It’s The Green Genie to the Rescue!

27 03 2011

Lean Mean and Green

It’s tasty and GREEN

Last week I was all excited about baby spinach. This week, I want to share the word about green smoothies. Its Spring, and if you are like most people, you may have been eating some heavy food, or moving around less. I am the poster child for this phenomenon, since I have been working on a dessert book that involves baking about 15 tasty, healthy desserts a week, and trying to keep up with the added calories by missing workouts to travel and teach. I am doing pretty well, but I feel a spring cleaning coming on. Even if you haven not gained an ounce, you still feel a little slow. Now is time for the spring energizer that is the green smoothie.

The green smoothie has many forms. What it is at its most basic is a puree of greens and fruit. The idea is to drink a big glass of raw, concentrated plants at the start of the day. With the help of a good blender, you can make a big pile of veggies and fruits into an easy to digest liquid. Since most of our foods are high in acid and promote acidity in the body, a greens packed smoothie balances us out by being alkaline. You can also get a few servings of veggies in without even chewing.

It’s like juicing, but with all the fiber left in, and it doesn’t require a special juicer.

Most people take their green smoothie a step further, adding some kind of protein. You may want some yogurt, or protein powder, or tofu pureed in there. That is where we diverge, as everyone has strong feelings about which of those is best. It’s up to you.

The great thing about it is that you can improvise. Keep some good fruit and greens around, and you can pretty much puree them together. Bananas are a classic creamy base for the smoothie, and high antioxidant berries are always good. Frozen berries are easy and give the smoothie a slushy texture you might like.  Try not to add a bunch of sweetener, but if you just can’t get into it without a spoonful of maple, agave, or all-fruit jam, go ahead and sweeten a little. You can go savory with tomatoes and greens and cucumber, kind of a gazpacho sort of thing.

Of course, you can make these things into real workout meals, with avocado, coconut milk or oil, nut butters, and grains. Throw in some rolled oats and you have smoothie oatmeal. If you take it a step further, add-ins like spirulina or other greens powders, dulse seaweed, bee pollen, or even espresso or cocoa can amp up your smoothie with extra energizers.

Buy your greens and veggies, pull out that blender, and make a plan to have one of these for breakfast every day this week. See how it makes you feel.

Energize with spring greens, and you will be ready to take on the season of renewal.

Basic Green Smoothie

3 packed cups baby spinach, kale, collards, or a combination with watercress or parsley, sprouts, herbs, you name it

1 banana

1 cup berries, frozen or fresh

a splash of liquid-juice, non-dairy milk, kefir or yogurt

Load it all in the blender and puree. In the VitaMix I used the plunger stick and it was all done in a minute or so. Drink right away.

Breakfast Fruit Smoothie


Baby Spinach Season, Fall in Love with Tender Greens all Over Again.

22 03 2011

Spring Up, Little Spinach!

It’s really, really almost spring. As I write, the steady rain is washing away the dirty snowbanks that towered over us all winter. The annual rebirth of all the plants is a presence, all the energy marshalling under the frozen earth, waiting for the signal to burst forth and grow.

I think I am going to make it.

It’s also almost time for local growers to get into some of their early activities, and some indoor growers may even be able to harvest the first greens of spring. Now, like any good healthy eater, I have been powering through my kales and chards all winter. I’ve bought and blanched many a bunch of fine spinach, too. But the tender, young spinach of the first harvests, well, that is another thing entirely.

Ok, we can get fresh greens from Cali anytime of year, and they are pretty good. But depending where you live, it’s the time of year when you can have those super fresh, super tender spinach leaves that fully explain exactly why spinach is so beloved.

If you have ever bitten into a forkful of spinach salad and thought, wow, this is going to take some chewing, well, baby spinach is for you. Salads made with baby spinach are a treat, and the perfect seasonal flavor pairing of spring strawberries and raspberries in spinach salads is a super food that is super delicious.

Did you know that the brighter the green in your spinach, the more vitamin C is in there? Those greens that traveled a few thousand miles over winter were losing C all the way, so the stuff from closer to home will have more.

Spinach is also getting attention for its glycoglycerolipids It’s looking like these chemicals, which aid in photosynthesis, help prevent inflammation. Spinach is already a sweet source of antioxidants, vitamin K, vitamin A, Manganese and folate, and magnesium to help remineralize bones. A cup of boiled spinach has enough iron for 35% of your daily value, and 30% of the C.

Try a bed of baby spinach, sliced strawberries, and spring onions, and make a dressing of fresh lemon juice, olive and flax oil, salt and pepper. For a little more heft, add walnuts, or boiled eggs or goats cheese crumbles, if you are ovo-lacto leaning.

It’s also the perfect quick addition to pastas or roasted dishes- you can add the sliced leaves to the hot pasta or roasted veggies and just toss it to wilt in the residual heat.

I like to make an easy pasta where I simply cook whole wheat angelhair, adding some julienned carrots to it while it boils. Then while it drains, heat olive oil and garlic in the pasta cooking pot, and toss in the baby spinach. Turn a few times and add the hot pasta, and some lemon zest and juice if its handy. Turn it in the hot pan until the spinach is barely wilted, the whole mess is coated in garlicky oil, and salt and pepper to taste. If you eat cheese, this is a great place to feature a distinctive cheese, like your fave local goat cheese crumbles or a shredded aged cheese from a grass fed dairy. It you are vegan, a sprinkling of toasted almonds would be sublime.

And let the new energy of the fresh greens fill you back up, after a long winter. You deserve it.

Live Long and Prosper with Whole Grains

6 03 2011


Kamut, highest in fiber of all the grains

You probably know that I am a big fan of whole grains, and you have heard somewhere along the line that these grains are good for you. Sometimes, hearing the latest great news about whole grains helps cut through the clutter of messages we get about food everyday.

The latest is that a new study from the National Cancer Institute found whole grains to be the best food for preventing premature death. According to the results, of the 400,000 people who took part, those that ate the most” Cereal Fiber” had a 22% lower chance of dying from any cause. This study differentiated between the healthy fiber in vegetables and fruits and that of grains, and the grains won out. “We only see significant effects from whole grains,” says the lead author of the study, Yikyung Park. “But we don’t know how this fiber works to improve health.”

In the study, high fiber consumption was around 26-29 grams per day. While the fiber is singled out, the experts suggest that the whole constellation of healthy things in grain, from zinc and minerals to antioxidants and protein, could be essential to the protective effect.

I understand that it is part of the scientific mindset to try to figure out which single piece of the whole food is responsible for its healthy effect. Still, isn’t it obvious that it is the food, not just the fiber or this antioxidant or that mineral?

Whole foods, real foods, are better. We just keep learning this over and over.

So if we are holding up the fiber as the good part, lets start seeking out whole grains with lots of fiber.You might be surprised to find that the fiber content of whole grains varies widely.

A serving of whole, cooked grain (16 grams) ranges from the low end, brown rice at .6 g, to the highest, kamut, at 3.1.  Bulghur  has 2.9 and barley 2.8 g. Some  lower fiber grains include quinoa, wild rice, and corn, but all of these whole grains have everything else that comes with whole-ness, so they are still far better than white versions.

If we learn anything from this study, it is that whole grains should be at the center of a healthy diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans and all the other contributors of fiber also contain their own perfectly balanced arrays of nutrients, antioxidants, and probably elements that we don’t even know about yet.

It’s the food, people. Whole Real, simple.

So, maybe this fiber quest will give us the motivation to seek out one of the most delicious grains, Kamut. This member of the wheat family is a striking and delicious grain, with the biggest kernel of just about any grain. The big, buttery golden kamut berries cook up with a slight crunch and a tender, sweet center. They are perfect for grain salads, like the recipe link below.

Try this simple recipe, using kamut instead of quinoa. To cook kamut, soak overnight in cool water, then drain. Put in a pot with plenty of water and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about an hour, until the grains are starting to split, and they are tender in the center when you bite into one. Drain and let cool.

Mediterranean Grain Salad