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Nourishing Meals

Sometimes an empty fridge can be a good thing when it comes to cooking. It forces you to be a little creative – take a few risks.

Our fridge has been on verge of empty since we arrived in Guam. We’ve been eating at home for every meal, so it’s been difficult to keep it fully stocked.

Avocado smeared on gluten free toast has been our daily go-to, but today I wanted something different.

I opened the refrigerator and took an inventory of my options. Avocado – nope, not today. Purple cabbage – maybe? Thai basil – definitely, must use. Several very hot red chiles – perfect. Dry roasted peanuts – oh yes, I can already see where this is going.

And that’s how this recipe came to be.

3/4 cup dry roasted peanuts
1/2 head purple cabbage, core removed, very finely sliced (about 3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 small red chiles, fresh, seeded and diced
1/4 cup Thai basil, torn into pieces
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1 heaping cup of garbanzo beans (optional)

2 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
zest from one small lime
1/2 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil (warmed to a liquid)
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
drizzle of wildflower honey
pinch of sea salt

Warm the peanuts in a dry skillet for a minute or two. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage and sea salt and allow to sit for a few minutes. Next, add the chiles, Thai basil, green onions, red onions and garbanzo beans.

In a separate bowl, combine the lime juice and zest, coconut oil, olive oil, honey and pinch of sea salt.

Add the dressing to the cabbage mixture and toss.

Just before serving, toss the peanuts with the salad.

Serves 2

One of my last nights in the States was spent over a lovely meal with my sister and brother-in-law. They live in a charming Spanish revival in the heart of Los Angeles – the kind of cozy place that immediately feels like home.

I arrived at their house early in the afternoon, hours before either of them came home from work. Plenty of time to make friends with their chickens, take a nap, read a magazine, and make dinner.

Somehow sprouts, which mark a new beginning, seemed the perfect ingredient for this meal – my sister with a baby on the way and me with a new island home in my future. The recipe is full of sprouts – sprouted tofu, sprouted peas, sprouted lentils, sprouted beans, and radish sprouts. And nothing like a little sweet chili sauce to make a sprout sing.

canola oil
1 8 oz package firm (sprouted) tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
1 cup all-purpose or brown rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 cup prepared sweet chili sauce

2 cups assorted sprouted beans and lentils
1 cup garbanzo beans, cooked
1 cup radish sprouts

Cooked brown rice

Fill the bottom of a straight sided sauté pan with 1 inch of canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.

Meanwhile combine the flour with the salt and cayenne in a small bowl. Toss the tofu in the flour mixture.

When the oil is ready, carefully drop the cubes of tofu into the pan. For best results, fry the tofu in several batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. And turn each cube to fry all sides. The end goal is a golden colored crispy cube of tofu. Remove the finished tofu to a bowl and gently toss with the sweet chili sauce.

To prepare a serving, fill the bottom of a bowl with a scoop of brown rice, then a scoop of crispy tofu, a handful of sprouted beans and lentils, some garbanzo beans and finally radish sprouts. Offer additional sweet chili sauce at the table.

Sometimes good ideas, and good recipes for that matter, come out of necessity. For example, today’s to-do list reads – organize and pack kitchen for move to Guam. The spice cabinet seemed small and manageable, so I started there. I pulled down all the spices. Consolidated bags into jars, labeled things without labels, and arranged the bags and jars neatly into the perfect sized box I found in the closet. This is going well I thought. I was feeling motivated, so I moved to the neighboring cabinet. In front was a bag of red lentils, behind that a jar of pinto beans, then I saw some brown rice, pretzels, cocoa, shredded coconut, granola, dried corn husks…and my motivation waned. It is no fun to pack.

So I took down the bag of red lentils. Opened up the box of neatly organized spices, took out the curry, and came up with this recipe.

Like I said, sometimes the most amazingly good ideas come out of necessity.

I love it when you stumble across a combination of flavors so delicious that you find yourself tasting – then re-tasting, then tasting one more time – tasting so many times that you’ve had several portions of the dish before it ever actually makes it to the table. This is one of those dishes. A surprise combination of savory from the earthy red lentils, spicy from the curry, and sweet from the honey caramelized onions.

Once the onions are good and caramelized which can take up to 40 minutes, the recipe comes to together in a few minutes. Hurry and serve it or you may just eat it all out of the pan.

2 medium onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon honey
pinch of sea salt

1 + 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup carrots, small dice
1/4 cup celery, small dice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon curry powder
1 cup organic red lentils
3 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt

To prepare the caramelized the onions, heat a medium sized sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and butter. Once the butter has melted add the onions. Stir the onions to coat them in the oil and butter. Turn the heat down to low. Continue cooking the onions, stirring every few minutes, until the onions develop a deep caramel color, about 30 minutes. If the pan begins to brown add a few tablespoons of water. Once the onions have developed a caramel color, turn off the heat, stir in a drizzle of honey and a pinch of sea salt, and set aside.

While the onions are cooking, heat a straight sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil, then the carrots, celery, ginger, and garlic. Sauté 1 to 2 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the curry powder. Next add the red lentils, water and sea salt. Stir to combine. Allow the mixture to come to boil. Then turn the heat down to a very low simmer and cover. Continue cooking until the lentils are tender. Add additional water, if needed.

Once the lentils are tender, stir in the honey caramelized onions.

Serve the lentils over a fragrant brown rice (like basmati) and garnish each bowl with a few snips of fresh mint.

Serves 4

It has been a tumultuous two weeks – twenty-three hour drive from Florida to Connecticut, fender bender in North Carolina, and news that we’re moving to Guam in June.

What? Guam? I know. I had to do a Google search too. Guam is a small island about 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. From the images, it looks like tropical paradise. I spent the last week reading every website and blog post I could find about Guam. I even calculated the flight time to every travel destination I could imagine – 2 hour flight to Palau, 4 hours to Jakarta, 3 hours to Tokyo… From what I’ve read, Guam is what you make of it. And I’m determined to make it the most incredible experience ever.

With all that’s going on, I have a lot of nervous energy racing through me. So, without sounding too hippy-dippy, I’m taking special care to prepare calming foods – no spicy tequila soaked upside down cake for me.

I came across this recipe in my files. I created it nearly 6 years ago for use in the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Study at Oregon Health & Science University.

The recipe calls for French green lentils, Lentilles du Puy – aka the caviar of lentils. They have less starch than most lentils, so they remain firm (not mushy) after cooking which makes them perfect for salads and such. The texture is probably one of my favorite things about these lentils.

But be forewarned: not every French green lentil is the same. Look on the package for the French AOP (Appellation d’Origin Protegée) designation which ensures that the lentils originate from the Auvergne region of south central France.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/4 cup carrots, small dice
1/4 cup celery, small dice
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup French green lentils
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

In a small sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Stir the vegetables to coat them with the oil. Add the fresh thyme and bay leaf. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent. Add the lentils, water and sea salt, and stir.

Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover the pan with a lid. Continue cooking until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry vinegar. Add additional sea salt, if needed.

Serve over brown rice.

Serves 2 

This salad came to me last night while gazing up at the “super” moon through the skylight in our bedroom – inspired me to use up some of “super” foods remaining in our fridge from an overenthusiastic visit to the grocery store last week.

A note on the ingredients: I realize it’s not yet tomato season, but I couldn’t resist purchasing some little organic Mexican beauties. And they were definitely the right fit for this salad, tangy and sweet. If you can find spring onions in your local market, swap them for the red onions I have listed. I was lucky enough to come across some red spring onions from the Hudson Valley. They are mild and sweet and completely lacking the pungent sting of older onions.

This salad can stand on its own. We ate it for lunch on Sunday and were completely satisfied – no rooting around for a little something extra an hour later.  If you’re on the lookout for a new lunch idea, here’s one to make you the envy of others in nearby cubicles.

1 sweet potato (garnet yam), medium dice
1 teaspoon olive oil

1 bunch curly kale, stalks removed, cut into 1/2-inch strips (4 – 5 cups)
1 teaspoon olive or coconut oil

1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup red onion, julienne
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup garbanzo beans, cooked

Toss the cut sweet potato with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Roast in a 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes or until tender.

Heat 1 teaspoon of olive or coconut oil in a sauté pan. Add the kale and cook until wilted and tender, 5 minutes.

While the sweet potato and kale are cooking, prepare the dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, salt, honey, and lemon juice. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the onions, tomatoes, basil, and garbanzo beans.

Once the sweet potatoes and kale have finished cooking, stir them into the salad.

Serves 2

If you’ve been wondering what to do with those split peas sitting in the pantry, this recipe is your inspiration. And if you haven’t yet discovered the delicious food of British cookbook author, Nigel Slater, this recipe is your introduction. Nigel has a simplistic approach to food which completely resonates with me. This recipe is an adaptation of one I found in his book Real Cooking.  My version includes fresh coconut milk which adds an element of creamy goodness. Along with some crusty bread this soup makes the perfect simple supper.

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Split Pea Soup with Moroccan Spiced Butter, Real Cooking, 2006

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil or butter
1 large onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 cups green or yellow split peas
1 quart vegetable stock
sea salt

First, prepare the fresh coconut milk. Place the coconut flakes into a bowl. Cover them with boiling water and set aside to steep and cool to room temperature. Place a sieve or strainer over a large bowl. Line it with a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour the soaked coconut with its liquid into the lined strainer. Lift the cheesecloth, pull the edges together, and squeeze out the coconut milk. If you have a fine mesh strainer, you can forgo the cheesecloth. But make sure to squeeze the liquid from the coconut using your hands. Reserve the coconut milk. The remaining coconut can be air dried and toasted for other uses.

Heat the extra virgin coconut oil or butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, chili flakes, and curry and stir to coat in the oil. Add the split peas and then the stock. Bring the stock to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Continue cooking for 45 minutes. Check the pot often and add more water, if needed.

Once the split peas are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed stir in the fresh coconut milk. Season generously with sea salt.

Serves 6

Beans are a feel good food. Don’t laugh – I mean it. Beans have a creamy satisfying texture and subtle sweetness. They’re small but substantial – meaning they do a nice job of filling you up. And they are highly versatile, readily absorbing any added flavors. Apart from their deliciousness, perhaps the most feel good aspect of beans is that they offer a wealth of nutrition at a very low cost. They are high in protein and soluble fiber and good sources of folate, magnesium, potassium and iron.

In terms of cost, health, and texture, cooking dried beans wins over opening a can every time –  especially given the increasing health concerns with BPA-lined cans. There are a few companies selling beans in cans that are BPA-free (Eden Foods), but the cost is significantly higher. If convenience is a priority, do as I do. Make a large pot of beans on Sunday and freeze the beans and bean liquor in 15 oz servings (= 1 small can). Defrost when needed.

High quality beans make for delicious results. If you’re in the mood for a really special bean, check out the ones at Rancho Gordo. Steve Sando is growing and selling some of the most incredible heirloom beans on the planet. A highly recommended good earth splurge!

These cast iron baked beans are wonderful in every way. My vegetarian friends can omit the bacon, of course. But if you’re like me, and despite all warnings, indulge in bacon a few times a year, please make sure you buy high quality bacon from a butcher you know and trust.

Adapted from Martha Stewart, March 2012

2 cups dried white navy beans, covered with cold water and soaked overnight
cold water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh orange zest
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
6-8 slices bacon, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Drain the soaked beans and transfer to a large, heavy pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Simmer until the beans are tender, about 60 to 90 minutes. Drain the beans and reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.

Place the beans and reserved cooking liquid in a heavy 3-quart baking dish with a lid. Add the thyme, orange zest, garlic, mustard, maple syrup, and stock. Arrange the bacon over the beans, cover, and transfer to oven.  Bake for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue baking 1 hour more.  Season with salt and serve.

Serves 6

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