With the festive season behind us and the winter stretching before us, it’s all too easy to reach for comfort. Piles of spaghetti bolognese topped with cheese, dollops of creamy mash potato with bangers, and steaming hot chilli con carne. While these dishes will never fail to please, it can be easy to get stuck in a bit of a meat-and-stodge rut.
Here are some fail-safe tips for injecting some healthy, nourishing, feel-good food into your daily diet. We’re not talking diet fads and ‘superfoods’, we’re talking fresh ideas packed with mind-blowing flavour, tip top textures and deliciously satisfying seasonal fruits and vegetables. Simple.
1. Celebrate the power of peas and pulses
Georgina Hayden’s super-kid-friendly Cowboy Bean Stew
Never underestimate the potent protein-power of these glorious edible legumes. Pulses come in many shapes and sizes (there’s over a thousand types out there) as beans, peas and lentils including: ‘black badger’ carlin beans, fava beans, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, dark speckled and red split lentils. Low in calories, low in fat, and great source of protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre (which is why they keep you fuller for longer).
Simple to prepare, great for any budget and their ability to take on tons of flavour makes them a bit of super food in our book. Throw beans into soups and stews (check on the packet if they require pre-soaking, trust us, it’s worth it) and make delicious one-pot dahls, squash-based curries, and one heck of an incredible meat-free chilli.
2. Shake your carbs up by going for grains
Mix up your carbs with this hearty Warm Spelt Salad
Mix up your usual carb repertoire with interesting grains such as quinoa, spelt, multi-coloured wild rice and pearl barley. Not only do they bring a whole new variety of flavours to your plate, as each grain comes it’s own unique flavour characteristics – quinoa’s a little nutty (and is super-filling due to it’s high protein content), wild rice is fragrant, and pearl barley, creamy – but they also provide different kinds of vitamins and nutrients between them. Variety is definitely the spice of life when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to eating seasonally.
3. Crunch it up with nuts and seeds
Nuts add crunch and an instant protein hit to porridge, soups and salads.
Take your everyday dishes up a notch by sprinkling over toasted nuts and seeds for an instant protein hit and highly sought after crunch that keep things interesting. Lightly toast them in a frying pan on the hob or in a roasting tray in the oven to release more of their distinct flavours.
Toasted pumpkins and sunflower seeds make a great topping for soups and stews and toasted, roughly chopped nuts bring texture to blanched greens (helped with a little herby yoghurt dressing, below), simple pasta dishes, roasted roots and to steaming porridge at breakfast time.
4. Yoghurt is your new mayonnaise
Roasted beets with tangy black garlic yoghurt. Delicious.
There are some things that can never be replaced (mayonnaise and hot chips, we salute you), but there’s no harm in changing things up a little. A dollop of yoghurt here and there in both savoury and sweet dishes is an easy way to add a little extra protein and some cooling contrast too.
Try roasted root vegetables or braising greens like kale, purple sprouting broccoli or Brussels tops and topping with a herby yoghurt. Make your herby yoghurt dressing by blending it yoghurt with herbs, such as basil, dill or parsley and a clove of black garlic – add a sprinkle of toasted seeds or nuts too (naturally). Or top grilled pittas with dollops of minty yoghurt, fried eggs and chilli flakes in a Turkish inspired breakfast. You can even add it to pasta for a healthier take on a carbonara-style sauce by beating the egg with yoghurt instead of cream and using mushrooms instead of bacon. Boom.
5. Fresh herbs are your kitchen heroes
Turn leftover herbs into delicious pesto with this step-by-step guide.
Fresh herbs are more than just a topping. Get used to using them like the fully-fledged hero ingredients they are and you’ll soon elevate the freshness and flavour factors in your dishes – with little effort and a lot of tasty return.
Whip up fresh pestos by pulverising a bunch of any herb with about 50g of nuts, 4 tablespoons of oil, a tablespoon or two of something acidic like lemon juice or white wine vinegar for a sharp edge, and an additional flavour you fancy; try fresh chilli, garlic, hard cheese or anchovies. It’s not all about pine nuts either – try almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or pistachios, and kale works wonders too. Drizzle on salads, vegetables and even add to mash or yoghurt for a creamy dressing. If you don’t fancy the oil, you can always smother roasted veggies in a quick gremolata – a dry herb mix made with parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Which leads us nicely to…
6. Get zesty, it’ll change your life
Sprinklings of fresh citrus zest atop a dish encapsulates a holy trinity of deliciousness in a finishing touch – they add flavour, colour, and contrast to what sits underneath in one simple swoop. Go to town using a good quality zester that’ll make the job easy, and let your imagination run wild. Grate lime zest over roasted squash, orange zest and a little of its juice over roasted carrots, and any citrus zest (with a little juice in the dressing) over pretty much any salad you want to be proud of.
For organic, super-fresh, seasonal ingredients straight from the farm to your door, go to farmdrop.com.
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This post was originally published in November 2015 and has been updated.