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Posts Tagged ‘healthy food’

Our first attempt to grow the ancient grain, Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) in our gardens proves to be successful with these healthy stalks standing proudly.

Quinoa is an ancient grass from South America where the Incas grew it as their main crop in the cool weather of the Andes.  As creative farmers, they terraced the slopes of their mountain homeland and planted a variety of crops including, tomatoes, squash, maize, melons, peanuts, chili peppers and cotton.

One unique aspect of quinoa is its nutritional value.  Quinoa is almost as complete a protein as an egg!  It also delivers some wonder vitamins, like E and B, as well as calcium, phosphorous and iron.  It is gluten-free, easy to digest and possesses a higher nutritional value than oats or wheat.

Quinoa can be eaten hot, warm or cold.  With this level of versatility, any cook can exercise creative ways to prepare it as a cereal, stuffing, salad, main course or even baked into breads.  You can even make desserts like Oatmeal Quinoa Cookies too.

Since this is our first season growing quinoa, an adventure looms ahead when we begin our harvest.  Given the size of these stalks, it’s time to begin learning how to harvest and dry those stalks now.

Oh, here is an interesting bit of trivia in case you find yourself on Jeopardy: the Incas were the first civilization to plant and harvest potatoes!

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Aside from the bountiful choices of fabulous flavors found in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking, its appealing aspect of extremely healthy food draws me back to it time after time.  In the West Indian state of Gujarat, the emphasis is on vegetables and freshness.

Most Gujaratis are strictly vegetarian and it is from this region that I draw inspiration for some of my gluten-free recipes as well as recipes for overall enjoyment at both small and large gatherings.  The majority of Gujaratis observe a belief that all living beings deserve respect and that taking of any life for personal enjoyment is forbidden.  Hence, it is in this region that I find vegetarian cooking at its perfection.

Saag Paneer, which is simply spinach with an Indian cheese in a flavorful sauce, is one of my favorite dishes.  The flavorings and sauce are considered beneficial medicinally and the spinach is a highly touted vegetable for overall well-being.

My recipe is based on those I enjoyed in India, in Indian restaurants and under the guidance of my culinary mentors.  It’s simple, serves 4-6 diners and reheats well the next day.

Gujarati Saag Paneer

2 lbs. of fresh baby spinach, washed, stems removed

(Substitution: 2 lbs. fresh leaf spinach, washed, stems removed and coarsely chopped.  Do not use frozen spinach.  It is too watery and gives off a metallic taste that will ruin the recipe.)

¼ cup Ghee or melted, unsalted butter

½ lb. cubed Paneer cheese (an Indian semi-soft cheese) or substitute

½ lb. firm tofu or ½ lb. feta cheese that has been rinsed to remove excess salt

1 large onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

½ inch piece of ginger, minced

Indian Curry Powder, homemade* or store-bought but NOT Asian:

Depending on your preference this amount can vary

from 1 ½ teaspoons to 1 tablespoon.  I use about 1 tablespoon.

1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (omit if you don’t like heat)

¾ cup buttermilk

¼ cup Greek yogurt (I like Fage)

Salt to taste

Wash and stem the spinach and set aside in a colander to drain.

Assemble the remainder of ingredients near your cooking area.  This will allow you to proceed with ease through the recipe.

Heat the ghee (or butter) in a deep sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add the cubed Paneer and fry while tossing occasionally to brown on all sides.  Be gentle because you do not want to break the cubes.  When the cubes are lightly browned, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same pan, over medium high heat, sauté the onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeño.  Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the onions soften.  Sprinkle the mixture with curry powder and stir to combine.  Within a minute or so, you should be able to smell the spicy aroma.

At this point, slowly add the spinach while stirring and folding to mix with the aromatics.  As soon as the spinach is bright green and softened, turn off the heat (if using electric heat, remove the pan from the burner) and stir in the buttermilk and yogurt.

Mix the sauce and spinach to combine well.  The mixture should be thick and creamy.  If it is too “watery”, add another ¼ cup yogurt.  Now, gently add the Paneer cubes and combine them with the spinach mixture.

This dish can be served as a vegetarian main course with basmati rice and/or any type of flat bread.  It’s also a versatile side dish when combined with a variety of other Indian foods.

*Basic Homemade Mild Curry Powder

Makes about ½ – ¾ cup

½ cup coriander seeds

4 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds

4 dried red chilies (for hotter flavor, add more chilies)

5 curry leaves

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon salt (may omit if observing a low salt or no salt diet)

Dry roast the whole spices (omitting the chili powder, turmeric and salt) in a large pan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan to keep the spices from burning or sticking.  When the spices darken, you will enjoy a fragrant aroma.  That means you can remove the pan from the heat and allow the spices to cool.

Grind the toasted whole spices in a spice mill, coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle until they become a fine powder.

Combine the ground spices with the chili powder, turmeric and, if using, the salt.  Mix well.  Store in a glass, airtight container.

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Aside from the bountiful choices of fabulous flavors found in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking, its appealing aspect of extremely healthy food draws me back to it time after time.  In the West Indian state of Gujarat, the emphasis is on vegetables and freshness.

Most Gujaratis are strictly vegetarian and it is from this region that I draw inspiration for some of my gluten free recipes as well as recipes for overall enjoyment at both small and large gatherings.  The majority of Gujaratis observe a belief that all living beings deserve respect and that taking of any life for personal enjoyment is forbidden.  Hence, it is in this region that I find vegetarian cooking at its perfection.

Saag Paneer, which is simply spinach with an Indian cheese in a flavorful sauce, is one of my favorite dishes.  The flavorings and sauce are considered beneficial medicinally and the spinach is a highly touted vegetable for overall well being.

My recipe is based on those I enjoyed in India, in Indian restaurants and under the guidance of my culinary mentors.  It’s simple, serves 4-6 diners and reheats well the next day.

Gujarati Saag Paneer

2 lbs. of fresh baby spinach, washed, stems removed

(Substitution: 2 lbs. fresh leaf spinach, washed, stems removed and coarsely chopped.  Do not use frozen spinach.  It is too watery and gives off a metallic taste that will ruin the recipe.)

¼ cup Ghee or melted, unsalted butter

½ lb. cubed Paneer cheese (an Indian semi-soft cheese) or substitute

½ lb. firm tofu or ½ lb. feta cheese that has been rinsed to remove excess salt

1 large onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

½ inch piece of ginger, minced

Indian Curry Powder, homemade* or store bought but NOT Asian:

Depending on your preference this amount can vary

from 1 ½ teaspoons to 1 tablespoon.  I use about 1 tablespoon.

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (omit if you don’t like heat)

¾ cup buttermilk

¼ cup Greek yogurt (I like Fage)

Salt to taste

Wash and stem the spinach and set aside in a colander to drain.

Assemble the remainder of ingredients near your cooking area.  This will allow you to proceed with ease through the recipe.

Heat the ghee (or butter) in a deep sauté pan over medium high heat.  Add the cubed Paneer and fry while tossing occasionally to brown on all sides. Be gentle because you do not want to break the cubes. When the cubes are lightly browned, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same pan, over medium high heat, sauté the onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeno.  Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes or until the onions soften.  Sprinkle the mixture with curry powder and stir to combine.  Within a minute or so, you should be able to smell the spicy aroma.

At this point, slowly add the spinach while stirring and folding to mix with the aromatics.  As soon as the spinach is bright green and softened, turn off the heat (if using electric heat, remove the pan from the burner) and stir in the buttermilk and yogurt.

Mix the sauce and spinach to combine well.  The mixture should be thick and creamy.  If it is too “watery”, add another ¼ cup yogurt.  Now, gently add the Paneer cubes and combine them with the spinach mixture.

This dish can be served as a vegetarian main course with basmati rice and/or any type of flat bread.  It’s also a versatile side dish when combined with a variety of other Indian foods.

*Basic Homemade Mild Curry Powder

Makes about ½ – ¾ cup

½ cup coriander seeds

4 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds

4 dried red chilies (for hotter flavor, add more chilies)

5 curry leaves

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon salt (may omit if observing a low salt or no salt diet)

Dry roast the whole spices (omitting the chili powder, turmeric and salt) in a large pan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan to keep the spices from burning or sticking.  When the spices darken, you will enjoy a fragrant aroma.  That means you can remove the pan from the heat and allow the spices to cool.

Grind the toasted whole spices in a spice mill, coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle until they become a fine powder.

Combine the ground spices with the chili powder, turmeric and, if using, the salt.  Mix well.  Store in a glass, airtight container.

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One of my favorite condiments is a fresh basil pesto.  Over the years, I’ve created and adapted many of my own versions of pesto using different flavor bases with a variety of seeds, seasonings and nuts.  A wonderful winter version of basil pesto, though, is a sweet-tart fruity Sun-dried Tomato Pesto.

I wish I could say I created it, because it is that good, but I got the recipe from a friend.  It is a traditional type of pesto recipe and there really isn’t anything remarkable about it except the flavor.

Even though I can’t cite the name of the newspaper where she clipped the precious scrap that she shared with me, I can give the recipe high praise.  I’ve been using it for at least a couple of decades.

So when I need to feed a crowd with a variety of dietary limitations, (precisely food allergies, religious restrictions and weight loss concerns– all at the same table), I like to serve this simple, fresh and filling meal.

Sweet-Tart Fruity Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

For Dinner:

(Amounts are for 4 average eaters, assuming dessert will follow  the meal.)

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a knife

1 large Heirloom tomato (approx. 1-1 ½ lb) cut into ¼” slices

Fresh baby spinach

Olive oil for dressing

4 (6-oz.) swordfish steaks

(or any fish of your choosing, but firm fleshed fish is best)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 lemon, juiced

½-1 cup Greek yogurt, seasoned with ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste and, if desired, some finely minced cucumber and a hint of coriander.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto with SwordfishFor Sun-dried Tomato Pesto:

1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced thin
3 heaping tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Do Ahead:  Arrange the plates and set aside in the refrigerator until needed:

A bed of fresh spinach, by the handful, on the center of the plate.

Sliced Heirloom tomato along the curve of one side of the plate.  Season lightly with coarse sea salt, freshly ground Malabar pepper, and a slim drizzle of olive oil.

Bake one potato for each guest.  To save time and heating costs, microwave pierced potatoes for approximately 5 minutes per side, turning once.

The potatoes should feel almost fully cooked when you gently squeeze the outside.  Put them into a 375˚ degree oven or toaster oven (to conserve energy) to finish baking.

Next, preheat broiler or fire up the grill.

In the time it takes to preheat the broiler or grill, you can make the pesto.

In a food processor or blender, combine sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, olive oil, garlic and salt.  Process until smooth.  Transfer to a serving bowl, add a serving spoon and set it aside.

Season the swordfish, on both sides, with ¼-1/2 teaspoon salt and a dusting of freshly ground pepper. Brush with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place in a shallow, broiler-safe pan (or atop an oiled grill).

Broil, 4 to 5 inches from heat, until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked, about 4 minutes per side.  Alternately, grill on one side for about 3 minutes and turn to grill the other side for an additional 4 minutes.  All times are approximate depending on your appliance.

Swordfish with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

When done, the fish should be opaque and flake easily with a fork. Remove the fish from the oven (or grill) and squirt with lemon juice (about ¼ of one lemon).

Serve immediately, with a dollop of sun-dried tomato pesto, placing the hot fish atop the spinach to cause some mild wilting.  Put the baked potato on the side of the plate.  Offer lightly seasoned yogurt to pass for the potatoes.

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