Healthy Hearts For Lent

Thursday, February 15, 2018

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Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, some of us ushered in the Lenten season in church whilst others were romanced for Valentine's Day, as both special days coincided on the same date. How many of those delicious meals were meatless? Most importantly. however: February is Heart Month. This organ pumps life into our bodies daily, but sadly many of us are guilty of neglecting it due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Cardiovascular disease is a major health issue on the island, but fear not, with changes in dietary practices, ill effects can be reversed.

To begin with, let us take a look at heart-healthy foods. Red foods are an easy start such as berries, beets, tomatoes, otaheite apples, red sweet peppers, orange-fleshed fruits and vegetables such as papaya, mangoes, citrus, carrots and pumpkin. Most nuts, too, especially almonds, walnuts and cashews. Fibre-rich oats and legumes like lentils, gungo peas, chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans are also good for the heart. Let us not forget our greens, too — spinach and broccoli — which are particularly heart-healthy. Red wine and dark chocolate in moderation are also heart-positive.

Now we have shared a good list of wholesome foods you need to eat more of, time to look at one ingredient that is in every kitchen and affects the heart. Salt. Salt in and of itself is not bad. As the great Nelson Mandela remarked, “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.” The problem is, some of us get carried away when seasoning with salt. Culturally, we abhor bland food; salt makes everything taste better. But too much is dangerous. Salty food is quite noxious, to be frank. Start being mindful of the amounts you put on your food. Read labels religiously, especially on those seasoning packets and canned foods. Get familiar with the world of spices and herbs to flavour your food so well, you automatically add less salt.

Our challenge for you this Lent is to eat more vegetables and fruit and to give your heart some more love. Baby steps. It can be as simple as one day a week without meat, one plant-based meal, vegan or vegetarian, per day for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or diving right in and going fully meat-free right up until Easter. The choice is yours, at your own pace and abilities. Your body will thank you for these small changes. Our mission is simply to assist you in being creative in what is available in our markets and supermarkets and sharing recipe ideas from us and the community at large.

Speaking of which, if you have a delicious vegetarian or vegan recipe you would like to share with fellow Jamaicans, please write to our team at We will publish in our monthly Meatless Monday Jamaica column giving you full credit for your creation. Please be advised that we will test each recipe first. Meatless Monday Jamaica is about everyone sharing and helping each other to make better use of the bounty our gorgeous island provides and to eat well.

My recipes this month incorporate heart-healthy foods and, of course, I had to include a sweet treat. For our March instalment, we will be sharing meat-free Easter ideas from us and vegan chefs we adore!

From my kitchen to yours with love,

JuicyChef xoxo

Founder, Meatless Monday Jamaica



JuicyChef's lentil salad with broccoli, cauliflower and goat cheese (vegetarian)


Brown lentils are typically sold in the average Jamaican market alongside gungo peas and red kidney beans. My spicy lentil salad can be served at room temperature or chilled. It is a delicious lunch option with a serving of cooling cucumber or juicy heart-healthy tomatoes on the side, fried ripe plantains and bread for a complete meal. Omit the goat cheese and replace honey with another sweetener alternative such as agave or maple syrup for a vegan version.


Serves 6



1 cup brown lentils

1 tbsp white cane vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp grated Jamaican turmeric (or ¼ tsp ground)

½ tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp Jamaican ground annatto (aka poor man's saffron)

¼ tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp Jamaican honey

2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small head of broccoli, broken into florets

1 small head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 small log of plain goat cheese, roughly torn

Handful of roasted walnuts, roughly broken (optional)

Handful of fresh mixed herbs, leaves only, roughly chopped



Rinse lentils thoroughly and remove any debris. Add to a medium saucepan and cover with lots of water, bring to a boil then simmer over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes until the lentils are cooked. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool down, drain again and transfer to a bowl.


Steam the broccoli and cauliflower until just cooked through, then add to an ice bath (bowl filled with ice and water) to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.


Prepare vinaigrette by adding vinegar, mustard, spices, honey and oil together. Whisk until emulsified.


Add cauliflower and broccoli to lentils, then pour over vinaigrette and mix well. Set aside for an hour for flavours to meld. Check seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.


When ready to eat, add goat cheese, walnuts (if using) and herbs, toss together and serve.


JuicyChef's vegan gungo peas “sip”


Gungo peas are also known as pigeon peas in other Caribbean islands. They are mainly used for rice and peas and soups. Traditionally, gungo peas soup features salted pork or beef. Enjoy my vegan version. Rastafarians affectionately call veggie based soups “sips” even if this one is not quite ital with the addition of salt. Not much mind as lower sodium intake is better for our hearts. Please note, no dumplings are in this recipe as I tried to lower the carbohydrates, but if you want to add them feel free! Also, remove and burst the Scotch bonnet pepper at the end and allow those who like extra spice to give it a swirl in their bowls.


Serves 8



¾ cup dried gungo peas

10 cups of water

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

10 pimento grains

1 Irish potato, peeled and cubed

1 small sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 piece of yellow yam (about ½ lb/250g, peeled and cubed)

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

1 14-oz can coconut milk

2 fat sprigs of thyme

2 stalks of escallion

1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper

1 tsp sea salt (if people want extra, let them add their own)



Place the gungo peas in a large saucepan with the 10 cups of water, garlic slices and bring to a boil. Simmer for two-and-a-half hours. Please check on the pot occasionally throughout this process in case you need to top up with more water.


Next, add Irish potato, yam, sweet potato and carrots, pimentos, coconut milk, thyme, Scotch bonnet, escallion and salt.


Cook for another half-an-hour or until ground provisions and peas are cooked through.


Ladle in bowls and let everyone dig in!


JuicyChef's ortanique, beet and almond salad (vegan)


Italians make wonderful orange salads, and Jamaica grows such vibrant citrus that I go crazy with them each time the season rolls around, which runs from November to April. I wish we had blood oranges with their wonderful hue and enigmatic taste, but we have a very special citrus fruit of our own called the ortanique which is unique to the island. It is the darling of the citrus world, a hybrid of the tangerine and orange with a unique sweetness. Added with beautiful earthy beets, I got my “blood orange effect” which I combined with a zesty ortanique dressing, refreshing dill and crunchy almonds for a gorgeous seasonal salad. My root-to-fruit salad is definitely heart-healthy!



2 large beets

2 large ortaniques, peeled, sliced, white pith and seeds removed

2 tbsps toasted slivered almonds, to garnish

Roughly torn dill sprigs, to garnish



4 tbsps freshly squeezed ortanique juice

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

Salt to taste

1 tbsp olive oil



Preheat oven to 400F, peel beets and wrap them individually in foil. Add to the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool down before unwrapping them. Thinly slice when they are room temperature.


Prepare the dressing by whisking ortanique juice, wholegrain mustard and olive oil together, season with a little salt to taste.


On a platter, arrange the ortanique and beet slices alternatively, drizzle the dressing over the fruit and vegetables, then scatter the almonds and dill sprigs to garnish and serve immediately.



JuicyChef's stewed otaheite and coconut custard puff pastry tarts (vegetarian)


When a Jamaican mentions apples, most likely it is not the one most Europeans and North Americans are used to, but the Otaheite apple, also known as the Malay apple which was brought to the island from Malaysia by Captain Bligh in 1793. During the season, it is not unusual to observe street vendors weaving in and out of traffic selling bags of these popular fruits to motorists. They are pear shaped, with a huge central seed surrounded by mild to very sweet spongy white flesh with pale pink to deep ruby red skins and a rose-like fragrance. They are juicy and refreshing. Blended with our potent local ginger they make a delicious drink. I stew them here to top the tart; if tarts are not your thing, you can serve the stewed fruit with ice cream or soy-based frozen cream to make it vegan. Either way, you will be left with excess stewing liquid as the natural fruit juices ooze into the syrup. I waste nothing in my kitchen and like to add the spicy fruit-infused syrup to soda water and a dash of Jamaican white rum for a refreshing otaheite flavoured boozy tipple or a dash of bitters for a non-alcoholic mocktail.



Coconut custard

2 ½ cups coconut milk

3 egg yolks

2 tbsps dark Jamaican rum

¼ cup white sugar

Pinch of salt

1 tbsp cornstarch

¼cup unsweetened desiccated coconut



½ cup brown sugar

1 cup water

1 tbsp grated ginger

A generous grating of nutmeg

3 whole cloves

4 juicy and ripe otaheite apples, seeds removed, sliced and cut into chunks

6 frozen pre-made puff pastry tarts, baked according to package directions



In a medium saucepan, add sugar, water, ginger and cloves together. Bring to a boil over high heat.


Reduce heat to medium-low and add Otaheite chunks. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the slices have softened but remain firm and turn from red into a blush pink colour. Cool and set aside.


Prepare coconut pastry cream in another medium saucepan by pouring in coconut milk and simmer over medium-high heat until just below boiling point and switch off and remove from heat to cool down.


Whisk eggs, sugar, rum, cornstarch and a pinch of salt together then pour in warm coconut milk. Mix well and return to the pan. Return to temperature over medium heat, continually whisking until the custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon.


Strain custard mixture through a sieve into a bowl, cool down and refrigerate.


Bake puff pastry tartlets and cool down.


When ready to serve, assemble tarts by filling with custard and topping with stewed Otaheite apple pieces. Garnish with unsweetened desiccated or shaved toasted coconut.




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