How Not to Die inspires a Mexican Casserole

how-not-to-dieHello everyone!  I hope you are doing well and staying true to those New Year Resolutions, right?!  Well anyhow, i wanted to share with you a great book i’ve been enjoying: How Not to Die Amazon Link here from Doctor Michael Greger with Gene Stone.  I have followed Dr. Greger at his website Nutrition Facts for many years and he recently published this marvel. It’s a great read that explains in a simple way many of the advantages of adding loads of fruits, veggies and whole grains to your diet.  He discusses a wide range of issues which simply apply to all of us from heart disease to diabetes, different cancers, infections, liver diseases, mental disease and on an on.  He even has very practical ideas on how to structure meals, add key ingredients to your diet, boost your metabolism and your exercise among others. It even includes easy recipes an fun experiments along the way.  And best of all, for those of you eager to go to the original journals and papers with the medical research behind, there is a meticulous bibliography throughout the book.  Thus, inspired by this book, here is a recipe of a delightful Mexican Layered Casserole. It hasn’t been approved by Dr. Greger himself, but I sure hope he would enjoy it!

Healthy Mexican Layered Casserole

This is a great recipe to make at home for friends and family alike.  I am presenting this recipe in an illustration mode, i.e. without exact measurements.  In my cooking classes, i always encourage my students to take the fear out of cooking and just go at it.  It’s the simplest way to get yourself more at ease in the kitchen, keep those stress levels down and the flavor factor up.

Preheat the oven to 300 F.  You will need about 4 to 5 cups of salsa and a large or two (previously baked) sweet potatoes.  Extra points if you make your own salsa to keep it low sodium! (2 large cans of crushed lo sodium tomatoes with diced sauteed -preferably with no oil for a no-oil sautee method, click here– green and red peppers, a jalapeno or two, an onion and 2 cloves of garlic and a whole bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems chopped).  First, spread about 2 cups of the salsa on the bottom of your casserole dish.  Arrange a nice bed of sliced white button mushrooms just to cover the salsa just as in the first picture.  Continue with a nice layer of thinly sliced zucchini and squash as illustrated below.

Continue the layering of ingredients with a blizzard of chopped leafy greens. These can be any combination of spinach, kale and collard greens (stems removed and finely chopped), arugula, beet greens or swiss chard (in Dr. Greger’s parlance, an antioxidant party!).  If you only have one of the greens, it’s also fine but the more the merrier. Follow with a layer of sliced sweet potato (remember this should already be baked previously for faster cooking) and about a cup or two of corn kernels (frozen are fine).

Finally, you should top this with some good ole (fat free) refried beans from a can (or make your own!).  A large casserole dish may need 2 cans which i usually thin with about 1/4 cup of water or more for better spreading.   Once you have poured the beans, finish the casserole by adding the remaining salsa.  Bake for 30 minutes or just until the squashes are soft and the whole thing is a bubbly delicious mess.  Serve with chopped cilantro and green onions on top and perhaps some diced avodado.

Enjoy!

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Ginger and Tomato Indian Lentil Soup (Dahl)

Flash Steam OnionsThere are few things as comforting as a starchy spicy soup during the cold winter months.  This is a very simple soup, inspired by the cuisines of India, with minor twists for a healthier, souped-up version if you will chock full of nutrients. On the one hand, I add a few ribs of celery to the mix –an item I love to include on my receipe repertoire in the winter-.  On the other hand, I also eliminate the use of oil for the initial sautee to cut back on fat calories and use a handful of spinach for an extra nutrient boost.  Finally I serve this dish over some steamed baby potatoes.  Often times, people ask me about their concern that dish may be too heavy on the carbs.  My simple answer is that these are the good carbs our body needs, our preferred source of fuel, coming from whole, unprocessed foods. So go ahead, and try this wonderful, fragrant dish that will warm you up and stick to your ribs in the middle of winter.

Makes about 6 servings

2 cups of red lentil (dahl), rinsed (yellow or green split peas are also an option)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh garlic
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh lemongrass (if available, optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
5 cups vegetable stock, no sodium added, or water
1 onion, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes, preferably no salt added
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional, if available or use dried bay leaves instead)
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, rinsed and lightly chopped
Pinch of red crushed chilies, optional

2 lbs steamed baby potatoes, for serving
Lemon Juice, for serving

Steam sautee diced onion and celery on a medium high heat soup with a few tbsp of stock or water on a pot for a few minutes until lightly brown, stirring from time to time, about 5 minutes.  Add ginger and lemongrass and continue sautéing for a few more minutes.  Add garlic, cumin turmeric and continue cooking for another 3 more minutes until spices are fragrant.  Add crushed tomatoes, stock, red lentils and kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a light simmer and cook uncovered mixing from time to time (the lentils may stick to the bottom of the pan if not stirred).  Continue cooking just until lentils are soft and fully cooked, about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add the spinach leaves, stir well and allow to wilt down for about another minute off the heat.

Serve on bowls over the steamed baby potatoes and garnish with a little bit of lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper or crushed red chilies if desired.