Food & Drink | 7 sunshine foods

Food & Drink | 7 sunshine foods

MasterChef 2019 winner Irina Tzortzoglou shares her favourite vitamin D-rich foods, cooking tips and a delicious Greek recipe

As a Greek born who has lived in the UK for the last 40 years – 10 in rainy Cumbria – I know  too well the effects of sunlight and its absence on our general wellbeing and mood.

Having been diagnosed with osteoporosis is an added reason why I have learned to value foods rich in vitamin D and try to create as many sunshine dishes as I possibly can!

The recommended daily intake is 20mg and with 100g of farmed salmon containing an average of 4.5mg, it is easy to see why a very large percentage of the world population suffers from vitamin D deficiency. Here are my favourite vitamin D-rich foods:

1. Salmon

Whenever possible, I try to buy wild salmon as it is a much richer source of vitamin D than farmed, though farm salmon is rich in Omega-3s and Omega-6, so I try to incorporate it at least twice a week in my diet. I tend to alternate between fresh and tinned red salmon as both are delicious and easy to prepare.

A fillet of fresh salmon drizzled with a little fresh lemon juice, some good extra virgin olive oil and a few chilli flakes wrapped in baking foil and cooked in a preheated oven at 180c for 20 minutes served with some steamed broccoli makes a fuss-free delicious weekday meal.

Tinned salmon is a great ingredient I always have in my pantry. I particularly love it mixed with a cooked lentil, rice and crispy onion salad and a simple Greek yoghurt, olive oil and lemon dressing.

2. Tinned tuna

Skipjack or light tuna is a staple in my larder. I opt for these as they contain less mercury than some others. Rich in protein, any kind of tuna is safe to eat once or twice a week. Perfect in a quick sandwich with some fresh salad vegetables or in a warm potato salad with capers, chopped spring onions, some white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

3. Tinned sardines and mackerel

Sardines add an umami flavour to lots of things and I use them often in pasta sauces, salads or pizzas. An open-top sandwich with chopped avocado, sliced onion, homemade mayonnaise and some capers is an excellent and quick vitamin D boost! And I love mixing a tin of mackerel with a drained tin of black-eyed beans and chopped bell peppers, fresh coriander, extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice for a quick and filling lunch.

4. Eggs

With many vitamins present, the egg is rightly described as a super food. Vitamin D is found in the yolk, which happens to be the part of the egg with all the flavour, too. Sunday brunch has been a special treat for me and my husband during lockdown – with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and steamed asparagus.

When short of time, a super-fast egg and cheese omelette with a few chopped vine ripened tomatoes is a satisfying sunshine boost!

5. Spinach

This is a favourite ingredient since my childhood when my mum made a huge spinach pie at least once a week. In the winter, I would accompany her to the main Athens municipal market and return home carrying bags full of the stuff.

Rich in potassium, iron, magnesium vitamin A and folate, spinach is most potent eaten raw in salads. I love mixing it with chopped avocado and mozzarella as the creaminess of these two ingredients helps tone down the peppery taste of the spinach, plus chopped cucumber and yellow bell peppers. Just some lime juice and extra virgin olive oil are enough to make this quick salad a complete and satisfying meal.

6. Yoghurt

I am a huge fan of real strained Greek yoghurt, not the Greek style that is often thickened by gelling agents. I use it in my breakfast mixed with homemade granola and chopped fresh fruit, as well as in salad dressings and dips, and often with desserts instead of double cream. Having said that, some melted white chocolate, a little whipped cream and thick Greek yoghurt make for a delicious instant mousse to have with chopped summer fruit macerated in icing sugar.

7. Milk (fortified)

Fortified milk, packed with protein, calcium, vitamin D and B12, among others, is a crucially important food in early life and throughout. Blending it with fruit, nuts and seeds in a smoothie is one of the nicest things I have two to three times a week.

Rice, lentils & caramelised onions with pan fried salmon and herb yoghurt sauce

The recipe is a great standalone meal as lentils are rich in protein and a good alternative for meat. Adding the salmon makes it a more complete and fulfilling meal but the lentil base would be equally delicious on its own. 

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 salmon fillets (or a tin of tuna)
Extra virgin olive oil, approx. 5 tbsp
1 small cup of basmati rice (approx. 75g)
1 medium or large white onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tin of lentils (or dried brown or green lentils cooked yourself)
2 tbsp yoghurt
A squeeze of lemon juice
A few thyme leaves or a pinch of dry thyme
2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (parsley, coriander, dill, etc)

1. Rinse the rice in a small colander and place in a small saucepan with lid. Add 1½ cups of water and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Bring the rice to the boil on medium heat and when you see bubbles on the surface, cover with the lid, reduce the heat to low and leave the rice to cook for 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and leave it to stand for another few minutes. Uncover and use a fork to fluff it up.

2. While the rice is cooking, put 2 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan with a lid and bring to a medium heat.  Add the onion and stir to coat with the olive oil. Add the thyme, stir, cover and lower the heat. Leave the onion to cook until it caramelises (sticky, soft and golden). Finely, add the balsamic vinegar and give it a good stir. 

3. While the onion is cooking, rinse the salmon fillets and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Bring a frying pan to a medium heat, add a couple of tbsp of olive oil and, when the oil is smoking, place the salmon fillets in the pan skin side down and hold with your fingers for a few seconds to keep them flat. Cook the salmon for 3-5 minutes depending on their thickness. It should still be a little pink in the middle.   

4. In a small bowl, mix the yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, a pinch of salt and a little pepper and half the chopped herbs. Stir to mix. 

5. Drain the can of lentils in a colander and add them to the saucepan with the onions. Add the cooked rice, too, season with salt and pepper and stir in the remaining herbs. Spoon onto a plate and shred the salmon over it. Top with a spoonful of the yoghurt sauce.


About the author

Irini Tzortzoglou was born in a small village on the island of Crete. She is a celebrity chef, author, business woman and motivational speaker.

Both Irini’s talent and fire for cooking has led to a breadth of challenging work projects – from appearing and winning MasterChef 2019 and shooting Instagram Live videos with Michelin Star celebrities, to lecturing at universities and authoring her own cookbooks.

Irini’s first cook book Under The Olive Tree: Recipes from my Greek Kitchen was published in July 2020.

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