Saturday, 12 April 2014

Omega 3s for Breakfast!

Omega3- rich porridge with yummy fruit, nuts and seeds and deliciously creamy hemp milk...

It's good to be writing a blog post again after several days off- I think our crazy busy spell may be letting up a little now (hope I didn't speak to soon there) so I'm also hoping to catch up with reading all the fantastic posts you guys have written while I've been otherwise occupied :)
We all need to get our balance of omega oils right. Omegas are essential fatty acids, and our bodies cannot make them so we have to include sources of them in our diet. Why are they essential?- Because without them our bodies would not be able to manufacture the hormones needed to regulate immune functions, blood clotting, cell growth and a host of other vital stuff. In short, omegas are both necessary for our bodies to function and for helping prevent disease (including cancer). There are three types of omega oils: 3s, 6s and 9s. Omega 9 is non essential but good because it has oleic acid, which may help reduce blood pressure (find it in olives, nuts and seeds). Without proper planning, a vegetarian diet may be lacking in Omega 3 fatty acids. Luckily, it is pretty easy to meet Omega 3 recommendations once you know the sources. Foods such as oils, nuts and seeds are very high in Omega 3. However, the problem with a lot of these foods (like walnuts and sesame) is that they are also high in the other type of essential fatty acid: Omega 6. Omega 6 oils are more readily found, but they need to be kept in balance with the omega3s for your health to benefit as too many 6s inhibit the conversion of the 3s into fatty acids. Luckily, hemp seeds contain omega 3s, 6s and 9s in perfect balance. Some of the best plant sources for omega 3s are: linseeds (aka flax), chia seeds, hemp seeds, mustard oil (if you need to cut down on omega 6s, replace olive oil with this), leafy greens, blueberries and Winter squashes.I was shocked to find this article, which claims that scientific studies have shown that people with plant-based diets could be more at risk of cardiovascular disease than they thought: While I don't endorse the opinion that all veggies/ vegans are at risk- after all, most of us have a lot of nutritional knowhow and eat well- it is true that attention is needed to getting enough omega 3s (and vitamin B12 too) in balance with the omega 6s to ensure a properly-functioning cardiovascular system. In other words, we need to get our good oils, guys. Don't be tempted to eat junk food (yes, you can easily get vegan junk food!) all the time- it's better to spend those calories on nourishing food that's going to do you good. A lot of people eschew seeds and nuts because they are calorie-dense, but they are actually vital in a plant based diet because of nutrients like omega oils, protein and minerals. (If you're concerned about calories, then up your excercise: we think it's better to consume a few more calories eating nutrient-dense foods than to limit your food intake and miss out on vital nutrients.) One way I like to get them into my diet is by keeping  four seed sprinkle in the fridge and adding it to cereals, shakes, smoothies, desserts etc. My husband likes to grind seeds and add them to soup (they give a wonderfully creamy texture) and we recently experimented by adding a couple of tabs of ground linseeds to chapatti dough (see a future post) with delicious results. We are also currently playing around with flapjack recipes which contain no added oil, just ground seeds (we'll let you know more about that one when we've done some more experiments). My husband dreamed up this delicious way of adding omega 3 to our porridge the other day:

You need:
pumpkin seeds
dried apricots
whole hemp seeds

  • Make a porridge to your preferred consistency with some water, the oats and all the other ingredients apart from the hemp seeds.
  • Make a creamy hemp milk by grinding the hemp seeds to a powder and blend with water. Use a sedds:water ratio of 1:4.
  • Stir the hemp milk into the porridge, warm it gently and enjoy a healthy start to your day!
Fun Fact: Eating seeds is not a modern trend; the 8th-century European King Charlemagne was so enthusiastic about the health benefits of linseeds that he passed a law making all his subjects eat some every day!
                        What's your favourite way of adding nuts and seeds to your diet?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Cafe Soya, Birmingham

Cafe Soya at The Arcadian Centre, 70 Hurst Street, Birmingham B5 4TD
Last Sunday I had a brilliant Mothers' Day treat from my daughter Radha- she took me to dinner and then to see a movie! We chose to eat at Cafe Soya, a place I'd been meaning to visit for years and never quite got round to. Cafe Soya is a Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant and karaoke bar in two locations in Birmingham's Chinese Quarter. (The menu is the same on both branches.) It's easy to find, right opposite the famous Rag Market in the city centre, and is open until 10pm every day. What makes Cafe Soya a little different though, is that although it's not exclusively vegetarian, the vegetarian menu (the vast majority of which is vegan) is extensive to say the least, and I have it on good authority (else I wouldn't have risked eating there) that the veggie stuff is all cooked well away from the meat in its own separate area. The family who own the business are, in their own words, "Passionate about soya", making their own soya products like soya milk and tofu fresh every day.

The larger Cafe Soya with karaoke and function rooms at Unit 2, Upper Dean Street Birmingham B5 4SG Tel: 0121 6223888

The vegetarian menu is huge, comprising noodle, soup and rice dishes (and fries!), and helpfully colour-coded in green. There are some good, nutritious oriental vegetables on offer, such as kai len and pak choy. As well as the usual soft drinks and alcohol. There is a range of more unusual soya shakes and bubble teas. The protein is provided by tofu, soya "fake meat" and seitan in the "mock" dishes. When we arrived at the larger branch there was plenty of room in the large, open dining area but there were also a couple of functions on in the rooms at the back, which kept the kitchen very busy and the service consequently friendly but slow. Cafe Soya attracts an eclectic bunch from all over town, including students, families and random shoppers looking for refreshment. The prices are very reasonable indeed (see picture below) and we ate well  for under £20, not including drinks.

It was really hard to choose from the enormous range of dishes, but eventually we went for steam buns, sweet and sour veg with mock duck and a "Big Bowl" Vietnamese-style noodle soup. The steam buns were well made, with an almost marshmallowy texture and sweet taste that contrasted well with all our savoury stuff, but I must admit I was a little disappointed to find no garnish or filling. Radha's sweet and sour dish, which I tasted, was served in a somewhat unattractive sizzle bowl, but it did stay nice and warm throughout the meal. There were lots of al dente peppers and carrots, a classic sauce I could not fault, and the seitan pieces were beautifully succulent and just the right size for picking up with chopsticks. My noodle soup was nothing short of awesome! Not only was it huge, delicious and steamingly satisfying, but it came in a really pretty bowl with matching ceramic spoon. The broth was filled with a very generous quantity of rice noodles and contained fresh basil, beansprouts, shredded cabbage and soya "chicken" pieces, all with an attractive green garnish. It took us ages to finish! I must admit I'm not used to the monosodium glutamate flavour (maybe next time I'd ask for it to be left out) but that apart, it really was a lovely dish which I'd have again.

Sweet and sour mock duck with vegetables

Big bowl noodle soup with soya "chicken"

Steam buns
Our verdict: yes, we'd certainly eat there again. The food, when it arrives, is well cooked and the range of dishes makes it tempting to go back again and again just to try something new. If you're looking for a place in Birmingham city centre where you can eat vegan at sensible prices, this could well be your best option.

What do you think about fake meat? Is it a nice change, too much like the real thing, or a staple for you?