Carrot & walnut cake with a coconut-lemon frosting

So…cakes need not  be naughty. (Did I hear you breathe a sigh of relief?) They can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But the proviso is they be baked from scratch with wholesome ingredients, and enjoyed on the odd (special) occasion. Like celebrating a loved one’s birthday or even Mothers’ Day. Which is how this cake came about.

It was Mothers’ Day last Sunday in Australia, and I couldn’t think anything better than cooking a meal for mum — to display my gratitude and appreciation for the countless and selfless times she cooked for me and my siblings.  Actually I cooked for the whole family. My in-laws came, and so did my sister with her husband and kids. My small weatherboard home was filled with love, laughter and warmth.

So I baked a cake, too, to cap off the lunch I had poured my heart into. And it was good, not naughty.

May your cakes be just as nourishing as they are yummy.

Recipe

Moist carrot cake with icingCake

Serves 12–14

  • ¾ cup brown rice flour
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¼ cup desiccated coconut
  • ¾ cup rapadura sugar (or muscovado sugar)*
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2.5 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 cup freshly shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 3 carrots, grated (about 1/5 cups)
  • 5 medjool dates, pits removed and finely chopped
  • 3 organic, free-range eggs
  • 100 ml macadamia or coconut oil
  • ¼ cup nut milk or coconut milk with 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or 1/3 cup runny natural yoghurt if dairy is not an issue)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

*If you’re doing the no sugar thing, you can use some stevia instead. If you’re using the Australian brand Natvia, use the same amount as you would sugar. Natvia is blended with erythritol.  Otherwise, if you’re using stevia on its own, you’ll need a lot less of it than you would sugar. So replace the remaining sugar bulk by adding extra almond meal. About 1/3 cup should do it. Remember to remove the dates too. If you try this, let me now how you go in the comments below.

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). Grease a 22cm cake tin with some coconut or macadamia oil and line with nonstick baking paper.

In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients — flours, almond meal, sugar, desiccated coconut, baking powder, cinnamon and walnuts.

In a separate bowl whisk together the remaining (wet) ingredients. Pour the wet mix into the dry, and fold in until combined.

Tip cake mix into the prepared tin and bake for 40–45 minutes, or until a cake skewer comes out clean and the cake is firm in the middle.

Cool in tin for 5 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack.

Once cool, enjoy as is or frost it up.

Frosting

  • ½ cup coconut butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup coconut or nut milk
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (more if you’d like a sharper taste)
  • 1 tbsp desiccated coconut, roughly ground (you can grind it in a mortar and pestle)

Mix all ingredients together and allow to cool in fridge (especially if slightly warm after melting the coconut butter).

If the mixture is too thick add some more coconut milk, and if it’s too runny, grind some more desiccated coconut and add it in.

Frost your cake once it’s cool, and enjoy!

Shaved zucchini & rocket salad

Greens are essential for healthy living. They help with purifying the blood, strengthening the immune system, and promoting healthy gut, liver and kidney function.

Dark leafy green vegetables in particular — like rocket (arugula), kale, silverbeet (Swiss chard) and spinach — are full of many nutrients. Think calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins A, C and K, chlorophyll and folic acid. (Tip: adding a source of vitamin C, such as squeezing some lemon juice over your raw greens or at the end of cooking helps to absorb iron — so important for vegetarians).

While many greens can be eaten raw, some are better eaten in moderation or, at least, cooked because they contain a phytochemical called oxalic acid. Oxalic acid (oxalate) binds to calcium — making it hard for calcium to get absorbed. In fact, the levels are so high in rhubarb leaves (not the stalk), that it’s not safe for eating. (A list of some vegetables with their oxalic acid levels here.)

Greens with high amounts of oxalic acid (but that are safe to eat) include beetroot greens, silverbeet and spinach. These vegetables are best eaten cooked with dairy or other rich foods like meat, tempeh, legumes or oil, because it reduces the oxalic acid levels. For this reason, I prefer using kale to spinach in juices and smoothies.

So now it makes sense why the French cook spinach with cream, Greeks, silverbeet with feta, and Indians, spinach (palak) with paneer — it wasn’t just for the delicious taste! (It always amazes me how traditional ways of preparing foods — like soaking, sprouting and fermenting — nourishes and protects the human body. Somehow, the people of the past just knew what to do.)

It’s best to rotate and try different greens, as they have various levels of different nutrients (you’ll see a lot of variety if you venture out to farmers’ markets). Learn how to prepare them and include some in your diet every day — your health will thank you for it.

Recipe

shaved-zucchiniServes 2

With a potato peeler, thinly shave 2 young, small zucchinis into a salad bowl. Wash and dry a large handful of rocket (arugula) and add to the zucchini. Gently combine the two ingredients with your (clean) hands. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, squeeze of lemon, and some sea salt. Add some freshly cracked pepper if you wish.

Potato & radish leaves curry

radish leavesI don’t know how we humans get into certain habits. Then continue on with them as if they’re the norm, without asking, why? Like throwing out perfectly good, nutritious and edible vegetable parts — which produces methane as it rots.

Since I discovered that cauliflower leaves are edible, I now use them in my cooking. This subject came to ahead again when I bought a bunch of organic radishes at the Boroondara Farmers’ Market last weekend. The leaves looked too beautiful to toss in the bin. And because I recently found out my parents cooked the leaves from radishes in their garden, I consulted mum before going ahead.

As radish leaves wilt quite a bit, I cooked them with potatoes to have a dish that served 4, as a side. Very enjoyable, indeed, especially with some rice, dhal and fresh tomato chutney.

Later on, I searched the Internet to see what else could be done with radish leaves. Turns out Indians are known for making Mullangi (or Mooli) ka patta (literally, leaves of radishes) curry. Among other discoveries was this radish leaf pesto from Chocolate and Zucchini.

The more we get to know about fresh produce (like what parts are edible, and the best ways to store them for longevity), the less we’ll throw out — better for us and our planet.

What have you made with lesser-used veggie parts? Please share in the comments section.

Recipe
potato-and-radish-curry
Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or 1 tbsp each of olive oil and ghee)
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground fenugreek (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 potatoes (I used Nicola), scrubbed and diced into 2cm cubs
  • Leaves from a bunch of radish, shredded
  • sea salt, to taste
  • juice of half a lemon

Cook it up

First, cook potatoes in salted boiling water until they’re slightly underdone (i.e. firm and still have a ‘bite’ to them). Drain and set aside.

In a heavy based pot, heat the oil then add the mustard seeds. Once the seeds begin to pop, add the curry leaves. Be careful, the curry leaves make the oil splatter.

Next, sauté the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes, before adding in all the spices. Continue to sauté for a couple of minutes, and then tip in the potatoes. Stir to coat the potatoes with the masala (spice) mixture. Place the lid on and cook for about 5 minutes or so, until the potatoes are fully cooked. You will need to stir continually, so the potatoes and spice mix don’t catch and burn. At this point you can add some salt.

When the potatoes are cooked, stir in the radish leaves. Saute for a minute or so, until they wilt. Turn off the heat and squeeze in some lemon juice. Adjust for seasoning and eat it up.

Did you enjoy this recipe? Then you may like to get your hands on Nourished – my healthy eating ebook with 93 wholefood recipes.

Corn & carrot fritters

IMG_1192With some corn and carrot in the fridge, fritters were all I could think of making.

Fritters are healthy depending on how you make them — pack them with more veggies than flour (and enough egg so they stay together). They work well as an entre or part of a main, and make sensational snacks  — eaten cold from the fridge or heated — if you’re lucky to have any leftovers.

Recipe

Inspired by Alice Hart’s Carrot Fritters in Vegetarian.

Ingredients

  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 1 corn, lightly steamed
  • handful of coriander leaves with stems, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted & ground
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted & ground
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 chilli, finely diced (optional)
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 large (or 3 small) eggs, lightly beaten
  • 50 g semi-hard/hard cheese, like pecorino, finely grated
  • 20 g chickpea flour (also known as besan, gram or garbanzo flour)
  • sea salt, to taste (I used about a teaspoon)
  • oil for shallow frying (use olive, coconut or ghee — or a mixture)

Method

Shave kernels off corncob and place them in a large mixing bowl. Except for the eggs and frying oil, add the remaining ingredients to the kernels, and stir. Next mix in the eggs.

Heat a large fry pan over medium heat with oil of choice and line a couple of plates with paper towels.

Shape mixture into fritters and place them into the heated fry pan as you form them. Make sure you leave enough room to flip the fritters. You make need to cook them in 2–3 batches, depending how big your fry pan is.

After 3–4 minutes, gently check with your flipper if the underside is done. When ready, flip to the other side, and cook for another 3–4 minutes. Remove to plate with paper towel and cook the remaining of your fritters.

Enjoy them however you like. I had mine stacked with thinly sliced organic goats cheese and baby spinach leaves.

Liked this recipe? Then you may wish to check out Nourished, my healthy eating ebook with 93  wholefood recipes.

Spiced adzuki bean & pumpkin soup

spiced adzuki bean and pumpkin soupThe weather has flipped. And just like that, it’s autumn in Melbourne. I don’t need to look at a calendar to tell me that. Unlike this harsh change of season, however, winter will quietly make its way into autumn, blending the two into one — it usually does. Winter is very sneaky like that.

Now is about the time Melburnians will start to adorn themselves with layers upon layers of black — and fill their bellies with warm, comfort food so they can be heated from the inside out. While a curry or a casserole will certainly do that, you can’t beat the simplicity of a hearty, nourishing soup — especially after a long hard day’s work.  

Soups: thank you for making my winters (and autumns) bearable — just!

Recipe

Ingredients

  • ½ cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight (or at least for 6 hours) and rinsed
  • 550 g pumpkin, when peeled, seeded & diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, and a little extra for roasting the pumpkin
  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic gloves, crushed
  • 1 knob ginger (about the size on an Aussie 20c coin), finely grated
  • 1 large celery stick, finely diced
  • dried spices — 1 tsp turmeric powder, 2 tsp ground coriander seeds, pinch nutmeg powder
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sea salt, to taste
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste

Method

Preheat oven to 180C and line an oven tray with baking paper. Lightly coat diced pumpkin with olive oil and roast for 25–30 minutes until soft. Then remove from oven and set aside until needed.

While the pumpkin is roasting, you can start preparing the soup base. In a large, heavy-based pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and celery until the onions become translucent. Add the ginger and garlic, sautéing for a couple more minutes before adding in the spices. Keep stirring for another two minutes or so, then mix in the tomato paste. Let the tomato paste cook with the spices for a few minutes, then add in the adzuki beans and mix well.

To the next stage of the soup — pour in the stock together with the roast pumpkin and bay leaves. Bring to a boil then simmer over gentle heat for about 45 minutes or until the adzuki beans are cooked through.

Remove the bay leaves, and blend with a stick blender. Then season with sea salt and lemon juice, to your liking. Serve as is, or with some real yoghurt drizzled on top and some real bread.

Date & nut protein bars

I’ve called these little bars ‘protein bars’ because they contain quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), nuts, and eggs (if you’re making the non-vegan version). Quinoa is renowned for its high protein content compared to other cereals and grains, and is considered to be a complete protein because of its essential amino acid content.  

Technically, quinoa is a seed, not a grain, and is gluten-free. It is commonly used as whole seeds, flakes – as I have used them for this recipe – or flour. As a flour, the taste is quite assertive, so it’s best used mixed with other flours.

Quinoa is mostly harvested in South America, and most of what is available in Australia comes from this region. But there is also a local product grown in Tasmania. The Tasmanian quinoa does need bit of washing, though, to remove the bitter, soapy coating (saponin) from the seeds.

Quinoa is very versatile – think salads, soups, patties, porridge, baked goods – and, so, is handy to have in the pantry. Especially if you need to make a gluten-free, vegetarian meal in a hurry, as it cooks quickly too.

Now that I’ve sold you on quinoa, do give this protein bar a go. It makes for a filling, nutrient-dense treat that will keep little tummies happy – and big ones too.

 Recipe

Date and Nut protein sliceI’ve made these date & nut protein bars with eggs, and without, for a vegan version. Both are lovely. With the vegan version, as usual, I had to think about binding, fat and moisture – i.e. what could do the job of eggs? For binding, I still haven’t moved beyond chia seeds. And for fat and moisture, I just added more oil. The vegan version is, however, a little more fragile than the egg one, but, nevertheless, it does hold itself together.

  • 2 tsp chia seeds, ground, to make chia gel* (or use 2 large eggs)
  • 8 medjool dates, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • ½ cup (120 ml) almond or melted coconut oil (if using eggs, reduce the oil to ⅓ cup – 80 ml)
  • 2 tbsp (40 ml) pure maple syrup 
  • 1 ½ tbsp (30 ml) apple cider vinegar (exclude if using eggs)
  • ¾ cup quinoa flakes
  • ½ cup brown rice or sorghum flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder (reduce to 1 tsp when making the egg version)
  • ½ cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly oil a square or rectangular baking size dish (I used a 16 x 21 cm Pyrex dish), and line with baking paper.

*If you’re making the vegan version, first make the chia gel – add 100 ml water to the ground chia seeds and set aside. In a few minutes it will turn into a gel-like substance.

Add chia gel (or eggs), dates, oil, apple cider vinegar (exclude for egg version) and maple syrup into a bowl and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients before mixing thoroughly with the wet mix. The batter will be a little stiff. Tip batter into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly with the back of a spoon.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through (check with a skewer) and lightly browned at the edges. Cool in dish for about 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack. Once completely cooled, slice into 12 bars. The bars will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. They freeze well too.

Palak paneer with a few twists

palak-tofuPalak paneer is a traditional Indian dish made with spinach and a fresh cheese (paneer). But in preparation for the 30 day easy vegan challenge in November (I registered yesterday!), you’ll see mostly vegan (and gluten-free) recipes here over the next couple of months.

The ‘veganisation’ of this dish was inspired by the recent vegan cooking and yoga retreat I went to with my mum. At the retreat we made saag with wild mustard weeds, lotus seeds, cauliflower florets and coconut cream. Yes, you read right: weeds. Alexis, the retreat’s very knowledgeable vegan and wholefoods chef, is quite the weeds connoisseur. By the way, that was one interesting (and yummy) dish!

While the recipe here is really my own, the saag did prompt its creation. And no, there are no weeds.

Recipe

Serves 3–4

Don’t be scared off by all the prepping work. It’s actually not that bad!

Ingredients

  • 250 g organic tofu
  • 1 large bunch spinach, washed & roughly chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) coconut milk
  • 1 tsp stock concentrate
  • tamarind pulp or use juice of half a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, peeled, halved & thinly sliced
  • small knob ginger (~10 g), grated with skin and all
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2–4 cloves garlic, peeled & very finely chopped
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds, roughly ground
  • 2 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1/4 small pumpkin (~250 g), peeled & chopped into small cubes
  • sea salt, to taste

Prepping

Tofu prep

Chop 250 g organic tofu into 1.5 cm cubes.

In a frypan heat some coconut oil. The amount should be enough to cover the bottom of your frypan. Once heated, fry the tofu cubes in batches until lightly browned (you will have to flip the cubes around to get an even browning). Tip fried tofu onto a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside. (Alternatively, you can use the cubes without frying them.)

Spinach prep

In a pot, cook the spinach with 1 cup coconut milk, 1/2 cup water (or just use another 1/2 cup of coconut milk) and 1 tsp stock concentrate, until the spinach has wilted. Then blend into a puree using a hand blender. Or you can puree in a bench-top blender. The spinach mixture will be vibrant green. Set aside until needed.

Tamarind prep (optional)

Take some tamarind pulp (about the size of an Aussie 10 cent coin) and soak in 2 tbsp hot water. Once cooled squeeze the pulp with your hands to remove as much of the flesh as possible, then discard any seeds and remaining fibre. What you’re left with is thick ‘tamarind juice’. Set aside until needed.

Cooking

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-based pot and add onions, ginger and chilli. Saute for a few minutes then add the garlic. Once the onions are translucent, add the crushed mustard seeds. Continue to saute for a couple of minutes before adding the remaining spices: coriander, cumin, fenugreek and turmeric. You will need to stir continually so the spices don’t burn. Add a little more olive oil, if you find that the spices are catching.

Next, plop in the chopped pumpkin, stirring thoroughly to coat it with all the spicy goodness. Turn down the heat, and place the lid on. You will need to stir regularly, though. Just to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. I find making a little well in the middle and adding a couple of tablespoons of boiled water helps – once the water evaporates, I give the pumpkin a good stir.

Once the pumpkin is cooked (soft, but still keeps its shape), add in the spinach puree, tofu and tamarind juice if using. (If you’re using lemon juice, hold it off until the end of the cooking process). Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach darkens in colour, and thickens in consistency. If using lemon juice, add it now, and season with salt.

Enjoy with carbohydrate of choice – I had mine with brown rice.