Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Real Food Diets: Going Dairy Free (Healthily & Ethically)

This last year I have been trying different ways of eating to try and regain some of my balance, energy and overall health since bearing and rearing our 2 tinies. Over the next few months I'm bringing you a whole host of wonderful guest posts on a variety of Real Food Diets, from Raw to Paleo. Join me in this series and find the best real food for your mind, body and soul.

This week's post is about seeking healthy, ethical alternatives to dairy, and trying out a delicioso Italian Citrus Polenta Cake which uses extra virgin olive oil for its fat content. Miss last week's post? We heard from Saskia at Raw Freedom about Raw Food for Busy Lives. Go check it out!

A word of caution: while I know it may be a bone of contention, when I refer to dairy here I mean specifically cow (or other animal) milk, and not eggs.

Mount Vesuvius: in sticky gorgeous citrusy-
polenta yumminess!
So it looks as if my body has undergone some kind of sea change since girl Earthly came into our lives. I'm now pretty sure that the health problems I've been experiencing the last year are down to a severe dairy intolerance, and I am putting that hypothesis to the strictest of testing now, which means NO DAIRY for me, no way josé... 

This is not the hugest of issues for me really, as I have long disliked being somewhat of a hypocrite over my ethics - I'm vegetarian for lots of reasons, but I think the dairy industry is horrific and yet I continue to consume dairy... It doesn't wash really, does it? So now I must stop being lazy as my body is also telling me to give up animal milk. 

What I DO have a problem with, is that my main alternative to dairy is soya. Quite apart from any issues surrounding the mass-production and importation of soya, I dislike having soy products as a major part of my diet because they are so processed. I think margarine, in any form, is the devil's work, and soy milk - as convenient and tasty as it is - isn't much better.

So what to do?! I believe, at heart, that our diets should be as pure, unprocessed and close to source as possible - that way we obtain the maximum nutrition in the right forms for our bodies with fewer adverse effects. And so I really dislike vegan recipes which simply substitute "alternatives" to dairy in the form of soy or whatever, just as much as I dislike vegetarian recipes which feel they need to use meat alternatives. I'm not saying these products don't have their place - I love tofu and the occasional Quorn product - but they should not be the norm. 

And so... after searching in vain for a "dairy free" cake recipe yesterday, it was (as usual) Father Earthly that came to the rescue. I knew I married him for good reason(s)... It's all about where to look when it comes to Googling, and I was looking in the wrong place. It wasn't vegans that held the answer for me, but the wonderful Italians! 

This cake uses good quality extra virgin olive oil for its fat content. Now, I have used vegetable oil before - the Americans use it quite a lot in cakes - but I have never heard of using olive oil in cakes before. Not just that, but it calls for the full-flavoured, really good stuff! What a wonderful idea, on so many levels - a fat that is really superbly good for you, is pure and unprocessed and full of flavour. Also, as you may have noticed, at the moment, olive oil is ridiculously cheap so there is just no good reason not to be trying out this yummy recipe!

Italian Citrus Polenta Cake (adapted from this recipe at Babbo Ristorante)
4 large eggs 

1 cup granulated sugar 

Freshly grated zest and juice of 1 orange 

Freshly grated zest and juice of 1 lemon 

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

¾ cup instant polenta 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon salt 

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil 

1 cup icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and position a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan with a little oil.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar until they are tripled in volume, fluffy and pale yellow in colour. Combine the flour, polenta, baking powder salt and zest in a separate bowl. 

Alternate adding the dry ingredients to the egg mixture with the olive oil; begin with 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then add half the oil, followed by another 1/3 of dry ingredients, beating only until each addition is incorporated. Beat in the remaining olive oil, followed by the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the cake 180º halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it springs back lightly when touched and pulls away from the sides of the pan, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Take the cake out of the oven and place in the tin on a wire rack. Make the syrup by boiling the lemon and orange juice and icing sugar together in a pan until the icing sugar has dissolved. Prick the cake all over with a cake tester and pour over the syrup. Leave the cake to cool in the tin before turning out.

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