x For Freezer x

Warm Chickpea Summer Salad

The trillions of microflora that can be found in the gut play an essential role in supporting strong immune and digestive systems. At any one time, your gut can contain 1.5kg of bacteria. Giving them some TLC is pretty darn important in my experience, especially if you’ve had a recent course of antibiotics. I’ve joined forces with Bio Kult, bringing you a fibre-rich recipe to pimp up your pipes (see cookery demo at the bottom of this post) .

Fibre is a good source of fuel to get the party started for your gut’s metropolis of microflora. That, and a good serving of natural yoghurt on top. If you’re interested in learning more about the brilliance of our very own internal ecosystem, then I highly recommend Gut by Giulia Enders from your local book store. It’s so incredibly witty, intelligent and informative. Plus, it might just change your life.

Serves 6-8 as mains or side dish

2 tablespoons butter, ghee or olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 large onions, diced
6 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 fat thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons ground curry powder
2 tins chickpeas
500g rainbow chard, baby spinach or cavolo nero, sliced
Natural yoghurt, to serve

.

Heat the butter over a hot flame and tumble in your cumin and mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop (30 seconds), turn down the heat and add the onion. Sweat for 10 mins until softened before adding the garlic and ginger. Cook and stir for another 3-5 minutes until the onions have caramelised and before the garlic burns. Pour in the tin of tomatoes and cook down for 5 minutes until thick (see video above).

Parachute in the curry powder, sliced greens, and the drained chickpeas. You can loosen up the dish by adding a little chickpea juice from the tin. The greens need a few minutes to wilt down into the dish. Cook for a further 5 minutes before seasoning, plating up, and serving with poppadoms or rice and natural yoghurt.

x For Freezer x

Salted Caramel Squares

This week, I have corrupted Millionaire’s Shortbread with mantras and health foods. Yes mantras (caramel is spiritual, right?) Whistle-inducing excitement, for these extraordinarily knotty times you’ll agree.

The secret, I think, lies with odourless coconut oil which you can find in health food stores for half the cost of organic extra virgin coconut oil (horrah!).

Odourless coconut oil is the snazzlejazzle. After a first pressing (extra virgin), the oil is gently steamed to remove its strong coconutty perfume and taste. It’s no longer a raw product at this point, but is still a superb source of MCTs (the medium chain triglycerides that sporting folk become disproportionately affectionate about). Turns out, that all saturated fats are not equal. Each saturated fat has its own structure, and their individual differences influence the way they work in your body. (Scientists, deep breaths while I mutilate your language). MCTs seem to be metabolized more like carbohydrates than fats, and quickly used for energy. Butter will deliver 1-2g of MCTs per tablespoon, ghee around 4g, and coconut oil a whopping 8g. Store this little nugget for later, to impress that hot tri-athlete in your office or that achingly fit barista. You’re welcome.

But coconut oil’s real deal lies with its reputed immune-loving compounds like lauric and caprylic acid. The predominant MCT in coconut oil is lauric acid, known for some serious Ninjago moves. Much of the research on lauric and caprylic acids (also found in breast milk) have shown that many pathogens do not like these particular MCTs (take that, you pesky firestarters!) But given that this week’s recipe is so damned delicious, I’m happy to horse into it while scientists do more research.

Also, if you cut into squares and store in the freezer, they will taste closer to Snicker’s ice cream bars than caramel squares. Don’t thank me – thank my pal Helen James for coming up with the peanut butter brilliance.

.

Base:

100g ground almonds

50g rolled oats

3 tablespoons (odourless) coconut oil, melted

Pinch of sea salt

2 tablespoons of maple syrup or rice malt syrup or honey

Caramel:

30g peanut butter

2 tablespoons (odourless) coconut oil, melted

2 tablespoons maple syrup (no other sweetener works as well for consistency)

110g light tahini

Top:

70g dark chocolate, melted

Smattering of flaky sea salt e.g. Maldon

.

You’ll need to line a large bread tin (25cm) with non-stick baking parchment. Shoot up the oven to 170 Celsius (150 fan-assisted).

In a food processor, blitz the whole oats with your ground almonds until uniform. With the motor still running, pour in the oil, salt and maple syrup. Scoop out into your prelined tin. It will seem tricky to manipulate the base, so I recommend using clean hands to flatten the mixture into every corner.

Bake for 12 minutes at 170C before it colours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, get partying with your wholefood caramel. Whisk the listed ingredients together with a fork. Cover your cooled base with this gloriously yummy caramel. Chill briefly.

Now is a good time to pour over the melted chocolate. If the caramel is too cold/chilled, the chocolate will set immediately and make it impossible to spread. You can move the tin around, redirecting the melted chocolate to the bits that need covering. Sprinkle the top with flaky sea salt. Chill until set. We eat it straight from the fridge, but it can also be eaten straight from the freezer (a very good hiding place, FYI).

x For Freezer x

Aubergine Rendang

I have completely bastardised lamb rendang, and man, did it work. I use 75% less red meat than the traditional recipe and lob in lots of aubergine and gojis. Goji berries look like teensy chillies in the rendang and will scare the bejaysus out of your housemates. Small pleasures in tough times.

These teensy gnarled berries hide most of their beauty. Gram for gram, one serving of goji berries can deliver more vitamin C than those egotistical oranges. Gojis are a good plant source of iron and protein too. As a tonic, they’ve been central to Tibetan and Chinese medicine for over a thousand years. This berry’s immune-boosting reputation might stem from its specific polysaccharide permutation, just like mushrooms. Polysaccharides apparently work by influencing our immune response by stimulating certain ‘fighter’ cells. Fancy shmancy. But science is rarely that simple. Perhaps its impressive stash of antioxidants is responsible for all the hype? Nutritional yah-yah aside, I love their flavour in this dish. That’s good enough reason for me!

Zenning my face off. Photos by Joanne Murphy for Clever Batch cookbook

.

Serves 8 with rice

2 brown onions, chopped

5 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil or ghee

600g lamb chunks, preferably shoulder

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 fresh chilli, deseeded and chopped

2 stalks of lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped

2 fingers of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons black or yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons ground turmeric (or grated fresh root)

A good few turns of the salt and pepper mill

1 x 400ml tin full-fat coconut milk

Generous handful of dried goji berries

4 large aubergines

Fresh coriander, to garnish

.

Start by sweating the onions on a gentle heat with 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil or ghee until glassy (5–10 minutes). Add the lamb, garlic, chilli, lemongrass, ginger, spices and a few twists from the salt and pepper mill. No need to brown the lamb first. Whack up the heat for a few minutes to briefly sizzle and colour everything, then pour in the coconut milk and turn down to a putt-putter. I use the lowest setting on my cooker. It needs 2–3 hours over a low-medium heat on the hob with a lid securely fastened. Any higher and the lamb will toughen. Taste after 2 hours and see if the lamb has collapsed enough or needs longer in the pot. It should be juicy and flavoursome, not tough. Give it more time if required.

Remove the lid for the final 20–30 minutes of cooking and parachute the goji berries into the mix. This will add sweetness and nutrition while concentrating the flavours. Rendang is best when it’s strong and punchy rather than soupy or saucy.

About the same time as you are adding the gojis, fire up your oven to 220C and slice the aubergines into thick discs, then into quarters. Divide between two roasting trays. Service each tray with the remaining coconut oil or ghee and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, until soft and caramelised.

Once the aubergines are roasted, stir them through the rendang, tickle with fresh coriander leaves. Sticky black rice is a fabulous accompaniment if you want the rendang to stretch to eight mouths. We also love chickpea poppadoms and pickled red onion on the side.