Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bringing Back the Squash!


Thanksgiving is upon us! It is a time to be thankful for the wonderful friends and family that surround us, support us, and love us. I am also thankful for an entire week away from my internship duties. Instead I get to spend time with Dane at our beautiful cabin on the Olympic Peninsula, cozying up next to the woodstove with my favorite cup of chai tea.

The peace and quiet, and the constant drizzle of grey, entices me to get creative in my cozy cabin kitchen. Last time I was here, the sun was out, blazing a wonderful 80 degrees, and all my favorite people surrounded me. It was our wedding day, where 150 family and friends celebrated our union, our friendship, and our future together. The energy of that day still brings a smile to my face. How beautiful it was! However, now in the late days of November, I enjoy the quiet hours I have to myself. Just me, my bag of vibrant veggies, and my beautiful cedar kitchen longing for me to get cooking.



Just recently, I was once again reunited with a long lost vegetable, the squash. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have eaten squash of all varieties this last month. And you know what, I am not bored! Squash is so amazing because it comes in all different shapes and sizes, all different flavors and textures, and even a variety of different colors. There are so many ways you can cook squash that honestly, its pretty hard to tire of this abundant fall and winter delicacy. Let me share some fun facts and tips about my favorite squash!

Butternut

Peanut shaped, smooth, and beige in color the butternut is a good choice for recipes calling for a large amount of squash. Their seed cavity is in the small bulb opposite the stem, making the neck a dense portion of flesh. The longer the neck, and the smaller the bulb, the more flesh you get. Most often the rind is peeled, leaving behind only the orange, sweet and slightly nutty flesh, which softens quickly with heat. You will commonly find butternut squash in soups, pies, casseroles, or even as part of a salad.

Cooking Tip: One pound of butternut squash is about 2 cups of peeled and chopped.

Delicata

My all time favorite fall squash! Delicata has an edible rind that makes it super easy to prepare. Its rich and sweet yellow flesh, makes it a great addition to salads, as a side, or pre-baked and stuffed. However, due to its delicate rind, it cannot be held for long storage. Choose those without scratches or blemishes, to reduce spoilage.

Cooking Tip: You can cut them in half, or into rounds, and stuff them with you favorite stuffing as a hearty fall entrée. Their seeds are also delicious when roasted.

Kabocha (Green or Red)

Kabocha can be both dark green with blue-gray striping, or a deep red-orange, and sometimes is mistaken with Red Kuri squash. They tend to be round with a flattened top. With flesh that is smooth, yellow, and sweet, it is very similar in texture and flavor to a sweet potato. It can be tossed in salads or stir-fries, or even used in soups.

Cooking tip: Steaming kabocha slices is a quick way to cook the flesh and makes it easier to scrape the flesh away from the rind.

Spaghetti

Yellow in color, and oblong in shape, spaghetti squash somewhat resembles a football. However, it is most known for its strands of flesh that look and taste similar to spaghetti noodles. This unique trait lends itself perfectly to make grain-free “pasta” tossed in your favorite pesto, tomato, or bolognaise sauce.

Cooking Tip: After baking the squash halves, use a fork to scrape out the spaghetti like flesh strands. Make sure to scrape horizontally to get the longest strands.


Besides being super tasty, squash is also a powerhouse of nutrients filled with high amounts of antioxidants vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. One cup of cooked winter squash contains about 60% of your daily vitamin A, 25% of our daily vitamin C, and 23% of your daily fiber (1)! The fiber helps stabilize your blood sugar, feed your healthy gut bacteria, and increase satiety, while the antioxidants vitamins A and C, help to boost the immune system and relinquish free radicals within our body (2). Squash has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties, including its omega-3 ALA content (1). Although its omega-3 content is not as rich as in walnuts, flax, and salmon, it is still a great low-fat, nutrient rich, alternative to add as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. 

So, if this Thanksgiving you are not stuffing a turkey, or are wanting a delicious hearty vegetarian side, this stuffed delicata recipe can be a great addition to your holiday. I love this recipe because you can prepare it in advance, and reheat in the oven when needed. You can even bring stuffed squash to work and reheat it in the microwave! If you are serving it as a side, cut each delicate squash into thirds, otherwise, ½ squash is considered a single serving. Stuffed squash is great  served alongside a green salad, a cup of soup, or as the highlight to your plant-based Thanksgiving dinner. Even the seeds can be used to top your salad, your morning cereal, or just as a simple snack. No need for Tofurky, the stuffed squash comes to the rescue!


By the way, I have a feature article in the Winter 2014 Chickpea Magazine called "Spiced Drinks for Winter Immunity" which highlights four different vegan winter beverages, including a Thai spiced hot chocolate, to help keep your spirits high. Check it out here, in either a print or digital version.

Stuffed Delicata with Hazelnuts and Chanterelles
Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS

For the Delicata Squash:
2 medium delicate squash
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (or ghee)
4 teaspoons maple syrup, divided
Sea salt

For the Delicata Seeds:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or ghee
¼ teaspoon turmeric (to add a golden color)
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For the Stuffing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or ghee)
¼ lb chanterelle mushrooms***, peeled (or crimini, finely chopped)
½ yellow onion, minced
2 celery stalks, quartered and finely minced
1 ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
1 ½ teaspoon dried sage
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup whole hazelnuts**, roasted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped raisins (dried cranberries, cherries, or currants can be used as well)
2 cups cooked quinoa*
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Squeeze of lemon
Optional: grated asiago/parmesan or crumbled feta.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If cooking the quinoa, set up the quinoa on the stovetop (see below).

Meanwhile halve the two delicata squash and scrape out the seeds with a spoon into a small bowl. With your hands remove large chunks of squash flesh away from the seeds. A little bit of flesh is fine as it give the seeds a nuttier flavor when roasted. Rub each squash half with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, and sea salt. Place the halves into a oven safe dish, face down and bake about 30 minutes or until tender to the touch.

Once the squash are in the oven, toss the seeds with oil, turmeric, sea salt, and pepper. The turmeric gives the seeds a nice yellow color when done. Spread onto a parchment covered baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Save the seeds to toss into a salad, top on yogurt, mix into trail mix, or eat just as is for a snack.

If roasting the hazelnuts, place them into the oven at this point.

As the squash and the seeds are baking, and the nuts are roasting, it is time to start preparing the stuffing. Heat a large pan to medium heat, and add the olive oil. Add the mushrooms, onion, and celery, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the sage and marjoram. Sauté until the onions are glassy, and the mushrooms tender.

Then add the garlic, hazelnuts, and raisins. Sauté an additional 5 minutes, or until raisins are plump and tender. Stir in the quinoa (if you want to add cheese do so at this time). Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat, and stir in the fresh parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into the squash halves and top with a fresh parsley leaf as a garnish.

NOTE: You can put the squash back into the oven for 5-10 minutes to reheat the squash and the mixture if the squash has cooled down OR if you added cheese to the mixture, it will melt a bit more.

*How to Cook Quinoa:
1 cup dry quinoa
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 ¾ cup water

In a medium saucepan add the quinoa, water, and sea salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook about 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat, and allow to rest 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and fluff with fork. Allow to cool until you need to use it for the stuffing.

**How to Roast Hazelnuts:
1/2 cup whole, raw hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and roast for 6-8 minutes, until fragrant. Depending on oven temperature, it make take more or less time.

***How to Peel Chanterelle Mushrooms:

Pull downward starting along the edge of the mushroom top. You will “peel” off strings of mushroom, similar to string cheese.


                                                                                                                                                         
Reference:
1. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Squash
2. Fiedor J, Burda K. Potential Role of Carotenoids as Antioxidants in Human Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2014;6:466-488.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Classy Cranberries and Savory Sweet Potatoes: A perfect holiday duo


I love the holidays. Not just because it is a chance to spend time with friends and family, but also because it is a chance for me to inspire others through food. More often than not, I bring something healthy and creative, containing only fresh whole food ingredients. Usually it stands out, alone and out of place, in the flood of other rich and sweet alternatives. Not surprisingly, it usually is a hit, drawing in curious tasters with the colorful and vivid ingredients screaming “taste me!” Without refined sugars, and refined flours and grains, it may seem hard to compete with the latter. However, the savory and delicious flavors always prove them wrong. Whole foods can taste good!

Not only do whole food ingredients taste delicious, but they also naturally contain less refined sugar, preservatives, or other flavor enhancers, and more nutrients and fiber. For example, you can buy canned cranberry sauce that contains 21g of sugar per ¼ cup serving, or 5 ¼ teaspoons of white sugar! However, it is also easy to create an unhealthy version of cranberry sauce using fresh whole cranberries. For instance when I bought a 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries at the grocery store, the cranberry sauce recipe on the back called for 1- 1 ½ cups of white sugar! I couldn’t believe my eyes! This recipe contains even more sugar than the canned alternative! With so much sugar in typical cranberry sauce, either in the canned form or using the free recipe, of course its going to taste amazing on top of the fatty and salty turkey meat. How could anyone resist the addicting combination of sugar, fat, and salt?


So, why is refined sugar unhealthy? Firstly, it does not contain any vitamins, minerals, or natural enzymes like raw honey or maple syrup. Secondly, and more importantly, large amounts of sugar in the diet may contribute to systemic inflammation, increasing the progression of chronic disease. In addition, refined sugar can also feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut, leading to yeast overgrowth and GI upset. Although most consumers may not be aware of their day-to-day sugar consumption, adult Americans are consuming on average 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. Compare that to the American Heart Association daily recommendations of 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women (1). Even more frustratingly, sugar is often hidden in refined and processed food; for instance pasta sauces and ketchup. No wonder we love to dip our fries in ketchup-it’s the magical sugar, fat and salt combination!

Sadly, during the holidays, sugar consumption increases even more dramatically, due to the constant temptations at every corner, including desserts, sweetened lattes, and other holiday adult beverages. For example, a 12 oz pumpkin spiced latte contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar alone. Now add to that the sugar in your morning pastry, the sugar in your favorite holiday dessert, and the sugar in your alcoholic drink of choice, as well as any additional hidden unknowns. All of a sudden you are probably up to an average of 30-50 teaspoons! Yeaowza!


So, how can you be more conscious and aware of your sugar consumption this holiday?
  •  Start by choosing whole food ingredients in place of processed or canned goods in your holiday recipes. By utilizing fresh cranberries in a recipe you can adjust the amount of sweetener you would like to add, instead of buying canned.
  •  Reduce the sugar amounts in your favorite recipes. Instead of adding in a whole cup, try adding in just ¾ or 2/3 of a cup and see if you notice too much of a difference.
  • Try swapping unrefined sugar with healthier alternatives like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, or sucanat for added vitamins and minerals.
  • Add dried fruit to recipes in place of extra sugar to add sweetness as well as added fiber and nutrients.

Just because you are reducing or omitting refined sugar, doesn’t mean that the food has to taste bad. As you reduce your sugar intake, your taste buds will change, and you will not crave as much sugar in your food. It’s a win, win situation for your health and that of your loved ones!

So in light of the sugar topic, today I am going to share with you a healthy alternative to your traditional, highly sweetened, cranberry sauce. The first difference is that it is raw—allowing all the powerful phytonutrients and enzymes in cranberries, which have been touted with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, to stay intact and work together synergistically. When heated, processed, and mixed with a lot of pro-inflammatory sugar, the health benefits of cranberries decreases (2). Keeping the cranberries raw, allows you to benefit from all their health promoting compounds!


Secondly, I only use maple syrup as a sweetener, and only ¼ cup, reducing the typical sugar amounts by ¾ or more! And thirdly, I add freshly squeezed orange juice, zest, and optional jalapeno to the mix, creating a zesty and bright raw cranberry chutney. The trick to this recipe is time. The longer it marinates in its own juices, the more developed the flavors become. I recommend making this recipe in advance and storing it in your refrigerator at least a day before you using it.

With that I leave you with a delicious and savory salad, topped with a raw cranberry chutney. The roasted sweet potatoes are to die for—mixed together with feta, toasted sesame seeds, a drizzle of raw honey, and chili flakes for extra spice. These usually don’t last long in my household, because I add them into salads, use them as sides, or even eat them alone. They are just that good! And with a dollop of cranberry chutney put on top…..you are in fall harvest heaven!

Raw Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

INGREDIENTS
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 orange, juice and zest
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 pinches sea salt
Optional: 1 deseeded jalapeno, finely minced

DIRECTIONS

Rinse cranberries and strain. Pour onto a clean kitchen towel and pick out any soft cranberries.

Add the fresh cranberries into a food processor. If you want to add any jalapeno, do so now as well. Process until finely minced. Be careful not to process it too much, because then it will become too soggy.

Spoon into a large bowl and mix with orange juice, zest, and maple syrup. Season with a pinch or two of sea salt.

Store in a glass jar for up to one week.

Note: This chutney gets more flavorful with time. Tastes great tossed in salads, in wraps, sandwiches, or along with your Thanksgiving turkey.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey, Feta, and Sesame
Makes about 4 cups

INGREDIENTS
2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 ½ tablespoons hulled sesame seeds
Raw honey
1/3 cup crumbled feta (fresh feta is the best)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced
Pinch of chili flakes
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, chop the sweet potatoes into bite sized pieces, leaving the peel on, and place into a medium bowl. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave until liquid, about 30 seconds, and pour over the sweet potatoes. Toss well, until evenly covered.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and evenly pour out the sweet potatoes onto the sheet, making sure that none are overlapping. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, and return to the oven to bake 3 more minutes.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the sweet potatoes with raw honey, crumbled feta, fresh parsley, chili flakes, and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Mix well and serve warm or cold.

Note: I like to toss mixed greens, or romaine hearts, with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper, a cup of warm roasted sweet potatoes, and a dollop of raw cranberry chutney. Super easy and tasty!

                                                                                                                                                    
Reference: 
1. American Heart Association. Sugar, Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Added-Sugars-Add-to-Your-Risk-of-Dying-from-Heart-Disease_UCM_460319_Article.jsp. Accessed November 9, 2014. 
2. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Cranberries. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145. Accessed November 9, 2014. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

T is for Tempeh


I love quick and easy meals that are healthy, delicious, and versatile. Those are usually the ones that I go back to often, adapting them as the ingredients in my refrigerator change. Especially, as the week comes to a close, my kitchen creativity sometimes dwindles along with it, waiting for that long awaited Saturday morning slumber that rejuvenates my foodie love. With nine solid hours of uninterrupted sleep, and no more steel cut oats left over for quick reheating, I felt inspired and motivated to create one of those true and tried recipes for our Saturday breakfast and share it with you!

Once again, this recipe is an inspiration from our Bali honeymoon. Although the concept is unique, the ingredients in this recipe are common staples found in any plant-based kitchen. And if you do not happen to have every single ingredient, you can easily swap it with something else that is hidden in your veggie bin. Also, this recipe lends itself perfectly as a light lunch or dinner entrée, that can become even heartier if paired with a side of whole-wheat toast or a fruit salad.


Tahu Telur, or translated tofu and eggs, is the common name for this typical Balian dish. The base consists of eggs and tofu, and is topped with fresh veggies, including grated carrots and cabbage, as well as mung beans and chopped peanuts. A light sauce is served alongside, as a dressing for the vegetables. Although my version is similar, there are a few twists that I think make it even better. Let me tell you why.

Just like in the book “Eat Pray Love”, I feel in love in Bali, with tempeh. I have to be honest; at that time I had never cooked tempeh. As a nutritionist and health food blogger, this may seem unheard of. Tempeh was foreign while tofu was and still is a common staple in my kitchen. However in Bali, tempeh was on every menu, as fries, as a side, or as part of an entrée. I had to try it! Within two weeks I was transformed from a tempeh novice to a tempeh advocate. It didn’t even dawn on me until the last few days of our visit, that tempeh originated in Indonesia!


This fermented whole soybean patty may seem foreign to you too, with its unique flavor, texture, and smell. However, when well seasoned and added to flavorful meals, not only does the flavor become enjoyable, but the nutritional benefits far outweigh tofu. Because the whole soybean is utilized, sprouted and fermented, the protein and fiber content, as well as vitamins and minerals, are much higher in tempeh. For example, in a 4oz serving of tempeh, you will find 20g of plant-based protein and 12g of fiber. The fiber will help keep you full longer, bind to toxins for elimination, feed healthy bacteria, and reduce constipation. Whereas the protein increases satiety and offers the building blocks to keep your muscles strong and healthy. A 4 oz serving of extra firm tofu, on the other hand, has about 12g of protein and 1g of fiber. Furthermore, the minerals found in tempeh, such as iron and calcium, are much more bioavailable because the phytic acid content is reduced during the soaking and fermentation process. Why is this important? Phytic acid binds to minerals such as iron and calcium, and instead of absorbing these minerals, you excrete them. But wait there is more! Tempeh also has beneficial active cultures, just like yogurt or kefir, that can help keep your digestive tract healthy by culturing good bacteria in your large intestine. Isn’t tempeh a soybean rockstar?


So are you ready to fall in love with tempeh? Here are some things to keep in mind when buying tempeh:
  • Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated or frozen section.
  • Since soybeans are a GMO crop, choose organic tempeh when possible.
  • You can find a variety of tempeh products, including original and multigrain. 
  • A whitish covering on the tempeh is normal, as are a few black or gray spots.
  • Quality tempeh has a natural aroma that smells earthy and mushroom-like. 

Because I exchanged the tofu with tempeh, my version is called Tempeh Telur, using veggies that I found in my veggie bin, including cherry tomatoes, onions, radish sprouts, and avocado. If I had a cucumber I would have tossed that into the mix as well. And instead of the traditional chopped peanuts, I used chopped macadamia nuts. You can use whatever floats your boat!

Tempeh Telur
Serves 1

INGREDIENTS
1 teaspoon ghee or coconut oil
½ serving of tempeh, cut into small cubes (I used Surata Multi-Grain)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 eggs
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
Splash of soymilk (or regular milk)
¼ cup radish sprouts (can use any type of sprouts)
4 cherry tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon chopped macadamia nuts (or peanuts)
¼ avocado, sliced
Cilantro for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

FOR THE SAUCE:
½ tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
Siracha to taste

DIRECTIONS

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the ghee and the tempeh and sauté for a couple minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the minced onion and sauté until glassy. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh pepper.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl, add the garlic, and the splash of milk. Mix well and season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper.

Pour the egg mixture evenly over the sautéed tempeh and onions. Cook on low until the egg mixture has set, about 5 minutes. Carefully, flip the “egg pancake” over and sauté on the other side for a minute.

Transfer the “egg pancake” to a warmed plate (I do this in the microwave), and top with sprouts, cherry tomatoes, macadamia nuts, avocado, and cilantro. Serve immediately with a side of sauce. Drizzle the sauce over the fresh veggies as needed.

Note: You can easily double this recipe and make two servings at once, you just need two small skillets to cook the “egg pancakes” at the same time. Or you could preheat your oven to low and keep one warm, while you cook the second.

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