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Spiced Cabbage Soup with Lentils and Sweet Potato

7 Jan

Happy New Year! I’m not the greatest at making (or keeping) New Years resolutions, but most years I have vague aspirations to engage in some sort of healthier behaviour. This year, I’m motivated to do more batch cooking so that I’m not left scrambling to buy my lunch or pull together a last minute dinner after a busy day.

Thanks to having an extra-long weekend with not just one but TWO days to recover from New Year’s Eve, I was able to kick-start my pseudo-resolution with a simple yet flavourful cabbage soup from the new Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook. The cookbook was a Christmas present stolen from me (then lent to me) by my oh-so-generous brother, so I plan to churn out as many dishes from it as I possibly can before he asks for it back.

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If you’re groaning at the thought of another watery, bland cabbage soup, take note: this one’s anything but. It has lentils for added protein and fibre, sweet potato (because every soup can use a little sweet potato), and a 9-spice mix containing both sweet and smoked paprika. It’s simple to prepare but full of flavour. And perfect for the horribly cold weather that we’ve been hit with this week. For an easy make-ahead lunch, pair it with whole grain bread or crackers.

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Metabolism-Revving Spicy Cabbage Soup
(from Oh She Glows Every Day cookbook)

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons 9-Spice Mix, or more to taste (recipe below)
1 pound (1/4 large head) green cabbage, cored and finely shredded (about 5 cups)
14-oz (398mL) can diced tomatoes, with juices
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup uncooked red lentils
1 sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
1/2 tsp to 1 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 5-6 minutes, until the onion is softened. Stir in 2 tablespoons 9-Spice Mix and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant.
  2. Add the cabbage and diced tomatoes with their juices. Simmer over medium to high heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the broth, red lentils, and sweet potato. Stir. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils and sweet potato are tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste, or add more 9-Spice Mix. Serve with a dollop of Cashew Sour Cream, if using (for a non-vegan option, use plain yogurt or sour cream). The soup keeps in the fridge for a week, and freezes well for 1-2 months.

Makes 4 large servings. Per serving: 278 kcal, 5 g fat, 47 g carbohydrate, 14 g fibre, 11 g protein, 596 mg sodium

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9-Spice Mix (makes approximately 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Vegan Thanksgiving Eats: Pumpkin and Cranberry Baked Beans

10 Oct

For the first time in 4 years, I’m not away at a conference over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Huzzah! I should have spent the weekend preparing for said conference (which is in a few weeks) but instead decided I would roast a turkey for a motley crew of friends and family.

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My sister is vegetarian, so she offered to bring a dish that she likes to make on holidays where turkey is served: pumpkin baked beans. As a turkey lover who was vegetarian for a few short months, I can attest to the fact that they’re super satisfying and almost won’t make you miss meat. They’re sweet yet savoury, loaded with fibre and protein, and the flavours scream autumn. Prep is a cinch, and they can easily be made in advance. Everyone enjoyed them, so much so that J’s plan for a week’s worth of leftovers was thwarted.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pumpkin and Cranberry Baked Beans
(from OhSheGlows.com)

You may be able to get away with reducing the maple sugar in half and cutting down on the salt for a slightly less sweet/more healthy version. If you’re using canned beans with salt added, you will definitely want to cut down on the added salt.

3 (15-oz) cans navy beans, drained and rinsed (preferably no-salt-added)
1 sweet onion, chopped finely
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp blackstrap molasses (use fancy molasses if you don’t want to buy blackstrap)
4 tbsp pure maple syrup, to taste
1-1/2 tbsp yellow mustard
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

  1. In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Cook over low heat until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or for J’s variation: place in a slow cooker on high heat for 2 to 3 hours. The cranberries will plump up really nicely and the flavours will develop a little bit more. You can also make this the night before and leave it in the fridge, then reheat before serving.

Makes 6 generous servings. Per serving: 305 kcal, 2.6 g fat (0.3 g saturated), 60 g carbohydrate, 12.6 g fibre, 11.5 g protein, 490 mg sodium

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

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

Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

30 Apr

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. For many people, getting in enough fruit is no problem. Sweet and portable, it makes an easy snack. Vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be harder to squeeze in. That’s where an easy, yet tasty and healthy dip comes in handy.

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When I don’t have the energy to plan out my lunches for the week, I tend to throw together a picnic of sorts. This usually consists of an easy protein like hard boiled eggs or canned tuna, whole grain bread or crackers, and two to three cups of chopped veggies with dip to meet my daily quota. But it’s hard to find a truly healthy vegetable dip. Most are mayo or sour cream-based, and loaded with fat and calories. So I turned to the Internet in search of a tasty yet healthy make-at-home option.

I was initially drawn to this ranch seasoning recipe because of the blogger’s stunning photos (which I poorly tried to recreate at home). But once I tried it out, it became clear that this recipe is a winner. Buttermilk powder forms the base (found at bulk food stores) and is pumped up with onion and garlic powder, and dried herbs like parsley, dill, and chives. As a bonus, the seasoning mix can be made in bulk and stored in the fridge to be used whenever you need a quick and easy dip.

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Low-fat Greek yogurt is the perfect foundation for any vegetable dip. It’s thick and creamy, yet low calories and high in protein. For the best flavour, I’ve found that adding a dollop of light mayo adds just the right amount of tang for a next-level vegetable dip. Low-fat sour cream can also act as a healthier dip base, but lacks the nutritional boost that Greek yogurt offers.

If you’re not meeting your recommended daily vegetable quota, try throwing together a batch of this skinny ranch dip. It will make raw veggies sing!

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Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

2 tbsp homemade ranch seasoning mix (see below)
1 cup 2% plain greek yogurt
2 tbsp light mayonnaise

  1. Mix ingredients in a small bowl until combined. Can be served immediately or left overnight for flavours to meld.

Makes 1-1/4 cups. Per 1/4 cup serving: 91 kcal, 3.3 g fat (1.4 g saturated), 7 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fibre, 8 g protein, 106 mg sodium

 

Homemade Ranch Seasoning Mix (from www.gimmesomeoven.com)
1/3 cup dried buttermilk powder
2 tbsp dried parsley
1-1/2 tsp dried dill weed
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried chives
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 months.

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.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup

26 Jan

As a dietitian, I occasionally receive mailings from food companies. Some are practical, like summaries of the latest research and coupons for new products. Others are less useful. Exhibit A: Quaker® recently mailed out a document highlighting the benefits of consuming orange juice and oatmeal together— a “synergistic” benefit, the materials touted. Yes, vitamin C can enhance iron absorption, but this is hardly a new concept in the nutrition world. Furthermore, is an ‘orange oat smoothie’ the most appealing way to combine these nutrients? I would rather add berries to my oatmeal, thank you very much. Innovation in the food industry can help create more healthful food items, but sometimes food companies try a bit too hard to make basic nutrition sound cutting-edge and sexy.

Recipes are one of the best things to receive in the mail, especially when I get around to actually making them (instead of having them accumulate dust in the binder o’recipe clippings). A few weeks ago, I was sifting through said binder and discovered an old favourite from the people at Becel®. The ingredients are simple (leeks, butternut squash, spinach) while the flavour is anything but.

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Leeks don’t make it into my kitchen very often. But when they do, I realize that I’m missing out by not cooking with them more regularly. Sautéed leeks elevate the most basic of dishes with an umami flavour that packs more punch than you would expect from such a humble member of the Allium family. Just be sure you wash them well— nobody wants sand in their teeth! I used the leftover leeks from this recipe to make a crustless quiche and was surprised by how much flavour they brought to an otherwise simple dish.

Enough about leeks, though. The star of this soup is the butternut squash, whose natural sweetness infuses the broth while simmering. It was so flavourful that I didn’t even need to add salt! The chili flakes balance the sweetness really nicely and generous handfuls of spinach add a pop of colour.

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With the cold weather upon us, a warm bowl of soup really hits the spot. And with the indulgent holiday season now behind us, starting a meal with soup can also help with weight management. What’s not to love?

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Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup
(from Becel® Canada)

1-1/2 tbsp light margarine (or 1 tbsp regular margarine or olive oil)
1 leek (pale green and white part only), washed well and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp hot chili flakes
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (low sodium or no-salt-added)
2 cups baby spinach leaves (I use much more!)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)

  1. In a large pot, heat margarine or oil over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic. Sauté until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in chili flakes, cumin, squash and carrots, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 25 to 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.
  3. Stir in spinach and simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce and garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 115 kcal, 4 g fat (0.7 g saturated fat), 15 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fibre, 7 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

Pumpkin and Coconut Soup

4 Nov

Coconut oil is a controversial topic in the nutrition world. Supporters claim it can burn fat, boost your metabolism, and help you lose weight. Skeptics say it’s high in saturated fat and may promote heart disease. So who should we believe?

Without delving too deep into the scientific literature, the health effects of coconut oil can be grouped into three different categories: body weight, heart disease, and inflammation.

Body weight. The predominant fat in coconut oil is thought to be medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that gets metabolized differently (and more efficiently) than more common dietary fats. In actuality, the chemical composition of coconut oil is markedly different from MCT oils; therefore, results from studies using MCT oils cannot be extrapolated to coconut oil. A couple of small studies suggests that coconut oil may modestly decrease waist circumference in overweight adults, but has no effect on fat mass.

Heart disease. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat. Historically, foods high in saturated fat were discouraged due to their ability to raise blood cholesterol levels, which in turn was thought to increase heart disease risk. Newer research suggests that the link between dietary saturated fat (animal fats, tropical oils) and heart disease is not as strong as once thought. Some systematic reviews do not support a relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, while others have found that replacing saturated fat with mono- and polyunsaturated fats can reduce heart disease risk. Research looking at coconut oil specifically has found that blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol both increase following regular coconut oil consumption. Longer term studies looking at the relationship between coconut oil and heart disease are required.

Inflammation. The polyphenols found in virgin coconut oil (very different from refined coconut oil) may act as antioxidants in the body and help fight inflammation; however, studies are few and far between. Claims that coconut oil will help in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments require more research before recommendations can be made.

So what’s my take on the coconut oil debate? Too much of any kind of fat will lead to weight gain, since fat is the most energy-dense of all macronutrients at 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate). Use coconut oil in moderation to add flavour to dishes, but stick to monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (preferably those with a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, such as canola or safflower oil) for day-to-day cooking. And aim to get your polyphenols from sources such as fruits and vegetables, green and black teas, coffee, and extra-virgin olive oil.

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As a huge fan of coconut-flavoured everything, I’ve always been intrigued by the prospect of using coconut oil in cooking. People say it lends a nutty, sweet aroma that is perfect for curries and roasted vegetables like yams and carrots. Yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to purchase a jar. Just looking at the white, solid-at-room-temperature, lard-resembling fat makes my arteries cringe—and yes, I realize there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these irrational thoughts. So when I received a jar as a gift from my aunt, I was eager to experiment.

Sifting through a pile of old recipes, I came across a simple pumpkin and coconut soup. The directions were a bit vague, and I realized some steps were left out, so I was naturally skeptical. But soup is pretty hard to mess up, and I had a sugar pumpkin sitting on my counter waiting to be used.

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The recipe calls for a whole sugar pumpkin (not to be mistaken with carving pumpkins which are NOT ideal for eating due to their bland, fibrous flesh) but if you’re in a bind, you could try buttercup squash. Roasting the pumpkin adds depth that you’re unlikely to get from canned or boiled pumpkin, so don’t skip this step. It’s worth the extra effort.

The coconut flavour was IN-YOUR-FACE (in a good way!). It was a nice contrast from dishes that call for coconut milk alone, where the coconut flavour can be mild and almost undetectable. The spice combination of cumin, chili powder and cinnamon together with the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin paired beautifully with coconut. A wonderful autumn soup to keep you warm during the cold months ahead.

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Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
(source unknown)

1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 sugar pumpkin
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/8 to 1/4 tsp chili flakes (optional)
3 to 4 cups water
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 cup light coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste (approx 1/4 tsp salt worked for me)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Quarter pumpkin, scoop out seeds (reserve for roasting if you wish!), and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil that has been lightly oiled. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until flesh is soft. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl when pumpkin is cool enough to handle. You should have approximately 3 cups.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Add cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili flakes (if using). Cook, stirring, for one minute or until fragrant.
  4. Add pumpkin and 3 cups of water, and stir to combine. Using an immersion blender, puree soup ensuring no pieces of onion remain. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the consistency is too thick, add additional water.
  5. Remove from heat, add lime juice and coconut milk, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings. Per 1-1/2 cup serving: 170kcal, 8 g fat (6 g saturated), 26 g carbohydrates (8 g fibre), 4 g protein, 165 mg sodium