Friday, 4 April 2014

Supergreens with quinoa & pistachio pesto

Mmmm a yummy way to get your greens in . . . I'm always on the lookout for one of those! Greens are so wonderful for your health, in particular the cruciferous greens like kale, cabbage, collards, broccoli and spinach . . . but many of us struggle to get our daily quota especially when boredom or monotony sets in. Don't let this happen to you or you'll be missing out on an amazing assortment of minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients, not to mention their powerful anti-cancer, detoxifying, immune strengthening, anti-inflammatory and heart healthy benefits. A good tip for your health is to include two servings of cruciferous greens per day and to enjoy at least one of those raw. 

There really is no excuse not to enjoy your greens . . . you've just got to dress them up occasionally (or all the time)! I love to mix up the way we eat our greens so that tedium is never an issue at our house, this is because greens always feature on our daily menu in one shape or form. We do all the regular things with greens like making green juice or smoothies, incorporating them into dishes such as quiches, savoury slices, stir-fries and even green eggs! We stir them chopped or blended through sauces, or serve them as a side dish sautéed or lightly steamed . . . but fresh homemade pestos and leafy salads with flavoursome dressings have to be my favourite green distraction at the moment. 

This salad features a gorgeous basil & pistachio pesto made with the zest of a lemon. It is times like these when I wish my small lemon tree on our balcony was a little more mature and forthcoming with the good stuff :( It is difficult to source organic lemons in Hong Kong. When I visit Australia, I am lucky to have a wonderful neighbour, sister and mother-in-law who help to support my organic lemon addiction so I can bring a supply back to HK with me in my suitcase. So, if you are lucky enough to have a productive lemon tree in your garden I am hugely jealous! ;)

I first enjoyed this lush green, fresh & fragrant salad, brimming with superfood goodness at a family dinner prepared by my mother-in-law over our Christmas 2013 break in Australia. I must say that my mother-in-law has a real flair for unearthing quality dishes. She is also very accustomed to me by now making a request for her yummy recipes. Lucky for me, my appeals are always graciously accepted . . and also I hesitate to say . . .  lucky for you! ;)

Looking over the original recipe, I could very quickly see how I could adapt it for the Thermomix. Plus of course I have tweaked the recipe slightly to improve nutritional quality. . . that goes without saying really! 

Supergreens with quinoa and pistachio pesto

500g filtered water
1½ tbsp TM vegetable stock paste
80g red quinoa
80g white quinoa
170g broccolini, trimmed
100g frozen baby peas
100g baby spinach leaves
100g rocket leaves (arugula)
1 ripe avocado, stone removed, sliced
150g fetta cheese (omit for DF)
80g pepitas (pumpkin seeds), raw or lightly toasted

pistachio pesto
60g raw pistachio nuts
good handful of basil leaves
1 lemon, juice + zest (preferably organic)
50g extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic

1. Add 500g of filtered water to the TM bowl with the stock paste.  Place the basket inside the TM bowl. Weigh both types of quinoa into a fine mesh sieve on top of the TM bowl (zero the sieve using the scales first). Rinse the quinoa with water at the sink before tipping out of the sieve into the TM basket. Secure the lid and Varoma dish on top ready for steaming the broccolini. Cook the quinoa for 12 minutes at 100C on speed 4. TIP: Soak the quinoa overnight for increase digestibility. 

2. Add the trimmed broccolini and frozen peas to the Varoma tray and steam 
for 5-6 minutes at Varoma temperature , speed 4 or until just tender. Immediately remove the green veg from the tray and plunge into icy cold water to prevent further cooking and to retain the vibrant green colour. Remove the cooked quinoa to a large mixing or salad bowl. Rinse out the TM bowl with hot water and dry with paper towel ready to make the fresh pesto. 

3. To make the pesto: peel the zest from the lemon in strips and add to the TM bowl with the pistachio nuts, garlic and basil leaves and finely chop on speed 7 for 5 seconds. Then add the olive oil and lemon juice and combine on speed 3 for a few seconds. 

4. Add the steamed greens to the quinoa, then add the baby spinach & rocket leaves and sliced avocado. Sprinkle with crumbled fetta and pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with pesto and toss. Enjoy!

Nutrition tid bit
Although the leafy greens have the highest overall nutrient density of all vegetables, meaning they contain the most micronutrients per calorie, it is important that you eat the rainbow, that is fruits and vegetables of every hue to benefit from an even wider range of nutrients that work in synergy to boost your health. So keep this in mind when you take this salad to a family gathering and dig into every colour of the rainbow (and I'm not referring to the bowl of m&m's . . . LOL:)

Original recipe here. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Slow cooking, stovetop cooking, thermomixing and Lamb ragu . . .

Slow-cooking to the non-Thermomix owner, probably looks like a convenient way to feed your family a nutritious meal. You just need to prepare your ingredients in the morning, throw them in the slow cooker and allow them to cook all day until you are ready to eat your meal at night . . but hold on, does this sound nutritious to you? To me it sounds more like a slow death to nutrients!

Although both a slow-cooker (and also a Thermomix), typically cook food at less than the boiling point of water, which is considered a healthier way of cooking . . . surely the prolonged heat exposure to vegetables in particular, as a result of hours and hours of slow-cooking, has to put the integrity of the more unstable water-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients at unnecessary risk? Of course, there are always exceptions, such as the antioxidant lycopene, a red pigment carotenoid, which actually becomes more bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked. But shouldn't we also be concerned about the other more fragile micronutrients in tomatoes? 

As a general rule, the longer a food is exposed to heat and the higher the cooking temperature, the higher the subsequent nutrient loss. Preserving nutrients as best you can using cooking methods is definitely a tricky science, especially on the stovetop where timing is crucial if you wish to preserve the nutrients in the foods you are cooking. 

Steaming has long been recommended as the most favourable method of stovetop cooking to reduce nutrient loss and thankfully we can look to our trusty Thermomix to help us out with this method of cooking in the Varoma. But rest assured, we can also look favourably at the TM bowl method of cooking in comparison to stovetop cooking methods such as simmering, boiling and frying which all expose foods to higher temperatures which are difficult to control. This is just another way that the Thermomix comes into it's own, not only are foods cooked quickly (less time) and at comparably low temperatures which are preset and controlled, they are cooked to perfection if you follow well-tested recipes, ensuring that nutrient loss is kept to a minimum.  In terms of nutrition, quick methods of cooking at low temperatures has to be more superior, and any Thermomix owner understands the concept of 'fast' in comparison to other methods of cooking. 
Traditionally a lamb ragu is slow cooked for hours to develop flavours and tenderize meats. Using a heavy based pan and my thermie, I believe that I have achieved that lovely richness of flavour and melt in the mouth texture to the lamb in much less time, preserving more of the nutrition in your lamb and vegetables :)

lamb ragu
700g diced lamb
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tbsp organic butter or ghee
2 large cloves garlic
1 onion, halved
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
20-40g extra virgin olive oil
50g tomato paste or concentrate
1 tbsp TM vegetable stock paste
400g can BPA-free tomatoes (or your own TM cooked tomatoes)
100g tomato passata or sauce
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves only
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves and/or parsley
1 dry bay leaf
1/2 cup dry red wine


1. Make a spice rub for the lamb by combining the coriander, fennel and cumin in a small bowl with the diced lamb. Mix well to cover and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. TIP: It does pay to freshly grind your spices from the whole variety so that your finished dish will be more fragrant and flavoursome. Also, your lamb should be evenly diced for successful shredding later. 

2. Melt the butter or ghee in a heavy based pan (cast iron and not non-stick preferably) over moderately-high heat. In two batches, sear the lamb on all sides until deeply browned, about 4-5 minutes per batch. Remove the meat to a plate and repeat with the remaining lamb. The lamb should still be rare inside. DO NOT clean the pan!

3. Now add the spiced lamb to the TM bowl and shred for 2-4 seconds on reverse speed 5 to break up slightly. The lamb will break up further as it simmers, so don't over-do this step and turn your lamb into mush. Remove to the plate. 

4. Add the garlic cloves, onion and carrot to TM bowl. Chop on speed 7 for 5 seconds. Add olive oil and sauté at Varoma temp for 3 minutes on speed 1Scrape down sides of bowl, add tomato paste and cook a further 2 mins at Varoma temp.

5. Add dry red wine to the frypan and deglaze, simmer on the stovetop until the liquid thickens. Then scrape contents of the frypan into the TM bowl.

6. Return the shredded lamb to the TM bowl and add the remaining ingredients (stock paste, canned tomatoes, passata, fresh herbs and bay leaf) to the TM bowl. 

7. Simmer the ragu at 90°C, speed soft, reverse for at least 15 minutes. . . or longer if you prefer in which case you may need to add some water. . . . just don't cook it all day :) 

Meanwhile cook your pasta or lightly steam or sauté your zucchini spirals. I like to serve with a side of green salad or steamed broccoli to ensure that we are getting our daily greens quota :)