Thursday, 11 November 2010

Autumn Foods

As we move into autumn and then winter our foodie thoughts move from salads and fruit to more wholesome and warming meals such as soups and stews. As a nutritionist and a foodie I like to make sure that food is appealing, easy enough to prepare to make others want to have a go but importantly it is nutritionally balanced. One of the sets of ingredients that I find greatly underutilised, which given their relatively low cost in comparison to the rising cost of meat and dairy products, is a sin, is plant proteins such as beans, nuts, peas and soy products.
Before moving on to talk about the most important things i.e. how to make some yummy soups, stews and snacks I need to cover off the science bit so you understand why these foods are important to your body. Proteins are part of our hormones, body tissues and our immune system. They are made of amino acids which can be made in and used by the body, but there are some which cannot be made by the body. These are called essential amino acids, and we therefore need to eat them. Plant proteins tend to be limited in one or more essential amino acids. For example, beans are low in the amino acid lysine, while rice is rich in lysine. When combining the amino acids from two or more foods together you can make up a complete protein with sufficient levels of all the essential amino acids. These are called "complementary proteins". Examples include grains and legumes or legumes and seeds and nuts.
Here are some delicious autumn/winter meal ideas that are cheap and easy to prepare:


2 medium onions, chopped
1 or 2 medium cans red kidney beans (sugar- free, rinsed)
2 courgettes (zucchini), washed and sliced
1 medium can tomatoes (no citric acid)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander

Preheat the slow- cooker on High.  Heat all ingredients in a saucepan then turn into the slow-cooker.  Turn cooker to low and leave all day.  Serve with whole-grain rice.


1 tbls olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 × 425g/15oz can cannellini beans
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Roughly chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion then cover and cook gently for 10 minutes, until tender but not brown.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.
Add the cannellini beans, together with their liquid, then purée in a food processer or blender until fairly smooth and creamy.
Return the mixture to the pan and add some water to adjust the consistency to your liking: about 300ml/½ pint makes a medium-thick soup.  Bring to the boil then season with salt and pepper and a squeeze or two of lemon juice.
Serve the soup in warmed bowls, topped with some extra virgin olive oil, if you like, some flat-leaf parsley and coarsely ground black pepper.


1 tbsp oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
8-10 cardamom pods
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ tsp turmeric
Pinch of chilli powder
1 bay leaf
175g/6oz split red lentils
Juice of ½-1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the onion, cover and cook gently for 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, bruise the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar or with a wooden spoon.  Add them to the onion, along with the garlic, turmeric, chilli powder and bay leaf, and cook over a gentle heat for a further 2-3 minutes.
Stir in the lentils, then pour in 750ml/1½ pints of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, until the lentils are very tender and pale coloured.
Sharpen the flavour with lemon juice to taste, season with salt and pepper, then serve accompanied by poppadums if you like.

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