The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

stir fried broccoli with sesame and garlic

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Perhaps it’s laziness. Perhaps it a belief that we simply don’t have the time. Whatever the reasons, British people have an enduring relationship with fast food, spending almost £30 billion each year on the stuff.

A UK Parliamentary research paper, “Barriers to Healthy Food”, published last year suggested that the average Briton consumes 200 to 300 excess calories per day, in large part linked to fast food consumption.

Characterised by convenience, speed and cheapness, fast food also happens to be  bad for us: low in nutritional content whilst high in fat, sugar and salt. Once in a while may be OK, but numerous studies have shown that regular consumption of fast food leads inexorably to serious health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

One stark testament to our fast food culture is a health service which is creaking at the seams coping with these very same conditions.

Everyone (apart, it seems, from the UK government) recognises that our health service needs more funds to cope with the growing demands upon it. But this, to some extent misses a more basic truth: by the time people develop Type 2 diabetes or heart disease the damage has already been done and is far more expensive to treat. More, much more, needs to be invested in preventative measures to avert the decline into chronic illness in the first place.

A good first start would be to restrict the availability of fast-food outlets. Over a decade ago, a ground breaking Canadian study found that people who live closest to fast-food outlets are 2.62 times more likely to develop coronary conditions. A similar, more recent study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology confirmed that increases in the number of fast-food outlets in a locality is linked to a higher likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease.

There are some positive, if modest, examples of local government initiatives to address this particular problem. In Birmingham, for example, the city council has set a limit of no more than 10% of any shopping area consisting of fast-food outlets. To me that still seems a remarkably high threshold, but since that ceiling was introduced in 2012, the council has rejected 60% of all fast-food outlet applications in the city. Other Councils should follow suit.

We also need to take a long hard look at the food we are feeding to our children. One in three British children leaving primary school is now obese. Each day we feed our child junk food we help to build up a massive problem both for them and for our future health services.

Thanks to the inspiring campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, standards of school meals have improved, but many schools are scraping along the bottom, only just achieving the basic standards set in the new regulations introduced in 2015. Then there is the problem of children exposed to a largely junk food diet during school holidays. Some Councils, such as the London Borough of Greenwich have teamed up with local charities to provide children with healthy lunches during the school holidays. Again, with imagination and funding, similar initiatives across the country could make a positive difference.

But all of these are compensating for the biggest. most fundamental gap in preventative care: education of children and their parents.

Unless and until we understand the long-term implications of bad diet, and junk food in particular, we will continue to condemn ourselves and our children to avoidable health problems and continue to put huge unnecessary pressure on our precious health service.

purple sprouting broccoli growingpurple sprouting broccoligarlicsesame seeds

On to the recipe.

Fast food need not be mean unhealthy food, and this recipe is a good example.

This simple but delicious and nutritious dish has just five ingredients and is ready in under ten minutes. It is great as a side dish, but can also make a tasty meal in itself, served in combination with rice noodles or plain jasmine rice.

stir fried broccoli with sesame and garlic


500 g sprouting broccoli, trimmed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce
1 tbsp lightly toasted sesame seeds


1. Heat a wok over a high heat. When it is hot, add the oil. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer add the broccoli. Stir vigorously for 5 minutes, by which time it will have started to wilt and colour.

2. Add the sliced garlic and continue to stir fry vigorously for a further two minutes or until the broccoli is just tender, making sure the garlic does not burn. Remove the wok from the heat. Add and stir in the soy sauce.

3. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , , ,

38 replies

  1. I’m a fast food addict. Your recipe meets my fast food criteria – 5 or less ingredients! If I omit the sesame seeds it’s even faster.

  2. I agree with everything you have to say. Similar to you and Jamie O, I believe that teaching children to make healthy choices is much more realistic than convincing young adults to break bad habits. Both at school and at home. As a child my family had 2 fast food dinners a week, and half the food cooked at home was straight from a box/can (another form of fast food in my opinion). It wasn’t until I embarked on a career as a professional chef did I realize the variety of food available. Also learning how to cook helped a lot with feeding myself an family in a more healthy manner. It would be nice to see children educated on how to cook healthy things opposed to just lecturing them on what is good and condemning them for choosing the bad option when bad options are most of the offerings.

    • Hi Michael, you make some very good points. I agree the focus should be on educating children, and to do so in a way that involves them in the appreciation of, and cooking of, wholesome ingredients. I would not want to write off the adults though, but as I type this I suddenly remember back to images of the school where Jamie Oliver was attempting to introduce healthy meals whilst some of the parents were passing burgers through the school railings to their children. I guess it’s a long road: the challenge is to find the best ways to encourage people to get on it.


  3. I agree with you Steve, but I think that teaching kids at school about health and nutrition it your best chance of having a generational change in eating habits. Many public schools in Australia are introducing kitchen gardens and cooking to the under 12s, teaching them to grow fresh produce, harvest and then cook nutritious meals. I was involved for a couple of years. It was very gratifying to see every child, without exception eat and enjoy the vegetable based meal they prepared. In my opinion undervalued life skills such as these are the mainstay of society and they promote a broad stroke of extra values that can only be acquired not taught.

    • Hi Sandra. I agree, although focusing primarily on teaching the children still needs parental “buy-in”, or we end up with the burgers-through-the-railings situation where ignorant adults undermine the good work of schools, charities and government. The schools project you were involved in sounds like a great initiative, exactly the sort of thing that can make a lasting difference to those young lives. Steve 🙂

  4. I totally agree! When I consider the small town where I live, there are 3 fish and chip shops and several other take away options …and there is an obesity problem here. Nothing wrong with the occasional fish and chips, but as you say, when fast food becomes the norm the implications for health are huge.I think education has to be the answer.

  5. Dear Stephen

    I shall try this – it sounds simple and interesting.

    Your Mum,

  6. If you’ve impressed your mum, you must be doing right, Steve.
    There was a Chinese restaurant near where I lived. People would make an order and bring their pots over to have them filled. Chinese food was exotic then and steak and black bean sauce was more delicious than steak and three veg. But the steak and veggies are fried and the sauce has salt in it. We’ve become used to and accept lots of salt, butter, oil and cream in our cooking. Made a Tiramisu recently: cream, Mascarpone cheese and booze. Yumm. I felt the arteries hardening as I served myself a portion. I’m all over the place here, but I hope you know what I mean.
    I feel the same about pokie machine places. They’re everywhere here. Even pensioners will turn up for a cheap meal and a play when their pensions come in. I’d like to raze those places to the ground. But you can’t do it to pokie machines or to take away food places. In a democracy it’s called commerce.
    Love Jamie Oliver, now there’s an activist after my own heart. He’s been relatively successful with school lunches, now he needs to have classes for those mums passing hamburgers through the railings.

  7. Education on good, simple and healthy food is essential, but you take it to that next level and make it delicious as well. This looks amazing and I’m definitely going to try it.

  8. Lovely recipe, do you think it will go with oven baked salmon?

  9. Thank you for following my blog, I love your recipes! 🙂

  10. Stir-frys are a fav here for fast food. A member of the brassica family (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale) squats our fridge space at any time of the year! Sesame seeds, garlic, and soy sauce (and I’ll add ginger too) make for great pan buddies. Cheers!

    PS – Burger King now has a veggie burger on its menu! Of course, it’s still full of salt and fat, but at least animals are spared.

  11. Oooh I will have to try this one! Looks amazing! I can imagine the sesame seeds probably gave it a define flavor!

  12. This looks absolutely delicious!! xx

  13. I wish I could find it easily in here because the broccoli looks awesome 🙂

  14. I totally agree with this post.. I love fast food even though I know it’s terrible for me. Maybe this recipe will help me move forward past my love for food.

  15. Wow…

    Yum Yum Yum…. and its still fast food??!!! This blog post has thought me a lot today. Thank you!!

    If you have time,Check out my blog @

  16. This looks soooo yummy! And so much information! Thank you! x


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