Finland – Gluten Free, Lactose Free Paradise

Having developed Coeliacs disease and lactose intolerance this year in addition to my commitment to vegetarianism and a number of pre existing allergies we decided for our honeymoon to travel to Finland, as we had read that not only is it a spectacular country but also a great place for free from options.

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No amount of reviews could have prepared me for the understanding and the number of options available for me across the country!

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Finland has a much higher prevalence on Coeliac disease and gluten intolerance than many other nations which could potentially be the result of less wheat based agriculture across the country. People in Finland are routinely tested for Coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity as children and young adults which means there is a really wide and thorough understanding of gluten free requirements and options. Nearly all grocery shops, including small corner shops sell gluten free options in bread and pastries, cakes and biscuits. Key words to look for are gluteeniton, glutenfri and gluten free as they can label products differently. They also have many wheat free and low gluten products (especially bread) which are labelled differently so it’s important to be careful and to double check. As in the UK all allergens on ingredients lists are in bold so if there is anything on there you are uncertain of check it out!

Lactose intolerance is much more common in Finland than other EU countries as well, although it is more common across Asia and India. As a result of that lactose free options including soya, rice based and coconut milk products are readily available – soya yoghurts, spreads and even soya vegan cheeses are readily available. I really enjoyed a soya mozzarella which I used in a salad and was absolutely beautiful. Lactose free dairy options are much more abundant as well, many dairy products are treated with lactase to allow them to break down during digestion instead of causing the side affects when the lactose isn’t broken down. Treated butter, milks and cheese are widely available both in shops and across restaurants and cafes.

During my 10 days in Finland I spent time in Helsinki, Naantaali and also Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle. I was really well looked after by the hotels and had loads of options for breakfasts including specially prepared breads. I was really impressed by the Radisson Seaside who prepared me some stunning gluten and lactose free cinnamon buns… I never wanted to leave…

All menus will actually specify the dietary implications of each dish. Gluten free dishes will be labelled with a G, Lactose free with an L, Vegetarian dishes will either have a V or a K to indicate this on the menu and some dishes will be labelled either with LL or VL to indicate they are low in lactose, for example containing goats milk rather than cows milk. This makes it really easy although I have to be honest we really didn’t struggle at all to find things I could eat at all. I enjoyed some fantastic meals including a lovely soy beef hot salad at Chicos, gluten free bean and rice dishes, lactose free ice cream and to really top it off I was able to tuck into a gluten free, lactose free pizza… in a restaurant… amazing… I have really enjoyed my culinary experience in Finland, can’t wait to head back again as I feel I have really found my people…

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Yummy Coeliac Tofu and Pineapple Rice

I love oriental flavours and since being diagnosed coeliac and lactose intolerant it is far too big a risk to try and have a sneaky take-away, fortunately I have found a much better substitute low in msg and fats and guaranteed vegetarian, gluten free and lactose free.

To kick off with pop approximately 150g white rice on to cook in a pan. Rice is a great stable for coeliacs as it provides filling carbohydrates without having to resort to free from alternative foods. Although I would often use brown rice and brown rice is a lot healthier I am sticking with the ‘treat night’ theme here and making this as indulgent as I like. Cook the rice for 20 – 25 minutes until fluffy or as instructed.

Whilst the rice is cooking I begin getting the other yummy ingredients ready. Start by chopping the tofu, I use Cauldron Tofu in a block as it is organic and really readily available. I chop the block lengthways and then into small pieces about 1cm cubed. Pop into a large pan with a little oil. I use sesame oil as I am allergic to peanuts and it tastes yummy. Cook for approximately 15 minutes stirring frequently and turning the pieces of tofu so they brown evenly. Tofu is an excellent addition to vegan and vegetarian diets as it is rich in protein and even contains all 8 essential amino acids meaning it contains more amino acids than meat! Low in fat and really versatile tofu is a real wonder food and takes on the flavour of the dish. Yummy.

Fresh chopped pineapple tastes delicious, after approximately 15 minutes add about a quarter of a chopped pineapple to the pan with the tofu so this can start browning and cooking. Unfortunately I have to cheat on the next ingredients as I never find fresh bamboo shoots or water chestnuts so I use the caned variety in water, I chop these much smaller and then add them to the tofu and pineapple.

This dish is so yummy and the pineapple adds so much flavour it only needs a small amount to taste. I add gluten free soy sauce and I love the Clearspring Organic Tamari Soya Sauce as it is guaranteed gluten free, organic to boot and tastes delicious. I also use the Sweet Mandarin Sweet Chilli Sauce as it is again gluten free, lactose free and yummy. Add about a tablespoon of each to the vegetable and tofu and continue to cook and stir through until it all absorbed.

When the rice and the tofu and pineapple mix is all cooked the dish is ready to eat. Although still a treat dish this meal is so much better than a takeaway I feel totally justified in accompanying it with a glass of wine. Mmmmm for treat night.

Spicy Lentil Stew

Having gotten into my groove with the lentils last week I’m on a roll now and going to share a recipe I love that is full of flavour and chickpeas. Fashioned on one of my favourite Indian lentil dishes this stew is full of garlic and yummy as anything.

Lentil goodness
Lentil goodness

Lentils are a great nutritional source for coeliacs and vegans alike; full of protein, minerals and fibre and also really filling without being full of sugar like some coeliac alternative foods. Much healthier than carbohydrates!

Start by creating a great base for the soup, sauté one large white onion and 2 finely chopped carrots. Once soften add chopped garlic, red chilli and coriander. Stir a few times so the vegetables are coated in the herbs and garlic and tasty all the way through. Then add about one and a half pints of boiling water and a stock cube. Allow the soup base to cook on a medium to high heat. It will look like you have far too much water at this point but this is because the lentils will absorb loads of the water and leave you with a chunky veggie delight.

Once the stock and vegetables have been left to cook add approximately 100g of red lentils and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes. You will know the lentils have started to cook when they begin to break down and lose their shape as they soften and fill the stew. Chickpeas add a huge amount of extra protein to this dish and taste fantastic with the other vegetables. They add to the texture as well as the flavour by cutting through the thickness of the stew and providing a crunch. Add the chickpeas and cook for a further 15 minutes before serving and enjoying with a smile.

My Perfect Summer Salad

When the weather gets hot (very infrequently here in Sheffield) I love nothing more than a summery salad to get my veggie fix and enjoy some delicious tasting vegan food. This is one of my favourite salads and is really simple and perfect for summer as it is light, tasty and full of foods a coeliac vegan needs!

Chickpeas make an excellent base for a gluten free vegan salad as they are full of protein, low in fat and rich in minerals including iron, magnesium and others vital for a healthy and balanced diet. For a perfect lunchtime portion I use half a can of ready cooked chickpeas and pop into a large bowl. I then slice approximately 5 -7 black olives finely and add these to the chickpeas. Black olives are not the healthiest of foods but they do give this salad a great bite of Mediterranean summer flavour.

I really enjoy finely chopped salad vegetables so next I finely chop a third of a cucumber into squares and finely chop about a quarter of a round lettuce. Cucumber and lettuce add some healthy leafy greens but don’t distract from the flavours of the chickpeas and olives, or in fact the artichokes which we will add next! Artichoke antipasti in olive oil are a real treat for me and I have to use all my willpower not to eat the entire jar. I add 3 – 4 slices of artichoke antipasti to the salad and use the oil already coating the artichokes as the dressing for the salad. Mix through to disperse through the rest of the vegetables. A small twist of black pepper finishes the flavour off and leaves you with a really simple and yummy vegan and gluten free lunch. Perfect to brighten up even the English summer.

Lentil and Garden Vegetable Soup

This beautiful soup requires a bit of time and investment as you need to make in two stages but trust me – the result is really worth it. You will have the heathiest, vegan, gluten free soup which taste like a walk in a summer vegetable garden (I can but dream my garden is that big!)

Perfect summer soup
Perfect summer soup

Start by chopping courgette, red pepper and carrot quite finely and popping into a baking tray with a little olive oil and roasting on 200® for just over an hour. For this soup I would say 1 courgette, 1 red pepper and 2 medium carrots should be the right amount but to save energy whilst I have the oven on I will often cook more vegetables at once and save and store for future meals.

Once the vegetables are all ready you are set to start the soup. Lentils are one of the worlds real super foods, extremely high in dietary fibre, rich in protein and full of minerals and B vitamins which are essential to maintaining a healthy digestive system and are also widely considered to contribute to a real reduction in the risk of heart disease. All in all lentils are ace.

At this point cooking the soup becomes really easy, add about 150g red lentils to a large pan and I mean large as they will expand, all the cooked vegetables, 4 chopped vine tomatoes, 2 vegetable stock cubes and approximately 6 cups of boiling water. Really simple. Cook on a medium heat with the lid on for approximately 30 minutes and stir occasionally. Red lentils do have difficulty retaining their shape as they cook but please don’t worry; nothing is going wrong. After 30 minutes you will have a delicious, hearty lentil and garden vegetable soup which will make your day and provide the nutrition needed to make a healthy, happy coeliac vegan.

Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables served Two Ways

I love roasted vegetables and the tastes of rosemary and garlic goes fantastically with beautiful, colourful Mediterranean vegetables.

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Roasting vegetables can be fairly time intensive so sometimes I have a weekend session of vegetable roasting, one of the great things about ready roasted vegetables is that they are incredibly versatile and can make many meals and options really quickly. Today I’m roasting some vegetables ready for a polenta dish and making soup from one big roasting dish of yummy veg.

Start by popping olive oil, rosemary and garlic in a large roasting dish and warming it slightly whilst you prepare the vegetables. Then chop courgette, vine tomatoes, aubergine, red and yellow pepper and onion. I like to chop quite large pieces in a rough and rustic manner. This is because I love the taste of the vegetables and the bigger the pieces the better the flavour. This mix of vegetables is high in minerals, vitamins and dietary fibre, aubergine is an excellent source of dietary fibre and high many B vitamins. Vine tomatoes contain about twice the amount of vitamin C as other tomatoes which makes any meals with these vegetables a plate full of healthy delightfulness.

Add all the vegetable into the roasting dish with the oil and herb mixture and roast for approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes on about 200®.

These vegetables go really well together and create a beautiful tasty combo. Once cooked they can be used in so many different ways. I’m going to serve the vegetables in two ways – as they with a lovely warm polenta and balsamic for dinner and also by making the vegetables into a lovely soup to make a healthy packed lunch.

To make the soup pop the vegetables into a pan and add boiling stock. I use Kallo reduced salt organic stock cubes as they are suitable for coeliacs and vegans. Simmer the ready cooked vegetables in the stock for approximately 20 minutes and then blend. The inclusion of the aubergine and the courgette makes the soup really thick and creamy and tomato is not over powering. It’s also really easy to store the vegetables in a container and then make the soup after work.

Yummy

Another tasty, gluten free, lactose free vegan dish which is low on allergens and popular with everyone. Especially me. Yum.

Supergreens, chickpea and coconut curry

This is a lovely warm and super curry full of super greens and loads of vegan goodness. I am a huge fan of coconut and this meal has loads of coconut yumminess in it. I love it!

Start with a big pan and start cooking one medium finely chopped onion in a little oil with a some chopped red chilli, 3 cloves of chipped garlic and a teaspoon of grated ginger. I love making my own curries from scratch instead of using gloopy sauces, especially since lots of the ready made sauces can be a nightmare for coeliacs, lactose intolerant folks and anyone else with allergies. Making things from scratch is a winner. Onions are a great base for so many meals as they provide loads of flavour and at the same time are completely free from fat, cholesterol and sodium, the best way to flavour your dish without any added health issues. Cook the onion in the oil with the chilli, garlic and ginger for 4 -5 minutes.

Add one finely chopped green peppers as the onions have started to soften and turn yellow. One of the great things about this meal is that green peppers and green beans have a high level of vitamins and minerals. Green peppers are a great source of potassium which helps to maintain the health of vital organs like your heart and kidneys. Cook for a further 5 minutes and add one large chopped tomato. At this point I also add a stock cube. I use Kallo stock cubes as they are a ok for coeliacs and have a reduced salt option. Rather than making the stock up with boiling water I add the stock cube as it is. In the heat the stock cube will dissolve with the liquid from the tomato. Reduce the heat to a medium level and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes.

Following the 10 minutes you will notice the delicious smell of all the cooking vegetables, add a can of chickpeas and a can of coconut milk. Although coconut milk isn’t the healthiest thing in the world it is a natural source of fat and along with the protein packed chickpeas this means this meal ticks all the food groups. Once these final ingredients are added turn the heat down to a low level and continue to simmer for a further 40 minutes – 1 hour.

Shortly before serving add plenty of fresh spinach. Spinach is well known as a real superfood, it is full of folic acid, iron and really high levels of vitamins and minerals. The spinach will wilt in the heat of the curry and tastes delicious.

I personally serve this lovely super green vegan curry with rice but you can serve with a gluten free naan bread or even just eat it as it comes! The spices I’ve used make it quite a mild heat and very aromatic but do feel free to increase the heat as hot as you like it.

Mediterranean Roasted Quinoa

This is another great yummy veggie recipe. I’m actually making it today to have as my packed lunch in the office tomorrow. A great way to spice up Monday lunch time and even find yourself counting down the hours until the weekend is over!

Gluten free grainy joy
Gluten free grainy joy

As a coeliac I am really limited by what grains I’m able to eat, I really miss tucking into cous cous and bulgar wheat since being diagnosed and quinoa is helping me to get a grainy fix in my diet. Quinoa is great for vegetarian diets as well as it is one of the only plant based foods to contain protein comprised of all nine amino acids making it a really great protein substitute in meat free diets. It is a brilliant superfood in my lactose free, gluten free, veggie diet and helps to make my diet perfectly balanced.

Start by putting the quinoa on to boil and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until completely cooked. As queen of multi-tasking I get the Mediterranean vegetables all sorted whilst this cooks. I love grated vegetables as they take a lot less cooking than other vegetables meaning they can retain more nutrients. Grate half a courgette and pop into a baking dish with sliced vine tomatoes. I actually use quartered picollino vine tomatoes, not for any recipe reasons but mainly because they are cute and tasty and look lovely in a salad. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, black pepper, chopped chives and a teeny amount of garlic. Grill on a medium setting for about 7 – 8 minutes.

Once grilled the vegetables will go soft and golden, the smell of the herbs and flavours with the vegetables is beautiful. Pop the vegetables to one side until the quinoa is cooked, when cooked drain and rinse the quinoa and fluff up with a fork. Add straight into the baking dish with the vegetables and stir through and then you are ready to enjoy a yummy meal or pop into the fridge for a yummy meal later on. Cannot wait until lunchtime tomorrow.

Chunky vegetable rice

Hearty and Healthy
Hearty and Healthy

Warm and filling with a really homely flavour and texture this chunky vegetable rice is one of my favourite meals and really easy to make.

Start by popping approximately 100g of rice of your choice on to cook. Brown rice has much higher levels of fibre, minerals and also a slower rate of absorption making it more filling. Often I would use brown rice but today I’m using white rice because it’s hard to be well behaved all the time and sometimes it is nice to indulge in naughty carbs especially because as a coeliac there are not that many naughty carbs you can indulge in! Cook the rice until it is ready to eat.

While the rice is cooking it is time to get stuck into the vegetables. You can mix and match the vegetables in this recipe to your taste or even alternatively to what you have in the house but I love it with a simple combination of onion, carrot, sweetcorn and tomato.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan on a high heat and add a finely chopped onion and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Then add roughly diced carrots so they can begin to cook through as well. I use 5 medium sized carrots which I peel before chopping into small pieces. Continue to cook the carrots and onion for about 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes I add sweetcorn, a large chopped vine tomato and a Kallo vegetable stock cube and turn the heat down to a medium setting. The stock cube will start to dissolve and coat the vegetables and the liquid from the tomatoes will make the lightest sauce with the stock and the other vegetables. Add some black pepper and a small amount of herbs for seasoning (I use rosemary, I always use rosemary, I grow it in my garden and it is one of my favourite flavours ever).

Drain the cooked rice and then add to the pan with the vegetable and stock combination. Cook for a further 10 minutes and the rice will become golden and take on all the beautiful vegetable flavours.

Serve straight away and enjoy another hearty, vegan, coeliac meal which makes me feel fantastic.

Aubergine and chickpea yumminess

I love chickpeas, as you may notice from their frequency in my diet, this is another brilliant and tasty meal which I love and as it is really versatile can be eaten as a main meal, warm or cold salad or as a side dish. Personally I love chickpea and aubergine on gluten free toast as a real treat – proper nutritional beans on toast!

Beautiful and nutritious
Beautiful and nutritious

As with my courgette and chickpea salad I toast the chickpeas first using a dessert spoon of olive oil, a clove of minced garlic, a sprig of chopped fresh rosemary and a small amount of rock salt and black pepper. You can either toast the chickpeas in the oven which will take about an hour on 200® or for a quick and easy toasting pop them into a frying pan, with this method you also get to enjoy watching the chickpeas sizzling and becoming all crunchy as they cook. Once cooked pop these delicious chickpeas to one side to cook the aubergine.

Chickpeas are a great source of protein and really good for everyone to eat, whether veggie, coeliac or otherwise. I cannot recommend them enough.

Cut the aubergine into pieces roughly 2 – 3 cms, and then lightly fry. As with the chickpeas you can cook these all together in a roasting pan or if this is a quick meal after work use the same pan as you used to cook the chickpeas and cook until squishy, golden and tasty.

Whilst the aubergine is cooking slice some black olives finely and chop some spinach. High in vitamins including vitamins A, C and K as well as rich in minerals, calcium and iron means that spinach is ideal for boosting your body, even if it doesn’t have quite the Popeye effect.

Tasty
Tasty

Add the chopped spinach, olives and the toasted chickpeas to the pan with the aubergine once cooked and serve warm and tasty.

Protein rich, gluten free and vegan food is definitely the best and will help you to feel energetic and invigorated.

This meal is even approved by this little guy who tried to eat most of my serving!
This meal is even approved by this little guy who tried to eat most of my serving!