The Purple Carrot and the Magic of Veggies

This title may sound a bit like a new chapter in the Harry Potter Series, but I simply wanted to draw attention to this Meal Delivery Service.  In a category that is fast becoming crowded, i have recently been playing with some of the recipes from The Purple Carrot.  In a nutshell, I’m a fan!.  I have tried others such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh and frankly have not much to do in terms of originality, ease of cooking and,  as important, introducing new and exciting flavors and ingredients.

In my cooking and coaching classes, lots of my clients say that they have trouble coming with new recipes and get tired of cooking the same old, same old dishes.  I can agree with that wholeheartedly and I’m a chef!.  Enter The Purple Carrot and exit Moaning Myrtle.  If you are looking for ways to bring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your everyday meals (and as a bonus you want to actually be doing something great and sustainable for the planet to boot!) look no further.  It doesn’t matter whether you are omnivorous, vegetarian, vegan or vegetable-forward (whatever this latest term means! pft!) this one is for muggles and magicians alike.

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Jicama Slaw with Pepitas, Cilantro and Lime

This service has the steady direction of no other than Mark Bittman, originally from the New York Times, a prolific cookbook author in its own right and a deft hand to learn from.  As I followed along the recipes, I pictured him (Expecto Patronus!) standing next to me a little bit more like Harry Potter’s Potion’s Master’s  Professor Severus Snape  with the incredible voice from he-who-must-be-named Alan Rickman, R.I.P. and helping me turn food into some seriously magical concoctions, exploring lots of different spices and learning about cuisines from all over the world and some rather cheeky sorcerer techniques.  Some are great and some  may need a bit more work.  As much as i love them,  flour tortillas will never become crepes no matter what spells are incanted, as one recipe with caramelized mushrooms -heroically- tried to do.  Or when an otherwise delightful pozole soup offered soggy popcorn as a replacement for hominy corn.  Hey, but still i’m all for trying!

As part of the repertoire i received in my subscription, I was delighted to make some spicy mushroom and miso meatballs with rice and carrot noodles, then aim for a pineapple and puffed rice Chaat salad with baked spicy and garlicky tofu fries.  The quality of the ingredients are very good, with a pleasant surprise to find my favorite tofu noodles (yuba) that i had discovered at a farmer’s market in San Francisco on a trip there and that are not that easy to find in NYC. They were fantastic in a Vietnamese soup with pineapple and shallots.  Some of the ingredients are organic, from reputable brands without strange to pronounce ingredients and even some items like canned tomatoes that were low in sodium.  More importantly, the larger share of ingredients are whole, unprocessed foods!

Now i guess you’d be wondering if these are healthy? Well, compared to what? as i like to say to my clients.  You will be way better off than ordering a greasy delivery or eating out and you will definitely get your fill of vegetables, fruits, nuts or seeds and whole grains.  You may not be left wondering, as I often do, with the dubious provenance of fowl, meat, dairy or seafood from other services.  And while their calorie content varies from over 500 calories (great!) to close to 900 sometimes (not so great, Reducio!), I always like to stress that a calorie is not a calorie, and when these come from whole foods, you are already better off.

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Nicoise Salad with Added Veggies

Can you do something else to make them better! Absolutely!  I recommend adding more veggies to the recipe.For example, with a lovely Winter Nicoise Salad i had with a Cashew-Split Pea Spread, I made sure to add grilled asparagus and snow peas on top of the potatoes, green beans, fennel, blood orange and lettuce that the recipe called for.  Thus, you lower the calorie content per serving and at best you just end up having leftovers  for your lunch on the next day!  You could also opt to cut down on the oil required in (many)  of the recipes or leave it out altogether. For the most part, these dishes speak for themselves and are great as they are, like the wonderful jackfruit enfrijoladas with a chayote slaw and coconut sour “crema”.  Yes, please!

 

Go ahead, I summon you (Accio!) to give The Purple Carrot a try and discover your inner magician to create great tasting, nutrient dense food for your friends and family.  Esculentus!

 

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.

Recipe Repertoire: Holiday Mushroom Chestnut Velouté

5 servings
Chestnut Veloute This recipe is inspired for a healthy holiday celebration and based on the classic French soup called “velouté” or “velvety”.  A few changes are on order to make this delicious soup more nutrient and less calorie dense.  Out goes the use of a roux (a blend of refined flour and some type of fat, usually butter or oil). The chestnuts themselves will give a nice thick consistency without the added calories.  We also substitute the heavy amounts of cream traditionally used by some hearty almond milk instead.  For ease, I use cooked, cryo-vac packed and ready-to-use chestnuts but feel free to use fresh chesnuts, pierced, steamed or roasted and peeled.  A key ingredient in this recipe is dried mushrooms and dried mushroom powder for an aromatic dish that your guests will love.  Finally, a last minute optional addition of a tablespoon of Armagnac liqueur (it is the holidays after all!) per serving raises this soup to celebratory status!

Ingredients

1 oz (28 gr) dried sliced porcini (or a combination of mixed) mushrooms
3 cups of hot water
2 large shallots, peeled and diced
14 oz (400gr) peeled and steamed chestnuts (feel free to peel and roast them if you are using fresh ones).  They can be whole or in pieces.
3 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 cups vegetable stock
10 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems off and rinsed
3/8 oz (12 gr) dried porcini powder or any dried mushroom powder
5 Tbsp Bas Armagnac Liqueur (optional, for serving)

Soak the dried sliced mushrooms in 3 cups of hot water and let stand for about 10 minutes.  Then remove the soaked mushrooms with a slotted spoon, sliced them to bite size pieces and set aside. Strain the remaining soaking liquid through a cheese cloth or fine sieve and set aside, making sure to discard the last ¾ inch of water with dirt and sediment.

To make the soup, heat a medium stock pot over medium heat.  Add a few tablespoons of vegetable stock aIMG_2479nd add the shallots.  Mix with a wooden spoon and steam-saute for a few minutes, until shallots start turning lightly brown and adding stock as needed to avoid sticking, about 7 minutes.  Add the chestnuts and saute for another 6 minutes or so mixing from time to time and adding more stock as needed to avoid sticking.  Add the rest of the vegetable stock, the almond milk and the mushroom powder.  Season lightly with freshly ground pepper and cook over medium to low heat until chestnuts start breaking apart, about 10 minutes.  Place soup mixture on a blender and blend well (add some of the mushroom soaking liquid if needed), in batches if needed and put back into pot.  Add the sliced soaked mushrooms, the shiitake mushrooms and the mushroom soaking liquid. Cook for another 6 minutes to allow flavors to mix together well.  Serve with a Tbsp of liquor per bowl if using.  Bon Appétit!!