Egusi and my Guide to a Balanced Smoothie

Being Nigerian and having most of my family and friends back home I strive to re-create recipes in a bid to make them Nigeria friendly. Personally I have always being of the opinion that the best food to eat both from a nutritionally and financial standpoint is the one that can be found in your locality. My guiding principle is there is no need to go to Sokoto (a state in Nigeria) for what is in your Sokoto (Trousers).

The desire to re-create recipes in this way has led me into researching the nutritional value of many Nigerian staples and I must say I have been pleasantly surprised at how super healthy the Nigerian diet is or at least can be. I hope to share more of my discoveries on here so do keep following.

Today we will be looking at Egusi (Melon seeds) which is the seed obtained from Citrullus  lantus (Egusi Melon), the biological ancestor of the watermelon as we know it today. This melon has its root in West Africa and unlike the juicy, red and sweet water melon we all know, this is pale yellow or green on the inside and quite bitter. This melon is therefore grown mainly for its seeds which is grounded into a flour and used in making Egusi Soup.

The nutritional benefits of Egusi are numerous and according to Ojieh, G et al (2007) are as follows:

Protein – The crude protein composition of Egusi stands at 23.4% making it comparable to other plant proteins food sources such as soybean, cowpeas and pumpkin seeds.

Fat (Oil) – The fat content is 45.7% which makes it comparable to pumpkin seeds in terms of its oil content. Now, before you decide to stop eating Egusi because of its fat content, it might interest you to know that the fats in Egusi comprise mainly of mono-unsaturated omega 9 fatty acids (15.9%) and polyunsaturated omega 6 fatty acids (62.8%).

Omega 6 fatty acids are known as ‘essential fatty acids’ because the human body needs them for healthy functioning but cannot make them by combining other food components; it therefore needs to be obtained from food and/or through supplements. The body needs this kind of fat.

Fibre – The fibre content from the research stood at 12% which is high compared to other legumes.

Carbohydrate – The carbohydrate content is quite low at 10.6% compared to other legumes which tend to have anywhere between 20-60% carbohydrate content; but this isn’t really a problem as Egusi soup is traditionally eaten with a carbohydrate rich food.

Essential Amino acids – Egusi is rich in Arginine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Threonine, Phenylalaline, Valine, Histidine and Methionine.

Other Amino acids – Cystine, Tyrosine, Proline, Glutamic acid, Aspartic acid, Serine, Glycine and Alanine.

Minerals – Egusi is richest in the mineral Phosphorous, followed by Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium and Sodium.  Other minerals include Iron, zinc, manganese and copper.

So, now that I have bored you with scientific jargon, I’m sure you are wondering why I add Egusi to my smoothie. Well, a while back I did a liver detox, which essentially involves eating foods that enhance the detox function of the liver whilst eliminating foods which have the potential to increase toxicity levels. Basically giving your liver time to catch up with a back log of work. One of the recipes called for toasting pumpkin seeds and though I had always thought Egusi to be very visually similar to pumpkin seeds, the toasting process brought back memories of toasting Egusi seeds, an essential step for making Egusi Ijebu; the crackling sound, the smell, the continuous staring in order to avoid it getting burnt were exactly the same. After that I began toying with the idea of eating Egusi seeds as I do pumpkin seeds or making Egusi soup using pumpkin seeds and so on.

Egusi (Melon seeds) are different from Pumpkin seeds though people tend to call Egusi pumpkin seeds.

pumpkin-seeds

Pumpkin Seeds

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Egusi Seeds

The addition to my smoothie came when I was trying to create a Nigerian friendly smoothie recipe, where the original recipe called for the addition of pumpkin seeds I simply substituted with Egusi seeds, knowing fully well that the nutritional benefits are comparable. 🙂

If you want to make smoothie especially for breakfast there is one thing to bear in mind is you want your smoothie to be as much as possible a good blend of your nutritional needs. A smoothie need to be a blend of carbohydrates, protein, fat (saturated and unsaturated), minerals and vitamins. Basically your smoothie should be a balanced smoothie.

Here is my guide to a health boosting smoothie!

Essentials of a Health Boosting Smoothie

A fruit high in anti-oxidants – When it comes to antioxidant properties, I’m afraid all fruits are not equal. Example of fruits with high anti-oxidant properties include Mango, Paw-Paw, Guava, Water melon, Bell Peppers blueberries, raspberry, pomegranates and citrus fruits.

Banana – Not only is it a rich source of potassium, dietary fibre, manganese & vitamin B6 and C, it is also known to provide a quick release of energy, ideal for picking you up in the morning. They also help to add bulk to your smoothie.

Milk or other milk alternative – Milk alternatives you can use are tiger nut (aiya) milk, coconut milk, almond milk and rice milk

I remember my dad would ask us to blend tiger nuts and extract the milk for for use with cereals or simply drink. It’s quite simple really, just combine fresh tiger nut (not the dry one’s) with enough water to just cover it and blend until smooth, sieve and there you have it. You can do the same to get fresh home-made coconut milk.

You can also decide to add a little of the bits from your coconut milk or tiger milk to your smoothie for an even higher fibre content.

Seeds and Nuts – These add a rich source of protein and essential fatty acid as well as other minerals to your smoothie. Some seeds and nuts you can add include Egusi seeds (off course), Pumpkin seeds, Cashew nuts and Brazil nuts.

Handful of leafy greens – Leafy greens are a rich source of nutrients and vitamins which also adds some fibre to your smoothie. If you don’t fancy a green smoothie you can skip this one. Leafy greens you can add are spinach, ugwu,kale,

My smoothie recipe – Serves 3

1 medium sized mango
1/2 cup of milk of choice (I used a coconut and rice milk blend)
2 medium sized bananas
2 tbs of Egusi seeds or pumpkin seeds
A handful of nuts (Brazil, cashew, walnut etc)
1 tbs of coconut oil or palm oil
1 cup of water

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Method 

Depending on how suit for purpose your blender is you might need to blend the nuts first, I use my coffee grinder for this.

Combine all the ingredients into a blender or smoothie maker and blend until smooth.

My naija complaint smoothie

My naija complaint smoothie

Now that you have got the essentials for a health boosting smoothie, make your blend and share with the rest of us.

If you found this piece interesting don’t forget to like, share and comment. Thank you! 🙂

PS: Didn’t add the green leafy vegetables because I was making this for a friend who wasn’t too keen on the idea!

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White Fish cooked in Coconut Milk

I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, combining ingredients based on their nutritional benefits and hoping to God they come out edible. Needless to say I’ve had some recipes that didn’t come out quite as expected though edible and nutritious, like when I added finely chopped vegetables to my oatmeal, now that is a story for another day.

Today’s recipe thankfully tuned out well and was made on one of those days where I had no clue what I was going to have for dinner. No exciting new recipe to try out, no left over from a previous meal and quite frankly I wasn’t really in the mood for anything elaborate, just needed something light.

I had some white fish in the freezer, tossed in a bit of this and a bit of that as I went along. I was going to make a basic fish sauce when I had a ‘light bulb’ moment as I remembered I had some coconut milk in the fridge, tossed that in and cooked the fish in the milk and voila!

I wasn’t actually planning on putting this up on the blog but I posted a picture on my Facebook page and a friend said she wanted the recipe for this weekend as she was tired off eating fish the same  old way. (lol) So this one is for you Oma and thanks for following. 🙂

I would say this recipe serves two but your appetite might be smaller or larger than mine. 🙂

You will need 

  • 300 g of white fish fillet
  • 240 ml of coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder (or curry powder)
  • 1 table spoon of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 table spoon of coconut oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sage
  • 1/2  teaspoon of oregano
  • 1/2 chopped chilli or 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes (optional)

Method

  1. Wash the fish and pat very dry with kitchen towel/paper.

Note: If using a whole fish, you will find a useful guide on how to fillet fish here .Also defrost if using frozen fish fillet

You can also use Croaker fish or any other fish with a mild/subtle flavour. A fish like Mackerel will most likely overpower the dish in my opinion.

  1. In a medium sized pan heat the oil and add the onion, ginger and garlic. Heat this on medium-low and sauté for a few minutes until on, stir around in the pan to keep them from burning.
  1. Add oregano, sage, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

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  1. Pour in the coconut milk, add turmeric and chilli if using. Stir to combine flavours. Add fish and cook on low heat until fish cooks through.

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  1. Serve with some rice and/or steamed vegetables or simply have on its own. The first time I made this I just added some sweet corn, makes a light yet feeling meal.

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Feel free to use alternative spices based on what works best for you. Hope you enjoy it and do let me know how you get on. 🙂

Health Benefits

Fish is a good source of protein and essential vitamins

Coconut milk – This is high in saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) which in the winter warming soup recipe I said was a type of fat which is converted quickly to energy rather than being stored as fat. This type of fat also puts less strain on the digestive system as they do not require bile acids for digestion, they move directly to the liver via the portal vein.

Turmeric – This is one spice that has been featuring very highly on my go-to spice list. I have been adding it to everything (well almost everything..lol), watch out for my curry cake. 🙂

The active ingredient which gives turmeric its many health benefits is known as curcumin which is known to have powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties have made curcumin popular for the prevention and possible treatment of many inflammatory diseases. For more on the health benefits and uses of turmeric see this article.

Curry –  is a blend of spices one of which is turmeric, so in the absence of turmeric you can use curry as some of the nutritional benefits are shared. For instance they both have the active ingredient curcumin though they differ in their iron, manganese and Vitamin E content. According to Louise Tremblay on livingstrong.com 1 tablespoon of turmeric contains 5.2 milligrams of iron while curry has 1.2 milligrams. Also 1 tablespoon of turmeric is said to contain 1.9 milligrams of manganese while curry gives 0.52 milligrams. Vitamin E is one area where curry is said offer a greater advantage with each tablespoon of curry containing 1.6 milligrams of vitamin E, while turmeric contains just 0.4 milligram.

Ginger – Ginger is known for its ability to help with digestive issues such as gas and flatulence. It also helps in the absorption and assimilation of essential nutrients while its anti-inflammatory properties have been known to help with aching muscles and joints (perfect for winter months!)

Onions and garlic – These are an excellent source of sulphur-containing amino acids. The sulphur helps the liver to detox through a process known as sulphation. The amino acids also provide the body with the raw material needed to produce glutiathone, which is a crucial element needed by the liver to carry out it detoxifying function.

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Funmi’s White Fish cooked in Coconut Milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Simple Survival and Weight Loss Tip

When it comes to health and well being I like to keep it simple, going back to the basics which often time gets overlooked as we become encumbered by the complex (at least I know I do) at the expense of simplicity. Today we will be talking about a simple step which can yield tremendous health benefits, it’s so simple many people will probably ignore it though I hope you won’t. 🙂

Health and well being revolves a lot around what we eat and whilst this is important, it is of little value if we are unable to digest and absorb the nutrients in the food. The digestion and absorption process begins in the mouth, which makes chewing a crucial stage. The saliva in our mouth contains amylase, an enzyme which begins the digestion of carbohydrate and lipase, a fat digesting enzyme. Though the process of digesting carbohydrate continues in the stomach, chewing ensures that food is coated with sufficient salivary amylase to complete this process. The lipase becomes activated in the stomach where it begins the process of digesting fat.

Chewing also stimulates the parotid glands to release hormones that stimulate the thymus to produce T cells which are the core of the protective immune system. In his book May All Be Fed, John Robbins describes how three men were able to survive in a concentration camp during World War II, by chewing their food very well, while others died¹.

Not chewing our food properly can have a domino effect on our ability to digest and absorb nutrients. When food (carbohydrate) is not coated in sufficient salivary enzymes, food reaches the stomach without the ingredients necessary to stimulate the production stomach acids. When stomach acids are not released we are unable to digest proteins or absorb essential vitamins leaving us with indigestion and a feeling of being bloated. An inability to absorb nutrients means the immune system is less able to fight disease, making us prone to infections.

Since taking on board the chewing gospel, one thing I have noticed is that I get full quicker which means I eat less compared to when I eat hurriedly. While writing this piece I was delighted to find that my experience has been scientifically researched by researchers from the Texas Christian university who explored the relationship between eating speed and calorie intake. They found that people who ate slowly, ate on average, 88 fewer calories than fast eaters. The study also showed that eating slowly and having smaller bites makes us feel less hungry an hour later and also enhances the enjoyment of a meal compared to when we wolf food down².

We live in a fast paced world, meals on the go, eating while we drive or work on the computer mean we don’t pay as much attention to chewing. Being mindful and concious when we eat can help us digest food more efficiently and reduce digestive issues. I’ve read that according to an old custom each bite should be chewed 30 times, now I know this sounds excessive, so I wouldn’t make a rule of it, it’s more like an ideal and like they say “aim for the moon, if you miss you may hit a star”

So when next you eat remember to chew, chew, chew! 🙂

References
1) Digestive wellness: Strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion Elizabeth Lipski. Published by Mc-Graw-Hill, ISBN 978-0-07-166899-6
2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2531113/Eating-slowly-DOES-help-lose-weight-People-chew-food-properly-sip-water-consume-nearly-100-fewer-calories-meal.html

Winter Warming Soup

I received a few feedbacks which have led me to update this post. One friend who tried the soup said it would be nice to have the number of people it served, can’t believe I forgot to add that! Also another  friend said it would be nice to have pictures of the process so she can know what its suppose to look like, so I’ve included pictures hopefully that would help.

Also I had some of the broth from my skin-nourishing soup, scooped some into the soup and it tasted divine and gave it a very Nigerian flavour to the soup.

Soups are great because they full of nutrients, easy to digest and perfect for cold winter months.

Today’s recipe is Patrick’s Primordial soup, created by Patrick Holford, a leading nutrition expert providing nutritional health advice, articles, blog posts and reports. He created this recipe in order to help his wife get over a virus and it is now highly regarded as a health tonic by many of his readers. I made this soup and according to my friend its the best soup she has ever tasted!! 🙂

This soup is in rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene; the ginger, turmeric, onions and garlic have great anti-inflammatory properties. The coconut milk gives the soup a rich creamy flavour and also has medium-chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fat which is not stored as fat but used up as energy

Patrick’s Primordial Soup – Serves 2-3

You will need

1tbs olive oil or coconut oil

1/2 red onion, roughly chopped onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 large sweet potatoe, or 2 small -medium ones, not peeled, chopped

1 large carrot or 2 small-medium ones peeled and chopped to the same size as the sweet potatoe to ensure even cooking

1 heaped tsp grated fresh root ginger

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 tsp marigold reduced salt vegetable bouillon powder

1/2 red pepper, diced

75ml coconut milk

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes until they start to soften but do not turn brown

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Add carrot, sweet potatoe, ginger, turmeric and spices. Add boiling water just enough to cover the vegetables and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetable are soft.

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Pour into a blender or food processor, add red pepper and coconut milk.

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Blend until smooth and thick and there you have it! 🙂

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I hope you enjoy this and do let me know how you get on!

 

 

References
Patrick Holford & Fiona Mcdonald Joyce, The Holford 9-Day Liver Detox- The Definitive Detox Diet that Delivers Results

For the love of Jollof Rice

I had planned to make some jollof rice this weekend, haven’t cooked it in ages and quite co-incidentally the #jollofgate issue arose. There has been a lot of controversy lately over Jamie Oliver’s twist on this dish. Won’t be getting into that discussion on here but the reality is that people have cooked jollof rice in different ways in many countries and even in the same home. For instance, my sister swears by cooking the sauce separately and then combining with parboiled rice cooked in stock, which is a brilliant method especially when cooking jollof AND fried rice. I on the other hand use the one pot method just because I believe it to be a simpler method plus you have less washing up to do. 🙂

Jollof rice is a signature dish in Nigeria, no party or event is complete without it. I remember when I was younger, mum would always make Jollof, dodo and fried chicken for international events at school. It was always a winner, standing proudly beside sushi, quiches and other dishes from around the world.

I once cooked it for flat mates and was shocked (pleasantly so) when she called me at work the next day asking if she could have the left over I had kept in the fridge. (Lol)

So if you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, maybe you should try the recipe, or shall I say my twist on it. (Lol)

You will need

1) 2 cups of rice
2) 5 tbsp of coconut oil or other vegetable oil
3) 1 can of chopped tomatoes about 400 g of tomatoes
4) 1 red bell pepper
5) 1 green bell pepper
6) 1 medium-sized onion
7) 1 tsp curry
8) 1 tsp thyme
9) 2 tsp of ground nutmeg
10) 2 tbsp of tomato purée
11) 2 cups of chicken or beef stock
12) 1 cup of hot water
13) Salt to taste
14) 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
15) 1 tsp of fresh root ginger
16) 1 garlic clove

Method

1) Wash the rice thoroughly until water is clear and set aside.

2) Blend the peppers, tomatoes and onions in a liquidiser until smooth.

3) In a pan heat the oil, add the curry, thyme, nutmeg, ginger and garlic. Let infuse for a few minutes.

4) Pour the blend into the pan, add the tomato purée, stock and 1 cup of hot water. Bring this to a boil on high heat.

5) Turn down the heat stir well. Add the rice gently. Spread out the rice so it’s evenly spread in the pan.

6) Cover the pot with foil paper and then place lid over the pot. This allows rice to cook in its own steam. Leave to cook for 10 mins.

7) Check if it needs some water, if it does add a little at a time. Cook on low heat until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, do not stir the rice. It would help to leave the pot open at this stage in order to help lose the moisture. The rice ideally shouldn’t be moist or sticky at this point.

8) Serve with vegetables and meat of your choice. 🙂

Do you have a different way of cooking jollof rice?

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The science behind Edikang Ikong

Funmi's Skin Nourishing Soup

Funmi’s Skin Nourishing Soup

In my previous post A Calabar girl’s beauty secret, I talked about a dish commonly eaten by the Calabar people of Nigeria which combines the benefits of Green leafy Vegetables, Palm Oil and Seafood all in one plate and yes, this is no other than the much coveted Edikang Ikong soup.

While taking this dish apart in order to understand it’s nutritional benefits. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the traditional methods of cooking this revered dish has a strong scientific backing and caution must be taken when modifying the dish.

For instance Vitamin A and E present in green leafy vegetables are fat soluble therefore some fat is needed for them to be absorbed in the digestive tract. Also polyunsaturated fatty acids which can be be found in leafy vegetables will work against vitamin A unless an anti-oxidant is present, which is where Palm oil comes in. Palm oil is a powerful anti-oxidant rich in beta-carotene, not to mention being cholesterol free and containing heart friendly co-enzyme Q-10.

This soup is traditionally cooked with little or no water which again nutritionally speaking makes sense, seeing as vitamins which are water soluble can be lost. Also I’ve often wondered if meat had always being a non-negotiable element of this dish since it is largely riverine area (this is just my theory though).

Also the method of cooking the vegetables traditionally by adding the leaves and taking the pot off the stove immediately can be understood (though I do this slightly differently) as vitamins in leafy vegetables tend to be killed off by excessive heat, especially boiling.

I do love discovering the scientific validity of traditional methods because our great grandmothers might not have been aware of anti-oxidants but they had a 5th sense which guided them. And as someone once said “before removing a fence we need to always pause long enough to ponder why it was erected in the first place”

I haven’t named this Edikang Ikong soup out of respect for the people of cross-river who get very protective and even angered when the authentic recipe gets altered in any shape or form. I do not have access to the traditional ingredients so what I will be sharing here is a dish which combines the basic elements which I believe make this a healthy meal and a true skin nourisher.

You will need 

  • Spinach (Washed and sliced)
  •  Kale/any other green leafy vegetables of your choice (Washed and sliced)
  • 1/2 cup of dried ground crayfish
  • 1 smoked mackerel – Fairly big chunks
  • 450 g beef/Lamb/chicken (Moderate/bite size chunks)
  • 3 tbs of unprocessed palm oil
  • King prawns
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 1 ata rodo/scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
  • 1 stock/bouillon cubes
  • 1 tsp each of a selection of your favourite spices to season the beef (Ginger, curry,thyme,sage,chilli flakes etc.)

Method

1) Place beef/lamb is a pot, season with stock cube and other spices of your choice. Add diced 1/2 onions and garlic.

2) Add some water (200ml) or just enough to cover the meat. Cook the meat slowly in consistent low or medium heat until tender or cooked to your taste.

If you get some fat over your broth once meat is cooked, you might want to skim it off. One of the benefits of boiling is that it can help reduce excess fat.

3) In the mean time blend the scotch bonnet pepper (if using) , dried crayfish, half of a medium onion in a blender. You will need to add a bit of water to make blending easy, use the stock from the meat.

4) Pour the blended mixture over the meat. Stir well and let cook under moderate-low heat for about 5 mins. The mixture at this point should have a broth like consistency to it.

5) Add the palm oil to the simmering mixture and stir in.

6) Add the smoked mackerel and king prawns at this stage and let simmer under low heat for another 3 mins.

7) Measure out a 1-2 cup of leafy vegetable per person into a plate and pour broth over it. Stir and there you have it!

Serve with eba/garri, pounded yam, Semovita, rice etc. You can also enjoy it on its own, its a tasty way of eating those healthy greens!

Skin nourishing soup with rice

Funmi’s Skin Nourishing Soup Served with Rice

Notes

The ‘traditional’ recipe calls for meat to be cooked with little or no stock left. I do this differently. Reason being when meat is cooked vital minerals and nutrients are drawn into the surrounding broth. The broth is a vital source of nutrients don’t let it evaporate. 🙂

Also the leafy vegetables would normally be added to the broth on the stove. I do it slightly differently for a two reasons:

1) I believe it’s important for greens to be eaten as fresh as possible. Some of it’s nutrients can be destroyed by heat, especially boiling.

2) I also like to know exactly how much leafy vegetable I’m eating. The danger of a tasty beef,fish and prawn laden broth is that you might tend to load up on more of these than actual greens. Getting portions right is important 🙂

Hope you enjoy this and do let me know how you get on 🙂

Remember to like and share if you’ve enjoyed this. Thanks!