Friday, October 31, 2008

Recipe: Mexican Rice and Beans

I'm no Mexican mama, but I am quite proud of my version of this classic dish. And if you have leftover rice around it can be made in just 15 minutes!

Rice and beans is a standby of mine and can be prepared using common ingredients I keep in the house (e.g. canned beans, onions, cumin). My version uses brown rice, but everything else is about the same. I love to enjoy this with avocado, cilantro and lime. Gives it a great color and real authentic taste.

And if you're going out tonight, I suggest eating it before hitting the streets. The protein from this dish will help you stand up to the inevitable sugar crash that often follows this festive holiday.

Serves 2-3

1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, drained
1 cup leftover brown rice
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili pepper
cilantro, chopped
wedge of lime
sea salt to taste

Saute onion in large skillet for a couple minutes until golden brown. Add green pepper for a couple minutes more. Then add pinto beans, tomato paste, cumin, and chili pepper. Cook for another five minutes, as flavors meld. Then fold in leftover rice for another 3-5 minutes until done. Add salt and adjust spices as necessary. Garnish with chopped cilantro and juice of lime. Serve with sliced avocado (optional).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A halloween without Hershey's?

Chin up, fellow health nut. It's unlikely you'll find many of any Dancing Stars Chunks of Energy being given out this Halloween. Despite all the gains we've made, Oct 31, still belongs to our sugar-craving, pagan-loving children.

I'll admit, I use to be one of them. If someone tried pulling an apple, raisins, or anything remotely healthy on me, it would probably find its way to the wastebasket. Even a cookie or other homemade treat would likely be tossed. After all, didn't we need to worry about some scary mom putting razor blades in her food? I put my faith in the US confectionery industry. My favorites: Reeses peanut butter cups, Snickers, and Almond Joy. Special kindness was given to families that gave me more than one piece.

Now a halloween veteran, I must admit my tastes have changed. I find these conventional, mass produced sweets to be too sweet. I find the good stuff to be that which doesn't come in a wrapper. My Dancing Star chunks, for example, can be found in the bulk bin section at most natural foods stores. My favorites at the Park Slope Food Co-op are the Chocolate Almond Chip flavor and the Raw Goji Berry Cacao ones. The later is sweetened by dates, so you won't miss the sugar.

It might not be green Kool Aid, but I imagine your kids will love them too.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reminder: Go for a walk, it's nice outside

It is a beautiful day in New York - 63 degrees and sunny. The air is cool and crisp. Jacket optional. It is a day like this I long for - especially in the blazing month of August and the frigid days of February.

So why then do I find myself in front of the computer? Why am I not outside enjoying the weather?

The quick answer: "I've got stuff to do." You know classes to schedule, a blog to update, articles to write. Not to mention keeping up with my Facebook life and the presidential election. It is easy to get sucked in.

Around noon though, I noticed I was becoming overwhelmed with it all. So I decided to humor the thought of going outside. I left my home office and trusted my feet to take me where I needed to go. They headed east, towards Prospect Park.

When in the park I instantly felt a sense of calm. Instead of my to-do list, I began to focus on the colorful autumn leaves. I also noticed myself smiling and sharing a moment with other Brooklynites who were enjoying the weather. I had slowed down. I had become present.

In our busy lives it is easy to think we don't have time for a simple walk. Yet, I have always found these walks to 'add time.' They've given me much needed perspective, often hard to find when you are staring in front of a computer screen. They've also given me a strong grounding and faith that I am exactly where I need to be and that everything is okay.

Come to think of it, I can't think of another 30 or 40 minutes better spent.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Recipe: Celery Root Soup

root vegetable soupIt's getting cold here in Brooklyn - and nothing stands up to the chilly weather, than a bowl of warm soup. And given the big ole celery root I received in my CSA share last week, I was inspired to create this 'intuitive' recipe.

In the past, I've enjoyed this soup in restaurants, loaded with cream. Seeing as I don't keep cream in the house, I thought to try making this without the added dairy. So I used a potato instead, which when blended gives it the same creamy consistency.

Feel free to add more or less of any of the vegetables listed. You'll find you can't really go wrong with soup. One of the many reasons I like to make it! It also stores well and can be enjoyed days later.

Serves 4-5

1 leek, diced (white and light green parts only)
1 carrot, diced
1 potato, diced
1 celery root, peeled and diced
2 tbsp butter
2 tsps or more sea salt

In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the leek for a couple minutes, adding remaining ingredients. Cook for another 10 minutes. Fill up pot with water, a couple inches above the vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and partially cover. Continue cooking for 25 minutes or longer until potatoes and celery root are soft. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat. Use immersion blender (or transfer to food processor) for a smooth, creamy consistency.

Optional: Serve with chopped scallions (pictured)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feeling spacey? Eat your root veggies

beetsHave you ever desired more focus or concentration? Or the ability to be more decisive and hold your ground? Before you convince yourself you have ADD, try eating some more beets. I'm confident these root vegetables will bring you down to earth.

This ancient remedy has been on my mind ever since a session with my client Sejal yesterday. She was in high spirits, but had a hard time staying focused during our call. As a result we ended up jumping from one topic to the other. It was clear she needed some support to 'get grounded.'

In my view, Sejal was operating 'in her head.' A condition I see often with academics, like her, and those in highly analytical professions. While this mentality has helped her formulate brilliant thoughts, it has also left her disconnected from her physical body.

Beets can help us get back in touch with ourselves - a traditional remedy that like many things has gotten lost in this time of industrial agriculture and modern nutrition-speak.

And to understand you may have to suspend your beliefs on what is possible through food. When we consume a plant or an animal we take on more than just its nutrients and vitamins - we also take on its energy! This can mean the swiftness of a wild deer or, yes, the groundedness of a root vegetable.

I first learned of this theory from Steve Gagne, author of the book The Energetics of Food. In regards a plant, the energy comes from how it is grown. Beets and other root vegetables collect nutrients from the soil around it and grow downward. When we consume them we bring energy to the lower parts of our bodies - contributing to the sense of firm footing, and enhancing other bodily functions. (Yes, beets are also great for constipation!) Consequently, food that grows upwards, like fruit and sugar, bring energy to the head.

This simple theory might seem out of place in the world of genome mapping and genetically modified crops. Yet there is something about its simple straightforward nature that appeals to me. A sign that mother nature had a plan. Perhaps the question of what to eat, does not require a PhD after all!

I enjoy beets roasted in olive oil and on a simple bed of arugula with lemon juice. Find them at your local farmers market.

*Photo courtesy of huumbug on flickr

Monday, October 20, 2008

Recipe: Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas

with poblano peppersAs a soon-to-be husband, I can't help but question the roots of my partner. Her ancestry traces to India. Her place of birth, Central Pennsylvania. But judging purely from her kitchen skills, you'd want to place her somewhere South of the border. To her making dahl or paneer is a chore. Yet, the possibility of making quesadillas or tacos gets her all excited. You could say it's her thing.

Yesterday she was in classic form as she ventured into new territory - putting together a sweet potato edition of her 'famous' enchiladas. As the benefactor of this effort I must say it came out a huge success. I could not stop dreaming about this dish all day long. Now my friends, it is your turn.

Note: If you can't find shallots, you can always substitute with small onions. Enjoy!

Serves 3-4

2 teaspoons oil
1 large shallot, diced
1 small poblano pepper, seeded and diced
2 sweet potatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
fresh juice from 1/2 lime
sea salt and pepper to taste
3 1/2 cups Enchilada Sauce (recipes follows)
10 to 12 corn tortillas
4 oz white cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Heat oil in large skillet. Add shallot and sauté 5 to 10 minutes or until soft. Add sweet potatoes and peppers. Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in beans. Continue to cook and add a little water if necessary to prevent scorching. Add cumin, chili powder, lime juice, sea salt and pepper to taste.

Cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch baking dish with about 1/3 cup of enchilada sauce. Heat tortillas briefly on skillet. Spoon sweet potato mixture, cheese into center of a warm tortilla. Roll up and place in pan, seam side down. Repeat until all filling has been used. Cover enchiladas with remaining sauce, and sprinkle cheese generously over top. Cover pan and bake 20-30 minutes.

gluten free mexican food
Enchilada Sauce

1 large shallot, minced
1 small poblano pepper, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
28oz can Muir Glen tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Heat oil in medium pan over medium-low heat. Add shallot and peppers and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until shallot is golden brown. Stir in chili powder, cumin and oregano. Sauté 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and sea salt. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One bibimbap too soon: weird diet continues

Two weeks ago I heartily accepted the challenge of a priest somewhere in India. His requirement - Swati and I eat no meat, onions or garlic as part of a religious ceremony to bless my future marriage. I wrote about it in an earlier post.

However, the past two weeks have been tough. Especially since reading the New York Times Salmon Bibimbap recipe earlier in the week. We could hold out no longer. And on Wednesday evening we declared an end by enjoying this tasty dish, even though we were technically early. "It was Thursday in India," Swati countered (the official end of the fast).

salmon bibimbapIt seems though we may have jumped the gun. The next day I received a call from my mom apologizing for her earlier miscommunication. Apparently, "the diet is suppose to last one month, not the two weeks," she said matter-of-factly.

I was outraged. My immediate reaction was anger, "You don't realize how hard this is to be gluten-free and also not eat fish!" Then negotiation, "Okay, well technically fish is not meat."

Now I've come to accept it. The way I figure, you don't want to anger the universe, especially when the happiness of your marriage is on the line. Although it bugs me that no explanation was ever given. Or any warning.

But in terms of the diet. The no meat part is relatively easy as its straight-forward. The real challenge to the diet is avoiding the 'sneaky' stuff, garlic and onions, especially when eating out. I've just accepted the fact that I can't be perfect on this one.

The good news - I have been cooking more and finding inspiration in unexpected places. Like the website Manjula's Kitchen, featuring an Indian 'auntie' that shares how to prepare delicious vegetarian dishes according to her Jain diet (yes no onions and garlic). Her spicy okra recipe was a personal favorite.

If only Manjula could setup shop in Brooklyn. That would be nice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Say it ain't so: Quinoa prices up 30%

quinoa price increaseOkay I'll admit - I don't follow the same economic indicators as the pundits in Washington. The rising price of gas or the challenge in obtaining home financing doesn't phase me. Yet, I too felt a hit this week, in an unexpected place. The price of my dear quinoa was up 30% at my local co-op.

People are catching on to this protein rich, whole grain from South America. Last year was a record year with demand increasing by over 25%. And at the Park Slope Food Co-op, where I shop, quinoa is the top seller in its bulk bins.

While thrilling to see the public catching on to this nutritious food, I must admit my feelings are bittersweet. The price of quinoa now costs three times that of brown rice! And with my gluten-free diet, I tend to rely on this dear grain almost as much as our country depends on foreign oil.

quinoa stuffed peppersQuinoa Stuffed Peppers

Armed with Google, I searched for explanations. I was led to the website of Andean Naturals, one of the large growers of quinoa. Apparently, 2008 was a tough year. A frost in November wiped out 40% of the annual product. Which only compounded the struggles farmers already had in keeping up with demand. It seems quinoa continues to be grown mostly by traditional methods, e.g. harvesting by hand, rotating with other crops, using no pesticides. While largely sustainable, these methods have made it challenging to increase production. As a result more farmers are giving way to modernization, using tractors and rotating crops less.

The Economist might cheer these moves, but I'm all for the status quo. I'd hate for farmers to change their entire method of production (I think they've been growing this way for 4000 years), just because this gringo wants his quinoa fix. What good is this nutritious food if it produces a less healthy planet?

My solution: Eat more rice. And pray for rain, lots of it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ajwain: little Indian seed, big stomach relief

ajwain seedsLast week, my tummy wasn't doing too well. I had just come home from watching the movie "Rachel Getting Married" and was feeling nauseous. It might have been the film (a smart, yet emotionally jarring picture) or the rushed manner in which I consumed my meal beforehand (yes, even we health counselors are human). Regardless, I wasn't feeling too good. Fortunately, an old friend bailed me out and instantly made me feel better. Its name - ajwain.

This tiny, miracle seed was introduced to me as a child. Whenever I had an upset stomach, my mother and grandmother would always serve me a simple dish of ajwain with rice, salt and butter. I can't tell you how many times it has made me feel better. As I grew, I continued to ask for vaamu (the telegu word for ajwain) with my rice, regardless of whether I had an upset stomach. I liked the taste! However, as I left the comfortable bubble of my house, I was surprised how few people cook with or even know about it.

Ajwain is a wild celery seed. It is great for indigestion, nausea, and yes even flatulence. The seeds look like cumin and caraway, with a taste similar to thyme (albeit stronger). It is most potent when eaten raw. A small amount (5-10 seeds) can cure most stomach upsets. One can eat it alone or over rice. I simply crush a few seeds in my hand, before consuming, to release its fragrance.

Ajwain can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, like Kalustyan's in New York City. If you can't make it out there, they'll even let you order online. How cool is that?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recipe: Butternut Squash Wild Rice Salad

pomegranate and walnuts too!I find my cravings change with the seasons. And this recipe is essentially autumn in a bowl. It combines some of my favorite ingredients this time of year - butternut squash, wild rice, pomegranates, walnuts and arugula.

For most salads, I don't really measure ingredients. So I've done my best to estimate. If you end up with a lot more squash on your salad than you'd like - don't say I didn't warn ya! Fortunately, it keeps well and tastes great the next day.

Serves 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 cup wild rice, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons walnut or flax oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
arugula or salad greens, washed
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss squash, olive oil, agave nectar in a large baking pan. Cover and roast in oven for 15 min. Remove from oven, turning squash in pan. Return to oven for another 10-15 minutes until squash is browned and tender. Sprinkle salt and let cool.

Once squash is done, insert walnuts in a baking pan. Let toast in oven for about 5 minutes. Make sure they do not burn. Turn with spatula if necessary, remove when fragrant.

Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine greens, pomegranate seeds, walnuts in a bowl. Serve with room temperature or warm roasted butternut squash and cooked wild rice. Toss and coat with dressing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Integrative Nutrition: The education that changed everything

Integrative Nutrition catalogI'm not one for nostalgia, but admit I felt some last night. I was at the Integrative Nutrition fall gathering in New York City. It was here that hundreds of sharply-dressed holistic health counselors came together, to reconnect, munch on carrot sticks, and introduce others to this world-class education.

You see it was at this school, three years ago, that my life changed. I came into the school a lost soul. I didn't know much about what I wanted to do with the education. All that I was certain about was I wanted to quit my job - a corporate marketing gig that was lucrative, but left me unfulfilled.

I had flown in from San Francisco months before enrolling to attend one of the school's orientation sessions. I heard about Integrative Nutrition from a friend and thought it was worth checking out. Little did I know I'd be signing up before the end of orientation. I had grown interested in natural foods and holistic health in the Bay Area, and there was something about the school that 'clicked' with me. And after a year of searching for my next act, I knew this would be it.

The signs were all there. I had met Dr Andrew Weil at a conference on holistic health in British Columbia months before the orientation. It was literally the first time in my life where I liked every single person in the room (good luck finding that in the corporate world). And guess who would be teaching at Integrative Nutrition? Yes, Andrew Weil himself, as well as Deepak Chopra, Paul Pitchford and a host of others I admired.

Joshua RosenthalBut perhaps the biggest draw for me, was the founder of the school, Joshua Rosenthal. To this day he remains one of the most inspiring people in my life - a visionary who 'gets it.'

I was reminded of this last night, when I stood listening to Joshua's remarks. He spoke about a recent visit to Bonobo's, a raw foods cafe in Midtown. It was there he was served by two individuals, one natively from Bosnia and the other Croatia - two countries that were recently engaged in a civil war. Thousands of miles from their homeland, these two were able to come together over warm coconut chai and raw nutmeat patties. And it was no coincidence. They believe the world would be far more peaceful if we ate differently - as modern factory farming and industrialized meat production have lead to aggressive behavior. It was remarks and stories like this that drew me to the school - beliefs that cannot be proven by science, but still need to be heard. I knew we were dealing with more than food here.

Joshua likes to say that Integrative Nutrition is not only a school, but also a movement. I've seen countless graduates go out and do amazing things with the education. Some have written books, others have created natural food products (like an agave-sweetned ketchup, flax crackers, or energy bars). Most though go out and become holistic health professionals or complement their existing health-related work. Regardless, everyone leaves with an amazing experience - either improving their own health or finding a new career that energizes them. Some lucky individuals manage to do both!

I could really go on singing the praises of this school. However, I must stop. (I think I've exceeded my 300-word blogging limit.) If you think you might be interested in learning more about Integrative Nutrition, I'd be happy to answer any and all questions. Either post a comment here or email me.

If you are interested in enrolling, Integrative Nutrition is offering a $500 scholarship. Just mention my name when you enroll.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bad apple or prized find? The lure of the wormy apple.

These are not the kind of apples you fight for in the store or see pictured next to proud, grinning farmers. Yet, there was something about these bruised, neglected, harbingers of fall that captivated me.

They sat, dejected in a box labeled "take em or leave em" at my local CSA. Many I am sure, passed on the chance to acquire these ugly ducklings. Not me. I know how rare it can be to find an organically grown, New York state apple in these parts. Apparently, the climate here makes it tough for organic growing methods. Even my organic-loyalist the Park Slope Food Co-op, carries "minimally treated" ones.

I also should be clear - this was no charity case. I wanted to see what all the rage was about. I've been curious about wormy apples ever since Amy Hepworth, proudly bit into a wild untreated apple before a packed audience at the Park Slope Food Co-op last year. Amy, who supplies the minimally treated apples available for sale, declared her preference for the maggot-ridden ones, even going so far as identifying the pests she was consuming. Her statement got the attention of New York magazine which profiled her in its August issue, entitled "How Farmer Amy Hepworth Became a Cult Hero to Foodies."

Ever since, I've wondered if we were passing on the good stuff. I mean if the farmers and pests like them, shouldn't we? So I had to try them (the apples, not the pests - sorry, I am not as adventurous as Amy).

I took my knife and cut up an apple. And yes it was delicious! Sweet, crisp, juicy... all the important attributes I look for. Absent was the 'waxy' taste I find so common, and have come to accept.

As a CSA member, I am a stakeholder in my farm. Which means, like Amy Hepworth, I feel a special connection to all that grows from my farm - whether or not it is photogenic. I am sure I would have a different mindset if I shopped at Whole Foods. Fortunately, the good stuff comes to Brooklyn!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Weird diets: No onions and garlic

No meat. No onions. No garlic. That apparently is suppose to be my diet over the next two weeks. If you think it's strange, believe me. I do too.

Even more odd - this diet was not recommended by a nutritional counselor or holistic professional, but rather a priest from India. My parents, it seems, have arranged for a religious ceremony in India to bless my future marriage, and this diet was one of the conditions.

Why? You might ask. Good luck getting an answer out of my parents or even the priest. It seems I'll have to rely on Google for this one.

So I did some research and what I found surprised me. Apparently, there are lots of individuals who regularly take these foods out of their diets. The Buddhists and Hare Krishnas, in addition to being strict vegetarians, believe onions and garlic cloud one's mind with "passion," preventing transcendence. The Jains, also strict vegetarians, avoid these foods in addition to all root vegetables as they contain too many "life-forms," albeit microscopic.

What these cultures fail to recognize is garlic can also be extremely healing. It has documented anti-viral and antibiotic properties. And really what's so wrong with passion? It can lead to some great things too!

I am trying to see this as an opportunity to experiment with new foods. One positive change - I've been using asafoetida in my cooking, a pungent Indian spice that resembles the taste of onions and garlic. But the urge to rebel remains high...and they never said anything about leeks or shallots. :)

*Photo courtesy greenwood100 from flickr

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why settle for mockolate, when you can have chocolate?

dark chocolate cacaoAttention: this is real chocolate. Hershey's, our legendary American chocolate maker, it seems is no longer in the business of selling the real stuff.

Last week, the Today show reported that Hershey's decided to switch the formulation of many of its products. Out is the cocoa butter, arguably what gives chocolate its definitive taste, with lower-cost vegetable oil. The result is a product that many claim is inferior, unless you are one of those people who likes white chocolate.

Instead of joining the chorus of naysayers. I'd like to point out there are still lots of great 'real' chocolate on the market today. And when I say real, I'm talking about the dark stuff, 68% cacao or higher. With these products you should notice "chocolate liquor" "cacao" or "cocoa" as the first ingredient. It should not be sugar.

I'm a big fan of the products made by Equal Exchange and Divine. These companies are purists, and use only organic, fair-trade cacao. You won't find any hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup here.

And what about the saturated fat you might say? Well, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, "Cocoa butter, the fat in chocolate, turns out not to be so bad. Although it is a saturated fat, the body turns it into monounsaturated fat, processing it like olive oil."

equal exchange with cacao nibsSo have you forgotten about your Whatchamacallit yet? I recommend Equal Exchange's Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs (pictured).

Integrative Nutrition