Chris and I have started eating differently. Before, we’d have a mid-morning brunch consisting mainly of vegetables and beans, a snack during afternoon tea, and then dinner with a glass or two of wine, at least in my case. We thought the way we ate was an exemplar of good health but, according to an endocrine specialist and a kinesiologist I visited in South Africa last week, it’s not. At least for me: a middle-aged woman with an aching back and joints, paying the price for a misspent youth falling off horses, falling down ski slopes, and executing dance moves better suited to that lucky girl–her name escapes me–who was taught to dance by the dishy Patrick Swayze in the film, Dirty Dancing.
I was told I wasn’t eating enough protein, especially for a woman of MY AGE. I was told that sugar was like poison to me. I was told that I had to rebalance my endocrine system, which meant no more wine–AGHHH!–no more carbohydrates, and no more yum-yums, except for a little dark chocolate now and then. I was told it was important to eat often, to graze even, making sure I never felt hungry or deprived. To quote my French doctor: “You must think of the food in your stomach as wood. If there’s no wood, there’s no fuel for energy. How can you feel strong–how can you burn fat–with no fuel?” Right.
I’ve since started experimenting and developing different ways of preparing food Chris and I love. Eating out of the garden, as we do, I now incorporate proteins, which haven’t necessarily been taken from a pig’s back. It’s a challenge. Though we live near the Zambezi River, fresh fish is hard to come by, and I have to be careful with dairy, and fatty meat like lamb, because I’m also trying to lose weight. Eggs are terrific, but can be only eaten twice or three times a week. Nuts, again, must be eaten in moderation, so rather than eating handfuls, as we once did, I’m trying now to incorporate them into my recipes.
I’m a fan of another Annabel, who gardens, cooks and forages in New Zealand. She recently posted a recipe for a cashew mustard dressing that set my imagination alight. With all the salad and cold food we’re eating in these steamy summer months, why not use nuts to not only make dressings, but mayonnaise and sauces too? I knew we still had Mongongo nuts, collected earlier in the year, that I could make the center point from which to work. I developed a salad recipe, using leftover chicken, which I paired with raw carrots, green beans, red peppers, and baby fennel. Many salad ingredients would work with this recipe; I just used what we had in the garden or refrigerator. I made a mayonnaise to go with the chicken using the Mongongo nuts and summer savory, a herb a little like thyme that works well with any poultry dishes.
Mongongo Nut & Summer Savory Chicken Salad
Yield: Serves 2-4.
- 1/2 cup Mongongo nuts, shelled and roasted
- 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Water, to thin to a preferred consistency
- 1 tablespoon summer savory, removed from stem and finely chopped
- 4 carrots, peeled and shaved with a potato peeler
- 2 cups green beans, blanched and halved lengthways
- 2 red peppers, finely sliced
- 1 baby fennel, finely sliced (include finely chopped feathers for garnish)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cold chicken (we used leftovers)
- 2 tablespoons roasted Mongongo nuts, crushed
- Blend the Mongongo nuts, mustard, honey, lemon juice and salt into a fine paste, adding the water to thin to your preferred consistency. (I used slightly less than 1/2 cup of water for my mayonnaise.)
- Stir the fresh summer savory into the mayonnaise and set aside.
- Mix the carrots, green beans, red peppers and baby fennel in a bowl, and carefully transfer to an individual plate.
- Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice and rice vinegar well, and dress the salad. Season to your taste. (If you prefer to make a nut dressing instead of a mayonnaise, leave out this stage.)
- Carve finely-sliced pieces of chicken breast, and set next to the salad on each individual plate.
- Spoon the mayonnaise over the sliced chicken, and garnish with crushed Mongongo nuts and chopped fennel feathers.
Note: Any soft, creamy nut will work with this recipe.