I love a good winter salad, especially a really pretty one (ever tried edible flowers?), with hits of sweetness (like pear, citrus fruit or apple), bitter undertones and something crunchy, aka toasted nuts or seeds. And they come into sharp focus in my life around the middle of January every year, when my jeans start feeling a little too tight and my energy levels drop. Usually I try to stick to a plant-heavy whole foods and gluten-free diet – because my autoimmune issues flare up if I don’t – but during the Christmas holidays, it is nigh impossible. That is where winter salads come in. Add a well balanced, sharp dressing and a few herbs, and you’ve got yourself an awesome post-indulgence feelgood dish.
In fact, it is the dressing that can take a salad into the realm of superfood stardom. Your body needs the fat in the dressing to absorb the fat-soluable vitamins in the fresh vegetables and fruit – without it you may as well be eating cardboard (well, you know what I mean). Monounsaturated fat, like olive oil and avocado oil, is the most efficient at supporting carotenoid absorption in the body.
Don’t be tempted to buy ready-made dressings – making your own is so easy, quick and delicious. Plus, by making your own you are avoiding lots of additives, gums, thickeners, colours, flavours and preservatives that commercial dressing often contain. Try your hand at the dressing below, or replace the orange juice with apple cider vinegar and add a touch of honey or maple syrup. Lipsmacking.
Winter salad with pears and edible flowers
Serves 4 – 6
Ingredients for the dressing
zest and juice from one large orange – should yield 60ml (1/4 cup) orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
grinding of black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
heaped teaspoon grated ginger
Ingredients for the salad
1 large packet baby leaves
3 small perfectly ripe pears, thinly sliced
handful of walnuts (raw or lightly roasted), roughly chopped
small bunch of mint
5 radishes, thinly sliced
crumbled blue cheese, optional
- Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a jar, screw the lid on tightly and shake well.
- For the salad, arrange all the ingredients on a large plate, then scatter over the edible flowers and crumbled cheese, if using.
- Dress shortly before serving.
Lunch boxes take me back to my school days and the AMAZING lunches my mum used to pack for us whenever we had after school activities, and couldn’t eat lunch at home. When I moved out, first to study, then to live and work abroad, I adopted the all too common approach of regularly skipping breakfasts, grabbing something quick and ready-made for lunch, and ending the day with a very late, and very large dinner. But the traditional saying “breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper” is proving rather accurate, as the mounting research† in favour of intermittent fasting shows.
Frontloading your calory intake to the first half of the day reduces risk factors for heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. People who don’t eat large meals in the latter half of the day also tend to sleep better, suffer less digestive issues and show less signs of ageing. This, and all the research I have been reading about children performing better at school, being better behaved and less prone to falling ill when they have a healthy breakfast and nutritious lunch, has convinced me to start making an effort to pack my family some decent lunches. Here are some ideas, which I put together for the team at Compass Fostering to help inspire parents to pack a punch on the lunch box front.
Lunch box 1
Fruit water (cucumber and mint)
Lightly salted popcorn
Ingredients for the rainbow wrap
wholemeal wrap or flatbread
1 – 2 tablespoons hummus or red pepper hummus
small handful baby leaf spinach
1 small carrot, coarsely grated
1/4 red pepper, cut into long strips (the long Romano variety works well here)
1. Spread the hummus evenly onto the wrap, leaving a border along the top end.
2. Place the spinach leaves down in a single layer, pile grated carrot into the centre and lay pepper sticks across.
3. Fold the bottom half over the fillings, ensuring you have a tight roll, then roll upward towards the top end. Cut in half or slice into thirds.
Fruit water (lemon and lime)
Pineapple wedges, raspberries
Wholemeal pesto pasta salad with salmon and peas
Natural Greek yoghurt with pumpkin seeds and raw honey
Ingredients for the pasta
medium bunch basil
small bunch dill, thickest part of stems discarded
medium bunch parsley, thickest part of stems discarded
1 small garlic clove, peeled
salt and pepper
about 80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
cooked salmon (left-overs work well here)
cooked wholemeal pasta (save some of the cooking liquid)
handful of frozen peas
- Put the herbs, garlic, pinch of salt and black pepper in a food processor and blitz until roughly chopped.
- With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until you reach your desired consistency (the green “pesto” sauce should be loose enough to fold into cooked pasta).
Combine the pesto with cooked pasta, cooked salmon or deboned trout, and defrosted frozen peas.
- Add a little more olive oil and pasta cooking liquid if it needs it.
Lunch box 3
Fruit water (raspberries and blueberries)
Cucumber and carrot sticks with guacamole
Trail mix (sunflower seeds, coconut chips, chopped dates)
Mini frittata with broccoli and feta
Ingredients for the frittata
1 tablespoon water
small pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
small knob of butter
handful of steamed broccoli florets (left-overs are great for this) 25g crumbled feta
- Whisk the eggs with the water, salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced spring onions.
- Heat the butter in a small ovenproof skillet or pan over a medium heat until sizzling, then pour the egg mix into the pan, and scatter over the broccoli and feta cheese.
- Cover the pan, turn the heat down and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the egg has just set.
- Pop the pan under a hot grill for half a minute if you’d like, to add some colour. Cool, turn out and slice to serve.
This post was written in collaboration with Compass Fostering. All opinions, words and images are my own.
The tree in our front garden is by now completely bare (although the neighbour’s tree is still haemorrhaging leaves) and my American friends are all preparing for their Thanksgiving feasts. I have yet to be invited to one, but am a huge fan of the traditional menu of sides that is usually served at these gatherings: cranberries in some shape or form, spiced pumpkin, sweet potatoes, sprouts, mashed potatoes and squashes. When I made this swede and sweet potato mash to go alongside our chilli last week, we all agreed that it would make an excellent addition to any festive meal.
Swede and sweet potato mash
Serves 4 – 6
1 swede, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
glug of olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (or more olive oil to keep it vegan)
6 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon very finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or use 1 teaspoon dried)
salt and freshly ground pepper
blanched almonds, lightly roasted
- Toss the swede and sweet potato with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 180˚C for 40 mutes or until tender and lightly coloured. You will need to toss the pieces halfway through.
- While the veg are roasting, gently cook the chopped shallots and chopped rosemary in the butter until the shallots start to colour. Turn up the heat a little and caramelise for a further 5 to 10 minutes until nicely golden. Add the chopped oregano and set aside.
- When the vegetables are tender, place in a food processor and blitz until you have a lovely smooth consistency. Spread out on a plate, top with caramelised onions, pomegranate seeds, roasted almonds and more butter if required.
I have been so busy getting into the rhythm with my new teaching job (which I love, btw), that I have not shared a new recipe since August last year!!! And here I am posting a strawberry and elderflower recipe with both strawberry and elderflower season just about done for this year. Boo! But it is so delicious, that I thought it would be worthwhile adding anyway. Hope you will have a chance to make it!
Gluten free strawberry and elderflower tart
185g flour (you can use gluten-free)
75g soft brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or seeds from 1 pod
120g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 medium egg, lightly whisked
40ml double (heavy whipping) cream, chilled
1.2 kg delicious sweet strawberries, hulled and halved
elderflower syrup for drizzling
- Preheat oven to 190˚C and line an lipped baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine the dry ingredients and mix. Rub or cut the cubed butter into the flour for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the pastry resembles wet sand (you could use a food processor for this). Set aside.
- Whisk the vanilla, egg and cream until blended, then drizzle over the flour mixture and mix until it just comes together. Do not over-mix!!!!
- Spoon the pastry onto the baking sheet in dollops and spread out evenly with a spatula or the back of a large metal spoon. You might need an extra pair of hands to hold the paper in place.
- Scatter over the halved strawberries, pressing them into the pastry slightly, and bake for 20 – 30 min, or until the pastry has risen and is golden and crunchy around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve with whipped cream and a drizzle of elderflower syrup.
I often get asked by exhausted and slightly fed-up parents what they should serve their kids for breakfast. I find it so hard to answer that, as my children have had spinach soup, dhal and left-over stew for breakfast… but how do you compress your entire food philosophy into an answer to the simple question: “What’s for breakfast?” The way I’ve explained it to my family is that ANYthing that breaks the fast in the morning qualifies, and if you look at the myriad of breakfasts served around the globe every day, there really are no rules.
A well-balanced meal is your best bet, whatever you choose to serve. In other words it contains enough protein to keep you full for a few hours and prevent cravings, enough carbohydrates to get you going, and enough healthy fat to slow down the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, providing satiation while helping to avoid major insulin spikes.
This cornbread is a delicious alternative to boxed cereal or toast when served with avocado, chilli jam and eggs, or these delicious homemade baked beans on the savoury version, or nut butter and honey on the blueberry version. It’s easy to prepare the batter the night before – remember to add the baking soda and baking powder only just before baking! – and needs only 20 – 25 minutes or so in a hot oven. There are so many versions of recipes for cornbread, but I have played around for a long time with the proportions and this is one of my favourite end results. Now, this cornbread is certainly not only a breakfast food in our house (in fact, I most often make it as a side dish when we have friends over for a BBQ), so hopefully you will get a chance to try it out soon, morning, noon or night!
Makes two 8” or 20cm skillet cornbreads, or one large bread
230 – 250g (about 1 1/4 cup) cornmeal or polenta bramata (the exact amount depends on how coarsely the cornmeal is ground and the water content of the coconut milk – you are aiming for a wet, but not runny, mixture)
120g (about 1 cup) wholemeal spelt flour (you can also use your favourite gluten-free flour, although the bread won’t be as crispy)
20g (about 2 tablespoons) coconut palm sugar (or use muscovado)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 x 400g can coconut milk (full fat and preferably organic)
3 eggs, lightly whisked
15ml (1 tablespoons) apple cider vinegar
- Preheat oven to 200°C.
- Combine the polenta, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Place the can of coconut milk in a small heatproof bowl and cover with hot water from the tap for a couple of minutes (this will not be necessary if you live in a hot country!).
- Pour the coconut milk and vinegar into the beaten eggs in a thin stream, constantly whisking.
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking as you do so.
- Heat some coconut oil in a cast iron skillet(s) or other pan with a heavy base on the hob until hot (but not smoking). Or if you are using a small roasting tin / baking sheet with a heavy bottom, heat it in the oven with the oil.
- Scrape the cornbread mixture into the hot pan(s) and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until browned on top and the centre springs back when lightly pressed.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out and serving hot. (You could also re-heat the bread in a medium hot oven the next day.)
- For a savoury version, add caramelised onions, corn kernels (about 1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen), chilli flakes and chopped coriander to the batter before baking and scatter some sliced spring onions on top. For a sweet version add a punnet of blueberries and vanilla powder to the batter, then sprinkle some brown sugar on top before baking.
This is the most perfect summer dessert when you have gorgeous, sweet strawberries that need eating and a few sticks of rhubarb searching for a purpose. The baked custard is only ever so slightly sweetened with maple syrup and a few drops of orange oil, so the flavours of the fruit really have the last word.
Slow-roasted strawberries & rhubarb with baked custard
For the roasted fruit
600g small, sweet strawberries, hulled
5 – 6 sticks of rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2 cm pieces
1 orange, zest and juice
45ml (3 tablespoons) honey or maple syrup (or more to taste – I like things super tart!)
For the baked custard
1 litre milk of your choice (the fattier the milk, the more delicious the custard)
pinch of salt
7 medium free-range eggs
30ml (2 tablespoons) honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon good quality orange oil, optional
- Gently toss all the ingredients for fruit in a medium, shallow ovenproof dish and roast at 140˚C for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender when tested with a small sharp knife. Try not to disturb the fruit too much once cooked, as it will be very soft. Set aside.
- While the fruit is roasting, prepare the custard. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it starts to froth around the edges (don’t let it boil!). Remove from heat.
- Briefly whisk the eggs and maple syrup in a large heatproof bowl, then carefully pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture, continuing to whisk gently.
- Once the fruit has been removed, turn the oven up to 160°C and boil a full kettle of water.
- Place a clean cotton or terry cloth in the base of a roasting tin – this will prevent the dish from sliding around. Grease a medium ovenproof dish and place on the cloth. Pour the custard mixture into the dish and put the roasting tin in the oven.
- Pour the boiled water around the dish – it should come about halfway up the sides, so you might need to boil a second kettle, depending on the size of your tin.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until just set. Don’t be alarmed if it still looks rather wobbly, as it will continue to set even after you’ve removed the dish from its water bath.
- Serve warm or refrigerate and serve chilled with the roasted fruit.
Ah, a beautiful, juicy fig… and sunshine. And saltwater hugs. It was so good to be back in South Africa, spending time with family and friends. The kids loved every moment (especially the fact that they could wear shorts most of the time) and I enjoyed the slightly more relaxed pace. On our way from Hermanus to Plettenberg Bay, we stopped at a fig farm and bought a whole box of figs for £3.50! We were all salivating in the car the rest of the journey. We enjoyed them in so many different ways: gobbled up whole, sliced into salads, in smoothies, smashed on buttered toast. And then there was the cake, of course. The first piece eaten very quickly with a dollop of mascarpone. The second piece nibbled a little more slowly, savouring its crumbly texture and delicious flavour.
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
65g (1/2 cup loosely packed) light muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
160g (roughly 1 cup) whole raw almonds
80g (scant ½ cup) spelt flour or gluten-free flour blend
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
zest from 3 large organic lemons
12 figs, stalk removed and quartered
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a medium sized ovenproof dish (or cake tin).
- Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another minute or two.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Process the almonds in a food processor until they resemble a coarse meal. Add this, as well as the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the lemon zest.
- Spoon the mixture into the greased dish, flatten the top with a spatula and press the fig quarters into the batter.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden and crunchy-looking, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Do not overbake, as it will dry out.
This rhubarb galette with gingerbread spices is delicious, straight from the oven, served with vanilla ice cream or slightly sweetened whipped cream. It is easy to make and you can replace the rhubarb with any fruit in season, but remember to take into account how quickly the fruit cooks when deciding on how large to slice or chop it. Slice apples or ripe pears very thinly, pile berries on top, or try chopped pineapple – they all work fantastically well.
Ingredients for the pastry
225g wholemeal spelt flour (I used buckwheat, which works too, but makes the pastry slightly more fragile)
pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (usually made by grinding the whole dried vanilla pod) or the seeds from one pod
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
40 – 60ml (2 1/2 – 4) tablespoons ice cold water
Ingredients for the fruit topping
5 cups chopped or sliced rhubarb (or other fruit of your choice)
1 cup light muscovado sugar or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
a few tablespoons ground almonds
- In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, vanilla and butter until it resembles wet sand. You can also do this by hand, by rubbing the butter into the dough with your finger tips.
- Now add the cold water little by little until the dough just comes together into a ball.
- Remove the dough from the food processor and knead briefly until smooth. It shouldn’t be sticky or crumbly – of too sticky, add more flour, if too dry, add a few more drops of ice water. Shape it into a flat disc.
- Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking parchment – you are aiming for a thin sheet about 3mm thick, either round or square’ish, and refrigerate on a baking sheet until firm (about half an hour).
- Remove the firm dough from the fridge and place on a large baking sheet (still on the parchment paper). Allow to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
- Mix together the fruit and spices and as soon as the pastry has reached room temperature. Scatter the ground almonds in a circle in the centre (this will prevent the juices that escape during cooking from making the pastry soggy), and spoon the fruit on top.
- Fold over the edges, pinching the pastry here and there to keep it in place, and bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and crunchy, and the fruit tender. Allow to cool sightly before serving.
After the winter storm that hit most of the UK last week, it finally feels like spring is trying to make an appearance. Along with my appetite for large, colourful salads. Hahaha. Who am I trying to kid… I would eat salads with blizzards howling around me 😉 Whether it is still snowy where you are, or you have secretly started unpacking your summer wardrobe, here is some inspiration for those of you in need of something fresh and refreshing – a watercress, blood orange and beetroot salad with a moorish green dressing.
The salad ingredients are really up to you. Here I’ve combined blood oranges, rocket, watercress, spring onions, pomegranate seeds, beetroot, green olives, red chicory and very salty Pecorino cheese. Keep it vegan by omitting the cheese or replacing it with a vegan alternative. Blood orange season is now almost over, but you can use regular oranges, tangerines, minneolas or mandarins too. And any beetroot will do, although this candy (or chioggia) beetroot is particularly beautiful and great raw in salads, as it loses its candy stripes once cooked. I also really love the addition of the chicory here, as it adds a tad of bitterness.
Ingredients for the green dressing
90ml (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
60ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice
large handful mint leaves
small bunch coriander, leaves and stalks
large pinch of good quality salt
freshly ground black pepper
small knob of ginger
1 garlic clove
maple syrup to taste
- Pour the oil and lemon juice in a blender, then add the other ingredients on top.
- Blend until smooth and velvety. Pour over the salad, or store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to a few weeks. Shake well before use.
Note: to spice things up, you could also add a green chilli to the dressing. For other winter salad inspiration, click here.
Another delicious topping for chocolate bark is a combination of toasted macadamia nuts, dried bananas and flaked sea salt. Drizzle everything with melted milk chocolate and ta-dah!
Chocolate bark with macadamia nuts, dried banana and sea salt
Makes enough for 2 – 4 little bags
150g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)
large pinch of sea salt flakes
30g (1/4 cup) macadamia nuts, toasted for 5 minutes at 180˚C pre-heated
30g dried bananas, finely chopped
5g popped quinoa, optional
20g milk chocolate
- Melt 2/3 of the dark chocolate in a double boiler until just melted, stirring continuously. As soon as it has melted, stir in the rest of the chocolate until all has melted. You could also melt the chocolate in a microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring after each, until just melted. Do not let the chocolate get warm.
- Pour the melted chocolate onto a large piece of greaseproof paper and quickly spread out to about 1/4” thickness with a spatula.
- Quickly scatter over all the toppings evenly.
- While the bark is cooling, melt the milk chocolate in the same way as the dark chocolate. Either drizzle this over the bark with a spoon or use a small sandwich bag (or piping bag) to pipe the melted chocolate onto the bark. Set aside to cool completely.
- Peel away the paper and snap into pieces.