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As a nutritionist, dietitian and trained chef, I can show you how to make delicious, appetizing meals that ensure you get the most from the foods you eat.
I've just made the most delicious ribollita, the classic Italian soup with as nourishing a list of ingredients as you could hope to find. With its dark kale, tomatoes and beans, it's a real meal in a bowl. Whenever I make this dish, which I think the word 'soup' undersells, it rekindles happy memories of holidays spent in Tuscany when my daughter Maya was young. There was nothing more idyllic than coming home from the market with boxes of deep red tomatoes and other fresh produce, and making a vat of ribollita. The soup is as comforting served at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil in the summer, as it is dished up piping hot in the chill of winter.
I love making ribollita in January, as I tend to eat less meat this month after the festive celebrations. With the popularity of 'veganuary' and New Year resolutions to eat less meat (or none at all), I'm not alone in putting plants at the centre of my plate at this time. I'm a huge advocate of eating more fruit and vegetables, as the nutrients and fibre they contain have proven health benefits and may reduce our risk of developing serious illness. But suddenly switching up to a vegetable-packed diet does come with a few unwanted effects, especially if you have a sensitive gut, perhaps as a result of cancer treatment. Here are a few tips to help.
Beans and pulses provide essential protein in a plant-based diet but they can cause trapped wind and bloating, which can be extremely painful, especially if you're recovering from surgery or have an overly active gut. Make sure you cook the beans well before you add them to dishes and use just a few - just because a recipe says a particular quantity, you can often tweak it to have a less beany hit. You may find specific beans suit you better than others.
Kale and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables that may help reduce the risk of developing some cancers, but they too can cause wind and bloating. You can cut down the quantity in dishes and add in French beans and root vegetables instead, which are still packed with goodness but should be gentler on your digestion. Fresh mint or fennel tea helps soothe bloating if it occurs.
Boost your iron intake. Beans and lentils, as well as the dark green leafy vegetables, are good sources of iron, which is a key nutrient to watch if you're focusing on plant-based eating. The type of iron (non-haem) they contain is less easily absorbed in the body than the iron in meat sources (haem iron). Vitamin C can help you to absorb iron from plant sources, so add some fresh lemon to a glass of water to sip as you eat, or stir freshly squeezed lime or lemon into a dish just before you serve (lime is wonderful added to a vegetable stir fry and lemon adds a zesty hit to ribollita). Lack of iron can be an issue when you're undergoing cancer treatment, so it's good to think ahead and help your body out by including lots of the lovely sources of plant-based iron in the diet.
Don't fill up on fibre, and watch your portion size. Plant-based diets can be rich in the fibre we know is great for the gut, but eating a lot of fibre can mean we feel full too quickly. If you're feeling unwell and already have a small appetite, it can mean you stop eating before you've taken in all the energy and nutrients you need. You can keep portions small if you add calorie-rich ingredients such as olive, coconut or avocado oils, nut milks and dairy or non-dairy cream, such as coconut cream, or butter. A simple risotto can be made more creamy and calorie rich by stirring in some butter and a little Parmesan cheese at the end of cooking.
This wonderfully chunky Tuscan soup is a complete meal in a bowl. Enjoy it piping hot as a comforting winter warmer or, during the warmer months, serve it at room temperature with a drizzle of green olive oil.
Serves 4Preparation time: 20 minutesCooking time: 45 minutes
2 onions, peeled and chopped2 carrots, peeled and chopped3 cloves of garlic, crushed2 stick of celery, chopped1 dessertspoon chopped fresh rosemary2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle2 x 400g can chopped tomatoes250g cooked cannellini beans with or 1 x 400g can (reserve cooking or can water)500ml cooking or can water from the cannellini beans, or vegetable stock125g sourdough, torn into pieces75g kale, cavolo nero or Savoy cabbagesqueeze of lemon juicesalt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
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Would you be able to put some 'quick' recipes together that are still tasty. My energy levels are still very low, coupled with neuropathy, spending that long preparing food just isn't realistic.
I've also been told I need the extra fibre as neuropathy can lead to constipation and I'd rather not put any more medicine in to my body.
Thank you for getting in touch. I totally understand that chopping lots of vegetables can be exhausting when you're unwell. You might want to try my Mushroom Soup, which takes just 10 minutes to prepare. Or the Bright Green Pea Soup which is made with frozen peas. You could reduce the amount of other veg in it and it will still be full of fibre.
Roasting vegetables is a great way to get lots of nutrition with little hands-on cooking time - often you won't need to peel the veg; just dice and put in a roasting tray with a drizzle of olive oil. I love these Roasted Aubergines with Tahini Sauce, which take just 10 minutes to prep. The rest of the time is cooking or resting the veg - and the silky aubergine and tangy tahini sauce make them worth the wait.
people who know me would laugh at me posting cooking tips but here I go anyway lol. My Gran gave me a tip for soup, as she struggled to chop, she puts veg like carrots and turnip in halves or quarters, it works with carrots whole, and then when the soup is cooked she mashes the big veg down with her potato masher, it works quite well as you still have a bit of texture, instead of blending and ending up with a liquid.
When we are cooking chicken with veg and cant be bothered standing around at the cooker we put the chicken in a dish and surround it with the veg and oven bake it, then we just add whatever sauce and side we are having and it's done. I bake peppers and onions and mushrooms as well as winter veg.
One of my favourites just now is salmon oven baked, we add sea salt and ground pepper wrap it in foil and oven bake, it's really easy to do and you can change it up with any sauce or any fish for that matter, sweet chilli is nice. We chunky cut baked potatoes into wedges with the skins on and oven bake them too, they are great with seasoning, Cajun, chilli, anything you fancy. For quick veg we used frozen or oven bake it too.
ive seen that a supermarket has pre packed veg for soups and casseroles (it's the green low cost one) and it has chopped onions pre packed too.
I’ve just started Chemo I have just bought a soup maker (but a pan and hand blender did well before) Fish soup has been a game changer. Today, I boiled up carrots, broccoli and cauliflower AND crucially important thing for me was to add a bit of fish (microwave defrosted salmon fillet plonked it in today) as veg definitely not enough. I feel rough if I don’t have protein (and I understand it’s crucial for maintaining muscle bulk) but can’t seem to digest meat. So fishy and veg soup has made an incredibly big difference. There are lots of more sophisticated, tasty fish soup recipes but at the moment I’m keeping it very simple and easy. Good luck.
Sounds great my fiancé is Sicilian so will ask her to try this lovely looking belly filler.
Many thanks S..
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