Victoria Gate, the new shopping complex due to open Spring 2016 in Leeds, is not exactly the sort of project I would tend to associate food banks and healthy living schemes. Their developers Hammerson however have backed a local Leeds project called Zest Health for Life, a project that offers support and opportunities for people in disadvantaged areas. One of the main aims of ZHfL is to reduce health inequalities, something that comes hand in hand with healthy eating and sadly these days' food banks.
Healthy eating doesn't come easy for everyone, we'd all like to be a little healthier but when discounts are found in the crisp and chocolate aisle who isn't tempted? When you can buy massive ready meals that advertise they feed a family of four and all you need to do is chuck it in the oven for 20 minutes after a stressful day at work you can't tell me you're not tempted, just a little? When money is stretched that tiny £2 tub of raspberries feels like a luxury expense, those £6 chicken fillets suddenly don't seem to go as far as the £3 bag of frozen chicken nuggets. It's hard.
Zest Health for Life has created a cook book that will be enclosed with food parcels that are distributed by Leeds East Food Banks to people in need throughout the city. The cook book contains simple, cheap, store cupboard recipes that help show people that cooking food from scratch need not be expensive and most importantly cheap can be healthy too.
I was sent a copy of the cook book along with some ingredients to try out one of the recipes in the book, here's how I got on...
The items sent to me were typical of what you would normally find in your cupboards or are cheaply bought to fill your cupboards. The recipe suggested was the chickpea curry which serves 2.
To keep costs down one of the things I can't recommend enough is not to buy those small glass jars of spices, they are so expensive! If your supermarket has an international aisle or you have time to pop down to the market buy your spices in packets like the one below, it's much more cost efficient. Okay maybe buy one initially so you can keep refilling the jar (or if you spot a load in a charity shop like I did buy them and refill those!).
This is a tip that I don't normally share with the world for fear of repercussions... but if like me you want to save some extra cash buy minced jarred ginger, occasionally I will splash out on the fresh root but more often than not I will cheat and use the jarred stuff instead, it's also a lot less faff. The ingredients in the book don't call for ginger but it's one of my essentials for curries.
There are just five simple steps to make this curry and it's ready in about 30-40 minutes making it a good after work dinner. Some alternatives to the recipe in the book are to add sweet potato, but you'll need to cook for about 10 minutes longer to make the sweet potato soft.
Another alternative is to add spinach, which is cheap as chips and can be frozen if you don't use the whole bag. Make sure you through in the spinach (whole not chopped) about 5 minutes at the end. As the picture below details you can also add both the sweet potato and the spinach.
Adding the sweet potato makes the dish go a little further, I'm confident enough to say my huge sweet potato and my spinach increased the dish two fold as I have more than enough for another two meals in the freezer.
The recipe calls for you to just boil the rice but there is an easy way to spice up your rice, when the rice is cooking leave a little water in when you drain it and mix in some turmeric. The turmeric adds a little spice to the rice and turns it a vibrant yellow colour add frozen peas part way cooking and you've got another of your five a day and a bit more texture to your rice.
Zest Health for Life is a great scheme and I really admire what they are doing for some of the disadvantaged areas of Leeds, their time isn't just spent on promoting healthy living they do a range of other activities such as day trips to the seaside, Christmas parties for kids who might not be getting the luxurious Christmas you or I are having this year and many more projects. If you're interested in supporting them through donations or just volunteering some of your time you can visit their website here.
If you're looking for further inspiration on cheap, easy and healthy recipes to cook at home here are some links to some of my favourite recipe:
Bacon and lentil soup - you don't need to add Parmesan or sour cream to this soup if you don't want to, I often grill/griddle any additional bacon until it's ridiculous crispy so that you can crumble it over the soup.
Chorizo Hash - you can add as many odd ends to this as you want another quick and easy meal using up spare ingredients.
Spanish Omelette - I whack all sorts of bits and pieces, odds and ends in my tortilla it's a great way to make a meal out of fridge lurkers such as sausage, peppers, peas, tomatoes etc.