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A Spring Recipe to Improve Mental Wellbeing

Nearly a decade ago now, I went to see my doctor about how I was dealing with my long-running battle with anxiety. When I was in my thirties, I had suffered two serious depressive episodes, and ever since, had been keen to find ways to stay calm and well.

 

As I was leaving, the doctor told me there was compelling evidence about the links between mood and food. She wrote down on her prescription pad a list of happy foods that might keep me calm, including green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, and oily fish. 

 

I was intrigued. It was time to further my knowledge, and up the pace by getting the help of a nutritionist, Alice Mackintosh. Together, Alice and I began to develop recipes for my symptoms. We came up with dishes to comfort me when I felt low, others designed to boost my energy levels, and ideas on what to eat when I suffered from a foggy brain, another symptom of my anxiety. The result was our cookbook ‘The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food.’

 

My own copy has never been more well-thumbed. One constant through the cost-of-living crisis, and this time of high levels of mental distress — there are now 8.6 million adults taking antidepressants — has been our need to cook, even for those who would not normally stir a wooden spoon or scrape down a mixing bowl: it’s too expensive to go out, and many who suffer low mood don’t feel up to going to a restaurant. 

 

Using food to boost mood can be an important tool in our wellbeing toolkits. Life remains uncertain for millions, and we need to be as balanced and steady as possible as we grapple with our new reality: the only certainty is uncertainty.

 

Cooking itself can be therapeutic and keep us sane. Many I have spoken to in the Good Mood Food workshops I run for companies and charities talk of the reassuring rituals of the weighing out of ingredients, chopping the vegetables, whisking, beating, folding, slicing assembling, not to mention the joy of indulging in the end results.

 

Here is the first of four recipes which I will be sharing with Inspire the Mind readers, which will help your mental wellbeing. I’ve chosen our Iron Rich Steak Salad for my Spring choice as this was one of the very first recipes Alice developed for me with a view to kick-starting my energy levels. There’s no better time to get moving than Spring, as the days lengthen, the weather improves, and we throw off the lethargy of Winter.

 

Fatigue can be one of the most potent side-effects of antidepressants. Alice explained before dealing with anxiety, our best bet is to boost energy levels. "Once you feel more energetic, you will in turn exercise more, and sleep better, both key for mental wellbeing" Alice explains. Iron is fundamental to our energy levels, as is essential for keeping our blood oxygenated.

 

If you are vegetarian, add leafy vegetables like kale and watercress to the salad, as well as edamame beans — all great sources of iron. Ideally, have this recipe with a glass of orange juice or a satsuma: Vitamin C aids iron absorption.


BALANCED ENERGY: IRON-RICH STEAK SALAD

 

Alice used to find it quite hard to cook steak, but this method (inspired by Nigella Lawson) keeps it deliciously tender. The marriage between the iron-rich steaks, the colourful salad, the zingy horseradish, and the creamy feta cheese are perfect. I use artichokes and sundried tomatoes from my local supermarket’s deli counter, which saves a lot of time. Be sure not to buy artichokes soaked in vinegar, though, as the flavour can overpower the salad. If possible, use grass-fed steak, which contains more nutrients than intensively farmed beef.

 

Serves 2


For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon crème fraîche

  • 1 teaspoon horseradish sauce

  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

 

  • 2 x 250g rump steaks – ideally around 3cm thick.

 

For the marinade:

  • Handful parsley, chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed

  • 6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

  • Juice and zest of ½ lemon

  • 4 drops Tabasco sauce (optional)

 

For the salad:

  • 80g flat-leaf parsley, chopped

  • 6 sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped

  • 4 artichoke hearts, quartered

  • 100g rocket, washed and drained

  • 8 red radishes, thinly sliced

  • 70g feta cheese, crumbled

  • 4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)


Steps

 

1. First make the dressing by combining all the ingredients and shaking them together in a jar.

 

2. Trim the harder fat off the steaks, brush with oil and season both sides with salt.

 

3. Heat a griddle or heavy-based pan, and add the meat once hot. Cook for 4 minutes on each side. If you prefer your steak well done, then leave for another 1−2 minutes on each side.

 

4. Meanwhile, make the marinade. Whisk together all the ingredients in a dish big enough to accommodate the cooked steaks.

 

5. Place the steaks in the marinade for 8 minutes, turning them halfway through.  Then remove them to a board and slice them thinly on the diagonal.

 

6. While the meat rests, combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour over three-quarters of the dressing and toss everything together.

 

7. To serve, place the sliced steak on a bed of the salad and pour over the rest of the dressing. Scatter with toasted pine nuts, if so desired.

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