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!

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Chilli Sin Carne

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Chilli Con Carne used to be one of my favourite meals. Something about that rich, spicy, tomato-based sauce really hit the spot – Mexicans totally got it right. With rice, with tortilla chips (+ avocado = yummy nachos), folded inside wraps, and always with a blob of guacamole on the side, I was a bit of a gorger. But since beef isn’t something I eat anymore, for a while there was this slight gaping hole. I went through a phase of making it with quorn mince (Chilli Con Quorne), but looking on the back of the packet it’s made up of a bunch of things (like calcium acetate) which aren’t actually real food. For all its protein-packed benefits, quorn (proudly producing an endless supply of meat free ‘meat’ such as quorn chicken pieces and quorn pork pies) is made primarily of something called mycoprotein, which apparently comes from a fungus and is grown in vats using glucose syrup as food. It’s not animal protein, which you might think can only be a good thing; but it’s completely processed and artificial, and just really isn’t that good for your body, whatever it claims on the label.

Dropping Chilli Con Quorne, I recently made a cauldron-sized amount of a very Mexican-style chilli, but bursting with vegetables. And I have to say the flavours really are amazing – the sweet, aromatic Romano pepper with the soft and fluffy roasted aubergine and courgette, all mixed together with tomato, kidney beans, chilli, cumin and cinnamon just melts on the tongue. I don’t miss Chill Con Carne one bit, and it’s so much tastier than Chill Con Quorne.

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Pepper, aubergine and courgette are still in season at the moment which is great, though the summer vegetables are coming to their end, so I just had to make use of them while they’re still growing in the UK. Kidney beans are full of nutritional goodness such as vitamin B9 and fibre, both of which promote cardiovascular health. They’re also crammed with antioxidants and, when eaten with rice, can provide a complete protein for your body. Kidney beans are low in the essential amino acid lysine but rice is a rich source of it so eating them together is just perfect. Even better, fragrant turmeric rice really complements the vegetable chilli sauce, making the most delicious, spice-filled meal. Chilli Sin Carne is too good.

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Serves 4-6:

  • 2 aubergines
  • 2 courgettes
  • 3 Romano peppers
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 2 medium-sized red onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 180g of sun-dried tomato paste
  • 70g of tomato purée
  • 2x 400g tins of peeled cherry tomatoes
  • 2x 400g tins of red kidney beans (or 800g of dried kidney beans soaked overnight and then simmered for about an hour with a clove of garlic)
  • Rapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 400g of long grain brown rice
  • 1½ teaspoons of turmeric

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Start by preheating the oven to 180°C. Chop the aubergines into 1½ inch-sized pyramids and slice the courgettes into fairly thick discs, so they’re a similar size to the aubergine pieces. Place them on baking trays and drizzle with a good glug of rapeseed oil, stirring them around to make sure they’re all thinly coated, and then pop them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

While they’re roasting, cut the peppers into thin slices about 2 inches long, roughly chop the onions and squeeze the garlic cloves through a garlic press. Finely chop the chilli, discarding the seeds (and make you sure you give your fingers a good wash when you’re done!). Add the olive oil to a large casserole pan (I like Le Creuset the best), heat to a medium temperature and fry the onion for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Next add the garlic, chopped chilli and Romano pepper and fry until all the ingredients have softened.

At this point, check the aubergine and courgette in the oven, giving the pieces a good stir so they bake evenly. In the casserole pan add the chilli powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper and stir around until the vegetables are coated. Then pour in the tins of cherry tomatoes, followed by the sun-dried tomato paste and tomato purée. Allow this to come to the boil, then drain the kidney beans and add them as well. Reduce the heat a little, put the lid on and let the mixture gently simmer away.

When this is all done bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the rice and turmeric, turning down to a simmer for 25 minutes, giving it an occasional stir. After the 30 minutes has passed, remove the aubergine and courgette from the oven – they should be lovely and soft and slightly golden. Add the pieces to the casserole pan, stir them in and replace the lid.

When the 25 minutes is up, test the rice to make sure it’s soft enough for your liking and then drain in a sieve. Serve with the Chilli Sin Carne and some homemade guacamole and enjoy the wonderful Mexican flavours!