Simple Winter Kitchari

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Following in the footsteps of my last post, I’m creating lots of quick and comforting meals lately. Late-winter is when I typically become the least inspired by seasonal ingredients, but this year I’ve relegated to always having some batch-cooking or roll-over ingredients on hand for ready meals. And I actually haven’t lost inspiration per se, but the hours in the day for cooking creatively and sharing those meals has been taken up elsewhere.

Instead, I’ve really been putting my focus into creating space for in between moments and pauses, and it’s kind of funny to realize when life is really full and can feel rushed that pausing and watching the mind slows everything down. All that rush tends to fall away and around, instead of inside me, and I realize it’ll all get done. There are little checkoffs this season. Taking my ServSafe test and receiving certification, sitting for and passing a lengthy comprehensive exam before graduation this spring. Working on and completing my last group project for my Life Cycle Nutrition class. Successfully completing my last clinical course. Continuing to grow in my experience and working with new and continuing nutrition clients. And turning down my entrepreneur ‘what’s next’ business brain for when I have the ability to put my focus there.

And then setting it all down and going to work, where I focus on teaching kids to cook and learn about the basics of healthy eating.

And then dropping my energy into marathon training and keeping my body healthy.

Layers. Like peeling an onion, my doctor said the other day, only she was talking about layers of healing. We all have these layers of aspirations, or obligations, or activities that we’re simultaneously putting our energy into and even though it might be nice to compartmentalize and separate them, they tend to bleed over and into each other. Or at least mine do.

Over the last few years, I’ve tended to go in and out of stress reactions that will last a few weeks or more. I’m told they are really autoimmune-like flares, even though I’ve also been told I’m a touch too healthy to be diagnosed by conventional medicine, even with lots of ‘little signs’. Every time a flare happens I try to scramble and make sense of it, trying to identify the cause or the trigger, but ultimately when my physical body is a little too out of balance, my mental body becomes equally so, worrying and putting energy into the hurts and aches physically. And vice versa. And the two go round and round together, making the episode worse until I ultimately decide to set them both down, “give up,” and invest my energy elsewhere. That’s all to say that with two big end goals on the table right now, one being finishing my graduate program and the other the marathon that occurs just a few days after, I’m in a space right now of enjoying the process, enjoying the little things about the everyday today,  and not getting so caught up in the what if’s or shoulds, or what’s next. It will come regardless.

And for now, I’m eating lots of kitchari, even accused of making lentils and rice way too many meals in a row lately. But it’s what I’m craving and need after running in the rain or cold, or before rushing off to work.

 

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If you’re feeling like you’re holding lots of ‘layers,’ and could use a little space and pause for calming and grounding, I encourage you to turn off the noises around you that you can, tune into the ones that are still there (like family, the wind or rain, the heater), and immerse your senses in the process of cooking kitchari. Soaking the lentils and rice. Chopping the vegetables, measuring the spice. And then eat in the same fashion, for once without distraction, slowly, slowly. Tasting each bite.

Simple Winter Kitchari, serves 2
This works great as a quick lunch or dinner, and can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, or very few if you’re needing super simple. Double or triple the batch if you’d like, or just make this one for a couple lunch days when your partner doesn’t care to share in your need for more lentils and rice.

3 1/2 – 4 cups water
1/2 cup brown rice, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 cup red lentils, ideally soaked overnight or at least a few hours
1/2 Tbs. Grounding Masala spice mix (below)
1 cup greens or seasonal vegetables, chopped (mine featured peas, greens, fennel stalks, or turnips depending lately)
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 Tbs. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
cilantro or parsley, as desired

  • Drain the rice and lentils if you soaked them. Then in a medium pot, bring them to a boil with about 3 cups of water and the spice mixture. If you’re tossing in hardier root vegetables, add them at this time too. Turn down, cover partially, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check after about 20 minutes and add additional water as necessary and again at the 30 minute mark. After 30 minutes, add the greens or more tender vegetables and stir in, and then continue to cook 10 minutes more until everything is nice and porridge-like.
  • Meanwhile, in a small fry pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds. Cook just until they begin to turn golden and smell fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour them into the kitchari.
  • Stir, add salt and black pepper to taste, and serve with some cilantro or parsley on top as desired.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.
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Simple Black Bean and Rice Bowls with Cilantro Green Sauce

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Sometimes the simplest is the best. I threw together this easy black bean and rice plate a few days ago using leftovers already on hand, and it turns out I liked it better than any of the original meals. It was a reminder to keep things simple, but also, creamy black beans, well cooked rice, steamed cabbage, and a good sauce are probably one of the best combinations for a deliciously quick winter meal.

 

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One thing I do want to mention is that for optimal nutrient absorption, it is an incredibly good idea to soak your beans and grains prior to cooking.

Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain antioxidants called phytic acids (or phytates) which are the plants’ primary form of stored phosphorus. Phytates tends to bind minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron, making them more difficult for us to absorb. Soaking these foods for several hours prior to cooking initiates the sprouting process, which makes many of the minerals more digestible.

There is some debate as to whether we should worry about phytates or bother taking the time to soak our whole grains and nuts, as many experts suggest we simply eat a balanced diet and we’ll get enough of these minerals anyway. However, based on my personal experience as well as many individuals I’ve worked with, those of us that tend to eat primarily vegan or plant-based meals comprised mostly of these phytate-rich plants also show routine need for the very minerals that are bound up by phytates.

This is also one of the reasons why beans cooked from dried are a little more nutritious (not to mention having better flavor and texture) over their speed-cooked canned counterparts. To soak grains like rice, quinoa, and others, simply take the amount you’ll prepare, soak for a few hours, rinse, drain, and then cook as normal in 3/4 the amount of water. So for 1 cup brown rice, cook in 1 1/2 cups water for 40 minutes instead of 2 cups water. I find the texture is improved by this method as well.

 

 

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To make this delicious plate, I made my go-to pot of creamy black beans which makes enough for several meals, soaked and then cooked brown rice, purple cabbage cut into large chunks and steamed for about 10 minutes, and this delicious cilantro green sauce. Enjoy!

Cashew Cilantro Green Sauce
40 g / 2 1/2 Tbs. cashew butter
45 g / 1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and slightly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp. sea salt
90 ml / 6 Tbs. orange juice
1 Tbs. white wine or apple cider vinegar
water to thin, if necessary

  • Combine all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until combined. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve desired consistency, if you find it a little too thick.

 

References:
Frølich, W. (n.d.) Phytate–a natural component in plant food. Whole Grains Council. Retrieved from:  http://wholegrainscouncil.org/files/backup_migrate/PhytateProsCons_0910_DK-WGC.pdf.
Sparvoli, F. and Cominelli, E. (2015). Seed biofortication and phytic acid reduction: A conflict of interest for the plant? Plants. 4 (4): 728-755. doi:  10.3390/plants4040728.
Weil, A. (2010). Are phytates bad or good? Retrieved from: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400758/Are-Phytates-Bad-or-Good.html.

Rosemary-Balsamic Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

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I’ve been a long-time participant in the monthly Recipe Redux challenge, a recipe challenge founded by registered dieticians and focused on making healthy, delicious meals. One of the things I love about the monthly themes is that it challenges me to keep trying new foods or techniques, and to be open-minded when sometimes I want to fall back on the same old thing. In fact, one thing I’ve noticed this winter is that William and I have regularly taken to relying on “oatmeal night” on weeknights when nothing else sounds good and we want a quick and easy comfort meal. We both love oatmeal, me even more than him, and I’d gladly eat it for several meals a day.

But there’s one thing we all need more of in our meal routines, and that’s diversity, because the more different whole foods we eat, the better our gut and overall health tends to be. So I’m glad for the extra push to focus on diversity. This month, our theme also speaks to this idea, with the idea of adding in a new ingredient with the new year.

Since I’m always trying to work on adding whole foods and encouraging others to do so, I focused on seasonally appropriate locally grown Jerusalem Artichokes, which are also known as sunchokes. Even though they’re not entirely new to me, Jerusalem artichokes are just about the only locally grown vegetable I don’t regularly add into my winter routine, for no particular reason. If they’re new to you, they are not artichokes, nor from Jerusalem, and they’re actually from the sunflower family. Many years ago when I was managing school gardens, we grew sunchokes, and the plant was a truly towering, sunflower-esque behemoth. In the late fall, we dug up the tubers, which are quite knobby and look like ginger roots. Texturally, they’re somewhat akin to a waxy potato and jicama, and the flavor is mild and just a touch nutty. I’ve had them before in soups, but thinly sliced and roasted is where their flavor and texture really shines!

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Now, beyond just tracking down a novel vegetable, Jerusalem artichokes have some unique nutritional aspects that make them worth eating more often. That’s because they are particularly rich in inulin, a type of fiber that assists the digestive system, particularly because it feeds the good bacteria in our lower gut. We can think of inulin as fertilizer for the digestive system! In addition to their digestive health benefits, sunchokes also host an impressive amount of iron, calcium, and potassium. For those of us ladies (or men) who are super active and always in need of good sources of iron and calcium, this is a great vegetable to add into the winter rotation!

Here, I’ve sliced the tubers into thin chips and roasted them on low with a little water for 30 minutes, to help make them more digestible. Since they are so high in inulin compared to what most of us regularly ingest, it can initially cause some GI upset, and this method of slower-roasting helps. Then I upped the heat and added rosemary, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar to finish them out and get the right crisp-tender texture. Once they’re done, they are absolutely delicious.

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Rosemary-Balsamic Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Chips, serves about 4
20 oz. Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed clean and thinly sliced
1/2 cup water
a couple good pinches of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp. coconut oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. On a baking sheet lined with parchment, spread out the sliced sunchokes and add the water. Bake for 30 minutes. Then turn up the heat to 425 degrees.
  • Add the salt and pepper, minced rosemary, oil and balsamic. Toss to coat and then bake for another 15-20 minutes, until crispy but still soft. They’ll have some crispy golden edges but still slightly soft centers.
  • Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving.

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