Healthy helpings

Peter Walters, Keele University’s Executive Chef, shows us how to ditch the junk food for some tasty slimline snacks

Scientists reckon we can retrain our brains to like healthy food and even be addicted to it. We don’t start life craving chips and burgers. I only started craving them in the ’60s when Birds Eye advertised them to me as a small boy via television.

A recent study put a group of obese volunteers through a six-month weight loss programme while gauging their reaction to different foods, scanning the areas of the brain associated with learning and addiction using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that after a strict, six-month diet the participants’ brains responded more actively to healthier food and showed a “decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods”. The programme included a high fibre diet, low glycemic foods and behaviour change education.

So, all you have to do is ditch the junk and buy some fresh foods to create some simple, tasty dishes. 

Vegetable stock

Start with a basic vegetable stock to use in the recipe below. 

  • Peel and finely chop a carrot or two and some celery, celeriac or fennel if you have some. Peel and finely chop an onion and 2 garlic cloves.
  • Heat a little oil in a pan. Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper. Fry until the vegetables start to caramelise. 
  • Pour in 1½ litres of water. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Drain. Press as much liquid from the vegetables as possible but do not purée. 

Smoked Haddock with Barley Risotto
For 2 persons

  • 2 leeks
  • A splash of olive oil
  • 150g pearl barley
  • 200ml vegetable stock
  • 50g Parmesan
  • 1 lemon
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 smoked haddock fillets
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large handfuls of baby leaf spinach

1.) Slice into 1 cm rounds. Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Add the leeks to the pan and sweat them over a low heat for 5 or 6 minutes until soft. Add the pearl barley to the leeks. Cook and stir for a couple of minutes.

2.) Add a splash of the vegetable stock to the pearl barley. Stir occasionally until it’s absorbed. Repeat with the rest of the stock. This will take 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover.

3.) While the risotto cooks, grate the Parmesan, zest and juice the lemon and roughly chop the parsley. 

4.) Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Carefully place the haddock fillets in the milk and cook for 6 or 7 minutes. Add a ladleful of the poaching milk to the pearl barley. Stir until it has been absorbed. Add another ladle of the milk to the pearl barley. Keep adding and stirring until it’s all absorbed. 

5.) Taste the pearl barley, it should be soft but with a slight bite. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Add the spinach and half of the Parmesan and mix in well then add most of the parsley and the lemon zest and juice.

6.) Divide the risotto between two plates and top with a fillet of the haddock and sprinkle each with the rest of the Parmesan and parsley.

Enjoy with… Greener Colada
For 2 Persons

  • 1 cucumber
  • ½ head broccoli
  • 2cm fresh ginger, peeled
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 1 slice fresh pineapple 

Using a juicer, juice the cucumber, broccoli and ginger. Blend with coconut milk and finely diced pineapple.

Like this? Then try the Smoked Mackerel, Apple and Chorizo Salad recipe, also from Peter Walters.

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