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Food: More power to your plate

James Wong shows how a little kitchen science can boost the nutrition in pretty much every ingredient, transforming any food into a superfood. Here’s a taste from his brilliant new book How to Eat Better. 

A stack of studies has consistently shown that light cooking not only doesn’t damage the nutritional content of greens (such as spinach) but can also greatly improve it. What’s more, there are some ways of cooking greens that appear to be much better at conserving their ingredients than others. For example, steam or microwave kale (or sauté with a splash of water) and its antioxidant and polyphenol levels jump 40 per cent; boil it and about half of these leak into the cooking water. The same holds true for a range of other greens, so stick to light steaming, sautéing and microwaving, and leave boiling for soups and stews.


Studies at Reading University have shown that what you serve with cooked crucifers can also have a phenomenal impact on their potential health benefits. Adding just half a teaspoon of mustard powder for every 200g made cooked greens, almost as if by magic, pretty much as good as raw.


Magic mustard dressing


This makes enough to transform the nutritional content of an average 300g head of broccoli. In a bowl whisk together 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp mustard powder, a large pinch of sea salt, ¼ tsp dried dill and ¼ tsp clear honey. Use immediately. Larger batches of the dressing can be stored in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.


Broccoli made better


Serving cooked broccoli with raw cruciferous veg like rocket or watercress can have a similar effect to mustard, so why not add both? Chuck in some pistachios and crumbled feta cheese and that’s the veg course sorted.


Sautéed  Kale with lemon & garlic



1) Sauté 150g kale, washed and sliced, in a hot frying pan with a splash of water for 2-3 minutes until wilted and dark green.

2) Toss in ½ red chilli, sliced, 30g chopped honey-roast cashews, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, sliced, and the finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon.

3) Season generously with salt and pepper and serve immediately.


Grilled peach, beetroot & feta salad



OK, I’ll admit it. I’m lazy in the kitchen. I rarely buy fresh beetroot, especially when precooked, vacuum-sealed packs are often far more readily available in my local supermarket for the same price or cheaper. So I was delighted to find that processed beets possess not only much more antioxidant activity than raw, but also more potentially heart-healthy betalains than cooking your own from scratch, according to researchers in Berlin. They tried boiling, roasting, microwaving and commercial vacuum-cooking beetroot and found across the board all methods caused its antioxidant activity to double or even triple. And microwaving or vacuum-cooking caused betalains to rise by as much as 20 per cent. Hooray for kitchen shortcuts!



50g walnuts

4 cooked beetroot, cut into wedges

4 peaches, halved, stoned and cut into wedges

50g feta cheese, crumbled

1 red onion, very finely sliced

50g rocket leaves

50g watercress

80g jamón ibérico

1 quantity roast chickpea croutons (see below)

salt and pepper



100g spring onions, roughly chopped

50g honey-roasted cashew nuts

1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp garlic mayonnaise

½ tsp English mustard

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp roughly chopped dill

1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

½ tsp salt

1) Heat a nonstick frying pan over a medium-low heat and toast the walnuts for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2) To make the cashew ranch dressing, blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

3) Arrange the salad ingredients on a serving plate and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle one-third of the dressing over the salad (the remainder can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days) and serve.


1) Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Drain and rinse 2 x 400g cans of chickpeas.

2) Place in a large bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp hot smoked paprika, 1 tsp garlic powder and ½ tsp salt.

3) Toss together, tip on to a large baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until the chickpeas are crisp and golden.

4) Serve warm or cold. I love these in salads, atop soups, as a crisp garnish to vegetable and rice dishes or even blended up to make a smoky, roasted hummus. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.


Roasted cherry tomato sauce



This is probably the simplest tomato sauce recipe known to man. Roasting tomatoes causes them to lose water, concentrating the chemicals within the fruit, creating a sauce with richer flavour and enhanced nutrition. Tomatoes and their products are by far the richest dietary source of a phytonutrient known as lycopene (the carotene pigment responsible for their red colour), which has been found to reduce the risk of UV skin damage, stroke and prostate cancer. Using unpeeled cherry tomatoes adds to the total lycopene content of the dish (not to mention saving you the faff) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to finish helps your body absorb even more of the good stuff. This sauce freezes beautifully, too, making it a handy standby for super-fast healthy food. See the links below for a few ideas on how to use it.


1kg cherry tomatoes

1 large onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp red chilli flakes

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

100g toasted flaked almonds

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

small handful of basil leaves, torn

1) Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.

2) Toss together all the ingredients except the basil in a roasting tin and roast for 40 minutes.

3) Stir the basil through the tomatoes to combine.


Cherry tomato pasta



Spoon some Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce (see recipe above) over hot pasta, add a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese shavings and some basil leaves and serve.

A study by the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming tomato extracts with milk protein also significantly boosted the bioavailability of the lycopene they contained, even more so than concentrated tomato purée, the richest source currently known. It’s a welcome excuse to add a grating of Parmesan, a spoonful of ricotta or a crumbling of feta to every tomato dish I make. Why not?

Lasagne soup



1) Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a saucepan and fry 200g minced beef until browned.

2) Add 8 fresh lasagne sheets, sliced into strips, 1 bay leaf, 1 tbsp tomato purée, 1 litre hot beef stock and 200g Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce (see recipe page, below)

3) Simmer for 10 minutes until the pasta is tender and the beef cooked through.

4) Ladle into 4 bowls and serve each topped with 1 tbsp fresh ricotta cheese and a sprinkling of red chilli flakes and oregano leaves or flowers.




1) Toast 4 large slices of wholemeal sourdough bread and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.

2) Scatter over a handful of rocket leaves, then divide 250g Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce (see recipe below) among the toasts and serve.
SPLASH ON THE OIL -Scientists in Australia found that by simply adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 300g of cooked tomatoes, the amount of easy-to-absorb soluble lycopene in participants’ blood shot up to almost three times that of those eating tomatoes without the oil. But it’s not just the lycopene that benefits from the added fat. A team from Spain found that enriching tomato sauce with olive oil also boosted the absorption of potentially heart-healthy chemicals called polyphenols.

Saffron rice & beans



My lovely auntie Monica makes the best rice and beans in the universe. It turns out this classic combo is as healthy as it is tasty, with a growing body of research demonstrating that pulses, such as peas, beans and lentils, can blunt the impact of even super-high-GI white rice on blood sugar by as much as 50 per cent when eaten together. These carb-quelling effects can last several hours, helping reduce the impact of carbs eaten at your next meal – even the next day! The protein boost you get from ‘cutting’ rice with pulses helps keep you fuller for longer and that’s before we get on to the extra polyphenols and flavour. As beans contain fewer calories and carbs, replacing part of your rice with them could even start to make an impact on your waistline in the long term. Talk about a win-win situation!


1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, finely sliced

2 carrots, grated

2 aubergines, diced

250g brown basmati rice, rinsed

2 tsp saffron threads

¼ tsp cinnamon

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

400g can black beans, rinsed and drained

50g dried sour cherries

100g shelled pistachio nuts

1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

50g pomegranate seeds

1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, carrots and aubergine and fry gently for 10 minutes until golden.

2) Stir the rice, saffron and cinnamon into the vegetables and fry for 2-3 minutes.

3) Add the stock, black beans and sour cherries and mix well, then slowly bring to the boil.

4) Cover with a lid and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.


Chickpea & brown sugar pancakes with cherry compote



The breakfast of kings, these pancakes made with protein-packed chickpea flour have an incredible moreish texture and will keep you fuller for longer. With my cherry compote (see below) on top, a match made in cherry-chickpea heaven.


150g chickpea flour

2 eggs

150g canned sweetcorn kernels, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp demerara sugar

1 tsp mixed spice

finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

1 tsp vanilla essence

½ tsp baking powder

large pinch of salt

1 tbsp melted butter, plus extra for greasing

1) Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth batter.

2) Grease a large frying pan with butter and heat until hot, then pour spoonfuls of the chunky batter into the pan to make small pancakes the size of a CD.

3) Cook for about 1 minute on each side until golden and cooked through.

4) Remove from the pan and keep warm in a low oven until all the pancakes are made.

5) Slather the compote over a towering stack of pancakes and serve with fruit.





300g morello cherries, pitted

1 tbsp arrowroot or cornflour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tbsp granulated stevia (baking blend)

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1) Place all the ingredients in a microwaveable bowl and stir to combine.

2) Cook in a microwave on high for 3 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking time.

3) Leave to cool slightly before serving. Store the compote in the fridge for up to 1 week.

If I had to pick just one fruit to live off for ever, it would have to be the deep, dark, delicious cherry. Just as well then that, on top of loads of vitamins, minerals and fibre, early research is also beginning to reveal some fascinating effects that the phytonutrients they contain may have on our bodies. As well as a heady cocktail of anti-inflammatory compounds (which may help with exercise recovery and with arthritic conditions such as gout), cherries also contain melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep patterns. There is a clear indication that one type of cherry in particular (the glossy red Morello) is not only more nutrient dense, but also has greater evidence of health benefits. Every year I wait for the Morello season with bated breath to make this compote. It freezes wonderfully, too, so I make a massive batch to freeze in sealable bags to last me all year.


Black rice pudding



One of my favourite breakfasts, this recipe is based on the most traditional Chinese way of eating black rice, which is a rice pudding slightly slackened with coconut milk. I have shamelessly Westernised it by adding fruit and yoghurt to make it even healthier.


200g black rice

500ml water

100ml coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp mixed spice

½ tsp salt



chopped fruit such as mango and kiwi

chopped pistachio nuts

coconut milk yoghurt (optional)


1) Combine all the pudding ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat.

2) Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Feel free to add extra water if needed, a splash at a time, especially towards the end of the cooking time.

3) Spoon into bowls and serve topped with chopped fruit and pistachios and a spoonful of coconut milk yoghurt, if liked.



Today’s recipes are from How To Eat Better by James Wong, to be published by Mitchell Beazley on Thursday, price £20. 

To pre-order a copy for £15 (a 25 per cent discount) until 16 April, visit or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.