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! :-)

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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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Organic Red Quinoa Tabbouleh with Chickpea Flat Bread

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I have just recently discovered a whole new food that I never knew existed.  A mind blowingly delicious food.  A healthy, protein filled, wheat and gluten free food.  A super quick and easy food.  I feel cheated that I have been going through life unaware of the existance of Socca!  For those of you who don’t know, Socca, also known as Farinata, Torta Di Ceci or Cecina is a type of flat bread made from chickpea flour, popular mainly along the Ligurian Sea coast from Nice, France to Pisa, Italy -having apparently originated in Genoa.   There is also a very similar dish from Algeria called Karantita.
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 I came across the basic recipe for Socca or Farinatta while browsing popular cooking blog The Kitchn.  Chickpeas are one of my favourite foods ever and I am always eager to find new wheat free versions of bread so I began experimenting with it straight away.  I expected that I would mess it up a few times before I got it right, but on my first go it came out perfect, illustrating just how easy it is.  You simply make a batter of chickpea flour, water, oil and seasoning.  This can then be cooked under the grill/broiler, or oven baked, and it can be varied to a thin or thick consistency.  Olive oil is more traditionally used but I find coconut oil particularly delicious with Socca.   I sprinkle the wedges liberally with salt and pepper when done.  They are best eaten piping hot.  Chickpea flour or Gram Flour as it is also know can be easily found in Middle Eastern and South Asian stores.
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I have mostly just been eating Socca on it’s own as it is so tasty, quick and easy -perfect for a snack.  I wanted however to begin experimenting by using it as a bread and pizza substitute also.  This quinoa tabbouleh goes brilliantly with thin wedges of Socca instead of Lebanese flat bread -making this meal perfect for people avoiding wheat and gluten.   Middle Eastern cuisine is probably my favourite type of food.  There are great vegetarian and vegan options and it tends to be very healthy.  I usually do a twist on classic taboulleh salad by using quinoa instead of bulghar wheat.  The flavour remains pretty much exactly the same but the wheat and gluten is cut out, while raising the protein content massively.
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INGREDIENTS:

Quinoa Tabbouleh

  • 1/2 cup red quinoa
  • 1 handful fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint (finely chopped)
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Socca / Chickpea Flatbread

  • 1 cup gram flour
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1-2 clove garlic (grated)
  • 3-4 tbsp Coconut Oil

Cook the quinoa and combine it with all of the other ingredients.  I like to do this in a food processor as I hate chopping onions and herbs!  To make the Socca, sieve the gram flour plus one cup of water in to a bowl.  Add the spices and herbs, then whisk vigorously to remove some of the lumps.  Allow to stand for ten minutes to half an hour.  To cook under the grill/broiler, melt some coconut oil in a frying pan underneath the grill.   Make sure that you use plenty of oil so that the mixture doesn’t stick.  When melted, pour the batter in to the pan and place under the grill until cooked, crisping and browning.  Remove with a spatula.  For a thinner pancake, split the batter in half and make two batches.  This is what I did for this recipe.  Each crepe took about 10 minutes but it will depend on the heat level and distance from the grill.  For a thicker pancake, you will obviously need to leave it under the heat much longer.  Alternatively you can bake the batter on a rimmed pizza stone or similar tray until set and cooked through.

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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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Crispy Potato & Fennel Rosti with Herby Bean Mash

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This is a lovely vegan brunch option.  Just fancy enough to give you that pampered Sunday morning feeling, but simple and quick enough for lazy Sunday heads, with the exception of hungover ones!  If you’re hungover, get someone else to make this for you! ;-)

Fennel is a vegetable that I don’t ever buy myself to cook with, but once again my weekly organic fruit & veggies box delivery brought me a new opportunity.   Much like when I was presented with four beetroot, when I saw the leafy fronds of fennel sticking out of my order I was excited to get the opportunity to try out cooking a vegetable which I rarely eat, and never cook with.   I became converted to beetroot a few weeks ago, and now I am converted to fennel!   Nutrition wise, fennel has strong anti oxidant activity and is an excellent source of vitamin C.   It also offers a very good source of fibre and potassium, and a good source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins.   And what a beautiful flavour!   It adds a wonderful fresh, sweet, lightness to the rosti without overpowering the traditional potato flavour.   The crispy rosti pairs great with the warm, soft, herby bean mash.   Perfect for setting you up for a busy Sunday afternoon, or you could do what I did, and take it back to bed with you while you decide how to spend your day!

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2-3 potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 1 small onion
  • Cooked beans of your choice
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Fresh rosemary and thyme to season
Grate the raw potato, fennel and onion coarsely.   Use a medium sized hole and try to get the strips as long as possible.   Place them all in a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.   I put them all in the middle of the towel, make a ball, and twist the edges of the tea towel around to make a little package.   With one hand, twist the free ends as tightly as you can.   Squeeze the moisture out of the ball with the other.   When you think you have gotten as much as you can, squeeze again!!  Aaand again!  Let it sit for two minutes, and squeeze once more!  The mixture will not work if there is too much water.Place the mixture in a bowl and season well with pepper, and a little of the chopped herbs if you like.  You can fry these on a pan, or bake in the oven for a healthier recipe.   To fry, heat a good amount of oil in a pan on high heat.   Reduce the heat to medium after a minute or two.  Take a heaped tablespoon of the of the mixture and place in the hot oil.   Push down hard several times with a spatula to make a flat compacted cake.   If you have a chef’s ring, these are useful to help form the rostis and keep their shape.   Push down regularly for even browning and flip once one side is browned.  Make sure that they are cooked through -this will depend on how thick your rosti is.   You could also lightly brown both sides and then finish in an oven at 170 degrees Celsius if your mixture is not holding together well (did you squeeze like I told you?! :-) ).  For a healthier option with less oil, you can oven bake completely. Form the rostis on an oiled baking tray and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about thirty minutes until crisping.Serve with the white bean herb mash -simply lightly fry some onion and garlic in a pan, add some cooked beans (white beans are nice with this), season and add plenty of fresh rosemary and thyme.  Mash the beans and cook on a low heat until warmed through.

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Red Quinoa, Mixed Bean & Spinach Burgers

 

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These burgers are a variation of my quinoa, kidney bean and roasted red pepper burgers.  You can view that recipe here.  I like having a supply of these in the freezer so that I have something quick but very nutritious handy if I don’t feel like making a more elaborate meal or if I am already too starving to cook!  They can be heated quickly and I pair them with whatever I have handy -a bun and salad, potatoes and veg, spelt pasta, sweet potatoes fries, whatever’s there!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup red quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 drained can mixed beans (I used haricot beans brown beans and chickpeas)
  • 1 handful young spinach leaves
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 tsp dried chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp milled chia seed

Prepare the chia gel by mixing the chia seeds with 3 tbsp water in a bowl and allow it to stand for 15 minutes.  Bring the quinoa to the boil in the water, then cover and let simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes.   Dice the onion, garlic and spinach in to very small pieces.  I used a food processor for this as I hate chopping!  Mash the beans. You can leave some of them whole if you like, for a chunkier texture.  Mix all of the ingredients together, along with the chia gel.  The gel will act as a binder and is a great alternative to egg in recipes such as these where the purpose is binding.  Remember that the binding properties of every recipe will differ slightly depending on how much moisture you leave in the quinoa, or how juicy your spinach leaves are!  You may have to use more binder or spend more time forming the burgers if your mix turned out wetter than mine.  Divide the mix in to burgers or balls, and allow to set in the fridge for 30 minutes. This step can be omitted if you are in a hurry, but they will keep their form better when cooking if you allow them to set.  Shallow fry for several minutes or bake for about 15-20 minutes at 200 degrees celsius.

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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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