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There's often a misconception that a wholefoods diet is largely about eating more brown rice and piously having a handful of nuts when you’re peckish. The truth is the concept extends wider and deeper into every area of food. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting are some of the simplest ways to bring a wholefoods philosophy into your life. All of these are processes designed to help unlock the hidden nutrients in our food. Soaking and sprouting in particular apply to nuts, grains, seeds and legumes, while fermentation can be used in different applications. In some cases the adjustments are subtle, but we hope that these simple changes will have a profound effect on your eating.
With the benefits of modern science, we know that a majority of grains and seeds contain phytic acid and/or digestive enzyme inhibitors that can impede the absorption of vital nutrients and minerals. Simply soaking grains and seeds in water with a little salt or acid allows enzymes, lactobacilli and other helpful micro-organisms to break down and neutralise the phytic acid and other digestive inhibitors. The added kick is that soaking unlocks beneficial enzymes for digestion and also increases the vitamin content.
Soaking unlocks those nutrients, transferring them from the plant to us. It’s why when we eat too many nuts we might feel a little sick or lethargic. Nuts that are activated (soaked then dehydrated), on the other hand, are more easily digestible, and they taste better, too. Typically these cost a bomb in a shop, but doing it yourself is simple — just soak them overnight in plenty of salted water, drain, then dry them in a low oven for 12-24 hours.
Soaking and activation is good for other foods too. Try soaking your porridge oats overnight with a squeeze of lemon juice or some yoghurt, for example. The process both activates them and also makes them faster to cook. What you’ll find when you begin activating your oats is that they’ll keep you energised for longer and leave you feeling even more satisfied. If you know you’re having pancakes for breakfast, try soaking the flour the night before. One of the reasons that sourdough is so feted is the long, slow process of fermentation and hydration — ie soaking — that helps the flour break down.
Sprouting works in much the same way as soaking, but it means allowing the nut, grain or seed to sprout into a young plant. The process of germination produces vitamin C but also changes the composition of the nut, grain or seed, increasing the vitamin B content and producing numerous enzymes that aid digestion.
Complex sugars, which can contribute to intestinal gas, are broken down during sprouting, and a portion of the starch is transformed into sugar. Sprouting also deactivates aflatoxins, which are potent carcinogens found in grains.
Once they’ve sprouted, the little lovelies can either be thrown into salads, sprinkled over dishes, or cooked with.
Fermenting, preserving and pickling
These techniques have been knocking about in many forms since the beginning of recorded time, to preserve the abundant excess of a crop in summer or autumn to make it available through the winter months.
These processes essentially harness the power of naturally occurring bacteria which, when provided with the right environment and a beneficial food source, can kickstart the fermentation process and create a change in the base food. Over time, fermentation has become understood as highly beneficial and is revered in many cultures as an essential part of their identity.
If you pop to the local supermarket and buy some sauerkraut, you’ll most likely end up with a jar of boiled shredded cabbage that has been preserved in sugar and vinegar. While it may have a nice sweet-sour tang, it’s a far cry from the beauty of the real thing that has been packed in salt and naturally fermented.
Go back only a few generations in Germany and sauerkraut would have been made in autumn with the excess harvest, which would have been shredded, salted and then trodden into barrels to get the juices flowing, before being sealed and buried underground until the following spring.
The naturally occurring lactobacilli would then be given the chance to go to work, consuming the starchy sugars of the cabbage. Acid and gas are produced as byproducts, and it’s this acid and the expanding microbe population that both protects the pickle from other, potentially harmful, microbes, and preserves the vegetable.
The resulting kraut is a live pickle that will be full of great acidity and enzymes to aid digestion, as well as being highly probiotic and vitamin-rich. When paired with a fatty sausage, say, these elements will then help the body digest fats and proteins. Again, improved nutritional value, and better digestion.
Sugar-free banana souffle
1 tsp butter, for greasing
3 organic eggs, separated
4 ripe bananas
⅓ cup (35 g) almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp stevia
Cream, yoghurt or coconut yoghurt, to serve
Preheat oven to 200degC and prepare four ramekins by greasing them generously with butter.
Beat egg yolks, banana, almond meal, cinnamon, stevia and œ tsp salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well combined. Transfer to a large bowl.
Clean and dry mixer (be thorough), then fit it with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites to stiff peaks, then gently fold them into the banana mixture with a spatula.
Gently spoon batter into ramekins, filling them to just over the top edge, then place them on a baking tray and slide them into the oven, leaving enough room for them to puff up. Immediately reduce oven temperature to 180degC.
Bake for 14-15 minutes until nicely puffed up and golden, and only just cooked through.
Serve immediately with generous amounts of cream or yoghurt.
Play around with these additions to the basic recipe:
Add 1-2 mashed dates into the banana mix.
Grate 60g dark chocolate into the banana mix, then finish with more just as they come out of the oven.
Heirloom spring carrots with almond-tahini puree and coconut dukkah
If you can find good heirloom carrots then go for them, otherwise just normal Dutch carrots or young carrots will do for this dish. This works well as a simple individual dish, but we prefer to present it in one large platter on a sharing table.
2 bunches organic or baby heirloom carrots, scrubbed (skins left on if young)
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 handfuls wild rocket (arugula)
2 handfuls radicchio leaves, torn
2 handfuls snow peas (mange tout)
1 Tbsp Coconut dukkah
¾ cup (200g) tahini
3½ cups (350g) almond meal
1½ tsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, crushed
For almond-tahini puree, combine all ingredients in a blender with 400ml cold water and 1 tsp salt and blitz until smooth. Season to taste. Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Preheat oven to 220degC. Spread carrots on a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with ½ tsp salt and roast for 5-10 minutes until carrots take on a little colour, but still have some firmness.
Meanwhile, wash and trim salad and snow peas. If snow peas are lovely, tender and young, simply slice them into thin batons that can easily be mixed through the salad (otherwise steam them briefly). Dry salad leaves thoroughly and mix with the snow peas.
For garlic-maple dressing, whisk all ingredients together until well combined. Season with ½ tsp salt.
Remove carrots from oven and allow to cool.
Spread almond-tahini puree on one side of a serving platter to form a bed for carrots, then arrange them on top. Dress salad with garlic-maple dressing, toss well, then transfer onto the platter beside the carrots. Sprinkle dukkah over the top to serve.
Slow-cooked barbecue short ribs
The ultimate barbecue sauce that we serve in the cafe was originally inspired by a recipe in Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal cookbook, which we love. Here we’ve used the base of the sauce as the beginnings of the short-rib gravy. Since this dish is very rich, we like to serve it with either a raw salad, simple steamed greens such as bok choy, or both. It’s also super-good if you’ve got a good kimchi or other lacto-fermented pickle that works with the barbecue flavour.
2.5kg beef shortribs, on the bone
2 Tbsp lard, ghee or olive oil
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
75g ginger, grated
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 leek (white part only), finely chopped
2 lemongrass stalks (white part), bruised
2 Tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 oranges, peeled and roughly chopped, seeds removed
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp rapadura sugar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
700ml tomato passata (pureed tomatoes)
Steamed greens, to serve
Freshly grated horseradish (optional).
Preheat oven to 90degC. Season short-ribs liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat lard in a large, ovenproof, heavy-based saucepan (cast-iron is ideal) over medium-high heat until melted and shimmering. Add short-ribs in batches and fry, turning, for 3-5 minutes until browned all over. Remove from heat.
Heat oil in a separate large saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic and ginger, stir for 5 minutes, then add celery, carrot, leek, lemongrass and rosemary and fry gently, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes until fragrant and soft. Add orange, molasses, sugar and mustard and stir for 1-2 minutes until sugar dissolves. Stir in tomato passata and 1 tsp salt, then pour into the other saucepan to just cover the beef (top it up with water if necessary).
Cover with a lid, transfer to oven and cook for 6-8 hours (or overnight) until the meat is falling off the bone at a touch and the sauce is thick and dark (if the sauce hasn’t thickened, you can always remove the meat and gently reduce the sauce on the stove).
Serve beef and reduced sauce in a bowl with steamed greens and top with horseradish.