Thursday, 22 August 2013

Pesto- That Italian Flavour

Pesto is simply a fragrant highly flavourful, fresh and raw sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy.

Herbs have been popular since old times for their healing and medicinal qualities. Their use in cooking and treating common illness have been a part of our traditional since olden times. Pesto is a great way to benefit from all the healthy goodness of herbs adding flavour making a simple food into delicacy. The Chef Instructors at Natural Gourmet Institute-NYC, among other things have introduced Pesto as part of the health supportive cooking program I have recently completed.

Pesto is simply a fragrant highly flavourful, fresh and raw sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy. Basically made with a green herb, nut, olive oil, garlic and cheese all ground together coarsely in a sauce form. The mere presence of the highly nutritional ingredients of this sauce makes it a complete  healthy high quality topping for dishes.

Herbs are super foods, concentrated forms of nutrition, packed with minerals, vitamins, disease fighting phytochemicals, flavonoids, with antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties. Nuts are nutrition dense with essential fats, proteins, and fibre, provide a wide range of essential nutrients, including several B group vitamins, vitamin E, minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium, antioxidant minerals (selenium, manganese and copper), plus other antioxidant compounds (such as flavonoids and resveratrol). So pesto makes a super sauce which is not only nutrient dense but without chemical preservatives, easily made fresh, can be stored for several days in your refrigerators, add that unique Italian flavour to your food that often times only fine dining restaurants offer. A great option for weight loss without sacrificing on delicious food on our plates.

Steamed Roman Beans topped with Basil Pesto
Traditionally the Italians will make Pesto that consists of crushed garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo cheese all ground in a mortar and pestle, thus the name Pesto. However in Italy and elsewhere that this sauce travelled around world, delicious creations are made using different nuts, and herbs as well as tomatoes for a red variety.

Basil and sunflower seed  pesto on wholewheat pasta

Learning to make pesto have opened up a culinary wonder for me. With endless possibilities for creating pesto and then unlimited ways they can be used and served, I instantly fell in love with this sauce. Over the weeks I have created a range of different pesto combination different herbs and nuts available here in Pakistan. I have also used the pesto I made in various dishes that would totally enhance their flavour, presentation and nutritional value. 

Make Your Own Pesto:

I am sharing some recipe of pesto that I have made recently, you can mix and match the herbs and nuts to experiment. The processing instruction with remain same for all pesto:

The Basic Processing Instructions:

-use a food processor, or better mortar and pestle if you can and want to do it the real Italian way

-add the garlic, nuts and herbs, lemon juice,  if the recipe calls for in the food processor and whirl until coarsely chopped

-add the olive oil slowly as you chop

- add the parmeson cheese, meso if the recipe calls for it, and salt and pepper, whirl for one more min just to mix it all

-put in a small jar or remekin with a layer of oil on top to keep preserve the colour, a small 100 gms jar of pesto keeps well refrigerated for a week and for several weeks in the freezer.

Basil and Pine Nut Pesto

Basil and Pine Nut Pesto
This is a most popular and basic pesto and when added to anything like pasta, soup steamed or stir fry vegetable or spread over bread or crackers gives it a real delicious Italian flavour.


-       1-1/2 cup fresh washed and dried basil leaves

-       ½ cup roasted pine nuts

-       3 large cloves garlic

-       ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

-       ¼ cup parmeson cheese

-       salt and pepper to taste

Note: you can replace the pine nuts with sunflower kernals/nuts
Pesto on wholewheat artisan bread

Mint and Pistachio Pesto:

Mint and Pistachio compliments and brings out flavour of almost anything Italian including burgers, pasta salads, eggs, lamb chops. 

Health Benefits of Mint

1 cup mint leaves tightly packed washed and dried

¼ cup basil leaves washed and dried

¼ cup shelled pistachio toasted

2-3 large garlic cloves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tsp lemon juice

½ cup grated parmeson cheese

¼ cup meso (optional)

salt to taste

Mint and Pistachio Pesto on Poached Eggs


Basil and Cashew Pesto

Basil and cashew pesto is a bit creamy, and tastes awesome spread on croissant, baked fish, on omellets and crackers. 

2 Cups Basil leaves , washed and dried

¾ cup toasted cashew nuts (dont toast if using roasted nuts)

2 cloves garlic

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tsp Lemon Juice

½ cup shredded parmeson cheese
Salt and pepper, (omit salt if using salted cashews)

Arugula and Walnut Pesto:

 This intense flavoured pesto is good with soups, fish, salads topping, pasta salad, steamed vegetable and even on stir fry vegetable. Enhance taste of jacket potatoes, and roasted vegetable.

Health Benefits of Arugula


2 Cups arugula (rocket salad) leaves washed and dried

1/3 cup walnuts

2 tsp lemon juice

3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

½  cup extra virgin olive oil

Potatoes microwaved and then chunk of it tossed in a sauce of Pesto in greek yogurt (lebanah) and crushed black pepper

 Dill and Walnut Pesto

This intensely flavoured pesto is a natural accompaniment and topping with all kind of seafood, grilled, baked or roasted. Cold soups, and of course in different appetiser creations.

Health Benefits of Dill

-1 cup dill leaves only discard the think stems

-1/4 cup toasted walnuts

- 3 big cloves garlic

-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

-1/4 cup miso (replace with same amount of cheese)

-1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

-1/2 tsp lemon zest

- pepper to taste


-       first make a small quantity in a mortar and pestle to see if you like the taste and combination of nuts and herb then process your whole batch.

-       Always roast the nuts, enhances the flavour

-       Use a ¼ cup meso if available or you can replace the entire cheese portion with meso.

-       If using Cheddar cheese and or meso, omit salt, since these ingredients are already salty.

-       Omit salt if using salted nuts

-       You can use roasted and salted nuts if unsalted raw ones are not available, ideally unsalted nuts roasted just before you begin grinding gives great flavour

-       Use leaves only, don’t use stems

-       Pesto is never creamy or pasty it is all about a coarse texture where you can actually identify the some bit of ingredients.

-       Avoid stale nuts, they will spoil the entire batch with the rancid taste and smell.

-       Pesto taste very intense so less is more, one teaspoon of it can flavour a full 1 pound bowl of pasta or potatoes

Popular Uses of Pesto in Dishes:

-       As pasta sauce

-       tossed with boiled, baked baby potatoes, sweet potatoes

-       spread over wholewheat crackers, bread

-       Flavour omelletes and poached, fried eggs

-       As sauce for baked and grilled chicken, sea food and steaks

-       Appetizer dips for cut vegetable and crackers

-       1 ts of pesto and ½ cup of olive oil makes a great dip for bread
add in soups and stews 


Monday, 19 August 2013

Models of Diet Therapies

'dietary therapy’ is modifications in our existing dietary lifestyle can help prevent a range of common health issues, revert disease and help us stay in good health and enjoy a long life

 Poor health, often resulting in disease and death, begins from our food choices.  This is why we say ‘we are what we eat’.  Modifications in our existing dietary lifestyle can help prevent a range of common health issues, revert disease and help us stay in good health and enjoy a long life. 

This is called ‘dietary therapy’, which refers to addition or elimination of certain food for health and wellness. For example, low or no sodium diet for prevention of high blood pressure or avoiding trans-fats for lowering blood cholesterol.


  The status of health among Pakistani population is alarming; poverty and lack of clean water is a major reason. However, people who have access to resources also suffer life-threatening disease like certain cancers, gastrointestinal discomforts, cardio vascular disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. All of these, to some extent, are direct results of poor nutrition, lack of balanced diet and lifestyle imperfections. 

Hence, following a diet model that is balanced and according to our health assessment needs can play a key role in prevention and relief from various diseases.
  The Mediterranean Diet:  is globally recognized as being a heart healthy model of eating. It is based on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece and southern Italy from 60s, a time when the rates of chronic disease among people were lowest in the world and average life expectancy was the highest despite limited medical

 The key healthy ingredients of this way of eating are olive oil, sundried tomatoes and plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Basically, according to this, our daily meals should consist of plant-based, high fibre, nutrient dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes (lentils and beans) and nuts.  

Replace butter with healthy fats such as olive oil, sunflower and canola oil. Use herbs, lemon juice and spices instead of salt to flavor foods

Also restrict red meat to 1-2 times a month. Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week is a major component of this diet. Thus, following this diet with friends and family, drinking plenty of water and making a routine of physical activities will ensure prevention of chronic diseases.  By lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling weight and blood sugar, Mediterranean diet promises to reduce risk of type -2 diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.


Example of a Mediterranean diet for a day

-Low fat yogurt parfait, this can be made with any fresh seasonal fruits available layered with whole wheat cereal/dalia/oats
1-Fresh green leafy salads, topped with cheese/walnuts and drizzled with lemon, vinaigrette/balsamic vinegar or olive oil
-Wholewheat chappati/1 multigrain toast,
-African peanut soup
-grilled/pan-seared fish with little olive oil and herbs
- steam mixed vegetable
-Brown rice/wholewheat toast or chappati
- Bowl of fresh fruits
Snacks: 7-10 almonds, or any citrus fruit

The Ketogenic Diet has been in use since 500BC, mainly for the treatment of childhood epilepsy. Following researches during the past decade there has been an explosion of its use.  Ketogenic diet is effective for killing cancer cells as this diet contains meals that have trace or no carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat. 
Our bodies require glucose for energy so the ketogenic diet uses alternate source of this energy, the ketones; by burning fats. All cells in human bodies, including cancer cells, are fueled by glucose but if deprived of glucose all other cells can easily switch to ketone bodies, except the cancer cells. Thus, they will starve to death!

This happens by consuming food that is natural and whole like olive oil, avocados, and nuts.  The body can use ketone bodies for energy whilst not providing cancer cells with its staple.

Besides subsiding cancer, a ketogenic diet also aids in treatments of epilepsy, diabetes, help regain memory of Alzheimer’s patients and eliminates gluten allergy symptoms.

  Ketogenic meal plans are generally based on high-fat diet that restricts the daily carbohydrate intake to 10 to 15 grams and the daily protein intake to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. It is important to select prime quality and excellent sources of fats including plant based fats, natural transfats and avoid hydrogenated fats. 

Lean meat and fish are among the main sources of fat here. Natural fats, butter, cream cooked as savoury sauce, olive oil or coconut oil.  Flaxseed, flaxseed oil and soybeans are good too. 

Green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, cabbage, green beans, okra, mustard greens and fresh green herbs like mint, thyme, rosemary, coriander, basil, cilantro should also be used. Other vegetables like tomatoes, brinjal, Turnip and squashes are also essential.  

Example of a Ketogenic diet for a day

2 eggs fried in butter
1 medium grilled tomato/onion or both or any low carb vegetable
28 gms of full fat cheese
coffee/Tea with full fat  milk or cream
1 full plate/3 cups of salad greens topped with 4 Tsp of low carb full fat salad dressing
6 oz piece of chicken breast/fish fillet, that is pan seared, baked or grilled with olive oil and fresh green herbs
any unsewwtened beverage

-A small bowl (6oz) of leab mutton/beef stew in tomatoes, onions, garlic and green herbs, or a 6 oz beef steaks roasted, grilled or slow cooked
- ½ cup boiled soybeans
-1/2 cup bhaji/sauted low carb vegetable like cabbage, cauliflower, spinach or green beans
-tea with heavy cream

The New Nordic Diet: Also known as the Viking Diet or the Scandinavian Diet. This model of diet is a result of a fairly recent research from Scandinavian countries following a Nordic Cuisines Movement in 2004. This is a five year long unique and comprehensive research study based on school meals focusing Scandinavian children of ages 8-11. In 2012 the findings proved that Nordic Diet curb obesity, specially among growing kids and attaining optimum health and well being for general population. The Northern Europe including the countries Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway makes the Nordic region.  

According to a recent international survey the Nordic region among some of the world’s healthiest countries. Besides many benefits of this diet, following a Nordic Diet helps fight off obesity. 

The New Nordic diet emphasize simple balanced home cooked meals using the locally grown organic and seasonal produce. Since Pakistan is an agricultural country with a majority of population living in rural areas, the Nordic Diet is very similar to what our
ancestors ate prior to the boom in the import of packaged, processed, frozen and fast food chains. Looking at the school lunch boxes and tuck shops, and limited engagement in sports and outdoor activities our children are worse victim of it and we might follow the New Nordic Diet 

The Nordic meals are planned on the three principles –Simplicity  2-Purity – Freshness The meals are cooked with fresh locally grown seasonal produce using fresh herbs, , without or very little salt and strong spices.

The healthy Nordic diet plan emphasizes consumption of whole grains like rye, barley, and oats making up at least 25 percent of the daily diet. Seasonal vegetables, including cabbage, legumes, and root vegetables. Fruits like apples, pears, and plums. Berries, including strawberries, black currants, and bilberries. Rapseed oil (also known as canola oil) for cooking and flavoring. Low-fat dairy products. Fish in more than 3 meals per week. Poultry and other  low-fat white meat, or game meat. No sugar-sweetened drinks.

Combination with sufficient and varied physical activity, Nordic diet are optimal for the development and functioning of the body specially growing age children. Also helps introducing them to good eating practices, and making healthy choices since childhood. In adults, Nordic diet leads to reduction of risk factors for certain diet-associated diseases like cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type-2 diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.

Example of a New Nordic diet for a day

Steel cut whole grain oats with some locally grown berries or fruits
Baked omelette with cottage cheese
Wholewheat bread or boiled whole grain barley
Roasted/Steamed/sauted red and green cabbage
Salad made of fresh greens with virgin olive oil and lemon dressings
Fish/seafood Soup made with Tomato and other fresh herb soup. Or just vegetable soup
Poached fish fillet, rye bread/boiled barley
Whole grain Rye bread and butter
Snacks: fresh fruits preferably berries and reduced fat yogurt

This blog is also published in the July-August 2013 of 'Good Food' a leading food and nutrition magazine of Pakistan.