Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spicy Chickpea & Sweet Potato (Aloo)

You can tell that it's the end of the month and the end of my grocery budget.  Not that this dish couldn't be served and enjoyed anytime during the month, but it's a great dish to serve when you're cooking from your pantry.  I had all the ingredients (dried chickpeas, tomato puree, Indian spices, quinoa) in my pantry and so I only needed to purchase one large sweet potato, which cost me a whopping $1.70.  Normally I wouldn't be close to overspending for the month, but I traveled back east to visit my family and I always end up spending more trying to stock their pantry with healthy ingredients.  But just because this is a budget meal doesn't mean that it lacks flavor and certainly not nutrition.  One serving of this dish is packed with Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, Lycopene, Potassium, Fiber and Protein!  I should be eating this more often--everyone should!  Good for the budget and good for your health!

I served the aloo over yellow quinoa, but brown basmati rice, or whole wheat couscous would also be good to soak up the flavorful sauce.  For the tomatoes, I used Pomi crushed tomatoes, but they are really expensive, but since they were already in my pantry I didn't need to spend the money.  If it were summer and the tomatoes were bright red and juicy I would just blanch them to remove the skins and grate them for the sauce.   Also, this is another oil-free dish--there's so much flavor that you don't any processed oils.


1 tsp grated ginger
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less depending on taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
1-2 small whole green Thai chilies, halved or quartered
2 cups tomato puree
2 1/2 cups filtered water, (more or less depending on consistency)
1 large sweet potato or yam, diced into 1/2-1" pieces (about 3 cups)
2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas or garbanzo beans
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves

  • Soak 3/4 cup of chickpeas overnight and then cook until tender.  Drain and set aside. 
  • In a large sauce pan, over medium-low heat, add whole cumin seeds and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.  Add 1/4 cup water, grated ginger and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes until soft.
  • Stir in other spices and chilies and then add tomato puree and 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Next add the diced sweet potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook on medium-low heat until sweet potatoes are just tender, adding more water if necessary.
  • Finally add cooked chickpeas and heat through and season with salt and pepper if necessary. 
  • Garnish with minced cilantro and serve over grain of choice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Spicy Black Bean Tacos with Chipotle Crema

These mini tacos are just too good!  My husband and I had like nine each for dinner on Friday night and then finished off the rest for lunch on Sunday.  I made the corn tortillas from scratch and you can really taste the freshness of the corn--so much better than the store bought version! 

For the spicy black beans and brown basmati rice, I cooked both the rice and the beans with an adobo spice blend.  I make all my own spice blends and I made this quite some time ago.  I don't remember the exact recipe ratio but it contained:  paprika, ancho chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, dried oregano and salt and pepper.  If you don't want to go through the trouble of making your own spice blend then you can just use 1-2 tbsp chili powder or a taco seasoning blend.  Also Mexican markets carry an already pre-made adobo spice blend, but I find it to be a little bland.

I then made my own roasted tomato salsa, guacamole and a red and green cabbage salad with cilantro and lime juice.  I topped off the tacos with a cashew chipotle crema made with blended cashews, sun-dried tomato paste, paprika, garlic powder, chipotle powder, lime juice and salt and pepper.

I could eat these everyday--so healthy and delicious! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Homemade Corn Tortillas & Roasted Tomato Salsa

I'm going to make this short and sweet because tonight is Mexican night and I absolutely can't wait to eat my mini tacos.  I made homemade corn tortillas (really simple and delish), as well as roasted tomato salsa.  I'll be serving my tacos topped with spicy Mexican rice, black beans, cabbage salad, guacamole, homemade salsa and chipotle crema!  I'll post photos and recipes tomorrow, along with my famous Pomegranate Margarita recipe.  Well at least it's famous in my household.  For the past two weeks I was away visiting my family in Maryland and my sister who doesn't drink alcohol at all was practically asking for margaritas every night...sorry Dana the truth is out!  And I think one is calling my name right now!

Roasted Tomato Salsa 

6-8 Roma tomatoes, roasted (see link)
3-4 Roma tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and grated
1 Jalapeno, roasted, skin and seeds removed
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 Jalapeno, seeds removed and finely minced (about 2 tbsp)
3 tbsp finely minced onion
1-2 tbsp minced cilantro
Juice of 1-2 limes (depending on size)
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees, slice tomatoes, toss in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and roast for 1 hour until caramelized.  Remove from oven, let cool and remove skins.
  • During this time add the jalapeno and roast for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and remove skin and seeds.
  • Place roasted tomatoes and jalapeno in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Place in a bowl.
  • Blanch remaining tomatoes for 1 minute, remove skins and grate on a box grater and add to roasted tomatoes.
  • Add remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper to taste and chill until ready to use. 
I don't know why I stopped making my own corn tortillas from scratch.  The texture and flavor is so much better than what you purchase at the store.  Yes, it takes about one hour from start to finish, depending on how many you make but it is so worth it.  This recipe made 24 small 5-6" tortillas.

I used 2 cups of masa and 1-1/3 cups of water.  You don't need a tortilla press--just a rolling pin and two sheets of plastic wrap coated with masa flour.  I also prefer smaller tortillas and so I used a small ice cream scoop to portion the masa.  The most important tip is to keep the masa covered with plastic while rolling out the tortillas.  Also, as you remove the cooked tortillas from the grill pan, wrap them in a kitchen towel to keep warm until all tortillas are done.

Also, no oil is needed in the pan.  Just make sure that you use a cast iron skillet or griddle because you need to cook them on medium-high heat and the more charred the better!  Cook them for about 1 minute per side and then wrap in a kitchen towel to keep warm.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Apple-Butternut Squash Soup with Ancho Pepitas

Butternut squash or any winter squash soup can taste really bland unless you combine it with certain ingredients that bring out its natural sweetness.  Some squash soups that I've ordered out in restaurants or from store bought containers almost taste like baby food--pure squash puree with no added flavors whatsoever.  This is great if your are introducing your baby to squash for the first time and you want to whip up a bland blended puree, but not so much for the paying customer.  Ingredients that I like to use with butternut are apples, oranges, ancho chilies, maple syrup and toasted nuts or seeds.  Also the consistency of the puree has to be velvety smooth--not to thin or not to thick.

When I worked for the restaurant we always had butternut squash soup on our banquet menu in winter and it was really good.  We would make 10 gallon batches of it for parties and it would be gone by the end of the evening.  Here's a photo of the soup ready for food runners to take out to guests.  You can't tell from the photo but there is at least 30 bowls in the window for pickup.  

I have been really trying to cut back on all processed oils in my diet since the new year.  The only oil I use is first-cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and I use it sparingly.  In this recipe I used 3 tsp and that was for roasting the butternut and apples--so this recipe is basically oil free and you can't even tell that the oil is missing!

Disclaimer:  I never measure for my recipes unless it's a difficult recipe or a new technique that I've never used before, or if I'm baking.  Everything that I make is by sight, smell and most importantly taste.  Therefore, if the soup is too thick then add additional vegetable stock--if it's too thin then reduce it down further.  If you want more kick to the recipe then add additional ancho chili powder.


3 1/2-4 lbs butternut squash, washed, sliced in half, roasted
2 organic apples such as pink lady, fuji, or gala, sliced into 1/4" slices, roasted, about 2 cups (leave skin on)
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 cup Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider
8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1-2 tsp ancho chili powder (more or less depending on taste)
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 orange, squeezed
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Toasted ancho chili pepper pepitas for garnish

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice butternut squash in half and rub with 2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 30-35 minutes until tender and lightly golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Scoop out seeds, peel and dice into large chunks.  Set aside.
  • Turn oven down to 350 degrees and toss apple slices in 1 tsp olive oil.  Roast in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender and lightly golden brown.  Remove from oven and set aside.
  • In a large dutch oven or stock pot, add onion, garlic, thyme and apple cider.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until apple cider is reduced and onions are soft.
  • Add squash, apples, vegetable stock, maple syrup, ancho chili powder to taste and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes for flavors to combine, adding salt and pepper to taste during cooking process.
  • Puree mixture in several batches in a blender on high until smooth.  Return to pan and add freshly squeezed orange juice and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  • Garnish with toasted pepitas.  
  • For the pepitas I used a 1/3 cup of raw pepitas, 3/4 tsp ancho chili powder, 1/4 tsp finely grated sea salt and 1/4 tsp olive oil.  Toast the pepitas first, then add to a bowl and then toss with olive oil and spices. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Green Lentil Curry with Cilantro-Lime Basmiti Rice

For my New Year's resolution I gave up eating anything out of a can to avoid BPA residue in my food and in my body.  So I decided to give making coconut milk a try and I've got to tell you, I don't think that it's worth the effort.  I purchased a regular coconut (perhaps I should of purchased a young Thai coconut instead) because it was really difficult to open and to remove the flesh.  I really liked the coconut water and used it my smoothies, but the milk made from the flesh, not so much.  However, I do believe that it is 100% healthier for you if you make it from scratch, and so I decided to give it another go, but this time I purchased unsweetened, naturally dried organic coconut flakes and soaked, blended and strained the milk.  It was simple and it had the consistency of lite coconut milk you purchase in a can, but tasted so much better!


1 cup brown basmati rice, rinsed
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed
3-4 organic Roma tomatoes, blanched, skins removed, grated
1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups lite coconut milk (see recipe below)
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove minced garlic
1-2 tbsp Madras curry powder (depending on taste)
1-2 tbsp agave syrup
2-3 tbsp lite tamari sauce or Bragg Liquid Aminos
2-3 cups organic baby spinach
Juice of 1 lime, divided
2 tbsp minced cilantro
1 tbsp coconut flakes

  • Cook rice according to package directions.  Remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes.  Add the juice of 1/2 lime and 1 tbsp minced cilantro.  Fluff with a fork, keep warm and set aside.
  • Cook lentils in plenty of water for 15 minutes until tender.  Drain and set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, add tomato puree, garlic and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes.  
  • Stir in curry powder, tamari, agave and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes for flavors to combine.
  • Add coconut milk, lentils and spinach and heat through until spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary and add the remaining lime juice.
  • Spoon lentil curry mixture over rice and garnish with minced cilantro and dried coconut flakes.
Coconut Milk

1 cup organic naturally dried unsweetened coconut flakes
2 cups hot filtered water

  • Place coconut flakes in a bowl and cover with hot water.  Let sit for 30 minutes for coconut to soften.
  • Add coconut mixture to a blender and blend on high until creamy.
  • Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids.
  • Makes 1 1/2 cups lite coconut milk.
If you don't want to use dried coconut then you can make it the hard way using a whole coconut.  It's the same process of soaking the flesh of the coconut, but you have to grind it in a food processor first, then soak and strain it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

High Antioxidant Green Smoothie

For the past week I have been following the guidelines in the book called "Clean" by Alejandro Junger, M.D. in terms of drinking two or three healthy smoothies or juice drinks throughout the day and having a large healthy salad or meal for lunch.  I really felt that I needed to do something healthy for my body after all the eating and drinking over the past two months, and I feel so much better for doing it.  The book has some really good recipes for juice and smoothie drinks, but they require that you own a high-speed blender such as a Vita-Mix or a good juicer.  The smoothie recipe below is one I created for myself and I drink it every morning.  It's quite filling and holds me over until lunch time because it contains all the fiber from the fruit and veggies.  I'm also drinking about two liters of water every day and that helps fill you up and flush out all of the toxins as well. 

Since I have been following his program, I haven't been in the kitchen much and I have been referencing some of my previous recipes and enjoying them all over again.  When you have a blog that you update on a regular basis, you are always making new recipes and so I hardly ever go back and repeat meals.  Some of my healthy favorites that I've been eating (in between all my juicing) are:  My Favorite Everyday Salad, Not Your Store Bought Ramen, Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup, Persian Noodle Soup (without the sour cream and fried shallots) and my Avocado and Cucumber Soup.  Also, if you have a juicer you can make My Morning Cocktail as well.

Green Smoothie:

1/2 organic green apple, chopped
1/2 cup chopped mango (fresh or frozen)
2 leaves organic lacinato kale, or 1 leaf regular green kale
1 cup organic spinach
1/2 organic cucumber, skin removed
1 tbsp ground flax seed
1 1/2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup ice

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high for 2 minutes until smooth and creamy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Single Serving of Good Luck

I've always considered myself a lucky person and there's not a day that goes by that I'm not reminded about how fortunate I am.  But I really lucked out when I met my husband 28 years ago.  He's definitely one of a kind.  So here were are on New Year's Eve and he's watching the Boston U and Notre Dame ice hockey game and I place a bag of black-eyed peas in front of him and ask him to count out 365 (well 366 because it's a leap year) for our New Year's day dinner.  He didn't complain, especially since I was interrupting his ice hockey game, but more importantly he doesn't think I am nuts for asking him to do this.  So we both sat there in front of the TV counting out black-eyed peas to bring us good fortune and good luck during the new year.  Very fortunate indeed...

Now, I'm sure you are aware of this folklore or superstition from the south that eating black-eyed peas on New Year's day will bring you good luck for the coming year.  And it's usually in the form of a dish called Hoppin' John; but I wanted to make something that was a little fresher and lighter.  So as the story goes...you should eat one black-eyed pea for each day of the year.  The peas represent coins, the collards represent green money, and the cornbread represents gold, (which I decided not to make because I want to eat healthy).  Also, for additional good luck you are supposed to place a coin under the pot while cooking the black-eyed peas and a coin under each dinner plate while eating.  Well, I forgot this part and so hopefully, counting out the peas has us covered for the entire year.

I was not born and raised in the south.  I grew up in Maryland which is considered a boarder state, but I did grow up eating black-eyed peas and collard greens.  However, I never quite understood why everyone cooks the crap out the peas, as well as the collards.  Most recipes call for cooking the peas for 1-1/2 hours and for braising the collards for that amount of time as well.  I do not find eating mushy beans/peas or army green collards very appealing and so this is a really quick and healthy dish that can be made in 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, New Year's day has come and gone, but you can still get all the health benefits from eating black-eyed peas, farro and collards anytime, and that is what's really important!

Black-Eyed Pea and Farro Salad:
(Single Serving of Good Luck)

1/2 cup black-eyed peas (or 363 for the remainder of the year...:-), soaked for four hours, rinsed and cooked until tender, about 18-20 minutes, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup pearl farro, cooked for 20 minutes until tender, rinsed and drained
1/2 organic red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
2 green onions, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp Italian flat leaf parsley, minced
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Chipotle-Maple Vinaigrette (below)

Chipotle-Maple Vinaigrette 

1 tbsp Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tbsp filtered water
1/2 tsp Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder (more or less to taste--I like it spicy)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp pure maple syrup
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For the organic collard greens, I sliced them into thin ribbons, rinsed them and steamed them for about 1 minute until bright green.  I then tossed them with a little lemon juice and sea salt and black pepper.   Just delish and so healthy!!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Going Vegan--The Best Decision I've Ever Made!

It has been two years since I switched to a vegan diet and it has been the best decision I've ever made.  I did this for health reasons to lower my cholesterol, but I also did it for the animals.  After reading all the books and seeing all the photos about the horrific conditions in which farm animals suffer everyday, I never want to be responsible for their suffering ever again.  But being vegan and eating a plant-based diet is more than just what you put on your dinner plate.  It's a lifestyle and making conscious decisions about every product you purchase.  So early last year I gave the leather purse and the leather shoes to Goodwill, completely tossed out all my personal care products, and I make sure that every product I use is cruelty free.

However, being vegan doesn't necessarily mean that you eat a healthy diet.  Yes, compared to omnivores we have lower rates of cholesterol, blood pressure, diseases caused by inflammation and lower cancer rates for certain types of cancer.  But just like omnivores, we eat a lot of vegan processed/convenience foods that really don't provide any health benefit at all.  So for 2012, I've made a promise to myself to embrace the "whole foods" way of eating and to cut out as many processed foods from my diet as possible.

So here are changes I'm making to my diet for 2012:
  • No sugar of any kind, except for small amounts of maple syrup or agave as needed for recipes.
  • No store bought condiments such as ketchup or mayonnaise.  If I need them for a recipe, I will make my own from scratch.
  • No soy sauce.  I will use tamari sauce instead.
  • No processed cooking oils, except for first-cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, and used only in moderation.
  • No margarine or vegetable shortening.
  • No fake meat substitutes of any kind, including textured soy protein.
  • No fake cheese substitutes of any kind.  If I want a cheese sauce, I will make my own from scratch using unprocessed ingredients.
  • No white starch products such as bread, pasta or grains.  I will use only whole grain/wheat products.
  • No canned foods such as tomatoes, beans or any other canned products because of BPA residue.
  • No deep fried foods of any kind...goodbye sweet potato fries...:-(
For some of you this may seem very limiting, but I enjoy making food from scratch.  So I can't wait to make my own homemade corn tortillas, or to preserve/can my own fruit/tomatoes in the summer to be used in winter recipes.  I'd even like to learn how to make tofu and tempeh from scratch.  First up though is a homemade ketchup and assorted nut butter. 

I'm sure that there will be some cooking disasters along the way, and sometimes when I don't have time I will be tempted to reach for prepared and convenient foods, but my goal is to make 2012 my healthiest year ever!  And I hope that you'll join me!

To a healthy 2012!