Is it time to give up salad?



You might know that lettuce is mostly water and contains little in the way of nutrition. But did you know that cucumbers, radishes and celery share lettuce’s nutritional futility? Or that we may be wasting precious resources growing the vegetable equivalent of Dasani water bottles?

This Washington Post piece is enlightening, if a tad provocative:

Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table. When we switch to vegetables that are twice as nutritious — like those collards or tomatoes or green beans — not only do we free up half the acres now growing lettuce, we cut back on the fossil fuels and other resources needed for transport and storage.

Now, I think cucumbers are really refreshing in summer, and I enjoy salads a lot. Greek salads some to mind, because without the lettuce and cucumbers, they are little more than a tomato with onion slices, olives and feta cheese. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good way to fill up on a hot day, or that they might help satisfy a craving without busting the calorie count. A bed of lettuce is a great accompaniment to protein and a substitute for carbs, but I think the article offers a good rule of thumb for avoiding salads that are unhealthy. Yes, there are salads that are packed with more calories and saturated fats than fast food:

Next time you order a salad, engage in a little thought experiment: Picture the salad without the lettuce, cucumber and radish, which are nutritionally and calorically irrelevant. Is it a little pile of croutons and cheese, with a few carrot shavings and lots of ranch dressing?

That’s a useful exercise to keep in your back pocket. What else is going in your salad? I just had one for lunch that, minus the lettuce, was a vehicle for figs, cranberries, blue cheese, avocado oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. That isn’t all that nutritious, now that I think about it. One way to make a salad count is to consider swapping out lettuce greens for spinach, kale, collards or other dark greens that do offer more nutritional benefits. And pack on the nuts and lean proteins that, ultimately, are going to fill you up.


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Gooey yummy chocolate cupcakes

I was in the mood for some chocolate cake yesterday but didn’t want to make a giant batch that would lead to overeating, so I searched around for a recipe that makes individual-sized portions.

I discovered this amazingly simple method for making four portions of chocolate cake, which were the perfect amount for us to enjoy with a scoop of ice cream each. It’s a very rich recipe, heavy on the chocolate, so vanilla ice cream or whipped cream feel essential.

Give these a try next time you feel like eating chocolate cake and want to satisfy that craving within 20 minutes.

A few notes on the recipe: It’s difficult to get the cake out of the cupcake tins, so if you’re serving this to guests, bake in round cupcake-sized ramekins and just dollop scoops of ice cream over them before serving with spoons. Dust with powdered sugar or add a garnish of mint or strawberry to really make it look like you worked hard!

And, I found 12 minutes to be just right, but some commentators have said that they had to let the cakes cook a little longer. Just look for the cracked tops and be aware that the cakes will deflate slightly as they cool.

Follow the recipe exactly for success, including starting with room temperature ingredients, carefully folding in the cooled melted chocolate and flour, and cooling the mixture before baking it.

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Banana yogurt popsicles

Life enjoys being a bit ironic, I think, so it isn’t surprising to me that my little kiddo has little interest in food. Getting him to eat is one of our biggest challenges, which I guess isn’t that atypical for a two-year-old. But he does love his ice cream. The blistering heat in Seattle this summer gives us both good excuses to consume it in copious amounts, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

So, I’ve been on the quest to find some cool treats that are slightly healthier. We recently had popsicles at a fair that were creamier than your usual ice pops, and I really enjoyed them. I chanced upon a recipe in Saveur for strawberry rhubarb yogurt popsicles, and a lightbulb went off.

Using yogurt to cream up a popsicle is a healthy way of simulating that ice-cream goodness. I didn’t have strawberry or rhubarb on hand, but I do have lots of bananas (thank you, Costco). Now, I have frozen banana halves with popsicle sticks before, because they taste very creamy and satisfying frozen, so I suspected that I could dial back on all the artificial sugar if I went this route. I decided to add a little more flavor and creaminess with peanut butter. And that’s it. These popsicles are a simple mix of those ingredients, plus a dash of milk.

To make six 4 oz. pops, simply blend 2 medium-sized bananas, 1/3 cup of peanut butter, 1/3 cup of full-fat yogurt and 4-ish tablespoons of whole milk. Let the blender go for a few minutes so you get a very smooth consistency. It should be thick like the texture of heavy whipping cream. Add a little milk or yogurt to thin it out as needed, or more banana to thicken, then pour the mixture into your popsicle molds and freeze until solid.

When S enjoys these, I can feel good knowing he is getting protein, fresh fruit, good dairy fats and healthy bacteria. Chalk that up to a win!

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Cranberry-basil pesto spread

Pesto spread
Stroke of genius, people. That’s what this recipe is. If you’re one of those people who eats deli sandwiches for lunch (does anyone do that anymore?), you probably get as bored of the usual turkey-swiss-mustard combo as I do. One of the easiest ways to bring a little life and variety to a sandwich is by making your own spread.

Today, I present to you the holy grail of sandwich spreads. I kid you not. If you like your Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce, if you dig a little kick in your spread, and if you love the taste of sun-soaked basil in the summer, listen up.

This bright-green pesto flecked with red cranberries is a take on the classic Italian sauce, with a slightly different mix of holiday-inspired ingredients. And it’s simple:

Stick the following items in a food processor and give it a whirl, scraping down the edges until you have a thick, creamy sauce and most of the chunks are pulverized (texture is up to you): 1/2 cup packed fresh basil, 1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries, 1/4 cup pecans, 1/2 jalapeno, 1 tsp. crushed garlic, 1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper and, finally, about 1/4 cup olive oil.

Why pecans and not the classic pine nuts? For one, pine nuts are expensive, so I rarely use them in pesto at home. I am cooking for myself here! And, secondly, different nuts add different flavors to pesto. In case you didn’t notice the Christmas-in-July (or Thanksgiving, really) theme in this cranberry and turkey recipe, pecans add another holiday-ish element and complement the other ingredients well.

Now, let’s say you are grilling a turkey or chicken breast instead of making a sandwich. Stop here and use this sauce as a topping on the meat, or stir it into pasta for a nice side. Add a bit of the pasta water to get the right saucy consistency.

But, back to the sandwich. You can dial back the oil a bit or altogether if you want, because to take it from a pesto to a sandwich spread, I blended in 4 oz. of cream cheese. The result is a creamy sauce that you can lather on toasted bread and top with turkey meat to have a little taste of the holidays.

Final step: Taste it. Check the salt. Like it sweeter? Add more cranberry. Want more kick? Put some extra jalapeno in. (That little spicy inspiration, by the way, is courtesy of my Texan in-laws, who introduced me to the glory that is fruit jam with peppers. They serve the jam over cream cheese and crackers as an appetizer and, well, you can see how I hatched this little plan.)

This spread is so, so good. Eat it in a couple days or the basil will brown, though I doubt it will last that long. What makes this magical is the balance of sweet, spice, savory and cream. And it’ll take all of 5 minutes for you to prep it and get it in your belly. You must try it!


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How I beat my pregnancy cravings

I’m expecting again, and honestly, I’m not doing as good of a job this time in staying healthy. All I seem to crave is carbs and sugar. Last time, it was more spice than anything else, and I was part of a midwifery practice in D.C. that was pretty awesome about staying on top of my nutrition. They urged me to up my dark-greens intake since my iron was low, so I got in the habit of making kale shakes in the morning.

What I found was that a filling breakfast would help me get through my day without feeling desperate cravings. We tend to crave sugar when our bodies feel very hungry, so as long as you keep your stomach satiated with the good stuff, you’re less likely to reach for the cookie. That’s my theory at least!

As part of my quest to fill up on breakfast, I decided a few weeks ago to indulge myself with baked eggs. This is one of those recipes that is remarkably simple but has a big wow factor.

It’s so simple you don’t need a recipe, and you can change things up based on what you have on hand. Here’s a version with cream, one without greens, and another using fresh tomato. (You’re welcome for all the Googling I just did for you.)

For my version, all you do is saute some greens (kale in my case, with a spot of minced garlic), lay them in an oven-proof pan, and make two little holes where you plan to place your eggs. Ladle a little marinara sauce at the bottom, if you’ve got it on hand, or just some plain old tomato sauce.

Crack the eggs into the space you created, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and stick the dish in a 400-degree oven until the eggs set. I like my yolks a little runny, so I should have pulled them out in about 12 minutes. I waited until 15, and at that point the egg was more set. Your preference!

Top with salt, pepper and some parsley if you’ve got it. Dig in with a chunk of bread and enjoy! This meal is a bit of a treat and makes you feel like you’re out at brunch. It’s totally worth indulging in, even if you aren’t pregnant!

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Only good things can come of this

It’s been a pretty dry winter here in Seattle, but even then, the first day of spring was a dreary, soppy reminder that seasons operate a little differently here in the Pacific Northwest. S and I were cooped at home all day and, even though I had excitedly made salmon with asparagus over the weekend to celebrate the beginning of spring vegetables, I began to have a hankering for the hearty stews that seem to make rainy days a little better. My mind turned to daal, that simplest of Desi meals that serves as my personal comfort food.

What you see in the photo is basically everything that goes in this daal, which is a yellow split moong daal. It’s a very small, pebblish lentil with an oval shape and once cooked becomes like a thick stew. Serve with Basmati rice or flatbread of choice, and pair it with a vegetable side such as squash and potato curry.

Recipe after the jump.

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Meals from The Great Depression

B shared this with me earlier in the week, and it gets to the heart of how food can tell stories. 91-year-old Clara makes a Depression-era meal out of potatoes and hot dogs while recalling how difficult it was to afford clothes and basic ingredients like flour:

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