Darina Allen: Recipes to nourish your gut and stay healthy

Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely.
Darina Allen: Recipes to nourish your gut and stay healthy

The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health.
The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health.

Today we celebrate World Microbiome Day, sounds a bit esoteric you might think but this is a subject that concerns each and every one of us uniquely.

Microbes are frequently misunderstood by those of us in the non-scientific community.

Just like the word bacteria, it has nasty connotations and conjures up negative images.

Yet only a tiny percentage of bacteria and microbes are pathogenic, typically they do much more good than harm.

Microbes are single-celled organisms found everywhere. They include bacteria, archaea, protozoa, fungi and viruses.

Humans have co-evolved with microbes on our planet for billions of years.

The diversity of microbes within the gut are critically important to both our physical and mental health.

One of the hottest areas of research in recent years has been on the gut biome. The pioneering work of Professors Cryan and Dinan and their team at UCC has been globally recognised.

Consequently the link between the health of our microbiota and our physical and mental health is well established.

It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the trillions of microbes in our gut weigh between one to two kilos, equivalent to the weight of an adult brain.

The biochemical complexity of the microbes in the human gut is greater than that of the brain and there are about 100 times more genes in our gut microbiota than in our genes.

Yet up to relatively recently, the bacteria in the human intestine was thought to have little relevance in the medical world and scientists in this field tell me there is still much to learn and discover.

But for us lay people, all we need to know is that it is super important for our physical and mental wellbeing to nourish our gut biome.

So how do we do this? We need to eat as wide a variety of fresh food. The more biodiverse our diet, the healthier and more resilient we will be.

So we need to seek out real food that wakes up as many microbes in our intestines as possible. Each of the nutrients in food activate a different microbe.

So what foods apart from those already mentioned nourish our gut – fermented foods and drinks, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kefir, raw milk, preferably organic milk from a small herd of pasture fed cows, raw milk cheese too, particularly blue cheese.

Try to incorporate some wild and foraged foods into your diet for further diversity.


These foods still have the full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements unlike many processed foods which have been altered to produce the maximum yield for a minimum cost.

All fruit and vegetables contain much-needed fibre which provide essential prebiotics and promote the growth of good gut bacteria.

Bananas too are high in fibre. As ever do your best to buy organic, chemical-free food and avoid ultra-processed food.

Natural yoghurt -sugar-free- and milk kefir are packed with good bacteria, Miso made from fermented soya beans plus barley and rice contains a wide range of essential bacteria and enzymes.

Natural fermented sourdough bread is another gut friendly food but source carefully.

Now that sourdough has become fashionable there’s lots of ‘faux sourdough’ around.

Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria.

Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria
Almonds too are high in fibre, fatty acids and polyphenols – a treat for gut bacteria

Extra virgin olive oil is my oil of choice, peas also get the thumbs up, look out for seasonal fresh peas in the Farmers Markets at present.

Blue Cheese is teeming with good bacteria and I also love those artisan farmhouse cheeses – don’t be afraid to eat the rind but not the plastic coating!

A growing body of research is also showing a clear link between the growing anxiety problems amongst teenagers and college students who often have a limited budget, limited cooking facilities and limited cooking skills which combined can result in a nutritionally deficient diet.

I’m clearly not a scientist but over the past 37 years since I co-founded the school with my brother Rory, I’ve observed the change in students health as they eat different foods every day over a 3-month period.

I’m not a doctor but the biodiverse diet of mostly organic food unquestionably impacts on their health and immune system.

This observation has now been confirmed by a study done in conjunction by UCC -Recipe for a Healthy Gut: Intake of Unpasteurised Milk Is Associated with Increased Lactobacillus Abundance in the Human Gut Microbiome-.

For those of you who would like to learn more about this fundamentally important subject, read more by Professor Ted Dinan, John Cryan in UCC, Tim Spector -Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London- and Glen Gibson (Professor of Food Microbiology, Head of Food Microbial Sciences at University of Reading) in UK, Emeran Mayer (Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Physiology and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine in UCLA) in US and many others.

Check out their research and their talks on YouTube. Meanwhile, here are some recipes for foods to feed your gut and boost your immune system.

Recommended reading: The Psychobiotic Revolution, Mood, food and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by John F. Cryan and Ted Dinan.

World Microbiome Day is on June 27.


Medjool Dates with Crozier Blue Cheese 


Makes 20

We were served this delicious little morsel with a Swedish Blue cheese at Wardshuset Ulla Winbladh beside Skansen in Stockholm.

It's become a favourite little nibble with a drink.


Medjool dates ripe

Crozier Blue Cheese or Dolcelatte

Medjool dates with blue cheese
Medjool dates with blue cheese

Split the dates lengthways and remove the stone. Arrange on a plate, top each half with a little nugget of cheese.

Serve as a canapé or amuse guile.


A Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese with Chargrilled Pears and Spiced Candied Nuts


Serves 8

Crozier Blue is a ewes milk cheese made in Co. Tipperary but other mild blue cheese may also be used – Gorgonzola.

A selection of salad leaves. If possible it should include curly endive, dandelion and watercress.

Bitter leaves are brilliant for the gut microbiome.


Spice Candied Nuts 75g -3oz-


1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground coriander

a pinch of freshly ground star anise

100g (3 1/2oz) walnut halves


2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, we use Mani or extra virgin organic olive oil from Greece

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 ripe pears depending on size (Bartlet or Anjou) ripe

Crozier Blue or Cashel Blue Cheese

Garnish chervil sprigs

Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese
Salad of Crozier Blue Cheese

Gently wash and carefully dry the lettuce. Put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast them for 4 or 5 minutes just until they smell rich and nutty.

Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the spices. Spread over the base of a frying pan in an even layer.

Scatter the walnut halves on top. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar melts and stars to colour.

Carefully rotate the pan until the walnuts are completely coated with the amber coloured spicy caramel.

Turn out onto a silpat mat or silicone paper or an oil baking tray. Allow to cool and harden. -Store in an airtight container until later if necessary-.

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing, pour into a jam jar, cover and store until needed.

Heat a grill-pan on a high flame. Peel, quarter and core the pears.

Toss in a little sunflower oil, grill on both sides and then on the rounded side.

To Serve

Cut the cheese into cubes or small wedges. Sprinkle the salad leaves with the dressing and toss gently until the leaves glisten.

Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

Divide the salad between the plates making a little mound in the centre.

Slice each chargrilled pear in half lengthwise and tuck 3 pieces in between the leaves.

Scatter with a few cubes of Crozier Blue and some spice candied walnuts.

Sprinkle with a few sprigs of chervil and serve.

Bellingham Blue, Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese would also be delicious.


Pan-grilled Mackerel with Miso 


Serves 2


4 fillets of fresh mackerel

2 tablespoons white miso

1/2 tablespoon of runny honey

1 teaspoon of Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Accompaniment salad of organic leaves

Pan-grilled Mackerel with Miso
Pan-grilled Mackerel with Miso

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together. Coat each mackerel fillet and allow to absorb the flavour for 15-20 minutes.

Heat a grill-pan over a medium heat. Wipe excess marinade from the fish.

Drizzle with olive oil, cook skin side down for 2 minutes approximately, then flip over to cook the flesh side, continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

Serve immediately with a salad of organic leaves.

Note: Alternatively just roast on a baking tray in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 5-6 minutes.


Salade Nicoise 


Serves 8 approx.

In Provence there are many versions of this colourful salad, which makes a wonderful summer lunch.

Some include crisp red and green pepper and some omit the potato for a less substantial salad.


French dressing 50ml -2fl oz-

wine vinegar 175ml -6fl oz-

extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon Parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon Basil or Annual Marjoram


8 medium sized new potatoes, (e.g. Pink Fir Apple) cooked but still warm

3-4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and quartered

110g (4oz) cooked French beans, topped and tailed and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths approx., blanched and refreshed

Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar 1 dessertspoon

Chives 1 dessertspoon

Parsley, chopped

1 dessertspoon Annual Marjoram or Thyme

1 crisp lettuce

3 hardboiled eggs, shelled and quartered

12 black olives

1 teaspoon capers, (optional)

1 tin anchovies and/or 1 tin tuna fish

8 tiny spring onions


Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together - it must be very well seasoned otherwise the salad will be bland.

Slice the new potatoes into 5mm -1/4 inch- thick slices and toss in some dressing while still warm.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toss the tomatoes and beans in some more dressing, season with salt, pepper and sugar and sprinkle with some chopped herbs.

Line a shallow bowl with lettuce leaves.

Arrange the rest of the ingredients appetisingly on top of the potatoes, finishing off with olives, capers and chunks of tuna and/or the anchovies.

Drizzle some more dressing over the top. Sprinkle over the remainder of the herbs and the spring onions and serve.


Salad Nicoise with Pan-grilled or Barbequed Mackerel 


Dry each fillet with kitchen paper. Dip in well-seasoned flour.

Spread a little soft butter on the flesh side of each fillet as though you were meanly buttering a slice of bread.

Preheat a pan-grill or barbeque. Cook the mackerel flesh side down for 2 or 3 minutes then turn over and cook on the other side until the skin is crispy and golden.

Serve one or two fillets of mackerel criss-crossed on top of each portion of salad nicoise.


Rachel’s Banana Bread 


Makes 1 large loaf

This is our newest banana bread, a really delicious version – thank you Rachel.


450g (1lb) very ripe bananas (weighed out of skins)

175g (6oz) butter

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 small eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

75g (3oz) sultanas

40g (1 1/2oz) cherries, cut into quarters

25g (1oz) currants

20g (3/4oz) pecans, chopped

Banana bread
Banana bread

Loaf Tin 24 x 13.5 x 5cm (9 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 2 inch) loaf tin OR 3 small tins - 14.6 x 7.5cm (5.75 x 3 inches) lined with greaseproof paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Peel the bananas then crush with a fork. Cream the butter until soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, then add the eggs alternately with the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.

Fold in the crushed banana, dried fruit and chopped pecans.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 1/2 hours.

Cool slightly then turn on to a wire tray.


Hot Tips 


What a relief, our restaurants and cafés are reopening from June 29, now more than ever is the time to support your local restaurant and café after what has been a challenging couple of months.

Ballymaloe House Restaurant will reopen on Thursday, July 2 and for accommodation from Wednesday, July 22. Booking essential - 021 465 2531.

Ballymaloe Cookery School reopens from June 29 with Summer Food Hands-On Courses (limited numbers) which incorporate welcome tea and coffee on arrival, introduction to the day’s menu and a tour of the farm, gardens and glasshouse, cookery demonstration and hands-on cooking session and lunch.

Booking essential – 021 465 2531/ballymaloe.ie

We have now rescheduled the Food to Nourish Your Gut (plus introduction to fermentation) on July 9 to celebrate World Microbiome Day.

Participants will gain an understanding of the benefits of probiotics and fermented foods and fermented drinks to both our physical and mental health.

You will learn how to make a variety of ferments, sourdough bread, yoghurt, broths, nourishing stews, including use of local seaweed – carrageen moss plus how to identify a variety of bitter greens and other beneficial wild foods.

On departure participants will receive live starters for both sourdough breads and kefirs.

For further details see cookingisfun.ie


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