Today’s Harvest

If you want to take a break from Gaudí while in Barcelona but not completely escape the fantasy of his work, why don’t you go to the source of his inspiration… nature! and see what it has to offer: a good place to start is: La Boqueria… at first glance from the Las Ramblas street, La Boqueria seems like yet another produce market, but once I stepped into it, I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling into the rabbit hall and onto an imaginary world where all my culinary fantasies were on creative display, in rich colors and abundance! It’s like a museum of Catalonian culinary tastes had come to life and I was invited… My main challenge though: for the most part, no pictures were allowed (they seem to think they’re a museum too!) but I still managed to get you some!

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Produce from Paradise

Stopped by a farmers’ market in the small town of Hanalei (Kaua’i island) yesterday and indulged in some exotic organic local produce. The fruits here tasted phenomenal! The main event was my açaí breakfast cup, a blend of nutrients straight from heaven! Açaí is a berry rich in antioxidants and fiber which makes it a heart-healthy and anti-cancer superfood.

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Chéri Chicory

Chicory

Chicory

Lately, chicory is on my mind as I crave a good vegetarian winter dish!

I don’t find chicory very often in stores here, but when I do I take great advantage: I eat it raw as a snack! Now you’re probably imagining a farm pet munching on a grassy meadow, that’s not exactly the case, although I don’t hate the bitterness of its raw leaves, I only snack on the un-leafy stem part of chicory, which is less bitter, crunchy and has a rich taste that makes celery so dull in comparison (you’re probably still imagining a munching pet; my husband often tells me that I should have been born as a bunny, I take that).

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Chicory – Leaves and stems separated
While leaves can be used for cooking or in salads, stems are a great, crunchy and refreshing snack.

I also prepare chicory as a salad with a light, homemade vinaigrette (olive oil, lemon juice and herbs). However, the ultimate way to really savor the best of chicory is to cook it for a short time in boiling water then sauté it with caramelized onions and lemon juice… so yummy with pita bread!

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A popular countryside vegetarian meal in the Middle East
An assortment of sautéed chicory or dandelion with pita bread, cabbage-and-tomato salad, lentil-and-rice pilaf and greek yogurt

Chicory is a preferred ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Wild and cultivated varieties are both popular. They are mainly used in salads nevertheless they can be a perfect replacement to any leafy vegetable in many cooked dishes. From Provence to the Middle East recipes abound and vary but chicory’s draw is the same: an appetizing taste, a medicinal character (detoxing, diuretic and tonic) and a great nutritional content. Chicory is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals mainly folic acid, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C.

Bringing Veggies Back!

Edamame

Whether at your doctor, the dietician clinic, in health awareness ads, books and magazines or through Michelle Obama’s inspiring anti-obesity campaign, you’ve probably been lectured one way or another about the importance of “getting your kids to eat their veggies!” Still, many kids have little or no interest in eating vegetables and therefore lack essential nutrients in their diet. Here are my TOP 5 TIPS on making sure you get your child on the right veggie-track:

  1. Start early because your kid’s food preferences are like pottery and become harder to change as they solidify with time.
  2. Be consistent and proactive in making sure that you offer your kid healthy choices and avoiding that your precious little one develops a picky-eater habit.
  3. Make this a family project by setting a good example and making sure that any brothers and/or sisters are setting a good example as well. Kids love emulating their parents and siblings.
  4. Make food time fun by letting your kid count his peas, learn how to say the color of a carrot, the texture of a spongy eggplant (yes a raw eggplant!) and laugh at the bizarre new taste of a lemon!
  5. Give your kid some autonomy with the veggies! Kids love to discover things on their own and can develop an aversion to things when they are forced upon them. So as the choking hazard dissipates, let your kid enjoy some healthy veggie food finger choices: Fava beans, chickpeas, celery, cucumber and red pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes and steamed Brussels sprouts (cut in halves), steamed broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus…

You’ll be surprised how moldable kids are at an early age! In no time, they’ll be looking for the spinach in their plate and snacking on celery!

My 2-year-old daughter loves the sweet-ish nutty taste and tender texture of edamame. Many think of edamame simply as a bean appetizer at their favorite Japanese restaurant but their benefits far surpass this occasional treat. Edamame soy beans are usually sold in frozen packages in most grocery stores and make a great addition to one’s diet either as a snack, an ingredient in stir-fried or sautéed dishes or in a soup. They have the veggie baggage (rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) boosted with rich protein content making them a meat substitute and also contain a small amount of unsaturated fat (the good type of fat). My daughter usually enjoys them as a snack but when there is no cooked meal in sight, I throw a bunch of steamed edemame in a plate, coupled with some cubes of cheddar cheese and some cherry tomatoes and Voilà! Lunch is ready!

Keep an eye out for allergies as you are introducing new food to your child’s diet. In effect a small percentage of children are allergic to soy. 

Summer Soups

Foodies! Delight in the last days of summer with my selection of refreshing seasonal soups!

Soup “is the new black”! Tummy friendly as it consists mostly of cooked and/or blended ingredients, it is usually light in Kcal particularly when it’s a potage or a clear soup instead of creamy and is super nutritious since it is mostly or entirely a combination of veggies full with essential nutrients. Soup can easily replace a complete meal when it’s a combination of veggies, protein and complex carbs. While most people think of soup as a way to keep warm in the winter, soup is really fabulous all year round! What’s better than a zesty Gazpacho or a Minty cucumber with yogurt during those last days of summer?

Gazpacho

It is a soup originally from Spain prepared nowadays mainly with tomato, cucumber, red pepper and onion. It is basically a blended salad. That makes it even better than many other soups whose ingredients loose many of their nutrients in the cooking process. It’s super quick and easy to prepare if you have a blender and could be made in a big batch and stored in the fridge to be served later in many ways like an appetizer, a main course with a side or simply as a refreshing and super healthy drink.

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Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 4 medium tomatoes finely chopped
  • 2 small cucumbers finely chopped
  • ½ red pepper finely chopped
  • ½ red onion finely chopped
  • 1 small Jalapeno pepper chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic chopped
  • 700 ml tomato juice
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 40 ml or extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp of ground cumin
  • ½ tsp of fresh ground pepper
  • Salt (optional, take into consideration that the tomato juice used covers for the salt unless it’s homemade or unsalted)

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Place ½ of the amount of the chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, onion into the blender bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix. Let it chill in the fridge then serve topped with the rest of the chopped veggies.

Minty cucumber with yogurt

It is my favorite summer soup. Cucumber itself is very refreshing and hydrating as its main component is water (96% water). It’s also a diuretic, that means it helps flushing out water surplus and toxins. Choose this soup for stocking up on protein, Calcium and
vitamin D. Try my mom’s recipe; it’s the simplest and the easiest:

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Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (~500g) plain low fat or fat free yogurt (preferably Greek yogurt)
  • 1½ cup (~375 ml) water
  • 5 Persian cucumbers or 2 large cucumbers
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed dry mint
  • ½ tsp salt

Chop cucumbers finely. I prefer to keep the skin particularly if the cucumbers are organically grown and that’s because a major part of the cucumber nutrients are found in its skin! Also the deep green color of the skin makes a great color contrast with the yogurt. Mash garlic. Add the water to the yogurt and mix to make it more liquidy. Add the cucumbers, garlic, salt and mint and mix with a spatula or a kitchen spoon. This soup can be a perfect match for a wide variety of dishes.