Houmous is my food soul mate. It is my lunch staple, crudite confidante, snacking accomplice. However, very occassionally my houmous obsession can peak and I need an exceptional replacement to fill such tasty shoes.
For those days Romesco sauce is my second in command. It is bright, fresh and full of flavour. You can eat it cold as a dip, part of a mezze of tapas plate, sandwich filler or, to jazz up plain, shopbought houmous with a swirl or too. I also like it warm, drizzled over grains, roasted veg, grilled tofu or your favourite meat alternatives. Even better, its just a case of shoving a few store cupboard ingredients in a blender or food processor, whizzing and then briefly heating the sauce to let all the flavours mingle.
The foundation for romesco sauce involves grilled peppers, a handful of nuts commonly walnut, breadcrumbs, a splash of vinegar and a shake of smoked paprika. I experimented a few times with using breadcrumbs but I found the texture too thick and pastey and any leftovers congealed when cold. In my final trial I left out the bread and I don’t feel you lose any valuable taste or texture. If you prefer a thicker sauce/dip just omit the milk or add a lot less to create your desired consistency.
Like most of my recipes this sauce is so adaptable to what you have available. No fresh tomatoes? Use tinned. No sage? Use whatever dried herbs you have. I have used rosemary, parsley and thyme in the past and all taste delicious with the peppers. Paprika can be interchanged for smoked, you’ll get an earthiness, it will miss the unique smokey flavour but the sauce will still taste delicious. Similarly, red wine vinegar can be subbed for white wine, apple cyder or balsamic vinegar or lemon juice although, I wouldn’t recommend malt or white vinegar as they are too sour.
Foodie facts – Vitamin C & micronutrients on a plant-based diet (No science thanks, just give me the recipe)
As veganism/plant-based eating becomes more mainstream, I believe the sterotypical question of “Where do you get your protein from?” is finally being recognised as a complete misnomer. In the Western world most citizens including vegetarians and vegans exceed recommended protein quotas. The RDA for protein is about 56g per day, on average American meat eaters are consuming 112g per day and American vegetarians 89g per day1. On the otherhand, micronutrients requirements (vitamins & minerals essential for maintaing normal bodily functions) I think are definately harder to achieve through these diets because; 1- foods that are sources of certain micronutrients aren’t obvious compared to what food that are classed as carbs, fats or proteins. 2- We are less educated as to why we need micronutrients and what they do for our body. 3- The science around how they sucessfully get utilised by the body is much more complicated than just picking a food in the shop and eating it. How micronutrients interact with other foods and liquids, how we cook foods and preserve them, all impact how much of said micronutrient our bodies can utilise. And annoyingly, these effects vary for each micronutrient!
Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid is luckily one micronutrient that modern civilisation are very rarely deficient in and most of us meet the daily intake2. The average daily requirement of Vitamin C, for a healthy adult is 95-110mg a day. Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C include, cauliflower, cabbage, berries, lychee, citrus fruits, papaya and SWEET PEPPERS. For example, 90g, about half a raw red pepper contains almost double your daily intake2.
Vitamin C bioavailabilty – Levels of Vitamin C in food is labile and can decrease dependent on how the ingredient is cooked, how long for and at what temperature3. Dry heat like stir frying or roasting preserves more of the nutrients than boiling4. For example pre-roasted, jarred peppers do contain 25% less of the Vitamin C content vs the raw version4. Storage and the enzymes and minerals vitamin C comes into contact with also effects levels3.
Vitamin C main bodily functions – Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which protect our cells from damage by free radicals and help towards preventing degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer4. They also help our body’s make energy and are needed to make collagen. Collagen is a protein that gives structure to our connective tissues like the skin, cartiledge and bones, making intake of Vitamin C especially important for healing after injury3. Vitamin C is also helpful to build our blood vessels and neurotransmitters, which are essential for normal brain function3.
Vitamin C’s synergic affects – Vitamin C improves our body’s ability to absorb iron. This is important for plant-based eaters as plant sources of iron only contain non-haem iron which is significantly harder for our gut to absorb vs haem iron, which is only available from animal sources2. Vitamin E, another antioxidant loses its function once is has neutralised a free radical fortunately, the presence of Vitamin C regenerates it2.
So now you have the ultimate recipe to rival the infamous houmous AND the reassurance you getting a great dose of Vitamin C with each dip, dunk or drizzle!
(Makes enough sauce to generously serve 2 people)
- 100g fresh tomatoes
- 2 jarred roasted red peppers (about 135g)
- 30g seeds / walnuts (toast them first to elevate their flavour)
- tbsp oil of choice
- x1 large garlic clove (roughly chopped)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- tsp fresh sage or 1/2 tsp dried sage/thyme/rosemary/parley all work great (roughly chopped)
- 2 tsp/10ml red wine vinegar (can sub balsamic, apple cyder, white wine vinegar or lemon juice)
- optional tsp miso otherwise just season with salt
- 100ml milk of choice (I think creamier, sweeter milks like oat or pea work best)
1. Blitz the tomato, peppers and nuts/seeds in a food processor until you get a chunky paste.
2. Heat the oil in a small pan and gently fry the paprika, herbs and garlic until the garlic is golden, it won’t take more than 30-60 seconds.
3. Add the garlic mix to the food processor along with the vinegar and miso if using otherwise just season normally with salt. Blitz for a minute or so to get a uniform, runny paste.
4. Pour the sauce back into the small pan, add the milk and stir to incorporate. Place a lid on the pan and over a low heat, simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes.
Serve hot, room temparature or cold. To store, leave the sauce to cool completely, store in an air tight container, in the fridge where it will last for a few days.
FOODIE FACTS RESOURCES:
1.D & M Pimental (September 2003) ‘Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment’ The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78 (3), 660S-663S
2. EUFIC (January 2021) Vitamin C: foods, functions, how much do you need & more Available at; Vitamin C: foods, functions, how much do you need & more (eufic.org)
3. BNF (July 2009) Vitamins (pg 13) Available at; Vitamins – British Nutrition Foundation – Page #3
4. Kerry Torrens (March 2021) Top 5 health benefits of peppers Available at; Top 5 health benefits of peppers – BBC Good Food