Monthly Archives: April 2015

Mushroom Soup with Walnut Pesto

Mushroom Soup with Wlanut Pesto From The Healthy Heart

Every few months I get around to making a mushroom soup. Since lowering cholesterol does not involve the use of cream to make it really yummy, I always try to find something to lift the spirits of the soup. This time I made a walnut pesto which does add a shot of extra flavour to every mouthful.

For four people:

1 large onion, chopped
500g chestnut mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ l vegetable stock – I use Marigold bouillon
¼ cup semi-skimmed milk
Natural yoghurt

For the walnut pesto:
12 basil leaves
A large handful of walnuts – check to see they are not bitter
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt

Gently heat the olive oil and sweat the onion slowly until soft. Then add the chopped mushrooms and cook on a low heat until they soften. Add the vegetable stock and the milk and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.

Cool and blend in food processor. If you like it chunky do not over process.

Use a mortar and pestle to make the walnut pesto. Give the basil leaves a bashing and then add the walnuts and give them a grinding. Add the olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and mix well.

Reheat the soup gently to serve. Place a dollop of walnut pesto in each bowl along with a spoon of natural yoghurt.

Omega 3 – 29 April 2015

A year ago I was sent a home testing kit which measured my levels of Omega 3 and 6. I was surprised to find, when I received the results, that my Omega 3 was low. Since I eat my two portions of oily fish most weeks I had thought my Omega 3 would be at a satisfactory level. As it happens my levels are not that unusual in that Omega 6 is generally eaten in adequate portions in Western diets (poultry, grains, vegetable oil, nuts) whereas Omega 3 is not. (You can read more about Omega 3 and 6 in my blog post from April 2014

I was therefore interested to be invited to attend a talk last week on heart health which promoted the use of Omega 3 supplements. Now I am not someone who likes taking supplements, or any pills for that matter. I far prefer to try to eat a balanced diet and get what my body needs that way. However, I do recognise the role that supplements can play to top up levels or to provide nutrients that may be missing. Vegetarians need to eat flaxseeds, soybeans and tofu to get their share of Omega 3, although you need to eat heaps of flaxseed I would have thought to make up for a fillet of fish.

Omega 3 is a very healthy fat known as an essential fatty acid. There are two of these that are vital for our health – EPA and DHA – and these are mainly found in oily fish. A third one – ALA (alpha linolenic acid) is found in seeds and nuts.

Omega 3 is mostly derived from algae and phytoplankton. The reason that oily fish provide us with Omega 3 is because they eat the algae and plankton.

Omega 3s play an important role in keeping us healthy especially our brains, eyes and heart. From the cholesterol point of view they help to lower triglycerides (blood fat) which can put us at risk of cardiovascular disease if the level is too high. You can find your triglyceride level on your full cholesterol report if you have a test. The level should ideally be below 1.7 mmol/l for men and women.

By reducing fat from building up in our arteries, essential fatty acids can improve our health. Eating two portions of oily fish a week would seem to be a no brainer since it provides us with our Omega 3 needs. A recent survey was conducted in Britain and published as the UK Heart Health and Nutrition Survey. Some 1000 people over the age of 35 were interviewed about their eating habits and attitude to heart health. 42% said that they do not eat 2 – 3 portions of fish each week.

It has set me to thinking about my fish intake. I certainly always intend to eat it twice a week and always do on Thursdays – isn’t it odd how some dishes become associated with certain days of the week? Often I will have another portion when my hungry men eat red meat which I tend to avoid. But I am aware that I have to plan to eat enough fish and I certainly am not feeding my family enough oily fish each week. Bearing in mind that children’s cholesterol profile is being laid down in childhood I should be giving this more careful thought. Perhaps this would be easier if I liked oily fish aside from salmon and tuna (the canned type does not count with tuna) as it can get rather repetitive not to mention expensive.

If you do not eat enough oily fish or tofu/soybeans/ flaxseeds you may want to consider a supplement. These are now made in vegetarian form so do not have a fishy taste.

By the way, the talk I went to was at the Langham – a grand 5 star hotel in London. The canapés were gorgeous – all made from oily fish! I ate so many that I must surely have topped up my Omega 3 stores nicely.

Maftoul with Caramelised Leeks and Asparagus

Maftoul with caramelised leeks and asparagus

Maftoul is an interesting grain, in essence a large couscous but in effect having more of a bite. As such, it makes a good textural base for a salad or a side dish. It being springtime I paired the grain with asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and young leeks for a seasonal meal. It formed the main course for lunch but could happily be served as a side for roast chicken or a simply grilled or baked fillet of fish.

For 4 – 6 people

4 -5 young leeks or 2 older – larger – leeks, washed and sliced
½ teaspoon olive oil
300g maftoul
750 ml vegetable stock – I use Marigold bouillon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon lemon juice

12 asparagus spears
12 purple sprouting broccoli stalks

1 large egg, hardboiled, peeled and chopped
1 handful pistachio kernels, chopped
1 handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon sumac
1 tablespoon za’atar
Black pepper

Begin by sweating the leeks in the olive oil. Allow this to cook on a very low heat until the leeks are caramelised and have taken on a deep golden colour. If the heat is too high they will simply burn.

While the leeks are cooking, bring the vegetable stock to the boil and add the maftoul. Simmer for 10 minutes and then switch off the pot and allow to steam (with the lid on) for 5 – 10 minutes. It should still have a bite.

In another, smaller pot, boil the egg for 10 minutes and set aside.

Add the cooked leeks to the maftoul along with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice to taste. If you have a lemon oil, you can use this instead.

Blanch the asparagus and broccoli spears in batches. Then char them slightly on a very hot griddle pan to intensify their flavour.

Roughly chop the hard-boiled egg as well as the pistachio kernels and a generous handful of flat leaf parsley.

Place the maftoul and leek mixture in a serving dish and arrange the asparagus and broccoli on top. Scatter over the chopped egg and parsley as well as the pistachios. Sprinkle over the sumac and za’atar and a grinding of black pepper.

Make Haste While The Sun Shines – 22 April 2015

I am sitting outdoors typing away on my laptop, soaking up the glorious sunshine and giving my cholesterol a chance to convert the light into Vitamin D. That is but one of the wonderful jobs that cholesterol does to keep us healthy. Most of the time cholesterol gets very bad press when it fact its role in our wellbeing should be celebrated. Of course, as with many aspects of our health, so much gives with the one hand and takes away with the other. Sunshine is essential for Vitamin D but too much is a skin cancer risk – to create Vitamin D you just need about 15 minutes of sunshine on the arms and chest, daily if possible without sunblock, between the months of April and October if you are in the Northern hemisphere. I roll up my sleeves when walking if it is too chilly for just a t-shirt.

Red wine is another one of those good for you- not so good for you substances. A glass of red wine each day is supposed to be good for heart health because of the resveratrols. And who would not like to settle back each evening with a glass of cabernet? Albeit a small one. Who has the time, more like it in my household. The downside of alcohol for women, at least, is that even moderate intake increases breast cancer risk.

One aspect of cardiovascular health that does not seem to have a downside is exercise. Not unless you overdo it and begin to stress the body. Some of us find it easy to stress the body with very little effort indeed. I hold my hand up to that one. Sometimes walking from the garden to the kettle in the kitchen feels like about the right level, via the fridge of course just in case some tasty morsel has appeared there since I last looked -my hungry teenagers assure me there is never anything in the fridge that is worth eating and they should know. Are some people just born lazy or do they have laziness thrust upon them? Certainly I have noticed a difference in children some of whom are on the move all day, constantly leaping about whereas siblings loaf about on the sofa a lot and have to be bribed to take even a walk. There may well be something temperamental going on.

Today I lay down on my mat at my Pilates class and had to check that I had heard the instructor correctly when she mentioned that the woman on the next mat would soon be 80. Needless to say, this woman was lifting weights, rotating her pelvis, clenching muscles in odd places and using her full body strength in ways that I could only hope to emulate at her age. Even at my age, if truth be told. She has been at it for 5 years. If I keep it up I will have clocked up close to 30 by her age. Perhaps by then I will have finally got the hang of it.

Cavolo Nero Omelette

Cavolo Nero Omelette

I was browsing the vegetables last weekend at a farmer’s market and I spotted a few bunches of cavolo nero – a vegetable whose loveliness I have written about before in a recipe for ribollita. As that is a somewhat wintery soup – although in my opinion it is never too hot for a thick soup – I thought I would make something more spring like with these delicious leaves, full of deep colour and flavour.

I steamed the leaves to use in a salad and then had a pile left over. Into the fridge they went until the next morning when I decided to teach my hungry boys to make a French omelette. Nothing to it really – a quick whisk, into a hot pan with a knob of butter – olive oil for me – and a brief swirl and onto the plate. As the egg was just looking creamy in went the wilted cavolo nero leaves and a grinding of black pepper. Simplicity tastes good!
Tip: use an omelette pan or, as I do, a small non-stick one.

For one person:

2 large eggs – I prefer to use organic
A knob of butter or a teaspoon of olive oil
A handful of cavolo nero leaves, steamed briefly

Heat the butter or oil in a small pan. In the meantime break the eggs into a bowl and whisk briefly just to loosely combine. Add a grinding of black pepper and a pinch of salt if you like.

Pour the eggs into the pan and swirl the eggs about, lifting the sides gently to allow the egg to run underneath the part that is setting. Now add the leaves and when the egg is nearly set, turn it out neatly onto a hot plate.

A slice of wholemeal toast would not go amiss. Not to mention a glass of wine, but maybe not for breakfast!

Spring Resolution – 15 April 2015

Getting back from holiday is always difficult – the return to work can be a shock after a week or so repose. All those emails stacked up, all the calls that need answering, just having to dress up rather than pull on jeans and t-shirt, grab the camera and head out into the street to explore. It’s enough to make me reach for the chocolate – in fact that is precisely what I have done. Well, it was Easter. Anyhow, the chocs are long finished and now it is time to get back to good habits and what a bore we all know those are.

Since back from vacation something else has been bothering me. It is not just about eating muesli rather than croissants for breakfast or a handful or almonds rather than an ice cream in the afternoons. It is about where I buy my food. Pushing a trolley around my soulless supermarket this week I felt an overwhelming sense of longing for a food market. One does not need to go abroad for this of course. I have access to a farmer’s market on Sundays and when I make the effort I am rewarded with an array of fruit and veg that my supermarket shelves have never seen. Yes it can be frustrating to have a reduced choice of goods in the winter, but there is something about buying seasonal food that takes us back in some primal way to a time when food was food and not fetish.

If only I shopped in this way more often I think it would help to keep me eating well. Not only is it fun to buy food from the people who produced it, but I find it inspires ideas about what to cook when you just happen upon a gorgeous bunch of cavolo nero, for example. But there is another reason why market shopping works for me and that is that you can only buy proper food. There are no aisles filled with products that could survive into the next century so packed full of preservatives are they. No rows of factory produced biscuits, crackers and crisps – all so easy to pop in the trolley and so difficult to resist later on when they take up residence in the kitchen cupboard.

At the market there are certainly delicious cakes and pastries to tempt even the most zealous health nut, not to mention hand-made chocolates, but at least these baked goods are eaten as a treat and then they are finished.
So now that the weather is much improved, I am making a Spring resolution to get out to my market more often and not reserve this pleasure for when I am travelling. Sometimes the things one enjoys most on holiday are available locally too. With fresh produce coming back into season right now, it is a good time to review one’s cooking routines and ring some changes. Happy eating!