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Spring has sprung

Such wonderful weather the last few days…yippee!!! I’ve been out in the garden every afternoon the last few days, cutting back dead flowers, leaves, branches, and clearing away debris to reveal new young shoots and buds. I love spring!

The snowdrops are nearly gone…

Snowdrop

the primulas are blooming and the daffodils are getting ready to bloom.

Primula

One of my favourite early flowering medicinal herbs in the garden is my Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis). It is one of the first herbs to flower in early spring and is now in full bloom. The stem grows about 20 cm high and bears hairy, alternate, oval leaves with greyish white spots. The small tubular, bell-shaped flowers grow in small clusters, at first pink and later becoming blue, or white or purple. As the summer progresses, the flowers disappear but the spotted leaves grow really large.

Lungwort

In days gone by, Lungwort was used as a cure for lung disorders according to ‘Doctrine of Signatures’. The young leaves were used as a spring pot herb in soups, stews and salads; the flowering plant was made into a tea for gastro-intestinal and pulmonary ailments; and homeopathically used for bronchitis and colds.

According to www.herb2000.com the mucilage (a gummy substance secreted by some plants) properties of lungwort makes it immensely helpful in treating chest problems, especially chronic bronchitis. In addition, lungwort may be blended with other herbs like coltsfoot for effectual remedy of chronic coughs and also be administered for alleviating asthma. A combination of lungwort and coltsfoot is particularly effective in curing whooping cough. In addition, lungwort may also be used in curing ailments like sore throat as well as jamming. Years ago, physicians applied lungwort for coughing up blood released owing to tubercular contagion. It may be mentioned here that leaves of lungwort plant are astringent (a substance that draws tissue together) in nature and are frequently uses to impede bleeding.

Lungwort can be ingested both as an infusion as well as a tincture. To prepare an infusion of the herb, add one to two teaspoons of dried up lungwort in a cup of boiling water and leave it to permeate for around 10 to 15 minutes. An individual should drink the infusion prepared from lungwort thrice daily.

Chemical analysis of lungwort has shown that the herb encloses tannins, flavonoids, saponins, vitamin C. However, dissimilar to many other members of the borage family, lungwort does not comprise pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

In my earlier gardening years here in Ireland, I gathered many medicinal plants, many of which still grow in my gardens, and I considered growing all medicinal herbs and going the route of a homeopathic herbalist. But….instead, I opted to go the culinary route, growing herbs for flavouring foods. Besides…ALL culinary herbs have wonderful medicinal properties, and are completely safe for internal as well as external use….AND when used in the right proportions and combinations can elevate any dish from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Now…I must say I have used the leaves from a lot of medicinal plants in my salads and have been pleasantly surprised. I think lungwort leaves deserve a place in my next stew! 🙂

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Lentils were never on my list of foods that I enjoy eating UNTIL I tried an Indian recipe called Arhar Dhal. Growing up my mother would occasionally make soup from green or brown lentils. The taste wasn’t offensive to me, but it lacked flavour, so I hated eating lentil soup.

There are about a hundred varieties of lentils, ranging from yellow to orange, red to green and brown to black. They are used around the world, but are more popular in Eastern Europe and India. In Ireland red lentils seem to be the favoured, at least when I came here 13 years ago. However, lately puy lentils are becoming the gourmet rage…it seems that all it takes is for a televised chef to feature a particular dish and… voila…we become inundated with it…

Yellow lentils, puy lentils, yellow split peas, red lentils

Lentils are very rich in protein, folic acid and both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. They are also very high in vitamin C and B, and they also contain eight of the essential amino acids. They also contain many minerals, as well as they are a high source of antioxidants. Lentils help to lower cholesterol, fight diabetes and prevent digestion problems. They are also great factors in weight loss, cancer and heart prevention.

Lentils’ contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium they supply. Magnesium is nature’s own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is present the flow of blood improves carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils.

Lentils give you energy to burn while stabilizing blood sugar. They provide soluble fiber that helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods.

Lentils will increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with lentils is a good idea–especially because, unlike red meat, lentils are not rich in fat and calories. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.

If you’re concerned about the purines in lentils, recent research suggests that purines from plant foods do not increase the risk of uric-related conditions like the purines from meat and fish do. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. Purines are natural substances found in all of the body’s cells, and in virtually all foods. Purines provide part of the chemical structure of our genes and the genes of plants and animals. Lentils contain naturally-occurring purines.

Okay…..back to Arhar Dhal. The first time I made this lentil dish I made it with red lentils because that’s what the recipe called for. Richard and I ate it along with some sliced bread. Our eyes were watering and our noses were running and we drank plenty of water…but we couldn’t stop eating it because it was so good!

That was before we met “G”… She laughed at us and said in India they use Dhal as a “gravy” on rice. It definitely cuts the heat…AND she said not to use the red lentils but use the “big yellow ones”. In Ireland those are called yellow split peas. So…I made it again…with yellow split peas and as a “gravy” over rice. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t believe the difference. Okay…so now I’m absolutely hooked on lentils. I even found 3 other varieties at an Asian store in Athlone…Mhung Dhal (tiny yellow lentils), Urid Split (black split lentils) and Split Mung beans…all products of India. Can’t wait to try ALL of them!

Here’s the recipe for Arhar Dhal

1 cup yellow split peas
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 green chili peppers
2 dried red chili peppers
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
Mixed spice (1/4 tsp onion seed, 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seed, 1/2 tsp anise seed, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp. brown mustard seed)
2 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Rinse the lentils and cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat in a heavy pot with the turmeric and sugar. Add half of the ginger and the cumin powder. Simmer lentils until cooked and thick, adding more water as it cooks. You want the lentils to cook like a thick gravy. Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Adding salt to lentils at the beginning lengthens the cooking time.

Heat the ghee in a small cast iron (heavy) skillet and add the mixed spices. When the mustard seeds crackle add the bay leaves, remaining chopped ginger, slit green chilies and the broken red chilies. Fry for 2 minutes and pour over the lentils. Mix thoroughly. Serve over rice.

Indian Food

So for the whole month of February I’ve been experimenting with Indian food and I love it! Since a young lady from India (G…) has been visiting every weekend, I’m getting educated as to the differences in Indian cuisine…Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Indian foods. Wow…so far, my favourite is Southern Indian cuisine. I’m amazed at how the flavours differ in…say…Northern vs. Southern Indian cuisine. For example, the southern cuisine uses a lot of coconut in the food, and seems to be hotter, whereas northern cuisine uses a lot of the aromatic spices…cinnamon, cloves, cardamom…

Some of the foods I’ve made include samosas…

These are little deep fried pastries filled with a cooked filling of potatoes, carrots, peas, onions and spices. The trick really is in the folding and stuffing. A flour paste is used to seal them up. I made the filling the night before and together G… and I folded and stuffed them. Since it was her first time making them, we learned together. However, she caught on really fast, especially since she had the visual image already in her head. Me? Well….I was working blind…

We fried them in coconut oil. Since coconut oil is so good for you, I didn’t mind eating deep fried food at all…especially these love little gems. G… says they are a snack food typically eaten for breakfast or evening tea. The main meal is in the middle of the day and almost always consists of rice and some kind of “gravy” either made from the oh so many types of lentils (dal) or using meat.

I made several recipes from the website http://www.indianfoodforever.com/ and they were very good…Arhar Dhal, lemon rice, navrattan korma, pooris, and lamb kofta. I love that Indian food is so suitable for vegetarians…plus every dish is highly seasoned. It really takes the boring aspect out of eating vegetables!

This kind of cooking does take more preparation and it’s important to have a whole array of spices at your disposal. I’m lucky in that way because of the herb business and all the spices available on our shelves! But…it’s really worth it. In fact, since eating Indian food at least once a week, I’m finding my other recipes rather boring! Oh dear…what have I done to my tastebuds?!

Sprouts for Health

Freshlife Sprouter

Getting a sprouter for me was a good investment because I love sprouts…in my salads… in my veggie sandwiches… in my pita pockets with my falafal… in my veggie roll-ups…mmmm…yummy. Now, I know you can grow sprouts in a glass jar but then there’s always the hassle of REMEMBERING to rinse them several times a day. Me? I have too many things going on as well as around and around in my head to clutter it with another…”gee…don’t forget to water the sprouts again…”

Third day sprouts


So, once the seeds are on the tray inside the sprouter, I just fill the bottom section with water, cover it and plug it in. There is a sprinkler inside that turns around and sprays the seeds, keeping them moist. I change the water once a day and that’s it! I have freshly grown sprouts in a week.

Lentil and alfalfa sprouts

Of course, if you’re really blessed to live in area where you can buy fresh sprouts at any time, then why bother?! I’ve only ever seen one sprout supplier in the major supermarkets and they usually look pretty sad and brownish. I’m a little cautious when it comes to fresh non-organic fruit and veg that I will eat uncooked and especially sprouts because they need to be continually watered while growing. Water sources here have been known to be highly contaminated at times. We have our own water supply from a newly drilled and protected well so we have no worries in that department….Thank God.

Why sprouts? Sprouts are one of the most complete and nutritional of all foods that exist. Sprouts are rich with vitamins, minerals, proteins, and enzymes. Sprouts have a greater concentration of vitamins and minerals, proteins, enzymes, phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, nitrosamines, trace minerals, bioflavinoids and chemo-protectants such as sulphoraphane and isoflavone which work against toxins, resist cell mutation and invigorate the body’s immune system than at any other point in the plant’s life even when compared with the mature vegetable. Sprouts are LIVING foods. Even after you harvest your sprouts and refrigerate them, they will continue to grow slowly and their vitamin content will actually increase.

Sprouts are especially rich in enzymes. Enzymes are needed for the digestive system to work. They are necessary to break down food particles so they can be utilized for energy. The human body makes approximately 22 different digestive enzymes which are capable of digesting carbohydrates, protein and fats. The most powerful enzyme-rich food is sprouted seeds, grains, and legumes. Sprouting increases the enzyme content in these foods enormously.

Lack of digestive enzymes can be a factor in food allergies. Symptoms of digestive enzymes depletion are bloating, belching, gas, bowel disorders, abdominal cramping, heartburn and food allergies. As we grow older, we lose the ability to produce concentrated digestive enzymes.

Many different seeds can be sprouted. I find that the lentil sprouts are a bit tough, but I love the alfalfa sprouts. Broccoli sprouts are my favourite. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine discovered that 3-day old broccoli sprouts have exceptionally high amounts of a natural cancer-fighting compound. The researchers found when testing tender shoots of broccoli at the 3-day-old stage that they contained high amounts of a concentrated form of the cancer fighting compound, 20 to 50 times more than in mature broccoli.

Even though I love sprouts in salad, my favourite is in my veggie sandwiches. I must say, ever since I got started eating veggie sandwiches I never went back to eating meat sandwiches. An odd time, I might have cheese in my sandwich but I’m talking like less than 10 times a year. So…what can you put into a veggie sandwich that makes it so yummy? Well…the usual is lettuce, sprouts, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber and sliced pickle, but I always add something unusual like…sliced avocado, kalamata olives, raw humous, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes (the dried kind you soak in water) or even grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers. I love grilled portabello mushrooms in a roll. In Ireland a favourite to add is coleslaw or potato salad. I’ve tried that, too, and it’s good! Even steamed broccoli, mashed with mayo and dijon mustard is really good. 🙂

When making a veggie sandwich it’s getting the combination right that’s important….like a good balance of flavours. You don’t want flavours that compete with each other in a sandwich like pickle and olives together! I think there’s definitely a science to building a really good sandwich. My kids (and Richard, too) never stopped hearing from me when they were eating their sandwich…”hey, you’re eating it upside down! If you turn it over, it will taste a whole lot better” …it depends on how the different flavours hit your tongue!

Now, either I totally brainwashed them… or it’s true…or …they’ve got me totally duped into believing I make the best sandwiches just so I’ll make their sandwiches for them! 🙂

Making English Muffins

Gosh, there were soooo many foods I took for granted back in the states…English Muffins for example…

I mean… I thought everyone knew what English muffins were. After all, didn’t McDonald’s at one time serve their breakfast sandwiches in English muffins? I seem to recall that Jackie’s breakfast favourite was Bacon, Egg and Cheese McMuffin. …And I remember getting yummy Eggs Benedict served on English Muffins with Canadian Bacon, cheese and hollandaise sauce at our Women’s Breakfast Meetings in a nearby local restaurant.

I only wish I could have had the chance to visit Joyce’s Gourmet English Muffin Company in Arlington when they were in business. From what I hear they were even better than Thomas’ English muffins.

Well…it’s a much different story here in Ireland…

I triumphantly brought something home from Lidl last year that were labeled as English muffins…they weren’t. Then…

Just before the Christmas holidays Richard proudly produced a package of 6 rolls labelled English muffins that he brought home from Cork, I think…sadly, we were disappointed again. They were nothing more than uncut hamburger rolls made to look like English muffins…except they were much bigger…*sigh*

That’s when I determined that I would try my hand at making my own as soon as I got the chance. Well, yesterday was the day I got the chance. I made a really small batch just in case they didn’t turn out like I was hoping. But…they were fantastic…except they were too small.

Cooking English muffins

Next time, I’ll double the dough and cut with a 4″ round…

Here’s the recipe if you want to try a small batch…I cut them with a 3″ biscuit cutter and it was too small.

English muffins

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (250 ml) very warm water
3 cups plain flour
1/4 cup coconut oil (or butter)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal

In a large bowl let the yeast proof in the warm water for about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, oil or butter, honey and salt until the water is absorbed and the dough cleans side of the bowl. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead about 10 times. Roll to 1/4 inch thick, dusting with flour as needed. Cut into 3 1/2 – 4 inch circles.

Sprinkle ungreased cookie sheet with cornmeal and place dough circles on cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with cornmeal and cover. Leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

Heat a dry electric skillet or dry cast iron frying pan to 375 F. Cook circles until lightly browned for 7 minutes on each side. Cool completely on a wire rack before splitting with a fork or carefully slice with a serrated knife.

I’m sure you could add in different ingredients for flavouring. I think Joyce’s Gourmet English Muffin Company had some cheddar cheese ones. You could also add some finely chopped onion, garlic, or maybe some dill or add them all together!

Making Coconut Milk

Yesterday when I wanted a cup of coconut milk, I went to the cupboard, but the cupboard was bare…

Well…I mean there wasn’t any more cans of the wonderful organic coconut milk that we import along with the buckets and buckets of coconut oil. Even though the organic coconut milk made with 3 coconuts in each can is the best I’ve ever found anywhere, I have to say, it doesn’t even surpass the coconut milk I made yesterday. Now, I have seen recipes for making my own coconut milk before and thought that no way could good coconut milk come from dried, dessicated coconut.

…Until I made my own.

Making Coconut Milk

This looks the same as if I were making nut milk and is pretty much the same, except it’s even easier! This kind of coconut milk is made from mature coconuts. You can either use fresh meat from the mature coconuts seen here or use organic naturally dried, dessicated and unsweetened coconut. So…essentially, this is a raw product with amazing health benefits.

…And the taste can’t be beat by anything in a can! I had some on my granola and it was fantastic…I had some in my decaf coffee this morning and it was lovely. I put a cup in yesterday’s Vegetarian Vindaloo…even better.

I was really amazed when I took the jar from the fridge this morning and found that the coconut cream had risen to the top, leaving a clear jelly at the bottom. Now the creamed coconut is even better than the little blocks of creamed coconut you buy in the store…amazing! I could have used the hardened cream, but I chose to mix it all up again and it was just as good as the day before.

Now that I know I have a truly raw coconut milk, I’ll be looking forward to making my own coconut milk ice cream. Yummy!

Okay, here’s how it’s done…

Add 2 cups or 500 ml measure of dried coconut or freshly chopped coconut from a mature coconut along with 2 1/2 cups or 625 ml of hot water to a blender. Blend on high for about 30 seconds. Pour contents of the blender into a jug lined with a nut milk bag or cheese cloth. Strain the milk through the bag into the jug and squeeze as much milk from the coconut as possible. Pour into a jar, cover and refrigerate. In theory this would be good for 4-5 days if it ever lasts that long. You could add 1-2 teaspoons of pure maple syrup if you want to sweeten the milk.

There’s absolutely nothing unhealthy about coconut milk. Keep in mind that it contains a percentage of coconut oil as well so all the benefits of coconut oil apply to coconut milk.

What’s new for dinner?

Okay, we’re 7 days back into Harvey and Marilyn Diamond’s Fit for Life 28-day eating program. This is probably hmmmm….the 25th time we’re repeating this program in the last 16 years. Now, mind you, I love eating the Diamond’s Fit for Life way of eating. It’s when I feel the healthiest, have no “paunch” at all, my skin looks healthy, I have great energy, I need less sleep, and on and on… But, I have to say, at this stage I probably know the 28-day plan by heart meal for meal and it does get boring! I love applying the food combining and energy ladder principles, but…well, anyway, the 28-day Fit for Life plan is a diet plan that provides structure.

Fit for Life claims that one can lose excess body weight and maintain good health via long term dietary and lifestyle practices, rather than short term dieting. In the Fit for Life book series many dietary principles are recommended including eating only fruit in the morning, eating predominantly “live…high-water-content” food, and if eating animal protein to avoid combining it with complex carbohydrates.

The premise behind this is that fruits metabolize without need for digestive juices (excepting bananas, which require minimal digestion), while proteins require acids to digest, and starches require bases to digest, so combining dense proteins and starches together causes the acids and bases to cancel each other out, inhibiting digestion.

Now, anyone can say what they will about the concepts, etc., etc., but I’ve been eating this way predominantly since 1988 and it works for me. HOWEVER, I mean, really…it’s time to find a new way to cook some of these vegetables and stay within the principles…

Well, Richard got for me two more cookbooks for Christmas, besides Catherine Fulvio’s cookbook. I now have Rachel Allen’s new book… I have read it from cover to cover and will come back to it at some stage…I think I’m going to make the puy lentils…

The third cookbook has some really interesting recipes…more suited to the way I like to cook. It’s called A Year At Avoca, a cookbook written by Simon Pratt

"A Year at Avoca"

I found a recipe that appealed to me and decided to adapt it to a vegetarian version of Kylemore Acres’ Vindaloo. The directions on the back of the sachet are for a chicken curry, but here’s a vegetarian option that turned out quite appealing and really yummy!

Here’s how to make it:

1 large onion, sliced
2 tbsp. coconut oil or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sachet Kylemore Acres’ Vindaloo Seasoning Mix
1 cup (250ml) vegetable stock (Swiss Bouillon)
1 cup (250ml) milk, cream or coconut milk
6 large Rooster potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
420 grams chickpeas (cooked from dried or canned)
420 grams canned tomatoes or 4 large fresh tomatoes, peeled
200 grams baby spinach, washed

In a saucepan, cook the onion in the oil on a low heat for 6 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and spices from the Vindaloo Seasoning Mix (I removed the chili pepper) and cook for a further minute until the fragrances are released. Next, add the stock, coconut milk, tomatoes, chickpeas and potatoes and stir well. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 25 minutes until the potatoes are just cooked. This mixture will need to be stirred often. Turn off the heat and stir in the baby spinach leaves and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Ever since I read the article “Seven Foods Not to Eat” in Ireland’s Organic Matters magazine, issue 111, I made a decision not to eat tomatoes canned in a tin can. According to Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, who studies bisphenol-A (BPA), the linings of tin cans contain BPA, a synthetic estrogen linked to reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The acidity in tomatoes causes BPA to leach into food. So, whenever a recipe calls for canned tomatoes, I use fresh ones, drop them in boiling water for a minute, then peel the skins off….much better for you.

I had some dried chickpeas that I soaked overnight and then simmered for an hour yesterday in preparation for this recipe. The flavour is much better than canned chickpeas.

Now…if it hadn’t been so stinking cold outside, I would have grilled some Naan bread to go with this yummy vegetarian Vindaloo… but maybe I’ll get up the courage to do that next weekend…