We’re All Irish On St Patrick’s Day

12 03 2012

First things first, I’m not Irish. I have some Scottish blood mixed with my all-American mutt lineage, which may make me a stone’s throw from it. But when St Paddy’s Day rolls around, we can all be Irish for a day. The idea of a simple, rustic cuisine based on local, peasant ingredients appeals to everyone. For vegetarians, well, we skip the corned beef and go straight to the cabbage.

The story of the potato famine is well-known, a lesson we have been learning over and over since pre-history. A population dependent upon a single crop for its survival was devastated by a blight on that crop, and people were left with nothing to eat.

If you read the history of this terrible time, you’ll understand two things. One is why the Irish have been so angry with the British for so long. The second is that hunger in this big world is always politically based. During the famine, wealthy British landowners continued to grow crops for export, filling warehouses and ships with grain while Irish families starved and died in the streets outside. The British government did little to help, insisting that bailing out the people would create dependency, and preferring to follow a “laissez faire” philosophy. There was plenty of food to be had, if the people in power had been willing to bring it.  Thousands of people died.

Pretty good reason to drink some beer, huh? Well, while you’re Irish for a day, raise a glass to the indomitable spirit and strength of the Irish people. Maybe the next time you get a letter from an organization fighting hunger, consider eating potatoes and cabbage for a week and donating what you save on food to help.

I’ve always thought it was a tiny bit of justice that the foods that were relegated to peasants were often secretly nutritious. The 1% have historically lorded it over everyone by eating lots of meat and fat, while the hard working farmers were left eating plant foods. Of course, it’s cold comfort to know your greens prevent cancer if you are starving, but we have to look for something positive in all this.

Peasant Food for Today

So for St Patricks Day, let’s celebrate the lowly root vegetables and cabbage. Traditional potato dishes, like Boxty, a mash of potatoes with butter and scallions, are the kind of rib-sticking, easy food that fuels physical labor. Today, I thought it would be fun to eat a version of Colcannon, another classic Irish dish. Instead of white potatoes, I’m going to up the nutrition with a big sweet potato, and celebrate the cabbage, the most peasant of all peasant foods. Of course, you can use potatoes, too.

Yes, in a karmic payback, the cabbage that was fed to peasants and livestock is now known to be a superfood. Like all members of the brassica family, cabbage has a slew of anti-cancer chemicals and antioxidants. Cabbage offers up something called glucosinolates, which are allies in preveting colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Common cabbage is also rich in polyphenols, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals.  Cabbage also lowers cholesterol and helps create a healthy environment in the digestive tract, keeping good bacterial balance.

Cabbage is high in vitamin C, but really stands out for providing 66% of the vitamin K you need in one cup. It’s one of those very low-calorie foods that you can eat lots of to feel full and satisfied without gaining weight.

Especially with potatoes.

Peasant Food

Colorful Colcannon

For my updated colcannon, I roasted off a big sweet potato and then put it in the fridge to get completely cold. That way it will be easy to cut in chunks, as well as save me time in the kitchen. You can do the same thing with three medium yukon golds for a more traditional colcannon. If you are ovo-lacto, an Irish Cheddar would be a good thing to shred over the colcannon.

1 roasted sweet potato, cold (about 1 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups cabbage, chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seed or celery seed

2 cups spinach, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cold sweet potato into chunks, reserve. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the fat, then add the onion. Stir for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat to soften and brown a little. Add the cabbage and caraway or celery seeds and keep stirring, let the cabbage get very soft and browned in spots. When it’s all soft and sweet, stir in the sweet potato and stir until heated through, then add the spinach and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the cast iron pan, sizzling

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Crunchy Sunflower Seeds, The Hippies Were Right

5 03 2012

The Sunny Seeds

When was the last time you thought about sunflower seeds? Were you cracking the shells at a summer picnic or ball game, or filling the birdfeeder with the shiny black seeds? I know that  I forget, sometimes, that sunflower seeds are such a nutrition powerhouse. I don’t think I am the only one who associates them with old-school hippie food, something we used to sprinkle in salads and bake into granola back in the day.

Well, sunflower seeds are much more than a little crunch on a salad, and they are just as exciting as the chia and flax seeds that are so hot right now. Recently, folks with peanut and nut allergies have been embracing sunflower seed butter, and in my neck of the woods, an enterprising farmer is making a lovely cold-press sunflower oil. (Read about it here.)

So, I am reminding myself to eat more of these tasty seeds. Sunflower seeds are a prime source for phytosterols. Phytosterols are the plant based compounds that lower cholesterol, so effectively in fact that they are made into special margarines and pills for that purpose. Phytosterols are so similar to cholesterol that they compete for absorption in the digestive tract, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.The food highest in them is sesame seeds, followed by sunflower, which delivers  280 mg per 100 grams.

They are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium calms nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and helps with detoxification and cancer prevention, and recently was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The seeds also deliver lots of folate, the important B-vitamin that prevents neural tube defects and is good for your brain function.

Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds has 61% of the Vitamin E you need for the day. Vitamin E is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant, reduces inflammation and helps with all conditions in which inflammation is a part. It also prevents cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Vitamin E rich foods have been linked to reduced risks of stroke and alzheimers disease.

Are you motivated to get some sunflower seeds into your life? The most common way to eat them is as a snack, and roasted sunflower seeds pack easily to accompany you on your busy life. Think of them whenever you might use nuts, whether in a muffin, cookie, bread or salad. Add them to your granola or hot cereal, or use them as a crunchy coating or casserole topping.

Try these tasty cookies, for a little bit of sunflower goodness.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Info:

¼ cup/%DV

Vitamin E 61%,B1 34%Manganese 34%, Copper 31% ,Tryptophan 31%, magnesium 28%, selenium 26%, B6 23%, phosphorus 23.1%,  folate 19%, calories 11%

Sunny Cookie

Sunflower-Maple Cookies

Makes 12

Use toasted sunflower seeds for these, and check them for freshness before buying. The great taste of a fresh sunflower seeds is easily ruined by sitting in a bin for too long.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut oil, maple, and vanilla, then stir into the dry ingredients. Scoop 2 tablespoon sized portions of dough and form into 3/4 inch thick cookies. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. They won’t spread much.

Bake for 12 minutes, switching the position of the pan halfway. Cool on racks. Keeps for a week, refrigerated.





A One-Size Fits All Resolution

2 01 2012

Chop 'em and boil 'em!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 is just beginning, and the new year is a good time to start a new habit. Call it a New Years resolution if you want, as long as that doesn’t mean you will forget about it by February. I propose that just about everyone out there could live better and feel better if they eat more vegetables. Simple, and genuinely easy, just more veggies, every day.

Of course, eating more veg is going to take a plan. Take a look at your routine, and ask yourself-where can I add veggies? Even the vegetarians and vegans can spend a day eating cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, and if you don’t really pile them up at dinner, your all day total is a few slivers on the sandwich and the cup or so tossed in with the pasta you threw together. I know, I’ve done it myself.

9 servings a day is ideal, which is about 8 ½ cups. You may ask, how will I eat all that? Well, one great benefit of eating more veggies is that you are probably going to lose weight. All that fiber and goodness just fills you up, so you eat so much less of other foods that you can’t help it.

So, here are some ideas for adding significant amounts of veggies to your daily life.

Veggies at breakfast. Instead of the sweet foods we tend to eat, try a savory scramble, loaded up with veggies and tofu. Miso soup is a great Japanese tradition at breakfast-just add more veggies. Or, a smoothie that combines fruit with spinach or other greens will camouflage the veggies in a sweet shake.

Click to go to a Green Smoothie Recipe

Smoothies are Easy

Veggies as snacks. Buy bags of things like baby carrots, or whatever snack veg you like. If you need a little dip or dressing to make them appealing, go ahead. If cooked veggies appeal to you more, blanch a bunch by dropping them in boiling water, then drain and chill to take with all week. I like to eat raw mushrooms, sliced zucchini and other veggies while I cook, with a little salt. Keep some handy. If you are hungry between meals, stay full this way.

Veggies at meals. Plan to have salads and or veggie soups at your meals. Buy the bagged salad, some tomatoes and cukes, or whatever you like on salad, and make a simple dressing for the week. Make the veggie soup recipe below, or your favorite vegetable soup. If you start the meal with salad and soup, you will never make it to dessert.

Juice. If you have a juicer, now is the time to drag it out of wherever you have hidden it, and use that January New Leaf energy to get juicing. I admit, my Champion was in the basement, and I have installed it in the kitchen, cluttered as it feels. I worked up to this by buying wonderful green drinks at my Coop when I shop, and grabbing a fresh juice whenever I could find one. I’m finding that this is also a great way to use up kale stems, celery leaves, and other leafy greens.

Slip Them in. Whenever you are cooking, even putting a sandwich together, always add a vegetable, more than you usually would. Maybe you can keep roasted red peppers in the fridge for sandwiches, or bagged spinach to add to just about anything, from pasta to tofu.

Just do it.

For a super simple veggie soup for the week, bring one of those boxes of veggie stock to a boil in a big pot. Add a couple of chopped carrots, an onion, a couple of ribs of celery. Once the veggies are tender, add a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer and add a bunch of chopped kale or other greens, or a couple cups of chopped cabbage. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This soup can be reaheated as is, or you can take some out each day and season it differently. Try it curried, with a can of beans, or try it Italian style with lots of fresh herbs and garlic. Puree it for a sauce, or whisk some miso with water and stir it in.

Eat More Veggies, it’s just that simple.

Happy 2012-it’s already starting off a little greener!





Magic Flax, The Vegan Egg

29 08 2011

Pretty flowers, Powerful Seeds

When conventional bakers contemplate baking vegan, the ingredient they find hardest to do without is the eggs. You can use other fats instead of butter, and there are vegan sugars that will do most of the tricks that white sugar does. But eggs, well, you don’t see vegan angelfood cake for a reason.

I’ve baked my share of vegan treats, and have found that one of the most natural and healthy ways to bake without eggs is flax seed. In the 20 plus years that I have been putting eggless treats into ovens, there have not been any technological innovations to replace the venerable flax seed. Powdered egg replacers are ok for some things, but flax is so whole and natural, why not stick with it?

To work your egg replacing magic, whole flax seeds just need to be ground to a fine powder and mixed with water will form a gluey paste. The classic substitution is 1 tablespoon of ground flax mixed with 1/4 cup water to replace one egg. The flax must be ground, since the hulls of the tiny seeds are very sturdy, and can’t be broken by chewing or in your digestive tract. Grinding the seed causes the contents of the miracle seed to open up and create a gel-like substance when wet. What is so unique about it is the way it works in the oven. The thick gel actually traps and holds the gases created by leavening, allowing baked goods to rise and hold their crumb.

Golden Flax in the Grinder

The perfect symmetry of it all is that flax seeds also pack a concentrated dose of nutrition, including the Omega 3’s that vegans need to seek out in plant form. Thanks to Mother Nature, flax is a great source of ALA that is converted in the body to the EPA that everybody is seeking out in fish oil.

For your information, 2 Tbs flax has 146 % of the Omega 3’s, 30 % of Manganese, 20% of the fiber, 18% of the magnesium, 15% of the folate, 12% of the copper and 10% of the phosphorus you need per day.

That Omega 3 is important for vegans, who don’t get any fish, so that they can reap the health benefits of this essential fat. Omega 3 is used by the body to make anti-inflammatory prostglandins, which help balance out the inflammatory effects of many other fats. Studies show that the omegas help prevent bone breakdown. O 3’s produce flexible cell membranes, which are associated with better processing of glucose and insulin. O3’s also protect the colon from cancer.

In studies done with flax, its been shown to  prevent and control high blood pressure, lower risk of stroke, and lower cholesterol in a way that is comparable to statin drugs. One of the super components of flax are the lignans, which convert to estrogen like compounds in the gut that protect breast health, and have been shown to reduce hot flashes by 60%

So, to get started baking with flax, start with a simple cookie or muffin. A recipe that has just one or two eggs will be easiest to experiment with. Or try this link:

http://www.foodista.com/recipe/SR2Q2T3M/vegan-flax-seed-cupcakes





Heirloom Tomato and Basil Season is Here!

21 08 2011

Tomato+Basil+Olive Oil

To you, it’s August, which may mean that the school year is almost upon you, or that it’s time to get to those projects in the yard you had been putting off. For me, it’s heirloom tomato season. Here in Minnesota, we wait through several frigid months of winter to make it to this respite, and we are very serious about enjoying summer. One of the most fleeting joys of the year is the homegrown heirloom tomato season. Because our season is short, and the heirlooms take a long time to mature, we are lucky to have them from late July into September.

My personal tomatoes, all 8 plants, have produced 3 small regular tomatoes and a few handfuls of mini-pear tomatoes in red and gold. It has been a tough year for them, with high heat and periods of heavy rain. Of course, I always wonder why plants that originated in the tropics would be so unhappy with heat, but I shrug and just keep pulling those brown leaves that might have fungus.

And buying great tomatoes from my local farmers.

So when the juicy, lumpy motley crew that is the heirloom tomato harvest finally comes my way, it’s time to put down whatever I was working on and revel in deep, vine ripe flavor. Luckily, my basil is in sync with the tomatoes, so all I really have to do is put the two together and magic happens.

From the purple and black to the yellow and nearly white, heirlooms are a rainbow of goodness. They call them heirlooms because they were saved from seed by home growers, and bred for flavor rather than shippability over many years. The results are fragile, sometimes oddly shaped, and intensely unique tasting tomatoes.

Of course, tomatoes have the super healthy bonus of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to lower risks of prostate and breast cancers. Tomatoes are also good at lowering cholesterol and unhealthy fats, and are associated with lower risk of osteoporosis, too. It’s not hard to get the recommended 3 servings a week that are recommended for your health. This is food as medicine at its most delicious.

The Purple Blush

So tonight I will simply chop some tomatoes, I’ve got some gorgeous Purple Cherokees, ready to go. Chop some fresh basil, mince some garlic, and toss it all with olive oil and coarse salt and cracked pepper. You now have a versatile dish that can become a salad, with a spritz of balsamic and maybe a few croutons or bits of fresh mozz. You can pile it on some toasted French bread and call it bruschetta. You can boil some angelhair and toss it with the tomatoes and basil in the hot pan before serving.

You can even add a chopped chili and scoop it up with chips, and call it Italian salsa.

The main thing is to let the simple flavors of those precious tomatoes and basil shine through. They won’t be here long.





Is Your Spice Rack Better than a Medicine Cabinet?

14 08 2011

Open These Jars for Great Health

We have known for some time that spices like turmeric and cinnamon have health benefits. Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti inflammatory, and cinnamon is thought to help regulate blood sugar. But a recent study found that adding antioxidant-rich herbs and spices actually changed the way diners bodies reacted to a high fat meal, by reducing their insulin response by 20% and increasing the antioxidant levels in their blood by 13%. The really interesting thing was that it also reduced their triglyceride response by 30%.

The spiced meal contained 2 tablespoons of  rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika. On another day, participants ate the same meal, without spices, and on both days the participants blood was drawn and tested every 30 minutes. The study was done at Penn State and published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Trigycerides are a kind of fatty acid found in the bloodstream, which come from food and provide energy. High triglycerides are a harbinger of high risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and in recent years have become a regular part of having your cholesterol tested. We have also become more aware of the role of inflammation in all of these conditions.

The gist of it is that your body will be better able to process the fat in your food if you have plenty of these antioxidant rich spices at the same time. Instead of flooding your bloodstream with triglycerides and spiking your insulin, your Korma with Raita and Dal will keep you on the even keel we all want.

So, curry lovers rejoice!

Try cooking with spices with an Indian recipe, like dal or rice, and try adding a little more spice than the recipe calls for, and see how you like it. Look for fresh turmeric roots in the produce department, and add them to stir fries and other veggie dishes. Of course, rosemary and oregano are on the list, too, so you can go Mediterranean and mince lots of fresh rosemary and oregano into olive oil for a bean salad or bruschetta.

Whenever we talk curry, we think India, but there are plenty of curries with turmeric, like the yellow Massaman curry of Thailand, Sri Lankan curries, even the curry of Jamaica. Basically, eat foods with plenty of color and spice, and you will probably reap the benefits.

Of course, the two tablespoons of spice per meal may be a bit much for many of us to accomplish on a regular basis. Many of these herbs and spices are available in pill form, too, so if you don’t eat enough spice to have an impact, you can always supplement.

Let your food be your medicine, and life can be tasty AND healthy. Now that is a good deal.

Mash Ki Dal/white Lentils Recipe





Radishes, The Rodney Dangerfield of Veggies

25 04 2011

Not just for salads anymore!

The lowly radish is easy to overlook. Unless you garden, you probably see a few thin rounds scattered in the cheapest of house salads, or maybe a few on the standard relish tray. Mmm, with Ranch Dip, how could you be less excited about radishes?

Well, right now, the only seeds that are sprouting in the Northern garden are radishes, and that means it won’t be long now. And I promise you, it won’t just be some iceberg lettuce salad that sees these spicy roots. Radishes belong in exciting dishes, like springrolls and salsas, as well as simply enjoyed with salt and pepper.

The idea of radishes as a cheap, throwaway veggie is a relatively new one. Since Ancient Greek times, they have been associated with drinking- back then they were thought to keep you from getting too drunk. In early American history, radishes were served with beer in taverns. Whether this actually works is up to you to decide.

What I think we overlook about the radish family is the fact that it is a brassica, with alot of the great nutrition that broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas. Just belonging to this club means that the radish is a cancer-fighting veggie. So if you are getting a little tired of loading up on broccoli, take a spring detour into the radish zone.

Radishes are also traditionally used for liver cleansing and stimulating digestion. Their high potassium levels make them a good food for folks with high blood pressure, as well.

If you have snacked and sipped your way through a bag or two and are getting bored, think outside the crudite tray. A miso soup, or other Asian inspired soup, is a great place to try cooked radishes. The bite of your little red or white gems will mellow considerably with a little cooking. They also roast up quite wonderfully, and in a mix with baby turnips and beets they provide a little zing.

Raw, the radish is more than just a spot of red in a green salad. If you are making potato salad or pasta salad, why not dice in some radishes? A Banh Mie Sandwich is complete with a topping of daikon and carrots marinated in rice vinegar and sugar- why not make the banh mie salad into a regular addition to other sandwiches? Any Asian Noodle salad, like a sesame dressed noodle, or a simple cold Soba would be a good spot for some thinly sliced radishes.

Of course, the French way is to slather a crusty slice of bread with sweet butter, plaster it with sliced radishes, and top with coarse salt and pepper. I suppose that might help keep you from getting too drunk, if you have it with a beer!

Or another beer-friendly food is chips and salsa. This recipe has served me well, it was a Rick Bayless recipe that had habaneros in it originally. This version has easy to find jalapenos, and you can find your own heat level.

So celebrate the radish, and give your tastebuds a spring wake up, all while taking care of your body in the most delightful way.

Radish Salsa

Adapted from Rick Bayless

1 medium red onion, minced
1/4 cup lime juice, fresh
8 medium roma tomato
12 small radishes
4 red or green jalapeno chile, to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Mince the onion, then rinse in cold water, drain well. Place in a bowl and add the lime juice. Halve, core and seed the tomatoes, slice in thin strips and dice. Thinly slice the radishes and dice them finely. Seed and chop the chiles. Chop cilantro and combine all. Serve over tacos, burritos, Mexican Tofu or egg Scrambles, or with nachos.

Here is an interesting Indian Recipe to get you started.

Mullangi Gojju(Mullangi=radish)