Moroccan Potato + Summer Vegetable Tagine: Performance Meal Planning with Potatoes

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By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Potatoes USA and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

In one of my first nutrition classes, we read the book Nourishing Wisdom and I distinctly recall a section about the flavor of place, and how the author found himself loving and craving pizza when living in New York, avocados when in San Diego, and Gravenstein apples when in Sebastopol, California, a place where they’re particularly grown. When I read that section of the book, it took me back to fall term of my senior year as an undergraduate. I lived in Ireland that semester and for the first time in my life, could gladly eat potatoes every single day. My favorite was to buy the smaller baby potatoes, slide a few into a pot of cold water on the stove, bring to a boil and cook until soft, and then serve plain as a side with no additional flavorings except a little heavy-on-the-vinegar Irish ketchup and a dash of salt. It was heaven.

And then I returned home and my affinity for potatoes dropped away just as quickly, even though I grew up eating them a whole bunch.

I haven’t craved a single potato-based meal since living in Ireland. Enjoyed, yes. But never craved in that same way.

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Which is really too bad because my local farmers grow some particularly lovely and flavorful potatoes, baby size and all.

I’ve an intention to focus more on making the main components of my meals from local ingredients for the next couple months, and that means exploring some great foods I don’t always rely on. While at my local farm the other day, I noticed all the different potato varieties lining a whole section of the stand and I quickly grabbed up several handfuls of each, envisioning all the different ways I’d like to enjoy them. While simple can often be best, I decided to center them in a savory sweet Moroccan Tagine. If you’ve never tried a tagine, I think this version is the Northern African equivalent to the very-Irish Potato Stew I grew up on.

So completely different, but also so similar.

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And while still on the topic of flavors of place, there’s actually a good reason why we crave foods grown in our regions, those in season, or what is super super fresh. They’re the foods that are often packed full of all the nutrients!

This is particularly important for us athletes who are trying to maximize our nutrient intake, pack in some quality meals to enhance recovery, and eat for flavor, texture, and enjoyment. For me anyway, even several years beyond the Ireland potato phase, this meal hits all those spots.

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While I don’t generally go into nutrients and calories and nutritionism in detail in this space, I recognize that some of you actually do want this information, and to be honest, I live in this world for at least half my time right now so I do understand.

And to be clear, I also once thought potatoes weren’t a very nutritionally sound food choice but that’s generally only true if they’re eaten without their skin, are fried in rancid oil or processed beyond recognition.

For athletes especially, potatoes provide a good source of carbohydrates and potassium, as well as several trace minerals, and if super colorful like the one below, phytonutrients needed to perform at one’s best. A medium potato with the skin provides just 110 calories and a good hit of the daily value of vitamin C, which is an antioxidant needed for optimal athletic recovery. They also provide more potassium than a medium banana, which aids in muscle, cardiovascular and nervous system function. And nearly all of us–athletes or non-athletes–fail to get enough of this essential electrolyte!

Lastly, potatoes provide as much — if not more — of several essential vitamins and minerals found in spaghetti, brown rice or whole wheat bread, making them a smart addition to the other favorite performance foods. This is especially true because the more diversity in our whole-food choices, the happier our gut microbes–and thus health! And even more important for athletes who stress the GI to the max in all our fun but grueling endurance pursuits.

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1 Nutritional data is based on a 5.2 ounce skin-on potato.
2 Gelibter, A., et al. Satiety following intake of potatoes and other carbohydrate test meals. Ann Nutr Metab. 2013;62:37-43.

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Moroccan Potato + Summer Vegetable Tagine, 
serves 3-4
– Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend, somewhat similar to a garam masala. The name actually means “Top of the Shop” and each spice house will usually have their own blend which features their best spices. I made my own (see below), but there are several good ones available to purchase, or improvise with a garam masala knowing it won’t provide quite the same flavor profile.
-Other than the potatoes, any summer vegetables will work in this and I encourage you to use what is fresh and available near you!

2 Tbs. coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1 Tbs. ras el hanout
1 tsp. sea salt
1 lb. small potatoes, sliced 3/4-in thick
1/2 lb. yellow summer squash, diced
small bunch / 4 oz. broccoli, chopped
3 cups water
small handful / 4 oz. green beans, ends trimmed and diced
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
4 dried plums or dates, diced
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon, to taste
cooked quinoa, optional

  • In a large pot or dutch oven, warm the oil over medium heat and add the garlic and onion. Cook until the onions begin to soften.
  • Then add the ras el hanout spice, salt, potatoes, summer squash and broccoli. Stir to coat, and then add enough water to barely cover most of the vegetables. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • About 10 minutes before the potatoes are done, stir in the green beans, garbanzo beans, and dried plums.
  • As the vegetables are done, add in the lemon juice to balance the flavors and then taste and adjust seasonings.
  • Serve it as is, or alongside some quinoa.

 

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Ras el Hanout seasoning
Blend this up by weight or by teaspoons.

4 parts cumin
4 parts ginger
4 parts turmeric
3 parts black pepper
2 parts coriander
2 parts cinnamon
2 parts cayenne
1 part cloves
1 part allspice
1 part cardamom
1 part rose petal powder

 

Nutrition Information // Based on 1/3 of recipe served without quinoa
Calories 475 | Fat 12.8 g | Cholesterol 0 mg | Sodium 830 mg | Total Carbohydrates 79 g | Fiber 16 g | Sugar 18 g | Added Sugar 0 g | Potassium 1563 mg / 33% DV | Protein 17g | Vitamin C 93 mg

 

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Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowls

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I have a big race planned for the morning of the 4th and am now in full on taper mode for the next few days. As anyone who has raced the marathon distance or longer knows, the taper period can be full of anxiety, pre-race nerves, last minute poor decisions, and all around stir-crazy-ness. This time around I haven’t had a big taper due to some training adjustments a few weeks back. It has also become my norm now to fit in my summer classes around the rest of my life so a lot of my otherwise “free” mornings, early evenings, and weekends are spent with my head in a gazillion research papers or on clinical nutrition cases. So all in all, I can’t complain about the current taper.

Even so, as is maybe obvious, I’m definitely prone to anxiety as my emotional go-to, and as the day grows nearer, I’m starting to have a little of that prickly circular overthinking creep in.

 

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At this point in my nutrition program, I’m close to being done on paper, but I’ve returned to taking minimal classes each term to retain some semblance of work-school-life balance so it will still be another year or so to finish. The classes I do have left are also the most intensive because we’re starting to pull all the pieces together and use them in clinical work. Lately, we’re focusing on nutrition for mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and I was glad to see some good solid research supporting the use of lavender for anxiety symptoms.

 

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I created a lavender tincture for one of my herbal classes last year for this very reason and on certain days, nothing is so wonderful as opening the top just to let it’s floral aroma infuse into and calm my system. I also created a tincture formula that uses lavender for just this calming and grounding purpose, and there’s one more left in my online shop, if you’ve the mind.

Lavender, in addition to its ability to relieve nervous tension and anxiety, also helps with cognitive function and exhaustion. Its essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely. The recipe below is one of my favorites for a mid-afternoon snack and it ups those anti-inflammatory abilities by packing in lots of blueberries, greens, and healthy nuts and seeds. The lavender really rounds out all the flavors and adds that calming touch.

 

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Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowl, makes 1
– Add culinary-grade lavender flowers or if available, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. lavender extract/tincture.
– I’ve experimented with lots of plant-based protein powders and currently enjoy PlantFusion brand for its easy digestibility and fermented ingredients. Vega Sport and Garden of Life Sport are also good.
– If you make smoothies or smoothie bowls on the regular, keep in mind it’s wise to change up your choice of greens on the regular to get in all the good nutrients each type has to offer. 

1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup spinach or kale
20 grams/ half scoop vanilla plant-based protein, optional
3/4 – 1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
2 tsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. almond or sunflower butter
1/3 cup almond milk, or as needed to reach desired consistency
1 – 1 1/2 tsp. adaptogen powder of choice, optional

  • Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional liquid to reach your desired consistency. I prefer mine spoon-able.

Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal

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Happy Easter Friends!

Today I have a recipe I’ve been making on repeat for the last couple months, and one I’ve been meaning to share for weeks. But in truth, I’ve been busy. And stressed.

In what I knew would be a packed late-winter season, my class schedule was on overload for what ended up being six weeks. When I signed up for them, I thought it would be three to four, and knew I could get through for one jam-packed month. But then a job opportunity landed that I decided to take, my running coach decided I could handle more miles (and thus time), and one of those classes was taught by a professor that was amazing, but intense. Even for grad school.

So in light of all the action happening at once, I took a class extension. I dropped creative projects and unproductive activities like social media, I spent all my waking hours working or running save a precious few in the early mornings and evenings, and I just got through.

I’m still recovering, trying to prioritize down time, read some good books, bake (currently experimenting with gluten-free/vegan hot cross buns!!), and run with joy and gratitude. And also, feed myself well.

And while it’s spring break for many, I’ve a couple more weeks before I get there.

 

So today, let’s talk a little more about stress, overwork, and the nutrients that are necessary always, but even more so when we’re trying to bulldoze forward at full speed. The first are the entire friendly group of B Vitamins. 

The essential B vitamins are necessary in every step along the pathway of converting food into energy. When the body undergoes any kind of stress, whether it is physical or emotional, and feels depleted, the B vitamins are likely needed to restore balance and energy. In addition to converting food into energy and helping to cope with stress, many of the B vitamins can also help alleviate symptoms of insomnia, nervousness, PMS, and mood swings.

Each of the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and their friend Choline) have their own specific roles, but they function quite well as a group. They are found abundantly in whole foods, particularly in whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fruits, and vegetables–except for B12 and Choline, which each deserve their own discussion another day. In order to incorporate the spectrum of all of these essential nutrients into your diet, it is important to eat a wide variety of fresh, colorful, whole foods.

Most of us are actually getting sub-optimal levels of these nutrients, especially when we are overworked and very active.

 

Next up in importance in times of stress is Magnesium

Magnesium is a key player in over 300 biochemical reactions and is essential for creating and maintaining healthy bones, energy production, nervous system balance, and blood sugar control. And it is anti-inflammatory. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis as well as the synthesis of glutathione, which is a powerhouse antioxidant that combats free radicals and cellular damage.

Like the B-vitamins, Magnesium is often lacking in the modern diet, our needs are more when we are stressed either physically or mentally, and it’s abundant in whole foods like leafy greens, beans, nuts, and seeds, and whole grains.

 

Finally, when we are overworked, our immune system takes a hit, and it’s during these times that we often fall victim to colds and flus. While winter flu season theoretically should be winding down, the mega virus(s) that’s been hitting hard these past few months is still going strong. Enter my favorite immune booster, elderberries.

Elderberries have strong antiviral properties and have been shown to shorten the duration of cold and flu outbreaks in research. They also have a very long history of use in traditional medicine. Made into a delicious syrup and combined with anti-inflammatory ginger (which I’m now making and selling in my shop), a daily small dose during times of increased stress gives a good immune boost*. I’ve been taking it all winter and especially these last few weeks, and even with exposure to a whole lot of sick kids, have been staying healthy.

 

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Sweet Beet + Elderberry Oatmeal, serves 1-2
Due to all the aforementioned whole foods I’ve packed into this delicious breakfast bowl including oats, beets, flax seeds, sunflower seed butter, as well as a little drizzle of elderberry syrup, this makes for a really nice start to the day. It’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately, and definitely feels like a meal that brings to life the meaning of self-care and stress reduction. For busy mornings, I like to prep all the ingredients, save the oatmeal and toppings in a saucepan the night before, and then store it in the fridge. In the morning, bring the pan to a boil, add the oats, cook until done, and then add toppings and serve. 

1 1/2 cups water
1 medium-ish beet, finely grated
3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbs. raisins
1/2 Tbs. sunflower butter
1 tsp. elderberry syrup
a dash of cinnamon, optional
1 tsp. ground flax seed, optional
additional sunflower seeds to top

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the finely grated beet, salt, raisins, and oatmeal. Turn down to medium-low and cook until soft and to desired consistency, about 8-10 minutes. You might need to add more water, as needed.
  • Then stir through the sunflower butter, remove from heat, and add the syrup and any additional desired toppings. Enjoy, ideally in a non-distracted setting for the ultimate self-care.

 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product does not intend to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.