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What to eat in the heat

Hot. Hot hot hot. Never thought I’d say that, but the last couple of weeks have been baking in Britain; only now are we seeing the break in the weather, though summer looks all set to resume soon. Like many people, I find fasting on these warmer days so much easier – not only are the fresh summer ingredients perfect for Fast Day dishes, the heat also takes the edge of an appetite. I never really hunger for carbs and cake when the temperature rises – just ice lollies (homemade, so you can gauge the sugar content) and salads and barbecued fish, shrimp, chicken, veggies…

As you might expect, the Recipe book has tons of inspiration for low-cal summer suppers. My favourite at the moment is the Ceviche with tomato and coriander – a real zinger of a dish, super fresh, lime-kissed and pretty as a picture (and here’s the picture!). Just add a fork.

ceviche DSC_8321

Another firm favourite in our house is the Szechuan chicken salad – a cool citrusy combo of cucumber, herbs, and iceberg that I find myself craving day in day out, Fast Day or not. No need for carbs, I promise you.

And I made the (super-simple) Bagna Cauda again for friends the other day – a glorious heap of griddled vegetables (aubergine, peppers, courgettes, broccoli, fennel, the lot) served with an Italian dipping sauce made from anchovies and garlic.

bagna caudaDSC_7985

 An acquired taste, perhaps – but once acquired, hard to shake off!

I’m off to Provence next month, where I expect I’ll gather inspiration for more summertime recipes – preferably ones that don’t involve bread or cheese or charcuterie or any of the usual French basics… I’ll be steering clear. Well, for two days of the week, at least.

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What to eat in the heat

Lots of buzz about at the moment around ‘demi-veg’ and part-time vegetarians (or ‘flexitarians’ – one of those clunky words that may well never take off, even if the activity does). Last week, the International Development Committee pointed to increased meat consumption as a catalyst for recent global food crises. And we all know that too much meat (particularly of the processed variety) is linked to all kinds of health issues. One recent European study found that the biggest consumers of processed meat increased their risk of death from heart disease by 72% and cancer by 11%. The World Cancer Research Fund advises limiting intake of red meat because of its links to bowel cancer. By contrast, a six-year study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported in the London Evening Standard found that ‘the mortality rate among vegetarians was 12 per cent lower than in omnivores, while demi-veggies had an 8 per cent lower death rate than meat eaters’.

This really is food for thought – and it fits in neatly with The Fast Diet mantra of ‘mostly Plants and Protein’. Filling your plate with veg at the expense of meat, even for two days a week, could have a significant effect on your health, your waistline, your pocket and – yes – the planet. As Einstein once said, ‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’

Perhaps full-time vegetarianism is too seismic a shift for some of us, but we could all do with moving towards more plant proteins, legumes, herbs, veggies. And, really, there’s no sacrifice. A veg-based meal relies on spicing, texture, colour, crunch – and once you’re in the zone, it’s not so hard to come up with great meatless meals (there are tons of ideas in The Fast Diet Recipe Book of course). I had lunch at Ottolenghi in Notting Hill a fortnight ago: bliss on a plate, and no meat, not a sausage. As the Standard says, maybe it’s time to join the vegolution?

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What to eat in the heat

OK, so some of us just can’t be buzzed to cook on a Fast Day (me too, despite having written the Recipe Book!) I’ve just discovered the perfect Fast Day takeaway supper at my local independent grocery store. The place has a Middle Eastern flavour – lots of dates and pittas and fat fruit piled high. They do a great little Mezze boxes (see photo) with plenty of tabouleh, butter bean salad, a little falafel, a spoon of couscous, hummus, cherry tomatoes, tons of herbs. It’s a taste sensation, full of good things, low in calories (I’d guess around 350), high in fibre. Basically, a Fast Day winner, and all for £1.99! Bingo.


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What to eat in the heat

Easy. I knew it would be as soon as the sun came out. Fasting in the depths of winter, as we’ve all established, can be tough-going, requiring every last ounce of will power when hunger strikes. If all you really want to do is to cuddle up and snuggle down, your mind easily turns to filling, warming, wondrous food. Personally, I can dwell for a good long time on the glories of a jacket potato with butter and cheese… or a big roast with every trimming in the book. Hopefully, the intermittent nature of the Fast Diet – only two days, only two days – was enough to get us through those long cold months.

Now, things are far simpler. Salad days! It’s super-simple to cook on a Fast Day if the sun is dipping on the horizon and the barbecue is smoking in the yard. A piece of grilled fish, a spice-rubbed chicken breast, a skewer of lemony prawns – all of these things make a great back bone for a lo-cal al fresco supper. Add heaps of herbs and leaves, or a mound of char-grilled vegetables, and you’ve got the perfect fasting feast right there (look in the cook book for loads of inspiration: my favourite part of the book is the ‘Flavour Saviour’ section, last chapter, which has rubs, relishes and tangy, zingy sauces galore). We would love to hear your Fast Day BBQ recipes if you get a mo. Roll on summer, mark off those Fast Days and bring on the swimsuits!

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What to eat in the heat

It’s entirely possible that this is my favourite time of year. Looking out of the window now, the garden is still kissed with early morning frost – but I can see bright green shoots, unfurling leaves, the first golden crocuses, and the hyacinths just starting to show. It always feels like a relief. Spring. We’ve made it!

Like many of you, I have never fasted in warm weather; we’ve been hammering away through snow and sleet and torrential rain, so it will be great to try it with the sun on our backs, on days that have more energy and bounce than the short grey days winter. I’m guessing we’ll naturally want to eat lighter meals as the weather warms – salads, raw veg, grilled fish, the kind of things that hold little appeal when it’s below zero outside and the central heating is on indoors.

We’re not there yet, though. But early spring is full of promise and potential, a time, I think, that calls for a subtle shift in our idea of how a Fast Day might go. We’re unfurling too. This is a moment, perhaps, for a clean, clear veggie soup: still warming, still filling, but fresh and feisty, like the season.

Spring vegetable soup

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • I250ml vegetable stock – homemade will give the best flavour, though a stock cube will do
  • 150g peas, fresh or frozen
  • 150g broccoli, cut into little florets
  • 100g mange tout
  • Generous handful of herbs – mint, coriander, parsley
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Chilli flakes to taste
  • S&P

Gently sweat celery and chopped onion in a pan with the olive oil. Once translucent, add stock and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer. Add vegetables. Cook for 2-3 minutes until tender. Remove pan from heat and add herbs, spring onion, soy and lemon juice (plus chilli flakes if using). Season and serve. This makes enough for four and has a calorie count of around 100 calories a portion.

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What to eat in the heat

When you’re scraping frost from the car windscreen and watching gritters out on the roads, the idea of a salad isn’t going to set the heart racing, even on a fast day. While our mantra of ‘mostly plants and proteins’ means that salads are one of the pillars of eating on the Fast Diet, these chilly days demand something more warming. Here’s a week of menus, two breakfasts and two suppers, which should do the trick. Again, the calorie content is approximate based on experience rather than measurement – so weigh your ingredients to hit the magic numbers.


Breakfast: Kippers, followed by half a grapefruit

There is great power in a humble kipper – full of good fats and packed with protein. Little wonder they are an increasingly popular breakfast staple: last year, sales were up by 80 per cent at Sainsbury’s, while Tesco sold 150,000 in the first three months of last year. There’s about 125 calories in a kipper fillet, so it makes an ideal, satiating fast-day breakfast. Michael is a big fan.

To cook with no smell, place in a dish, add a slice of lemon, cover with Cling Film and microwave for two and a half minutes. You could serve with wilted spinach and a poached egg if this is your ‘main’ fast day meal. Or have half a pink grapefruit as a sweetener afterwards (around 50 calories).

Supper: Beetroot and Bramley Soup

The idea for this brilliantly warming soup came from my friend Alex Renton who made it for me one chilly autumn lunch-time at his home in Edinburgh. I loved it so much that I made it for the brilliant cook Allegra McEvedy, who asked to use it in her Guardian column. Here’s her version in its entirety. This makes plenty – probably about six fast-day servings. Maybe miss out the butter, or swap for a low-fat alternative such as Flora Cooking Spray (not the same flavour, sorry, but we are skimming calories here). Similarly, make your stock from a veggie bouillon cube, and have low-fat rather than full-fat Greek yoghurt. The star anise is vital!

‘Takes 30 mins once beets are roasted (which takes around an hour and a quarter). Leftovers last for 3-4 days in the fridge.

550g/5 medium raw beetroots – whoppers take a lot longer to cook
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 bramleys, peeled and quartered
1 litre stock, light chicken or veg
2 star anise
1 tsp caraway or cumin seeds
Few splodges Greek yogurt
Some chives
Salt & pepper

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C /400F/ gas mark 6.
  2. Put the beetroot on baking tray with 1cm-deep water. Cook for 1-1½hrs until a knife meets with little resistance, then take them out and run under cold water for a couple of minutes until cool enough to peel.
  3. Put a wide, thick-bottomed pan on the heat and melt the butter in it, along with the spice seeds.
  4. Over a medium heat, sweat the onions – taking care not to let them colour – with the spices, keeping a lid on.
  5. Slice the core out of the apple quarters and chuck them in with the onions.
  6. Cut the peeled beets into roughly inch-sized pieces (it’s going to get blitzed) and toss into the pot.
  7. Pour on the stock, whack the heat up, drop the star anise in and put the lid back on. Season.
  8. Once boiled, turn down heat and simmer for 15 mins. Pick out the star anise and chuck away, then blitz the soup with a blender until pureed. Serve with chopped chives and Greek yoghurt and a spoon.’


Breakfast: Chive Scrambled Eggs with a hint of Nutmeg

An easy one, this. Everyone knows how to scramble an egg, and how they like it done. The idea here is simply to lend extra flavours and dimensions to a classic – on other days, you might want to add a scant grating of parmesan (a little goes a long way), some shards of smoked salmon, a handful of fresh coriander. I like a little tomato and chili relish on the side… Forego the toast. You can have that tomorrow.

Supper: O’Kelly Fish

I first wrote about this quick recipe in my book 101 Things to Do Before you Diet – and it remains a firm fast-day favourite in our house. I think it owes something to Jamie Oliver (all in one pan, super easy, super tasty), but over the years it has altered with each outing. Here’s my most recent take.

I’ve always called O’Kelly Fish, by the way, because I first had it in the kitchen of our friends the O’Kellys, who live in the South Downs surrounded by children and chickens. The dish is wholesome and hearty, great for gangs of people, but with no carbs. This should make enough for a family of four.

  1. Blanch a packet of green beans and a pack of thin asparagus for a minute of so in boiling water. Broccoli works too. Drain and place in an oven-proof pan.
  2. Lay four or five vines of cherry tomatoes on top, add a little olive oil, salt, fresh-ground pepper and plenty of lemon juice. Plenty. Maybe two lemons. Chuck in the husks. If your calorie count allows, throw in some black olives.
  3. Place a fillet of seasoned salmon per person on top of the veggies. Add any herbs you fancy – coriander is nice; chili flakes are a good idea.
  4. Oven roast at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or until fish is just cooked.

The tomatoes and lemon will have made a wonderful juice, to spoon over the fish once served.

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What to eat in the heat


Breakfast: Tricolore Omelette

This is a great way to get punch and flavor into what could be a bland dish. Lightly fry a chopped spring onion and add some chili flakes (as many or few as you fancy) in a small frying pan with just a spray of oil to stop it sticking. Separate two eggs and whip the whites with a fork until bubbly. Add salt and plenty of pepper, and cook gently until the omelette is set to your liking. Perhaps add a small crumble of goat’s cheese too, plus chopped parsley, and serve with a handful of baby herb leaves.

Supper: Winter Waldorf Salad

Try this with endive leaves, red and pale varieties, with half a red-skinned apple, a stalk of celery (both chopped), a handful of walnuts for crunch and protein, perhaps a quartered fig for prettiness. Dress with low-fat yoghurt, a little Dijon mustard and a squeeze of lemon juice, mixed and then drizzled over the dish. If you have calories to spare, add a hint of a hard blue cheese – perhaps some of the Christmas Stilton.


Breakfast: Jumbo Porridge with Jewel Fruit

OK, so I’m stuck on pomegranate at the moment – but add a swirl of pomegranate molasses (get it here) along with the seeds, together with a dust of cinnamon, and you arrive at a wonderful ruby-studded dish with a flash of inspiration from the middle east. Use jumbo oats as they keep you fuller longer than the more processed varieties. Perhaps add mandarin segments or chopped kiwi for more glistening colour, and a swirl of agave syrup (a low GI sweetener) to taste.

Supper: Spinach Soup with Tapenade Toasts

I love Jane Lovett’s book Make It Easy – and this is my homage to one of Jane’s lovely soups, modified for the Fast Diet: a glorious, nutritious bowl of jolly green goodness….

Fry half a chopped onion, a small chopped potato and a clove of chopped garlic in a little oil. Add a grate of root ginger and nutmeg and a pint of vegetable bouillon (from a cube or your own veg stock). Bring to the boil and simmer until the potato is softened. Add 250gms – or more – of washed spinach, and simmer till the leaves are wilted. Puree and serve with a crisp, thin slice of toasted ciabatta spread with green-olive tapenade (or pesto) and a swirl of low-fat crème fraiche. The soup will keep in the fridge for two or three days.

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What to eat in the heat

In The Fast Diet book, you’ll find plenty of menu ideas for your fast days. In my experience, fasters tend to come in two varieties – those who like to keep things simple and stick to very basic foodstuffs during a fast, and those who like to create taste sensations to keep their fast days full of flavour.

The former group tend to develop fasting habits – naked poached eggs for breakfast; a heap of straight-forward steamed veggies for supper. The others like to experiment. If you’re in this group, here are some ideas to inspire you this week. Each dish should clock in at around 250 calories or less, though these are inspirations rather than recipes, so I haven’t counted every calorie, as we have in the book. For precise figures, please weigh your ingredients and check a calorie counter. And add your comments too – variety is the spice!



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What to eat in the heat

Keen to get cracking on the 5:2 diet? 500 calories a day (600 for lucky men) can seem forbidding, but Xanthe Clay’s delicious recipes with 250 calories or less will make the fast days fly by.

There are some great recipes here with versions for men and women. Enjoy!

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What to eat in the heat

On fast days, I have tea (with milk) in the morning, black coffee and the odd Miso soup during the day, then something healthy when I get back like a veggie curry, stir fry or jacket potato, cottage cheese and salad.  I know jacket potato is not brilliant for its GI but it’s swings and roundabouts on this way of eating I think. I find that meal very satisfying after a day of real fasting so it works for me.

If I’m doing a fast day when I’m at home then it’s more difficult not to ‘graze’ so I try to at least make the grazing heathy. I tend to make a large pot of veggie stew, have some for lunch, maybe a cup full late afternoon and then pep it up with spices / curry for an evening meal. Anything left gets frozen in portions for a quick meal for when I get home late from work (I keep portions of cooked brown rice in the freezer to have with it)  The key thing is flexibility for me – if a planned fast day becomes a non-fast day then no problem, I just fast the next time it’s convenient and no guilt :-).

Today I was “in the zone” so ate nothing until 5 ish, then had some reasonably healthy leftovers and a piece of fruit. I’ll have a glass of wine (or two) to see in the new year but won’t get back on track with the serious calorie restriction until I get back to work later in the week.  One thing I have decided to do is not to have breakfast most days – even on non-fast days – as I think this will work well for me as a long term weight control strategy.  Of course I might also get the health benefits of the 12 – 16 hr ‘fast’ when the body goes into repair mode rather than build.


See Maria’s story here.


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What to eat in the heat

from Jackie J

Servings: 6

75g dried red lentils, rinsed
2 onions,  peeled and left whole
3 red peppers, split and seeds out

fresh tomatoes about 5-6 med depending on size (mine were cherry toms and I used about 15)
2 chilli peppers (more or less or none!)
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
6 carrots, peeled and sliced

spray or teaspoon max olive oil
2 pints chicken or veg stock

a sprig of fresh rosemary and 1 of thyme chopped or you could use fresh parsley instead but put that in at the end


  1. Put all veg in a baking tray spray with oil or drizzle a little on and mix to coat and roast in hot oven for about 45 mins until all is done.  I didn’t need to cover mine but you don’t want the liquid to evaporate so you might need to after a while, or take it out before the carrots are quite done as I did.
  2. Simmer the lentils in a little water (just to cover) until tender.
  3. Add the stock, the herbs and the roasted veggies (I leave all skins on except for the garlic cloves ).
  4. Simmer together for 15-20 mins depending on how done your carrots were..
  5. Blend (I use a stick blender), and puree the soup until no lumps remain,
  6. Season with salt and pepper  or soy sauce to taste.


Works out at around 149cals a big bowlful depending on how much oil (these cals are for 10ml oil) and is very satisfying. You can make it without the lentils  for 109 cals per bowl. If you use spray oil its even less.