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.
With exotic Indian flavors and a wealth of nutritious benefits, I’ve really struck gold with these dark leafy greens. In this deceptively simple recipe, fresh kale is gently wilted in a savory base of onions, garlic, and garam masala, brightened with a golden turmeric-ginger broth, and studded with plump golden raisins.
I’ve mentioned before that I like my greens a little sweet and sour; so when my food brain started cooking up the idea for an Indian-inspired recipe, I immediately craved chutney. I understand that in India, “chutney” can refer to any number of different condiments in different regions, but what I had in mind was the anglo-influenced variety: a flavorful preserve contrasting savory onions and spices with sweet fruit, made tart with vinegar. This recipe doesn’t require you to have a jar on hand, but echoes the same flavors with a combination of fresh ingredients and pantry staples.
So, what makes these simple greens such a nutritional goldmine? Not only is this dish full of vitamins and minerals, fiber and phytonutrients like any old bowl of kale; it’s also enhanced with a powerful arsenal of culinary herbal medicine. Garlic, ginger, and turmeric don’t just bring bold flavors to the dish – they’re also rich in a wide range of anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and cancer-fighting compounds.
The photo above features green curly kale, but any of your favorite hearty greens can be substituted: collards, Swiss chard, even beet greens.
Eat it over brown rice or quinoa for a light meal, or complement it with a protein like tandoori chicken or tofu. This dish is also a good accompaniment for fans of the frozen Indian food section at Trader Joe’s! Their frozen curries and naan can make a decent meal on a busy night, but you can really upgrade your dinner with just a touch of home cooking – adding a quick fresh vegetable like this will bring the plate to life.
Sadly, the latest release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is not going to tell you to eat less meat. I, on the other hand, am less worried about profits in the meat industry than I am about a collapsing climate and the brutal reality that at current consumption rates, our children will be facing food and water shortages in the alarmingly near future. So, let me take it from here, America: let’s think about eating a little less meat!
I already try to work a lot of meatless meals into my routine, but following the politics around these guidelines has gotten me riled up and feeling motivated to put more effort into to upping my diet’s sustainability factor. Which brings us to today’s recipe: when it comes to planet-friendly eating, these nuggets are gold.
I happen to love tofu. If you don’t, believe me, I get it. It’s not a mandatory ingredient for plant-based eating, but if you just haven’t developed a taste for it yet, maybe it’s time to give this powerful protein a chance.
Today’s recipe features a crispy coating that commemorates our environmentally friendly efforts with the superstar sustainable wonder crop: hemp! Hemp is a resilient, fast-growing crop that doesn’t require much land or water. It’s also a source of complete protein and healthy omega-3 fats, and its seeds happen to be the perfect toasty/nutty ingredient to mix together with cornstarch for a simple crunchy (gluten free) breading for your tofu nuggets.
Hot out of the saute pan, these tofu fingers are addictive. The breading is neutrally seasoned, so they pair equally well with the full spectrum of dipping sauces. My choice? Hot honey mustard. It’s a 3-ingredient, 30-second recipe (ie. an instant classic).
Through the lens of crispy tofu, I hope I was able to share a few nuggets of inspiration to look at the big picture and consider sustainability when feeding ourselves. It’s not always easy, but our choices matter. If you’re interested in more practical tips for sustainable eating, let me know in the comments – I’m hoping to make time to write another post on this topic soon.
Finally, if the disappointing results of the Dietary Guidelines have gotten you riled up too, let me share this way to take action: help set things straight and call the document what it really is: “Food Policy Guidelines for America.” Dr. David Katz has set up a petition on change.org calling upon the USDA and HHS to clarify that the Guidelines are not intended as expert dietary health guidance, but rather, as Katz puts it, “what politicians think should be done with the best, expert advice in an effort to balance public health against corporate profits.” Right now it has about 75% of the signatures needed, so it needs your support!
Hungry for more hemp? Chill out with my favorite Blueberry Cocoa Hemp Smoothie!
Need a go-to tofu? This is mine: Sweet Chili Baked Tofu, even simpler than today’s recipe and its versatility makes it an excellent meal prep item.
Resolving to Eat Better this year? Me too, but I’m not just talking about nutrition… I’m also always looking for new and exciting ways to ENJOY IT. That’s why I make this kind of food: wholesome, real ingredients coming together to make something indulgently nourishing for your “most important meal of the day.” It’s simple, but special. It’s rich, but still provides legit nutrition. And as a bonus, it will warm you to the bones not only by virtue of being a hearty porridge, but also by briefly relieving your winter weather woes with a mental tropical vacation.
So, what makes these oats so nutritious and filling? The winning combination of whole grains and coconut deliver fiber, complex carbs and a healthy dose of fat that provide lasting energy to fill you up and truly satisfy.
You can cook this on the stove, in a rice cooker, or a slow cooker, but I choose my pressure cooker. It couldn’t get much faster or simpler!
The secret to this recipe is the first step, toasting the oats and coconut, which enhances the nutty flavor in both ingredients (it’s easy as pie with Instant Pot’s saute function). Be sure to reserve some toasty coconut to use as a topping before dumping in the rest of the ingredients and locking down for pressure cooking.
You’ll open the lid to find some flawless oats: lightly sweetened and heavily fragranced with coconutty aroma. The flecks of toasted coconut offer a satisfying chew, while the coconut milk makes it extra rich and creamy. Top with fruit (fresh or dried), a drizzle of the coconut milk that’s leftover in the can, and an extra sprinkle of toasty coconut flakes.
Aside from everyday eats, keep this recipe in mind when you have a home full of house-guests. Throw together a double batch, set up a toppings station, leave the steamy pot on keep-warm mode and allow your waking visitors to self-serve at their leisure. Oatmeal doesn’t normally garner oohs and ahhs… but this recipe is special enough to hold its own!
Leftover oats? You’re in luck – save a cup to whip up a batch of my #1 favorite pancakes. Imagine how good they’ll be infused with coconut!!
Looking for more healthy breakfast inspiration? Get some fresh, practical ideas from my post on My Top 5 On-The-Go Weekday Breakfasts.
Loving your new pressure cooker? You can find the rest of my Instant Pot recipes here.
[Instant Pot] Creamy Coconut Steel-Cut Oats
Below is my pressure-cooker adaptation of this recipe from Shutterbean. If you’d rather use a rice cooker or the stovetop, use her instructions instead. If using a slow cooker, start the night before you plan to serve. Add an extra cup of liquid (your choice – either more water, coconut milk, or another liquid like almond milk), and cook overnight on the ‘low’ setting.
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup steel cut oats
1 cup coconut milk, plus additional for topping (I use full-fat canned coconut milk, but you can substitute lighter varieties if desired)
2 cups water
1 pinch salt
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
Begin by toasting the coconut: add the dry coconut to the pressure cooker to cook over medium heat (with Instant Pot, press the ‘Saute’ button to begin cooking at medium saute heat). Stir frequently, and watch closely to avoid burning. When the coconut begins to lightly brown, remove half to set aside for the topping, and add the steel-cut oats to toast as well. Cook the oats and coconut for a few more minutes, until both are fragrant. Then add 1 cup coconut milk (reserve the remainder for topping) and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine, then cook under high pressure for 2 minutes (with Instant Pot, press ‘Cancel’ to stop saute mode, then close the lid and press ‘Manual’ to select 2 minutes).
When the cooking time is complete, allow 10 minutes for a natural pressure release before opening the valve and lid. Serve warm, topped with a drizzle of coconut milk, a spoonful of toasted coconut, and any other desired toppings.
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.)
Let’s talk about breakfast. Weekday Breakfast, to be specific, which is an entirely different animal than the leisurely, unhurried, coffee-sipping pleasure-breakfasts that we get to enjoy on the weekends. Weekday Breakfast, for better or worse, is about taking care of business: supplying ourselves with an adequate amount of the right balance of nutrients to fuel ourselves for the workday, and doing it quickly.
To be honest, I struggle with Weekday Breakfast. When I drag myself out of bed for work, I don’t have much of an appetite. It’s just hard to get my morning-brain interested in the fuel that I know my body needs. The good news? Recognizing a problem is the first step in doing something about it. I started with a dedicated Weekday Breakfast Pinterest board to help inspire my efforts. I also took a critical look at my morning routine, and found that although it may not be the best approach for mindful eating, I really have the best success when I schedule my breakfast time either during my commute or at my desk (whatever works!). And there’s one other critical element that should go without saying: that healthy breakfast also needs to be a tasty treat… otherwise, what’s the point? So now, after some brainstorming and field-testing, I’m coming here to share my top 5 healthy, quick, on-the-go balanced breakfasts that keep me powering through my weekdays!
1. The Mix-n-Match Box
This is sort of a DIY version of the protein bistro box from Starbucks; I developed a taste for those during my time-crunched grad school days, but this make-at-home version is a lot easier on the budget. It also works well for my breakfast ambivalence because I can pick at little nibbles of this and that, and I still end up with a balanced meal.
My basic formula is whole grain bread (the seed-packed sourdough stuff pictured above is my current favorite), cheese, fruit, and a boiled egg – but the mix-n-match system is a good way to use up whatever odds and ends you have on hand. Pack it all into a medium-sized tupperware container, and you have a balanced snack-breakfast, wherever your day takes you.
This is a really common fallback weekday breakfast for me, for two reasons. First, I pretty much always have these 4 ingredients stocked in my kitchen, and second, it’s something that will actually pique my meager morning appetite.
Use a slice (or half slice) of regular or lite cheese of your choice to cover half of a whole-grain pita bread. Place it under a broiler or in a toaster oven until melted/crisp, then add a handful of spinach and a vegetarian sausage patty (I cut mine up into a couple of slices to cover the whole sandwich). Fold it in half, wrap in a paper towel, and you’re good to go!
3. The PBJ Yogurt
Have you been disappointed recently by the new PBJ flavored Greek yogurt from Trader Joe’s? If it sounded really good in your head, but didn’t meet your flavor expectations, it’s time to take things into your own hands.
I already talked about this perfect combination of plain yogurt, PB/J, wheat germ and chia seeds in my post on Eating Well After Oral Surgery, but it truly has earned a space among my go-to morning meals/snacks. For an extra-special breakfast, try it with my favorite banana jam recipe!
4. The Loaded Veggie Bagel
Here’s another savory sandwich that will help you get a head start on your daily servings of veggies. Baking a weekend batch of my garlic kale & feta bagels will give you an even ‘veggier’ foundation, but most of the time I use the whole wheat sprouted sesame bagels from Trader Joe’s.
Toast a whole-grain bagel (or bagel-thin, for a lower-calorie breakfast). Schmear with light cream cheese or hummus, and top with whatever fresh veggies you like or need to use up. The combination pictured above is a personal favorite, baby spinach + cucumbers + shredded carrots, but other tasty choices to mix and match include alfalfa sprouts, avocado, tomato, arugula or baby kale.
5. The Mason Jar Muesli
To finish with something sweet, here’s a simple make-ahead breakfast that happened to be the #1 most popular recipe on my blog last year. In this Steel-Cut Muesli, California-Style, the oats are soaked overnight in the fridge and eaten chilled, so they’re a great way to enjoy the benefits of oatmeal during the warmer months. In these photos I used a re-purposed jam jar, but it also works really well with half pint wide-mouth canning jars like these. They’re compact to stack in the fridge, so you can make a whole week’s worth in just one quick prep session!
So that’s what I’ve been into for breakfast lately… but I can’t finish without an appeal to you, readers: come on, help me with my breakfast problem! How do you fuel your weekdays?
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!
These days I do most of my recipe-clipping on Pinterest, but I still have a recipe folder on my browser’s bookmarks bar dating back from the days before ‘pinning’ was a household term (shocking, I know). There’s a smattering of links from all corners of the web, but the heart of the collection is a sub-folder marked “Tried and True,” which holds those special recipes that I’ve come back to again and again… the keepers, if you will! Along with the formula behind killer pumpkin garlic knots and the original source inspiring my favorite chili (which has been tweaked and perfected and eventually taken over as Grant’s kitchen specialty), this folder is also home to an unassuming yellow dal bookmarked from Smitten Kitchen. I made this recipe for the first time in college, just starting to dip my toes into Indian cooking, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve served it up since then!
This dish has been a dinner staple in my house for a lot of reasons. For one, the recipe is really straightforward, easy enough to commit to memory. It’s also super inexpensive. I do my best to cook with economy and grace, and these tasty lentils make it easy: all of the budget-friendly benefits of dried beans, but with no soaking needed. It’s a hearty vegetarian (easily vegan) source of protein – about 14 grams per serving, before the yogurt garnish. And those healthy legumes are filled out with plenty of vegetables and nutritious spices. I’ve been putting more focus on anti-inflammatory foods in my diet lately, and the turmeric, cumin, coriander, cayenne and garlic in this recipe all offer functional health benefits to reduce inflammation in the body. This is definitely an example of getting your flavor from real food, and this enticing combination is so nutritious that it’s practically medicinal!
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.