Healthier mince pies

Confession time: I have a bit of a weakness for mince pies.
Yes, I know, these fruity treats split opinion almost as much as marmite but if it’s good enough to leave out for Santa then it’s good enough for me.
Making a healthier version was somewhat of a challenge faced with so many objections in my head, including but not limited to “why would I when the shop bought ones are perfectly nice” to “surely it’s more effort than it’s are worth”.
Ultimately the curiosity of whether it’s even possible to make them got the better of me, so here they are, vegan, gluten-free, mince pies made of nothing but wholefood ingredients.
Plus they are darn tasty (according to many lucky recipients that were drafted in to taste test them).

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Ingredients (makes 8)

For the pastry:
150g ground almonds
25g each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds or the same quantity of Munchy Seeds Salted Caramel seeds
2 tbsp agave
50g of gluten free flour
40g coconut oil
1/4 of tsp baking powder
a pinch of sea salt

For the filling
2 apples (approximately 150g), coarsely grated and the core discarded
150g mix of sultanas, cranberries and raisins
Juice of an orange, zest of 1/4 of an orange
1/2 a teaspoon each of mixed spice & cinnamon
1/4 of a teaspoon of ground ginger

Put the seeds in a blender or food processor and blend to a flour-like consistency.
Melt the coconut oil on a low heat then combine with the ground almonds, seed flour, gluten free flour, agave, baking powder and sea salt. Squish together to form a large dough ball then divide into 8 smaller balls and chill in the fridge while the filling is made.
For the filling, put all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook on a low heat with the lid on for 20-30 minutes until the apples are fully cooked and mushy. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
To make the mince pies, place a dough ball between 2 sheets of cling film and roll out it as thin as you are able. The dough is crumbly so don’t worry if some of them fall apart, you can squish left over dough together and roll it out again.
Once rolled out, place the dough into a fairy cake tin (a smaller muffin/cupcake tin) and press it in with your fingers. Any holes can be patched up with a small amount of dough pretty easily.
Place a tablespoon of the filling mixture in the middle then form a lid with another piece of rolled out dough. Pinch the edges to seal and remove any excess dough mixture (either with your fingers or using a knife).
Repeat until all of the dough and filling mixture is used up.
Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Owing to the nature of the ingredients, these mince pies are much darker than your usual shop bought ones so don’t be alarmed. They should be a toasted colour as opposed to white.
Allow the mince pies to cool in the tin for 5 minutes or so then twist from the edges until they are loose. Remove from the tin and cool on a rack.
The mince pies are best eaten fresh but they do keep well for up to 3 days.

Black rice salad, turmeric dressing

If we are honest with ourselves, salad isn’t a word that conjures excitement, largely thanks to the boring repertoire of rabbit food that’s usually associated with being on a diet.
Done well, however, it’s just like any other well thought out dish, full of flavour and something you genuinely look forward to eating.
This black rice salad is one such treasure, with different flavour combinations and textures making it an all around solid recipe.
Having had the pleasure of demonstrating this dish at the Tatton Park Christmas Foodies Festival, I can also confirm it’s a total crowd pleaser.

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Ingredients (to feed 2)
170g of black rice (I used Thai black rice from Sainsbury’s)
1 small butternut squash
2 large flat cap mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of thyme
rapeseed oil for roasting
3 stems of curly kale, leaves torn & the stem discarded
1 lemon
75g cashews
2” piece of turmeric root or 1/4 of a teaspoon of powdered turmeric
sea salt and black pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Put the cashews in a small bowl and cover them with cold water. Set aside.
Peel the butternut squash, cut in half, scrape out the seeds and chop up the flesh into rough squares. Transfer to a roasting tray, drizzle with rapeseed oil, season with sea salt and black pepper and roast for approximately 40 minutes until soft.
Cook the rice according to packet instructions, approximately 25 minutes. Be careful not to overcook it, the dish works better if the rice retains some bite.
Put the flat cap mushrooms on a small roasting tray, season, drizzle with rapeseed oil, crush a clove of garlic over each mushroom and sprinkle over the leaves from the 4 sprigs of thyme.
Roast in the oven for 15 minutes then slice when cool enough to handle.
Put the torn kale in bowl, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, season with sea salt and black pepper and “massage” to break down the kale slightly.
Transfer the cooked rice, sliced roasted mushrooms, roasted butternut squash and massaged kale into a big bowl and stir.
To make the turmeric dressing, drain the cashews and put them in a blender or smoothie maker. Add enough water to cover them 3/4 of the way up, squeeze in the juice from the other half of the lemon, add the turmeric root or powder, a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and blend until completely smooth. You may need to add a touch more water if you prefer a runnier dressing.
Divide the salad between two plates and drizzle over the dressing to serve.

Chipolatas, lentils & tomato

Lentils and sausages are a great comforting combination, perfect for the colder evenings.
This version is completely fuss-free but still contains plenty of those all important nutrients.
The recipe also works with vegetarian sausages, just adjust the cooking times according to packet instructions.

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Ingredients to feed 2:
6 high welfare chipolata sausages
2 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
150g dried green lentils cooked according to packet instructions or a 250g pouch of ready cooked puy lentils
500g tomatoes, I used a mix of cherry & ordinary tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a heaped teaspoon each of fresh thyme and chopped rosemary
sea salt and black pepper to season
good quality rapeseed oil to cook
a handful of parsley to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Put the sausages and onions in a roasting tray and roast for 15 minutes.
Whilst the sausages are roasting, cook the lentils if using dried ones. Pick the leaves from the thyme and rosemary and chop the rosemary leaves finely.
Chop any large tomatoes in wedges, leave cherry tomatoes whole.
Add the tomatoes, herbs and garlic to the pan, season well with sea salt and black pepper, drizzle with rapeseed oil, stir well and roast for a further 15-20 minutes until the chipolatas are completely cooked through.
Stir in the lentils, season again with sea salt and black pepper and return to the oven for 5 minutes.
To serve, divide the mixture between two plates and sprinkle over a small handful of parsley.

Sweet potato, turmeric & carlin pea soup

I haven’t been this excited to share a recipe in such a long time.
There is a really good reason: this particular one is incredibly tasty.
It’s also full of all those flu-fighting, immune boosting ingredients that come in super handy this time of the year.
If you can’t find carlin peas, most beans make a good substitute, however, if you can, they are worth hunting down since they add more bite and contribute a pleasant nutty flavour.

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Ingredients (to serve two but you may want to double it up)
120g carlin peas, cooked according to packet instructions
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large sweet potato (440g), peeled & cubed
1 large carrot (200g), peeled & chopped
1” piece of ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 chilli, deseeded & roughly chopped
20g raw turmeric, roughly chopped or 1 tsp turmeric powder
200ml coconut milk
300ml of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
rapeseed or coconut oil to cook
coriander to garnish (optional)

Put a large saucepan on a medium heat.
Add a tablespoon of rapeseed oil and the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes until the onion has softened.
Stir in the garlic, turmeric, chilli, ginger, sweet potato and carrot, season well with a couple of generous pinches of sea salt and a freshly ground black pepper. Stir well, cook for 2-3 minutes then pour in the coconut milk and enough stock to cover the ingredients, approximately 300ml.
Turn the heat down to medium low, put a lid on the pan and simmer for 15 minutes.
Allow the liquid to cool slightly, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
Return to the pan, stir in a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and the cooked carlin peas. Check for seasoning and season again if necessary.
To serve, divide the soup between two bowls and garnish with fresh coriander.

Aubergine and spinach dhal, roasted butternut, crispy garlic

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Perhaps it’s the influence of the recent influx of vegetarian clients but I seem to be going through a bit of a veggie phase.
Whilst I know fully plant-based doesn’t suit me, it’s nice to discover predominantly vegetarian dishes that are easy to adapt to most tastes. If you really can’t do without the extra protein, for example, then just put a grilled chicken breast on top of this dhal, or keep it as it is and embrace the vegan dinner.
Aside from being ridiculously tasty, this aubergine and spinach dhal also keeps well so make a big batch and you’ll have lunch for days.

Ingredients to feed 4 (or 2 plus 2 lunches)
250g red lentils, rinsed
1 medium aubergine, cubed, (350g approximately)
100g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds scraped out, cut in half lengthways then sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin of coconut milk
2 + 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
thumb sized piece of ginger (50g), peeled then grated
2 green chillies, pierced
1.5 tablespoons of medium curry powder
2 teaspoons of turmeric
a bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves set aside
sea salt and black pepper to season
rapeseed oil to cook

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, put the butternut squash slices on a roasting tray, drizzle with some oil, season with sea salt and black pepper and roast for 30-40 minutes until fully cooked.
Whilst the butternut is roasting, make the dhal.
Place a large saucepan on a medium heat with 2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil.
Add 2 cloves of sliced garlic, the grated ginger, the 2 pierced chillies, and cook for 3-4 minutes until fragrant. Add the curry powder, turmeric, coriander stalks and aubergine and stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the lentils, chopped tomato, coconut milk and 200ml (half a tin) of water. Season with a couple of pinches of sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Bring to boil, turn the heat down to low and allow it to simmer gently for 20 minutes. Stir every now and then to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom.
The consistency should be similar to porridge and the lentils should be soft.
Stir in the spinach and season again with sea salt and black pepper.
To make the crispy garlic, heat a tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat. Add the 4 cloves of garlic and cook until golden in colour (a couple of minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a sheet of kitchen towel to remove the excess oil.
To serve, put a couple of ladles of the dhal in a bowl, top with roasted butternut squash slices, crispy garlic and a handful of fresh coriander leaves.