Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holy Basil Tea

Browsing in the herbal tea section of my local whole food shop, I was drawn to a pale blue-green box labelled “Tulsi”.  What is it and what are its reported benefits?

Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum, now called Ocimum tenuiflorum), is a herb native to India.  It is sacred in the Hindu religious tradition - tulsi translates as "incomparable one" - and is believed to protect against misfortune and to represent purity, harmony, serenity and luck.  If you go to India, you will see holy basil growing in profusion around Hindu temples as well as in many Hindu homes.

According to Ayurvedic tradition, holy basil is one of the best herbs to prepare the heart and mind for spiritual practices.  It is said that it performs the indispensable spiritual function of balancing and toning the energetic chakra system.  Holy basil opens the heart and the mind, bestowing the energy of love and devotion (bhakti). Sacred to Vishnu and Krishna, it strengthens faith, compassion and clarity.  Water mixed with the petals is given to the dying to raise their departing souls to heaven.

According to Hindu mythology, Tulsi is the divine consort of Lord Vishnu (the Preserver/Protector).  According to one legend, Tulsi approached Lord Vishnu’s abode as a destitute woman seeking shelter.  Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s chief consort did not allow her inside.  Tulsi waited patiently in the courtyard for the Lord. Humiliated at the treatment, her feet sprouted roots and her hands sprouted branches and she turned into a fragrant plant.  The Lord was very pleased with Tulsi’s devotion and granted her the status of his consort.

Holy Basil comes in red and green varieties, both with a strong, pleasant aroma. More clove-like than that of culinary basil, holy basil has been used for centuries to treat a variety of medical conditions.

A variety of biologically active compounds has been isolated from the leaves including ursolic acid, apigenin, luteolin, eugenol, cardinine, cubenol, borneol, vallinin, linolenic acid, oleic acid, orientin, circineol, vitamin A and vitamin C.  Numerous medicinal properties have been claimed for holy basil, including analgesic activity; anti-arthritic activity; anti-inflammatory activity; anti-ulcer activity; immune modulatory activity; anti-cancer activity; anti-convulsant activity; anti-diabetic activity; anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral activity; anti-malarial activity; anti-stress activity in addition to possessing useful memory enhancer and neuroprotective activity (1).

The different types of basils have different scents due to their different essential oils.  The strong clove scent of sweet basil is derived from eugenol.

In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is believed to be an adaptogen.  Adaptogenic herbs are said to improve the body's ability to resist environmental stressors.  In the 21st century, many adherents of adaptogens claim that these herbs promote the health of the adrenal glands, which in turn regulate immune response, emotions and bodily reactions to stress.

There is growing interest in scientific evidence indicating that plant-derived polyphenols such as ursolic acid influence gene expression via epigenetic mechanisms (2).  These may explain the adaptogenic effects observed by practitioners of Ayurveda.

Ursolic acid, one of the polyphenol components of holy basil, is known to be an inhibitor of enzymes called histone deacetylases (HDAC).  Histone deacetylases regulate the acetylation of a variety of histone and non-histone proteins, controlling the transcription and regulation of genes involved in cell cycle control, proliferation, survival, DNA repair and differentiation (3).  Some HDAC inhibitors are used as drugs in the treatment of cancer, reactivating dormant tumour suppressor genes, leading to programmed cell death or apoptosis (4).

In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil is used to treat respiratory system disorders and is said to promote the removal of catarrhal matter and phlegm from the bronchial tube.  A decoction of the leaves, with honey and ginger is an effective remedy for bronchitis, asthma, influenza, cough and cold.  The active ingredient related to this use is thought to be eugenol.

Modern research on holy basil suggests that holy basil contains powerful antioxidants and it may be hepatoprotective (liver protecting).  Also, preliminary clinical studies are investigating holy basil's effect on ulcers and blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics (5).

Holy basil has generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status in the United States.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Amchoor Chana

My local health food shop, Earthfare in Glastonbury, has a cornucopia of herbs and spices.  Last time I was there I bought a small packet of mango powder, which is also called amchoor.

Mango powder or amchoor is made from raw green mangoes that are cut, sun-dried, and ground into a pale beige powder.  Mango powder is used much like lemon, but it gives food a tangy, sour taste without adding moisture.  Its tart flavour is used as a souring agent in soups, dals, vegetable dishes and chutneys, especially in northern India.

I had never cooked with mango powder before so I decided to experiment.  As it has a sour flavour, I wanted to balance it with something sweet.

Winter squash is currently in season and has a beautifully sweet taste when cooked slowly, so I decided to combine this with onions, tomatoes, chickpeas and some spices to create a subtle sweet and sour dish.  It was delicious.  So here is my recipe for Amchoor Chana - Chickpeas with Mango Powder.

Amchoor Chana
(serves 4)


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch sea salt
2 medium onions (finely chopped)
2-4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon mango powder (amchoor)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ winter squash (cut into cubes)
1 can chickpeas (drained) or 2 cups freshly cooked chickpeas
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 dessert spoon white (shiro) miso (dissolved in a little water)


1. Add olive oil, salt and onions to a cooking pot and sauté gently until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add the spices and stir for 1 minute
3. Add the winter squash, chickpeas and tomatoes, cover the pot and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.  You may need to add some extra water.
4. Add the white miso.  Taste to check whether the seasoning is to your liking and adjust if necessary.
5. Serve hot with brown rice cooked in turmeric and garnish with fresh coriander.

If you like your dishes with hotter spices, you can also add a whole mild fresh chilli (finely chopped) or half of a bird’s eye chilli (seeds removed and finely chopped).

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Swede and sumac soup

Swede and sumac soup

Recently, I bought a swede at a farmer’s market and was musing about what I could make with it.

The swede is a member of the cabbage family; it is often confused with the turnip, though they look quite different. It's also known as yellow turnip, Swedish turnip and Russian turnip and, in America, rutabaga.

Swede has a round shape and a purple-green skin, and the flesh is yellowy-orange, with a sweet, earthy flavour.

I had never made soup from swede and wondered what I could add to lift and balance the earthy flavour.

Searching in my spice cupboard, I found a jar of sumac.

Sumac is a spice which comes from the berries of a wild bushy shrub that thrives in poor soils and grows wild in all Mediterranean areas and parts of the Middle East.  The highest quality sumac berries come from higher altitude areas.  Sumac is any one of approximately 250 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus.

The fruits of the genus Rhus are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to dishes.

So I decided to experiment by combining the sweet earthy flavour of swede with the tangy citrus flavour of sumac and the result was delicious.  Here is the recipe – enjoy!

Swede and Sumac Soup
(serves 2-3)


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions (diced)
1 small pinch salt
½ swede (cubed)
2/3 teaspoon sumac
1 dessert spoon white (shiro) miso (diluted in a little water)

  1. Put olive oil in a pan, add onions and pinch of salt.  Sauté gently on a low flame until the onions are soft and translucent
  2. Add the swede and water to cover half of the vegetables’ volume.  Simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes or until the swede is soft.
  3. Add the sumac spice and the white miso.  Blend until smooth.  Taste and add more water and seasonings if necessary to obtain the desired consistency and flavour.
  4. Serve with a garnish of fresh chopped herbs or a sprinkling of sumac powder 

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Oat, blueberry, raisin and cashew nut milk breakfast

One of my nutritional heroes is John McDougall.  John is a medical doctor in the US who believes passionately in the power of plant-based diets, not only to prevent but to treat all manner of chronic diseases.

He has been studying, writing and challenging the accepted wisdom on the effects of nutrition on disease and health for over 30 years.  Together with his wife, Mary, he runs ten-day residential programmes in California designed to help people transform their health and well-being by changing their diet and lifestyle.  Many people report recovery from supposedly incurable conditions as a result of following this programme.

Recently I was looking through one of my McDougall cookbooks and noticed a recipe for cashew nut milk. So I decided to use this to make a warming and delicious oat porridge with blueberries and raisins for my breakfast.

Oats have many health benefits (1).  They provide one of the richest sources of the dietary soluble fibre beta-glucan.  They also contain more lipids (5-9%) than other cereal crops and are rich in unsaturated fats, including the essential fatty acid linoleic acid.  Oats also contain unique antioxidants, called avenanthramides, as well as the vitamin E-like compounds, tocotrienols and tocopherols.

The ability of oats to lower total and LDL cholesterol is well-documented, however, they provide cardiovascular benefits that go way beyond their cholesterol-reducing properties.  Accumulating evidence from epidemiological, clinical, and animal studies suggests that fibre sources, including oats, can significantly aid in reducing blood pressure and/or prevent the onset of hypertension.  Katz et al reported that a single serving of oatmeal could oppose the disturbances in endothelial function observed after the consumption of a high fat meal; this may reduce the likelihood of arterial damage and heart disease (2).

Soluble fibre from oats, when incorporated into a low-glycaemic diet, can help to regulate blood glucose and insulin response after eating.  More than 12 published studies report that oats, consumed as oat bran, oatmeal, or isolated beta-glucans, reduce both fasting and postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels (1).

It seems that news of the health benefits of oats is spreading as Quaker have reported a dramatic increase in sales since 2009.

So here is the recipe I followed.  Enjoy!


  • 1 cup whole oat groats
  • 6 cups water
  • 50g (2oz) cashew nut pieces
  • 350ml (1.5 cups, 12 fl oz) water
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 dessert spoon raisins


  • Place whole oat groats in a pan with 6 cups water, bring to a boil, turn down the flame as low as it will go and simmer with the lid on for 2 hours until the oats are soft, white and glutinous.  You can do this the night before, cool the cooked oats and store in the fridge.  You can also use ordinary instant porridge oats; use about 30g (4-5 dessert spoons) per person.
  • Place the cashew nuts with 350ml water in a blender and process until the liquid appears milky and smooth.  Add the blueberries and raisins and blend.
  • If using the cooked oat groats, take about one-third of the amount you have prepared or the quantity you want, add 1 cup of the cashew, blueberry and raisin blend and cook for a few minutes until hot.  Serve with some whole fresh blueberries.  If you are using the instant porridge oats, add the cashew, blueberry and raisin blend in a ratio of 1 part oats to 2 parts liquid and simmer until the oats thicken.  Serve with some fresh blueberries. 

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Winter squash and ginger soup

Winter squash is a superb 'comfort food' for this time of year.

In Chinese medicine it is considered a warming food that is medicinal to the spleen-pancreas and stomach.

Winter squash is exceptionally high in complex carbohydrates and is considered beneficial for those with digestive problems.

It is a good source of vitamins A, C, and E and the minerals potassium, iron and magnesium.

Winter squash is also a rich source of carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin, which are powerful antioxidants known to protect the body from cancer and other conditions such as macular degeneration.

Here is a recipe for winter squash and ginger soup, which is relaxing, warming and comforting, as well as providing your body with powerful protective nutrients.

Serves 4

  • 1 large onion (diced)
  • 1 small squash, e.g., onion squash or harlequin squash (cut in cubes)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small pinch sea salt
  • Root ginger (2cm piece finely chopped)
  • 1 dessert spoon white (shiro) miso (diluted in a little water)
  • Heat a cooking pot, add 1-2 tbsp oil, the onion and a small pinch of sea salt and sauté the onions gently on a very low heat until they are soft and translucent
  • Add the squash cubes, ginger and water to cover half of the vegetables’ volume.  Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 20 minutes or until the squash is soft.
  • Blend to a smooth texture.  Adjust to the desired consistency by adding more water if necessary.  Season to taste with white (shiro) miso.
  • Serve hot and garnish with fresh parsley.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to avoid food poisoning from rice

One of my clients asked me recently about the risk of food poisoning from eating reheated rice.

Yes – food poisoning from consuming reheated rice does occur.

It is not, however, the reheating that causes the problem but the way the rice was stored before it was reheated.  Many outbreaks of food poisoning which emerge from the catering industry are found to be caused by the inadequate cooling of food.

To put things in perspective, there have only been 85 reported cases of rice food poisoning in the UK since 1992.   These are often associated with restaurants and take-aways where large quantities of rice are cooked and held at warm temperatures for long periods.

One of the organisms associated with food poisoning in rice is Bacillus cereusSalmonella spp and various other organisms are also implicated.

Cooked rice and Bacillus cereus

Bacillus cereus is a spore-forming bacterium that occurs naturally in many kinds of foods and can cause illness in humans.   It forms spores which are resistant to heating and dehydration and can therefore survive cooking and dry storage.  These spores will survive the cooking process but present little risk provided that cooked rice is:

a) Served and eaten immediately, or
b) Kept hot above 63°C prior to eating, or
c) Cooled rapidly (less than 1 hour) and then kept refrigerated (4˚C or less) or frozen until required

When foods containing B. cereus spores are in the ‘temperature danger zone’ (4˚C to 60˚C) the spores may germinate, and the bacteria may grow, produce toxins, and make people sick. Such illness is frequently linked with starchy foods of plant origin such as rice, pasta, potatoes, pastry and noodles.

B. cereus can cause vomiting or diarrhoea and, in some cases, both. This depends on the kinds of toxin it produces.

When B. cereus grows and produces ‘emetic toxin’ in food, it can cause vomiting, even if the food is cooked again and no live bacteria are eaten. This is because the toxin is not easily destroyed by heating.

When food containing live B. cereus is eaten, the bacteria may grow and produce another toxin, ‘diarrhoeal toxin’, in the gut. This can result in diarrhoeal symptoms.

Illness from B. cereus can be prevented by making certain that hot foods are kept hot and cold foods are stored cold.  It is important to remember that re-heating food that has been ‘temperature abused’ will not make it safe.  Recovery from illness is usually between 12-24 hours.  Very rarely there can be complications and even fatalities.

10 rules of safe handling of rice

  1. Always keep dry rice in cool, dry conditions off the floor.
  2. Do not expose dry rice to moisture as this can encourage mould growth.
  3. Never leave cooked rice to cool on its own. Always chill it quickly (definitely within an hour and preferably faster) either under running cold water or spread thinly on trays in a fridge.  The temperature in the fridge should be no higher than 4˚C.
  4. If cooked rice is to be kept hot e.g. on a serving counter, ensure it is always above 63°C
  5. Avoid keeping rice hot for more than 2 hours and throw away any leftovers.
  6. If cooked rice has been chilled or frozen ensure that it is thoroughly reheated (temperature must be greater than 63˚C) and is piping hot throughout.
  7. Cold rice salads should be kept chilled (4˚C or below).  If part of a buffet, they should not be kept at room temperature for longer than 1 hour.
  8. Never re-chill once it has been kept at room temperature – throw it away.
  9. Never keep rice chilled for longer than 3 days or frozen for longer than 1 month.
  10. Once cooked rice has been re-heated, throw away any leftovers. Never re-heat rice more than once.

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The EFSA Journal (2005) 175, 1-48, “Bacillus cereus and other Bacillus spp in foodstuffs”

NHS Choices.  How to store food safely

Health Protection Agency.  Reported outbreaks of B. cereus 1992-2010

Tilda – Cooking basmati rice

J. Hyg., Camb (1974), 73, 433.  The survival and growth of Bacillus cereus in boiled and fried rice in relation to outbreaks of food poisoning

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quinoa, chickpea (garbanzo), avocado and olive salad

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is gaining popularity in European cuisine.  It is no longer confined to the shelves of health food stores and can also be found in most mainstream supermarkets.  The United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa to highlight the virtues of this "golden grain of the Incas".

Quinoa is the seed of a broad leaf plant of Andean origin which is botanically related to the common broad leaf weed fat hen (UK) or lamb's quarters (US), and is often used like a grain.  It has a mild nutty flavour and is easy to cook.

Quinoa is as versatile as rice but it has a protein content that is superior to that of most grains, because it contains all the essential amino acids.  In particular, quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair.  It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.

Not only this, but the crop has a remarkable adaptability to different agro-ecological regions. It can grow at relative humidity from 40% to 88%, and withstands temperatures from -4 ° C to 38 ° C. It is a highly water efficient plant, is tolerant and resistant to lack of soil moisture, and produces acceptable yields with rainfall of 100 to 200 mm (FAO).  Whilst Peru, Bolivia and the USA are the main producers, it is currently being successfully cultivated in several countries in Europe and Asia.

There are more than three thousand varieties of quinoa, grouped into five main classes according to the altitude at which they can grow,  The different varieties produce seed of different colours.

Varieties of quinoa (

Cooking quinoa

One of the beauties of quinoa is that it only takes 15 minutes to cook, so you can use it to prepare a nutritious meal in a hurry.

Measure 1 cup quinoa, wash it, drain it and place it in a pot with 1 1/2 cups water.  Put on the lid and cook on a medium flame until it boils, then reduce to a minimum flame and simmer for 15 minutes or until all the water has gone.  Do not remove the lid during cooking.  It is easy to tell when it is done because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them.

When the quinoa has cooked, you can then mix in your choice of salad ingredients.  


  • 1 cup red quinoa (rinsed in cold water)
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • I can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), marinated in dressing (see ingredients below)
  • 1 avocado (peeled, chopped and sprinkled with fresh lime juice to prevent browning) 
  • 12 olives (green, black or mixed)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (washed, de-seeded and chopped)
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper (washed de-seeded and chopped)
  • 1 handful fresh basil (washed and finely chopped)
  • Fresh basil to garnish


Juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic - pressed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice (grate 1 cm piece root ginger and squeeze juice out. For more details please click here)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil

1. Combine ingredients for dressing and marinade chickpeas in it while quinoa is cooking
2. Add water to quinoa in a thick-based pan. Cover and bring to boil. Turn heat down low and simmer for 15 minutes until quinoa is cooked and water has evaporated.
3. When quinoa has cooled, mix in all other ingredients and garnish with fresh basil.

Serve as a one-dish meal for lunch or as a side dish as part of dinner.

Other ideas for salad ingredients include cherry tomatoes; carrots; spring onions (scallions); other fresh herbs like parsley, coriander (cilantro), lemon balm, oregano, marjoram; cashew nuts; and beans.  

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