food to glow

feel good food that's good for you

north african-spiced winter vegetable soup // food to glowThe nearly needle-less tree lies forlorn at the curb; shiny baubles are carefully wrapped and stored away; work clothes are strewn in a messy heap on the bedroom floor.

Gah! Nothing fits!

Pick up a magazine: “New Year! New You!”…”Get Your Best Body Yet!” …””Drop 2 Pounds A Week With Our Celebrity Diet and Exercise App!”

Turn the magazine face down and sob quietly into your coconut milk latte.

Repeat millions of times over, for it is January, the traditional month of dietary penance and angst.

north african-spiced winter vegetable soup // food to glowAt this time of year diets and healthy eating plans vie for our attention, and wallet. At the best of times it can be confusing to know what to eat, but January takes it to a whole new level of uncertainty. There are many different ways to eat, ranging from plants only to eating mainly animal foods – raw vegan, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, primal {and here is the difference}, Mediterranean, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free, flexitarian, vegan before 6, etc. And all points in between. Advocates of each diet proclaim theirs has the most scientific backing, the best “results” – however that is defined.

With all of the chatter created by competing interests over the past five or so years {by my reckoning}, creating healthful meals has changed from a normal, almost hum-drum, activity that our ancestors have been engaged in for millennia, to a stressful, confusing puzzle that never seems finished.

Basically we have too many options; choices our ancestors never dreamed of having.

I am not claiming to have any answers to this confusion. I claim no particular expertise. But what I see as an over-arching theme – albeit with differing emphasis – is whole foods. Two simple, self-explanatory words: Whole. Foods.

If we strip away the ‘rules’ for each of these diets, the minutiae that is only a tiny speck of what it is to be healthy, therein lies whole foods. Foods in their natural, unrefined, gloriously healthy state: vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, whole grains, meats, fish, legumes; throw in the trickier-to-categorise spices and herbs too. Not the mucked about with, “grown for flavour” {shouldn’t that be a given?}, “lower fat”, “with added Omega-3” nonsense. Just actual food. Real food. Not something that has a long list of ingredients. Or obfuscating labels and layers of packaging. Varied, colourful, balanced real food. The stuff from the edges of the grocery store not the heavily packaged and advertised packets in the inner aisles. Or, better yet, a local market, co-operative, allotment, or backyard.

But even with that simple motto for eating well, it can be confusing. What of the rise of the superfood – that marketing term to denote a food with especially high amounts of key nutrients? If a little is good for us, then how about a lot?

With each ‘newly-discovered’ food {think chia seeds, acai berries, soy} comes hype and ubiquity. Working as I do with cancer patients the issue of soy comes up a lot {and I will be writing in depth on it soon}. While there is some research that soy can help prevent some cancers, these findings have catapulted a simple, relatively unprocessed food into highly processed meat-like chunks, powders for drinks, sweetened milks and yogurts, flours for commercially-made protein bars and diet meals. In China and Japan soy is a whole food eaten in its healthiest, naturally fermented form. I imagine elders in Japan think we are rather silly eating our protein bars and chocolate-flavoured soy yogurts rather than a bowl of miso or a bowl of fish and sea vegetables.

So, variety and balance with our whole foods and our so-called super foods.

Another piece of the puzzle is digestion. Our bodies are unique and so is our digestion. A way of eating that suits me may not suit you, and vice versa. In my cancer nutrition classes I ask participants to keep a food diary until our next class. The purpose of this is not to grade everyone on how nutritious – or not – is their diary. Instead I reassure them that it is a tool for them to use to help them gauge if what they are eating right now is helping them right now. Digestive difficulties are a frequent side effect of cancer treatment, with people often needing to eat less fibre rather than more. You would think I would be exhorting everyone to get loads of cancer-fighting fibre-rich veggies in, but if they can’t be digested, and cause pain, then intake needs to be modified. I tend to recommend juicing vegetables to get much of the nutrients without the discomfort.

But we all have our own digestive idiosyncrasies and food sensitivities. My nemesis is chickpeas. I just cannot digest them. I can make them marginally more tolerable by peeling each little pea, but they still cause me to nearly double over in pain. Maybe you have extremes like this, or worse.

The best thing we can do – from a dietary perspective –  is to listen to our body and find a way of eating that works best for us. For some people that may mean eating vegan, for others that may mean replacing meat with easier-to-digest fish. For others adding more pulses will give more energy and better digestion. We are all unique. I really advocate keeping a loose food diary for at least a short while, noting any digestive issues or fluctuations in energy and cognition, to try and fine-tune the diet. Even dieticians and nutritionists engage in this form of self-checking. See a registered dietitian or nutritionist if you need guidance, especially if you have health issues. Here are some tips from Web MD to help get the most out of keeping a food diary.

So, my take on Jumpstart 2015 is to encourage you to use this month to find out what foods make you tick. Hopefully it involves adding more vegetables to your diet, cutting back/out processed foods, and ditching added sugars. But whatever you do, I hope it gives you more energy and makes you feel more positive about eating. Food shouldn’t be something to beat ourselves up about or a fad we follow until the next one comes along. It should be about what makes us feel like our best selves. Without a label – for our food or ourselves.

So, enough jibber-jabber from me, let’s get eating…

I know the rest of my Jumpstart 2015 gang are straight out of the blocks with gorgeous smoothies, but perversely I will begin with a soup – New Year, New Soup!  A warming, gently spiced soup. It is especially odd of me seeing as I am still in warm and sunny Florida. Prime smoothie territory. Not to rub it in, of course. 😉


north african-spiced winter vegetable soup // food to glow

North African-Spiced Winter Vegetable Soup with Freekeh

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Prepare this mildly spiced soup with or without the toothsome and gorgeous freekeh, or even add in some cooked rice or quinoa instead. Oh, and no need to roast the veggies first but we like the natural sweetness that comes from a gentle roasting. If you aren’t roasting the vegetables you can ditch the oil and just add the vegetables to the boiling stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Harissa and ras-al-hanout  are optional: use 1/2 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander and 1/4 tsp of smoked paprika instead, if you please.

700g squash of choice – peeled, deseeded and chopped weight. {I used a Coquina butternut squash}

350g celeriac, peeled and chopped

3 carrots, chopped

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved or rough chopped

800ml vegetable stock or bouillon {I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder, the vegan one}

2 tsp harissa {here’s my recipe}

rose harissa

my homemade rose harissa

½ lemon, juiced


75g {heaped ½ cup} freekeh

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp ras-al-hanout {optional}

Dried rose petals {optional}

Equipment needed: baking tray{s}, saucepan, blender {I use my Froothie Optimum 9400}

1. Toss the squash, celeriac, carrot and onion in the olive oil and spread over two baking sheets. Bake at 180C/350F for about 30 minutes, stirring once. Ten minutes before the vegetables are done, stir in the garlic.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, heat 1 tsp of oil in a small saucepan and add the freekeh. Let it get a little toasty then add the ras-al-hanout, stir, and cover with twice the volume of water. Bring to the boil then simmer – covered – for about eight minutes, or until the freekeh is cooked but still has some bite to it. Drain and set aside.

raw freekeh

raw freekeh

3. Bring the vegetable stock to the boil. Add the vegetables to a blender along with one-third of the hot stock. Remove the stopper on your blender and cover with a teatowel. Blend the soup until smooth, then pour in the remaining stock and 1 tsp of harissa, and whiz a bit more gently, just to blend. Taste and add the remaining harissa and lemon juice if you like. For a child-friendly version, ditch the harissa and perhaps the freekeh.

north african-spiced winter vegetable soup // food to glow

north african-spiced winter vegetable soup, without freekeh

4. Serve the soup, adding a heaped spoon of freekeh and topping with a drizzle of harissa slaked in olive oil, and perhaps some pomegranate seeds and chopped mint. Serve warm rather than super hot.

More Jumpstart 2015 posts to enjoy {these bloggers will be posting regularly for the next few weeks so do bookmark them!}:

Franglais Kitchen – 2015 Food Trends

Tinned Tomatoes – Slim Down with Jumpstart January

Smarter Fitter – An Easy 3-Day Juice Feast to Jumpstart 2015 (Monica is my go-to gal for gorgeous smoothie and juice recipes)

Utterly Scrummy Food For Families – Jumpstart January for Smoothies and Soups

Fuss Free Flavours

Ren Behan

Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary

Veggie Desserts

London Unattached (mainly soups)

Maison Cupcake

And more posts of mine with freekeh!

Lebanese Freekeh and Fig Salad

Freekeh and Greens Soup


some soups, smoothies and juices already on food to glow


47 thoughts on “Jumpstart 2015: North African Winter Vegetable Soup with Toasted Freekeh + Thoughts On Diets

  1. nazima says:

    A very timely piece of writing Kellie – I’ve also realised that it isn’t just about getting to a negative energy balance – the nutritional profile matters so much and it feels so good to eat real whole food!

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I really think once we let go of the emphasis on calories {gosh, it is complicated!}, and embrace whole foods, we open ourselves up to lasting, positive changes.

  2. nazima says:

    the soup looks fantastic too Kellie and am bookmarking and pinning. x

  3. lizzygoodthings says:

    Gorgeous, Kellie… and great advice too!

  4. HedgeComber says:

    Oh my that looks stunning. The colours are adorable, consider it pinned!
    Janie x

  5. Interested to hear soy updates…. Happy 2015!!

  6. thespicyrd says:

    “Variety and balance with our whole foods..”-Check! “We all have our digestive idiosyncracies and food sensitivities..”-Check! I so couldn’t agree with you more on everything you have written Kellie 🙂 And your soup looks divine. I’ll take one bowl. Extra spicy please!!! Here’s to a healthy, happy new year! xoxo

    1. Thanks, EA. I am so happy to have your support. You know how I value your training, advice and overall wisdom! Just back from holiday, so I will coming by to “see you” very soon, and catch up with your posts and gorgeous recipes xxx

  7. I completely agree with everything you’ve written, I find ‘diets’ and all of the January stuff coming at us from all directions extremely negative. And it disturbs me every single year!!!! your advice is spot on. And the recipe is gorgeous 🙂

    1. Thanks for your support. I have been around long enough to resist the negative, hectoring tone of January detox nonsense, but I still hate that we are inclined to disapprove of ourselves enough to fall for it occasionally. Real food rocks!

      1. I know exactly what you’re saying, on both counts 😏

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Such a beautiful recipe and thought provoking post. I read every word of it last night on my iPad curled up on the couch. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. I have this image of you curled up against the lashing storms that are currently bashing our little country to smithereens. I hope you are safe and that you haven’t been called out in this awful, awful weather. I have been thinking of you and your colleagues these past few days. Stay safe, my friend xx

  9. Coincidentally I blogged freekeh today and I am definitely trying piling it into a bowl of soup! Really interesting article, I think it makes so much sense to strip foods back to their natural state and use them as they were meant to be enjoyed! There are too many bells and whistles added to stuff nowadays.

    1. Too many bells and whistles indeed. I think that is one reason some of us are moving away from the larger supermarkets: too much that we don’t need or want, and not enough that nourishes and properly feeds. I’m chuffed to read over at Maison Cupcake that you are finding a change of diet helpful and, as evidence with your recipes, delicious too. 🙂

  10. Shu Han says:

    That is such a beautifully written piece. Fair, thoughtful and well-balanced views amidst all this January hype! A really great one Kellie. x

    1. Thank you, Shuhan. For the comment and for taking the time to read the post. I hope it has resonated with many other readers too. 🙂

  11. Yep, I agree that the overarching theme is Whole.Foods, Variety and Balance. It’s not tricky, it just takes a resolve to commit to this way of eating as a lifestyle of sorts and patience because there’s no quick-fixes when it comes to making new habits stick. And lovely soup by the way, I was looking forward to seeing this one. I love the freekeh topping and the use of celeriac in this soup.

    1. Cheers, Katie. That’s a good point you make about it being a matter of commitment and patience. Nothing worth having is usually without some thought, perseverance and work to achieve it. Diet is no exception. Also, I have been reading your posts but find that once again I cannot leave a comment. I am feeling a bit thick as I had ‘cracked the code’ previously but can’t find my way back in! I really want to leave one too :-))

      1. Yes, and taking it one step further, nothing worth having comes so easily. So often we have to work for the best things in life. 🙂
        Argh, the comment issue I thought was resolved.I’m at a loss at this point, but I see you just got through so thank you!

  12. Sally says:

    I used to rush to the supermarkets in the UK everytime I came home. I revelled in the choice, the packed aisles. But now I can buy fresh organic produce direct from the farmer where I live I’m no longer tempted by the miles of choice – choice of things I don’t want to buy or eat… mainly processed. Great start to the Jumpstart Kellie – so bright and vibrant. Pinned on my soup board 🙂

    1. Sally, you don’t know how much I envy your lovely IG snaps of your market finds (the produce *and* the styling!), and now to know that you are not having to trawl the supermarkets in search of produce at all. Sigh.

  13. What a beautiful looking soup. I love your food photography.
    Very sensible advice about eating too – there needs to be more of that on the internet.

  14. Well said Kellie. Soak up that warmth, it’s blowing a hoolie here today and I’ve had the lights on all day! Lovely looking/sounding soup, I will be on to this for sure.

  15. Beautiful images of food! Great stuff

  16. This is so different! Love! Your diet discussion is right on. All the fads and magazine diets aren’t sustainable over a long time. You’re better off learning how to truly eat well.

  17. Sofia Häger says:

    your pictures are to beautiful. Makes me want to try to make all of the different recipes! 🙂

  18. That lookes so well created and presented. I will definately have to try some of these dishes : )

  19. A good reminder re whole foods Kellie. This looks like a rather special soup and I love the topping. I don’t top my soups often enough. It’s just straight out of the pot into a bowl and tucked into straight away. I made soup last night, so it should be tasting great by tonight.

  20. Excellent post, Kellie! I believe you and I are aligned with our thoughts on diets and advising people to just eat real food. Whole food. Food that comes from the earth. It’s really so simple, isn’t it? I, too, think a food diary is a very useful tool from time to time. We have much to learn from our own patterns and assessing what might be working well and what needs a little help. Beautiful soup, have pinned and bookmarked this one. Perfect for the chilly weather we’re experiencing here in Sweden at the moment!

    1. Hello my Canadian twin. 🙂 I think sometimes we could write each others posts! I am not as eloquent (but I am more sarky) however, and always, always find both inspiration and new information when I visit The Muffin Myth. And now with your new nutrition service, you can help people more personally. Best wishes with this brilliant venture. xxx

  21. Happy New Year Kellie. Hope Jumpstart is going well. You are always packed full of great info, I always like to read your posts for this as well as the lovely recipe. Great soup idea yet again, Your photos are always so enticing too!

  22. stateeats says:

    Amen to everything you have written! Real food rocks. – Kat

  23. This looks perfect for any time of the year. Your pictures are too gorgeous to not want to make it right now, though. 🙂

  24. Simple, natural, and attractive – what’s not to like? Thank you – this will be the first freekeh recipe that I try! Why ‘warm’ rather than ‘super hot’, may I ask? Not burning the mouth is the obvious answer, but it’s interesting that you make this point at the end.

  25. I made this soup last night, even though I forgot the onions it was delicious, spicy without being too hot. I used Quinoa which worked well as an alternative to freekeh.

    1. Fantastic, Sue. I don’t think I have made soup for myself without onions (have done for some people who need to be on low-fibre diets) but if you say you liked it, great stuff. Grains and pseudo-grains like quinoa are interchangeable in my recipes so I am pleased you made a change suitable for you.

  26. This is the second freekeh recipe I’ve read this evening and it’s another beautiful one! Putting freekeh in my online grocery shopping basket right now! Oh and I’ve been meaning to try making your harissa – stunning.

  27. Shannon says:

    Freekeh…not ever made it. I am a lover of Lebanese anything, however; not sure how I missed this.

    As for diets, there’s pretty much NOTHING I won’t eat, as long as no animal suffering came from it. Having the same body size as I did 20 years ago and being fit and strong (I take Taekwondo classes with my four kids, can kick over their heads), the word “diet” rarely escapes my lips. However, whole foods — particularly leaves plucked from the ground and rolled and stuffed right into my face whole — pretty much describes how I eat, because, well it’s delicious. Don’t get me wrong! I do love me a cupcake, paleo, gluten-free, highly processed no matter. Just leave out the eggs and dairy, please.

    1. You live an enviably active and healthy life. Balance in all things is easiest. Which you have achieved. Thanks for stopping by, Shannon.

  28. I must thank you for sharing such nice recipes for a healthy life. I need to lose some pounds and I think that this can help me in achieving my goals

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