Health and Beauty

African Black soap and its benefits

You already know I am a big fan of Moroccan black soap, a soft soap made with olive oil. But I had never tried its cousin, African black soap, made with shea butter. Shea butter comes from the nut of the Shea tree, that grows mainly in West African countries, particularly Ghana and NIgeria. It is very popular in Western countries now, and it is frequently used in cosmetics. However, the quality can be lacking. Unrefined shea butter should be white or creamy in colour, and have a nutty scent. For the best quality African soap, choose one that is preferably organic and unrefined. It comes with varying degrees of solidity, depending on the recipe used, but essentially it is made with Shea butter, plantain leaves and oil (either coconut or palm kernel).

Shea butter and nuts

Why is African Black soap good for you?

First of all, because unlike supermarket shower gels, it is made from natural ingredients and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals such as parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate, the two main culprits, but also perfumes that can irritate the skin. You might also come accross ingredients that are downright dangerous, such triclosan and phtalates. Secondly, you can find it in all types of containers and buy a big batch of it, so it is less plastic in your bathroom. It lasts for a while so it will probably end up saving you quite a bit of money too. Another important aspect to consider is that black soap is often made traditionally and sold by women working as independent traders. I would much rather my money goes to them than big brands or supermarkets!

Benefits for the skin and hair

Shea butter is one of my favourite ingredients for soap-making, because it is just so nice to work with. It’s creamy, it’s rich, it’s deeply moisturising and it has a slight nutty scent, unlike coconut butter than can be a bit overpowering. Shea has been used for skincare for centuries across Africa, and in many families, children are lathered in it daily, leaving their skin soft and protected. It contains a large variety of vitamins and nutrients, most importantly vitamins A and E.

African Black soap

Black soap thus ticks the boxes for me: very moisturising and gentle on the skin, no fragrance nor artificial ingredients so great for the whole family. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which can make it useful for people suffering from candida or skin infection , and it also seems to help with eczema in some cases.

African Black soap can also be used on the hair, although I have to admit I haven’t tried it yet. My hair is quite thin and generally reacts pretty badly to any hard or handmade shampoo, so I have gone back to using organic bottled shampoo for now, until I find better!However, curly ladies seem to have great results with black soap, as it moisturises the scalp and adds curl definition. You simply need to dilute the soap with a bit of warm water, and you can add a few drops of oil for extra care.

Health and Beauty

Dealing with PMS symptoms naturally

Premenstrual syndrome (commonly referred to as PMS) is an issue that many women are familiar with in one form or another: up to 75% of women suffer from moderate to severe symptoms as some point during their childbearing years. Modern medicine only has limited options to offer to women who suffer from PMS, and they are often short-term solutions such as painkillers. This is why women often look at alternatives such as herbs and other natural remedies, which have been used for generations of women with success.

What is PMS?

PMS can be difficult to identity because it has a very varied range of symptoms: headache, bloating, irritability, mood swings, skin problems and others . There is a lack of research on the causes of PMS and how it works, but it appears clear that it is related to hormones levels increasing and decreasing during the menstrual cycle and creating an imbalance in the body.

PMS can have a severe impact on women’s quality of life, leading some to miss school or work, having issues with sleep, or affecting their mental health. It can be particularly helpful to keep a diary of when symptoms occur and how they manifest themselves, to identify possible triggers.

In more severe cases, we talk about PMDD (Prementrual dysphoric disorder). Again, treatment for PMDD is usually limited to birth control pills, antidepressants and NSAIDs (pain relief medicine), who all come with side effects.

PMS Herbal remedies

How herbalism can help with PMS symptoms

First of all, it is important to look at one’s diet, sleep pattern and exercise regime, as these can all have an impact on PMS symptoms. Herbal remedies can be very beneficial for women because they generally have no side effects, are safe on the long term, and have been used successfully for centuries in folk medicine.

One of the herbs most commonly used for PMS related symptoms is Chasteberry (Vitex Agnus Castus). It is said to be particularly efficient against breast tenderness, and it also helps with a variety of symptoms such as bloating and headache. In practice, Chasteberry increases levels of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) in the body, while decreasing Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). It can thus help the body address changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle and help it reestablish balance.

Another herb that is very frequently prescribed for women’s issues is St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). St John’s wort is often used against depression and irritability as it is said to increase serotonin levels. A word of caution: be careful if you are taking antidepressants, as combining them with St John’s wort can be dangerous. A 2010 study confirmed that “Hypericum perforatum was statistically superior to placebo in improving physical and behavioural symptoms of PMS”. St John’s wort should be taken in the morning, as it is a stimulant.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is recommended for cramps: it is a highly relaxing plant with antispasmodic properties. Valerian is a perennial plant native to Europe and Asia, and it has a very long history of medicinal use. It was particularly used for insomnia as it has a sedative effect. It can easily be taken as a tea made from valerian roots, as it is the most potent part.

For digestive issues related to PMS, carminative herbs such as fennel seeds can be very helpful and in fact fennel seems to help reduce PMS symptoms more generally, as shows this study.

Evening Primrose oil is also frequently recommended, but there is little evidence that it is efficient: a 1990 study seems to suggest that any improvement experienced by women could simply be due to a placebo effect.

Nutrition

How to make your own ghee

What is ghee?

Homemade ghee

Ghee is a form of clarified butter widely used in South Asia and it is a fixture in Ayurveda medicine. Traditional ghee is actually made from a form of curd that is turned into butter, and then into ghee. The recipe I am sharing today is made from basic organic butter, which means it doesn’t contain the same friendly bacteria, but it is much simpler to make at home.

Ghee is a great alternative to processed oils because it contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals but unlike butter, it can be used to cook at high temperature. Ghee is particularly rich in vitamin K2 and vitamin A. It also contains Omega 3, linoleic acid and butyric acid. In fact, it is often described as a superfood as it is packed with nutrients!

Ghee is essentially butter without milk particles, which means it doesn’t burn and can be kept for longer. The benefits of making your own ghee is that you can use good quality organic butter to make a big batch, and it actually works out cheaper than buying it.

Health Benefits of ghee

Ghee has a large range of medicinal properties, and it is particularly interesting for digestive health. Ghee is often used for constipation issues: you can consume it on its own, or mix a teaspoon of ghee into a glass of milk. It is a gentle laxative with no side effects, so can be given to children if needed.

Because of the anti-inflammatory qualities of butyric acid, ghee can be particularly useful to people suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s and IBS and prevent flares. In fact, a 2014 study found that butyric acid acts to increase the permeability of the mucosa in digestive tract, meaning it is better protected from bacteria. It also serves as an energy source for the gut colonocytes, improving gut health and strengthening the immune system.

Ghee is also used for healthy skin and hair in South Asia: it can be applied on the skin as a mask, and to bring relief to chapped lips. It is a great moisturiser and it contains antioxidants, which means it helps lessen wrinkles and signs of aging.

Finally, ghee supports strong bone as vitamin K2 helps calcium to be absorbed by the body.

In Ayurveda medicine, ghee is considered as a nourishment for the whole body, and it is said to contribute to cell rejunevation. Traditionally, it is advised to take a teaspoon every morning before breakfast.

My basic ghee recipe

Melt a block of organic (ideally grass fed) butter on low fire.
The milk particles will start to gather at the surface, and then fall to the bottom of the pan.
After around 10 mins, your ghee should be ready to strain as the milk particles have burnt and have fully separated from the fat part. Pour into a clean jar and leave to cool.
My finished product! Ghee doesn’t go rancid as butter does so can be kept for longer, provided you use a clean spoon every time and make sure not to introduce bacteria into the jar. It doesn’t necessarily need to be kept in the fridge, unless the weather is very hot.
Gardening, Health and Beauty

Dandelion as a medicinal herb

Are dandelions weeds?

It’s early spring and dandelions (Taraxacum Officinale) are sprouting everywhere. Your first reflex is to pick them and discard them, to keep your lawn pristine. But don’t! Dandelions are very useful herbs for your home pharmacy, and every part of the dandelion has its own medicinal properties. Dandelion has been used for centuries in Europe, but it is also part of Chinese and Islamic traditional medicines, as well as Native American cultures. It is truly your garden’s overlooked treasure! Here are some of dandelion’s main benefits:

Benefits of dandelion

Dandelion root

Dandelion root is a powerful tonic and has long been used to support digestion and support the liver. It is a diuretic and thus it encourages kidney function. It is thus commonly used as part of a detox diet as it supports the liver and helps it cleanse itself through excretion of the bile. You can drink dandelion root as an infusion or decoction. It has a delicious nutty flavour and none of coffee’s side effects and addictive properties, so it is a perfect replacement for your morning brew. To collect your roots, look for young dandelions that have not yet flowered: they are easy to identify because of the distinctive shape of their leaves (dandelion comes from the French “dents de lion”, meaning lion’s teeth!). After that, the roots will shrink and get slightly bitter, so it’s better not to use plants with flowers.

How to make Roast dandelion root coffee?

Roasted dandelion roots

Collect a small handful of dandelion roots and rinse carefully. Place in the oven on medium heat (around 180°C) for about 20 mins. Then, prepare your decoction: place the roots in a small pan of water (about 2 cups of water), bring to boil and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Your decoction will take a brown colour. You can then add frothy milk, or drink straight as!

Dandelion tea
Dandelion latte!

Dandelion leaves and flowers

Leaves are usually taken as a tea: collect and clean a few leaves, leave them dry for a couple of days, and they can then be consumed as needed. They can also be eaten fresh as a salad as they are full of minerals, particularly iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium and copper.

The leaves are actually a stronger diuretic than the roots, and they can be very efficient in cases of water retention, or if you are feeling bloated. They act gently on the digestive system without leaving you dehydrated. It is also used for people with high blood pressure.

The flowers can be eaten fresh from your garden! They can be added to salads, and you can also gently fry young buds in a bit of butter. They add a pop of colour to your plate, and they are also a good source of flavonoids. They also contain lutein which is very important for eye health. Flowers can be used in a large variety of recipes: try making Indian fried pakoras or fritters for instance!

Nutrition

Healthy Ramadan recipes – Get your diet sorted

Planning a healthy diet during the month of Ramadan (during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk) is really essential to keep fit, active and focused. This is not a post specifically for Muslims: fasting is increasingly recognised in the West for its positive impact on the body and mind, and it is in fact part of many religions and traditional cultures. Fasting is immensely rewarding, both on a spiritual and a health level: it gives you an opportunity to emphasize with the poor, to focus on building your relationship to the Divine, to get rid of bad habits and put your efforts into what really matters, while your body gets a break. This allows it to detox and regenerate itself, as energy usually used for digestion is redirected towards cleansing and renewing cells and tissues. It can also be a tiring month, with late nights of prayers and early morning breakfast, while you are expected to carry out your normal duties during the day. If you work, if you have a young family, if you are a carer, you won’t get extra time to rest! It is therefore absolutely essential to be smart with your diet and with your water intake.

What to eat if you are fasting?

The main issues are to stay hydrated, and to get enough nutrients during the ‘eating’ hours. That means that you should avoid food that will not give your body what it needs: sweets, fried and oily food, too much carbs…We often tend to break our fasts with deep fried sweets and junk food, and then feel quite bloated and tired. After fasting the whole day, it is really important to not ‘shock’ your body with sugary jalabis and fried chicken! The sunnah actually gives us really good tips: ideally, you break your fast with dates (which are assimilated by the body very fast) and a glass of water or milk. Eat slowly and focus on your food; be mindful not to overeat. It is really important to get your 5 fruits and veg per day, to avoid digestive issues or constipation: that means plenty of soups, salad, and fresh fruits!

Your ideal plate should be divided into three: 1/3 of proteins part, 1/3 of complex carbs and oils and 1/3 of vegetables (potatoes don’t count!).

An typical iftar in my house: dates to start, vegetarian harira soup, some tabbouleh salad, little barley bread sandwiches stuffed with turkey ham, and a boiled egg for extra protein

Don’t forget to drink!

Keeping hydrated can be a big issue during Ramadan, especially during the hottest month, and we frequently forget to drink enough water. Remember: coffee and tea don’t count as ‘water’, not matter how many cups you drink! In fact, they are both mild diuretics, so will encourage your body to get rid of excess sodium through urine. Interestingly, herbal teas don’t contain caffeine, so they are a much better option. Between dusk and dawn, you should ideally drink 6 to 8 glasses of water, but not too much at once! Avoid drinking too much around food, but rather spread your water intake throughout the evening and night. By all means, have a good cup of tea if you fancy it, but a camomille or lavender tea will allow you to relax while increasing your fluids. I love my coffee as much as anyone, but it is really best avoided in the evening, so Ramadan can be a good time to wean yourself off it. Fizzy drinks and sugary juices are best avoided all together, particularly for children.

Suhoor/ Sehri meals

Having a light dawn meal is a really important Ramadan tradition and it prepares you for the day to come, although you shouldn’t force yourself to eat if you are not very hungry. The sunnah is to eat as late as possible before dawn, and it is said that the best suhoor is simply fresh dates. I know some families have a full meat in the early hours, and I really wouldn’t recommend that because ideally you would need to eat at least 2 hours before going to bed. It might make you feel bloated and more tired than usual, as your body will be busy digesting and breaking down your meal. The best options are food such as porridge, granola with yoghurt and fruits, or talbinah, a traditional kind of gruel made with barley flour. These are nutritious meals and will keep you going throughout the day, as they are ‘complex’ carbs.

Here is a round-up of some of my favourite Ramadan recipes.

  • my Moroccan Harira soup, containing everything you need in terms of proteins, fibers and vitamins.
  • A simple Turkish lentil soup, with red lentils, carrots and red pepper
  • A heathy green soup with foraged nettles: strange but delicious and packed with nutrients!
  • A comforting bissara soup, with dry fava beans.

Notice a lot of these soups contain pulses? That’s because they are good sources of proteins if you want to reduce your meat intake. I would usually serve soup with with a drizzle of olive oil and a slice of fresh bread, a boiled egg and a little side salad, or crudités and hummus, to make sure I have a variety of vitamins, as well as proteins, carbs and healthy fat.For those who prefer a sweet iftar: A fruit salad with fresh mint leaves, or smoothie bowl: basically a thick smoothie topped with fresh fruits and nuts.

I also like breaking my fast with a cold, nutritious smoothie. The sugar from the fruit is quickly and easily absorbed by the body, providing instant relief after a long day of fasting.

My Ramadan avocado smoothie

If you fancy some sweets, try fat bombs or healthy energy balls. They are very easy to make and will keep you going during night prayers!

Health and Beauty, Nutrition

The amazing health benefits of Black seed oil

Black seed- different forms

What is black seed?

Black seeds ( Latin name Nigella sativa) come from small blue or white flowers native to Europe and parts of Asia. They are known under a variety of name: black cumin, nigelle, habbatu sawda in Arabic, and kalonji in Ayurvedic medicine. They belong to the family of Ranunculaceae and the seeds are usually harvested in late summer, after the flowers have turned into seed pods. The seeds look slightly like poppy seeds, but they have a triangular shape and a more nutty flavour, so they are usually used with savoury food and bread.

I get my own black seed oil from Blessed Seed, which has excellent quality products available in several strengths. I would always recommend you start with a low strength product and wait for a few weeks to see how our body responds. Then, possibly increase the strength if needed. You can also find the seeds in Asian and Middle Eastern shops, where they are sometimes called habba sawda (‘Black seed’ in Arabic) or Kalonji.

Black cumin flowers

Health benefits of black seed oil

Black seed oil is a natural remedy that has been used for millennia for a whole range of ailments. In Muslim cultures, it is said that black seed is the remedy for everything apart from death (hadith reported by Abu Huraira)! Ancient Greeks used it for digestive disorders. In a nutshell, the main reported benefits of black seed oil are:

How to use black seed oil?

Used as a supplement, black seed oil should be taken daily. I am going to be completely honest here: black seed oil has quite a strong taste and it is not particularly pleasant. My husband has a sensitive gut and he tends to get acid reflux if he takes it every day. It is generally advised to take a spoon of oil first thing in the morning on a empty stomach, but you can also incorporate it into food if you don’t like the taste. I personally use it in bread recipes very regularly (both the oil and seeds) and I find it works really well. It adds a lovely depth of flavour, and it is actually often used in Middle Eastern recipes. Of course, you can also use capsules (taken daily), which is probably the easiest way to take black seed oil if you don’t want to mix it with your food.

Health and Beauty

A pink soap with calendula-infused oil

I will admit that pot marigold (calendula officinalis) has never been my favourite flower. I am more of a peonies type of girl. However, after studying the really amazing properties of these orange blooms, I had to admit that they really are a superior kind of flowers. They are packed with so many benefits it is hard to list them all, and they actually taste pretty good as a tea as well.

Calendula is particularly recommended for skin issues: wounds that won’t heal, scars, skin infections, eczema, or more generally dry skin. It can be taken as a tea (and it actually tastes quite nice), or you can make a little infused oil or balm to use directly on the skin. It has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and it is a herb for a gently, moisturizing soap.

As I had some dried calendula flowers, I thought I would try making a soap out of them, infusing calendula-infused shea butter as a base for extra gentleness and moisture. Adding herbs or flowers to your soap can be very useful because it adds a health dimension. Many herbs lend themselves pretty well to the soap-making process: lavender and chamomille are quite common as they are soothing, relaxing plants, but you can also use more original combinations. Nettle for instance is an interesting choice as it is astringent and helps relieve acne.

It is my 1st time using calendula infused oil and I am quite taken by it. The soaps turned out really pretty and I am quite pleased with them, so I am sharing my recipe.

Recipe for 4 medium sized soaps

Soaps ready to cure!
  • 190g Shea butter (I had about 150g left after infusion)
  • 2 tablespoons of calendula (marigold flowers)
  • 100g olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons of pink clay
  • 30 drops of palmarosa essential oil
  • 43g of potassium hydroxide
  • 75-80mL of water

First of all, melt your shea butter, add the dry calendula flowers and let infuse. There are several ways to do this: you can use a crockpot on the lowest setting, or use a double boiler, which is what I did. You want very gentle heat, so I got my shea butter to melting point then switched off the fire to let the butter infuse gently. I repeated this a few times over 2 days. Alternatively, you can also leave your oil in a sunny spot for a few days. I then drained using a fine sieve (or a piece of muslin). You will lose a bit of oil at this stage and that’s completely normal. You could also actually leave the flowers in the soap, but I preferred to take mine out this time. This is your infused oil, and it is packed with properties from the flower; it is a very potent ingredient.

Once you have drained the butter, make sure to weight it again as you need precise measurements for soap making! Use the sage lye calculator for reference.

I then added 100g of olive oil and mixed well.

To make the lye, I used 43g of potassium hydroxide for about 75mL of water. Again, use the sage calculator to check how much lye you need, as you can easily go wrong with soaps. Add the potassium to the water, never the opposite way. Make sure to wear gloves and safety glasses for this part. The lye will heat up; leave it to cool down for a while until it is pretty much room temperature. Don’t rush it: if the lye is too hot, your soap will reach trace much faster and it might impact its texture. I added my pink clay powder straight into my lye after it cooled down, to make sure I didn’t end up with clumps.

Add the lye to your oil mixture. You can also add your additives at this point: here, I used palmarosa essential oil. You only need a little (less than 1% overall) as essential oils are very concentrated. It’s better to avoid if you are making soap for children, or if you have very sensitive skin. Blend thoroughly, ideally with a stick blender. After 5-10 mins, your mixture should start thickening up to a thick custard consistency. This is what we commonly call the “trace” stage. You can finally pour your mixture into clean, dry molds.

Trace stage

This is what is known as cold-process soap making, therefore your soaps will need to be cured for a while in a cool dry place. First of all, take your soaps out of their molds (or cut them to desired shape) after a few days, and put them in a dry place, out of direct sunlight (mine are in a cupboard). Curing allows the moisture to evaporate, and it makes the soap harder and longer lasting. It varies according to the composition of the soap: the minimum is 4 to 6 weeks, but castille olive oil soap is frequently left to cure for 6 months to 1 year. This process also depends on the conditions where you leave: temperature, humidity…. This is a longish process but it can’t be rushed, because this allows the lye to fully saponify. If not fully cured, the pH of the soap will be too high to be used on the skin.

Since this recipe does have a large percentage of olive oil, I am aiming to leave it cure for about 3 months in the dark place, until it is completely hard. They already smell divine and I really can’t wait to try them!

My new molds!
Health and Beauty

Warming balm for joint and muscle pains

My finished balm

This is a 10 min recipe for those days when you are just aching all over! Use this balm to gently massage the area where you feel the pain. It contains turmeric and cayenne pepper, which help to stimulate blood circulation to the area and alleviate pain. It is really easy to make, using coconut oil, olive oil and a bit of wax (I used soy wax pellets but bees’ wax is absolutely fine), along with your spices.

Recipe for a small pot of balm (approx. 150 g)

1 tablespoon of curcuma (turmeric) powder

1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

3 big tablespoons of coconut oil

1 tablespoon of olive oil

4 tablespoon of soy wax pellets (or beeswax)

Combine the oils and the wax in a bain-marie or double boiler and heat on low fire until the wax is completely melted. You can also melt in the microwave. Take off the fire, leave to cool a few minutes and add the spice. Mix with a whisk until the spice is fully incorporated to the balm, as the cayenne tends to fall at the bottom. If you have some spice left over in your pan, no worries, retrieve as much liquid as possible by putting it through a muslin cloth and discard the rest.

Finally, pour into your pot (or pots, it’s quite useful to have little pots to take with you or to give away). It will take a while to cool down and solidy; I put mine in the fridge overnight.

The texture is quite soft and creamy: relatively firm inside the pot but it melts on the fingers when you use it, so it’s perfect for a quick massage. It’s gently warming because of the cayenne pepper, and the curcuma is anti-inflammatory so perfect for muscle and joint pains. Both spices can help with arthritis pain, and can help you avoid taking strong painkillers or anti-inflammatory medicine which often come with sode effects. The curcuma can be a pain to wash off clothes, so keep this in mind when applying on yourself. It might make the skin slightly yellow, but it is quickly absorbed. If you live in a very hot area, keep it in the fridge, but otherwise your balm will last you quite a while!

If you find the texture too soft or too hard, you can easily modify the recipe by melting the balm again and adding a tablespoon of coconut oil (if you want it softer) or wax to solidify it a bit more. Have fun!

Health and Beauty, Nutrition

Let’s talk about aphrodisiacs…

February is the time of the year when many of you celebrate love, so I am sure you will be interested in today’s topic: natural aphrodisiacs!

Aphrodisiac comes from the Greek root aphro, coming from Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love), and it qualifies a substance that increases sexual desire. Different types of food are meant to have aphrodisiac properties, namely chocolate, oyster, almonds, celery and asparagus… However, medicinal plants can have a much stronger effects. The most popular aphrodisiac herbs are all roots: ginger( probably the easiest to find, depending on where you live), Chinese ginseng, and Galanga (also known as Galangal).

Galanga is a spice that is frequently used in South Asia, but it is also present in North African culture ( I bought mine from Morocco, as part of a mix of spices used for teas and infusions). If has several interesting properties :

Nutrition

Winter diet and my top winter recipe to boost your veg intake!

Seasonal shopping

We are in the middle of winter here in the UK, and it is getting really cold! It’s really time for warming, comforting soups and vitamin-packed juices. I am really interested in the idea of eating seasonally because it’s cheaper, easier and better for the environment, but I also truly believe that our environment provides us with what we need at different times of the year. In winter, it’s important to boost your immunity to protect yourself from infection (particularly important in this period of Covid pandemic) and it is also traditionally at time to rest and restore your energies after a busy year. Diet reflects this: focus on simple, veg-based recipes, lower your meat intake and give your digestive system a gentle break. Avoid consuming too much dairy, as it tends to increase mucus production. This could be a good time to try dairy free milk! My juicing machine usually gets plenty of use in the winter, and I like starting the day with a good veg- based juice. My favourite at the moment is beetroot, carrot and apple with a tiny piece of ginger.

First of all, citrus fruits are in season, and they are a good source of Vitamin C. Oranges, clementines, lemons, pomelos, blood oranges, there is plenty of choice! There is a good reason why those fruits emerge in the depth of winter: we need them to boost our immune system over the cold season.

In terms of veg, there is plenty of choice: carrots, beetroot, leeks, kale, celery, sprouts…are all in season.

My favourite winter soup (and I eat loads and loads of soup) is minestrone, which simply means ‘soup’ in Italian. It is wonderfully comforting and warming, as well as full of vitamins and minerals. You can make it pretty much with any leftover veg in your fridge, and it is very versatile. The more veg the better! I also pack mine with herbs, such as thyme, a bit of coriander and of course, basil.

Basic minestrone recipe for 2 people:

  • a medium sized potato
  • 2 small carrots
  • 1 courgette
  • 2-3 celery branches
  • a handful of cannelini beans or
  • a large handful of kale, chard or spinach
  • a small handful of angel hair pasta
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • 1 L of veg stock (or plain water if you don’t have any!)
  • Herbs: thyme, rosemary, coriander, basic…
  • to serve: parmesan (optional)

First of all, soak your beans overnight if you are using dry ones.

Then cut all your vegetables in small squares. Gently fry the carrot and celery in olive oil.

Once it is starting to soften, add your stock, potato, courgette, beans, chard and herbs, add a tablespoon of tomato paste, cover and let simmer for at least an hour. The longer you leave it, the better as the broth will become more concentrated in flavour. Ideally, you would cook this soup, leave rest at night and heat up again the next day before eating.

Once your vegetables are cooked, add the pasta, mix well and leave another 5 minutes until it is cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a few basil leaves and some grated parmesan cheese for a more authentic Italian soup!