Healthy Eating on the Road (3): LUNCH

This post continues on from my earlier posts about how to stay healthy on the road. In post one, I shared some general thoughts on how to stay healthy when you travel a lot. Post two focused on some fun breakfast ideas. Today I’d like to focus on…LUNCH!

This one is tricky because you’re trying to find the sweet spot between buying stuff that lasts in the car/bus, but doesn’t contain a million strange preservatives and sugary crap. It also involves a stop at a grocery store. And preferably a knife and fork.

1. Look for whole, natural foods.

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My rule of thumb for travel snacks is to buy as many whole food snacks as I can before picking up a few healthy-ish processed ones like granola bars, dark chocolate, crackers, and very importantly, things to go on crackers. 

2. Bread and bread alternatives.

This one depends on whether you’re in the gluten-free camp or not. If gluten isn’t a problem for you, then choose a nice fresh bread to eat on the day, and stock up on some breads that won’t spoil as quickly, such as pita pockets or wraps that come in a vaccuum pack. The vacuum packs will allow you a couple of days storage before opening, and then should last a day or two once opened so long as you reseal the packs correctly!

If you are in the gluten-free camp, there are plenty of alternatives that last really well in the car. Rice or oat cakes are my go-to, or else rye crackers such as Ryvita or Finn Crisp (these are easy to find in most supermarkets in Ireland/Europe…maybe not so much in the U.S.).

Not a grain-eater? Not a problem. Buy a big bag of apples or pears and a knife. You can cut the apples into slices and eat them with cheese or nut butter on top. Yum.

3. Toppings.

My usual toppings are usually avocado, hummus and nut butters. So, for example you could stop to make a pita pocket stuffed with avocado slices and hummus, or a couple of rice cakes with peanut butter and banana slices on top, or apple slices dipped in almond butter. Some of my favourite combos:

  • Hummus on pita/rice cakes.
  • Nut butter or cheese on apple slices.
  • Nut butter on anything.
  • Avocado on rye crackers with a boiled egg or tuna (see 4 below!).
  • Rice cakes layered with peanut butter and banana slices on top.

4. Extra protein ideas.

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If you need something more meaty, tinned sardines, salmon or tuna is a handy option (just make sure you buy a can that has a pull-ring!). You can either eat it with a fork straight from the (drained) can, or mash it up with the avocado to make a super-healthy tuna-“mayo”. Be warned though- your travel buddies will NOT thank you for that one, especially if you try and prep it in a moving car! This one is DEFINITELY only doable if you are pulling over to the side of the road to avoid assaulting your bandmates nostrils.

IMG_7883And if you want to get even weirder, you could bring a couple of boiled eggs. I know what you’re thinking, ew. And who has time to be that organised? The reason I mention it is that when I traveled around Japan last year, you could buy boiled eggs as a snack in every 7-11 and Family Mart. They even sold them along some of the hikes to temples! It was brilliant. We were able to eat eggs for breakfast while walking to the subway! So, if travelling in Japan, you can buy some boiled eggs to bring with you as a snack. Anywhere else, you may have to boil them that morning, and eat within a few hours.

 

5. Snazzy Extras

Just in case you’re reading through this thinking ‘there is nooo wayyy a few crackers are going to fill me’, this section is for you.

After having a few rice cakes covered in whatever you fancy, try adding a few extras to your lunch. Kind of like how in primary school we used to have a sandwich AND an apple AND a carton of milk. Try a grown-up version of this: a few avocado crackers AND an apple AND a handful of nuts AND a couple of squares of quality dark chocolate. You could also buy a few healthy granola bars to keep you going (more on how to choose these in the next post). And maybe finish it all off with a green tea.

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Banana-Oat Bars

These are my favourite granola bars at the moment. They are so easy to make, they hold together well, they last outside the refrigerator, AND only require THREE ingredients! 

SO…what’s the secret?

BANANAS.

I have recently discovered how amazing bananas are in baking because they can act as a binder and a sweetener in one, making your recipe really simple because you won’t need flour, eggs, sugar, or honey. So the recipe is basically just banana and oats, and then whatever nuts (or seeds) you feel like putting in it!

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I know what you’re thinking, how could they possibly taste good?! You’ll be surprised. They have a light banana-y sweetness combined with an awesome chewy texture that make them taste like more. But don’t take my word for it, try them and see for yourself!

 

Banana-Oat Bars

 

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*This recipe is vegan-friendly, dairy-free, egg-free, refined sugar-free & gluten-free if you use gluten-free oats*

PREP TIME: 5 mins | COOKING TIME: 20-25 minutes | MAKES: 12 bars

INGREDIENTS

2 large ripe bananas, peeled.

2 cups rolled oats (jumbo oats)

1/2 cup nuts and/or seeds of your choice*, roughly chopped

optional extras: 1/4 teaspoon sea salt; 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* I use just walnuts most of the time,  but in these photos I’ve used a combination of walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/160C fan.
  2. Lightly grease a 9 X 9-inch square baking tray with coconut oil or butter.
  3. Mash the bananas in a medium-sized mixing bowl using a fork until they are mostly liquid, without any big chunks remaining. If using sea salt, cinnamon and vanilla, add them in now and stir through the banana mixture.
  4. Toss in the oats and whatever nuts/seeds you are using. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are evenly coated with banana.
  5. Transfer the mixture into your greased baking tin. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press the mixture down firmly and evenly.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges begin to crisp (It took 22 minutes for me, but every oven is different).
  7. Allow the baking pan to cool on a rack. Once cool, remove the mixture from the pan and cut into 12 rectangle bars. Store in an airtight container for 3-5 days. Try with a cup of tea or with some almondbutter slathered on top. Yum.

 

 

 

Homemade Nut & Seed Butter

When there is no nut butter in the house you’ll usually find me looking forlornly into the cupboard where the jar once was, trying to think of a replacement snack. It has become a total staple in my diet. Since lashing nut butter on everything is quite an expensive habit, I’ve been on a mission to find a cheaper way to feed my addiction by making my own at home!

Mixed nuts tend to be cheaper to buy in supermarkets here than one type of nut, and seeds are cheaper than nuts. So I experimented with making a mixed nut and sunflower seed butter, and it was delicious!

LRM_EXPORT_20170511_094730Two cups of nuts/seeds yields 1 cup of nut butter, or roughly 220g (so if you imagine those tiny jars of nut butter that are sold by many different brands in Ireland, it makes about a third more than the quantity you would get in one of those). You can make it with any nut you like, or a combination of your favourites! I usually buy Dunnes Stores or Supervalu mixed nuts bags which contain a combo of walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.

The ratio of nuts to seeds is really up to you. I used about 1 1/4 cups of mixed nuts, and 3/4 cup of sunflower seeds here and you could definitely taste the sunflower seeds (which I liked!), but if you’re not into that then I would go with more nuts and fewer seeds!

Once you have chosen your nuts then all you need is a pinch of salt, a powerful food processor, and patience my friend! It takes anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes to transform the nuts into butter, so maybe grab your laptop so you can check emails.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups mixed nuts and seeds of your choice (always buy raw unsalted!)

a pinch of sea salt (optional)

you’ll also need a sturdy blender or food processor. I would go with a food processor over a hand-held blender as you can blend larger quantities more evenly this way. 

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C (130 fan/300F).
  2. Place your chosen nuts and seeds on a baking tray and leave to toast for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly for about 15 minutes.
  3. Put the toasted nuts and seeds in the food processor and blend for 15-20 minutes, stopping it occasionally to scrape down the sides and to let your blender cool. Please don’t give up and be tempted to throw in some water or oil to speed up the process because it will ruin the consistency of the but nutter! Here are some photos of the process so you know what you’re looking for:
  4. Once it reaches a smooth, creamy consistency, scrape it all out and store it in a clean airtight jar or container. Tastes great on banana slices, rice cakes, in porridge, or in these grain-free granola bars!

Recipe adapted from Green Kitchen Stories.

Anne’s Salmon-Rice Dish

This dish was invented by my mom. She was looking in the fridge one day to decide what to cook for dinner, and found a packet of smoked salmon and some leftover rice. She threw them together with some veggies and an egg, everybody loved it, and so it made its way into our weekly rotation of dinners! It’s been such a hit that it has even featured at a few dinner parties.

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This was the first time I had ever tasted cooked smoked salmon before. It seemed a strange idea to me at first, but it actually works really well because the smoked salmon adds a great smokey flavour to the dish, and the saltiness seasons the rest of the dish perfectly! You could probably make it with leftover baked salmon too, although I’d imagine you would need to cook the rice in stock to make up for the lack of ‘smokey’ taste.

It’s a convenient dinner to make if you don’t have time to run to the shop and buy fresh fish. Also, the smoked salmon turns opaque and takes on a totally different texture to raw smoked salmon, so this is a good one for people who aren’t into the texture of raw smoked salmon.

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As you can see here, the rice is a bright yellow colour. My mom always adds couple of teaspoons of turmeric to rice while it’s cooking, and it’s a habit I’ve taken on too, so this is just standard rice in our household really. It’s gotten to the point where white or brown rice looks strange to us! Regular leftover rice will do, but the turmeric does add some great anti-inflammatory properties to the dish as well as a splash of colour and a subtle nutty taste, so I would recommend trying it if you’re cooking fresh rice for this dish.

We always change up the veggies in this one- spinach and mushroom is a favourite combination of ours, or carrot and celery, or the veg featured below. Use whatever you have really!

SERVES: 4 | PREP TIME: 10 mins | COOK TIME: 20-30 mins

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INGREDIENTS

for  the rice, you’ll need about 3-4 cups leftover cooked rice, or if cooking fresh:

1 cup dry basmati rice

2 cups water

2 teaspoons turmeric

for the rest of the dish:

1 medium onion, finely sliced

a selection of vegetables: here I used:

  • 1 ramiro pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 a courgette, chopped
  • about 80g spinach leaves

250-300g smoked salmon (from an ethical, sustainable source if possible)

1 egg (free range organic if possible)

1 lemon

a few turns of the black pepper mill

METHOD

  1. If you don’t have leftover rice, get your rice going first! Add turmeric to the rice and water at the beginning, then cook as you usually would.
  2. While the rice is cooking, prep your onion, pepper and courgette.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over  medium heat. Add the chopped onion, and sweat for 3-5 minutes or until soft.
  4. Add the courgette and pepper, or whatever veggies you like! Cook for a further 4-5 minutes or until they are beginning to soften.
  5. Add the cooked rice to the pan. Lower the heat and stir rice in until it is evenly mixed in with the vegetables. Allow to heat for a minute, but don’t let it stick to the pan!
  6. Crack the egg into the dish, mixing around until the rice and veggies are evenly coated. Then add the smoked salmon by separating the layers of salmon and spreading them over the top of  the dish.  Cover, and leave to cook for a further 2 minutes.
  7. When you take the lid off, the salmon will be starting to firm up and turn opaque. Now you can break it up into smaller pieces and stir it in to the rice and veggies underneath. Mix in the spinach leaves at this point if using, cover, and leave to cook for another couple of minutes until the spinach has wilted and the salmon and eggs have turned opaque.
  8. Squeeze half a lemon over the dish, and serve with a salad, black pepper, and some extra lemon wedges on the side!

 

 

Super Berry Bircher Muesli

Bircher muesli is a quick and nutritious breakfast that could possibly save you an extra 10 minutes in the morning! Yes, you read this correctly, that means one extra hit of the snooze button! You prepare it the night before, leave in the fridge, and then boom. Instant breakfast in the morning. No cooking, no clean-up.

It was originally created around 1900 by a Swiss doctor called Maximilian Oskar Bircher-Benner. This smart dude fed it to the patients in his hospital, where a diet rich in fresh fruit and veggies was a core aspect of his therapy. The original recipe included oats, apples, nuts, a squeeze of lemon juice and sweetened condensed milk. The oats were soaked overnight to make them more digestible, and then served in the morning with yoghurt.

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All grains, legumes and nuts naturally contain quite a lot of phytic acid. During digestion, the phytic acid binds to vitamins and minerals in our food, making them more difficult to absorb. By soaking our grains and legumes, we break down some of this phytic acid ahead of time, making the awesome goodness of grains and legumes more available to our bodies!

Of course, Bircher muesli has evolved over the years since 1900, and now there are dried store bought muesli varieties that often contain far more grains and sugar than the original light recipe, which was more focused on fresh fruit.

The good news is that health nuts are always finding creative ways to pimp up this awesome recipe.  The one I’ve made here replaces the apples with berries, and the condensed milk with homemade nut milk. I’ve also used a combo of nuts, seeds, and some fancy extras instead of just nuts.

This serves one small person, but feel free to one-and-a-half it or double it if you know you have a long day ahead of you!

*This recipe is vegan-friendly, refined sugar-free & gluten-free if you use certified gluten-free oats*

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SERVES: 1 | PREP TIME: 5 minutes | COOK TIME: 0 minutes!

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons oats (use gluten-free if you’re gluten intolerant)

3 tablespoons nutritious nuts, seeds and dried berries! I used:

  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fancy extras (I used this superfood breakfast topper, but it’s not necessary! Use whatever you have lying around the house- chopped nuts? flax or chia seeds? cacao nibs? goji berries?)

Handful of fresh mixed berries (I used raspberry and some blueberries)

1/2 cup nut milk of you choice (I used homemade but store-bought is fine)

A squeeze of fresh lemon

METHOD

  1. Place all the ingredients into a breakfast bowl or kilner jar. Mix around and mash the berries into the other ingredients.
  2. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
  3. That’s it! Instant nutritious breakfast awaits you the following morning. Eat it as is, or top it off with yoghurt and more berries, banana slices and drizzle of nut butter, or whatever you fancy yourself!

Quinoa Tabbouleh

This is one of my favourite on-the-go lunch or dinner recipes. It uses quinoa instead of the traditional bulghur wheat used in tabbouleh. The cucumber combined with the fresh parsley, lemon juice and mint give it a refreshing taste. It makes a great side dish to bring to a potluck or BBQ, or you can take it with you to work as a tasty desk lunch!

Quinoa is a 5,000 year old grain that originated in The Andean region of South America. The Incas thought the crop to be sacred, and referred to it as “the mother of all grains”. Technically, it’s not actually a grain but a pseudograin. It has a pretty impressive nutritional profile, which explains its popularity among health nuts!

Vegetarians love the stuff because it is one of the few grains that contains all nine amino acids, making it a complete protein! One cup of cooked quinoa contains about 8g protein, which is good for a grain (but still lower than other protein sources, i.e. you could get 6g protein by eating a single egg, or 1oz raw almonds).

Quinoa also boasts an impressive 5g of fibre per cup, which is higher than what you’d find in one cup of long grain brown rice (about 3.5g per cup). This fibre-and-protein combo helps keep us full for longer and doesn’t spike our blood sugars quite as much as comparable grains.

You may have heard quinoa referred to as a superfood. As well as its protein and fibre attributes, quinoa contains a high level antioxidants, B vitamins, folate, magnesium and iron compared to other grains. One cup quinoa gives you an impressive 30% of your RDA of magnesium! Most people who eat a standard American Diet are not getting enough magnesium as it tends to be lost during food processing. Chronic magnesium deficiency can lead to leg cramps, muscle pains, insomnia and anxiety, so it is important to eat more whole foods to keep our magnesium levels up!

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So, anyway….back to the recipe. I usually add some kind of protein or good fat source to the dish if it’s going to be my lunch or dinner to make it more substantial. Here I added a can of chickpeas, but sometimes I put it in a lunchbox with a soft-boiled egg on top, or maybe half an avocado or some feta cheese. So once you’ve got the basic recipe down, feel free to add whatever protein you like to it, box it, and bring it with you when you’re on the go!

*This recipe is gluten-free, vegan-friendly, plant-based, and refined sugar free*

SERVES: 4-6 | PREP TIME: 30 mins |

INGREDIENTS

1 cup of quinoa, rinsed well*

8 small-medium tomatoes (or 1 pint cherry tomatoes), diced

1 cucumber, peeled and diced

1/2 cup mint leaves (1 small bunch), chopped

1/2 cup parsley leaves (1 small bunch), chopped

Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon (depending on how juicy it is!)

3 tablespoons olive oil

a few turns of the sea salt and black pepper mills (to taste)

optional:

1/2 medium red onion, diced (unfortunately raw onion does not agree with me, but it is nice in the recipe!)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed OR a soft boiled organic free range egg OR some feta cheese from sheep’s milk)

*You can save time by cooking the quinoa earlier on in the day, or the night before. Sometimes I put on some extra quinoa for dinner, cool it and keep in the fridge to use for this recipe.

METHOD

  1. Measure out 1 cup dry quinoa. Rinse well in a fine sieve, then knock into a medium size pan. Cover with 2 cups water, bring to the boil, and leave to cook on medium heat for 12 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and leave to stand for 3 more minutes until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork to separate grains. Transfer to a bowl or tray and allow it to cool.
  2. While your quinoa is cooking and cooling, prep your veggies! Peel and dice the cucumber, dice the tomatoes (and onion if using). Chop the parsley and mint leaves finely. Combine all veggies and herbs in a large mixing bowl.
  3. If using a can of chickpeas, rinse and drain thoroughly, then stir in to the veggie mixture.
  4. Prepare your dressing by adding your freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Use a whisk or fork to combine.
  5. Once your quinoa is cooled, add it to your mixing bowl with the veggies and toss. Drizzle the dressing over it and toss again until evenly coated. Transfer to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for a handy on-the-go lunch or dinner!

Rainbow Frittata

Frittata is like a fancy version of an omelette, or a lazy version of a quiche. There’s no need to make pastry, but at the same time it takes a little more effort than just throwing everything in a pan.

It makes a great Sunday brunch. The leftovers can be used the next day for breakfast, lunch or dinner! Serve with a side salad or rice, topped with some goats cheese or an avocado, or just as it is depending on how hungry you are!

I like to make a substantial meal out of it by throwing in as many different veggies as possible, including some sweet potato. Since it turned out particularly multi-coloured, I named it Rainbow Frittata. You don’t have to use these exact veggies yourself- just use whatever you have in the fridge!

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Eggs are extremely nutrient-dense little foods. As well as being a great source of high quality protein, they contain heart-protecting omega-3, they are also high in lutein and which is great for eye health, they also contain good amounts of vitamins A, D, E and B 12 as well as iron.

Not all eggs are created equal however. We don’t always think about it, but the conditions the chickens are raised in affect the health of their eggs. Eggs from free range chickens are far better for us that those from cage raised chickens.  A healthy chicken who can run around outside, perch, and have a relatively good life will lay much healthier eggs than a caged hen who is squashed into a tiny space with lots of other chickens, can’t stand up, and is fed out of a feed lot.  If you can get organic free range, then even better! Dr. Josh Axe summarizes the differences between the nutritional value of caged and free range eggs here, and it’s quite surprising –  Free range eggs contain 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, twice as much omega-3, three times the vitamin E, and 7 times more beta-carotene than cage raised! So there ya go, you’ve six more reasons to make more ethical choices in the supermarket.

*This recipe is grain-free, paleo-friendly, vegetarian-friendly, & gluten-free*

Rainbow Frittata

SERVES: 4 as a main (or 8 as a side) | COOK: 25 mins | PREP: 5 mins

 

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced into discs

1 medium courgette, thinly sliced into discs

1/2 a red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 a yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

8 medium eggs (organic and free-range if possible)

a few handfuls of baby spinach

salt and pepper, to taste

optional extra: parsley and chives (or some other fresh green herbs of your choice!)

 

METHOD

1. Heat a large pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and sweet potatoes, cover, and leave for 6-8 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are beginning to soften;

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2. Add the courgette and pepper slices with a little salt and pepper, then cover and cook for another 3 minutes. Then stir in the spinach and cook for another minute until wilted;

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3. While you’re waiting, prep your eggs by whisking them thoroughly in a bowl with a fork and any pent up frustration you can muster! I added some salt and pepper here too;

4. Pour the egg mixture over your veggies in the pan. You can add half of your chopped herbs here too if you’re using them. Then cook on LOW heat for about 10 minutes until most of the mixture has set but the top is still a bit runny (if the heat is too high the eggs may go a weird grey colour so best to avoid this if possible);

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5. Finish by sticking it under the grill (broiler) for a couple of minutes until golden! (Warning, keep an eye on it as it can go too golden very fast! As you can see mine is more of a brown than a golden in the middle…)

6. Sprinkle with parsley, chives or whatever herb you fancy and serve!

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Grain-free Coconut Granola

This granola may lead to some serious snacking-by-the-handful. You’ve been warned! It is amazingly delicious with almond milk, on top of porridge, or as a homemade trail mix to snack on when you’re on the go!

I decided to try out a grain-free one because I seemed to be eating oats non-stop there for a couple of weeks and thought I’d try something new. The oats have been replaced with coconut flakes (the big kinds, not desiccated coconut!). They go a lovely golden colour and have a moreish crunchy texture- you’d hardly notice there are no oats!

This granola is packed full of nutrients since it is made entirely of lightly toasted nuts and seeds coated in a little maple syrup and coconut oil. It is inspired by a recipe by Dr. Sarah Ballantine, an award-winning paleo food blogger (see original here).

Grain-free Granola

*This recipe is vegan-friendly, paleo-friendly, grain-free, refined sugar-free & gluten-free *

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PREP TIME: 5 minutes | COOKING TIME: 20-25 mins

INGREDIENTS

dry:

2 cups coconut flakes

2 cups mixed nuts (I used a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds, brazils, and hazelnuts)

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

*you’ll need to buy the coconut flakes, nuts and seeds raw and unsalted 

wet:

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil

a few turns of the sea salt grinder (optional)

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees celcius (fan oven).
  2. Cover a large baking pan with some parchment paper.
  3. Pulse the mixed nuts in a blender until they break down a little bit, but still have a good bit of texture and CRUNCH!(Or just chop with a knife if you don’t have a blender).
  4. Put the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
  5. Put the wet ingredients in a small saucepan, melt over a low heat, and stir gently until combined.
  6. Pour wet ingredients over the dry ones and stir until everything is evenly coated.
  7. Place the mixture on a large baking tray and spread out evenly.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the coconut chips turn a golden brown. You might need to shake and turn it halfway through. (Always keep an eye on your granola because it is sooo easy to burn-I’ve done it so many times!)
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on the baking tray before storing in an airtight container.

 

Tempeh-Beet Curry

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This is a quick, filling, and nutritious curry recipe that my boyfriend and I came up with in New York. It became our go-to when we didn’t have too much time to cook before going out. It makes a great mid-week dinner!

You can usually find tempeh in Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s. If you’re looking for it in Ireland, you would probably need to swing by your local health food shop as it hasn’t made it to the supermarkets yet, as far as I know.

Tempeh is made of fermented whole soybeans. When you add tempeh starter to soya beans and let it sit for a day or two, it becomes a loaf-like fermented food product. The use of the whole soya bean along with the fermentation process leaves us with a very nutritious end product with a high protein content (the same as meat!) and lots of B vitamins!

Tempeh has become one of those trendy health foods because it is thought to reduce cholesterol (due to its isoflavone and niacin content),  increase bone density (high calcium and copper content), and even help balance your gut bacteria thanks to the good bacteria which grow during fermentation! It also adds an awesome meat-like texture and a bit of a nutty flavour to your plate of veggies.

Soy is quite a controversial topic amongst health nerds, and for good reasons too. Nutritional cook Susan Jane White gives us a great low-down on the controversies surrounding soy in her first cookbook, so what I’ve written below is mostly based on that (to read more about her thoughts on it, check out her blog post here).

Soy has traditionally been used for years in the East as an excellent plant-based source of protein and vitamins. Once word got out West about how great soy products were for peoples’ health in places like Japan, this drove consumer demand for soy products way up worldwide. This high demand led to more and more industrially produced soy products.

Big companies found cheaper ways of making tofu, soy sauces, soy milks and other soy products, leaving them nutritionally deplete. Some cheap techniques used include chemical isolation and genetic modification (that’s why soy is often associated with GMO!). So, by the time your average slab of tofu or dash of soy sauce gets to your table, it’s only a shadow of the nutrient-dense powerhouse it was when it was first grown! Very sad news for all soy lovers, I know! 😥

What’s more is that the soybean is used to make up a lot of animal feed, and so a lot of forests are being destroyed to make space for soy to be grown in vast monocultures, often as GMO, causing environmental degradation, water wastage, and all the usual problems associated with the dominant meat industry.

Since low-quality soy is now so cheap to produce, it is often thrown into processed foods as an inexpensive bulking agent, so that is why so many of our chocolatey treats contain soy isolate or some other kind of soy derivative. Kind of like how corn and wheat have ended up in everything. As a result, people are beginning to develop sensitivities and intolerances to soy (again similar to the corn and wheat stories).

My thoughts on soy are that it is best to avoid it if you can, especially in processed foods. When I do buy it, I try to only use it once a week, buy mostly fermented products such as tempeh or miso paste, and make sure that it is organic, ethically produced, and non-GMO.

*This recipe is vegan-friendly, refined sugar-free & gluten-free*

Tempeh-Beet Curry

IMG_0479SERVES: 4   |   PREP TIME: 10 min  |   COOKING TIME: 30 mins

INGREDIENTS

1 medium onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic

2 carrots, peeled and chopped into half-moons

2 raw beets, peeled and chopped into matchsticks

1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets

1 packet of organic, non-GMO tempeh

3 handfuls of spinach

2 tablespoons mild curry powder (I used Trader Joe’s)

1 can full fat coconut milk

Juice of 1 lime

salt & pepper to taste

rice or quinoa (to serve)

METHOD

  1. If you don’t have leftover rice or quinoa in the fridge, it’s best to start that first!
  2. Heat some oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and sweat for 3-5 minutes, or until soft.
  3. Add the carrots, beets, and garlic. Leave to cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until they begin to soften.
  4. Add in the curry paste and stir until everything is coated. Follow this with the can of coconut milk, the broccoli, and some salt and pepper. Stir, bring to the boil and leave to simmer at a low to medium heat for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Add the tempeh. Leave for 3-5 minutes, or until the tempeh is heated through and the veggies are cooked. I like them with a bit of a crunch!
  6. Stir in the spinach and allow to wilt.
  7. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime, and stir.
  8. Serve in a bowl on top of quinoa or rice. Enjoy!

Cashew-Cacao Spring Balls

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Happy Spring everyone! Apparently the first day of Spring was on Monday. I don’t know about everywhere else, but it definitely feels more like winter here in Dublin today (thanks to the grey skies and sideways rain). If you’re like me and sometimes need a little chocolatey pick-me-up to keep you going on grey days like these, you’ll LOVE this delicious little number.

There are so many variations on energy ball recipes out there. Personally, I like to keep it simple. These Cashew-Cacao Spring Balls contain only 5 ingredients, and will definitely put a spring in your step! (Pro tip: if you’re watching you sodium intake, they work great without the sea salt, and will only contain 4 ingredients! Yuss!)

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5 ingredients: cashews, dates, cacao powder, coconut oil & sea salt.

Medjool dates are appearing in all sorts of recipes lately, and it’s no wonder really. They have an amazing ability to add natural sweetness as well as a delicious, caramelly texture to sweet dishes. On top of that, they are a great source of  potassium, magnesium and fibre! This recipe works out at less than 1 date per ball, so you don’t even need that many dates to get that amazing decadent, sweet taste!

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When it comes to choosing sweeteners, it’s important to choose your poison wisely, and enjoy in moderation. Some good options are dates, raw honey, good quality maple syrup, and coconut blossom sugar. Remember that all these healthy(ish) sweeteners DO contain naturally-occuring sugars (mostly glucose and fructose), so are not sugar-free. They’re just refined sugar-free. 

The difference between eating lots of dates and eating lots of refined (cane) sugar is that when you eat refined sugar all you get is the calories, with absolutely no other nutrients. When you choose a natural, unprocessed sweetener (like the ones mentioned above), you’re getting lots of other great nutrients along with the natural sugars in dates. For this reason, natural sweeteners are more satiating, and less likely to lead to a sugar crash a few hours later.

Now, the fun part: the recipe. Warning: this one involves getting your hands messy!

 

*This recipe is vegan-friendly, gluten-free, refined sugar-free & grain-free*

Cashew-Cacao Spring Balls

MAKES: approx. 12  | PREP TIME: 20 min

INGREDIENTS

7 dates

150g cashews

3 tablespoons cacao powder

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

1/4 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

METHOD

Pro tip: if the Medjool dates you bought are a bit tough, you might need to soak them in boiling water for about 15 minutes, and then drain them before adding them in step 2, with a tablespoon of their soaking water.  

  1. Place 2/3 of the cashews in a blender or food processor, and blend until you get a fine flour. Throw in the remainder of the cashews and pulse to get a rougher texture. Take all cashews out and set aside.
  2. Place the dates and the tablespoon of melted coconut oil in the food processor, and blend until you get a thick paste.
  3. Add the blended cashews back in on top of the dates, along with the cacao powder and sea salt. Blend everything together until you get a thick, chocolate-y dough-like texture (see photos).
  4. Pinch a bit of the mixture into your hands and roll until it forms a ball (about the size of a ping-pong ball). Repeat until you run out of mixture. It made 12 for me.
  5. Place in a container in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up, then store in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-5 days.