Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Mighty Chickpea in a Twist on Hummus

Hummus. You’ve probably had it as a savory, garlicky dip with veggies or pita bread, or maybe on a sandwich. I recently discovered some different recipes for hummus that put a whole new twist on ground chickpeas. For example, would you ever think of them as a desert food? I never did but I would certainly enjoy the Chocolate Hummus below with fruit as an after dinner treat or snack.

The foundation of traditional hummus is the mighty chickpea. It’s high in fiber, protein, complex carbs and even provides omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. It’s also a good source of folate, thiamin and vitamin B6 and is chock full of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium. As I’m reading this nutrition data, I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, I need to eat more of these!!” Other great ways to get them into your diet is roasted, in soups, and in salads.

The original recipes called for canned chickpeas and pumpkin. I soaked raw chickpeas in fresh water for several hours, then changed the water and simmered them on the stove for about 30 minutes. While this was going, I roasted a sugar pumpkin in the oven. I describe how to do it here. I also added pumpkin seeds to this recipe, replaced sugar with honey or maple syrup in the first recipe, used chai or hemp milk as liquids, and added dark chocolate to the third recipe. In short, I tried to add to the nutritional value while not sacrificing on taste.

The recipes below are healthy ideas for after-school snacks, lunch, and even appetizers or desert for the upcoming holiday gatherings. They can be paired with fruit, veggies, pita bread or crackers. Apples or banana slices dipped in chocolate hummus would make a great after-school snack. This would also make a great filling for buckwheat crepes. Apple pie or pumpkin hummus would make a nice spread for veggie wraps as well or on whole grain toast. And then of course, there’s always the spoon… : )

Apple Pie Hummus (adapted from this recipe)

1.5 c cooked chickpeas

1 large or two small-med, sweet apples, peeled, seeded and chopped

¼ c fresh lemon juice

¼ c tahini or nut butter

1 T sweetener (honey, maple syrup, etc.)

½ t sea salt

½ t apple pie spice or a combination of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc.)

~3 T water (I actually used chai tea that I had brewing)

Pumpkin Hummus (adapted from this recipe)

1.5 c cooked chickpeas

1 c fresh roasted pumpkin

¼ c hulled pumpkin seeds (soaked and drained beforehand)

¼ c tahini

1 T cumin

¼ c lemon juice

½ t sea salt

2 cloves garlic, minced

water (or juice from the roasted pumpkin!)

Chocolate Hummus (adapted from this recipe)

1.5 c cooked chickpeas

2 T unsweetened cocoa powder

1 oz dark chocolate, chopped

¼ c honey or other natural sweetener

2 T tahini or nut butter

2 T vanilla

~ 3 T hemp milk or water

For each recipe above, add all ingredients except the liquid (last ingredient) into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add liquid a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Adjust the spices, sweetener and/or salt to taste. You may also want more lemon juice in the Pumpkin or Apple Pie recipes. I tend to go for more versus less.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Get Your Orange On - A Smoothie and Soup Made with Pumpkin or Squash

I’ve already mentioned how much I love squash, especially the sweet varieties this time of year, which is why I get very excited by all the wonderful recipes available using squash and sugar pumpkins. There are recipes for pies, soups, cookies, muffins, breads and pancakes flying all over the internet right now and thankfully we have a few months to try them out!

Over the last two weeks, I roasted a couple of sugar pumpkins and Kabocha squashes that I’ve either eaten plain, or used in the two recipes below. It’s well worth the little amount of work that goes into roasting your own veggies–the oven does all the work for you and the roasting adds a depth of flavor compared absent from simply steaming or boiling. Both the pumpkin and the squash have their own unique flavors that come out beautifully after roasting. In addition, the flavors are much fresher–something that canned varieties cannot live up to.

To me, Kabocha squash has more of a nuttier, earthier flavor than pumpkin yet is as sweet as pumpkin. It went equally well in both the smoothie and the soup. In fact, this is the first time that I’ve tried the smoothie recipe below and I was astonished at how good it was! It tasted like it couldn’t possibly be good for me, but if you scan over the ingredients, you’ll see that it’s high in protein and is naturally sweetened from the fruit and pumpkin/squash. This makes it a great remedy for any sweet tooth that may creep up on you.

In addition, both the pumpkin and squash low in calories and are rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin C and potassium and fiber. At the risk of turning into a pumpkin yourself, try the recipes below this season for hearty and delicious ways to prepare your body for the coming colder weather.

To roast the pumpkin or squash, simply cut them in half length-wise, then place them cut side down in a baking dish. Bake at 350°F (~177°C) until a sharp knife can be easily inserted through the skin, ~1 hour. Let cool slightly, scoop out the seeds and set aside, then scoop out the flesh using a spoon. If desired, place the meat into a colander for a few hours to drain some of the water, then mash. Use in any recipe that calls for canned or fresh pumpkin or squash puree.

Pumpkin Smoothie

1 cup hemp milk

1/3 c pumpkin or squash

1 scoop protein powder

½ frozen banana

1 T raisins

sprinkle of cinnamon or whatever spices you like

Whip up the ingredients in a blender and enjoy immediately.

Pumpkin Soup

1 T grapeseed or coconut oil

1 small onion, chopped

4 cups vegetable stock, heated to almost boiling

Flesh from 1 medium roasted sugar pumpkin, mashed

1 t finely minced ginger

1 medium cloves garlic, chopped

1 - 2 t curry powder

1 – 2 t finely chopped thyme leaves and/or chives

1.5 – 2 c coconut milk

Saute the onion in the oil in a medium pot on medium heat until translucent. Add the pumpkin, vegetable stock, and spices. To avoid getting burned, carefully blend the soup in small batches in a blender then pour back into the pot. Or better yet, blend the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender. Add the coconut milk and heat through.

To make Australian Pumpkin Soup, replace the coconut milk with ~1/2 block of firm tofu and add 2 T miso paste. This recipe also omits the cooking of the onion beforehand and cooks the pumpkin or squash in chunks directly in the broth with the rest of the ingredients.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Egg-ceptional Food

Maybe you remember the jingle, “The incredible, edible egg.” Well, it’s not an exaggeration. Eggs are incredible and are an economical choice for only a few calories and pennies per egg.

For a while now, the word has been that eggs are bad because they can raise cholesterol. Yet, it’s been shown that healthy people can safely eat one or two eggs/day. At one point last year, I was including one egg with my breakfast every morning, and I felt great!. It helped to keep my blood sugar levels even, so I wasn’t getting hungry, tired, or weak as the day went on. And it helped me eat less even later in the day. This is a wonderful benefit for those of you who may want to lose weight.

And if that isn’t enough reason for you to eat them, here’s some more information that may convince you:

1. At about 68 calories per egg, they’re a great soure of protein, selenium, iodine, B vitamins, phosphorus, vitamin D, and lutein, which is believed to be more bioavailable from eggs than from plant sources, like spinach!

2. Another important nutrient in eggs is choline which:

- helps to reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to heart disease, type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis;

- helps maintain levels of folic acid in the body;

- is a key component of the fats that form our cell membranes;

- is a building block of two major brain lipids – phosphatidylcholine and spingomyelin, which is part of the myelin sheath that surrounds axons;

- is used to make aetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that functions at neuromuscular junctions (helps the nerves to stimulate muscles);

- is involved in a gene regulatory/epigenetic process referred to as methylation

You probably realize too, that except for the protein, this wealth of nutrients is found in the yolk­–yes, the yellow part that everyone likes to leave out of their omelettes. The lecithin in the yolk is also an important emulsifier (it helps to mix water soluble and fat soluble substances together). So if you want the full benefits from your eggs, eat the yolks!!

And if you really want to eat the best possible eggs and are confused by all the labeling, check out this great blog by Eve Fox. She put together a nice summary of where to shop for eggs. Not surprisingly, it’s from local farms that pasture-raise their chickens. If you can find one around, take advantage of it. You’ll see an obvious difference in the color of the yolk–from a dull light orange/yellow from eggs in the store to a bright, rich-colored yolk in the pasture-raised eggs.

Now that you’re hopefully convinced that eggs can be a healthy part of your diet (unless you’re allergic to them of course!), here are a few suggestions on how to eat them:

1. Hard- or soft-boiled – I like these for taking to work; they travel well and can be easily sliced or scooped into a salad. As an aside here, I’ve also read that preparing eggs in this way helps to protect the valuable nutrients in the yolk.

2. Scrambled or as an omelette with avocado and salsa. I adore my eggs this way and often will use a salsa verde in this dish.

3. Chopped up with dressing as an egg salad or stuffed as in deviled eggs.

4. Dropped into soup during the last few minutes. You’ve probably heard of egg drop soup. Well, I drop eggs into soups of all kinds at the end to add the extra nutrients and bulk or meatiness. I’ll even do this with saucy pasta dishes.

5. In a frittata. This is one of my favorite ways to make eggs for several reasons.

- Just about anything can be added into a frittata: vegetables, herbs, cheese, meats, fish, etc.;

- They’re easy to prepare and look fancy. Unlike omelettes, there’s no flipping or folding and the usually come out of the pan very nicely;

- They travel well – I made one earlier this week and took it to work for lunch;

- Particularly if you’re adding vegetables (including green veggies), it makes a perfect meal.

Here’s the frittata I made this week. What you add is totally up to you but hopefully this one will inspire some great ideas!!

Vegetable Frittata

1 T butter

1 T grapeseed oil

6 eggs, beaten, with 1 t water added

½ c sautéed mushrooms – I used beech and shitakes. Above are beech mushrooms. These delicate little fungi come attached to a base which I've already chopped off here. Both these and the shitakes sauteed nicely in only a couple of minutes.

8-10 stalks of asparagus, steamed until crisp tender, chopped into 1” pieces – I tried white asparagus for the first time here! They're a little more work to prepare. The tough, outer layer must be removed; which I did with a vegetable peeler and then steamed briefly.

½ c of a leafy green (sautéed if tougher like dandelion or kale or raw if tender like baby spinach) – I used sautéed dandelion greens with garlic

1 T capers

A few anchovies – smoked salmon would work well here too

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Chopped scallions and fresh parsley for a garnish

Put the oven on broil with the rack on the second shelf from the top. Melt the butter with the oil in an oven-ready skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the eggs.

Spread the mushrooms, asparagus, greens, capers, and anchovies evenly over the eggs. Let the eggs cook undisturbed for a few minutes, until the edges begin to set. Be careful not to burn the bottom.

Transfer the skillet to the oven until the eggs are cooked through and the edges begin to brown slightly. Remove the skillet and let the frittata cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve.

Notice how this frittata looks as if it's got cheese. It's actually egg white that is not completely beaten into the yolk. I think it adds character : ) I haven't even gone into detail here about the wonderful health benefits of asparagus, mushrooms, scallions, and fresh herbs. Suffice it to say that this is a nutrient-dense, high-mileage dish that won't leave your body saying, "But I'm still hungry, feed me!!" It will thank you immensely after a meal like this... : )

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick and Satisfying Miso Soup

The temperature is beginning to cool off which means that soup weather has arrived. I’m a HUGE fan of soups and if I had to choose one form of cuisine to live on, this would be it. I love the idea of an entire meal in one pot or bowl and many soups don’t have to simmer on the stove all day to taste great and be satisfying. Take for example the 5-minute miso soup below. I’ve made this on several occasions recently–either after a long day where I wanted something light but satisfying, or even for a quick lunch or snack. And if you have any leftover grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, or rice, it would make this soup even heartier.

A few things about the ingredients in the recipe below:

Any vegetable broth will do (you can even use water), but last year I discovered something called Better Than Bouillon, an organic soup stock concentrate that comes in a glass jar. You can use as little or as much as you’d like, depending on your taste and unlike bouillon cubes, it blends into hot water in seconds.

Miso is a fermented soy paste that is safer than any of the unfermented soy products such as edamame, isolated soy protein, soy-based meat substitutes, soy milk, and to some extent, tofu. Miso is high in protein and a source of vitamin K2, which is required for healthy bones, blood clotting as well as cardiovascular and brain health. It is also believed to be protective against several forms of cancers, including prostate, lung, liver and leukemia. Vitamin K2 also acts in conjunction with vitamin D. In moderation, miso can be a healthy addition to the diet. I say moderation for a couple of reasons: number one, miso is high in salt; and second, it's important to get our protein from multiple sources, not just fermented soy. It is often tempting for vegetarians or vegans to look to soy or other single plant-based sources for their protein. But just as with anything, more of a good thing is not necessarily better, just more.

Arame is a sea vegetable that is high in minerals such as iodine, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. It is also a good source of vitamin K and folate. In particular, arame has a mild, semi-sweet flavor, which is a good choice for those who shy away from the taste of stronger seaweeds such as kelp. It’s usually purchased dried as well so if stored properly, it keeps indefinitely.

Mushrooms are a good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals and have immune boosting and cancer fighting properties. I’ve been using dried mushrooms lately because they keep longer and are just as beneficial as fresh.

Ginger is an amazing herb that has a number of health benefits that are outlined in this article I recently shared on Facebook.

As you can see, for a seemingly simple and quick soup, it packs a whopping amount of health benefits. And don’t be fooled by the “lightness” of the ingredients. I find this soup to be very hearty and satisfying just as it is. But as I said above, leftover grains, or even vegetables will give it more bulk.

Miso Soup

2 c vegetable broth
1 T red miso
2 T arame seaweed
¼ c dried porcini mushrooms
ginger juice

Place broth in a medium saucepan and heat on medium. Add the miso to a small amount of broth and mix well to dissolve, then add the mixture to the pot of broth. Rinse the mushrooms, then add to the pot along with the seaweed. To prepare ginger juice, using the large holes on a vegetable grater, grate a 1” piece of ginger. Place the grated ginger in the palm of your hand and squeeze the juice directly into the pot of soup. Alternatively, peel and mince the ginger and add it that way. For a heartier soup, add leftover quinoa, buckwheat, or rice. This recipe can also be scaled up very easily.