The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

summer slaw with Pad Thai dressing

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The benefits of gardening in respect of mental health and well-being are now well documented. Indeed, garden therapy is increasingly prescribed by doctors to help tackle anxiety, loneliness and depression.

But research from the University of California suggests that gardening can also help tackle the growing problem of obesity, especially amongst children.

We now know that being overweight puts us at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. For this reason, a new anti-obesity strategy has been launched by the UK government, spearheaded by our somewhat hefty Prime Minister.

In the University of California study, pupils grew and harvested their own vegetables, which were then used in cooking demonstrations or taken home. The study found that that those schools which taught gardening not only had a smaller proportion of obese pupils, but also that overweight children who take up gardening were more likely to lose weight. The report concluded that gardening had helped to reinforce positive health messages and introduce an understanding about nutrition.

When it comes to obesity, there is a tendency to blame individuals for the poor choices they have made rather than to address the broader factors which have encouraged to those choices. But the growing number of obese children in this country and others shows how significant the impact of environment is on health.

In the long term, prevention is better than cure. In addition to tackling the more obvious issues like junk food advertising and the widespread availability of low-price poor-quality food, we ought to be encouraging our schools to teach gardening skills.

Gardening is such a force for good. It not only teaches us to grow food but to learn about diet and nutrition and it provides a good form of exercise. All of these could help reinforce long-term positive changes for us all, but particularly for our younger citizens.

This is a delicious and nutritious salad, bursting with Thai flavours. It is lovely on its own as a healthy light lunch or as a side salad.

summer slaw with Pad Thai dressing


100 g carrots, cut into very thin strips or spiralised
100 g cabbage, thinly sliced
100 g courgette, cut into very thin strips or spiralised
125 g bean sprouts
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
3 spring onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
15 g roasted peanuts, crushed
15 g crispy shallots
10 g fresh coriander, finely chopped
10 g fresh basil, finely chopped

for the dressing

1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer leaves removed, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded, very finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
25 ml soy sauce
25 ml peanut oil
25 ml sesame oil
20 ml maple syrup


1. For the dressing, place the choppe lemongrass, garlic, chilli and garlic in a bowl with the lime juice, 60 ml soy sauce, peanut oil, sesame oil and maple syrup. Whisk to combine until emulsified.

2. For the salad, place the carrot, cabbage, bean sprouts, red pepper and spring onions with half the peanuts, half the crispy shallots, half the chopped coriander and basil. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Top the salad with the remaining peanuts, crispy shallots, chopped coriander and basil.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, raw, vegan, vegetarian

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5 replies

  1. Way back remember seeing Janie Oliver ask a group of English schoolchildren what the names of various vegetables in front of him were. Was shocked that even many of the simplest were unknown to most. Wonder what the result of his endeavors in England were . . . in the US there seemed no success whatsoever. In Australia the pandemic seems to have led people to bake bread and try organize their gardens – a positive in all the ways you have mentioned. The positive government messages are more widely circulated . . . perchance more fat children trim down by the time they become adults . . . Meanwhile love the salad of course ! Have to try your Pad Thai dressing as it does interestingly differ somewhat from what I use . . . best

  2. My husband tells me that in the early 1960s his school taught soil management, vegetable growing for the school kitchen and other basics of self sufficiency. He did live in a rural area, but what a shame these skills are not taught anymore. As a result we have a very productive, organic plot which provides for all our fruit and veg needs. We love your recipes – fight the good fight.

  3. Totally amazing. I have to get back into gardening properly

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