By Laura Tilt
Lots of rich food, late nights, and more alcohol than normal can leave your gut feeling a little fragile after the festive season, but balance (and comfort!) is usually restored once you’re back into your usual routine.
If your gut is feeling a little delicate, you can give it a helping hand by opting for several alcohol-free days and building in some gentle movement (like walking or cycling) which supports gut motility and can help move gas through the gut, relieving sensations of bloating. Having your last meal of the day a bit earlier can be helpful too (7 instead of 9 for example), as it gives your stomach time to empty before bed, which will reduce the chance of heartburn and discomfort.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling motivated to get in the kitchen and prepare some gut-nourishing meals to your microbes after a few weeks of festive feasting, look no further - I’ve got three seasonal recipes that deliver on warmth, taste, and gut friendly nutrients. Let’s get cooking!
Pear and Apple Crumble with Nutty Buckwheat Topping
Who doesn’t love a bowl of crumble and custard?! This classic pud can be made any time of year using seasonal fruit - and in January it’s all about apples and pears, both good sources of pectin, a gut friendly soluble fibre.
Instead of a traditional topping, I’ve opted for buckwheat, oat and hazelnut crumb, for some extra more fibre, polyphenols and plant-based diversity. It’s also delicious!
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
For the fruit base:
1kg apples and pears - about 500g of each - approx 3 large pears, 3 cooking apples
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp / 20g demerara sugar
3 tbsp boiling water
For the crumble topping:
120g buckwheat flour
75g chilled butter, cut into cubes
50g demerara sugar
1. Preheat your oven to 190c / 370 F
2. Peel and core the apples and cut into thin-ish slices - doing this means no pre-cooking is required. Repeat with the pears (leave the skin on for more fibre unless you prefer them without) and tip the fruit slices into a large baking dish. Use your hands to mix up the apples and pears.
3. Put the one tablespoon of brown sugar, lemon juice and boiling water into a small jug and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour this ‘syrup’ evenly over the fruit slices.
4. To make the crumble topping, pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse mixture, like breadcrumbs. Tip into a bowl with the buckwheat flour and chopped butter. Use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour and nuts until you have a mixture which looks like breadcrumbs. Tip in the oats and sugar and rub together again briefly until everything is mixed.
5. Scatter the crumble topping over the fruit, top with a small extra sprinkle of sugar and a few extra chopped hazelnuts if liked. Bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden and crunchy and the fruit is soft. Serve with custard or Greek yoghurt.
Beetroot Barley Risotto
Risotto is perfect cold weather comfort food but is usually a low fibre dish. In this version I’ve switched rice for pearl barley, which is a grain with a nutty texture that’s a source of fibre, and beetroot for colour and extra fibre - both things your microbes love!
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 40 minutes
2 large shallots, finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
300 grams pearl barley
200ml white wine
1.2 litre of vegetable stock
500g cooked beetroot (not in vinegar) juices reserved
75g soft goat’s cheese or Parmesan (or a mix of both)
Small bunch of dill
Salt and black pepper
Drizzle of sour cream/oat cream to serve (optional)
1. Prepare your shallots and roughly grate the beetroot into a bowl, reserving the juices from the pack. Grate the Parmesan (if using), chop the dill and set to one side.
2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan and gently fry the shallots with a pinch of salt until golden - around 5 minutes. Keep them moving around the pan so they don’t catch or burn.
3. Tip in the pearl barley and stir to coat with the shallot mix. Cook for around a minute and then pour in the wine. It will sizzle - keep stirring until it’s almost evaporated.
4. Next, pour in a third of the stock. Give everything a good stir, allow it to come to a simmer and then cook, adding more stock once the liquid has absorbed. Repeat until the stock is used and the barley is tender, which should be around 30 minutes. It will retain a nutty texture with some bite, but the centre shouldn’t be hard.
5. One the pearly barley is cooked, tip in the grated beetroot and its juices, and stir well. Bring back to a gentle simmer and heat through until the barley has taken on a nice pink colour.
6. Beat in two thirds of the Parmesan or goats cheese and about half the dill. Taste, and season with black pepper and a pinch of salt if needed.
7. Pile into bowls and top with remaining cheese and dill, or a small swirl of sour cream.
Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Paprika Almonds
Soups are my go-to lunch during winter - not only are they filling and warming, but they’re also an easy way to sneak some colourful veggies into your diet.
This squash soup scores gut friendly points thanks to the lentils, onions, garlic, and almonds - all sources of prebiotic fibre, which selectively feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Take advantage of your kitchen time by doubling up on the ingredients and freeze in portions so you have a readymade lunch for work.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
1 medium butternut squash (around 750-900 grams of flesh) peeled and cut into cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic
Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
100g split red lentils
1 litre vegetable stock
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp oat cream, plus extra to swirl (optional)
Salt and pepper to season
For the topping (optional but delicious):
60g almonds, roughly chopped
1-2 tsp olive oil
0.5 tsp smoked paprika
1. Prepare your vegetables. You’ll find the squash easier to handle if you remove both ends and cut in half across its middle (widthways). Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin, remove the seeds and cut into cubes - the smaller they are the quicker the soup will cook.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic over a gentle heat with a pinch of salt for around 5 minutes until golden and fragrant.
3. Add the butternut squash cubes, red lentils and chilli flakes. Pour in the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes until the squash is soft.
4. Take the soup off the heat, add the lemon juice, and then use a hand blender or food processor to blend the soup to a smooth creamy consistency, remembering to take care as it will be hot. You can do this in batches if needed.
5. Return the soup to the pan, stir through the oat cream if you are using and then taste. Add a little salt and pepper if needed. Leave over a gentle heat whilst you make your topping.
6. Now make your topping. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and when hot, add the almonds and let them sizzle for a minute, shaking the pan until they smell fragrant. Add the paprika, a small pinch of salt and shake the pan to combine the spices with the nuts - cook for a further 20-30 seconds then take off the heat.
7. Load the soup in bowls and top with a swirl of oat cream and a small spoon of the crunchy almond topping.