Saturday, February 26, 2011


Oatmeal is what I eat every day for breakfast. I've been eating it every morning for as long as I can remember. I was never much of a cereal and milk girl.  Oatmeal is easy, it's healthy, it's cheap, and it's good. It changes with the seasons, too. I add chopped freshly picked apples and cinnamon in the fall, blueberries and raspberries in the summer, and dried fruits and nuts in the winter...the list goes on and on. Add cut up bananas and walnuts and it's divine. Right now, I'm loving simple raisins, cinnamon, a touch of honey, walnuts, and almonds. It's that easy.

I've read recently in Michael Pollan's book 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' about today's processed cereals that are pretty much devoid of nutrients until they're fortified the hell out of with vitamins and minerals. They're also packed with sugar. Just take a look at any label and sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) is pretty close to the top of the ingredient list. And, the cereals themselves are full of corn, because apparently that's like the only crop grown in the United States (kidding. kidding.)

Personally, instead of eating a processed cereal that says it has whole grains in it, I'd rather eat a cereal that is a whole grain. Those little rolled oats are whole grains! Along with reaping the health benefits, I save a lot of money on my oats. I buy whole rolled oats in the bulk bins at the grocery store, health food store, or food co-ops and I can have oatmeal for a week for about two dollars (plus the add-ins, like the fruit and nuts).

Did I mention you can make a bowl of oatmeal in the same amount of time that you can pour a bowl of cereal? Fill your bowl with oats, add nuts, fruit, or whatever else you like, and pour some boiling water over it all. In only 2 minutes or so, your oats will absorb that water and you have oatmeal. It's that easy. Give it a try.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Curry Red Lentil Soup

I love lentil soup. Lentils are an excellent source of plant based protein with lots of fiber, so they fill you up and give you energy. I always feel so healthy after eating a bowl of lentil soup and I make it a lot. I make it lots of different ways to keep it interesting. Using different types of lentils, spices, and vegetables ensure that I don't get bored. This particular soup is really great because the red lentils don't need any soaking and they cook really quickly. They break down nicely, making a very creamy soup. There's only a few ingredients in this soup, but it certainly isn't lacking in flavor. Believe me when I tell you that my entire house smelled like an Indian restaurant when I made this. Not that I mind that or anything. Be sure to taste it throughout the cooking process and don't be afraid to add salt, because the salt really brings out the curry flavor. If you like heat, add some cayenne pepper. Stir in some cooked wheat berries at the end or serve it over brown rice if you want some grains. And enjoy it with sauteed greens or a nice salad and you have yourself a great meal.

Curry Red Lentil Soup
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbs freshly grated ginger (you may use powdered, but fresh is best)
2 or 3 large carrots, finely chopped
olive oil
11/2  tbs curry powder (more or less to taste)
2 cups red lentils
6 cups of water
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Dollop of plain yogurt (optional)

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil and add chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Let the onion soften briefly, then add garlic, ginger, and curry powder and stir for about 30 seconds or so to coat the onion with the curry (this will smell fantastic, by the way). Add the chopped carrots, lentils, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until the lentil are cooked and they start to break down, about 25 minutes or so. You may need to add some more water, as the soup gets very thick. Feel free to add some cayenne pepper and don't forget to add salt. It makes a world of difference. Ladle into bowls and top with a dollop of plain yogurt to cut the heat and add some creaminess.
Makes about 5 servings

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I can't say enough about beans. They're so wonderful. Different shapes, different sizes, different colors, different flavors. They add so much to dishes, from fiber, to protein, to iron. Did I mention they taste wonderful?
With people's busy lives and instant gratification needs, many have forgotten that beans come in a dried form. The easy, convenient, quick way to make beans is to open up a can. And that is fine sometimes. But recently, I've discovered that getting dried beans in the bulk bins at health food stores and co-ops is far cheaper, far better for the environment (think of all the aluminum cans you'd save!),  much healthier (think less salt, no BPA lined cans, and no preservatives), and more fun (if you've ever seen cool, colorful heirloom beans, you know what I'm talking'll never be able to get those in a can). Many people wonder why you need to soak the beans before cooking. Well, to make a long and complex story short, the beans will become easier to digest and they will cook quicker. Granted, it takes time to soak the dried beans overnight and boil them until they're tender, but with a little planning ahead of time, this can easily be done. I've gotten used to it and while I'll admit that sometimes it would be easier to just open up a can, I realize that it's all worth it when I taste the perfectly cooked beans that I've cooked myself. I encourage you to try.

How to Cook Dried Beans
Soak your desired amount of beans in water covering them about 3 inches overnight (or at least 8 hours) at room temperature. Remember, when beans hydrate, they tend to expand, so you'll get a greater volume of cooked beans. Keep this in mind so you don't make more than you need. But if you do make more, you can always keep the extra cooked beans in the refrigerator and add them to your dishes throughout the week. That way they're already cooked and nice and convenient to use.

When you're ready to cook them, drain the presoaked beans and rinse them in cool water. Put them in a pot and cover them with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add some sea salt, and keep an eye on them. You may need to add  more water. Sometimes you get a nice layer of foam on top of the simmering beans. That doesn't hurt anyone, just skim it off with a slotted spoon if you really don't like it. Different beans cook at different times, depending upon their size and how old they are, so I can't give you an exact time when they'll be done. Just taste them and when they're the tenderness that you want them, drain them. Like I said, they keep very well covered in the refrigerator for about 5 days and add them to things as you need them. With a little planning ahead, you can really get the most out of your beans.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roasted Vegetable, White Bean, and Wheat Berry Salad

It's been one of those weeks. Those weeks where you just want to run away from life's many problems and worries. When all you want to do is absolutely nothing and worry about absolutely nothing. But you can't. So instead, you cook something in a lame attempt to cheer yourself up and get your mind off of life's many problems. Yeah, I'm having one of those weeks. So I decided to roast some vegetables, even though they're summer vegetables and it's still pretty much winter. Planting summer squash, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil and reaping the garden's bounty seems like so long  ago, but this salad brought it back, if only for a little while. Feel free to play around with the vegetables. Use what you like. I just found this particular combination to be very colorful and tasty. The salad is a  meal in itself with plenty of vegetables, protein from the beans, whole grains from the wheat berries, and healthy fats from the olives. I packed it for lunch today and it really kept me full.

Roasted Vegetable, White Bean, and Wheat Berry Salad
2 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow summer squash, diced
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut lengthwise
1 small orange bell pepper, chopped to roughly same size as zucchini and squash to ensure uniform cooking
1/2 onion, again, chopped same size as other vegetables
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
10 pitted kalamata olives, halved
1 cup cooked white beans
2 cups cooked wheat berries*
fresh basil leaves
sea salt
olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place zucchini, squash, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and garlic, on a large glass baking dish. Add olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt. Be sure all the tomatoes are "seeds side up" so they don't stick to the pan. Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are nicely softened, but not overcooked.

When the vegetables are done, put them in a large bowl. Add the cooked wheat berries, cooked white beans, olives, and shredded basil leaves. Mix thoroughly. Taste and add salt if necessary. Keeps very well in the refrigerator for a few days. This recipe makes about 6 small servings

*Wheat berries should be soaked overnight in a bowl with water. In the morning, drain them and put them in a pot with new water to cover them about 3 inches. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes until some of the berries crack and they're chewy and tender to taste. Drain.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts are one of those vegetables that always get mixed reviews. I'm one of those people who doesn't mind them. In fact I really like them when they're roasted. I remember back in high school around Thanksgiving time, a super crazy chemistry teacher I had asked me what my favorite food at the Thanksgiving table was. I think I said stuffing. He said brussel sprouts. He said his wife roasted them with olive oil and salt and that when the outsides got nice and golden, he'd eat them like potato chips. Potato chips? I was sold. I haven't made the sprouts any other way since then.

There's no easier way to prepare these little green vegetables. Just trim about two millimeters or so off the bottom of the little stems if they're looking a little dry, roll them around in olive oil, sprinkle with plenty of sea salt, and bake them in a 375 degree oven until they 're a bright green color and the outer leaves are getting a little brown and crispy, about 20 minutes, or until a fork still meets some resistance as you're attempting to pierce one of those green guys (You don't want them too mushy). Those outer crispy leaves are so good...probably the best part!  I usually serve these whole as a simple side dish or cut them in half and add them to something like a wheat berry salad with homemade honey mustard dressing and some type of bean. They're so versatile and so delicious!

I should also mention that Brussel sprouts are incredibly healthy for you. They're in the family called cruciferous vegetables, along with kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. Research has shown incredible cancer fighting, antioxidant, and detoxifying properties of these vegetables. Preparing them in a tasty way, such as roasting, can hopefully get us to incorporate them into our diet more often, because they really do the body a world of good.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Poached Eggs with Kale

Ok, so I really like kale in case you didn't notice. It really is a superfood and adding it to the diet can do a body so much good! Research shows that kale's nutrient richness stands out in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Read much more about kale and many healthy foods here

This particular dish is something that I make when I really am not feeling too creative at dinner time. I always have kale or another sort of green on hand and I always have eggs. And do we even need to mention garlic? I always have about three heads of the stuff at all times. There really isn't much of a recipe here. You just chop up some kale into strips (enough to fill up a bowl to make a nice little "nest" for your poached eggs) and chop up a clove or two of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a good sized frying pan, add the garlic, and then add the kale. Adding a few tablespoons of broth or water to the pan can help the kale wilt nicely without burning it. The trick here is to not overcook the kale. Keep it on a very low flame, keep it moving, and don't cook it for long. The powerful health benefits of this vegetable (and many other vegetables, for that matter) can be compromised at high heat. Once the kale is  bright green, I turn off the heat. I add some salt and red pepper flakes, maybe some chopped grape tomatoes and olives (feel free to add whatever you like) and eat it with two perfectly  poached local eggs. An excellent tutorial on how to perfectly poach an egg can be seen here. It takes some practice to get the technique right. Use the best eggs you can get your hands on. Quality really does count when you're eating a semi-cooked egg. I am amazed every time I eat a local, truly free range egg how bright and vibrant orange the yolk is.  A nice piece of whole grain toast to accompany it all and to soak up the goodness is always welcomed.

Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup

This is one of my favorite soups to make when it's cold outside. It's so nourishing, warming, hearty, and delicious. And it's very easy to make. It's important to soak the white beans and grains overnight before cooking them because it gives  a chance for deactivation of enzymes that cause GI upset, while maximizing their nutrient availability and absorption. It also helps them cook faster.

Tuscan Kale is my favorite green vegetable. Something about its deep green color and earthy flavor, plus its incredible nutrient profile, makes it a vegetable that I love working with. The soup is very versatile. Add different types of beans or switch up the grains. Add winter squash instead of carrots. Add a potato to make it more hearty or even add some organic sausage for those of you who are not vegetarian and prefer some meat. Remember, the fresh sage is key. It lends a beautiful flavor that goes perfectly with the kale and beans.

Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup
1 medium onion
4 cloves of garlic
extra virgin olive oil
6 large leaves of fresh sage
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 large carrots
3 celery stalks
6 cups vegetable broth or water
2 cups cooked white beans (you can use canned, just drain and rinse them really well)
1 1/2 cup wheat berries or barley soaked overnight if possible (optional)
1 bunch of Tuscan kale, also known as black or lacinato kale
Parmesan or Pecorino for grating

In a large soup pot, saute chopped onion in olive oil and a pinch of salt to soften the onion a bit. After the onion has softened, but not browned, add chopped garlic, chopped sage, and finely chopped rosemary. Let cook only for a minute or so before adding chopped carrots and celery. Continue to cook about 5 minutes. The carrots and celery will be still crunchy, but that's ok. Add the broth or water, bay leaf, and the pre-soaked grains and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if needed. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes until the grains are cooked. You may need to add some more water or broth if you'd like because the grains soak up liquid. In the meantime, chop the kale into thin strips, removing the tough stems if you don't care for them. When the grains are cooked, add the cooked or canned beans and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the kale, stirring continuously as the kale wilts into the soup. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil, serve with warm crusty bread, and enjoy.
Makes roughly 6 servings