Kale and Sweet Potato Niçoise Salad

Ever since eating my first Niçoise salad, I’ve been hooked. The perfect green beans. The Kalamata olives (my favorite). The potatoes, which give just the right amount of sustenance to the salad. And of course, the seafood. Throw in hard-boiled eggs and a delicious dressing, and you’ve made the classic.

Well, last week, the urge for a Niçoise salad hit and it hit bad. Since I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand for the classic, I decided to mix it up a bit and do my own take. Leftover sweet potato subbed for white potatoes, kale subbed for lettuce, capers subbed for olives and sardines subbed for tuna/anchovies. Plus some fresh basil from my beloved Farmed Here and black garlic — a new obsession — to add a little more flavor. Top it off with a 3-ingredient Dijon vinaigrette and I was in Niçoise heaven (or at least my improvised version of it).

Nicoise_salad

Oh and no offense to the Niçoise peeps, but I feel my version is quite possibly tastier and most definitely packed with more nutrients than the original — from the “superfood” status of kale to the omega-3 content (it’s high, folks) of sardines to the antioxidant power of fresh herbs.

Recipe: Kale and Sweet Potato Niçoise Salad

Trader Joe’s just started carrying fermented black garlic, which is where I bought it. If you live near an Asian market, however, you will most certainly find it there. Fresh rosemary or thyme would also be delicious in place of the basil.

Image

Yields: 1 salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh baby kale (love the Earthbound Organic pre-washed Kale)
  • 1/2 large sweet potato
  • 1, 6 oz. can water-packed sardines
  • 1 cup cooked green beans
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons
  • 1 Tbsp capers, juices drained
  • 1 clove fermented black garlic, sliced

black_garlic

  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp olive oil, preferably organic, cold-pressed
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Pepper to taste

Directions:

Poke holes in sweet potato and microwave for 3-5 minutes, until potato is soft. You can also use a leftover baked sweet potato if you have one on hand. Cut the sweet potato into large wedges.

Assemble salad: Lay kale on top of a large plate. Top kale with cut sweet potato, can sardines (drained), cooked green beans, capers, sliced black garlic and fresh basil. Grind black pepper over the salad.

Make dressing: Mix Dijon mustard, olive oil and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Pour over salad.

dijon_vinaigrette_nicoise

Warning: this salad is best enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. Your coworkers will not be very pleased if they have to smell sardines and garlic over the cube wall. Just sayin’…

Curry Spaghetti Squash with Spiced Greek Yogurt Sauce

The first big snow of the season in Chicago means winter is here (wah, wah) and it’s COLD!

Coldness

Coldness2

When the weather gets cold, there’s nothing like a spicy curry dish to warm you up. Typical curry dishes can pack on the calories, however, because of heavy coconut milk and lots of butter. So I figured, why not make a lightened-up recipe using curry? This spaghetti squash dish is vegetable-based (vegetarian, in fact), gluten-free and full of flavor. Enjoy!

Curry Spaghetti Squash with Spiced Greek Yogurt Sauce

Curried_spaghettisquash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked spaghetti squash (about 1/4 large squash)
  • 1/2 cup kidney beans (preferably organic, no salt added variety — Whole Foods has a great version)
  • 1/2 cup 2% or full-fat organic (from grass-fed cows) Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp organic raisins
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp organic honey
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions:

Cook spaghetti squash by halving and roasting in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Use a fork to shred squash into “spaghetti.” Mix spaghetti squash with remaining ingredients until well-blended. Serve warm.

Note: you can make the spaghetti squash ahead of time and then heat once you’ve mixed the ingredients (this is what I did)

Curried_spaghetti_squash

Enjoy!

What other cold-weather dishes do you love?

Purple Vegetables: So Hot Right Now

Hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgivings! Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays, but it’s not so kind to our waistlines. In fact, according the Calorie Control Council, the average turkey dinner (plus appetizers) clocks in around 4,500 calories — yowza!

Well, the good news is that you can have your fall-themed foods and eat them too. With greens like kale and Swiss chard in season, along with other Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, to name a few) and potatoes galore, fall vegetables can pack a major nutrition punch and can help you get back on track. Who says the holidays have to be entirely gluttonous? Enter, purple vegetables.

purple_potato

Seriously — look at these purple sweet potatoes! Such a gorgeous color!

I’ve been reading Jo Robinson’s book, Eating on the Wild Side: the Missing Link to Optimum Health, wherein she discusses the history of our favorite fruits and vegetables along with the most nutritious varieties found in stores/farmers markets and the best nutrient-sparing ways to prepare them. Through her book, I’ve learned that many of our favorite vegetables started out purple — corn, potatoes, carrots and many others. Most purple vegetables get their color from anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol (antioxidant), that may aid in cancer prevention and improve heart health, among other benefits. Thus, the original [purple] varieties of vegetables were often more nutritious.

It’s safe to say that since reading the book, I’ve been searching for purple or other “odd”- colored vegetables — orange cauliflower, purple kale and of course, purple potatoes. So you can imagine my excitement when I came across purple sweet potatoes at Whole Foods (seriously, it was embarrassing — people were staring). But check these things out (!):

purple_sweet_potato

Purple potatoes are the most gorgeous, jewel-tone shade of purple. While the USDA does not provide nutrition information for this variety, according to Stokes Foods, purple sweet potatoes contain 4 grams fiber per 4 oz (medium-size potato), along with 2 g protein and 20 percent daily value of vitamin C (making them an excellent source of the vitamin). They are so delicious, with a creamy, dense texture, that all you really need to do with them is bake them, add a little grass-fed butter or coconut oil and sprinkle with cinnamon. They would also be wonderful roasted with other vegetables such as cauliflower and carrots, with fresh rosemary.

Another, more common purple vegetable to which I’ve taken a fancy is purple (technically red, but it looks purple to me) cabbage. Purple cabbage is — you guessed it — a source of anthocyanins. It also provides vitamins A, C and K, fiber and potassium, all for minimal calories (less than 25 calories for a cup of shredded red cabbage). Nutritionally, it’s a star. However, many people are turned off by it’s bitterness. So, when preparing cabbage, you may need to give it a little extra lovin.

While raw purple cabbage is delicious when shredded and used in an Asian-style slaw recipe, I prefer cooked cabbage during the colder months. I have a Portuguese friend, Joana, who makes the most delicious purple cabbage by sauteeing it in olive oil with salt, pepper and onions (until it’s soft). While I love this method and use it all the time, I wanted to try something new. Since my answer for how to make vegetables crave-worthy is generally, “roast them,” this seemed like the perfect fit for cabbage.

roasted_cabbage

I washed the purple cabbage and cut it into wedges, drizzled with olive oil and roasted it at 375 for about one hour. Then I cracked fresh pepper over the top, along with Himalayan sea salt. It was ridiculously good. Nicely charred on top and bottom, but warm and soft on the inside. The best part was the bottom leaves, which had essentially been oven-fried in the olive oil that had coated the bottom of the pan. Naturally, I ate them all immediately. Look at that crunchy goodness!

cabbage_leaf

Have you discovered any purple vegetables? Let me know your favorite varieties and preparations in the comment section.

Low Carbohydrate, Low Calorie Pasta

My favorite boss and fellow foodie got me what I believe is the greatest kitchen gadget of all time (lots of hyperboles there): the Spiral Slicer, made by Chef Joyce Chen. This magical thing device essentially can turn any cylindrical vegetable (e.g. zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers, etc.) into ribbons or spaghetti. The spiral slicer takes cooking time out of the equation and will save valuable time. Plus, keeping the vegetables raw helps preserve nutrients that can be lost during the cooking process.

It is incredibly easy to use, too (and so is clean up). Just cut your veggie into smaller — no more than 3″ long — pieces, place in the center of the device, put the lid on and turn the lever at the top. Here are some visuals to give you a better idea of how it works:

spiral_slicer

 

vegetable_spaghetti

I would love to show you a picture of the finished product, but since I ate it all while taste testing, AKA stuffing my face, I’ll tell you about it instead.

Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil into the “spaghetti,” add sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese (NO GREEN TUBES — use the good kind!), fresh basil, crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste. You can also add in chicken, fish or steak — or garbanzo beans for a vegetarian option — to amp up the protein and satiating factor of the dish.

I’ve also tried it with teriyaki sauce and ginger, topped with grilled salmon, but the sun-dried tomato creation was my favorite.

Regardless, vegetable-based “pasta” is low in carbohydrates and calories, high in fiber and other nutrients and a great new way to get your daily vegetables.

 

What other non-traditional “pastas” have you tried?

 

Protein Pasta, Made with Black Beans

Here’s a tip from a foodie dietitian (me!): ALWAYS check out the ethnic food aisle at your grocery store. There are so many amazing, unique products bursting with flavor and often, nutrition. I recently used this advice during a visit to Plum Market, a new grocery store in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago. Though Plum Market is smaller than some grocery stores, it is brimming with up-and-coming brands and products that you never knew you couldn’t live without.

This brings me to the discovery of a true ethnic food gem: black bean pasta (made by Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine) or as I like to call it, PROTEIN PASTA. First off, check out this amazing ingredient list (clean eaters rejoice!):

Black bean pasta ingredients

But more importantly, the nutrition is unheard of. Just goes to show that nature creates foods that are far superior to processed foods. To compare, Barilla Plus Pasta (touted as having protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids) – for the same size portion – has 210 calories, 4 g fiber and 10 g protein. Plus the Barilla has 15 ingredients compared to two ingredients for the black bean pasta – with one being water, which barely counts. Oh, and check out all of those certifications — gluten-free, USDA Organic, Vegan.

Black Bean Pasta Nutrition

So what to do with this glorious protein pasta? Even though it’s made by the company Explore Asian Ethnic Cuisine, when I think black beans, I think Mexican. This pasta dish is loaded with veggies – tomatoes, corn, kale (lots of it all) and topped with salsa instead of tomato sauce. The high fiber and protein content of the pasta makes it extremely filling. IMPORTANT: if you’re not a big bean/lentil eater, you need to start with a small serving of this pasta, or suffer the GI consequences.

Veggies simmering away (just saute with olive oil):

Colorful_Veggies

Add cooked black bean pasta to your plate, drizzle with olive oil, and top with veggie mixture, salsa and avocado (Since I live in Chicago and we don’t have “local avocados,” I like to buy California Avocados since they’re at least farmed in the U.S.). Such a delicious, satisfying meal that took all of 20 minutes to make.

Black_Bean_Pasta_with_Veggies

Stay tuned for another faux veggie pasta, made with squash and the coolest kitchen gadget (the spiral slicer). Though I’ve never been a big pasta lover, I am completely loving these veggie- and bean-based versions.

Purple Asparagus: Antioxidant Powerhouse

Chicago’s Green City Market has finally started back up! And with a spring farmers market comes asparagus AKA the only vegetable available in Chicago at this time of year. Lucky for me, I love asparagus. My newest obsession, however, is purple asparagus. With a slightly sweeter taste than regular [green] asparagus, it’s perfect both cooked and raw. Note, purple asparagus sadly turns green when cooked (see pic below), so if you want to keep the color intact, slice it thin and serve it raw in salads. A source of acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, also helps to boost the purple color. Nutritionally speaking, purple asparagus contains slightly less fiber, more protein and more vitamin C than green asparagus. Check out the comparison below:

Left: purple asparagus, Right: green asparagus

Left: purple asparagus, Right: green asparagus

The purple color is not only pretty — it’s what makes purple asparagus a nutritional powerhouse. Anthocyanin, the flavanoid responsible for purple, red and blue colors in fruits and vegetables, is considered an antioxidant, able to remove free radicals (which can cause negative health effects, from inflammation to cancer). Various research has shown that anthocyanins also have antimicrobial properties and can decrease inflammation, improve blood pressure, improve eyesight and suppress the spread of cancer cells*.

The most important point to note with purple asparagus, however, is that it is delicious. It tastes less bitter than green asparagus and just looks gorgeous as part of a meal. Dietitians and other health professionals will tell you to “eat the rainbow” not only because it will provide a variety of nutrients, but also because we eat with our eyes, and a colorful plate is much more appealing that a monochromatic one.

With leftover salmon and purple asparagus on hand, I cooked up a delicious little meal. After cutting the asparagus on the bias, I sauteed it in coconut oil and minced garlic. This formed the bed underneath my salmon. I then drizzled with Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze (amazing stuff, by the way). A nice, light, low-carb lunch!

purple asparagus and balsamic salmon

 

 

*Source: J Biomed Biotechnol. 2004 December 1; 2004(5): 239–240.

Cauliflower and Black Bean Burgers

Another cauliflower post, I know. I apologize…it’s just that after so many years of hating cauliflower, I have somehow fallen fast and hard for it (I attribute to better cooking methods). Alas, my cauliflower kick lives on; this time in the form of a “burger.” Something else you should know about me – specifically my cooking – is that my inspiration comes from my fridge. I take inventory over its contents (I HATE wasting food) and think of how I can prepare the almost-bad veggies in the drawer or re-purpose my leftovers into something new and delicious.

So, when I saw a head of cauliflower in my fridge alongside a big container of black beans I had just cooked up, I figured I should combine them. And whenever I have random ingredients that I want to meld into one dish, I generally start to think of a burger/fritter concoction. It is one of the easiest ways to incorporate lots of different foods (and sneak in veggies) into something delicious that can be served on a bun, over a salad, with a side of veggies or just on its own.

Quick tangent: I have found a revolutionary way of cooking beans, thanks to the Paupered Chef blog. I kid you not, they have discovered a method for cooking beans that requires no pre-soaking and takes 90 minutes start to finish. 90 minutes!! I used to think two hours was good (not including the overnight soaking). Check out the Pauperd Chef’s extreme ingeniousness here.

If using canned beans for this recipe, just make sure you rinse them well to remove all the slimy stuff they’re canned in (or if cooking dried beans yourself, be sure to rinse them when they’re done). That “slimy stuff” contains raffinose and stachyose, two complex carbohydrates that are difficult to digest, and thus cause gas. Rinsing the beans not only makes them less gas-inducing, but also removes about 1/3 of the salt from the beans. And we all could use less salt in our diets.

Cauliflower_Burger_with_Ketchup

Yes, that’s ketchup on top. And yes, I still love ketchup like a 5 year old.

Cauliflower and Black Bean Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups grated cauliflower (about 1/2 head) – I used a box grater for this
  • 3/4 cups cooked or canned black beans
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (for cooking)

Directions:

Combine all ingredients through chili powder in bowl and mix until clumpy (mixture will still be somewhat loose, but will still stick together). Heat olive oil in large pan. Form cauliflower mixture into patties and transfer to pan (again, they will fall apart a little but you can re-shape them into patties once they’re in the pan). Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side, or until browned.

Pictured above with a kale salad with mustard vinaigrette and topped with…ketchup. Don’t judge. I just love ketchup.

Would also be good with salsa and avocado, or even crumbled into a taco.

 

Turkey Time

To keep with my recent theme of non-vegan/non-vegetarian foods, I decided to try my hand at some turkey recipes. I absolutely LOVE turkey, but besides its great taste, it has many nutritional attributes. To start, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, notorious for causing that sleepy feeling after Thanksgiving dinner (which is probably due more to consuming a giant meal than to tryptophan itself). Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which helps to regulate mood, metabolism and even sexuality. With regards to metabolism and mood, tryptophan acts as a mild appetite suppressant and helps decrease anxiety and improve focus, respectively.

Besides the positive effect of tryptophan, turkey can be a very lean protein option – specifically when you choose the white meat. For 93% lean varieties, here’s the nutrition breakdown, per ounce (info according the the USDA Nutrition Datatbase):

  • 59 calories
  • 7 grams protein
  • 3 grams fat
  • 30 mg cholesterol

One of the best parts of turkey? It is delicious and, when talking ground turkey, it’s a super-fast protein option. I have been in a Thanksgiving mood, so I made a Thanksgiving preparation two-ways: as a sauté and as a meatball turkeyball.

Thanksgiving Turkey Meatballs:

Turkey_Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces lean ground turkey (93% lean or better)
  • 3/4 cup fresh sage, rinsed, dried and diced
  • 1/4 red onion, minced
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • Topping: 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and form into 1″ balls. Cook at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until turkey meatballs reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top. Served here with kale chips (see below recipe).

Thanksgiving Turkey Sauté:

Thanksgiving_Turkey_Saute

Not the prettiest, but extremely tasty

Ingredients:

  • Same ingredients as above:
    • 8 ounces lean ground turkey (93% lean or better)
    • 3/4 cup fresh sage, rinsed, dried and diced
    • 1/4 red onion, minced
    • 1/2 tsp black pepper
    • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
    • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 1 slice bread, preferable sprouted whole grain, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions:

Sauté red onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add turkey and cook for five minutes. Add sage, rosemary and pepper and continue cooking until turkey is no longer pink. Remove from heat (transfer to a plate) and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and salt (if desired).* In same pan, add cubes of bread and sprinkle with smoked paprika. Toast the bread cubes and sprinkle around or on top of turkey mixture.

*I added my pomegranate seeds WAY too early in the cooking process, which is why they turned a gross red-brown color (see above picture). Thus, I recommend adding them once you remove the mixture from the heat to preserve that beautiful bright pomegranate pink-red.

Kale Chips:

kale_chips

Ingredients:

  • Kale (the more, the better!)
  • Cooking spray
  • Salt (I love using smoked sea salt)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove kale from stems and rinse, dry thoroughly. Spread kale on baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and other other seasonings you like (suggestions: salt & pepper, garlic powder, cumin, curry powder) and bake for 20 minutes, or until desired doneness (I like mine extra crispy).

Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and a good source of calcium and potassium. It’s also loaded with antioxidants. And kale chips….don’t even get me started. They are delicious, crispity crunchy and really do satisfy a chip craving.

New Year’s Resolution to Eat Better

Happy New Year! Does this ^^ sound familiar? At the beginning of every new year we all make promises to ourselves to eat better, exercise more, etc. The real problem with these resolutions (and the reason why they ultimately fail) is that they are extremely vague. “Eating better” and “exercising more” leave lots of room for creativity and excuses.

As a dietitian, I am always working with my clients to help them define what it means to “eat better.” One of my biggest suggestions is to eat more fruits and vegetables and to determine how much is “more.” The USDA recommends around 5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day (for most adults). A better way to think about it, though, is to fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. This will ensure that a) you are eating enough produce and b) you are replacing the higher calorie, higher fat, higher carb, etc. foods with lower calorie fruits and veggies.

Don’t let the five cup recommendation scare you. There are LOTS of delicious and different ways to prepare vegetables! Enter Tandoori Cauliflower from Sarah B of My New Roots. Wow! Looks amazing plus made with Tandoori which has a slew of good-for-you spices: tumuric (anti-inflammatory and promotes cognition and improved blood flow), chili powder (boosts metabolism, promotes heart health), paprika (anti-inflammatory, promotes heart health) and cumin (boosts immune functioning) among many others.

I made this twice: once with Greek yogurt and once with almond milk yogurt (needed it to be dairy-free). Both were delicious and the latter, which I made for a party, was a hit. The first time I made it (with Greek yogurt), I single-handedly devoured the whole thing in two sittings – and I don’t even like cauliflower!

Don’t let the color (white) of cauliflower fool you – it’s FULL of great nutrition. Only 25 calories for 1/6 of the cauliflower with 2 grams of fiber and 100% your daily needs for vitamin C plus close to 20% your daily need for folate.

Tandoori Cauliflower with Mint and Cilantro Yogurt Sauce (see link above for recipe).

Tandoori Cauliflower

The yogurt marinade forms a delicious golden crust. Looks dramatic but it’s super-easy!

 

Tandoori Cauliflower with Mint Chutney

Spicy, herbacious mint and cilantro chutney on top.

 

Extra mint chutney? Stay tuned for my next post – I found a delicious new recipe in which to use it.

Butternut Squash Tastes Like Butta

Butternut squash, with its creamy texture, is the perfect comfort food. Like butta, some might say. Plus, because it has both sweet and savory notes and is extremely versatile; not to mention it is loaded with nutrients. Nutrition breakdown: half a cup of butternut squash is only 50 calories and provides a whopping 260% your daily need for vitamin A, plus 40% your daily need for vitamin C (vitamins A and C boost immunity, can decrease inflammation and contribute to healthier skin, eyes and an overall healthier body). You’ll even get a little iron and calcium in that 1/2 cup serving, though you’ll probably want to eat more than half a cup!

My one issue with butternut squash, however, is that can take 45-60 minutes to cook. Thus, I had a butternut squash sitting on my counter for several weeks before I got around to making it. Did I mention I made it in 30 minutes? The key is to cut it up small. With a VERY sharp knife. Butternut squash doesn’t play around…you have to put major – at least for me – muscle into cutting that baby up. That expression, “no pain, no gain,” can absolutely be used here. Completely worth the minor hassle to get a deliciously cooked butternut squash, though. Check out how I used it several ways!

Butternut Squash and Arugula Salad

Arugula, White Bean and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash*
  • 1/2 cup white beans
  • 2 Tbsp roasted sunflower seeds
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp cracked pepper

Directions: Toss all ingredients together. Yep- it’s that simple!

*To roast butternut squash, peel it and cut it into 1.5″ cubes. Drizzle with olive oil or use cooking spray and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Note: the smaller the pieces you cut, the faster it will cook.

Butternut Squash-Stuffed Portabellas

Butternut Squash and Tempeh-Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash, mashed
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3 oz tempeh (uncooked), finely chopped
  • 4 portabella mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt (smoked salt, if you have it, works really well)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1 oz cheese (parmesan would be ideal, but I didn’t have any, so I used light cheddar instead)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove stems from washed/dried portabellas. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Mix all remaining ingredients (excluding cheese) together and stuff into the prepared mushrooms. Top with shredded or thinly sliced cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until mushrooms are thoroughly cooked and cheese is browned and bubbly (and thus, delicious).