‘Clean’ snacks

The weekend was pretty brutal. I must have been detoxing from something because I had a throbbing headache, sore throat, and a low fever. I didn’t want to do anything but rest. The book tells you not to take pills for headaches, so I just had to ride it out. At times I felt like quitting the whole thing, as the whole point is to feel good. But today I finally broke through it and started to feel better.

I’ve had a lot more energy and way less hunger today, which is such a relief. I went to the store and stocked up on more ingredients that will help me be more creative in the kitchen. Now my vegetable drawer runneth over!

I love buying ingredients I’ve never worked with before. Have you ever had adzuki beans?

I’ve also never cooked with coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature but melts in your hands). If you get some on your hands it’s like lotion!

And let’s face it, this is the most important part of any cleanse.

I also trashed some temptations.

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been breaking my attachments to certain processed foods, and I’m still working on it.

I had been getting pretty frustrated over the weekend at feeling like I was eating the same things over and over, especially for snacks. You can only eat so many handfuls of nuts and fruit. So I thought I’d share some other recipes for quick snacks that you can pop in your mouth if you need a little energy or want to satisfy a sweet tooth without eating refined sugar.

(Use organics where you can.)

Hummus and carrots
adapted from the Clean book

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Add a little extra water for smoothness.

Brown rice crackers
adapted from Clean‘s recipe book

1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
I pinch each of dried oregano, basil, thyme, and black pepper

Mix flour, salt, herbs, and oil together in a bowl until you have coarse crumbs.

Mix in water until the dough forms a ball.

Roll out on a baking sheet to 1/4-inch thick and score it so you will be able to break apart the crackers.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes, or until the edges start to get brown. After the crackers cool, gently break them apart.

Raw fruit/nut balls
adapted from my own recipe

1/2 cup finely grated coconut
1 handful pecans
2 handfuls almonds
1 handful dates (make sure they’re pitted!)
1 handful raisins

Toss all of the ingredients into your food processor and process until the nuts have turned into fine pieces and the mixture is starting to clump together. The smoother the better, in my opinion. Roll them into 1-inch balls.

If you like, you can roll them in a little extra coconut.

Chocolate almond butter balls
(they’re kind of like Nutella!)

1/2 cup almond butter
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Combine ingredients in a bowl, and roll them into 1-inch balls. Keep them refrigerated, so they hold their shape.

(I realize what these look like, but they taste much better than they look.)

Raw coconut macaroons
from Fork in the Road (I like to halve the recipe)

3 cups shaved coconut
1 1/2 cups raw cacao powder
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup coconut oil
Pinch of sea salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until firm. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls (or use a mini scoop). They can be dehydrated too, if you like.

I also just wanted to say that I had never realized how dependent my diet was on wheat. It seems like it’s in everything. I have a whole new appreciation for those on a gluten-free diet, and I will try to put more gluten-free recipes up here.

Ratatouille revisited

I decided yesterday that with our garden veggie haul it was time to make ratatouille. It’s not the most beautiful of dishes, but it’s one of the best ways to enjoy your produce. And it’s sort of like a relish. You can put it on anything!

The recipe I use is an adaptation from Julia Child, so I think it’s legit.

But this time it was different. I got to use my brand new mandoline slicer!

Friends, you have got to get one of these. I feel like I just went up a level as a cook or something.

I used it to make 1/8-inch zucchini slices. I zipped through a whole zucchini in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately my eggplant was too soft to use in the mandoline. But I look forward to making many slices and strips in the future. I’m thinking it would make a cold noodle salad a lot better.

So for ratatouille, you roast the zucchini and eggplant slices in the oven while you saute onions, peppers and garlic. Meanwhile you peel and slice your tomatoes, and separate the juice. Then you add the tomato slices to the peppers and onions, cook a few minutes, then add the juice and turn up the heat until most of the juice evaporates.

Then you layer it up in a casserole dish like a lasagna and bake for about half an hour. The recipe calls for turning up the heat partway through baking, but I didn’t think it was necessary.

In fact, I don’t think you really even need to separate the tomato juice and pour it on later. I think you could probably throw everything into the pan and cook it at once and it would still come out good. Just try to remove all the tomato seeds.

If I had to do it over I think I’d double the recipe, too. It’s a lot of work for one tiny pan of veggies. Even if it is a relish, Mike and I still eat it like it’s at least a side dish.

DIY microwave popcorn

This was like a revelation for me. And it’s so simple it’s ridiculous.

I have been addicted to these little packs of lime and salt popcorn for snacks.

But then I read something (maybe in Readymade?) about how you can make your own microwave popcorn in a paper sack.

So I tried it, and it worked. And then I felt dumb for not thinking of it myself.

Here’s what I did:

I got a bag of regular paper lunch sacks and some popcorn kernels (these were tiny, so you might have to adjust the time for bigger kernels).

I put 1/4 a cup of kernels in a sack and drizzled on about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Don’t worry if your bag gets oily. It’s supposed to.

Then I microwaved it for two minutes, stopping it when I heard the kernals slowing down (it was about a minute and a half).

The popcorn came out just fine. I got a lot of old maids the first time, but haven’t since. I tried popping it for a minute and 45 seconds once, but then I got a bunch of burned kernels.

After it comes out, salt it generously. You could also use it to make a snack mix or caramel corn or popcorn balls or whatever your heart desires!

Rhubarb lemonade

I sure hope you’re not sick of rhubarb yet, because I have one more recipe for you. A few years ago, when I was new to rhubarb, Mike made this lemonade recipe, and it was just fantastic. We’ve made it a few time since then, including last night when we spiked it with rum and took it to a party. I suggest you do the same, if you get a chance!

Rhubarb lemonade

8 stalks rhubarb, chopped
8 cups water
1 cup sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Bring water and rhubarb to a boil in a big pot. Let it simmer for about half an hour, then turn of the pot and let it sit until cool. Strain out the rhubarb. Add lemon juice and sugar and stir to combine.

Serve over ice cubes with a sprig of fresh mint. You can also add carbonated water to make it fizzy.

Peanut butter pasta with veggies

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? But really this is kind of like a quick version of pad thai. Since it uses asparagus I thought it was perfect to make this time of year.

Peanut butter pasta with veggies
adapted from Cooking Light’s Super Fast Suppers

1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces of angel hair pasta
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
chopped peanuts (optional)

*To make this vegan, just sub veggie broth for the milk. This would be great with sauteed tofu, too.

Heat the oil in a big skillet over medium to medium-high heat and saute your veggies until they are soft and starting to get brown on the edges. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile heat your pasta water to boiling and drop in your pasta. Since 8 ounces is roughly half a box, I use the highly scientific method of removing enough from the box until it looks halfway empty. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Set your veggies aside and drain your pasta. Then you can use the veggie pan to warm up your sauce. Drop in the soy sauce, peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, milk, and red pepper flakes. Whisk that all together and add to the past and veggies in a bowl.

Toss to combine.

On a funny/ridiculous note I recently realized my camera has an auto white balance feature, so I don’t have to keep switching back and forth when I’m in the kitchen (half the time I’m under a yellowish light, the other half next to a sunny window). It actually works pretty well.

Black bean burgers

The snow is mostly gone, so I can go back to pretending it’s full-on springtime and make some recipes that remind me of barbecues and farmers markets. Right?

This one is a favorite. I wasn’t over the moon for it at first, but I tweaked it over time until I got it right.

I’ve been trying to get away from buying meat-like products at the grocery store. While they are vegetarian, they are just as processed as all the other crap I try not to buy. And I’m really trying to stick to Michael Pollan’s simple instruction: eat food.

But veggie burgers are tricky. They rarely hold together the way ground beef does. They can be crumbly and dry. They can be full of mushrooms, which I don’t love. These black bean burgers, if prepared correctly, are pretty great. The keys, I think, are to chop up your veggies extra small, squish the beans into an almost paste, and make sure that you have enough binder – either an egg, or some applesauce, if you want them vegan.

Here’s the version I stuck with (makes about 5 burgers):

Black bean burgers
adapted from a recipe on vegweb.com

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2/3 cup oats
1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg or a couple spoonfuls of applesauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
Enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of your pan
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

Mash up the beans with a potato masher or fork. Add the onion, jalapeno, garlic, oats, egg or applesauce, salt, pepper and Worcestershire and mix until combined.

On a separate plate, combine the flour and cornmeal.

Preheat a large skillet to just a little over medium heat, and cover the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil. I like to add a little bit of butter, as well.

Take a handful of the bean mixture, a little smaller than a baseball, and flatten it into a patty. Roll the patty in the flour/cornmeal mixture and then drop it into the hot pan.

Cook for about four minutes on each side, or until a light brown crust forms. If you like, melt cheese on top before serving.

We got some more of those bright orange organic sweet potatoes at the store today, so I made some sweet potato fries to go with our burgers.

These were so great. Even if you love a regular meat burger, you can still change it up from time to time.

Aunt Lark’s tabbouleh

If a recipe comes from my aunt Lark, you know it’s gonna be good. She is the most fabulous cook. I think she was the first in our family to really get into gourmet cooking. I’ve had a lot of things for the first time at her house. And since she has two vegetarian kids, she always makes something meat-free for holiday meals.

At one of those dinners she served this tabbouleh salad, and it was so superior to anything similar I’d ever made I just swooned, and asked for the recipe. Then she packed me up a to-go package to take home, which I treasured. I think what made it so great, in addition to all those fresh veggies, was a bit of cumin. It’s one of my favorite spices, and it gave it just enough of a kick to stand out.

So here’s the recipe. It’s super healthy, and a great accompaniment to something else Greek or Middle Eastern like falafel. Just remember to allow yourself enough time to soak the bulghur and marinate the salad before you plan to eat it.

Doesn’t a recipe that starts out with this colorful array of veggies have to be good?

Aunt Lark’s Tabbouleh

2 cups bulghur (she likes Bob’s Red Mill brand)
2 cups hot water
3 or 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups freshly chopped parsley
1/3 cup freshly chopped mint
3 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 small yellow or red onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cucumber or half an English cucumber, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 package feta cheese (optional)

Start by soaking the bulghur. You can use any method you like best, but 2 cups bulghur soaked in 2 cups hot water for an hour should do the trick. You can also use boiling water for half an hour.

Once it’s done (chewy but not too hard), drain any extra water. You may need to put it in a strainer and press out the excess water with the back of a spatula.

Chop up the rest of the veggies and herbs. The key here is to chop everything really finely so you get a little bit of everything in each bite. And no one wants to bite into a big chunk of raw onion.

Normally I don’t love parsley, but the fresh herbs in this recipe are part of what makes it tabbouleh, so be generous with them. Once all the flavors blend together it just seems right.

In another bowl, whisk the lemon juice (I like to use my vintage juicer, which makes it easy to separate the seeds),

with the olive oil, salt, cumin and pepper.

Just a side note: We buy olive oil in HUGE amounts and just refill a container that sits on the stove because we use so much of it. Next to milk/bread/eggs, we probably use it more than anything.

Mix the dressing with the veggies and then add the strained bulghur. Refrigerate for at least two hours before eating. You might also want to taste it to see if you need to add more seasonings. And, I think it’s extra good with a little feta cheese mixed in at the end.

Yum, yum, YUM.

African groundnut stew

After reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” (a sweet Christmas gift), I was feeling a little guilty for providing you with a handful of recipes for refined sugar and processed pastries and not much else. One of my resolutions for 2010 is definitely to add more healthy recipes to my repertoire.

I dug out some of my biggest, most beautifully illustrated cookbooks to try to find some recipes to try (I’d also just finished “Julie and Julia”, so was even more inspired). But after flipping through page after page, not much was jumping out at me. So I went back to my old standby, the Simply in Season cookbook. Which you are probably tired of hearing about, but I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Though it’s winter, I flipped back to the autumn section and found about a dozen recipes I’d like to try. How about Red Lentil Coconut Curry, Savory Squash Bread Pudding, Butternut Bisque or Broccoli Gratin? They all sounded good to me, but I landed on this vegetarian groundnut stew for dinner because it called for 3 cups of tomato juice and 2 cups of green beans, both of which I had in the fridge, and I was anxious to use them up.

I also know, from the many recipes I’ve made out of this book, that in addition to helping you cook seasonally and locally, the recipes always tend toward the healthy and unprocessed side. They’ll sneak beets into a dessert or use ingredients like bulgur, persimmons and orzo that I sometimes forget even exist.

In the case of this stew, there’s not even veggie broth in the recipe. Instead, the tomato juice, combined with apple juice make up the liquid. The only thing I changed when I made this was to omit the fresh ginger, because I didn’t have any. It tasted fine without it. I was skeptical at first, given the orangish color and strong smell of cabbage wafting from the pot, but when it finished cooking it was really delicious. With a little brown rice, it was super filling for a vegetarian dish.

I ended up using an organic butternut squash for this, and much like the organic yams we always buy, the color was much richer than a typical squash.

In fact, the squash was so orange that it stained my fingertips when I cut into it. I was worried it wouldn’t cook through in just 30 minutes or so, but it was perfectly done, and a little bit sweet, mixed with the apple juice. It reminded me of the dishes we used to eat when we had an African restaurant in town (alongside fried plaintains, yum).

I have one more tip, too. If you’re trying to eat more grains, like brown rice, and we definitely are, think about getting one of these microwave rice cookers. Ours seems to cook brown rice perfectly every time, and shaves at least 10 minutes off the cooking time.

Vegetarian Groundnut Stew

adapted from Simply in Season

2 cups onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups winter squash, chopped (I used butternut)
2 cups cabbage, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups tomato juice
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cups green beans
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil in a large soup pot. Toss in the squash and cabbage, and sprinkle in the cayenne pepper. Season with salt.

Stir that up, then add the tomato and apple juices, and ginger, if you like. Cover the pot and simmer over medium for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start cooking your brown rice. You’ll probably need about two cups dry to get enough for the whole pot.

Add the green beans and cook 10 more minutes.

Then stir in the peanut butter, and turn it down to low before you serve it.

Homemade applesauce

Even after I made apple crisp and caramel apples, our supply of apples was still bursting out of the crisper drawer, so I decided to try making my own applesauce.

I perused a few recipes online and decided on this one from Food Network. It seemed like most recipes were almost exactly the same: peel and core a bunch of apples, cook them in sugar, lemon juice and pie-type spices, then blend them in a food processor or food mill (a kitchen item I don’t actually have!).

I liked this recipe for the addition of apple cider, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks. Although next time I would eliminate the brown sugar. The sugar from the cider is plenty for sweetness.

Though the peeling and chopping took some time, I was impressed by how easy it was to make my own applesauce. Just like the caramel apples, it would make a great take-away gift, poured into a cute jar and tied up with ribbon.

My first time making bread

No-knead bread, to be exact.

I don’t have the patience for a bread that needs multiple sets of kneading and rising. In my house, that’s Mike’s department. But I was getting kind of sad that I’d never made bread. And what kind of Martha would I be if I didn’t tackle that challenge?

So, since we are now in possession of an old cast iron dutch oven, I thought I would pull out the recipe I saved from Mother Earth News for no-knead bread and give it a try. Apparently the steaming action from the pot-with-lid method, mimics that of high-heat ovens that bakeries use. You may not get bread that good, but you can come close.

I think my bread came out great. I used half white and half whole-wheat flour, and even though I’m all about healthier breads I think I would go with all-white next time. The texture was fine – crusty outside, chewy inside. But for an artisan-type bread that begs for a slice of brie and a smear of jam, I just prefer white.

Anyway, I started the dough last night and let it sit overnight. Right before lunch I patted it into shape and let it rise for a couple hours. Then I put it in the oven and baked it for 45 minutes. Super easy. Definitely messy when you have to clean all that sticky dough off your dishes. But overall, for someone with very little patience for breadmaking, I think this recipe is a winner.