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Zoe loves nori which is great because it’s amazingly good for you. Like other sea vegetables, it is high in B vitamins, beta-carotene, calcium, iron and zinc, so it is brilliant at boosting your immune system. And it’s particularly high in vitamin A which helps prevent colds and sore throats, as well as maintaining healthy skin. She’ll eat the sheets of nori by themselves (and I’m inwardly cheering as she nibbles all those fantastic nutrients!) and is particularly keen on having it as sushi, especially with this avocado/mayonnaise filling.
I used to make sushi the more standard way, by rolling the nori over the filling and then cutting each roll into pieces. But then Renée Elliott showed me how easy hand rolls are to make – in fact, you can put all the ingredients on the table and let everyone (kids included) make their own rolls. This recipe is adapted from Renée’s latest book, Me, You & the Kids, Too – you can use any combination of veggies – we used the cucumber and carrots we had in the fridge this time (and added extra avocado), instead of the asparagus, sprouts and beetroot in Renée’s recipe.
The additional bonus about this recipe (like all the recipes in Me, You & the Kids Too) is that you can also make nutrient-dense purées for your baby, from this recipe. There’s no need for additional ingredients, you just take from the main amount. And bingo – a meal that feeds all. However, as Zoe told me this morning (on her first day at nursery/school), she’s not my baby any longer. So no more purées for her… Sob!
gluten-free, wheat-free, yeast-free, dairy-free, soya-free, nut-free, seed-free
Makes: 20 Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus 40 minutes cooking the brown sushi rice Cooking time: 5 minutes
- 10 asparagus, woody ends removed and halved
- 40 green beans, trimmed
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 200g/7oz/1 cup brown sushi rice or brown short grain rice
- 10 nori sheets, halved lengthways
- 12 tbsp wasabi (optional)
- 1 beetroot, grated
- 50g/134oz sprouts such as alfalfa, broccoli or mung (optional)
For the sauce:
- 2 avocados, peeled, pitted and mashed
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- Put the rice and 455ml/16fl oz/scant 2 cups water in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes until the rice is just cooked but still retains a slight bite.
- Put the asparagus and green beans in a steamer and steam, covered, for 5 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still slightly crunchy. Add the salt to the cooked brown sushi rice and mix well.
- To make the sauce, mix together the avocados and mayonnaise in a bowl until smooth.
- To make a hand roll, spread 1 tablespoon of the sauce diagonally down the centre of one nori sheet, then add a little wasabi on top, if using. Put 1 tablespoon of the cooked brown sushi rice, 1 piece of asparagus, 2 green beans and 1 tablespoon each of the beetroot and sprouts, if using, on top of the sauce. Take the nori sheet in your hand and roll into a cone shape. Repeat with the remaining ingredients and serve.
Green bean, Avocado & Rice Purée for a 6–9 month old baby
- Put 4 tablespoons of the cooked brown sushi rice and 135ml/4½fl oz/generous ½ cup boiling water in a saucepan and simmer, covered, over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add 4 green beans and cook, covered, for a further 10 minutes until completely soft. Transfer to a blender and add 2 tablespoons of the avocado and 3 tablespoons water. Blend for 30 seconds, adding extra water 1 teaspoon at a time, until smooth. Serve warm.
Vegetables, Avocado, Sprouts, Beetroot & Rice for a 6–9 month old baby
- Put 4 tablespoons of the cooked brown sushi rice and 135ml/4½fl oz/generous ½ cup boiling water in a saucepan and simmer, covered, over a low heat for 10 minutes. Add 2 green beans and 1 asparagus piece and cook for a further 10 minutes until completely soft. Transfer to a blender and add 2 tablespoons of the avocado, 1 tablespoon each of the beetroot and sprouts, if using, and 3 tablespoons water. Pulse for 15 seconds, adding extra water 1 teaspoon at a time, until the mixture forms a lumpy purée. Serve warm.
Just back from a heavenly week in Tuscany. Ahhhhhhh. I’ve never been (other than a weekend in Florence for Peter’s 40th) and have longed to go for years and years – and we finally made it. We stayed in an agriturismo appartment on the side of a beautifully-restored old farmhouse and spent the week travelling around, seeing the stunning countryside and persuading Zoe to look round Pisa and Sienna with us… Every morning I would get up and go for a swim in the salt-water pool pictured above. Truly, life doesn’t get much better than those early morning swims as the sunlight bounced on the water and the scent of the lavender bushes filled the air. (We’re now back in grey, chilly London and I’m dreaming of those swims!)
The farmer grows olives and makes the most delicious olive oil – smooth and clean yet full of depths of flavours.
We swam and swam and swam some more – in the pool, at the beach and even in this river where there were hot springs. The smell of sulphur was strong but somehow not unpleasant and we lay in the water, and then covered ourselves with the mud and sat in the water, letting the water do its magic. The waters are mainly detoxifying, drawing out toxins and impurities, but they also act as a relaxant and stress-reliever (so you come out feeling very sleepy!) and are also great for various allergic/intolerant conditions, especially eczema, psoriasis, asthma and sinusitis.
We went to Sienna which was stunning. The medieval buildings, famous Piazza and Duomo were awe-inspiring. According to Roman legend, Sienna was founded by Senius, who was the son of Remus. (Remus, and his brother Romulus, were the legendary founders of Rome. They were the sons of Mars who were abandoned as babies but saved by a she-wolf who suckled them and a woodpecker who fed them, and then rescued by a shepherd.)
Sienna is full of statues and artwork showing the she-wolf suckling the young babies. And the duomo is bursting with beautiful paintings, statues and glass windows.
And I was wowed by the Siennese style of paintings (you can see a rather bad photo of one of them below) which are full of bright, bold colour blocks and a modern-feeling graphic styling (despite the medieval style of painting.)
We went to Pisa, too, and took Zoe round the Duomo there. The audio equipment was brilliant as it meant Zoe was intrigued by the handsets and chatted into those while we gazed at the paintings! The Italians are generally lovely about kids and let them play and run around. We kept it to a minimum in the Cathedral (!) but even when Zoe was ordering rice and chocolate cake down the audio handset, they didn’t bat an eyelid.
And on the subject of food – yes it was amazing! The fruit was sweet and juicy and the vegetables full of the flavours of sunshine; the selection of prosciutto and hams in the delis were joyous; and the fresh fish and seafood were all gorgeous. But generally gluten-free or dairy-free in restaurants or cafés weren’t an option. We were in deepest, rural Tuscany – where they would serve just a few dishes with home-made gluten pasta and rich cheeses. But I happened on a selection of gluten-free breads in the small supermarket in the local town and, from then on, happily munched my way through the gluten-free breadsticks, buns and bread…
And I made a wonderful, wonderful bruschetta with toasted gluten-free buns, rich, plump tomatoes, pungent garlic and sweet, earthy basil leaves.
This recipe (inspired by her home-grown tomatoes) came from Renée Elliott’s website and it’s utterly delicious.
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free
Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 15 minutes
- 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- freshly-ground black pepper
- 4 thick slices of gluten-free bread, or 4 gluten-free rolls, halved
- 4 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped
- 10g/¼oz basil leaves, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Heat the oven to 220˚C/440˚F/gas 7. Pour the oil into a medium bowl, add the salt and pepper and mix well. Dip each side of the bread in the oil until lightly coated with oil and put the bread in a shallow baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until crisp.
- Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, basil and garlic to the oil and mix well. Transfer the toasted bread to a serving plate, top generously with the tomato mixture and serve.
I work for a publishing house, Duncan Baird Publishers, where I run a list of cookery and natural health books – commissioning and managing them. This year we published a brilliant book called The Best Recipes for Babies & Toddlers by the founder of the Planet Organic stores, Renée Elliott. As Trudie Styler says, this book “is a wonderfully inspiring book for any parent trying to provide the best possible nutritional start for their baby”. This recipe is an adaptation of one of my favourites from her book – and one that I make for Zoe because she adores it.
In this recipe Renée soaks the rice overnight, using kefir or natural yogurt with the soaking water because of their beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures. I haven’t used kefir or yogurt but I’ve still soaked the rice, which breaks down any phytic acid (that can block absorption of minerals in your system) and also makes the rice much easier to digest. Brown basmati rice is a bit of an unsung hero, I think. You get the nutritional benefits of brown rice but it’s quicker and easier to cook. Renée also uses Cheddar cheese, which I’ve substituted with soya cheese, and gluten-free Worcestershire sauce which I couldn’t find, so I’ve used tamari instead.
This is delicious hot but also cold, too – so it’s great for meals out and about. Thank you, Renée, for a wonderful recipe!
gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, seed-free, citrus-free
Preparation time 20 minutes, plus at least 7 hours soaking Cooking time 1 hour 20 minutes Serves 2 adults and 2 children
- 175g brown basmati rice
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 55g pine nuts
- dairy-free margarine, for greasing
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 eggs
- 225g spinach
- 175g soya cheese, grated
- 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- Put the rice and 500ml warm water in a medium saucepan and leave to soak, covered, for 7 hours or overnight.
- Drain the rice, then return it to the pan and add the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil over a high heat, stir, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes until the rice is cooked.
- Meanwhile, put the spinach in a steamer and steam, covered, over a high heat for 3–4 minutes until wilted. Remove and drain thoroughly, pressing the spinach leaves with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any remaining liquid.
- Preheat the grill to medium. Put the pine nuts on a baking sheet and grill for 2–3 minutes until lightly browned, checking frequently to ensure they don’t burn. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 and grease a 20 x 20cm baking dish with dairy-free margarine. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Remove from the heat.
- Put the eggs and spinach in a blender and blend for 1–2 minutes until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the pine nuts, onion, soya cheese, tamari, thyme and rosemary to the spinach mixture and mix well. Stir in the rice, then spoon the mixture into the baking dish.
- Bake for 45 minutes until lightly browned. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then serve.