A rich wintery spelt stew with carrots and parsnips

January 15, 2011

I promised to talk healthy eating this week but really I must preface this by saying that if you’re eating fresh seasonal fruit and veg right through the year you’re pretty much there. January, is of course the month to up your game. As I learn more about nutrition,  healthier eating has become about eating more grains. Wheat, the one we eat most of in this country isn’t that good for us. Compared to other grains it rates pretty poorly on the nutrition stakes plus it’s quite hard to digest which means it bloats and slows you down and that’s never good.

As you know, I’m a big fan of brown rice and quinoa but recently I’ve been eating lots of spelt. Spelt is one of the most ancient grains and more importantly, the most nutritious. From what I can gather, it fell out of favour because wheat was easier and cheaper to grow so you never really see it. The now defunct Blazing Salads bakery (boo and double boo) used to make a fab spelt bread which showcased all the lovely nuttiness of the grain but you rarely see it outside the health food shop apart from that.  The Italians still cook with a pearled version of the whole grain called farro and you’ll find it in soups and risottos there. I’ve found farro very hard to track down here so have been using the whole grain kind with the full husk which means it has tons of fibre as well as all the B vitamins, iron, magnesium, niacin, thiamin, phosphorus and up to 15% protein!! You’ll get this in any health-food shop.







I usually make a kind of soupy stew which, as you can see, looks a bit like risotto. At this time of year we’re awash with carrots and parsnips and they work really well with the sweet nutty flavour of spelt.  For this recipe I also added some porcini to add some depth and meatiness to the dish so you get a rich, full-flavoured stew with lots of sweetness from the roots. As usual I serve this dish with a communal bowl of brown rice to complete the protein and make sure no one goes hungry. You can top it off with some Parmesan shavings but this month I’m really trying to take the pressure off my digestive system and cheese is particularly hard on it so I didn’t bother. Nobody complained…….

A rich wintery spelt stew with carrots and parsnips

You’ll need:

2 onions roughly chopped

Coconut or olive oil

2 sticks celery finely choppedPorcini

6 cloves garlic roughly chopped

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried thyme

500gr parnips

500gr carrots

10g porcini – these are dried cep mushrooms and you’ll find them in delis

2 cups spelt

2 litres vegetable stock – Marigold as usual

At least half an hour before you start cooking, put the spelt in a bowl of water to soak. This will cut down your cooking time and make it easier to digest. You can also put the porcini in a cup of warm water to soften them up for later.When you’re ready to start, heat some oil in a soup pot and begin to gently fry the onions. Let them cook for about 12 minutes before adding the celery, bay leaves and thyme. Allow everything to cook until the onions and celery are really soft and almost beginning to caramelize (this means more flavour for your finished dish). Add the garlic and a little more oil if you think it needs it and continue cooking for a further 5 or 6 minutes. In the meantime, drain the spelt and set aside. Take the porcini out of the water and finely chop them. Be sure to keep the water you steeped them in as this has lots of flavour. Add the porcini and stir well then pour in the steeping liquid too.  Stir everything well then pour in the stock and add the carrots and parsnips. Bring everything to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the spelt is cooked ie tender but still chewy.

Another great way to give the body a rest and your health a boast is to eat some veg only meals. A salad is the obvious way to go but in the winter you need more bulk than usual so you feel nice and full going out to brave the elements. This is tricky without grains or bread so I’ve been adding steamed sweet potato to mine which adds a lovely sweetness and leaves my belly nice and full. The one I made yesterday is in the photo. As you can see pretty much everything you can think of is in there.

I started off my peeling and chopping a sweet potato. I put the pieces in the steamer and after about 5 minutes added a generous handful of broccoli florets. When the broccoli is ready the sweet potato should be too (if not, just leave it for another minute or 2). Leave the sweet potato and broccoli to cool off and get on with the other ingredients. This part is completely a moveable feast and really depends on what’s in the fridge. Yesterday I chopped 1/2 an onion, 2 sticks of celery (great for crunch in any salad) and 1/2 red pepper. To this I added a big handful of the super-nutritious salad leaf purslane that came in my delivery yesterday and half the tray of purple cress that came too(you just snip them at the bottom where the roots all clump up). The dressing I keep very simple – about 4 desert spoons of olive oil or a mix of walnut and olive and 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Yes of course I’m tempted to add seeds, nuts maybe some tahini to the dressing but leaving these out make it as easy as it can be for the body to process everything and make full use of all the good stuff in the veggies plus keeping things so simple means you’ll really taste the flavours.

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