Butternut Squash Soup: A Healthy Comfort Food

Just because I want to stay fit and healthy, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy rich, creamy soups. I’ve got the perfect recipe for you that you can make quickly and easily and that is sure to make your taste buds dance! I’ve always been fond of root vegetables, growing up in Norway we had them in abundance because they were some of the few things that would thrive in a cold climate. From beets and potatoes to turnips and kohlrabi – I have fond memories of them all and so happy to have learned they also provide tons of nutritional benefits.   My body also loves carbohydrates and I find when eating these starchy vegetables, I thrive much better than when I eat bread, pasta or other more refined sources of carbs.

What we didn’t really have in Norway was butternut squash, so imagine my delight when I discovered that glorious orange food in my new adopted homeland of the United States…

butternut-squashButternut squash is one of the richest sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega 3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system to help protect against colds and flu.  It is also an important anti-oxidant and provides a good amount of vitamin C, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, manganese, and copper as well as a good source of potassium, vitamin B2, folate, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and niacin.

The seeds from butternut squash makes a great, nutritious snack as well, much like pumpkin seeds- just wash them and dry them, and roast in oven with a sprinkle of salt.  Sprinkle on oatmeal, salads or just eat them on their own… delicious!

While there are several ways to prepare butternut squash, one of my favorite ways is to make a silky, creamy soup. It warms me up during cold winter days and also fills me up with less calories. Try the below recipe for a nice twist on the traditional soup. Having a good blender is important in this process – I’m lucky to be the owner of a Vitamix and so the pureeing is done in no time. You can also use a stick blender. I chose to add some chickpeas for added protein to my soup, but you can use any beans or protein of your liking to the soup to make it more hearty.

This is a perfect soup to make in big batches on a Sunday afternoon and you can portion it out and bring to work as lunch or heat up for dinner during busy weekdays. The soup also freezes beautifully.

FLAVORFUL BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

1 large butternut squash, divided in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out

2-3 stems of fresh rosemary, thyme or sage (or all of them)

extra virgin olive oil to taste

1 tbsp cooconut oil

1 medium Vidalia (Sweet) onion, peeled and diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peel removed

1 x 2 inch know of fresh ginger, minced

1 x 15 oz can organic coconut milk

1 x 15 oz can organic chickpeas (or soak and cook your own dried beans – about 2 cups)

1 small bunch fresh cilantro

4 cups organic vegetable stock (or more/less depending on how thick you want your soup)

salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.   Prepare a sheet tray with tin foil.  Place the fresh herbs in the cavity of the two butternut squash halves, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil (I use about 1 tbsp), and season generously with Kosher salt. Place cut side down on the sheet tray and place in oven on middle rack and roast for about 1 hour or until soft to the touch.

Meanwhile, heat up vegetable stock in a pot and steep the fresh cilantro in the stock.

Heat the coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat, add onions and garlic and season withs alt. Saute for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Set aside.

When butternut squash is ready, let cool for just a little bit until cool enough to handle.  Scoop the flesh out of the skin and chop up into big chunks, and discard herbs in cavity. Remove cilantro bunch from the vegetable stock and discard.  In a blender, in batches, add some butternut squash and the onion -garlic mix along with the fresh ginger and a couple of ladles of the vegetable stock and puree. Add the batches to a soup pot until all done.  Heat the butternut soup gently over medium-low heat and add the coconut milk and chickpeas and combine and mix well until heated through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

butternutchickpeasoup

Flavor In A Bowl

Once (or sometimes twice) a week I cook a meal for my husband and I where I pretty much make whatever I want and feel like. I don’t count calories, fat, carbs or protein – just a “cheat meal” if you will (although I sort of hate to call it that because I like to think I don’t really restrict my food), where we can both enjoy a nice, flavorful dish.  Life is to be enjoyed, and I certainly love good food, and I take pleasure in preparing and cooking my food as well.  I find cooking therapeutical, being in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, handling multiple bowls of food while sipping on a glass of wine, with my favorite cheesy TV show in the background, while the dogs are sleeping in the living room and my hubby doing other chores in the garden or around the house.

Mark (my husband) is not vegan but when I cook, he happily eats anything I make, which is great, otherwise he would go hungry! hahaha… I must brag, that a few times he has been really surprised at how tasty my dishes turn out, and has asked for the recipe, such as my cashew cheese and a bean dish I made for myself for lunch one day.  Maybe one day they will end up on the menu at the restaurant where he is the Chef de Cuisine. we can only hope 🙂

On Sunday I made a lovely Pad Thai packed with flavor, inspired by one of my favorite vegan blogs, Vegan Richa. Try it out – it may look like a lot of work, but once the veggies are chopped and everything is mise-en-place’d (French for “put in place”, or measured out and ready to be added to the pot) the dish comes together in 10 minutes!  This is guaranteed much lower in fat, sodium and sugar than the version you will order in from your local take-out …. Use any Asian noodles you may have, I like rice vermicelli, they are thin and light and not too filling.  The rest of the ingredients, such as tamarind and samba olek you can find in Asian grocery stores, online or even sometimes in your own regular super – or gourmet market.  Bon appetit!

Delicious Vegan Pad Thai

Serves 4

1/4 cup reduced-sodium tamari
fresh juice from one big lime
1 teaspoon tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water or 1 tbsp tamarind chutney
1/4 cup organic coconut sugar
8 ounces rice noodles
4 tablespoons grapeseed or sunflower oil, divided
1 pound soft or firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and crumbled
1 rounded tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms,  cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large carrot, shredded
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Sambal Olek  (Thai red chili paste)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Cilantro leaves and lime wedges, to garnish

Salt and more lime juice to taste

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine the tamari, lime juice, tamarind, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.
2. Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water until just al dente, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook, these babies cook fast! Drain the noodles, toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and set aside. (add more oil if the noodles stick together)
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the tofu, nutritional yeast, and turmeric. Cook, stirring, until the tofu is dry, about 5-8 minutes. Transfer the tofu to a bowl, season to taste with salt, and set aside.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and carrots and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili paste, and bell pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. Add the noodles, spinach, bean sprouts, peanuts, reserved sauce, and reserved tofu. Cook, stirring, until the noodles are tender but not overcooked, the sauce has been absorbed, and everything is heated through. Serve hot garnished with cilantro and lime wedges.

padthaivegan

Creative In The Kitchen

Many of my non-vegan weight lifting friends constantly ask me and show curiosity about what I eat now that I no longer include meat, fish, eggs or dairy in my diet. After all, what else is there right? (sic)  Most traditional bodybuilder’s diets consist of egg whites, tilapia (yuck), chicken and non fat cottage cheese and/or Greek Yogurt, and not much else. I’m not trying to make fun, I was once that person, and had 4-5 portions of the same exact, bland meal in my bag every day, trying to convince myself that this really was a diet worth keeping.  While it may have given me a six pack for a short while, I completely lost my creativity in the kitchen, and as a chef and food lover,  I found the lack of interest to be inventive to be quite depressing. Food was just something that needed to “happen”, every 2-3 hours, to keep the “metabolism going” (another unfortunate wives’ tale), a necessary evil, if you will. You hold your breath for 12 weeks or however long it takes you to get into stage shape, and then you celebrate post-show with any crappy, processed foods you could think of. What a nice cycle, right?

After I turned to a vegan diet, I realized there are no good or bad food groups – I have plenty to choose from in protein and carbohydrates and I even get to include fats in a variety of forms (oils, nuts, seeds and fruits)!  As a result of eating whole, unprocessed foods with a big emphasis on fresh vegetables, my taste buds have exploded and I find myself with less and less cravings of any particular foods, especially sweets.  Every meal is nutritious AND delicious, just like the commercial 🙂 The revelation that I don’t have to “suffer” to eat bland foods but I can spice it up, add new fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes I’ve not tried before, every single day without my waistline expanding – is amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I still calculate my  macro nutrients to make sure I stay within my range for what my goals are (and the diet will be different depending on what I’m trying to achieve) but the parameters seem much wider and more importantly: I have gotten the desire back to cook and experiment!

Vegans are perhaps some of the most creative cooks I’ve come across ever, I am constantly baffled by recipes and the depth of flavor I get from them when I try them out. I wanted to share a recipe for a protein packed, amazingly tasty Moroccan-spiced lentil and sweet potato stew that I made last night… I added some extra vegetables in for added nutrients…  Try this out and your tummy and entire body will thank you!

MOROCCAN-SPICED LENTIL AND SWEET POTATO STEW (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

2 tbsp coconut oil

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup dry green or red lentils, rinsed, and picked over

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

3 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped

1 Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped finely

24 oz organic Vegetable Broth

1 tbsp sweet curry

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp cinnamon

1 x 2 inch fresh ginger knob, peeled and minced

1 x 15 oz organic can chopped tomatoes

2 cups coconut milk

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed, shredded

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Nutritional yeast (optional)

Directions:

In a large stock pot, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and saute the onions, ginger and garlic for a few minutes, until softened.  Add the sweet potatoes and carrots along with the spices, stir well and cook for 1 minutes or so to allow for the spices to infuse.  Season with salt. Add the lentils to the pot, stir, then add the vegetable broth, chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a light boil, quickly turn it down and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add in the chopped kale and the sherry vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and season with salt and nutritional yeast (optional).  Makes enough for several meals and you can also freeze this – enjoy!!

 

Moroccan-spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

Health and Wellness Redefined

A lot has changed since my last blog post, which was too long ago!    Firstly, in May of this year I embarked on a year long study to become a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online study but located in New York. You can read more about them here.  It is by far the smartest thing I’ve done this decade, and my whole life has already changed as a result of it. To realize you can pretty much solve any health issues through your diet, and to be surrounded by peers who are as passionate about health as you are, is so comforting and eye opening, and the experience so far has been a revelation and inspires me each and every day. I will surely blog more about my experience as an IIN student in the future.

Secondly, this month I mark my FIRST anniversary as a vegan! It’s amazing how time flies and I can’t imagine going back to my old diet. I first and foremost became vegan for the animals, but I am just thrilled to have realized how much healthier a vegan diet is, and how much broader my food repertoire has become as a result.  Being a chef, I am always experimenting with new recipes, and it’s so wonderful to know that everything can be veganized, and most of the time the result is even tastier than the regular animal based recipe. One issue I still have is with cheese – there is just no vegan cheese that can make up for the real thing, but knowing how unhealthy cheese is in general, and how greatly animals have to suffer for us to just get that moment of “satisfaction”, I have no problem living without this item.

For the month of September, my goal is to exclude gluten and alcohol in my diet.  I currently work as a wine buyer for a large retail store, so you can imagine the challenges in not drinking at all. I constantly get offered free samples and bottles to take home to taste, and there are events and dinners to be attended, so naturally, wine and cocktails are flowing everywhere.  The more I’ve cleaned up my diet, the more I can feel the affect of alcohol on my body. I get more sluggish and have less energy in the morning and as a result even after only a glass or two, and as a result I feel my workouts are not optimized.  Needless to add, the empty calories and added sugar in alcohol is something I could definitely eliminate or greatly reduce, even though I do enjoy my glass of wine and most likely won’t stop entirely, but this month I am going for no wine.  How extreme, right? 🙂 Wish me luck!

With regards to gluten, I don’t consume much of this to begin with, as I generally avoid bread and pasta in my diet.  Every so often I will indulge in this amazing olive bread that my local farmer market sells on the weekend, and although it is delicious, my body definitely is not happy afterwards and I tend to become bloated and feel uneasy. So… I am very excited to experiment living a whole month without gluten and alcohol… and if I feel great and see some noticeable results, I will just keep going!

To kick off my month of experimentation, I’m adding in a recipe for gluten free pancakes (and dairy free and eggless too of course) that I made this morning – inspired by  the blog Oh She Glows, one of my favorite vegan blogs!

FLUFFY, LIGHT AND GLUTEN FREE PANCAKES

1 cup ground up buckwheat

1/2 cup brown rice flour

2 tbsp arrowroot

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 3/4 cup almond milk

1/3 cup maple syrup

2 tsp organic vanilla extract

1 heaping cup diced banana

In a bowl combine all the dry ingredients.  Pour in the almond milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract and mix until there are no more lumps in the batter.  Fold in the diced banana and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Heat up a griddle on medium high heat, add a dollop of vegan butter or spray with an organic spray.   Using a ladle, pour the batter on the griddle and bake away! Serve with additional maple syrup and your favorite sliced fruit (I used extra banana and fresh strawberries).  You won’t even miss “regular” pancakes!

gfpancakes

Discovering a New World of Plant Based Foods

As I enter into my fifth month as a full on plant based food eater (or dare I say the V-word – vegan??),  I thought I would put down my thoughts around my experience so far.

Let me first be clear, and that is that I absolutely LOVE my new lifestyle change, and I enter into the line of other vegans who have said “I wish I had done this sooner!”.   I feel lighter, have more energy, my mood is brighter, my skin is glowing and I think I even smell better! 🙂 It really is an eye opening experience,  which I liken to a spiritual one; it’s not just about the food or my health, it’s about finding the perfect way to live for me, not causing harm to any other living beings.   While I started my first week  with eating some select seafood and eggs, I quickly decided I wanted to abandon these food groups too, and not eat anything that contained animal products.   Believe me when I said, this is the easiest change I have ever done.  It’s not like looking at a tub of ice cream or a piece of chocolate (or even a bottle of wine) where you give yourself the option of “maybe I’ll just have a bite” – my conviction  is so strong I would never even consider eating anything with animal products in it anymore.  Of course, from a figure athlete standpoint, this is fabulous for me, because most candy, ice cream and junk food contain either milk or eggs or gelatin (ground up meat bones – yum!)  so the temptation that was there before, no longer exists.

Up until this past week, the meal that was most difficult for me to adjust to was breakfast. I always have eaten egg whites in the morning,  either just plain or in a vegetable omelet.   I loved eggs in general, and found this food to be the most difficult to give up (not cheese, as you may expect!).  They seem so versatile, can be added into anything and there is no true substitute for it yet.  That is, until recently when I found out how incredibly full of horrible ingredients eggs are,  being filled with antibiotics and prone to diseases like avian flu.  In a recent New York Magazine article by Rebecca Flint Marx, it was mentioned that there are 1.8 trillion eggs being laid every year, and 99% come from places that if people knew about them, would throw up in their mouth.  Hens are cruelly packed into teeny sized boxed rooms, that are being treated with massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.  Besides the ethical quandaries of the egg industry, getting protein from animals is horribly inefficient and also is a big contributor to the climate change.

So what to do about my dreamy vision of eggs, and their health benefits? After all, in my last prep for a show, I, like so many other clueless competitors, gulped egg whites by the gallons over the course of a month, citing their “low fat, high protein” content.   That’s nice that you want to look good on stage, honey – but what about  a few years later, how will your health be and what will your insides look like?  Enter tofu…. I must admit I was skeptical at best, on subbing tofu for eggs.  How would they compare?? Let me tell you… I had a culinary epiphany this afternoon and I’m now head over heels with this dish, and I must share the recipe with you all!  This will be my go to breakfast from now on… Make this and you will be mad you missed out on this dish all this time!! 🙂

BREAKFAST TOFU SCRAMBLE

Makes 2 servings

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1 cup button musrooms, sliced

1 block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or sub spray)

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp turmeric

Handful of spinach or arugula or greens of your choice

Slice the tofu into approximately one inch cubes. Then, using either your hands or a fork, crumble it slightly. Sautee onion, pepper, mushrooms and crumbled tofu in oil for 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium and allow to cook 5-7 more minutes, stirring frequently.  Throw in your greens and stir until wilted. Serve topped with hot sauce and if you want- wrap in a corn tortilla. Yummy to the nth degree!!

tofuscrambleNutritional Ingredients:

One serving provides approximately: Calories: 365
Total Fat: 165g
Total Carbohydrates: 18.9g
Dietary Fiber: 4.8g,
Protein: 24.2g
Vitamin A 19%, Vitamin C 100%, Calcium 39%, Iron 33%

A Spicy Coconut Thai Curry Soup to Ring in the New Year

Happy New Year to all my readers!!

Hope that the new year is treating you all well so far, and that you are off to a great start with both your diet and exercise, work and life in general!

Remember, small steps is the key to success if you are just getting back into a routine.  Don’t go from not having moved for months to thinking you need to spend hours at the gym every day to “punish” yourself for being lazy last year, and live off carrots and celery sticks all day. This is why people only last for about 2 weeks or one month, and get dumped into the category “New Years Resolutioners” by regular gym goers.  What matters the most is that you do a little something extra every day that you didn’t do before, whether it’s walking around your neighborhood for 15 minutes or taking a 30 minute weight training class at your gym.  Soon you will want to increase that as your stamina improves and your confidence increases.

More importantly is getting in the mind set of healthy eating. I think diet is 70% of the equation if your goal is to lose weight and firm up. That is not to say that you shouldn’t exercise, as this works your heart and improves your stamina during regular daily activities and is the key to a healthy and longer life!  Neither does it mean that you shouldn’t allow yourself a treat or two a week, I am a big believer that no food should be “off limits” or thought of as “sinful”.  The brain works in mysterious ways and the forbidden foods always taste the best and is the most desirable, aren’t they?? 🙂

Ever since I adopted a plant based diet, my body feels so much lighter and my energy has sky rocketed. My taste buds have exploded, which is interesting since I work as a wine buyer and typically have thought of my self as a hyper sensitive taster. Now, I appreciate the taste of an orange for instance, SO much more, and I am constantly experimenting with new flavor combinations.

For the past couple of weeks I have been craving Thai flavored anything… and with the subzero temperatures we’ve been having in New York lately, a hot soup seemed entirely appropriate.  I finally decided to make a Thai Coconut Curry Soup yesterday, as my husband has come down with a terrible cold, and a spicy soup filled with nutritious vegetables was just what the doctor ordered.

Try this in January – your taste buds and tummy (and waist line) will thank you!!

THAI COCONUT CURRY SOUP W/TOFU and BOK CHOY

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 x 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin

2 stalks lemongrass, outer layer peeled, bruised with a knife and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 jalapeno pepper, minced (I add the seeds, but eliminate these if you don’t want too spicy)

1 tbsp green curry paste

zest of 1 lime (reserve the lime)

handful of fresh cilantro and basil leaves

1 small Vidalia onions, diced

1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips

6-8 cups vegetable broth

5-6 tbsp soy sauce (low sodium)

1 x 15 oz can lite coconut milk

1 tbsp brown sugar

splash of olive oil

2 cups shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup of another mushroom, your choice  (I used cinnamon cap mushrooms)

cinnamoncapmushrooms

2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 3-inch thin sticks

1-2 bunches of baby bok choy,  roughly chopped (if you can’t find baby bok choy, regular is fine or any other greens such as spinach, Swiss Chard, lettuce etc.)

1 packet of firm tofu, diced and cubed into 1-inch pieces

juice of 1 lime

Directions:

In a large soup pot, heat up some olive oil (about 2 tbsp) over medium-high heat. Add in the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, jalapeno and lemon zest. Saute until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add in the curry paste and saute another minute or two. Add in the onion and peppers, season with a bit of salt and saute for about 5 minutes until onion is translucent.  Pour in the vegetable stock, soy sauce, brown sugar and coconut milk and let come to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. Add in the mushrooms, carrots, tofu and bok choy with a few leaves of basil and cilantro.  Simmer gently for another 15 minutes or so. Add in the lime juice, adjust seasoning (salt/soy and /or sugar) and serve the soup with freshly chopped cilantro and basil.   Optional: Serve with 1 cup of steamed jasmine rice and you’ve got a complete meal!

Note: This makes a LOT but it keeps in the fridge for about 5-6 days and makes a great lunch or dinner in the cold winter months, packed with muscle building nutrients and vitamins!!

Thaisoup

Black Bean and Sweet Potato “Chili”

Here comes another warming, healthy and vegan recipe for you that is super easy to whip up! Full of nutrients and guilt free – both of excess calories fat and animal cruelty! What could be better?!

A few notes:  Chipotle in adobo sauce are cans you can find usually in the Latin section of your grocery store – they add spice but also actually a wonderful “meatiness” without the meat – in fact when I’ve served this to people before many people think I’ve added bacon! So chipotle in adobo is my “secret” weapon to adding depth of flavor to my dishes.  You can play around with different beans; black eyed peas, red beans, chickpeas etc but I find that black beans work particularly well in this dish.  Black beans are low in fat and contain a whooping 15 grams of protein per serving and is a great source of fiber.   I always toast my spices (I use whole seeds/pods) and then grind them up right before I add them into the dish I’m making – this makes the food so much more fragrant and always switch out your spices in your cabinet every 3 months! (Mine never last that long because I spice up every single dish I make!).

Think that was all I wanted to include before giving you the recipe – as always, I love feedback and comments and hope you will try this one out! Happy cooking!

BLACK BEAN AND SWEET POTATO CHILI

3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small

1 large sweet Vidalia onion, diced small

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp coriander seeds

2-3 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (add some sauce as well)

2 x 15 oz cans black beans (or you can mix and add red beans or any beans you like)

2 x 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

juice of 1-2 limes

handful of fresh cilantro, chopped finely

Gently toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant – about 1-2 minutes. Add them into a coffee grinder and grind up.  Set aside.  In a large pot, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and add the sweet potatoes. Season with salt and saute them on medium high heat for a few minutes until they start to soften. Remove them from pan and set aside in a bowl. Add a bit more oil to the pan and add garlic cloves. Let them sizzle in the olive oil about a minute before adding the spices and coat them with the olive oil. Add the onion, season with some salt and saute the onions about 5 minutes. Add in the chopped chipotle chilis, the chopped tomatoes, sweet potatoes and black beans. Season with salt and let simmer  for about 15-20 minutes to combine the flavors.   Right before serving add in the lime juice and fresh cilantro.   Season again with salt if necessary. Serve with rice or tortillas – this is a great winter meal!!

chili

An Incredibly Flavorful, Meat Free Chickpea Stew

It’s that time of year where we will be looking for recipes for hot foods again – and heartwarming, flavorful soups and stews are on the top of my list of favorite comfort foods that not only satisfy, but don’t have to pack a lot of calories or fat.  Since going vegan, I am trying to incorporate a lot of beans since they are great source of protein, and also amazingly tasty and versatile. I came across a recipe from the Wimpy Vegetarian blog that I absolutely loved but instead of adding eggplants (I’m a fan of eating according to the seasons, when the produce is at its best) I chose to include kabocha squash.  Squash is a great source of healthy carbohydrates and there are a gazillion varieties out there for you to experiment with. Trust that I will be including many recipes for squash going forward!!

As a newbie in the strictly tplant based food world, I must admit that I had no idea meatless and dairy free dishes could taste so unbelievably good.  Rich, layered with flavors that range from sweet, salty, tangy to spicy – this stew will transform even the most resistant of carnivores… The clever use of spices, herbs and other condiments make this a recipe I will be making regularly this coming winter. Enjoy with no guilty conscience!!

ROASTED KABOCHA AND CHICKPEA STEW

  • 1 large kabocha squash, cut in half, seeds/core removed, roasted (I use salt, pepper, olive oil and place a sprig of rosemary in the cavity, place it cut side down and roast at 375 degrees for about 40-45 min until soft)
  • 3 medium red bell peppers
  • 2 -3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped
  • 3  garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle in adobo, chopped
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 x 15 oz can stewed /chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar or erythritol (sugar substitute)
  • 1-2 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons mint
  • 2 1/2 -3 cups canned or cooked chickpeas
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)

On top of a gas stove, place the peppers and roast them over an open flame until black on all sides

roastpeppersPlace the blackened peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for about 20 minutes or so.  Peel the skins off and remove the core/seeds and chop into thin strips. Season with a bit of salt and olive oil and set aside.

  • Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the chopped onion (it should sizzle when it hits the oil), season with some salt and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Don’t move the onion around too much or it won’t brown. Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.
  • Add the cumin, paprika and ras el hanout and sauté another minute to toast the spices. It should be very fragrant. Add the chipotle in adobo, cook another minute, and then add the red wine, water/broth, chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and mint. Fold in the chopped roasted kabocha and red peppers. Add the chickpeas. Gently simmer for ten minutes to begin to meld the flavors.

  • chickpeastew1
  • chickpeastew2

Shrimp + Avocados = one healthy, delicious summer recipe

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe, and figured it was about time to post one that I think my readers would like. As the weather gets warmer, the nights longer and the clothing lighter, I tend to go for more seafood and shellfish and even just vegetarian options for my meals.  I like to take advantage of all the fresh produce now available at all the local farmer’s markets in my area, and what better way to utilize them than in a tasty salad? Unfortunately where I live in the country, we are not able to get avocados at the farmer’s market, but I added some anyway for your healthy fat.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks (I have many) called “Spices of Life – Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health” by Nina Simonds.  She has a great way of utilizing herbs and spices and a variety of foods from around the world to create very exciting and delicious recipes.

Shrimp may be small in size but they pack a punch nutrition wise, plus they are really quick and easy to prepare.  Four ounces of cooked shrimp contains about 112 calories,  zero carbs  and 24grams of protein! They are also a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, rich in minerals including copper, celenium and zinc, and are very low in fat (1gram per 4 oz).   Select shrimp that have firm bodies and still have their shell on – they should be free of black spots and the shell should not appear yellow or gritty as that could indicate some sort of chemical has been used to bleach the shells (Yes, it does occur).  Purchase displayed shrimp always rather than pre-packaged shrimp, and make sure they have a fresh smell  (should not smell fish but more like seawater).

For the greens in the salad, I like to use a mix of romaine, butter lettuce, arugula and some bitter greens like escarole, to get the different flavors (spicy, sweet, leafy etc) and textures.  Ask your local farmer if they have any special or new kinds of greens – always experiment with ingredients and preparation methods, that is what makes wholesome cooking fun!

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SHRIMP, AVOCADO AND WILD GREENS WITH A CHARRED TOMATO DRESSING

4-6 servings

Charred Tomato Dressing:

3 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into slices about 1 inch thick

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife and peeled

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice or red wine vinegar

2 tsp ground cumin, toasted until fragrant in a dry pan over low heat

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and drained

For Salad

6 cups mixed greens of your choice, rinsed and spun dry arranged in a serving bowl

1 1/2 lbs cooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I like to grill mine for that extra delicious charred flavor)

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into thin slices

3 tbsp minced red onion for garnish (optional)

First arrange the tomato slices on a baking sheet. Brush with 1 tbsp the olive oil (you can also spray them a bit with Pam if they seem not coated), broil the tomatoes for about 10 minutes on each side and remove.

Drop the garlic down the feed tube of a food processor fitted with a steel blade with the machine is running. Pulse until finely chopped, then drop in the tomatoes and puree, leaving some chunks. While the motor is running, add the lime juice or vinegar and 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Add the cumin, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro, pulse briefly then taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary.

Arrange the shrimp, then the avocado slices, on top of the greens. Pour some of the dressing over and put rest into a sauce bowl. Sprinkle the minced red onion on top, if using.  And chow down!!

 

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Photo from recipes.com

 

Healthy thinking versus “healthy eating”

Some of you know I only post here when random thoughts I feel strongly about pop into my head.  I am not the most consistent blogger. There are so many fitness blogs out there, and most of them just repeat themselves or jump on the latest bandwagon of ‘secrets to weight loss or a flat tummy’ (sorry) which is fine because they will always reach somebody who needed to hear exactly that message right then in order to start their fitness journey.   Personally, I guess I just need to write when I need to “talk” to myself and put  my thoughts into written words.

I returned from Norway a couple of weeks ago and just had a revelation when it comes to diets and healthy eating.  The people who seem to be naturally slim and fit, are active individuals and healthy all around, do not obsess about what they eat. They (most often) choose wholesome food:  grilled chicken or fish, some vegetables, a splash of olive oil and they even allow themselves a couple of spoonfuls of dessert. But the key here is they don’t overdo it, but they enjoy life, food and the company around them. There is no “forced” thinking like “oh no, that has too much sugar, fat, carbs” etc.   They have a glass of wine in good company and allow themselves a piece of cake when they are celebrating someone’s birthday, because that makes them happy and that is what they feel like.  How rebellious!

Nobody obsesses about food more than Americans, and nowhere else in the world are there as many obese individuals.  In the supermarket isles, there are now more “low fat”, “non fat”, “no sugar” products than ever before, which also equals PROCESSED foods.   Just because a food has some (healthy) fat, does that mean it’s bad? Of course not, as long as you are not binging on it. And that’s just the problem:  For those that preoccupy themselves with “bad and good” food, think they can eat twice as much non fat ice cream, because after all – it’s got no fat, right? Eating becomes more of an all engrossing activity rather than what it’s supposed to be: nourishment and enjoyment.

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When I lost 30 lbs some years ago, I ate all the foods I was told later on when I started competing, were labeled BAD. I had pita bread and hummus, beans, fruit, Ezekiel bread, cheese and olive oil. And guess what; I was much thinner than I am now (not that that is a goal of mine), I just ate a certain amount and didn’t obsess about food items I couldn’t have.  My body got all the major food groups, so there were no real cravings at all. I want to stop looking at certain foods as “bad” and just eat wholesome, natural foods.  Have you ever noticed that when someone tells you you can’t have something, that is all you think about?  I noticed that big time when I was prepping for my first show, and as a result I ended up binging after my competition. Did it feel good? Was I satisfied afterwards? Not really.  There was no enjoyment in eating until I couldn’t eat anymore.

As I read status updates and blogs about competitors going through their “on season” diets, none of them sound happy. They are hungry, irritated, frustrated and feel weak, they think about food 24/7 and they cannot WAIT until after the show to… eat! Not good food, but what they want to eat are crappy things like Dorito chips, Oreo cookies, hamburgers and french fries… All this just to achieve washboard abs for about 1 day. Hmm… yes sure it is fulfilling to know you can reach a goal like that and to know that you can actually gain the “discipline” to get down to single digit body fat, but it’s only temporary. I don’t want to live my life holding my breath waiting for a specific date,  I’d rather learn to enjoy life every day, and perhaps when I’m back to my normal self with a more relaxed attitude to eating, then decide on a new competition date.

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So my goal for the coming months is to regain a healthy relationship with food. Eat when I’m hungry but not too much. Just allow myself to eat whatever I want as long as I can pronounce the ingredients, and is something I can find at my local farmer market.  Enough already with the “sugar free syrups” and the artificial crap, which doesn’t taste good anyway.  I may not give up my protein powder, but then again I only eat that once a day after my workout anyway.  I think all of this is possible, I think I can have a ripped body and still enjoy life and food. Imagine that!   Food for thought, and if this has made you hungry, I’m leaving you with a balanced, healthy recipe that you should not feel guilty about eating – but not too much of it, remember? !  Makes for a light, delicious dinner this weekend and is super simple to make.   I’ve borrowed this recipe from Jillian Michael’s, as she was partly responsible for my first weight loss (I did her online program years ago). Happy eating!! 🙂

ALMOND ORANGE RAINBOW TROUT WITH CHIPOTLE YOGURT SAUCE

Adapted from “Master Your Metabolism Cookbook” by Jillian Michaels

For Rainbow Trout:

Olive oil spray, for baking sheet

1/3 cup (1 oz) sliced almonds

1 slice whole-wheat bread, torn into pieces

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

grated zest of 1 orange

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

4 (4 oz) rainbow trout fillet, rinsed and patted dry

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tbsp nonfat plain Greek yogurt

For Chipotle Yogurt Sauce:

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped, plus 1 tsp adobo sauce

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste

2 tbsp fresh orange juice

1/2 cup non fat plain Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil.

Begin fish: In the work bowl of a food processor, place the almonds, bread, garlic, orange zest and cayenne pepper. Pulse several times until roughly chopped. Pour mixture onto a shallow plate.

Prepare Chipotle Yogurt Sauce:  In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the chile and adobo sauce, garlic, lemon and orange juice, blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a small bowl, add low fat yogurt and stir until combined. Taste and add more lemon juice or some salt if desired. Set aside.

Season trout with salt and pepper. Brush top of each fillet with the nonfat yogurt. Press the yogurt coated side of each fillet into the almond mixture. Place the fillet nut side up on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake until fish is firm and not translucent in the center, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the sauce onto the plates, place a piece of trout on each and serve with rice or potatoes of your choice.

Calories: 221

Fat: 9.8g

Protein: 25.3g

Carbohydrates: 10.9g

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