Thursday 29 June 2017

Spreading the love – a recipe for happiness

Good food can be found in the most unexpected places. Last week I started volunteering for the FoodCycleProject (watch their video here), a national charity that believes that “food waste and food poverty shouldn’t co-exist” - and I share this belief. The charity works with major supermarkets, greengrocers and markets in various towns across Britain collecting leftover foods that would go to waste otherwise. A healthy and tasty three course meal is then cooked for people in need.

The cooking preparation starts with a team of volunteers picking up the surplus food from the suppliers. They take it across to the kitchen, where another team of cook volunteers decide, there and then, what to cook with the food collected. When the meals are ready, the next group of host volunteers help to serve the food to people who often live on the streets, may be struggling with money, or vulnerable people who normally don’t have much social contact but enjoy sharing meals with others.   

I joined one of the nine community kitchens run by FoodCycle in London. The group was very welcoming and helpful. On my first day, we worked alongside the social action team from the West London Synagogue that offered to cook for a mosque near Grenfell Tower – the tower block that was destroyed in a fire this month in the borough of Kensington. Many survivors worship at that mosque.

Amidst so much sadness there is the beauty of seeing Jews, Muslims, Christians and non-religious people getting together in order to bring a bit of happiness to others. It was a humbling experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will carry on helping as often as I can.
Some of the food being chopped for the meals in the Marylebone FoodCycle kitchen.
Volunteers chopping the food.
A line of volunteers working.
Preparing the food.
Cooking a curry.

The menu decided was: fresh leafy salad with cooked baby beetroots as a starter;  vegetable curry, pilau rice and Bombay potatoes as main course; and fresh fruit salad with ice cream for dessert. One of the volunteers had 8 packets of leftover fresh basil leaves which I suggested we add to the fruit salad.

As an inspiration for my blog this week, I am making a fruit salad. We can draw so much pleasure from the simplest things in life.

Choose as many fruits as you like.
Cut them in chunks...
...add orange and lime juice, mix and sprinkle with fresh basil leaves.
Serve it chilled with a dollop of natural yogurt or a good quality ice-cream.
Fresh fruit salad.
Fruit salad with basil leaves
Serves 6

Use as many varieties of fruits as you wish. Below is just a sample of what I used in mine.


3 Kesar mangoes
1 banana
250g blueberries
200g raspberries
150g blackberries
200g a mix of green and pink grapes
2 papaya
4 gold kiwi fruit
3 oranges (juice only)
1 lime (juice only) 
A handful of fresh basil leaves


Cut the fruit in chunks. Put them into a bowl. Add the orange, the lime juice and mix gently. Scatter the basil leaves over it. Serve it chilled with a dollop of natural yogurt or a good quality ice-cream.

A healthy note: making this salad is a good excuse to consume a good portion of fruits a day.  Choose as many varieties as possible. The amount of vitamins and minerals in them would help to boost your immune system, reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases and feed your gut bacteria. But please, go easy on the servings. Despite it being healthy, too much of it can send your blood sugar levels crazy.  

Till next week!

Thursday 22 June 2017

Hot days - Watermelon salad with Thai dressing

With temperatures soaring in London, all I can think of in my kitchen is fresh food.  Last Sunday, Father’s Day, our friends Adri and Brian invited us for a barbecue in their garden. It’s always a pleasure to visit them, not only for their company but also for their food (besides being great hosts, they are the best cooks). Discussing the menu over the phone, Adri suggested watermelon and feta cheese as one of the salads, and I offered to make it.

The first time I ever had that salad was in Jaffa, Israel. I still remember the pleasant surprise of the sweetness and crunchiness of the watermelon with the saltiness of the feta cheese. It’s a marriage made in heaven. It’s also very easy to put together: cut the watermelon in chunks or slices and mix with feta cheese, kalamata olives, some basil leaves, and drizzle it with a good quality extra-virgin olive oil.

I made the salad for us to have as a starter before we headed for the meat barbecue, which included juicy jerk chicken, Brian’s speciality. I was about to use that salad as the focus of my post today, when my senses were assaulted by the memory of a trip to the tropics (temperatures over 30 Celsius in London can do that to you).

One of my favourite combinations of fruit and saltiness is pomelo salad, a Southeast Asian dish. The dressing is sharp, tangy, spicy, and yet very refreshing. Then, I decided to try and make it using watermelon instead, as I can find it in every fruit and veg shop in my neighbourhood at the moment. And I simply love it. My experiment worked! The first bite took me straight back to Koh Samui. I hope you’ll also excite your taste buds.

Watermelon season.
Cut the fruit in chunks or slices.
Some of the ingredients for the dressing.
Enjoy it as a starter or as side dish.

Watermelon salad with Thai dressing
Serves 4-6


¼ of a big watermelon or a whole small one, chilled
1 small cucumber, cut into slices
1 handful of roasted peanuts, crushed
1 handful of fresh coriander leaves

For the dressing

Juice of 1 lime
Juice of half orange
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 small red chilli, chopped
1/2 teaspoon of maple syrup (Optional. I prefer to omit it, as sometimes it can interfere with the sweetness of the watermelon. For me, the dressing works better when it is slightly salty and sharp. You can be your own judge. Try a small piece of the fruit before adding the maple syrup).
Salt to taste
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Place all the fruits in a big bowl. Mix all the dressing ingredients. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Sprinkle fresh coriander and the roasted peanuts on top. Serve immediately as a starter or as a side to white fish, grilled prawns or barbecued pork belly.

A healthy note: watermelon has a high water content which makes it a great thirst quenching fruit. Watermelon contains vitamin A and a compound called lycopene, which research has shown to be associated with lower rates of prostate cancer.

Till next week! 

Thursday 15 June 2017

Potato salad - a nice meal for a healthy gut

Today I’ll wear my nutritional therapist hat in the kitchen to talk about what’s been a hot topic in the nutrition world for a while: gut health.  It’s not surprising that the subject is getting so much attention, given that about 80% of our immune system is located in our gut. It’s in there that trillions of microorganisms reside – what we call human gut microbiome.

It’s also in the gut that our bodies produce 90-95% of the “feel good” chemicals, serotonin and GABA. The microbiome protects the gut lining, synthesizes vitamin K and B vitamins, produces enzymes that support the liver etc. A great way to feed our gut bacteria is by including in our diet food that contains prebiotics (which feeds the friendly bacteria) and probiotics (that populate the gut microbiome with friendly bacteria).

You will find prebiotics in things like jerusalem artichokes, chicory, onions, fennel, apples, raw garlic, raw asparagus, seeds, cooked and cooled potatoes and under-ripe bananas. Probiotics in natural form can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, unpasteurized cheese, organic raw milk, yogurt, sourdough bread, miso, tempeh, natto and so on.

It’s only recently that scientists started to discover the link between diet, gut bacteria and immune system. Depending on the food we eat we can directly feed the friendly bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophillus, Bifidum bacterium amongst others) or the pathogenic organisms (fungus, yeast or parasites). So, keeping our gut healthy is very important to maintain good health. If our gut bacteria are balanced, our immune system is also balanced. If not, we will become a lot more susceptible to illnesses and diseases such as colds and flu, chronic inflammation (Crohn’s disease, psoriasis), allergies, sinusitis, candida overgrowth etc.  Also, sometimes, due to the excess of antibiotics (which kill the good as well the bad bacteria), poor diet and stress, people’s microbiome is compromised. 

In order to keep our gut in check, we should have as much diversity as possible in our diet on a regular basis. There are a multitude of ethnic shops in London where we can find vegetables or fruits that we may have never tried before. Try experimenting with different foods. In doing so, you will be creating diversity in your gut microbiome. Think of an abundant colourful garden. But don’t forget my motto: ‘’healthy and happy eating’’, no need to obsess, just be sensible about what you cook and eat. This salad should do the trick.

Scrub the new potatoes...

...and leave their skins on.
Add all the ingredients together...
...pour the kefir and feta cheese dressing over the salad...
...and mix gently.
Enjoy it!

Potato and egg salad with kefir sauce
serves 4
This salad is a perfect combination of prebiotic and probiotic food source. See the  healthy note below for its nutritional benefits.


1kg organic new potatoes, scrubbed and skins on
3-4 spring onions, chopped
1 red onion, sliced
6 organic eggs, boiled and halved
50g sunflower seeds
80g pine nuts, toasted
70g rocket leaves
1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle

For the dressing

250ml organic kefir (if you can’t find it, use organic live yogurt instead)
150g organic feta cheese (unpasteurized, preferably)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons English mustard
5 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 garlic clove
Sea salt and black pepper


In a medium pot, cover the potatoes in cold salted water and bring to a boil, let it cook without the lid for about 15 minutes or until tender.
Drain and leave to cool.
In the meantime, blend all the dressing ingredients.
When potatoes are cooler and easy to handle, slice them in halves or quarters, depending on the size you like.
Transfer them to a big bowl, add the eggs, red onion, spring onions, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, a handful of rocket leaves and parsley. Pour as much as you like of the dressing over the salad, mixing everything gently. Season to taste. 
Serve it on a bed of the remaining rocket leaves with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
This dish is also great to take to picnics and barbecues.

A healthy note: Cold potatoes contain a lot more starch that is "resistant" to digestion than hot or warm potatoes. Resistant starch is a prebiotic that feeds the friendly bacteria in our gut and won't spike your blood sugar levels. But be warned that too much isolated resistant starch can also upset your gut population.
If bloating or digestive discomfort occurs, reduce your intake of prebiotic foods for a few days and then reintroduce it again.

Onions are also a good prebiotic food source. I have already mentioned about gut health in this post here  and in here

Milk kefir - the fermented dairy product as well as the water-based one - contains healthy bacteria that promote gut health and supports digestion. It also contains elements that help to boost our immune system such as vitamin B12, biotin and folate. Kefir contains calcium, magnesium and vitamin K2 that help to build bone strenght.

Egg is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains lecithin, which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Egg also contains biotin, another B vitamin-like compound, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein, and is essential for the health of hair, skin and nails. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevent diabetes, obesity and depression.

Till next week!


Thursday 8 June 2017

Oven baked falafel – a dish for peace

So many countries say certain foods are their own creation. Falafel is one of those dishes that Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and the other countries in the region – and beyond - like to claim ownership of. Disputes apart, such foods can in reality bring people together, reflect what people have in common, rather than what sets them apart - regardless of their religion, faith, skin colour, or culture.

In light of the recent attacks in London and Manchester, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Sorry to raise this in a food and travel blog, but Borough Market, where the attack happened, is a place where foods from many traditions are celebrated by Londoners. I often take foreign friends visiting the city to enjoy the diverse culture of the area – a good example of the embracing, inclusive and welcoming nature of places such as London and Manchester.

I am a Brazilian-born Brit, of Italian and Lebanese descent, married to a New Zealand-born Brit and we have an English daughter. I love every aspect of this fusion and they all seep into my cooking. But I digress. Back to the falafel, I have tasted some delicious ones in my life in different parts of the globe. When I visited Israel many years ago, I ate one of the best falafels I had in my life. Then, in April this year, in Greece, I tasted again another amazing falafel, even better than the other one. (I mention it here).

Countries can make their claims - and I acknowledge the importance of celebrating and protecting traditions - but what matters in the end is the love people put in when cooking the food they are passionate about. Life would be so much simpler if it all would come down to love. We are all equal - with lots of individual flavours.

I took inspiration for this falafel recipe from a fellow Instagrammer @healthy.simple and made my own adaptation. 

Mix some of the ingredients in the food processor.
Pulse until minced but not too smooth. Then add sesame seeds, salt and olive oil.
Shape as you like it.
If you choose patties...
...squash them slightly.
Serve them as snack with tahini sauce...
...or with yogurt sauce.
You can also enjoy them as a light lunch in pitta bread with a salad and tahini sauce.
Oven Baked Falafel

The baked falafels are not as crunchy as the fried version (if you prefer, shallow-fry them to obtain a crunchier texture). But they are healthier and still taste good as a snack or enjoyed in pitta bread with salad. If you want to make a bigger batch, bake them and freeze for up to a couple of months. Then just reheat them wrapped in foil and bake them until hot.

Makes about 15-20 patties

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to grease the baking sheet
250g cooked chickpeas, if cooking from dried, soak them overnight (see recipe here)
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
½ teaspoon garlic powder
20g of fresh parsley
20g of fresh coriander
½ teaspoon hot paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon turmeric
zest of a small lemon
2 tablespoon of sesame seeds
1 ½ Tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of Himalayan salt


Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Grease a large baking sheet with extra-virgin olive oil.
Drain the chickpeas. In a food processor combine them with the onion, garlic powder, hot paprika, lemon zest, cumin, turmeric, fresh parsley and coriander.
Pulse until everything is minced, but not smooth, scraping the sides if needed.
Place the mixture in a bowl then add the sesame seeds, olive oil and salt. I left the mixture rest in the fridge for about half hour.
Using your hands, form small patties and place them on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 10 minutes on each side (careful when flipping sides as they are very soft at this stage) until they reach a golden colour. 

Serve them as a snack with yogurt or tahini sauce or as a light lunch in pitta bread with a salad and tahini.

Yogurt sauce

5 Tablespoons organic greek yogurt
juice of half lemon
1 garlic, crushed
Sea salt
a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the yogurt, juice of lemon, garlic and sea salt well. Drizzle with some extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle some paprika on top.

Tahini sauce

125g tahini paste
juice of half lemon
100 ml water
sea salt

Mix tahini paste and lemon juice together. Add the water and salt and stir well.

A healthy note: Chickpea is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. Contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, B vitamins, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.
Till next week!
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