What is it? Whole food, plant based eating. Basically it’s a vegan diet but with the emphasis on whole foods, foods in their most complete state. Less processed, not stripped of goodness and nutrition. Why am I writing about it? Because I decided to embark on this eating plan for the month of March! I want to see how well I do avoiding all animal and seafood protein, all dairy, and eggs. I think you will be reading a lot more about this way of eating if you haven’t already.

There are many reasons people decide to forgo eating the produce of animals: Animal rights and protection from cruel mismanagement; a person’s own health; not liking the taste or texture of flesh; religious restrictions; and some more, I am sure. I have been reading many articles on why a plant based diet is better for human health, and I want to see for myself how it affects me, if at all. I am in good shape, with a good weight, ‘good’ blood levels, and overall good health. So I don’t look for a major shift in any of that. Yet, will I lose weight, which I do not want to do? Maybe I’ll gain weight, which would be ok (as long as not too much!). Will I feel less energetic, more tired? Will my occasional intestinal distress clear up? Will I feel hungry all the time or more satiated than on my present way of eating? Will it be a lot more work cooking and planning meals? I’ll post updates each week so you can see how it goes for me. A well-rounded plant based diet does require some planning to make sure one is getting a full complement of nutrients and sufficient calories – potato chips and soda make a ‘vegan’ diet but not a healthy one!

My eating plan this month will consist of many vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses, seeds, nuts, and fruits. My last post was about raw food diets not being for me, so will have a mix of raw (salads) and cooked vegetables. I have a wide repertoire of recipes and there are thousands more available on the web. Most can be adapted to solely plant based. We eat a lot of meatless meals already, so my husband is accustomed to it. He is not fully on this ride with me, but agrees if he feels the need for meat, he can get it when we go out for dinner, about once a week. Probably the hardest thing for me to skip will be eggs – I don’t eat a lot of eggs but they can be a quick and satisfying meal or snack, so I will miss them. We are about 98% dairy free, with just the occasional buttermilk for a dressing or biscuits or maybe a little cheese now and then. So going 100% dairy free will not be tough for us. I do have some processed foods in my kitchen but not a lot and even those are minimally processed. Got to have a little convenience! Breakfast and lunch have not really changed for me. I usually have oatmeal and toast or a breakfast ‘cookie’ and fruit in the morning – I just switched to coconut oil or peanut butter in place of butter on my toast, for instance. Lunch is mostly meat-free anyway for me, consisting of leftovers or maybe a veggie patty from the freezer. I actually began the WFPB on 2/26 since Sunday starts my week of menu plans. So far our dinners have been:

  • A salad of spinach and lettuce topped with red rice, sliced celery, shredded carrot, slivered almonds, dried cranberries, and vegan mayo mixed with curry powder and mango chutney
  • A variation of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Tex-Mex salad of lettuce and cabbage, black beans, corn, tomatoes, onion with an avocado based dressing
  • A veg-full soup with lentils and lots of spices
  • A veggie stack plate from a local restaurant (pita stacked with hummus, beets, garbanzos, quinoa, more)
  • Pasta with a fresh tomato sauce; sautéed broccoli leaves; sautéed asparagus
  • Red rice and black bean filled corn tortillas, enchilada style, with homemade enchilada sauce; a broccoli salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and spring onion in a light lime dressing; and a roasted kale, fennel , and delicata squash dish
  • Thai food from a local restaurant (Asian restaurants make eating veg easy!)
  • Spring Lasagna from Mollie Katzen’s Heart of the Plate cookbook; side salad
  • Roasted Beet and Spinach salad with walnuts

 

I am not stating everyone should give up all animal produce for all time. Humans are omnivores, meaning we can digest and assimilate food from animals and plants. Each person must decide for themselves. However, the way too much of our animal or fish protein is produced today makes the quality far inferior to the meat our grandparents ate. Factory farms where cattle, pigs, or chickens live in filthy, overcrowded conditions, are fed with feed not suitable for anyone’s consumption, and dosed with hormones and antibiotics whether needed or not and fish farms where the water is extremely contaminated, the fish are overcrowded, and again the feed is not suitable – these conditions are not how animals should live. The animals are stressed and therefore their flesh is of poor quality and reduced amounts of vitamin E, beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Plenty of studies point to improved health and lower risk of modern lifestyle diseases in people who eat plant based diets. Reductions in diabetes, obesity, and some heart disease are most often cited. Some people simply don’t like the look, smell, mouth-feel, and taste of meat. And some religions prohibit eating the produce of animals. Whatever your reasons, if you have thought about ‘going veg’ give it a try, it could be interesting. Commit to a reasonable length of time – no less than two weeks – and see how you feel. I’ll post updates on my progress as the month proceeds!

I’ll begin with a confession – adopting a raw food diet is not for me! So why write about it? Well, I know there are many high-profile proponents of this style of eating so I wanted to understand it better in case clients ask about it. And since I learned some things, I thought you might like to also!

The raw food diet basically means eating foods that have not been cooked or at least not heated over ~115°F. There is no *one* raw food “diet” – the ways of following vary among adherents. Even the maximum temperature that foods can be warmed to without being considered ‘cooked’ varies. There are those who eat 100% raw food and those who eat 60-85% raw, with the remainder of their diet cooked foods. Raw meat (think sushi, sashimi, steak tartare, and some cured meats), raw (unpasteurized) dairy, and raw eggs are included by some raw foodists; many avoid these foods altogether. Some eat soaked or sprouted grains and others stick to only vegetables and fruits, nuts, and seeds. All of the plans I read about exclude processed foods, refined flours and sugars, all or most vegetable oils, and coffee. Most stress using organic produce as much as possible. One person writing on being ‘fully raw’ stated one should not eat vinegars, salt, oils, or spices, and should limit good fats like avocados and nuts, and frozen or dehydrated fruits and veggies.

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this eating style? Proponents believe that cooking destroys vital nutrients and enzymes in food, and even causes toxicity in the food, so they believe raw food has more nutrients. They believe a raw food diet helps with weight control, and that it will help new followers lose weight. It’s thought eating raw fruits and veggies can reduce acidity in the body and help alkalize it. And there are claims that raw food is easier to digest and moves through the digestive system more quickly than cooked food. Some writers made other claims about protection from other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It is said people eating raw have more energy, better skin, and lower blood pressure. Disadvantages include the difficulty of eating out, whether at a friend’s house or at a restaurant; the additional prep time needed to make a meal – more chopping, blending, sprouting, dehydrating, etc.; limitations on what can be eaten; it is more difficult to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in the right proportions; increased risk of food borne illness and pathogens from commercially sold produce; and a follower must understand how raw differs from cooked in foods like broccoli and cauliflower, which contain compounds called goitrogens. Goitrogens may block thyroid function but are deactivated by heat, so eating lots of raw cruciferous veggies could lead to thyroid problems.

As with most health topics on the web, this one has believers and deniers, wild claims for and arguments against. I saw a whole lot of claims with no explanation of their basis in fact. I read an article of how eating this way nearly killed someone. Well-known doctors speak up for it and others speak against it. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda both promote cooked rather than raw foods. My take? I think the general guidelines for a raw diet are good, in that they include a lot of vegetables and fruits, little or no animal protein, no processed ‘junk’ food, and no refined sugars or flours. They promote organic, whole foods. Raw or cooked, eating this way is way better than the typical western diet. The plans seem flexible so they allow people who want to call themselves “raw foodies” can eat mostly raw but maybe include some lightly cooked food. And for those who do want some cooked foods, the recommendations are for light, gentle cooking – not fried or grilled to a blackened state. I question the claims of easier digestion, and this is one claim that was made without any citations of studies to back it up; in fact, articles weighing pros and cons were more likely to offer explanations of how this is not true. Claims of enzyme and vitamin loss from cooking were perhaps over-stated. Produce loses much of its nutrition the longer it waits past harvest and certainly cooking can add to that loss. Many cooking methods do not appreciably destroy nutrients, and even enhance some nutrients. A few articles stated that cooking makes food acidic, but this is not always true; also, our body determines our blood PH from many factors and constantly regulates it, and food does not change that. However, reducing some naturally acidic foods like meat, cheese and some grains is good for you, just not for your PH balance.

This way of eating is not for me because while I eat a fair amount of raw vegetables and fruits, I also like steamed veggies, hot soups, casseroles. And bread and pasta. I think the human race made giant strides in evolution because we learned to cook food, and those strides wouldn’t have happened if cooking destroyed nutrition. Many diseases that have become common in western, developed nations are due to poor eating habits, over-processed foods stripped of nutrition, and over- or under-consumption of foods due to ever changing food guidelines.

What do you think? Would you want to eat this way, or do you already?

Today I want to dive into Michael Pollan’s famous quote of “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” On the surface it is pretty simple, and I do like simple! But as I listened to some videos of Michael discussing food topics I realized I may not fully understand the depth of its wisdom.

Eat food. Sounds easy.  But by this he means actual food, not food processed into something else that resembles food but is very far removed from its origin. Would someone from 100 years ago recognize the food? “Food” means it is not full of hydrolyzed protein, mono-glycerides, natural flavoring, saccharine, etc. We should seek food items grown the way nature meant, not by using industrial methods that strip the earth of nutrients, pollute the ground and water with pesticides, degrade the lives of animals in feedlots and factory farms, and give cause for deforestation. “Pasteurized processed cheese food” is not food in the context of this quote, for instance. We should eat corn – fresh off the cob or frozen, or as cornmeal, perhaps – grown by a real farmer, not by a corporate conglomerate, and not turned into one of the hundreds of ingredients you would not suspect are derived from corn. Choose meat as close to how it came from the animal, like a steak or chicken breast and not the ground up bits mixed with cellulose to produce ‘lunchmeat’ or ‘chicken’ nuggets. Yogurt is milk cultured with specific strains of bacteria, that’s all – not necessary to include added sugar, fruit, gelatin, probiotics, and more. Oats are easy to cook – there’s no need to process oats to death so they can come in a little envelope with “real and artificial flavorings” added.

Mostly plants. Meaning the edible parts of vegetables, fruits, grains, mushrooms, and even flowers. Simply prepared fresh vegetables are most delightful. Eat whole grains like brown rice, farro, and wheat berries rather than grains ground into flour; although whole grain flour is more nutritious than bleached white flour it still impacts blood sugar and insulin levels. Enjoy all of the apple or an orange and not just the juice that can be extracted. Edible flowers add color and flavor to a lovely fresh salad. These foods provide us with almost all the nutrients we need for health, and with the variety of colors and textures to be found they are satisfying for our aesthetic taste buds as well. There are so many different plant foods and so many ways to combine them into delightful dishes, I think it would take a lot of years of cooking meals to ever repeat the same dish if you didn’t want to! Pollan stresses that humans are omnivores and some of us will not find satisfaction with a strictly plant-based diet. Yet if western cultures ate more plant foods and less animal foods, we’d have better health, our land would have better health, and the world would see less environmental damage.

Not too much. Don’t eat until you are stuffed, stop before you feel full. Many cultures, where food scarcity is not a problem, teach their young to eat only until they are 2/3 full or 4/5 full or until they no longer have hunger. Be mindful of portion size; many of us were taught to clean our plates, so when we overload it to start with, we are set up to overeat. Don’t feed your boredom, anxiety, or depression by mindlessly snacking or eating when you aren’t even hungry. Sit at a table when you eat and pay attention to what you are eating – you will derive more satisfaction from the meal and become more aware of how much you eat. It will help you learn when to say when. Consider sharing an entrée with your companion at restaurants, especially those whose portion sizes are large. Eventually they may get the idea of reducing portions to normal size. By eating this way, you not only help your own health, you help reduce food waste.

So, sound and simple advice. Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. Common sense, really. No need to count calories, fat grams, carbs. No need to worry about the next bad-for-you-food story, because you are eating a moderate amount of a variety of foods and skipping controversial additives. You are eating a balance of fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Add water and exercise and you’ll be in the pink!

Chances are you also struggle with some of the challenges I have been thinking about. We are told some basic ideas for eating well and taking care of ourselves, yet find that doing so may not be great for the planet’s health. What’s a health-conscious person with a conscience supposed to do?

Take eating fruits and vegetables, nine servings a day as recommended. We want to eat high quality, preferably organic, and in-season produce. But we live in North America and except for certain small areas like southern California, the growing seasons just don’t allow for much growing during a big part of the year. Sure, the grocery stores are full of every kind of produce all year long. But at what cost to the environment, not to mention to the quality of the produce? Most fruits and vegetables have to be picked long before they are really ready to be eaten, packed, shipped long distances, and distributed to trucks which take them even further, until they finally show up at your store. Of course this is true even when the produce grows in the USA and gets shipped across country, just maybe not picked as early and not shipped as far. This is why I prefer local produce – I feel it is fresher and I know it took less fossil fuel to arrive at the market. Yet I chafe at the lack of variety some months and cringe at the price of some items not easily grown here and wonder how I’d cook if I couldn’t get bell peppers all year long. Then I read about a group of women in a poor country who got helping starting a farm and they grow vegetables for the American market (because we are insatiable) and now they can send their children to school. How can I not want to help support them?!

The next challenge I think about is that of drinking water. The general opinion is we should drink 64 ounces a day or thereabout. It can seem difficult to consume that much water but it’s really not and the benefits are worth forming the habit. Of course we want that water to be clean and free of contaminants, and preferably come out of our home faucets like that. But many areas don’t trust their tap water or don’t care for the ‘taste’ (which probably means they are right to avoid it because water shouldn’t ‘taste’, should it?). If you don’t like or trust your tap water what do you do? There are various filtering options for the home, and there’s also home delivery of those big bottles. What about the times you are away from a ready source of good water, like hiking, biking, traveling, etc. and need to carry water with you? With so much controversy over BPA and phthalates leaching from plastics and being known hormone disrupters, we don’t want to use containers made from polycarbonate plastic or polyvinyl chloride (those have #1, #3, #6, or #7 stamped on). But glass won’t work for these activities. I have a stainless steel bottle, but it is not large so if I needed more water than it holds I’d have a problem. I encourage you to avoid purchased bottled water because it is a trash hazard, a waste of plastics, and due to news of some heavy-handed bottlers diverting water from towns and buying up water rights. Yet bottled water helps people in crisis situations have clean water, at least short-term.

The third challenge I have been pondering is eating fish. Not from a vegetarian or vegan point of view – that’s a subject for a different post. We omnivores are encouraged to eat fish several times a week for the omega-3 properties. I like fish so that’s not the problem. What is a problem are the warnings we get about mercury and other contaminants in many species. And another problem is the over-fishing that depletes the fish stocks, and the bad fishing practices that causes many fish to be caught and killed but not brought in for consumption. So how do we eat fish a few times a week if we can’t get fish that is safe to eat? I avoid farmed fish, fish from countries with poor food-safety regulations, and foods on the watch list from Monterey Bay Aquarium. Good info on their site – I recommend checking it out.

I can’t claim to have answers to these puzzles. There are many ways to solve them for you, in a way that works in your life. And there are many other challenges in the world of eating well – which ones are puzzling you these days? We can only do so much at one time, so pick the issues that bug you the most and work to do what you can do to relieve it.

Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I just got back from a visit “home” – to St. Louis where I had spent most of my life. It was mostly chilly, cloudy, and rainy. Brrrrr! But we had left cloudy days here in Arizona and returned to cloudy days, with cool temperatures. So I am feeling like I need soup and chili and other hot dishes. Not to mention my hostess and sister-in-law mentioned making some ham and bean soup… So here are a few recipes for soups we like in cool/cold weather.

Chili
I used to use ground beef in chili but mostly don’t anymore. You can certainly add some to your version of this, in addition to or in place of the grains. Also, I like a fair amount of spice but have been called wimpy, so adjust the spices according to your palate. Cornbread goes nicely with this!

About 2 cups cooked farro or barley or wheat berries
About 2 cups cooked beans (navy, black, pinto, cranberry, or combination)
1 15 oz. can fire roasted, diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 medium-large onion
1-2 T. chili powder
½ – 1 t. crushed dried red chilies
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the grains according to directions for the type you choose, but not quite as long – they should be par-cooked. Cook the beans the same way – according to type but remove from heat and drain when they are still quite firm. These will cook more in the chili mix.
Chop the onion and saute in water or bit of oil until softened. Stir in the spices and cook ~ one minute. Add the tomatoes with the juices. Add the grains and beans. Stir to combine, bring to a good simmer, then reduce the heat for a slow simmer. Cook about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir several times and check liquid level – if it’s getting too dry add a bit of water or if too wet for your taste turn the heat up a bit.

 

Juan’s Chicken Soup
I may have shared this one before. It’s a spicy soup, so if you are shy of heat you may want to skip it or tone it down with less Rotel style tomatoes. Quick to make, yummy to eat!

2 boneless chicken breasts without skin or 2-3 boneless chicken thighs without skin
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 10 oz. cans Rotel® tomatoes with green chilies
½ large onion, chopped
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
4-5 oz. frozen sliced okra
1 T. Worchestershire® sauce
½ c. brown rice
Put all ingredients into large pot. Bring to a boil, stir. Turn heat to low and simmer 45 minutes (to cook rice). Simmer at least 30 if not adding rice. Remove chicken and cut into chunks then stir back in to the soup.

 

Ham & Bean Soup
What better use for the ham bone left from a holiday dinner? Soup! This is a classic and there are probably hundreds of ways to make it. But here is mine. I use a crock pot, start this in the morning, and it’s ready by dinner time.

1 pound split peas or small white beans
Large onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
Hot water
Ham bone, we prefer it with some meat still on
Black pepper
Salt*

If you use split peas, no need to soak. If you are using small white beans, you may want to refer to this page on how to cook them. (I have always soaked dried beans so have not tried not soaking them for this recipe. So I would soak them overnight and probably use the soaking water in the next steps.)
Put the peas/beans in the crock pot and add hot water to cover them about 2 inches. Add the ham bone and onion, bay leaves, and pepper. Stir. *Salt – I do not add salt until the soup is nearly done. Ham can have quite a bit of salt in it, so I prefer to let it flavor the soup and add salt if needed at the end.
Turn the crock pot on high to get it heated, if you have time before dashing off to work; then turn to low. If not, just start it on low. Stir a few times during the day, if you can. Check the peas/beans for doneness after 8-9 hours, they should be ready. Remove the ham bone and cut off any meat that didn’t fall off and add it back to the soup. Taste for salt, stir well, enjoy!

 

Coconut Curry Kale and Sweet Potato Soup
My variation of one I found in Vegetarian Times magazine. This soup has a lot going on! Don’t worry that it is hard just because there are a lot of ingredients.

Large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium head bok choy, chopped, and leafy parts separated from white parts
1 t. chili powder
1 t. curry powder
~ 1 t. cinnamon
~ 1 t. cumin
< 1 t. cayenne pepper, to taste
4-6 cups vegetable broth
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1 cup dried lentils
1 large sweet potato, diced
~ ½ bunch kale, stemmed and chopped
Arrowroot powder or organic cornstarch, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste

Put ingredients onion through lentils into a large pot, using 4 cups broth and only the white parts of bok choy. Stir to blend. Bring to low boil then reduce heat to low simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to check liquid level; add more broth if the soup is too thick. The lentils should be tender by now.
Add the diced sweet potato and cook 15 minutes more or until potato is tender. Add the kale and the bok choy leaves and cook another 8-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
If the soup is too brothy, you can mix about 2 T. cornstarch or arrowroot into a little water and add to the soup, bring the heat up and stir until broth thickens a bit.

20160913_soySoy foods have proponents and opponents, supporters and detractors. Much controversy about soy, maybe even more than whether coffee/eggs/meat are good for you or not! Let’s examine some of the chatter.

Soy grows as beans in pods, like peas. Perhaps you’ve seen these beans and pods and know them as edamame. It is a species of legume yet is not classified as a pulse but as an oilseed plant, as it is grown more for its oil than for using the beans as food. Soybeans are a good source of fiber, protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, among other nutrients. Concerns include the amount of phytates and phytoestrogens, and that over 90% of US soybeans are said to be genetically engineered and heavily sprayed with pesticides.

First, I am not an opponent of soy, but I am an opponent of the extracts taken from soy, often using hexane and other chemicals, and used in many prepared foods and protein powders. Much of the disagreement over soy’s safety as a food stems from the beans being broken down into components, removed from the whole, and added to many foods. This may lead to consuming too much of one component of soy without its other components for balance. Not good for any food. I favor foods made from the whole bean, like tofu, miso, tempeh, and edamame.

Claims for the health benefits and the health detriments are often made by people who do not really understand the results of the studies and research or are simply regurgitating information they read. One needs to pay special attention to the date of an article, its source, how well the author seems to grasp the science, and was the study on animals or humans. Is the article from 1999 or 2015? A lot is learned over the years, and what was thought to be true in 1999 may have been corrected since. Is the source of the article a well-known soy opponent, like the Weston A. Price Foundation, or is it from a soy food manufacturer? Certainly these two may have different interpretations of the same studies. Is the author a scientist or a school psychologist with knowledge of personal finance (from an actual bio on one article)? How well does the latter understand the terms and measurements and conclusions being referenced? Finally, although many studies are performed on animals, human beings do not always metabolize nutrients the same as rats or guinea pigs and the studies often include amounts that are not feasible for a human diet. Both sides can be pretty convincing, and research for this post had my head spinning a bit!

One of the biggest concerns about eating soy foods is that of the isoflavones, which are sources of phytoestrogens in our diet. It was believed these phytoestrogens could cause cancerous tumors, especially breast cancer, to grow, the way estrogen in hormone replacement therapy did. The other concerns about the phytoestrogens in soy were around men’s and boys’ sexuality – that the effects would make boys grow breasts and men lose virility or fertility. However, phytoestrogens are not the same as the human estrogen hormone and do not have the same effects on our bodies. The association between soy and cancer growth is not supported by all of the research; in fact, there are indications that soy helps prevent certain cancers and most women who have had cancer are no longer told to avoid soy. And further studies on men’s health found that normal consumption of soy did not affect testosterone or estrogen (yes, men have some estrogen, just like women have some testosterone) levels, nor sperm and semen levels.

Phytates are another concern among those who avoid soy. Phytate is the salt form of phytic acid and occurs in edible seeds like nuts, grains, and legumes; also in some roots and tubers. People have read that phytates bind to certain minerals (iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium) and make those minerals unavailable to our bodies. However, this binding only occurs during the meal where the phytates are also being consumed and is not an ongoing stripping of minerals. Only people whose primary foods are grains and legumes need be concerned about possible mineral deficiency. As well, certain ways of preparing the food, like soaking or fermenting, reduce the phytate levels significantly. Therefore, unless one is eating only soy and other phytic acid foods for every meal and never soaking or fermenting those foods, the concern over phytates is way overblown.

A lot of health benefits have been attributed to soy foods also: reduced cardiovascular problems, weight loss, diabetes control, reduction of menopausal symptoms, and cancer prevention. Not all of these claims are borne out by actual studies, and of course results will vary from person to person. It is hard too to definitely state that soy is the savior or the blame, as we are individuals with many variables that affect outcomes.

All in all, I do not feel one should avoid all soy, all the time. Soy foods can be a part of a healthy diet. Strive for organic, whole soy foods as one part of a varied diet. Avoid non-organic soy due to concerns about genetic modification and pesticides. Also avoid isolated soybean derivatives found in highly processed foods and protein powders. In the USA we are able to vary our food choices to get a good mix, and soy can be a good part of that.

Image courtesy of SOMMAI at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20160816_salads

This week I’d like to share some of my favorite salad recipes. We eat a lot of main dish salads, at least three each week, sometimes five. Yep, it’s a lot of washing and chopping but so worth the effort! Since we eat so many salads, I am always looking for new ideas and generally work in a new salad every week. But we have some ol’ favorites that keep showing up. I aim for lots of color, a balance of textures, and flavors that pop in every bite. Oh, and solid nutrition too! For the base of the salads I usually have leaf lettuce on hand; I’ve re-discovered the delight of iceberg; cabbage makes a good addition to some salads; kale, arugula, and other leafy greens mix well with the others. Many people like romaine but it’s not my fav. I keep bell peppers, celery, green onions, carrots, and grape or cherry tomatoes around so I can always toss together an all-veg salad. Other vegetables that don’t keep as well, like avocado and cucumbers, get used first if I have bought them. Cooked grains such as quinoa, farro, and brown rice often make it in, as do beans, especially black beans and chickpeas. Nuts and seeds add interest and nutrition. Most of the time I make the dressing too – so easy and so much better than bottled – but we do have a bottled dressing or two around. When I buy bottled dressing, of course I start with reading the ingredients and make sure it uses non-GMO corn or canola oil; if the list is too long and full of things I don’t recognize, back on the shelf it goes.

 

Quinoa-Spinach Salad

1/2 c. quinoa, uncooked

4 c. ‘baby’ spinach

1 avocado, cubed

1/2 c. dried cranberries

1/2 c. corn, steamed or roasted and cooled

1/3 c. pepitas

1/4 c. almond slivers

1 handful basil, chopped

Small handful mint, chopped

4 T. organic canola oil

3 T. apple cider vinegar

1-2 T. honey

Ground black pepper

Prepare:

Rinse the raw quinoa in a fine sieve, drain. Bring 1 c. clean water or mild stock to a boil, add quinoa and stir. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover pan and cook 15 minutes. Let stand until cool.

Gently mix the cooked quinoa with the next eight ingredients. Combine the oil, cider vinegar, honey, and black pepper to taste. This should result in a mild vinaigrette, slightly sweet. Adjust to your taste. Pour just enough of this onto the salad to lightly dress it, toss well. The rest can be saved in a jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Serves 2.

Adapted from the Inca Salad at http://www.otrocafe.com/

 

Curry Chicken Salad

One of our most favorite.

Ingredients:

Farro – 1/4 c. dry per serving (brown rice also works well in this recipe)

Cubed, cooked chicken – about 1/2 c. per serving (cubed, baked tofu can be used here)

Mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo)

Curry powder

Mango Chutney

Torn lettuce- plateful per serving

‘Baby’ spinach – handful per serving

Shredded carrot – one small carrot per serving

Sliced celery – 1/2 to 1 stalk per serving

Dried cranberries – ¼ c. per serving

Slivered almonds – 2-3 T. per serving

First, cook the farro in twice the amount of water as farro. I do rinse the grains before cooking, and then cook much like rice. Boil the (salted) water, add the grains, return to boil, cover, and reduce heat to low, cook about 40-45 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, mix curry powder to taste into mayonnaise. Use 1/4 to 1/3 c. mayo per serving, and start with 1/2 t. curry per serving. You can add more as you prefer. Also stir in 1-2 T. chutney. The ‘dressing’ should be thick, not liquid. This mixture is best prepared while the farro cooks so it has time to blend; hold in refrigerator. When ready to assemble the salads, stir in the cooked chicken or tofu.

Now, assemble the salad. First mix the torn lettuce and spinach leaves together, then put a layer of the mix on each plate. Put about a half cup of cooked farro on top of each. Scatter an even portion of shredded carrot, sliced celery, cranberries, and almonds on each plate. Top with a portion of the chicken in the curry-mayo.  

 

Thai Noodle Salad

Don’t be daunted by a seemingly long list of ingredients – it’s really pretty simple!

Ingredients

    Rice stick noodles

    1/3 cup unsalted crunchy peanut butter

    1/2 cup milk (almond milk is good)

    <1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

    1 clove garlic, minced

    3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

    1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

    1/2 cucumber, julienned

    1-2 cups fresh bean sprouts

    1 carrot, grated

    2-3 green onions, thinly sliced   

    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

    Lettuce

    1/2 cup chopped peanuts

    1/2 red bell pepper, julienned (opt.)

    Scallops or small shrimp (opt.)

Directions

    Cook the stick noodles according to package. Drain and rinse the noodles under cold running water and let cool.

    Whisk the peanut butter, milk, ginger, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl until well blended.

    In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, cooled noodles, cucumber, sprouts, carrot, green onions and cilantro, and bell pepper if using. Wisk the peanut butter dressing and pour it over the salad. Stir until well coated and garnish with the roasted and chopped peanuts. Serve chilled or room temperature.

    If adding scallops or shrimp, cook until done in small amount of water in skillet. Cool. Add to salad with vegetables, and then add dressing.

 

Smoked Salmon Salad

This is a really easy salad, quick to put together but very satisfying. A piece of garlic toast is a good accompaniment, if one is needed.

Ingredients

    2 tablespoons mayonnaise

    1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar

    1 teaspoon lemon juice

    1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

    1/2 teaspoon dried dill

    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

    6 cups mixed salad greens

    1/2 small cucumber, halved, seeded and thinly sliced

    12 small cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

    4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small pieces

Preparation   

    Combine mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, dill, and pepper in a lidded jar. Shake well to mix.

    Put the salad greens, cucumber, and tomatoes in a large bowl; pour dressing over; toss gently to coat.

    Divide the salad between 2 plates. Top with smoked salmon.

2 servings

Modified from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/smoked_salmon_salad_ni_oise.html

 

New favorite simple dressing

2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Pinch salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Combine in jar, shake well to blend.

20160802_food passionI have a passion for food. Not in the “I live to eat” way – that sounds too much like gluttony. The reverse – “I eat to live” – sounds too boring, too sad. Food should be celebrated! Enjoyed! Appreciated! Gathering around a table with friends and family to eat, drink, and laugh – what is better? Serving lovingly prepared food – is anything more rewarding? Eating foods you never had as a kid or that are prepared in a very different manner – how interesting is that? Going to the farmers’ market and finding new-to-me produce and learning how to prepare it is a joy.  Going to the farmers’ market and finding tried-and-true produce and learning new ways to prepare it is a joy, too.

To be able to create delicious and satisfying, or disastrous, creations from a pile of ingredients is my most fun cooking, although not always repeatable! I often use recipes as inspiration, sometimes following them closely, sometimes deviating a bit. Sometimes the recipe is just a hint and my imagination takes off from there. And sometimes I just look at what I have on hand and create something entirely new. If it turns out great I may write it down for a second run but mostly I forget and never get it back the same way! Some of my inventions have not been worth writing down – I have to admit to some total *fails*. Once upon a time I would have been reluctant to wing it, but one day some of my siblings were at my house and while I thought I had nothing to feed them, my sister said “pshaw, you have all kinds of stuff here – let’s cook!” An hour later we had dinner!

I no longer self-proclaim to be a ‘foodie’. After reading several descriptions of the term I realize that is not me. With apologies to those who do claim this label, I was too fast to grab the title without looking into it. What is a foodie? Depends on who you ask, of course, and their interpretation of the word, but in general it describes someone who is very interested in food and unusual ways of preparing food. Wikipedia states “A foodie is a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” The Urban Dictionary has some interesting takes on defining it – most are not complimentary!

The importance of food to me is more than my enjoyment in preparing and eating it. It is important to me that food available to us be real food, and clean food – not genetically engineered, not overdosed with pesticides, not from animals raised in horrid conditions, not overly processed. It is important to me that all people have access to real and clean food. It is important to me for people to know that food does not start in a grocery store, that people work hard to grow our food, pick it and pack it, ship it, and prepare it for our purchase.

What is not so important is the individual nutritional content of a food. The “shoulds” and “should nots” of fad diets are not important. The debates between raw and cooked foods, organic and non-organic, vegetarian and vegan are not important.

People, relax! Eat a variety of colors and textures. Consume foods that help you feel great and avoid those that don’t. Portion the amounts your body and lifestyle need to be your best. Enjoy your food! Be grateful for your food! Appreciate the people who bring your food! Develop a passion for food that reflects a healthy relationship with it! You will be surprised how well your body responds.