Tag Archives: spinach

The Beef on Red Meat & Cancer (feat. Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs)

29 Mar

Red meat has been at the centre of much controversy over the past 6 months. Bacon-lovers were up in arms when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, released a report in October 2015 describing the association between processed meat and cancer risk. The report classified processed meat (such as hot dogs, ham, and sausage) as “carcinogenic to humans” and red meat (such as fresh beef, veal, pork, and lamb) as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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Processed meats are thought to be cancerous because of the chemicals that form during salting, curing, fermentation, or smoking. These chemicals include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Based on epidemiological studies, IARC felt that there was sufficient evidence to say that eating processed meats causes colorectal cancer. For every 50 gram portion of processed meat consumed daily, it is estimated that your risk of colorectal cancer increases by approximately 18%.

But what about fresh red meat? What makes it more likely to cause cancer than other meats, like poultry and fish? Unfortunately the experts don’t seem to fully understand. What they do know is that cooking red meat at high temperatures (for example, barbecuing or pan-frying) can lead to the production of carcinogenic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines. Epidemiological studies have shown a positive association between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer; however, the IARC is quick to say that the evidence remains limited because confounding factors could not be excluded in these studies.

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Does this mean that we should avoid all processed and red meat?

Yes and no. To all the bacon-lovers out there: I’m sorry to say this, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid processed meats as much as possible. Red meat intake, on the other hand, should be limited but you don’t need to completely avoid it. The World Cancer Research Fund International recommends limiting red meat to 500 grams per week, which amounts to approximately 6 deck-of-card sized servings. Keep in mind that the average North American is accustomed to eating portions of meat that are double this size, so keeping portions in check is an important way to reduce your cancer risk.

If you aren’t convinced that a small portion of beef or pork is going to cut it when you sit down to dinner, try using ground meat and incorporate other ingredients like veggies, grains, or legumes to add bulk. This way you can feel like you’re eating a reasonably-sized portion while keeping your red meat intake under 100 grams.

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Meatballs are a great way to stretch your meat portion without sacrificing nutrition or taste. I first stumbled across this spinach and sun-dried tomato meatball recipe several years ago, fell in love with the amazing flavour, and then promptly forgot about it and haven’t made it since. Until now.

Frozen spinach offers many healthy nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin K, folate, and fibre while adding a pretty green marbling to your meatballs. It doesn’t change the flavour all that much, in my opinion, which is where the sun-dried tomato comes in. Don’t skimp on this ingredient! The sun-dried tomato adds a pop of umami with every bite and is what make this meatball so irresistible. A bit of Parmesan cheese rounds out the Mediterranean-inspired flavours to add more depth and a hint of saltiness.

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Cora versus the Meatball tower

My favourite thing about meatballs, second to eating them, is how easily they freeze. I tend to bake a large batch, cool them in the fridge for a day, then toss them in a freezer bag for easy storage. When a quick protein is needed for dinner, I pop a few in the microwave and…voila! Dinner is served.

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Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs
(adapted from Kath Eats Real Food)

1 pound (454 grams) extra-lean ground beef
10 ounces (300 grams) frozen spinach, thawed and drained very well of all liquid (tip: wrap in paper towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible)
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained well and chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup panko
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray (or coat lightly with vegetable oil).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients with your hands.
  3. Divide mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs (about 20) and place onto foil-lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip each meatball. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until meatballs begin to brown.

Makes 20 meatballs. Per 4 meatballs: 250kcal, 8.6 g fat (2.7 g saturated), 15 g carbohydrate, 2.7 g fibre, 27 g protein, 363 mg sodium

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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.

‘Souper’ Easy, Hearty and Healthy Lentil Soup

7 Jan

Celery, carrots, and onion are a trio commonly known as a ‘mirepoix.’ During the winter, I like to make sure my kitchen is always stocked with these three staple ingredients which together form the basis for a wide variety of soups and stews. You’d be surprised how long celery and carrots will last in the fridge. If they start to wilt, store them in a bowl of cold water and watch them spring back to life. It’s like magic!

Mirepoix

We’re one week into 2013 and so far I’ve managed to keep my New Year’s resolution. I cooked one of my favourite hearty soups yesterday afternoon, a soup that my Mom first made during my university years. It brings back fond memories; years of dismal cooking spotted with frozen homemade meals that I would always save for when I was craving a taste of home.

This isn’t your ordinary lentil soup. Sweet potato chunks are little gems of bliss (I’ve been known to pick out all of the pieces from the pot!) and contrast nicely with the robust cumin, coriander, and oregano. It’s thick, hearty, and an easy one-dish meal.  Bonus: it makes a LARGE pot, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers plus several portions that can be frozen.

Now I get to sit back and relax because lunch for the week is made!

Fundalentilly delicious!

Nom nom nom

Fundalentil Soup
(from Crazy Plates)

Feel free to substitute the can of tomato soup for a can of tomato paste + a bit of sugar or honey for just the right amount of sweetness.  Add the water or broth last.  My soup pot is not quite large enough to hold all of the ingredients so I often use a fraction of the fluid at first, then add the rest once I’ve eaten a bowl or two.

1 tsp olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups low-fat chicken or vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained (preferably no-salt-added)
1 can (10-3/4 oz) reduced-fat tomato soup, undiluted
2 cups dried brown or green lentils
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups peeled, diced sweet potatoes (I left the skin on this time)
2 tsp dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp each ground coriander and salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups packed, chopped, fresh spinach (I like to use an entire 227 g bag of spinach)

  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 or 4 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients, except spinach. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add spinach and simmer for 15 more minutes.  Serve hot.

Makes 12 servings.  Per serving: 198 calories, 2 g fat (0.1 g saturated), 12 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 12 g fibre, 355 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.

The Quest for Healthy Cheese

12 Aug

I’ve never made cheese before but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.  To me, homemade cheese has always been something for the pros… certainly not for your basic home cook like myself, I thought.  But after seeing a simple recipe for paneer (Indian cheese) in a recent issue of Chatelaine magazine, I finally had the confidence to try it out.

According to the oh-so-wise Wikipedia, paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asian cuisine.  It is made by curdling heated milk with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar.  The result is an unsalted, unaged, non-melting, farmer’s cheese.

Almost all recipes that I stumbled across called for 2 litres of whole milk (3.3% milk fat) and 1/4 cup of lemon juice.  That’s it.  Determined to make a healthier version, I decided to try making paneer with skim milk.  Several websites indicated that it could be done but that the result would be a more rubbery and grainy cheese.  Sounds yummy, right?!?  I figured the texture might actually be palatable since paneer is usually sauteed in oil first and then added to dishes containing TONS of wonderful Indian spices.  Plus, I couldn’t justify making paneer with whole milk knowing how much healthier it could be if skim milk were used.  (My estimates indicate that paneer made with skim milk contains half as many calories as full-fat paneer and virtually no fat, compared to 16 grams of mostly saturated fat per half cup serving of whole milk paneer)

The basic steps in making paneer are as follows:

  1. Bring 2 litres of milk to a boil over medium heat
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lemon juice and stir while curds separate from the whey
  3. Pour mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander and gently rinse with cold water to remove lemon flavour
  4. Gather ends of cheesecloth and twist ball of cheese to squeeze out any remaining whey.  Tie cheesecloth to sink faucet and let hang for 5 minutes.
  5. Place on a plate, set another plate on top, and weigh down with cans or a heavy pot.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  6. Unwrap cheese and voila!

If you want to try this at home, follow this recipe from Aarti Sequiera which gives much more detailed instructions.  As a heads up, don’t be disappointed when you are left with a seemingly teeny tiny bundle of cheese.  Typically, 8 cups of milk yields 2 cups (12 ounces) of paneer.  I was only left with 7.5 ounces, a mere 63% yield.  I would have failed if this were a chemistry lab!  Perhaps it was because I didn’t allow the milk to completely curdle, or maybe it was because I used skim milk?  Who knows…

Ball O' Cheese in the making

Voila! Homemade Healthy Cheese

There are a ton of Indian dishes that use paneer, my favourite being Saag Paneer (also known as Palak Paneer, or Spinach with Paneer).  This recipe (also from Aarti) uses plain low-fat yogurt instead of cream… my kind of cooking!  It’s a bit time consuming but the final product was WELL worth the effort.  Spicy spinach-y goodness… yum yum.  Make sure you have naan bread on hand– it’s the perfect accompaniment to this dish!

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer:  Spinach with Indian Cheese   (adapted from Aarti Sequiera)

1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil, divided
8 to 12 ounces (1.5 to 2 cups) of paneer or firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 package (300 g) frozen spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (1 inch thumb) ginger, peeled and minced (approx 1 tbsp)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together turmeric, cayenne pepper, salt, and 1 tbsp canola oil.  Add paneer cubes and toss gently, taking care not to break up paneer.  Set aside.
  2. Puree spinach in a food processor until smooth.  Alternatively, spinach can be chopped very finely.
  3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, spray with non-stick spray, and cook paneer for 5 or so minutes, until lightly browned.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  4. Heat remaining 1/2 tbsp oil.  Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and saute over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the mixture is evenly toffee-coloured.  Add a couple of tablespoons of water as the mixture cooks if it looks like it is drying out or burning.
  5. Add the garam masala, coriander, and cumin.  Sprinkle a bit of water to prevent the spices from burning. Cook, stirring often, for 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the spinach and mix well.  Add a bit of salt and stir in 1/2 cup of water. Cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Turn off the heat and slowly add the yogurt, stirring continuously.  Add the paneer.  Turn heat back on to medium and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.  Serve warm.

Makes 3 servings.  Per serving (approximate): 220 kcal, 8 g fat, 350 mg sodium, 3 g fibre

Spinach Lentil Salad

2 May

This blog is not all about spinach, despite the name, and yet oddly enough my first post is a recipe that includes (drumroll please)… spinach.  Surprise!  Totally unintentional but I happened to have some on hand and it’s such a versatile (and healthy!) ingredient.

I don’t usually use canned lentils but I had some leftover from a lentil cookie recipe that I recently whipped up (more on that another day).  I’d imagine the recipe would work just as well with dried lentils cooked in boiling water.

Spinach Lentil Salad

Spinach Lentil Salad


Spinach Lentil Salad

1/3 cup light vinaigrette (recipe below)
1 can (19 oz) lentils, drained and rinsed well
1 green onion, minced  (approx 1/4 cup)
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2-3 tbsp raisins
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, coarsely chopped

  1. Combine lentils, green onion, carrot, raisins, and spinach in a medium bowl.
  2. Toss with light vinaigrette and let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving to allow flavours to meld.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 180 kcal, 4.2 g fat, 9 g fibre, 85 mg sodium

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Light Vinaigrette (from “Power Eating”)

1/2 cup no-salt added chicken or vegetable stock (or 1/2 cup water + a few dashes each of onion powder and garlic powder)
3 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp salt

  1. In a jar, combine all ingredients.  Secure lid and shake to mix well.
  2. Store in fridge for up to 1 week.

Makes approx 3/4 cup.  Per 1 tbsp serving: 36 kcal, 4 g fat, 55 mg sodium