Milk is a remarkably complete food, providing us with protein, fats and carbohydrates from which we derive our energy
We bandy around the expression ‘superfood’, yet there is not one single ingredient that comes anywhere close to matching milk for nutrition and health benefits.
Milk is a remarkably complete food, providing us with protein, fats and carbohydrates from which we derive our energy, and a range of minerals, vitamins and trace elements to support a vast array of bodily functions.
But for me, as a chef and nutritionist, it is the range of produce that can be made from milk – from yogurts to creams, butters and, many people’s favourite, cheeses – that really sets it apart.
And this isn’t just the foodie in me talking. Most ingredients tend to have a fairly static nutritional profile.
Meat and fish will be high in protein, while fruit is high in carbs, for instance. But the nutritional content of dairy varies hugely depending on what form it’s in, making it a massively versatile addition to the diet.
For example, 100g of parmesan contains about 30g of fat, 36g of protein and 1g of carbs, while quark, a cream cheese made by straining yogurt, contains less than 1g of fat, 14g of protein, and 4g of carbs.
AVOID DAIRY…AT YOUR PERIL
Almost half of young people today believe they are intolerant to cow’s milk.
The figure was shown up in a British Nutrition Foundation survey of 16- to 24-year-olds.
Only one in ten older adults said they had a problem with dairy – and medical studies suggest that under five per cent of people actually have a problem digesting lactose, the sugar in milk that most commonly causes difficulties.
The trend in youngsters is alarming because dairy is a key source of calcium, an essential nutrient for the health and strength of bones, especially for younger women.
The National Osteoporosis Society recently warned that the fad for cutting dairy is leading to a sharp rise in bone problems in later life.
It seems a poor diet in adolescence can lead to irreversible damage. And, on the plus side, a study of almost one million people published earlier this year found there was no raised risk of heart attacks or stroke in those who regularly consumed dairy.
The research actually found a very slightly lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death among those who ate cheese.
AIM FOR A DAIRY THREE-A-DAY
Health guidelines recommend that men should consume no more than 30g of saturated fat a day, and women 20g.
EAT FAT GET THIN
If you’re watching your waistline, a good dessert or snack idea is a ‘healthy’ low-fat yogurt, right?
Well, no. Low-fat yogurt is made by removing butterfat and all the micro-nutrients it contains, and replacing it with added sugar, which has little nutritional value.
They are ‘empty’ calories; energy without goodness.
A recent Spanish study found that people who ate at least one small 125g pot of full-fat yogurt a day were 19 per cent less likely to be obese compared to those didn’t.
However, eating low-fat yogurt did not appear to have any impact on the risk of obesity. Experts believe this may be due to the extra sugar added to low-fat versions.
The good news is that these are generous allowances in terms of enjoying dairy produce.
That doesn’t mean you can drown yourself in a river of double cream, and you still need to watch out for treats such as those innocent-looking chicken kievs with half a pack of butter concealed within their breadcrumbed breasts.
But if you are looking to lose weight, it might be that you need to look at your penchant for takeaways and sausages, cakes and croissants, rather than trying to cut out fat by limiting your dairy intake.
I find the most helpful way of including the right amount of dairy in my daily diet is to treat it as I do my five-a-day veg and fruit, by aiming for three-a-day of different types.
This changes from one day to the next, so a portion can be a 150g pot of yogurt, a 20g to 30g hunk of cheese or a 200ml glass of milk.
With this in mind, in my new book The Modern Dairy, I have devised delicious recipes that harness the power of dairy, but all of them keep saturated fat to well within the lower limit of a woman’s recommended daily intake. The majority of the dishes have no more than half that amount.
And if you do have a lactose intolerance, I’ve included a number of dairy recipes that will be OK for you, too. So what are you waiting for, let’s get cooking!
The Modern Dairy, by Annie Bell (Kyle Books), £16.99, kylebooks.co.uk.
Very tomatoey mac ‘n’ cheese
In this alternative version, tomato sauce replaces the usual rich white one but you still get generous pockets of gooey cheese, and a lovely crispy top. The gold-standard version would involve you making your own slow-cooked sauce, but a couple of tubs of a good ready-made fresh tomato sauce will work
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and preheat the oven to 190C fan/210C/ gas mark 6½.
Sat Fat 10.2g
Add 300g macaroni to the pan, give it a stir and cook until almost tender, then drain it into a colander and return it to the pan.
Toss with 2 x 350g tubs (or 700g) fresh Napoletana tomato sauce and mix in 75g sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped and 175g gruyère, cut into thin strips a few centimetres long.
Transfer to a 30cm oval gratin or other similar-size ovenproof dish. You could also make it in large individual bowls, so each one serves two.
Toss 150g cherry tomatoes, quartered, with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and scatter over, then top with 25g parmesan, freshly grated. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and sizzling.
Halloumi burgers with lemon and mint
Halloumi toasts up beautifully with crispy golden edges and a gooey inside that holds its shape. And these burgers – which deliver a dose of protein comparable to beef versions – are dead easy to prepare and perfect for a mid-week supper
Combine 200g halloumi, drained and coarsely grated, 2 spring onions, trimmed, halved lengthways and finely sliced, 2 handfuls coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, 2 tbsp finely chopped mint and the finely grated zest of 1 lemon (put aside the fruit to juice later) in a large bowl.
Sat Fat 9.8g
Cover and chill. Shortly before serving, sprinkle 150g cherry tomatoes, halved, with salt and set aside for 15-30 minutes, then stir in 1 heaped teaspoon finely sliced medium-hot red chilli.
Add 200g courgette, coarsely grated, to the cheese mixture and mix well, then season with a little lemon juice and add 1 medium free-range egg, beaten.
Using an 8cm plain biscuit-cutter or ring, press 3 heaped tbsp of the mixture at a time into the ring to make small burgers 2cm-3cm thick – you should get six in all.
Heat 2 tsp of extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium– low heat and fry half the burgers one at a time for 4-6 minutes on one side and about 3 minutes on the other side until golden and crusty (check regularly as they can darken quite quickly).
Transfer to a plate and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remainder, adding a couple more tsp of oil to the pan.
Warm 6 small round pittas, slit, and slip the burgers inside. Add some diced avocado or spread with onion relish, and then scatter over the tomatoes.
This is a creamy cheese made from strained yogurt – and so easy to make
Sat Fat 1g
Blend 350g natural Greek yogurt with 1 tbsp each of finely chopped mint, chives and flat-leaf parsley and ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Tip this into a fine-mesh sieve (or a normal one lined with a clean tea towel) set over a large bowl, loosely cover with clingfilm and chill for 24 hours.
You can either use the labna as a cream cheese spread or, if it is firm enough, using your hands roll it into balls the size of a cherry.
Arrange these in a shallow dish and pour over some extra virgin olive oil. This is delicious served with toasted sourdough, bresaola (Italian salted beef) and watercress.
Chicken with za’atar and aubergine yoghurt
This spicy tray-baked chicken comes with a baba ghanoush-style dip. Ideally, use half fat-free and half full-fat yogurt. Like so much Middle Eastern food, this is a great dish to serve at ambient temperature or newly cooled as well as hot – good finger-food for an alfresco lunch
Take two lemons. Slice one into discs, discarding the ends, and juice the other.
Combine the juice, 150ml extra virgin olive oil, 3 garlic cloves peeled and crushed to a paste, 1 red onion peeled and finely chopped, 2 heaped tsp za’atar, 2 cinnamon sticks broken in half, and sliced lemon in a large bowl.
Sat Fat 11.3g
Add 1.8kg to 2kg free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks to the bowl and coat with the marinade. Cover and chill for several hours.
Preheat the oven to 200C fan/220C/ gas mark 7, prick 2 aubergines (500g to 700g total) all over with a skewer and roast for 45-60 minutes until wrinkled, blackened and soft, then leave to cool.
Cut off the ends, peel off skin, halve lengthways and coarsely chop. Place the flesh in a sieve and press out the excess liquid using the back of a spoon.
Briefly whizz to a coarse purée with 1 small or ½ garlic clove and some salt in a food processor.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in 150g natural Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tbsp lemon juice.
Stir in 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, drizzle over some extra virgin oil and scatter over some more herbs.
Set aside. Season chicken and arrange, skinside up in two roasting pans, drizzle marinade and tuck the lemon slices between them.
Roast for 35 minutes until golden, scattering over 50g pine nuts after 15 minutes. Skim off excess fat and serve with the yogurt sauce.
Vanilla panna cotta
Greek yogurt makes for a delicate panna cotta; appropriately for such a dish it is lily-white, and is just as silky as if it were made with cream, but so much more nutritious
Place 2 gelatine leaves, cut into broad strips, in a medium bowl, cover with cold water and soak for 5 minutes, then drain.
Sat Fat 7.6g
Pour 3 tbsp boiling water over the gelatine and stir to dissolve.
Put 450g natural Greek yogurt and 75g white caster sugar in a small saucepan and gently heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring constantly and taking care not to boil, then remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste.
Blend 3 tbsp of the yogurt into the gelatine, one at a time, and then stir this back in with the rest of the yogurt.
Divide the mixture between four 150ml ramekins or some other pretty non-stick moulds.
Cover and chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight until set.
They will keep well for several days. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each cream to loosen it, and then turn it out on to a plate.
Pour a tablespoon of kirsch or fruit vodka over each cream and scatter with grapes.