Coconut Oil in the Spotlight

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This article is an extract from The Vegan Cookbook by Adele McConnell.

Coconut oil has a fairly high smoke point (176°C/350°F), and so is suitable for frying. It can be heated without being damaged and oxidized, as other oils are. Oxidization causes oils to become unhealthy free radicals in the body. Choose organic, virgin and unrefined coconut oil, which is minimally processed.
Non-virgin coconut oil may be produced from dried coconut (copra) and will have lost nutrients as
well as being highly processed. Use coconut oil for baking, frying and in desserts or smoothies.
Alternatively, use olive oil (not extra virgin) for frying over medium heat.
Organic safflower oil is high in omega-6 essential fats and is my personal alternative for cooking if I am short of coconut oil.
Rice bran oil is rich in vitamin E and omega-6, and has a high smoke point at 232°C/ 450°F.
The only oil suitable for raw dishes, however, is coconut oil – for taste, nutrition and its ability to solidify quickly.

Crêpes with spinach & mushrooms

Serves: 4
Preparation: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour resting
Cooking: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup soya milk; 50g/1¾oz/¼ cup vegan margarine; 125g/4½oz/1 cup plain flour; 1 tbsp coconut oil; dairy-free yogurt and lemon; wedges, to serve

Spinach and mushroom filling: 1 tsp olive oil or coconut oil; 180g/6¼oz button; mushrooms, thinly sliced; 400g/14oz baby spinach; 1 tbsp lemon juice; sea salt and freshly ground; black pepper

Put the milk in a large bowl and add the margarine, flour and a pinch of salt, then add 170ml/5½fl oz/²⁄³ c up water at room temperature.

Whisk, or use a hand blender, until smooth.
Cover the bowl with cling film, and put in the fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and put a heatproof plate inside to warm. To cook the crêpes, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in an 18cm/7in frying pan and add just enough batter to coat
the base of the pan, tilting the pan to spread the mixture.

Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then carefully turn the crêpe over and cook on the other side until lightly golden. Put the crêpe on to the warmed plate, then cover and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining batter.
Meanwhile, to make the filling, heat the oil in a non-stick saucepan over a low heat. Add the mushrooms and fry for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the juices are released.
Add 1 teaspoon water at a time if the mushrooms begin to stick to the pan. Add the spinach to the pan and reduce the heat to low.

Cook for 2–3 minutes until the spinach begins to wilt, then stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of the filling on to one edge of a crêpe. Roll it up gently. Continue with the remaining crêpes, then put the filled crêpes in an ovenproof dish and reheat in the oven for
10 minutes. (Or serve them at room temperature, if you prefer.)

Serve with yogurt, and a lemon wedge.

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Adele McConnell
The Vegan Cookbook
£14.99

 

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Podcast/ Conversation with Renee McGregor

Steve Nobel interviews Renee McGregor, author of Training Food.
Follow Watkins Media on SoundCloud and listen to the latest interviews and talks.

Renee McGregor Bsc(hons) RD PGCERT(sportsnutr) is a registered dietitian and is one of the UK’s top sports nutritionists who has over 14 years experience advising athletes and their coaches at all levels.
Renee is a regular contributor to BBC Food, Cycling Plus, Trail Running Magazine, Runner’s world Magazines and she is the author of Training Food.
This book is written to help you understand the science of sports nutrition through practical advice and is packed with over 100 delicious and easy to make recipes to enhance your physical performance.

On this podcast:
Nutrition requirements for different types of sport.
Organic versus processed food during training.
Micronutrients and supplements during training.
Vegetarian versus meat eating during training.
Combining of carbs, protein, and fats.
Getting the right kind of hydration for our chosen sport.

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Renee McGregor
Training Food
£10.99
Available from Nourish Books

 

 

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The Seasonal Kitchen / Watercress

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Wild watercress can be seen growing in summer streams, although the vivid green bunches that arrive on the greengrocers’ shelves have been cultivated in special beds with piped running water and are available all year round.
The robust, peppery flavour of raw watercress is delicious in salads, or it may be shredded and added to cooked dishes at the last minute. Some people, however, find watercress too powerful on its own, and prefer it combined with blander ingredients or used more as a flavouring. The shredded leaves are excellent stirred into creamy mashed potato just before serving, or combined with milder lettuce leaves in a salad, in a similar manner to fresh herbs.
Spread savoury scones with thick cream cheese and top with a sprig of watercress, or shred a handful of leaves and sprinkle over an omelette while it cooks.
Choose watercress with large dark leaves and avoid any that is withered, limp or slimy. If a recipe requires only the leaves, simply pluck them off the stems. For salads, part of the stem is often trimmed off, leaving the more tender upper part and juicy leaves.

Watercress soup
SERVES 4
Ingredients: 25g/1oz butter; 1 onion, chopped; 225g/8oz potatoes, chopped; 750ml/26fl oz/3 cups vegetable; stock; 175g/6oz watercress; 250ml/9fl oz/1 cup milk; 4 tbsp single cream; salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Melt the butter in a pan, then add the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the potatoes, pour over the stock and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, remove the green leaves from the watercress and roughly chop the stalks. Add the stalks to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, then stir in the leaves, reserving a few to garnish, and cook for about 1 minute more.

Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Return to the pan, stir in the milk and bring to simmering point. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved watercress leaves.

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
Available from Nourish Books

 

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Tarts and Pies for Guilt-Free Baking

These recipes has been taken from Guilt-Free Baking by Gee Charman.

A sin-free way to lighten up your day

Well, not if they are traditional tarts and pies. The battle over pastry has always been well fought among dieters. Pastry is full of fat and has barely an iota of goodness in it. The problem is that it tastes great and some of our best-known desserts and baked treats are surrounded by it.
Apple pie was a signature dish of my grandmother and her pastry was so short, it melted in your mouth. But when you watched her make it you could see why – butter, and lots of it. My solution is to use ricotta cheese instead in pastry for pies and tarts, which reduces the fat and gives beautifully crispy results.

Cherry Bakewell Tart

Per serving:
Fat 4.4g (of which saturates 1.75g)
Calories 152kcal
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 10
minutes chilling
Cooking time: 50 minutes

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Ingredients:
For the low-fat shortcrust pastry: low-calorie cooking oil spray, for greasing; 150g/5½oz/1¼ cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting; 30g/1oz butter, chilled; 1 tbsp caster sugar; 3 tbsp ricotta cheese; 1 egg white.
For the cherry filling & almond topping: 1 tbsp cherry or raspberry jam; 200g/7oz/heaped 1½ cups pitted cherries, halved; 30g/1oz/¼ cup ground almonds; 50g/1¾oz/⅓ cup fine polenta; 2 tbsp plain flour; 50g/1¾oz/scant ¼ cup caster sugar; 2 eggs; 150g/5½oz/scant ⅔ cup fat-free natural yogurt; 1 tsp almond extract.
For the icing: 1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted; 2 days 1 month

I can hear the people of Bakewell shouting from here. I know it’s not a classic Bakewell tart but when you guys come up with such a great recipe, those of us watching the calories still want to enjoy it. It works equally well with raspberries, plum halves, blueberries or blackberries.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and lightly oil a 20cm/8in deep, fluted non-stick tart tin with a little low-calorie cooking oil spray.
  • To make the pastry, put the flour in a large bowl, then rub in the butter, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then use a fork to mix in the ricotta and gently blend to a smooth dough, adding up to 1 tablespoon water, if necessary, a drop at a time, to bind the ingredients together. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 3mm/⅛in thick. Use to line the base and sides of the prepared tin. Carefully push the pastry into the flutes of the tin, leaving any overhanging pastry attached. Line the pastry with baking paper and cover with baking beans. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the paper and beans. Brush the base and sides of the pastry with a little egg white, then bake for a further 10 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and use a serrated knife to trim off any excess pastry.
  • Spread the jam over the base of the tart, then sprinkle over the cherry halves. Mix together the ground almonds, polenta, flour and caster sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt
    and almond extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together well. Spoon evenly over the cherries. Bake for 20 minutes until just set with a slight wobble in the centre. Cool in the tin.
  • Meanwhile, put the icing sugar in a small bowl and add about 1 teaspoon water, a drop at a time, stirring vigorously until you have a thick paste that just runs off a spoon. Drizzle in lines across the tart, then leave to set for 5 minutes before serving.

Pear & Blackberry Pie

Per serving:
Fat 3g (of which saturates 1.75g)
Calories 115kcal
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus
30 minutes chilling
Cooking time: 30 minutes
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Ingredients:
For the ricotta pastry: 150g/5½oz/1¼ cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting; 30g/1oz butter; 1 tbsp caster sugar; 3 tbsp ricotta cheese; grated zest of 1 orange.
For the pear & blackberry filling: 4 pears; 250g/9oz/2 cups blackberries; 1 tbsp cornflour; 1 tbsp agave syrup; 1 tbsp dried semolina or couscous (bear with me!); 1 egg, beaten; 1 tbsp clear honey; juice of 1 orange

I can generally eat a dish in a restaurant or café and get home and recreate it – it’s habit and a skill most chefs pick up. But I just cannot make an apple pie like my grandmother. It’s not human nature to admit our shortcomings but this is mine – I can’t do it. So I have given up and I now make other pies instead. This one is my favourite and – though I say so myself – it is blinking good!

  • To make the pastry, put the flour in a large bowl, then rub in the butter, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then use a fork to break the ricotta into the mix. Add the orange zest, then gradually add about 1 tablespoon water, a drop at a time, and mix to a dough. Add the water very gradually as all flours absorb different amounts of water. Roll the pastry into a ball and flatten to a patty, then wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • While the pastry is chilling, peel, core and slice the pears. Put them in a bowl with the blackberries.
    Dust with the cornflour and toss everything together, then drizzle over the agave syrup and
    mix once more.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
    Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 30cm/12in circle and put it on the prepared baking tray. Scatter the base of the pastry with the semolina – this will help absorb any juices and prevent the pastry from having a soggy base. Pile the fruit in the centre of the pastry and bring the sides of the pastry up around the fruit. This doesn’t have to be neat – you want it to look rustic. If the pastry does crack, just patch it up. Brush the outside of the pastry with a little beaten egg.
  • Bake for 30 minutes until the fruit has softened but has not gone mushy and the pastry is cooked and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
    Meanwhile, put the honey and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 2 minutes until syrupy. Brush this over the cooked pie before serving.

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Gee Charman
Guilt-Free Baking
Available from Nourish in August 2015

 

 

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In Defence of Street Food

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by Nisha Katona

Food is a little like fashion. There are fads that are bang on trend, there are timeless classics, there is the readily forgiven ethnic scene and the crushingly difficult haute couture of the Michelin aspiration.
And like fashion, certain genres inspire jaded disdain at any one moment – the ra-ra skirt, the slanket and the onesie of the food world now, seem to be the concepts of ‘dirty food’, ‘pulled pork’ and sadly for me, ‘street food’.

It is very easy to roll ones eyes at the ubiquitous. But are we being too harsh in our judgment? Are these genres of food, in fact, timeless; simply adding to the colours of the ever brightening food scene?

It is this question that keeps me up night after night. I built Mowgli Street Food only 9 months ago.  I gave up my  life as a Barrister and the hallowed security that went with that. Everything I own, or saved or inherited is in her. I would not have done this to build a vanity project based on a fad with no legs. And yet-night after night I moot the need to remove the words ‘Street Food’ from our title.

Mowgli is a pet name I called my children. It is a soft round word filled with love for me. Street food, the thorny phrase, to me, is the way a billion Indians eat every day. In fact it is not just Indians that eat like this. Street Food is the daily dining experience of the majority of the worlds population.

The restaurant is an eating construct of the cold and wealthy west. In the East, food has a brisker, more intense articulation. In the heat of the East, workers and diners do not want to sit inside a stuffy building filled with cooking fumes. Air conditioning, refrigeration, complex kitchen equipment, expensive overheads all militate towards humble great, food pedlars selling their signature dishes from open stalls on the worlds chaotic and peopled pavements.

Street food is the way Indians eat on the way to and from school, the office, at railway stations, outside their homes, day in day out. Street Food is a concept as old as the foundations of the earth. It was a concept born as soon as currency and community breathed their first.

Street food is to the food world what shoes are to fashion. From Choo’s to Chappals, it may have been hijacked by the niche but it will always be a humble, undress necessity.

For me, and for Mowgli, thankfully, whichever way I look at it, Street Food has legs and in a good way. I hope for all of us, that the informal, honest, smash and grab, big flavoured concept of world Street Food scene is going nowhere.

About the Author: Nisha Katona is a food writer, Indian Cookery teacher and founder of Mowgli pataks_nisha_squar_2852765bStreet food. She has series of Youtube video tutorials that have a worldwide following. She has over  22000 twitter followers for her daily recipes and live Curry Clinics. She has recently worked on a filming project with Food Network. Professionally Nisha has worked as a Barrister for over 20 years in the area of Child Protection. In 2008 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport appointed her as trustee of National Museums Liverpool and in 2009, the Cabinet Office appointed her as an Ambassador for Diversity in Public Appointments, and in this capacity has been engaged as an expert advisor by The Guardian newspaper.

 

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Nisha Katona
Pimp my Rice
Available from Nourish Books from October 2015

Octopus Alchemy is our Blog of the Month

Octopus Alchemy is a small social venture in Brighton & Hove that works with people to help redefine their relationship with their own health and that of their families and communities.
This article has been cross-posted from Octopus Alchemy.

Vessels of Dissent – Fermentation as politics from below

It’s easy to misinterpret fermentation as some unremarkable practice, carried out by fuzzy old ladies in farmhouse kitchens in the back of beyond – and of course it is, but that’s not all of it. In fact, the potency of those few fizzing mason jars and cobwebbed crocks hanging out in your nan’s cupboard goes far beyond taste and an old wives remedy: they symbolise a kind of politics from below; a lively critique of the way we live our lives and how we understand our bodies and their place in nature. Those humble few dusty mason jars and their contents have effects far beyond their cupboard and their consumers.

It’s no secret that fermentation is making a comeback in the West or that knowledge(s) about the importance of the microbiome are resurfacing again (contrary to the arrogance and imperialism of biomedicine, this is not a new discovery or even particular to the West). Katz’s revivalist efforts are now complimented by a landslide of interest in the techniques of wild fermentation, of culturing and preserving. Every other week, peculiar and inventive little projects crop up in urban centres and beyond, preaching the lacto-gospel: fermentation on wheels, fermentation installations, fermentation festivals, blogs, podcasts and potlucks. In my home town of Brighton, fermented products now appear on swanky restaurant menu’s, with gourmet chef’s the world over crafting taste-experiences from this age old tradition. Sourdough bread, a novelty only years ago in the face of its cheap, white and easily processed rival, is (for the reasonably well heeled) becoming a staple once again.

An ‘archaic revival’ in food is occurring; less of us now blink uncritically at the waves of corporate propaganda of ‘tasty’ and ‘convenient’ food. A generation of medical refugees, sick and fatigued by denatured and contaminated tucker and the biased and mechanical prescriptions of their biomedical Doctor’s, are reaching into the past to reclaim life affirming knowledge and skills. Fermentation is one of those skills, with each dry-salt or brine having a cascade of effects beyond its container – they are ‘vessels of dissent’, the web of relations and effects that echo from them extending into cultural, environmental and political realms.

Challenging contemporary food culture:

There are now endless texts rallying against our contemporary food culture, all with the same underpinning message, which is that the commodification of our food and the profit motive in food production has run amok and the system that prevails undermines the well being of our animals, the health of our people and communities and ultimately, the ecological balance of our planet too.

Every so often, (usually) independent media gives us a glimpse of the horrors of the industrialised method applied to food production: animals are treated like objects, workers no better and the 41k+yYzyf4L._UY250_food itself is engineered and adapted to predictable outcomes (usually lucrative ones) with no thought for the human, animal and environmental costs and consequences.

Curiously, just as globalisation encourages the spread of different cuisines and our experiential access of different cultures and their foodways, the homogenisation of our food: its taste, texture, appearance and content in Pollan’s words: rolls out like a ‘great undifferentiated lawn across the globe’.

Food has become a ‘private transnational commodity’, subjected to the whims and fancies of our market economy. The communities once built up around food have dissolved as ‘buyers’ interact with ‘producers’ and alienated ‘consumers’ attend brightly lit and sanitary halls, stocked with food-commodities – their origins, histories and stories of human / nature co-creation muffled and obscured by cellophane packaging and garish labeling; designed to say as little about the product as possible and c990dd4941eabdb4d49e7a2ec0f9f745everything about the dream of sunshine, clucking hens and the ‘good life’ that most of us rarely get to experience, never mind the food.

This violent separation of the urban consumer from food production and producers, means that (massively exploited) producers, no longer tied or responsible to their communities, shell out denatured food using all manner of toxic inputs and processes to please ever more stringent targets set by buyers. And consumers, distracted from the ‘non-economic attributes’ of food, approach it in the most objectifying way as to be almost apathetic about it beyond its superficial qualities.

Perhaps it is this disconnection from and appreciation of our food in its totality (as beyond just food; embodying a sacred web of relations and connections) that makes for such depression in our Foodcommunities, such listlessness and dissatisfaction at what should be a simple joy. The commodification of our food has created an artificial scarcity and exclusive hierarchy, where only the privileged eat and eat well – ‘routine hunger, malnutrition, premature deaths, famine’ and noxious amounts of waste are the byproducts of this system.

Fermentation then, is an ‘eloquent protest’ in the face of these circumstances, a reconnection with food-as-nutrition, which in turn encourages a respect for the nature of food itself and the people, animals and land that make it possible. The complexity of any one ferment, its inherent ecology of bacteria and enzymes, their innumerable interactions and bubbling byproducts puts us in touch with the wonder of food again. There’s nothing plastic, artificial or detached about sourdough, kefir, miso or kimchi – they are literally frothing with life and overflowing with life-force; ecologies of such spectacular diversity that our previous food-programming perishes under a radical remembering of the life and magic of our food.

The experimentation and play that accompanies fermentation represents a rejection of the predictable, affected and meaningless products churned out by the market – it is a celebration of distinctiveness, the peculiar, of artisanship and taste. The communities that thrive around Commodity-Tradingfermentation, mirroring the excitement of the ferment itself, branch out and swell – spreading knowledge, practices, skills and wisdom. Old food-economies are transformed by new energy and insights and new and alternative economies are born; where small producers and hobbyists deliver innovations and operate on different principles, such as the pioneers of the ‘sacred’ or ‘gift’ economies. Time and energy is reclaimed from the current ecocidal economy and trajectory to stage a revolution from our kitchens – ultimately, food is de-commodified and becomes meaningful again.

The biomedical monopoly and the mechanistic worldview.

Chronic disease have become a remarkably persistent feature of our contemporary medical landscape. Indeed, over 60% of deaths worldwide are now reported as resulting from a variety of chronic conditions. This phenomena goes someway to framing the explosion of interest in fermentation, as more and more people engage with the health benefits of these sour and whiffy creations.

Beyond their alleviation of various ailments and maladies, this popular engagement with fermentation as a healing modality shifts the way we relate to our bodies and how we perceive The biomedical approach.their place in nature, challenges the current biomedical orthodoxy on what illness is and how health can be attained and asks serious questions about what legitimate knowledge is when it comes to health and disease.

‘Biomedicine’ is another way, in anthropological parlance, of talking about the kind of clinical medicine, grounded in the scientific worldview, that has been the dominant mainstay of our medical landscape since the scientific revolution of the 19th century. Early on, biomedicine’s legitimacy was derived from its handle on bacteriology and the control of serious infections (no joke in the squalor of the sprawling and insanitary urbanism of the time). Its dominant position in the field of health the world over is in most cases underwritten by the state.

Biomedicine is founded on certain principles, which defines health by the absence of symptoms and which focuses chiefly on the biological and physiological causes of illness and disease – to the detriment of social / cultural / political and environmental factors which are themselves significant determinants of health and which, notably, are considered in the more holistic modalities that biomedicine has spent most of its career trying to repress, humiliate and appropriate. In many ways, medicine should be one of the most robust forms of social critique we have – after all, where inequality, oppression, deprivation, isolation or a lack of social cohesion or personal fulfillment fester, disease will too.

In essence, the biomedical worldview is reductive as opposed to expansive – medical problems are observed as stemming from some biological pathology and treatment is usually oriented at particular malfunctioning cells or systems in isolation, via surgery or pharmacology – and more holistic interpretations of illness and disease are discounted as ‘quackery’.

Popular dissatisfaction with biomedicine is not a new phenomenon, the wave of lay disillusionment with the discipline began in the 1970’s with the rise of a medical counter-culture in San Francisco that saw a surge of interest in new magical and holistic approaches to health, as well as in ancient systems of health care from the East such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda.

Apart from biomedicine’s obvious biological determinism, people were and are fatigued at the iatrogenic effects of its interventions and medicines, its excessive medicalisation of all areas of life, the invasive nature of its procedures, its bureaucratic and high tech nature and its complete failure in the realm of chronic disease.  Nevertheless, its formidable material base, its legal / political protections and affinity with the capitalist outlook have allowed it to sweep any dissent under the carpet and appropriate any useful aspects of alternative medical models or systems.

The antibiotic has been one of the main modes of pharmaceutical intervention in the biomedical arsenal over the last 70 years. In 1940, antibiotics were heralded as a revolution in medicine and they have no doubt helped us to bring some very serious infections under control. But their abuse, both in human and in animals, has led to aggressive and drug resistant pathogens becoming a persistent feature of our microbial landscape. The consequence of this biomedical worldview is a cultural paranoia around microbes which equates to what Sandor Katz calls ‘the war on bacteria’; from ‘pseudo-medical’ practices like antibacterial hand washing to chlorine in our water supply, we have become almost neurotic about nuking these vital unseen ecologies.

Away from the proliferation of drug-resistant pathogens, no longer kept in check via the natural competitive environment of healthy microbial ecologies, there is an even more sinister and pernicious fallout of this folly. The biodiversity and integrity of our internal microbiome (our resident ecologies of bacteria and microbes which ‘interact to form complex webs of mutual support’ and which promote optimum metabolic, immune and cognitive function) suffers irrevocably, with the consequences of this destabilisation only now becoming apparent. As Martin Blaser describes in his book “Missing Microbes’, the disappearance or extinction of a ‘keystone species’ of bacteria in the human microbiome means the overall ‘ecology suffers and can even collapse’.

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This is the context to the ‘modern plagues’ that are now a common feature of everyday life – obesity, diabetes, asthma, oesophageal reflux, hayfever, eczema and other skin conditions; inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s as well as various types of cancer have all been linked in some way to disturbances in the microbiome. Heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and chronic fatigue have too become persistent features of the modern medical landscape – many no doubt accompanied by conditions of the gut, usually denied or at least rarely investigated by biomedical doctors, such as ‘leaky gut syndrome’, ‘gut dysbiosis’ or ‘small intestinal bacterial overgrowth’. Not to mention the increased frequency of all kinds of cognitive ailments such as anxiety, depression, dyslexia and autism – the book Gut & Psychology Syndrome by Natasha McBride will be a revealing read for anyone interested in the gut/brain axis here. Finally, food allergies, almost undetectable in indigenous communities engaged in pre-modern lifestyles, are at epidemic levels. It’s clear that something has gone badly wrong.

The research on probiotic therapy is encouraging and many of the conditions above are indicated as improving and sometimes being wholly resolved by bolstering and enhancing our internal flora with particular focused strains. However, ideas about the appropriate composition of the human microbiome is yet more biomedical conjecture, with studies borne out in indigenous communities turning up strains of bacteria identified as potentially harmful in Western hosts. Reliance on commercial probiotics for healing, whilst definitely appropriate in some instances, also support the very same system and corporations that have a chequered history as regards to human health and the environment; Monsanto, Nestle, Pepsico and General Mills have all funded studies on the gut and the microbiome and the probiotic industry is set to become a $45BN market by 2018.

Fermentation and the new medical paradigm.

Fermentation then, comes into its own here too – of course, little official research has been done on nanna’s crocks in terms of their therapeutic application and effects: testing is a tightly controlled industry (with big pharma the usual benefactors) and no one is likely to earn money from age old techniques we can all have a bash at! But there is no reason why bacteria growing in home ferments cannot be as beneficial and resilient as commercially produced strains. Indeed, indexwhat is more important is ‘variety, diversity and incorporating the bacteria native to different raw ingredients’ and I would add, the local environment. In a world where the ‘randomised control trial’ has become the oracle of truth and legitimacy, through fermentation, subjective knowledge and experiences of healing becomes important once again. Nanna’s arthritic knee eased by her daily kombucha stays eased, irrespective of whether the result has been validated by a biased trial or not.

Fundamentally, dabbling in the fermentation arts is to challenge the biomedical monopoly. Whereas biomedicine prefers itself as the sole arbiter of medical knowledge, our fermentivist communities know differently – our lacto-adventures encourage new understandings of the body, of health and disease and ultimately our relation to nature.

When we consider that the reality of our bodies is that we are just 10% human (bacteria outweigh human cells in the body 10 to 1), it dawns on us that we are not so much mechanical, individuated microbiome-title-890x395and self-contained as ecological, expansive and interdependent. We begin to approach the body as an ecology in and of itself, a vibrant system where all parts are interdependent: an ecology situated within a larger ecology, which is our environment, the planet and its lifeforms. We begin to realise that our symptoms are not genetically dictated but are epigenetic phenomena, which mirrors to some extent a rupture or impropriety in the way we relate, biologically or consciously, to our environment at large.

To take a case in point: recently a bit of research was released that showed how social anxiety in adults was relieved through regular consumption of fermented foods. What are the consequences for understanding social anxiety here? Is social anxiety purely a relational phenomenon between humans, born of some personal and internal imbalance or neurosis? Or does social anxiety have a more holistic foundation – does it stem also from a disruption in our unseen connection to nature: dependent on our internal mirroring of the microbial biodiversity external to us?

Fermentation and replenishing the microbiome is of course not a panacea – health involves a truly holistic perspective (social, political, environmental, biological, emotional and spiritual), not a limited one. But its practice and enjoyment raise important questions about humanity, culture, biopsychsocial-modelecology and healing. The revival of this ancient practice has significant consequences for the biomedical worldview, as it does for our economy and culture at large – lay interest in alternative approaches and systems of health creates a critical mass difficult to ignore by biomedicine, which in an attempt to diffuse the revolt is necessarily changed itself through its natural impulse to monitor, marginalize, control and appropriate. The emergence of the biopsychosocial approach to health from within biomedicine, or pyschoneuroimmunology is a product of this very same process.

The ‘gut as centre’ and beyond.

By now, I hope we’ve established that our fizzy concoctions are potent beyond their basic utility. Each forkful of our tangy treats is a kindly gesture of homage toward the unseen ecology and lifeforms with whom we live so interdependently. The recognition of this symbiosis does not just reverberate change into our food economy and conceptions of health, disease and approaches to healing – the circle expands to effect our politics, environment and communities too.

The art of fermentation is in many ways a way of placing the ‘gut as centre’ to our philosophy to life and healing – which may hold great transformational potential for our societies. The gut in eastern philosophy is understood as a store of great power and potential. Zen Monk’s will always motion at IMG_4794the gut if one asks, ‘from where do you think’? And this makes perfect sense, given that we know the gut, or ‘second brain’, boasts around 100 million neurons, uses more than 30 neurotransmitters (the same amount found in the brain), and harbours around 95% of the body’s serotonin (serotonin plays an important part in the regulation of learning, mood, sleep and other essential regulatory processes). It enjoys a unique communicative relationship with the brain and is a primary (and incredibly sensitive) interface with our external environment. It is also home to the largest colony of microbes in our bodies, totaling some 500-600 different species and weighing in at around 1.5-2KG – the harmonious balance and biodiversity of which is our best line of defence to the onset of the many ‘modern plagues’ that now ail us.

Looking after the gut as a source of vitality, health and well-being is paramount. Whether that’s limiting the amount of damaging foods you’re exposing yourself too, or attempting to support or re-establish a good flora via fermented foods. Indeed, nurturing your microbiome is a true recognition and practice of holism: it requires that we have a proper relationship with the external, germswith the ability to nourish our gut in particular ways – to bring that reality into alignment has ramifications beyond the individual, into wider social, political and environmental realms. A change in the way we relate to external structures, effectively impacts and transforms those structures in terms of what they do and are able to provide.

Ultimately then, along with other traditional forms of food prep and knowledge, fermentation is one of our key tools in honouring the gut as centre – and in this respect is a radical act: a form of activism on the margins, a DIY warfare of the unseen against the life-inimical forces of our ecocidal economy. Our cupboards don’t contain innocuous jars of mere pickled veg, they contain ‘vessels of dissent’, which symbolise a re-awakening to an ecological consciousness counter to the mechanical and toxic drudgery of the pharma-military-industrial complex.

Through the art of fermentation, the body is disassembled conceptually and we become infinitely complex and profoundly connected to nature; we rely less on biomedicine or biomedical knowledge, seeking to improve and nurture microbial ecologies rather than decimate them; pharmaceutical use declines; our individual relationship to food changes and so does the organisation of our communities around food, their connection to producers are changed and monopolies are shaken; alternative economies flourish and communities too; food waste declines and organic produce is sought; better land management occurs and biodiversity improves; soils enrich and carbon is captured; we enjoy better connection with each other and the land, more meaning and more truth; stress declines, happiness increases, cognition, immunity and health improve overall.

After an afternoon of scribbling out the web of relations that extend from the art of fermentation, I can say there seems hardly an area left untouched. If there’s ever been a more persuasive reason to get alchemical, surely this is it.

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So What is a ‘Part-Time Vegetarian’, I Hear You Ask?

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by Nicola Graimes

For me, there has been an exciting shift in enthusiasm for meat-free cooking over the last few years. There’s now a significant number of us who choose to eat a predominantly plant-based diet, so the recipes in my new book have been created to satisfy this growing trend for part-time vegetarianism. Yet, unlike other books on the market it shows how some of the recipes can be adapted to include meat and fish, if you like.

So the Part-time Vegetarian is a book for those who love vegetarian food, but who may not wish to commit to a fully meat-free diet and are looking for adaptable recipes. It’s also a way I like to eat – so my meals are principally plant-based, but I occasionally include meat and fish in my diet, although the ratio on my plate is always biased towards plant-based ingredients.

The beauty of part-time vegetarianism, or flexitarianism as it is often called, is that there are no hard and fast rules. It’s a way of eating that suits everyone and can be as flexible and variable as you like. It also can vary from day-to-day, week-to-week depending on personal choice and circumstances. Ideally, the only criteria is that plant-based foods form the foundation of whatever meal you’re eating.

The 120 vegetarian recipes in the book are also for those who have a vegetarian in the family and want fresh ideas, but are maybe also looking for recipes that can be easily adapted to suit all dietary preferences at home without having to cook two meals. Likewise, there are recipes for special occasions or dinner-parties when there’s a vegetarian guest and the host is looking for a meal that will satisfy all tastes. So most importantly, the book appreciates and celebrates the diversity of a flexitarian way of eating.

This recipe for Vietnamese Crispy Tofu and Cashew Salad makes a great weekday summer meal but if you choose it can be adapted to include chicken and peanuts instead.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 7 minutes
Ingredients: 125g/4½oz rice vermicelli noodles; 1 recipe quantity Vietnamese Ginger; Chilli Dressing; 2 carrots, halved crossways and thinly sliced into strips; 1 small cucumber, quartered lengthways, deseeded, and thinly
sliced into strips; 2 handfuls of shredded red cabbage; 1 red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced; 3 spring onions/scallions, thinly sliced; 2 handfuls of chopped mint leaves; 2 handfuls of torn basil leaves 250g/9oz crisp fried tofu pieces, halved if large; 1 Little Gem/Bibb lettuce, leaves separated; 70g/2½oz/heaped ½ cup salted
roasted cashew nuts.

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Vietnamese Crispy Tofu and Cashew Salad

Sweet, sour, hot, spicy and salty, this vibrant salad includes all five elements that are fundamental to Vietnamese cooking. Vital, too, is the contrast in textures, from the crunch of the cashews to the crisp vegetables and soft, yielding rice noodles. Find crisp fried tofu in Asian grocers or cook
your own following the instructions below. Alternatively, try the soy-glazed chicken option,
opposite, if you are serving to non-vegetarians.

  • Put the noodles in a large mixing bowl, cover with justboiled
    water from a kettle and stir, then cover with a plate
    and leave to stand for 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain and
    refresh under cold running water, drain again and put in a
    large serving bowl. Spoon the dressing over and toss until
    thoroughly combined.
  • Add the carrots, cucumber, cabbage, pepper, spring
    onions/scallions and half the herbs to the bowl containing
    the noodles and toss until combined.
  • Heat a large dry, non-stick frying pan over a medium
    heat and cook the tofu for 2–4 minutes, turning regularly,
    until warmed through and crisped up. (If you can’t find
    crisp fried tofu, fry 250g/9oz cubed tofu in 3 tablespoons
    sunflower oil, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp.
    Drain on paper towels.)
  • Arrange the lettuce leaves on a large serving plate
    and top with the noodle salad, remaining herbs, cashews
    and crisp tofu before serving.

 

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Nicola Graimes
The Part-Time Vegetarian
Available from September 2015

 

 

 

 

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Meet Jo Pratt

Jo Pratt is an acclaimed food stylist, writer and presenter. She has written for Elle, Weekend, Sainsbury’s Magazine, TV_cook_and_food_w_2861142bOlive, BBC  Good Food and Glamour, for which she was Food Editor, as well as the BBC Food, Good Food Channel and Good To Know websites. She regularly appears on UK TV, including Saturday Kitchen and Daily Cooks Challenge, and works with many food brands.

Can you describe your book? What should the reader expect from it?
This book is for anyone and everyone who enjoys eating good food and wants to feel great once they’ve eaten it. There’s no eliminating, calorie counting or detoxing. They don’t have to be a fantastic cook or have lots of time on their hands, in fact it’s ideal for those with busy lifestyles (most of us then!) that need ideas and inspiration handed to them on a plate (so to speak). My aim is to inspire and increase the readers repertoire of healthy good-for-you recipes they can turn to, not only when they are in the mood for healthy food but anytime of the week.

If the mood to eat healthily takes over, no matter what the reason or occasion, then you can find well-balanced recipes to cook that are packed with fresh, nutritious ingredients, from breakfasts and brunch dishes, light lunches and sumptuous salads, main meals, desserts and baking goodies. All recipes use easily obtainable, everyday ingredients that won’t break the bank or take you hours to locate, simple cooking methods and great looking results. Where possible I have substituted less healthy ingredients for more healthy ones such as butter for oils, increasing veggies in a dish or bulking a dish out with wholegrains, and healthier cooking methods such as baking, steaming or poaching.

What inspired you to start writing?
To me writing goes hand in hand with developing recipes. I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas with people so started to put pen to paper every time I was cooking.
I also sort of fell into it from all of the work I was doing with some big named chefs. They would often need restaurant recipes scaling down to work for people to cook at home. Then I was asked to do some ghost writing so I was getting experience along the way. My first break into writing my own recipes being published was when ELLE magazine approached me to regularly write recipes for different occasions and scenarios (i.e girls night in, pre partying food etc). I jumped at the chance and this then led on to an idea for my first cookbook …In the Mood for Food.

When did your passion for cooking begin?
As a child I always loved cooking, possibly due to the fact that both grandma’s and my Mum were very keen and adventurous cooks. I would enjoy helping in the kitchen and they would always encourage me to get involved. I saw my primary school cook not so long ago who reminded me that I used to ask her for recipes after lunchtime. I also used to pretend to be Delia Smith on tv as a child, so I clearly had a passion from a young age. I decided to do a degree in Home Economics to turn my passion into a career. I knew there were many avenues when it came to working in the food industry.

Can you tell a bit about your experience with The Gorgeous Kitchen?
The Gorgeous Kitchen is a really exciting project for me. It’s a contemporary restaurant specialising in beautiful global cuisine at Heathrow’s Terminal 2: The Queens Terminal. I have spend plenty of time in the past working for restaurant chefs and of course eating in many restaurants but this time round I’ve collaborated with three other female chefs, Sophie Michell, Gee Charman and Caroline Mili Artiss, to launch The Gorgeous Kitchen. We create the menu’s and train our team of fantastic chefs to recreate them on a daily basis. We opened just over a year ago and it’s a wonderful place to go for delicious food and drink, to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings before you fly.

What was the biggest challenge in writing In the mood for healthy food?
Not eating everything whist I was testing and creating the recipes. I couldn’t write a healthy cookbook and go up a couple of dress sizes in the process really could I?! I’d obviously try everything but my friends and neighbours are always happy when I am writing a book as they get to sample plenty as well.

What was the first dish that you mastered?
I remember when I was doing Food and Nutrition as a GCSE I made hot water crust pastry, which can be quite difficult to get perfect. I used it to make a classic Pork Pie. I’m from Melton Mowbray originally, which is famous for Pork Pies so it had to be the first dish to master really!

Can you tell us 3 kitchen hacks for the hot summer days?
Chilled flavoured water. It’s simple but very tasty and refreshing. Rather than just a glass of plain cold water, infuse a jug of water with pieces of ginger (handy to use up those tiny knobbly bits), slices of lemon, lime, lemon, orange, sliced apple or mint. Use a single ingredient or combine a few. The longer it infuses throughout the day better it tastes. Just keep topped up and chilling in the fridge.

 

Chilled Soups. I’m a massive fan of gazpacho soup but many soups can be served chilled such as pea, red pepper or tomato. Serve with a couple of ice cubes floating on top to keep it nice and cold while you eat it.

 

Avoid using your oven and hob too much as it will heat up your kitchen even more. If you have to do any baking try and do it first thing before your kitchen heats up throughout the day. Make the most of salads for lunch and dinner. I’ve plenty of great salad ideas in my book, which wont get you hot and bothered on hot summer days.

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Jo Pratt
In the Mood for Healthy Food
Available from Nourish Books in July 2015

 

The Revival of Pickles & Ferments

ferments

by Nicola Graimes

Traditionally a way of preserving vegetables to extend their shelf life as well as add flavour before the days of refrigeration, most cultures have their own version of pickled and fermented foods. What’s most interesting is that they are currently experiencing a revival in popularity, partly due to a renaissance in the back-to-basics approach in the kitchen but also because of their numerous health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system and aiding digestion.

Fermented foods such as the Wild Sauerkraut, below, are made by adding salt to vegetables to stop them going off, while leaving them at room temperature to allow the natural bacteria and wild yeasts found in the environment and the cabbage leaves to preserve them. This esults in the vegetables developing a softer texture and a mildly acidic flavour. Pickles on the other hand rely on a combination of salt and vinegar as a preservative and tend to have a more piquant flavour.

The technique for making both pickles and ferments is quite straightforward, but the end result requires a certain amount of patience as it can take weeks before they are ready to eat. Bearing this in mind, here are a few speedy ‘cheats’ versions, when time won’t wait.

Wild sauerkraut
This basic recipe for sauerkraut can easily be adapted with the addition of spices, such as fennel seeds, caraway seeds, chilli and ginger, or by adding other vegetables, including kohlrabi, radish or kale.
Put 750g/1lb 10oz shredded green cabbage, 2 grated carrots and 2 grated turnips in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 4 tsp fine sea salt with 5 crushed peppercorns and 2 tsp crushed coriander seeds.
With clean hands, turn and lightly squeeze the vegetables for 5 minutes until they start to soften and release their liquid. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.

Spoon into a sterilized glass mason or kilner jar, pressing the vegetables down firmly with the end of a rolling pin as you go to make sure they are tightly packed and until the level of the squeezed liquid is above the vegetables. Put a glass or smaller jar, inside the mason jar and weight it down to keep the vegetables submerged. Cover with a clean dish towel and secure with a rubber band to let the sauerkraut breathe. Leave at room temperature for 5–14 days, checking daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pushing them down if needed and removing any scum that forms on the top. Taste and when happy with the flavour, secure the lid and transfer to the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 6 months chilled.

Easy kimchi
For a speedy version of kimchi, the famous and increasingly popular Korean fermented pickle, mix together a thinly sliced 2.5cm/1 in piece of fresh root ginger, 1 shredded carrot, 1 handful of shredded Chinese leaves, 2 shredded spring onions/scallions, 1 diced red chilli and 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds  with 4 tbsp rice vinegar, 4 tsp caster/granulated sugar and ½ tsp salt.
Stir well and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to combine and develop. Transfer to a bowl to serve straightaway or to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Pickled ginger
Liven up sushi, rice and noodle dishes with this simple recipe for pickled ginger, which, unlike most shop-bought alternatives, is natural coloured, rather than
artificial pink. Mix together 4 tbsp rice vinegar and 2 tbsp caster/granulated sugar in a shallow bowl until the sugar dissolves. Add a 5cm/2in piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into paper-thin slices, and turn until coated.

Leave the ginger for about 30 minutes to steep, or until softened. The ginger is ready to eat but can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Cheat’s preserved lemons
Usually preserved lemons can take weeks to ferment, but this quick and easy version makes a surprisingly good alternative to the real thing. Simply, pare the zest of 2 large lemons into strips using a vegetable peeler and put them in a small pan. Squeeze in the juice of 2 large lemons and stir in ½ tsp sea salt.

Set the pan over a low heat and simmer for 8– 10 minutes, or until the skin is very tender and has darkened slightly in colour. Transfer to a bowl to serve straightaway or spoon into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Nicola Graimes
The Part-Time Vegetarian
Available from September 2015