Tomato Tales – Sundried Tomatoes

A lot of people know that I love to grow tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. Lots of different varieties. This year I think I have about 60 plants of 20 or so different sorts. Not only do I love to eat a simple tomato salad, I like to have enough tomatoes so that I can avoid buying canned tomatoes or pizza or pasta sauce altogether. I also generally find that those you buy from the supermarket are pretty tasteless, especially out of season, so I prefer to use my own frozen or sundried tomatoes instead throughout the winter and spring.

Tomatoes Galore

With the smaller tomatoes, I generally sundry them and then store them in olive oil. I find they only need 2 or 3 days in the sunshine. Cut them in half, lay them cut side up on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt. I usually put a wire rack over the top which keeps flies off successfully. Leave them in a sunny spot, but bring them in overnight or if there is any hint of rain.

Tomatoes drying in the sun

If it looks like they aren’t going to get fully dry because of poor weather, they risk going mouldy, so then I finish them off in the oven – at about 80c until they are the texture I like, which is still kind of soft, but crinkled, what the French would call mi-cuit. If you don’t have sunny weather at all, you can do the whole thing in the oven, or you could use a dehydrator. But I think the sunshine gives the most flavourful results and the best texture.

Sundried tomatoes

Once they are dried to your liking, you can store them in a jar of olive oil. I push in as many as I can fit in the jar and then pour in good quality virgin olive oil to completely cover them. Use a chopstick or spoon to ensure there are no air bubbles. I can get at least a whole tray full in one jar, so it is a good space-saving method of storing them. Keep them in a cool, dark place and I find they last at least a year and even two (on the occasions when I have made more than we get through).

Sundried Tomatoes

Another way of storing them that I am trying this year, is putting them in a ziploc bag and freezing them. I think this could be an excellent way of saving them to make a paste with later, or just to add them in to all sort of savoury dishes.

Sundried tomatoes for the freezer

So to finish with, here is one of my favourite ways of using sun dried tomatoes

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes

Quercy Melon, Cucumber, Goat’s Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes

Per person

  • ¼ of a Quercy (charentais) melon, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3 wedges (41 kcal)
  • 40g of soft goat’s cheese (77 kcal)
  • a chunk of cucumber, halved, peeled, deseeded and sliced into thick chunks (8 kcal)
  • 6 small sundried tomatoes, or slices of 2 large ones (18 kcal)

Dress with a drizzle of vinaigrette made with olive oil, walnut vinegar, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard, garlic, sea salt and pepper and scatter with some fresh basil or finely chopped mint.  Add about 40 kcals for a tbsp of dressing (ratio of olive oil to vinegar 1:2).

Per serving: kcals184
Carbs 18g Fat 10g Protein 7g

This makes a fabulous starter, or a light lunch. I really like it best with the soft goats cheese, like a buche fraiche (fresh log) that I can buy in the market, or the Petit Billy type of chèvre frais; but you could also use cabecou, or perhaps some sheep’s cheese like feta or buffalo mozzarella.

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomato

This recipe first appeared in my book Focus on Flavour: Recipes inspired by living in South West France.

Bon Appetit!

Upside Down Fish Pie

This is dish I have made lots of times now. It is very forgiving of quantities, of the type of fish, of the herbs in the gremolata. You can peel the potatoes or not, use big or small ones, use red, white or spring onions, use whole small or larger halved tomatoes, or even some tinned or frozen tomatoes… It’s a great dish for preparing ahead, up to the stage where you add the fish for the final cooking time; so it works well for a dinner party with friends, all you need to serve alongside is perhaps a fresh green salad or lightly steamed green veg. I have served it on a fast day by using smaller pieces of fish and being mean with the olive oil and potatoes! It is quite substantial and satisfying. For a lower-carb version, you could swap potatoes for slices of summer squash.

Tip: I keep a bag of frozen breadcrumbs in a ziploc bag in the freezer, which makes it really easy just to grab a couple of handfuls to sprinkle over the top of a dish like this – it adds a great texture and saves the fish from drying out.

_MG_5159

Upside Down Fish Pie with Gremolata

This recipe has evolved from a recipe that I spotted in “delicious” magazine, where the potatoes are on the bottom and there are breadcrumbs sprinkled on the top. I particularly like it with salmon, but it works brilliantly with cod, haddock or for a real treat try it with sea bass.

Serves 4

  • 500g red skinned potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 352 kcals
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced 44 kcals
  • 2 tsp olive oil 80 kcals
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, halved 16 kcals
  • 25g sundried tomatoes, sliced 64 kcals
  • 4 fish fillets 844 kcals
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely sliced 4 kcals
  • 8 slices of lemon 16 kcals
  • 60g wholewheat breadcrumbs 144 kcals
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals

For the Gremolata

  • 6 marinaded anchovy fillets, chopped 24 kcals
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped 8 kcals
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 120 kcals
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • A bunch of parsley leaves, chopped 4 kcals
  • Preheat the oven to 180c (fan).

Brush a roasting tin with oil, then add the potatoes, onions into a roasting tray, drizzle with the remaining oil, season with salt and pepper and then mix together.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and dried tomatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes, by which time the potatoes should be nearly cooked through.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the olive oil in a plastic bag and shake to mix.

Put the fish fillets on top, decorate with lemon and chilli slices and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top.

Bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the Gremolata by whizzing all the ingredients in a food processor to make a sauce.

Serve with the Gremolata drizzled over.

Per serving: kcals 460
Carbs 51g Fat 21g Protein 20g

If you have started the meal with a salad or a vegetable dish, there is no need to serve anything else with this, but a crisp green salad, some wilted spinach or steamed broccoli make a good visual contrast.

This recipe can be found in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available from Amazon in print or kindle format.

Beautiful Basil…

It’s getting to the time of year when most of my gardening time is spent watering and harvesting. The first wave of beans and the raspberries are now coming to an end, but tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, summer squash, Swiss chard and perpetual spinach are growing abundantly, and the first chillies are ripening. 
For these vegetables I’ve been trying out some new ideas, most of which I have captured on my Pinterest board – Seasonal Specials

I also have some fabulous Basil plants. This year I have Purple, Sweet Green Genovese and Thai varieties. 

DSCF4081

DSCF4078 DSCF4080

 

So, what to do when you have a fabulous amount of basil? I make Basil Oil – it is wonderful drizzled over fish, chicken, anything with tomatoes, roasted vegetables, cheese…. This and the other following recipes are from my first book Focus on Flavour.
DSCF3305 DSCF3309

Basil Oil 

I came across this in a book by Annabel Langbein and it was an instant hit with me, because I adore basil and mourn the end of the growing season. This is the perfect way to preserve the intensity of its flavour and colour. It gives a terrific visual lift to the Tomato and Feta Tartlets as well as giving its heady herbal warmth to chicken, fish, potatoes or other vegetables.

  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • Boiling water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Pour the boiling water over the basil leaves and immediately refresh under cold water. Drain well and blot dry with paper towel. Blend with salt and olive oil until smooth. Store in the fridge or freeze in ice cube trays.

Approx 120 calories per tbsp

Tomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil OilTomato and Feta Tartlets with Basil Oil  

These little tarts are really yummy. A wonderful mixture of tastes and textures. You could use mozzarella instead of feta.

Serves 6

  • Ready rolled Puff Pastry (373 kcal)
  • 3 – 4 large ripe tomatoes (100 kcal)
  • ½ pack (75 grams) feta cheese, sliced (200 kcal)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Basil Oil (360 kcal)

Preheat oven to 200ºC. Cut out circles about 10cm diameter from the pastry. Lay onto a baking tray and prick the bottom with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes.

Slice the tomatoes and layer on the pastry, alternating with the cheese. Drizzle with basil oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. 

Serve with a drizzle of basil oil on the plate.

Approx 175 kcals per serving

I also love to make my own Pesto, but instead of using Pine Nuts, I use Walnuts

Walnut Pesto 

Until I discovered Basil Oil this was the only way in which I could capture the wonderful aroma of basil to use beyond the season when it grows fresh. We have plenty of walnuts here, so I used them instead of pine nuts and I think they give the pesto a really fantastic flavour. It also tastes delicious without the cheese for vegans or those avoiding dairy products. 

I use this with pasta for a simple starter or lunch dish, mix it in to a vegetable soup just before serving, or spread over meat or fish (see Chicken Pesto Parcels).

  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup shelled walnuts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 25g finely grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

90 calories per tbsp
Fat 9.5g, Carbs 0.6g Protein 1.6g

Put the basil, garlic, walnuts and salt into a blender with about half the olive oil to mix to a paste. Stir in the cheese, if using. Transfer to a screw-top jar and pour in extra olive oil to cover completely. Screw on the lid and store in the fridge. Mix well before using and recover any remaining paste with olive oil again. Keeps well. 

Chicken Pesto Parcels 

A super simple way of dressing up a piece of chicken, full of flavour and great for a 5:2 fast day

Cooking the chicken wrapped in paper helps to keep all the flavour and juiciness in. This is a great way to cook if you need to cater for different preferences – meat, fish and vegetarian parcels can all be cooked at the same time without transferring their flavours. 

Serves 4

  • 4 escalopes of chicken (or turkey) (164 kcals per 100g)
  • 2 tbsp Walnut Pesto (180 kcal)
  • 4 slices Bayonne ham (183 kcal)

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

Spread the pesto on the chicken. Lay the ham on top. Roll up each one and place into the centre of a sheet of baking paper, then fold up and seal into parcel. Bake for 30 minutes at 200ºC.

Lovely served with braised endive in a cheesy sauce.

Approx 250 calories per serving (based on 100g chicken)

Steps towards a more plant-based diet

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. 

Mara Karpel

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.

  1. Eat mindfully — keep a food diary, or take photos of everything before you eat it. Check the labels and avoid foods that have a long list of ingredients, or that are high in added sugar, refined carbs (e.g glucose-fructose syrup) and hydrogenated oils which contain trans-fatty acids.
  2. Eat more whole foods – such as whole grains, rather than refined flour. 
  3. Increase your intake of plant-based foods and include many different coloured vegetables, as well as beans, nuts and seeds. 
  4. Eliminate soft drinks and replace them with water.
  5. Gradually decrease sweets, such as cakes and cookies.
  6. Reduce your intake of dairy products. Use full fat, rather than any that are reduced fat. Choose stronger flavoured cheese that you need less of. The combination of sugar and fat can be a trigger for increased appetite and cravings, so beware of ice cream!
  7. Decrease meat consumption by eating smaller portions of it and trying to have some meals throughout the week that don’t include any meat or animal proteins. Expand your repertoire of vegetarian and vegan dishes by finding inspiring recipes.
  8. Mix with like minded people – there may be people in your life who will not be supportive of your new choices. “Keep calm and truck on.” Stick to non-food-related activities with those friends and connect with others who are on the same path. 
  9. Don’t feel guilty if you go off track. Every day is a chance to start over again. Reward yourself for successes and be kind to yourself when you run into obstacles. Just making the effort is a sign of courage.
  10. Be excited about your new healthy life-style and about how great you’ll feel by taking such good care of yourself, rather than feeling fearful about making bad choices. Create a positive emotional connection to your lifestyle change. The rewards of more vibrant health, energy, and mood, will surely keep you moving along this path with even greater enthusiasm and ease.

Week 4 meal plan

Front_cover_only_small_80 Focus on Flavour Cod with Tomato and Chorizo Pear with Amaretti Crumble Watercress Soup _MG_3305 _MG_3219 Teriyaki Salmon _MG_3300This week I have a list of things I want to make, driven by ingredients to hand.

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!

Week 3 Meal Plan

Fig and Almond Tart

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.

Peppered Mackerel with Horseradish DressingLeek Risotto with Parmesan Crisps Green Bean and Tuna Salad with Feta

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.

Spanakopitta and SaladSaganaki with Black Sesame Seeds and HoneyHazelnut and Agave Syrup Baklava

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.

Scandinavian Meatballs Scandinavian MeatballsCabbage patch

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!

DayBreakfastLunchDinner
SundayBacon, Egg, Tomato, Sausage (brunch)Fresh Fruit*Chicken and Lemon Tagine, Carrot and Cumin Salad, Gingered Yogurt, Za'atar Flat Bread
Fig Tart Almandine
MondayFAST DAY-*Carrot and Coriander Soup (100)
*Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Trout (160 / 270)
Poached Figs with Greek Yogurt (170)
TuesdayYogurt with CherriesSmoked Mackerel Salad
Fresh Fruit
leftover Chicken Tagine with Cous Cous and Steamed Vegetables
leftover Fig Tart
WednesdayYogurt with Figs*Leek Risotto with Parmesan Crisps
Fresh Fruit
*Scandinavian Meatballs, Lingonberry Jam, Creamy Pepper Sauce, Mashed Swede, Green Beans
Cherry Cobbler
ThursdayFAST DAY-Courgetti with Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (250 / 320)
*Poached Spiced Cherries with Fromage Blanc (100)
FridayWholewheat Toast with Almond ButterSeared Tuna and Green Beans à la Greque
Fresh Fruit
*Chicken with Saffron and Garlic, *Patatas Bravas, *Cabbage Green Pepper and Caraway Salad
leftover Cherry Cobbler
SaturdayBoiled Egg and Wholewheat Toast*Spanakopitta with Salad
Fresh Fruit
Saganaki with Black Sesame Seeds and Honey
*Keftedes, with Greek style Roast Potatoes and Mountain Greens
*Hazelnut and Agave Syrup Baklava
* indicates recipes that are in 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life
# recipes are in Focus on Flavour

Another January Meal Plan

Chinese Pancakes with Pulled Pork Cinnamon and Citrus Pineapple Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean Cabbage with Green Pepper and Caraway Turkey Chilli IMG_3129

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!

DayBreakfastLunchDinner
SundayBacon, Egg, Tomato, Baked BeansLeftover Pizza with Mixed Salad.
Fresh Fruit
Pulled Pork, Winter Slaw, *Pumpkin and Celeriac Galettes, Green Beans, BBQ Sauce
*Cinnamon Citrus Pineapple
MondayFAST DAY-*Caribbean Butternut Soup
Buckwheat Burger, Vegetable Stir Fry
Yogurt with Apple and Cinnamon
TuesdayYogurt with Apple and CinnamonSmoked Mackerel and Avocado Salad
Fresh Fruit
Sweet and Sour Pork and Pineapple Chow Mein (using leftover pork)
#Figs baked with Creme Fraiche
WednesdayYogurt with FigsCauliflower Cheese Soup
Fresh Fruit
*Guacamole and Taco Chips
*Red Bean and Chocolate Chilli
Apple and Blackberry Dessert
ThursdayFAST DAY-#Blackened Mahi Mahi Caesar Salad
*Frozen Banana "Ice Cream" with Toasted Coconut
FridayWholewheat Toast with Almond ButterHam, Egg and Oven Baked Potato ChipsQuinoa Spaghetti with Amazing Arabiatta Sauce
*Cherry Choc Chip Gelato
SaturdayBoiled Egg and Wholewheat Toast*Home Made Pizza and Salad.
Fresh Fruit.
*Spanish style Chicken, Chorizo and Butter Bean, *Cabbage, Green Pepper and Raisin Salad, Carrot and Cumin Salad
Raspberry Ice Cream Cake
* indicates recipes that are in 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life
# recipes are in Focus on Flavour

A recipe for Za’atar and some ways of using it

Za'atarI’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 and Green Salad 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.
Winter Salad 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 Braised Fennel with Chilli and Garlicdinner, 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.

Filo CupFor 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. Plum and Ginger Filo BasketsI 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.

Za'atarI 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

  • 1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp Maldon salt 
  • 1 to 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp wild thyme
  • 1 tsp sumac

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.

Aubergine with Yogurt and Pomegranate

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.

12 Super Soups – for fast days or any day

Italian Vegetable Soup Spicy Chickpea and Spinach Soup _MG_5269-2 Tuscan Zucchini Soup Mushroom and Celery Soup Spring Minestrone Soup Hot and Sour Chicken and Mushroom Soup Watercress Soup Carrot and Coriander Soup butternut squash soup _MG_3080 Simple Vegetable Soup

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.

12 Super SoupsPhotosNumber of Calories
Click on the links above for the recipes
Mushroom and CeleryMushroom and Celery Soup36
WatercressWatercress Soup60
Hot and Sour (Tom Yum)Hot and Sour Chicken and Mushroom Soup76
Moroccan Cauliflower with AlmondMoroccan Cauliflower Soup87
Tuscan ZucchiniTuscan Zucchini Soup89
Carrot and CorianderCarrot and Coriander Soup97
Bargeman's Tomato_MG_5269-2110
Caribbean Butternut Squashbutternut squash soup120
Italian VegetableItalian Vegetable Soup124
Spicy Chickpea and SpinachSpicy Chickpea and Spinach Soup150
Spring MinestroneSpring Minestrone150

All the recipes are in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life, available on Amazon in kindle and print editions

Italian Vegetable Soup – 125 calories

Italian Vegetable SoupThis 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.

Italian Vegetable Soup
A little pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan bring a taste of Italy to a straightforward vegetable soup. There is lots of scope for varying the vegetables according to the season.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. ½ tbsp olive oil
  2. ½ large onion, chopped
  3. 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1 stalk celery, chopped
  5. ¼ cauliflower florets (150g)
  6. 1 medium carrot, chopped
  7. ¼ sweet red bell pepper, chopped
  8. 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  9. 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  10. 1 tsp pesto
  11. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve
  1. A few basil leaves, roughly torn
  2. 10g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in large pan and gently sauté the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, until a little softened.
  2. Then add the celery, carrot and red pepper and cook gently for a further 10 minutes, adding a little water if necessary to prevent them sticking.
  3. Add the cauliflower, parsley and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
  4. Add the pesto and adjust the seasoning to taste.
  5. Serve in warmed bowls with some basil leaves and a sprinkle of Parmesan.
Notes
  1. Per serving: kcals 124
  2. Carbs 14g Fat 6g Protein 5g
  3. You could add some pasta or cannelini beans to make a more substantial soup for a non-fast day.
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