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The Truth About Carbs (feat. an epic Chickpea Bulgur Salad)

26 Sep

In some circles, carbs have a really bad rap. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me they’ve cut out “all carbs” from their diet for weight loss (only to then learn that they’re still eating fruit, vegetables and dairy. NEWS ALERT: those foods contain carbs, too).

Let’s investigate some of the arguments against carbs that I’ve heard.

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“Carbs will make me gain weight” or “I lost 10 pounds in one week when I cut starch from my diet.” Sorry honey, that weight you lost was all water. Study after study has shown that weight loss is equivalent in subjects following a low-fat diet vs. a low carb-diet vs. a high protein diet, assuming the same number of calories are consumed. Carbohydrate contains 4 calories per gram, which is the same as protein and significantly less than fat which clocks in at 9 calories per gram. A balance of all three makes up a healthy diet— more precisely, 10-35% of your calories should come from protein, 20-35% from fat, and 45-65% of your total caloric intake should come from carbohydrate. A major imbalance in these ratios can increase your risk of chronic disease and negatively impact micronutrient status.

“Eating carbs will give me diabetes.” This is probably the #1 diabetes myth. When carbohydrate is consumed, it’s naturally broken down by the body into a type of sugar called glucose. Insulin is then released so that your body can use glucose as a source of energy. Diabetes happens when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin properly. Major risk factors for diabetes are genetic predisposition, older age, being overweight, and inactivity. If you don’t have risk factors for diabetes, your pancreas will be able to handle a significant glucose load without any problem. On the other hand, eating too many calories from carbs can cause weight gain which puts you at risk for developing diabetes. But that’s a completely different story.

Grains have toxins that bind good nutrients in other foods, making them unabsorbable.” Every Paleo fanatic will tell you this, but they fail to disclose all relevant details. Grains are rich in many nutrients: B vitamins like niacin and thiamin, magnesium, manganese, and selenium. Grains also contain phytates, which can bind some minerals (particularly iron and zinc), making them unavailable for absorption. Paleo subscribers state that humans who eat grains are at risk of nutrient deficiencies because of the “anti-nutrient” phytate. What they fail to disclose is that heme iron absorption (the kind we get from meat) is not affected by phytate, and zinc is well-absorbed from meat even in the presence of phytates. So if you eat meat, you don’t need to worry about phytates impacting your micronutrient status. Paleo dieters also fail to tell you that phytate has health benefits: it acts as an antioxidant and may protect against kidney stones and decrease cancer risk.

Lectin is another “anti-nutrient” that Paleo followers caution against. I won’t get into the details here, but this article summarizes the evidence nicely:  https://authoritynutrition.com/dietary-lectins/

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In my opinion, the most valid argument against carbohydrates is that they’re easy to overeat. And this can lead to weight gain. A standard 1/2 cup serving of pasta or rice seems measly on your plate, so many people end up doling out portions more consistent with what they’ve become accustomed to at their favourite restaurants. Stick to reasonable portions and carbs become part of a healthy diet.

The benefits of carbohydrates extend beyond their nutritional profile. A low-carb diet can be taxing on the environment if calories from carbs are replaced with animal protein. And carbohydrate ingestion leads to the production of serotonin which is a feel-good neurotransmitter that gives us pleasure. If you’ve spent any length of time with a no-carb dieter, you will know that they can become irritable and cranky at the drop of a hat. No fun.

In honour of today’s carb-loving rant, I present you with a salad that is full of healthy carbs: bulgur, sweet potato, chickpeas, and pomegranate.  My sister made this salad for our parents’ retirement party in the spring and it was a hit. Salty feta cheese is balanced nicely with refreshing mint and sweet, juicy pomegranate (which adds incredible texture to any dish). You really can’t go wrong with these flavours.

It’s carberific.

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Happy Retirement Mom and Dad!

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Chickpea Bulgur Salad with Mint, Pomegranate, and Feta
(adapted from an original recipe created by J’s friend SF)

If you’ve never de-seeded a pomegranate, it’s easier than it seems! This video shows you how to do it like a pro: http://bit.ly/2cxE35T

¾ cup uncooked bulgur
1½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 can (19 oz) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large sweet potato, chopped into bite-sized cubes
1 pomegranate, de-seeded
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped mint (or to taste)
Juice from 1/2 lemon (approx. 2 tbsp)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Additional salt, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. On a baking sheet, toss chopped sweet potato with 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/8 tsp salt. Bake until soft (approximately 30 minutes), stirring once partway through.
  2. Combine bulgur and vegetable stock in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cover until all liquid is absorbed (approximately 20 minutes).
  3. Once cooked, let the bulgur and sweet potato cool to room temperature in a bowl.
  4. Add chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, green onions, feta and mint to the bowl of cooled bulgur and sweet potato.
  5. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add dressing to salad. Season with pepper (and salt, if needed) to taste.
  6. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. This salad tastes best if made a few hours (or the night) before.  Use as a side, or over a bed of spinach as a meal.

Makes 8 servings. Per 1 cup serving: 225 kcal, 7.1 g fat (2.1 g saturated), 34 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 6.8 g protein, 265 mg sodium

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Dilly Quinoa Salad with Radish and Dates

6 Sep

Imagine yourself among a sea of people (2600 to be exact) dressed in white from head to toe, feasting al fresco on a homemade picnic in a public space (whose location was a mystery until you arrived by bus moments earlier). After the sun sets, sparklers are lit en masse to mark the opening of the dance floor where guests dance the evening away alongside a DJ spinning the latest hits. At the end of the night, you pack up your table, chairs (yes, you bring your own!) and all of your belongings and leave the space cleaner than it was when you arrived.

Sounds bizarre, right?!? That took place a few weeks ago at Diner en Blanc Toronto 2016, an annual event that first originated in Paris over 25 years ago. The whole concept is outright crazy. But it was pretty magical.

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Guests have the option of purchasing a gourmet catered picnic meal but most choose to pack their own. Since it was a weeknight, a meal simple to prepare and transport was a must. We also wanted a meal that could be served at room temperature because as newbies, we had no idea how long it would be before we would eat. Cold poached salmon seemed like an easy yet elegant protein option with quinoa salad and steamed green beans as accompaniments. Since my favourite quinoa salad recipes tend to feature strong flavours that could overpower the delicate fish, a quick Google search led me to a recipe so unusual I had to try it.

This quinoa salad features dill and cucumber (nothing special), radish (definitely not something I would think to add on my own), and dates (what?!). Yes that’s right— syrupy sweet dates. Parmesan cheese was listed as optional, so we left it out because we would be feasting on a spread of cheese as our starter.

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I was reluctant to try this recipe but the reviews were good and it was the perfect way to use up leftover dill from the salmon dish.

The salad was everything that I hoped it would be. Fresh and clean in taste thanks to loads of dill, with a nice balance of sweetness and peppery bite from the dates and radish respectively. It complemented the poached salmon perfectly in flavour and texture.

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If I were to make this again, I might substitute raisins or currants for the dates as the sweetness was a bit overpowering. Or, I would try it with a different kind of date. I did some research after the fact and learned that date varieties (of which there are many!) vary in sweetness. Between the two most popular types of dates in North America, the Medjool date (which I used) is considerably sweeter than the Deglet Noor date. I guess I should have done my date research first!

Any suggestions on what to do with leftover dates? I’ve got my eye on this recipe.

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Quinoa Salad with Dill, Radish and Dates
(adapted from The Kitchn)

I made this recipe a bit more waistline-friendly by reducing the amount of olive oil, dates and almonds. I also omitted the parmesan and avocado. AND I didn’t have liquid smoke. But it was still delicious!

1 cup quinoa
1-3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
8 small red radishes, well-cleaned and tops removed
1/3 seedless English cucumber, about 1/4 pound, unpeeled
1 large shallot
2/3 lightly filled cup dill fronds, without stems
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
3 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke*
1/2 1/3 cup sliced raw almonds
1/2 1/3 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped (look for the Deglet Noor variety)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (omit for a vegan adaptation)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, to serve

  1. If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, rinse the quinoa for 2 to 3 minutes in a fine mesh strainer, rubbing vigorously. Drain. Heat a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the quinoa and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment and spread the cooked quinoa over it in an even layer. Let cool while preparing the vegetables.
  3. Toast almonds in a pan over low-medium heat until aromatic and golden in colour.
  4. Dice the radishes — about 1/4-inch to a side. Do the same with the cucumber. Finely dice the shallot. Finely chop the dill fronds. Toss with the quinoa in a large bowl.
  5. Zest the lemon right into the bowl and fold in the zest. Juice the lemon half and whisk the juice together with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and liquid smoke until emulsified and thick. Toss this with the quinoa.
  6. Fold in the almonds, chopped dates, and Parmesan (if using). Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, top with chopped avocado (if using).

*Note: 1 tablespoon smoked olive oil, such as The Smoked Olive’s Sonoma oil, can be substituted for the liquid smoke and 1 tablespoon of regular olive oil.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving (with modifications as outlined above): 225 kcal, 10 g fat (1.1 g saturated), 28.5 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fibre, 4.2 g protein, 210 mg sodium

Apple and Cucumber Salad with Dill

8 Aug

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending four and a half beautiful days in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We walked a lot: up and down Signal Hill and to and from the downtown strip daily. But we also ate a lot. Cod cakes (the best ones had a nice crispy exterior), cod tongue with scrunchions (essentially fried bits of salted pork fat), and the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. And we drank. A lot. Our trip coincided with George Street Festival which is the biggest party weekend of the year.

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Now that I’m back at home and feeling a few pounds heavier, all I want to eat is fresh vegetables and salads in an attempt to erase the gluttony of my trip out east.

My friend T had me over for dinner last month and made me a remarkably tasty salad that she claimed was super easy. It was a bed of lettuce topped with sticks of apple and cucumber. The dressing consisted of olive oil, rice vinegar and fresh dill. Nothing more. Since that visit, visions of her salad have been dancing in my head.

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T used a mandoline to cut her cucumber and apple for the salad—something that intimidated me, but made me realize that I need to give mine a fair chance. The first and last time I used my mandoline was a year ago, and it wasn’t pretty. If you don’t have a mandoline, a good sharp knife will do.

On Saturday, I made amends with my mandoline and re-created T’s simple summer salad. It was everything I remembered (and more, since I added a sprinkle of toasted almond slivers): crunchy and sweet, light yet satisfying. And she wasn’t lying—it was super easy.

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Do you own a mandoline or know of any tasty dishes that require one? Please share your recipes and any tips or tricks in the comments section. I’m eager to use mine more often (and would like to keep my fingers intact in the process)!

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T’s Apple and Cucumber Salad with Dill

All measures are estimates. Adjust based on your taste preference and/or what you have on hand.

6 cups lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces (red leaf lettuce contrasts nicely with the green cucumber and apple)
2 Granny Smith apples
1 medium English cucumber
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
Fresh dill (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)

  1. Toast almonds in a small pan over medium heat. Remove from heat when golden and aromatic, and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar or bowl. Set aside.
  3. Using a mandoline (or sharp knife), slice cucumber and apple into thick sticks.
  4. To serve, top greens with apple, cucumber and almonds. Add dressing and toss to combine.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 165 kcal, 11 g fat (1.2 g saturated), 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fibre, 2 g protein,  130 mg sodium

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Almonds

5 Mar

Today I’m paying homage to my dad (Happy Birthday Dad!) by writing about his favourite vegetable: Brussels sprouts.

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Growing up, we never ate Brussels sprouts because my dad detested them. This probably stemmed from his mother’s ill preparation of the green, cruciferous vegetables: boiled, grey, mushy, and sulfurous. It’s not her fault; she was British! As a result of my dad’s whining, I grew up assuming Brussels sprouts = yucky.

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Fast forward to when I first started dating E. He cooked dinner for me on one of our first dates and set out to make me a Brussels sprouts believer, knowing that I had never tried them before. Not surprisingly, I loved them. They had a similar flavour to other members of the Brassica family that I enjoyed (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) but had a different texture and a unique appearance. From that day forward, steamed Brussels sprouts became part of my vegetable repertoire. But my dad remained unconvinced. Until this Christmas (or so I’d like to think).

I brought a side-dish of roasted Brussels sprouts to our family Christmas gathering, not in spite of my dad, but because they are a simple side dish that remind me of the holidays. (Sidenote: it’s the easiest yet tastiest recipe and can be found here). My dad was a good sport and tried them, and remarkably… even liked them. Success!

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In an attempt to convert him into a Brussels sprout believer, I am sharing a recipe for a different kind of dish: a roasted Brussels sprout salad with apricots, almonds, and a hint of citrus. The sweetness of the apricots distracts from the slight bitterness of the Brussels sprouts, and the citrus Dijon vinaigrette contrasts really nicely with the earthy toasted almonds. I can’t guarantee that my dad will try this one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

Happy birthday, Dad!

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Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Apricots and Toasted Almonds
(from Rose Reisman, courtesy of metronews.ca)

1½ lb trimmed Brussel sprouts, cut into quarters
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp orange juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grated orange rind
½ tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper
10 dried apricots sliced thinly
1/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place quartered sprouts on baking sheet lined with foil and greased with vegetable oil. Roast for 15 minutes or just until tender and browned.
  2. To make the dressing: combine oil, juice, mustard, rind, garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Place Brussels sprouts in serving dish, add sauce and apricots and garnish with toasted almonds.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 170 kcal, 8.2 g fat,  20.8 g carbohydrates, 6.6 g fibre, 5.8 g protein.

Mediterranean Broccoli Salad

11 Nov

If I had to rank my favourite vegetables, broccoli would be among the top 3. Hands down. For starters, its bright green colour gives off a healthy “halo” and adds visual appeal to any plate. Its firm texture and crunch means it takes a bit of chewing to ingest, which helps you feel more satiated than some other vegetables (like a serving of sautéed greens, which I can gobble down in seconds then immediately find myself wanting more). Broccoli is hardy, so it can be stored in the fridge for many days (even weeks!) without drying out. And it’s relatively affordable, so it won’t break the bank if you’re eating it regularly.

If you’re still not convinced, broccoli’s nutritional profile should make you a believer. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K, providing 100% of your daily needs of each in a one cup serving. Like many other dark green vegetables, it’s a source of folate and fibre, and contributes some (albeit a small amount) of calcium towards your daily requirements. As a member of the cruciferous family, it contains phytochemicals that have potential anticancer properties. One such component, diindolylmethane, has been used in clinical trials by the U.S. National Cancer Institute as a therapeutic against various forms of cancer.

Today I had the day off of work. Instead of catching up on errands and projects around the house, I thought I would bring lunch to a friend who is going through a difficult time. Broccoli salad popped into my head as a nice accompaniment to Moroccan quinoa salad and maple-Dijon-lemon-dill chicken breasts, but I was craving something different from the standard creamy version with raisins and bacon. Plus, raw broccoli doesn’t always agree with my tummy so I wanted a recipe where the broccoli could be cooked.

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Amongst a sea of mayonnaise-based recipes, I found a Mediterranean-style broccoli salad that combined sundried tomatoes, olives, and feta in a lemony vinaigrette. It was fate, I thought, since my fridge had all of these ingredients tucked away. I made a few modifications, including less olive oil to keep the salad lighter and less salt as the ingredients themselves seemed salty enough. To keep my digestive tract happy, I steamed the broccoli briefly then dried it well to minimize added moisture (if raw broccoli is your thing, the original recipe does NOT call for cooking so skip this additional step). My only mistake was that I tossed the salad last night, forgetting that acid turns green vegetables brown (my undergrad food science professor would be so disappointed!). Luckily, the dull greenish appearance of the salad didn’t bother my friend and didn’t detract from the delicious taste.

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This salad is simple yet flavourful. The umami from the sundried tomatoes and olives adds a punch of flavour, which is balanced nicely by the earthy roasted almonds. A great make-ahead dish for potlucks, or for every day!

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Mediterranean Broccoli Salad
(adapted from CookieandKate.com)

Broccoli Salad:

1 large head of broccoli, florets removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup minced shallot or red onion
1/3 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, patted with paper towel and chopped coarsely
1/8 cup thinly sliced kalamata olives
1/8 to 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup slivered or slices almonds, toasted

Dressing:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of red pepper flakes

  1. In a large pot, steam broccoli until just slightly tender (do not overcook!). To quickly stop the cooking process, rinse broccoli with cold water, then plunge into a bowl of ice cold water. This will also minimize browning.
  2. In a medium serving bowl, combine shallots, sundried tomato, olives, and feta. Add broccoli once cool.
  3. In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and whisk until combined. Toss salad with dressing approximately 30 minutes before serving. Add almonds just before serving.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 200 kcal, 12 g fat (1.7 g saturated), 20 g carbohydrate, 6 g fibre, 8 g protein, 650 mg sodium

The Salad that Keeps on Giving

22 Oct

Salad has never tasted so good.  After being away at a conference for five days, my body craved fibre and a plethora of colourful veggies when I arrived back home.  Conference food can be notorious for large quantities of nutrient-devoid food.  A typical day was as such: wake, eat breakfast, sit, snack, sit, eat lunch, sit, snack, sit, go out for dinner, bed.  The positive of having so much food provided is the considerable cost savings. The con?  Most snacks are carb-heavy, full of sugar, and hard to resist.  Cake at 10am? Sure! Danish for breakfast? Why not.

And now my saviour: the ultimate salad to “cure” me of a week of poor nutrition.  I first spotted this Asian Kale and Tofu Salad on Pinterest over a year ago.  Why it took me so long to finally make it remains a mystery but I sure won’t wait another year before making it again.  There are a few things you should know about this salad…

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  1. It yields more than one can possibly eat in a week.  And I can eat a lot of salad.  Share it with someone or halve the recipe if you’re solo.
  2. Kale salad can be an acquired taste.  It holds its shape even when dressed, but the crunch can be too much for some.  If you’re weary, use half the recommended amount of the kale and substitute the other half with spinach (add shortly before serving to prevent it from getting soggy).
  3. The ratio of kale to other vegetables was too high for my liking.  Feel free to add more bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, or all of the above.

Below is the original recipe from Clean Eating magazine.  Keep in mind that the recipe serves FAR more than 4 (even 8 servings would be an underestimate!) despite what is written.

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Asian Kale & Tofu Salad
(from Clean Eating magazine)

“Can’t find pressed tofu? Press it yourself with our easy three-step method! Simply wrap firm tofu in a clean dish towel and transfer to a plate. Place another plate over tofu and top with one or two heavy cans. Let sit for 1 to 8 hours.”

Olive oil cooking spray
14 oz firm pressed tofu, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup 100% orange juice
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp raw honey
1 tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
12-1/2 cups chopped kale (about 16 oz)
2 small field-grown cucumbers, diced
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup shelled edamame, cooked
4 tsp sesame seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 500ºF. Mist a ceramic 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Add tofu and set aside.
  2. In a blender, blend garlic, vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, soy sauce, honey, ginger and sesame oil until smooth, about 1 minute. Remove ¼ cup mixture and pour over top of tofu. Toss to combine and spread evenly in dish. Bake, turning 3 to 4 times, until golden and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, to remaining mixture in blender, add flaxseed and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
  4. In a large bowl, add kale and pour vinegar-flaxseed mixture over top. With your hands, massage kale to coat thoroughly until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cucumbers, carrots, scallions, bell pepper, cabbage and edamame and toss to combine. Add tofu and toss to combine. To serve, top with sesame seeds.

Serves “4” as per original recipe.  Per ENORMOUS serving: 341 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated), 46 g carbohydrate, 11 g fibre, 22 g protein, 374 mg sodium

Spiced Sweet Potato Salad with Pecans and Raisins

14 Sep

What happened to August?  It disappeared in the blink of an eye, leaving little time for blog posts (among other things).  Cora didn’t help the matter when she decided to chew not one, not two, but THREE power cords in the course of a week.  That left both myself and E without power to our trusty laptops, meaning no blog posts and certainly no after-hours work.  Probably part of her ploy to steal us away from our screens for more play-time.  Thankfully she’s lost most of her baby teeth so the biting seems to be winding down.  I think.

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Last month I had two dear friends over for a weeknight dinner before one moved out of the city to return to school in BC.  I needed something that could be prepared in advance since prep time is minimal after a day of work.  Overnight-marinated chicken that goes straight from fridge to oven? Yes.  A quick green salad made the day-of? Easy enough. But I was stumped on the starch. Quinoa salad was the first idea that popped into my mind except I had cooked my go-to recipe the last time these girls were over.  Too much of a good thing is not a great thing.  Then I remembered a wonderful sweet potato recipe given to me by a friend.  It’s both sweet and savory, and can be served hot or cold.

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The beauty in this dish is that it can be easily adjusted based on what you have in your pantry.  Each time I’ve omitted slightly different ingredients,  yet the final product comes out tasting similar to the original.  One exception to this rule is the sherry vinegar.  It has a unique taste so finding a substitute can be challenging. I caved by purchasing a bottle, but some sources say either cider vinegar or rice vinegar can be used if you’re in a bind.

Even though I served this dish in the summer, the ingredients scream AUTUMN: cinnamon, raisins, pecans, ginger, orange, and sweet potatoes.  Perfect for the cooler weather that’s just around the corner!

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Raisins
(Original source unknown)

You can double the dressing if you want stronger flavours.  This recipe can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold.

4 medium sweet potatoes (~500 g total), unpeeled and chopped into 2 cm cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tablespoons pecans, chopped
4 green onions, roughly chopped
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tbsp roughly chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Dressing:
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the chopped sweet potato out on a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, mix well with your hands, and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until just tender. Gently turn them over halfway through cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, toast pecans in a skillet over medium heat until aromatic and lightly browned.
  3. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
  4. When the potatoes are ready, transfer them to a large bowl while still hot. Add the green onion, cilantro (if using), chili flakes, pecans, and raisins. Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and toss gently to blend, then season to taste.  Can be served hot, at room temperature, or refrigerated overnight and served cold.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 170 kcal, 3 g fibre, 10 g fat.

The Perfect Potluck Salad

23 Jan

Thanks to the culinary talents of my friend Steph, I was recently introduced to the perfect party salad.  And I mean perfect.

I like bringing a salad to potlucks.  It guarantees that there will be something leafy, green, and healthy amidst a spread of rich and indulgent (but oh-so-tasty) bites.  Unfortunately, I run into the same issue every time.  Add-ins like fruit, spiced nuts, and cheese need to be present in order for the salad to get ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.  These additions can be healthy but tend to leave little room for other vegetables.

Thanks to Steph, I now have the salad of my dreams in my arsenal, ready for my next potluck.  The base consisted of mixed greens along with radicchio for texture.  Added to the salad were multi-coloured bell peppers (red and orange), cucumber, crunchy celery, cherry tomatoes, and green onion for bite.  The dressing, an Asian-style sesame vinaigrette, provided just the right amount of sweetness.  Finally, a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds transformed an otherwise ordinary green salad into a masterpiece.  Delicious and nutritious.

Other elements of the meal included panko-crusted stuffed chicken breast (with asparagus, roasted red pepper, and brie) and mashed potatoes with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes—both courtesy of my Rose Reisman cookbook.  To top it off, we indulged in the ultimate dessert: homemade fresh strawberry ice cream and birthday cake.  If you need a reason to get yourself an ice cream maker, this is it.


Steph’s Asian Sesame Vinaigrette

This isn’t an exact recipe but rather rough estimates. Feel free to adjust the measurements to taste.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a jar, shake, taste, and add more of whatever seems to be missing!

Makes ½ cup. Per 1 tbsp serving: 70 kcal, 6 g fat (1 g saturated), 2.5 g CHO, 40 mg sodium.

Jicama and Orange Spinach Salad with Ginger Dressing

17 Sep

Contain your excitement, please.  This week I bring you not one but TWO recipes that use a relatively uncommon vegetable.  Jicama, pronounced ‘heek-ah-mah’ (also known as yam bean), is a starchy sweet root vegetable native to Mexico.  With a crispy texture resembling a cross between a potato and a pear, jicama is commonly eaten raw in salads and slaws or dipped into salsas.

Jicama keeps a low profile. An addictively crunchy texture is revealed once its unassuming fibrous exterior is peeled away.

 

While living in London, I tried to get my hands on jicama for what felt like forever.  Coincidentally, every time it was on my grocery list jicama was nowhere to be found.  I did spot it the odd time (London is not that small) but never had the confidence to pick it up without a recipe in mind.

Now that I’m in Toronto, jicama is readily available at some of the larger grocery stores.  I’ve fallen in love with its crispiness and subtle sweet taste.  It’s the perfect snack straight up: no dips or dressing necessary.  For my first jicama attempt, I followed a recipe for an orange, jicama, and red pepper spinach salad with a soy-based vinaigrette.  The salad wasn’t particularly fancy but the flavours worked really well together.

My next jicama attempt?  Stay tuned…

Spinach salad with Jicama, Orange, Red Pepper, and Red Onion.

 

Jicama and Orange Salad with Ginger Dressing
(from Rose Reisman)

2 cups peeled jicama, sliced into strips 1/2 inch wide by 3 inches long
6 cups baby spinach
1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 large orange, peeled, membranes removed and cut into thin strips

Dressing:
4 tsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-1/2 tsp sesame oil
2-1/2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp olive oil
1-1/2 tsp water
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1 tsp minced fresh ginger

Garnish (Optional):
1-1/2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

  1. Place the jicama, spinach, red pepper, onion, and orange in a large serving bowl
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, olive oil, water, garlic, and ginger.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine.  Garnish with sesame seeds and cilantro, if using.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 137 kcal, 3.9 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 24 g CHO, 5.3 g fibre, 2.9 g protein, ~100 mg sodium.

Weekday Quinoa Salad with Bocconcini and Late Summer Vegetables

30 Aug

Back-to-school time is here.  My days of school are finally over but like the hordes of students anxiously awaiting next Tuesday, I’m embarking on my own new beginning… a real job!

During the week, salads are my preferred lunch because they’re an easy way to eat several servings of vegetables in one go.  Traditional leafy greens with chopped vegetables, a protein source (beans, lentils, tuna, egg), a grain (rice, quinoa) and dressing used to be my staple.  Over the years, the prep became tedious and salads were slowly being replaced with less desirable lunches.

Wanting to reconnect with my salad habit of days past, I’ve recently taken a new approach.  On Sunday, a week’s worth of salad ingredients and dressing are combined in bulk and each morning I top a bed of spinach with a hearty scoop of dressed salad ingredients.  Voila!  Lunch for the day in under a minute.

A lunch of quinoa salad on a bed of spinach… ready to go!

With cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers, this bocconcini and oregano quinoa salad is the perfect weekday lunch to take advantage of the season’s local produce.  Plus, it’s easy to prepare, nutritious, and delicious!  Feel free to toss in a can of chickpeas for added protein and fibre.  Fresh oregano will almost certainly yield best results but I used dried and the salad was still delicious.  Bon appetite!

Late Summer Vegetable, Bocconcini, and Quinoa Salad

 

Bocconcini and Oregano Salad
(from Quinoa 365)

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup halved or quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup diced red onion (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup frozen baby green peas, thawed
1 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
Pinch of salt and ground black pepper
1 cup halved mini bocconcini cheese pieces

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the quinoa and water to a boil.  Cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.  Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 4 minutes.  Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork.  Set aside to completely cool.
  2. Combine the zucchini, tomatoes, onion, peas, red and yellow peppers in a large bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, mustard, oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Pour the dressing over the vegetables and thoroughly mix all the ingredients.
  4. Add the quinoa and bocconcini and mix until evenly combined.  Serve immediately or refrigerate before serving.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving:  308 kcal, 34 g carbohydrate, 5 g fibre, 14 g fat (3.8 g saturated), 14 g protein, 122 mg sodium