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The research in nutrition has been finding, again and again, that a diet that is high in plant-based foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains), rather than the Standard American Diet (ironically, the acronym for which is SAD), reduces the risk of the most deadly and disabling illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, to name just a few — as well as mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
There are lots of good reasons to transition towards a more plant-based diet, and this interesting article by Mara Karpel, The Small Steps Needed To Making Life-Saving Changes To Your Diet aims to help you make the changes to a new healthier eating habits. Do read the whole article, but here for convenience is my take on the key points.
Starting on Monday, Fast Day: *Watercress for a Soup, then *Jerusalem Artichokes will make a lovely gratin. For dessert, some *Pineapple, spiced with cinnamon and given some extra zing with lime zest.
On Tuesday I plan to make a salad with *Pumpkin and Walnuts, using up some cheese that we have along with it. For dinner I will make the *Leek Risotto that I didn’t get round to last week. The *Parmesan Crisps will make sure we really get our cheese hit today! I may try something different with the leftover pineapple, or I still have some Raspberry Ice Cream Cake in the freezer.
On Wednesday, I will use some of our eggs for a #Spanish Tortilla for lunch. For dinner I am thinking of Tartes Fines with shallots, beetroot, walnut and goats cheese, along with some of my fresh garden greens steamed and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.
Thursday is our 2nd fast day of the week and I am thinking of trying a Soba Noodle Soup, followed by *Salmon Teriyaki. Dessert will be whatever fruit is to hand with some fromage blanc.
On Friday I will make a glorious #French Onion Soup for lunch. For supper I am thinking of my variation of *Cod and Chips, where the fish is grilled rather than fried in batter and the chips are oven baked. I like to serve it with peas and a chunky tomato salsa. For dessert, the *Conference Pears that I have should be perfectly ripened and will be simply baked with an amaretti crumble topping.
For the weekend I want to try the Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Sauce and am thinking that a *Beef and Carrot Casserole, with some added Barley would follow it nicely, but I may change this depending on what I see at the butcher’s counter. I would pair that with some #Pommes Boulangère and probably pop an Apple and Blackberry Crumble into the oven at the same time.
Lots of these recipes are in one or other of my books – * for 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life and # for Focus on Flavour….
No more time to write any more, I need to make the most of the sunshine to get on with the pruning!
This week I am planning on using cherries and figs from the freezer, as we have lots of them. I’m hoping that defrosted figs will work well in this delicious Fig and Almond tart! If we didn’t have our own produce to use up, then I would be choosing pears, oranges and pineapple for desserts, which are all good right now. You can find several recipes for those by looking through the Recipe Index in the menu bar.
I picked up a bargain pack of free range chicken legs, plus I already had a plan to make a batch of meatballs to prepare in 3 different ways (Scandinavian, Italian and Greek style), so this week is more meat-orientated than last. But we will have some fish with salad for lunch on a couple of days, and I am planning to do one of my favourite things ever with leeks – Leek Risotto with Parmesan Crisps. I have a lot of Green Beans in the freezer, plus there is still some kale and cabbage to gather, so I don’t need to buy much in the way of green veg.
Looking ahead to next weekend, I am planning a Greek inspired day. With so much talk of how good the Mediterranean diet is, I don’t need much of an excuse for making Spanakopitta, which makes a great lunch with some salad and can also make a wonderful fast day meal.
It is hard to find the right sort of cheese to make Saganaki with in France, so we bought some Kefalotiri when we were last in England, which I keep in the freezer. You may have seen Rick Stein cooking this on his recent series “Venice to Istanbul“. He suggests using Halloumi, but that is equally hard to source here. Sliced in half, dipped in semolina or flour and fried in olive oil, then drizzled with honey and sprinkled with black sesame seeds…. I remember having it with a fresh tomato sauce in Piraeus, which adds a lovely splash of colour.
We will follow it with Keftedes and Lemon-infused Greek style Roast Potatoes (I think my idea for this comes from Tessa Kiros’ book “Food from Many Greek Kitchens“). Alongside that I plan to serve some green vegetables, cooked in the style of Horta (Mountain Greens) – steamed or boiled shredded kale, cabbage and sprout tops, most likely, as that is what I can gather from the garden at the moment – the key thing is the addition of olive oil and lemon juice!
For dessert I will probably make Hazelnut and Agave Syrup Baklava, but I have a recipe for Knafeh (from Olives, Lemons, Za’atar by Rawia Bishara) – the “shredded wheat” type of pastry that I would love to try. But where do you find katafeh dough (shredded filo) in France? Can I just chop up some filo? Hmm, more research needed here. The only thing missing will be the Retsina, as it will still be Dry January…
I’m planning to add the recipes for the Fig and Almond Tart and the Meatballs over the next few days, but the latter can be found in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, along with a number of the other ideas in this weeks meal plan.
Have a tasty and healthy week – and try and move more! Wrap up well and get out in the crisp winter air, it may not last long!
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I am relying on my meal plan a lot, though I do tend to change things around a bit. You will see that I try and plan how to use my leftovers, and will often cook more than I need, so that there will be some fruit to have with yogurt for breakfast, or some meat to add flavour and texture to a vegetable stir fry.
Of course I am also swayed by family requests, so for instance, the idea of not doing pizza on a Saturday, goes down like a lead balloon… and I really don’t mind as I enjoy it and it is easy to make 2 and have one in the freezer for the following week.
I’ve actually gone off plan from last week and am cooking Pulled Pork today. Tonight we will have it in Chinese style pancakes, with hoisin sauce, cucumber and spring onion. It is if you like, my version of a fake-away. I could do it with duck, but the pork was such a bargain and I know we will get at least 3 meals from it.
I’ve bought a fresh pineapple as a treat though, and look forward to trying out some new ideas with it. One suggestion that I put on my Seasonal Pinterest board, is a Pineapple and Chilli Upside Down Cake. I’m thinking of working that as individual portions and significantly calorie reducing it by cutting out most of the sugar, plus adding in some more fibre, perhaps with some oat bran. I’ll let you know if it works out!
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I’ve been having fun with my meal plan – turning dreams into reality….well at least, giving form to ideas and trying to make our meals both visually appealing and tasty. I find it really helps to have a plan to work to, even if I adjust my ideas a little as I go along.
For Tuesday lunch, the plan said ‘raw vegetable salad’ for lunch. A lot of possible interpretations of that. So I decided to go for a colour theme, which was Red, White and Green. Red Cabbage, with Oak Leaf Lettuce, Rocket and two kinds of Radishes – red and black made up my first salad. The little slivers of black radish, which is pure white inside, could be replaced with celeriac or turnip. This was dressed with my usual vinaigrette based on walnut and balsamic vinegars and olive oil.
The second one is what my mother would have called ‘Winter Salad’ – cooked beetroot, apple and celery. I topped it with the last of the Tsatsiki and sprinkled it with Za’atar. I must make some more of that, it has been useful in so many different dishes! More on that in a moment.
For dinner, I followed an idea from Mimi Spencer’s book “the fast diet recipe book“, rubbing crushed fennel seeds into some pork, which is sealed over a high heat, and then set aside. In the juices (or in a little olive oil if you aren’t using meat), gently sauté some chopped garlic and red chilli. Add 200ml of stock, some grated lemon zest, seasoning and a little lemon juice and pour over quartered fennel bulbs in a baking dish. Top with the pork and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, covering with foil for the latter part of the cooking to keep the meat moist. I can imagine working this in several different ways, with tofu or fish, perhaps using capers and/or fresh herbs.
For dessert, I made filo cups – just one sheet of filo is enough to make two cups. Cut the sheet into quarters, brush lightly with melted butter, and lay two pieces on top of each other at angles and press into a ramekin. I used another smaller ramekin inside to help hold the shape, but I think it could work without.
Bake for about 8 minutes, until they start to turn golden, then remove and allow to cool. I filled them with a spoonful of lemon curd and topped it with (defrosted) rasperries, but this is another idea which can take so many different fillings, such as poached plums with ginger, see left (as in 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life).
I think especially when you are having a low carb meal, having something that is light and crispy can make a big difference to enjoyment. Only 41 calories and 8g of carbs for the pastry, plus another perhaps 20 calories for the butter. Fill it with thick greek yogurt and fresh berries for a delectable low calorie treat.
I have come across a lot of recipes calling for the use of Za’atar, but it was impossible to find locally. What surprised me was that despite it being frequently mentioned in books, none of the ones on my shelf had a recipe for it. Thanks to Google, I discovered that it only has 4 or 5 ingredients, so I resolved to make my own.
I found the Sumac in Cahors at Les Cafes Lebert, where they have a fabulous selection of world foods. The oregano came back with me from Greece and the thyme was a gift gathered by a friend who visited Provence. I do tend to look out for freshly dried herbs, if you know what I mean, rather than those rather dusty looking ones in little jars.
And here is my recipe for Za’atar
Grind all together and store in an airtight jar.
You will find lots of recipes that use Za’atar, particularly those by Ottolenghi. I love his baked aubergine recipe, which I top with greek yogurt and za’atar and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
I love it sprinkled on flatbread before baking (also works well to dip bread into, along with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), but also over dips and roasted vegetables. It reminds me of gomasio, the Japanese / macrobiotic condiment of crushed sesame seeds and salt; but the herbs, especially the lemony bitterness of the sumac, add another dimension and make it a versatile and more-ish choice for livening up simple vegetables.
I love soups! They are a great way of filling up before your main course, or make a perfect lunch. They can showcase all kinds of vegetables and elevate them to become star ingredients. They are a great way of increasing your veg intake, so helping you to have more fibre and get your five-a-day.
I make my own stock quite often, but if not, a good quality bouillon powder or cube is perfectly acceptable – especially on a fast day, the extra salt can be very helpful at balancing your electrolytes, so keeping headaches and light-headedness at bay.
Most of these soups are easy to prepare and quick to cook and can be simmering gently while you get on with making a main dish. I often make a larger quantity than I need and freeze leftovers for another day.
Vary your textures, from a clear broth such as in Hot and Sour Soup, to a hearty chunky soup such as the Spicy Chickpea and Spinach, with a variety of smoother textures in between. A stick blender is a really useful but inexpensive tool that helps to make smooth soups easily, right in the pan, without extra washing up.
Make the most of herbs and spices to add flavour and depth – a little sprinkle at the last minute is appealing to the eye as well as to the palate. Try a grating of strongly flavoured cheese, such as parmesan, a spoonful of pesto, a few toasted slivers of almonds, a swirl of yogurt, finely chopped fresh herbs, some drops of chilli sauce or some freshly roasted and ground spices.
Here they are, in order of calorie counts and with links to the recipes.
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All the recipes are in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available on Amazon in kindle and print editions
This is the final soup recipe for my collection of 12 Super Soups. All these recipes can be found in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life as well as here on this site.
I make a lot of soups as they are a great way of getting to eat more vegetables!
A lot of people think that cheese is too high in calories to use on a fast day, but if you use a little strong cheese, it is amazing what a difference it can make to both the flavour and the texture. Because parmesan is a little salty too, it helps to balance your electrolytes – when you may have been drinking a lot of fluids on a fast day, you do need some salt to replace what may have been lost or is missing because you haven’t eaten. So whereas on non-fast days I rarely use salt in cooking, on fast days I like to make sure that something salty is part of our menu. That could be capers or pickles, air dried ham perhaps, or the stock that I use in soup.
Salmon is one of my go-to ingredients for a fast day, when I focus on “mainly plants and protein” and I always have some fillets in the freezer. This recipe makes a good change from my usual technique of putting it on a pile of sliced vegetables and wrapping it in paper parcels. I will defrost the fish first.
This recipe is in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, but as I had included it in this week’s meal plan, and highlighted the photo, I thought I should share it here.
The original idea came from a New Zealand cook, Annabel Langbein, from her excellently-titled 2003 recipe book “Cooking to Impress without Stress”.
You can use walnuts instead of pine nuts and vary the herbs. I plan to serve it with a spoonful of tsatsiki (greek yogurt with salted, drained, finely chopped cucumber and mint), but it would be lovely with a chilli and tomato salsa or on a non-fast day, a hollandaise sauce would be super.
A rainbow of steamed seasonal vegetables and perhaps a few baked mushrooms add visual appeal, flavour and plenty of fibre. Today we will be having swiss chard and carrots, plus some slivers of raw vegetables – my new kitchen gadget, a super-duper Mandolin, is going to be put to use!