The Happy Kitchen author Rachel Kelly, who was diagnosed with depression in her early thirties, says her mood-boosting recipes are not just pretty - they work
During this uncertain time, it’s important to remember that we still have choices – even though right now so much is out of our control. Choosing to eat mood-boosting recipes, targeted to deal with the inevitable anxiety, troubled mind and insomnia that many are facing at the moment, is empowering. We can make the decision to look after our mental health, and being mindful about what we eat is a brilliant way in which to do that.
In her cookbook, The Happy Kitchen, Rachel Kelly recalls thinking of food as being physical fuel, but now she has learnt about the power of food and its role in boosting our mental health. In her early thirties, Rachel was diagnosed with severe depression after suffering two major depressive episodes. These two episodes have become the defining events of her life. Since then, she has written about the condition and her recovery in books that have been read by tens of thousands of people, including The Happy Kitchen.
Rachel harnessed the power of food to feel more cheery, and here, she has shared six recipes guaranteed to lead to a happy kitchen – and a happy mind.
T RO P I C A L V I TA M I N C S M O OT H I E – serves 2
If you can’t find papaya, use fresh mango or pineapple. These fruits are rich in vitamin C and fibre (this is a good drink to have with iron-rich foods as the vitamin C aids the iron’s absorption), while the walnuts and avocado deliver protein and healthy fats to balance everything out. The oats and nuts add substance and slow down the absorption of sugar from the fruit. The cinnamon may also reduce sugar cravings.
1/2 papaya or 1 whole mango
1 tablespoon oats
250ml almond, coconut or oat milk, or use organic semi-skimmed cow’s milk Cinnamon to taste
- Peel the papaya or mango and remove its seed or stone.
- Chop it into medium-sized chunks and pop it into the blender with all the other ingredients. Blend until smooth.
ZINGY C O U R G E T T E , P E A A N D C O C O N U T S O U P
This soup is quick, fresh and flavoursome. There is plenty of protein in the peas, while the parsley, lime and courgette all boost the appetite. Coconut milk is a nice alternative to dairy, but you could use full-fat milk, cream or crème fraîche if you prefer.
8 large courgettes
1 green chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil
200g fresh or frozen peas
Juice and zest of 1 large lime
Large handful of fresh parsley
400ml tin coconut milk
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Roughly chop the courgettes into 4cm chunks.
- Place them on a baking tray with the chilli and garlic.
- Melt the coconut oil in a pan or in the oven, and then spread it evenly over the courgettes.
- Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they are soft but not overcooked, turning them once halfway through.
- Steam the peas until they are soft. This will take longer if they are fresh.
- Tip the lime juice and zest, parsley and coconut milk (shake well before opening the tin) into a large saucepan. I start by adding three-quarters of the tin, and then add the rest if I want a smoother soup.
- Add the cooked courgettes to the pan and use a hand blender to blitz everything together. Then add the peas and blitz again. How smooth you want it is up to you, but we prefer it with a few lumps and bumps.
WARMING SWEET POTATO AND CHICKPEA CURRY – serves 4-6
The mix of colours in this dish is enough to make you smile, even before you learn of the goodness packed into it, from magnesium to B vitamins. Using unwaxed, well-washed limes will help reduce your consumption of pesticides. There’s a magic moment when you add what seems like a mountain of spinach only to see it vanish into dark-green strips in the golden mixture.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, finely diced
1 chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
4cm root ginger, finely sliced
1 heaped tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder or use 4cm fresh root if you can find it
400g tin chickpeas, drained
600ml coconut milk
500ml vegetable or chicken stock
650g sweet potato, diced into 4cm cubes
300g spinach leaves
Juice of 2 limes Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the mustard seeds, red onion, garlic, fresh chilli and ginger. Cook on a medium heat for around 8 minutes. If the onions begin to burn, add a little water.
- Add the curry powder and turmeric and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Stir in the chickpeas, coconut milk and stock, and simmer for roughly 10 minutes before adding the sweet potato. Simmer for a further 15-20 minutes with the lid half on, half off.
- Check the texture. Depending on the desired consistency you can add more coconut milk but be careful not to stir it too much, as the sweet potato will break up easily and go mushy. 5. Once the sweet potato is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the spinach with the lime juice, lime zest and chilli flakes.
- Serve the curry with brown rice and a little mango chutney.
S AT I S F Y I N G P R AW N P E N N E W I T H B RO C C O L I – serves 2
The protein in the prawns helps to slow down the release of sugar. Prawns also contain a compound called astaxanthin. This red pigment is found in certain marine plants and animals, and scientists have studied how it might benefit health, particularly in the treatment of immune, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases.
300g spelt or wholegrain penne
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
½ teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
1 small head of broccoli (or 10 tenderstem spears), chopped into 2cm chunks
150g asparagus tips, chopped into 2cm chunks
Juice of ½ lemon
75ml white wine (the alcohol evaporates so it is fine for your mood)
75ml fish stock or vegetable stock if easier
Handful of fresh parsley
150g raw prawns
Chilli oil (a vegetable oil that has been infused with chilli peppers – optional)
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Wholegrain takes a little longer than white.
- Fry the garlic, onions and chilli flakes for 2 minutes in the olive oil, before adding the broccoli and asparagus. Cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened but are still al dente.
- Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the white wine, fish stock and parsley.
- Turn the heat down, add the prawns and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
- Stir the prawns and vegetables through the cooked pasta. If you prefer a spicier dish, drizzle with chilli oil before serving, or add some more dried chilli flakes.
S W E E T P O T A T O A N D C O U R G E T T E F R I T T E R S W I T H POACHED EGGS – serves 2, with leftovers
Eggs supply amino acids, B vitamins and folate, while the sweet potatoes make this recipe wonderfully filling and there’s plenty of fibre in the courgettes. Ensure the oil is sizzling hot before you add the fritters so that they’re crispy and golden.
5 eggs (2 for poaching)
300g sweet potato (approximately 1 large potato), peel on and grated
100g courgette (approximately ½ courgette), grated
3 spring onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons flour (ideally wholegrain such as spelt or buckwheat)
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons oil, for frying (enough for approx 1 teaspoon per fritter) – coconut or butter work well
2 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yoghurt, to serve
- Whisk 3 eggs and combine them with the grated sweet potato, grated courgette, spring onions, garlic, turmeric, flour and black mustard seeds.
- Divide the sweet-potato mixture into 6-8 well compressed patties, around 10cm across and no more than 2cm thick to ensure they cook through properly.
- Heat 1 teaspoon of coconut oil or butter in a pan and cook the patties for 4 minutes on each side, or until they are dark golden brown.
- Meanwhile, boil some water in a deep frying pan with a dash of white-wine vinegar. Crack an egg into a cup and then gently add it to the water, using the end of a wooden spoon to guide the white towards the yolk to keep them together. Do the same with the other egg, or use an egg poacher if you have one.
- Put the fritters on a plate, place the eggs on top (having drained the water off first) and serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt or sour cream. For a colourful lunch, add some rocket or sliced avocado.
CHICKEN PIE – serves 2
Another healthy twist on a familiar favourite. Chicken is rich in protein, as well as zinc and B vitamins, and sweet potatoes are a great source of fibre and betacarotene. If you prefer white ones, leave the skin on to retain the fibre.
500g sweet or white potatoes
5 tablespoons olive oil
300g chicken thighs or breasts (skinless and boneless), chopped into 2cm chunks
1 leek, cut into slices
10 brown mushrooms,
diced Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons wholegrain flour
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
½-1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- If using white potatoes, leave the skin on and chop them into small chunks. Boil them in a pan of salted water until they are soft. The time will depend on the size of the chunks but it should take no more than 15- 20 minutes.
- If using sweet potatoes, peel them and chop them into chunks, toss them in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and bake them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they are soft (they absorb too much water if they are boiled).
- In a pan, fry the chicken with the leek in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and lemon zest and cook for another 3-5 minutes. The chicken pieces should be around 80 per cent cooked by this point.
- Add the flour to thicken the sauce, stirring for around 2 minutes.
- Add the water and stir in the lemon juice, crème fraîche and mustard, then take off the heat.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, mash them with the remaining olive oil.
- Spoon the chicken mixture into a small baking dish, or 2 individual ramekins and spread the mashed potato over the top.
- Bake the pie(s) for 10-15 minutes in the oven. If you wish, you can place them under the grill to brown the mash before serving.