Watermelon and Green Tea Soothie

Sitting outside, third experimental glass of watermelon and green tea soothie to hand, I am enjoying the scents of my summer: crushed lovage, trampled thyme, eviscerated verbena, scrambled sage. Yes, you guessed it, my four ‘girls’ have been on a rampage. Pecking and scratching their collective way through our little suburban patch, they seem to be celebrating their release from temporary incarceration.

Normally the girls have utter dominion over the garden, ratcheting around wherever they please. But we were away at the weekend and they had to settle for their ridiculously large covered and open-topped pens, with worm-filled compost bins, carefully placed limbs to leer from and even a corkscrew hazel tree to perch on, should they so wish. Hardly doing hard time. Don’t feel sorry for them.

So today, hollowing out dusty dirt baths is top of the hens’ to-do list. Peering out just now our poor borders look to have been under asteroid attack, such is the scarring. But we (or rather, I) don’t mind. Other than a recent delphinium-related error on my part we’ve quickly learned what are the best anti-nibble plants: roses, foxgloves, rosemary, thistles, perennial geraniums, lavender and crocismia. At this time of year perennial, herbaceous plants are mature and of little interest to the hens. But early spring is a bit of a nightmare for anything tentatively pushing though the earth after winter’s worst. And as for the tender annuals of early summer, they really don’t stand a chance and are relegated to hanging basket and lining the drive duty. Live and learn. I used to be quite garden proud but am having to settle for chicken proud.

Wrecking the garden is thirsty work

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Beetroot Zinger Juice

beetroot zinger juice in glass

Juicing is a subject close to my heart. Many of the people I advise and teach at the Maggies Cancer Caring Centre are going through chemotherapy when they come to the Centre. Most want to do everything they can to eat well through treatment. Evidence shows that those who are well-nourished tolerate treatment better and reduce their risk of infection. But sometimes this is very difficult to do. Because almost all chemotherapy drugs  affect taste, appetite and digestion at least somewhat, doctors and dietitians advise those affected to eat what they feel like eating and what they can taste and digest well. This is also what we advise. But I always encourage those who cannot tolerate raw fruits and vegetables to juice them. That way they can get the nutritional benefit without filling up on bulky lower calorie foods or deal with the effects raw produce can have on a weakened digestive system.

So why not just buy fresh juice from the supermarket? Well, supermarket juices – even ones labelled as fresh and in the chiller cabinet –  are always pasteurised, usually twice. This can lessen and even destroy some of the very compounds that we want from fresh juice. Sure, I drink store-bought juice occasionally but I don’t expect it to do much for me, other than be convenient and taste nice. Tomato juice is the only juice whose main nutrients are enhanced with processing.

In my opinion, homemade, freshly pressed juices are like liquid supplements, but without any of the downsides associated with supplementing while on cancer treatment (many immune-boosting supplements have potential to interfere with treatment effectiveness). People who juice during treatment may find that it helps a bit with energy, and they feel that even if their diet isn’t as they would like at the moment,  juicing helps to cover the nutritional bases.  Once the symptoms subside whole foods are once again on the menu.

During nutrition sessions I offer this juice and it always elicits oohs and ahhs because of the colour, which is a deep garnet and quite creamy looking. When asked what they think is in the juice only occasionally does beetroot get a mention. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. Suppose it depends on what you think of beetroot. Happily, participants always ask for the recipe. Although I use it in my cancer nutrition classes it is a juice for anyone, ill or well. It’s my family’s favourite juice and mine too, despite the pink-stained fingers. We drink it because we like it. A friend of mine even swears by this juice as a homework stimulant for her boys. Drink it at the first sign of a cold or if you know that something’s going around. Seems to work for us. I could go on and on about juicing (yes, even more than I already have) but I’ll let you see for yourself. Now, get that dust-covered juicer out of the garage, or from under the spare bed, and get juicing.

Science Bit: Known for its blood-purifying properties, beetroot also has a fantastic disease-fighting profile at its most basic level: it enhances the manufacture of white blood cells, stimulates red blood cell production and improves supply of oxygen to cells. This last point is very interesting because a small but well-conducted 2009 UK study demonstrated beetroot’s capacity to boost muscle stamina, probably because of the abundance of naturally occurring nitrates. This may have implications for athletes as well as ordinary folk going about their daily business. I wouldn’t advise consuming the half-litre a day amount achieved in the study (potential side effects include hives – unpleasant) beat) as we can benefit from drinking much smaller amounts, including lowered blood pressure. And don’t be alarmed if your urine or stool is pinkish or red. Many people are sensitive to the betalain and oxalic acid in beets and will experience ‘beetruria’, which looks scary but is completely harmless.

From a cancer perspective beetroot may be useful as it contains a high amount of manganese, which is needed for the formation of the potent anti-cancer cell protein, interferon. The deep red colour is due to another nutrient powerhouse – betanin, thought to help prevent both cancer and heart disease. And if that hasn’t convinced you to try this juice, it tastes darn nice too. Very refreshing, yet invigorating.

beetroot juice ingredientsBeetroot Zinger Juice

This is my recipe for beetroot juice but make it your own by mixing up the ingredients, so to speak: ditch the raspberries, or add celery, or orange. Whatever you have to hand that’s fresh and juiceable is fair game with juicing. The only real caveat is that beetroot shouldn’t make up more than one-quarter of your juice as it is so strong.

1 small or 1/2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed (the smaller the tastier)

2-3 large carrots, scrubbed and trimmed

1 apple and 1 pear – or two of either, scrubbed and cored

1/2 lime, peel removed (the oils in the peel make the juice bitter)

knob of fresh gingerroot – about the size of end-of-your-thumb

handful of frozen raspberries -use fresh if in season but the frozen ones make the juice creamy and luscious

What You Need: juicer (not a smoothie maker or blender); cutting board, sharp knife

Do as your juicer booklet says regarding any preparation of the fruit to fit your juicer’s ‘feed tube’. Once you have made the juice, blend the raspberries in with a hand blender, but if you don’t want the seeds or fibre push them through the juicer between the harder fruits/veg. Drink your juice as soon as possible but it will still be good – and good for you – up to 24 hours’ later if refrigerated and covered.        Serves 2

Extra Tidbit: If you can get beetroots with super-fresh leafy tops juice the tops as well – they are crammed full of a variety of free-radical scavenging carotenoids and other goodies. The tops are also tasty in a stir fry. Because the leaves also contain oxalic acid anyone prone to kidney stones or who has rheumatoid arthritis or gout should avoid eating the tops. If you want to know more about this fantastic but much maligned vegetable click here. If you want more juice ideas, click here.

Tofu and Aubergine Lime-Basil Stir Fry

tofu aubergine curry in bowl

I’ve pretty much just given you the ingredient list in the title. I actually got the idea for this recipes ages ago from the back of a box of Cauldron Foods tofu. Trying packet recipes is often a good idea, especially if you are unfamiliar with the product. If you think about it, it’s bound to be easy to follow and decent tasting because they want you to buy the product again. Anyway, although I don’t make this for work (I bring in home-prepared food rather than do food demos) it happens to be one of my family’s favourite meals. In fact, until I started buying gorgeously fresh Pittenweem fish from the visiting fish van, my daughter and I used to jokingly refer to Thursday as ‘Tofu Thursday’. I’m fairly certain we are unique (strange) in that respect. Unrestricted by a designated date, Tofu and Aubergine Basil-Lime Stir Fry still features regularly in our household, although my toned down version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Black Pepper Tofu’, from ‘Plenty’ is right up there, too. I’ll post that one at a later date, once I take some photos.

The Science Bit: Some of you may not have cooked with tofu, or think tofu is too bland to bother eating. Tofu IS bland – that’s what I think is so good about it. Its very blandness makes it very easy to taste like what you want it to taste like. Plus, the nutritional benefits are pretty top-notch, depending on who you ask. According to the Cauldron Foods website (whose information is a concise version of that found on most websites and books describing tofu’s plus points): “Tofu is… one of the (sic) only 2 plant-based proteins that contain all 8 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Soya is also cholesterol free and low in saturated fat, with no trans fat.  It contains fibre and is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and some B vitamins.  It also contains linolenic acid, which is a polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid, which helps maintain a healthy heart.  The American FDA has stated that diets containing 25gms of soya protein combined with a low in saturated fat diet can help decrease cholesterol. Helping to normalise blood sugar levels is another feature of soya foods, since they have a low glycemic index.  It may also be in keeping blood pressure under control, it’s low in sodium/salt.  Soya products can help reduce menopause symptoms and act as a natural alternative to HRT, because soya is a source of genistein, which is an antioxidant rich in oestrogen-like isoflavones.” That’s us told.

Cancer-fighting credentials?: On my cancer nutrition course, women with breast cancer sometimes ask whether soy will help their cancer or if it in fact causes tumour growth. Although in recent years there has been some concern at the possibility that eating soy products may promote growth of existing breast tumours, it is now thought that food sources of phytoestrogens – including soy – are safe.  The general advice from doctors is that most women with breast cancer can include fermented and traditionally made soya products in a varied diet – one or two modest servings a day. Certainly it seems to be a good idea to include soy regularly in the diet if you are at risk of developing colon or prostate cancer. Discuss this issue with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.

Now, back to the recipe. As with many stir fry dishes, this recipe is easily adapted to the contents of your veg box/CSA box. Right now you might have cauliflower coming out of your ears (there’s a bad joke in there somewhere). If so, instead of including aubergine, try adding steamed, (or roasted) sliced cauliflower stems and florets. Whack these in the wok, along with some frozen green beans and the rest of the ingredients, and you have a seasonal take on this surprisingly-interesting-for-tofu dish. I sometimes add leftover sweet potato cubes for a sweet note and pretty colour. The lead photo shows the dish with cooked brown rice noodles, but we usually have it with a side of oven-baked basmati rice to which I have added a tiny pinch of frozen, chopped lime leaves. And greedy so and sos that we are I slice and lightly steam a huge pile of pak choi for a crunchy, slightly bitter counterpoint.

tofu stir fry in wokTofu and Aubergine Stir fry

This recipe has slightly Thai overtones, using as it does lime juice, muscovado sugar (instead of Thai palm sugar), basil and soy/tamari sauce. Add the optional chillies if the children are having something else.

What You Need:

1 -2  firm aubergine(s), sliced into 1 cm wide batons (amount doesn’t matter unless they are both huge)

Oil spray OR 2 tbsp olive oil

1 x 200g packet basil tofu (I use Taifun brand), sliced in scant 1 cm strips OR marinate plain tofu*

150g fine/green beans, topped, tailed and sliced in half

juice of 2 limes

1 clove garlic, finely minced

3 tbsp muscovado sugar or other unrefined dark brown sugar

approx 4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce (it depends on how much juice is in the lime)

freshly ground pepper, to taste

½ tsp arrowroot or cornflour/cornstarch

handful fresh basil leaves (sweet kind if you can get them)

1-2 red or green chillies (optional)

Toss the aubergine batons in the oil or spray with an oil spray. Spread the aubergine batons onto a baking tray and bake at 200C/400F for between 15 and 20 minutes: you want it to soften and take on a little colour in places. Set aside while you make up the sauce and steam the beans.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, minced garlic, sugar, soy sauce or tamari, and the ground pepper. Steam the sliced beans for four minutes, or boil for two minutes. Drain the beans and ‘refresh’ by running them under the cold tap for a few seconds. Set aside to drain.

When the aubergine is ready, heat a wok or large sauté pan and add the sliced tofu, aubergines and beans; stir fry for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle over the arrowroot or cornflour and mix through the ingredients, then pour over the lime juice mixture, tossing to coat. Continue to stir fry for a further minute before adding the chilli and tearing in the basil leaves. Serve with Jasmine or basmati rice, brown rice noodles or soba noodles, and scatter with chopped cashew nuts.

* To marinate plain tofu, wrap the tofu in several sheets of paper towel and squeeze between two cutting boards, or between your palms – keep it in its square shape. Squeeze the juice of ½ a lime into a bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce. Slice the tofu into cubes and toss in the mixture, lightly pressing the tofu to help it soak up the flavours. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes before adding to the dish.