Today’s Health Morsel: Nasturtium

The leaves on my nasturtium plants are getting so big, they’re reminding me of lily pads. I love having nasturtiums in my garden, as they’re both beautiful and functional. I’ve come across some articles mistakenly claiming that nasturtiums repel aphids. I saw one article suggesting making an infusion out of nasturtiums and spraying it on your garden. Don’t do that! Whoever wrote that has never had a nasturtium plant. Aphids love them! For that reason, some people plant them outside of their vegetable garden, at some distance, to attract the aphids away from their veggies.

That is not, however, my goal when I plant my nasturtiums. I have a single purpose in mind: to make as much nasturtium pesto as humanly possible, and freeze it so that I have enough for the whole year. It’s one of my favorite things. But I’ll get to that later. First, today’s daily dozen starts with…

breakfast_text

Normally, I have most or all of my fruits & berries during breakfast. However, it’s the first day of the year that we’re getting above 80 F (26 C), so I already know that I’m going to be having some banana ice dream with black raspberries tonight for dessert. Thus, I’m going to leave the banana & berries out of my usual breakfast routine. Also, because I already know that I don’t enjoy the texture of flaxseed with melon, I’m going to add it to the ice dream – we’ll see how that turns out. I think it’ll be really nice.

  • 1/2 charentais melon

Aside from drinks, that’s it.

Checklist items: 2 other fruits (2 out of 18 servings)


lunch_textThe entire above-ground portion of the nasturtium plant is edible. The base of the larger/older stems do tend to be a bit too fibrous, though, so I cut the leaves and flowers off an inch or two down. It tastes both peppery, like its namesake, watercress (a.k.a. nasturtium officinale), and sweet. In fact, mine are exceptionally sweet this year – almost like candy. Hailing from northwestern South America, the nasturtium has been used traditionally to treat urinary and respiratory infections, including colds & flu.

Nasturtium plants, like their cabbage cousins, contain kaempferol – a flavonoid/antioxidant which has been shown to aid in cancer prevention and treatment along with quercitin, also contained in nasturtium. We also find anthocyanins, carotenoids, vitamin C, iron, sulphur, & manganese. It’s best to eat both the leaves and the flowers, as they have different distributions of these beneficial elements.

Anyone who has been concerned about eyesight & nutrition probably knows the value of lutein, but a search for lutein-rich foods typically has kale at the top of the list, despite the fact that nasturtiums provide the highest lutein density of any edible plant – 45 mg per 100 g. Lutein is vital in preventing macular degeneration & glaucoma. In plants as well as animals, it helps to absorb damaging high-energy blue light rays, preventing free radical damage via antioxidant activity.

In a paper published in 2009, two researchers demonstrated that the essential oil in nasturtiums (benzyl isothiocyanate) kills harmful intestinal bacteria, such as E. coli and C. difficile, while leaving intact our gut microbiome’s beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacterium & lactobacillus.

For all these reasons and more, I vote that we start paying more attention in general to edible flowers, and in particular to nasturtiums! Good thing the best pesto I’ve ever had is a nasturtium pesto! And my favorite way to use it is in sandwiches.

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You can find the recipe for my nasturtium pesto here. As I mentioned before, I make enough to freeze and use throughout the year. It loses its pepperyness when frozen, but that’s actually better for kids, and it still tastes totally amazing. So, for lunch, I’m having…

  • 2 slices of whole grain bread
  • 1/2 c nasturtium pesto
  • 2 slices of zucchini
  • 2 slices of bell pepper
  • 2 slices of cucumber
  • thinly sliced red onion
  • radish sprouts
  • 1 c arugula & lettuce, mixed
  • 1/2 c broccoli
  • 1/4 c hummus

I’ll put as much of this as I can into the sandwich, except for the hummus & broccoli – it will depend on the size of the bread, really. The rest I’ll just eat as veggies & dip. My whole grain bread is actually quite small – half the size of a “normal” sandwich-style loaf.

Checklist items: cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_textDinner is quick, and not too filling, because we want to save room for banana & black raspberry ice dream for dessert!

  • 1 1/2 c black & pinto beans, mixed
  • 1 c corn kernels
  • 1/4 c cilantro

For flavor I added unknown quantities of lime juice, tamari, cumin, paprika, oregano, & sriracha, enough to suit my taste.

Checklist items: 3 beans, spices, 2 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dessert_text

It’s so rare I have a dessert, so this feels like a treat, even though it’s basically just my breakfast in frozen form, with a little vanilla flavoring & nut milk added in. The basic recipe is here. Today, I used just 1 large banana, and added the following:

  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c frozen black raspberries
  • 1/4 c crushed Brazil nuts

Checklist items: berries, 1.5 other fruits, flaxseeds, nuts (4.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19.5 servings in total

We got at least the recommended servings of everything, plus extra spices and 1/2 an extra serving of other fruits.

Today’s Health Morsel: Peas

Ok, maybe I’m jumping the gun a little here, but it won’t be too much longer before fresh peas are coming out of the garden. Mine are currently flowering, and I’m getting excited. Like most of us, I wasn’t a big pea fan when I was a kid. I didn’t mind them – they just weren’t my favorite vegetable. Also like most of us (I think) I always thought of peas as a vegetable. After all, they were put on the side of my plate with a bit of salt and butter, just like the broccoli or the carrots or the Brussels sprouts. Nobody ever put a spoonful of plain beans with a little salt and butter on the side of my plate. But peas are actually a legume, and they have the high protein content to prove it. Like their bean cousins (& corn & potatoes), they’re also starchy. More about peas at dinnertime. First, the daily dozen meal plan for breakfast & lunch.

breakfast_text

Strawberries are in season – they tend not to last too long around here, and I have to fight to have some left for my breakfast.

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 T ground flaxseed (sprinkled on the banana slices)
  • 1/2 charentais melon
  • 1/2 c strawberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Today I wanted something a bit lighter for lunch, so I made some lettuce wraps – I put the hummus, mustard, and other veggies on the lettuce, and folded it up like a burrito. Quick and painless. Add some sriracha for a little kick.

  • 1/2 c hummus
  • 1/2 c broccoli, chopped
  • 1/2 c cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/2 c yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 leaves romaine lettuce (this will depend on the size of the leaves)
  • mustard

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, 2 other vegetables (7 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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I was surprised to find that there’s actually quite a lot to say about peas! We can use peas (and other legumes) to help us improve our own health and engage in environmentally sustainable agriculture at the same time. No wonder we’ve been eating them for thousands of years! According to wikipedia, the earliest archaeological evidence of pea use by humans goes back to the late Neolithic era (which began in 5300 BC) in what are now Greece, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, & Georgia.


Sustainable agriculture

Most of us are not solely concerned with our own health, but also with the environment, the possibility of a future for humanity on this earth, and protecting the rights of other beings with whom we share this chunk of rock hurtling through space. What connects all of these concerns? Our collective food choices, and peas have a specific and vital role to play.

Peas and other legumes benefit soil in multiple ways. They feed soil microbes, which help to decompose organic matter, fertilizing the soil. If the microbes in the soil were to die all over the earth, it would be the end of life as we know it. These microbes produce the food that plants eat, ensuring that the plants are healthy and able to resist disease & tolerate environmental stresses, like severe weather brought on by climate change. Legumes produce larger amounts & different kinds of amino acids than most other crops, so that the plant residue left in the field or garden plot after harvest (or added to the compost) helps to increase not only the amount but also the diversity of soil microbes. This leads to even greater protection against disease-causing fungi & bacteria.

Nitrogen is extremely important for the healthy development of practically all plants. Peas and other legumes are unique (with few exceptions) in their ability to draw nitrogen from the air. Most plants rely on whatever nitrogen is available in the soil. This is why nitrogen-based fertilizers are of such importance. Current standard farming practices rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen, requiring the use of manure or chemical fertilizers, both of which produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. And they are highly problematic in other ways. Animal feces (i.e., manure) can introduce e. coli and other pathogens into our vegetable supply, the ingestion of which can be deadly. And fertilizers don’t contain just the right amount of nitrogen to be used by the plants – they contain excessive amounts, and the excess runs off into rivers, lakes, and ocean water causing algal blooms. The algae uses up all the oxygen in the water, creating dead zones, like the massive one in the Gulf of Mexico – one of the world’s largest – read more here.

Chemical fertilizers are also increasing in price, along with the fossil fuels required to make them, which is devastating for people in developing countries who have been sold the idea that they have to rely on these chemical fertilizers for productivity.

Finally, some of the nitrogen that runs off ends up converting into nitrous oxide, a particularly damaging greenhouse gas, with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most nitrous oxide production, by the way, is actually from cows and other livestock bred for meat, which create around 22 – 27 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef, the worst offender being Kobe beef at 36.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of beef. Peas and other pulses produce 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of food.

In addition to a low carbon footprint, peas and other legumes have a low water footprint. 1 kg of beef requires 43 times more water than 1 kg of legumes.


Human Health

All legumes are beneficial to health in several ways – they help to reduce cholesterol, control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, and increase lifespan in general, so what’s so special about peas? Their phytonutrient profile.

Coumestrol is a phytonutrient – a phytoestrogen – found in peas as well as soybeans, Brussels sprouts, spinach, alfalfa, and red clover. Coumestrol is thought to reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and prostate cancers. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, it may also play a role in helping with menopausal symptoms and digestive issues. Plants tend to contain higher levels of coumestrol when they have been damaged by aphids, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, so it may be part of the plants’ natural defense system, but this is currently not well-understood.

The scientific name for peas is pisum sativum, so you can guess where the phytonutrients ‘pisumsaponins’ and ‘pisomosides’ got their names from. They appear almost exclusively in peas. As a group, saponins engage in antitumor and antimutagenic (fighting gene mutation) behavior, as well as cholesterol reduction, antioxidant activity, and immune-function boosting. We do not yet know what the precise role of the pea’s unique blend of phytonutrients might be, but we do know that they’re both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Did you know that peas also have the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids necessary to absorb their fat-soluble vitamins, like beta-carotene & vitamin E? Small amounts of high-quality fats – just what the doctor ordered.

There’s something else rather interesting in peas – spermidine. Like pisumsaponins, you can probably guess where it was first discovered. No, not the whales. But it is also found in food, peas being at the top of the list along with whole grains, mushrooms, leafy greens, soybeans, pears, broccoli, cauliflower, other legumes, potatoes, corn, & mangoes. Though there are no completed human trials, studies on yeast, fruit flies, mice, and in vitro studies using human cells all suggest that spermidine may help to prolong lifespan by inducing ‘autophagy’ (also promoted by fasting). This is the process by which your cells take out the trash, so to speak. As we age, we tend to have less spermidine. As with almost everything that we are required to get from food, it’s probably not the best idea to take supplements. Spermidine also plays a role in cell growth and regulation, so it could be cancer-promoting in high concentrations. As always, the balance that is available in nature is most likely the balance that we evolved to be ideally suited to.

After reading all of this wonderful information about peas, I bet you’re excited to eat more of them! This recipe will accomplish just that. I first found the basis for it on Cookie + Kate, but my version is vegan, healthier, simpler, and cheaper (not that the original is expensive). It’s enough for 2 people, with the pesto liberally applied. I get annoyed with people who skimp on the sauce.

  • 2 c (300 g) peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 c (65 g) raw cashews
  • 1/4 c mint leaves (If you don’t like mint, substitute basil)
  • juice from half a lemon (1 T)
  • 1/3 c (80 ml) aquafaba
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water (take some of the cooking water from the peas or pasta)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (don’t add any salt if you’re using aquafaba from canned garbanzo beans)
  • 3 c cooked whole wheat pasta
  1. Blanch the peas.
  2. Add everything except for the pasta in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pre-soaking the cashews for 1 hr in hot water is a good idea, but not essential if you’re in a rush. This blog disagrees with that last part.
  3. Mix with pasta & serve!

Checklist items: 1 beans, nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18 servings in total

We got the recommended servings of everything today.

Recipe Review: 10-minute toddler-friendly pasta

I have a tendency to cook spice-heavy dishes. I love cumin, paprika, coriander, fennel seeds, caraway, turmeric, & fenugreek, to name a few, but it’s not for everybody.

In the region of France where I live, the craziest that people tend to get is a few dashes of nutmeg – people’s palates here are generally accustomed to much more salt, fat, & sugar (much like the standard American diet), and not to a lot of herbs and spices. I rarely have to tone it down for my partner, luckily, but if I’m cooking for his family, I have to be a little more conservative when it comes to the spice cupboard. I’ve found that the dishes my friends & family in the U.S. might consider to be “toddler-friendly” tend to go over better.

This particular recipe is an intersection – it’s friendly to the more subtle palate, and I happen to love it, too! It’s the second I’ve tried that uses a mix of hummus & tomato sauce very successfully. It was, for me, an unexpected match made in heaven. What is particularly nice about this recipe is that you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand as add-ins. They’re puréed and the flavor is masked by the stronger flavors of hummus and marinara, so little veggie-avoiders are none the wiser. If you’re making it for adults, well, most adults, you can leave the extra veggies whole. I like to add peas to the cooking pasta 2 minutes before it’s finished. It takes almost zero extra effort, and it’s both beautiful and tasty.

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I found the original recipe on Oh She Glows, one of my go-to sites for amazing vegan food. Many of the recipes I find there, I adapt by eliminating oils or reducing salt, but this one required no mucking about. The only thing I changed from the original was to exclude the hemp hearts – that’s not something I can get around here, and it’s not worth ordering online, for me. Visit the link above for lovely pictures and the original recipe. This is how I made it:

Ingredients
  • 6 c (715 g) cooked whole wheat pasta, which is 3 c (340 g) dry
  • 2 c (475 ml) marinara
  • 1/2 c (125 ml) hummus (store-bought tends to have a lot of oil, so follow the link for my oil-free hummus recipe)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 c (200+ g) chopped cauliflower or whatever other vegetable you want
Cooking Instructions

This one’s crazy fast & easy.

  1. Boil cauliflower for about 10 minutes, until softened, and drain. Remember, to get the most benefit from cauliflower, you can cut it 45 minutes before cooking it, or just mix a little bit of mustard powder into the finished dish.
  2. Combine marinara, hummus, cauliflower (or other vegetable), and garlic powder in a blender until thoroughly mixed.
  3. In a large pot, combine cooked pasta & sauce, and cook until heated through. You can skip this step if your pasta is hot off the stove, especially for younger kids – the hot pasta will warm up the sauce without making it too hot to eat right away.
Nutrition Information

This recipe is meant to feed 4 adults, so I used the appropriate amounts of pasta and cauliflower to fit in with the daily dozen. The information below is for 1 serving, or 1/4 of the above recipe, including the pasta.

10 minute pasta nutrition info
generated using cronometer.com

The high sodium content here is due in large part to the fact that I used a commercially produced marinara sauce to generate the nutrition facts. For a lower sodium content, make your own marinara or buy one that is low in sodium. My favorite thing about making my own marinara is that I can add as much tarragon as my heart desires. For me, that really makes the sauce. It’s the sole purpose for which I grow tarragon in my garden.

Hey, where is all that protein coming from? It’s not from that small amount of hummus. It’s actually mostly from the pasta! There’s a fair amount in the marinara sauce, too.

So, that got me thinking – I’ve heard people say loads of times that animal products provide us with so-called “complete” proteins, while vegan foods do not. I should look at the in-depth protein profile of whole wheat pasta versus a beefsteak! Here it is – can you tell which is which based on presence vs absence of any particular amino acids?

Incomplete protein
Generated to compare protein composition, assuming the same total amounts of protein, not the same amounts of food.  Made using cronometer.com

I’ll give you a hint – even though both contain higher amounts of glutamic acid than any other amino acid listed, it’s the highest in pasta. And that’s good news for vegans! Glutamic acid is essential for making glutamine, one of the most important amino acids. Glutamine is necessary in coping with stress and for recovery from illness and strenuous exercise. It even helps to reduce fat storage. Read more here about why scientists have referred to it as an “internal fountain of youth”.

Are any of the essential amino acids (the ones we must consume because we cannot synthesize them ourselves: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) missing from the pasta? No! They are not. So, let’s put all of this monkey-business about incomplete protein in vegan diets to rest, shall we?

Back to the recipe. So far, everyone who I’ve forced to eat this has liked it. And so do I! Plus it’s so cheap to make, and so fast & easy to put together, that I think it could easily become a staple for a lot of people who try it.

Checklist items: .5 beans, cruciferous, 1 other vegetables, spices, 3 whole grains (6.5 out of 18 servings)

For easy reference, here’s what you’ll need to round out the day:

  • 2.5 beans
  • berries
  • 3 other fruits
  • 2 greens
  • 1 other vegetables
  • flaxseeds
  • nuts

 

Today’s Health Morsel: Tempeh

 

 

breakfast_text

I like my fruity breakfasts, especially as the weather starts to get warmer. For me, a nice light breakfast is the best way to start the day.

  • 1/2 c strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 charentais melon

I sprinkle the flaxseed on top of the banana because, for me, the texture isn’t right with the melon or strawberries, but works well with the banana.

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

Dinner will be satisfying but somewhat heavy, so I want to have a lighter lunch and get in plenty of greens!

  • 1/4 c broccoli
  • 1/4 c cauliflower
  • 2 c chopped lettuce
  • 1/4 c red bell pepper
  • 1/8 c corn kernels
  • 1/4 c sunflower seeds
  • 1 c cooked black beans

I had my salad today with My Basic Dressing.

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 2 greens, .5 other vegetables, 1 nuts, .25 whole grains (6.75 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Normally, if you have the option of buying a processed, packaged food or its unprocessed original form (e.g., strawberries vs strawberry jam), the healthier option is the unprocessed whole food. Not the case with tempeh! Edamame/soybeans are actually somewhat less nutritious than tempeh.

Why? Well, if you look at tempeh, you can actually see the soybeans in it – it is a whole food, but a fermented one. The fermentation process adds nutritional value to the beans by making their proteins, vitamins, minerals, & phytonutrients more digestible, soluble, and bioavailable, as well as creating smaller proteins called peptides, some of which are unique to soy itself and carry their own health benefits.

Another quality fermentation adds to soy is antimutagenicity, meaning it helps to prevent gene mutation. This is important in fighting off damage to our DNA, and it’s not small potatoes since there are approximately 800 incidents per hour of DNA damage in our bodies, on average. If that damage goes unchecked, it can lead to cancer.

Those little peptides mentioned above are important, too, as they are part of what makes tempeh an antioxidant powerhouse and anti-inflammatory, in addition to being classified as ACE-inhibitors. The peptides also aid in blood pressure and blood sugar level regulation, and boost immune function. There is also research suggesting that some of these same unique soy peptides (again, only present in fermented soy products) may help to manage & prevent obesity. They’ve been shown to decrease the formation of some fatty acids and even to inhibit the body from depositing the fatty acids into fat cells. It will be interesting to see how this research progresses.

For more information about the amazing soybean, check out this podcast.

Another benefit of tempeh is that it contains zero cholesterol, and even helps to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Today, I’m making tempeh meatballs. 113 grams (4 oz.) of 95% lean ground beef contains 24 g of protein and >70 mg cholesterol. The same amount of tempeh contains >20 g of protein without that nasty stuff. As a package deal, I’ll take the tempeh!

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I got lucky in that I stumbled on this tempeh meatball concoction after trying only 2 or 3 so-so meatball recipes. I love it so much that I don’t want to take the risk of trying others and then being sad that they aren’t as good. As usual, I’ve made some changes from the original. This makes enough for 3 meals/people.

  • 100 g tempeh
  • 1 c vegetable stock or water
  • 1 T miso paste (also a product of fermented soybeans)
  • 1 T tamari (a byproduct of miso, thus, also fermented soy)
  • 1 lg onion
  • 1 lg clove garlic
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 tsps Italian seasoning (I use a mix of oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary, & sage)
  • 1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
  • 2/3 c whole wheat breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 c cooked white beans
  • 380 ml (1 2/3 c) marinara sauce
  • 57 g (6 oz) dry pasta (or 3 c cooked)
  1. Break tempeh into chunks and cook in a small saucepan with veggie stock or water and tamari until liquid is absorbed, using a spoon occasionally to break into ever-smaller pieces.
  2. In the meantime, sauté onion & garlic.
  3. Mix miso & tomato paste together.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the beans, pasta & marinara and mix well.
  5. Form into balls (mine are a/b 50 g each)
  6. Either bake them for 30 minutes at 180° C (350° F) or heat them in a non-stick pan until browned. No liquid necessary.
  7. In the meantime, boil whole wheat pasta and warm up marinara sauce & white beans.

Or, you can substitute the pasta for whole grain bread and make meatball subs! Also extremely yummy! The checklist items are for 1 serving, not for the entire recipe.

Checklist items: 1 beans, 1.5 other vegetables, 2 spices, 2.75 whole grains (7.25 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus an extra serving of spices.

Recipe Review: The Best Damn Vegan Sour Cream

The Quintessential Vegan Cream.

This stuff is absolutely amazing. It takes me 5 minutes to make. I’ve used it to replace sour cream, crème fraîche, mayonnaise, and cooking cream in dishes as diverse as tarts, cole slaw, and burritos. You can even use it in sweets. It serves as a base to which you can add any other flavors you’d like. The best part? It’s a delicious way to get your daily serving of nuts.

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It is, as advertised, The Best Damn Vegan Sour Cream. I use the recipe exactly as described by Savanna at Gluten-Free Vegan Pantry. This is the first recipe review in which I don’t recommend any changes. I even find the amount of salt to be appropriate. I tried adding more nutritional yeast once because I love it, and it just wasn’t as good, so now I stick to the original.

The recipe is repeated below for one reason – to make some of your lives easier by giving the ingredient amounts in metric (not available in the original).

  • 1 c. (135 g) raw cashew nuts, soaked for 8 hours or overnight
  • 1/4 c. + 2 T (90 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast (you might omit this for use in certain sweet items)
  • 1/2 c. (118 ml) water
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Throw everything in the blender and you’re done. In the original recipe, it says to blend for 5 – 7 minutes, but I get impatient and only blend for 3 – 4 minutes. It comes out really nice and creamy for me, but that may depend on your blender. Use the link given above to see lovely pictures of the ingredients and finished product.

More dilute than nut butters because about half the contents by volume are nuts, you can use about 4 T or 1/4 c. (60 ml) of cashew cream for one serving of nuts. I like to think about it this way: if I eat 2 sweet potato & black bean burritos, that’s 2 T for each burrito.

Vegan cashew cream has definitely added flavor to my meals, made more dishes possible, and helps me tick a box off my daily dozen with very little effort. This one’s a winner.

See my Sour Cream recipe page for more ideas on how to use this recipe as a base for other things.

Today’s Health Morsel: Lentils

Not a fan of lentils? That’s okay! Today’s lentil recipe is even a hit with non-lentil-lovers. The humble lentil is so inexpensive, yet filling and highly nutritious. I’ll get into that later, but first …

breakfast_text

I made a big fruit salad yesterday, containing 1 pineapple, 2 passion fruit, 3 plums, 1 particularly large mango, & 2 kiwi. I’ll have some of that for breakfast!

  • 2 c. fruit salad sprinkled with 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1/2 c. blueberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruit, flaxseed (5 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

I’ll be getting all my bean & grain servings at dinner, but not much in the way of veg, so I’m having a very vegetable-heavy lunch (a.k.a., a salad).

  • 2 c. lettuce and arugula, chopped
  • 1/4 c. red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. red onion
  • 1/4 c. cucumber
  • 1/4 c. corn kernels
  • 1/4 c. walnuts

I had my salad with My Basic Dressing.

Checklist items: 2 greens, 2 other vegetables, nuts (5 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

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Ah. The lowly lentil. A quick read into the history of lentils leaves one with the impression that mankind may not have evolved like we did if not for the lentil. This was one of the first plants ever to be cultivated, and lentils have been eaten by our kind since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found 8000 year-old lentil seeds at dig sites in the Middle East, and evidence suggests we may have been eating them as much as 13,000 years ago. And that just goes to show that, even though our species can be pretty stupid at times, we do have some brains. Lentils are among the best foods that you could possibly put into your body. And here’s why…

Among legumes, only black beans top lentils in terms of antioxidant power. For protein, iron, zinc, & folate, red lentils come in first, followed closely by puy & green lentils. This data, however, does not include information on beluga lentils which, like black beans, have a black skin jam-packed with anthocyanin. I would be interested to see whether they might even beat out black beans for antioxidant power. The reason I think they might is based on simple geometry: all else being roughly equal, the smaller object should have a larger surface-area-to-volume ratio. Thus, the lentil should have more skin as a percentage of its total than the black bean. Since the antioxidants are in the skin, the beluga lentil may actually have higher antioxidant power. I’m sure we’ll find out someday.

Lentils have a higher fiber content than almost anything else. For a fiber chart and all the information you (n)ever wanted to know about fiber, visit this page. Here’s a couple of highlights: first, all that soluble fiber helps to lower cholesterol by trapping cholesterol-containing bile & “ushering” it out of your system. Second, fiber also helps to regulate & stabilize blood sugar levels.

Another good reason to eat lentils is their iron content. Richer in iron than anything but soybeans, lentils can help maintain healthy metabolism, produce energy, & maintain hemoglobin. Foods rich in vitamin C (e.g., broccoli, bell peppers, & brussels sprouts) help to increase plant-based iron absorption if eaten at the same meal (learn more about different types of iron here). But avoid coffee & tea, as they impair iron absorption. According to the Iron Disorders Institute, this is due, at least in part, to polyphenols & tannins rather than caffeine. For more info about iron & a list of foods highest in iron, visit this page.

If you have high homocysteine levels in your blood from a history of consuming animal products, the folate in lentils (along with vitamin B6, of which lentils are also a good source, and vitamin B12) will help to lower those levels, reducing both damage to your arteries, and your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, a daily dose of lentils (or peas or beans) is important for prostate health.

All that research has made me hungry: now, for dinner!

This will serve 2 – 3 people, depending on appetite. For the checklist items at the end, I assume you bring your appetite. What am I making? Misr Wat. It’s an Ethiopian dish of lentils with Berbere spice blend, to which I add kale. It is traditionally served with injera – similar to a crêpe – but I’m serving it over black rice. If you can get your hands on some  real injera made with teff, a whole grain, that would also be a good option. This dish is great for rainy or cold days, as it is hearty and satisfying. 

  • 3 c. cooked black rice (a/b 1 c. dry)
  • 1 c. red lentils
  • 1 c. finely chopped kale
  • 3 c. (900 ml) vegetable bouillon or water
  • 3 T tomato paste
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 1 1/2 T Berbere spice mix
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
  1. Sauté the onions, garlic, & ginger in water or bouillon, like this.
  2. Stir in tomato paste & Berbere spice mix, and continue cooking for about 1 minute as you combine everything.
  3. Slowly add bouillon, whisking until the mixture is smooth, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add lentils & kale, and simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  5. Turn off the burner, and stir in lime juice.
  6. Serve over black rice and sprinkle with cilantro.

Checklist items: 3 beans, cruciferous, .5 other vegetables, spices, 3 whole grains (8.5 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

18.5 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus half an extra serving of other vegetables.

Recipe Review: Root vegetable tagine

I found the original recipe for Root Vegetable Tagine on Epicurious. It’s by a woman named Molly Stevens and, looking at her profile, I can see that it’s definitely one of those accidentally-vegan recipes. I’ve made it a few times now, and have perfected it to my  own taste. The original recipe totally didn’t work for me, but I saw the potential and I did find that with just a few small changes, the recipe got not only seriously yummy, but also healthier, cheaper and quicker to make than the original! Wins all around! Here it is as I made it (and many thanks to Molly Stevens for the inspiration):

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The Recipe
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 large carrots (I chopped the carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes and celery rather small in order to cook them quickly)
  • 3 small turnips
  • 1 large celery stalk or a chunk of celeriac, roughly apple-sized (I used the latter)
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, well-washed, skin-ON
  • 1 c. garbanzo beans
  • 1 c. bulgur (dry)
  • 4 c. vegetable broth (preferably homemade) or increase to 6 c. if you wish to cook the bulgur in broth rather than water
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 c. fresh mint, chopped

The original recipe called for 3 T olive oil, 3/4 c. olives, 1/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes, 1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper, only 1/4 tsp turmeric, and a whopping 4 1/2 tsps of salt, all of which I omitted. The salt was supposed to go into making preserved lemons, which I also left out simply to save some time. The lemon juice, which was meant for the preserved lemons, I repurposed by adding it to the tagine directly.

I did use 1/4 tsp of salt. I only left out the red pepper flakes because the last two dinners I’ve made have been seriously spicy, and I just wasn’t in the mood for a third.

The first time that I made the recipe, I included the olives and the sun-dried tomatoes. I absolutely hated the olives in this dish, though I’m an olive lover in general. For me, they just didn’t fit. The second time I made it, I decided that I didn’t really enjoy the sun-dried tomatoes, either, even though I’m generally a HUGE fan of them. Losing both of these items significantly reduces the cost of making this dish, while also reducing the salt  & oil contents, making it healthier.

I used vegetable broth in place of the water called for in the original to add another level of nutrients.

I also used far more herbs than the original recipe, which only called for 2 T cilantro and 1 tsp dried mint. In my opinion, if you’ve got more salt than mint in your recipe, something is off! I wanted to make my bulgur a little more bright and tabbouleh-ish to balance out the richness of the root veg.

I used regular old garbanzos rather than the spice-roasted ones called for, simply to reduce the amount of time it would take to pull this recipe together.

Last but not least, I used bulgur, a whole grain, rather than couscous, which is essentially a  type of pasta made with semolina flour.

Cooking Instructions

I did several things differently, so rather than refer you to the original recipe for instructions, I’ll tell you exactly what I did.

  1. Toast the spice seeds in a pan on medium heat until they become quite fragrant, just 2 or 3 minutes, then grind them and mix in the turmeric and salt.
  2. In a large pan, sauté the onions in a little of the broth until translucent, then add the garlic, and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes.
  3. Add the spices, tomato paste, and 4 c. broth; stir until the tomato paste is fully incorporated into the broth.
  4. Add the vegetables and the garbanzo beans.
  5. Cook, covered and on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes, depending on the size of the cut.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the bulgur as instructed on the box, using broth rather than water, if desired. Once it’s ready, stir and allow to cool a little.
  7. Add the fresh herbs to the bulgur and stir them in.
  8. Serve the vegetables on top of the bulgur.
Nutrition Information

This recipe will feed 3 people with a hearty appetite. The nutrition information below is for 1/3 of the recipe as made here, with one exception – I didn’t include the use of my homemade vegetable broth in place of water. Also, I assumed canned garbanzo beans. Using cooked-from-dry will lower sodium content.

Root veg tagine nutrition info
generated using cronometer.com

 

Checklist items: just under 1 beans, just under 1 cruciferous, .5 greens, 3 other vegetables, spices, 2 whole grains (about 8 out of 18 servings)

For easy reference, here’s what you’ll need to round out the day:

  • 2 beans
  • berries
  • 3 other fruits
  • 1.5 greens
  • flaxseeds
  • nuts
  •  1 whole grains

And now I’m really wishing I were having this for dinner tonight! I’ll definitely be making it again very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Health Morsel: Mustard Greens

A fruity breakfast, a quick but delicious and incredibly healthy lunch, and a humble dinner of split pea soup. Plus, I’ll explain why steamed mustard greens are a seasonal treat you should definitely take advantage of!

breakfast_text

  • 1 banana
  • 1 kaki fruit
  • 1/4 c. dried figs
  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c. raspberries
  • 1/4 c. cashews

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruit, flaxseed (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

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From 1 cup of cooked mustard greens, you get 96% of your daily requirement of Vitamin A. Mustard greens are especially high in the A-vitamin forms lutein, zeaxanthin, & beta-carotene. These are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, support immune function, proper cell growth & communication, and eyesight. Vitamin K is also abundant in mustard in greens, with 1 cup blowing away your daily required intake. The anti-inflammatory effect of this vitamin helps to protect against chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease.

Mustard greens also help to lower cholesterol: certain nutrients in the fiber of the plant bind bile acids, causing them to get ‘stuck’ in the digestive tract, leading to excretion. The liver uses cholesterol to make bile acids, so the more are bound, the more cholesterol the body uses up. In a head-to-head study, mustard greens bound 34% the amount of bile acids as the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine. Kale bound 43%, and collard greens a whopping 46%! By eliminating animal products from the diet (the only source of cholesterol) and eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, many people have been able to reduce or stop taking cholesterol-lowering medications.

Glucosinolate is found in mustard greens in larger quantities than any other cruciferous vegetable with the exception of brussels sprouts. It is a phytonutrient, contained specifically in cruciferous vegetables, which is turned by your body into the strong cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. Like in other cruciferous veggies, these anti-cancer agents form from the combination of 2 elements released by cutting or breaking the plant tissue. To allow for the full effectiveness to develop, you can chop the greens 40 minutes before cooking them (since only one of the elements survives the heat of cooking) or you can add powdered mustard seed to your dish after cooking.

Studies looking at cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, lungs, prostate, & ovaries have found mustard greens to be effective in cancer prevention, and even reversal. So, here’s how I used my mustard greens today…

  • 1/4 c. parsnips, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 c. mushrooms, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 c. celeriac, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 c. mustard greens, chopped
  • herbes de provence, to taste
  • s&p, to taste
  • 1 1/2 T tomato paste
  • corn tortilla
  • mustard
  • powdered mustard seed, if using
  1. Water-sauté the parsnips & mushrooms on medium heat, letting them caramelize
  2. Add celeriac, tomato paste, herbes de provence, & 1/2 c. water, and cook until the celeriac begins to soften, 10 to 15 minutes
  3. Add mustard greens and cook until water is fully evaporated
  4. Serve wrapped in a corn tortilla, with mustard

Checklist items: cruciferous, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices, 1 whole grains (6 out of 18 servings)


dinner_text

Dinner is almost too simple, but it definitely fits the bill to round off today’s daily dozen.

  • 1 c. split peas (cooked)
  • 1/2 c. tempeh, cubed
  • 1 c. raw mustard greens, chopped
  • 1/4 c. shallot
  • 1/4 c. carrot
  • paprika

I made a simple soup with the peas, shallot, & carrots (something like this), and added the tempeh cubes and mustard greens at the end. You could use a liquid smoke to flavor the tempeh, if desired. It does appear to be safe. Enjoy the soup with a whole grain bagel.

Checklist items: 3 beans, 1 greens, 1 other vegetables,  spices, 2 whole grains (8 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

20 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus one extra serving each of other vegetables and spices.

Today’s Health Morsel: Black Beans

I start out with a big fruity breakfast, then a hearty bowl of soup for lunch, and an Asian-inspired dinner that is based on black beans. Plus I’ll explain why black beans are such a large part of my diet and one of the things I always have in my pantry. I’m so lucky to have them as my favorite bean!

breakfast_text

  • 1 banana
  • 1 kaki fruit
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1 T. ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 c. berries
  • 1/4 c. nuts

I sprinkled the flaxseed over the fresh fruit. It goes best with the banana because of it’s nutty flavor.

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruit, flaxseeds, nuts (6 out of 18 servings)


lunch_text

For lunch, I just threw together a quick soup of:

  • 1/2 c. purple carrots
  • 1/2 c. black beans
  • 1 c. spinach
  • 1/2 c. mushrooms
  • 1 T. ginger, minced
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1 T. turmeric
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • a tiny bit of cinnamon

Checklist items: 1 beans, 1 greens, 2 other vegetables, spices (5 out of 18 items)


dinner_text

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Black beans are super awesome, because they have all the benefits of legumes plus black & purple foods. Black beans are loaded with both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. They are especially supportive of the health of the digestive tract, the colon in particular. The indigestible fraction of black beans is relatively high, which is probably why they are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer in some studies.

From 1 c. black beans you get 15 g of fiber and 15 g protein. Only legumes contain this “almost magical” (according to whfoods.com) combination, beneficial for blood sugar regulation, regular digestive processes, and cardiovascular health.

Just one word of warning: they are high in oxalate content, so anyone needing to follow a low oxalate diet for medical reasons may need to minimize black bean intake.

Unlike vegetables, legumes don’t lose nutritional content when canned, so feel free to buy canned beans in order to save yourself time – just be aware that some brands (perhaps I should say many brands) add extra salt and other additives. You’ll also want to make sure you buy cans that are BPA-free.

If you opt to cook the beans from dried (as I do), soak them first if you can plan enough ahead. Soaking beans overnight before cooking them improves the health benefits. Now, I know that there is debate over whether to throw out the soaking water or not. I’ve decided to follow this advice and toss it. If you don’t have time to soak, no worries! It’s not necessary. I like to use a pressure cooker to cook the beans, because it cuts down drastically on the cooking time (and thus saves some electricity or gas or whatever you use to power your stove.)

The recipe I’m making today is one I made up myself. I love sauces that I can make by just throwing everything in the blender! This is one of those. The full recipe for the sauce is here.

  1. Water-saute the bok choy
  2. Add beans and sauce and cook until heated through
  3. Pour over the pasta or noodles

Checklist items: 2 beans, cruciferous, 1 greens, spices, 3 whole grains (8 out of 18 servings)

* the amount of bok choy is enough for 1 serving of cruciferous and 1 serving of greens


Taking account of the day:

19 servings in total

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus an extra serving of spices.

Today’s Health Morsel: Sweet Potatoes

Friday is burger day in my house, so today’s daily dozen is planned around sweet potato black bean burgers. Plus, I’ll explain why you should remove the skin of regular potatoes, but keep the skin of sweet potatoes.

breakfast_text

What do you do when all the fruit you bought doesn’t fit into your fruit salad container? Eat it for breakfast!

  • 1/2 charentais melon (a/b 2 c.)
  • 1/4 c. dates
  • 1/2 c. blueberries

Checklist items: berries, 3 other fruits (4 out of 18 servings)


 

lunch_text

Beans & greens is such a great lunch, b/c it can be something hot or cold, for any time of year. Today, I’ve got a 3-bean salad with a twist.

  • 1/2 c. borlotti beans
  • 1/2 c. kidney beans
  • 2 c. chopped batavia lettuce
  • 1/4 c. cannellini beans
  • 1 sm. garlic clove, minced
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T mustard
  • 2 T chopped fresh dill
  • s & p
  • 1 T ground flaxseed
  • 1/8 c. sunflower seeds
  1. Add the borlotti & kidney beans to a salad bowl along with the arugula & lettuce.
  2. Put the cannellini into a blender, along with the garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, dill, and s & p, and blend until creamy. Add aquafaba if necessary to thin the dressing to your desired texture.
  3. Mix the dressing into the beans and let stand in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If you can prepare it the day before you plan to eat it, the flavors will marry even better.
  4. Sprinkle ground flaxseed and sunflower seeds on before serving.

Checklist items: 2 1/2 beans, 2 greens, flaxseed, 1/2 nuts, spices (7 out of 18 servings)


 

dinner_text

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The healthiest potato is the one with the most color. Purple sweet potatoes appear to have more cancer-fighting ability than any other potato, but a regular old sweet potato has been named one of the top 10 healthiest foods on the planet, especially considering bang-for-your-buck!

So, what’s the best way to cook them? They’re so good for that you can cook them however you’d like, except, of course, for deep frying. But if you really want to squeeze as much benefit as you can from every ounce of sweet potato, then you’ll want to boil them – this cooking method best retains the vitamins & antioxidant capacity. You’ll want to leave the skin of your sweet potatoes on, because the skin contains 10x the antioxidant capacity compared to the flesh (as long as you don’t bake it).

Unlike other potato varieties, sweet potatoes don’t contain glycoalkaloids. Glycoalkaloids are natural pesticides & fungicides that plants in the nightshade family produce themselves. Unfortunately, they’re toxic for humans, too. Glycoalkaloids are mostly in the skin and eyes of potatoes, which is why it’s important to remove them. How you store your potatoes can also make a difference – both light and heat increase the production of glycoalkaloids, so you’ll want to keep your potatoes in a cool, dark place. Learn more here. Sweet potatoes don’t produce glycoalkaloids because they aren’t members of the nightshade family.

What happens when you overdose on sweet potatoes? Like with carrots, you could go a bit yellow around the nose. But it’s completely harmless, and goes away on its own after some time, so no need to worry. (See sources)

The recipe I’m making today comes from Minimalist Baker. See my review, along with the changes that I made, and the original recipe is here. I’ve included the checklist below for easy reference. It’s for the recipe as I made it, and includes the bun and toppings.wp-1475230963677.jpg

Checklist items: 2/3 serving beans, cruciferous, 2 other vegetables , 1/2 nuts, spices, 3 whole grains (a little more than 8 out of 18 servings)


Taking account of the day:

19 1/6 servings in total.

We got at least the minimum recommended servings of everything today, plus a little bit extra beans, and an extra servings of spices.