Tag Archives: basil

100-Mile Meal: Mediterranean-Inspired Fish

18 Sep

My local food box has been good to me this year.  Each week there seems to be a few standard items (salad greens, kale or swiss chard, onions) along with a handful of more exotic ingredients (a basil plant, coronation grapes, candy cane beets).  Having a fridge full of veggies that I otherwise wouldn’t purchase without a recipe in mind is a refreshing change from the norm.  It forces me to step outside of my comfort zone and get a little bit creative in the kitchen.



Dinner last Thursday was inspired by my most recent food box.  We received a few plum tomatoes that were starting to bruise (read: needed to be used ASAP) and my basil plant from last month had been staring at me longingly all week.  The Italian classic ‘Bruschetta’ immediately came to mind.  If it works on bread, certainly a mild fish will act as a good canvas, right?


The bruschetta-topping was delicate and mild enough in flavour to not overpower the fish.  Best of all, it was EASY as pie (by the way, who came up with that saying? Martha Stewart? Unless you’re Martha, pie is not easy to make).  So simple that I wrote a Haiku poem about it:

Loads of Tomatoes,
Garlic, Olive Oil, Basil.
Plop on fish and bake.

Okay, so poetry is not my strong suite.  This Mediterranean-inspired fish was paired with Ontario-grown patty pan squash sauteed with an Ontario red onion (both from my food box).  The rice and fish weren’t local, but Shh– nobody needs to know!


Bruschetta-Topped Fish
(a Lisa original)

400 g white fish (e.g. basa or tilapia)
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of basil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Place fish on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Top with tomato mixture and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until fish flakes and is opaque throughout.  Top with remaining 1 tablespoon basil before serving.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 140 kcal, 5.2 g fat, 20 g protein.

Celebrating Spring with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

26 May

Spring has sprung!  I think.  The past month has been cold then warm, followed by a snow storm, and then freezing rain on Mother’s Day.  We’ve been blessed with sunshine the past two weekends, which makes me hopeful that spring has arrived for good.

My favourite part about spring is the long days.  Sunshine at 8pm can’t be beat.  Besides this, I eagerly look forward to the arrival of locally grown produce.  We’re talking more than just greenhouse-grown peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Or carrots from last winter.  Humble Ontario grows everything from bok choy and snow peas to cherries and watermelon.  (For a list of the fruits and vegetables grown in Ontario and when they are available, click here)

Rhubarb and asparagus mark the start of a glorious 5 months of unbeatably fresh, delicious, and often inexpensive produce.  My food box returned this week and I was hardly surprised to see a couple stalks of rhubarb poking out.  What does one do with rhubarb when you don’t feel like baking?  Compote!



My box also came with a gorgeous basil bunch, so I decided to be just a tad adventurous and try a basil-scented strawberry rhubarb compote.  Feel free to omit the basil if you don’t have any kicking around.  It added a subtle earthiness, but maybe I’m just telling myself that because I know it was thrown in.  The addition of chopped, uncooked strawberries at the end gives this compote a great texture.  I like things on the tart side, but add a bit more sugar if you prefer a sweeter compote.  Unlike white or brown sugar, honey and maple syrup don’t need to dissolve so you can add more at the end as needed.


If you’ve never purchased or cooked rhubarb before, this website has a bunch of great tips.  It also links to a very interesting-sounding recipe for roasted rhubarb salad.  Rhubarb in a salad?  Who knew!  Excuse me while I pop over to the grocery store to pick up another bunch.


Basil-Scented Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
(from MyBakingAddiction.com)

If you’re feeling extra adventurous and have a bit of time on your hands, try pairing this with the meringue nests that accompany the original recipe, above.  They look divine!

½ lb (225 grams) strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
½ cup of strawberries, rinsed, hulled and chopped
½ lb of rhubarb (approximately 2-3 stalks), sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons of maple syrup or honey (or more to taste)
1 Tablespoon of water
3-4 whole basil leaves

  1. Set chopped strawberries aside.  Place rhubarb, quartered strawberries, water, basil, and maple syrup/honey in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft and syrupy, about 15 minutes.
  2. Remove saucepan from heat and discard basil leaves. Stir in the reserved ½ cup of chopped strawberries and allow mixture to cool.  Can be served over yogurt, topped with a dollop of whipped cream, or eaten as is.

Makes approximately 2 cups.  Per ⅓ cup: 52 kcal, 12 g CHO, 2.4 g fibre, 0 g fat, 1 g protein.

The Ultimate Comfort Food: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

3 Sep

Yesterday I made a tomato soup that almost burned down my kitchen.  Was it a pleasant cooking experience?  No.  Would I do it again?  Probably.

While visiting my parents last weekend, I spotted a recipe for a roasted tomato basil soup in one of my mom’s cookbooks.  The recipe looked easy enough so I knew I had to make it while tomatoes were still in season. First step: roast a pound and a half of plum tomatoes.  The halved tomatoes were tossed in olive oil, spread onto a baking sheet, then placed in an oven preheated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Simple, right?  Within 5 minutes, a loud sizzling noise could be heard from the oven.  Through the window I saw a haze of smoke.  Uh-oh.  I glanced over at the ‘culinary oil smoke points’ magnet on my fridge and read: Olive Processed – 428 degrees Fahrenheit.  Phew.  Everything is going to be okay, I thought.  Looking back at the magnet, all feelings of calm were erased once I noticed the last line: Extra Virgin Olive – 331 degrees Fahrenheit.

Panic ensued.  I frantically phoned E asking him to purchase a fire extinguisher on his way home.  My google search of “oven fire” led me to realize that a fire extinguisher was not, in fact, necessary so I phoned him back to tell him not to bother. (Aside: I still plan on buying one because it’s probably a good thing to have around).  I opened every window and door in my apartment.  I cleared floor space, making sure there was unobstructed access to the oven and the smoke detector.  And then I waited.  And waited.  The tomatoes continued to sizzle in the oven although the smoke had somewhat subsided.  I nervously peeked through the window every 2 minutes, ensuring I would be able to react quickly when/if a fire were to erupt.  After 45 minutes (which felt like 2 hours), the oven timer beeped and the tomatoes were ready to be removed from the oven.  They were perfectly roasted with a slight char and my kitchen remained intact.  Success!

The soup was rich in flavour and absolutely delicious.  Totally worth the stress.  Would I make it again using olive oil to roast the tomatoes?  Not likely.  Canola oil would probably work just as well and doesn’t run the risk of burning down your kitchen.

The ultimate comfort food


Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
(lightly adapted from The Best of Bridge Presents… A Year of the Best)

1.5 lbs ripe, Roma (Plum) tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 tbsp olive oil (use with caution!)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (use 1/4 tsp for a spicier soup)
Half of a 28 oz can of plum tomatoes and juice (preferably no-salt-added)
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (preferably low sodium)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Toss tomatoes with 2 tbsp oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, heat 2 tsp oil and saute onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes until onion starts to brown.
  3. Add canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and broth.  Add oven-roasted tomatoes, including any liquid on baking sheet.  Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes.  Puree in batches using a food processor or in the pot using an immersion blender.  Add additional salt to taste, if needed.  Serve hot or cold.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 165 kcal, 16 g carbohydrate, 3.8 g fibre, 10 g fat, 2.7 g protein, 641 mg sodium.

Cook 1 New Food a Week: Celeriac (and Apple Slaw)

15 Apr

It’s not January but I have a new resolution:  to cook 1 new vegetable (or grain, or other wholesome food) a week.  Lately I’ve been surprised by the number of foods that exist that I haven’t ever tasted or attempted to cook.  How can this be?!  I’m supposed to be a foodie!  More importantly, I’m beginning to realize that I need to know a LOT about food as a dietitian.  Exhibit A:  Last week I came across multiple unfamiliar items while reviewing a patient’s food records.  Sweetsop? Bodi? Eddoe?  Even if the name of the food sounds familiar, it’s tough to have a clue about its nutritional profile if you’ve never tasted or cooked it.

This week I started with a relatively basic vegetable… the humble celeriac, or celery root.  I’ve eaten celeriac at restaurants but never have I been so courageous to tackle this unfortunate looking root at home.  Celeriac is unique amongst root vegetables in that it has a relatively low starch content.  Gram for gram, celeriac has one-third the calories and carbohydrate content of potatoes.  As a result, mashed celeriac (or a mashed potato-celeriac combo) can lighten up a meal and make room for other foods… such as that slice of bread.

Celeriac aka Celery Root

Cooked celeriac has a mellow yet distinguishable flavour– like a milder version of raw celery stalks.  When eaten raw, I’ve read that celeriac is supposed to have a strong and pungent taste.  Interestingly, I felt quite the opposite in this Celeriac Apple Slaw.  The apples and currents provided a whack of sweetness which was balanced by tart lemon and earthy fresh basil.  A perfect spring slaw. And the perfect way to give celeriac a try.

A dismal photo of the Celeriac Apple Slaw (it tastes better than it looks!)


Celeriac Apple Slaw
(from Moosewood Restaurant: Cooking for Health)

1 lemon, zested and juiced
3 cups peeled and grated sweet, firm apples
2.5 cups peeled and grated celeriac
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup currants or raisins (I only used 1/4 cup… half a cup seemed like a lot!)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup minced red onions
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper

  1. In a large bowl, combine lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.  Add the grated apples and stir well– the lemon juice will prevent discolouration.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6 cups.  Per 1 cup serving: 96 kcal, 3 g fibre, 3 g fat, 163 mg sodium.

Tis the Season… for Tomatoes!

9 Sep

If you’re a tomato-eater, you can appreciate the difference between in-season tomatoes (plump, juicy, and sweet) and middle-of-winter tomatoes (mealy, watery, and flavourless).  We’re in the middle of tomato season in Ontario– a reality that officially registered with me this past weekend.  I was at a rest stop in upstate New York, en route to Connecticut for a weekend visit with my parents.  The food options were limited: Tim Hortons (we were still fairly close to the Canadian border at this point) or a burger-and-fries joint known as Checkers.  I grabbed an uninspired salad from the latter– iceberg lettuce, a slice or two of cucumber, and a dash of grated cheese with a microwaved chicken breast on top.  Yum.  But hiding beneath the chicken were two bright red tomato wedges.  Not the greenish-orangey tomatoes that I’ve come to expect from fast food joints.  They were juicy and ruby red throughout… and they actually tasted like tomato!

Wanting to take advantage of the abundance (and affordability!) of great tasting tomatoes available in grocery stores at this time of year, I sifted through my cookbooks and came across a recipe for a tomato salad.  It called for 3 different kinds of tomatoes (plum, field, and grape), a handful of olives, a small amount of bocconcini cheese, all topped with caramelized onions, fresh basil, and a creamy yet light balsamic dressing.

Grape tomatoes grown in Ontario... what a treat!

I had a couple of girlfriends over for dinner (who asked to be referred to as N, S, and M) and they were all in love with this salad.  The sweet tomatoes and caramelized onions paired wonderfully with the salty olives, creamy bocconcini, and the tangy balsamic dressing.  The fresh basil was the cherry on top– the salad still probably would have been wonderful without but it added another dimension of flavour (and colour).

Tomato Salad (it tastes better than it looks... I promise!)

Tomato Salad with Caramelized Onions, Bocconcini Cheese & Olives
(adapted from Rose Reisman’s Family Favorites)

The recipe said to arrange the tomatoes, cheese, olives, and onions on a serving platter, then toss with the dressing.  I couldn’t figure out the logistics of tossing on a serving platter so I placed all of the ingredients into a bowl instead.  The presentation wasn’t very pretty so next time I might use a platter and simply drizzle the dressing over top.

Also, if you’ve never caramelized onions before, don’t be intimidated.  This was a first for me and it was incredibly easy!  A good non-stick pan is important, and make sure you stir the onions at regular intervals.

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 large sweet white onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp brown sugar
2 large field tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 plum tomatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
1-1/2 cups grape tomatoes, cut in half
60 grams (2 oz) bocconcini cheese, thinly sliced (about 2 mini balls, or 1 large ball)
1/4 cup kalamata olives, halved

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tbsp light mayonnaise
1-1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic

3 tbsp chopped fresh basil

  1. Over medium heat, lightly coat a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and add the oil.  Saute the onion slices for 10 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned.  Add the sugar and saute for another 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Arrange the tomatoes, bocconcini cheese, and olives on a serving platter.  Place the caramelized onions on top.
  3. Prepare the dressing by whisking together the oil, sour cream or yogurt, mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, honey and garlic until well blended.  Pour the dressing evenly over the salad and toss (see tip above).  Garnish with basil and serve.

Salad can be prepared earlier in the day and refrigerated until ready to serve.  Dress at the last minute.

Makes 4 large servings.  Per serving: 247 kcal, 15 g fat, 3 g fibre, 320 mg sodium

When Life Gives You Basil, Make Pesto

14 Jul

At the beginning of the summer I joined a community garden at the university.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, a community garden is essentially a garden (in our case, a vegetable garden) that is collectively maintained by a group of people.  Early on I helped clear the garden space of wild grass and weeds and I even got to plant some seeds.  Now that the garden is up and growing, I visit on an ongoing basis to help weed and water the plants.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience– I’ve learned a lot from my fellow gardeners and from watching the garden grow over time.


Me and some of my fellow gardeners in the vegetable garden


While I was weeding at the garden this morning, one of the organizers insisted that I take home some basil.  She said that it was going to flower soon, which is undesirable as it makes the plant taste more bitter.  Who knew?  Anyway, she really didn’t have to pull my arm– I was happy to take home what was more than just “some” basil… she practically gave me an entire plant!

It didn’t take much thought to figure out what to do with the basil.  Loads of basil = pesto, but not the calorie-dense store-bought pesto. I wanted a lightened up pesto full of fresh flavours that I could use liberally on my pasta.


Lightened Up Pesto


I found this recipe on Weight Watchers but modified it a bit based on taste and what I had on hand.  Pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto but I’ve seen recipes that use almonds/walnuts/just about any nut imaginable.  I didn’t have pine nuts on hand so I used sliced almonds and it worked out perfectly.  And much more cost effective!  If you’re using the pesto for pasta, a great trick is to save some of the pasta cooking water.  When it’s time to toss, first add the desired amount of pesto to the pasta, toss a bit, and then add a dash or two of the pasta water.  This makes it easier to evenly coat the pasta with pesto while giving the sauce more body and an almost creamy mouthfeel.

Buon appetito!


Whole Wheat Spaghettini with Lightened Up Pesto and Shrimp


Lightened Up Pesto   (Adapted from WeightWatchers.com)

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 tbsp pine nuts or sliced almonds, toasted
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp vegetable or chicken broth (or water)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Place all ingredients in a small food processor and blend on high speed until smooth.

Makes 1/2 cup pesto.  Per 2 tbsp: 85 kcal, 9 g fat, 158 mg sodium