– Words and recipes by Ellie Shortt Photography by Don Denton
Breakfast in a bottle? Over-hyped health fad? An excuse to drink a grown-up milkshake? What, you might be asking, is the purpose of a smoothie? And why, you might be wondering, did I dedicate an entire story to this?
Good questions and valid thoughts, especially if you’re someone who hasn’t yet dabbled in the subtle art of smoothie making. For those who are well-practiced in this culinary offshoot, you already know the most obvious answer: you can pack a number of nutritious ingredients, boosters and other accoutrements into one vibrant glass of goodness—nutrients that you might otherwise not so readily sprinkle on your dinner.
But just as importantly, they can (and should) be a delicious treat to enjoy whenever the mood strikes, whether it’s looking for a super-powered start to your day, a satisfying slurp-able snack, or even a decadent yet nutrient-dense dessert.
As both a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and a recipe developer, it is of the utmost importance to me that food tastes as good as it makes you feel. And that goes for body, mind and soul. You’re not going to drink more smoothies if they taste like swamp water, and you’ll likely better assimilate the nutrients if you ingest them with a smile. So let me take the stress out of smoothie assembly, and offer some of my top tips for making—and enjoying—more blended beverages (and bowls) in your day-to-day experience.
What you’ll need
To start your smoothie-making adventure you’ll need a really good blender. You can use a low-powered blender, but the frustration you’ll experience and the limitations you’ll run into will almost assuredly make this a short-lived endeavour. It is marvellously satisfying to push a button and watch a half dozen widely differing ingredients whir together in swirling synchronicity and within minutes present as the perfect puree. If your blender is low-powered or the blades are dull, this will take many tries and more steps to get the desired outcome. It can be an investment, but a good quality blender is also a fantastic kitchen tool in general for making sauces, soups and even your own nut milks.
Of course, the crown jewel is the Vitamix, although I have a KitchenAid. I’ve had it for years and it has stood by my side through nearly daily smoothies, almost weekly soups and dozens of cooking class demonstrations.
How to build it
There is no right or wrong way to make a smoothie. In fact, if you ever see a smoothie “recipe” (like the ones presented here) use it as a loose guideline, take as much creative license as pleases, and work with what you already have in the kitchen.
For a well-balanced smoothie, I like incorporating something earthy or spicy, something creamy or smooth and, of course, something sweet to take the edge off.
Earthy/spicy could be fresh ginger, ground cinnamon, kale, spinach, mint, cilantro, beet or carrot. Creamy/smooth is avocado (it also works for earthy), tropical fruits like banana, mango, and papaya (they also work for sweet), thick coconut cream, yogurt, chia seeds (which gelatinize when mixed with moisture), etc. For sweet, I usually let fruit do the heavy lifting (berries, cherries, apple, peach, pear, etc.), but on occasion will rely on some soft Medjool dates or even some raw honey to help out a bit.
Depending on the flavour profile you’re working with, it’s likely you’ll want to include something acidic to balance it out: something like orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit or pineapple. And then, of course, your liquid of choice will either be cold water, juice or milk (coconut, almond, cow, goat, etc.).
Exactly how much liquid to use is difficult to say, and it will partially depend on whether you’re enjoying the smoothie in a cup or bowl (more on that later). The great thing is, you can start with a modest amount of moisture, and keep adding more in until you’re happy with the viscosity.
How to take it to the next level
Now that you have the basics, let your smoothie work a bit harder for you with some nutrient-dense boosters. Spirulina, acai and camu camu powder are some of my personal favourites for additional immune support and antioxidant boosts. I also enjoy tossing in some flax seeds and psyllium husk for a little extra fibre.
A good quality protein powder is key if you’re wanting more satiating substance. I personally stick to a neutral flavoured simple collagen powder as there aren’t any additional ingredients to mess with the taste, or my body. Not only is one scoop equal to about 13 grams of protein, but multiple studies show that dietary collagen is important for healthy hair, skin and nail growth, and may even improve digestive function as well.
If you’d really like your smoothie to stay with you a little longer, I suggest trying a stick-to-your-ribs “smoothie bowl.” Take whatever recipe (guideline) you’re working with, and add a bit more of the creamy and a lot less of the liquid, until you have a pudding-like consistency. Transfer this thick mix to a bowl, and top with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, fresh berries, your favourite granola, a dollop of yogurt, a drizzle of honey—the sky’s the limit. Bonus points for artful assembly, which always seems to get extra “likes” on social media—the internet loves a good smoothie bowl!
And that’s the basic anatomy, assembly and art of making a smoothie.
My final tip? Try not to slurp it up too fast or you’ll be left with a potential brain-freeze or bloated belly.
Introducing your antioxidant artillery! The regal hue of this magenta marvel is no doubt pleasing to the eye, but the super-powered ingredients within are also pleasing to your immune system, digestive function and even sleep. Plants pigmented with deep reds, purples and blues are often rich in something called anthocyanins and another phytochemical called quercetin, found to help slow cancer growth and aid in liver repair. Cherries, specifically, contain natural melatonin, assisting in restful sleep, as well as diminishment of systemic inflammation and associated oxidative stress. Not only do the chia seeds provide a hearty thickness to this smoothie, but they’re rich in anti-inflammatory fatty acids, are full of fibre and have been shown in some cases to improve digestive function.
½ heaping cup red beets, peeled and chopped
1 heaping cup cherries (frozen works best here)
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
2 tbsp chia seeds
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend for a minute or two until smooth. Let sit for a few minutes as the chia seeds expand and gelatinize, and then blend again for a minute or two more.
*Note: to make it a smoothie bowl, substitute the coconut milk for plain coconut yogurt, or the thick coconut cream that you find on the top of a can after separation.
So Fresh and So Green
An apple a day may not necessarily keep the doctor away, but if you add in folate-rich kale, digestively soothing mint and immune-boosting pineapple, your odds are likely increased. Not to mention the fact that avocado is packed with calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium zinc, vitamins C, B6, B12, A, D, K, E, and are a great source of dietary fibre. Shall I go on, or are you ready to try this gorgeous green glass of goodness yet?
1 medium green apple, cut and cored
2 cups loose baby kale
½ cup loose fresh mint leaves
½ cup pineapple, trimmed, cored and cubed
1 ½ cups cold water
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (about two minutes).
*Note: to make it a smoothie bowl, leave out the water and, if you want, add in another half avocado to make it extra thick.
Good Morning Sunshine
One sip of this tropically inspired treat, and you’ll feel like the sun’s golden rays are radiating out of you. Bursting with vitamin C and probiotics, each golden gulp makes your immune system smile, while fresh ginger and papaya soothe and nourish your digestive tract. If you’re sensitive to dairy, try a plain fermented coconut yogurt—my personal favourite is by the brand Yoggu based in Vancouver.
½ heaping cup mango, peeled and cubed
½ heaping cup papaya, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (about two minutes).
*Note: to make it a smoothie bowl, leave out the orange juice and, if you wish, add in another half a cup of yogurt to make it extra thick.
Once you try this decadent dream, you won’t believe that it’s good for you. Without even touching on the nutritional bounty of bananas, almond butter and cinnamon, the raw cocoa is full of magnesium and antioxidant-rich flavonoids and, when consumed, may improve blood flow, reduce plaque buildup on artery walls, and potentially diminish the effects of oxidative damage (cancer, aging, degenerative diseases). In fact, a study from Cornell University found that raw cacao powder contains nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea! Note that I keep saying and suggesting “raw” cocoa powder. While Dutch-processed is ideal for baking, it’s alkalinized, leaving you with a smooth-tasting ingredient, but one that doesn’t pack as much of a punch nutritionally speaking.
2 heaping tbsp raw almond butter
4 heaping tbsp raw cocoa powder
1 banana, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (about one minute).
*Note: to make it a smoothie bowl, leave out the almond milk, and you can even add in another half banana to make it extra thick.