Category Archives: Nutrition + Health

sprouted wild rice + beet salad with muhammara bean puree

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In the moment 

I have a muhammara recipe bookmarked from a favorite cookbook and with a big bowlful of the last of the season’s peppers in varying shades of red, orange, and gold, all streaked through with green, I decide to make up a batch. In the last minute as I’m setting whole peppers in the pan to roast, I remember I have another muhammara recipe from a separate cookbook which I loved the last I made it. I double my peppers on the pan and make them both.

In the food processor, the first batch turns a lovely golden hue, subtly sweet from pomegranate molasses, but a little lemony to my taste. The second, the one I had loved before, is date-sweetened and much too sweet by comparison. The lemon is gone though and the paprika addition nicer.

In a dash of inspiration I decide to combine the two. I can’t stop licking the spoon and it’s not just that I’m performing this endeavor the morning after a marathon-season long run.

Muhammara, if you haven’t tried it, is the most delicious thing you’ll have all season. Traditionally a Syrian roasted pepper, walnut and pomegranate relish/dip for bread or meat, I next whim my way into pureeing half a batch into cooked white beans. When I want beans and rice to go down a treat, I take 30 seconds and puree the former in with a special sauce, and there’s nary a complaint of same old same. This is definitely what happens with the muhammara.

 

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sliding into the intuitive of it.

Next I bloom some wild rice. We’re into sprouting week in my raw foods cooking lab for my nutrition program, and though I’m arguably at the medium-experience level of sprouting as far as the norm of us goes, I’m learning new things. Sprouted wild rice is a dream that opens up into fat, fluffy grains, downright pillowy compared to standard wild rice. The extra few hours of hands-off sprouting makes all their nutrients more usable too, a practice I know I can stand to incorporate as much as possible.

After sprouting, I drain and rinse the rice and pour it back into my steaming pot, adding water afresh and steaming it for a further 40 minutes. It doesn’t need this extra step since we just sprouted, but on this day I’m craving warm and I have a feeling about this. I slide a handful of washed clean beets from the garden into foil and pop them in the oven.

I look in the fridge, grab the quick-pickle jar I emptied of onions but left the vinegar from a week ago, reserved for just such a day. I grab half an onion, slice it thin, and set it in the vinegar to marinate. William texts he’s on his way home. As he walks in the door, I’m later than usual, less rushing him as normal, and more like sliding into the intuitive of this dinner project.

Ten minutes, I say.
I’m sliding the rice off the heat, pulling the beets and slicing thin. Into the wild rice, going crimson by degrees as the steam rises. Cumin, a few sprigs off the cilantro that is almost ready for the compost, the slices of quick-pickled onion drained and spooned in. Salt. A couple dashes pepper. A little more vinegar. More salt, this time reaching into the back of the pantry for that crumpled bag of black-truffle salt, a fortune for such a small homely package. A dash is enough. A taste, and it’s done.


On the plates

A big spoonful of muhammara bean puree, moon-swiped over the half in a chef’s half pirouette and then heaps of the rice spooned atop.

If this is weeknight cooking, it’s the kind we shouldn’t be getting used to. A result of what happens when I’m sliding into the intuitive of the moment, letting my flavor memories and creative tendency take over. In the kitchen and on our plates, the experience is pure magic.

 

 

Sprouted Wild Rice  + Beet Salad
1 cup wild rice
5 beets, tops and bottoms removed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1/2 an onion, quick-pickled
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1/2 tsp. sea salt
black pepper
black-truffle salt (optional but adds subtle depth), to taste

  • To sprout the rice, start early in the day of cooking by measuring out 1 cup of wild rice, rinse well, and then soak in a 1 quart jar with 2 cups water in a warm oven on the lowest setting for about 6 hours. It will be ready when it has bloomed and the grains have become fluffy and open. Then, to cook, rinse and drain again, and bring to a boil in a small pot along with 1 1/2 cups water. Turn down, cover and steam for about 40 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
  • While the rice is cooking, roast the beets by wrapping them in foil, and placing in the oven for about 40 minutes. They will be ready when they can slice through easily with a knife or fork.
  • To prepare the salad, slice the beets thinly and add, along with the quick-pickled onions, cumin, cilantro, and vinegar, salt(s), and pepper to taste.

 

Muhammara, makes about 1 1/2 cups
9 oz. / 250 g roasted red or orange peppers
3/4 cup / 3 oz. / 75 g toasted walnuts
2 garlic cloves
2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
4 tsp. / 20 ml pomegranate molasses
3 Tbs. / 45 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika (smoked or regular)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sea salt

  • In a food processor, puree all the ingredients and then taste, and adjust seasonings. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.

 

Muhammara Bean Puree
half batch Muhammara
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans or 1 can, drained and rinsed

  • To make the puree, leave half the muhammara in the processor, reserving the other half for another use. Add in the white beans and puree until smooth. Spoon into a small dish and heat gently on the stove or in the microwave to serve.
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tempeh tikka masala

 

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Do you remember when I talked about my shame/pride of buying my tofu in bulk or that I was actually in the anti-tofu and soy foods camp for a whole lot of years? Well…let me tell you about the first time I bought tempeh, the fermented soy product that I now love and enjoy often.

At some point in mid-college I purchased a package of this wonky, brown and slightly moldy-looking fermented tempeh at my co-op since it was different and not meat. I was still eating meat regularly then but was also very veg/health foods curious. I took the tempeh home, cut it up and used it in something…and I thought it was gross. I didn’t try it again for a good number of years until after Deborah Madison in The New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone convinced me it was actually quite good for me and not a “fake meat.” And following her cooking suggestions, I tried again and found I enjoyed it a whole lot!

One of the reasons tempeh is good for us is because it is fermented and it helps to inoculate our gut with good microbes. If you haven’t heard me gushing about the microbiome in past posts, well…you probably haven’t also spent an hour or two in my presence because I’m pretty sure the topic makes its way into everyday conversation on the regular. The two big reasons I’m pretty darn fascinated with the topic is that much of our immune system is housed in the gastrointestinal tract, thanks to the plethora of microbes that make their homes there AND about 90 percent of serotonin, one of the feel-good neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood, relaxation, sleep, and even appetite, is also made and housed in the gut. I’ve struggled with immune dysfunction for a number of years, thanks largely to food sensitivities and compromised gut health, and also with anxiety in various forms for much of my life.

This month, The Recipe Redux challenged us to share a recipe that promotes gut health, and good timing too, because cold and flu season is upon us, as are the dark, damp, and cold days of late fall and winter when moods tend to take a nosedive.

 

Before I do, I want to share three important things you can do to enhance your internal microbial community, and thus immune health (and likely mood too!)

The first is eating more fiber. The good bacteria that promote health need fiber, which they digest into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate and propionate. SCFAs are not otherwise available in the diet, and they’re responsible for a whole host of disease preventative effects, one of which is combatting inflammation. The more fiber we consume, the more diverse our microbial life (a good thing), the more short chain fatty acids that are produced, and the more health tends to improve. Fiber in foods comes in the form of fruits and vegetables, whole, unprocessed grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. If you have trouble digesting fiber-rich foods, it likely means you just need a little time to increase them in your diet gradually, as the good bacteria that digest them will grow prolifically if only given their preferred foods, and this can happen in a matter of just a few days!

The second thing to promote gut health, as I hinted above, is to eat more fermented foods like tempeh, miso, sourdough bread, raw sauerkraut and kimchi, and fermented unsweetened yogurt. When we eat fermented foods, we’re introducing the beneficial bacteria instead of feeding the ones already there. Aim for a large variety of fermented foods as this further promotes diversity of bacteria populations and optimal health.

The tempeh that I’m now so fond of is made from organic soybeans that are inoculated with a spore and then fermented. The fermentation process breaks down phytates, which are anti-nutrients and bind minerals and vitamins, so we can digest them. Tempeh is also rich in protein, B vitamins, fiber, phytonutrients, and minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, and copper. What’s more, tempeh doesn’t actually have to be cooked so it makes for a quick addition to meals. What Deborah Madison taught me is that steaming it for about 10 minutes before adding into a dish does make it tastier, as it can sometimes be a little bitter without this extra step. I tend to steam when I have the time and just dice and toss into recipes when I’m ready for food on the quick!

Lastly for optimal gut health, reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates, as they promote the proliferation of bad bacteria. Like a kid on too much Halloween candy, more sugar makes the disease-promoting bacteria really happy and they grow in number and increase inflammation and a whole host of less than ideal health outcomes.

 

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Now, for the recipe! Tikka Masala is actually a British dish that came about when a tomato sauce was combined with Indian-spiced vegetables and meat. It is super popular in Britain and Ireland as simply “Chicken Curry,” and this recipe began a number of years ago as a quick dairy-free chicken curry that William and I loved. Over the years, I dropped the chicken, added tempeh, and made several gentle tweaks, and we now have a gut and immune-friendly tempeh tikka masala that can be adapted depending on the season, and comes together quickly without all the marinating and spice rubs of a traditional tikka. Any type of canned coconut milk can be used here, but the whole fat kind will obviously make for a richer, more-rounded dish, and it’s the type I favor these days.

 

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Tempeh Tikka Masala, serves four
16-oz. tempeh, cut into about 48 pieces
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob of fresh ginger
2-3 cups chopped seasonal vegetables (yellow/orange/red bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, peas, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 medium garden-ripe tomatoes or 14 oz. canned unsalted whole tomatoes
1 cup coconut milk
juice from one lime
cooked brown rice to serve

  • In a small saucepan with steamer basket and 1-2 inches of water in bottom, steam the diced tempeh for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the coconut oil, and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Once the onions have begun to caramelize and turn golden, add the remaining vegetables and cook for an additional 5-8 minutes. Then add the spices and mix in.
  • Give the mixture a minute or two and then add the tomatoes and stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so, and then add the coconut milk, tempeh, and lime juice.
  • Stir everything together, let the flavors meld for an additional 10 minutes or so, taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, and enjoy over steamed rice.

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References:

BMJ. (2015). High dietary fiber intake linked to health promoting short chain fatty acids: Beneficial effects not limited to vegetarian or vegan diets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150929070122.htm.

Cresci, G.A. and Bawden, E. (2015). The gut microbiome: What we do and don’t know. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 30(6), 734-746. doi: 10.1177/0994533615609899.

Rich, P. (2017). Gut science is radically changing what we know of the human body. University Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/gut-research/.


Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans, Tomatoes, Cumin + Kale

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“Rain split the cherries. Cut your harvest check in half.” 


The line, straight from The Farming Game of my youth goes through my mind as I snap a small handful of cherry tomatoes from the vine in-between rain clouds.

I swear half my childhood was spent staying up into the wee hours of the mornings playing that game with siblings and anyone else who could be coerced to “become a real farmer.” If you’ve never heard or played, the game is a lot like Monopoly, only much more realistic and centered around the topic of all things farming. The largest takeaway, I think, is that crop diversification is key to farming/food growing success.

The same can be said in real life.

 

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Last year we were up to our elbows in zucchini, eating lots and lots of noodles. This year, the squash bugs came out in force and that crop was a major loss past early July, five plus cucumber plants never did make it beyond a few inches growth before they struggled, and the collards set to flowering early. William babied his first crop of corn so much I joked he’d get lucky and they’d all have worms. And then the team effort, me picking out the variety, him doing all the subsequent work and babying, me finishing up by harvesting every last ear at the right time and turning it all into tasty meals, worked out. The corn was the biggest success. And I’ve never been too keen on it, particularly.

The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants too, blasted by a lot of summer heat, produced in leaps and bounds to the point that we’re almost out of nightshades, earlier by far than most years, and can I even tell you how glad I’m going to be when we pull all the plants out and I forego most tomatoes until next year?!

I’ve a friend who I told recently that I’m the most unattached and hands-off gardener, to which she replied, oh no, you’re not. But she’s wrong. I mostly don’t care about the bugs, often letting them grow in population a little too much, hence the squash bug outbreak that got past the manageable stage. And the amount we’ve been harvesting would be significantly reduced if it weren’t for William needing to detox from office life every evening through summer with his watering and audiobook situation. I left him happily to it and rejoiced in harvesting, planting, occasionally fertilizing and deadheading flowers. Oh and unemotionally yanking out whole plants and insect-infested sections, because as my mother always says, if a plant dies, just replace it with something else.

That’s pretty much my motto too. Along with crop diversity, so I have the luxury of being completely unattached to any one thing.

 

Anyway, enough chattering on. The rain did split my cherry (tomatoes). And in a couple weeks I’ll wipe out that whole section and plant winter cover crop instead. But for now, we’re enjoying the last of that particular summer treat atop oven-roasted sweet potatoes and black beans in this easy weeknight favorite that can be either fancied up or pared down, depending.

What about you? What have you been enjoying in this transitional seasonal?

 

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans, Tomatoes, Cumin + Kale, serves 4
The Recipe Redux September theme is Sheet Pan Meals, with the idea of throwing ingredients together on a sheet pan or baking dish and roasting for a simple dinner to make busy weeknights manageable. I may have cheated a bit since the only roasting that needs to happen here is the sweet potatoes, but this is one of my favorite simple dinners by far, and in a jif–and perhaps if you’re blessedly fresh out of summer tomatoes–if comes together quick with roasted sweet potatoes, canned black beans, a few handfuls of greens, some salsa and seeds. For a nicer, fancier version, take a few minutes more to slice and dice some peppers and tomatoes with toasted cumin and fresh lime juice and make your black beans from scratch. And perhaps enjoy the last couple weeks or two of warmer weather. Enjoy!

4 small sweet potatoes
2 cups cooked black beans
6-8 cups chopped kale
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 large sweet bell or Italian pepper, diced
small handful cilantro or parsley, minced
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive or avocado oil, divided
2 Tbsp. lime juice, divided
a few pinches sea salt
additional lime wedges
pumpkin, sunflower, or hemp seeds

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, and then gently poke a few holes in their skins. Set on a piece of foil or in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced with a fork or knife.
  • In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant.
  • Slice the tomatoes in half, dice the pepper and parsley, and combine in a small bowl with the toasted cumin and half of the oil and lime juice. Taste and salt as needed.
  • Finely chop the kale and add to another small bowl. With the remaining oil and lime juice, massage the kale gently to soften.
  • To serve, top each sweet potato with heated black beans, the tomato + cumin salad, kale, and seeds.
  • Finish with additional lime juice as desired.

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