Veggies, fibre, healthy fats, proteins and a double dose of probiotics for gut health
I usually start my days with a vegetable smoothie, but with this cold spate my (usually ardent!) smoothie enthusiasm has waned. Looking out onto my heavily frosted lawn the other morning, I decided to actually cook my breakfast. Something I almost never do, I don’t know why. A hangover from growing up as part of the fat-is-bad-for-you, boxed cereal guzzling generation I suppose...
I did always have my doubts about the merits of a low-fat diet. How could artificial hydrogenated margarine be better for you than an unadulterated real food like butter? Recent research has vindicated me. Natural unprocessed fats aren’t the evil we once thought they were. In fact, it’s excessive amounts of the foods that we were advised to eat more of – carbs and unsaturated vegetable fats – that are now suspected to be at the root of the modern western disease epidemics: diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, CHD, cancer and even neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's.
The problem with the official low-fat diet advice is that we ended up consuming large amounts of specific types of carbs and vegetable fats. In particular:
- Sugar and refined carbs (think white carbs like bread and pasta)
- Processed vegetable oils.
I won’t go into the underlying science; that’s the subject of another (much longer) post. Suffice to say, the evidence tide is turning. Healthy fats = good. Sugar, refined carbs, processed vegetable oils ≠ good.
Which means we can all enjoy the luxury of a cooked breakfast once again! Without a guilty conscience.
So get your day off to a delicious start with this recipe, featuring plenty veggies (full of healthful, gut-boosting fibre), healthy fats, protein and a double whammy of natural probiotics (kefir and the fermented garlic paste) for extra gut health measure.
The perfect option for a leisurely breakfast or brunch over the festive season. Or any day you simply want to treat yourself to some extra self-care! I'm sure it would work equally well as a light lunch or supper.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
300-350g celery, approx. 6-7 good-sized stalks, each chopped into 3 lengths
20g/1 tablespoon and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
Maldon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
The tiniest pinch of dried red chilli flakes
Coriander, almond and coconut kefir “pesto”:
15g almonds (or mix things up and use a mixture of almonds and/or other nuts or seeds of your choice)
30g/1 standard supermarket-sized pack fresh coriander, leaves and stems
50g coconut kefir (see endnote on brands, suppliers and alternatives)
5g/½ teaspoon Fermented Indian Garlic Paste (this is something I make myself, I’ll share the recipe in due course, meantime sub it for ½-1 clove garlic. Or, in spring, toss in a handful of wild garlic leaves)
A pinch of finely ground Himalayan pink salt (omit if using garlic paste as it’s already salted)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
25g/2 walnut-sized knobs of grass-fed butter*, or replace with avocado oil†
2 free-range eggs, if you can get local and organic from grass- rather than grain-fed birds, all the better
*I break my otherwise dairy-free rule for Isigny Ste Mère’s unpasteurised salted butter, available from Waitrose. Fantastic stuff, and unpasteurised too! I seem to be able to tolerate butter, presumably because it’s cultured. During culturing (aka fermentation) of dairy products, friendly bacteria begin to break down lactose (milk sugars) and casein (milk proteins), both long-chain molecules that are difficult for us to digest. In so doing they effectively kickstart digestion on our behalf, giving us less work to do.
†If you’re strictly dairy free, use avocado oil – the only vegetable oil that’s heat-stable enough to fry with. Meaning: it doesn’t oxidise, which leads to free radicals in the body that cause a chain reaction of cellular damage, the pathway to premature ageing, increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
Place the nuts and/or seeds in a bowl, cover with water (preferably filtered) and soak for 12 hours/overnight. This step has two purposes. One, water-logged nuts = a lovely creamy texture. And, two, soaking improves their nutritional content.
Nuts contain something called phytates. An anti-nutrient that binds to minerals in our gastrointestinal tract, preventing us from absorbing them. Soaking nuts helps to reduce their phytate content. Not something you need to worry about, unless you eat copious amount of nuts, but a small way that you can get more goodness out of your food. (If you’d like to learn more about nut consumption and phytates, this article by Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple covers all the ground: Nuts and Phytic Acid: Should You Be Concerned? The answer, by the way, is no. Unless they make up a sizeable part of your diet.)
If you want to make this recipe at short notice, it’s absolutely fine to use unsoaked nuts and/or seeds. The texture will be courser, but the flavour will be just as good.
Once you’re ready to make the dish, preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan). Place the celery in an oven-proof glass/ceramic dish; one that’s large enough to take the celery in a single layer without any pieces touching. Breathing space is essential for non-soggy roasted veg! Drizzle the stalks with the olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt to taste, add plenty freshly ground black pepper and the tiniest pinch of chilli flakes. Toss to evenly cover the stalks. Place in the oven and cook for for 15-20 minutes until the celery is softened and just beginning to brown and crisp up/caramelise at the edges.
Meantime, prepare the coriander pesto. Drain the soaked nuts and/or seeds, give them a good rinse and drain once again. Pop the almonds out of their skins; a good squeeze is usually enough to separate the two. Place the peeled almonds and/or soaked seeds in a small blender, food processor or wet grinder. Add the coriander, remaining pesto ingredients and blitz to a smooth cream. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust to your taste.
Once the celery is ready, turn off the oven, leaving the celery inside to hold its heat. Add two plates to the bottom shelf to warm them slightly.
Heat the butter/avocado oil in a medium-large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Crack in the eggs, season with salt and pepper and fry until they’re cooked to your liking. Rather than turn eggs over – high yolk-breaking risk – I like to baste the butter over the top to help things along.
When the eggs are almost done just the way you like them, remove the plates from the oven, arrange half of the roasted celery on each, place an egg on top, add dods of the coriander pesto here and there and sprinkle with some coriander micro-herbs.
I learned to make coconut kefir from the lovely and vastly knowledgeable Janice Clyne, of Nourished by Nature. If you’d like to have a bash at making your own, Janice’s Fermented Foods workshop is a wonderful place to start. As well as a fun and enjoyable afternoon out. For details, see the events page of her website.
And if making your own feels like too much to consider, for now at least, here are my top two favorite shop-bought kefirs:
- Rhythm coconut kefir. Available from selected health food shops and the biggest supermarkets.
- Biotiful Dairy’s Baked Milk Kefir (Riazhenka). In my opinion, the very best dairy kefir on the market. The milk is gently baked before adding the live cultures, which results in a luxuriantly thick, smooth and creamy texture plus a sweet, mild taste. Other kefirs are very tart by comparison; if you enjoy sour, tart foods, that won’t be a problem, but I’d hazard that puts you in the minority. For the average kefir newbie accustomed to the average western diet, Biotiful’s Baked Milk Kefir will be the most accessible to begin with.