I’m back!

I just wanted to write a quick post to explain the absence of blog updates in the last six months.  I had been working really hard on the blog up to my trip to Nicaragua last September.  All the hard work paid off when I was short listed for the Irish Blog Awards.  I was delighted to have reached my goal and took a break while I was on my travels.  When I returned I found that my focus had shifted slightly.  I began a yoga teacher training course when in October and since then most of my energy has been going towards that.

Initially I felt a lot of guilt and stress at neglecting the blog, as I struggled to juggle my full time job, as well as working on the blog which is very time consuming, as well as yoga practice and study, as well as working on my other goals and not to mention finding time for a social life and relaxation!

I decided to just go with the flow and do what felt right.  I allowed my work on the blog to slide for a little while.  Many people asked me when I would be updating it or if I had given it up.  I didn’t have an answer for them but I knew that there was no point in working on the blog if it was becoming stressful or a chore, whereas it had begun from a place of passion, creativity, fun and excitement.

In the last  couple of months I have been missing blogging, and my enthusiasm and passion for Natural Fuel has been returning.  I have a lot less time to dedicate to the blog compared to what I had last year but I am planning to continue!  I am hoping to design a completely new website in the coming months.  In the meantime I will be posting new entries here when I can and I will be active on social media.

I am really looking forward to interacting with the blogging world again and seeing where life will take me (and the blog) next! :-)

Raw Lemon Tart

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I am by no means a raw foodie.  While I do see the huge benefit of consuming plenty of raw plant based foods, I love cooking as well as the flavour and texture of cooked food so I am happy with maintaining a balance between both.   Raw cauliflower ‘rice’ and ‘notatoes’ are just not for me!  My obsession with raw cakes and desserts however continues to grow and grow!  Unlike some underwhelming raw savoury dishes that I have tried (I have also tried many very tasty ones!) I have never ever eaten a raw cake or raw dessert that was not totally delicious.  They are usually bursting with as much yummy flavour as their dairy and sugar laden counterparts, but leave you feeling much healthier, better and lighter afterwards, even after several slices…

This month’s raw cake experiment was this raw lemon tart.  I used the same type of base that I use for all my ‘cheesecake’ bases and like my white chocolate and strawberry cake, used cashews for the filling, along with the ‘secret’ ingredient… seaweed! This was required in order to get a texture closer to lemon curd and lemon meringue pie.  It works,  it doesn’t taste of fish, and no one has to know! ;-)  But they might be pretty interested if you tell them!

The seaweed or ‘sea vegetable’ I used is Carrageen ‘Chondrus Crispus’ also called Carageenan and ‘Irish Moss’.  This food was traditionally eaten along Ireland’s coast lines, particularly the Western sea board, for centuries, where it was steamed and eaten with potatoes.  It has become popular in vegetarian and vegan cooking as it has thickening, binding and gelling properties similar to gelatin so that it can be used to make animal free jellies and desserts.   Many see it as a super food, containing masses of trace minerals, as well as protein, calcium and magnesium while others claim that it should be entirely avoided as it will cause inflammation and digestive issues.  It seems that this mostly refers to carageenan gum which has been highly processed and is in a entirely different form than unprocessed sun dried carrageen straight from the sea.

There is no evidence for either side of the argument so my stance here is moderation is key!  If you eat kilos of carrageen it probably wouldn’t be very good for your body, just like if you ate kilos of anything else.  A slice or three of raw lemon curd cake is just fine in my opinion!   As with all sea vegetables, I would only use organic varieties due to the massive pollution and contamination which we are destroying the oceans with! I pick organic nori for my sushi and salads as well.

The agave syrup in this recipe is another controversial ingredient in the health world, as above, I use it in moderation, but if you avoid it entirely, experiment with using a different liquid based sweetener instead.  The turmeric in this recipe is just to add a yellow colour, don’t use too much or you’ll get an Indian spiced lemon cake! That has actually just given me an idea for chai lemon blondie bars but I’ll leave that to another day!!…  I served this cake with raw vanilla cashew cream, just blend one cup of soaked cashews with one third cup of water, vanilla and sweetener.

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INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • 1 cup walnuts (soaked overnight)
  • 1 cup almonds (soaked overnight)
  • 6 – 10 dates
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 50g carrageenan or Irish moss  (soaked overnight)
  • 1 cup lemon juice (4- 5 lemons)
  • 1 cup agave syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup cashews (soaked overnight)
  • 1tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • Pinch of turmeric powder

To make the crust, soak the almonds and walnuts in a large bowl of filtered water for 8 – 12 hours.  Drain and put in a food processor along with the dates, vanilla essence  and salt.  If you are unsure of the moisture content of your dates, add six and pulse the mixture.  If you think that it needs a bit moisture to bind together,  then add an extra two and pulse each time, until you get a consistency like moist breadcrumbs.  Line the base of a spring form pan with parchment paper and press the mixture in to the pan.  Press down firmly with your fingers or the back of a spoon to ensure that the filling is smooth, solid and compacted.  Place in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

Soak 50g of carrageenan in one cups of water overnight.   Make sure to use a big bowl as it’s volume will expand.  Remove from the water and rinse in a sieve.  Place the carrageenan and 1 cup of water in a blender and process until very smooth.  Rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers,  if it feels a bit grainy, process it again until it’s totally smooth.  It’s volume will expand and it will become warm from the processing, this is okay!  When smooth and thickened, add the lemon juice and agave nectar and process until well combined and smooth.  You want everything about this cake to be smooth, smooth, smooth!  Add the cashews, vanilla, turmeric and continue to blend until… smooth!  Finally add the coconut oil and blend thoroughly.  Pour into the crust and chill for an hour or two in the fridge before serving.  You can also pour this filling in to individual soufflé pots.

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Best Vegan Sandwiches -Hummus, Avocado & Tomato

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I have a love/hate relationship with the humble sandwich.  Sometimes I find sandwiches really uninspiring and boring as a lunch option, preferring big salads or dinner leftovers, and other times I get an intense craving that nothing but a sandwich will fix!  Although the sandwich world is so dominated by meat and dairy, vegan sandwiches can be just as full of flavour and of course, definitely more healthy and kinder than their meaty cousins.  The hunt for the best vegan sandwich doesn’t have to be a difficult one.  There are endless potential combinations of flavourful, healthy, plant based ingredients that can taste even better shoved between two slices of bread. (Preferably sourdough or spelt bread for me!)

This sandwich is my personal favourite vegan sandwich ever!  Hummus, Avocado & Tomato on Wholemeal Spelt Bread.  Get the best quality ingredients that you can. Spread organic hummus, avocado, vine tomato and scallion on wholemeal spelt bread, seasoned with organic cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, salt & pepper and dried chilli flakes. NOM NOM NOM!!!

I think it would be a very strong contender for the winner of the ultimate vegan sandwich contest… does such a thing exist?! The best vegan sandwich competition?!.. It should!!  What are you favourite vegan sandwich ingredients?  Let’s share our veggie sandwich secrets and find out some yummy new flavour combinations!

I would love if you shared a photo on twitter, instagram or facebook of your next vegan sandwich with the hashtag #bestvegansandwich -make sure to link me @naturalfuelblog to make sure that I see it! I’ll keep an eye on all of your creations and each time that I blog about a new vegan sandwich creation of mine, I’ll also share with everyone the sandwiches which you guys have tempted me with the most.  We’ll never get bored of sandwiches again! :-D

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Pea & Lime Hummus Recipe

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This week’s recipe is similar to last week’s in that the theme of my favourite cuisine is continued.  (My new food obsession Socca or Chickpea Flatbread also makes another appearance, I promise I’ll leave it out next week!).   Last week I gave my favourite traditional middle eastern cuisine a twist by replacing bulgar wheat with quinoa in my Tabbouleh, and this week I’m tinkering with everyone’s favourite dip -hummus.  The basic ingredients for hummus are chickpeas, tahini, lemon and garlic, but hummus lends itself well to all sorts of adaptations and adaptions.  We all have our favourites -I am a particular fan of black olive humus and roasted red pepper humus.  I also love subbing the lemon juice for lime juice to subtley change the flavour, it adds a great zing which livens the dip up if you’re getting tired of eating the more traditional versions.

This pea version came about as I had a lot of fresh pea pods hanging around my fridge that needed to be used up.  Pea and mint is a lovely pairing for a dip, but having made chickpea hummus with lime the week before, I decided that pea and lime would probably be an even more exciting combination.   I am usually very heavy handed with the tahini when making hummus, but I omitted it for this version as I wanted the pea and lime to really shine through.  I added some chickpeas too as I wanted to retain some of the hummus taste, but you could make this entirely with peas if you prefer.   By omitting the chickpeas and using raw peas you could make this an ultra healthy raw dip or pate.

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INGREDIENTS:

I am not one for adhering strictly to recipes, especially not with these kind of dips that you whip up in seconds.  They lend themselves perfectly to last minute adaptations and ingredient swaps, and taste is so subjective that it is better for people to taste as they go and decide what works best for them.  As a rough guide, I simply processed all of the following ingredients together.  You may prefer to have more peas than chickpeas, or vice versa.

  • About 200g fresh peas (I lightly boiled them first but you could use them raw also)
  • About 200g cooked and drained chickpeas
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • A few tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

The recipe for the Socca Chickpea Flatbread featured in the photos can be found on last week’s recipe here.

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Creamy Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

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Lately I have really been noticing how bright the evenings are getting and it makes me very happy and positive!  I am planning to do loads of hiking and exploring nature this year so I can’t wait until the days are little bit longer to facilitate this better.  I am yet to see my first snowdrop, but they are out, and the other spring flowers will be following soon.  Although sadly the seasons are getting increasingly altered -I did a double take when I spotted my favourite tree, cherry, fully blossoming in the middle of december so perhaps I shouldn’t be using flowers to gauge the arrival of spring!
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Although spring is somewhat in the air, it’s not quite in the weather yet, and here in Ireland the coldest winter weather can last into March so I am still making lots of warming winter dishes like this creamy roasted root vegetable soup.  Root veggies such as these are in season here at the moment, making them plentiful and cheap.  Roasting the vegetables and using fresh herbs instead of dried really adds flavour to this soup, while the cashew nuts add a creamy texture along with some extra protein.  I brought a big tub of this in to work for my lunches last week.  I had no wheat free bread so I dipped dark rye crispbreads in to it which was delicious!
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I made this soup in my new high powered blender, my new favourite thing!  I’ve been having green smoothies every morning for breakfast made with my own homemade almond milk, and love making my own blend of almond butter with a hint of coconut. I had been wanting to get a Vitamix for months, but I couldn’t justify the expense.  I ended up buying a similar blender for half the price, but with all the same functionality.  Time will tell if I would have been better off buying the Vitamix but my brand has a seven year warranty so that sounds good to me!  I think that the extra money would just have be paying for the brand name!
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Obviously I am going to be using my blender for a lot of recipes from now on, but I still want my recipes to be adaptable and accessible,, so wherever possible I will adapt the recipe to be made with more standard kitchen equipment also.  Take this soup for example -I made mine in the blender but you can make it on the stove also.  If you don’t have a high powdered blender to blend the cashews, use unsweetened almond milk instead to add some creaminess.  I list both ways in the recipe below.
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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 medium Turnip
  • 1 medium Parsnip
  • 2 medium Carrot
  • 1 small bulb Fennell
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Rosemary
  • 3/4 tbsp Fresh Thyme
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Up to 1 litre boiling water or stock
  • 1/2 cup cashews (soaked overnight) or 200ml unsweetened almond milk

Roast cubes of the turnip, parsnip, carrot and fennell at 200 degrees celcius for 30 – 40 minutes until browned and tender.  Cooking time will depend on the size of your cubes. Add the garlic about half way through.

To make in a high powered blender, transfer the drained, soaked cashews to the blender along with about 100ml of water. Blend until smooth.  You can adjust the quantity of water to get the creamy consistency which you prefer. Then add the stock or water, followed by the roast vegetables and herbs.  You might need to do this in batches.  Season and blend until you get your desired consistency.  Depending on your vegetables, you may want to add some more water.  I like to serve this as a very smooth, but thick soup.  If you want to eat the soup straight away, check if it’s warm enough for you.  If not, if you run the blender long enough, the friction heat will have it warmed up after a few minutes.  You can also just reheat it on the stove.

To make this soup entirely on the stove, transfer the roast vegetables to a large pot, add the unsweetened non dairy milk along with the water or stock (reduced to about 800ml) and herbs.  Season and bring to the boil.  Simmer for about twenty minutes to allow the flavours to infuse, and then puree with a hand held blender if desired.
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Moroccan Butternut Squash and Chickpea Tagine

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I originally posted this recipe as a guest post on Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary’s blog.  They are a wonderful organisation who do amazing compassionate work with farm animals.   I will explain more about their organisation after I have explained the recipe!

This Moroccan inspired vegetable tagine is bursting with flavour as well as nutrients.  The wide variety of vegetables ensure you are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Moroccan cooking requires some specialised ingredients, but I am all for being flexible and creative in the kitchen!  You can easily adapt this dish if you don’t have them to hand.  Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice mix. Traditionally this was an individual mixture of the most common and best available spices sold by each vendor in the market, the name ‘Ras El Hanout’ meaning ‘best of the shop’.

Ras El Hanout is widely available as a ready made spice blend but if you can’t get your hands on it, try making up your own blend using traditional Moroccan spices according to your own tastes.  Some of the traditional spices used in Moroccan cooking are cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, sweet paprika, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg and anise.  Harissa is a fiery paste made from red chilli peppers and garlic.  It is what gives this dish it’s kick.  If you can’t get any harissa, try adding in some dried red chilli pepper flakes and an extra clove of garlic.  Preserved lemons are lemons which have been pickled in fermented brine and spices. Replace with two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice if you have no preserved lemon, but if they are available near you it is worth trying them out as they add a wonderful depth of flavour.

Tagines are traditionally served with couscous or bulgar wheat. If you are avoiding wheat you could try spelt couscous. For gluten free options try serving with Moroccan rice, or quinoa for a really nutritious meal!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 butternut squash, diced
  • 1 can chickpeas (240g drained)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped
  • ⅓ cup flaked almonds (reserve some for garnish)
  • 2 tsp Moroccan ras el hanout
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 1 tbsp harissa
  • 1/2 preserved lemon
  • 20 mint leaves (some extra for garnish)

Dry fry the almonds on a low heat until browning and set aside. Heat some oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and red pepper and saute for another 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and spices and stir well. Add the stock, harissa, mint and preserved lemon.  Stir to combine and then add the carrots and butternut squash. Bring the saucepan to the boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the apricots, almonds and cherry tomatoes and then simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the squash and carrots are tender.  Garnish with some more toasted almonds and fresh mint leaves.

Now on to the wonderful work of Mino Valley farm animal sanctuary, whose owners were originally from the UK but moved to Gallica, Northern Spain looking for a simpler life.  Those behind Mino Valley believe that all animals deserve our love, respect and kindness, and they aim to create a safe haven for rescued farm animals to live out their lives in freedom -free from pain, suffering and the burden of expectation. Their very admirable mission is Rescue. Rehabilitate. Educate.

I shed a tear (ok, definitely more than one tear!!) reading the stories of the animals which have been lucky enough to have found a new home at Mino Valley.  Here are just two examples.

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Arwen Gandalf

“Since arriving at Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary our lives have been transformed beyond our wildest dreams, and for the first time we believe that we may actually have a chance at happiness.  Before coming here all we had ever known was the inside of a tiny cage barely big enough to even turn around.  We led a lonely life only knowing of each others existence by sound but never sight.  We never knew sunlight, and we were never allowed outside to stretch our legs.

Not being able to exercise caused me to lose all strength in my back legs and now I can only drag myself from place to place.  Us pigs are naturally clean animals that would never go to toilet where we sleep and eat, but our cages were never cleaned out and we were forced to live in a pile of our own excrement for years, to the point that our legs and feet are badly damaged.  We were only given just enough food to keep us alive.

The farmer had a short temper and I never understood why he was so aggressive and cruel towards us. Eagerly we awaited food, yet equally we feared our tormentors arrival not knowing what blow he would deliver next.  For years we lived like this, and each day felt longer than the last, especially those when no-one came to give us food and water.

When someone found out about the terrible conditions we were living in they tried to find us a new home where we would be loved and cared for.   Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary chanced across our story and set to work immediately to get us out of there.  When the people finally came to rescue us they were horrified when they saw we were all skin and bones and desperately malnourished.   After a long 9 hour journey across Spain we arrived at the sanctuary.  With our new lives come our new names; Gandalf, Frodo and Arwen.

We never knew that beyond those four walls that confined us was a whole other world.   A kind world where we get to feel the sunshine on our backs and earth under our feet.   A world where we can snuffle from morning to night, feast on fresh fruit and vegetables and explore the wonders of the forest.”

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“We are Mario and Olivia and we have travelled all the way from Seville to get to Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.  When we were very little we lived in a terrible place where it was considered normal to kill us sheep with a kick in the head when we are small or by slitting the throat when we are adults.  Our owner didn’t look after us properly and he said we were worthless, so he decided he was going to stamp on our heads too.

Someone from one of the local dog shelters heard about us and came to our rescue.  When they saw us they couldn’t believe the awful state we were in. They bottle fed us and gave us so much love and attention, and we came to learn that not all humans were as bad as we thought.  We enjoyed our time at Fundación Benjamín Mehnert very much but it was only ever a temporary home for us.

Fundación Benjamín Mehnert searched high and low for the perfect place for us to spend the rest of our lives where we could live free, and in the end they decided that place was Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.”

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I am so in awe of the fantastic difference that this farm sanctuary makes to the lives of the animals, as well as raising awareness of the suffering and cruelty which is inflicted on these innocent, defencless animals, and billions more like them.

To learn more about the sanctuary, adopt a farm animal, or make a donation, check out their website, blog, facebook and twitter!

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Fakes -Greek Lentil Soup

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This is yet another recipe inspired by my memories of the delicious food on the Greek islands.   I made this last night when I was trying to convince myself to go out for a run in the freezing cold after work.  My 5km run is in two and a half weeks but I haven’t yet reached my 5km target.  I thought that knowing there would be a delicious hot bowl of soup waiting for me when I get back might make it a bit easier to get out the door!  It worked and I ended up running for 3.8km, my farthest yet, so I am nearly at my goal!  :-D

This is my own version of the traditional greek soup called Fakes.  It is one of my favourite soups and I make it a lot throughout the winter.  Fakes traditionally includes a lot of olive oil and some vinegar.  Both flavours compliment each other to give both a richness and a tangyness.  This would more traditionally be made with brown lentils, so you can try using brown or green if you’d prefer.   I always use red for this as I just love the red variety, but they do produce a soup with less ‘bite’ compared to one made with the brown variety.  Experiment and see which you prefer!  I also use apple cider vinegar rather than the more traditional red wine vinegar, generally just because I always have apple cider vinegar in my cupboard!   But red wine vinegar is great in it as well.  You can try out using balsamic vinegar instead if you think you might like it, but I feel balsamic vinegar doesn’t compliment the flavour of the soup as it is too strong and heavy.  The lentils make this a very filling, nutritious soup, full of protein, fibre, iron and potassium.  Along with a salad and some nice bread, this could be a meal in itself.

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g lentils, soaked
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 400g can chopped tomoatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp vinegar

Fry the onions and garlic for about five minutes, then add the lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves and oregano.  Pour in 1 litre of boiling water and season with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to the boil and then simmer over a low heat until the lentils are tender.  This will vary from 25 – 45 minutes depending on which variety of lentils you use.  If necessary, add a little more water to get the consistency which you prefer.  Take the soup off the boil and stir in the olive oil and the vinegar.

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