Beetroot, nettles and rhubarb are the real superfoods of spring. Try them in my seasonal ‘Yogalife’ menu…


The best kind of PYO – nettles and wild garlic growing along the banks of the Medway

Last Saturday, March 17th, yoga teacher Julie Bickerton and I ran our first seasonal yoga and food workshop here in Hartfield @theyogahub Hartfield, Julie’s very special new yoga studio on the boundaries of the glorious Ashdown Forest.

Every season has its own special energy with particular lessons to teach us, if only we take the time to pause and listen to what our bodies are telling us. This quality, inherent in the year’s changing cycle, was reflected in the style of both our yoga practice and the accompanying cookery demonstration. The focus was on local seasonal produce, giving us the perfect opportunity to tune in to what nature is showing us both internally and in the world outside as the countryside emerges from the cold into new life.

One of a series of quarterly workshop which we plan to run either for one day or across a weekend, last Saturday saw us welcome our first group. The day began with a flow practice session to encourage participants to tune into their breath, bodies and the energy emerging in the surrounding countryside. Energised and soothed, we then enjoyed an interactive cookery demonstration and talk about ingredients and cooking methods in Julie’s welcoming country kitchen, a session which morphed effortlessy into lunch and plenty of chat around the subject of food and yoga.

A short walk to appreciate the spring life going on outside the yoga studio followed by a restorative yoga session with yin elements, and we sent our students on their way with tea and chocolate chip cookies. All-in-all a wonderful way to celebrate the longer days, new life and energy of the season.

Here is the menu I cooked and served with recipes adapted from my The Busy Mum’s Cookbook.

Yogalife Spring Equinox Menu

Roasted beetroot hummus with crudites and warm pitta bread

Wild garlic and nettle soup

Local cheeseboard with fig and walnut bread

Rhubarb and almond cake with creme fraiche

I planned this menu around fresh seasonal ingredients to give sluggish immune systems coming back to life after the winter a welcome boost. Cooked simply to preserve nutrients, they promote a healthy gut whilst strengthening and enlivening all the body’s systems. These ingredients have been valued for their effectiveness in aleviating everything from arthritis to bladder infections, hayfever to eczema. Now modern medical research is backing up the value of these traditional remedies as part of a healthy diet.

Roasted beetroot hummus

Hummus has a permanent place in my fridge – it provides an easy healthy lunch or snack and, if I also keep a bag of prepared vegetable sticks ready plus plenty of pitta bread in the freezer, the young graze happily on it rather than on bags of crisps. But I do always make my own as it takes minutes, is much nicer than shop-made and far cheaper…

And adding beetroot brings a glorious technicolour to the finished dish whilst adding sweetness and flavour and plenty of very useful minerals, vitamins, especially C  to aid absorption of the iron in the chick peas and K vitamin which helps the body build bone density. One nutritionist I read referred to beetroot as having ‘exceptional nutrional value”! When I’m organised I soak a pack of dried chickpeas overnight, cook them up and freeze any I don’t need for other dishes, worth it for the best texture for the finished hummus. But if I’m busy, a can will do fine….

Serves 4 – 6/Prep 20mins/Cook 45 – 50 mins plus soaking time overnight

100g dried chickpeas (or 400g can chickpeas) 2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 – 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp tahini paste (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil to finish
warm pitta bread and vegetable crudités to serve

1 Cover the dried chickpeas in cold water and leave to soak overnight. The following day Preheat the oven to 200C/fan oven 190C/Gas mark 6. Drain the chickpeas and place in a pan covered with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 minutes then simmer for a further 35 – 40 minutes until just tender. Leave to cool in the cooking water.

2  While the chick peas are cooking put the beetroot into wedges and arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with half the olive oil, scatter with the cumin seeds and seasoning. Roast for 45 minutes until tender, turning once during cooking. Leave to cool.

3 Place the drained chickpeas in a processor or blender (reserve the cooking water from the chickpeas) with the garlic, lemon juice and seasoning and whiz until almost smooth and thick. Add some of the cooking juices if the mixture is too thick to let it down. Add the beetroot with any cooking juices and tahini and whiz again to give a brightly coloured paste then drizzle in the olive oil and blend again quickly to mix. Check the seasoning.

4 Spoon the hummus into a serving bowl and add a splash of olive oil. Serve with warm pitta bread and vegetable crudites. Keep covered with cling wrap in the fridge for 2 – 3 days.

Cook’s tip: Both the cooked chick peas and hummus freeze well so I tend to make a large batch then keep chickpeas and hummus in my freezer ready for emergencies. Freeze in rigid containers for up to three months. Defrost overnight loosely wrapped in a cool place.

Wild garlic and nettle soup

The first shoots of nettles and wild garlic are emerging along the banks of streams and in hedgerows, and are a wonderful source of useful minerals and vitamins. They are a seasonal favourite of mine at a time when there isn’t much choice of fresh greenery around. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was encouraging us to eat more nettles last week on the Today programme and I don’t need much encouragement. I love the idea that I am picking my wild food in the same places that the people who have lived in my cottage over the past 500 years it has been in existence have done at this time of year.

I use both together and separately in soups, potato dishes such as the Nettle Champ recipe in The WI Cookbook: The First 100 Years, in risottos and pasta dishes. Wild garlic also goes into salads, shredded in omelettes or stir fried with ginger as a vegetable, rather like spinach.

Pick just the top six leaves of newly emerging nettles with rubber gloves. Wild garlic can be used with its flowers. Pick away from traffic or where farmers have sprayed. Nettles will lose their sting as soon as you heat them. They have a fresh intense green flavour similar to spinach and are packed with useful vitamins – including A, C, and K – and minerals such as iron and calcium, high in protein, and traditionally valued for their blood thinning and diuretic properties. Wild garlic has a milder flavour than traditional bulbs of garlic and is lovely wrapped around fish fillets before baking, shredded into egg dishes such as omelettes. You can eat the white flowers as well as the leaves. Remember to pick a few leaves from each clump rather than decimate your local patch so the plants are there for others.

For four, chop an onion, celery stick, carrot and leek and cook gently in a tablespoon of cold pressed rapeseed oil – I like to use Claire Ecksley’s lovely PureKent oil as it has a lovely mellow flavour and lacks the harshness that I have found in some other oils. Add a large potato, peeled and cubed, and cook for a few minutes more. Add a litre of good vegetable stock, season and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Pick over and wash 250g each of nettle tops and wild garlic and add to the soup. Simmer for a couple of minutes until wilted. You can either serve the soup as it is or blend – I use my  Bamix stick blender which I like for its powerful motor and ease of use and cleaning. Add more stock if the base is too thick. Season to taste and serve in warm bowls with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche. If you haven’t got access to wild garlic and nettles, this is my basic soup recipe and I add whatever veg is around – broccoli, spinach, kale, chard, etc. It’s a great way to use up leftover veg in the bottom of the fridge. You can also add a can of canellini beans or borlotti beans with the green veg. I then freeze any leftovers.

Rhubarb and almond cake

This cake is a favourite stand-by dessert in my home at any time of year, usually served warm with ice cream following a Sunday roast. I just add whatever fruit is in season so it becomes apple and blackberry in autumn, raspberry and redcurrant in the summer and mincemeat and cranberry for Christmas. At this time of year in the spring I use lovely pink forced rhubarb. It’s another super food Whatever version I serve, people love it – the perfect recipe! And any leftovers go into the cake tin for later in the week

Makes one 20cm cake/Prep 15 minutes/Cook 1 ¼ – 1 ½ hours

175g plain flour ( I love PureKent’s Stoneground Wheat and Barley Flour)
  2tsp baking powder
200g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
150g butter, melted
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
500g rhubarb, trimmed and sliced
25g flaked almonds

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/fan oven 160C/ Gas Mark 3. Butter and base line a loose-bottomed deep 20cm cake tin.

2 Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and ground almonds then beat in the melted butter and beaten eggs to give a soft mixture that drops easily off a wooden spoon. Spoon half the mixture over the base of the cake tin. Arrange the apple slices and blackberries over the cake base then drop the rest of the mixture over in spoonfuls, leaving gaps. Scatter with the flaked almonds.

3 Bake in the preheated oven for 1 ¼ – 1 1/2 hours until well risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre emerges clean and dry. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove from the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool. Serve with creme fraiche or good quality vanilla ice cream.


About marygwynn

Food writer, traveller, grower, picker, gatherer, cook...oh and still a busy mum
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