Ghee is a form of clarified butter widely used in South Asia and it is a fixture in Ayurveda medicine. Traditional ghee is actually made from a form of curd that is turned into butter, and then into ghee. The recipe I am sharing today is made from basic organic butter, which means it doesn’t contain the same friendly bacteria, but it is much simpler to make at home.
Ghee is a great alternative to processed oils because it contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals but unlike butter, it can be used to cook at high temperature. Ghee is particularly rich in vitamin K2 and vitamin A. It also contains Omega 3, linoleic acid and butyric acid. In fact, it is often described as a superfood as it is packed with nutrients!
Ghee is essentially butter without milk particles, which means it doesn’t burn and can be kept for longer. The benefits of making your own ghee is that you can use good quality organic butter to make a big batch, and it actually works out cheaper than buying it.
Health Benefits of ghee
Ghee has a large range of medicinal properties, and it is particularly interesting for digestive health. Ghee is often used for constipation issues: you can consume it on its own, or mix a teaspoon of ghee into a glass of milk. It is a gentle laxative with no side effects, so can be given to children if needed.
Because of the anti-inflammatory qualities of butyric acid, ghee can be particularly useful to people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s and IBS and prevent flares. In fact, a 2014 study found that butyric acid acts to increase the permeability of the mucosa in digestive tract, meaning it is better protected from bacteria. It also serves as an energy source for the gut colonocytes, improving gut health and strengthening the immune system.
Ghee is also used for healthy skin and hair in South Asia: it can be applied on the skin as a mask, and to bring relief to chapped lips. It is a great moisturiser and it contains antioxidants, which means it helps lessen wrinkles and signs of aging.
Finally, ghee supports strong bone as vitamin K2 helps calcium to be absorbed by the body.
In Ayurveda medicine, ghee is considered as a nourishment for the whole body, and it is said to contribute to cell rejunevation. Traditionally, it is advised to take a teaspoon every morning before breakfast.
Planning a healthy diet during the month of Ramadan (during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk) is really essential to keep fit, active and focused. This is not a post specifically for Muslims: fasting is increasingly recognised in the West for its positive impact on the body and mind, and it is in fact part of many religions and traditional cultures. Fasting is immensely rewarding, both on a spiritual and a health level: it gives you an opportunity to emphasize with the poor, to focus on building your relationship to the Divine, to get rid of bad habits and put your efforts into what really matters, while your body gets a break. This allows it to detox and regenerate itself, as energy usually used for digestion is redirected towards cleansing and renewing cells and tissues. It can also be a tiring month, with late nights of prayers and early morning breakfast, while you are expected to carry out your normal duties during the day. If you work, if you have a young family, if you are a carer, you won’t get extra time to rest! It is therefore absolutely essential to be smart with your diet and with your water intake.
What to eat if you are fasting?
The main issues are to stay hydrated, and to get enough nutrients during the ‘eating’ hours. That means that you should avoid food that will not give your body what it needs: sweets, fried and oily food, too much carbs…We often tend to break our fasts with deep fried sweets and junk food, and then feel quite bloated and tired. After fasting the whole day, it is really important to not ‘shock’ your body with sugary jalabis and fried chicken! The sunnah actually gives us really good tips: ideally, you break your fast with dates (which are assimilated by the body very fast) and a glass of water or milk. Eat slowly and focus on your food; be mindful not to overeat. It is really important to get your 5 fruits and veg per day, to avoid digestive issues or constipation: that means plenty of soups, salad, and fresh fruits!
Your ideal plate should be divided into three: 1/3 of proteins part, 1/3 of complex carbs and oils and 1/3 of vegetables (potatoes don’t count!).
Don’t forget to drink!
Keeping hydrated can be a big issue during Ramadan, especially during the hottest month, and we frequently forget to drink enough water. Remember: coffee and tea don’t count as ‘water’, not matter how many cups you drink! In fact, they are both mild diuretics, so will encourage your body to get rid of excess sodium through urine. Interestingly, herbal teas don’t contain caffeine, so they are a much better option. Between dusk and dawn, you should ideally drink 6 to 8 glasses of water, but not too much at once! Avoid drinking too much around food, but rather spread your water intake throughout the evening and night. By all means, have a good cup of tea if you fancy it, but a camomille or lavender tea will allow you to relax while increasing your fluids. I love my coffee as much as anyone, but it is really best avoided in the evening, so Ramadan can be a good time to wean yourself off it. Fizzy drinks and sugary juices are best avoided all together, particularly for children.
Suhoor/ Sehri meals
Having a light dawn meal is a really important Ramadan tradition and it prepares you for the day to come, although you shouldn’t force yourself to eat if you are not very hungry. The sunnah is to eat as late as possible before dawn, and it is said that the best suhoor is simply fresh dates. I know some families have a full meat in the early hours, and I really wouldn’t recommend that because ideally you would need to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed. It might make you feel bloated and more tired than usual, as your body will be busy digesting and breaking down your meal. The best options are food such as porridge, granola with yoghurt and fruits, or talbinah, a traditional kind of gruel made with barley flour. These are nutritious meals and will keep you going throughout the day, as they are ‘complex’ carbs.
Here is a round-up of some of my favourite Ramadan recipes.
Notice a lot of these soups contain pulses? That’s because they are good sources of proteins if you want to reduce your meat intake. I would usually serve soup with with a drizzle of olive oil and a slice of fresh bread, a boiled egg and a little side salad, or crudités and hummus, to make sure I have a variety of vitamins, as well as proteins, carbs and healthy fat.For those who prefer a sweet iftar: A fruit salad with fresh mint leaves, or smoothie bowl: basically a thick smoothie topped with fresh fruits and nuts.
I also like breaking my fast with a cold, nutritious smoothie. The sugar from the fruit is quickly and easily absorbed by the body, providing instant relief after a long day of fasting.
Black seeds ( Latin name Nigella sativa) come from small blue or white flowers native to Europe and parts of Asia. They are known under a variety of name: black cumin, nigelle, habbatu sawda in Arabic, and kalonji in Ayurvedic medicine. They belong to the family of Ranunculaceae and the seeds are usually harvested in late summer, after the flowers have turned into seed pods. The seeds look slightly like poppy seeds, but they have a triangular shape and a more nutty flavour, so they are usually used with savoury food and bread.
I get my own black seed oil from Blessed Seed, which has excellent quality products available in several strengths. I would always recommend you start with a low strength product and wait for a few weeks to see how our body responds. Then, possibly increase the strength if needed. You can also find the seeds in Asian and Middle Eastern shops, where they are sometimes called habba sawda (‘Black seed’ in Arabic) or Kalonji.
Health benefits of black seed oil
Black seed oil is a natural remedy that has been used for millennia for a whole range of ailments. In Muslim cultures, it is said that black seed is the remedy for everything apart from death (hadith reported by Abu Huraira)! Ancient Greeks used it for digestive disorders. In a nutshell, the main reported benefits of black seed oil are:
healthy hair, nail and skin. Topical use of the oil also seems to help with psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema, as it is anti-inflammatory.
relief from digestive issues such as gas and bloating. It can also reduce stomach ulcers.
treatment of allergies due to anti-histamine properties (see this 2003 study)
Prevention and treatment of cancer, thanks to one of its main constituents, thymoquinone (see this 2006 study for reference)
Used as a supplement, black seed oil should be taken daily. I am going to be completely honest here: black seed oil has quite a strong taste and it is not particularly pleasant. My husband has a sensitive gut and he tends to get acid reflux if he takes it every day. It is generally advised to take a spoon of oil first thing in the morning on a empty stomach, but you can also incorporate it into food if you don’t like the taste. I personally use it in bread recipes very regularly (both the oil and seeds) and I find it works really well. It adds a lovely depth of flavour, and it is actually often used in Middle Eastern recipes. Of course, you can also use capsules (taken daily), which is probably the easiest way to take black seed oil if you don’t want to mix it with your food.
February is the time of the year when many of you celebrate love, so I am sure you will be interested in today’s topic: natural aphrodisiacs!
Aphrodisiac comes from the Greek root aphro, coming from Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love), and it qualifies a substance that increases sexual desire. Different types of food are meant to have aphrodisiac properties, namely chocolate, oyster, almonds, celery and asparagus… However, medicinal plants can have a much stronger effects. The most popular aphrodisiac herbs are all roots: ginger( probably the easiest to find, depending on where you live), Chinese ginseng, and Galanga (also known as Galangal).
Galanga is a spice that is frequently used in South Asia, but it is also present in North African culture ( I bought mine from Morocco, as part of a mix of spices used for teas and infusions). If has several interesting properties :
We are in the middle of winter here in the UK, and it is getting really cold! It’s really time for warming, comforting soups and vitamin-packed juices. I am really interested in the idea of eating seasonally because it’s cheaper, easier and better for the environment, but I also truly believe that our environment provides us with what we need at different times of the year. In winter, it’s important to boost your immunity to protect yourself from infection (particularly important in this period of Covid pandemic) and it is also traditionally at time to rest and restore your energies after a busy year. Diet reflects this: focus on simple, veg-based recipes, lower your meat intake and give your digestive system a gentle break. Avoid consuming too much dairy, as it tends to increase mucus production. This could be a good time to try dairy free milk! My juicing machine usually gets plenty of use in the winter, and I like starting the day with a good veg- based juice. My favourite at the moment is beetroot, carrot and apple with a tiny piece of ginger.
First of all, citrus fruits are in season, and they are a good source of Vitamin C. Oranges, clementines, lemons, pomelos, blood oranges, there is plenty of choice! There is a good reason why those fruits emerge in the depth of winter: we need them to boost our immune system over the cold season.
In terms of veg, there is plenty of choice: carrots, beetroot, leeks, kale, celery, sprouts…are all in season.
My favourite winter soup (and I eat loads and loads of soup) is minestrone, which simply means ‘soup’ in Italian. It is wonderfully comforting and warming, as well as full of vitamins and minerals. You can make it pretty much with any leftover veg in your fridge, and it is very versatile. The more veg the better! I also pack mine with herbs, such as thyme, a bit of coriander and of course, basil.
Basic minestrone recipe for 2 people:
a medium sized potato
2 small carrots
2-3 celery branches
a handful of cannelini beans or
a large handful of kale, chard or spinach
a small handful of angel hair pasta
1 L of veg stock (or plain water if you don’t have any!)
Herbs: thyme, rosemary, coriander, basic…
to serve: parmesan (optional)
First of all, soak your beans overnight if you are using dry ones.
Then cut all your vegetables in small squares. Gently fry the carrot and celery in olive oil.
Once it is starting to soften, add your stock, potato, courgette, beans, chard and herbs, add a tablespoon of tomato paste, cover and let simmer for at least an hour. The longer you leave it, the better as the broth will become more concentrated in flavour. Ideally, you would cook this soup, leave rest at night and heat up again the next day before eating.
Once your vegetables are cooked, add the pasta, mix well and leave another 5 minutes until it is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a few basil leaves and some grated parmesan cheese for a more authentic Italian soup!
Elderberry season is coming to an end: they flower in June and are ready to harvest from July to October, depending where you are. Elders ( Sambucus Nigra) are pretty much everywhere: I found some trees on a local estate, and they are easily recognisable because of their cluster of tiny, dark berries. They can be confused with dogwood bushes (Cornus Sanguinea) whose berries are not edible, so make sure you identify the tree correctly! Dogwood berries are bigger, and its leaves are smoother; here are pictures of both plants for comparison.
I have been consuming elderberry syrup daily throughout the winter months for a couple of years, but it is the first time I attempt to make my own. There are many health benefits: mainly it strengthens the immune system. It is something to take as a preventive measure, rather than to remedy a cold.
I collected about 500g of berries and thought it would give me a decent amount of syrup, but I actually ended up with quite little, so don’t hesitate to get loads! The syrup can easily be frozen into cubes, so you can use it throughout the winter. Before starting, make sure to clean the berries thoroughly and remove every bit of branch, twig and leaf, as they can be toxic. The raw berries themselves are not edible and can give stomach ache, so do not consume before cooking. A word of caution: I also found loads of tiny little white worms while cleaning the berries, so it’s a good idea to let them sit in water for a while and make sure there are no insects! My elderberry syrup recipe:
Put the berries in a pan and cover with water ( about double the volume of berries). I added a piece of fresh ginger and a couple of pieces of cinammon bark. This is optional, but it gives the syrup a better taste.
Leave to simmer on low fire for about 40 mins to an hour. Once the syrup has reduced, put through a sieve. Leave to cool down and add a big spoonful of good quality local honey (or more, to taste). To be very honest, my syrup doesn’t taste as good as ready-made ones, as there is obviously much less sugar, but it tastes fresh and a bit tart.
Next step is to make my own elderflower cordial in the spring!
One of my favourite ever smoothie recipes is a banana-date one, which makes a perfect breakfast drink as it is quite filling. I also often have it for iftar during Ramadan as bananas and dates are both very easily digested by the body and quickly replenish it after a day of fasting.
Date & banana smoothie (for 2 glasses)
2 ripe Bananas
4-5 Medjoul dates (Medjoul are great because they are sweet and fleshy)
1 tablespoon of almonds ( I grind them separately as my blender is not powerful enough, or you can just add almond powder)
2 large cups of oat milk (or whatever milk you prefer)
2 big tablespoons of porridge oats or greek yoghurt for extra protein
a teaspoon of cinnamon
Cut the bananas into pieces and remove the stone and skin from the dates.
Spirulina is a magic food: it is very high in protein, vitamin B, and much more. It is a power made from dried algae, and if I am really honest, I hate the taste. A couple of years ago, I used to just mix it in a glass of water and force myself to drink it. After a while, I gave up, because it gets tedious drinking things you dislike, even if they are super healthy! Here is a quick ad delicious way to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Recipe for two medium glasses:
Two table spoons of organic spirulina powder
One large frozen banana, or if a ripe one. I didn’t add any sugar in this recipe because the banana was sweet enough. You can add a teaspoon of honey if needed.
3-4 tablespoons of porridge
Two tablespoons of greek yoghurt for extra protein (if you are vegan, feel free to omit this one, and add an extra banana)
a large glass of (cow or almond/oat/coconut) milk : I like my smoothies quite thick, so feel free to add more if needed.
Mix together and serve cool (with a non-plastic straw please!).
You can also buy spirulina as tablets if you don’t like the powdered stuff, but I find it easier to add the powder to fruit smoothies as it masks the taste. With Ramadan approaching, I am also keen to find healthy recipes that will make me feel energized throughout the day. In that particular recipe, I incorporated porridge oats and yoghurt to add protein and to make it more filling. This should keep you going for a while!
Spirulina is a great ingredient because it is completely natural: it is made from an algae, Arthrospira platensis, it’s easy to use, and it has tons of beneficial properties. It has been used for centuries in some parts of Africa because it is so packed in vitamins, minerals, and essential amino-acids that the body cannot synthesize by itself. It is thus particularly useful in countries where malnutrition is an issue, such as Senegal where spirulina is popular. Several recent studies have looked at how it can be used to fight common issues: one of its health benefits for instance is that it is highly antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it is thus very useful to reduce oxidative stress. Another interesting use would be for anemia: a 2011 study looked at “the effects of spirulina and immune function in senior people” and found that it had a positive impact. A number of studies also looked at the use of spirulina in diabetic patients to regulate blood glucose, and the supplement seems to have a positive impact of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which is extremely promising. Finally, there is also suggestion that spirulina can reduce toxicity from heavy metals in the body and offer protection from radiation.
As a note of caution, spirulina can in some cases acerbates the symptoms of autoimmune conditions, because it stimulates the immune system. Therefore, it is important to proceed carefully (as with anything you take!).
I love summer. I love the sun, the holidays, and more than anything, the fruits! This year, Ramadhan also fallq in June-July, so it was a perfect incensitive to sort my diet and pack up on vitamins for iftar ( the sunset meal). I have had a fruit/ smoothie bowl pretty much everyday, varying the fruits I use according to what’s left in the fridge. It has done me a world of good: I have felt less tired, less thirsty than usual, and I barely feel hunger during the day, despite a very busy month.
This avocado recipe has been my favourite: it is creamy and delicious, refreshing, and provides me with the nutritients and good fat I need after a day of fasting.
1 avocado and milk for the smoothie
A handful of strawberries, blueberries or any other type of berries
To top : a handful of seeds/ dried fruits mix, almonds, walnuts, dates…
This list is not exhaustive of course; you can use any fruit and nuts you have at home, but this had a great balance of juicy/ crunchy/ sweet/ acidic.
I cut up all the fruits in dice to fill my bowl, topped it up with my smoothie ( avocado+ripe banana for sweetness, milk, whizzed up), and then sprinkled my dates, nuts, seeds/ dried fruits on top. It took no more than 10 mins, and it is just perfect. I think I could happily live on this for the rest of my life!
I love preserved lemon, they are really a staple in my kitchen. They are wonderfully versatile: they can be used in tajines, in cakes, in seafood dishes, in risotto or in Asian dishes. They can also be complement salads, aromatise plain water…Possibilities are endless, and the good news is, they are super easy to make. Lemon, water, salt, a jar, and you are pretty much done. I am quite interested in preserved food, and while I am not a big fan of pickled cucumbers and kimchi, I find it very easy to incorporate preserved lemons into tasty dishes.
So here is how I make them. You will need:
a clean jar with an airtight lid
5 to 8 lemons, depending on their size and size of jar
salt (preferably coarse sea salt)
coriander/ mint (optional)
Clean the lemons and make 4 deep cuts in each as if you we cutting them in quarters but without cutting off completely. Collect any juice.
Then, fill each cut with salt. Put the lemons in the jar, squeezing them in to fit as many as possible. I think I managed to get 6 large lemons in my jar.
Fill the jar with water to the top, leaving space for the lid. Now, you can add a few leaves of mint or coriander, or even cloves and anis seeds, whatever you fancy.
Finally, close the jar making sure it is airtight, and leave to rest for 2-3 weeks until your lemons are ready to use.