02 August 2015

The Anti-Inflammatory Cookbook | Refried Bean Tofu-dillas

So you can’t eat peppers, what do you do?

Turns out there are other tangy flavours out there, many of them with anti-inflammatory properties as opposed to otherwise.

Turmeric is a case in point. Earthy, bitter, mustardy and – dare I say it? – even hot and peppery, this often-overlooked spice is a staple of Indian cuisine. And whilst there is little evidence to support turmeric’s medicinal properties, anecdotal evidence is plentiful around the world, particularly in India. Turmeric’s active compound, curcumin, is believed to have not only anti-inflammatory properties, but also anti-oxidant; anti-bacterial; anti-viral; and even anti-tumour effects too. The fact that there haven’t been any clinical trials of note into turmeric’s benefits is criminal; it comes back to the age-old problem of drug companies not wanting to fund research into natural remedies.

For fans of Mexican dishes, this turmeric and cumic-laced refried beans dish is a must. What it lacks in chipotle in cheese it more than makes up for in silk and spice.

240g red kidney beans [23p]

290g silken tofu [£1.85]

1 red onion [59p per pack of 4, so 15p]

3tbsp (18g) ground cumin [41p per 50g, so 15p]

3tbsp (20g) ground turmeric [41p per 50g, so 16p]

2 wholegrain tortillas [£1.00 per pack of 8, so 25p]

£0.23 + £1.85 + £0.15 + £0.15 + £0.16 +£0.25 = £2.79


Pre-heat the oven to 180° and dice the red onion.

Heat a teaspoonful of coconut oil in a large frying pan. Once it melts, throw in the diced red onion.

Drain a tin of kidney beans and pour the beans in.


Add the cumin and turmeric and stir it through to ensure an even coating over the beans and onions. Fry for 5-10 minutes.

Allow the pan to cool before carefully spooning its contents into your blender. Briefly blend them (I find 10-15 seconds is sufficient as we aren’t trying to make a smoothie here, just save ourselves a lot of time bean-bashing with a spoon).

Rub a little coconut oil on a baking tray and spread out two large, wholegrain tortillas. Spoon half of the mixture onto one, and half onto the other.

Drain the silken tofu and then spoon half onto one tortilla and the rest onto the other. If you want something green inside, add a little spinach or coriander
(not accounted for in the nutritional information / costings provided).
Fold the tortillas in half and oven bake for 15-20 minutes, until they are lightly browned and crunchy.

Serve with spinach and generous lashings of light soy sauce (not accounted for in the nutritional information / costings provided).

The Anti-Inflammatory Cookbook | Satay Soya

Once you do away with meat from grain-fed beasties (so once you do away with meat, then) and remove tomatoes and peppers from the equation, the day’s main meal suddenly becomes much trickier to plan. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of cuisine out there that isn’t built upon inflammatory ingredients – you just need to know where to look, and how to adapt it. Let’s start by looking to the East…

One of my favourite Asian dishes used to be satay chicken, or, better still, satay chicken skewers, which I could eat a near infinite amount of on a Friday night. These dishes’ signature peanut sauce is easily mouldable into an anti-inflammatory form, particularly when fortified with generous amounts of garlic [the ultimate blood sugar regulator and booster of heart health and immunity] and ginger [according to Mens Health, gingers inflammation-fighting properties are double-blind proven], which also give the meal its flavour in the absence of nightshades. 

When married up with natural soya protein and a load of crunchy vegetables, this “satay soya” manages to satiate even my illimitable Friday-night takeaway appetite. Of course, being homemade, it does so without leaving as much of a fatty footprint: the dish’s fats are healthy ones, it’s reasonably low in carbohydrates (unless you were to serve it with wholegrain rice or noodles, which you’ll need to add if you’re doing a bulk-up) and, like all my main dishes, it’s high in protein.

150g (dehydrated) natural soya protein [£1.89 per 375g dehydrated, so 76p]

100g crunchy peanut butter  [89p for 340g, so 26p]

50g ginger [59p per 125g, so 24p]

100g carrots [27p per 500g, so 5p]

250ml skimmed milk [89p per 2.72l, so 8p]

75ml dark soy sauce [47p per 150ml, so 24p]

370g beansprouts [49p]

100g mange tout [79p per 150g, so 53p]

4 garlic cloves [around 8p]

1tbsp (15g) unrefined cane sugar [£1.38 for 500g of Billington’s, so 4p]

TOTAL COST TO MAKE TWO PORTIONS: £0.76 + £0.26 + £0.24 +
£0.05 + £0.08 + £0.24 + £0.49 + £0.53 + £0.08 + £0.04   = £2.77


Weigh out 150g of dehydrated soya protein and place it in a small pan.

Holland & Barrett sell natural soya protein either as chunks or minced; nutritionally the stuff is identical, but there’s obviously a difference in texture. I prefer chunks in this dish to emulate the feel of chicken, but it’s just as tasty with mince. I wouldn’t recommend using mycoprotein (such as Quorn) or even soya-based supermarket meat substitutes as they are all heavily processed and likely to contain inflammatory ingredients.

Fill the pan with cold water and place it on the hob on the lowest heat.


Take out a larger pan and heat a little coconut oil in it. Once the oil has melted, throw in the beansprouts and mange tout. Shred 50g of the carrots and throw those in too. Cook until the vegetables are crunchy and brown.

Red onions and kidney beans also go particularly well with this dish, but these aren’t accounted for in the nutritional information / costings provided. If you are planning to use them, throw them into the pan at this stage.

Take the hydrated soya protein off the heat and drain the water. If you are using minced soya protein, take care to use a sieve rather than a colander. Note that the soya has almost doubled in mass.

Add the soya protein to the large pan with the vegetables.


Whilst keeping an eye on the vegetables and soya protein, place the remaining ingredients (50g ginger, 50g carrots, 250ml skimmed milk, 75ml dark soy sauce, 4 garlic cloves, 100g crunchy peanut butter, 1tbsp unrefined cane sugar) in a blender and mix them until you are left with a sauce of suitable thickness for you.

Those who prefer a thicker sauce needn’t add as much milk or soy sauce at this stage. Those who eat only whole foods, or would enjoy a more authentic Asian sauce, should use 10og oven-roasted peanuts with a little rock salt and coconut oil instead of ready-to-go peanut butter.

If you are feeling really adventurous or health-conscious, you could even use oven-roasted almonds in the place of peanuts. Though peanuts taste better to me, particularly in this dish, almonds have a more favourable protein to fat ratio.

Once the vegetables are crunchy and the soya is lightly browned, stir through the sauce until everything is well-coated.

Cook on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes before serving up.

01 August 2015

LEGO Castle Review | 6054 Forestmen’s Hideout (also known as “Robin Hood’s Tree Hideaway”)

First off, an errata: In my review of the Forestmen’s Camouflaged Outpost set, I said that LEGO “…never officially acknowledged that these forest folk were intended to be Robin Hood and his band of outlaws.” My mother has since proven me wrong, gleefully unearthing an old toy catalogue (that woman hordes everything) that clearly refers to the philanthropic “forest person” as Robin Hood, restoring a little of my faith in both my childhood memories and LEGO’s marketing division.
My first Robin Hood LEGO (and that’s what I’m calling it now, as per the image above, which you can click to enlarge) set, was Robin Hood’s Tree Hideaway - a straightforward but nonetheless enchanting set clearly inspired by Sherwood Forest’s Major Oak. The titular tree opens out on hinges to allow little fingers access to the chunky trunk’s interior, where Robin’s ill-gotten gains can be stashed prior to their redistribution. In this set, these ill-gotten gains are represented by a single barrel filled with circular yellow pieces (what passed for coins pre-Pirates), which is quite an improvement on the empty chest found inside the Camouflaged Outpost. Though this was my first Robin Hood set, it was released second, in or around 1988, and so we can assume that the outlaws have honed their rich-robbing skills since their early Camouflaged Outpost days.

Upstairs, meanwhile, is a rustic little treehouse furnished with medieval weaponry. It feels a little deeper set and organic than the aberrantly fortified Camouflaged Outpost, but it’s still marred a little on the exterior by an outstanding (in the negative sense of the word) blue roof, not to mention the two Forestmen shields hanging from the balcony and the crowning big red flag which announce the hideout’s location to the Crusaders.

The set boasts some nice finishing touches. Two vines – quite rare pieces, for the late ’80s -  hang down from the treehouse, allowing the outlaws access to it (there’s no stairs, see), while the base plates are decorated with a couple of traditional LEGO trees and an impressive little archery target - another rare piece, making its first appearance here. There’s certainly plenty here on offer for the set’s modest RRP, and having recently rebuilt the set again with my nearly four-year-old daughter, I can see why I loved it so much when I was a sprog. I just hope that it serves Andrea, Olivia and Stephanie et alii as well as it did Robin and Will.

The two-hundred piece set could be improved upon substantially, however, were Robin Hood and his followers ever fortunate enough to be revisited by LEGO. The most pressing issue to be addressed here is, clearly, the colour of the tree. Trees are seldom black. In fact, they’re generally more of a browny hue. From what I recall, besides the odd horse or accessory, it was extraordinary to see brown LEGO pieces in play in the ’80s, but today there is no reason at all why the tree couldn’t be rendered more realistically – just look at the stunning Ewok Village recently put out under the Star Wars banner. Similarly, the foliage could be improved upon with a little bit of finesse; a couple of shades of green and more variance in the piece sizes would look a lot better, for instance, particularly if they were arranged in a more dense formation towards the treetop. And, needless to say, bin the flag. 

As for the minifigures, a little more detail in the faces and outfits would quickly bring them up to spec, and a change of mood certainly wouldn’t go amiss. There’s something terribly unsettling about a smiling outlaw brandishing a sword.