If you've noticed a bit of a healthy theme in the last few columns, it's partly because the arrival of spring has me craving fresher flavours and lighter meals, and also because I've been thinking a lot about what makes me feel healthy, in preparation for my demonstration at the BePure Live Well festival. It's made me realise how much my own style of eating has changed.
About three years ago, prompted by an unflattering comment from our teenage daughter regarding his middle-age spread, my husband Ted had a light-bulb moment and went into "my body is a temple" mode.
His new regime involved avoiding processed foods, or "barcodes", as he calls them, and eating mostly vegetables. Over a period of about 18 months he lost 15kg and his whole shape changed. His legs got skinny and his tummy disappeared. His body started to look younger. When we look back at photos of our parents and other men in the 1950s, he looked like them - lean and strong.
Slowly I started to take his cue. I'm not nearly as disciplined as my husband, and also I spend a lot of time in the kitchen trialling recipes and ideas, so I'm always tasting a huge variety of foods. But now that our fledglings have flown the nest and it's just the two of us at home, the way I cook has become much lighter. We eat a lot of vegetables, whether in salads, soups, stir-fries or stews, and often added into favourite recipes for an extra hit of vitamins, like the spinach and parsley I've added to my Green Goddess Hummus here.
This is no fad diet - we haven't cut out entire food groups - but we avoid overly processed foods and meat is portioned small and eaten maybe three or four times a week rather than every day. Yes, I've lost two or three kilos, but what I enjoy most is the energy that vegetables give me and knowing how many benefits they bring to health, not just in terms of vitamins and minerals and all those great phytochemicals, but also in terms of fibre.
Give your body the right fuel and you'll get the best performance. There's no sense of deprivation if you choose satisfying, tasty food that happens to be good for you, like the following recipes. I call it health by stealth.
Green Goddess Hummus
Ready in 5 mins. Makes 1¾ cups
400g can chickpeas
3 handfuls baby spinach
1 handful of parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp water
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt
Drain chickpeas, reserving the liquid to make Vegan Aioli. Rinse chickpeas and drain again well. Transfer to a food processor or blender with all other ingredients and whizz until smooth. Chill up to 24 hours until needed.
Annabel says: Chickpeas and other cooked pulses make a great base for dips and spreads. With the addition of liquid, such as oil, water, lemon juice or yoghurt, they blend to a creamy texture. If you want to make this hummus even lighter, swap the olive oil for yoghurt.
Ready in 5 mins. Makes 1¼ cups
1 cup neutral oil
3 Tbsp of brine from a can of chickpeas
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp tarragon leaves, plus more to serve (optional)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp fine white pepper
Place all ingredients in a tall jug, sink a hand wand mixer to the bottom of the mixture and whizz until thick and creamy (about 10 seconds). Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Annabel says: Adding garlic and a little extra lemon to mayonnaise creates a rich, unctuous aioli, the perfect partner to a spring vegetable platter. The brine found in cans of chickpeas and other legumes (called aquafaba) has amazing properties that allow it to mimic egg white - you can even use it to make meringue. During the legumes' cooking process, starches, proteins and other soluble plant solids migrate from the seeds to the water. This gives aquafaba a wide spectrum of emulsifying, foaming, binding, gelatinising and thickening properties. To find out more about aquafaba and for more recipes to use up all those chickpeas see my website, annabel-langbein.com.
Le Grand Aioli Platter
Ready in 45 mins. Serves 8
10-12 baby potatoes
1 bunch baby carrots, scrubbed and trimmed
2 bunches asparagus or handfuls of green beans, trimmed
200g snow peas
1 fennel bulb, cut lengthways into paper-thin slices
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch radishes, halved if large
2 lebanese cucumbers, cut into chunky pieces
1 small cos lettuce, leaves separated and washed
1 jar marinated artichokes, drained, or 6 cooked artichokes, halved (optional)
1 recipe Green Goddess Hummus or storebought hummus (as above)
1 recipe Vegan Aioli or storebought aioli (as above)
Cook baby potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender (about 10 minutes). Add carrots to the pot in the last 2 minutes of cooking, then add asparagus or beans and snow peas for the last minute. Drain, refresh under cold water and drain again. Cut larger potatoes in half.
While the potatoes are cooking, place fennel in a bowl of cold water with ice cubes to crisp up.
Drain fennel and arrange on a platter with all other veges, aioli, hummus and tarragon garnish, if using, for people to help themselves.
Annabel says: There's something wonderfully welcoming about shared platters. With all the fresh tastes of spring, this makes a fabulous shared starter, or you can turn it into a meal by adding hard-boiled eggs and/or some smoked salmon. Capsicum slices and halved cherry tomatoes also work well in summer.
BePure Live Well Festival
To see me make the recipes on these pages join me at the BePure Live Well festival at 2.45pm on Saturday, October 15. On the Sunday morning I'll be signing books and launching my new summer annual.
Held at The Cloud on Auckland's waterfront, BePure Live Well is New Zealand's largest wellbeing event, offering everything you need to know about wellbeing in one venue. Immerse yourself in the latest health trends, products, food and experiences. For more information visit livewellfestival.co.nz or to buy tickets go to iticket.co.nz.