Counting down to Christmas and wondering just how many meals you’re going to have to cook over the festive season? We know that feeling all too well. I’ve ditched the whole thing this year by heading off on holiday but I know Annabel is catering for 17 on the day itself, and that’s without all the other meals required…..
So if you’re contemplating an ever-growing shopping list, could I urge you to add a few more vegetables? I was shocked (maybe I shouldn’t have been?) last month by a report that found four out of five people don’t get their five a day. And even the new chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, has admitted that two-a-day, rather than five, might be a more realistic goal for some. She believes that doctors should take a pragmatic approach and offer patients goals tailored to their individual needs. The idea being that once people are eating a couple of portions a day they can build up from there. Which I have to say is fair enough. I’m assuming, if you’ve found this blog, you are interested in eating well and ageing well so are on your way to upping your fruit and veg intake already.
The great thing about Christmas is that once you take the turkey and mince pies (oh, and the Quality Street and the Baileys) out of the equation, there’s lots of fruit and veg on the menu – Brussel sprouts, roast parsnips, clementines etc. Don’t forget to add a leafy green veg too – a new report in an American journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that older people who had higher levels of lutein in their blood stream also had better cognitive performance. The researchers said ‘our finding adds to the evidence suggesting that particular nutrients slow age-related declines in cognition by influencing specific features of brain aging’. Lutein is a carotenoid found in greens and cruciferous vegetables (yay, sprouts!)
If I was at home this Christmas, the recipe below would definitely be on the menu. It packs in tons of veg, and makes use of one of my favourite winter grains, barley. Barley takes longer to cook than the traditional Arborio rice, but is packed with fibre as it’s a wholegrain rather than a refined one. More and more evidence suggests that a diet rich in whole grains reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Barley is also rich in B vitamins, copper and magnesium, all essential nutrients as we age. My late father-in-law would make the most delicious, thrifty soup after Christmas each year, boiling up the turkey carcass and using the resultant stock as a base for a soup made with barley and any leftover root vegetables. Perfect for a happy and healthy Christmas!
Barley and roast vegetable risotto (serves 4)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes or half a butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 1 red pepper, de-seeded and cubed
- ½ a courgette, washed and cubed
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 small onion or shallot, peeled and chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 250g pearl barley
- 1 litre (approx.) vegetable stock
- 125ml white wine
- handful of grated parmesan
- handful of spinach leaves, washed
- small bunch of basil, torn
- squeeze of lemon juice
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Toss the sweet potato/squash cubes in half a tablespoon of oil and season well. Roast in the pre-heated oven for 20mins. Toss the courgette and red pepper in another half tablespoon of oil, season and add to the sweet potato/squash. Roast for another 20 minutes, until all the veg are soft and caramelised.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Gently fry the onion for five minutes, until soft, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the barley so it is coated with oil, then add the wine. Cook until it is absorbed by the barley. Then gradually add the stock, keeping the heat fairly high and stirring occasionally (barley is more forgiving than risotto rice). The barley will take 30-40mins to cook through – it will still be a little chewy when it’s done – and don’t let it get too dry. Stir in the spinach and parmesan so the spinach wilts, then add the roasted veg, basil and a good squeeze of lemon. Top with a little more parmesan and serve.