Sticky soy tempeh and Asian style salad

So after my mediocre eating week last week, this week I have been getting back in the saddle. Priority #1 – find some interesting things to do with tempeh because, you know, it really doesn’t taste that great. I mean, it doesn’t taste bad, it’s just kind of….meh.

So why eat it? Well, I wrote recently about improving my gut health so I can improve my mental health. You can read about it here. So eating fermented foods is kind of like taking medicine. But medicine doesn’t need to taste blergh.

For me it’s not a taste thing per se, it’s a texture thing. Tempeh is solid but doughy, beany but pasty. To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat it, but it’s cheap (one package does 3-4 servings) and I am super keen on this gut health thing so I can max my chances of having good, and consistent, mental health.

First experiment was to stir fry it.

Sticky Soy Tempeh

  • 1 x 300g packet tempeh, diced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • Chopped fresh chilli to taste
  • Wombok (Chinese cabbage)
  • Crunchy noodles
  • Spring onions
  • Coriander
  • A squeeze of fresh lime to serve (optional)

Mix the honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chilli and set aside a moment.

Stir fry the tempeh until browned and then throw in the sauce ingredients and then stir until sticky and shiny.

Slice the wombok thinly and toss with chopped coriander, spring onions and crunchy noodles – note, you could also serve this with crunchy stir fried veg if you prefer.

You can adjust the sauce to your personal tastes if you like it hotter or sweeter. Me, I prefer the tang of citrus so I squeeze some lime juice over the top to serve.

As you can see in the picture, I washed it down with a crisp dry rose that someone had given me for my birthday. That isn’t part of the recipe but it was still yummy.

The hunt for easy breakfasts continues

I’m a late adopter. Generally by the time I have jumped on board it’s about 5 years after something first appeared. When I was in uni, we hand wrote essays and used the library. When we had a special seminar on “the internet” (which did not look like it does now) we all fell about laughing. Why would we need this “internet”? We have a library sitting right next door! We shook our heads. It’ll never catch on.

Same with this “overnight oats” phenomena. It seemed like hippy stuff to me. But then in the hunt for an easy breakfast to avoid bingeing at lunchtime, I was forced to try them out.

Yum yum!

I’m a savoury person by taste, but a couple of times a week when I have to commute a million miles to get into the office, this is perfect. I grab and go and then have at the office. I can even eat it on the train if I can’t wait. So here’s a really easy basic recipe that then you can add stuff to for variety.

Overnight oats basic recipe

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup – I use almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

This makes one portion. Add all the ingredients to a jar, mix ’em up and stick it in the fridge.

I add 2 scoops of chocolate flavoured protein powder to the ingredients above (you could also add some organic cocoa or cacao). Then in the morning I add half a banana and some pecans.

For variety, you can add any fruit and any nuts. This also makes a great base for Bircher muesli (add some nuts to the mixture and grated apple).

I have a glut of cherries in the freezer so I plan on making some cherry compote that I can add to this in the morning with some toasted almonds.

You can also make it slightly different by using coconut milk instead of milk and then go crazy with your toppings – toasted shredded coconut and kiwi perhaps? Or mango and pineapple?

Its easy. It’s unprocessed. It’s healthy.

What could be better?

Mental health is influenced by gut health. Here’s how we can improve it

I’m a big fan of talking about things in the light and removing the stigma of things we don’t normally talk about. Mental health and medication is a real thing. Lots of people I know struggle with these issues and many are on either anti-depressants or meds for anxiety.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since the birth of my second child. I found that talking about it made it easier, especially when then I found out how many people were also taking them.

Let me just say this if this is not something you are familiar with – meds help with coping. You can be totally fine but then something triggers a downturn and you can become overwhelmed with sadness. The meds help balance that out so when the triggers come, you have more capacity to absorb the stress and carry on. You can manage yourself of course and mindfulness, meditation, avoiding as many triggers as you can (where that is possible) are all good. But sometimes it’s not enough. It’s like having asthma – the condition is always there and sometimes it just needs to be managed with medication to keep it under control.

Having said that, I am hoping to be medication free by the end of the year so I went to see my GP. He asked me if I knew about the gut-brain-axis.

What he told me was earth shattering.

He said that we’ve focussed on medication to boost serotonin in the brain, a deficiency of which is linked to depression. But recently they (smart scientist people) have discovered that only about 10% of serotonin is produced in the brain. The other 90% or so is produced in the gut, which our meds don’t do anything about at all. So the meds can only do so much! If we increase our gut health, we can help our bodies to increase the serotonin by a far greater proportion, and so then improve our mental health and acuity.

By gut health, I mean enteric microbiota, which is the millions of microorganisms living in our intestines that help with everything from synthesising key vitamins, to communicating with the central nervous system.

My doctor gave me a list of things to start adding to my diet to increase and improve the health of my gut flora – and please don’t take my word for it, this is what my doctor told me, you should go see your own GP and seek your own advice! The list he gave me though, seems to be generally accepted as the lists of good fermented foods to eat (from what I’ve seen on publicly available articles).

He told me if I wasn’t used to eating this kind of food to add it to my diet gradually so my system could get used to it. Thankfully, I had already started eating this kind of thing for general health reasons. But if you’re not used to it, please go slow (and seek your own advice).

The foods he gave me, he said, were to be eaten in small amounts, and switching between foods so it fed the gut flora with variety. It’s like watering a plant basically. You need to water and feed it so it grows and then keep feeding and watering to maintain it.

The foods he gave me were:

  • Kombucha (I have been drinking Remedy which is available at my local shops and is really nice. It’s a fermented tea and slightly fizzy)
  • Tempeh (Also easily available. I have stir fried this and it was ok. It’s not bad, it’s just a bit boring so I’m searching out recipes to make this fermented soy bean “cake” a bit more tasty)
  • Kefir (Not madly available but there is one brand at my local shops. It’s a yoghurt that can be drunk or added to normal yoghurt)
  • Pickles (This isn’t just veg in vinegar, this is properly pickled veg that’s fermented in brine. I have dill pickles and pickled cabbage that I add to sandwiches and wraps)

There are other fermented foods too, you can easily search around on the interwebs. The main thing is, if I start adding these things to my diet, I’m going to be in a much better position over the coming months to be off anti-depressants for good, with my doctors help.

The main thing is though – it doesn’t matter if you are on pills or not. Adding these things to our diet seems to be, from what my doctor said, generally A Good Thing. So much of our health seems to be driven by this gut-brain axis and so strengthening it and improving it can be such a good thing for our physical and mental health.

Happy days πŸ˜ƒ

Zoodles with home made pesto (and pesto pizza)

I mentioned the other day that despite my coriander failure (repeated), my mint and basil plants have been going crazy. The mint I made jelly with to have in the fridge as condiment (do love that word) to have with sweet or savoury stuff. You can read about it here if you wanna see the recipe.

But basil – oh basil! How I love basil! It was with great excitement that I harvested the basil so I could make up a big batch of pesto. Pesto I love. Store bought pesto from a jar, I do not love. It tastes somehow insipid or synthetic.

Not surprising really. Most pesto sauces in a jar do have real basil and Parmesan in them, but they also have “flavourings” (whatever that means) and potato flakes, lactic acid and yeast extract and other fillers and preservatives.

Homemade pesto is so simple and clean and wonderful. It just tastes like healthy. Of course you can have it with any pasta, but I have it with zoodles (spiralised zucchini noodles) to be extra righteous.

For the pesto, it’s a pretty basic, tried and tested recipe:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whack all the ingredients in a whizzer and….er….whizz it all up. Serve with pasta or zoodles. Done.

Here’s something else I love though. Use pesto instead of a tomato base on a homemade pizza. Add bacon bits, pine nuts, red onion and feta. Stick in the oven as normal. When it comes out, squeeze a bit of lemon over it and add some rocket leaves. It makes a different kind of pizza that is just ah-MAZ-ing. It has all those sweet, sour, salty elements that just makes you want to eat more, drink wine and hit the couch to binge watch The Good Place…..or is that just me…..?

Pulled spiced lamb and seasonal veg

Things change when you’re broke. It takes a while to shift your mind from “what do I want to eat and where shall I get it”, to “what’s in season so what shall I cook”. You can look at this either of two ways. You can feel all miserable because you can’t have what you want anymore, or you can grab your reusable bags and head down to your farm shop to see what fruit and veg is in season for a menu planning adventure.

I say farm shop because the veg we have at the big supermarkets is generic and somehow less tasty than you remember. Like, when you eat a tomato and think “wow, that tastes way more tomato-y than I remember tomatoes tasting!”

At the farm shop (or whatever your local equivalent is), you get what’s local and what’s in season. Which means it’s really fresh and tastes amazing. Right now in Australia we’re in the season for mushrooms, eggplant and zucchini. And they work brilliantly with a Middle Eastern flare.

Yesterday I shared a recipe for a Moroccan Spice Blend. The first meal I made with it was pulled lamb with chargrilled seasonal veggies and a tahini sauce.

It was Ah-Mazing! It was the cheapest cut of lamb, lifted to culinary heights by the spices. The veggies were so tasty and filling and the tahini sauce just gave it that little creamy lift.

Any cut of lamb for the slow cooker will do. I don’t even know what mine was – I grabbed it because it was on special. It was about 600g. This recipe is for that amount of meat but if you do a leg or something bigger, just double the proportions below.

Pulled Spiced Lamb

Whack the lamb in the slow cooker. Sprinkle over the spices and rub it around a bit. Drizzle over the honey and water. Put the slow cooker on high for 5 hours (this assumes a pretty cheap cut of meat or a large one. If you have a smaller amount of diced lamb or a slightly better cut, you may not need as long so just keep an eye on it – if you poke it with some tongs it will become clear if it’s falling apart or not πŸ˜‚).

You don’t really need salt because the spice blend has salt in it already.

Slice your veg of choice and chargrill, grill or fry on the griddle. I had thin slices of eggplant, chunky slices of zucchini and mushrooms.

If you want some carbs, bulgur wheat goes well with this which you can make by placing in a bowl and cover with boiling water so the wheat is just covered. Put a plate over it and leave it to stand for 5 minutes. Done.

Tahini Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons tahini paste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2-4 tablespoons water (depending how thick you like it)

in a bowl, add the tahini paste and lemon juice. Stir it all together – it will get thick and pastey. Add water a tablespoon at a time til it becomes the consistency you want.

Next? Stack up your bulgur wheat (if using it) and chargrilled veg. Pull/shred the lamb and add to the veg. Drizzle some tahini sauce over the top. If you wanna get fancy, top with some toasted pine nuts and fresh coriander or parsley.

Boom. Amazing. This food makes me happy πŸ˜ƒ