Wednesday, August 29, 2012

crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad

Well, here we are just a few days short of September. The heat in Korea is still really intense. I've forgotten what it's like to sleep with any covers and the days are humid, building to afternoons of late summer rain. Everywhere I turn, lush green plants and bush form the landscapes. Its a pretty cool sight to see this much green in the summer and is such a contrast to the golden plains and dry sun in New Zealand. 

Whether gold or green though, I'm always happy when the weather is warm! In fact I'm feeling pretty lucky, because this year I'm getting one loooooong summer. In just two weeks I'm saying goodbye to Korea and taking off. I'll be hitting the streets of Southeast Asia, then heading home to New Zealand just in time for the warmer months there to start shining. Korea started heating up in May and if all goes to plan, New Zealand will follow suit as it did earlier this year and extend it's upcoming summer right out into April. Boom! That's one whole year of summer love for me.

If you had a read of my last post you'll be well aware that I love salad. And due to my extended summer, salads have been making repeat appearances on my lunch and dinner (and sometimes even breakfast) menu. 

If you're not on the salad band wagon yet, I really want to help change your thoughts. My lovely manfriend used to scoff at me when I'd suggest we eat a salad. I could literally see his brain ticking over... "this girl and her salads - 'I'll just have the salad thanks' - that's not going to satisfy, let alone fill me up. No THANK YOU!". But I wasn't having a bar of it. A few taste-tester evenings, some lentils, chickpeas, roasted vegetables and a selection of delicous dressings later - he was hooked! My mission of turning this anti-salad-king into a salad-loving-advocate was complete.  No lie. It just took some experimenting and a little encouragement so he'd actually try preparing and eating a few different salads combos. 

Now I want to work on you! Take this post as a little push - kind encouragement - to motivate you to jump inside your kitchen and start preparing, chopping and cooking up some salad storms. Take just one step at a time and start here with this crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad. 

I should also mention (because I'm aware I've gone on plenty about the heat and summer in this blog) that I haven't forgotten about the lovely people back home who aren't sitting in 30 plus degrees. Today's dish is lovely served warm or on the side of any winter meal. Plus!... Spring is just around the corner so it can't hurt to jump on board now and start sussing out some fresh new recipes.

Kumara - Kumara is what gives this salad its sweetness and texture. If you're reading outside of New Zealand then you'll be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Kumara is a Maori word and translates as sweet potato - a term I'm sure most of you are more familiar with. I grew up using the name kumara and it's stuck. The Korean name for sweet potato is Goguma (고구마). They sound similar to me, goguma and kumara. I like that two different native cultures - Maori and Korean - which have both influenced me to a great extent, have that link. All be it a small link, I connected with it! I loved kumara as a child and it's my all time favourite roast vegetable. So I guess I found it comforting to see them all through the markets here in Korea.

Sweet potatoes are seriously friendly to our bods. They have a relatively low glycemic index especially compared to their cousin the white potato. Foods with a low glycemic index don't give us those rapid spikes in blood glucose levels which then inevitably come crashing back down and leave us feeling lethargic and craving calories. By avoiding this roller-coaster type response we take pressure of our pancreas which works overtime to keep levels balanced, avoid post-meal body crashes and cravings and feel full for longer. Sweet potatoes are also super packed with beta carotene which is considered a great antioxidant that helps to neutralize toxins in the body. They have anti-inflammatory properties too that can help heal and sooth our digestive system and to top it all off, these sweeties provide us with a great source of fibre, vitamin C, B6 and loads of vitamin A (which our body converts from all that beta carotene).

I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned roasted spud, but the brighter and more colourful a vegetable - the more antioxidants it beholds. Sweet potatoes - usually red, orange or purple in colour - are a comforting, filling and health boosting vege with the added bonus of a rich sweetness that makes them oh so delicious! 
crunchy red vegetable, roasted kumara and lentil salad

1 cup cooked brown lentils*
1 large kumara or 2-3 small to medium size - cut into small cubes (I usually aim for 2-3 lightly packed cups once chopped)
generous helping of garlic cloves (I throw in 8 or so)
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds
olive oil for roasting
1 heaped cup diced red cabbage 
1 medium diced red onion 
1 cup chopped tomato (I like to use cherry tomatoes for a burst of freshness and flavour)
1 medium cucumber seeded and chopped 
1 handful of spinach roughly chopped
1 handful of fresh parsley, mint, coriander or a combination of all three roughly chopped.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp cumin powder
pinch of cinnamon
1 Tbls honey 

Arrange kumara and garlic in a roasting dish and coat with cumin seeds and olive oil (approx 1-2 Tbls). Set in an oven at 180 degrees and bake till kumara and garlic are turning a burnt gold colour and the cloves are soft. Usually about 25 minutes in my oven, but it only takes 15 in my Mum's - so just keep an eye on them and turn them once during cooking. While they are in the oven prepare and chop red cabbage, red onion, tomatoes, cucumber and spinach and add to a large salad bowl with the lentils. When the kumara is ready, leave to cool before adding to the bowl with half of the herbs. Stir together. 

For the dressing, add ingredients to a jar and shake till combined. Pour three quarters of the dressing over the salad and mix through. Have a taste and decide whether you'd like to pour over the rest and add a few extra grinds of cracked pepper and salt. Serve in a large salad bowl or individual bowls and finish with a sprinkling of left over herbs. Enjoy as a side to a main dish or eat on its own in all its glory, as I do!

If you'd like this dish served a little warm - add the kumara to the salad bowl before it has completely cooled. If you cook your own lentils keep them warm too. If you buy lentils pre-cooked, choose your own method to re-heat before adding to them to the salad.

*If you are cooking your own lentils, for this dish look out for brown or french green rather than split lentils. They hold together well after cooking and won't turn to mush. I like to cook my own to avoid unnecessary additives, but I know supermarkets back home stock pre-cooked options in a can that are pretty user friendly!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

quite possibly the best dressing in the world

If you're anything like me, then you'll love a good salad. If they're not your thing, then I'll be working damned hard in this blog to convince you otherwise. Salads don't have to merely consist of a few tomatoes, cucumber and some iceberg lettuce shoved in a bowl. Or have you been disappointed like me before when on a Sunday brunch date the menu promises "a seasonal salad picked fresh from our garden" on the side of your poached eggs, only to discover a few sprigs of limp greens falling off the edge of the plate. That aint' a salad!

A real salad is more than that... 

It can be made with a huge variety of ingredients and served hot, warm or cold. It can star chickpeas, lentils, brown rice, black rice, quinoa or barley. Herbs? Of course - just about any fresh herb you can think of. How about adding some vegetables - raw, steamed, or roasted. You can add dried fruit, nuts, seeds and spices. And for the carnivores out there - yes oh yes, you can add meat to a salad.

One of my favourite elements to the salad ensemble is the dressing. There are loads of different dressing recipes out there. Some involve a very detailed and extravagant recipe while others are a little more basic and easy to prepare. A good old favourite of mine if I'm running short on time is to combine a quick pour of olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of some good quality salt. Mmmmmm. Delicious. 

Today I want to introduce you to another favourite of mine. It's a short and simple recipe and one of my kitchen essentials. It's a tahini based dressing and can be whipped up in seconds. 

Tahini is a creamy nut-butter paste made from ground sesame seeds. It has a slightly bitter taste compared to the well-known peanut butter but its awesome health benefits make this creamy nutty paste all the sweeter! Tahini provides a good source of B vitamins (B1 - Thiamin in particular), essential fatty acids, manganese, protein, magnesium and calcium. Essential fatty acids are essential because we cannot produce them on our own and they are crucial for healthy body function. Manganese helps us obtain and utilise those fatty acids and the B1 vitamin - thiamin. And of course, magnesium and calcium are super important too. A good balance of the two are necessary to build strong and healthy bones (let's not forget about magnesium - calcium is not the only nutrient to consider when thinking about bone strength). 

I'm so hooked on tahini I sometimes wonder if I have an addiction problem. I honestly believe I could start a blog purely based on recipes that include tahini! This wonder nut-butter is most commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine and is a key ingredient in the crowd favourite - hummus. If tahini is new to you the taste may take some getting used to, which is why it is great as an element to recipes like hummus and today's dressing. If you become an addict like me though you'll quickly see how you can smear it on toast or use it as a stand alone dip with some crunchy vegetable sticks.

Now on to the dressing. I love this recipe so much that the title 'tahini dressing' just didn't cut it. Instead, I've rolled with - 'quite possibly the best dressing in the world'. 

I've actually gone right back to the basics and teamed it up with a simple and classic green salad (proof, I think, that even the most basic of dishes can excite). But don't let me stop you adding more to your dish. It compliments chicken beautifully (you could bake a couple of chicken breasts off in the oven, slice them over a green salad and finish with a generous helping of dressing) or can be tossed through some brown rice with steamed broccoli and green beans. This dressing jazzes up just about anything  - last week I'd had a long day and felt too lazy to cook. I had a huge container of alfalfa sprouts sitting in the fridge (I hear some of you cringing), so I mixed through some quite-possibly-the-best-dressing-in-the-world and I had myself a simply delicious nutty sprout salad. It turned what some would consider a food nightmare (not me though..I'm a geek for sprouts) in to a rich dreamy health-full salad.

quite possibly the best dressing in the world

(...with a classic garden salad and toasted sesame seeds)

salad mix
2-3 handfuls of your favourite greens (I used spinach and lettuce) - roughly chopped
8 halved cheery tomatoes
1/4 red onion - finely diced
1/2 small cucumber - peeled and chopped into half cylinders
black or regular sesame seeds to garnish - lightly toasted off for 3 minutes in a dry pan

The above ingredients combine to make a perfect sized salad-for-one. Prepare vegetables as stated above, or chop and dice in your desired fashion. Combine everything bar the sesame seeds in a bowl and set aside.

quite possibly the best dressing in the world
4 generous Tbls tahini
4 Tbls cold pressed olive oil
4 Tbls water
4 Tbls freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbls honey
1 clove garlic - finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste - I use approx half tsp of flaky sea-salt and a good few grinds of pepper

Add all ingredients to a jar. Apply a lid and firmly tighten. Thoroughly shake till everything is well combined - usually about 30 seconds. It is important to really shake things up so that the water and oil combine properly to form a stable emulsion (unlike a vinegar/oil mix which form a temporary emulsion and later separate) and you're left with a thick and creamy dressing. Add a couple of generous spoonfuls to your green salad and lightly toss through to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy.

Note: After shaking, this dressing becomes quite thick. Feel free to adjust quantities to suit. If I feel like something a little lighter and I have some left over in the jar I'll add another dash of water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Or sometimes once I've added the dressing to a salad I'll drizzle over an extra dash of olive oil.

Note 2: For the raw foodies out there - If you'd like to ensure this dressing is 100% raw, please make sure you use cold pressed olive oil and raw, unhulled tahini.

That, my friends, is all you need to do. Throw in a jar, shake, drizzle and eat it!

Lots of delicious love, 

Kau xx

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

super raw-power salad

It's been a few weeks now since Mum, Graeme and family friend Kate each took part in a 2-3 week superfoods cleanse I put together. I was so appreciative of how they each wanted to boost or change their eating habits and have me help them. My Mum (Annie) has since been whipping up a load of creative, exciting and healthy meals in her kitchen. Kate has been sleeping better than ever and continues to incorporate more whole foods into her diet. As for Graeme, he's still ripping through his ever growing health-filled lifestyle (check out his story here) and is in training for a half marathon in September. 

Annie, Kate and Graeme each did their cleanse bang smack in the middle of winter. One week was based on a 100% raw menu, so it was a challenge to not only re-vamp and introduce a whole bunch of new eating habits, but to eat foods that weren't hot while temperatures around them were dropping to below zero. They all had one thing in common that got them through the winter chill, and it was this attitude...


These are words I keep with me all the time in my journey of understanding ultimate health. I think many of us (I'm guilty of it for sure) tend to put off change in our lives because it's not quite the right time. However if we keep looking at it that way, then there will always be a barrier or hurdle that's keeping us from achieving particular goals. I don't think we can attain these goals or implement healthy change purely by dreaming about it. If we act now, get moving and stop procrastinating, before we know it, we've broken down our respective barriers, subsequently unlocking our future.


My 'journey' is constantly growing and changing and I no doubt keep future goals in mind, but what is really important to me is at least trying to do the best that I can for my health in the present moment. When I reflect on the past few months, I realise I am achieving my goals day by day and enjoying every minute of it, rather that longing for what could be. 

Now, on to the grub! Raw food is a huge part of my present moment. For many folk out there it's an even bigger part - some people are strictly raw (and I'm not just talking about Wu Tang). The idea of eating 100% raw everyday isn't currently how I roll but that is not to say I disagree with it - it does work for some and I totally dig that. Right now I sport a ratio of about 75% raw to 25% cooked foods. I don't know if I'll maintain that forever, but it's working for me... in my present moment. 

So what is all the hype about raw foods?

If you've had a hunt around the Internet, tuned in to any of the information that is out there about nutrition, or experienced it for yourself you'll know how good a diet rich in raw foods is. If it's a little new to you however and you want to hear about a few basics then here are some interesting wee notes that have stuck in my head since learning about all things raw...

Ultimate Nutrients - Foods left in there natural state are super nutrient dense and natural enzymes are present that are crucial for our bodies digestion and healthy function. The minute many foods are cooked, the nutritional value and enzymes are depleted or destroyed.

Maintaining pH Balance Raw foods help to keep our body in the right alkaline state. When we fill our bodies with junk, processed and too many cooked foods our acid/alkaline levels get out of whack. When these levels are off our body cannot function to its full potential and just like an engine, different parts start to break down and stop working properly and efficiently. 

Natural Elimination - When we eat raw foods we are aiding our body in the natural elimination process. The more cooked and processed foods we eat (and therefore the more toxins we put in out bodies) the harder our body has to work to 'eliminate' (get rid of those toxins) and keep our system clean. If our body can't keep up, toxins then get backed up and bigger problems start to arise such as weight gain and disease. Our liver in particular works extremely hard around the clock to keep our bodies clean and rid us of baddies - the process of detoxification is something the body never actually stops doing. When we eat a diet rich in raw foods we are making life a lot easier for our liver and whole digestive system to do their jobs.

So now that you know a little more about the raw, how about adding a little more in to your diet? You don't have to start big and completely revamp your whole fridge (not that that's a bad idea), just take one step at a time. If you've jumped on board with The Green Smoothie and have been snacking on some Fruit and Nut Booster Balls then good for you! Next give the Super Raw Power Salad a go.

This dish was a winner for my Mum, Graeme and Kate during the raw phase of their cleanse, so it made sense to share the recipe with you. It is high in fiber, high in colour and high in raw energy power! Anything that is this fresh and colourful has got to be good for you right? I love preparing this dish. The control freak in me seriously comes out as I grate and chop each different coloured vegetable - I love looking at them stacked up beside each other, bright, contrasting, bursting! The soaked dried fruit adds an element of sweetness and the nuts and seeds give it some crunch. 

super raw power salad

main ingredients 
1 large carrot - grated
1 medium size zucchini - grated
1/4 red cabbage - diced
1 red onion - diced
1 packed cup spinach - chopped as you would a bunch of herbs
1 medium size beetroot - grated
1/2 cup raisins, dried apricots or prunes or raisin/dried apricot/prune combo
1/2 cup raw seeds and nuts - preferably soaked*
a handful of pumpkin and sesame seeds to garnish (optional)

1/4 cup of olive oil
juice of a lemon
1 garlic clove - finely chopped
1 Tbls honey
salt and pepper to taste

I start things off by covering the dried fruit in a cup of water. This gives them time to get all plump and juicy while I prepare the vegetables and dressing.

Add all dressing ingredients to a glass jar and firmly close the lid. Shake vigorously till combined.

Chop, dice and grate the vegetables as suggested in the ingredients list above. Place all prepared vegetables except for the beetroot in a bowl. The beetroot will very quickly stain anything it comes in to contact with so I leave its addition till the very last minute. Drain the soaking fruit and rinse your soaked seeds if you've not done already (if you're using raw unsoaked seeds just add them as they are), and add to your vegetable bowl.

Thoroughly mix together the veg, seeds/nuts and dried fruit. Finally add the grated beetroot and 3/4 of the dressing and roughly stir together. Have a taste and if you think it needs it - add the rest of the dressing.

*I like to use a combination of almonds and sunflower seeds. I soak them over night, or during the day while I'm at work in fresh filtered water. Soaking raw nuts and seeds helps release the enzymes which prevent them from sprouting. These enzymes also stop our bodies from absorbing all of their nutrients and efficiently digesting them. Once they've soaked for 5 - 7 hours rinse them thoroughly and you're good to go. I like to then roughly chop the almonds before adding them to the salad.

Pile giant spoonfuls onto a plate or a bowl and sprinkle over some toasted sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds if you desire. Sit down, relax and enjoy this 100% super raw-power salad.

This salad also works really well as an accompaniment to a main dish; try it along side one of your meals this week or turn up to your next BBQ or potluck and wow your friends with this colour bursting dish. 

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