Today’s recipe is a labour of love for me, a squash vegan pizza with homemade cashew cheese that is super tasty, filling and substantial and yet also light (this is the buckwheat effect!), and so satisfying to make and to eat. For me it’s a real treat. And treats are really important, for everyone, and perhaps especially if you are following a specialist diet. Treat yourself a lot if you need to, and try to make them deliciously healthy. No! that is not an oxymoron! If you feel that way, ditch the junk, give it a go, and before too long I guarantee you’ll be enjoying natural food far more than processed food. The fact is that eating highly processed overly flavoured foods dulls your taste buds, and when you stop eating them, before too long natural whole food tastes AMAZING and processed food tastes stale and of the chemicals they contain and the plastics they are wrapped in.
it’s your habitual mind that tells you what you want, and habits can be changed.
Replace the flavours of strongly tasting processed foods with seasonings such as lemon, smoked salt and black pepper, fresh herbs, natural sweeteness and spices in your cooking. If you lean on the convenience of pre-made food, pre-make your own, a little motivation and effort goes a long way. Before too long, believe me, you’ll eat an organic apple and think it’s from heaven, and a packet of salt and vinegar (or whatever) crisps will taste really bad. If you want crisps, fry or bake your own, depending on your dietary needs. I’m not saying eat a lot of fried food, but why not sometimes? Same goes for cake or biscuits, on occasion make you own, make less than is irresistible for you to devour – this is hard as we tend to go on auto-pilot with the sizes of bakes, but if you make a few cupcakes as a treat, it’s lovely, if you make a cake and eat it all (note to self!), you’ll feel ill, off-kilter and won’t be looking after yourself no matter what your dietary needs. If you feel like you’re denying yourself constantly this yo-yoing is more likely to happen and it’ll make you feel wretched. They key is to make such treats with as healthy ingredients as you can. Use coconut sugar, buckwheat flour, cacao nibs, whatever you fancy; experiment! It’s about looking after yourself, it should not about deprivation, never make a diet change about that, it is a recipe for unhappiness, and happiness and balance should be your objectives.
TREAT YOURSELF WELL!
Sticking to the foods that you personally require to be as healthy as you can is difficult at times, as is following any diet, be it for weight-loss, pain-reduction, ethical reasons, or whatever, and the key is to accept that fact. As with most of life’s worthwhile pursuits, it’s not always easy. A lot of the time it’s rewarding and great, other times it’s testing, and sometimes you will have something when you know it is not the right thing to do. For me there are things I would never eat and make a huge effort to avoid at all costs, such as gluten and lactose, which make me very ill, and also eggs and meat or fish, for me that goes without saying. But there is a grey area, more so in my mind than in reality, unfortunately. For example, recently I had a coffee (first one in over nine-months so I’m okay with it!), and then the next day I had another, and too many carbs in the form of buckwheat flour, and now I am paying the consequences. Now my feet are very sore, it’s painful to walk and even sit, and that makes my life that much harder to cope with. I am more emotional, and having to exert more strength and resources in order to over-ride these painful feelings and get on with my day in as productive a way as I can. And of course at those times life heaps more problems onto your plate.
of course it does!
I am a complex case health-wise, I’m super sensitive to everything, highly intolerant to many foods including gluten and lactose, and a very sensitive coeliac and type 1 diabetic. I have multiple other health conditions, including arthritis, the symptoms of which I reduce by following a specialist anti-inflammatory plant-based diet. I say this because I want to make it clear why I avoid the foods I do; gluten, deadly-nightshade family plants, refined sugar, soya, grains. It’s not because I’m following any ‘food fads’ or schools of thought, though I am not disparaging of people’s positive efforts to be as healthy as they can and to understand food and build their own relationship with what they want to consume. But I know there is a lot of anxiety channeled towards what we eat, which is often connected to other anxiety and stress, about our weight and self-image, and about aging, and this leads to an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s rife. I know this first hand believe me, and I think it’s important to say we should do our best to fight it and not to pass it on to others.
Personally I am a great believer in keeping things simple and straightforward and feel that we can make far too many assumptions about food, that aren’t necessarily holistic in their understanding and can leave us feeling confused and also dis-empowered as we are pulled in different directions. If you don’t have any intolerances or health conditions to try to control, then I say just eat a wholesome diet and enjoy your food, carbs, fats, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, natural sugars, eat as well as you can, without obsessing over it and feeling stressed. It’s easy to miss the wood for the trees. I wish I could eat what I wanted, but I can’t because many foods disagree with me; please don’t put restrictions on yourself unless they are for a good reason, and if they are, then go for it!
life’s complex, why make it more so and put pressure on yourself when you don’t need to?
I’m also not a great believer that you need a very wide variety of foods in order to be healthy, around the world this is just not the case. In this modern age in privileged societies we are often spoiled for choice. But eating a simple, balanced diet of whole foods including seeds, fruit and vegetables, especially if organic, is wonderfully healthy. Eat the whole food rainbow, and choose locally grown foods over exotic imported hyped foods. Having a wide variety of foods is stimulating and exciting visually and taste-wise, and is a luxury. Enjoy it, but don’t feel that you are depriving yourself if you have a simpler diet, as long as it is balanced and nutritious it’s fine. In fact often it is very important to pare back what you eat in order to get in touch with which foods agree with you and which don’t, though this does not mean going hungry or undernourished.
With the anti-inflammation diet I follow I have really improved my quality of life, and people who may just have one or two health issues or so to tackle, can achieve even better results than I have by eliminating the foods that disagree with them. My advice is to research and follow an elimination diet if you feel you need to and find out which foods worsen your health. Check out the health and diet info I provide from the above main menu to see if it can help you. A low processed, anti-inflammatory diet such as I follow is a godsend for many health conditions, and also such a plant-based diet often reduces people’s food anxiety. Many have eliminated their arthritic symptoms this way, and also people with auto-immune conditions have made a recovery and gained their life back, see Ella’s story at Deliciously Ella, and also which is a wonderful example of the power of eating whole foods, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, and of getting in touch with which foods agree with you. Also Ella of Pure Ella. The list goes on. If you have no serious health problems then by following a similar plant-based whole food diet and way of life you are protecting your good health. It’s anti-aging and benefits you in every way.
if you eat mostly whole foods then you give yourself the best fighting chance at optimal health.
This restriction does not mean deprivation, in fact for me it has enriched and improved my diet, made me more creative in the kitchen and given me a healthy more balanced relationship to food and myself. As regards treating myself, I honestly feel that most of the food I eat is a treat. There are things I eat more occasionally, but I always make food that I really enjoy and that nurtures me, and using organic locally grown fruit and vegetables makes that possible. Whatever you need to eat to be healthy and happy, go for it! embrace change and never underestimate yourself. You can do it!
These days I choose not to eat tomatoes. They were my favourite food (along with potatoes)! I didn’t know how I would cope without them to be honest, despite my already extensive experience in avoiding foods, it seemed like an impossible leap towards a miserable and deprived life. But in the new year I found the strength to go for it and it has actually been absolutely fine. Better than fine. I have found that instead of making the same old acidic foods, that were tasty but when it came down to it disagreed with me and made my relationship to food stressful, I have been far more adventurous and engaged with what I cook and eat. Squash I have found is a wonderful vegetable and cooking ingredient, and a good replacement for tomato. Especially roasted, which brings out the sweet richness of flavour and silky texture, you can make a wide variety of dishes.
Red kuri squash have a drier more floury texture, and when roasted and blended, work well as a sauce. The lemon and salt bring out its wonderful character. Squash are far healthier as they’re not acidic like tomato, and also with their thick skins, a non-organic squash is far healthier than a non-organic tomato, and keeps for months and months, and months. I think they’re the most wonderful vegetables.
Butternut squash makes the best sauce for this pizza, it’s light, fruity and creamy, but use and enjoy what you have available. I think it’s far nicer to use an interesting home or locally grown squash than a supermarket bought butternut, it’s so much more satisfying and fun. Adapt the dish to the texture of squash you are working with; if it has a drier texture, add extra olive oil, and a juicy vegetable such as sweetcorn, cooked and drained spinach, or pineapple, to balance it out.
Squash are a beautiful vibrant vegetable to work with, they make cooking such a joy. I came up with this dish because I have always loved pizza, and wanted to make it without tomatoes. The squash pizza sauce, which is also excellent with pasta, can be used as a general substitute for tomato sauce. Roast, and blend it until smooth with sauteed onion or garlic, or both. It takes heat and herbs very well and has a beautiful mellow fruitiness.
Mushrooms, sliced thinly on top of the pizza, add an earthiness to the dish and their wonderful texture. Mushrooms are a protein source too.
The cashew cheese is a great thing to make. The only time-consuming part is soaking them in warm water for 20 mins or more to soften, but you can do this in advance or be getting on with other things meanwhile. Make a good batch and have some left over for other dishes. Cashew cheese is one of those foods, in its various tasty forms, that is a great thing to have ready in bulk in the fridge for the week ahead. Eat it with pasta, in a sauce, as a sandwich filling, or whatever you fancy, it’s very versatile and only improves in flavour and texture as you keep it. Here I am using it as a pizza topping. If you have it made already then all the better, but it doesn’t take long to make once the cashews are soaked. You can also make the squash sauce in advance, it freezes very well. Both are excellent items for bulk making and will make cooking easier in the week, and make it easier to choose a healthier option, and it’s always a good thing to help your future self in this way as when you’re tired and hungry easy food is all you want.
The pizza base is basically my buckwheat bread recipe, but with slightly less water and added olive oil. The mixture should be slack like batter. It takes less time to rise as it is thinner than a loaf, and makes a delicious and wholesome gluten-free pizza crust. You can use less mixture and make a thinner pizza crust, but the deep-pan crust balances out the fillings best and makes for the most satisfying meal.
All the components are simple to make, just think base, sauce, cashew cheese, topping, and you’re there ♥
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 1 1/4 cup of warm water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp quick yeast
- 1/2 tsp coconut sugar, or other natural sweetener
- 1 tbsp psyllium husk, optional
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 large butternut squash, or other orange squash
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 small onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large pinch of salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
- dash of olive oil
- dash of water
- tsp coconut sugar, optional
- Super Cheesy Cashew Cheese
- oregano, basil or thyme, dried or fresh
- black pepper to taste
- 1 cup of strong and black mild olives
- 4 medium mushrooms, firmer is better like chestnut
preheat oven to hot, 220 C
Mix up the pizza base ingredients, pour the mix onto a greased baking tray or pan and spread evenly out to the sides. Put in a warm place to rise, I use a warm oven, or the top of the oven, making sure it is not too warm as this will kill off the yeast.
Saute a small onion with a pinch of salt and a bay leaf, finely chopped in olive oil, on a low heat with the lid on, for five minutes or more, until sweet, softened and browning.
TO ROAST: Cut the squash in half length-ways, remove the seeds and score. Rub in a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and roast in a hot oven in a baking tray for 30 mins, or until softened. I also put in a small earthenware pot of water which helps prevent burning and drying out, or pour water into the pan with the squash. When the squash is soft take out of the oven and scoop the flesh from the skin, and blend with the softened onions, removing the bay leaf and adding water to loosen, any excess water will soon evaporate on a low heat.
TO PAN-COOK: peel the squash, cut in half, de-seed and cube. Add to the seasoned sauted onions with a cup of water and simmer for 20 mins with the lid on or until soft and then blend, removing the bay leaf.
SEASONING: Add salt, black pepper and lemon juice, to taste, squash sizes do vary so do add more lemon and salt if you think it needs it. A tsp of coconut sugar can also be added, adjust to the flavour of the squash you have used, and your preference, some benefit from the added sweetness.
When the dough has risen put into a hot oven to bake the pizza base, for five minutes or so, or until the top has begun to harden and crack. Using a wide turner slide under the base making sure it's not sticking to the pan, which a wet gluten-free mixture can do. This also ensures a crispy bottom.
While the base is cooking chop your olives and finely chop the mushrooms. Add the sauce to the hardened base, spreading it out and leaving a small gap at the edge for the crust. Add the cheese (recipe link above), slice and lay it on generously. Add the chopped olives and mushrooms (rub a little olive and oil and salt into the mushrooms, optional) and a generous sprinkling of dried herbs (if using fresh add when it comes out of the oven).
Bake for 15-20 mins or until browning and put onto a cooling rack. Delicious to eat hot,warm or cold. I prefer it cold with a green salad.
The butternut squash has a juicy smooth consistency and doesn't need much added apart from the mushrooms and olives, the simplicity works really well, though you can really go to town and add loads of toppings, just don't overload it too much.
I’ve been listening to… Seal and Adamski ‘Killer’
I’ve been reading… Mickhail Naimy ‘The Book of Mirdad’