Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chana Masala

When we lived in DC, Chad and I would love to go to our favorite Indian restaurant for their buffet brunch on Sundays. Inevitably, we’d always eat too much and complain that we couldn’t control ourselves. But, needless to say, we kept going back. It was so good; and easy for a vegetarian (me) and carnivore (him) to get our fill of a variety of dishes.

Indian food seems so complex and mysterious, but once I had a handful of spices in our cupboard to make this myself, I was content with trying my hand at Chana Masala. I finally got it right last night after many different recipes and tests. And it was delicious; especially when you plopped a heaping spoon of Raita on top. The only spice that was difficult to find for me was amchoor, which is made from unripe green mangoes that are dehydrated ground to a powder. It gives the dish a sour flavor that is usually accomplished with lemon juice. You can always use extra lemon juice if you don’t envision yourself making this, or other Indian dishes, often. But I must say that the amchoor is fabulous. I ordered mine online from Spice World.

Chana Masala

1 tablespoon coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
2 medium onions, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons of ginger, grated
1 chili pepper, minced (I included the pith and seeds, because I like heat. If you are sensitive to heat, remove the pith and seeds)
1 15 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
2 15 oz. cans of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup room temperature water
½ lemon
Spice mix (see below)

Spice mix:
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 heaping tablespoon amchoor powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 heaping teaspoon garam masala

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Once you can feel heat coming up if you put your hand over the skillet, put in onions, chili pepper, ginger and garlic. Sauté until soft, but don’t brown anything; about 5 minutes. Add the spice mix and thoroughly incorporate. Saute for about 2 more minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and water. Simmer for a few minutes. Add garbanzo beans and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt to taste and squeeze half of a lemon into skillet. Serve over basmati rice.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Winter Couscous

Winter Couscous
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

1 ½ T salted butter
1 fennel bulb, cored and cut into thin slices or ½ pieces, several fronds reserved
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup vegetable broth
¾ cup water
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 blood orange, supremed
Pecorino Romano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt butter in pot; add fennel bulb, salt and pepper and sauté until fennel starts to soften, approximately 5 minutes.

Add broth and water and bring to a boil.

Add couscous, cover pot and remove from heat for about 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

Mix in pine nuts and blood orange pieces. Separate into bowls and top with Pecorino Romano to your liking and fennel fronds for garnish.

I used a saucier pan, which is perfect for a dish like this. If you don’t have one, use a small sauce pan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winter Squash, Lentil and Arugula Salad

Before I get into this recipe, let me just say that I have serious issues with my weight. I tend to eat healthy (Greek yogurt with honey and tea for breakfast, salad for lunch, healthy grains and veggies for dinner), but I certainly have moments where I say to hell with it and make a huge pile of nachos for my husband and I to stuff our faces with while watching football. And don’t even get me started on my love for French fries and pizza. It will never die. Ever. I even had a dream one night that I was in the frozen food aisle at a grocery store and I was looking at the frozen pizza section and there was a big “New!” sticker on one of the shelves. When I looked in that direction, I noticed that a new pizza was available that had FRENCH FRIES on it! In my dream the heavens parted to beam down that white glow and the angels were singing. I swear this dream happened. I can’t make up shit like that. I think I woke myself up laughing that morning. And with a serious craving for both pizza and French fries.

I did gymnastics for 18 years of my life and always had people focused on my weight. Until I was 16, I had a boy body, with a full-on six pack and tight little butt to boot.

Oh, how I wish my butt was still tight. But then I went through puberty and my thighs swallowed everything in sight. Ever since then I’ve struggled with my body image and finding an appropriate weight that makes me feel comfortable. And after practicing gymnastics for 18 years, 36-hours a week, I despise exercising. I just feel like I’m still doing it for someone else and resent stair masters with a passion. Not to mention that my knees have barely any cartilage in them anymore and they crunch when I walk and all my 500 old injuries come back to haunt me when I try to exercise. I wish I was exaggerating when I said that I have panic attacks when I try to go to bikram yoga, because I’m so worried about being judged, which is completely against everything that yoga is about. So, here I am at 32, spending as much time worrying about my weight as a teenage boy thinks about sex. And when I’m feeling particularly defensive I scream to my husband that my BMI is still within a “normal” range. And really, he doesn’t even know what a BMI is, and probably thinks that it has something to do with breast size.

I’ve been thinking about what changes I could make to my diet that might help me shed a few pounds and feel a little bit better about myself. The thing I keep coming back to is to cut down on the bread consumption. It’s always there at dinner, with a little bit of olive oil and crushed red pepper and sherry vinegar for dipping. And it needs to stop. I made this salad last night without bread and it was fulfilling enough to enjoy all on its own. I recently discovered the combination of cumin and smoked pepper on winter squash and my life will never be the same.

Winter Squash, Lentil and Arugula Salad

Serves 4
Total time: 45 minutes, largely unattended

Recipe based loosely off of this one from Epicurious

• 3/4 cup Black Beluga Lentils
• 6 cups 1-inch pieces peeled seeded winter squash (I used 2 small Delicata, but I’m sure Kabocha, Butternut or even sweet potato would work fine)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 4 cups baby arugula
• 1 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
• 1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
• 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• Salt and pepper

Put lentils in cold water and soak for 10 minutes. Then boil lentils in salted water for 30 minutes and drain.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss squash with olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika and salt. Put on baking sheet and roast for 35 minutes (stir at least once).

Make vinaigrette with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Divide arugula into four bowls. Top with roasted squash, sprinkle with lentils, goat cheese and mint. Dress each salad with vinaigrette and serve.

Food Beware

Last night while I made dinner, I watched a movie about the French Organic Revolution, call Food Beware. It was pretty interesting to see how the French people decided that organic was the way to go and how they involved children in the process.

In the era of Food, Inc., Sicko and others who are using the scare tactic to convince people to change their lifestyle, it was refreshing to see something a little less guerilla-like. It just felt more real; we need more movies like this. I loved the notion that children were pushing the movement in their households. They were taking what they learned in school to their homes and requesting that their parents prepare organic dinners. Don’t quote me on this, but from what I understand, research shows that children have the most power to change behaviors of families. This is why it’s extremely important that we are engaging our youth in conversations about sustainability, organic food and supporting local farms.

What honestly surprised me the most was a scene where they showed a school cafeteria at lunchtime. It went through each item the children were eating and identified the pesticides and chemicals that were likely sprinkled into that item. Bananas, yogurt, lentils, homemade bread. The part that surprised me is that these children were eating BANANAS, YOGURT, LENTILS, and HOMEMADE BREAD for lunch at school. So much healthier than the crap we feed our kids here in the U.S. I mean, we aren’t even close to what they were featuring as the unhealthy meal! I know I’m somewhat missing the point. The scene wasn’t to depict the slew of trans fat these kids were eating for lunch, but I couldn’t help but realize how far we have to go. Hopefully Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard is a step in the right direction. And I now have “packing homemade, healthy lunches” on my to-do list for my yet-to-be-conceived children.

Check the movie out if you have a chance.

It’s also available on Netflix, if you have an account.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nutty Quinoa Salad

Usually in the winter I want something warm and comforting; roasted squash, hearty soups or spiced cider. And no matter how much I’d been warned about the winter here in Pittsburgh, I was not prepared. Today, with the wind chill, it’s 0 degrees outside. What makes it feel so cold here and is noticeably different from DC is the wind that rips through you when you walk down the street.

Last night I was in the mood for something seasonal and refreshing, which is not usually what you think of in winter. So we made a salad with what we had in the refrigerator and it was delicious. This is one of those meals that you feel good after; lightly filled with nutritious food.

Nutty Quinoa Salad

-for the salad
1 cup of quinoa, rinsed thoroughly until the water runs clear
½ cup of raw hazelnuts
1 cup of pomegranate seeds
1 medium cucumber, diced
2 cups of fresh spinach leaves, washed

-for the dressing
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
Salt and pepper

Combine quinoa with 2 cups of water and some salt and bring to a boil. Add lid to the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer, for about 20 minutes (or until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid). Once cooked, set aside to cool.

Turn oven to 350 degrees. Toast hazelnuts on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Once they are finished, dump them into a dish towel and rub them to remove majority of the skins. Roughly chop them once they cool.

Add spinach leaves to a large bowl. Mix in quinoa, pomegranate, cucumber and hazelnuts.

Make dressing by putting oil, vinegar, pomegranate molasses and salt and pepper (to taste) in a small Tupperware container. Shake container until ingredients are well mixed.

Dress salad and serve immediately.

Alternatives: pine nuts instead of hazelnuts, dried cranberries instead of pomegranate seeds, bulgur instead of quinoa. Or add some crumbled goat cheese on top.