Saturday, 23 November 2013

my kind of (protein) mousse

I remember the first time I ever tried eating mousse.

I was nine years- old, and eating dinner with my family at a popular all- you- can- eat restaurant.

As my parents and brother continued to make their way through plates piled high with pizza, pasta and salad, I made a bee- line for the dessert buffet.

With eager eyes (much larger than my stomach), I filled my bowl with jelly, pudding, ice- cream and lots of lollies. A tray full of brown semi- solid gunk was there -  the label announced that it was Chocolate Mousse - but it looked ghastly and I avoided it.

However, when I went back for a second serve of ice- cream, I noticed that the chocolate mousse was almost finished! It had disappeared in minutes!

Curiosity got the better of me. Surely something so popular had to taste good.. Right?

Right. Those few spoonfuls of delightful cloud- like chocolate blew my mind.

Fast- forward a couple of decades (yes, decades - sad but true) and there I was the other day, staring at the punnets of strawberries I had in my refrigerator and wondering whether the words 'strawberry' and 'mousse' could possibly be used in the same sentence.

Well, the answer is yes. Yes, they can.

My evidence? Here it is - the recipe for my kind of mousse - just as delicious as that chocolate mousse seventeen years ago, but jazzed up with raw, vegan, plant- based protein, good fats and superfoods. Enjoy.

my kind of (protein) mousse
serves 1-2
strawberry & coconut protein mousse -

blueberry and coconut protein mousse -

banana and coconut protein mousse -

1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts or cashews**
2 medjool dates, pitted
1/3 cup organic coconut milk
1 cup fruit of choice - I have used strawberries, blueberries and ripe bananas
1/2 tbsp organic maca powder*
1 tbsp organic mesquite powder*
2 tbsp vanilla pea protein powder*
3 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil, melted

Soak the nuts in clean water overnight or for at least 1-2 hours. In a separate bowl, do the same with the medjool dates.

Once the soaking time has elapsed, drain the nuts and dates but reserve the water used to soak the dates. Rinse and drain the nuts again, then place them into a blender with the dates, coconut milk, maca, mesquite and protein powders and 3 tbsp of the reserved soaking water. Blend very well, until the mixture is smooth, creamy and uniform in colour.

Add the fruit and blend very well again.

Finally, add the melted coconut oil and blend until very well combined.

Pour into two serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to allow the mixture to stiffen.

To serve, top with fresh fruit, chia seeds, hemp seeds, nut butter or whatever tickles your fancy and enjoy.

chocolate mousse -

For a chocolate mousse -
Use 1/2 cup ripe banana (instead of 1 cup), and add 2 tbsp organic cacao powder and 1 tbsp organic carob powder.

* I use Loving Earth's maca and mesquite powders, and Vital Greens' pea protein powder.
** For a nuttier flavour, try macadamia nuts. For a milder flavour, use cashew nuts.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

an explanation, an ode to exercise, and my favourite 'proats'


This feels odd.

To be seated in front of my laptop and to be blogging again, after a two- month hiatus.. This simply feels odd.

Not in a bad way, of course! Quite the opposite, actually - I'm so excited to be re- entering the blogosphere that I feel butterflies in my stomach.

I'd like to take a moment now to explain that my break from blogging did not come about as a result of laziness or carelessness - it happened because the past few months have been all sorts of crazy, hectic and busy!

Among a trillion other things, the past several weeks have seen the change room foods create guest feature recipes for a number of different websites and eBooks, secure a highly esteemed first stockist, cater for some incredible events, supply private orders to an ever- increasing number of wonderful customers, and get listed in Lorna Jane Active's 'Top Ten Instagram Girls You Need to Follow'! All whilst simultaneously working full- time as a registered pharmacist.

Needless to say, there has been little time for sleep, let alone blogging.

And I'll be honest (and human) for a moment and confess that my stress levels have been impossibly high - but I've discovered (or rather, rediscovered) a solution, and it has been my saviour.


You see, when the going gets tough, it's easy to dismiss physical activity as a luxury instead of a necessity. Look at all the other things that need to be done, I'm guilty of thinking to myself - I don't have time to go for a run.

And so, I'll wade through days and nights of endless work, becoming less productive as time goes by, until I pull on my sneakers and step outside for a run. Or pick up my dumbells and start to lift. Or lay down my yoga mat and salute the sun.

No matter how much I have on my plate, I have never regretted a workout. Instead, after it's done, I'm filled with a new sense of purpose and accomplishment - and every stressful task immediately seems achievable and less daunting.

One other thing I've noticed from all of this stress- busting exercise, is that I'm beginning to crave proats again.

'What are proats?' I hear you ask.

Proats are simply protein (powder) + (overnight) oats.

They're rich with complex carbohydrates that help to provide a steady and sustained release of energy, but also contain good fats and protein to help aid fat burning and muscle recovery and repair.

My favourite proats recipe to date has been the one I am about to share with you.

Please note: I make my own cold- pressed juice because I am fortunate enough to own a cold- press juicer. However, in a pinch, most supermarkets sell cold- pressed juice, and there are also a number of cold- pressed juice boutiques that exist now, too. When neither option is available, I have been known to blend (using a stick blender) freshly- sliced apple and use the cloudy juice as a substitute instead. I strongly discourage the use of regular juice - the reasons for this will be covered in a blog post at a later date.

my favourite 'proats'
serves 1

1/3 cup gluten free rolled oats
1/2 cup cold- pressed apple juice
1/2 cup organic plain, unsweetened yoghurt* - plus extra, for serving
6 Brazil nuts, roughly chopped*
2 tbsp organic (dried, unsweetened) shredded coconut* - plus extra, for serving
2 tbsp organic hemp seeds - plus extra, for serving
2 tbsp organic raw mulberries*
1/2 tbsp organic maca powder*
1/2 tbsp organic mesquite powder*
2 tbsp vanilla pea protein powder*
1 tbsp organic chia seeds - plus extra, for serving

Organic crunchy peanut butter, organic raw cacao nibs*, sliced banana - for serving

Place all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and stir until the ingredients are well- combined. Add the apple juice and yoghurt, then stir well.

Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight (or for at least 1-2 hours) to allow the fruit and oats to become plump and deliciously juicy.

To serve, top with dollops of peanut butter and yoghurt, and sprinkle with shredded coconut, hemp seeds, chia seeds, cacao nibs and sliced banana.


Now, time to go for that run..

* I use five:am organic yoghurt, loving earth's organic activated Brazil nuts, shredded coconut, raw white mulberries, maca and mesquite powders, and Vital Greens pea protein powder.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

the 'double- a ' strawberry and coconut teacake

Strawberries are so romantic..

Is it their colour? That wonderfully gorgeous shade of red? And is it because red is universally known as the colour of passion?

Or is it because, when we think of strawberries, we think of romantic dinners?

Strawberries dipped in chocolate.. 
Strawberries with a bottle of champagne..
Strawberries served with whipped cream..

Whatever the case (let's face it, the answer is probably all of the above), whenever I think of strawberries, I think of love. Heck, even the sight of them makes me swoon.

So what better ingredient than strawberries to feature in this teacake?

You see, my amazing twin brother, Alan, recently proposed to his beautiful girlfriend, Annie.. And she said YES!

The newly- engaged couple are two of the most important people in my life. They look after and love each other, and I couldn't be happier for them.

So, I decided to create a cake to celebrate their engagement.

Criteria -

  • it must be healthy, because the couple are both health and fitness aficionados 
  • it must be beautiful, because the couple are both gorgeous people - both inside and out
  • it must be a teacake, because Alan and Annie both looove drinking tea,
  • it must be gluten free, so that I can eat a slice as well, and
  • it must contain strawberries - this is for my sake, because I think strawberries are among the most romantic things on Earth.
Now, here we have it! The 'double - a' strawberry and coconut teacake, in honour of the two most important people in my life whose names start with 'A' (I tell a lie.. I just remembered my best friend's name starts with 'A' too. But you get my point.)

the 'double- a' strawberry and coconut teacake
makes 1 cake

  • 1/2 cup organic, extra virgin coconut oil - melted
  • 1/2 cup organic, unsweetened plain yoghurt
  • 3/4 cup organic rice malt syrup - or coconut nectar, maple syrup, agave syrup or other natural sweetener
  • 3 organic, free- range eggs - whisked
  • 1/2 tbsp organic vanilla extract
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • 1/2 cup organic, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 tsp gluten- free baking powder
  • 1 punnet organic strawberries - washed, hulled and halved
  • organic coconut flour - for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Line the base of a round, springform tin with non- stick baking paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, plain yoghurt and rice malt syrup until it forms a smooth, uniform emulsion.

Pour the whisked eggs and vanilla extract into the oil / yoghurt mixture, and combine well. It should become a lovely pale yellow colour.

Add the almond meal, shredded coconut, lemon zest and baking powder to the mixture and fold until well- combined.

Pour the batter into the lined cake tin and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Arrange the strawberries on the top of the cake, gently pushing them into the surface to secure them in their place.

Cover with a piece of aluminium foil and bake for 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and remove the foil. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 160 degrees C. Bake for a further 20- 30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when it pierces the centre of the cake.

If the skewer is only coated in coconut oil, then the cake is ready to be taken out of the oven. If it comes out coated in wet cake batter, continue to bake the cake for a little while longer.

When the cake is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool completely. Run the blade of a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it before carefully removing it from its tin. Dust with coconut flour, and serve.

Friday, 9 August 2013

stepping into the change room

Blogging is hard. Like, really hard.

Well, I think so, anyway.

Some bloggers post all the time. They make it look so effortless. I don't know how they do it.

I, on the other hand, find it extremely challenging.

Satisfying, yes. Rewarding, yes. But difficult.

I work seven days a week - so finding the time to thoroughly research and then collate data is hard enough as it is. But then finding the time to put all of that information together into one cohesive, entertaining piece of writing.. Well, that's where things get really tricky.

I'll be honest with you now, and admit that blogging usually takes me hours.

Some days, when I'm lucky, I'll type and type and type.. And then I'm done! But more often than not, I'll type, read, delete, re- type, re- read, delete again, and so on.

So you can imagine how much it means to me when people give me positive feedback about my blog.

My readers often tell me that my posts have a stimulating effect on them - that something deep within them is stirred and roused when they read my blog. Somehow, my words have the capacity to awaken a part of them that makes them want to be healthier.

But, alas, too often the news that follows this is that ultimately, a bigger part of them then says, "Screw it, I just can't be effed." (No, they don't really say 'effed'. They say the real word, 'eff- you- see- kay- ee- dee.')

I've heard this same story from different readers so many times recently that all I've been able to think about is how to help them change. How do I help them go from simply wanting to be healthier, to actually being healthier?

I confronted one such reader with my problem, and she replied, "Well, Mandy, it's actually pretty hard. I'm not like you. Being healthy is just who you are. You don't know what it's like to have bad habits that need to be changed. You don't know what it's like to have a problem with your weight."

Well, actually, I do.

Growing up, I was always a skinny little thing. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood, so my parents forced my brother and I to study taekwondo as a form of self defense. Weekly classes and (almost) daily practice set the foundation for my brother's and my penchant for regular physical activity.

I was an avid reader, too, and the Californian character Dawn from The Babysitter's Club was my ultimate inspiration. She was tall, fit, and a total health food addict. I didn't know what tahini was, but if she ate it, I'd make my mum look for it at the supermarket so that I could eat it too. While all the other kids were ordering hot dogs and meat pies for lunch, I was ordering a salad sandwich on wholemeal bread, with a bottle of water.

But then, in year nine, I started to get sick. My tummy ached. It hurt so much that I would faint from the pain. The doctor prescribed me some tablets to help reduce my stomach acid levels, and told me to eat more, and eat more frequently. I did as I was told.

The tablets made me lethargic. I stopped being as physically active.

I guess I should have gotten the point when my mum told me that I needed to buy new clothes. I was no longer allowed to wear my favourite white shirt, because the buttons wouldn't do up the front anymore. I earned myself a new nickname - MM. It stood for Meaty Mandy. My aunts and uncles would quietly pull me aside at family functions and ask (tactfully? tactlessly? I can't tell), "Are you trying to put on weight?!"

It didn't bother me. None of it phased me. Not because I didn't care, but because I just couldn't see it.

Breakfast was either six slices of grain toast with six slices of processed cheese, two cans of chilli tuna and a glass of orange juice, or it was eleven (yes, eleven) Weetbix with two sliced bananas and milk. That's more than the cricketers do, mate. We didn't have a bowl big enough for eleven Weetbix, so I had to have two servings - one bowl of five, and then another bowl of six.

Lunch was six breadrolls. Afternoon tea was a whole apple and custard log (yes, I'm talking about the type of pastry log that is designed to be cut up and shared amongst several people) - all to myself.

Once - just once - I ate sixty McNuggets (with three tubs of sweet'n'sour dipping sauce) and a slice of cheesecake. I only stopped because I ran out of pocket money. That was just my afternoon snack - I'd had breakfast and lunch, and proceeded to have dinner that day, too.

See, the thing is, I was eating healthily. Or I thought I was. It's not like I was eating sugary cereal for breakfast, potato cakes for lunch, and donuts for my snacks. So I didn't understand why people thought I was putting on weight - I didn't see how it could be possible.

It wasn't until I saw the photo that I had my epiphany. My mum and I were flipping through photos of our extended family's Christmas party, and I stopped at a photo of a girl seated beside my father. I wondered who the girl was - I didn't recognise her. Who was this person next to my dad? I didn't remember meeting or seeing her that day. Gosh, she was fat. She looked so unhealthy. I could teach her a thing or two about how to eat well and be fit.

Wait, hang on. She has the same top and skirt as me! What were the odds?!


The truth didn't really hit me. That's not how I would describe it. It would probably be more accurate to say that the truth fell on me, kind of like a blanket, except more forceful. The truth kind of fell on me like a roof. The jigsaw puzzle pieces came together. The girl was me.

That was the day my life changed.

'Your desire to change
Must be greater
Than your desire to stay the same.'

The next day, my twin brother volunteered to be my very own personal trainer. He didn't really know much about exercise at that age - we were still in high school. He mostly taught me how to breakdance. But he made me do it every day, so I started to get used to regular exercise again.

My portion sizes gradually reduced. My meal frequencies went back to normal. My meals changed. My weight changed.

A few years later, my dad's diabetes control really started to fall out of line, and I was confronted with a new challenge. How could my father, with two pharmacy students as children (yes, my brother is also a registered pharmacist) still have poorly managed diabetes? We had to be doing something wrong.

And so, the research started. Textbooks were bought and read, notes were taken, lifestyle changes were made, and everything changed.

I didn't know it then, but that was when I first stepped into the change room. It happened again, a few years after that, when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance.

When I share this story with others, they always ask me, "But how did you do it? How did you just suddenly wake up one day and permanently change? Why didn't you just fall back into your old habits like everybody else does?"

'Actually, I just woke up one day and decided I didn't want to feel like that anymore,
Or ever again.
So I changed.
Just like that.'
- unknown

I'm not saying that I'm perfect (I'm far from that!) - I'm just saying that I'm capable of change.

So are you. We all are.

I still get cravings for chocolate sometimes. Granted, these days, my idea of chocolate is the raw type made from organic raw cacao and coconut butter. But you see, it's not like I'm going without.

Living, eating and feeling well isn't about going without.

It's about learning, understanding and then implementing so that you can feel good from within.

It won't happen overnight - change is a gradual, ongoing process.

And that's what the change room is all about - taking small steps and making small changes so that one day, when you are finally ready to step out the other side of the change room, you will have found that you have already.. Changed.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

the recipe for my double- trouble (raw, vegan) brownie

Everybody has a weakness. A vice. A guilty pleasure.

What's yours?

Are you the type of person who insists on having a bit of chocolate every day? Or the sort who won't get out of bed until you've had your morning coffee? Perhaps you're the sort who can never say no to a glass of South Australian red.

Whatever your vice, you can keep it - as long as you let me keep mine.

I simply cannot imagine my life without raw, vegan cake. (Or my boyfriend - baby, I can't imagine my life without you either.)

This cake in particular has been the (most recent) subject of my affection. I threw it together one Sunday morning as a birthday cake for my beautiful friend, Louise. That was only two weeks ago. I've made it another six times since.

The fact that people have tried it and then exclaimed (in a sensual, throaty voice and with their eyes closed), "Mandy, this can't possibly be healthy. It can't be. It's orgasmic!" should give you an idea of how good this cake is.

But it isn't all just pretty looks and tasty tastes.

(Did that even make sense?)

This raw, vegan cake is also -

  • gluten free
  • dairy free
  • preservative free,
  • (refined) sugar free, and
  • full of plant- based carbohydrates, good fats, protein and antioxidants.

I prefer to use organic ingredients to up the ante even more.

It takes only 20 minutes to whack together, requires no cooking, and is a definite crowd pleaser.

If you are allergic to nuts, you can substitute the walnuts and cashews for seeds instead. I've used pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in my example below. However -
  • seeds are much smaller in size than walnuts or cashews
  • when measuring out 1 cup of seeds, there will be fewer gaps between the seeds than when measuring out 1 cup of nuts
  • as a result, 1 cup of seeds, when blended, will yield more 'flour' than 1 cup of nuts
  • this means you will need more of the wet binding material (i.e. medjool dates and / or rice malt syrup) to achieve the desired sticky consistency of brownie 'batter'
When working with dates, I prefer to use fresh medjool dates over dried ones. However, they are more expensive, so dried dates are okay in a pinch - just make sure you soften them in a small amount of water prior to use. I store my medjool dates in the fridge and let them soften at room temperature before I use them in my cooking.

So, any last questions before I dive into my raw, vegan brownie?
Yes, of course you can thank me later. Enjoy!

my double- trouble (raw, vegan) brownie

serves 1 (just me)
(just kidding, it serves many) (but nobody will want to share it)

the brownie made with nuts -

the brownie made with seeds -

for the (bottom) walnut brownie layer
  • 1 cup organic, raw (unsalted) walnuts
  • 1 cup fresh, organic medjool dates (halved and pitted)
  • 4 tbsp organic raw cacao powder
  • 1 tbsp organic raw cacao nibs
  • 4 tbsp finely dessicated, unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp organic rice malt syrup (or coconut nectar, maple syrup, honey or agave syrup)
  • 1/4 tsp organic Himalayan sea salt
for the (top) acai cashew layer
  • 1 cup organic, raw (unsalted) cashews
  • 1 cup fresh, organic medjool dates (halved and pitted)
  • 3 tbsp organic raw cacao powder
  • 2 tbsp organic acai powder
  • 4 tbsp finely dessicated, unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp organic rice malt syrup (or coconut nectar, maple syrup, honey or agave syrup)
  • 1/4 tsp organic Himalayan sea salt

Line a round, springform cake tin with non- stick baking powder.

Place the walnuts into the bowl of a food processor and process until a fine flour forms - it should only take 30 seconds or so.

Place the dates into the bowl of the food processor with the walnuts and process until the mixture is sticky and well- combined.

Add the remaining ingredients and process again until the mixture is thoroughly combined and sticky. It should stick together if you pinch it between two fingers, but should not be so sticky that it has formed one huge ball of brownie 'dough' inside the food processor. If it is too sticky, remove it from the bowl and process some more walnut (to create more 'flour') before combining the two again. If it is too dry, gradually add more medjool dates until the desired consistency is achieved.

When the 'batter' is ready, empty the contents of the food processor into the lined cake tin and press it down firmly with the palm of your hand. Depending on how sticky the mixture is, it might be easier to just dump it all into the cake tin, refrigerate it for 5-10 minutes, and then press it down firmly (this makes it less sticky, and easier to work with). Use the back of a metal spoon to press the edges on the brownie 'batter' down, and drag it firmly along the surface of the 'batter' to help smooth the surface.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you prepare the top layer.

Repeat the above steps with the cashews, dates, and remaining ingredients.

When the acai cashew brownie 'batter' is ready, remove the cake tin from the refrigerator, empty the contents of the food processor over the walnut brownie layer, and press it down firmly.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours prior to serving.

Please note - if using seeds instead of nuts (I used pumpkin seeds for the bottom layer, and sunflower seeds for the top layer), you will need an additional 1/4 - 1/2 cup of medjool dates per layer (depending on the size of the dates) to compensate for the additional 'flour' created by the seeds. I also found that using seeds makes the layers a little more difficult to see - but it still tastes really wonderful!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

a recipe - quinoa, chia seeds, beetroot, goats cheese

Oh goodness me..

Looking back at the photos of my quinoa and chia seed salad (below) simply fill me with nostalgia. Those were the days - the days when my digital camera was still alive and clicking (haha, get it? Clicking?)

My friends, family and followers on Instagram will know that my beloved digital camera chose to mutiny against me early last month.

It had been a gift for my 21st birthday (which was a hundred thousand, gazillion, trillion years ago) but I'd only really started to use it in recent months to take photos for my Instagram account. Then, one day, it decided it no longer wished to serve me.

It would not turn on.
At all.
That day,
Nor ever again.

And that was that.

It was a very sad day.

I'm not saying my recent photos (taken with the iPad) haven't been half decent. All I'm saying is, these photos that were taken with the digital camera were more decent.

Sad sigh.

Anyway. Moving on.

I created this vibrant, delicious salad a few months ago (when the weather was much warmer, and the natural lighting made photography much easier). I didn't post it immediately because I wanted to reserve it for 'the right time' - and it seems that time has now arrived.

My last post focused on the merits of quinoa, and the post before that explored chia seeds - two of my favourite superfoods (although, granted, my list of favourite superfoods is very lengthy).

Here I have a dish that celebrates both of these amazing foods.

You can keep it vegan by omitting the goats cheese (or replacing it with a vegan cheese), and if you aren't vegan but you don't like goats cheese, try using another creamy, salty cheese - feta or haloumi (oven- baked or pan- fried) would be ideal.

If you're the sort who needs some animal protein with your meals, you can easily add some good quality meat (just try to use organic meat if possible. Why? It's explained in great length in my posts 'an introduction to eating 'clean' - why choose organic' and ''eating clean' - how to choose organic'). The flavours in this salad are lively, light and fresh, so white meat will complement it better than red.

In addition to being a gorgeous salad (just have a look at that pretty thing!), it is also full of nutrients. There are ingredients in it that will help to nourish your body - detoxifying, antioxidizing (not really a word, but you get my point), strengthening bones and enhancing eye health, as well as a host of other benefits.

It has a low glycaemic index, is high in protein and good fats, and contains complex carbohydrates to provide you with a sustained source of energy.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot, and let me know how you go. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this dish!

a fresh quinoa and chia seed salad + roasted beetroot + marinated goats cheese
serves 4

1/2 cup raw almonds
1 cup organic quinoa - rinsed and drained well
2 cups organic vegetable stock
4 tbsp organic chia seeds
4 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 & 1/2 long telegraph cucumber - peeled, seeds removed and diced (to yield 2 cups)
2/3 cup sliced spring onion
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs, chopped finely
1 and 1/2 cup grated carrot
4 beetroot
marinated goats cheese, to serve - I used Meredith Dairy brand
ground sumac powder

1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C. Put the raw almonds into a baking tray and bake on the middle shelf for 6-8 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before chopping roughly with a sharp knife. Increase the heat of the oven to 200 deg C.

2. Place the quinoa into a saucepan over high heat and stir frequently for approximately 3-5 minutes, until fragrant. Pour the stock over the quinoa and stir. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to low, cover and leave for approximately 15 minutes, until the quinoa has almost completely absorbed the stock. Add the chia seeds and stir until well combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, and leave to cool down.

3. Meanwhile, put on gloves and don an apron - or be very careful not to stain your skin and clothes! - and use a vegetable peeler to peel the beetroot. Line a baking tray with baking paper or aluminium foil. Use a sharp knife to thickly slice the beetroot and arrange in a single layer in the baking tray. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the beetroot is cooked through (it should be easily pierced with a fork or knife).

4. Whisk together the olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Depending on the brand of vegetable stock you have used, you may also need to add a pinch or two of (preferably organic Himalayan or Celtic) sea salt, to taste. Pour the dressing over the cooled down quinoa and chia mix, and stir well to combine thoroughly.

5. Add the diced cucumber, spring onion, dill, grated carrot and half of the chopped almonds to the quinoa and chia mix, and toss well to combine.

6. To serve, spoon the quinoa salad onto serving plates and top with roasted beetroot slices, crumbled goats cheese (if using), the remainder of the chopped almonds and a sprinkle of ground sumac. Best served immediately.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

completely keen for quinoa


First things first.

Let's get one thing straight - 'quinoa' is pronounced 'keen- wah', not 'kwin- o- ah' (although I'll be the first to put my hand up and say I was guilty of the latter for the better part of 3 years).

Good. Now we can move onto the more important stuff - like why quinoa rightfully deserves its 'superfood' status.

Quinoa is an ancient seed that originates from South America. It is available in a range of colours, but the white, red and black varieties are the most common. The different coloured seeds vary slightly in taste and texture - red and black quinoa is a little firmer and stronger in flavour than white quinoa - but they all possess an equally impressive nutritional profile.

It is often mistaken as a grain - probably because its versatility allows it to feature in all the sorts of foods you would expect to see grains used (porridge, salads, pasta, soups, stews, cookies and breads - to name but a few). It can also be used very basically as a direct alternative to rice or couscous. But in actual fact, quinoa is a seed. Its plant is a distant relative to vegetables such as beetroot and spinach. As a result, quinoa is a completely vegan, grain- free source of goodness.

It is also free of gluten and wheat, which means that is it very easily digested. Its ease of digestion, coupled with its nutrient value, make it an increasingly popular ingredient in baby food!

Like chia seeds, quinoa is a complete source of protein - it contains all eight of the 'essential' amino acids. (For my explanation on amino acids and what it means to be 'essential', see my last blog post, 'cheers to chia!') It has what is considered to be a 'balanced' amino acid profile - the type and amount of amino acids that it contains is comparable to that of casein (dairy milk), but unlike casein, it is completely vegan.

Because it is high in both protein and complex carbohydrates, quinoa is considered a top muscle- building food. The amino acids (from the protein) help stimulate muscle growth and repair, whilst the carbohydrates supply muscles with a sustained release of energy and endurance.

The complex carbohydrate content of quinoa also contributes to its low glycaemic index. If you'd like an in- depth look at why low GI foods are important, have a read of my earlier blog post, 'why i choose low g i - and the 411 on diabetes', but in short, low GI foods help to make you feel full sooner and for longer (which can help to reduce overall caloric intake), can aid in weight loss, reduce the likelihood of energy being stored as fat, provide you with a sustained source of energy (instead of fluctuating between energy 'highs' and 'lows'), and can decrease the risk of many medical conditions including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Quinoa also contains these impressive nutrients -

  • dietary fibre - which helps to stimulate the sensation of fullness as well as maintain healthy bowels
  • manganese, copper and vitamin E - which all act as potent antioxidants to help detoxify the body, reduce the risk of cancer and slow the ageing process
  • magnesium - which helps to relax blood vessel walls (which helps to reduce overall blood pressure) as well as relax muscle tension (which may help to reduce the likelihood of headaches and migraine)
  • calcium - which is critical for bone strength and healthy nerve and muscle function
  • phosphorus - which has many important roles in the body, including the strengthening of bones, the synthesis of hormones and protein, and the proper utilisation of energy
  • folic acid - which is essential for normal brain function and the development of healthy red blood cells
  • linoleic acid and linolenic acid - to help strengthen the immune response
But wait, there's more!

Quinoa plants contain their very own, naturally- occurring pesticide called saponin. It has a very bitter taste that acts as a deterrent from insects and birds, so very little (if any) chemical pesticides are necessary in the cultivation process. This means that most quinoa is organically grown.

Even though most of the saponin is removed prior to packaging, its residue on quinoa seeds can still result in a slightly bitter taste. To get rid of this problem - and ideally, to remove the last of the saponin anyway (saponin lathers up with water so it is sometimes used as an ingredient in soap) - simply put the quinoa seeds in a fine sieve and rinse with cold running water for at least thirty seconds prior to use.

Cooking quinoa is easy, too.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of quinoa seeds with 2 cups of cooking liquid (water will do, but I prefer the taste of quinoa when it is cooked with stock).
  • Make sure you use an adequately- sized saucepan - quinoa will absorb the cooking liquid and fluff up to almost three times its original size!
  • Bring it to the boil, then cover the saucepan with a lid and reduce the heat to low for 12-15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. You may find that red and black quinoa will require a few minutes of extra cooking time.
  • Then, turn off the heat and leave the saucepan on the heating element for a further 4-7 minutes (the residual heat will continue to cook the quinoa) before transferring it elsewhere or using it in a recipe.

The wonderful thing about cooked quinoa is that, refrigerated, it will last up to a week. It is quite flavourless (when cooked with water), so it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes and can be eaten with any meal or snack.

As a side note, my personal preference is to dry- toast the quinoa seeds for a few minutes before adding the cooking liquid. I find that the end result is more aromatic and has a firmer texture, which I prefer.

In addition to quinoa seeds, quinoa flakes and quinoa flour is also available, and are also easy to prepare. Quinoa flakes make a quick and simple porridge, and also work well as a crumb mixture (in the place of breadcrumbs). Quinoa flour can be used as a substitute for any flour - but bear in mind that the absence of gluten can result in a 'heavier' and denser baked product. It also has a distinct nutty flavour that can taste a bit strong, depending on the recipe. It is for these reasons that quinoa flour is usually combined with other flours - think brown rice, potato or tapioca flour - instead of being used on its own.

I've covered a decent amount of information today - pronunciation, nutritional value and cooking methods.. I do have a (very) tasty quinoa recipe to share with you, but I think I'll give your eyes a break for now.

Hang on, before you go - let me ask you one last question.

Are you completely keen for quinoa yet?

Because I am! :)