Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Extraordinary baked summer vegetables

This past week I've been struggling to balance work, cooking... and moving! My kitchen is by far the busiest area of the house, and the most cumbersome to pack. It hasn't been a smooth process. With just work and cooking, I already have my plate full. The commitment to cook everything at home is not one that's easy to keep faithful to. But the essential for me is to not allow myself to become lazy. "Let's just order in" is not in my vocabulary. Whatever I prepare, however simple or elaborate, will be tastier and more nutritious than any ready-made food I could buy. That I know.

So here are some things I've whipped up hurriedly these past few days.

Stuffed peppers! I remember having this meal a lot when I was growing up, and I remember hating it with a passion. This recipe by Kim Snyder, on the other hand, is vegan and actually not bad. The stuffing is made of broccoli, quinoa, carrots, kale and basil. I am trying to find a way to introduce raw goat's milk cheese in here without breaking Kim's protein+starch rule. Just a note about this: for leftovers, make sure to heat these up before enjoying. I tried to eat one cold and it was quite the disappointment :(

I love fruit. If I could eat nothing but colorful fruits all the time I'd be so happy. The summer is great because we can buy lots of local and fresh fruit so inexpensively. So stock up for the winter! In this bowl, some of my favorites: strawberries, apricots (always organic) and kiwi.

This week's recipe turned out so delicious that I had to share it. It was serendipitous, I think, that the spices turned out just right. The mixture has dazzling tamari and rosemary flavors that you don't expect from a bunch of cooked vegetables. For sure, this is the tastiest thing I've made this month.

Extraordinary baked summer vegetables
~ serves 6

4 zucchini, chopped
10 oz asparagus (about 14 spears), chopped
2 large yams, finely chopped
16 oz mushrooms, sliced
8 oz (1/2 package) frozen edamame
8 oz (1/2 package) frozen pearl onions

1 Tbsp dry rosemary
2 tsp dry dill
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup tamari
7 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Mix all the chopped vegetables in a large bowl. Add the spices and mix well to coat. This will make a substantial amount of vegetables, so you will probably need two dishes for baking. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, cover the baking dishes (with aluminum foil if you have no lid) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake uncovered for 15 more minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Serve with a side of brown rice or whole wheat couscous.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Home-made iced ginger tea for scorching summers

Ginger, if you see it in the store, looks quite ugly. It looks like a tiny, sallow, unattached hand. But it also has to be the most deceitful spice ever. Once you peel it, ginger has a charming flavor, like flowers and scrubbed clean cotton. There's no end to how many purposes you can find for ginger in the kitchen. I've become addicted to cooking with it, not just in curries but also in adaptations of Romanian and New Mexican foods.

Nutritionally, ginger has very powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic (painkiller) properties. Since ancient times, it has been used in many cultures to alleviate heartburn and also menstrual cramps (bet you didn't know that!). Ginger tea is not only tasty and refreshing, it also helps digestion, so it's good to have any time of day.

This ginger tea recipe is the result of much trial and error. It's sweetened with Stevia, which is a natural sweetener and has zero effect on our blood sugar level. Let this be one drink in your life that you don't add sugar to. 

Iced Ginger Tea with Stevia
~ makes 1/2 gallon (64 oz)

1 3-inch piece ginger root
8 cups (64 oz) filtered water
juice of 1/2 lemon (2-3 Tbsp)
4 caffeine-free tea bags (Oolong tea works great, I personally like the Triple Leaf Tea brand)
5 drops Stevia or another natural sweetener

Peel the ginger root with a teaspoon. Wash it well and cut it into small pieces. Set the water and ginger root in a stainless steel pot on medium heat. Stainless steel works well because it does not react with the ginger. Try to catch it right before it boils and take it off the heat. The ginger will be stronger in the tea if you don't boil it. 

Set the teabags in a heatproof glass bowl and pour the hot water and ginger over them. Cover and steep the teabags for 10 minutes and then remove them. Cover again and let the ginger steep for another 1 1/2 hours. After that, sweeten with 5 drops of Stevia extract or the sweetener of your choice. Add the lemon juice and stir. We add the lemon after the tea's cooled down so as not to kill the lemon's valuable enzymes. Pour into a pitcher through a strainer and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Simple curry with red lentils

I don't know much about Indian food. My first encounter with the notion was at an Indian restaurant in Macon, where after perusing the menu with much dissimulated understanding, I confidently ordered "Tandoori chicken," mostly because it was the only item that I could both pronounce and somewhat guess what it was. The aromas, though, have always mesmerized me. Whenever I'd sit close to my Nepalese friends in college, I could smell all these dazzling fragrances in their hair, on their hands, and I'd wonder what it was. A perfume? Incense? It was maddening.

Since I've had my own place and a kitchen that allows much experimentation, I've taken a special liking to creating curries. I not only like their flavor, but I also digest them well and I don't feel drained of energy after a meal. Indian and Thai curries are my absolute favorites. I especially like the way the house smells afterwards, once the potent fragrances have settled. It smells... mystical.

For longer than I'm willing to admit, I thought that turmeric was an insipid spice, only good to color your food yellow and permanently stain all your cookware. But since I've become more versed in making curries, I also learned that turmeric has many health benefits, as well as a very enjoyable flavor of its own. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which makes it especially effective in alleviating joint pain. In fact, turmeric has one the highest anti-inflammatory factor of all spices (1523 per 1 Tbsp), followed closely by ginger (1447 per 1 Tbsp). This makes it especially interesting for those on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.

This week's recipe is featured in The Food Matters Cookbook, adapted by Joanne and spiced up by Kate with extra lentils and coconut milk. I love lentils and I happened to have some in my pantry, so I followed Kate's suggestion, only instead of black lentils I used red. This curry was marvelous. I could have this for lunch every day and not get bored. Here are the main items you'll need - nothing fancy:

And don't forget the lentils! While virtually fat-free, lentils are full of fiber and protein and are also a good source of iron. Half a cup of cooked lentils gives you 9 grams of protein for less than a gram of fat. And if you're counting, that amounts to a meager 99 calories. How about that?

Simple Curry with Red Lentils
~ serves 6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ginger root, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp brown sugar
5 small potatoes (or 2 large), peeled and chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red lentils
1 small cauliflower, cored and chopped
fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  When it's hot, add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno pepper. Cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the curry powder, cumin and sugar. Cook and stir continuously for about a minute.

Add the potatoes and carrot and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for a minute or two.  Add the broth, 1/2 of the coconut milk and tomatoes with their liquid. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils and lower the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cook, stirring every so often, until the potatoes and carrots are soft - about 20 minutes.

Add the cauliflower. Cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more. At the end, add the remaining coconut milk. Serve next to brown rice, brown rice curly pasta or couscous and don't forget to sprinkle some cilantro or parsley on top.

Original recipe by Mark Bittman, adapted by Joanne from Eats Well With Others, and perfected by Kate from Cookie and Kate.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pango Smoothie demonstrates: sugar is evil, but not indispensable

I've been dragging myself this week through a lethargy borne of changes. Since I got a respectable job and am no longer making my own schedule, my eating routine has been completely thrown for a loop. Tuesday I even had a bacon burrito from Golden Pride, of frustration, even though with every bite I mentally whipped myself for straying so egregiously from the Beauty Detox way. I know, very bad. So now again I must pause and reconsider. What are my priorities? How much time can I devote to cooking? What do I really want entering my stomach?

I've developed a special preference for fruit in smoothies as part of my project to manage my time more effectively. After creating a spreadsheet of the activities that make up my day, I've concluded that a significant portion of my day is spent chewing. True story. Chewing a large salad takes approximately 18.4 minutes, while chewing a large bowl of fruit takes up to 16.8 minutes. Not to mention lunch, that is where the real bottleneck is! The Glowing Green Smoothie, on the other hand, takes 2.9 minutes to ingest, and that's if it's half-frozen.

So I've decided to allow myself to regress digestively and eat most of my food mashed, in baby-food form. This not only saves time, but also makes for delicious meals, as you will soon see. When you eat blended foods, you've already partially broken down the food, so your stomach has to put less effort into processing it, which means energy saved to be used by your body in some other way. According to Kim's book, our bodies can use up to 80% of our whole supply of energy for digestion. Isn't that crazy? No wonder most of us crave for a nap after lunch. 

There's only so far that this blendophilia can reach. I'm not going to go and blend bread or meat or some insane thing like that, although if I do ever decide to make the steak milkshake I've heard about I'll let you know. There are foods that don't lend themselves to blending, and we wouldn't want them to either. I love the texture of halva, for instance. I would never blend that. But fruit - anytime. And because I've lived in Georgia, and I often get hopelessly nostalgic after the sweet, juicy Georgia peaches, this is my favorite breakfast snack at the moment.

Pango Smoothie
~ serves 1

1 organic ripe peach, halved and cored
3/4 cup mango chunks (frozen) or flesh from 1/2 large mango
2 dates or 1 Tbsp coconut nectar or honey
1 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup water

Blend everything with a hand blender, regular blender or a Vitamix for about 1 minute.

Recipe adapted from Whole Foods Recipes from Vitamix.

Note: If you manage to make this smoothie even more heavenly, tell me how!