, you have a natural, delicious, nutrient-rich, protein-dense, sugar free milk to enjoy and gulp down whenever you like.

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Makes one small jug of nut milk:

  • 2 teaspoons of nut butter (almond, cashew, hazelnut or a mix)
  • 1 cup of water

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Place the nut butter and water in a blender (or, even easier, in a container for using with a hand blender) and blend for 10 seconds. Pour the mix out into a jug or bottle and seal, and store in the fridge. Most importantly – enjoy!

Chestnut Pancakes

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The best thing about Christmas markets is chestnuts roasted on a smoky barbecue, holding the warm paper bag of them in your hand as you carefully peel their charred skins off to reveal the soft nut inside, which you then pop into your mouth. Now, obviously it’s a little early for Christmas talk, but the wait until December for chestnuts is a bit of a long one. Furthermore, it’s an unnecessary wait because chestnuts are in season now. Sweet chestnuts (not horse chestnuts – they’re poisonous) start falling from trees from September onwards, and they’re hard to miss, with their bright lime green, viciously prickly shells (a bit like a porcupine). I went out walking a few days ago and came across a chestnut tree with its nuts sprinkled around the trunk, spiking my palms as I gathered a few up.

Given all this, I just had to make something chestnutty. And these pancakes are chestnut heaven. Vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free, you really just don’t miss the milk, eggs or wheat. They’re both mushy and fluffy, and the combination of chestnut flour, chestnut purée, almond butter and banana is a creamy, autumnal treat. Chestnuts are low in fat (they’re largely made up of starch) whilst also being a good source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and a rich source of fibre, with even more fibre per 100g than walnuts and pistachios. As well as this, chestnuts are rich in the B vitamin folic acid, which is required to synthesize DNA and repair DNA, and helps produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.

These pancakes are pretty good for you, tasty and so easy to make – you can whip them up in ten minutes for a delicious breakfast or an afternoon snack. They’re rich and nutty, without being overly sweet, which to me is ideal.

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Makes about 16 small pancakes/serves 2-3:

  • 130g/½ cup of chestnut flour
  • 3 tablespoons of chestnut purée
  • 1½ tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of baking powder (I like to use this)
  • Coconut oil for frying

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Simply mash the banana until there are no lumps left then place in a mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients and mix with a whisk until a batter forms. It should be fairly runny, but not too much.

Next place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a teaspoon of coconut oil. Once the oil has melted and the pan is hot pour about two tablespoons of the batter into the pan to make one pancake. It should run out and form a circle. Wait about twenty to thirty seconds, until it starts bubbling a little and you can see it cooking around the edges. Then carefully slip a turning spatula underneath the pancake and flip it over, letting it cook for another twenty seconds.

Add a little more coconut oil to the pan and repeat this until all the batter is used up (I usually do two pancakes at a time). Then make a pancake stack, topping it with your favourite things – I recommend banana, raspberries, chestnut pieces, almond butter and raw honey – and serve!

Squash, Cannellini Bean & Sage Cakes

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Squash is probably my favourite vegetable. Roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, there’s nothing else quite like it. I can easily gorge on it all on its own, but it’s so delicious in things – risotto, curry, soup. I’ve been experimenting a bit and recently made these squash cakes, and they are so good! The soft mushy squash blends perfectly with the mashed beans and the fresh sage to create the tastiest patty, which can also be an amazing veggie burger with a warm bun and some hummus and salsa. These cakes are really versatile, which is ideal.

I bought a couple of delicata squashes when I was on holiday in Cornwall, and I have to say they are too yummy. Butternut squash is the only kind you can lay your hands on in UK supermarkets and most greengrocers but this is so silly because there are so many different types of squashes out there. Red kuri, acorn, kabocha, hubbard, calabaza, blue hokkaido pumpkin, spaghetti… there are LOADS. What’s more, most of the year butternut squashes come all the way from Asia, which isn’t good.

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But these delicatas were grown locally in Cornwall, on an organic farm, making them the most wonderful little things. When baked, the flesh is sweet, nutty and creamy, and the best thing about them is that you don’t have to peel their skin. It’s wholly edible and you hardly notice it once the squash is cooked. All types of winter squash contain high levels of vitamin A and key antioxidants such as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which are anti-inflammatory and can help protect your skin and the rest of your body against free radicals. Cannellini beans not only have the yummiest texture, but they’re also packed with protein and have one of the lowest GI scores (31) of all beans. Low GI foods metabolize slowly, providing steady energy for hours, instead of giving your blood sugar levels a short-lived peak before they plummet (as high GI foods do, such as white bread and anything with refined sugar), which often causes abnormal mood swings and a lack of energy. The sage came straight from my garden, the freshest and best, which, along with sun-dried tomatoes and cayenne pepper, gives these cakes that little bit of zesty flavour.

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Makes 5 large squash cakes:

  • 2 cups/300g of squash pieces (about 2 small delicata squashes or 1 large butternut squash)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup/230g of cannellini beans (either 1 tin or your own soaked and cooked beans)
  • 3 tablespoons of brown rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons of ground almonds
  • A small handful of fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoons of dried sage)
  • 6 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • Olive oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper

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Preheat your oven to 180°C. Slice your delicata squashes lengthways and scoop out the seedy bit (you can save the seeds and roast them to make a delicious snack) before chopping into approx 1.5inch/4cm cubes. Spread on a baking tray, drizzle with rapeseed oil, stir and toss the pieces so they’re coated evenly and then place them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, chop the onion roughly and push your garlic cloves through a press. Pour a little olive oil into a small pan and place it on a medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the onion, and then after a minute add the crushed garlic. Stir them around for just a minute or so, making sure they don’t burn, until they’ve softened a little. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

At this point, check your squash pieces and give them a toss so they’re cooking nice and evenly. Next drain your cannellini beans and pat them gently dry with a tea towel. Place half of them in a food processor, saving the rest for later. Along with the beans, add the onion and garlic, brown rice flour, ground almonds, sage, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic oil, cayenne pepper, cumin and a good pinch of salt and pepper to the food processor.

Once the squash has softened and is going golden brown, remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Then measure out 2 cups/300g worth of the cubes and add them to the food processor as well (if there’s any left over I love to munch them on their own or you can save them to make a delicious salad). Blend the mixture for about a minute, until it’s all come together – if it seems too dense and isn’t blending well add a little water.

Spoon the batter into a large bowl and then add the whole cannellini beans. Mix them gently into the squash mush, making sure they don’t get crushed. Now you’re ready to make the cakes! Scoop out a large handful of the mixture and shape into burger-shaped patties. I found it makes 5 large cakes but if you like them smaller then you can make 7 or 8 with the mix. Once all the squash batter has been used up, pour a little olive oil into a ramekin and smother your hands in it. Then gently rub your hands over each of the cakes, making sure they’re coated all over with just a little oil.

Place the cakes onto a baking tray (I also like to brush oil over the tray to help prevent them from sticking) and then bake in the oven at 180°C for about 45 minutes. After 15 minutes carefully turn them over (they might have got a bit stuck to the pan), doing so again at 25 and 35 minutes so they turn a beautiful bronzy brown all over. Remove from the oven, let them cool a little and then serve with salad or some homemade potato wedges (or in a bread bun) and enjoy!

Apricot Tart

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Pudding is one of the best things. I’ve always been a sucker for that old English pub staple – sticky toffee pudding. It’s the gooey, syrupy sauce which gets me. But there’s no denying that it’s probably the unhealthiest pudding out there, maybe bar cheesecake. Not surprising when its core ingredients are butter, double cream and sugar. But pudding can so easily be amazingly delicious and healthy without animal proteins and refined sugar, and arguably it can taste better, if not have more distinctive flavours.

This apricot tart hits that spot. The biscuity, nutty base has a wonderful crumbly texture which blends perfectly in the mouth with the cashew cream middle, and the juicy apricots add a raw freshness to top it off. This tart is brimming with cashews, which are packed with protein, as well as being a rich source of essential minerals and vitamins such as copper, potassium and various vitamin Bs. They contain loads of magnesium which is good for bone health and also ‘heart-friendly’ monounsaturated-fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids. The tart is sweetened only with apricots, dates, pure date syrup and raw honey, all unrefined and with health benefits that refined sugar completely lacks.

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Apricots are one of the yummiest fruits, and I look forward to them all through autumn, winter and spring until I can gorge on them over the summer. Apricot jam is probably my favourite, although blueberry jam is a strong competitor. When fresh and raw apricots are rich in vitamin C, along with health-promoting phyto-chemicals and vitamin A, which aids good vision, healthy mucus membranes and skin. Spain is a great grower of apricots, but I’m lucky enough that apricots are grown on the Isle of Wight, just a little bit south of where I live, and my local greengrocer stocks them. They are so fresh and the epitome of local, seasonal food, which makes me very happy.

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For the base:

  • ½ cup of cashews
  • ½ cup of ground almonds
  • 1 cup of brown rice flour
  • 3 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of date syrup
  • 10 dates

For the filling:

  • 1 cup of cashews, soaked in water overnight for at least 6 hours
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of raw honey
  • 5 apricots
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil

For the topping:

  • About 5 apricots

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Start by pre-heating the oven to 180°C. Then, to make the base, place the cashews in a food processor and blend for about a minute until a kind of nut flour forms. Add the ground almonds, brown rice flour, coconut oil, date syrup and dates and blend for a further 2-3 minutes until a sticky biscuity dough forms. Grease a 10 inch flan dish with coconut oil to prevent sticking before putting the dough in and pressing down so that the centre dips down and there is mixture up the sides, reaching the top edge of the dish. Bake this for about 15 minutes until the top goes a golden brown and has firmed.

While it cooks make the filling, which really is so easy. Drain your cashews (it is vital that they’ve been soaked) before adding them to the food processor along with the water and blend for a good 3 minutes until the nuts have really broken down and begun to form a cream. After this, de-stone and roughly chop the apricots and add them to the blender with the honey and coconut oil. Blend again for a couple of minutes until all the ingredients and flavours have come together to make a thick, soft cream.

Once the base is cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool. When it has completely cooled spread the cashew apricot cream over the middle and place the tart in the fridge for about 30 minutes to allow it to set. To finish, slice four of the apricots in half, chopping the remaining one into small pieces for decoration, and push gently into the cream. Then you’re ready to slice and serve!

Peach, Pistachio & Watercress Salad

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Salads can be so simple, and, more often than not, can end up being a little boring, especially if you get stuck into the habit of always using traditional ‘salad’ ingredients like lettuce, tomato and cucumber – which I’m guilty of! I probably eat some form of salad almost every day of the year so it’s easy to fall into a routine. Not that I want to knock cucumber or tomato – they’re great and can be so delicious with a lot of things. There’s a reason why the Greeks gobble so much of them with feta and olives..! But you can be so much more adventurous with salads and create the most interesting and unusual combinations. Pistachios and peaches are far from traditional and they make such a refreshing and tasty salad.

Peaches are my favourite fruit, hands down. I sometimes waver about whether I prefer nectarines, but peaches usually win. They seem more ‘natural’ too, because nectarines are peaches with a recessive allele that makes their skin smooth, which humans have cultivated over the years. Peaches are rich in vitamin C which is a great antioxidant and can help fight against skin damage and improve overall skin texture. They are also a great source of potassium which helps support heart health. I also love peaches because they’re in season at the moment and they come from Spain, so they haven’t had to travel too far. Similarly, pistachios are grown abundantly in the Mediterranean which is pretty good for those of us living in Britain. It seems like pistachios are often forgotten about in favour of almonds, cashews or peanuts. But they’re a great source of protein, especially when eaten raw, and they are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid as well as being a storehouse of minerals such as copper, iron, potassium and manganese – all of which are essential trace minerals.

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Watercress is amazing stuff and I’m so lucky that it’s grown locally in Hampshire about fifteen minutes away from home. It’s been grown near Winchester and Alresford for hundreds of years in the little chalk streams scattered around the Itchen Valley – proven by the fact that there’s an old steam train railway (which still operates and you can take rides on) called the Watercress Line (I can sometimes see the smoke from its funnel from the top of my garden!). Eating watercress is a great way of getting your daily amounts of vitamins K, A and B. In fact, in a recent study in the CDC Journal Preventing Chronic Disease watercress was named the top ‘powerhouse’ food in a table of fruit and vegetables, with the highest nutrient-dense score. So there are so many great reasons to eat watercress! It has such a delicious peppery taste, and its spiciness complements the sweet peach and subtle yet distinctive flavour of pistachios. I considered a dressing for this salad and have actually tried it with a balsamic-based one but it really doesn’t need it – the juiciness of the peaches and the flavours of these three simple ingredients are perfect on their own.

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Serves 1:

  • 1 peach
  • A handful of raw pistachios
  • A couple of handfuls of watercress

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Simply slice the peach into crescent-shaped pieces and mix together with the pistachios and watercress. Serve and enjoy with a cool glass of water!