The Chef’s Table: Top Tips For A Healthier Diet

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Mark Doe of the ‘Just Cooking’ Cookery School in Firies has some healthy recipes for January…

We all know the benefits of a healthy diet. You will certainly feel better if you watch what you eat.

It is so easy to open packet and jar of convenience foods, but they are often high in salt, sugar and additives.

If you haven’t heard of any of the ingredients in them, leave them in the shop!

Healthy food is so tasty and the goods news is it is usually very simple and quick to prepare.

Top  tips for a healthier diet

• Use a good quality non stick pan, this way you need less oil when cooking. Once the oil is added to the pan don’t let it smoke as the oil becomes unhealthy when this happens.

• Incorporate plenty of vegetables into your diet. The more colour on your plate the better.

• Instead of using processed meats for sandwiches, steam your own chicken fillets and have them in the fridge.

• Introduce seeds to your diet. Sesame seed – A wonderful antibacterial seed and high in Calcium, Flax seed – A seed abundant in Omega 3 and a wonderful cleaner for our digestive tract. Sunflower/pumpkin seeds – These seeds are packing a punch on the protein scale so another great addition to our daily diet. Dry fry the seeds in a dry frying pan and grind them in a mortar and pestle. This makes them easier to digest and releases the oils.

• To reduce salt in your diet use spices, garlic. lemon juice, black pepper or ginger to add flavour to your food.

• Snack on nuts, vegetable sticks or fruit.

• Avoid convenience foods as much as possible

Continued below…


What fats are bad?

Fat and cholesterol have a very important part in maintaining a healthy heart. But eating high fat foods regularly , especially foods high in saturated fats, tend to raise blood cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fats also have a lowering effect on blood cholesterol and are found in olive oil, peanut and rapeseed oil, as well as seeds, avocados and some nuts.

The total amount of fat eaten is important, so we need to limit all types of fat, especially saturated fats.


Research shows that salt intake contributes to an increase of blood pressure. Eating less salt is important for heart health.

Often people forget about the salt in prepared convenience foods. Herbs, spices, lemon, garlic and black pepper can be used as an alternative to salt.

Salmon and asparagus Fajitas

Serves 4

2tsp Olive oil 1 Medium onion, sliced

1 red pepper, sliced in strips 100g Asparagus spears, cut into 3 cm pieces

1tsp Ground cumin ¼tsp Cayenne pepper

4 Large tortilla wraps

200g Fresh salmon, skinned and cut into strips 50g  Rocket or baby spinach


• Add the oil to a pan and place on a medium heat. Add  the onion, pepper and asparagus.

• Cook for 4 minutes, stirring regularly.

• Add cumin and cayenne pepper to the onions and peppers and mix well.

• Add the salmon to the onions, peppers and asparagus and mix gently for 2 minutes so it cooks evenly.

• Warm the wraps in the microwave or under a hot grill.

• Add the salmon to the onions, peppers and asparagus and mix gently for 2 minutes so it cooks evenly.

• Add a tablespoon to water, cover and turn off the heat.  Leave to stand for 1 minute.
Put ¼ of the mix and ¼ of the rocket into each tortilla. Roll up, cut in half and serve.

Pear & mango strudel

A healthy version of a strudel. Here we are using a little rapeseed oil instead of butter on the filo pastry.

Makes 1 large strudel, 6-8 portions


• 750g pears

• 2 Mangoes

• 50g ground almonds

• 50g honey (plus 3 tablespoons for drizzling)

• 4 tablespoons of Rapeseed oil (plus a little extra)

• Finely grated zest of 1 orange

• 6 sheets of filo pastry

• 1 tablespoon of flaked almonds

• Greek yoghurt for serving


1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.

2. Peel core and thinly slice the pears. Peel, stone & finely dice the mangoes. In a bowl toss with the honey and ground almonds.

3. Mix the oil and the orange zest in a bowl.

4. Unroll the pastry and lay flat. Place 3 sheets of pastry. Long sides slightly overlapping, onto a work surface and brush lightly with the orange flavoured oil.

5. Cover with another 3 sheets of pastry, brush again, and repeat twice

6. Arrange the fruit in a narrow strip, lengthways down the centre of the pastry to within 3cm of each shorter edge.

7.Fold the 2 shorter edges over the filling and then fold over 1 long edge and tuck the fruit firmly underneath the pastry.

8. Brush with the remaining orange oil and fold over the other edge, so that it overlaps by at least 5-6 cm.

9. Carefully transfer the strudel to a large oiled baking sheet. Scatter with the almonds.

10.Bake for 35/40 minutes, until crisp and golden.

11. Warm the honey in a small pan or the microwave. Transfer the strudel to a board and slice. Serve drizzled with the warm honey & Greek style yoghurt.

Fruit Smoothies.

Fresh fruit is a really important part of our diets and if possible should be eaten at least once a day.

Below are two varieties of smoothies you can make. Of course you can choose whatever fruit you enjoy and mix and match according to what is available.

Creamy Banana and Pineapple Smoothie

1 banana chopped

5-6 pieces  fresh pineapple

2 dessert spoons plain yogurt

1 drop vanilla extract

Fresh apple juice to taste.

Red fruit Smoothie

1 Banana,

6-8 Fresh strawberries

Handful of fresh blueberries

2 Dessert spoons strawberry yogurt

Fresh apple juice to taste.


1.  Chop fruit on a clean chopping board. Make sure bowls and boards are clean as the fruit will pick up the flavours from the board very easily.

2.  Add liquid juice to dilute. Blend and serve.

Some reasons for eating Fresh fruit.

The vitamins in fresh fruit give you energy to help you get through the day.
Fresh fruit if eaten on a regular basis will help keep your skin looking fresh & clear.
Fruit is great snack, and will help to promote healthy weight.
Fresh fruit helps improve your digestion and prevents constipation.
Fresh fruit tastes great, and smoothies are a fun way to enjoy them.

Cod with tomatoes, thyme and peppers

A really quick and easy fish dish. I like to serve with brown rice or sweet potato wedges.


1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion , chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

400g can chopped tomatoes

1 heaped tsp light, soft brown sugar

few sprigs thyme , leaves stripped

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 red pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

4 cod , fillet portions approx 180-200g each( or another white flaky fish, such as Pollack)


• Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion, peppers and garlic, then gently fry for 5-8 mins until lightly browned. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, thyme and soy, then bring to the boil.

• Simmer 5 mins, then slip the cod into the sauce. Cover and gently cook for 8-10 mins until the cod flakes easily.

Mackerel pate on tortilla bites with salsa

Tinned salmon can also be used for the pate

For the pate

1 tin of Mackerel (approx 100g)

2 tbsp low fat natural yogurt

50g extra light cream cheese (more if you want a creamier pate)

A little salt and pepper

A little lemon juice


• Drain the salmon and place in a bowl. Mash well with a fork.

• Add the cream cheese, yogurt and lemon juice.

• Mix well and season with a little salt and pepper

For the tortilla bites

2 light tortilla wraps

A little rape seed oil


• Pre heat your oven to 180c.

• Brush the wraps on both sides with a little rape seed oil.

• Cut the wraps into triangles and spread out on a baking tray.

• Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes until crisp.

For the salsa

1 packet cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp Tomato relish

1 tbsp chopped parsley

2 spring onions chopped

1 tbsp rape seed oil

A little salt and pepper

1 tsp Harissa paste


• Combine all the ingredients together and serve with the pate and tortilla bites.

• Aromatic butter beans with pumpkin and pak choi.

• A mildly spiced, warming dish that is ready in no time and great for when you are hungry in a hurry!!

Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil 500g pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into small cubes)

60ml soy sauce 2  cans of cooked butter beans, drained and rinsed

1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 tbsp finely grated ginger 1 tsp Chinese five spice

2 heads of pak choi, cut into chunks 1 tbsp oyster sauce

4 spring onions, finely sliced 2 tbsp freshly chopped coriander

2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced 2 garlic cloves, finely crushed.


• Heat a wok over a medium high heat. Add the rape seed oil
• Add the onions and pumpkin and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until just tender.
• Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, chilli, garlic, and five spice.
• Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
• Add the pak choi, pumpkin mix and butter beans and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
• Serve and sprinkle with the chopped coriander and spring onions.

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