Vegetables  – the most desirable dish of the day!

Cressida Langlands attends a Food Workshop
with Mark Mabon of the Lovechefs.

 

salad leaves

The focus of this second workshop, a year on from the first ‘raw’ day, was to show us how easy it is to prepare healthy, freefrom meals for all ages using a large range of seasonal vegetables and fruits, and a small range of store cupboard staples. All the ingredients used are commonly found in most kitchens or local shops: frozen mixed berries, eggs, bananas, oranges, a block of coconut cream, brazil nuts, dates, tahini. We also used mint, dill, parsley from the garden, and cleavers, nettles and dandelions, delicious and nutritious plants that grow in the hedges and the corners of gardens.

On Mark’s list for the workshop were nut milk, a green smoothie, cheesecake, warm buckwheat salad (no relation to wheat), pancakes and four salad dressings.

The warm buckwheat salad is made with cooked buckwheat, a tasty, gluten-free alternative to pasta or barley. The pancakes are a genius way of making a gluten-free, dairy-free, highly nutritious breakfast, not just on Shrove Tuesday but once a week!

Sugar

Mark urges us to banish sugar from our kitchens, and to learn to make tasty treats using unrefined, whole sweeteners – maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, rice syrup, molasses, even stevia and xylitol for those who need to get off the glycemic index altogether. The reason for getting rid of refined sugars – and grains, as it happens? It goes something like this...

‘They strip your body of vital minerals - refining sugars and grains take out the substances we need to digest them, meaning we have to replace them from our own body's stores. You get an initial 'high', but overall they deplete your energy, not contribute to it. They are a proven route towards diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and coronary heart disease. They are proven triggers for anxiety, depression, scattered thinking and mood swings. They disrupt the balance of digestive bacteria, leading to food intolerance, candida overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome. Buying them supports chemical based, exploitative industrial monoculture.’

There is plenty of sweetness in whole foods, so we really can ditch the white sugar and not miss it in the slightest. If you don’t believe me just buy some rice milk, oat milk or nut milk and see how sweet it tastes – and it isn’t sweetened at all! Dates, oranges, bananas can all work to sweeten dishes. Just a little bit of research can result in a positive glut of sugar-free recipes.

Our approach to vegetables.

Tomatoes on vineI see buying organic food as a
way of returning goodness to our soils for future generations. All that manure and compost (minerals and bacteria) returning to the soil; all that rotten matter that make our vegetables fat and tasty. When I see those little blue plastic-looking pellets of ‘fertiliser’ on a field it makes the hairs on my neck stand up. They make me want to head for an ancient woodland with badger pooh and fungi and moss and leaf mould, and jump into a pool of old rainwater!

Moroever local food may well have been grown by a farmer-friend, so will have travelled no distance at all to get to your shop and will be so much fresher. Many small scale farmers in the UK are passionate about the environment and the integrity of the soil and are producing to organic standards even if their produce is not labelled as such. (Organic certification is a complicated issue as it can be unaffordably expensive for small farmers.)

If you are lucky you will have access to either locally grown or organic vegetables; if you’re living the dream you’ll have access to both! However vegetables can be daunting. It is all very well being a vegetable fanatic in spring when the greens are lush and tender, but come the winter when you’re faced with boxes of roots, tubers and cabbages, it can take dedication to stick with local, organic vegetables. But, a workshop with Mark will change all that! Let me see if I can transmit some of his love for the vegetables to you. You see, it is all about how you dress them.

Let me say that again. In caps: IT IS ALL ABOUT THE SALAD DRESSINGS.

Think of dressings as sauces, and you may start to see the light. I have seen grown ups lick their plates in an effort to get more of these dressings. They just make the vegetables sing and dance for you – these tedious-looking steamed roots become sirens, and no amount of stuffing your ears or tying yourself to masts will keep you from succumbing to their charms.

And as for salads... I have never been a salad fan. Chewing all that roughage? My jaw aches just looking at it. Well, says Mark, if you make a grated salad (don’t look away, salad snobs, this is a really good one), grate those carrots and beets on the finest setting, and there is far less chewing. And add in some grated apple and ginger and you barely need a dressing, so darn tasty is this combination.

Mark has shared one of his tastiest dressings below and I urge you to give it a try. But remember, these dressings need to appeal to your taste buds – you are not in a ‘follow a recipe’ competition. Using the ‘four legs of the table’ theory (we need a balance of sweet, sour, salt and oil) to play around with flavours and amounts until it really works for you.

And once you have got the hang of them, great dressings will make you eager for that winter avalanche of beetroots and leeks, just so you can test them all out. Or steam up some sweet potatoes and courgettes and hey presto! OK, your teenagers may take some persuading (and forget the six year olds) but you can woo them with your warm buckwheat salad with chicken and avocado, or your banana, egg and nut butter pancakes. And don’t be scared to introduce a little change when inspiration strikes.

In no time your daily nut/seed milk preparation, your luxurious sauces and your steamed vegetable salads will become habit, meals to be anticipated with pleasure. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your craving for sugar and the traditional comfort foods will diminish once you start to nourish your body with vitamin and mineral-rich, fresh foods.

And how you look at vegetables will alter – it’ll be less of the ‘glancing over the shoulder and hoping the lettuce hasn’t seen you’ and more ‘facing the beetroots square on, ready for embrace’!

Mark’s workshops

Mark sends out a questionnaire beforehand and will tailor the workshop to suit all needs. If you are allergic to or cannot tolerate any of the ingredients I have mentioned above, don’t worry – there are many fantastic ways to eat healthily, freefrom, seasonal and fresh without any of the common allergens!

And he covers so much more than just vegetables – probiotic foods, fermentation, secret ingredients…. So do check out their website and their beautifully photographed dishes with recipes – and pester them for their recipe book (in the pipeline), as by golly it will inspire a new love for old and familiar foods.

Dressings

Creamy tahini dressing

4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon umeboshi plum seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried dill (or your preferred herb*)

Shake all the ingredients in a jar or mix in a bowl. Adjust the water amount for thick / thin consistency.

 

Honey garlic vinaigrette

½ cup olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon runny honey
1 – 2 cloves garlic
pinch salt or splash of tamari (reduce the amount by half)

Shake in a jar and season to your taste.

 

Ginger Miso dressing

2 -3 tablespoons sweet miso
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half an orange
2 – 3 inches of fresh ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon tamari (optional)

Shake up in a jar. For a more cautious dressing, start with less ginger and add more afterwards if required.

First published May 2014

 

 

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