Greens Don’t Have to Be Green!

Greens are such a byword of sound nutrition that it is sometimes hard to remember that vegetables come in other colors. It can seem as if anything green scores double goodness points regardless of vitamin merit.

Perhaps this is why vegetable courses are often easier to concoct than vegetable accompaniments to meat and fish. Summer’s star produce, from the first asparagus spear to the last full-blown artichoke, demands a plate of its own on which to show off.

Restaurants seldom offer inspiration to deviate from the rut of green beans, mange tout or garden peas and spinach; faced with vegetable exotica in the supermarket or seed catalogue, it may be easier to think of many varieties simply as ingredients. Well, aubergines are for moussaka, aren’t they?

Aubergines are also for ratatouille. This version is sweet and fresh tasting. Each of the vegetables contributes its flavor to the harmony of the whole, and tomato puree does not get so much as a look-in.

Served cold – it tastes better at room temperature than chilled – ratatouille is an easy-going first course or vegetable. It keeps well for several days in the fridge and freezes too.

Put the onions in a big saute pan with the oil and cook them gently so that they soften without browning.

Cut the unpeeled aubergines into 1cm (1/3in) dice, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain in a colander.

Cut the red peppers into similar sized pieces, discarding the seeds, and add the aubergines and peppers to the pan. Simmer the mixture, covered, for about half an hour.

Skin the tomatoes if you like before chopping them coarsely, and add them to the mixture with the garlic. The coriander seeds can go in crushed or whole, toasted first in a dry pan to bring out the warmth of their flavor. Simmer the ratatouille for another 10 minutes or so, then leave it to cool. Sprinkle with finely chopped basil or parsley just before serving.

Some oil will usually accumulate on the surface of this dish and it can be skimmed off before serving, or stirred in. It is better to remove any surplus after cooking than to reduce the quantity specified.

Two additional flavors complement the sweetness of beetroot unexpectedly well. They are fresh thyme leaves and toasted coriander seeds – used separately, not together. If beetroot, with little or no vinegar but with either thyme or coriander, are salad variations you have not yet tried, I commend them to you.

Beetroot are sadly neglected as a hot vegetable, too. Serve small beetroot with roast beef or game.

Beetroot and coriander Serves 4 12 small fresh beetroot Salt 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter 1 teaspoon coriander seeds. Add freshly ground black pepper.

Wash the beetroot but do not peel them. Leave 1cm (1/3in) or so of root and stalk attached to each beet: trimming them too neatly allows their magnificent color to bleed into the cooking liquid. Steam or boil the beetroot until they are tender, then allow them to cool a little before slipping off their skins and trimming them top and tail.

Return the beetroot to the pan with a little salt and the oil or melted butter. Season liberally with ground coriander seeds which have been toasted in a dry pan until the aroma rises richly, and freshly ground black pepper. Heat gently until hot again and serve.

Braised onions are a richly flavored accompaniment to plainly roasted meat or poultry. They can also be used as a filling for blind baked pastry cases or as a topping for discs of pizza dough.

Peel the onions and slice them in quite thick rings. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and add the onions, raisins and wine. Add a little salt and cook the onions, covered, on a low heat for at least an hour, taking care that they do not brown. They are ready when they are meltingly tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. If they dry too much before they are tender, add more wine or water. Adjust the salt to your taste and finish with a generous sprinkling of fresh black pepper.

Reduce Heart Disease with Tea

A variety of tea from the province of Yunan in China could reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the results of research by some of Europe’s leading scientists in studies of nutrition.

Their investigations show that levels of hazardous cholesterol and other lipids in the blood are reduced by drinking tuocha tea, which is a black, smokey variety.

French doctors who did the research hope it can be used to prevent heart disease. They have completed a series of tests measuring the changes in cholesterol, which is the main component of hard deposits in the lining of the arteries, and the beta-lipoproteins, fat-like substances which tend to clog the arteries.

The Chinese have long believed in the medicinal properties of tuocha tea and Yunan exports its whole production to the rest of the country.

Professor Bernard Jacotot, of the Henri Londor Hospital in Paris, gave 20 patients, who had unusually high levels of lipids in the blood stream, three bowls of tea each day for a month. He found that the level of lipids in the patients’ blood decreased by nearly a quarter. However, the same amount of another tea during the following month gave no results.

Professor Claude Lutton, of the Orsay Laboratory of Nutrition and Physiology in Paris, experimented on rats. One group was given a diet rich in cholesterol during three months while the other was given a normal diet. Animals in the first group showed a very high increase in their cholesterol levels (1.6 grams per liter), whereas in the second group the cholesterol levels remained normal, 0.8 grams per liter.

When Professor Lutton added tuocha tea to the diet of both groups of rats during the following nine weeks the cholesterol levels of the rats in the first group decreased by a third. In the other group with normal levels it decreased by only a tenth.

Professor Lutton knows that the decrease of beta-lipoproteins was particularly marked. He says more studies are needed to identify the substances in tuocha tea, and perhaps other teas as well, that regulate the complex metabolism of cholesterol.

The French doctor thinks it is likely that components in the tea act on the lining of the intestine, limiting the amount of cholesterol that can be absorbed. Tuocha tea is now being tested on rats that have genetically inherited high cholesterol levels.

If the antidote to cholesterol in eggs and fat on bacon is contained in the teapot, the traditional British breakfast may survive.