Leggero – An Evening of Light & Laughter

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Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of accompanying my lovely friend Leila, her equally lovely sister Sasha and the wonderful Catrina to the re-launch of a gluten-free Italian restaurant in Soho.

Formerly La Polenteria, Leggero serves delicious and innovative gluten-free Italian food. Italy, with all its pasta, pizza and bread, is pretty much synonymous with gluten, as owner Gabriele Vitali – an Italian with an obvious passion for what he does – joked. Seeing the gap in the market for catering to pasta-loving, gluten-avoiding individuals, the team embarked on a mission to create high quality Italian food for all to enjoy. This idea has gone beyond offering coeliacs an enjoyable dining experience, by making the kitchen and menu accommodating to people with various allergies and special dietary requirements. The fact that, minutes before his talk, we were enthusing about how refreshing it was to have such a restaurant where everyone could find something exciting on the menu and not have to worry about “being complicated”, is surely a testament to the success of Leggero’s mission.

While you certainly can find everything from unrefined sugar-free raw vegan to a meat eater’s paradise in London, it’s harder to find a restaurant where there is common ground for people with different preferences and requirements, i.e. where the carefree omnivore can enjoy, let’s say, lamb meatballs with mint and grilled butternut squash (as was served last night), while the gluten-free vegan can tuck into the courgette burger with mixed vegetables and homemade hemp bread muffin – and all from the same menu. This seems to me more important than ever in this age of ultra-individualism, where you can find all kinds of specific needs catered to, but, in the world of food at least, not necessarily at the same table.

At Leggero last night, we ended up with gluten-free Leila insouciantly dipping handmade artichoke, tomato and olive focaccia into oil and balsamic vinegar, dairy-intolerant Catrina having her (almond and orange) cake and eating it too, my plant-based self delighting in handmade sorghum and hemp tagliatelle (the culinary highlight of the evening for me!) and the omnivorous Sasha being in the happy position of sampling all the delightful dishes.

All this ties in perfectly with the restaurant’s new name – leggero, or light, as it means in English. Gabriele explained that the concept embodies not just “light” food, that makes us feel good, but also a light and happy way of life – something that couldn’t have come across any better in the wonderfully bright, intimate space, filled with the sounds of live music and laughter.

Let me conclude by once again thanking Leila for inviting me along and the lovely people at Leggero for having us. I can’t wait to go back for a big plate of delicious pasta!

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(This was the sorghum hemp tagliatelle – absolutely divine!)

Goody Bag Gems – Part 2

I’m back with more of some of my favorite new foodie discoveries (you can check out Part I here in case you missed it). Once again I am – obviously – not being paid by any of these brands, but just genuinely love these products and find them worth recommending 🙂

Almond Milk Yogurt – Nush

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Thoughts: Where have you been all my (plant-based) life?? This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! The one thing I truly missed while switching to a fully plant-based diet was yogurt. I loved having a pot of creamy greek yogurt as part of my breakfast or an afternoon snack. Unfortunately, soy yogurt didn’t agree with me and while I do sometimes have the odd bit of coconut yogurt, I just find it too heavy to eat much of. I had some Coyo in a goody bag once but I haven’t included it in this list because I simply didn’t enjoy it. (It was as dense as cream cheese and I couldn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls per sitting). So, what to do? For a long time I gave up on having a nice light plant-based yogurt… until now! This almond milk yogurt that I had in a goody bag from a recent Protein Baking Event by Livia’s Kitchen had the taste and texture of real yogurt!I had the Peach Melba flavor one with granola and berries and it was such a treat! I highly recommend it.

While it may not be the cheapest yogurt out there (at around £2 for a 125 g pot), it’s definitely worth it if you’re looking for the “real deal”.

Ingredients (Peach Melba flavor): 80% live almond milk yogurt (almond milk [almonds, filtered water], tapioca starch, carob gum, live vegan cultures), 20% Peach Melba (peach, raspberries, fruit extract).

Tip: also check out the other flavors: Blueberry (can’t wait to try it!), Natural and Caramel & Hibiscus!

 

Three Cinnamon Tea – Pukka

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[image from http://www.pukkaherbs.com]

Thoughts: I used to hate all things cinnamon-y (the only time I remember liking cinnamon as a child is with waffles and vanilla ice cream) and one of the most horrific things to me was the idea – and smell – of cinnamon flavored gum. Tea would have seemed just as bad if not a worse offender!  While I’ve grown to like cinnamon (especially in Christmas bakes, turmeric lattes and sprinkled on peanut butter covered apple slices), I can safely say I never would have bought it in tea form. However, from my first cup of this I was sold! It’s such a warming, sweet, comforting taste and it’s become one of my favorite ways to end a meal (a square of dark chocolate will always be number one – but who says you can’t have both?).

Ingredients: Vietnamese cinnamon bark (60%), Indonesian cinnamon bark (16%), licorice root, Indian cinnamon bark (10%).

Tip: If you like this, check out other teas from this range. I’ve also tried and loved the Three Ginger and will definitely try the Three Chamomile when I see it.

Extra Tip: the longer you leave the tea bag in, the sweeter the tea gets – after about 10 minutes you’ve got a fantastically, naturally sweet tea that perfectly satisfies post-meal dessert cravings (although I tend to indulge them anyway 😉 )

 

Organic Fruit Blend – Naturya

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[Image from http://www.naturya.com]

Thoughts: This is yet again a product I wouldn’t have bought if I hadn’t tried it first. I would have seen the 50% banana powder and 15% hemp protein powder on the ingredients list and put it back thinking: why do I need to add this to my smoothie when I already add banana and hemp? I have to say, though, that the flavor of this powder is fabulous. As you can see below there are some other great ingredients that give this blend an amazing tropical and sunny flavor that will cheer up even the coldest and darkest of mornings. I honestly find it a great way to snazz up my regular smoothie, as one teaspoon of this makes such a difference! I’ve just run out and I think this will be on my shopping list for my next health food haul!

Ingredients: 50% banana powder, 20% goji powder, 15% hemp protein powder, 10% pineapple powder, 5% acai powder.

 

Chocolate Lip Balm – Hurraw!

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[Image from http://www.hurrawbalm.com]

This last item is not edible, sadly, but I couldn’t help adding it to the list as it was in fact in a goody bag and I absolutely love it! Just lifting the lid and sniffing it – as I repeatedly did just now – makes me simplistically happy. The smell must go directly to my brain and light up happy chemicals. It also feels good on my lips and seems to really hydrate. Just make sure you don’t catch yourself licking it off! (Glad to say that hasn’t happened… yet). Also, I suspect it’s tantalizing for the people sitting near me when I reapply it in lectures – I saw a head turn the other day and someone seemingly sniff the air in an intrigued and puzzled manner.

 

That’s all for today folks – hope you enjoyed it!

xoxo

 

Purple Sweet Potato Falafels

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Having read about their health benefits in connection with the Okinawa diet, purple sweet potatoes have been the object of my curiosity for many months now (for more on this scroll to the very bottom). Once I finally got my hands on these elusive tubers I knew I wanted to make something special. Inspired by the sweet potato falafels from the MaE deli and a sweet potato falafel wrap from Crussh, I set out to create my own, and thus, these purple patties of pure perfection (or so I claim) were born.

These sweet, starchy gems are so satisfying with their soft mushy texture and the lovely flavors of the coriander, garlic and hint of chili coming through. And – as all my recipes 😉 – they’re quick to make (especially if you cook the sweet potato beforehand). Perfect for when you want to try something a bit different, without spending ages at the stove.

So let’s get right to it!

Ingredients:

  • 200 g cooked purple sweet potato
  • 200-230 g chickpeas (drained, rinsed)*; my carton was 380g before draining
  • ca. 2 heaped tbsp flour (I used wholemeal spelt)/ as much as you need to bind mix
  • salt
  • chili powder
  • half a 30g bunch of fresh coriander, chopped (the rest you can sprinkle on top)
  • drizzle of garlic-infused oil**
  • coconut oil, for cooking

* I take the skin off the chickpeas as they’re easier to digest that way, but feel free to skip this step if that’s not something you’re concerned about. (Although, I have to say, there’s something strangely satisfying about popping out the chickpeas!)

**If you don’t have this you should be able to just use regular olive oil and some fresh, crushed garlic. I use it as an alternative because I sadly don’t tolerate garlic (or onion) very well, and infused oils seem to be less problematic, the critical components not being soluble in oil. (See here for more information if this affects you too.)

Method:

Mash the chickpeas in a large flat bowl with a fork (or use a food processor, but don’t over-process; they should still be crumbly and a bit chunky), add the sweet potato and mash as well (or again, if you’re looking for less manual labor just purée – I was lazy and wanted to avoid cleaning another piece of equipment, but it didn’t take very long at all). Add in your flour and season with salt and chili, before adding the chopped coriander and a drizzle of garlic-infused oil into the gloriously purple mess. Mix together with your hands (yes, they will get purple!)

Now, the fun part: roll the mix into evenly-sized balls. I made 11, but this will obviously depend on the size you prefer. I also flattened mine a bit at the end, as I didn’t want them perfectly round. Next, simply heat some coconut oil in a pan and cook the falafels on both sides for a few minutes. It’s basically just about warming them up and getting a bit of a crisp on the outside.

 

Serving suggestion:

While the falafels are sizzling away in a pan, cook some buckwheat noodles (the ones I use by King Soba only take 5 minutes) in salt water. A minute or two before they are done, add in some courgetti or other quick-cooking veg. Drain and serve with your lovely purple falafels. Drizzle with a nice oil, or create a quick little sauce by combining tahini, honey or maple syrup, lemon juice and water. (I used this lovely black tahini, by Sun and Seed, as it contrasts so nicely with the purple!). Finally, sprinkle with white sesame seeds and more coriander to finish off the dish.

Hope you enjoy!

xoxo

 

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Feel Good Fact: Like their orange cousins, the purple sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and vitamins. Additionally they contain anti-inflammatory anthocyanins (notably also present in blueberries 😉 ), which are linked to heart health and improved eyesight, to pick out some of their benefits.

Interesting Fact: Purple sweet potatoes made up a large part of the traditional diet of the Okinawa Japanese, whose life expectancy was among the highest in the world, with a lower occurrence of heart disease and certain types of cancer (e.g. breast cancer and prostate cancer). For more on the traditional Okinawa diet check out this short, informative video.

 

Goody Bag Gems – Part 1

If you’ve had a look at the What I’m Up To section of my blog, you’ve seen that I love attending events centered around plant-based eating and/or fitness. And more often than not I leave them with not just great new memories, but also a little paper bag of exciting goodies. These goody bags are definitely always a nice little cherry on top. (Who doesn’t enjoy, at least momentarily, feeling like a carefree kid at a birthday party again?).

For the companies providing the contents of these bags it’s obviously a great advertising strategy. This way they are ensuring that their products are falling directly into the welcoming hands of the very people most likely to buy them again (as I have) and spread the word about them (as I am about to do here 😉 ).* For me it’s definitely been a fun way to discover and try out products that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bought. The ones that I’ve been most impressed with I’d like to share with you here.

The goodies in this first part are all from a Christmas Yoga Supper Club that my friend Lauren invited me along to. Besides being a truly lovely event it probably had the most memorable goody bag, as I discovered the following great products:

 

Birch Water – Sibberi

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[Image from: http://www.sibberi.com]

Thoughts: I’ll be honest, when I first saw this I was more than a bit skeptical. Birch tree water? I’d never heard of it and was unsure why I should be drinking it. Probably just another expensive but overrated product out there clamoring for the attention of health-conscious consumers, or so I thought. While I was right about the first point (at £2 per 250 ml bottle it costs the same as a liter of Rude Health almond milk), I have to say I was genuinely and positively taken aback by this drink. The best way I can think to describe it is that it was like drinking the purest, clearest, cleanest most refreshing water you could imagine – with a slight hint of sweetness. If only regular water tasted this amazing!

While this definitely doesn’t go into my basket every supermarket trip, I like to treat myself to a bottle every now and again.

Ingredients: 100% birch tree sap.

Note: Also check out the sister products, Maple and Bamboo Water.

Tip: Try this at room temperature. The second time, I had it straight from the fridge and I felt like some of the flavor was lost. (Just a personal preference.)

 

Sweet Potato & Cacao bar – Rude Health

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[Image from: http://www.rudehealth.com]

Thoughts: How can one not be intrigued by a bar containing sweet potato and cacao??  I’ve tried many different brands of such fruit and nut based energy bars and this one is the only one I know of with this genius combo. Now, you wouldn’t know there’s sweet potato in there, if that’s what you’re wondering, but the addition of this tasty tuber creates a really moreish texture and also intensifies the cacao flavor, making the whole experience truly satisfying. Definitely getting these again!

Ingredients: dates, cashews, sunflower seeds, sweet potato (8%), cacao powder (7%), cacao butter (6%), vanilla.

Note: There is also a pumpkin version – not with pumpkin purée, as I originally thought, but with pumpkin seeds and apple and ginger – which is also highly recommended!

Tip: If you’re craving this combo but can’t get your hands on these bars, check out these sweet potato brownie recipes from Deliciously Ella (original – really delicious, but maybe not quite chocolatey enough, which is why there is now a “new and improved” version).

 

Wyldsson Promix

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[Image from http://www.wyldsson.com]

Thoughts: These little test tubes of goodness are an awesome way to treat yourself if you’re looking for something fun to eat on the go or sprinkle over your food for decoration. They’re little portions of trail mix intended for healthy snacking, but to be honest I mostly just use them for my smoothie bowls, as I find they add a really nice touch (not just aesthetically but also to the taste and texture). I had the Strawberry & Raspberry one in a goody bag and liked it so much that I ordered the sample tube package of 10, which comes with other exciting flavors like Organic Mulberry, Californian Pomegranate, Cherry & Dark Chocolate and even a savory one: Chilly Picante. I was also super happy with the service – the tubes arrived promptly and came with a short personalized message on the box and a free tube of the new Strawberries & Belgian Chocolate mix.

Ingredients (Strawberry & Raspberry mix): Argentinian peanuts, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, Californian almonds, Greek Zante currants, pumpkin seeds, strawberries (6.6%), raspberries (2.2%).

Tip: sprinkle these over your morning smoothies, porridge or add to your cereal for extra crunch, nutrition and color 😉

 

Chia Vanilla Protein Bar – Body Me

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[Image from: http://www.bodyme.co.uk – seems they’ve changed the packaging]

Thoughts: I love a chunky, generous protein bar with good ingredients and good flavor – and this one ticks all the boxes! I was seriously impressed, as not only was it absolutely delicious, but it also has the highest protein content I’ve yet had in a vegan protein bar: 16g. Not much else to say here except big thumbs up!

Ingredients: [all organic] plant protein blend (pea protein, sprouted brown rice protein, hemp seed protein), cashews, dates, coconut nectar, chia seeds, cacao, coconut oil, vanilla extract, water, sea salt, and – apparently – “a lot of love”! definitely felt it 😉

Tip: check out the other flavors too – cacao mint and cacao orange – as well as the vegan protein blends.

 

Stay tuned for more recommendations!

xoxo

 

* It’s almost too embarrassing to add the disclaimer that I haven’t been endorsed by any of these companies, as I should think it’s obvious 😀 but let me just clarify all the same: I have no personal interests tied up with these brands or products and I am recommending them purely because I enjoyed them and think they are worth sharing with people who may not be aware of them.