Last week I spent three days sprouting, blending and fermenting, making delicious and nutritious food with The Holistic Chef, Jamie Raftety. I wanted some inspiration for the coming season so Jamie tailored a course to fit my brief. Jamie is an Irish chef who is based in Cheltenham and works as a consultant, a private chef and a teacher. He has worked with many highly acclaimed chefs in some of the best restaurants in the world including the world’s no 1 restaurant, the French Laundry in California.
During the course we made vegan muffins, raw bread, rawnola, (raw granola made using sprouted buckwheat) vegan cheeses, cheesecakes and salad dressings plus many other wholesome dishes. The part I enjoyed the most was learning how to make naturally carbonated, probiotic drinks such as water kefir and kvass. Kvass is a drink that originated in Russia and was traditionally made using rye bread. Jamie showed me how to make a very simple and light version of Kvass using raspberries, salt, honey and water. The result is a clear liquid, with a vibrant colour which is fizzy, fruity and slightly salty (think Vichy water).
Since returning to the boat I’ve been tending to some kefir grains that Jamie gave me. Kefir grains look like small gelatinous granules and are often referred to as SCOBY (a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast). Making kefir is simple; you ferment the grains in milk or water in a clean, open jar covered with cloth for 24-48 hours. Then you strain the liquid into a flip top, air-tight bottle (reserving the kefir grains for your next batch) and leave the bottle for another day or so at room temperature. You then transfer the kefir to the fridge to drink when you like.
I’m currently making a lemon and ginger kefir which is delicious. Water kefir grains consume the sugar you feed them and turn it into healthy bacteria (probiotics) making kefir a great alternative to commercially bought, sugar laden fizzy drinks. Probiotics are describes as being “good” or “healthy” bacteria and these live mico-organisms help us fight off infections and illnesses such as colds and flu.
Three benefits of taking probiotics are:
- A stronger immune system
Did you know that 80% of our immune system is in our gut? Taking probiotics can boost our immune systems, helping us fight off infections and illnesses
- Better skin
Probiotics can help treat skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. I find that when I drink home-made milk kefir regularly my skin is much clearer and softer
- Easier Digestion
Much of the food we eat is made up of large carbohydrate molecules that our bodies cannot break down alone. Probiotics break down the larger carbohydrate molecules helping us gain more nutrition from the food we eat.
If you’re interested in fermenting food at home I’ve found a great website which offers a free ebook on the subject at www.culturesforhealth.com You can buy live kefir grains at www.amazon.co.uk but make sure you use milk kefir grains for milk and water kefir grain for water based drinks.
If you would like to learn more about the work Jamie does please visit his website at www.holisticchef.co.uk
The weather has been up and down here on the Côte D’Azur. It’s been snow one minute, sunshine the next and everyone is wondering when we can finally ditch our winter jackets and don our flip-flops. I’m looking forward to some warm sunshine but saying goodbye to winter means saying goodbye to soup season so I’ve been making the most of it while I still can.
Over the last few months I’ve been trying to keep the soup I cook varied in colour and flavor. On a cold day the boys love nothing more than coming in from the cold and having a nice, warm bowl of soup with some crusty fresh baguette. Last week I used lentils to make two hearty and delicious soups. I use lentils in soups as they’re full of fibre and protein which keep you fuller for longer and they give a soup a nice bite.
The first was a turmeric, coconut soup made with red lentils. I added chilli for heat and frozen coconut flesh for texture. You can buy frozen, shredded coconut flesh at Asian supermarkets. It’s great in smoothies, in curries and for baking too. I roasted mine briefly in the oven before using it to garnish my soup. This gave it a crunchier texture and intensified the coconut flavor of the soup.
The second lentil soup I made this week was using Puy lentils. These green/brown lentils come from Le Puy in France and are regarded as the best lentils by many chefs and cooks as they hold their shape during cooking. I like to use them in salads and stews but this week my instincts took me to Sicily.
A few years ago Nic and I stayed in a hotel in Taormina on the eastern coast of Sicily. The hotel is on a pebble beach overlooking the nature reserve of Isola Bella. We stumbled across a restaurant along the beach called Pizzichella where I had the most amazing dish called Pasta alla Norma. This pasta dish is made with aubergines cooked in a tomato sauce, garnished with ricotta salata (salted ricotta) and basil.
The great thing about this dish is that it is perfectly balanced. The creaminess of the aubergine contrasts with the sweet and sour tomato sauce and the ricotta salata gives it a salty element. A basil leaf or two and a glug of best quality olive oil is all that is needed to finish the dish.
Here is the recipe for what I’m calling my Zuppa di Isola Bella, I hope you enjoy making it.
As we go in to spring I’ll be making the most of what’s in season. I’m looking forward to trying out a few more rhubarb dishes this month and I’ve been experimenting with a few artichoke recipes. In spring we see lots of spinach, watercress, broccoli and asparagus as well as radishes, savoy cabbage and cauliflower. I’ll update my website as I go along so keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for recipes as they go live. As always I’m open to suggestions or any questions you have about food and cooking so please feel free to contact me at email@example.com