Who says sensible eating means boring? The nutrition experts at a in:spa introduce Elfreda Pownall to the joys of being good. The Sunday Telegraph magazine, 2 January 2011
No salt, sugar, wheat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine or red meat: the meals on in:spa holidays sound a bit hair-shirt. But when you see the huge spread at your first breakfast – oat crumble, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, tomatoes baked with garlic, spelt bread with tahini spread, fruit salad, smoothies, mint tea – you realise meals will be far from a penance.
Amelia Freer, the nutritionist on my recent in:spa holiday, says healthy eating is not about denying yourself. ‘We’re not saying these things are bad for you, just that most people’s diets are too high in them, and that it is good to spend a week without them – and to know that you can. It’s about retraining the taste buds. This week is a chance to introduce all sorts of alternatives; our diets should be about variety.’ The in:spa chef, Michael Arthur, who has devised these recipes for Stella (see below), agrees. ‘If you use lots of herbs and spices – more than most recipes call for – you can make delicious dishes without needing to add sugar or salt,’ he says, though he sometimes uses Perfect Sweet (xylitol) instead of sugar and Braggs liquid aminos in place of salt.
‘Eating this way is about keeping your blood sugar in balance,’ says Freer, ‘and never feeling hungry. If you eat every three hours – three meals plus a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon – and have protein with every carbohydrate, you keep your blood sugars stable, and avoid tiredness. Blood-sugar highs create fat, and lows bring cravings – you just have to eat that Twix because it’s too long since your last meal.’
With a very sweet drink, like the juice here, Freer serves eight almonds, enough protein to keep insulin levels from sky-rocketing. In the private consultations she gives during In Spa holidays she helps people put their own diets in order, teaching me that a mid-afternoon snack would help me avoid early-evening toast-and-Marmite binges, and helping a fellow guest kick a serious caffeine addiction. Freer is realistic and endlessly encouraging. ‘I would never say don’t go out for a celebration meal, or say no to a slice of birthday cake. Just get back on track the next day.’ Who says sensible means boring?
Healthy breakfast: Apple-soaked oats with plum compote - a delicious healthy breakfast recipe for apple-soaked oats with plum compote and yogurt, from in:spa
For the compote
150g (5½oz) plums or other stone fruit
150ml (5fl oz) orange juice
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
For the oats
60g (2¼oz) whole rolled oats
150ml (5fl oz) apple juice
40g (1½oz) soya yogurt
15g (½oz) mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin and sesame)
- The night before, quarter the plums, discard the stones and put the fruit in a pan with the orange juice and cinnamon. Bring to the boil then simmer until really soft – 10 to 15 minutes.
- Put the oats and apple juice in an airtight container, put the lid on and refrigerate.
- Toast the seeds in a dry frying-pan and store in another airtight container (you can do a week’s worth in one go if you like, as they store well).
- In the morning drain off any excess liquid from the oats and stir in the yogurt. Spoon compote into a tumbler or small bowl, top with the soaked oats and sprinkle generously with seeds.
Health snack: Beetroot and apple juice - a delicious healthy recipe for a mid-morning snack of beetroot and apple juice, from in:spa
You will need a vegetable juicer for this. Scrub and trim the beetroot but don’t peel them, as the real goodness is in the skin. Wash and quarter the apple. Make the juice, skim the froth off the top and serve with ice. ‘Eat eight raw, unsalted nuts with this sweet juice to keep a good blood-sugar balance,’ says the in:spa nutritionist.
Healthy recipe: Quinoa tabbouleh - a delicious healthy lunch recipe of quinoa tabbouleh, from in:spa
‘Quinoa is one of the healthiest foods imaginable,’ says the in:spa nutritionist Amelia Freer. ‘It’s a vegetarian source of protein and contains every amino acid your brain needs to function. You could serve this salad with grilled chicken breast and the lentils with apple and shallot .’
150g (5½oz) quinoa
40g (1½oz) curly parsley
25g (1oz) coriander
25g (1oz) mint
10 pitted black olives
40g (1½oz) hazelnuts
- Cook the quinoa in 1 litre (1 pint 15fl oz) boiling water for 10 minutes (ignoring the instructions on the packet to cook it longer). Drain and run under cold water then leave to dry in the strainer. Squeeze the juice of the orange over the quinoa while it’s draining.
- Wash all the herbs and dry them very thoroughly. Chop coarsely, taking care not to overchop the coriander and mint in particular as these can quickly turn to mush.
- Cut each olive into eight pieces and finely grate the zest from the lemon. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying-pan until golden, then chop roughly.
- Put the quinoa, herbs and olives into a bowl and mix well. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over it, place in a serving bowl and scatter with the lemon zest and chopped hazelnuts.
Afternoon snack Oatcakes and hummus
‘Hummus, used as a dip for vegetable sticks or spread on a couple of oatcakes, makes a good afternoon snack,’ says Freer.
Healthy recipe: Oven-roasted salmon on spinach with tahini - a delicious healthy supper recipe for oven-roasted salmon on spinach with tahini sauce, from in:spa.
At in:spa, a vegetable soup or salad is served before the main course. Clearspring tamari is available from Sainsbury’s at £2.69 for 150ml. Braggs liquid aminos are available from bevital.co.uk at £2.95 for 180ml.
For the sauce
100g (3½oz) tahini paste
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp tamari or liquid aminos
100-150ml (3½-5fl oz) water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
For the salmon
4 salmon fillets, each 175g (6oz), skin on
3 shallots, thinly sliced
350g (12oz) spinach
2 red chillis, finely chopped
- Put the tahini, half the lemon juice and the tamari into a bowl and whisk with a bit of the water. Keep adding the water in small amounts until the sauce has the consistency of single cream. Add more lemon juice to taste. Whisk in the garlic.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and line a baking-sheet with parchment.
- Score about five lines into the skin of each salmon fillet with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut too far into the flesh. Rub the skin with olive oil and sear skin-side down over a medium to high heat in a frying-pan, moving the fish about so it doesn’t stick. Cook for about five minutes or until the skin starts to brown and crisp. Remove the fish from the pan and place it skin-side up on the baking-parchment.
- Brush a big lidded frying-pan with olive oil and sauté the shallots until soft. Add the spinach and cook for one to two minutes with the lid on, just enough to wilt the leaves. Place in a colander to drain. Put the salmon in the oven for two minutes to finish cooking.
- Spoon a generous amount of tahini sauce in a circle around the edge of each plate. Place a quarter of the spinach just off centre, sprinkle the chilli over it, then sit the salmon on top of the spinach. Serve immediately.