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Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand - Mother Teresa

CHOCOLATE CARAMEL SLICE

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When I’m craving a sweet, vegan chocolate is my go-to. Until recently, caramel didn’t appeal until I discovered @lovingearth’s salted caramel chocolate. I’ve had a long love affair with slices as they were the recipe my mother asked me to make every weekend. We cooked together every Friday afternoon, making savouries and sweets for the weekend meals. She delved into her recipe books where she kept slips of paper with handwritten recipes. There were many little slips of paper tucked into several of her favourite recipe books, gathered from friends and family over the years. Most were slightly yellowed, watermarked and crinkled; definitely well used and well loved. Lately, she has been sharing her favourites with me and I keep telling myself that I must make a collection soon, hand written in a leather bound journal as I think they deserve such a place to be kept for posterity.

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In this chocolate caramel slice, I’ve made medjool dates the feature for their binding factor and caramel taste. You’ll notice that I’ve also added the superfood mesquite powder, for its high mineral content, especially calcium and magnesium. I’ve chosen this superfood in particular, as mesquite has a sweet, distinctive flavour with a caramel hint. Of course, it’s not imperative you include it. I’ve also chosen almonds as my nut of choice for this slice as there’s something about pairing the flavour of medjool dates and almonds that I love. I’ve used almonds in the base, and the nut butter in the caramel. If almonds don’t rock your boat, then brazil nuts or cashew nuts would be equally suitable. You’ll notice I’ve used vanilla powder. Again, if you can’t locate it substitute with vanilla bean extract.

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Health benefits:

·       You do not have to worry about weight gain when you eat medjool dates; they don’t have any fats or sodium or cholesterol. So, go ahead and indulge in eating this healthy fruit snack!

·       Medjool dates are great foods to control addiction for sweet foods. Their high fibre content keeps you full for long hence curbing the cravings.

·       Medjool dates are loaded with calories, carbohydrates, proteins and no fat. The sugar in them is usually glucose, fructose and traces of sucrose and maltose.

·       Medjool dates have a great amount of dietary fibre, supplying you with 27% of the recommended daily allowance. 

·       With 18 percent of the recommended daily allowance of copper mineral, medjool dates are useful in the body for absorption of iron, formation of collagen, red blood cells formation, healthy nervous system as well as energy generation.

·       The anti-oxidants in medjool dates play an important role in ridding from the body bad fats as well as reducing the risk cancers. 

·       The high natural sugar levels in medjool dates as well as potassium keep you invigorated with energy. Potassium in medjool dates (by the way they contain more potassium than bananas) builds muscles tone, enhancing you physically.

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CHOCOLATE CARAMEL SLICE

V, SF, DF, GF

Makes 23 x 23 cm tin / 23 x 34 cm tin

 

For the almond base:

1½ cups almonds

¾ cup desiccated coconut

¼ cup cacao powder

3 tablespoons rice malt syrup

10-12 medjool dates, pitted

 

For the caramel:

1 cup soft medjool dates, pitted

½ cup almond butter

½ cup rice malt syrup

¼ cup coconut oil

2 tablespoons mesquite, optional

1 teaspoon vanilla powder

pinch Himalayan salt

 

For the topping:

4 tablespoons sugar-free chocolate chips

To make the almond base, place the almonds in a food processor and chop into small pieces. Add the coconut, cacao powder, rice malt syrup and dates, then process until combined and sticky. Line a cake tin measuring approximately 23 x 23 cm (9 x 9 inches) or a slab tin 23 x 34 cm (9 x 13½ inches) with baking paper. Cut into the corners of the baking paper by cutting a square into each corner at the tin’s base. Evenly press the almond base into the tin, and place into the freezer while making the caramel.

Clean the food processor, add all the caramel ingredients and process until smooth. Spread the caramel over the almond base. Scatter the chocolate chips over the caramel and set in the freezer for 2-3 hours.

Remove from freezer at least 15 minutes before serving, and cut into slices. The slices can be stored in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks.

Enjoy!

SPRING SALAD

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Grandma was right all along when she told us greens were good for us nutritionally. So why do many people eat green leafy vegetables only once or twice a week? Why are kale, cabbage, broccoli and spinach not regularly seen on the dinner table? Why is lettuce the only green vegetable that many people ever use, when green vegetables are recognized by nutritionists as one of the most inexpensive sources of so many important nutrients? I believe education is the key.

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For our nightly dinners, we always include a variety of greens according to the season. I also make a green smoothie for our weekday breakfasts. If family or friends are coming for dinner, one salad is always made, the green salad. Regardless of the season, I’ll search the market for in seasonal greens. This salad is obviously for spring with asparagus, snow peas, watercress, lettuce leaves or spinach and green almonds. It isn’t difficult to find a wide variety of green vegetables for a salad or a side dish for all the seasons. Here are several suggestions. For a green summer salad you could combine: mixed lettuce leaves, green beans, cucumber, zucchini, celery and peas with a green dressing (see below) or add a legume or grain. For warm autumn greens you could use a side of steamed vegetables like: a head of romanesque, broccolini stems, brussel sprouts or fennel, seasoned with Himalayan salt and ground black pepper and drenched in olive oil. For winter, a steamed side of either: kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, fennel or Jerusalem artichokes well seasoned with Himalayan salt and ground black pepper would taste delicious on it’s own or mixed with grains and legumes.

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Use my salad ingredients as a guide, in fact, simply search your market or grocery store for whatever you can find, and add a pop of colour with one vegetable like mandolined radishes. The avocado dressing is king of this dish. Favourful and smooth, the avocado, pumpkin seeds and herbs combined with lime juice and olive oil provide a taste unrivalled, especially if you increase the tanginess by using two or three garlic cloves instead of one.

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Health benefits:

·       Green, leafy vegetables provide a great variety of colours from the bluish-green of kale to the bright kelly green of spinach. Leafy greens run the whole gamut of flavours, from sweet to bitter, from peppery to earthy. Young plants generally have small, tender leaves and a mild flavour. Many mature plants have tougher leaves and stronger flavours. Collards, Swiss chard, bok choy, and spinach provide a mild flavour while arugula, mizuna and mustard greens provide a peppery flavour. Bok choy is best known for use in stir-fries, since it remains crisp, even when cooked to a tender stage. One should always choose crisp leaves with a fresh vibrant green colour. Yellowing is a sign of age and indicates that the greens may have an off flavour. Salad greens provide a whole range of important nutrients and phytochemicals to keep us healthy.

·       Leafy vegetables are ideal for weight management as they are typically low in calories. They are useful in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease since they are low in fat, high in dietary fibre, and rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals.

·       Because of their high magnesium content and low glycemic index, green leafy vegetables are also valuable for persons with type 2 diabetes. The high level of vitamin K in greens makes them important for the production of a protein essential for bone health.

·       Green vegetables are also a major source of iron and calcium for any diet. Swiss chard and spinach are not considered good sources of calcium, due to their high content of oxalic acid. Green leafy vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, which can also be converted into vitamin A, and also improve immune function. 

·       Carotenoids found in dark-green leafy vegetables, are concentrated in the eye lens and macular region of the retina, and play a protective role in the eye.

·       Green veggies contain a variety of carotenoids, flavonoids and other powerful antioxidants that have cancer-protective properties.

·       Quercetin is found in leafy green vegetables. It’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and displays unique anticancer properties.

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SPRING SALAD

V, GF, DF

Makes one medium sized platter

1 small jug dressing

 

For the salad:

1 bundle green or purple asparagus, sliced

½ cup snow peas, sliced diagonally

4 radishes, finely slice on mandolin

¼ cup green almonds, finely sliced

handful watercress, torn off stems

2 cups mixed lettuce leaves

shaved vegan cheese

 

For the avocado dressing:

2 limes, juiced

¼ teaspoon lime zest

¼ avocado, pitted

handful of herbs – like flat-leaf parsley, coriander

3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove

¾ cup water

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

pinch sea salt

For the salad, slice the asparagus and snow peas, and add to a bowl. Mandolin radishes and add to the bowl. Finely slice the green almonds, place into a small bowl of lemon water for a few minutes to prevent discolouration, then add to the salad. Separate a handful of watercress from the stems and add both the watercress and lettuce leaves to the bowl. Using a vegetable peeler, shave vegan feta cheese into the bowl, adding as much as you wish. Gently mix the salad ingredients and place on a platter. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge until needed.

For the avocado dressing, add all the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into a serving jug. Best used immediately, but can be stored in a jar for up to 7 days. Place the salad platter and avocado dressing together on the table for serving.

Enjoy!

GNOCCHI W SPINACH & MUSTARD GREENS

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I’m not sure which I prefer more, the making of gnocchi or the reward of eating it. I’ve always enjoyed preparing the potatoes: peeling the hot potatoes, pushing through the potato ricer, mixing the flour and potatoes into a soft dough, rolling into long sausage like shapes, cutting and rolling over a fork, scooping out the gnocchi from the simmering water. It’s almost meditative, taking time to slowly complete each step.

Spring is a time to celebrate the fresh green vegetables found in my garden and the market. So I’ve paired fresh spinach with the peppery taste of mustard greens, and a seasoned white cannellini bean sauce. I’ve added nutritional yeast for flavouring, loving the cheesy taste. If you’re making this dish for a fancy dinner, a grating of black truffles would be scrumptious.

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Here’s a few basics to making the perfect gnocchi (nyokkey). Use a potato that’s not too waxy or starchy, like the Desiree. The trick to gnocchi is to keep the potatoes dry so the gnocchi are fluffy and melt in the mouth. So even though most people boil their potatoes, it is better to bake them in the oven on a bed of rock salt to absorb the moisture. Make the gnocchi when the potatoes are hot. Use a potato ricer from a little height to get some air into it. Use a ratio of 350 grams of flour to 1 kilogram of potatoes. Use very fine flour, like Italian 00 flour. Seasoning is personal; some add a pinch of nutmeg. Don’t overwork the dough or you’ll develop the gluten leading to chewy results. It’s best to mix everything straight on the work surface. Make sure everything is lightly floured, your hands and the tray. Stir the gnocchi in the pan so you can watch when they pop up and are ready.

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Health benefits:

·       The reason potatoes have spread across the globe so quickly and have been so widely accepted is because they are a storehouse of energy and nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, and essential organic compounds.

·       If you eat potatoes regularly, you ensure a good supply of water and ions in your body. This is because they are rich in potassium. The concentration is highest in the skin and just beneath it. So, eating the potato with its skin is always beneficial. They also contain calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

·       Potatoes are known for the large amounts of vitamin C present in them. Typically, a 100 gram serving will contain about 17 mg of vitamin C.

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GNOCCHI W SPINACH & MUSTARD GREENS

Makes 4-5 servings

V, DF

 

For the gnocchi:

1 kg Desiree potatoes

rock salt

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

350 grams fine flour

 

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

240 grams cannellini beans

1 tablespoon white grape juice

250 ml vegetable stock

1 teaspoon lime juice

sea salt

ground black pepper

 

280 grams spinach

150 grams mustard greens

extra olive oil

nutritional yeast

Preheat the oven to 190’C/375’F/Gas 5 and wash the potatoes. Dry them and prick all over, and cover the bottom of a baking tray with a layer of rock salt and arrange the potatoes on top. Bake for about an hour until completely cooked through (this will depend on the size of the potatoes, so check regularly).

Meanwhile, for the sauce, braise the cannellini beans lightly in olive oil, then deglaze with white grape juice before adding vegetable stock. Simmer the beans for 10 minutes, cool. Add beans, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper to the blender and blend until smooth.

Remove potatoes from the oven, and as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and discard. Scatter 250 grams of the flour over a clean work surface with salt and nutritional yeast. Using a potato ricer, push the potatoes through a fine sieve from elbow height, on to the flour. Mix together, adding more flour until it comes together into a soft dough. Set the dough aside while cleaning the work surface and dust with a little more flour. Divide into small balls, gently roll into long sausage shapes. Cut the gnocchi into 1cm wide lengths, dust with flour, and roll each over the tines of a fork, pressing your thumb into the back so you have and indentation on one side and grooves on the other (so they absorb the sauce). Put the gnocchi on a flour-dusted tray. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, turn down to simmer, and tip in half the gnocchi. Stir, and wait until they float to the surface. Count slowly to 10, and remove with a slotted spoon onto the greens in individual plates.

Saute the spinach and mustard greens in a large saucepan in olive oil until wilted, season with salt and pepper. Add the gnocchi to the greens in individual plates, and drizzle with sauce. Serve in bowls sprinkled with nutritional yeast or grated truffle.

If you prefer crispy gnocchi, scatter the greens in a dish, pour the sauce over the greens and add the gnocchi. Sprinkle with a little olive oil, and bake at 180’C in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and serve.

Enjoy!

COCONUT & BERRY TARTS

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My ideal dessert must look appealing, be healthy and easily made ahead of time. These coconut and berry tarts tick all the boxes. The coconut filling is a silky white pannacotta, and delicately sweetened. The colourful berries are more than a garnish to decorate, some claim they’re some of the healthiest fruits to eat! The crust, made with almonds, coconut and raspberries, is a perfect pale companion to the pannacotta. If you own a food processor, the crumb is easily made. The pannacotta requires a few minutes of whisking, yet I find solace standing by a stove whisking and dreaming, don’t you?

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If you’re not a fan of tarts, make the coconut pannacotta alone, pour the mixture into six small glasses, set in the fridge and serve with a few berries.

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Health benefits:

·       Coconut helps prevent obesity by speeding up the metabolism, providing an immediate source of energy with fewer calories than other fats.

·       Improves heart health by providing healthy fatty acids that are essential to good health.

·       Coconut is high in dietary fibre rivaling other fiber sources like psyllium, wheat bran, oat bran and rice bran.

·       Coconut improves digestion and symptoms of inflammatory conditions linked to digestive and bowel disorders.

·       Coconut gives a quick energy boost that provides a super nutritious source of extra energy. The body uses coconut to produce energy, instead of storing it as body fat.

·       Coconut contains NO trans-fats, is gluten free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-parasitic healing properties.

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COCONUT & BERRY TARTS

Makes six 12 cm (5 inch) mini tarts

V, DF, SF, GF

 

For the crust:

2 cups almonds

1 cup shredded coconut

12 medjool dates, pitted

5 frozen raspberries

3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

pinch sea salt

 

For the filling:

1½ cans full fat coconut milk

4-5 tablespoons rice malt syrup, to taste

1 teaspoons agar agar powder

 

For decoration:

Assorted berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants 

Add almonds, coconut, dates, raspberries, coconut oil and salt to a food processor and process for a few seconds until crumbly. Grease six mini tart pans with coconut oil, press the mixture into the base and sides of the pans, and place into the freezer. Combine coconut milk, rice malt syrup and agar agar in a saucepan, whisk to combine and bring to boil on a medium heat. Turn to simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes whisking constantly. Pour ½ cup of filling in each tart pan, chill to set in the fridge for 1-2 hours. To serve, gently remove tart from the pan, place on a plate and decorate with berries.

Enjoy!

SPRING GALETTE

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It all started with the fava beans hubby grew, most were tiny young beans, a spring green colour with no need of removing the outer skins. I wanted to celebrate the arrival of fresh greens that embody spring with the comfort of hearty potatoes. I’d recently discovered Tofurky in my local bulk health food store, it’s smoky ham-like flavour demanded the addition of apples which paired perfectly with slices of potato and eschlot. It’s funny how when you start to create a recipe, starting with a hero ingredient, other pieces of the flavour puzzle quickly come together.

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I’ve got to admit that I usually buy my vegan cashew cheese, as I’m usually too busy to make it. If you’re interested in the brand I use, it’s Cashew Cheese from www.peaceloveandvegetables.com in Byron Bay, Australia. The vegan Tofurky, smoked ham style comes in deli slices, contains wheat and soy, and is made in USA. If you can't buy Tofurky, any vegan meat substitute would be suitable in the flavour you fancy. I use the mandoline to cut the potatoes, apple and asparagus. Since I use fresh baby fava beans, I didn’t blanch them and used beans fresh from the pods that were quite delicious and a fresh spring green in colour. Take care in measuring the butter, if you use too much the pastry will be crumbly. I only use 1 tablespoon of chilled water when making the dough, yet the amount would differ depending on the flour you use.

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Health benefits:

·       Potatoes are one of the most common and important food sources on the planet, and they contain a wealth of health benefits that make them all the more essential as a staple dietary item for much of the world’s population. Potatoes are low calorie, with a medium-sized baked potato containing only about 110 calories.

·       Potatoes are potassium rich, and they have even more potassium than a banana, and a lot of it is found in the potato's skin.

·       The B6 vitamins in potatoes are critical to maintaining neurological health. This means that eating potatoes may help with depression, stress and even perhaps attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

·       Potatoes' high level of carbohydrates may have some advantages, including helping maintain good levels of glucose in the blood, which is necessary to proper brain functioning.

·       Vitamin C can help prevent everything from scurvy to the common cold, and potatoes are full of this nutrient, with about 45 percent of the daily recommended intake per medium baked potato

·       Potatoes are fat free, yet also starchy carbohydrates with little protein. The carbs in potatoes are the kind that the body digests rapidly and have a high glycemic load, so they cause blood sugar and insulin to surge and then dip. This effect can make people feel hungry again soon after eating, which may lead to overeating. Potatoes should take the place of a grain on the plate. Use it as a carb rather than as your only vegetable.

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SPRING GALETTE

V, SF, DF, GF option

Makes a 25 cm galette

 

For the cashew cheese:

1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 8 hours or overnight

1 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon water

pinch salt

 

For the filling:

3 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)

2 slices vegan Tofurky, smoked ham style

½ apple, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)

1 garlic clove, minced

½ eschalot, thinly sliced

1 bunch asparagus, halved lengthways, blanched, refreshed in chilled water

¼ cup fava beans, podded, blanched, skins off

2 tablespoons fresh thyme sprigs

2 tablespoons cashew cheese (see above)

salt and black pepper

 

For the crust:

1½ cups spelt flour

OR GF option - 1 cup brown rice flour & ½ cup buckwheat flour

pinch salt

1/3 cup unsalted vegan butter, Bio buttery

1-2 tablespoons chilled water

After soaking the cashews at least 8 hours, drain and blend them with the other ingredients at high speed until the consistency is smooth and creamy. If too thick, add another teaspoon of water. Pour mixture into a round mould and place in the freezer for 30 minutes until set.

To make the crust, add flour and salt to a bowl and stir. Using a knife, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture becomes crumbly. Alternatively, rub the butter through the flour with your fingers until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add a little chilled water and bring mixture together to form a ball of dough with your fingers. Add only enough chilled water until the mixture comes together. Wrap the dough with baking paper, and place in the fridge to chill for ½ hour.

Preheat the oven to 210’C (425’F/Gas mark 6). Remove the dough ball from fridge and place between two pieces of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a disk that’s about 3 mm thick and about 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter. If you used a little too much water when making the dough, you may need to dust the lower layer of baking paper with flour. Take the top layer of baking paper off the disk, and slip the lower layer of baking paper with the dough disk onto a baking sheet. Place layers of potato, apple, minced garlic, eschalot, Tofurky into the centre of the dough disk, leaving 5-6 cm (2 inch) border around the mixture. Gently fold the dough edges over the vegetable mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the crust with a little water and the potato mixture with olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven, add salt and pepper, and top with asparagus, fava beans and thyme sprigs and small dollops of cashew cheese. Serve warm, cut into triangles.

Enjoy!