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Forty Salads Later…the Salad Sisters Return!

March 20, 2012

Back in January, the Salad Sisters – my colleague Sarah Dwyer and I –  reported on the salad alchemy that was inspiring us to share our greens and build unique salads for lunch. We are happy to report that the momentum continues! Over the winter months we’ve learned to make our salad architecture cook by relying on winter vegetables, nuts, specialty vinegars, and a few pantry staples. Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to:

Homemade Dressings. We mention this first, not last. A good dressing absolutely makes a salad and elevates it from tasty to over the top delicious. Our favorites are nut-based. I’m perfecting a blend of peanut butter, tamari, fig vinegar, agave, and curry powder. Sarah has mastered a mix of red peppers, raw cashews, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, salt and nut milk.  (Yesterday, in a pinch, we brewed up a great dressing by mixing together black bean hummus, hot sauce, and white wine.)  We find ourselves combing the supermarket aisles for new vinegars and find it hard to live without pear, fig, and balsamic.

We love to make the dressings thick enough to pour them out as ribbons to wrap our built creations. We don’t toss. We just get to work with our forks and go exploring and mixing as we eat.

Vegetables. Of course, we go for greens in every salad, from baby spinach, arugula, and red romaine to bok choy and thin slivers of Swiss chard or a handful of tender baby kale. But these represent just one layer. Over the past weeks we’ve relied on sliced green and red cabbage, shredded carrots, slivered fennel, red, green, and yellow peppers, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocados, too. (I’ll also add pomegranates here. We’re not crazy about fruit in these salads, but pomegranate seeds are too delicious and pretty not to include and there’s no where else to mention them.)

Leftovers. Cooked vegetables and just about anything else leftover from dinner have made their way, cold, into our salads, too. We are the queens of recycling leftovers.  Grain salads, bean dishes, pasta mixtures, roasted winter vegetables (sweet potato fries with lots of cumin – yum!).  A hands-down winner was spaghetti squash, tossed with a spinach-walnut pesto, which we added in little dollops here and there, to make sure we were paying attention to what we ate.

Pantry Staples. We search our shelves at home for grace notes such as roasted peppers, olives, and capers, all of which add little surprises around the greens. And from the freezer we use baby peas and fire-roasted corn. If we put them out on the counter when we start to build our salads they’re thawed by the time they need to go in.

Whole Grains. We’ve truly gotten on top of our whole grain cooking this winter, making up pots of freekeh, farro, red, purple, and brown rice, barley (especially black), quinoa (have you tried red?), and coarse bulgur, and freezing extras for salads.  I’ve been experimenting with vegetable patés and loaves, blending whole grains with sweet potatoes and seasonings. We love adding little dollops of these mixtures to our salads, again, to make sure we pay attention as we eat. They also keep us full longer and guarantee that we don’t try to make a second salad before going home.

We’re including a few pictures of our favorite salads so far. Aren’t they stunning? Without realizing it, our salad daze has turned us into a couple of part-time raw foodists, inspiring us to put more uncooked veggies into smoothies, sandwiches, and spreads.  We’re salad addicts, too. We now crave nothing but our salads for lunch. We think about them when it isn’t meal time, and can’t wait to find out what we’ll make tomorrow.

Best of all, we feel terrific. Sarah has been running more miles than ever before, and I’m delighted to have vinegar in my veins.

Won’t you join us and make a salad for yourself today?



Spice Up Your Food. Walk. Drink Wine. Get Healthy.

March 14, 2012

If you think that losing weight and improving your health has to involve a dreary regimen of eating bland, tasteless food and fitting long gym visits into your busy schedule, we’ve got a happy surprise for you: A few easy, pleasant changes can make a big difference, according to recent research.

Spice Up Your Food.  Researchers at Penn State (including our friend, Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton) fed a small group of six overweight men a high-fat meal without spices, then the same meal a week later with the addition of a zesty dose of spices. Blood tests before and after both meals showed that the spicy meal cut the production of insulin by 21% and the production of triglycerides by 31%, while also raising the body’s antioxidant defenses.

The test meal in this case included turmeric, garlic, oregano, paprika, rosemary and ginger. What a great way to lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes! Check out our recipes and treat yourself to a spicy meal today. Dishes from traditional diets around the world are full of delicious spices and herbs.

Take a Hike.  Another new study on the benefits of walking also caught our attention. University of Missouri researchers asked a group of active volunteers to record their steps. Puttering around normally for three days, the volunteers (average age 29) logged more than 10,000 steps a day – an amount widely recognized to support good health. The researchers then asked the volunteers to cut their activity to less than 5,000 steps a day – an amount more typical of most Americans – while eating the same amounts and types of foods. With less activity, the volunteers’ blood sugar spiked 26% after eating, compared to little or no blood swings when they were active.

Keeping blood sugar level reduces your risk of diabetes, and helps keep energy levels steady – which in turn helps you avoid the temptations of the vending machine. I bought a simple pedometer after I read this study, and now find myself walking around the kitchen while I wait for a pot to boil, and taking the stairs instead of the escalator on the way to work. Just a little more movement, worked into my daily life, can make a big difference!

Sip a Little Wine. A third study, published in the March 8 issue of the American Heart Association journal Stroke, looked at more than 83,000 women over a period of 26 years, to compare their drinking habits to their stroke incidence. Like earlier studies showing the benefits of moderate drinking, this one from Brigham and Women’s Hospital here in Boston found that up to one glass of wine a day cut women’s stroke risk. But take it easy – heavy drinkers didn’t benefit more.

All of this simply echoes the Oldways philosophy of the pleasures of the table, traditional diets, and everyday movement. Somehow, however, seeing these three studies within days of each other gave me new inspiration. Gonna go enjoy a little spicy Inzimino with a glass of wine, then walk a mile to my chorus rehearsal. To your health!


Turning Hummus Up a ‘Beet’

March 13, 2012

When nutrition experts urge us to include more colors on our plates, we don’t typically think of hues like “deep fuschia” or “mint green”, unless we’re talking about cotton candy or mint-chocolate-chip ice cream.

The color wheel expands with a blender, though. What this modern invention can do to traditional, whole foods is nothing short of magic!

Take my morning smoothies, for instance—the vivid shades of purples, greens, yellows, and reds from the various berries, veggies, and citrus fruits never cease to amaze me.

Inspired by my flashy breakfasts, I decided to give a little makeover to one of my favorite staples, beloved for its deliciousness, but sporting a rather muted, beige pallor: hummus. Could the simple addition of a few beets place this pale spread at the front of fun food fashion?

You be the judge:  Ms. Hummus polishes up quite nicely with a little rouge, doesn’t she?

I immediately served dollops of this ruby beauty atop scoops of brown rice for my roommates, with the hummus starring like bright kisses rather than fading into the background, like usual.  When they asked what on earth the beautiful sauce was, I had to grin at their surprised expressions when I answered, “Hummus.”

To match its new flair (and celebrate Oldways’ upcoming trip to Turkey!), I mirrored the rich color by adding the bright Turkish spice, baharat, to the beets while they cooked for the second batch. The earthiness of the beets, the zest of the hummus, and the warmth of the spices taste like a walk through the Mehari desert.

Hummus is a perfect canvas for playing with color and flavor. For bold pigments, try blending in things like steamed carrots, broccoli, green, red, or yellow peppers, purple potatoes, or saffron. For hidden gems of flavor, add parsnips, toasted anise seeds or blended fennel, ginger, extra lemon juice, leeks, melon, or a drop of rose water.

Beet Hummus Recipe:
2 beets, sliced into thin rounds, for quick cooking and easy blending
2 cloves of garlic, minced (to cook)
1 tablespoon Baharat
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons of wine
1 can (15oz) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 extra clove of raw garlic
½ large lemon, juiced
A handful of parsley
Pinch of salt
Water, as needed for desired consistency

Toss the olive oil, wine, garlic, beet slices, and baharat in a pan. Cook on medium heat, covered, so that the wine steams the vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes.

While cooking, put chickpeas, raw garlic clove, lemon juice, parsley, and salt into blender. Pulse blend until the chickpeas are crushed well (you’ll probably need to add a little bit of water to get it going). When the beets are soft to your fork, pour the beet medley and juices in blender. Now blend to a hummus consistency, adding a dash of water if needed.  -Enjoy

*    *    *    *     *    *    *    *

Baharat is a spice mixture used in Arab cuisine, especially found in Turkish, Iranian, and Tunisian dishes. Baharat is the word for “spices” in Arabic. It is made using variations of spices, including fresh mint, saffron and dried rosebuds. You can find it as a mixed spice in the grocery store, or make your own with common items on your spice rack.

The following is a simple version of the spice that you can make at home and keep on your shelf for seasoning soups, beans, veggies, hummus and more.

Baharat Recipe
Mix the following finely ground ingredients:
4 parts black pepper
3 parts coriander seeds
3 parts cinnamon
3 parts cloves
4 parts cumin seeds
1 part cardamom pods
3 parts nutmeg
6 parts paprika


Some Sage Advice: Make This Recipe!

March 8, 2012

As I continue on my mission to try a new recipe each week, I stumbled upon another winner in my favorite Deborah Madison cookbook.  Every time I pick up this book I find a new recipe I never noticed before, and her recipes never seem to disappoint!

Beans are such a great source of protein and fiber, and the warm chickpeas in this dish were so satisfying and filling.  The fresh sage sings; the way you quickly fry the chopped sage with garlic just before serving offers a dreamy aroma to tempt your taste buds.

(As an aside, I also love that as I prepared this dinner my husband said he loved how we have been eating lately and how good it makes him feel.  We have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet, using Oldways Pyramids as our guide.  Like the pyramids, our dinners include greens as a base and build up from there. In this particular recipe we used baby kale – one of our favorite greens.)

*Notes:  We made sure to use whole grain pasta. Although the recipe did not call for cheese, we added some fresh Parmesan at the end and thought it added a nice dimension to the dish.

1 large onion, diced
3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 2 15-ounce cans)
8 ounces pasta (I used whole wheat orecchiette)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly milled pepper
2 large garlic cloves, chopped (I used 3 cloves)
3 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
Large pinch red pepper flakes
Fresh grated Parmesan

In a wide skillet over medium heat, cook the onion in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, until golden. Be sure to stir frequently, especially as you get to the end. Season with salt, plenty of pepper, and the pepper flakes. Add the chickpeas and turn the heat to low.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta until al dente, then add it to the chickpeas.

Heat the remaining oil in a small skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and sage and fry for 20 seconds. Immediately pour over the dish and serve over a bed of your favorite greens and topped with a bit of fresh Parmesan. – Enjoy


The New “Food Rock Stars”

March 6, 2012

We’re just back from Savannah, Georgia and Oldways’ Second Annual Supermarket Dietitian Symposium that we organized with Barb Ruhs from Bashas’. More about the Symposium to follow below, but first a word about Savannah.  Savannah is a fabulous town with more than just beautiful historic squares, a riverfront, and the Garden of Good and Evil.  It’s a food town, and far from just Paula Deen food, y’all.  The city is full of foods to embrace and adore and the restaurant scene is terrific — we had spectacular dinners at both Local11Ten and Elizabeth on 37th.  Plus, our hotel, The Mansion on Forsyth Park produced incredible meals with tons of vegetables and whole grains for more 75 conference goers.

You can read more about our Symposium on What’s New at Oldways and later this month on the Oldways events page, but for now, here are a few very interesting tidbits and facts gathered from the Supermarket Dietitian Symposium, that underscore the great need for Supermarket dietitians.

Did you know…..

  • 37% of Americans “do social media” while eating, and almost half (47%) of younger people “do social media” while they eat.
  • 1 in 5 Americans don’t eat anything before 11 am.
  • 93% of Americans say breakfast is important, but only 44% actually eat it.
  • 50% of Americans cannot identify 6 or more heart-healthy foods on a list of 13.  But the other 50% can!
  • Fruit and vegetable consumption is going down for teens and adults over 65, but it’s going up for adults under 45 and for kids under 12!
  • 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese.
  • 1 in 3 kids are getting food assistance.
  • 1 in 5 kids are at risk for hunger.
  • Each supermarket dietitian reaches between 1 and 10 million customers.

While I agree with Lisa Sutherland, who spoke on childhood obesity at our event, that there is much hope these days about food and nutrition in America, I also believe these facts are a renewed call to action.  They point to the important role that supermarkets, Oldways and other like-minded organizations can play in improving the lives of people everywhere, particularly if we all work together for a common cause.

With Americans making, on average, 61 trips per household per year to the grocery store, it’s very clear supermarkets and supermarket dietitians can make a big difference in educating consumers about nutrition and healthier eating.  Look out chefs: supermarket dietitians are the new “food rock stars!”


Tofu Time!

March 1, 2012

I have long loved tofu but had not often prepared it at home. Recently, thanks again to the guidance of Deborah Madison, this has changed. I have already found several recipes that are not only easy to prepare, but very enjoyable and healthy, to boot!

This sesame tofu recipe is really great, and is a perfect prep-it-on-Sunday and enjoy-it-on-Monday dish since the longer the tofu marinates the more flavorful it becomes.

Notes:  I included the recipe as it appears in the book but for next time I would increase the red pepper flakes for some added heat.  Additionally, I used more than the called for amount of cilantro and scallions. I served the tofu on black rice and, as always, a bed of glorious greens for added nutrients!

Sesame Tofu 
from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

a 1-pound package Chinese-style firm tofu
Sesame marinade (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
chopped cilantro

Cut the tofu into slabs and blot well with paper towels.
Make the marinade and pour half into a pie plate. Add the drained tofu, then the rest of the marinade. Cover and let stand for an hour or as long as you have time for.

When ready to cook, pour off the marinade and set it aside.
Heat a nonstick skillet with the oil, add the tofu, and fry until firm and browned, about five minutes on each side.

Add the marinade to the pan and cook until bubbling and hot. Serve the tofu and the sauce over brown rice and garnish with sesame seeds and chopped cilantro.

Sesame Marinade
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 teaspoons balsamic or rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or chili oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Taste and adjust for sweetness if needed. Depending on the type of soy sauce you’ve used, you many need to add more sugar for balance.



“Nuts” About the Mediterranean!

February 28, 2012

Now that I have reached my six month mark at Oldways (I can’t believe it!), I have established a healthy workplace routine that has enabled me to maintain my 90 pound weight loss. Continually inspired by the Mediterranean diet and Oldways, I am constantly learning, adapting and incorporating new foods and strategies into my lifestyle. The workplace can be a source of structure for individuals trying to maintain/lose weight, but it can also be a pitfall of distractions and temptations that can stall and derail healthy routines. I have established several important suggestions that I consider daily which have allowed me to institute the workplace as a healthy living tool.

First of all, plan ahead! If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. I eat a hearty breakfast each morning (lean protein and fiber help in maintaining satiety), a mid-morning snack, lunch, a protein snack before leaving work, and dinner after the gym. I have learned that a trigger for overeating is getting too hungry, so I try to snack to eliminate the urge to overeat.

Lately, I have recognized the importance of switching things up within my nutritional routine. My Oldways coworkers have become my culinary gurus; their guidance has opened me up to experimenting with recipes and ingredients, adding excitement to my usual food choices. One big change is the variety of whole grains I have added to my diet (farro is a new favorite, I loved this spinach, strawberry and farro salad recipe!) Enjoying these new-found foods, both plain and as part of a salad, has definitely livened up my dinners.

My latest fixation has been experimenting with different nuts and making them into spreads and butters. Nuts are a staple of the Mediterranean Diet because of their abundance of “good fats,” and in an effort to “switch it up” and deviate from my usual peanut butter favorite, I took to the Cuisinart and the rest was history. My favorite has been pecan butter. Simply toast the pecans (butter or oil is not necessary), and pour them in the food processor. There is no need to add any other ingredients, and the natural oils in the nuts are soon released to create the creamy texture. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not have to mean relying on boring food routines, and I am looking forward to continued culinary experimentation!