Let's face it, lockdowns are hell on the waistline. It's never been easier to reach for the potato chips, demolish a whole pizza or gobble down an entire block of chocolate. Murphy's Law prevails in that the foods we crave - whether a tub of icecream or a stack of donuts - wil pile on the kilos. These kinds of foods tend to fall into the category of "empty calories". In other words, they provide our bodies with a lot of fuel/energy but not much else that's useful in the way of good nutrition.
Before you start beating yourself up about this, there are a couple of good reasons for consuming all these empty calories. Boredom is one. I mean the fridge is just right there looking at you day in, day out. You can't escape it. Stress is the other. In times of uncertainty, stress levels rise and our bodies produce cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for foods that provide a hit of energy and pleasure - all those salty, sweet and fried foods that really aren't good for our figures.
When I was in my 20s my body weight crept up to over 90kg - a whopping 50 per cent more than it is now. I can tell you (which doubtless you already know) that most diets don't actually work. You go on them, then you go off them and the kilos start piling on again. It wasn't until I went to nutrition school in upstate New York that I came to understand that I needed to create a new habit in the way I ate, one that was about eating as many fresh fruit and vegetables as possible and little, if any, processed food. Following this strategy, the kilos slowly fell off and have stayed off ever since.
In the days before processed snacks took over our lives, it was difficult to ingest so many calories so easily. Have you ever tried to shell a macadamia nut? The energy required to get a single nut out of the shell is probably about more than the 18 calories each nut provides. When you can buy them ready-shelled by the bagful, perhaps even coated in chocolate, all you have to do is open the packet. It's incredibly easy to gobble down a whole bag of them.
Eating more fibre is one of the best strategies I know to beat the battle of the bulge. Fibre gives you that satisfied feeling of fullness for longer and it moves things through your digestive system efficiently. The fibre found in some fruit and vegetables also supports the healthy bacteria in our gut. Beans and lentils are an easy way to add it into your diet, in soups, stews, and salads. Instead of a bag of potato crisps, why not open and heat a packet of edamame beans? A mere half-cup of shelled edamame beans provides 9g of fibre. Popcorn is another great high-fibre snack- 3 cups (without added butter or oil) contains only 93 calories and about 10 per cent of your daily fibre needs. Other fruits and vegetables that rank highly on the fibre charts include whole grains, broccoli, berries, apples, pears, potatoes, kūmara, pumpkin, avocado and nuts (though these last two are also high in fats and therefore calorie-dense).
With spring in the air, there's never been a better time to reboot your diet and set up your body for a healthy happy summer.
Spring Vegetables with Tahini Soy Dressing
For a more substantial dish, serve these veges on a bed of cooked brown rice or quinoa.
Ready in 15 mins
2 handfuls broccolini or 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 handfuls asparagus spears, trimmed
1 handful of green beans, trimmed
1 handful of snow peas or sugar snap peas, trimmed
3 Tbsp sesame seeds and/or black sesame seeds
1 handful of baby spinach leaves
¼ cup coriander leaves, tightly packed
TAHINI SOY DRESSING
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp maple syrup or honey
2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add broccolini, asparagus and beans and cook until they are tender but still crunchy (3 minutes), then scoop out into a colander with a slotted spoon. Rinse under cold water, drain well and place in a large bowl.
Using the same pot of boiling water, add snow peas or sugar snap peas and cook for 30 seconds. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain well and add to the bowl with the other vegetables.
While vegetables are cooking, place sesame seeds in a dry frying pan and toast over
medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Set aside.
To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a small jar and shake well to combine.
To assemble the salad, add spinach and coriander to the vegetable bowl and toss to combine. Serve topped with dressing and sesame seeds. This will keep, covered, in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Pomegranate-Roasted Beets with Lentils
Change out the fruit depending on what's in season. You can find pomegranate molasses at the supermarket, it's such a useful ingredient to add an exotic flavour to a dressing or marinade and keeps on the shelf for months.
Ready in 50 mins
3 large beetroot, peeled and cut into wedges
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup Puy lentils
3 large handfuls rocket or beetroot leaves
75g blue cheese
2 pears or nectarines, cored or stoned and sliced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 180C fan bake and line an oven tray with baking paper for easy clean-up.
Place beetroot on tray, drizzle with oil and half of the pomegranate molasses and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly, spread out in a single layer and roast until tender and starting to shrivel (about 40 minutes).
While the beetroot are roasting, cook lentils according to packet instructions, ensuring that you do not overcook them – you want them to retain a slight bite. Drain and set aside to cool.
When beetroot is cooked, add it to the cooked lentils and toss to combine. Arrange rocket or beetroot leaves on a serving platter and top with beetroot mixture.
Scatter with blue cheese and pears or nectarines and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the rest of the pomegranate molasses. Season to taste and serve.
Any leftovers will keep, covered, in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Miso Lime Slaw
For a more substantial dish, double the dressing and cook a 270g packet of soba noodles. You might also like some pan-fried tofu or chicken. Use a mandolin or a vegetable peeler to cut the cabbage super-fine.
Ready in 25 mins
2 spring onions, shredded
1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
1 long red chilli, deseeded and shredded, or more to taste
3 cups thinly sliced white and/or red cabbage
¼ cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves
2-3 avocados, halved, to serve
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds
MISO LIME DRESSING
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1½ Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp lime or lemon juice
To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a small jar and shake to combine.
To serve, divide the slaw ingredients between serving plates or bowls and place half an avocado on the side of each. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
The salad will keep undressed in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Dress and add avocado before serving.
(Miso lime slaw)
Carrick Central Otago Dry Riesling 2019 ($28)
From their Arthur's Vineyard in Bannockburn comes this sophisticated, citrus-saturated yet skeletally dry riesling from scarily talented winemaker Rosie Menzies. Scented with fresh-cut lime and green apples, it absolutely fangs with fennel and citrus flavours and finishes with perfectly prickly, exfoliating acidity on the palate. So cleansing and crunchy, it's mighty magical with the creamy avocados, the heat of the chilli and the umami-ness of the miso dressing.
(Spring vegetables with tahini soy dressing)
Hunter's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($19)
I'm sorry but if green beans, snow peas, asparagus, spinach, broccoli and buckets of greenery don't demand a large, chilled goblet of sauvignon blanc, then I don't know what does. Hunter's have been turning out this hero of herbaceousness since 1982. Forty vintages on and it's a homegrown aristocrat, heaving with punchy passionfruit, layers of lemongrass, truckloads of tomato leaf and crammed with capsicum on the finish. It works sensationally with the nutty, salty tahini dressing, too.
(Pomegranate-roasted beets with lentils)
Jules Taylor OTQ Single Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 ($32)
The second I clap eyes on a salad featuring pomegranate, stonefruit and beetroot together, I can't help but plough into the nearest bottle of rosé. I know looks shouldn't matter but, should you be seeking something to impress the white capri pants off those visitors, then this is it. Not only does it look like money on the table, it's a bold, my-way-or-the-highway style that's crisp, crunchy, and simultaneously opulent and exotic. I love the high-wire elegance of the aromatics and its cherry blossom and raspberry razziness.