Sugar-coating the pill

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

I WAS RECENTLY WATCHING The Men Who Made Us Fat, an excellent series on BBC TV about how politicians, policies and food companies shaped the world we find ourselves in – which is all rather obese, according to the programme. It’s tough, because junk food and heavily processed food are designed to make you want to continually consume their product. It can be hard to feel full and the urge to continue snacking is strong. But the experts seemed to agree that incredibly large portions of fizzy drinks, too much snacking on the wrong kinds of foods, and massive portions are what’s distorting the western worlds’ waistlines.

As they pointed out, fat became vilified as the real evil during the 1970s, but sugar was overlooked, mainly because the sugar lobbies – much like tobacco once upon a time – were politically important.

What ended up happening was that public policy in the US shifted to put the blame on foods that contained fat, while overlooking sugar. Massive food companies built entire new ranges of products that promised to be fat-free – implying that ridding fat from your diet would eliminate weight gain. But, of course, when you remove all traces of fat from a product that is naturally fatty – then you are left with something unpleasant in flavour and texture that can only be helped by massive additions of sugar, and often salt. The sad thing was – and still is – that people overlook the bad stuff that goes into fat-free food because they are lulled into thinking that fat-free food is healthy. It’s a conundrum that leaves consumers very confused. I am not suggesting that we should all go on a binge of eating fat, but logic and food science tell us that by eliminating all traces of fat, something else has to be put back in, and it’s not usually good for you.

The recipes in this column are varied: sometimes they are for special occasions or family dinners, sometimes they are recipes for every day eating – and therefore leaning towards healthy rather than rich. Hopefully there’s a bit of balance in there. But sometimes you need recipes that are bona fide good for you and worth trying to get everyone to eat.

Cold soups are not great in winter. And fresh juices can be a chore. But this recipe is both a cold soup and a juice, and actually works in winter or summer. This recipe is close enough to a soup served in Cornucopia, the vegetarian restaurant on Wicklow Street in Dublin that always serves wholesome food. They do two great raw soups there, one of which is similar to my concoction here. I probably could have asked them for the recipe – but I felt I had to go it alone and figure it out, and it’s not bad at all.

The almond and fruit bars don’t get as brilliantly chewy as commercial varieties do, but they taste great and are made with a jar of almond butter, which health experts prefer to peanuts butter. Meridian does a good range of nut butters and is usually found in health food stores and good food shops. A bit of agave syrup adds some sweetness, and no – I’m not being disingenuous. Agave is still a form of sugar. It’s just a bit more natural and has a slightly (and I mean slightly) better effect on blood sugar than say, white caster sugar. And remember that these oat bars – while good for you – are full of fats, albeit good ones. So, moderation is necessary. But please do enjoy. Sensibly.

Carrot, garlic, ginger and avocado soup

Tweak the ginger, garlic and Tabasco to suit your taste. I sometimes add some basil to this, which tastes great, but makes it a murky colour. Tabasco works in this soup, but is not obligatory and best left out for children.

2.4kg carrots

Big knob ginger, peeled

2 ripe avocados

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

200g plain yoghurt

Salt and black pepper

Few shakes Tabasco

I didn’t have to peel the carrots I used as they were quite small, and clean-looking, but simply topped and tailed them. It’s up to you. If I was paying for it, I’d want them peeled, but because I am lazy enough about getting out the juicer, I felt that peeling them was unnecessary. A good wash would do. I was left with about 2.2kg of carrots, ready for juicing. Juice them and add the ginger. Set aside. In a blender, process the avocados with about 500ml of carrot juice. Add the garlic, yoghurt and season well. When absolutely silky smooth, add the rest of the carrot juice. Season, stir in the Tabasco and taste. This is lovely served in glasses or small bowls and also tastes good the next day. This recipe yields about 1.25 litres of cold soup and I reckon a portion of about 200ml is sufficient, so this recipe should serve six.

Almond, oat and fruit bars

You’ll need a 36 x 25 cm baking tray, lined with parchment paper. Please chop and change the nuts and fruit you use here. Things like dried cranberries or sour cherries would be lovely. Makes about 16 bars.

350g oats

50g almond flakes

80g currants

50g golden sultanas

1 tbsp flax seed

1 tbsp sesame seeds

80g chopped apricots

80g chopped dates or figs

170g jar almond butter

100ml apple juice

3 tbsp agave syrup

Splash of vanilla essence

Put the oats on a large baking tray (the one you will use to cook it in is fine) and bake the oats for at least 10 to 15 minutes at 160 degrees/gas 3. You need to get a bit of colour on them, or at least cook them out a bit. For the last few minutes, add the flaked almonds and let them toast. While this is happening, gently heat up the almond butter with enough apple juice to let it down. Whisk gently, add the agave syrup, and a bit more apple juice, until it has all been incorporated. Season with the vanilla essence.

Pour the oat mixture into a large bowl and mix with the rest of the seeds and dried fruit, then add the almond butter mixture and mix well. Taste, and you may want a splash more agave. Pat the mixture down into the lined baking tray and bake at 160 degrees/gas 3 for about 25-35 minutes until it is starting to go a nice golden brown on top. Allow the tray to cool down, then cut into bars, wrap in cling film and keep in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them. They do crumble a bit, so you may be left with chunks rather than bars. But a handful goes a long way.

Domini recommends: Poachies – fun little filter bags that can be used for poaching eggs (€4.90). Although they are bit gimmicky, they do work and would be a great gift for cooks who have trouble poaching eggs successfully. I got mine in Kitchen Complements in Chatham Street, Dublin 2

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