Research from my alma mater suggests we could improve our health by eating more fruit and vegetables than current guidelines advise. 5 a Day has long been the message in many European countries, the USA and New Zealand, while in Ireland they recommend four, in Denmark it’s six portions, in France they aim for ten, and the Japanese are apparently advised to eat seventeen helpings of planty goodness a day. Meanwhile in Australia the sensible suggestion is 2 & 5 (not to be confused with the 5 : 2 diet). If you ask me, the best advice – as summed up pithily by my favourite health journalist Michael Mosley – is ‘eat more plants!’
I don’t preach anything (interestingly, not one of my patients has ever asked for dietary advice. Make of that what you will) but here is a little of what I try to practise. I’ve never been very good at denial, so not eating deep-fried yumyums or lardy cake has never worked for me, whereas celebrating vegetables and making them the centre of my meal, does.
Here are links to some of the plant-based meals we have cooked over the past week. All of them are delicious, inexpensive, and not too difficult to prepare – if you have the right tools. Which brings me back to one of the very thorny issues surrounding health in this country, which is that it’s more accessible to the rich than the poor. A lot of the media storm surrounding the publication of the study analysing the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality focused on the horror of already ‘having to’ ‘force down’ the recommended five. I drink a green smoothie most mornings made of handfuls of kale, spinach or lettuce, apples, pears, bananas, lemons, nuts (sometimes even broccoli!), so that’s about four before I’ve even left the house. I am not exaggerating when I say my life was revolutionised by a Vitamix. It cost £400. (I have tried other, less powerful, blenders. They didn’t cut it.) You can make most of these recipes without a blender or food-processer, but at the end of a long day at work, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t have the answers. If you do, please let me know.
You might notice that a lot of these recipes are by vegan bloggers. I am an omnivore, to say the least. If we eat breakfast together and you leave bacon rinds on the side of your plate, I will pick them up and eat them. (I’m sorry if you find that disgusting. They are crispy and salty and delicious, and I really hate food waste.) I can think of fewer things finer to eat than marrow bone on toast. I love perfectly pink lamb’s liver, melty pork knuckle, and unctuous oxtail stew. At Christmas time we have a tongue, which I cook from scratch. If you have ever peeled a tongue, you will know how much I like it to make that worthwhile. But if you want to know how to incorporate vegetables into your everyday meals and make them tasty and filling and rewarding, these are the people who know how.
All photos are copied from the authors of these recipes. I can cook and eat fairly well, but food styling is not one of my strong points, and the idea here is to make you want to eat these dishes, not wonder why someone so cack-handed puts their photographs on the internet.
Vegan veggie falafels in lettuce wraps with apple & cabbage slaw, by Josephine of A Tasty Love Story (possibly my favourite food blog ever)
The best tasting falafels I have ever eaten, or, in the words of him indoors, ‘The business!’ The ‘dough’ was quite wet so they didn’t stay crisply round, and in fact this ended up more like a fried spread than falafel (much like refried beans!). We ate them in flatbreads with grated raw carrot and cabbage and the dressing drizzled over. The dressing is amazing. I thought I might give up on falafeling them and just whizz these ingredients into a dip, but the coconut oil rounded off the flavour perfectly. Whichever way you do it, make these! They are yumtious.
ETA: Josephine suggests mixing in flour or psyllium husk to soak up any extra liquid, and letting the dough rest afterwards for 30 mins before cooking. We had some left over, and by the next day it had hardened up quite a lot in the fridge, so if you have time, chilling the mix before frying might be a good idea.
Mushroom and green pea curry (khumbh or dhingri mutter curry) by Kanan Patel of Spice Up the Curry
I found Kanan’s blog by Googling for this recipe (‘mushroom curry blog’. Original, eh?) and am really looking forward to trying more of her recipes. This curry was bright and clean and creamy, packed with flavour, immensely satisfying but not heavy. I made a few substitutions (fenugreek powder as I couldn’t find fenugreek leaves, fresh coriander stirred in at the end instead of powdered because we had some wilting in the fridge) and used very little chilli in deference to requests. It stood up to my hatchet job well, but I can’t wait to make a more authentic version once I’ve found some methi leaves!
Cauliflower curry with chard and coconut milk, from The Clean Plates Cookbook by Jared Koch and Jill Silverman, via Tess Masters, The Blender Girl
I used chopped dried apricots instead of raisins because I don’t like raisins in savoury food, and didn’t top it with dried coconut because we didn’t have any. This is warming, bright and tasty – and a lot healthier than my beloved cauliflower cheese. It’s even nicer the next day, when the flavours have had time to meld.
Pesto brown rice with sautéed greens by Amanda of Pickles & Honey
I always cook too much rice, and then am slightly at a loss for what to do with it. Well, now I know! I can’t think why I’ve never done this before, since adding pesto to risotto is one of my favourite things. Maybe because for some reason I don’t really like cheese with brown rice. (I know, specific huh?) This was my first attempt at vegan pesto and it went well with this meal, leaving the rice and greens bright and clean, but for coating pasta or stirring through risotto I might stick to parmesan. The lemon juice is a really nice addition making for a zingy vibrant pesto which I will definitely use again.
Glazed lentil walnut apple loaf, adapted by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows from a recipe by Terry Walters
This recipe reminded me of an amazing nut strudel I ate at Fellini’s (before watching The Grand Budapest Hotel), and I was looking forward to trying it all week. I skipped the glaze, and replaced the pesky raisins with chopped dried apricots. It wasn’t quite as good as the strudel, but is definitely a new favourite recipe. Wholesome, tasty, savoury and satisfying, it makes for plenty of great leftovers. Oh, and it didn’t fall apart!
I was out two nights this week (eating a halloumi and portobello mushroom burger in the pub for a colleague’s birthday drinks, and some yummy Egyptian food at a friend’s wedding). The Bank Holiday weekend left time for some slightly more elaborate food preparation than usual, and because I was thinking about this post I looked up new recipes instead of recycling old faithfuls, but otherwise this was a fairly typical week in our house.
I don’t often get on my soapbox on this blog. If this sparked any thoughts, comments or complaints, let me know. And please pass on the good word.
Eat more plants!