Lemon + Sunflower Spring Quinoa

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A few weeks ago when we were in Boston for the marathon and our post-grad school (me) / post-tax season (William) vacation, we stayed in a cozy third-story Airbnb  apartment atop one of those ancient New England houses with narrow stairs and doors that close in every room. It was lovely and reminded me of my parents’ farmhouse before they tore out walls and opened up the space, but kept the narrow stairs.

The apartment had a tiny kitchen filled with old antique cabinets and a cozy eating nook luckily with skylight to let in more of the morning sun. What I loved about it — and every time we stay in a ‘cozy’ Airbnb actually, is that it reminds me of my time living in Ireland, cooking with whatever slim equipment is on hand, and creating simple meals with minimal ingredients. I’m often asked to share just these types of recipes. Admittedly, at home I prefer to plan meals a little more like a chef with a list of five or so meal ideas at the beginning of the week, and then I make one or two ‘parts’ of more complicated meals each day, often rolling over one component such as a sauce into another day and different meal. This isn’t the usual process for most people, I understand, but being in the kitchen is a major therapeutic relief and creativity space for me.

 

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When traveling, I usually switch up my routine to make the simplest of meals, only planning one meal ahead the night before a major race, and leaving it up to whatever we feel like in the following days. Because of my food and digestion sensitivities, I’m a stickler about making my own meal before races, but then am often a bit more lenient afterwards. When we were in Boston, we ate out about half or a third of the time thanks to ending up in a really great section of the city for delicious and allergen-friendly food. The rest of the time, I improvised with a few of the ingredients I’d stuffed in my suitcase, my tiny Ireland-era traveling spice and seasoning case, and a stop at the grocery for some fresh produce. On our last night there, I ended up with a version of this spring quinoa combination and I immediately knew I had to recapture and finesse it for all y’all that prefer some simple weeknight inspirations!

 

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At home, I added a couple fresh additions I didn’t have on the road like fresh mint and miso paste. I’ve kept them in the finished recipe because if you don’t already keep miso on hand to add umami flavor and depth to sauces, you definitely should try it. And fresh mint, though not always available without a garden, is a flavorful and helpful-for-digestion addition that can be added or not.

 

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Lemon + Sunflower Spring Quinoa, makes main-dish servings for 4 to 5
1 cup dry quinoa, cooked ahead
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans or 1 can
1 small bunch broccoli, chopped semi-small
a couple large handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch radishes with greens, washed well and sliced thin
1 cup peas
salt and pepper as needed
fresh mint, minced

Lemon + Sunflower Dressing
1/4 cup sunflower butter
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1  tsp. honey or maple syrup (optional)
1 Tbs. light miso (I use chickpea miso)

  • Cook the quinoa and chickpeas ahead. Or use one can of drained chickpeas.
  • After all the vegetables are sliced, combine them in a large skillet with a little water to steam-fry. I like to add the broccoli first, cover for a few minutes, and then add the rest in stages with the mushrooms, radishes, and lastly the peas. Once they’re cooked through but not soggy-soft, add in the quinoa and beans, stir and heat just until it’s all warm. Season with salt and pepper to taste at this point.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, combine the dressing ingredients in a small dish and whisk with a fork or spoon until they come together well. Add a splash or two of water if needed to thin it up. The consistency should be spoon-able but not runny.
  • Pour the dressing over the quinoa and vegetables, mix it all together, and then sprinkle the mint leaves atop and serve.
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Fig + Olive Pâté with Seedy Snack Crackers

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Like most people, I tend to fall into the same routine when it comes to my daily snacks. My usual is to cycle through variations of dried fruit and nut or seed bars, which I make in batches every couple weeks and then grab and go mid-morning as needed. For later in the day or when I need hefty snacks, I often throw a big bunch of ‘functional foods’ in the blender and make a smoothie bowl that is mostly tasty, but more importantly packs a good nutritional punch to make sure I’m getting in what I need during training cycles.

The Recipe Redux challenged us to share healthy bites and bars this month and it ended up being the perfect incentive to put a new spin on my snacking go-tos, as well as finally experiment with a flavor and ingredient combination I’ve had in the back of my mind for months. The result is this absolutely delicious pâté.  It wasn’t exactly what I was after when I began, but that’s the beauty of the creative process. Sometimes getting out of our own way and letting the result happen leads to something even better than we’d imagined.

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Beyond the flavor, I’m really excited about the ingredients I’ve used here, how they work together, and the sprinkles of good nutrition they’ve got going on. Part of this is because I’ve added anchovies, and here’s why:

For almost a decade, my doctor has had me taking daily fish or cod liver oil for its high omega-3 content. Now that I’ve gone to nutrition school and read the research, I find there’s evidence that suggests taking fish oil supplements or eating fatty fish can help just about any illness condition or improve general health. The reason is because in our modern society we simply don’t get enough of the type of essential fatty acids called omega-3s–or more accurately, we eat too many of the other types, including the also essential omega-6s as well as saturated and trans fatty acids.

But on my journey towards nutrition school over the years, I started out with environmental sustainability in mind and our oceans’ health has long been one of my concerns. I’ve experimented a lot and continue to eat all the vegan sources of omega 3’s, but they involve a more complicated metabolic conversion and thus (for me as well as many others) are less hefty in their benefits. This has led me right back to taking my fish oil supplements even as I’ve questioned whether they’re contaminated with heavy metals, been oxidized during processing, or are simply unsustainable given the current state of global fisheries. This is definitely the case of the more you know the more complicated the scenario…

Over the winter months, I finally read The Omega Principle, which was less about the nutritional benefits of consuming fatty fish and more about every other aspect of the sustainability in doing so. If this is a topic you too are interested in, I highly suggest reading it.

Beyond all my chatter about the above, anchovies are one of the most nutritious and sustainable fishes we can eat. There is a subtle but definite umami thread to this pâté due to a small amount of anchovy paste, as well as a good base of hemp seeds which provide a balanced ratio of essential fatty acids from plant sources. Pureed together with sweet figs, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and a pinch of thyme and rosemary, and you’ll be wanting to snack on this sort of easy but fancy tasting treat all the time. I know I will!

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Fig + Olive Pâté, makes 4 small or 8 more substantial servings
Recipes notes: In my quest to make a savory snack bar, I added some cooked millet to thicken the mixture. The result was this thick pâté and not a bar at all. Beyond millet, you can add another leftover cooked grain like rice or quinoa, or leave it out if you don’t mind a looser more tapenade-like consistency. 

1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted
3/4 cup dried figs, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs. anchovy paste
6 Tbs. hemp seeds
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely minced
1/3 cup cooked millet (optional, see notes)

  • In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and puree until they come to a thick paste that is almost but not completely homogenous.
  • Serve with crackers or sliced vegetables.

 

Seedy Snack Crackers, makes about 12 crackers
If you’re going to eat crackers, skip the boxed versions and make these instead. They are super simple, highly adaptable, and free from questionable oils. Plus they’ve passed the flavor test–they’re quite popular and quickly gobbled at parties! Double or quadruple the batch if you’re likely to share with others or snack on for several days.

2 Tbs. sesame seeds
2 Tbs. walnuts, chopped
2 Tbs. hemp seeds
4 tsp. ground flax seeds
1/4 cup amaranth flour (or other whole grain flour)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. honey
1/3 cup water

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and combine until you’ve got a loose batter. Add more water if it’s not loose enough.
  • Line a small baking sheet with parchment, and then spread the seed mixture as thinly as possible.
  • Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently cut into 12 pieces without separating them. Return to the oven and bake for 30 additional minutes or longer until they are crunchy and completely dry. They should no longer have a supple doughy feel to them.
  • Remove from the oven, cool completely, and then break into pieces.

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Banana Hazelnut Granola, and the Athlete’s Guide to Sugar

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Just about every week I read a new article about the latest thing we should be eating, buying or doing for our health. Translated into actually eating food, one thing I’ve noticed is that for many people who tend to eat healthfully and particularly those that choose foods for athletes, there tends to be a lot of snacking throughout the day on products that aren’t terribly different than eating dessert…like granola.

Granola in and of itself is not necessarily an unhealthy food. In fact, we could do far worse than add it into our daily and weekly routines. If you’ve been around this blog long you’ll see I love granola and would choose it as dessert over many other options. But–depending on the type of granola you buy or make, there tends to be a lot of inflammation-promoting added sugar and refined oils. These are foods that aren’t doing us any good no matter how active we are, especially if they’re being eaten daily and make up as much as a quarter of our intake, as snacks or breakfast often do.

And if you have an autoimmune condition like celiac disease, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ulcerative colitis or others, added sugar and refined oils can do extra damage.

Today I’ll focus on sugar specifically. (Read more here for my take on healthful oils.) As most of us know, sugar is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies need as energy, though there are substantial differences in quality depending on the type. Sugars are naturally present in many whole foods including fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. In whole foods, the sugars are balanced by the other nutrients. Refined sugars like plain old white or brown sugar, corn syrup, or organic cane sugar, have been processed so they are free of most nutrients and without their naturally containing minerals, they pass quickly into the bloodstream and create an imbalance in the body. They then weaken the digestive system and force the body to use minerals contained in our bones, blood, and other tissues to attempt to rebalance itself (1).

 

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What about sugar cravings?

If you crave sweet foods, take a look at your entire diet and compare the quantity of sweet foods versus meat, salt, and dairy products that are being eaten. Sugar cravings might occur because the diet and body is out of balance by eating too many meat, salt, and dairy-containing foods. Thus, the body is subsequently craving expansive foods like sugar and ice cream to balance itself (2). Alternatively, you can also crave sugar because there is not enough protein compared to the amount of sugar consumed (1), or because you have a larger population of so-called “bad” gut microbes, and less of the good species, causing dysbiosis and cravings for the sugars that the bad microbes love to eat. Lastly, high stress or fatigue can lead to us grabbing for sugary feel-good foods for a quick dopamine rush, which is followed by a sugar crash a short while later.

Ultimately, no matter what your lifestyle or activity level, it’s usually more health-promoting to consume less sugars of all types and more whole foods that are naturally sweet. Look to use the types of sugar that are the least sweet and most whole-food based as possible. These include dates, honey, pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, blackstrap molasses (actually a by-product of sugar refining but it contains lots of minerals), and fruit–like bananas or apples.

For some people with excessive sugar cravings, it’s best to cut it out completely and repopulate the gut with beneficial species for a while, but for most of us, a gradual reduction of sugar is more sustainable. This might mean switching both the type and quantity of sugar in baking and cooking over time, like starting with using 75% of what’s called for in a recipe.

Over time, you will desire sugar less and in smaller amounts. And things that you once thought were deliciously sweet are now just–sickly sweet.

 

Now, how about a granola recipe that tastes like banana bread and is heavy on the whole-food sugars? This is my current favorite when I’m really feeling like I need some delicious granola to snack on or have as an after-dinner treat.

 

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Banana Hazelnut Granola
The addition of chickpea flour might seem a touch odd, but it makes this granola extra chunky. If you don’t care for clusters, go ahead and leave it out. Additionally, any flour will do but the choice of chickpea provides just a bit of extra protein to the mix. Likewise, using three cups of oats instead of half oats and half cereal is a great idea too.

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups puffed or crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3 Tbs. chickpea flour
2 medium bananas, mashed
3 Tbs. hazelnut butter
3 Tbs. pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Combine the oats, cereal, hazelnuts, seeds, salt, spices and chickpea flour in a large bowl, and then set aside.
  • In a smaller bowl, mash the bananas and stir in the hazelnut butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Then pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir until thoroughly combined.
  • Spread the granola out onto a large baking sheet and pat down firmly so the granola will be extra chunky. Bake for 35-40 minutes rotating the sheet approximately halfway through.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the granola to cool completely on the baking sheet before removing to a storage container or to eat.

References:
1: Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern medicine. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
2: Colbin, A. (1986). Food and healing. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.