Today I have been busy preparing the lunch that will round off tomorrow’s nutrition session at the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre. Although I really enjoy facilitating the sessions, I also love to prepare the food. I love the rhythm of trawling around the local shops, picking up and sniffing the produce (sometimes indulging in a sneaky squeeze), chatting to the merchants and shop assistants, and just generally taking my time getting the best of the day’s offerings. Sometimes I make do with just a supermarket (boring but expedient), but I also try and get to the lushly fronted greengrocers’ shops in nearby Stockbridge, stopping by Armstrong’s for immaculate, fresh fish for our dinner. As a special treat (or if I am under-budget)I head to Earthy Market in Newington for the most sumptuous whole foods displays in Edinburgh: baskets of amazing breads (seaweed sourdough is Miss R’s favourite), a Welsh dresser full of pulses, seeds and grains, shelves of every ingredient you can think of for the well-stocked pantry, and captivatingly gorgeous wooden crates of best-of-season fruits and vegetables from nearby Phantassie Organic Farm and other quality suppliers. But, if I am honest, I am also there for the cafe. Can’t recommend it highly enough (and neither can the reviewers). Not only is the daily-changing menu a testament to fine seasonal cafe fare, it is presented so lovingly and at a price that puts lesser-quality cafes and restaurants to shame. Please go if you live even vaguely nearby. You can also buy top-notch local vegetables, herbs and decorative plants to plant your own personal oasis of useful beauty. If you go on my recommendation, tell them food to glow sent you.
Back to our regularly scheduled blether…I keep a frankly embarrassing amount of staple items but for fresh things nothing beats taking time to pick the most colourful, vibrant raw foods available as and when they are needed. It doesn’t always need to be organic for me, just vibrant, fresh looking and feeling, with leaves and stems attached if possible as this lets me know how fresh something really is. I always have a menu and list written out, based on what is seasonal and what I am likely to find, but invariably I change tack, often because I am inspired by the look of something, such as finding an elusive type of basil, or spying frothy baby fennel bulbs. There is almost always something at Earthy that grabs my attention and hops of its own accord into my already-backache inducing basket, usually something deeply coloured – or at least how I perceive it under its preserving layer of dirt! Like my friend Niki at unified space, the colour expert and design whizz, I am captivated by colour, not only because it looks good but because I know it does me – and you – good too.
I won’t yabber on about the benefits of phytochemicals – natural chemicals in plant foods that have health-promoting properties; I will save that for a separate page and another time. But what I will eventually write can be boiled down into a few words: eat in colour, and the more so the better. What we know about this nominal group of tens of thousands of compounds is that they potentially can have a profound effect on not only the prevention of cancer, but also the treatment of cancer. Research into food and cancer is in its infancy, really only about 20 years or so, and the discovery and study of phytochemicals is even younger. Scientists have only been able to concentrate on a fraction of identified plant chemicals but the colour – pigmentation – and the taste seem to be crucial, with different pigmentation and taste signifying different properties. It’s early days and there appear to be numerous caveats but the future looks bright (-ly coloured), excuse the mangled pun.
But, as I said, I won’t yabber on. Find out more about this fascinating field of study by either waiting until I knuckle down and write something, or have a look here (for an academic take) and/or at Livestrong for a practical and layman’s look at phytochemicals.
Onto the recipe, a colour-filled one combining carotene-favoured sweet potatoes, bitter rocket and common but useful sweet peppers. The gut-helping black beans are also full of hundreds of interesting vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, including three anthocyanin flavonoids that contribute to its luscious black velvet hue: delphinidin, petunidin, and malvidin. But probably most useful to know is that black beans are the least likely to cause wind…
This rather leaf-light salad is one of my favourite proteiny lunch salads, possibly because I love the punchy but not spicy dressing so much. But it’s not just for lunch: I sometimes serve it at dinner or at barbeques with grilled fish and other bits and bobs. You can also add cooked giant couscous, or other grains, to change the texture and give it even more of a nutritional boost. It’s very versatile, colourful, and I hope you like it.
Small packet/50g watercress OR rocket/arugula leaves (although sorrel would be fantastic too, if you can get it/grow it)
Toss the sweet potato in half the olive oil. Pop the potatoes onto a baking tray and sprinkle over half the cumin seeds and oregano. Do the same with the peppers in the remaining oil. Bake the trays in a 200 C oven for 20 minutes (peppers) and 30 minutes (potatoes). When the peppers and potatoes are starting to brown, remove from the oven to cool slightly in a wide serving bowl or platter; add the drained beans.