Health and Beauty, Nutrition

Probiotic water kefir – my new healthy addiction

Many people have heard of milk kefir, but not being a big fan of fermented milk, I was really excited to find out about water kefir. I’m a massive fan of probiotics and I believe they are a very important of my diet, especially in this day and age when so much of what we eat is processed, causing all sorts of digestive issues. Probiotics help to regulate the gut bacteria and to keep it balanced and healthy; there is evidence that they can help people with IBS and intestinal problems. I find them particularly helpful when my children are sick, have stomach pains or diarrhea: I usually give them some probiotic, organic yoghurt that is easy to digest and helps the gut to heal. Same thing if they have been prescribed antibiotics (which is very rare): I will make sure they get some probiotics in as antibiotics destroy the gut’s flora. Water kefir has different bacteria strains than milk kefir, so if you have both grains, you can alternate between them.

Water kefir grains
Water kefir grains

Water kefir is great because it is extremely cheap to make, can be made to suit different tastes and is a healthy replacement for soda. Grains grow and reproduce, so if you know anyone who makes kefir, they will often have a stash of extra grains to give away. I got my grains from a local person I found on facebook (there are lots of groups dedicated to kefir and kombucha), and I only paid for postage.

Once you have grains, you literally only need water and sugar to get started. I usually measure one cup of water for one tablespoon of grains; you can use bottled or filtered water, but tap water is just fine.

What you need:

-water kefir grains

-sugar

– a glass jar (mason type)

-a strainer (or use a little muslin or other light fabric to make a little bag in which to keep your grains, as I did)

– measuring equipment

– a bottle to transfer your kefir into, once it has fermented

Boil the water, pour in a large jar, and add sugar (add the same amount of sugar as you have grains). Some people use rapadura or brown sugar, but I find plain white sugar is best assimilated by the grains. The sugar actually feeds the bacteria; the end drink in not actually sweet, so don’t worry if you feel you are adding too much sugar. Do NOT use honey as it is harmful for the grains.

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Once the water has cooled, add the grains and close the lid (you can also close the jar with paper towel and elastic). Some people add a dried fig, a date or piece of lemon, which gives a nice, fruity taste to the kefir. The fruit will also float up once the kefir is ready, which helps. I prefer to not add anything at this stage, but I do during the 2nd fermentation. IMG_7564

The kefir takes 24h to 48h to ferment, depending on temperature. I usually leave it 2 days in the jar, then remove my little bag of grains and transfer into a bottle for a 2nd fermentation. At this stage, I add a quarter of lemon and I make sure the bottle is closed properly so the drink gets fizzy, and I leave another day or 2 in the fridge, before drinking. Kefir is incredibly versatile, and there are loads of recipes to suit your taste: you can add ginger, fruit juice or purée, or try making kefir in coconut water.

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I love my kefir. It has a slightly odd taste at the beginning, but you get used to is and I really feel the benefits on my health. I don’t feel bloated for example, and sleep better, so I have more energy. It is said to have all kinds of benefits for cancer sufferers, help with depression, chronic fatigue and more, but I can’t comment on that!

Nutrition

Sweet Mango lassi – a healthy, filling smoothie

Sweet Mango Lassi is one of my absolute favourite drinks: it’s creamy, rich, sweet, and best of all, healthy. It’s an Indian/ Pakistani drink, and it’s perfect after a spicy meal. It’s very filling, so I prefer to have it for breakfast.

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It’s best made with fermented milk or milk kefir, but do not worry, I will show you the simple version of it made with milk and yoghurt. I prefer the mango version, but there are variants: there’s sweet lassi with sugar (or honey), flavoured with lemon, mint or rose water, and there’s a salty one using spice (turmeric, ginger, cardamom or whatever you fancy).

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 Mango Lassi recipe

+ a big, ripe sweet mango

+ one small pot of plain yoghurt (3-4 tablespoons)

+ one small glass of milk

You can replace the milk and yoghurt by a large glass of milk kefir, fermented milk or laban.

+ optional: a tablespoon of honey or agave syrup, if you like it sweeter

Remove the mango’s skin and cut into cubes. IMG_7325

Add the yoghurt.

Add the milk.

Add agave syrup or honey to taste. The mango I used was very ripe and sweet, so I didn’t add anything.

Blend.

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Mando Lassi is best served chilled, so reserve in the fridge for 30 mins before serving.

Enjoy!

If you don’t have fresh mangoes, you can used canned ones. This makes a smoother lassi, but I also find it sweeter. You can add a tablespoon of orange blossom water for a more exotic taste.

Lassi is low in fat and low in calories. If you use good quality probiotic yoghurt or kefir, it’s also a great way to introduce healthy bacteria in the gut and boost immunity, for a good start of the day!

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Nutrition

No-egg, vegan chocolate mousse!

About Aquafaba

Ever wondered how to replace egg whites in recipes such as mousse or meringue? Look no further. For all of you vegans or egg-intolerants, I have a really simple, life- changing trick for you, and I dedicate this recipe to all the chocolate addicts out there. I tried it yesterday and it really does work, with quite convincing results. I made a super easy and delicious chocolate and peanut butter mousse, without eggs. So what substitute did I use? Chickpea juice, also known as aquafaba. Yes chickpea juice, you know that liquid in chickpea cans? Well now, you won’t throw it down the sink anymore, you’ll use it to make French delicacies and desserts!

My vegan chocolate mousse
My vegan chocolate mousse

So what is that about? Basically, you just beat the chickpea liquid with a hand mixer, as you would with eggs (I don’t recommend to do it manually with a whisk, because it does take a while). Add a tiny amount of sugar if it doesn’t stiffen enough, but it really does look with regular beaten eggs. Now, let’s get started on the chocolate mousse. This recipe is very fast: 15 mins of prep, and then you leave rest in the fridge, and it makes a great party dessert if you are looking to impress your friends.

What you will need :

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– The ‘juice’ from one 400g can of chickpeas (disclaimer: the brand I used gave really thick juice, it is not normally like that, but it works fine either way)

– about 150g of dark chocolate (make sure it’s vegan if needed)

– about 2 tablespoons of sugar to help the eggs stiffen

-optional: a big table spoon of peanut butter to add some crunch, but you can flavour your mousse as you like. Chocolate and orange zest are a favourite here, but you can also try coffee, caramel and any fruit you fancy.

IMG_7155First of all, start beating the chickpea juice. It takes a bit longer than eggs in my experience, about 10-15 mins. I added the two tablespoons of sugar during the process, and ended up with quite stiff, creamy ‘chickpea whites’, almost as stiff as eggs. Do not worry, they don’t taste of chickpea at all. They don’t actually taste of anything really, so they make a good base for any recipe.

At the same time, melt your chocolate and peanut butter together on very low fire, or in a bain-marie. Make sure not to burn the chocolate and mix continuously. I added a tiny amount of water here (about 1 tablespoon), to make sure I had a smooth paste. Then, leave to cool.

Once you have your fake egg whites and your chocolate paste, gently IMG_7157incorporate the chocolate into the chickpea juice. Once you have a smooth mixture, pour into little pots or cups, and put in the fridge to rest for minimum 2 hours, until the mousse has set. It’s then ready to serve!

Who said vegan cooking was boring? There are so many possibilities, without compromising on taste. Enjoy!

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Nutrition

Seitan – a wheat meat substitute

I only discovered seitan recently and I am shocked I was not introduced to it earlier! It’s an incredibly versatile, cheap meat substitute, healthier than tofu, tastier than Quorn. I am not a vegetarian but being very concerned about the quality of the meat available to me and the disgusting treatment towards animals, I’m trying to lower my intake of meat and have more meatless days. Seitan is a substitute made from wheat gluten, used for centuries in Asian cuisine. Yes, I know gluten has a bad reputation right now and some people do have intolerances to it, but I do believe gluten is fine for most. Seitan is particularly good because it is very high in protein and low in fat, and it is also possible to make it gluten-free by using different types of flour (will have to try that soon!). IMG_7119

Seitan works great with my family because you can adapt it to a whole range of recipe and it is super cheap if you make it yourself from scratch. I am still experimenting with it and trying to make different textures and incorporate more flavours, so bear with me: I will be back with more recipes. For now, I just wanted to shared the basic recipe for Seitan.

What you’ll need:IMG_7088

+ Flour (preferably wholewheat, organic)

+ Water

Yes, that’s all! Of course to make it palatable, you will also need spices, flavourings and stock, but it’s totally up to you how you go about this. I needed a handful of seitan to add to a stir-fry, so I went for Asian style seitan. I used:

+ 3 cups of flour

+ a tablespoon of salt

+ a table spoon of chinese 5 spice

+ about 1 large cup of water for the dough

I then popped it all in the bread maker (dough mode) for about ten minutes until I had a firm, non-sticky dough. Once you have done that, you need to separate the starch from the gluten by putting it in a bowl under running water. This takes a while, between 10-15 mins. You need to keep pressing the dough until the water runs clear, and this can be tricky because it starts separating into tiny pieces.

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After a bit tough, it sorts of comes together in a spongy-like form. Then, leave for a few hours in a drainer: the more you leave it, the firmer it will be.

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Once drained, cut into pieces and cook for 20-30 mins in a simmering pot of stock (I used vegetarian stock but you can use a meat-based one, or simply cook with onion and some veg to add flavour). Drain again. I then pan-fry it with a bit a soya sauce and sesame oil until brown, then added to my stir fry.IMG_7120

Nutrition

Healthy breakfast series – Banana porridge

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, helping your body wake up from slumber and get its fill of energy for the day day ahead, but it’s also the most overlooked. How often do we just skip it, because we are running late or ran out of milk or bread? How many times do we fill up on unhealthy snacks, because our breakfast wasn’t nutritious enough?images

In my house, anything goes for breakfast: eggs, pancakes and French crêpes, semolina harcha (semolina flatbread), yoghurt and smoothies…The list is endless, and it is the one time of the day when I don’t really pay attention to calories. In fact, my breakfast is often starchy ! But again, this is what is needed to fill you up until lunch and keep you concentrated through an active day. I draw the line at one thing: no breakfast cereals in this house. EVER. I do have muesli from time to time, but I never buy the Kellogs type, laden with sugar, additives and GMO corn. In fact, I don’t think my kids ever tried them, and they are certainly not missing out.

Now porridge is one of my daughter’s favourite breakfast food, and it is also the quickest, easiest, cheapest and most versatile. When I first moved to the UK, you wouldn’t have caught me tasting the gloopy looking think, but surprisingly I have to say I got used to it, and dare I say, I now quite enjoy my morning bowl of warm porridge. You can easily jazz it up with fruits, seeds, compote and jams, and it only takes a few minutes to make up! Here is today’s offering:

My morning banana porridge
My morning banana porridge

Recipe is: + one cup of hot milk (organic cow milk but I recommend almond or oats milk for lactose intolerance) poured over a small bowl of wholemeal rolled oats, then left to cook.

+ half a banana cut up in slices

+ a teaspoon of raw honey (I use Lavender honey from a UK based company called Bee Mercy, which is absolutely delicious and will ward off colds in the winter)

+ A teaspoon of golden linseeds, to add a bit of crunch and because they are packed with Omega 3 acids.

Job done!

Nutrition

A trip to Morocco and a bowl of Harira soup

I recently went on a research trip to Morocco where I stayed for two months, and I am now back with loads of new recipes, ideas and inspiration. I went there expecting to buy a few popular products such as Argan oil, but I was completely blown away by the amount of natural products available, and regularly used by Moroccans. Walking around the souq, I found chebbah (Alun stone), a huge amount of different oils, from avocado to habba sawda (black seeds), a large number of herb and spice mixes used as medicine, my favourite ghassoul and henna… I experienced a whole different culture, with men and women taking regular trips to the hammam to  peel their skin with a loofa glove, called keess, and to purify themselves. Close to Meknes where I was staying, there are two thermal stations, called Sidi Hrazem and Moulay Yacoub, where water and mud and used to relax and cure various ailments. Over the next couple of weeks, I will discuss all those in more details and try out new recipes to use my findings.Unknown

For now, as we are in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan, I would like to share a soup recipe, Harira. Moroccans traditionally break their fast with a couple of dates, a bowl of harira seasoned with lemon juice, boiled eggs and sweets such as chebbakia or sellou. Harira is the perfect food to replenish the body after a long day, as it has a great balance of vitamins, proteins and nutritients. It is an ultimate comfort food: warm, feeling and full of flavour. It is also easy  to adapt to your taste, by using different vegetables or turning it into a vegetarian or gluten free version.

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Here is my recipe for Harira soup:

Ingredients:

– 1kg of fresh tomatoes, skinned (if I am being lazy, I use two tomato cans).

– 2 Onions

– A few branches of celery (can be replaced by cabbage, carrots, peppers, or pretty much any veg you have left in the fridge, in small quantity).

– A small bunch of parsley

– A small bunch coriander

– 100g of red meat, cut in small pieces (I use either beef or lamb; bones are good too as they give more depth of flavour).

– 200g of chick peas, canned/ 200g of brown lenses (I tend to use a bit of both)

– 200g of vermicelli pasta (you can use rice instead)

– Two tablespoons of flour (it is used to make the soup thicker, but you can do without for a gluten free soup)

– Spices to taste: salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp of curcuma and 1/2 tsp of paprika.

– A table spoon of cooking oil

My recipe is very simple: I put the tomatoes, the onions, the parsley and the coriander, all roughly cut, in a pressure cooker with the oil and spices. I add about 1L of water, cover and let cook for 30 mins. Once cooked, I mix everything with a hand mixer, then put back on the fire after adding the meat and the chickpeas/lenses. I cook for another hour or until the pulses are cooked. I then add the pasta and the flour, which I mix with a bit of water first. Tada! It’s ready to serve. Add water if you find the soup a bit thick, and serve with lemon.

This soup keeps really well in the freezer, so you can cook a big batch and use when neeed (for Ramadan for instance).

Health and Beauty, Nutrition

A Chai Latte recipe to warm up during this endless winter…

I have been feeling a bit under the weather during the last few weeks, probably because it is freezing here in London and I miss the Sun! I find spices are a great remedy to get my energy levels up, and awaken my senses after a dull winter…Here is a Masala Chai recipe inspired by Indian cooking, for a deliciously spicy warm drink. I used four different spices providing a variety of health benefits:

– Ginger:  I love ginger, I drink a lot of lemon/ginger water during the cold days when I start to feel fluey, and I use it in all kinds of dishes. It really boosts the immune system and helps the body to warm up. When I was pregnant, I packed up on ginger tea and ginger biscuits to get rid of morning sickness and nausea, and it did help. It is also said stimulate digestion, to eliminate gas, and to soothe arthritis.

– Cinnamon: Another one of my favourite spices! At the moment I sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over everything: porridge in the morning, apple tart, yoghurt, even savoury dishes like meatballs and chili con carne. I just love the subtle sweetness of it. Cinnamon is also known to help digestion and boost the immune system, and it is a great way to appease my sweet tooth and avoid having too much sugar.

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– Nutmeg: A rich, hearty spice that has many healing properties, in particular helping with anxiety and insomnia, and with stomach issues: indigestion, vomiting…It is also said to improve male fertility. It should be used with moderation though. Some Chai recipes recommend to use star anise instead, which is great for flu and has a delicious oriental flavour, but I didn’t have any.

– Cardamom: I am a bit less familiar with cardamom, although I have been using more recently as I’m trying out Asian recipes. I like the depth of flavour it adds, and it is a wonderfully versatile spice: I tasted a cardamom ice cream recently that was simply divine. You can use ground cardamom for this recipe, but I prefer to use pods which I infuse in the warm milk and then remove, because the taste can can overpowering.

-Cloves: They have a very strong, aromatic taste, and are widely used across Asia. It is a great anti-inflammatory: I have been told to use it for toothache, and helps to eliminate bacteria and fungi. It also provides relief for respiratory issues and asthma.

My recipe for two cups of Chai Latte:

– 2 cups of milk

– A big teaspoon of loose black tea

– 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

– 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger (you can use a small piece of fresh ginger instead)

– 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg

– 2 cardamom pods

– 3-4 cloves

– Brown sugar to taste

My version of Chai Latte
My version of Chai Latte

Basically, just mix the milk, tea and spices into a small pot and place on low fire, making sure the milk doesn’t boil. Once hot, remove from the fire and leave to cool down for a few minutes, for the spices to gently infuse the milk. Sieve to remove the tea leaves, cardamon pods and cloves, add a bit of honey to taste, and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Enjoy!

Nutrition

The Budwig Cream and the Kousmine diet

How many of us have decided to try to eat more healthily for the new year? This recipe is for you. I came across it a few weeks ago while doing research, and as I’m getting tired of cereals, porridge or toasts for breakfast, I decided to give it a go. The Budwig Cream was designed by Dr Catherine (Katia) Kousmine, a Swiss nutritionist from the early 20th century, and it is said to help with a variety of digestion issues and malnutrition, as well as cancer and sceloris. The key ingredient is flax seed (or linseed) oil, which contains essential nutriments such as linoleic acid. Here is the recipe, for 1 person:

Combine 2 teaspoons of flax seed oil (organic and cold pressed)  with 4 teaspoons of low-fat plain yoghurt (or cottage cheese), and mix well together until creamy. It is important to make sure the oil has been completely absorbed. If you want a dairy-free version, replace with soja yoghurt, tofu or almond milk.

Add the juice of half a lemon, including the pulp.

Mix in a mashed banana, or 1 teaspoon of honey, to sweeten.

Grind together 2 teaspoons of nuts or seeds (pumpkin, sesame or flaw seeds; walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts…any nuts apart from peanuts), and 2 teaspoons of raw cereals (oats, quinoa, barley…anything but wheat) then add to the cream and mix well.

A fresh cup of Budwig Cream
A fresh cup of Budwig Cream

You can then add seasonal fruits to taste; avoid acidic fruits such as orange or pineapple. Enjoy! The great thing with this recipe is that although it is super healthy and packed with vitamins and essential fatty acid, it actually tastes delicious, because flax seed oil has a very light, nutty flavour, and you can use different nuts, cereals and fruits to vary every day.

Dr Kousmine insists on the seeds and cereals being freshly ground to retain their health benefits. She also asks for organic ingredients as much as possible, and the oil definitely has to be cold pressed. These are important aspects are the recipe because it means every element is as raw and fresh as possible. The Budwig cream will gives you load of energy to last the whole morning as it has proteins, lipids, carbs as well as vitamins, so you don’t need to have anything else with it. It’s a complete meal in itself!

If you want to learn more about Dr Kousmine’s work, I really recommend you check her association’s website  (although it’s in French, sorry!), or you can find a translated copy of her work on Scribd here. Dr Kousmine worked more specifically with cancer patients and people suffering from degenerative diseases. She devised a diet relying of five ideas:

  • a healthy diet: this is the foundation of health. Whatis a ‘healthy diet’, you ask? Well, according to Kousmine, we need to re-introduce wholemeal cereals and cold-pressed oils into our diet, as they are rich in essential fats. At the same time, we need to limit sugar and animal fats, which she argues lead to vitamin deficiency.
  • vitamins and oligo-elements taken as complements. Personally, I am a strong believer that getting vitamins directly from your food is more effective than any complements could be, but Kousmine argues that bad diet and diseases have led us to have such deficiencies that it is essential to take complements.
  • intestinal health, by which she means balancing the gut flora. Many traditional medicine consider the gut as the centre of health, and maintaining a healthy, rich gut microbiome is key. Again, Kousmine blames years of bad diet for her observation that the gut is in a state of ‘putrefaction’.
  • rectifying acidity of the body. This is also linked to the prevalence of sugar and animal fats and proteins in our modern diets. This can lead to chronic fatigue and infection.
  • vaccine treatment ( for some patients). What Kousmine uses is quite different to modern vaccines: she advocates gentle exposure to diseases using microbe strains. The aim was to “desensitize” patients and build up their immune system.

Kousmine’s work is sometimes criticised and considered to be outdated, but I believe there are still a lot to be learnt from her work, particularly on modern diets and how they are detriments to health.