For many, cooking can be one of life’s greatest joys. The chance to add a sprinkle of rosemary on some golden, crispy potatoes, sauté some cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, or gently rub together some crumble mix and oats to create the tastiest pie topping. It’s a physical task that encapsulates your attention and soothes your mind.
This relaxing form of therapy has scientifically proven stress release benefits. Not only does it give you time to focus on the task at hand, or the bubbling pot of rice boiling over will demand your attention anyway, but it’s also a multi-sensory experience. Recipe box service Gousto has delved a bit deeper into these benefits.
When creating a recipe, you’re using all of your senses. You can judge the crispiness of the fries by their look, the smell of the garlic blending with the olive oil, the flavour and texture of your soup by tasting it (probably more than once). The art of cooking involves everything.
So, it’s not surprising that this whole-body experience deeply affects the way you’re feeling. For example, spices and aromatic scents can reduce stress levels when frying some onions. It’s an easy, natural form of aromatherapy that you can enjoy three times a day – bingo!
Cooking food for your brain’s mood
Everyone has go-to comfort foods perfect for a pick-me-up when feeling a bit low. However, instead of quickly grabbing a bag of crisps, what if whipping up a tasty dish could increase our mood and be good for our bodies?
Recent research into the communication between your gut and your brain (the gut-brain axis) shows that these two organs are connected in several ways, one of which can influence your mood. Your gut, which produces some of our serotonin (the feel-good hormone), feeds this to your brain. The healthier your gut is, the more serotonin it can produce and improve your mood. As if you needed another reason to cook tasty, nutritious recipes packed with fibre – now you know the science behind it.
Your secret ingredients
While a tub of ice cream can lead to a release of endorphins, making us crave more, large amounts of sugar can cause peaks and lows in our moods. But no matter how often’ superfoods’ like acai powder or chia seeds get heralded as essentials for our diets, it can be hard to reach for them when we’re feeling stressed and want to relax.
So, what if some key ingredients had been scientifically proven to reduce stress? Let’s hear it, you say! Ellie Bain, Gousto’s registered dietician and nutritionist, has shared her top three secret ingredients.
Egg yolks (the yummiest bit – yay!) are a great vitamin D and protein source. Ellie adds, ‘eggs also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create serotonin. As they’re so versatile, they are a great mood-boosting addition for any time of day.’
An essential of Ellie’s is fatty fish. ‘I love including fish like salmon and mackerel, as these are great for your cognitive function and mental health. Not only are they packed with omega-3, which contains two essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA), but they can also reduce overall inflammation, manage anxiety levels and promote healthy brain function.’
Ellie’s last ingredient is a sweet treat to round off your day. For Ellie, chocolate is great as ‘it is a rich source of polyphenols, especially flavonoids, which have been found to reduce stress. Chocolate also has a high tryptophan content, which the body uses to turn mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, into the brain. If nothing else, it tastes fantastic, which leaves you feeling good!’
Now we’ve convinced you that all that chopping, stirring and tasting is the secret to a stress-free, happy belly and mind; why not have a go at these relaxing recipes, curated by recipe box service Gousto.
Herb-crusted salmon with Hasselback potatoes
For one of Gousto’s delicious, easy dinners, you’ll combine succulent salmon fillets with tangy wholegrain mustard and a crunchy breadcrumb topping. Serve with creamy crushed peas and golden Hasselback potatoes.
400g waxy potatoes
30g panko breadcrumbs
21g wholegrain mustard
10g parsley & chives
50g soft cheese
160g blanched peas
2 x 110g skin-on salmon fillets
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 200°C (fan)/ gas 7. Cut narrow slices (about the width of a pound coin) into the potatoes, making sure not to cut all the way down to the base – these are your Hasselback potatoes. Tip: Place chopsticks on either side of the potatoes to stop you from cutting all the way through!
- Add the Hasselback potatoes to a baking tray (use tin foil to avoid mess!) and drizzle each with olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and put the tray in the oven for 30-35 min or until they’re tender and starting to crisp.
- While the potatoes are cooking, chop the parsley and chives finely, including the stalks.
Zest the lemon[s] (try to grate lightly with a Microplane or sharp box grater and avoid grating the white pith, as this is very bitter). Roll the zested lemon[s] with your hand on a hard surface (to release more juice) and cut in half.
- Mix the panko breadcrumbs, chopped herbs and lemon zest with 1 tbsp [2 tbsp] olive oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl; this is your herby breadcrumb mixture. Boil a kettle.
- Add the salmon fillets to a baking tray (use tin foil to avoid mess!) with a drizzle of olive oil. Divide the wholegrain mustard between the salmon fillets and spread it all over them evenly with the back of a spoon. Coat the mustard salmon in the herby breadcrumb mixture. Tip: Not a fan of mustard? Just add a thin layer!
- Put the tray in the oven for 12-15 min or until the salmon’s cooked through and the crumb is crisp and golden – this is your herb-crusted salmon. Meanwhile, add the blanched peas to a pot, cover them with boiling water and cook on high heat for 2– 3 min or until they’re tender. Once cooked, drain and return the peas to the pot.
- Crush the cooked peas roughly with a potato masher, stir the soft cheese, the juice of 1/2  lemon (not sure about citrus? Try using less!) and a pinch of salt through the crushed peas. Give everything a good mix up, then warm through over medium heat for 2 min.
- Cut the remaining lemon into wedges serve the herb-crusted salmon over the crushed peas with the Hasselback potatoes to the side. Garnish with a lemon wedge and season with a grind of black pepper.
Keralan coconut egg curry
Gousto’s dish sees perfect just-set hard-boiled eggs snuggled into the caramelised onion and sweet potato in a creamy curried coconut sauce and served with buttered sultana rice, fresh coriander and nigella seeds. Proper, healthy comfort food. Eggscellent stuff.
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp bright yellow turmeric
1 tbsp curry powder
130g basmati rice
1 tsp nigella seeds
300g sweet potatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
50 g coconut cream
3 British free-range eggs
- Boil a kettle. Peel and finely slice the onion[s]. Chop the sweet potatoes (skins on) into bite-size pieces. Peel and finely chop (or grate) the garlic.
- Heat a pot, with a matching lid, with a drizzle of vegetable oil over high heat. Once hot, add the basmati rice, sultanas and 350ml [700ml] cold water. Once boiling, reduce the heat to very low and cook, covered, for 10-15 min or until all the water has absorbed and the rice is cooked, then remove from the heat and keep covered until serving.
- Meanwhile, add the eggs to a separate pot of salted boiled water over high heat (salt prevents cracking).
- Once boiling, boil for exactly 7 min for perfect, mid-boiled eggs. Meanwhile, fill a bowl of very cold water with ice ready for cooling your eggs quickly later. Meanwhile, heat a large, wide-based pan (preferably non-stick) with a matching lid, with 2 tbsp [4 tbsp] vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
- Once hot, add the onion with a big pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes or slightly softened. Once softened, add the sweet potato, garlic, curry powder and turmeric and cook for 5 min further.
- Meanwhile, drain and add the eggs to your ice water once the eggs are done (this stops them from cooking further and helps them peel easier). Tip: no ice? Run them under very cold running water for 3 min, then set them aside in a bowl of cold water.
- Dissolve the stock cube[s] in 200ml [400ml] boiled water. Combine the coconut cream with the stock and add it to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 5– 10 min or until the sweet potato is fork-tender. Meanwhile, peel the cooled eggs and cut them in half.
- Chop the coriander finely, including the stalks. Stir a large knob of butter through the cooked rice and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Gently stir the eggs into the curry until warmed. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander. Serve the curry over the buttered rice and garnish it with nigella seeds.
Coconut & chocolate snack bars
Gousto’s deliciously indulgent, healthy snack bars are perfect when all you can think about is sweets, chocolate and pastries. Make a batch or two, pop them in the fridge and treat yourself when that chocolate-craving hour strikes.
Ingredients (serves 10)
50g desiccated coconut
50g coconut flour
50 ml tinned coconut milk
1 tbsp coconut butter
3 tbsp agave syrup
- Mix the coconut, coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut butter and agave syrup.
Zest the lime into the mixture and mix well.
- Pour the mixture onto a sheet of cling film, fold the cling firmly over and flatten it down on top with your fingers.
- Shape the mixture into a flat rectangle – this will be cut into bar shapes later on.
- Chill the coconut rectangle in the fridge for an hour (or more if possible).
- Melt your chocolate. Tip: Use a bowl over a pot of boiling water, so you don’t burn the chocolate. Alternatively, you can even make your dark chocolate by mixing melted cocoa butter with raw cocoa powder and sweetener until you reach the desired consistency!
- Remove the coconut rectangle from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
- Cut the coconut mixture into whatever shapes you fancy; we’ve gone with the classic slim rectangle and covered them in your melted chocolate. Drizzle a little chocolate over the top, or dip the bars completely, depending on how chocolatey you want your bars to be.
Visit Gousto’s site for meal inspiration and recipe ideas.