So you thought eating healthy, fresh superfoods meant saying goodbye to delicious treats? Quite the contrary. Think carob, stevia and orange jessamine and start whipping up the fudge, scones, tarts and flapjacks with syrup.
Words and Pictures: Julia Lloyd
Production and Styling: Sandy Roberts
It’s mind-boggling how little we know about what there is to eat in nature, what might well be dangling in front of our nose in the garden, just waiting to be served up on the table. But then all we need to do is follow the lead of organic gardening and healthy cooking experts Margaret Roberts and her daughter Sandy (I call them plant detectives), and realise how many gorgeous plants there are that are not just ornamental but are edible and have true purpose. Look with fresh eyes on the beautiful specimens bursting forth as summer finds its high.
And those who have bravely embarked on a regimen of jolly good health after the excesses of the festive season, take heart in knowing that eating superfoods does not mean banning all pleasures from the table.
1. Carob Tree
“At this time of year it’s in full and remarkable fruit, with the pods falling ripe and ready of their own accord, worth their weight in gold and diamonds.”
In the Garden
- Ceratonia siliqua is an evergreen tree native to the Mediterranean that grows up to 15m in full sun. It needs good deep water to produce bountiful pods and a good idea is to insert a piece of irrigation pipe at an angle, reaching to the root bowl, when planting, and water through that.
- Believe it or not but whatever the size of a carob pod, the seeds are always the same weight – one carat (200mg).
- John the Baptist is believed to have survived in the wilderness thanks to the carob, which is why it’s much revered, regarded by many as the the holy tree. Certainly as a provider of healthy, ‘sugar-free’ chocolate, it deserves superstar status. It contains vitamins A and B-complex, and calcium, protein, pectin and many minerals.
- Dry, roast and crush the seed-free pods for the sugar-free and starch-free powder or flour, and mix a tablespoon in 225ml warm water as an excellent digestive drink. Boil the seed-free pods in enough water to make a thick dark syrup, and pour into moulds for your own ‘chocolate’.
- Carob is sweet and can replace sugar in recipes, and the powder replaces cocoa.
Sandy’s Good For You Carob Fudge
- 2 cups pitted dates softened in ¾ cup hot water
- 1 cup coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- ¾ cup carob powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup mashed strawberries
- Mix everything in a food processor. Work it until well blended, sticky and very smooth (takes longer than you think!) – 15-20 minutes.
- Spoon into a shallow, greased lasagne dish, set in the fridge.
- After 4 hours take out and cut into small squares.
- Keep refrigerated and cool as it does tend to melt in the day’s heat.
Carob and Coconut Milk Energy Drink
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 tsp carob powder
- ½ tsp vanilla essence
- Heat the coconut milk in a small pot and add the other ingredients (until warm). Should you like to sweeten
add a teaspoon of honey. Stir well.
“Here is a great garden discovery – a natural, safe, low-calorie substitute for sugar. None of us should be without it.”
- Indigenous to South America, the ancient herb Stevia rebaudiana is known there as the ‘sweet herb’. It a sun-loving perennial that will reach about 1m in height after a couple of years. Very easy to establish from seed or cuttings, plant them 1m apart as they don’t like overcrowding. In spring cut the old sprays right back to ground level and new ones will burst up again. Collect the feathery seeds quickly from the little white flowers before they blow away.
- Scientific research into its properties in 1937 led to the isolation of a compound in the leaves that was named stevicide. This became one of the great garden discoveries – a natural, safe, low-calorie sweetener 300 times sweeter than sugar.
- And it doesn’t affect blood-sugar levels because stevicide, its active ingredient, isn’t absorbed by the body. As such, it’s safe for diabetics, and also strengthens the heart, and lowers high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholestrol levels.
- Stevia leaves can be dried and ground over anything to add delicious, healthy sweetness.
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups digestive bran
- 8 flat teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 250g butter
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 2 tsp chopped stevia leaves
- 2 beaten eggs
- 425ml milk
- Sift and combine all dry ingredients and rub the butter into the mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Add the cranberries and stevia. Mix in the eggs and milk to make a soft dough. Pat into a flat shape 2 cm thick.
- Cut into scone shapes and place on a baking tray dusted with flour. Bake at 200°C for about 15 minutes.
- Serve with apricot preserve or with some of the tart mixture (below).
- Simmer 1 cup stevia leaves in 1 litre water for 20 minutes, cool and use to sweeten drinks, like lemon juice or apricot juice (add to taste). This is safe for diabetics.
Stevia in Tea
- Sweeten your tea with two fresh stevia leaves and remove when it has the sweetness you enjoy.
Apricots and stevia are a winning combination, but the apricot on its own is a real wonderfood, containing vitamins A, B, C and K and plenty of minerals. It is one of the great natural medicines that combats infections, chest ailments, anaemia, toxins, acne, stings and rashes, sinusitis. And, wait for it, it is slimming, plus a powerful antioxidant.
- 2 cups wholewheat flour
- ½ cup sesame seed
- 1 cup thick, plain yoghurt
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 large cups pitted apricots
- ½ cup honey
- stick cinnamon
- Mix pastry ingredients together until they bind. Press into a large pastry pan. Bake blind at 180°C for 10-15 minutes.
- For the filling, simmer the apricots, honey and a stick of cinnamon until soft (about 5 minutes). Pour onto the already baked base and serve with a generous dollop of yoghurt and sprinkle of turmeric powder.
3. Orange Jessamine
“Its heady fragrance is beyond compare, which makes it many a gardener’s number one shrub.
Add its undemanding nature and edible flowers that have relaxant properties and you have a real winner.”
In the Garden
- Hailing from tropical Asia, Murraya paniculata is an exquisite evergreen shrub that reaches up to 3m in height, with fragrant flowers in summer.
- An excellent specimen for a container, it can also be well used for topiary. It grows in full sun but prefers partial shade. Propagate from cuttings of the growing tips, and store dried leaves in airtight jars for use throughout the year.
- Add the flowers to other teas and store in a closed container for their potent fragrance to blend with other teas.
- The leaves and flowers have gentle yet profound relaxing and anti-spasmodic properties, and make a soothing massage oil that is excellent for dry skin.
- ¾ heaped cup cake flour
- ¼ cup chickpea flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp oil
- 175ml full-cream milk
- Juice of an orange
- ½ tsp fine orange zest
- 1 large egg
- 2 dessertspoons orange jessamine-infused agave syrup (recipe below)
- Mix all the ingredients well together until smooth and place spoonfuls into a hot oiled pan. Allow to sizzle for a minute or two. Once the flapjacks bubble turn over to cook the other side Serve with syrup.
Orange Jessamine-infused Agave Syrup
- Choose a good source of agave syrup available from most health shops.
- Place fresh orange jessamine blossoms (about ½ cup flowers to a bottle agave) into the agave syrup and allow to stand. Usually after 3 weeks, the blossoms have left their delicious fragrant oils in the syrup.
Orange Jessamine Tea
- For each cup of boiling water per person use ¼ cup fresh petals or 1 tsp dried petals in a teaball or closed strainer.
- A cinnamon stick or leaf can be used for additional flavour, with a squeeze of lime juice and a scant teaspoon of honey or agave syrup, or a couple of stevia leaves.
Plants for Sale
Organically-grown seed and plants are available from the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre. Seed can be posted to you.