When Margaret Giustizieri shared her memories of picking sun ripened tomatoes as a child, I was so taken by the image of beautiful tomatoes that I wanted them to be a star in my next recipe.

Tomatoes are a key ingredient in many cuisines. They are so celebrated in Spain that there is a tomato throwing festival! Biologically, a tomato is considered a fruit but their nutritional profile has them grouped with vegetables due to their low kilojoule content. They are part of the nightshade family (which includes other vegetables like potatoes, eggplants, pepper and chilli) which some people may find difficult to digest.

For most of us though, tomatoes are a wonderful staple that is incredibly versatile. For today’s recipe I’ve chosen Roma tomatoes for an authentic Italian flavour. If you cannot find these, I would suggest trying some cherry or Rosa tomatoes – these smaller tomatoes have great, intense flavour and their smaller size makes them easy to mix with the beans.

Balsamic vinegar, olive oil and thymeI wanted to explore an aged balsamic vinegar with this dish. Traditional Balsamic vinegar starts its life as reduction of cooked white grape juice which is allowed to ferment for a few weeks and is then aged in wooden barrels. True balsamic vinegar, like Champagne, is only made in a very specific region and use of the name is very tightly controlled. What we know as balsamic vinegar in South Africa is not balsamic vinegar but rather a cheaper, balsamic condiment.  I did not find any aged balsamic vinegar at Cremalat’s store or at my local supermarket but I did find an aged balsamic condiment online and soon after my parcel arrived, I also found some at a local delicatessen. While these are still not a true balsamic vinegar, some are made in the traditional way and at a fraction of the cost.

Tomatoes dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and thymeThe reason I have used vinegar and wine (or lemon juice) in this recipe is because they are all examples of natural acids. When added to food, an acid can help develop and intensify the flavours of a dish. Next time you’re tasting a dish and think it’s missing something, try a squeeze of lemon or a drop of vinegar before reaching for the salt shaker.

Cannelini beans cooking with red onion, garlic and thymeWhile wine is acidic, it also contains alcohol which vinegar does not. Have you ever wondered how much alcohol remains in a dish after cooking? Does it all boil off or does some of it remain behind? I found the answer to this question in a great magazine called food and nutrition* which credits research done at the University of Idaho, Washington State University the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory for the following information:

  • Alcohol, no heat, stored overnight: 70% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol added to boiling liquid and removed from heat: 85% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol flamed: 75% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 15 min.: 40% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 30 min.: 35% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 1 hour: 25% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 1.5 hours: 20% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 2 hours: 10% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, stirred baked/simmered 2.5 hours: 5% alcohol retained
  • Alcohol, not stirred in, baked 25 min.: 45% alcohol retained

This means that there will be at least 40% of the alcohol retained in the finished dish below. Know someone that cooks with alcohol and would like to know this information? You can use the share buttons at the end of the post to share this page.

White beans on balsamic roasted tomatoes served on rocket leaves Please let me know what you think of the recipe and share pictures of your dish with the hashtag: #informedappetite.

White beans on balsamic roasted tomatoes
Recipe Type: Light lunch
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Nathalie Mat, RD(SA)
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2
White beans simmered with white wine and thyme served on balsamic roasted tomatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • 4-6 Roma tomatoes (or 400g Rosa or cherry tomatoes)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Beans
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tin of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ cup dry white wine or juice of ½-1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan for grating over the whole dish
  1. Slice tomatoes in half and arrange on a roasting tray covered with baking paper.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients in a tea cup or small bowl and then brush over the cut side of the tomatoes. If using smaller tomatoes, it may be easier to slice them in half and then toss with the dressing in a mixing bowl or on the baking tray.
  3. Bake at 180° Celsius until soft (about 30 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes). If you have bigger tomatoes, you can turn the heat up a bit more but watch the tomatoes closely to make sure you don’t scorch them. You want the tomatoes to soften but not dry out. When the tomatoes are almost done, start the beans. If you do not like tomato skins, they are easy to peel off once the tomatoes have slightly cooled.
  1. Use pan over medium heat to soften the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
  2. When the onion is translucent and soft, not browned, add the remaining ingredients. You want most of the wine or lemon juice to evaporate and the beans to be warmed and well mixed with the herbs.
  3. Season with a good amount of black pepper and salt if needed. If using lemon juice, check if enough was added. Too little leaves the dish tasting bland.
  4. To serve, dish at least two to three tomato halves per person. Top the tomato halves with warm beans. Using a fine grater, grate a small amount of parmesan or similar hard cheese over the beans. This last step really makes the dish pop.
  5. If you used smaller tomatoes, you can mix them gently with the beans in the warm pan before serving.
  6. This dish is delicious served with a rocket-based side salad as a light lunch for two. It will also go well as a side dish for red meat.


One of the things I really enjoyed in my interview with Paul Maciel is that he spoke about how foods fit into a traditional Italian meal. He said that pasta is a traditional part of the diet but it’s not eaten in the large portions we South Africans are used to seeing. He inspired me to create a South African-sized, Italian-inspired dish that celebrates pasta.Lemony squid ink spaghetti with Zucchini and basil #pescatarian #delicious #fastPasta is a topical dish in my office with people confessing an absolute love for the dish but knowing that the portions they eat are simply too big. One of the easiest ways to add bulk to a meal is to add vegetables. Now I know what you’re thinking – pasta made out of vegetables (like carrot noodles, zucchini noodles and their friends) does not taste like pasta. I agree! So I’ve taken a small portion of delicious pasta and added bulk to the meal by putting the vegetables into the dish instead of serving them on the side.

Zucchini being spiralized #InspiralizerI have created more of a pasta dressing than a real sauce for this dish and part of the reason for this is traditionally, pasta is meant to be the star of the show and not the sauce. If you’ve already scrolled ahead and read the ingredients, you will know that I have used anchovies in the dressing. Before you run away screaming, I’d like to reassure you that a little anchovy goes a long way without overpowering the dish with fishiness. Anchovies are an amazing little fish. In her 2014 book, Star Fish, Daisy Jones lists anchovies as one of the ten sustainable fish we should be eating (squid is listed too by the way). Two small anchovy fillets per person will really add a salty punch (they’re salted before they are stored in oil) and satisfying umami flavour. Daisy says you’ll find anchovies in all manner of meat dishes such as osso bucco and I love adding a few to slow roasting lamb shanks. They really enhance meaty flavours. Trust us on this one…Ingredients for lemony squid ink spaghetti #Pescatarian #pasta #quick #freshI chose squid ink pasta mainly because I thought it would contrast beautifully with the green zucchini noodles. My enjoyment of a meal really rockets when the dish delights my eyes first. Feel free to enjoy any other pasta with the dish, I would encourage a shape that is similar to your vegetable noodles to make eating them easier to eat.Lots of steam coming off the pasta and zucchiniPasta dressing with some pasta cooking water added #anchovy #lemonThe first time I tried this dish I could not find fresh ricotta and so played around with peppered feta. I have since tried the fresh ricotta and while it’s more of a pure Italian dish using fresh ricotta, I really love the intense feta flavour in the dish.

The following recipe is perfect for one hungry woman. Men may want to add some more vegetables and cheese or just add a bigger side salad. I find the dish incredibly fast if you prepare all the ingredients first or while the pasta is cooking – but be warned, even that happens quickly.Lemony squid ink spaghetti with zucchini and basil #pescatarian #fresh #pasta #Inspiralizer

Lemony squid ink spaghetti with zucchini and basil
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Nathalie Mat, RD(SA)
Prep time:
Cook time:
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Serves: 1
Light pasta dish with a simple lemony, satisfying dressing
  • 40g squid ink spaghetti
  • 1-2 Tsp. olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or minced
  • 200g spiralized zucchini (roughly one large zucchini)
  • ½ cup frozen petit pois
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 50g crumbled fresh ricotta (or feta if you couldn’t find any fresh ricotta cheese)
  • Baby basil leaves (or 2-3 large basil leaves) to garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. If there’s just one of you, like there was when I took these photo’s a medium pot will do. Salt the water lightly and place the pasta in to cook.
  2. At the same time in a very small pan or pot, heat the oil with the garlic and anchovy fillets over gentle heat, we don’t want to burn the garlic. With a bit of stirring, the anchovies will dissolve into the oil. Once the anchovies are dissolved and garlic is translucent, squeeze the lemon juice into the sauce and season with black pepper. You might want to add one or two tablespoons of the pasta water to the dressing at this point to add some volume to it (read: make it go further so it can coat all the veggies!)
  3. When the pasta is practically done, throw in the zucchini and peas. The idea here is just to blanche them, not to boil them.
  4. When the water comes back to the boil, drain the whole lot. Place the drained pasta and vegetables back into the warm pasta pot and toss with the dressing. I used tongs to lift up the ingredients and make sure they all had a splash of the dressing.
  5. Immediately place into a pasta plate, sprinkle with the crumbled cheese and herbs, maybe some more black pepper and enjoy while piping hot.


Do not expect left-overs #delicious

If this was your first experiment with anchovy fillets, leave a comment and share how you found them! You’re also welcome to share any changes that you made and loved.

After the interview with Ariel Cohen I was inspired by two things: firstly, Ariel suggested making improving acceptance of a new dish by making it look like a familiar dish. He gave the example of trying a chickpea burger as in introduction to vegetarian eating. Secondly, he uses dates to sweeten the food in the Free Food* kitchen. I thought of a way I could use dates and vegetables in a dish and the idea of carrot cake popped into my head. Most people know (and enjoy) carrot cake and by making this into a breakfast dish I’m able to sneak in some vegetables into breakfast. Everyone wins!

With all the debate that is going around carbohydrates, I want to say that balance is key. While I may be avoiding the addition of refined sugars in this recipe by using dates – too much of anything whether oats, dates and even carrots – can become problematic. We should eat a varied diet that does not focus heavily on any one food or group of food. This takes me back to the first South African Food Based guideline “Enjoy a variety of food”. Dietary diversity is used in nutrition research as a marker of the quality of a diet. Let’s keep eating a mix of foods!

Large flake oats #satiety #fibre Milk pouring into panI love a warm bowl of oats for breakfast, especially in winter. One of my fast, go-to breakfasts is a bowl of large flake oats, sprinkled with spices and once cooked, a swirl of nut butter. Large flake oats take a bit longer to cook than the instant variety but also take longer to digest, leaving you fuller for longer. Adding nuts to the breakfast increases the fat and protein content of the dish. This is not a bad thing as the presence of fat and protein in the stomach slow down the speed with which food moves through the digestive system. Slower digestion equals a slower release of energy. In practical terms, you won’t be hungry in the middle of the morning.

Date being chopped into spiced carrot cake oats #refinedsugarfreeI tend to eat a small breakfast and so I have written the recipe for carrot cake oats as a single small portion double everything but the spices to make a larger portion. The recipe can easily be multiplied to make enough breakfast to last two to three days in the fridge once cooked.

Spiced Carrot Cake Oats
Recipe Type: Breakfast
Author: Nathalie Mat, RD(SA)
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1
Spiced carrot cake-inspired dish. Lovely in winter for breakfast and a great change from your usual oat-based breakfast.
  • ½ cup (125ml) low fat milk
  • Scant ¼ cup (20g) large flake oats
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) cinnamon
  • Pinch mixed spice
  • 1 date (about 10g), chopped
  • ½ medium carrot (40g), grated (if you like a really thick oat consistency, do not double this amount for a bigger portion)
  • 4 Pecan nut halves(10g), lightly toasted
  1. Place milk, oats, spices and dates in a small pan on the stove.
  2. Bring to the boil over moderate heat and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes until oats start becoming creamy. Cooking the oats can be done in the microwave: place all ingredients in a large flat bowl (to prevent spilling over), cook for 90 seconds, stir and cook for another 90 seconds.
  3. Mix in the grated carrots, top with the lightly toasted nuts and serve. Depending on consistency, some people may want some additional milk.


Spiced Carrot cake oats #Vegetarian #breakfast #spices

Let me know how you enjoyed the recipe and if you have any clever ways of including more vegetables where they aren’t expected…

Ofentse Morake of the Whippet in Linden admitted that one of his favourite, underrated vegetables is the beetroot because it is so versatile. He had an idea for a beetroot carpaccio that really inspired me. In the interests of saving time, I’ve also included a beetroot salad that is quicker to whip up.

I always remember a lecturer at university warning us that beetroot stains terribly and so dietitians should think carefully before including it in recipes (especially if children are involved) and so I’ve shied away from this great vegetable.

Not only does it come in purple (as we commonly see it) but it also comes in a golden colour. Beetroot have an earthy flavour and are naturally sweet.

If you are short on time it is possible to buy peeled, boiled options but please do not use pickled ones. If cooking them yourself, steaming is the fastest method (roughly 25 minutes depending on size to reach the desired tender-firm stage; leave skins intact to stop their colour from going everywhere and peel once cooked – kitchen gloves are advised. If your beetroot came with leaves, don’t throw them away. Beet leaves can be used in the same way you would use spinach.

According to Deborah Madison in her great book Vegetable Literacy, the flavour of beetroot pairs very well with an acidic dressing and so I have created a dressing with a big punch of flavour that mellows the earthiness of this vegetable.

I created two versions of the same salad. The first version, a beetroot carpaccio is great as a starter when entertaining or when you have more time on your hands because, let’s be honest here, who really wants to whip out and then clean a mandolin on a week night…Beetroot carpaccio before dressing The second version, for those that do not have a mandolin or just want to use the dish as a side salad is a hand chopped version with the addition of some radishes, it’s also the version I like more!Beetroot carpaccio with rocket and corriander - topped with a punchy lemon and mustard dressing #Starter

Beetroot salad done two ways
Recipe Type: Salad
Author: Nathalie Mat, RD(SA)
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Beetroot pairs well with big lemon and mustard flavours. Here I’ve presented a recipe for a beetroot carpaccio and a more rustic hand chopped salad.
  • ½ beetroot per person
  • 2-3 small radishes per person (omitted from the carpaccio)
  • Few springs wild rocket and coriander to garnish carpaccio, can use more as a base of the salad if making a side salad
  • For the dressing
  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small clove garlic or ½ large clove
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Steam the beetroot whole with skins on for about 25 minutes or until they are firm, not completely tender. Allow to cool slightly before handling them.
  2. I highly recommend kitchen gloves while handing the beetroot for the next steps! Peel the beetroot using a potato peeler.
  3. If making carpaccio, slice the beetroot about 1-2mm thick using a mandolin and arrange on a starter plate in a circle. If making the salad, dice beetroot roughly.
  4. For the salad, quarter the baby radishes and sprinkle them over the beetroot.
  5. Finish both recipes by topping with rocket and coriander leaves as well as 2 teaspoons of the lemon mustard dressing.
  6. Season with freshly cracked black pepper.
  7. For the dressing: Mix all ingredients together. Left-overs can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.


Beetroot and radish salad with punchy lemon dressing - Delicious served with beetroot warmed or cool #Vegan #Salad

Both rocket and radishes form part of the cruciferous vegetable family, making this beetroot salad a great source of the plant chemical called sulphurophane. This compound has been shown to have some antioxidant properties and may help reduce certain cancers. My personal preference is to get these chemicals from their food source rather than supplements.

I served this beetroot salad with ostrich skewers that had been marinated in cumin, mustard and lemon. Keep dressing separate if you’d like to take left-overs for lunch the next day. It was delicious when the beetroot was freshly steamed and cold the next day.

In our interview, Sasha Sonnenberg mentioned that she’s really enjoying using a Moroccan Spice rub to add flavour to food without having to use sauces.

Moroccan Spice Rub - Easy 8-ingredient mix that is delicious for adding exotic flavours #Vegan #SpiceYou can always buy your own Moroccan mix or you can make your own salt-free version like the one I have put together for you below. Leaving salt out of the blend reduces total salt intake which is useful for those with high blood pressure. If you do not have high blood pressure, you can add a small amount of salt as desired.

I have included turmeric in the blend which is known to have anti-inflammatory actions through the component called curcumin. The bioavailability (or absorption into the body so it can act as an anti-inflammatory molecule) is improved when the turmeric is cooked with some oils. Do not be afraid to use a small amount of oil in the preparation of your dishes.

Quick Moroccan Spice Rub - 8-ingredient mix that is delicious for adding exotic flavours #Vegan #Spice


Easy Moroccan Spice Mix
Recipe Type: Condiment
Cuisine: Moroccan
Author: Nathalie Mat
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 1.5 Tablespoons
Versatile Moroccan spice mix that can be used to add delicious flavour to many dishes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne (can omit for children if desired)
  1. Mix all ingredients together; makes 1 ½ tablespoons. Store in any left-over blend in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

I halved aubergines, scored them, brushed them with some olive oil, sprinkled with the spice blend and then roasted them in the oven for about an hour at 180°C. Delicious with cumin spiced lentils and tahini. How have you used the blend?


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