Is Saffron the New Wonder Spice?

Raw Organic Red Saffron Spice

I am currently reading Rosanna Ley's The Saffron Trail (and racing through it!) I have read a number of Rosanna's books and not only are they all brilliantly clever and highly entertaining, but also, she clearly does a great deal of research before putting finger to keyboard and right now I am learning a lot about the incredible, amazing, expensive but oh-so-worth-the-spend-spice, saffron!

Then... what should appear in my inbox but an article from Nutri Advanced about the impressive health benefits of saffron as an effective natural remedy for a range of health concerns - particularly mental health issues - with a range of referenced studies to back up just why this may be the new wonder spice! I urge you to have a look and share the article with others...

it's all about the plant chemical compounds...

"Saffron stigmas contain four major bioactive compounds (crocins, picrocrocin, crocetin and safranal) and many powerful carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, beta-carotene and polysaccharides.  Collectively, these compounds are responsible for the health-enhancing properties of saffron." Nutri Advanced

Most studies involve saffron extract at a dose of around 30mg per day which equates to around 10-15 strands of dried saffron or around 1 teaspoon of ground saffron which, unless you fancy a pinch of saffron added to your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on a daily basis, could be a bit much so you may wish to consider a supplement on saffron-free days!

But, as you might expect, I have a couple of soup recipes (Carrot and Saffron Soup and Cream of Mussel Soup with Saffron) plus there's my Aromatic Lamb Casserole which makes a great make-ahead dinner and my rather special Fennel, Orange and Quinoa Salad for a great packed lunch - all of which use this wonderfully-aromatic and health-enhancing spice. NB: get your saffron threads and powder from Halal and middle eastern shops - it's a great deal less expensive than in major supermarkets!  

Easter = Chocolate = Weight Gain (or does it?)

It seems like only a few weeks ago that the supermarket shelves were groaning with 'quick to cook' pancake batter mixes and delicious toppings and the internet was awash with syrupy-sweet recipes to help us celebrate Shrove Tuesday and now here we are facing Easter and it’s all about chocolate!

Chocolate.jpg

How are we supposed to keep our waistlines in tact when faced with such potential indulgence? One route is to just say “no” but where’s the fun in that? Another route is to carefully plan your chocolate moments!

How, what and when we eat daily has a meaningful impact on how efficiently we digest and absorb the nutrients provided by our last meal or snack to generate energy within our trillions of hard-working brain and body cells. And when we get the timing right, there is a good chance that the occasional indulgence (be it a chocolatey or otherwise) won’t do too much damage!

Here are a few magical tips to keep up your sleeve and allow for a little guilt-free sweetness this Easter:

  • If a sweet treat is perhaps on the cards, have it somewhere between 11am and 4pm when your energy requirements are likely at their height and there is a good chance the sugars will be used to generate some of that energy rather than being stored in your fat cells.
  • Always have some protein just before or alongside a sweet treat - the protein helps to slow the release of the sugars into the blood stream and keeps you feeling fuller for longer so you don’t experience an energy dip and seek out more sugar all too soon. For example: have a small carton of natural yoghurt or a handful of unsalted mixed nuts and seeds or a protein-rich smoothie with your chocolate treat (darker the better by the way) for a mid morning or mid afternoon snack or have your sweet treat just after a protein-packed lunch (a chicken salad, a mixed vegetable omelette, a fish curry, a couple of rye, seeded crisp breads topped with avocado and smoked salmon).
  • If you exercise regularly and strenuously, your ‘cooling down’ time is perhaps the best time to sneak in a sweet treat as your metabolic rate is likely to be boosted for a couple of hours so the sugars will be used to replenish your depleted muscle glycogen levels rather than being stored as fat - but don’t forget to have some protein alongside and no, this is not an excuse to chow down a whole chocolate Easter egg!
  • And lastly… make soup your waistline-preserving friend. It’s almost impossible to get as much goodness into a small space as in a bowl of fabulously-tasty, filling and protein-rich soup. If you suspect that there may be a little too much chocolate indulgence over Easter, get the soup pot out now, make a couple of vats, bag them in portions and freeze them, have them for lunch or for a snack and be confident that a little sweetness in your life won’t cause too much drama when enjoyed just after a bowl or mug!
  • Have your tried my Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato and Chorizo Soup? - it's really, really good and seriously moreish let me tell you!

Give your Onions a Little Salt Love!

Soups and stews are true winter wonders and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen in portions for a quick defrost and reheat, can be easily transported as long as you have a reliable container with a dependable and secure lid and you can sling just about everything that is lurking in the fridge and looking a bit tired in there to save waste, save money and add texture, flavour and nutritional splendidness.

But… the secret to a truly delicious soup or stew is about having a little patience for the first 15 to 20 minutes! No matter which recipe you are following or whether you are just ‘doing your own thing’, it’s all about the base - that’s where the delicious flavour comes from! Briskly sauté your chopped onions in good olive or avocado oil or top-dollar butter (or a combination of the two) for just a very few minutes, add a good pinch of sea salt crystals then quickly turn the heat down to the lowest, lowest, lowest heat, put a lid on the soup/stew pot and let the onions ‘sweat’ very happily for 15 to 20 minutes without lifting the lid or stirring - this really brings the beautiful sweetness out of the onions, means they don’t ‘brown’ and gives any soup or stew an extra dimension. Same rule applies where leeks, shallots, celery, garlic, tough root vegetables or a combination of some or all of the above are involved. Once you adopt this method, you will never again have to worry about your soups and/or stews being anything other than divinely-delicious and very moreish!