Superfood always sounds like a gimmicky marketing term for an often-exotic food or indeed a drink that purports to have exceptional nutritional benefits. Think goji berries, moringa, chaga mushrooms, maqui berries, tiger nuts…
Seems to change every year but we don’t need to search across the globe, we’ve got lots of superfoods right here in Ireland that will add pep to our step on a daily basis.
Kale is indeed loaded with vitamins, minerals and trace elements but so is a humble Savoy cabbage and all of the broccoli, Romanesco and the greater brassica family. That is, provided it’s super fresh and chemical-free. Freshness really matters – the nutrient content of vegetables and fruit, not to mention the flavour starts to tick away from the moment it’s harvested.
Home gardeners will be well aware of this, another reason to redouble your efforts to grow at least some of your own superfood during 2023.
Now is the time to make a plan around the fire on these dark evenings – maybe start a gardening club with your friends, agree to share and enjoy the delicious results of your labour.
Meanwhile, go out of your way to get to a Farmers’ Market and buy directly from a grower like Caroline Robinson in the Coal Quay Market in Cork on Saturday morning. Caroline will have a seasonal selection of vegetables full of flavour and vitality that will have you bouncing with energy. Check out your local area for similar treasures…
Don’t waste a scrap of the leaves or stalks, use every delicious morsel. This is superfood, real health-giving food that will nourish not only your body and mind, but will improve both your physical and mental health and also nourish your soul…
Make no mistake, a bag of organically grown potatoes, a few home-grown onions (the difference in flavour and texture is considerable) or a few handsome leeks are all superfoods. Make sure to use all the green leaves – they are packed with flavour, but they don’t even make it to the supermarket shelves.
Concentrate on trying to source as much real food as you can, the sort that doesn’t have a label with a sell-by date and a long list of ingredients. Then eat and/ or cook it ASAP. Remember, the sooner you enjoy it, the better it will taste.
Broccoli is a case in point. Pick it, cook it simply, in boiling, well-salted water for a couple of minutes, toss in a nice dollop of good Irish butter, the whole family will be blown away but try tempting the kids with week old broccoli (average age of commercial vegetables on shelf with a few exceptions) and watch the reaction, it even smells remarkably different.
Seaweeds are definitely superfoods… Here in Ireland, we have over 600 around our coasts, all are edible though some are not worth eating. Several companies are drying and processing seaweed that can be used as sprinkles over salads or added to a white soda bread or mashed potato.
Knowledgeable foragers can collect their own on a walk along the seashore. Harvest sustainably, snipping only what you need off the rocks for your own use and be careful to leave the holdfast attached so it will continue to grow.
Carrageen moss is one of my enduring superfoods – it’s easy to source, dried in health food shops and incredibly inexpensive considering the nutritional value. Try this recipe – if you don’t have sweet geranium, it will still be delicious without it.
Finally…foraged foods. Let this be the year when you learn how to identify edible foods in the wild and when you start to incorporate foraged foods into your diet. They have their full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements and will hugely boost your immune system but once again, harvest wild food from chemical-free pastures, ditches and hedgerows. Bittercress is at its best at present as is watercress – add them to your Winter salads or soup. Be sure the water is clean and constantly flowing…
Alexanders are just coming into season and rock samphire is also in prime condition….
fun and once again, Happy New Year to all our readers.
My Favourite Scary Green Juice
Do make this, it’s super delicious and a mega boost of vitamins. Try to use all organic ingredients.
Makes 450ml (15fl oz)
40g (1 1/2oz) curly kale, weigh after stalks are removed
10g (1/2oz) coriander leaves
10g (1/2oz) flat parsley
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
600ml (1 pint) apple juice
Whizz all the ingredients together in a
blender and enjoy.
Potato, Mushroom and Leek Gratin
A simple gratin that all the family will love. It’s a gorgeous combination – the leeks don’t need to be fully cooked before adding to this gratin. If you have a few wild mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this. If you can find flat ones, all the better. This is also delicious without the leeks and terrifically good with a pan-grilled lamb chop, a steak or as part of a roast dinner.
Serves 8 – 10
25g (1oz) butter, plus extra for greasing
350g (12oz) leeks (prepared weight), sliced into 5mm (1/4 inch) rounds
1kg (2 1/4lb) ‘old’ potatoes, such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks, sliced into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
300g (10oz) mushrooms, such as button, chestnut or flat mushrooms, or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitake, and enoki, sliced
350ml (12fl oz) single cream
25g (1oz) grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) or mature Cheddar cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Melt the butter in a heavy casserole; when it foams, add the sliced leeks and toss gently to coat with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with baking parchment and a close-fitting lid. Reduce the heat and cook very gently for 3 – 4 minutes or until semi-soft and moist. Turn off the heat and leave to cook in the residual heat. (The leeks can also be cooked in the oven at 160˚C/325˚F/Gas Mark 3 for 10 – 12 minutes if that is more convenient.) Leeks cooked in this way are delicious as a vegetable on their own.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potato slices to the boiling water. As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes. Refresh under cold water. Drain again and arrange on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
Grease a shallow 25.5 x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch) gratin dish or two 12.5 x 19.5cm (5 x 7 1/2 inch) gratin dishes generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over the top. Arrange
half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish(es) and season with salt and pepper. Spread a layer of half-cooked leeks on top.
Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes. (The gratin dish should be full to the top.)
Bring the cream almost to boiling point and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 1 hour until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.
Quinoa, Sweet Potato and Watercress Salad
Superfoods, one and all – a meal in itself. This salad is delicious on its own but I love it with roast duck. Pumpkin or butternut squash or a mixture can be substituted for the sweet potato. Other sweet vegetables and roast peppers can also be used. Chickpeas or beans are another gorgeous addition.
2 large, sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 medium onions, peeled and quartered
225g (8oz) red or brown quinoa
350ml (12fl oz) cold water
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
6 – 8 handfuls of watercress sprigs
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Asian Vinaigrette
juice and zest of 2 organic limes
same volume of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)
5 spring onions or lots of chives, finely chopped
lots of chopped basil or coriander
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Peel the sweet potato (and deseed the squash or pumpkin if using) and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) cubes. Mix the spices with the extra virgin olive oil, toss the vegetables and spread out in an ovenproof sauté pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 – 25 minutes until golden and nicely caramelised at the edges. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water for 2 – 3 minutes to remove the natural bitter coating. Place it in the sauté pan with the cold water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to very low and cook covered for 12 minutes until the grain is tender. Remove from the heat, leave the lid on and set aside for a further 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette.
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.
To serve, put the cooled
quinoa, roast vegetables and toasted seeds in a bowl. Drizzle with the
vinaigrette, toss well. Season to taste. Pile onto a base of watercress sprigs
Penny’s Cabbage and Fennel Salad
This delicious recipe was given to me by my daughter-in-law Penny. I sometimes add a fistful of plump sultanas but it’s irresistible as it is.
1/2 Savoy cabbage, finely shredded
1 fennel bulb, finely shredded
2 – 4 tablespoons fresh herbs – parsley, chives, mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Forum white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon grain mustard
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon honey
Maldon Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the salad.
Cut the cabbage in half, remove the core and slice very thinly across the grain, put into a roomy serving bowl. Add the finely shredded fennel bulb and the freshly chopped herbs and toss, taste and correct the seasoning.
To make the vinaigrette.
Mix all the ingredients together in a jam jar and shake well before use.
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the cabbage, fennel and herbs and mix gently. Serve immediately.
How to Cook Green Broccoli, Calabrese or Romanesco
The secret of real flavour in broccoli, as in so many other green vegetables, is not just freshness, it needs to be cooked in well-salted water. If you grow your own, cut out the central head but leave the plant intact, and very soon you’ll have lots of smaller florets.
450g (1lb) sprouting broccoli (green, purple or white), romanesco or calabrese
600ml (1 pint) water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Butter or extra virgin olive oil
lots of freshly ground pepper
Peel the stems of a broccoli head with a knife or potato peeler, cut off the stalk close to the head and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. If the heads are large, divide the florets into small clusters.
Add the salt to the water, bring to a fast boil, first add the stalks and then the florets, and cook uncovered at a rolling boil for 5-6 minutes. Drain off the water while the broccoli still has a bite.
Taste, season with freshly ground pepper and serve immediately.
Better still, melt a little butter in a saucepan until it foams, toss the broccoli gently in it, season to taste and serve immediately.
Broccoli can be blanched and refreshed earlier in the day and then
reheated in a saucepan of boiling salted water for just a few seconds just
This simple way of cooking alexanders can be the basis of several other recipes. Alexanders grow in profusion along the cliffs, roadside and hedges near the sea in the south of Ireland. Enjoy for the next couple of months before it flowers from late March to June, depending on the weather. The flavour is delicate and delicious, in fact, the taste is slightly like sea kale.
700g (1 1⁄2lb) Alexander stalks (cut close to the ground for maximum length)
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
3 teaspoons salt
butter or extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper
Cut the stems into 4 – 5cm (1 1/2 – 2 inch) lengths and peel off the thin outer skin as you would rhubarb. Cook in boiling salted water for 6 – 8 minutes or until a knife will pierce a stem easily. Drain well, then toss in a little melted butter or extra virgin olive oil and lots of freshly ground pepper.
Cook as above, drain and transfer to a gratin dish. Coat with a rich Mornay Sauce and top with a mixture of grated Cheddar cheese and buttered crumbs.
Carrageen Moss Pudding with Sweet Geranium
Many people have less than fond memories of Carrageen Moss, partly because so many recipes call for far too much carrageen. It is a very strong natural gelatine so the trick is to use little enough. Because it is so light it is difficult to weigh, we use just enough to fit in my closed fist, a scant 7g.
This recipe given to me by Myrtle Allen is by far the most delicious I know. Nowadays more chefs are using carrageen, but often they add stronger flavours such as treacle or rosewater, which tend to mask the delicate flavour of the carrageen itself. Carrageen Moss is served on the dessert trolley at Ballymaloe House every evening.
Serves 6 – 8
7g cleaned, well dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)
900ml (1 1/2 pints) whole (full fat) milk (we use our own Jersey milk)
8 medium leaves of sweet geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
1 large egg, preferably free-range
1 tablespoon caster sugar
softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar
6 – 8 frosted sweet geranium leaves
Soak the carrageen in tepid water for 10 minutes. Strain off the water and put the carrageen and sweet geranium into a saucepan with the milk. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently with the lid on for 20 minutes. At that point, and not before, separate the egg and put the yolk into a bowl. Add the sugar and whisk together for a few seconds. Pour the milk, carrageen and sweet geranium through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. The carrageen will now be swollen and exuding jelly. Rub most of this jelly through the strainer and beat it into the liquid. Test for a set on a cold saucer: put it in the fridge and it should set in a couple of minutes. Rub a little more jelly through the strainer if necessary. Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks form and fold it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Leave to cool. Refrigerate.
Serve chilled with softly whipped cream, soft brown sugar and frosted sweet geranium leaves.