A few months ago there I was, running an Italian food business, when all of a sudden I found myself with a new personal dietary requirement to eat no wheat, no gluten, no dairy, no meat, no yeast and no sugar for three months!
I thought I was never going to be able to survive, but its amazing how unexpectedly challenging times can often reveal a truly golden lining!
First of all I tried cooking my favourite recipes in the same way but with wheat and gluten free replacement ingredients…
What a disaster!
The results where so poor in terms of flavour and texture that instead of helping to maintain my focus on eating the proper food I needed to get better I felt that I was not going to have another decent meal for the next three months.
However, I refused to be beaten by these disappointing results. Armed solely with a deep conviction that there must be a better way I decided to change my approach and experiment instead with new flavours and intriguing, palatable combinations.
I was desperate to be able to eat a healthy, ‘earthy’ salad. A salad that could be eaten either warm or cold, that was full of goodness and yes why not, a salad with a hint of sweetness for those days when the evil sugar craving can really get to you and outside it’s raining again…
So, I started to combine ingredients that I was preparing for different dishes in the shop to see how they worked together. For example, I love roasted butternut squash and I was very pleased at the result of combining it with maple syrup-roasted sweet potatoes and nutty wild black rice.
So far so good. Everything tasted fantastic but this salad really needed some crunchiness as well to further develop the already present and intriguing sweet touch. At the precise moment while I was thinking about what else to use, my eyes rested on the very answer.
On the shelves of the dry ingredients section there was a jar of beautifully juicy, ruby cranberries, a container of colourful sunflower and pumpkin seeds and what is of courseone of the most glamorous superfood ingredients of all, a tub of the prettily pink goji berries!
I immediately mixed all of these wonderful and healthy ingredients into the salad, but still something was still missing. My Italian heritage is never too far away in my mind, of course, and now it was screaming to be included.
Nothing epitomises the flavour of my country more than the king of all herbs – beautiful basilico.
So, after adding just a few little fresh basil leaves my superfood salad finally revealed its wonderful flavour combinations and finally my taste buds were delighted!
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 butternut squash, preferably organic, cored and chopped into chunks
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 150g of black or wild rice
- 100g of mixed pumpkin seeds, sunflowers seeds, golden and normal flaxseeds
- a bunch of small basil leaves
- 50ml of maple syrup
- 50ml of extra virgin olive oil plus 4 extra tablespoons
- 50g of dried cranberries
- 50g of goji berries
- 1 cup of hot water
- salt and pepper
- freshly-grated nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Cook the rice in salty, boiling water, making sure not to overcook it.
- Drain, mix with a couple of tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, set aside and keep warm.
- Mix the chopped butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of oil, add salt and pepper and a quarter of a teaspoon of nutmeg.
- Pour the squash into an oven dish and roast in the oven for 20/25 minutes or until golden. Set aside and keep warm.
- Combine 50ml of olive oil with the maple syrup. Mix well with the sweet potatoes, add salt and a quarter of a teaspoon of nutmeg.
- Pour the mixture into a baking dish and roast in the oven for 20/25 minutes or until golden. Check the potatoes while cooking to ensure they are cooked evenly, gently stirring them a couple of times.
- Soak the goji berries in the cup of hot water for 5 minutes, then drain.
- Mix the rice in a bowl with the mixed seeds, goji berries, cranberries, roasted squash and sweet potatoes. Make sure you include the juices of the butternut and sweet potatoes to enhance the richness of the flavour.
- Serve with basil leaves scattered on top and a pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Now enjoy a truly delicious and guilt-free meal!