CLASSIC SUMMER BBQ - With a healthy gut spin
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
By Ben Payne, founder of Bottlebrush Ferments.
The warmer months are upon us and whilst this Summer probably won’t break any records for high temperatures and great weather, there will invariably still be the customary picnics and barbecues to attend.
Sunshine, friends, good food and a few drinks…..what’s not to love?!
Well, maybe the wasps and the unpredictable nature of British Summer weather, but still, alfresco eating with a few laughs is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Do you have that one go to dish that you pull out every time? Do you want some variety? Do you or your guests have some dietary requirements that need to be taken into consideration? Or are you just looking for a way to make your outdoor foodie affair just that little bit more healthy?
If so, read on and I’ll give you some ideas on how to make a few minor tweaks whilst still giving you the benefit of great tasting food that will please everyone.
More and more these days, people seem to have some kind of digestive or gut related issues or also increasingly, food sensitivities or intolerances and if you ask anyone who suffers from any of these, eating out can sometimes be a minefield. Gas, bloating, indigestion, heart burn/ acid reflux etc can all be easily triggered by nasty hidden ingredients in food, making what should be a fun experience a bit of a misery.
Wheat, gluten and dairy are some of the main culprits when it comes to food sensitivities, which means the cheese board and traditional crackers can be problematic, but so too can sausages and burgers with their binders, cheap soy-based fillers and E numbers.
Also, store bought dips, salads, their dressings and traditional soft drinks offer very little in the way of nutrition and are full of sugars, unhealthy oils and other artificial flavours or colours.
There is almost always a healthier alternative and they need not be boring, tasteless options. Making things like salads, slaws or dips from scratch is a great way to know exactly what’s going into your food, but for things like crisps and crackers etc there are now some amazing options to choose from.
Now, I’m an Aussie, so there are just some things I expect to see at a barbecue - “shrimp on the barbie?” Just kidding, we don’t actually say that. They’re prawns folks, but they do barbecue well. In all seriousness though, sausages, burgers, cold beer, coleslaw and the likes are all staples and whilst they are not exactly the worst things in the world you can eat, they won’t be making anyones top 10 healthy foods list.
With some things, all it takes is a minor tweak to how you shop or perhaps spending a little bit more than you normally would, but the superior quality, flavour and health benefits are well worth it.
Most good butchers now do gluten free sausages and burgers and there are even some amazing options at most supermarkets these days - Heck and The Jolly Hog are two brands that I’ve personally used that have great options for kids and adults alike, but there are many more and I know that virtually all major supermarket chains now have their own own-brand gluten free ranges and almost all of them now have a vegan offer for our plant-based friends.
But if you want total transparency and peace of mind knowing what’s in your food, you need to make it yourself. I don’t mean the meat/ fish/ chicken obviously, that stuff sort of takes care of itself. Here I’m talking about everything that goes along with it - your side dishes, nibbles, etc. Sure you could just serve up the same old picnic fare - nuts, crisps, crackers, cheese, dips, etc but there are some really easy changes to make that will a) seriously up the ante from a health perspective, b) give your picnic/ BBQ a big boost of colour and make it aesthetically pleasing on the eye and c) break up the monotony of the same old tried and tested dishes.
Below I am going to offer some alternatives to traditional dishes, but where possible I have gone for a healthier option and have included a gut health element to it. Being the founder of a fermented food brand, I am a lover of all things fermented and funky and believe in the power of nurturing ones gut health for overall health and wellbeing.
Let’s get into it.
Obviously depending on whether it’s a barbecue or a picnic will somewhat dictate how the food is presented. If it’s a BBQ, the food can come straight off the barbie and be served up hot a fresh, with a picnic it will more likely be served up cold. But either way, these dishes will still be delicious.
Disclaimer, I’m not vegan, I just happen to own a vegan-friendly business. I do love seafood and meat, but I eat a lot of veggies. It is pretty much common knowledge now that a diet high in a wide variety of whole, plant-based food is the key to optimal health.
Vegetables contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and importantly from a gut health point of view, fibre. All of which help with keeping us healthy by promoting feelings of fullness, help regulate blood sugar, combat cholesterol, regulate bowel movements, help fight inflammation, aid in detoxification and supply the body with the micronutrients needed for it to function at its best.
I really quickly want to touch on why fibre itself is so important. Most people simply think that fibre is needed to “keep us regular” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but it goes much deeper than that. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with too much science.
Dietary Fibre is plant matter that passes through our digestive system mostly undigested and is categorised as soluble (dissolves in water) or insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water). All plants have both in different ratios and they both have a slightly different role.
Soluble fibre, like the name suggests, dissolves in water and creates a gel like substance. This helps with smooth, steady transition through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, keeps us fuller longer and can promote heart and metabolic health and help fight unwanted weight gain.
Soluble fibre is found in high amounts in whole grains like oats, legumes (beans, lentil, chic peas, etc), avocado, sweet potato, corn, some seeds, cruciferous vegetables - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc and fruit like berries, apple, pear, etc.
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, soluble fibre is gut health boosting as it is considered “prebiotic” meaning that it actually feeds your good gut bugs - “probiotics”. This is hugely important as you want both pre and probiotics in your diet for optimal health.
Insoluble fibre is slightly different. It doesn’t dissolve in water, but rather attracts it and holds it, meaning it is recommended for relieving constipation since it adds bulk to the stool and helps move food through the GI tract. Insoluble fibre is also beneficial for helping clear out toxins/ carcinogens and unhealthy particles from the GI tract. That is why it can help prevent things like diverticulitis, heart disease, diabetes and even colorectal cancer.
Insoluble fibre cannot be fully broken down or digested in the GI tract, which is why they are a great option if one is on a weight loss program. They keep you fuller longer and the body absorbs less of the calories contained within.
Good sources of insoluble fibre include wheat or oat bran, flax/ linseeds, beans, coconut flakes, rye in its various forms, dried peach, mango or papaya (but they will contain higher sugar due to their lack of water), almonds lentils and again, cruciferous veg (they are high in both forms).
So, that’s a very brief rundown on why fibre is so important, let’s get back on track.
As I mentioned earlier, veggies are a great way to up the fibre and nutrient content of your meal and a lot of veggies taste great on the barbecue. Asparagus, corn on the cob, peppers, even tender stem broccoli all barbecue or grill really well. Then a drizzle of olive oil and seasoning of your choice and you have already got some great healthy choices.
I now want to give you a couple of recipes for some really quick and easy alternatives that are healthy, tasty and won’t leave you feeling like you’ve missed out.
Guacamole & chips
Ingredients - 3-4 avocados, 2 x limes, olive oil, large bunch of fresh coriander chopped roughly, green chilli sliced, red onion chopped finely, salt and pepper. Plus tortilla chips of your choice.
Guac is a favourite in our house and is so easy to make;
1. Get your avocados, scoop out the flesh of the fruit into a large bowl and pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice from one lime, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
2. Use a folk to mash until its soft and still slightly chunky.
3. Add in the onion, chilli (optional) and half the coriander. Mix thoroughly then taste. Add more lime juice or salt and pepper if you feel it needs it, garish with the rest of the coriander.
4. Serve with tortilla chips or vegetable crudités for a healthier option.
Beetroot Humous with veggie crudités
Ingredients - 250gm beetroot peeled and chopped into small chunks, 1 x large tin of chic peas drained and rinsed, 1 garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, olive oil, juice from 1 x lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
1. Toast the cumin seeds on a medium - high heat for 2mins and put aside
2. In a food processor blitz up the chic peas, beetroot, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper until smooth
3. Add in the cumin and lemon juice, blitz and taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.
4. Serve with crudités - sliced veg sticks like carrot, cucumber, mixed peppers, radishes, sugar snap peas, tender stem broccoli all work well and will have you covered with a variety of nutrients.
There are a million and one salad recipes out there and you really can’t go wrong. Get creative, start with a leafy green base, then get something with a bit more body to it-tenderstem broccoli or barbecued courgette works well, throw in some seeds, nuts, goats cheese, even some berries or other fruit of your choice. Dress with olive oil and apple cider vinegar and you’re onto a winner. But here I want to give you my go to summer salad. It always impresses and is simple, it just requires a little bit of prep. It’s my raw Mexican slaw.
Ingredients - 1/2 head of white cabbage, 1/2 head of red cabbage, 2-3 large carrots, bunch of radishes, 1 x red onion,1 - 2 Jalapeños, 3 - 4 limes juiced, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, large bunch of fresh coriander chopped roughly.
1. In a large salad/ mixing bowl grate/ shred your cabbages, I recommend going on the thinner side. A mandolin really helps, but be careful, they are lethal.
2. Grate in the carrots
3. Slice the radishes into fine discs and the red onion into fine rings, add them.
4. Add in half the coriander
5. Mix the lime juice with a decent amount of olive oil. Start off with a 1 : 1 ratio, salt and pepper and give it a good shake up. Pour over the slaw, cover and allow to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. This will give the lime juice and olive oil time to get into the veg and soften it up a bit.
6. Add the rest of the coriander as garnish as you serve it up.
7. Optional for brownie points - barbecue some corn on the cob and then cut it off into the mix.
I want to touch very briefly on another crowd favourite that I personally love, but I do not make. The humble Potato salad. Not only is potato salad a great way to fill people up, it is really cost effective and can be super tasty.
Analogs resident Yoga expert and Ukrainian, Dana has an amazing traditional recipe that I can’t get enough of. Perhaps she will share it with us some other time.
One other really interesting thing about potato salad, which makes it a great option for gut health, is that it contains a very unique and interesting form of fibre known as resistant starch. It’s fascinating stuff. It is not present in raw potatoes, it is not even in cooked potatoes, but when cooked potatoes and other starchy veg, rice and even pasta are cooked and then allowed to cool, resistant starch forms.
Similar to other forms of fibre, resistant starch passes through the GI tract undigested, but it makes its way to the large intestine where it is fermented by the gut and forms short chain fatty acids, which act as probiotics (food) for your gut bugs and have a whole host of health benefits. Amazing stuff.
Jazz up your cheese board with Kimchi & Sauerkraut.
As mentioned, I am the founder of a fermented food brand, so of course I wasn’t do a whole article without mentioning, but it’s not a hard sales pitch. Fermented foods can be an amazing addition to a good old traditional cheese board adding colour, flavour and many health benefits.
Naturally fermented foods are acidic in nature, meaning they pair perfectly with oily and fatty foods. They also aid digestion and assist in the breakdown of fats and proteins and can lessen the negative impact of things like dairy for some people.
Effectively kraut and kimchi will do the same job as a Piccalilli or chutney, but they are so much better for you. Firstly they are (or should be) raw, meaning they have not been heat treated and retain a lot of the nutrients of the raw veg.
Secondly, if they are live and naturally fermented (like ours) they will contain billions of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics as you’ve probably heard them called.
Lastly, as we’ve done all the hard work for you, you just open up a jar, grab a spoonful or two you are set. Sharp, intense flavours that are full of goodness and will help cut through the cheese and your tummy will thank you.
You could just add some fermented veg to your regular cheese board or if you want to take it a step further, you could try swapping out the regular brie for some of the amazing sheep or goat alternatives or look for an unpasteurised cow cheese. These will all be a little less harsh on the gut and I work closely with the guys at Palace Culture who make the best vegan cheese going out of almonds and cashews. Our collaboration with them on their Kimcheez is proving very popular and a favourite in our house.
Ok, so that’s about it for the food. There are a few options there to get you going. The last thing I want to mention is a healthy drink alternative.
By now you’ve probably heard of Kombucha, a naturally fizzy, tea based drink that is delicious and very good for you.
If you’re going booze free you can drink it as is or you can easily mix it with some clear spirits or other mixers for a slightly healthier cocktail alternative. I work closely with both Momo Kombucha and Fix8 Kombucha and their flavours are amazing and are full of gut loving bugs.