Brain Food

As the summer holidays draw to a close, back to school preparations are well underway. It’s no secret that good study habits lead to success, but what many students don’t realise is that it is essential to eat well in order to provide A-grade fuel for your brain.

Here are some ‘brain foods’ to help you –and yes, there will be chocolate!

Kickstart your energy levels and improve your concentration by beginning the day with wholegrains. Berries are another fabulous ‘brain food’, containing compounds that boost brain signals and  help memory. Calcium rich foods, such as yoghurt, improve nerve function – combine with berries and wholegrains or blended into a super smoothie for a breakfast brain boost!

Good nutrition should also be a vital component of your study plan. During study breaks, it is important to eat foods that will boost energy and concentration levels, as too many processed carbohydrates can leave you feeling sleepy. Instead of biscuits, munch on fresh fruit or raw vegetable sticks, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds contain proteins, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews are top of the list and make a great snack at home, but be careful, as most schools have nut free policies due to the health and safety hazards they pose to students with extreme allergic reactions. Including Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in homemade granola or sprinkled over a healthy lunchtime salad can boost brainpower too.

Eggs, avocadoes and tomatoes are all good for brain health, so why not put them all together in a super salad to help you power through the day?

Of course, it’s no surprise that broccoli and spinach are superfoods, so be sure to enjoy these often, along with lots of other vegetables as part of a healthy diet. Possibly one of the best brain foods around is Fish. Combine it with leafy greens for a fast and easy mid week dinner.

And yes, chocolate really is good for your brain. Dark chocolate has antioxidants and natural stimulants that improve focus and concentration. However, this is the one superfood that you should have in moderation.

Improve your performance at school this year by eating smarter…it’s a no brainer!

granola with yoghurt and blueberries

photo Marina Oliphant 

A healthy breakfast, full of super brain food, to kick-start the day. If you can’t eat nuts, simply replace them with extra oats or reduce the amount of honey.

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup mixed nuts (optional), roughly chopped

half cup of pumpkin seeds

half cup of sunflower seeds

quarter cup linseed

three quarters of a cup honey, warmed

500ml plain yoghurt

2 punnets blueberries

Preheat oven to 180C.

Mix oats, nuts and seeds in a medium bowl, add honey and stir to combine.

Spread out mixture on a lined oven tray. Bake for 30 minutes until golden and crunchy, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and cool. Break up into chunks and store in airtight container until ready to use.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and fresh blueberries.

Serves 4.

Super school  salad with tuna, egg, tomato, avocado and spinach

 photo Marina Oliphant

Make your own tamari seed mix by combining pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and linseed with tamari soy sauce and a little sesame oil. Bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring, until browned.


1 hardboiled egg

95g small tin tuna on oil

handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half

quarter avocado, sliced

handful baby spinach leaves

¼ cup tamari seed mix

¼ cup mixed sprouts

½ lemon, to squeeze

Put everything into a lunch box and mix together at school. Squeeze over the lemon juice and toss together before serving.

Serves 1.

tip: to hard boil eggs, place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer gently for 6-8 minutes for extra large eggs. Drain and run under cold water to cool eggs down quickly.

teriyaki salmon with shiitake mushrooms

 photo Marina Oliphant

Look out for New Zealand salmon, which reportedly has double the amount of omega-3. It has a stronger flavour, but this is balanced by the marinade.

I use shiitake mushrooms, but any small mushroom will suffice.


4 salmon fillets (about 150g each)

¼ (quarter) cup mirin + ¼ (quarter) cup extra

½ (half) cup salt reduced soy sauce + ¼ (quarter) cup extra

fresh lime, to juice

1 punnet fresh shiitake mushrooms

2 tsp caster sugar (optional)

steamed vegetables to serve

cooked brown rice to serve

Cut each salmon into 3 bite size pieces.

Place mirin and soy in a large shallow bowl with the salmon and set aside in the fridge to marinate for 5-10 minutes.

Slice the mushrooms thinly, then place in a small saucepan with extra ¼ cup mirin and soy. Add sugar to taste and cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes until the mushrooms are softened and the sauce is slightly reduced. Set aside.

Heat oven grill to high. Place salmon pieces on a foil lined oven tray and place under grill for a few minutes until the top of the salmon becomes opaque. Turn pieces to cook the other side.

Remove from grill and serve with mushrooms, brown rice and steamed vegetables.

Serves 4.

Tip: to cook brown rice, firstly soak in cold water for 30 minutes. Then place drained rice in saucepan. For one cup of rice, use approximately one and a half cups of water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, place a folded teatowel over the top of the pan and cover tightly with the lid. Cook over low heat for around 35 minutes.


Summer Fish


fish in beer batter photo Marina Oliphant


It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy these simple summer fish recipes. Local mussels are tasty and inexpensive and make the classic French Mussels Mariniere in next to no time. Their sweet and salty briny juices are released as the shells open, with flavours reminiscent of the sea, whether you are holidaying there or not. Remember to file this recipe away, as it’s also good any time of the year.

Spaghetti Marinara is another classic worthy of a revamp. Originally a simple tomato based pasta sauce eaten by Italian sailors, we are more used to it with the addition of a variety of seafood. Use whatever fish is fresh and remember not to overcook it. Gentle poaching until the fish has just changed colour and is opaque will ensure that it is moist and tender. Remember that the heat from the sauce and the pan will continue to cook it, so allow for this. Also, when using a variety of seafood, cooking times will differ, so have everything cut into similar sizes and add the more delicate fish at the end.

And of course everyone really should have a good beer batter recipe. I like it with small flathead fillets. If you can only get large fillets, cut them into smaller pieces. This will also work with other white fish fillets, even prawns. The perfect accompaniment is a homemade tartare sauce. And, possibly, the remaining beer.



flathead in beer batter with homemade tartare


Make this batter to order, as it’s best fresh. Use a full flavoured ale, well chilled from the fridge. The perfect accompaniment is homemade tartare (and perhaps any leftover beer).



1 egg

½ cup plain flour

1 tbsp melted butter

½ cup beer

tartare sauce:

1 cup good quality mayonnaise

2 tbsp chopped gherkins

2 tbsp baby capers

zest 1 lemon

2 tbsp chopped parsley

1tbsp chopped chives


600g small flathead fillets

250ml vegetable oil for frying

lemon wedges to serve


To make the beer batter, in a medium bowl whisk together the egg, flour and butter and slowly add the beer until the batter is smooth and thick. (You may not need to add all the beer). Set aside.

To make the tartare sauce, mix all ingredients together and taste. Adjust seasoning if required.

Place oil in a 22 cm pan over a moderate flame. If your pan is larger, you may need to add more oil to ensure it is about 1cm depth. Test the oil by dropping a little of the batter into the pan; it will sizzle when the oil is hot. Use a fork to dip the fillet into the batter to coat thoroughly, then drain the excess batter back into the bowl. Carefully lay the fish in the pan. Cook a few at a time. Cook for 2 -3 minutes each side until lightly golden. Drain on paper towel. Continue until all the fish are cooked.

Serve with tartare and lemon wedges.


Serves 4.


mussels mariniere


mussels mariniere photo Marina Oliphant


The secret to good mussels is to start with good quality produce and not overcook them. They only take a few minutes and need to be cooked to order, otherwise they can become rubbery.


120g unsalted butter

6 shallots (french eschalots), finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

white pepper to season

pinch saffron threads

2 cups dry white wine

½ cup thickened cream (optional)

2 kg black mussels

½ cup chopped parsley

crusty bread to serve


Melt butter in a large pot. Add shallots and cook for a few minutes to soften. Then add garlic, thyme, pepper and saffron. Cook for a few minutes, add white wine and cream. Stir, remove from heat, place lid on and set aside to allow the flavours to develop.

Clean mussels thoroughly and remove beards.

Place mussels in the pot with the sauce, add parsley and cover with lid. Bring to the boil, reduce to  simmer and continue to cook until the mussel shells have opened. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened.

Serve in deep bowls with all the cooking liquid and crusty bread to mop up the juices.


Serves 4.


Spaghetti marinara


spaghetti Marinara photo Marina Oliphant


There are endless versions of this classic dish. No need to buy the premixed marinara though –choose the freshest fish you can get. I like to make the sauce first, with the delicious mussel juices, then lightly cook the seafood until just done. Add the squid at the end for the last 30 seconds, until it is just opaque and it will be so tender.


500g packet artisan spaghetti

1 kg black mussels

2 cloves garlic, smashed plus 2 cloves finely chopped

bay leaf, a few fresh thyme and parsley sprigs

½ cup dry white wine

60 ml olive oil

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

6 roma tomatoes, finely diced

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

8 small raw prawns, cleaned and deveined

4 fresh scallops on the shell (if possible)

500g piece blue eye fillet (or other white fish), cut into small pieces

1 small cleaned squid tube (optional), cut finely on an angle into small pieces

juice and zest 1 lemon

freshly ground black pepper to season.


Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil, add pasta and cook according to packet directions until al dente.

Meanwhile place mussels, 2 cloves smashed garlic, herbs and white wine in a wide frypan with a lid and cook over medium heat until the mussels open and release their liquid.

Remove mussels from pan and set aside. Strain liquid through a fine sieve lined with muslin or clean chux cloth and reserve. Discard solids.

Give the frypan a quick clean and return to the stovetop. Heat oil, add finely chopped garlic and cook for a few minutes to soften. Add chilli, tomatoes, parsley and reserved mussel liquid. Add seafood and cook over medium low heat until translucent and just cooked through. Add the finely sliced squid last, as it will take the least amount of time to cook. Add the mussels back the pan to warm through.

Drain pasta and add to sauce, tossing to combine and coat the pasta strands.

Squeeze over lemon juice and add zest.

Season with ground black pepper.


Serves 4.




The arrival of local cherries in the markets means two things: summer and Christmas. Unfortunately, the cherry season only lasts 100 days, so it is a matter of enjoying this seasonal fruit whilst you can. Cherries are available from November to February, with different varieties harvested at different times. The flavours range from mild to rich and sweet, and some are slightly tart or sour.

As well as being delicious, cherries are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants and have a low GI.

When shopping for cherries, look for green stalks and shiny bright skins. The flesh should be plump and taut. The skin becomes dull when it is overripe. Avoid cherries that are soft and bruised or small and hard. Once picked, cherries will not ripen further, so are best consumed within 4 days of purchase. They last longer with the stem attached. Store cherries, unwashed and loosely packed, in an airtight container or plastic bag in the fridge. Only wash cherries just before eating as this can make them soft. Cherries can be frozen too. Wash first, then dry and store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Cherries are crisp and refreshing served simply in a bowl of crushed ice. Or piled high, as an impressive centrepiece to your Christmas table. They are equally brilliant when cooked and work well with flavours like cinnamon, chocolate, coconut and almonds. Try pickling cherries for a taste sensation. Or start the day with my bircher muesli. For a fast and easy dessert, whip up my cherry sorbet.

Cherries are inextricably linked to our memories of carefree days of summer holidays. As Nigel Slater puts it “A bag of cherries is a bag of happiness”.


Seared carpaccio of beef with remoulade and pickled cherries


beef carpaccio photo Marina Oliphant


This is a perfect  dish for summer entertaining. Make a large platter and serve it in the middle of the table. The beef is served delicately raw on the inside, with a seared crust. If you prefer to cook the meat through, place in a 200C preheated oven for around 20 minutes. Allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.


Pickled Cherries

425ml white wine vinegar

12 pepper corns

12 allspice berries

350g sugar

3 bay leaves

500g fresh cherries


celeriac remoulade

1 small celeriac, peeled

sea salt to season

juice of ½ lemon

5 tbsp good quality mayonnaise

½ cup chopped parsley



2 tbsp black peppercorns

2 tbsp coriander seeds

2 tbsp salt

1.5 kg fillet of beef

2 tbsp horseradish cream

200ml crème fraiche

juice 1 lemon

handful picked watercress

100g shaved parmesan


To make the pickled cherries, bring the wine vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, sugar and bay leaves to a simmer in a small pot. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before pouring over the cherries. Pickle for a day before placing in the fridge where they will keep indefinitely. Serve at room temperature.

For the remoulade, thinly slice the celeriac, preferably on a mandolin. Then, julienne finely into thin strips. Place in a bowl, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and allow to sit for a few minutes. Mix mayonnaise, lemon juice and parsley together, add celeriac and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

For the beef, place peppercorns, coriander seeds and salt in a mortar and pound with a pestle until coarsely ground. Rub all over the beef fillet, pressing in well.

Heat a grill pan or large frypan until very hot and sear the meat for around 5 minutes until brown and crispy on all sides. Remove from pan and rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly and arrange on a platter.

Mix horseradish cream with crème fraiche and thin out with a little lemon juice to make a pouring consistency.

Drizzle over platter of beef slices, garnish with watercress and shaved parmesan. Serve with remoulade and pickled cherries.


Serves 6.


cherry bircher muesli


cherry bircher muesli photo Marina Oliphant

Bircher muesli is a fantastic way to start the day; it can be made ahead and the addition of cherries makes it festive enough for Christmas morning.


1 cup cherries, pitted and halved

1 ½  cup rolled oats

1 ½ cup fruit juice (try fresh coconut juice or apple juice)

1 ½ cup natural yoghurt

½ (half) cup toasted flaked almonds

2 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1-2 tbsp honey to taste

extra cherries and yoghurt to serve


Combine all ingredients together and stir well.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Serve with extra cherries and yoghurt.


Serves 4.



cherry sorbet


cherry sorbet photo Marina Oliphant


This is not a traditional ice cream recipe, but it still has great ice cream-like texture. Not only is it quick and easy to make, you don’t need an ice cream machine. This recipe is also great with other berries.


300g frozen pitted cherries

½ (half) cup caster sugar

2 large egg whites


Chop cherries roughly and place in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for a few minutes to break up. Add sugar and egg whites and whisk on high speed 5 minutes, until more than doubled in volume.

Place mixture in a 1 litre container and freeze for 4 hours (or overnight if possible).

Remove from freezer to serve.


makes 1 litre.



Entertaining Salads

Grilled Sweetcorn salad photo Marina Oliphant

What makes a great salad?

To start, use a combination of interesting flavours and textures.

Use seasonal ingredients, which will be at their peak in flavour. Buy fresh from the markets or have a go and grow your own. The same applies to fresh herbs. They are an integral part of most salads and you can easily grow some in a pot or a sunny spot in the garden at this time of year. They are convenient to pick and you only use as much as you need, with minimal wastage.

Texture is also important in a salad. Nuts and seeds are a great choice and can be sprinkled over a salad just before serving. Smoked almonds provide a salty, smoky crunch to the sweet corn salad. Pistachios add texture to the quinoa salad. And the fried school prawns provide the crunch factor in the asian coleslaw, along with the crispy fried shallots and the peanuts.

Look out for unusual ingredients and toss these into your salads for variety. I have combined quinoa, red rice and black lentils in one of the salads. These grains and pulses not only add their own texture and flavour, they act as a vehicle for the salad dressing, by soaking up and carrying the flavours.

As far as salad dressings go, there are many different oils and vinegars that you can use. Whatever combination you choose, the general guide for ratios is 1 part acid (vinegar or juice) to 3 or 4 parts oil. It will depend on the strength of both the vinegar and the oil, so always remember to taste and adjust until it’s just right.


Grilled Sweet corn salad with black beans, almonds and pickled onion


This salad has a hint of Mexico. Delicious on its own or with barbecued meats.


1 cup black beans, soaked overnight

2 small red onions

juice 2 limes

juice 1 orange

3 ears of sweetcorn, husks on

400g punnet mixed heirloom cherry tomatoes

100g smoked almonds chopped

1 avocado, peeled and chopped into large chunks

2 eschalots, thinly sliced

½ (half) cup olive oil for salad dressing

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

salt and pepper to season

handful coriander leaves, washed and dried

handful mint leaves, washed and dried


Cook beans in plenty of water for around 60 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Peel and slice the onion thinly. Pour over boiling water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain then marinate in orange and lime juice for an hour.

Heat a bbq hot plate to high and cook corn in its husks, turning over to colour evenly for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool.  Peel the outer husk off and slice kernels off the cob. Place cobs in a mixing bowl and discard the corn husks.

Roughly chop the smoked almonds.

Fry the eschalots until crispy. Drain on paper towel.

Drain the pickled onions, reserving a little of the liquid for the salad dressing.

Make a simple dressing with the reserved juice, finely chopped garlic and chilli. Whisk in as much olive oil as you need. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix all the ingredients together and serve.


serves 4.


Asian coleslaw with green papaya and crispy fried school prawns

asian coleslaw photo Marina Oliphant


Classic coleslaw has been jazzed up with lemongrass and green papaya. Fresh zingy herbs and crunchy school prawns in their shells add a finishing touch.


½ (half) cup rice vinegar

3 tbsp sugar

1 red onion, thinly sliced in half moons

1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced

250g wombok cabbage, shredded

½ (half) red cabbage, shredded

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

½ (half) green papaya, peeled and shredded

2 tbsp olive oil

fresh Vietnamese mint leaves to garnish

fresh coriander leaves to garnish

1 tbsp chopped roasted peanuts

1 tbsp crisp fried shallots

500g school prawns, shells and heads on

2 tbsp plain flour

prawn crackers to serve


nuoc mam cham sauce

½ (half) tsp sugar

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 red chilli, sliced


Combine vinegar and sugar, marinate sliced onion and lemongrass for 30 minutes.

Mix cabbage, carrot and papaya together in a large bowl. Add onion and marinade, drizzle with oil and toss well to combine.

Garnish with mint, coriander, peanuts and shallots.

Toss the prawns in flour to lightly coat then deep fry for 1-2 minutes, until they turn red and become crispy. Drain on paper towel.

Top salad with crispy fried prawns.

To make the sauce, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Serve with prawn crackers and sauce.


Serves 4.


quinoa and red rice salad with spicy cauliflower and black lentils


quinoa salad photo Marina Oliphant


An interesting take on a rice salad, packed with flavour and unusual ingredients.


200g quinoa

200g red rice, rinsed

150g black lentils, rinsed

2 brown onions, thinly sliced

100ml olive oil, plus 3 tbsp extra

100g dried cranberries

grated zest and juice 1 orange

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

¼ (quarter) cup plain flour

½ (half) cauliflower, broken into small florets

200g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

1 cup fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

1 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

juice 1 lemon

¼ – ½  (quarter to half) cup extra virgin olive oil for dressing

1 garlic clove, crushed

salt and pepper to season


Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling lightly salted water for 12-14 minutes until just tender. Drain and set aside.

Cook red rice and lentils in a large pot of boiling lightly salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat frypan, add 100ml oil and cook onions over low heat with oil for 10 minutes until well caramelised.

Soak the cranberries in the orange juice for 10 minutes until plump.

Mix cumin, coriander and flour in a small bowl. Toss the cauliflower in the flour mix.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large frypan, add cauliflower and panfry over low heat for 10 minutes until cauliflower is soft.

Toss with drained quinoa, rice and lentils. Add caramelised onions, drizzling in any extra oil from the pan. Add cranberries and the orange juice from soaking them. Add pistachios and fresh herbs.

Make a simple dressing with lemon juice, remaining extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk well to combine, taste and adjust quantities if necessary.

Add to the salad and mix well.


Serves 4.