The Key to Successful Weight Loss Lies in the Mind: Pulled Apricot BBQ-Chicken Burgers

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I was quite shocked to read a recent study which found that only 1 in 10 American citizens think that psychological well-being is a factor in weight loss, with the majority selecting diet and exercise as the largest barriers.I want to stress something that is incredibly underrated in our society’s’ current understanding of weight loss, eating disorders and obesity. It is incredibly difficult to lose weight and, more importantly, keep the weight off without changing your emotional connection to food.

Food psychology is an incredibly important field without which we would not be able to solve the current obesity crisis. I’m not just saying this because it’s keeping me in a job but because it genuinely is one of the biggest barriers to weight loss. It’s often the case that  people tend to put weight back on after dieting, especially during more emotionally disruptive times.

When I tell people I’m studying the psychology behind overconsumption, people often express confusion as to why  it’s so hard for overweight people to ‘stop being lazy and just eat less’. I think this notion that obesity a something to do with being idle or lacking self-care is pretty widespread. But it’s a very simplistic and ignorant view of a very complex and painful problem. Obesity, like other addictive behaviours, is a mental health disorder. So in theory, yes people should just decrease their caloric intake and they will lose weight. In practice, it’s really damn hard to change your entire relationship with food without any professional help. People rely on food as an emotional vice, making it as psychologically difficult to give up as any psychological dependency, be it cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling.

The new documentary on the BBC – ‘Your brain on food’ gives a really good overview of food psychology 101. It focuses on Stephen Nolan, the radio host, who lost 7 stone after following a diet that consisted of only eating energy bars and then piled all the weight back on again within a year. This is a prime example of how simply ‘eating less’ is often not enough to produce permanent weight loss. Stephen found that even when he did have the willpower to lose weight and be ‘strong’,  his efforts were eventually trampled and his weight sky-rocket. From my own experiences of yo-yo-dieting, I know that weight loss only succeeds in the short-term. When you do lose weight, your temporary improvements in self-control create the illusion that you’ve conquered your chocolate-shaped demons. In reality, without changing our attitudes or emotional relationship with food, the demons remain very much alive. I think this is a common misconception that is potentially quite dangerous for our understanding of obesity. Changing your diet alone does not fix your food-related issues. It’s kind of like putting a bandage on wound that won’t stop bleeding. Yes the blood flow may be contained for a while but this won’t prevent the bleeding altogether. That’s largely why unsustainable diets will inevitably fail and leave you fatter than before you started dieting – because you haven’t targeted the route of the problem.

Eating healthy is no doubt a huge part of combating obesity, but it’s our emotions and attitudes that need to change in order to make long-lasting, permanent improvements. So next time you hear somebody say that obese people are simply lazy or weak, remember that weight loss it’s not simply a matter of food, but a matter of the mind. And changing a emotions, attitudes and neural pathways that have been cemented over a lifetime of experience, might be one of the hardest challenges a person can face.

Sorry for the rant…please accept this recipe by way of an apology. The pulled chicken and BBQ sauce is utterly delicious. There are a lot of ingredients so it’s quite a long one but it makes for a BBQ sauce that is rich, thick and has bags of flavour.

 Pulled Smoky Apricot BBQ-Chicken burgers:


 
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Burger buns (easier to buy these but here’s the recipe if you feel like going for it):

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1 packet dried yeast

120ml warm water (not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast!)

1 tablespoon honey

120ml milk (can use almond milk for vegan)

2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil

large pinch salt

2 eggs (or flax egg for vegan)

360g  white flour

  1. Add the water to the yeast and stir until dissolved. Leave for 10mins for the yeast to activate. It should start to look bubbly after 10 mins, if not your yeast may not be active.
  2. Mix in the milk, honey, oil, salt, 1 egg. Add the flour last.
  3. Knead for 15 mins. this is quite challenging as the dough will be very sticky but perverse!. If you have one, it’s much easier to knead bread in an electric mixer. Continue until the dough is firmer and springs back when you touch it.
  4. Cover and leave to prove in a warm space for 1-2 hours. The dough should double in size.
  5. Shape the dough into 8 even sized balls.
  6. Gently whisk the egg with a fork and brush the top of each roll with the egg wash.
  7. Bake in the oven on 180 for 30-40 mins.

 

Homemade Guacamole

3 avocados

2 limes

1 bunch coriander

1 fresh chilli

1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt

  1. Using a fork, roughly mash up 3 avocados with lime juice, coriander, 1 chopped chilli and 1 tablespoon of Greek yoghurt. Season well.

Coleslaw

1/2 red cabbage

2 large carrots

5 radishes

1 bunch spring onions

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mustard

1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt

1 lemon

1. Chop the red cabbage and carrots into thin strips (can be easier to grate the carrots). Add finely sliced radishes and spring onions.

2. Whisk olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and white wine vinegar with Greek yoghurt. Season well.

3. Mix in the dressing just before serving so it doesn’t go soggy.

Smokey Apricot-BBQ Chicken

6 chicken thighs

1 large white onion (finely diced)

5 garlic cloves (mashed)

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

10 sprigs thyme

1 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon chipotle dried chillis (can use normal chilli flakes but then add extra paprika to increase smokiness)

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

50ml balsamic

2 limes (juice and zest)

2 tins canned-apricots

4 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons soy sauce

200ml apple cider vinegar

200ml ketchup

100ml water

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1 tablespoon mustard

1 tablespoon coconut oil

  1. Caramelise onions and garlic in pan for 2 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, add all the spices, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and blitz in the blender
  3. Add to the onions/garlic to make a paste
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and keep on a low heat for 2 hours. Season well and taste periodically. Add extra honey if not sweet enough.
  5. When the sauce has thickened, strain it through a sieve
  6. Coat the chicken thighs in the the sauce in a baking tray and cook the chicken on 180 for 40mins.
  7. Once cooked and tender, shred the chicken with two forks. Mix in remaining bbq sauce to the chicken before serving.

 

To Serve, layer the guac, coleslaw and chicken on a bun (I also  added leftover BBQ sauce and it was delicious)

Animals Can Have Eating Disorders Too: Onglet with honey-roasted parsnip puree, charred asparagus, chestnut crumb and mushroom sauce.

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This week I read a very adorable and kind of sad study that I thought warranted a blog post of it’s own.  The study revealed that chicks who are the runts of the litter and struggle in early life grow up to overeat and become fatter than their less stressed out siblings. In the same way that babies with insecure caregiver attachments are predisposed to develop eating disorders or obesity in adulthood, birds with a rough start are also more likely to be obese. I don’t know why this story touched me so much, but I’ve not been able to stop thinking or telling people about this. Part of the reason is that the younger-siter in me is particularly sympathetic to the distressing image of a tiny, hungry, baby bird trying to squeeze past it’s aggressive older siblings to get some food, but it also made me think about a idea I’d never really considered, that animals can have eating disorders too.

Eating disorders, in the same way as gambling or drug addictions, are a behavioural strategy designed to cope with emotional adversity. I had assumed that obesity and eating disorders were exclusively to the modern man, mainly because it seems as though you have to have some level of consciousness in order to be influenced by the societal pressure to be skinny or subliminal advertising to buy fast-foods. But apparently this is not the case, as I’ve now learnt that animals do indeed suffer from similar eating disorders. In fact, cats have been shown to develop anorexic symptoms after a family member (both human or feline) has died. There’s even a anorexia equivalent diagnosed in pigs called Thin Sow Syndrome.   If a pig is overcrowded or placed in crates that are too small, they can reduce their food intake and over-exercise causing them to lose significant amounts of weight, which often results in their death. This, again, is a behavioural response to an emotionally distressing environment.

This notion that animals can use dietary restriction as a means to cope with emotional distress can actually tell us a great deal about similar human behaviours. If pigs or cats respond to stressful life events by reducing their food intake, doesn’t this demonstrate that human eating disorders may too be largely underpinned by emotion, rather than cognition? The root cause of these disorders is not a dysfunctional thinking pattern or habit, but a dysfunctional response to adverse emotion.

Even stranger is the new report that animals are also getting fatter. This isn’t just a result of owners over feeding their pets, as animals in the wild are also much larger than they were 30-40 years ago. So without doing or eating the things that are supposed to be making humans fat, animals are suffering from a similar problem. The parallels between humans and animals eating patterns struck me as rather alarming, given that obesity is considered to be a producted of the current chaotic, obesogenic environment. This must mean that as well as the increased sugar intake and sedentary lifestyle we attribute to the high rate of human obesity, there may be another environmental factor unrelated to human diet. For example, the presence of chemical carcinogens in the atmosphere may not only be giving us cancer, it might also be making humans, and animals, obese. Alternatively, the rise in temperature could be causing a reduction in calorie burning behaviours, such as shivering.

 

(PHOTO: CREATIVE COMMONS)

A very cute but rather rotund orangutange.

After realising how much we can learn from animals about human eating behaviours, I thought it only fair to show my appriciation by cooking up a delicious dead cow…I’m very much kidding, it’s an unhappy coincidence that this blog, which raves about how interesting animals are, is accompanied by a meat recipe. On the whole, I do mostly try to avoid eating animals but I think it’s actually impossible to resist eating onglet once you’ve tried it. If you’ve never had onglet (the cheap but absolutely incredible) underbelly of the cow, go out and by one immediently. Unless you are vegetarian. Not because of your morals or anything important like that, but because trying onglet may actually prevent you from remaining a vegetarian. Seriously, it’s that good.

I’ve also gone for a slighlty more complex dish this week. It’s Thanksgiving-inspired but my friend and I thought we’d try and go masterchef-style. It’s acutally not as hard to make as it seems, there are just quite a few components. If this recipe seems too much fuss I would highly recommend making the parsnip puree for any Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration – it is melt-in-your-mouth-levels of delicious.

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Onglet with honey-roasted parsnip puree, charred asparagus, chesnut crumb and mushroom sauce (serves 4)

4 portions of onglet (you can use flank steak if you can’t find onglet)

1 bag (6-7) parnips

100g honey

50ml milk

1 whole garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

bunch asparagus

1 punnet mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion

1 tablespoon flour

300ml chicken stock

1 tablespoon red wine

1 bag chestnuts

For the steak:

  1. At least an hour before cooking, massage the the steak in olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Wrap in foil and leave.
  2. 20mins before you want to eat, take the steak out of the fridge. Heat a griddgle pan of butter until very hot. Sear the steak on each side for 2 mins. Take out and leave to rest for 20mins.
  3. After the steak has been left to rest, heat another very hot griddle pan with butter and cook the steak for 2mins on each side, basting with the melted butter as you do.
  4. To check the steak is cooked, take off the pan and slice through the middle. If neccesary, cook for longer depending on how you like your steak.

For the mash:

  1. First peel and halve the parsnips. The blanch in a pan of boiling water for 5 mins.
  2. Roast a whole garlic by chopping off the top and removing the outer layer. Place the garlic in foil with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
  3. On a baking tray, coat parsnips in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 50g honey. Roast for 30-40mins, until very soft.
  4. Set a few aside and roast for a futher 10mins until crispy.
  5. Heat a pan of 50ml milk until boiling.
  6. Blitz the milk with the remaining parnips, 3 cloves of roasted garlic, 50ml of honey in the blender until very smooth.
  7. Season well.

For the asparagus:

  1. Heat a griddle pan, add a splash of olive oil and then char the asparagus for around 10 minutes until soft to your liking.

For the chesnuts:

  1. Make a slit in each chesnut and then roast on a baking tray for 30-40mins
  2. Once cooked, de-shell the chesnuts (a very annoying job)
  3. Blitz the chesnuts in the blender to a crumb.

For the mushroom sauce:

  1. Chop the onion and fry in olive oil until soft.
  2. Add finely chopped mushrooms and 2 minced garlic cloves (can use what’s left over from the roasted garlic).
  3. When the mushrooms are soft, stir in 2 tablespoons of plain flour to make a paste.
  4. Season well.
  5. A little at a time, stir in 300ml of chicken stock. Add a splash of red wine.
  6. Leave this to reduce for 10-15mins – stiring occasionally.
  7. Seive the mushrooms, keeping both the pulpy- part and the reduced sauce for the dish.

To Plate

  1. Smear the parsnip mash at around the middle off your plate
  2. Place a whole roasted parsnips across the mash
  3. Arrange the chesnut crumbs in a line at a right angle to the mash
  4. Slice the steak and place 3-4 slices on top of the crumb.
  5. Add 3-4 asparagus parallel to the steak
  6. Take the mushroom pulp and drizzle over the asparagus
  7. Drizzle the whole dish with the mushroom reduction.
  8. Season with pepper and enjoy!

Don’t Let the Media Feed You: butternut squash and lentil soup

12202311_10153816092389758_93846814_nThe media have a huge influence on what we (think) we know about food. I mean, let’s be honest, no one had even heard of kale two years ago and now it’s a disease-fighting, fatigue-beating, acne-clearing staple in the lives of most health foodies.  Now this isn’t because kale didn’t exist two years ago or because we only recently discovered that leafy greens are good for you. It’s largely due to media exposure that created the hype, eventually crowning kale ‘the ultimate superfood’.

I get it, food is almost like fashion in the way that these trends come about. A hot new chef or blogger will ‘discover’ the health enhancing properties of a random food, such as our newest obsession with putting bee pollen on everything. A few months later sales will have increased by 200% and everyone will be pouring bee pollen all over their porridge in an attempt to get the oh so coveted ‘glow’. After a few months of religiously eating an ingredient that you have to consume in impossible amounts get any of the benefits anyway, you end up for fitting more nutritious foods in order to afford the overpriced supplement. Then a new study is published that has failed to find any beneficial effects and actually reveals that bee pollen contains types of bacteria and fungi as well as traces of lead and cadmium.  But alas, it doesn’t matter because the damage is already done. As soon as we read that Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow eat it, it was a lost cause. Everyone will continue to believe it’s the answer to all of their body image woes.

That’s all very well when we are talking about health food products. But a hot issue in the press, that I think requires some clarification, is the internet-breaking revelation that eating meat causes cancer. Of course the Daily Mail lead this meat-hating brigade with mountains of articles offering different headlines that all made the same bold claim, that eating meat (bacon in particular) will increase your chances of getting cancer, thus placing it into ‘foods we should avoid at all cost’ category. I absolutely hate the way in which the media reduces such incredibly complex factors and external variables into one resounding statement that applies to everyone.

Foods should not be considered good and evil. The balance of nutrients, digestive process and environmental differences that influence our health are a lot more complicated that simply good or bad. We do not live in a fairytale with a villainous bacon who’s consumption will lead to exclusively harmful consequences Vs. the heroine, kale, who only is unconditionally beneficial. Yes some foods are largely bad when eaten in large quantities and others are a lot more better for our health.  Yes, processed meat has been associated with a 6% increase of bowl cancer but red meat has also been implicated in the development of human’s intelligence and provides large amounts of iron which increases energy and reduces fatigue.

If you eat a meat-heavy diet, you will probably reap both positive and adverse effects of eating meat. Sure, eating processed bacon every single day is likely to eventually lead to some negative health consequences. But this does not mean that all meat is now a carcinogenic.

The media has completely misconstrued the scientific message which was that PROCESSED meats has been associated with one type of cancer. The target of evil should surely be on processed foods, rather than meat in general. Human and other animals have been eating meat for millions of years and they’ve done pretty well so far. The only difference is now we are pumping our meat full of chemicals, additives and using cows with a poor quality of life that are fed hormones and antibiotics. Let it be clear, it’s not the food that is evil, it’s the industry.

Here’s a recipe that is vegetarian (and vegan) recipe that will give you many of the benefits of meat. It’s high in both iron and protein, is a perfect winter comfort food and most importantly – is all natural!

Butternut Squash and Lentil soup:

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1 butternut squash

2 garlic cloves (roughly chopped)

1 tablespoon miso paste

1 teaspoon each turmeric, smoked paprika and cumic

300ml vegetable stock

1/2 cup lentils

1 tablespoon coconut cream (could also use greek yoghurt or sour cream)

1 tablespoon coconut oil/olive oil

  1. Cut the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and set aside. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with either coconut or olive oil. Road in the over at 180 for 40 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, cover the seeds in oil and smoked paprika and roast for 15 minutes, until crunchy.
  3. Once the squash is soft, scoop the insides out into a pan. Add all ingredients other than the cream and boil in water for 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Meanwhile boil the lentils in vegetable stock for 15 minutes.
  4. Add a bunch of chopped coriander and blitz in the blender until smooth
  5. Top with a swirl of coconut cream (you could also use greek yoghurt, sour cream or creme fraiche) and garnish with coriander.

I tried to give up sugar and failed – Part 1: Pumpkin and butterbean hummus

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My name is Annie and I, like most people in the Western world, am addicted to sugar. I wake up first thing in the morning and all I can think about is my sugar-fix. This generally continues, with cravings spiking throughout the day. Despite eating fairly healthy meals, I’m never satisfied unless I finish the meal on a something sweet. To be honest, I don’t think I realised it was a problem until I read about how much sugar is hidden in our food. I sat and counted the amount of sugar I consume on an average healthy day and am well and truly shocked. Typically I’ll eat porridge and honey at breakfast, cake or cookies as elevenses in the office, salad for lunch, a pick-me-up mocha in the afternoon, home-made vegetabley dish for dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and some chocolate in front of a movie. That totals at a whopping 120g of sugar, which is around 20 teaspoons. I’d think of that as a relatively healthy day, so I dread to think how much sugar I’m consuming on days where my self-control isn’t so good.

Sugar is a hot topic in the UK at the moment, especially with Jamie’s campaign for a tax on high-sugar drinks. I think the negative psychological and physical health consequences of a high-sugar diet are generally well understood, but that doesn’t stop it from being nigh-on impossible to go sugar-free. Because it tastes so damn good, food companies are finding a way to cram sugar into almost everything we see on the shelves in order to sell their products and keep us coming back for more.  The sugar industry is highly corrupt and deceitful, with countless adverts of unhealthy products to children, labels designed to make calculating the sugar content unnecessarily confusing and over 56 different names for the same processed sugar. This means that we have to be food detectives and make a conscious effort to read packaging labels and workout how much sugar we are consuming in our diets.

Unfortunately, identifying how much sugar is hidden in our food is really only half the battle. In fact, it’s nowhere near half, it’s probably not even a quarter. The real challenge is to stop eating it. Some have achieved this with seemingly little difficulty. They just wake up one morning, decided to cut sugar from their diets and then live a life of annoying positivity, restful slumbers and rainbows radiating from their perfect glowing skin. The rest of us, however, do what I have done today. Vow to quit sugar; proudly announce this to everyone we know; smugly eat eggs for breakfast; cycle to work with a self-congratulatory smile; and then have a piece of cake at coffee morning because it would be rude to say no, right? Temptation greats us at every snack, meal and social event, which essentially means you have to resist for every second of the day. I cannot figure out how people have manage to go from eating copious amounts of biscuits and chocolate one day, to eating avocado toast and sweet potato brownies the next. I have tried on countless occasions to remove sugar from my diet and I’ve failed every time. I’ve made the sweet potato brownies and refined sugar-free cakes, ordered the avocado toast instead of the maple syrup waffles and even successfully given up chocolate for a whole week. But despite my efforts I still find myself with the inability to resist sugary foods, happy to skip meals to gorge on cake and getting through tubs of hot chocolate at an alarming rate. I am still a sugar addict who is very much off the wagon. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen the wagon, never mind be on it. Now, I’m aware that it is dangerous to call sugar dependency, an ‘addiction’, as it removes agency and personal responsibility, but, psychologically, it really does feel like one.

So where do we go from here? It’s a simple problem that is causing our species a hell of a lot of problems. Sweet tastes signal that the food has a high calorie content, stimulating pleasure and reward centres in our brain. We are literally hard-wired to enjoy sugar more than other foods. As of right now, I have no real solution and, from working in the Nutrition and Behaviour lab at Bristol, I’m not sure anyone else does either.

I’m going to give myself until Christmas to figure our how to get on and, most importantly, stay on the sugar-free wagon. I’ll make the bold and, probably unrealistic, aim of permanently changing  my diet by cutting down to the recommended daily allowance of 25g (or 6 teaspoons). Hopefully I’ll release part two of this blog as an ex-sugar addict with some advice on how to really tackle the problem. I don’t really have a game plan on how to do this, it’ll be trial and error I guess. All I know is that to really alter a lifetime of habit, psychological changes need to occur. Saying this, it’s more than likely that by the time Christmas comes around I’ll be scoffing mince pies and denying that I ever pledged to do this. But, in the name of food blogging (which I think we all agree is an art in it’s most esteemed form), I’m going to be selfless and give it a go. Just kidding, I’m mainly doing this for personal gain because I’m a selfish human but hopefully I’ll figure out some things that might be helpful to others who want to kick their addiction.

This recipe is by the wonderful, tahini-fiend Miss Ellie Milone for our three-course Pumpkin Rescue Halloween dinner (blog post on this to come next week!):

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Pumpkin and butter bean hummus:

Ingredients

1 Pumpkin

3 garlic cloves

1 bunch coriander (stalks removed)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons tahini

pince of chilli flakes

pinch of salt and pepper

3 tablespoons honey

  1. To make the pumpkin purée cut the pumpkin in half and scooping out the seeds (you should set these aside to make spiced pumpkin seeds) by roasting pumpkin for 40 mins. Once tender, scoop out the flesh and blend until smooth.
  2. Meanwhile cover the pumpkin seeds in olive oil, paprika and cumin and roast in the oven for about 15-20 mins, until crispy.
  3. For the hummus, blend all the ingredients together, seasoning to taste.
  4. Top with pumpkin seeds and fresh coriander to serve.

 

 

Food Waste – ‘Use up all your Leftovers’ Vegetable Curry

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Food waste is a hot topic at the moment. According to WasteCap “one fourth of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste.” It’s clear that the amount of food that we throw away in restaurants, shops and homes across the world is absolutely absurd; an estimated 24 million slices of bread and 86 million chickens are thrown out in the UK alone each year. Most of this food is perfectly safe to eat, with spurious sell-by-dates and over production causing good food to be wasted prematurely. Recently, there have been some promising first steps in the battle against waste. The French Government recently changed the law to require supermarkets to donate unsold food. Joost Bakker and Dan Barber, have been successful in setting up no-waste restaurants by using leftovers for different functions in the restaurant system, such as scraps to feed animals, natural yeasts to bake bread and mustard oil to fuel electricity.

Now it’s good to see the movement growing in momentum but actually the change needs to come from the consumer, rather than the producer. It’s easy to point the finger at big corporations and restaurants, but in reality, the blame lies in you and me.  In higher income countries the largest contributor to food waste is the consumer, with 50% of food waste in the US occurring at home. In other words, it’s largely our own fault and up to us to evoke change. When I was a kid I used to find it infuriating when my parents tried to coax me into finishing my spinach by telling me that “people are starving in Africa”. I couldn’t comprehend how the leftover contents of my dinner were going to influence hungry children half way around the world, so never really felt motivated to scrape my plate clean. With the luxury of excess food in the West, it’s hard to feel the emergency of food shortage in other countries. Heck, even with so many people going hungry in our own country, we feel no real guilt at throwing away food when it’s a little bit bruised or past its’ sell-by date. This attitude, which I think holds true for many others, has lead to an inconceivable amount of food waste.

It’s interesting to look at this from a psychological perspective (I think I may be starting to overuse that phrase…). Many people over consume and waste food but deny responsibility. Perhaps our implicit value system around food has shifted as consumerism has grown. Throughout our evolutionarily history we have typically not had food in excess, often eating what we have gathered or hunted straight away. This means that, as animals, we are driven to place a high value upon food. Of course, with easy access to storage, appliances, packaging and supermarkets on every corner, we can be picky about the food we choose and when we eat it.   So many people will refuse to eat a slightly-bruised banana with the knowledge that they can get another one on demand. Our pursuit for food that looks flawless and tastes sweet is actually causing us to breed the nutritional value out of many foods. Take fruit and veg – today’s apples contain less than half the phytonutrients found in the wild apples. Similarly, it’s kind of crazy to think that carrots were originally purple and were mutated to be orange just so they could be plumper and sweeter. This really represents a huge change in the value we place upon food.

We over consume without caring about waste because we are no longer threatened by the potential of famine or hunger. So many others around the world do not have this luxury to pick and chose their food based on how it looks. A recent study at the University of Bristol found that Kenyan participants, who often struggle to find food and go hungry, were highly reluctant to waste food due to the way they valued and respected food. This lead them to eat to the point of overwhelming fullness to avoid for fear that it would be thrown away. Sadly, because we are lucky enough to have a reliable and constant food source, our attitudes have become careless and disrespectful.

I’m as guilty of food waste as any anyone else, forgetting to use vegetables before they go off or mindlessly tossing away bits I don’t want, but I’m going to try and change my ways. A fundamental psychological shift is needed to create a feeling of social responsibility, and to make us view food as a valuable resource that should not be disregarded. As a start, we can recognise that food is perfectly edible even if it looks rough round the edges. Go to your fridge, grab the vegetables that you’d otherwise throw out (unless mouldy of course) and stick them in this curry. This recipe doesn’t discriminate, all types of leftover veg are accepted. Whether it’s a perfectly ripe and shiny aubergine or a slightly tired-looking mushroom that’s seen better days, they can all join the party.

 Use-up-all-your-Leftovers Vegetable Curry:

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Ingredients (feel free to substitute in which ever vegetables you wish!)

1 Large onion

3 Garlic cloves

1 tsp Turmeric

2 tsp Paprika

1 tsp Chilli flakes

1 tsp Ginger

1 tsp Nutmeg

1 tsp Cumin seeds

1 tsp Cumin

1/2 tsp Sumac

2 crumbled Kaffir lime leaves (optional)

1 tbsp Coconut oil

1/2 Butter nut squash

1 punnet Mushrooms

2 Courgettes

2 tbsps Tomato Purée

2 cans Coconut milk

1-2 Fresh Chillis (depending on how spicy you like it)

1 bunch Coriander – topping

1 tsp Desicated coconut – topping

1/2 Aubergine – topping

1 tsp Sunflower seeds – topping

1. Start to make curry paste by frying 1 chopped onion for 10 minutes in coconut oil until nicely softened.

2. Add chopped garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes.

3. Add all the spices, chopped chilli, tomato puree and an extra teaspoon of coconut oil

4. Stir until mixture over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, until the flavour has infused and resembles paste. Season well.

5. Add all the vegetables (feel free to substitute any for those you have left over or fancy using).

6. Stir well, adding more paprika, turmeric and cumin to the veg.

7. After 10 minutes, as the vegetables begin to soften, add one tin of coconut milk.

8. Bring to the boil and then  leave on a medium heat for about 20-25 minutes until vegetables are soft and fragrant. If your curry is too dry (depending on the number of vegetables you’ve used, you can add an extra tin of coconut milk but make sure to add extra spices so you don’t lost flavour).

9. Stir in the chopped coriander, leaving some for garnish.

10. Meanwhile, coat the diced aubergine in coconut oil and roast in the over for 20-25 minutes, until crisp. Set aside.

11. Serve the curry in bowls topped with the crispy aubergine, sunflower seeds and chopped fresh coriander.

Doing nothing is hard. Courgetti with poached egg and smoked walnut and olive pesto:

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Doing nothing is hard. I’m particularly aware of this currently, as I’m writing this blog from a train station at around 10 at night, internet-less and out of phone battery. I’m an hour early for my train and have just spent the day frantically running around Bristol to help Understory feed chocolate to Prince Andrew (we’re still not quite sure how this happened). Despite being on the go and pretty stressed for the last 12 hours, this final hour of waiting has probably been the hardest part of the day. While you’d think it should be fairly easy to spend 60 minutes in your own head, it’s actually incredibly challenging to resist the urge to find something to occupy your time. After 5 minutes of searching for wi-fi, two laps of the station and a half-hearted attempt to talk to a sleeping stranger, I resigned myself to the floor with nothing to do but listen to my own stream of consciousness. As you may have noticed from this blog post, I have indeed failed. I spent 10 minutes pretending to meditate (i.e. doing that thing where you focus on your breathing but then zone back in when you’re contemplating what you’d do if you ever came face to face with a grizzly bear and realise that you had no control over your thoughts whatsoever), gave up, opened my laptop and, thus, this post was born.

My conclusions? Doing nothing is very hard. I recently read an interesting study which found that children were more likely to make healthier choices and eat less when given an extra 25 minutes at lunch. By giving kids some time out, they were able to evaluate their nutritional needs more accurately and so ate better. This is a great lesson we should extrapolate to our own adult lives. But it made me think how rare it is for adults to add an extra 25 minutes at lunch, with most either eating at their desks, on the go or out with colleagues/clients. Life is so fast paced and busy, food as an after thought and “mindless eating” are huge contributors to unhealthy food choices.

With the societal pressure to be constantly moving forward rather than living in the moment, we don’t give ourselves the necessary breaks and time to listen to our bodies’ nutritional needs. And this, I’ve come to realise during the long, dark minutes of this hour of nothingness, is a problem that lies at the heart of our struggle to eat healthily.  Now you may be thinking, with good reason, that I’m being overly dramatic about something that is really just a first world problem. But that’s what obesity is, isn’t it?  A huge first world problem that is partly due to the fact that we’re conditioned to be constantly engaged in menial tasks. This inability to just be in the present, without needing to be occupied, is causing us to be out of sync with our animal instincts that tell us when and what to eat.

Now I’m not saying that in the past, humans were able to switch off and just sit around all day. I’m sure our species has always driven to fill their time with constant activity and distractions or we never would have evolved as well as we have. The difference is that now it’s having a large impacts on our diets. In the past, mindless eating probably resulted in healthy eating habits, simply because there weren’t many unhealthier alternatives. With little choice in what we ate, food as an afterthought to our busy schedules didn’t really matter because whatever we ate would probably be natural and nutritional. In fact, the things we filled our days with largely involved getting food, such as foraging or hunting. These days, however, unhealthy food is more easily accessible than healthy food, meaning that mindless eating is much more likely to yield something sugary or deep-fried.

This is yet another reason why home cooking is so important. Giving ourselves some extra time can give us our chance to get in touch with our bodies’ needs, rather than consuming anything and everything that’s in front of us. This is the dish I’ve been dreaming since I arrived at the station, starving hungry, with no cafes open or even a vending machine in sight. I know, I know, I’ll shut up about my first world problems now and just hand over the recipe.

Courgetti with smoked walnut and olive pesto:

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Ingredients (serves 3):

3 courgettes

1 pack basil

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

1 cup edamame beans

100g (1 cup) walnuts

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 jar black pitted olives

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon chilli flakes

1 teaspoon paprika

1 lemon

1 tablespoon tahini

Parmesan

3 eggs

  1. Using a spirilser or grater, shred the courgettes into spaghetti-strips
  2. Places the walnuts and cumin on a baking tray and bake for 5-7 minutes in the oven
  3. To make the pesto, add the walnuts and cumin seeds to a food processor and blend with olives (leave a few for garnish),1/2 pack of basil, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes, paprika, tahini and grated parmesan. Season to taste
  4. Lightly fry the courgette with fresh lemon juice, chopped cherry tomatoes, edamame beans and remaining basil. Leave some basil leaves to garnish.
  5. Meanwhile, poach an egg for each portion by stirring the egg into a whirl pool of boiling water. Set aside after 5 minutes.
  6. After 5-8 minutes the courgetti should be cooked, drain away the liquid.
  7. Top the courtgetti with the walnut pesto, poached eggs and grate some Parmesan over the top. Garnish with remaining basil leaves and olives.

Finding the Middle Ground Between Obesity and Disordered Eating: Mexican Style Corn on the Cob

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The headlines recently have been presenting a pretty bleak picture of our society’s relationship with food. It feels like we are all stuck between a rock and a hard place – we either give over to a life of macdonalds and couch potato-ing (yes, it’s a verb) or constantly obsess over food to the point where we’re counting calories in toothpaste.

Part of the problem is that, seeing as nearly all basic human responsibilities have been replaced with technology, modern life makes it all-too easy to live a sedentary lifestyle. From the invention of the wheel to do our heavy lifting for us, we’ve developed tools to replace almost every physical task. While robots do all our foraging, building, making and cleaning, we have nothing to do but waste our days in front of screens.  I mean, they even invented a remote so we don’t have to get up to watch TV. Heck, just the thought of walking to the kitchen to get your second tub of ben and jerrys can be exhausting.

With this increasing reliance on tools and technology, exercise has been taken out of our daily routines, meaning we have to make a huge effort in order to lead an active lifestyle. The lack of exercise combined with an excess of unhealthy foods makes being healthy a constant battle. On top of that, as Western-living seemingly guides us toward obesity, not only do we have to make the conscious decision to be eat right, but we then have to deal with temptation on a daily basis. This means that the dichotomy between fat and skinny is ever-expanding. Once you choose to be healthy it’s very easy to become obsessed. Orthorexia Nervosa is the newest eating disorder, where people become excessively preoccupied with eating healthily to the point where they fear foods perceived to be unhealthy. There have been an increasing number of cases of health bloggers and instagramers who, with good intentions, begin a healthy journey that subsequently becomes a life-destroying illness.

Although these may be extreme cases, it is quite difficult to engage in a healthy lifestyle without comparing yourself to the perfect fitspo community who appear to eat only vegetables and wouldn’t dream of sacking off  a gym day. It really feels like our relationship with food is broken. We either ignore the effects of diet on physical and psychological wellbeing and eat what we want, which will almost inevitably result in obesity and or/illness. Or on the flipside, we are conscious of our weight and the way in which diet and exercise can effect us, which leads to obsession and psychological distress.

Obesity or disordered eating, the choice is pretty bleak. Of course this is a gross simplification of something that isn’t so black and white. I like to believe that there is a middle ground – exercising and eating right without letting it control your life.

The key, I think, is to not strive for perfection. Whatever the opposite is to an all-or-nothing approach, (everything in moderation?), do that. If you’re overcome with guilt a having one square of dark chocolate or spend your entire work-out calculating how many calories you’re burning off, you’ve gone too far. I’ve even read of health foodies documenting their guilt at eating too much fruit. If you feel this level of obsession happening to you, take a step back and acknowledge that no one is perfect. Even the slender yogi’s whose instagram feed is inundated with photos of green juice and lycra have off days.

Finding the middle ground isn’t so much about finding the perfect workout or diet as it is about finding the right mindset.

Try a 70-30 balance, being healthy 70% if the time and doing what makes you happy 30% of the time. Most importantly, for the lifestyle to stick without feeling like a chore or obsession, you have to enjoy it. If you hate the taste of kale, stop eating it. If you love reese’s peanut butter cups, don’t give them up. If you try to take up running and find yourself dreading each run, don’t hesitate to find a different form of exercise that you actually enjoy. There are many ways of being healthy and no one way works for everyone. It takes time and effort to try different things but slowly you’ll get to know what works for you and find your healthy groove.

I’ve been trying this for about a year and have still not quite found the middle ground. As soon as I start to compare myself to fitter, slimmer, healthier people and try to adopt their habits, I take one step back from reaching the optimum balance.

But what I have learnt is that there is more to life than having a perfect exercise and nutrition plan. When you find the middle ground life becomes less guilt-ridden. Food tastes better, cooking is funner and exercise is more fulfilling. But most importantly, an enormous load of stress and relief is lifted.

Mexican Style corn-on-the-cob:

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Ingredients

1 lime

2 corn on the cob

Handful of chopped coriander

1 tablespoon feta

1 teaspoon capers

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 chilli pepper

  1. Boil the corn on the cob for 10-15 mins.
  2. Meanwhile finely chop the coriander and chilli, mix in a bowl with olive oil, capers, lime juice, salt and pepper.
  3. Drain the corn on the cob. To blacken them, hold with tongs over the hob for about 30seconds until black, turning so each part changes colour.
  4. On a plate, drizzle the mixture over the corn on the cob and top with crumbled feta, salt and pepper.

Anyone Else Having a Quarter Life Crisis? : No-bake Blackberry and Lemon Tarts.

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I think I’m having a (nearly) quarter-life crisis. The amount of my friends who seem to be having similar weekly existential meltdowns is astounding. Everyone I know seems to be overwhelmed in every aspect of their lives and its’ lead me to the conclusion that being in your early 20s is really damn hard. I mean, its great being young, having your whole life ahead of your and generally being hedonistic. But at the same time it’s pretty scary and confusing.

Think about it, almost nothing in our lives is certain. Most of us have CVs inundated with 6-week unpaid internships in fields that bear no relevance to each other, reflecting that we have no clue what or who we want to be. We’re either still being threatened with a potential grounding for neglecting to tidy our rooms because we live at home with our parents or we’re jumping each year into the next grotty houseshare that eats up our pay cheques and never really feels like home because the landlord won’t even let us use bluetack to stick up the remaining bits of paisley material we kept from that time we went to India and were actually excited about the future. On top of that, all the uncertainty in our careers and location makes maintaining a serious relationship nigh on impossible. Maybe it’s just me but any naive dreams of “finding the one” have been replaced with more realistic goals of finding someone who doesn’t annoy the hell out of me so I don’t have to spend Sundays alone.

I think part of the problem is that being in your 20s is advertised to us as a time of opportunity and adventure, where you can focus on personal development and do what you want. But panicking about how to pay next months rent while you’re waiting to hear back from that job interview where you accidentally gave the interviewer a hug (yes that happened) and watching all your friends get promotions doesn’t really scream adventure. Psychologist Barry Schwartz attributes the quarter-life crisis to “a paradox of choice”. That is, we reach an age where we are presented with many more options than we can handle (from careers, to residence, to life partners), this array of choice becomes so overwhelming until we reach a point when the enthusiasm for “being able to do whatever we want” is replaced with anxiety and self-doubt.

My lovely friend Tasha (whose status showed me just how many people are feeling the same way and inspired me to write this post), summed it up perfectly:

“Recently I’ve been battling a lot of negative thoughts about where I am in my life and what the hell I’m even doing. It wasn’t until speaking to a few other people my age that I realised this is a common theme around 20-something year olds. The fear that you only have yourself to blame for where you end up in life, what your purpose is, what actually even makes you happy. University installs in us that we have to make a career decision at 18 years old and then we are just let loose into the big wide world to make it work. I’ve felt extremely lost over the past few months, not sure what exactly I SHOULD be doing in my life and feeling extremely unmotivated.” – Natasha Bernard

So if everyone is feeling this way, what are we going to do about it? Fake it till we make it and stumble on through until we’re older, wiser and more stable? Or do we waste the seemingly best years of our lives by piling on the pressure until we achieve the security we all desperately seek?

As lame as it sounds I think the key to getting through is to turn to each other. The clearest link to happiness and self-confidence is to feel connected to other people. Although the constant Facebook holiday pictures and Linkedin pleas to “congratulate that random dude you met at a house party on his new job” suggest otherwise, chances are everyone around you is feeling the same. When life is so confusing and you can’t do anything about it, knowing your friends will be there to laugh at your first world problems is kind of the only thing you can guarantee. And hey, if being in your 20s is so damn exciting and fun then we are entitled to make the most of it by getting pissed and complaining together, right?

This recipe is completely unrelated to everything I’ve just written and therefore I have no linking sentence but I wanted to share it coz they tasted really good and sometimes you need sugar to get you through. It’s been a long week, sue me.

11853992_10153637147574758_789137647_nNo-bake Blackberry and lemon tarts:

Ingredients (makes 12)

 1 handful blackberries

2 tablespoons honey

1 tin coconut milk

2 lemons (use the juice and zest)

2 tablespoons icing sugar

1 packet oreos

2 tablespoons coconut oil

12 cupcake cases

  1. Smash the oreos into crumbs using a rolling pin (don’t use your hands or they will go black, I speak from experience)
  2. Mix oreos with coconut oil until they resemble a buttery biscuit base
  3. Place the cupcake cases on a cupcake tray and push the base mixture evenly into the bottom of the case.
  4. Leave in the fridge for 10-15mins
  5. Meanwhile, mix the creamy part of the coconut milk with icing sugar, 1 tablespoon of honey and squeeze in the juice and zest of both lemons.
  6. Separately, mush up the blackberries using a fork and add two tablespoons of honey.
  7. When the base is set, pour the coconut cream mixture on top of the base and set in the freezer for 10mins.
  8. When the cream is more solid, spoon the blackberry mixture on top and swirl with a fork.
  9. Leave in the freezer and take out 5 mins before serving.

An Ode to Nordic Cuisine: smoked mackerel with pearl barley, pickled radishes, rye bread croutons and horseradish and cucumber dressing.

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If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve heard people saying that healthy eating is too expensive I’d be rich enough to…eat healthily? It’s a common misconception that you have to fork out for the next popular health product like makuna honey or macha powder in order to eat better. As a rule I try not to spend more that £5 on a meal for two, and there are almost always leftovers I can have for lunch the next day. Many of us are convinced that a ready meal the cheaper option and use this to justify unhealthy food choices. Yes, it can be argued that healthy eating is a middle class luxury but it can also easily be done on a budget.

Nordic Cuisine is an great example of how healthy cooking has adapted to fit with the modern food system. It prizes meals that are simple, easy to make and not overly expensive. Designed by a group of chefs, Nordic Cuisine cuisine aimed to create a more self-sufficient food culture. Their values are based on seasonality, traditional foods, animal rights, local producers and, most importantly, health.

Since it’s foundation, Nordic Cuisine has become incredibly popular around the world for its’ delicious simplicity. One of the great aspects of this culinary movement is that it encourages only cooking seasonal produce. As well as improving sustainability and supporting local farmers, this functions to restrict food choice. Too much variability in food is of the key contributors to societies current maladaptive relationship with food and consequential obesity crisis. We can no longer make accurate judgments about the caloric content or expected satiety of foods. When even a simple yoghurt can range from around 50 calories to 500, it’s no wonder that bodies cannot adapt to a modern diet. But by only cooking with what’s in season, we can reduce the variability in foods and confine our choices to healthier ones.

Another benefit of simpler cooking is that they generally use fewer and cheaper ingredients while remaining utterly delicious. Generally fish or meat are kept pure or raw, letting natural flavours shine through. The freshness of vegetables are championed and punch is added with stronger ingredients such as pickled veg, horseradish or vinegar. So if money worries are what’s stopping you from eating well, I encourage you to turn to this way of eating. I made this incredibly flavoursome and filling dish for 4 people and the ingredients together cost me less that a small domino’s pizza. If you try nordic cooking and end up spending more that you normally would then I’ll eat my hat (as long as the hat is in season, obviously).

Smoked mackerel with pearl barley, pickled radishes, rye bread croutons and horseradish and cucumber dressing:

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Ingredients (serves 3-4)

2 smoked mackerel fillets (skins removed)

1 punnet cherry tomatoes

1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil

1 cup pearl barley

3 handfuls of salad leaves (spinach or lettuce will do)

5 radishes

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

3 slices rye bread

2 tablespoons horseradish cream

1/2 cucumber

1 bunch dill

1 lemon

3 tablespoons plain yoghurt

1. To start, thinly slice the radishes and place them in a bowl of vinegar, sugar and tablespoon of salt for 10-15mins.

2. Place pearl barley in a pan of boiling water and simmer for 10-15 mins. Once cooked, drain.

3. Meanwhile, roughly chopped tomatoes. Fry over olive oil or coconut oil for 5 mins and then add the mackerel fillets. As you stir break them into pieces.

6. To make rye bread croutons, cut the bread into small squares and fry over a teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil for around 5mins.

5. To make the dressing, grate cucumber into a bowl and mix with yoghurt, horseradish cream, dill, squeeze of lemon juice and pepper.

6. To plate, mix a handful of salad leaves with the mackerel mixture, sliced radishes and rye bread crutons. Then sprinkle a few spoons of pearl barley and drizzled the dressing over the top.

7. Top with dill to garnish.

Love bug: An evening of food, sex and insects – spicy seaweed salad with edamame

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This weekend Becca Roberts (check out her wonderful blog) and I hosted our first pop up dining experience together, centred around two key themes that may not typically go together : Bugs and Sex. I’ve written previously about edible insects and breaking down perceptions of disgust by increasing exposure, so decided to run a ‘Taste Education’ event where we encouraged people to step outside of their culinary comfort zones to eat insect-infused foods.I made Grasshopper sushi with seaweed salad, tomato, basil and prawn pasta in a silk worm sauce and honeycomb ice cream with wasp larvae and chocolate coated strawberries. We also invited our guests to vandalise the tableclothes with their thoughts on the meal though ‘foodles’ (food doodles), and it was a resounding success!11805678_10153588958299758_93750870_n

A collage of the foodles (courtesy of Becca)

The event was based around the notion that one of the many, perhaps less publicised, benefits of eating insects is that they are a natural aphrodisiac. Since we were cavemen, humans have been searching for foods that can be used to increase sexual desire and improve performance in the bedroom (or cave). Many spices, vegetables, fish and meats have been identified as possessing aphrodisiac qualities, including insects. Now I know shoving grasshoppers down your throat doesn’t exactly seem scream an appropriate pre-coital behaviour but indeed, insects have been traditionally used as gastronomic foreplay.

Wasps and bees, for example, are thought to increase sexual vigour, and cure premature ejaculation, while spanish flies are genuinely believed to be a natural Viagra. The wife of Ceaser used to sneak spanish flies into meals at banquets to woo her guests so she could use their misdemeanours as blackmail.

Of course these are mainly old myths with little scientific evidence, so don’t go trying to coax your partner into eating a load of edible insects just because you think it’s going to get you laid. I mean it might but I’d have a plan B just incase.

There is this really interesting union between food and sex, which you can read more about in an article I wrote for Understory (a fantastic new “neurogastronomy” company with lots of exciting projects and products to come), to be published along with their orgasming pudding (seriously, they go check them out). I’ve been reading a lot about this link between food and sex; both facilitate immense pleasure, often complementing each other. Heck I’m not gonna lie, watching that lindt advert where they slowly pour melted chocolate into a ball can be a genuine turn on.

So what is it about food that gets people in the mood? Many people will tell you that oysters are an aphrodisiac because they are high in zinc, but watching anyone trying to shovel a slippery grey blob into their mouth while dripping Tabasco down their top is probably the least sexy think you will ever witness. I think the sexual nature of food is more about the psychological mechanisms than the nutritional value.For example, when I googled why strawberries are an aphrodisiac the key reason was not for its vitamins or minerals, but because you can feed strawberries to your lover a sensual way, and being fed increases sexual desire.

It makes sense that these two important survival functions facilitate pleasure independently, as the rewards are what motivate us to repeat the behaviours. It’s suggested that these two pleasure systems overlap in various ways, meaning that pleasure from one enhances pleasure from the other. So regardless of the content of food can genuinely be a natural aphrodisiac, in that the pleasure derived from eating is controlled from a neural circuit that is intrinsically similar to circuit that, for lack of a better word, stimulates sexual pleasure.

So perhaps there is some truth in the notion that insects are an aphrodisiac – maybe not because of what they contain but because the pleasure and excitement from trying a novel and delicious food can enhance sexual desire.

With all of these links between food and sex, we thought it was only natural to set up ‘Love bug’. Here’s is the recipe for the easy and healthy seaweed salad that might even get some sparks flying…the grasshoppers are optional.

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(Apologies for the crappy photo, I was too rushed to take a better one)

Spicy seaweed salad with edamame:

Ingredients:

1 bag dried seaweed (can buy from a Chinese supermarket or a big tesco)

2 handfuls fresh or frozen edamame beans

3 tbsps cup mirin

3 tbsps cup soy sauce

3 tbsps sesame oil

large pinch chilli flakes

1 tbsp chinese five spice

2 tbsps miso paste (optional)

4 slices spring onions

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1. Soak the dried seaweed in a large bowl of cold water for 10-15 mins, until the seaweed is soft.

2. While the seaweed is soaking, boil the edamame in hot water for about 4-5 mins.

3. Meanwhile whisk together the remaining ingredients for the dressing.

4. Drain the seaweed and mix with the cooked edamame and spring onions.

5. Coat in the dressing and top with sesame seeds to serve.

This is a great salad to serve with home-made sushi – get my recipe here!