Mussels with saffron, herbs and tomato

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Hustle, Bustle & Muscle

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  • Author: Samantha Gowing
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Diet: Gluten Free


Mussels phylum mollusca are found in most of the world’s oceans. Known as bivalves, these opalescent castanets have global culinary foundations, but are probably best loved when prepared in the Mediterranean style – steamed with tomato, garlic and herbs.


Units Scale

Mussels for Muscles
6 saffron threads
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Spanish onion, finely sliced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 kg Green Lipped NZ Mussels, scrubbed, beards removed
6 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup good dry white wine or sherry
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped coriander
1 lime, zest and juice
1 lemon, zest and juice
Cracked black pepper


  1. Place saffron threads in ½ cup of warm water to draw out their delicate flavour. Steep for 30 minutes, before using.
  2. Clean mussels thoroughly by placing in a basin of cold water and then rub their shells together to eliminate any sand or other particles that may cling to the meat. Scrub the shells with steel wool, if desired. Remove and discard the beard that hangs off to one side.
  3. In a heavy base fry pan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add onion, ginger and garlic. Sauté gently until the onion is transparent. Add mussels, tomatoes, saffron water and threads, wine or sherry
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for about 5 minutes until the shells have opened
  5. Add remaining ingredients and heat through well.
  6. Season with black pepper and serve immediately with steamed saffron rice or crusty bread.


Remember the old advice of not eating a mussel that has not opened during the cooking process. It is preferable to discard a mussel with a closed shell.

Mussels phylum mollusca are found in most of the world’s oceans.  Categorically, they belong to the mollusc species that also includes other animals that have a shell, such as oysters, clams, periwinkles and the octopus, which produces a shell to protect its eggs.  Known as bivalves, these opalescent castanets have global culinary foundations, but are probably best loved when prepared in the Mediterranean style – steamed with tomato, garlic and herbs.  Interestingly, the Spanish grow one thousand times more pounds of mussel “meat” than the Americans farm cattle for beef, and, according to a US Department of Agriculture handbook, the protein content is align with that of beef. Mussels yield only 25% of the calorie content of beef, with approximately 3.3 grams of carbohydrate.

Mussels are indiscriminate filter feeders that pump in excess of 40 litres of water through their bodies to source essential nutrients and oxygen. Their lifespan is anywhere from 10 to 100 years depending on their environment.  Adult mussels lead a relatively sedentary existence,  with their major role being to continuously filter and “sample” their environment, which provides marine biologists with an essential tool for analysing water  and environmental quality control.  A decline in the mussel proliferation may indicate that the area has become over polluted and therefore other sea life may not survive.

In Chinese medicine, mussels have a strengthening effect on the liver and kidneys.  This action helps to enhance the liver chi, and improve the jing  of the kidney and is therefore used to treat deficiencies of these areas such as impotence and lower back pain, as well as building the blood. Thermally, they are considered a warming food with a salty flavour which may be beneficial  for those who crave sweet flavour.

Degenerative joint diseases such as Osteoarthritis (aka rheumatism), typically target areas of the body including the hip, knee, finger, big toe and the spine.   Characterised by a deep, aching pain with stiffness, Osteoarthritis is usually caused by inflammation of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, or bone that surround damaged cartilage.  Most cartilage degeneration is due to a lack of proteoglycan (chondroitin sulphate), a protein sugar also known as mucopolysaccharides (MPs), which provide the cartilage with the tensile strength required to carry out its supporting role.

Mucopolysaccharides are gel-like substances found naturally within our cartilage that function as shock absorbers.  They are special sugars interlaced with amino acids, thus they are protein rich tissue that enable the joint to perform its elastic and flexible actions.  Once deterioration occurs, the area may lead to further wear and tear if not properly treated, causing additional pain and discomfort.  An increase of foods rich in protein sugars, such as mucopolysacharrides and glucosamines can encourage the restoration of the joint and tissue repair, essential for healthy joints.

Not only does the dense fibrous collagen/proteoglycan matrix provide cushioning, it also serves as an aquaduct for lubricating substances such as the synovial fluid that is found abundantly within the synovial joints.

The function of synovial joints is that they are freely movable and their fluid reduces friction and supplying the area with a rich source of nutrients, vital for tissue integrity and maintenance.  As joint movement increases,  the viscous, clear, pale yellow, gel-like fluid becomes more viscous.  Warming up before training stimulates the production and secretion of synovial fluid.

The degradation of proteoglycan reduces the efficiency of the structural function intended to support the freely moving joints. Foods rich in mucopolysacharrides may be of some benefit by strengthening connective tissue, making it more elastic and resilient to stress.  They also contain strong anti inflammatory properties, making them important for the active and elderly, and have enjoyed success when used to reinforce the fibres of cardiac muscle and protect the vascular system by lowering fat.

The healing powers of MPs may be used in the treatment of other inflammatory conditions such as headaches, bursitis, ulcers, respiratory disease, angina and allergies.  Protein sugars like glucosamine sulfate stimulate the biosynthesis and the formation of proteoglycans found in the structural matrix of joints. Therefore, nutritional supplementation, preferably through wholefood, can act as an agent to slowly reduce inflammation thus reducing the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Wholefoods that deliver the aforementioned antiinflammatory actions include the New Zealand green lipped mussel perna canaliculus (which is widely imported into Australia),  shark fin, oats, tripe and onions – the latter being a most unpalatable combination to many!  The more popular ingredients – mussels and oats – are both highly nutritious, simple to prepare and relatively cheap when compared to the cost of NSAIDs.

  • Cuisine: Healthy



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