All Plants Lovin’

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Put your hands up if you like plants. Even better dance around or give plants a kiss – if you love having them around you, in the earth and fields or your living space, and especially if you love how they nourish us in so many ways. A few months ago in Edinburgh someone had written on a wall ‘Love animals, eat plants’. I remember looking at it and thinking something should be added onto the end: ‘love plants too’. Often if you’re vegetarian or vegan it’s presented as out of a love for animals and not wishing to cause them harm or suffering. But what about plants? They deserve all the love in the world because, together with soil and insects, they pretty much give us everything. Oxygen, greenery, food, textures, flavours, spices, cleaner air. We need to celebrate plants and appreciate them in all their glory.

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London-based company All Plants is one bunch of eco-warriors doing just that. They cook up delicious vegan meals and deliver them to your door, making a plant-based diet easier than ever before. For too long being vegan has been tricky with fewer options, fewer places to buy, more effort involved than the dominance of meat and dairy products everywhere, which has been something of a barrier for those who want to eat more plants or are curious about doing so.

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But sigh and struggle no longer. All Plants has an array of planty meals on offer which you can eat at your leisure, with your feet up, no hassle, no sweat, literally easy as pie. Their Cashew Mac is to taste-die for and if you order a box Golden Sesame Satay has gotta be in there – you won’t be disappointed. These two are just the tip of the plantberg though – they’ve got everything from paella to burrito bowl to moussaka to risotto, and all of ’em are hearty, nutritious and satisfying.

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All Plants is so inspiring because not only are they making it fast and simple to eat healthy delicious plant-based meals for all us mega-busy foodies, but their mission as a whole is one big boost of planet-positive. Their aim is to encourage and stir up the next billion plant-powered people, doing so in as sustainable way as possible with recyclable and compostable packaging, carbon neutral deliveries and huge reduction of food waste. What’s not to love? It’s too easy and no one has an excuse not to eat or try 100% plant-dishes now.

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Eat plants, love plants. Simple.

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September Savvy: Go Organic Festival

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September is a hearty month. Autumn and harvest in a nutshell: with the gathering of food, warm colours, the landscape turning from green to orange and brown, summer heat seeping down to cool, resident birds beginning to sing again, and the influx of blackberries, apples, corn on the cob, squashes and pumpkins. Here in the UK, September and food have a particularly special relationship because this month is known as Organic September. It celebrates and promotes all things organic – a campaign to raise awareness and support farmers and producers of organic food with a sustainable, chemical-free and animal welfare focus.

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This weekend just gone 8th-9th September was the Go Organic Festival in Battersea Park, London, an event to bring together the organic foodies of Britain with chef demonstrations, talks by experts and loads of food stalls. It was a buzzing environment with lots going on for families and kids, free samples, an abundance of information, surveys, organic fruit and veg to pluck at, food trucks, a stage with music throughout both days and ‘meet the farmer’ chats.

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If you missed it I would say you ought to feel a little disappointed or envious as it was a great experience with such a positive, proactive atmosphere. It was cheering to see so many people interested in organic food come together and interact in a fun, engaging way with all types of people involved from kids to sales reps to chefs to campaign organisers to producers of plastic-free food wraps, organic chocolate, vegan burgers, baked goods and beauty products to name a few.

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It was particularly interesting to watch and listen to chefs such as Gelf Alderson of River Cottage and Emily Watkins as they made delicious meals right in front of their audience. As they cooked, they chatted to host Jay Morjaria, giving lots of tips, info about organic food, produce to buy, things to avoid and so on.

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The festival’s ‘Natural Talks’ were also absorbing, particularly those by Natalie Fee, Simon King and Helen Browning. Natalie Fee created the City to Sea campaign, helping to stop plastic pollution at source – something which is vital if we are to stem the huge flow of plastic being produced and polluting our environment, ending up in rivers, seas and landfill. As you may be aware, a high percentage of plastic doesn’t get recycled and so going to the source of the problem – the prevention of plastic being produced in the first place – is what’s required for any impactful, long term effects. It was truly inspiring to hear Natalie talk.

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Go Organic Festival was a fantastic event and particularly impressive seeing as this was its first year. I had a great time, coming away feeling more positive about the future of our food. I can’t wait to see what will be in store next September.

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Squidgy Pumpkin Spice Cookies

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Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin. Just perfect pumpkin. Bulbous and bright and carroty orange, the emblem of autumn and the vegetable you Americans have a somewhat obsessive yet endearing affection for. They are pretty amazing – the archetypal seasonal food – so I just had to create something with their tangerine tissue. And these delightfully spongy pumpkin spice cookies deserve a place amongst all those pumpkin pies and pumpkin breads and pumpkin cakes, if I’m allowed to make such a self-promoting claim.

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There’s something of an incongruity surrounding pumpkins – on the one hand they’re a wonderful symbol of seasonal produce promoted by a worldwide Hallows’ eve tradition, and yet they’re also (as a direct result of this quirky age-old tradition) one of the most wasted vegetables on the planet. This just doesn’t seem right at all, so what better way to remedy the injustice than to encourage people to eat pumpkins? By all means carve out your scary faces for some spooky fun, but eat pumpkins and squashes too. Eat and gobble and swallow to your stomach’s content. They’re too delicious to chuck into landfill and they’re growing in abundance right now – guaranteed somewhere nearby, so get on out there and source a glowing orange globe in some local soil.

And here’s some inspiration for you – simple, spicy and sweet. With no trace of refined sugar, gluten or dairy. In short; local, seasonal, sustainable wee beauties. These cookies will be all the tastier if you chop up a Hokkaido pumpkin (or butternut or any member of the pumpkin/squash family!) and give it a steam or roast, but canned pumpkin puree works a (trick-or)treat too.

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Makes about 20 cookies:

  • 425g/1 can of pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 120g/1 cup oats
  • 100g/½ cup chestnut flour (if you don’t have any use brown rice flour)
  • 60g/½ cup ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4-6 tablespoons agave syrup (or maple syrup or raw local honey), depending on how sweet you like it
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of sea salt

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If using a pumpkin or squash from scratch; peel it, scoop out the seeds and chop up the flesh into chunks. Place these in a steamer and steam for about 20 minutes, or until they’re really tender and mushy.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and whizz up into a flour. Pour this into a large mixing bowl along with the chestnut flour, ground almonds, all the spices, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt. Mix well and set aside.

Measure out 425g/1 cup of pumpkin puree and place this in a food processor. Melt the coconut oil in a pan on a medium heat then pour this into the pumpkin puree along with the agave syrup. Blend until they’re all well combined.

Add a third of the wet pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, repeating twice more until all the pumpkin’s stirred in to form a dough. Line a large baking tray with parchment and lightly grease with a little coconut oil. Scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of dough and place on the parchment, repeating until you’ve used it all up. Then, using your fingers, gently squash and smooth the balls of dough into round or oval cookie shapes.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the edges are firm and they’ve turned a lovely orangey golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Then munch away!

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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

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.

Spanish-Style Baked Beans

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It hasn’t been an especially cold winter in Britain, but all the same the best thing to do in winter is snuggle down with a warming, filling dish of food, preferably steaming up into your face, wafting a sweet, spicy aroma into your nose. I went to Spain for the first time two summers ago with one of my best friends and adored the food. The flavours so distinctive, the sizzling pans of paella, the array of little tapas dishes you can gorge on, like a tasting session – heaven for me, as I invariably have trouble deciding on something at restaurants and want to try at least three things.

I was barely eating meat in 2013, but at the time I couldn’t resist a bit of chorizo. And, I can’t lie about it – it was delicious. Almost every meat eater I know loves chorizo; my flatmate used to eat it almost daily. Chorizo is one of the tastiest foods out there, but a few months ago I realised this wasn’t really or else wholly due to it being made of pork. The Spanish are a little obsessed with ham (I remember almost every street I walked down had at least four shops exclusively selling ham), so it’s a bit of a refined art for them, but they are also the elusive harbourers of a sneaky cooking secret – pimentón.

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Or, in English, smoked paprika. Now you might think smoked paprika isn’t a secret, we have it in Britain and you can buy it in the supermarket. But the English hardly ever use it in their cooking. And pimentón is the secret ingredient of chorizo. It gives it that smoky, spicy flavour which is so unique. I no longer eat chorizo but I had the idea a while ago to create some kind of tomato bean sauce with pimentón and decided what better thing to make than spicy, Spanish-style, healthy home-made baked beans.

The thick sauce is so hearty and full of flavour, adding a beefiness which is so lacking in watery baked beans you get in a tin, it gives you a great protein boost and it doesn’t have any of the added sugar. Furthermore, this dish is so versatile – you could have it as a stew, or as a soup or spilling out of a baked potato. It really is delicious, pleasantly spicy and when you put a spoon of it in your mouth it’s rather like tasting chorizo, without the chorizo.

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Serves 4-5:

  • 2 cups/240g/2 tins of haricot beans (I prefer to soak mine overnight and then boil for approximately 2½ hours with a few cloves of garlic and a couple of bay leaves – if preparing your own you’ll need about 180g of dried haricot beans)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 4 large tomatoes (tomate de pera ideally)
  • 1 Romano red pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 7 sun-dried tomato pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons pimentón/smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of water
  • 1 tin of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 5 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • A small handful of basil
  • A small handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of chilli flakes

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If cooking your own haricot beans, soak and boil them as instructed above. When they’re soft, drain any excess water in a colander and set aside to cool. Next, roughly chop your onion and blitz in a food processor until very fine and resembling a thick paste. Add a splash of olive oil to a large pan and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot tip in the onion, stirring continuously for about 5 minutes. After this, turn the heat down to low and let the onion cook gently (you want as much moisture as possible to evaporate off).

While the onion’s frying chop the tomatoes and red pepper into large chunks. Peel the garlic cloves and again roughly chop. Add all the pieces to a food processor along with the sun-dried tomatoes, pimentón, cayenne pepper, basil, parsley, the tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Blend this until well combined and it looks like a thick sauce. Once the onion has softened and mostly dried up, add this tomato sauce to the pan, turn up the heat to medium and stir.

After a couple of minutes, add the tin of cherry tomatoes, tomato purée, ¼ cup of water and chilli flakes to the pan as well. Stir until all mixed together then place the lid on top, leaving it to simmer for 10 minutes. At this point, add the drained haricot beans. Stir once more and replace the lid, letting the mixture simmer gently for a further 30 minutes. Over this time the flavours will all come together to really bring out the tomato, peppers, garlic, basil and smoked paprika. Finally serve (with rice to make a casserole or even with pasta if you fancy) and enjoy!