Food Variety Key To Keep You on Track

Food Variety Key To Keep You on Track

I caught myself this week feeling a bit tired of my tried and true go-to lunches I typically prepare at home to bring to work. For those who know me, might find this incredible – as I always love to experiment with foods and pride myself on making at least two new dishes every week and add to my repertoire. But when days and weeks get hectic and time is of the essence, my creativity suffers and I end up with something lack-luster on my plate and not looking forward to eating. This is a common problem among many, whether you choose to make your own food or resort to buying prepared foods.

If we eat the same thing over and over (like I did for instance when I was on a traditional bodybuilding diet prepping for a show), our bodies will resist as we are depriving it of nutrients, and cravings kick in.  This is when we “fall off the wagon” and end up buried in a sea of Doritos, chocolate, tubs of ice cream or bottles of wine, whatever your “drug” of choice is.  So what can we do to avoid this?  Go to the grocery store and pick out at least one or two items you have never cooked with (or maybe never even heard of) before, and research how to prepare it.  This could be an exotic vegetable or fruit, or some type of ancient grain, spice or condiment that looks interesting.  Build your meal around it, and you’ll be surprised at how happy your taste buds will get! Your body will thank you, and you will discover you need to eat less to feel more satisfied. It’s a win win, and you’ll learn something new in the process.

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Today I went through my cabinets, determined to cook something different, and I found a bag of teff which I had forgotten all about. Now, I’ve cooked with it before, but it has been a while, so I happily cut it open and started to create a meal.  Teff is a nutritious and versatile African cereal native to Ethiopia, about the size of a poppy seed, and come in a variety of colors.  It has been named by many the “new quinoa”, as it is rich in protein (26 grams per 1 cup uncooked),  calcium, thiamin and iron.   The iron from teff is easily absorbed by the body and is also very high in fiber, thought to benefit diabetics, as it helps to stabilize blood sugar.  Teff is also gluten free, hence a great choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.  Due to is energy enhancing properties and rich nutritional profile, it is also popular among athletes.

So how is teff used? It’s known as the main ingredient in the Ehtiopian sourdough flatbread “injera”, but can also be used as a thickener in soups, gravies and stews.  I also like to make a porridge out of it and eat it for breakfast, in place of the old favorite, oatmeal.

Today I chose to make a stew out of teff, and I largely used the recipe on the package, with a few additions.  Can’t wait to bring it with me to work and have it for lunch!

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I’ve included the recipe below – it’s highly satisfying, high in protein, nutrients and low in fat – just like I enjoy my meals. I hope you will try it, and as always – if you have any questions or need help with coming up with ideas for plant based recipes to include in your diet, please let me know in the comment section!

TEFF STEW  (vegan and gluten free)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 Vidalia onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp berbere

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup teff

2 cups cauliflower florets, chopped up

2 cups broccoli florets, chopped up

1 x 15 oz canned tomatoes, chopped up

2 cups canned (or pre-cooked) black beans (or chickpeas)

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup organic frozen corn, thawed

juice from one lemon

handful fresh cilantro and mint, chopped up

In a large pan, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat and add onion, pepper and garlic and a drizzle of kosher salt,  saute for about 5 minutes until onion mixture starts to soften up.  Add spices and lower heat, cook for about 1 minute, then add teff and cook for another 2 minutes until spices are soaked up into the teff. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Add the beans, peas, corn, cilantro, mint and lemon juice, stir until combined and heated through.   Taste to with salt and pepper and serve.

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A Falafel To Beat Any Burgers Out There!

A Falafel To Beat Any Burgers Out There!

Being born in Norway in the 70s, luckily I was never raised on hamburgers or fast food, so never really acquired a taste for them.  That does not mean I wasn’t guilty of ordering high fat, sloppy burgers when I arrived to this country and before I turned vegan. But I remember really looking more forward to the French fries than the actual burger…. guess I’ve always been a closeted vegan!

Now that my diet is free of animal products, I’m always in search for hearty meals that does not have to come with artery clogging, saturated fat, or loaded with sugar and salt, but rather are packed with flavor and has a great texture.  A true “cheat meal” without leaving me feeling stuffed and awful afterwards. Enter the falafel….. When I order them at restaurants, I always ask if they make them with eggs (you’d be surprised how many people think you “need” eggs in recipes, not so!) just to make sure they are 100% plant based.   Check this awesome chart for great ideas to what you can use in place of chicken periods… I mean, eggs:

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More times than not, however, I get disappointed when I bite in to falafels when eating out, as they are either flavorless or have a mushy texture (I’m all about texture in food).  A recent trip to my neighborhood pub, however, left me really positively surprised, as they had a ton of flavorful spices and were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This inspired me to come up with a home made version that I can make whenever I want, and am happy to report I found a wonderful recipe that I tweaked a little to make it my own.  The wonderful thing about falafels is that you can save them for days afterwards, make a big batch, and crumble them into stews, salads, in a variety of sandwiches and wraps or as a topping in soups. These are low in fat, as they are baked but give you soooo much satisfaction on the lips!  Hope you will try them out this weekend!

As always, please comment below if you are looking for help with transitioning to a plant based diet, I’m here to help with any questions and guidance and am happy to show you how healthy, tasty and exciting this lifestyle is!

HERBED FALAFELS (vegan and gluten free)

  • 2 1/2 cups chickpeas (canned is fine, just rinse them well) plus 1/2 cup chickpeas, divided
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • fresh lemon juice from one lemon
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne, optional
  • 1-2 tsp sea or kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Add  the 2 1/2 cups of chickpeas, garlic, onion, fresh lemon juice, tahini and fresh herbs in a food processor. Process until just combined, being careful not to over-process. You want to leave texture.

Scoop the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the ground flax, rice flour, cumin, coriander. optional chili powder/cayenne, reserved 1/2 cup of chickpeas, and salt and pepper to taste. Shape into patties, about 1/4 cup each and really pack the dough in tightly so it holds together.  Place the sesame seed on a plate and roll the falafel patties in the sesame seeds and place them on a greased / dressed baking sheet (You can use parchment or foil), and bake in oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top (turn them half way through).

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Serve with whole wheat pita bread (optional if you’re watching your carb intake) and a salad of chopped tomato, red onion, cucumbers, falafel, and  Lemon Tahini Dressing (recipe below).

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herbedfalafel

Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 1/4 cup Tahini
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • juice from two large lemons
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 tbsp water, or as needed

Combine everything in a food processor and process until smooth.

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!

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