Today, let’s practice a summertime exercise in keeping it simple. It’s what the universe beckons us to do in this season of plenty, when the sun’s peak puts nature on overdrive, and the plants we cultivate positively vibrate with vital energy. It’s a magical time to love fruits and vegetables.
When most people think about pressure cooker recipes, they tend to conjure up images of stews, braises, and other sorts of steamy, stick-to-your-ribs one-pot meals that enjoy the spotlight in the colder months. But don’t forget that an electric pressure cooker is also a valuable tool for summer cooking: because everything is self-contained, cooking under pressure doesn’t heat up the kitchen. So don’t neglect your Instant Pot just because even the thought of your favorite soup recipe is making you sweat… think outside the box! It may sound crazy, but this week I used my pressure cooker to make salad. I only wish I had tried it sooner, because you’re looking at an instant summer staple.
I think this was my first time eating wheat berries, and definitely my first time cooking them. These are the same kernels that they grind up to make whole-wheat flour, just kept intact and cooked thoroughly, resulting in a plump, chewy, flavorful grain, almost like a more robust short grain brown rice.
Because September is Whole Grains Month, the dietitian in me is compelled to take a moment to chat about the special benefits of intact whole grains. I’m talking about whole grains consumed in their least processed form: merely hulled of their fibrous husks, but with the bran, germ and endosperm all in their natural state (examples include wheat berries, brown/wild rice, quinoa, farro, millet, hulled barley, and buckwheat groats). You can think of these as the ‘gold standard’ of grainy goodness. While processed whole grains (like whole wheat flour) still have the same richness in nutrients (fiber, protein, B vitamins, a bit of healthy fat, and essential minerals like magnesium), intact whole grains have the perk of an extra-low glycemic index. This ensures a slow digestion process, keeping you fuller longer and minimizing spikes in blood sugar that can contribute to chronic health problems. For more details, get a healthy dose of carb common sense from the Whole Grains Council.
So, wheat berries have a lot going for them. Now that I know how tasty they are, how super cheap they are in the bulk bins, and how easy they are to cook in the Instant Pot… I’m hooked!
This recipe started with a craving for Smitten Kitchen’s feta salsa, which I’ve made a few times as a party appetizer. I knew the rich flavors would be well suited to bulking up with hearty whole grains, and I figured fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of my best balsamic would kick it up to the next level of juicy summer freshness. What was once an indulgent treat is now a balanced meal, with just enough fat and salt from the feta and kalamatas to keep things interesting. Just the way we like it around here!
(You can, of course, make this without my loyal kitchen companion, Instant Pot. Just boil the wheat berries in 4-5 cups of water (add more if needed) for about an hour, until they’re tender, then go on with the recipe.)
QUINOA. This little seed can bring a lot to the table. Not only is it a source of complete protein and rich in essential nutrients, but it’s also easy to cook to perfection, and the leftovers taste just as delicious as ever after days in the fridge. You will never regret setting aside a few minutes for weekend food prep to cook up a big batch of quinoa. When we supply ourselves with the right go-to ingredients, we set ourselves up for success to keep our kitchens stocked with healthy meals to count on all week long. Invest in your future!
This week’s surplus of healthy whole-grain inspiration comes from a blog collaboration with Rachael and Cara of Nutrition Milestones (remember them?). We got together last weekend for a cooking jam-session of sorts, and seriously, how great is my food nerd life that I’m lucky enough to have found other people who consider this a good time? Read on to learn what comes out of the kitchen when 3 RDs join forces to come up with some fresh takes on our favorite healthy staple!
Flavor. We definitely consider it an essential part of the diet around here, but it’s not often that we talk about its direct relevance to nutrition. After reading a great article by Mark Schatzker last week, I was inspired to take a moment to highlight this underappreciated piece of the human nutrition puzzle.
Shatzker describes flavor as an “ancient chemical language,” which is such a beautifully fitting depiction of the science. “Flavor is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from.” We have evolved to seek out our favorite flavors, but we’re facing a problem because this synergy between us and our diet has been disrupted by our modern food supply. Factory farming and other questionable contemporary food production techniques yield lackluster products, in both nutrition and flavor. On top of that, a highly profitable industry of food scientists and flavor chemists have stepped in to fill the flavor void, adulterating products with enticing extracts and additives that tempt our senses but that provide none of the benefits that our bodies are craving. Shatzker’s new book, The Dorito Effect, is definitely going on my reading list. The message, which is very consistent with the way we do things around here, is to get your flavor from real food, because it’s what your body really wants.
So how can we put this theory into practice? Today, let’s remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to craft big flavors from natural ingredients. Serving as a prime example: Chimichurri in a Hurry. Just a handful of the highly flavorful and nutritious compounds in this classic Argentine condiment include antioxidant myristicin from parsley, antimicrobial allicin from garlic, and anti-inflammatory capsaicin from chili peppers. And we get to enjoy all of those whole-food benefits in just a matter of moments thanks to my favorite blender-hack.
Some people start the day with a crossword puzzle, but my morning mental exercise regimen is a little more practical. It involves staring into the fridge, jumbling together edible odds and ends to fill a lunchbox balanced enough to sustain myself through a day at the office. I’m usually pretty good at this game, so that’s my excuse for not being super organized with meal planning. But the day that I struggled to find a better “protein” than a bag of Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels… I knew it was time to get serious.
Last weekend I made a very minimal investment of time and efforts, which yielded big lunchtime results. It started with an idea to attempt a copycat recipe for the sweet chili tofu cubes stocked at the Whole Foods salad bar. For a time I used to live in an apartment right across the street from Whole Foods, and since this was during my busy grad student years, I built a pretty strong affinity for some of their healthy convenience foods. That salad bar saved me for dinner many nights, and those sweet, chewy tofu cubes were always a welcome addition to my leafy greens.
I can’t get enough kale salad. In all seriousness, I think I might be able to actually FEEL it doing my body good. I still never get tired of my favorite kale slaw, but my repertoire seemed like it could use something a little more seasonal for summertime. This salad definitely fits the bill: all seasonal produce and so refreshing! It’s like if a pineapple mojito was a salad… not the worst way to eat a bowl of greens, right? Continue reading “Lemon Mint + Pineapple Kale Salad”
Hey people! Are you feeling the warm approach of summertime? I’ve had a taste, and I am fully on board to embrace the breezy summer mindset. I’m currently still coasting on good vibes from an incredible Memorial Day weekend that involved an excess of many of the best things life has to offer: good friends, beach lounging, city exploring, burgers, beers and breakfast burritos. It was beautiful, but in the interest of balance I’ve been consequently feeling the need to stuff my face with salad.
And what better time to get excited about salad?? The warm weather simultaneously decreases our desire to turn on the oven and brings markets bursting with fresh produce so flawless that all they need is a quick chop and toss with vinaigrette. Store-bought dressings are convenient, but it’s not easy to find products without unnecessary preservatives and excess sodium. See where this is going?
What better to top your salad than… more vegetables?? Trust me on this one. This golden emulsion brings bright flavor and creamy texture to whatever salad is lucky enough to find itself underneath.
Last summer was my first time eating bún – a refreshing Vietnamese salad of cold noodles, charred meat and crunchy veggies. It was during a week-long trip to San Diego that I took with Grant to make preparations for our cross-country move. This kind of trip, I learned, is exhausting. We spent hour upon hour driving around the city, touring apartments, submitting applications, finding out that the last unit was snatched up by the nice young couple ahead of us, and starting all over again. Day in, day out. I don’t mean to complain – I’m grateful we had the opportunity to move, and all hurdles are just the expected challenges of real life. But in the thick of it, we were in serious need to escape and recharge – physically and mentally.