Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Getting Inspired

I'll admit it. Food has become my life. It comforts, heals and energises and there are few greater buzzes than a wander around the Monday morning market at Pre du Lac, checking out all the local sellers and buying whatever happens to be in season to concoct a delicious lunch or supper. Well okay, a little trip to Cape Town (where the food is amazing) probably tops that but my average Monday is all the brighter for a mooch among the familiar stalls.

Yesterday I bought some of what has to be the last courge (butternut squash) of the season, which was grown just down the road in Vallauris, 20 minutes drive from here. Radishes and a little chèvre rond from the local goat's cheese producer and voilà, suddenly I had the key ingredients for a delicious and colourful lunch based on a dish I ate a couple of weeks ago at a lovely little cafe in Camps Bay.

When people ask me about recipes for getting inspired in the kitchen, my advice is to pick the freshest, lushest looking produce available and get experimental with it. There's very little you can't jazz up with lime juice and the holy trinity of ginger, garlic and chilli.

On a chilly day, a seasonal veg or two simmered in a fresh stock with herbs and blitzed when cool makes the most filling and nutritious soup you could ask for. It guards against infection, builds immunity and fills you with protective vitamins and minerals as well as plant chemicals and enzymes which improve digestion, boost resistance and fight off illness.

And when the sun's out, the challenge is to get as many colourful fruits and veggies on the plate as possible along with a little protein, (halloumi, feta or goat's cheese maybe), a drizzle of home made dressing and a few fresh herbs scattered across the top. I defy you to crave a KFC or double cheeseburger after that. And if you do get a craving, check out this graphic on what to go for instead.

Last week I met one of the directors of Breast Cancer Now, the UK's largest breast cancer charity , to talk about the importance of diet and nutritional advice at point of diagnosis. It was fantastically productive and really gave me a glimmer of hope that things are changing, slowly but surely. But you don't need to wait until you get ill to start eating better....

The cliche you are what you eat has never been more true, so make sure it's a rainbow of beautiful fresh locally sourced or home grown produce and you can't go too far wrong.

Cape Town Rainbow Salad

This is one of those ‘use what’s left in the fridge’ salads. You can swap ingredients if certain things are hold to get hold of (roasted carrots for roasted squash, goat’s cheese for feta, watercress or rocket for spinach etc). It’s colourful and delicious, and the tartness of the goat’s cheese works beautifully with radishes and the sweet nuttiness of the squash – summer on a plate! I tried this in Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, where they used spinach leaves, feta and no pomegranate, rosemary or courgette – it was just as delicious.

200g butternut squash or carrots, chopped roughly into thumb size pieces
2 large handfuls watercress, spinach or rocket
I small young courgette, finely sliced
Sml handful toasted pine nuts
Six sun dried tomatoes (drained from oil and cut in half longways)
I small round goat’s cheese (I buy mine at the market) or 100g crumbled feta
Five radishes, washed, trimmed and cut in half
1 sprig rosemary leaves (optional)
Sml handful pomegranate seeds (optional)
Fresh home made vinaigrette (recipe in guide)

Toss the squash in extra virgin olive oil and roast for 15 mins until lightly browned. Leave to cool. Lightly coat the thin courgette slices in leftover oilive oil and lightly fry in a dry frying pan for a minute or two on each side. Remove and leave to cool. Toast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes in the same pan and reserve in a bowl.

Place a handful of salad greens on the plate, arrange the tomatoes and radishes in the leaves then layer the cool courgettes across the top. Add the cooled squash, cheese, pine nuts and drizzle with vinaigrette. If you’re adding pomegranate and rosemary, do this last.