One night last month, amidst the gorgeous August that made it’s way in to Minnesota and on a night that seemed as supple as velvet, I was home by myself, bored and restless. Feeling the urge to experiment with some of the food laying about the refrigerator, I poked through the stuffed bags from the Farmers Market, eyeing the three overflowing bags of chard.
I’ve been crazy for chard. Really crazy. Thankfully, this is a good thing. It’s not like an addiction that’s harmful, unless you can OD on vitamins. My blood won’t be anemic any time soon. And after this particular evenings playtime with my food, I was excited to share my findings so I propped up the computer on the island and found my voice to tell you this story.
What’s that saying? ‘Necessity is the mother of invention?’
Many amazing recipes occur when the frantic need for something to add to dinner comes up and I wildly glance in the pantry to see what I’ve got. What odds and ends are laying about in the fridge? What needs to get used up? What tastes good together?
I fling a lot of ingredients in a pan, or a bowl and I cross my fingers a lot when I cook. Whether it’s out of ‘necessity’ like the quote, or just curiosity, it’s not often that I follow a recipe. More likely, I am making something up as I go. Thankfully, more often than not the results are pretty tasty.
The worst part of it all is that if I don’t write down what I did, I rarely remember it to be able to recreate the dish.
This one, however, did not get away from me.
Side dishes have always been a favorite of mine, and lately I’ve been on this kick of filling my plate with nothing but ‘side’ dishes. The nice thing about removing the focus of meat from our meals is that just about everything we do now can either be termed a ‘main’ dish, or a ‘side’ dish. And sometimes, all of what is being served at our table, technically, are sides.
Griffin was making fish for dinner recently (yes, we eat fish) and we both really wanted something unique on the side. I keep a lot of rice and grains handy, but we were short on time and didn’t want to wait for brown rice, or wild rice to cook. He was digging through our pantry and pulled out a jar of pearl couscous, asking me ‘What’s this?’ And as with necessity, and invention was born.
Pearl couscous, mostly recognized as Israeli couscous, is the thicker version of the tiny semolina grains that most people know best. Couscous isn’t really a ‘grain’ like farro, or quinoa; it’s pasta in minutiae form. The instant version of couscous cooks in a flash by adding the tiny beads to boiling broth. The larger form takes a bit longer, but still is quick enough to make for an easy dinner. We used chicken broth, some frozen corn and a generous handful of fresh herbs from the garden and the result was surprising to all of us. It’s light and flavorful and wondrously versatile, but not heavy like larger pasta shapes. I think some form of this will be making regular appearances on our dinner table. With enough fresh vegetables added to it, the dish becomes a meal in itself, or you can serve it over a garden fresh tomato for a perfect salad option. It actually tastes wonderful cold too.
Did you notice the new print button feature??? Pretty cool, huh??
Pearl Couscous Pilaf
1 c. pearl couscous
1-1/4 c. well seasoned broth (can use vegetable, mushroom, chicken….)
1 medium leek, or 2 small ones, sliced and washed well (can sub a finely diced onion)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 c. vegetable of choice (we used corn; try diced zucchini or other fresh seasonal vegetables)
1/4 c. fresh herbs, finely chopped (we used thyme, oregano and basil, then parsley to finish)
In a deep skillet with a cover, heat a few tablespoons of oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to brown in some places. Add in the garlic and cook, stirring for about a minute. Add the corn (or whatever vegetable you are using) and stir to coat with the oil mixture, then add the couscous and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth, stir to combine and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat so it simmers, cover the pan and allow to cook, undisturbed, until the couscous absorbs all the broth. It should take about 10 minutes. Allow it to sit for about 5 more minutes, off heat. Before serving, toss the fresh herbs in and stir to combine, seasoning with salt and fresh pepper. Top with parsley as a garnish.
Not even five minutes into my Sunday morning hike and already my shoes are soaked from the dew. I have to make a split second decision as I feel cool, wet water seeping through my socks; turn back or keep going. There might be blisters at the end, surely some chafing from my hiking shoes, but it’s a glorious August morning and the sun is glaring down on me. I can’t go back. Ignoring my wet feet, I move on.
I’m in Otter Lake Regional Park and this is my glory place, my church of the great outdoors. Plopped in the middle of White Bear Township, it’s a tiny little park, with a very nice nature center and hiking trails that make you feel like you’re miles from the outer world. It’s where I cross country ski in the winter time, and for the other three seasons, I roam it’s trails and discover more and more every day to love about it. On this particularly beautiful morning, in the high season of summer, I take to the trails, dew and all to seek out something I can’t find among the concrete.
My favorite path is cut short by standing water; it’s unusually low in that area, and during the Spring thaw, the trail is often impassable, but it always dries out. But this summer, with it’s abundant rainfall, it’s a no-mans land. I keep on the path that leads me around the back of the newly constructed natural classroom and head in to the swamp. This trail will lead me to the northwest section of the park where the hardest challenge of my hike lies. In there, the path cuts through a sanctuary of birch and towering oak trees, dipping down sharply, then rising just as fast to offer a heart-pounding, blood racing interval that I love. I can’t even consider going on this trail in the wintertime, on my skis. It’s challenging enough on foot, but I can’t stay away. The majestic oak trees line the path, like sentries that silently watch me pass, breathing deep, as the smaller of the two lakes in the park wink it’s shimmer of blue through the tree line. I try to challenge myself to run hard up a few of these short but steep hills. I’m ignoring my damp shoes.
Coming out on the other end, I’ve broken a sweat and wish I had my water bottle. The sun has rose high enough now to pound on my skin, and the wind swirls around me. It’s not strong enough to keep the flies at bay, and I impatiently swat away at them, mentally reminding myself to bring bug spray the next time I come here. This section of the path, through the heart of the park is high and open. No trees hide the sun out here and as I push on, beads of sweat slip down my temples.
The best part of being out here isn’t the nature. It isn’t hearing the hum of the highway along the western edge of the park, or the sound of the trains in the distance, blasting their whistles as they through the crossing. It isn’t the flash of deer, startled from their morning graze, leaping through the trees with white tails whipping, nor the fox, visible only by it’s bright red bushy tail twisting as it runs. It isn’t the small brown snake that lifts it’s head as I approach, watching me closely. “I’m no threat.” I murmur, slowing down to gaze at it’s tiny eyes. It doesn’t even flinch as I carefully step over it, and turning back as I move on, I see it’s watching me.
It isn’t any of these things, nor the rustle of the grass, or the continual droning hum of the insects. It isn’t the fluttering butterflies that skip along the path ahead of me, all shapes, sizes and colors. It’s isn’t any of it, and it’s all of it. Because out here, with the open skies and clean air, coupled with my footsteps and steady, hard breathing, it’s all of it at once that tames the voices inside, the swirl of life in my head that becomes a cadence of regular disruption. I come out here and it all disappears. My head clears, while the constant motion in it stops and I can breathe, relax, feel my blood pound and just let go. I am in sync with myself on this path, instead of at war with trying to figure out what’s next.
Then the trail dips down to the larger lake, and winds around to the north. It’s really uneven here, and now I am fully aware of my hiking shoe rubbing on my right ankle. The arthritis in my feet is apparent, but it will never stop me; it’s just more noticeable where the path is the least stable. The grass is tall and it tickles my legs. I swat the flies, wipe the sweat and keep going because soon, there will be the boardwalk leading me around the side of the lake, and at the other end is the thickest, densest trees and a hard packed dirt path that will take me back to the place I began. I’m on the last leg and those woods, with the tall maples and cool shadows will feel really, really good after the heat and sunshine. I feel the temperature drop as I enter here, and the slight chill rejuvenates me. Sunlight is dripping through the high tree canopy. And it’s glorious with bird song.
But the mosquitos in here are terrible. I can’t stop, or even slow down. I want to grab a few photographs to chronicle this morning, but I am swarmed with nibblers if I try to catch my breath. My feet feel better, but the rubbing on my ankle is a chronic annoyance. Because it’s cool in here though, the sweat slows down and I don’t have to wipe my face so much. My heart and lungs are on full power now; I’ve been hiking hard for 45 minutes by the time this trail leads me back out to the blacktop path that I started on. The nature center is in sight, and the parking lot, where my car and my water bottle await, is beyond that. My head feels soothed and I take a deep breath, once again. I’m back to the car, stripping off my soaking wet shoes and socks, wiping down my feet with the wipes I keep in my car and toweling off the sweat. My water bottle is half empty already. I stretch out the tension, drop in to a few yoga positions to re-focus and eventually climb in to my car to head home. In less than an hour I hiked nearly 4 miles.
And I’m so hungry now.
At home is waiting the simplest of simple summer salads, perfect for these heady days of heat and sun. The farmers markets are absolutely bursting with a mind-boggling bounty of fresh food and I am crazy in love with sweet corn, fresh tomato, zucchini for the grill, tiny purple eggplants and dark, dark greens. Every meal tastes like sunshine, each bite bursts with flavor. I snip handfuls of herbs from the garden to crush and sprinkle over everything and even after washing my hands I can still smell the thyme, the parsley and basil, the volunteer oregano that sprung up from last years plants.
And this salad…. this salad awaits my gnawing stomach, the hunger driven out of a vigorous hike, deep gulps of clean morning air and the need to still my mind. It’s simple, quick and so delightful; the snap of fresh tomato, fresh zucchini chunks, crunchy corn kernels that still taste like a farm field and lots and lots of tiny thyme leaves. A few scattered pieces of lemony goat cheese makes it complete.
My shoes are drying in the hot sun, outside on the patio and I need a shower. My ankle didn’t blister, thank goodness, and while my body is energized from it’s workout, my mind is at rest. This is a good place to be. Like August, with it’s wellspring of fresh vegetables.
What’s on your summer table these days??
(Notice anything new down below here?? There’s a print button for my recipes now!!)
Herbed Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
4 ears sweet corn, shucked, cooked and stripped of kernels
4 medium tomatoes, or 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, as ripe as you can find
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 c. fresh chopped herbs, such as basil, thyme, parsley and oregano (use rosemary if you like it)
2 T. good quality olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes to combine flavors. Serve topped with goat cheese, if desired.
My Notes: I used half a pint of purple cherry tomato, and one good sized orange heirloom tomato for my version of this dish. I also diced up a fresh heirloom pepper that I had on hand. I think one of the best parts about this dish is how colorful it can be with the variations available now. As the salad stands, it will release plentiful juices which are delicious if you dip fresh toasted bread into them, then sprinkle a bit of sea salt over before eating.
Beyond the deep green of spinach, and now kale, I hadn’t yet moved towards other deep green leafy vegetables, such as collards, mustard greens, or chard of any variety. But I’m working slowly to incorporate more of this incredibly nutritional vegetable in to my diet though. It’s a work in progress, for sure. So, in consideration that I didn’t just wake up one morning in a “Hallelujah!!” moment and love spinach to death, or eat one bite of kale and declare myself transformed, trying out Chard, and finding that I liked it on the first attempt was somewhat surprising.
I’m exploring a lot more offerings on the tables at the Farmers Market these days. And really, I’m loving the results. Approaching my favorite organic farmer one afternoon, I spied a small bunch of delicate baby red chard sitting on his table, with it’s lush deep red veins and crisp, exceptionally dark leaves and something in my mind went “Get that now!” and so I held out a few dollars and walked away with this thick bunch of greens thinking “I have no clue what to do with this.”
But thankfully, that’s never stopped me before. And we learn a lot through often just following our will in to adventure; listening to the voice that tells us to turn left at the crossroads, even when you have no idea where ‘Left’ goes. I trust my gut instinct. And this bundle of red chard was that gut instinct telling me to branch out. So I sauteed the chard one morning, and topped it with a poached egg. I’d been making this breakfast for a while now, only with leafy braised kale and loving how energizing and delicious it was. It seemed the next logical step was to try it with chard.
And I was devouring – devouring – the last bite when I realized that I should have maybe tried to take a picture of it. So trust me, ok? It was divine.
The next week when I went back, there sat my favorite farmer, again with bunches of Red Chard on his table, although much larger and leafier than before. I told him how delicious that tiny bunch had been and his eyes lit up. You see, my very first experience with chard years ago, and subsequent experiences since then were not favorable. Maybe I wasn’t ready at that point to be going ‘Left’ in my exploration of leafy greens, of appreciating the merits of good health that they offered. It hadn’t left a very good impression, but that little bunch of organic chard, at this point in my life where I am firmly rooted in learning, exploring and embracing a plant-based eating plan, well that impulse purchase had Wow-ed me, and I happily handed over a few more dollars and stuffed another huge bunch in my sack. When I made it again, it was lunch for Mike and I.
And I remembered to take a picture.
But like spinach, and beet greens, a whole enormous pile of leafy chard can be reduced to a little pile of barely anything by a few quick turns in a hot skillet. And with one lunch, plus me stealthily hiding the leftovers so only I could benefit from them, that delicious $2 bunch of red chard was gone in a matter of moments. But it left such a nice taste and experience in my mouth that I eagerly anticipated a return to said farmer, and maybe TWO bunches of it this time. Alas, by the time I got back to that market, his slot remained unhappily empty. Given that it was the day after July 4th, I’ll grant him his absence. But by golly, if next week rolls around and he isn’t in his usual place, his hat pushed back and a truck full of truly wonderful produce behind him, don’t be surprised if you hear that I’ve broken down crying.
Because that’s how quickly, and deeply I’ve fallen for this rich and lush green. It’s dark and brooding, silky, tender and tastes like I’m in the middle of a deep forest drawing in the air, and the green. Can a vegetable taste like a color? Does color even have a taste? To me it does, and this chard tastes like it looks. Deep green, and rich with flavor and I’m sold, 100%.
Have you tried Chard? What do you like to do with it?
Chard and White Beans with Fresh Herbs
2 small shallots, finely minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced (use minced garlic scapes if you have them, about 2 T. worth)
2 big bunches red chard, stems removed and rough chopped
1 15-oz can Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 T. each finely minced parsley and thyme
1/2 c. cooked wheatberries (optional- I had these on hand and they were delightful in this dish)
In a large skillet, saute shallot and garlic until tender. Add the chard in handfuls, stirring to saute. Cook chard for about 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in white beans and herbs. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes to blend flavors. Add a few tablespoons of water if dry.
I’m learning a lot on this plant-friendly journey, with the biggest lesson being that all plants based meals, while gorgeous in color, aren’t always the easiest to photograph.
Take this Farro and Greens dish……
It was delicious, satisfying and full of textures and tastes. But when I tried to plate it to photograph, I stared down at it’s curly leaves of kale, it’s burnished grains and hearty nuts and said “Dang, you’re kind of homely.” Because it was, through no fault of it’s own though.
Thankfully I didn’t hurt it’s feelings.
I ended up having to take it outside into full on natural light, not the light through the west window in my sunroom where I usually set up my shots. Even then, outside it took about 8 shots before I really started getting the angle right, the focus firm and the shot like I wanted. And I was talking to it. Outside. On my patio steps, hunched over to get the right angle and mumbling to my food. Yeah. I’m THAT kind of blogger.
But enough already….. delicious? Did I mention that? Wow with a capital “W” !!! It was good at room temperature after I tossed all the ingredients together. It was fine, oh so fine, when I ate it cold for lunch the very next day. And it was still good heated up a day or two after that.
And that’s another thing I’m learning; plant-based foods can manage a patient wait in your fridge so much longer than a dish with meat. (yeah, I know…..duh) And they can happily sit on your counter for a while (like over an hour when you, ahem, forget about them there) and really there’s no loss to you, or risk in it at all.
And quick….. quick! Plant based meals are lickety-split quick, people. I had this done in the time it took to slowly simmer the kale to a great tenderness, all of 15 minutes. A recent lunch with red chard and great northern beans took maybe 5 minutes to pull together. A side salad, those amazing chickpeas I just talked about? Less than 10. My humongous salads topped with a whole rainbow of crunchy veggies? Well, if I take the time to prep all of it ahead of time and keep them in containers, I can have a giant heaping bowl of a masticator’s delight in maybe 5 easy minutes. I made Peanut Noodles, and in the time it took to boil water and cook the noodles, the pepper, cucumber, green onion and carrot were done and sitting on the counter.
So yeah…. quick. And delicious. And healthy….. I still feel so amazing, and the best part? Even on those nights I don’t sleep so good, which seems to be the story of my life, I still am energetic enough to get through the day without collapsing. I feel tired, but the exhaustion that I had come to expect just isn’t there anymore. I feel pretty humbled by this little experiment, and so grateful for the ability to swiftly change directions, to move into even better health and well-being and to be able to talk about it and share it with you.
Now if only these pretty, colorful and healthy little meals would step up their game under my camera lens.
Toasted Farro with Greens and Tahini
1 c. cooked farro, or wheatberries, cooled and chilled.
2 T. tahini
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 c. tightly packed greens, chopped- you can use kale, spinach, chard, mustard, collard, turnip… whatever you like
1/2 c. parsley leaves
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. chopped nuts, such as pecans or almonds (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the tahini and olive oil with two tablespoon of water and set aside.
Heat a deep skillet over medium heat. When very hot, add the chilled farro. Don’t mind if a little moisture causes it to hiss or sizzle. It will cook off as you toast the grain. Shake the pan often, heating the grains until they’re very warm and fragrant, maybe 5 minutes. Be very careful not to burn them. When hot and toasty, remove grains to a bowl. To empty skillet, add 1/3 cup of water and the greens, stirring and cooking until they’re tender but still have a bit of toothy bite. Add the farro and the tahini mix, and stir to combine. Allow to cook for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with nuts, if using.
Source: Food and Wine magazine, with heavy modifications
KATE’S NOTES: I used wheatberries for the farro in the recipe as I had some already cooked in the freezer and farro is often hard to find. They make a perfect substitute. You could also sub in cilantro in place of the parsley, or add more fresh herbs, like thyme or oregano. I also added in lemon zest to make the overall flavor brighter.
I’m always on the look-out for quick and easy meal options, ideas for those nights that the guys take over dinner prep and want some good food to appear without a great amount of fuss. Long winded recipes don’t cut it with them, but these really easy Black Bean Tostadas make for a perfect summer dinner.
Based on this idea for a Black Bean and Corn Pizza, I took it one step more towards simple and used corn tortillas for the base, making a crispy shell that went from our toaster oven to my plate in about 10 minutes. The most time I spent was opening a can of black beans and shaking them under running water.
If you’ve got a toaster oven you’ve got the means to make this in a snap but are limited to only two at a time. Using a regular oven makes for more crowd appeal. Increase the amount of all ingredients as needed for the number of people you’re serving. I would imagine that adults could easily eat two or three of these. I myself managed to shotgun four without a blink of remorse.
But I was stuffed. Happy. But stuffed. Delicious as a main meal, this would also be perfect for a nice appetizer, and could easily be done on a grill with tantalizingly smoky results. The black beans make for a hearty and filling addition and no one will miss any meat in this. Fresh tomato gave it a summery flavor, and a crumble of queso fresco would be a nice addition just prior to eating them.
Black Bean Tostadas
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 t. chipotle en adobo
1-2 t. each ground cumin and chili powder
1 medium tomato, diced
1 c. frozen corn (no need to thaw)
1 avocado, diced
Pepper Jack, or Co-Jack cheese for topping
Heat oven to 400°.
Place drained black beans in a small saucepan and add 1/3 cup of water, the chipotle en adobo, cumin and chili powder. Stir to combine and heat until simmering. Remove pan and mash beans coarsely with a sturdy wooden spoon. Add more water if needed to make beans spreadable, but not runny. You want them to be thick.
On a baking sheet, arrange corn tortillas and place in oven, turning once until tortillas are slightly firm. Remove pan from oven and carefully spread a few tablespoons of black bean mixture on them, then top with tomato, corn and diced avocado. Sprinkle a little cheese over them and return the pan to the oven. Bake until cheese is melted and tortillas are crispy around the edges, maybe 5 minutes. Squirt fresh lime juice over the tortillas before serving.
NOTE: Instead of using avocado chunks on the tostadas, mash the avocado with a little lime juice, salt and pepper and use either as a topping for the tostada when it comes out of the oven, or spread a thin layer atop the black beans before adding the other toppings and baking them. Either way you use it, it’s delicious.
Summer tomato season is heading our way. I don’t have a huge garden plot to grow produce in, but I always grow tomatoes as there is nothing finer on this earth than a homegrown organic tomato. Come August, we’re usually over-run with them, and are eating them in everything. And really, there’s nothing better than a fruit so delicious that you can slice it, grate a bit of fresh black pepper on it and eat it with a fork.
This year, we’ll be utilizing a lot more tomatoes in this delicious and simple Shrimp Panzanella Salad I’ve discovered
As luck would have it the night I made this, a gorgeous sunny day had turned dark and cloudy, with storms brewing, so this photo is nowhere near as bright and summery as this salad’s true appeal. Fresh chopped tomato and peppers, doused with a liberal amount of oil, a splash of good vinegar and a veritable shower of fresh parsley, basil and thyme and the taste that springs from your fork is all about Summer! Summer! Summer! Even when Spring! struggles to fully arrive here in Minnesota.
So imagine it yourself; the taste of a ripe juicy tomato, the crunch of seasoned and browned cubes of hearty bread, toasted to a firm crunch, the snap of bell pepper and the heady flavor of fresh herbs. Mix in pieces of perfectly cooked shrimp, doused with a bit of chili garlic sauce for spice, served over fresh spring greens and you’ve got a dinner salad with substance, not to mention a wild ride of textures, flavors and colors. I could have admired it in my bowl if I wasn’t so hungry.
And simple? This here’s an easy, quick dinner to have ready. With a few shortcuts like artisan croutons and cooked shrimp, you can get this together in about 15 minutes, yet it’s hearty enough to fill you up, but not leave you sluggish. It may even give you an extra burst of energy to head out after dinner for a gorgeous sunset walk.
Shrimp Panzanella Salad
4 c. multi-grain bread cubes, preferably day old. Or equivalent of pre-made croutons.
1# coarsely chopped cooked shrimp
4 large ripe but firm tomatoes
2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
3/4 c. fresh chopped parsley
1/4 c. fresh chopped basil
3 T. fresh thyme
1/4 c. pitted kalamata olives, plus 2-3 T. brine
3 T. red wine vinegar
1-1/2 t. fresh chopped chives
Spring greens of choice
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt
If using fresh bread cubes, preheat oven to 350°. Place bread cubes in a large bowl and drizzle with 2-4 T. olive oil. Toss to coat and spread on a baking sheet. Bake the cubes, stirring every 5 minutes or so until they’re very crisp and dried, about 15-20 minutes. Watch them carefully. Allow them to cool completely before assembling the salad.
Combine the shrimp, tomato, bell pepper, fresh herbs, olives, brine and vinegar in a large bowl. Drizzle with 3-4 T. olive oil and toss to coat. Add cooled bread cubes, toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to sit for 15 minutes to mix flavors.
I recently started working again. Just part-time, but for good pay and doing something I love, and really, that’s all anyone needs, isn’t it?
And I get to think about lunch too, bringing something with me when I work to help spur me through the day, give me a good dose of energy, keep me full but not stuffed with a strong healthy edge to it. Enter the Spicy Tuna Wrap.
I love lunch time. I’m not sure where this enamored state over the noon meal ever came from, but as long as I can remember, lunch has been my favorite meal. Maybe it’s the lunchtimes of grade school, where we clustered together, unwrapping our peanut butter sandwiches from brown paper bags, eagerly scanning the contents of our friends lunch sacks to see what treats they got each day. Maybe it was the excited chatter, the rustle of wax paper, the moment the last bites disappeared when we could all run outside for recess, for jump rope, Foursquare, tag and the incessant chatter that we’d bottled up inside us all morning long.
Lunch at home these past few months was a way to utilize anything from the refrigerator, crafting something unusual from the norm, making up a series of small plates to satisfy my hunger, re-purposing an original into a one-of-a-kind. It didn’t always matter if I made my lunch last through the afternoon, keeping hunger at bay until dinnertime, but now that I’m working and not always able to stop for a snack to re-energize, my lunches need to satisfy, and keep me full until I get home.
This Spicy Tuna Wrap sure does the trick. Based on the premise of a sushi roll, canned tuna is spiced with your favorite hot sauce and chopped green onion, then spread in a whole-grain wrap with brown rice, avocado, carrot matchsticks and shredded greens. The combination is full of flavor, and more importantly, crammed with nutrients to keep you going. It’s easy to have the ingredients on hand, and takes only a few minutes to put together in the morning.
It tastes like a heartier version of one of my favorite sushi rolls. And it’s endlessly versatile, from the greens you add to the seasonings you mix with either the tuna or the rice. Switch out the tuna for salmon, or finely chopped chicken. Use arugula to add some bite, or watercress. Add thin strips of cucumbers or radish. And be sure to have a little soy sauce, mixed with some wasabi if it’s your preference. These wraps are made for dipping.
Spicy Tuna Wrap
2 5- to 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained 1/3 c. low-fat mayonnaise 1 T hot sauce, such as Sriracha 1 scallion, chopped 2 c. cooked brown rice, cooled 2 T rice vinegar 1 T. sesame oil 1 T. soy sauce 4 10-inch whole-grain wraps Shredded greens of choice 1 ripe avocado, cut into 16 slices 1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
Combine tuna with hot sauce, mayo and scallion and mix to combine. To brown rice, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil and soy sauce, stir well.
On each wrap, layer tuna, rice, avocado, carrot and shredded greens. Roll up tightly and slice, or eat whole.
From Eating Well magazine, March/April 2011, with adaptations.
I used a canned tuna in oil, leaving most of it with the tuna and then less mayo than the recipe needed. My hot sauce was Matouk’s Flambé Salsa. I added the soy sauce and sesame oil to the rice, but you can leave it out if you wish. I love the flavor it adds. Thin slices of cucumber in this wrap would be excellent. I used spinach for my greens, and Flat Out Whole Grain wraps, which made it a perfect size.
It’s January, and there are a million resolves to make healthier changes; to exercise more, to eat better, to get more sleep, to connect deeper, to make the 180° change that’s going to revolutionize our lives.
And by now, heading towards the end of the month, how’s everyone doing? Still holding on? Going strong? Let’s put our collective fingers on this a moment. We all think about it each year, come January. We’re determined, striving ahead. And somewhere along the way, there comes a realization that change is hard. As a species, we don’t handle change all that well. If you don’t agree, look at the amount of griping that occurs any time Facebook makes changes, or what happened when Twitter recently went through it’s re-design. (for the record, I like BOTH new sites much better) and you realize that it doesn’t take much to make us feel like the earth is being yanked out from underneath us. And inevitably, a lot of those changes we want end up falling by the wayside because if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we will admit that change is very, very hard.
I’ve been there. Done that. It is really hard to make positive and lasting changes, and these will take time, regardless of what they are. In August of 2007, I realized that I needed to lose some weight. What I saw in a photograph made me cringe. It was NOT pretty. Still, I didn’t actively embark on making those changes, much less following through until November of 2008, well over a year later. But by the time I did implement what I needed, I stuck with it, and in the Spring of 2009 I was 25# lighter and down two pants sizes. So the bottom line for me was to get both my head and my heart around what needed to get done. Once that happened, there was little to stop me.
Changes take time. Habits don’t form overnight. If you really want the success of integrating new habits into your life, give it time and give yourself a break. Berating failure only pushes us backwards, and we all have off days. There’s no goal you can reach for that has to have a set time limit, nor any that isn’t amendable along the way. If it’s weight loss you seek, take baby steps and celebrate the first 5 pounds, then the next. Pay attention to how your clothes fit because sometimes that’s a better indication of what your body is achieving than the number on the scale.
And please, please, please…… don’t use the word “DIET”.
For every person alive, “diet” rings with deprivation. A wonderful friend of mine admits she needs to make some big changes in her eating habits, but laments “I don’t want to be eating oatmeal and plain chicken breasts for the rest of my life.” So instead of considering it as a “diet” I suggested she think of it more as a permanent lifestyle change, because that’s what it boils down to in the long run. And it won’t happen overnight. Do the baby steps and celebrate each one instead of dumping the contents of your refrigerator and pantry in the trash and then thinking “What now?” The habits we’re ingrained with didn’t occur in a few days, they took months, and sometimes years to build up. And to reverse them, they could feasibly take months, or maybe even years to become something new, something better for you and wiser, overall.
And food habits are hard to change. Long ago I used to be addicted to Burger King french fries, and Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets. I would see their signs as I drove and get an undeniable craving, so bad that I almost broke out in a sweat. I know! It was awful! And on one occasion as I stuffed those first hot golden french fries in my mouth, I was hit with the realization that they tasted simply awful. But guess what I did? Yep. I ate the entire order anyway. My mouth felt like it had been assaulted; it was coated with this horrible aftertaste, heavy and greasy. And my stomach hurt. I was appalled at myself because even when I clearly realized that I didn’t even like the product, I kept eating it anyway. It was the same with Wendy’s; I could consume two orders of their Chicken Nuggets without a single hesitation despite knowing I didn’t even like them, yet the one day that my brain equated those nuggets with warm rubbery sponges was the last time I ever put one in my mouth. Still, I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to get there. It was an embarrassment to me, and I really struggled to kick those habits, as well as many other unhealthy ones I used to have.
I’ve made drastic changes to my eating in the last 5 years, and have noticed immeasurable improvement to my health in the process. It’s no cliche that when you eat better, you feel better. I know through personal experience. Just recently I drank Diet Coke- with fresh squeezed lime wedges in it!- for the first time in ages, and man what a stomachache! It tasted all right, in fact, it tasted really good but I seriously wanted to cry because my stomach was so twisted up in knots. As uncomfortable as I was, I rejoiced also, as it instilled in me the same resolve that the french fries and chicken nugget revelation did; this isn’t good for me, and I shouldn’t be consuming it. But still, it took time for me to get there. And it will take time for you too. Take the baby steps, celebrate the small victories and be kind to yourself in the process.
If there’s one meal you want to change this week, you could try out this nutritional powerhouse of a salad. It requires no special ingredients, and is really inexpensive to make.
This garlicky White Bean Salad with Tuna and Avocado is a super-bomb of good food to put in your body. It’s full of fiber to keep you satiated and operating at open throttle all afternoon, with the very important Omega-3, and monounsaturated fats that our bodies need. It’s also quick, and works equally well as a warm main dish with a few good sides, or a quick cold salad for your lunch. And the garlic is cooked, so your family and co-workers are safe. I had a small bowl of this for lunch, along with some fruit and by dinnertime I wasn’t even hungry. I love meals like that.
Garlicky White Bean Salad with Tuna and Avocado
2 15-oz cans Great Northern Beans, rinsed well
1 3-oz can tuna in olive oil, drained
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 T. fresh thyme (use 1 t. of dried)
1 medium avocado, diced
Drain tuna well and place in a large bowl. Flake with fork until shredded.
Heat a skillet on the stove and add about a tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic. Heat gently over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic is translucent and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic!! Stir in herbs and great northern beans. Heat through, stirring, for about 5 minutes more, drizzling in a bit more olive oil to coat. Remove from heat and add to bowl with tuna, mixing well. Stir in avocado, season with salt and pepper and serve warm. Can be chilled as well.
Canned salmon can be subbed for the tuna, or chopped sardines if it’s your thing. You can add finely chopped veggies as well, like celery or red pepper or cucumber. Rosemary is really flavorful in this too. If you want to get creative with it, the entire dish can be put through a food processor and used as a spread for a wrap, on top of toasted baguette slices or thinned a little with milk or water and used as a dip for fresh vegetables.
Thanksgiving is just a few days away. Like you need to be reminded of that? We’ll be experiencing a pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm this year but I’m thinking it won’t hamper any of our plans. My family is all local, and hardy winter souls with dependable cars and a lifetime of snow experience. Plus it’s a homemade meal. They don’t miss that for anything.
My menu is planned and it’s always pretty simple. The family is not much for experimenting with rambunctious flair; they like their mashed potatoes, a good smoked turkey on the grill and plenty of gravy. We’ll drink wine, snack on cheese and crackers and enjoy each other’s company and really, that’s all that matters at all on a holiday, isn’t it?
Snacks are an important part of any gathering, and since I’m doing the cooking, someone else is bringing the pre-meal offerings. But if it’s me making something for nibbling, I like a bit of variety and spice.
For something delicate and different, this Herb Flatbread from a long ago Gourmet magazine is a simple and delicious option. It’s good enough to eat alone, or topped with a thin slice of sharp cheese. It’s a bit too delicate to spread much on, but nice to have in a cracker basket.
For something really different to spread on your dinner rolls, or a good hearty cracker, this Roasted Red Pepper butter is an awesome option. It’s rich, with the sharp tang of roasted peppers, and could even turn a pan of mashed potatoes into a unique delight.
And if you want to really stretch your wings and offer something bold, spicy and off the beaten track, this fragrant nut and spice mix called Dukka is a wonderful option for an appetizer. A fragrant crush of nuts, cumin and coriander seeds and a little coconut, it makes for a good crunchy texture against soft bread that’s been dipped in olive oil.
The most important aspect of any holiday gathering, though, is to relax, enjoy the day and the company and don’t sweat out every detail. Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is full of warm smiles, plenty of laughter and lots of delicious food.
Dukka- middle eastern spice mix
From July 2008 Food and Wine magazine
1/4 c. each raw pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews
1/4 c. coriander seeds
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut
1 1/2 T. cumin seeds
1/4 c. sesame seeds
In a 350 degree oven, roast the nuts until golden brown and fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Empty into bowl to cool slightly. In a skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from pan to bowl for cooling. Toast cumin and coconut until coconut is golden, 4-8 minutes. Cool with coriander. Toast sesame seeds until golden, 4-6 minutes. Cool separately.
In work bowl of food processor, combine nuts, coriander, cumin and coconut; pulse until coarsely chopped, or preferred consistency. Empty into large bowl and add sesame seeds, stirring to combine. Season with a little kosher salt and black pepper if desired. Keep in airtight container, either refrigerated or frozen.
Roasted Red Pepper Butter
1 c. room temp butter
7-oz jar roasted red pepper, drained and finely minced
2 t. milk
1 T. fresh chives, minced
1 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4. c. fresh grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and Pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Can be shaped into a log and chilled, or stored in a plastic container.
Hint: with the peppers, the finer you mince, the prettier and more spreadable the butter will be. I used a knife on mine but next time will use a food processor or chopper to get them even finer.
Herb Flatbread (from Gourmet magazine)
1 3/4 c. unbleached flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1-2 T. fresh herb of choice
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil
Heat oven to 450 with a pizza stone on middle rack. Combine dry ingredients and herbs. Make well in center and pour in oil and water. Stir with spoon until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto parchment paper and knead about 5-6 times to bring dough together. Can be divided into 2-3 small balls and rolled flat, or rolled out as one large circle. Drizzle olive oil over top, sprinkle with sea salt and more herb and transfer, parchment and all to heated stone. Bake until browned in spots and fragrant- time will depend on how thin dough is rolled. Remove from oven and cool (don’t cool on stone- it will continue to bake). Slice with pizza cutter and enjoy.