If you’ve ever experienced depression or a mental health issue , journalist and author Rachel Kelly feels your pain. Having endured two breakdowns and regular bouts of low mood, insomnia and exhaustion, Kelly has found many therapies and coping strategies helpful over the years, including medication, but the ambassador for SANE and Young Minds came to realise that what she ate, how she ate it, and who she ate it with could have a profound effect on her sense of wellbeing, even (especially) when she was undergoing a bad patch. Noticing that looking after her body often resulted in an improvement in her mental health, Kelly decided that nourishing the mind should be as important, if not more so, than focusing on the body.
Cooking and eating well aren’t always top of the agenda if you’re feeling fragile, but a new book demonstrates the powerful link between mood and food. For soulful recipes and advice, look no further…
Finding her feet both in the kitchen and in the outside world took time, and certainly wasn’t a seamless process, but small steps led Kelly to registered nutritional therapist Alice Mackintosh , who suggested food and recipes known to boost mood and general health, and after noticing a positive shift, the two teamed up to write The Happy Kitchen . Brimming with affordable meals, quick yet wholesome options for when you’re feeling delicate and nutritional and scientific information to explain the potential benefits (and occasional drawbacks) of many foods, the book straddles the cooking and self-help genres expertly, without being prescriptive or hocus pocus in any way. From practicing mindfulness when eating to reduce anxiety to using kitchen ‘creativity’ to stave off mood swings, The Happy Kitchen is an uplifting read that could give you another tool in your arsenal to feel better about yourself, whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition or not. Rather than pushy positivity, you’ll find practical meal planners, interesting research to mull over and crucially, ‘no rules to weigh you down’. After all, in the words of Kelly, ‘eating less healthily is less damaging than beating yourself up about it’. Start with the mind and go from there, but digging into the following four recipes can’t hurt…
IRON-RICH STEAK SALAD
Alice used to find it quite hard to cook steak, but this method (inspired by Nigella Lawson) keeps it deliciously tender. The marriage between the iron-rich steaks, the colourful salad, the zingy horseradish, and the creamy feta cheese are perfect. I use artichokes and sundried tomatoes from my local supermarket’s deli counter, which saves a lot of time. Be sure not to buy artichokes soaked in vinegar, though, as the flavour will overpower the salad. If possible, use grass-fed steak, which contains more nutrients than intensively farmed beef.
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
1 teaspoon horseradish sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 x 250g rump steaks – ideally around 3cm thick.
For the marinade:
Handful parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
4 drops Tabasco sauce (optional)
For the salad:
80g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
6 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 artichoke hearts, quartered
100g rocket, washed and drained
8 red radishes, thinly sliced
70g feta cheese, crumbled
4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (optional)
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)
1. First make the dressing by combining all the ingredients and shaking them together in a jar.
2. Trim the harder fat off the steaks, brush with oil and season both sides with salt.
3. Heat a griddle or heavy-based pan, and add the meat once hot. Cook for 4 minutes on each side. If you prefer your steak well done, then leave for another 1−2 minutes on each side.
4. Meanwhile, make the marinade. Whisk together all the ingredients in a dish big enough to accommodate the cooked steaks.
5. Place the steaks in the marinade for 8 minutes, turning them halfway through. Then remove them to a board and slice them thinly on the diagonal.
6. While the meat rests, combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour over three-quarters of the dressing and toss everything together.
7. To serve, place the sliced steak on a bed of the salad and pour over the rest of the dressing. Scatter with toasted pine nuts, if so desired.
Another healthy twist on a familiar favourite. Chicken is rich in protein, as well as zinc and B vitamins, and sweet potatoes are a great source of fibre and betacarotene. If you prefer white ones, leave the skin on to retain the fibre.
500g sweet or white potatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
300g chicken thighs or breasts (skinless and boneless), chopped into 2cm chunks
1 leek, cut into slices
10 brown mushrooms, diced
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons wholegrain flour
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons creme fraiche
½ -1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. If using white potatoes, leave the skin on and chop them into small chunks. Boil them in a pan of salted water until they are soft. The time will depend on the size of the chunks but it should take no more than 15-20 minutes.
3. If using sweet potatoes, peel them and chop them into chunks, toss them in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and bake them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they are soft (they absorb too much water if they are boiled).
4. In a pan, fry the chicken with the leek in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and lemon zest and cook for another 3-5 minutes. The chicken pieces should be around 80 per cent cooked by this point.
5. Add the flour to thicken the sauce, stirring for around 2 minutes.
6. Add the water and stir in the lemon juice, crème fraiche and mustard, then take off the heat.
7. Once the potatoes are cooked, mash them with the remaining olive oil.
8. Spoon the chicken mixture into a small baking dish, or 2 individual ramekins and spread the mashed potato over the top.
9. Bake the pie(s) for 10-15 minutes in the oven. If you wish, you can place them under the grill to brown the mash before serving.
CECILIA’S PURPLE RISOTTO WITH GOATS CHEESE AND BEETROOT
This recipe was given to us by Cecilia, a friend and an accomplished cook, who helps develop healthy recipes for mothers with small children. You can make it with brown rice, but it takes a little longer, and the risotto won’t be quite as creamy. If you are cooking the beetroot from raw, use gloves when peeling it. Beetroot can boost blood flow to the brain. The walnuts provide omega-3s.
300g cooked beetroot (raw or pre-cooked)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200g risotto (or brown) rice
600ml vegetable stock
60g soft goat’s cheese
100g walnuts, chopped
1. If you are using fresh beetroot, wash and trim them, but do not peel them. Place them in a large saucepan and completely cover with water. Bring the water to the boil then reduce the heat, put the lid on and simmer until they are just tender. This should take around 30 - 40 minutes depending on their size.
2. Leave the beetroot to cool and then peel and dice them. If you are using pre-cooked beetroot, simply dice them into small chunks.
3. Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until they have softened, then stir in the rice and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. The grains should go slightly translucent.
4. Add a splash of water to the pan and stir, then turn the heat down and add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, stirring the rice regularly to ensure it doesn’t stick – a lovely soothing process I find. This is what releases the starch and gives the risotto its creamy consistency.
5. When the stock is almost used up and the rice is cooked – this should take 15-20 minutes – stir the diced beetroot and half the goat’s cheese into it. Leave it for about 5 minutes before switching the heat off.
6. Toast the walnuts in a frying pan over a moderate heat for 2-4 minutes, tossing them regularly to prevent them from burning.
7. Serve the risotto with a scattering of chopped toasted walnuts, the remaining goat’s cheese and a crisp green salad.
DARK CHOCOLATE BRAZIL NUT BROWNIES
We spent ages perfecting these, ensuring that they were soft, rich and gooey in the centre. Though they are still a treat, you have more control over the ingredients as you are making them yourself. Spelt flour is wholegrain, meaning that it won’t lead to a sugar spike as white flour does, and Brazil nuts contain selenium which, as we have seen, plays an important role in the immune system. Cacao is a rich source of magnesium and antioxidants.
Makes about 15 squares
10 Brazil nuts
125g dark chocolate (ideally 100% cocoa, or use 85%)
100ml almond milk
150g coconut oil, plus extra for greasing the tin
250ml maple syrup
Seeds from vanilla pod or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
50g raw cacao powder, sieved
130g spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1. Preheat the oven to 190C. Grease a 30cm x 20cm brownie tin and line it with baking parchment. Leave the paper sticking up at the sides to make it easier to lift the brownies out when they are cooked.
2. Roast the Brazil nuts in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them once halfway through. They should be slightly browned. Leave them to cool, and then chop them up coarsely.
3. Put the chocolate, almond milk, coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla seeds or extract in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, stirring regularly, until everything has melted and you have a rich, glossy-looking batter.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cacao powder.
5. Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 minutes, and then beat in the eggs. Add the flour, baking powder and chopped Brazil nuts.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake it in the oven for about 12 minutes. Insert a cocktail stick and it should come out with a little chocolate residue. If you like your brownies less gooey, put the tin back in the oven for a further 3-5 minutes but take it out before the top starts to crack, otherwise the consistency will be more like cake.
7. Remove the tin from the oven and use the baking paper to help you slide the whole brownie onto a cooling rack. Cut it into squares once it has cooled completely.
All recipes copyright Rachel Kelly and extracted from The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly and Alice Mackintosh , Short Books £14.99 paperback
All photography by Laura Edwards