Artichokes

OLIVE OIL AND THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

OLIVE OIL AND THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

Last Saturday I attended a day of talks organised by my college. One of the segments was a cookery demonstration and a talk on the Mediterranean Diet. My friend and I were watching in bit of a dismay as the chef poured lashings of olive oil on her fennel and orange salad (about 2Tbs per 1/3 of a fennel bulb) and than fried couple of fillets of sea bass in a very generous pool of rapeseed (canola) oil. My friend confronted her about the amount of oil she was using. Her response was: “ I never count calories and we need fat and olive oil is a healthy fat!”

Every week we read articles about the benefits of Mediterranean Diet. We are informed that eating a diet high in veggies, fruit, fish and olive oil is the best way to protect ourselves from heart disease and cancers. Olive oil is hailed as the secret to long life and good health. Are these claims right?

Dr Dean Ornish states that the benefit of olive oil is only due to replacing the more saturated fats in person’s diet, this of course will bring some benefits. Just by replacing (weight for weight) butter with olive oil you will see lowered cholesterol levels. This is not due to the magic powers of olive oil but just merely thanks to abolishing the butter. Dr. Ornish promotes rapeseed oil as a much healthier option especially for its Omega 3 content. Still it is a high calorie food.
http://www.pmri.org/publications/newsweek/The_Great_Olive_Oil_Misconconception_Dr_Dean_Ornish.pdf

Drs Esselstyn and McDougall advise against the use of all oils and Dr Fuhrman allows around 1TBS of oil a day provided you are healthy weight, in good health and active. He advises against oil consumption if trying to loose weight. The Pritikin Longevity Centre recommends keeping oil consumption to 1 teaspoon a day.

When doing my research on the matter I came across the fascinating world of Monasteries on the Greek Mount Athos. The male population of monks have surprised experts by their incredibly low prostate cancer rates (about 1/4 of of the international average),further cases of lung, bladder and bowel cancers are non existent; so is heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The monks eat a diet rich in plant foods; fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta, soya and pulses. They eat twice a day and meals last only 10min leading to calorie restriction. They strictly observe
3 non dairy/no olive oil days in a week. Dairy is rather rare to the island as no female animals (except for cats) are allowed on the monastery premises. The monks observe weeks of fasting when only vegan diet is consumed. They eat fish on feast days only, i.e Christmas. They get by on very little sleep as the day starts at 3am with an 8 hour long service. Their everyday routine doesn’t change, it consists of prayer, silence and work (the monks are as self sufficient as possible). Their are cut off from news from the outside world which in my opinion contributes to further calmness of mind and non existence of stress.

We may not all choose to live like monks on Mount Athos but we could all do with adopting their way of eating. As for oils I used them sparingly, some days (like the monks) we have none at all, others I may have use 1/2- 2 Tbs in my cooking (this is to serve 4). I do prefer to get my fats from seed, nuts and avocados.

To find out bit more about the olive oil controversy have a look at this very informative article from the Pritikin Longevity Centre:
http://www.pritikin.com/your-health/healthy-living/eating-right/1103-whats-wrong-with-olive-oil.html


artichokeandpotato

SUMMER STEW OF GLOBE ARTICHOKES AND POTATOES
To prepare the artichokes you need the patience of a Mount Athos monk. It is not an easy task at first but once you get a hang of it, believe me, it will get easier. Just have a large bowl for all the cuttings, you will end up with lots of remains to put on your compost heap. There are some great step by step guides on the web. All the effort is well worth it, fresh artichokes are delicious and so different from the jarred ones ( which I equally love).

Serves 4

ingredients

4 large globe artichokes
2 lemons
400g (just under a pound) of small new potatoes
500ml homemade vegetable stock (or light bought vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
2 large cloves of garlic
1 cup peas or broad beans

method
  1. First prepare the artichokes. Fill a bowl, that will hold the artichokes, with water and juice of a lemon (this prevents artichokes from going brown). Depending on the length of the artichoke stalk cut some off leaving about 2 inches. Pull off the outer leaves of the artichokes, when you see light more tender leaves using a sharp knife cut off the top half of artichoke, scoop out all the choke (purple and light green feathery strands) until you are left with the heart. Cut off any remnants of the tough leaves on the outside of the heart. Peel the stalk. When working with the artichoke rub any cut (exposed) area with lemon to prevent browning. When finished place the artichoke into the lemon water before proceeding with the next one.
  2. Cut the artichokes into 4 pieces lengthways.
  3. Clean the potatoes, halve the larger ones, leave the smallest one whole.
  4. In a large lidded pan heat the veggie stock, add juice of half a lemon, the artichokes, potatoes, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. Bring to a boil, turn heat down and simmer covered for about 20min or till tender.
  5. Add the peas (or shelled broad beans) and cook for further 2 min.
  6. Serve with some crusty bread to mop up the lemony stock.

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White beans not cheese

WHITE BEANS NOT CHEESE

There was a time I thought I couldn’t imagine my life without cheese. How foolish was that?! Not eating cheese is easier than I thought (not when eating out) and I don’t miss it at all. I think I miss some of the dishes I used to make but I am slowly getting through reworking them and quite frankly with discovering new favourites many of the old food memories are rather faint now.

We all know cheese is not healthy, in the USA it is responsible for the majority of saturated fat intake as the consumption had nearly tripled since 1970 to 31lb per person. In UK cheese consumption is on the up too (some 12.5% between 1999-2009), mainly due to people spending less time in their kitchens and relying on ready meals and take aways. Convenience food seems to be loaded with cheese, especially the veggie options. Companies have made the cheese content their selling point, just take a look at the take away pizza companies trying to intice us with “double the amount of cheese” and “stuffed crust”. That should be enough to keep us away but unfortunately it seems to draw more people in.

Cheese sandwich maybe be a lunch of choice for a lot of traditional veggies but looking back I think of it as quite a boring way to eat. For the sake of your health, the poor dairy cow and the environment try something new and full of flavour to put on your bread or in a wrap. Here is my quick and easy white bean spread, made in minutes in a food processor. It makes a great change from hummus and is as versatile.


whitebeanspread

WHITE BEAN AND ARTICHOKE SPREAD
If you want to make this spread into a dip just add some of the liquid from the tinned beans. If you are using sun dried tomatoes and artichokes preserved in oil rinse them under running water to get the oil off.

ingredients
1 tin of white beans (canellini or butter beans), drained (keep the liquid)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
8 sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted
1 tin of artichokes, drained

method
  1. Put all ingredients into a food processor or a blender. Process till quite smooth but still with some texture (see photo). If too thick add some of the reserved bean liquid.
  2. Spread on some good quality whole grain bread. I like the thin fermented rye or organic quinoa breads.
  3. Garnish with thinly sliced vegetables, red onions, cucumber, tomato...


whitebeanspread2
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The small things

THE SMALL THINGS

Today my daughter’s class held a cake sale to raise money for some new toys for their classroom. All the Mums (and one Dad) made some fabulous looking and tasting cakes. I decided to make dairy/egg free cupcakes, I thought it would be lovely for children with allergies to be able to buy a treat.

My trusty Robin Robertson (1000 Vegan Recipes) cupcake recipe at hand I was ready to go, only to realise that almond milk may not be the best milk to use with allergies in mind and not having any other send my heart racing... A light bulb moment and I saved the cakes with soya yoghurt!

My friend’s little boy came to the cake sale and bought 2, started to eat one, and came back for another. After a while he was back clutching another coin, wanting 4th one for his tomorrow’s lunch box. To see his smile and excitement just made my day, it was one of those the small things that make a difference. His mum told me this was the first time he was able to come to a cake sale and buy a cake (or 4). As my friend says: “Bless his cotton socks”. Good deed done. The warm feeling, truly priceless.

Tired out from the cakes sale and consequent traffic jam on the way home from school, I didn’t feel much like cooking. Stood in front of my fridge the only idea that came to my head was messy spaghetti. It really takes so little effort, open few jars, cut up few things, toss it together.... actually this is something I make in one portion quantity for my lunch, only takes 10minutes and beats any old sandwich.

MESSY SPAGHETTI
If I was making it for myself I would add some chilli flakes to the garlic, but with my kids in mind I did omit them this time.
messy-spaghetti

ingredients
400 g wholewheat spaghetti
2 Tbs pine nuts
1 Tbs olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
20 each green and black olives, pitted and halved
2 Tbs mini capers
8 sun-dried tomatoes, cut up
8 artichokes, quartered
2 Tbs parsley, chopped

method
  1. In large pot of water cook the spaghetti.
  2. While the pasta is cooking heat a large frying pan (large enough to fit all the spaghetti when cooked) and toast the pine nuts. They should be fragrant and golden brown, take care they will burn in no time. Set aside.
  3. In the same frying pan heat the oil and gently fry the garlic (and chilli flakes if using).
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients (except parsley) and gently heat through. You can add couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.
  5. Add the spaghetti and toss with the sauce. Mix in parsley, pine nuts and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a green salad.
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