Go Nuts!

Nuts often get a bad rap for being high in calories but a handful of nuts is a fantastic crunchy and nutritious daily addition to your diet. Not only are they flavorful and filling but in fact, they make an excellent source of vegan protein and are high in fiber and other power nutrients such as phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and Omega-3. It’s currently harvest season for walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and pecan and they are at their peak in taste and nutritious value, so squirrel some away and enrich your meals and snacks!

Here’s what I found in my local market in Chelsea today:

Go Nuts!

Walnuts’ power: Omega-3 fats  lower LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and blood pressure

Hazelnuts’ power: Vitamin E  antioxidant properties associated with a stronger immunity and healthier skin and eyes

Chestnuts’ power: Fiber  lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease

Pecans’ power: Antioxidants  help protect our cells from damages such as cancer

The best way to enjoy nuts is to munch on them raw or to dry-roast them lightly in a pan for 3 to 5 minutes (no burning as it takes away from their nutrition value). Stay away from salted and flavored varieties!

Nuts are also a delightful add-on in so many recipes but here are some basic add-on tips:

  • Scrumptiously enjoy them in your breakfast by sprinkling some in your bowl of milk & cereal or cup of granola & yogurt
  • Make your salads more filling by adding a handful of nuts
  • Complement your steamed rice with some roasted or stir-fried nuts

So many ways to go nuts!

Last Days of Winter

The last stretch of winter is the toughest. You’re sick and tired of the gloomy weather, beaten by the cold and worn-out by the toll of heavy coats and layers on your shoulders. When these blues hit me, I take shelter in my kitchen where I always end up finding my remedy: Hello food innovation! Here are a couple of cold-weather-worthy recipes to try shortly before kissing wintertime goodbye!

Cabbage Cigars

photo 1-19I find that cabbage is usually not given its turn in most people’s diet from both gastronomical and nutritional perspectives. When raw, it’s commonly associated with abdominal conditions (such as bloating and flatulence) and is often kept away from cooking pots, as many find the smell of dissipating sulfur compounds in cooked cabbage unpleasant. Work around its minimal drawbacks and you’ll discern a smooth texture, a sumptuous flavor and a distinguished comfort in this winter veggie, a really great fix for cold days! You’ll also benefit from a great dose of vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin C and folic acid in as little as 20 calories in a serving (75g).

Here is my favorite approach to savor cabbage:

*For a better digestion: parboil before cooking

*To mask its sulfuric smell: add some lemon juice and/or herbs (such as fresh or dried mint) to the cooking water

Cabbage Cigars is a melting-in-mouth dish! Cabbage leaves are stuffed in minced beef, rice and spices and seasoned with sautéed onion, garlic, mint and lemon juice. Here’s my recipe:

(Makes 6 servings)

1 whole cabbage

Filling:

  • 1 cup of sushi or Egyptian rice
  • ½ lbs. of ground beef
  • 1 tsp. of each: black pepper, allspice, ground cinnamon and salt

Seasoning:

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic peeled (half of the cloves mashed and the other half left to distribute between rolls)
  • 3 Tsp. of crushed (dried or fresh) mint
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cup of water (or just enough to cover the cabbage in pot)
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil

Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water until they are tender. Cut the leaves in half if necessary and take the thick stems out (save them to line pot). Mix the meat with rice and spices and put aside. Stir-fry onion, garlic and mint in vegetable oil in the bottom of the pot then line the pot with the cabbage stems. Stuff the leaves by placing a tablespoon of the filling mixture in the middle and rolling it like a cigar. Place each stuffed leaf in the pot, one tight layer at a time. Add some garlic cloves here and there. Place a small plate on the cabbage rolls to hold them in place and to avoid the stuffing from coming out. Pour the lemon juice over the rolls and add water to cover the cabbage. Cook for about 1 hour over low heat or until the leaves are very tender and the stuffing is well cooked. Serve warm with plain Greek yogurt or with a minty cucumber yogurt accompaniment. Yum, trop chou!

Spinach Stew 

photo 2-16

Spinach is a treasure food for a light and healthy cuisine. Rich in water, super light in calories and unlike other veggies, its nutritional profile is enhanced once it’s cooked. Known for being packed in iron, thanks to Popeye, spinach also provides an exceptional amount of other vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin K, magnesium and manganese). Furthermore, some antioxidants in spinach are particularly beneficial for the eyes.

Spinach stew is a zesty wholesome dish, a great consolation on cooler days. Moreover, lemon complements spinach perfectly as it enhances beautifully its flavor and improves iron absorption. Here’s my recipe:

Makes 6 servings

  • 1 kg of  frozen chopped spinach
  • ½ lbs. minced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup Lemon juice
  • 1 bouquet of fresh cilantro
  • ½ tsp. of: black pepper, allspice, 7 spice mixture (optional)
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups of water

Blend the garlic and cilantro into a paste and stir-fry it in vegetable oil on the side. Stir-fry the onion in main pot with the rest of the vegetable oil. Add the meat and cook it while breaking it into very small pieces. Add the spices and salt. Cover the meat with the spinach and add water. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, cilantro-garlic paste, and stir all the ingredients together. Cover the pot again and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve warm with whole grain rice.

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).

photo 2

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!

photo 1

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.