It’s lunch time and I am at Northern Ballet, chatting to three dancers performing in the forthcoming production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at Leeds Grand Theatre. I am here to find out their top tips for eating well to stay in shape. All three look wonderful, slim (but not thin), healthy and full of life. Dreda Blow, 26, from Toronto is tucking in to some, deep orange soup.
“It’s sweet potato, flavoured with fresh ginger. “It looks and smells delicious. I also make it with parsnips which taste equally good,” she adds. “I am a great fan of preparing extra food for my evening meal and then eating this the next day for lunch. Couscous salad is another favourite supper- cum- lunch dish.”
I am intrigued to know their thoughts on the post-Christmas low carb eating fad currently gripping the nation.
Dreda who will be dancing as a geisha in Madame Butterfly, begins her day with a hearty bowl of porridge, sweetened with golden syrup and topped with yogurt.
“I don’t know any dancers that go on fad diets like cutting out carbs,” says Dreda. “We need carbohydrate to keep our energy levels up. If we don’t eat well we can’t concentrate and can get injured. We want to dance for as long as possible. Our jobs depend on eating well.”
Matthew Broadbent, 21 and Anglo-Dutch agrees. “Men need carbs. If our bodies run out of energy, muscle is broken down and we lose strength. There would be no act three if I didn’t eat carbs. I would run out of energy.”
Breakfast for Matthew is Weetabix sprinkled with Coco Pops. “I also drink a lot of milk which is a very Dutch thing,” he adds.
“I start the day with a typical Chinese-style rice porridge made in a steamer with adzuki beans and quinoa,” says Ayana Kanda, 27, from Tokyo. She is dancing a lead role as the character Suzuki. Ayana loves cooking and prepares meals for herself and her Chinese fiancé, Yi Song, also a dancer. “We do snack in between meals, mainly on fruit. We eat a lot of bananas,” says Dreda.
“What about supper?” I ask all three. Ayana gets out her iPhone to show me pictures of the dishes she cooks and eats. I am reassured. The food looks really good and there is lots of it; noodles, gorgeous stir fried meat and vegetable dishes. “I never eat a meal without vegetables. My body just does not feel right without them’ says Ayana.
Matthew, who plays a sailor, also shows me photographs of what he eats including his tasty chicken pasta, made almost entirely from store cupboard ingredients.
All three confess to eating McDonald’s and other fast food. “We like some fast food but it does not form our main diet,” Ayana adds.
I leave Northern Ballet feeling reassured and motivated to eat well in 2012.
Dreda’s chicken souvlaki with feta, mint and avocado salad
This is a fantastic example of a meal that will give you lots of energy and all the nutrients to help keep your body in shape.
2 chicken breasts cut into chunks
For the marinade: 2 cloves garlic, crush, juice of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp dried oregano, pinch of sea salt
For the dressing: 2 tbsp olive oil,1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 small clove garlic, crushed, salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad: 2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves, 1 ripe avocado, cut into chunks, 2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped, 50g feta cheese, crumbled, 50g black olive
Mix the chicken with the marinade ingredients and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
Thread the chicken on to skewers and grill for 10 minutes. Turn frequently until just beginning to brown.
Whisk together the ingredients for the salad dressing and combine with the salad ingredients in a bowl.
Serve the chicken and salad with warm pita bread.
Sweet potato and ginger soup
1 large onion, roughly chopped, 1 tbsp olive oil, 500g sweet potato, cut into chunks, 50g fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 litre of stock, either chicken or vegetable ½ tsp garam masala Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sweat onion in olive oil until soft. Add sweet potato, fresh ginger, garlic and continue to cook for about 15 minutes or until the onion begins to caramelise and the sweet potatoes become soft. Add the garam masala and stock and continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Allow to cool and liquidise. Add more stock if you like a thinner soup and season with salt, pepper and more garam masala if you like a spicier flavour.
Ayana’s pork flavoured with star anise, ginger and spring onions
This is a clever way of getting lots of flavour and texture from a cheaper cut of meat. Simmering and dry frying the pork first removes most of the fat. Cooked like this the meat falls apart and the sticky coating makes this a star recipe. Lovely served with egg noodles and stir fried green vegetables such as pak choi, broccoli, shredded cabbage or beans.
250g belly of pork, rind removed, 50g fresh ginger, shredded, 100g spring onions, thinly sliced, 150ml Chinese cooking wine, 2 star anise, 2 tsp light brown sugar, 2 tbsp light soy sauce
Place the pork in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pork from the pan and dry fry until crisp and golden brown. Discard any fat that has been rendered from the pork. Place shredded ginger, spring onions, Chinese cooking wine and pork in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover the pork.
Bring to a simmer and cook gently for two hours. Remove the pork but keep the fragrant stock.
Cut pork into 5cm strips and add to a large frying pan with 4 ladles of the stock, star anise and sugar.
Add 2 tbsp of soy sauce and cook until the liquid has become sticky and dark brown.
Madame Butterfly is at the Grand Theatre Leeds; February 29 - March 10. For more information see www. northernballet.com.