HUGH FEARNLEY-WHITTINGSTALL: Eat your way to weight loss

Want to eat better forever? I’m in no doubt that the best and simplest way to do that is to eat wholefoods — foods that have been processed or altered as little as possible — as often as you can.

And the biggest, richest cornucopia of wholefoods is furnished by the plant kingdom, with veg and fruit at the top of the tree. Loading your plate with them on a daily basis is the simplest way to overhaul your diet for good.

Gifts for our overworked, under-nurtured, stressed-out modern bodies, whole fruits and vegetables offer fibre, along with valuable vitamins and minerals.

In addition, plants contain natural chemical compounds called phyto-nutrients, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This is one of the reasons why fruits and vegetables are so crucial for our health.

When he hit 50, TV chef HUGH FEARNLEY-WHITTINGSTALL piled on the pounds – until he devised his own foolproof food plan

There are thousands of different phytonutrients — carotenoids in carrots, lycopene in tomatoes, phenolic acid in tea and coffee. Science has yet to work out precisely what they all do for us, but we know they are protective, preventing and repairing damage in our cells and tissues.

A diet rich in fruit and veg can reduce the risk of things like heart disease and stroke, it’s linked to a lower risk of cancer and it improves bone health, too.

So how do you get more fruit and veg into your diet? Simple: variety. A spinach leaf is just so different from an apple, as is a beetroot from a raspberry. And the differences in shape, colour, taste and texture represent differences in the good things they contain. So while five-a-day is great, six, seven, eight or ten is better.

But what if you, well, just don’t like veg? Simple tricks can help, like a touch of butter or oil. And a tiny scrap of grated garlic in warmed butter or oil — on greens and beans, especially — can be catnip, too. It’s certainly helped my kids eat more veg.

You only need a little though: a walnut-sized knob of butter or a tablespoonful of olive oil is ample for a four-person helping of vegetable or salad.

Or top your veg with crunchy seeds, a crumbling of cheese, a tangy dressing, some fresh herbs — chives, parsley, basil — and add a little salt and pepper.

And as you can see from the recipes here, veg is endlessly adaptable, with hearty soups to warm us in winter, and refreshing salads for a little extra zing.

In an ideal world, I’d urge you to order an organic veg box delivery, as I do. Having a variety of veg arrive at your door not only helps you eat more, it also, vitally, helps you eat seasonally.

Instead of having imported green beans every Sunday with your roast dinner, month in month out, or a banana every day in your lunchbox, you’ll encounter the full glorious gamut of plant foods that our temperate climate and fertile soils have to offer.

Extracted from Eat Better Forever by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury on Thursday, £26. © 2020 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. To order a copy for £22.88 go to or call 020 3308 9193. Valid until January 15, 2021.

Store cupboard tomato & bean soup 

Store cupboard tomato & bean soup

Store cupboard tomato & bean soup

At its most basic, this super-easy soup requires only an onion and a couple of store cupboard staples — tinned tomatoes and beans — and it’s well worth making if that’s all you put into it (perhaps with a dash of chilli). 

But you have the option of building in some fresh veg, too, depending on what you have to hand. Either way, it’s a lovely, thick soup. If you want to loosen it and make it more soupy, add some hot veg stock with the tomatoes — you won’t need more than a mugful (250-300 ml). 

Serves 4 

  • 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Optional extra veg: 1 carrot chopped; 1 celery stem thinly sliced; 1 red pepper, cored, deseeded and thinly sliced; 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced 
  • 2 x 400 g tins whole tomatoes 
  • 250 -300 ml hot veg stock 
  • Optional 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped, or 1 tsp smoked sweet paprika, or a good dash of chilli sauce
  • 2 x 400 g tins white, black or kidney beans, or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Sea salt and black pepper 

To finish (optional) 

Place a large saucepan or a small stockpot over a medium heat. Add the oil and, when hot, add the onion with a pinch each of salt and pepper. This is also the time to add any or all of the optional extra veg — carrot, celery, pepper and/or fennel. 

Turn the heat down a little and sweat the veg for about 5 minutes to soften a little. Add the tomatoes with their juice, crushing them with a spoon as you drop them in and picking out the little white stalky ends if they bother you. Add the stock, if you like, and the chilli, paprika or chilli sauce, if using. 

Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes to reduce, stirring a few times and mashing the tomato down a little with a fork or spoon as it cooks. Before adding the beans, you can partblitz the soup with a hand blender if you like – either roughly, or until smooth. 

Or just leave it chunky and unblitzed (my preference). With the back of a spoon break up the beans slightly, before stirring them into the soup. Simmer gently for another 5 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper and ladle into warm bowls. Finish with a trickle of olive oil and a grinding of pepper. 

Red cabbage, carrot & clementine salad with raisins & walnuts

Red cabbage, carrot & clementine salad with raisins & walnuts

Red cabbage, carrot & clementine salad with raisins & walnuts

With its amazing colours, this is a stunning dish — a lovely mingling of crisp raw veg, juicy citrus, sweet raisins and slightly bitter walnuts. It’s a perfect choice for winter days — a light, refreshing alternative to heavy, stodgy fare.

Serves 4

  • 250 g to 300 g red cabbage (½ small cabbage, or ¼ large one)
  • 75 g raisins
  • 2 tbsp raw cider vinegar
  • 4 clementines (or ‘easy-peelers’)
  • 3 medium carrots (200-250 g in total)
  • 100 g walnuts, broken into pieces or roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil to finish (optional)

Remove the core from the piece of cabbage, then use a sharp knife or a food processor to shred the cabbage as thinly as possible. Place it in a large bowl. 

Add the raisins and cider vinegar to the cabbage. Squeeze in the juice of one of the clementines and add a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper. 

Tumble everything together and leave to stand for 15 to 20 minutes. This will slightly soften the cabbage and plump up the raisins. Grate the carrots coarsely and scatter them over a large serving platter. 

Give the cabbage and raisins a good stir, pile on top of the carrots and pour over any juice left in the bowl. Peel the remaining 3 clementines and use a sharp knife to slice them into 1 cm thick rounds (don’t worry if some of the rounds fall apart). 

Lay the fruit over the top of the cabbage. Scatter over the chopped walnuts. Finish with a trickle of olive oil, and serve.

VEG/SEED/NUT VARIATIONS: Some obvious and easy swaps would be white cabbage for red, celeriac or beetroot for carrots, and pumpkin seeds or almonds for the walnuts.

Yellow split pea soup with harissa & almonds

Yellow split pea soup with harissa & almonds

Yellow split pea soup with harissa & almonds

Made with basic store cupboard ingredients, this soup is healthy, filling and an absolute doddle.

Ideally, I soak the split peas for a few hours before cooking, but it’s not essential, so this can still be a fairly spur-of-the-moment soup!

I like to top it off with a garnish that provides a contrast of colour, texture and flavour — so it looks and tastes pretty special.

Here I have used toasted nuts seasoned with a good dollop of spicy harissa paste.

Serves 4

  • 3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 leeks, trimmed, quartered lengthways and thinly sliced, or 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 250 g yellow split peas, soaked if possible (for up to 4 hours), rinsed well
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and black pepper

To finish 

  • 50 g whole almonds
  • 2 tsp harissa paste, or to taste

Set a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add half the oil, followed by the leeks or onions and garlic. Sweat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the split peas and stock, bring to a simmer then turn the heat down. 

Cook gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the split peas are completely soft. It might take a little longer (45 to 50 minutes) if they haven’t been soaked.

Use a stick blender to blend the soup thoroughly in the pan (or transfer to a jug blender to blitz).

Add a dash of hot water if the soup seems excessively thick, then taste and add a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper as needed.

Heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan. Add the almonds and fry for a few minutes, stirring often, until lightly toasted. Remove from the heat and stir in the harissa. 

Ladle the soup into warm bowls, top with your harissa-spiked almonds and trickle over any spicy oil left in the pan. Finish with a grinding of pepper. Serve with a slice or two of wholegrain bread if you’re having this for a main meal.

FINISHING OPTIONS: Instead of almonds, try toasting hazelnuts. Or replace the nuts with 100g cubed halloumi, frying it for a few minutes until crispy at the edges before tossing with the harissa.

Cauliflower, sprouts & soy dressing

Cauliflower, sprouts & soy dressing

Cauliflower, sprouts & soy dressing

This surprisingly filling dish is made by blasting cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in a hot wok for just a few minutes, before tossing them in a vibrant, Asian-inspired dressing. It’s great as part of a mix-and-match mezze.

To make more of a meal of it, toss a handful of cooked brown rice or other wholegrains into the pan with the veg as it cooks.

Or you can serve the seared veg alongside brown rice cooked to order.

Serves 3–4

  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower (about 800g)
  • 200 g Brussels sprouts
  • A little vegetable oil, for frying
  • Sea salt

For the dressing:

  • 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
  • Juice of ½ lime or small lemon
  • A scrap of garlic (about ¼ clove), finely grated
  • 1 medium-hot red chilli, chopped (and deseeded if you prefer less heat), or a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds 
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves (optional)

Trim the cauliflower, then cut it into small pieces, about 2 cm. As well as the florets, include most of the stalk and the small, tender inner leaves. Trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts. Set the veg aside. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl.

Set a wok or a large frying pan over a high heat. When it is hot, add a splash of oil, then throw in half of the veg with a pinch of salt. Fry, without moving, for a good 30 seconds then give it a shake or stir and leave again; let the veg get some patches of rich, brown colour – this will enhance the flavour. 

Keep cooking the veg in this way for 2 to 4 minutes until it is nicely patched with brown (it will be just cooked, but al dente). Tip the hot veg into the dressing. Pour a little more oil into the pan and cook the second batch of veg in the same way, keeping the pan hot and letting the colour develop, then add to the rest of the veg. Once all the veg is in the dressing, give it a stir.

You can eat the salad straight away, or you can leave it for 15 to 20 minutes to macerate in the dressing before serving.

VEG VARIATIONS: Replace the Brussels sprouts with some red or white cabbage, cut into 1 cm wide strips; or broccoli, cut into florets.

Super vegetable stock

I use veg stock a lot. Sometimes I resort to a stock cube (the organic, low-salt kind) but a homemade vegetable stock is always nicer.

Makes about 1.2 litres

  • A dash of olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 large leek, roughly chopped
  • 3 to 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 parsnip or a chunk of celeriac, peeled and chopped (optional)
  • Parsley stalks (optional)
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • A good twist of black pepper

Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan and set over a medium high heat. Sweat the veg, stirring regularly, for 4 to 5 minutes until lightly golden. Pour over 1.5 litres water and bring to the boil. 

Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl and the stock is ready to use, or to chill and freeze.

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