Recreating globally inspired food memories through a healthy lens
With travel out of the window, and restaurant visits curtailed because of financial and Govt restrictions, my globally inspired weekly meal plans let me eat my round the world without leaving the comfort of my own kitchen and dining room, from Sri Lanka to Sicily and Israel to Indonesia, and everywhere inbetween.
Like a lot of people, the COVID-19 lockdown and the associated move towards working from home and leading a socially restricted existence has taken its toll on my health. So I’ve decided it’s time for a lifestyle reset to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, to boost my overall wellbeing and to practice what I have preached in the past – so it’s back to the gym combined with a new heathy eating plan. Just what the doctor ordered… in fact that’s exactly what he did!
I always find it interesting how quickly the body adapts positively to these changes as soon as you address the problem areas in your lifestyle. Wine is the trigger for me, and as soon as I cut out alcohol from my diet, I start to crave more vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and healthy light flavours, rather than heavy carbs, cheese and rich meat dishes.
Going forward the plan is to eat less meat, and for meals to be more plant led and include lots of raw vegetables and salads to accompany mains. I aim to improve my gut health by eating plenty of fermented foods – such as one of my favourites, kimchee. I’ll also be cutting down on the salt, and including more citrus and fresh herbs for added vitality and plenty of chilli for an endorphin hit. And with another lockdown looming this time will try my best to stick to this plan rather than seek solace in comfort food .
I am not good with denial and bland food, so paramount to me is flavour, vitality, and variety. The first and obvious direction I always take is Asian food with flavours that pack a punch and plenty of umami from miso, soy and fish sauce, so I don’t miss that glass of red!
With that in mind – here are the recipes for some of the dishes that I’ve cooked recently:
Asian Pork Cabbage Rolls
I was looking for something crunchy, fresh and full of vitality to serve with this dish, and a shaved carrot, radish and pear salad with toasted sesame seeds and a miso dressing ticked the box. To make the dressing, take a tablespoon of white miso, thinned with freshly squeezed orange juice and a splash of cider vinegar, and add some sesame oil and grated ginger to taste – depending how feisty you like it!
Some healthy facts about this dish:
Fermented Foods: Such as gochujang and miso, are packed full of flavour enhancing umami and also have proven health benefits as they’re loaded with protein and full of probiotic bacteria that help strengthen your gut flora and so keep your digestive system healthy.
Shiitake Mushroom: These fungi are nutritional powerhouses, and they have a long history of use, both as a food and a dietary supplement. They contain at least three compounds that have been proven to help lower blood cholesterol and are also known to have important immune boosting properties, especially in older people. They are also a vital source of Vitamin D – in fact they are the only fruit or vegetable source of it, and a good source of Vitamin B – which helps turn food into fuel, and so keeps you alert and full of energy.
8 x savoy cabbage leaves
300g minced pork
50g cooked brown rice
2 x shallots, finely chopped
20g garlic, crushed
50g ginger, grated
1 x red chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
Freshly ground white pepper
1 x egg, beaten
1 x onion, finely chopped
2 x cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
50g ginger, grated
1 x dried red chilli
1 x tbsp gochujang paste
1 x tbsp of tomato paste
1 x star anise
100g of dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained & chopped
500ml chicken stock
Remove the tough central stalk from each cabbage leaf. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the cabbage, then cook for just 1-2 mins until the leaves are starting to wilt. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then drain again and pat dry with a tea towel.
Heat some veg oil in a medium pan and add the onion, garlic and ginger and fry until soft and light golden brown. Add the dried chilli and gochujang and tomato pastes and fry for 1 minute, then add the stock, mushrooms, and star anise. Cook for 15 mins, and finish with a splash of soy sauce and fish sauce for seasoning, taste and adjust as necessary.
Put the minced pork in a bowl and add all the other ingredients, mix well binding with the beaten egg. To test for seasoning, take a small pattie and fry in hot oil in a small pan until cooked through, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
To Make the Rolls
Pre heat oven to 180°C. Divide the pork filling into 8 fat sausage shaped portions, and place onto the 8 blanched cabbage leaves, roll up and fold in the sides to enclose the filling. Put in a single layer in a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Pour the sauce over the rolls so they are fully covered, and place in pre-heated oven for 45 mins until cooked through.
Stir Fried Sprouting Broccoli with Chilli, Ginger, Garlic & Brown Rice Noodles
Pasta with broccoli, anchovy, garlic and chilli is an all-time favourite of mine, whether it be with penne, orecchiette, bucatini or spaghetti or variations thereof. Broccoli, Italian sausage and tomato is another favourite. For this dish I have I drawn upon these two sauces for inspiration but have taken an Asian direction by swapping the pasta for brown rice noodles and throwing in some ginger, and fish and soy sauce for good measure.
250g sprouting broccoli
80g dried brown rice noodles
3 x fat, juicy cloves of garlic, peeled & flattened with a cleaver
2 x dried red chillies crumbled, adjust to taste, I like it spicy!
30g ginger peeled, sliced thinly & cut into matchsticks
Groundnut or sunflower oil
Squeeze of lime and fresh coriander to garnish
Wash the broccoli and trim the stalks and cut any larger stems into thinner strips.
Prepare the brown rice noodles as per package instructions, soaking in boiling water and draining when soft.
Fill a large pan with water, bring to a rolling boil and salt lightly. Blanch the broccoli for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure you retain some bite and that it is not too soft. Strain the broccoli in a colander.
Heat a wok on a high heat, add the oil and just as it shimmers and starts smoking add the flattened garlic cloves and swirl around in the oil until they start to colour golden, do not allow to burn. Add the ginger and the chilli, and then the broccoli and stir fry for a minute, add a splash of soy and a bigger slosh of fish sauce and leave to bubble and cook down for a minute or two. Toss through with the brown rice noodles until heated through, making sure all the ingredients are mixed together. Finish with a squeeze of lime and some fresh coriander leaves.
Vietnamese Beef & Carrots Braised in Red Wine
This dish is a legacy of the French occupation of Vietnam and has its roots in a classic beef bourguignon, but one that has been adapted for local tastes and had its flavour dialled up thanks to the addition of Asian herbs and spices such cinnamon, star anise and Thai basil, which replace the Mediterranean herbs such as parsley, rosemary and thyme. It’s a great example of how mixing it up with flavours, textures and ingredients and stepping away from authenticity is no bad thing, especially when delicious and interesting dishes such as this are the result.
1kg beef shin, diced into 2.5cm cubes
1 x bottle red wine
6 fat cloves garlic, bashed flat with a cleaver
2.5cm piece ginger, peeled & thinly sliced
1x stick of lemongrass trimmed & bashed flat with a cleaver
1 tsp 5 spice powder
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp sunflower oil
2 small red onions, sliced on the half-moon
400g tin of tomatoes
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 bay leaves
4 medium size carrots, peeled & left whole
Thai basil leaves, coriander leaves & a lime
Steamed rice, pho noodles or baguette
Combine the cubed beef with the fish sauce, the red wine, 3 cloves of garlic, ginger, star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon, lemongrass and 5 spice in a bowl. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
Take the beef out of the marinade (keeping the marinade liquid) and pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a deep ovenproof pan or casserole dish until smoking hot and fry the beef pieces until nice and brown and caramelised on the outside. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the beef from the oil and keep aside in a separate bowl. Sauté the onions in the original pan in the remaining oil and stir around to make sure you catch the caramelised bits on the bottom, add the garlic and continue to cook until soft and translucent about 5 minutes.
Add the marinade to the casserole and bring to a simmer and let reduce for 10 mins. Then add the beef and tinned tomatoes and bring back to a simmer and cook slowly in the pre-heated oven at 170°C for 2.5 hours. Check every hour and give a stir. Add the carrots 40 mins before you are ready to eat.
The beef should be soft and tender, the carrots cooked through and the sauce rich and savoury. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary with fish sauce and a squeeze of lime. Stir through some coriander and sweet basil leaves as you take it to the table. In Vietnam this is traditionally served with a baguette alongside rice noodles or steamed rice.
Beetroot & Red Kidney Bean Curry
I served this for a meat free Monday dinner alongside a baked sweet potato, grilled and topped with a chunky minted cucumber raita and a Madhur Jaffrey recipe for Southern Indian style green beans with mustard seeds, sesame seeds and cumin
This dish is full of ingredients that pack a healthy punch, such as:
Beetroot: This is an excellent source of folate and it also contains betaines which are thought to protect your body against liver disease. It also has a high nitrate content which helps lower blood pressure.
Ginger: This root of the ginger plant, which is closely related to turmeric, and just like turmeric, has a long history of use in various forms of traditional and alternative medicines. Including it in your diet has been proven to aid digestion, reduce nausea, and help your body fight the flu and common colds, and it is also believed to help with weight loss thanks to its ability to help increase the number of calories your body typically burns.
Cardamom: This is a good source of calcium, magnesium and potassium – which is an important component of your blood cells and body fluids and helps control heart rate and blood pressure, and an excellent source of iron, which is needed to keep your red blood cell fully functioning and healthy.
400g tin of kidney beans
50ml veg oil
1 x large beet root, peeled & cut into smallish dice the same size as the kidney beans, cooked in boiling water for 30 minutes until tender, then drained
4 x green cardamom pods, husks removed & seeded
1 x green chilli, finely chopped
1tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
1 x bay leaf
1 tsp chilli powder
20g tomato purée
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
3cm of fresh root ginger, cut into matchsticks
1 x lime
Fresh coriander & thinly sliced red onion to garnish
Onion, Ginger & Garlic Paste
Blitzed in a food processor with a little water to form a paste:
1 x small onion, peeled and chopped
2 x fat cloves of garlic, peeled
1 x large knob of ginger, peeled
Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and fry the onions, garlic and ginger paste for 10 mins or until aromatic and light golden brown. Add the bay leaf, cumin, chilli powder, green chilli, cardamom seeds and turmeric and fry for 30 seconds, then add the tomato purée and cook for another 3 minutes. Next, add the tinned tomatoes and cook on slow heat for 10 mins.
Add the cooked beetroot and the tinned beans to pan, and simmer for a further 20 mins, mashing a few beans with the back of spoon to thicken the curry. At the end of this time, add the garam masala and the ginger matchsticks and season to taste with salt. Finally add fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime juice. To serve, thinly sliced red onion and more coriander leaves are a good garnish.