Day 11 of Real Food: Mexican Fiesta Quinoa

I had a taste of the world today.

The missions fair at our church is always an exciting time to meet people from all over the globe and hear their stories of what God is doing.

I am reminded that in this big big world, I am very small. But this is actually a hopeful thought — God is at work in ways I can’t see. And the knowledge that He chooses to use my little prayers as tools for eternal purposes.

It is already Day 11 of my challenge to eat only unprocessed, natural foods for 40 days. Read the story here! So far, it is going well. The daily devotionals from A Place at the Table have been great inspiration to keep up the challenge.

There are times when the sweets and chips come a-calling and I really want to give in. That’s when I realize how spoiled I am to even have food I can turn down. By saying no to processed and packaged foods — foods that large parts of the world have no access to — I’m hoping to grow my understanding of what my body really needs vs. what just sounds good at the moment.

One helpful tactic I’ve been utilizing the past few days is to focus my thoughts and prayers on the country whose cuisine I’m eating. I research a little about the country — their daily staples, their economic status, their everyday personal, social and political needs — so while I am cooking, while I am eating, while I am not eating other foods, I am consciously able to identify with people across the world in my prayers. It has made the whole process of eating so purposeful. I’d love for this to become a habit even when the 40 days are over.

Today was Mexico. It is going to be difficult to not just do Latin cuisine because lately I’ve been craving tortillas and guacamole like no one’s business.

Staples of nearly ever Mexican meal are corn (tortillas!) and beans. Other common ingredients are squash, peppers, rice, honey, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and cocoa.

I found an excellent information and prayer resource at Operation World. Here are just a few of the listed “challenges for prayer”:

a) The poor, both the impoverished rural poor and the exploited slum-dwellers — Poverty affects 60% of the Mexican population

b) The marginalized native Amerindians — This group of people have no official social status and live in greater poverty and political upheaval

c) Corruption in politics and the police. 

d) The massive drug trade and gang violence that accompanies it — including over 5000,000 addicts, the power-hungry cartels who control the “industry”, the government and law enforcement fighting against the corruption and violence of gangs.

These heavy concerns need contemplated over a light meal. This bowl has it all — grain, protein, healthy fat, vegetables, spicy and colorful — Mexico in a dish, all natural and delicious. Enough to keep my taste-buds and tummy happy and preoccupied from the snack cupboard and to keep my mind focused on more important things.

Mexican Fiesta Quinoa 

Inspired by Daily Garnish and Oh She Glows ~ serves 10 as a side, 6 as a main

  • 2 c. dry quinoa
  • 1 large can black beans, drained and rinsed
  •  1 c. diced tomatoes
  • 2 small avocados, chopped
  • 1 c. corn kernels
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. garlic salt
  • 3 T. fresh cilantro, minced
  • 3 T. lime juice

Directions

  • Prepare quinoa by package directions (4 c. water for 2 c. dry quinoa). Cook till water is absorbed and quinoa is soft and fluffy.
  • Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and stir in spices: chili powder, paprika, and garlic salt
  • Meanwhile, chop pepper, tomatoes, and avocados
  • Add beans, corn, pepper, tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro to quinoa and stir to combine.
  • Pour lime juice over mixture and toss to combine.
  • For best flavor results, refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

I could definitely eat like this for a while. If someone would send me a link for foolproof tortillas, I’d be set for life.

Make Time for Tempeh

I know it is a week till Christmas (eek!) and this should be a post of festive cookie recipes, but though that post will come, it is not this post.

Truth #1: I am not officially finished with the semester until Tuesday, so my opportunities to bake have been slim.

Truth #2: I did take some time off studying the past few days to do some baking, and, well let’s just say I went a little overboard. As in did not take a shower till noon today, I still have icing in my hair, and I’m pretty sure if I don’t bake again till Valentines Day, that will be just fine with me. (Don’t hold me to it, though).

Truth #3: After a few days of rolling in sugar and flour, the last thing I want to do right now is look at a bunch of pictures of cookies. That time will come. Right now, I just want to eat something full of nutritious and wholesome ingredients. Like Tempeh Quesadillas.

Stay with me, here. Never had tempeh? It’s time you met.

Tempeh is a superfood, made by fermented soybeans formed into a patty, similar in substance and nutrition to tofu. It is very minimally processed and so is rich in soybean nutrition: high protein, calcium, fiber, iron, and beneficial isoflavones. It has a textured, nutty flavor, but also quickly absorbs the flavors of the foods and spices it is cooked with. I have found it to be a very versatile substitute for meat — crumbled into chili or taco “meat”, grilled for a TLT (tempeh+lettuce+tomato), and now used in place of chicken strips in one of my old favorites, the quesadilla.

Tempeh Quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 1/3 pkge tempeh
  • /2 green pepper, diced
  •  2 T. chopped onion
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 1 T. lime juice
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • 1/8 t. garlic salt
  •  1 large whole wheat tortilla
  •  2 T. hummus
  •  1 T. low-fat cottage cheese
Directions
  • Slice tempeh into thin slices, about 1/2 inch thick.
  • Heat oil in a medium frying pan. Add tempeh, peppers and onion to the pan and sprinkle with lime juice and spices. Saute, flipping tempeh for even cooking until it is lightly brown and vegetables are soft. Set aside in a dish.

  • Lay tortilla in the frying pan. Spread hummus across tortilla and spoon cottage cheese on one half of the tortilla.
  • On the cottage cheese side, spoon tempeh and veggies. Let tortilla heat a bit open-faced, about 2 minutes or until lightly browned.
  • With a spatula Gently fold the empty side of the tortilla over the vegetables and using the spatula edge, “seal” sides together.
  • Continue to heat, flipping quesadilla after a few minutes to brown both sides.
  • Serve warm with salsa, Greek yogurt, or guacamole.
This is not like your typical quesadilla — there isn’t even any cheese! But, trust me, it’s good. When heated, the hummus and cottage cheese get all gooey and delicious and the veggies and tempeh add wonderful flavor. As for nutrition? It’s hard to beat these stats:Who says vegetarians don’t get their protein? That’s 21g right there, as well as 10g fiber and high amounts of both Calcium and Iron.

Whether you eat meat or not, it’s good to expand your repertoire of healthy ingredients and experiment with a few new superfoods. The more nutritious variety available to you, the less you will find yourself reaching for the unhealthier options.

What did you say about Christmas cookies?

Come back soon. I’ve got to brush my teeth a few more times.

So Much to Be Thankful For: Savory Bread Pudding

Yes, Josh, I’m looking at you.

I really am pretty blessed.

I have a family who sees all of my idiosyncrasies, meltdowns and bedhair, and loves me anyway.

A home where I am safe, cared for, and kept warm.

A professor who makes a last-minute decision to cancel class on Thanksgiving-eve.

The unexpected joy of spending the whole afternoon snuggled with sweats, blankets, and cranberry-pomegranate green tea because class was cancelled.

An entire weekend with no deadlines to spend with cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandpa.

A great big extended family who hugs, talks loudly, and eats well in the good old Italian way.

A Thanksgiving eve service that reminds me from Whom all blessings flow; that life is about much more stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie. Yum.

Friends who invite us for Thanksgiving dinner.

The excuse to bake Thanksgiving-y dishes all week long, because, well, we’ll be at friend’s house for the actual dinner and what’s Thanksgiving without a messy kitchen and leftovers?

The butternut squash and Brussels sprouts falling out of the fridge just as I was contemplating vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dishes.

A healthy, hearty, scrumptious dish to help combat all the sweets and treats I’ll be consuming this weekend.

Savory Autumn Bread Pudding 
~ Serves 4 as a main dish

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and subed
  • 1/2 lb Brussels Sprouts, cut in halves
  • 1 large apple, diced
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 T. dried rosemary
  • 4 pieces whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 1/3 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
  • 2 T. raisins

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange squash and Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake about 30 minutes, or until tender.
  • Meanwhile, saute onion in olive oil, salt, pepper garlic, and rosemary. Combine vegetables and onion in a medium casserole dish. Top with bread cubes.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Pour mixtures over bread. Sprinkle raisins on top.
  • Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes, until egg is set.

This was baked alongside my sister’s egg-sausage-cheese-frenchfriedonion casserole. I’m thankful all our hearts are pumping.

Guess which casserole was licked clean within minutes? Apparently the beauty of Brussels sprouts is outshone by the glitz of cheese covered French-fried-onions. But I am thankful my family was considerate enough to leave me leftovers. What’s Thanksgiving without them?

Makeovers that Count

I spent Thursday in my pajamas. All day long.

I wore them while jump roping, grunting, and sweating in the basement at seven am. I then took a shower and then put them right back on.

I wore them while sitting at the kitchen table for a million hours doing homework.

I climbed the stairs at a late hour to get ready for bed and realized all I had to do was brush my teeth and crawl under the covers. Done and done.

Thursday is my day off, and you better believe I’m taking advantage of it. My goal is to do all the cozy homey things I daydream about during Biochem lectures and backpack lugging stair hikes.

The French Press is set a-brewing, the fuzzy socks are broken out and Josh Groban is turned on repeat. I know how studying can make me a crazy, unbearable crank and how a happy atmosphere does wonders for my attitude. And my family’s sanity.

If the pajamas, coffee, socks, and Josh do their job, and my mood soars to the point that I am reading Kant like he’s an old friend, eventually the creative juices plugged up during long stale at school begin to flow again and my brain fairly explodes with fresh new ideas.

In other words, most Thursdays end with me in the kitchen cooking up a storm. In my pajamas.

I may look the prime candidate for “What Not to Wear”, in sad need of a makeover, but I am at my happiest. I love that for one day I don’t worry about what I look like. And I’m learning that sometimes the “makeover” I most need is an internal one — a change of attitude. From a grumpy and stressed young woman to a cheerful and blessed one. The transformation isn’t really brought on by fuzzy socks and peaceful music, but by spending a day at home with my family, spending more time with God in prayer and in His Word, taking the time to breath, look around and count my blessings.

And cooking with some TLC, giving a favorite meal a makeover. Because this is one that counts.

One of my favorite things about healthy, vegetarian cooking is finding ways to recreate old favorite comfort foods into something abundant in nutrition and not lacking in yummyness.

Enter our contestant, homemade chili — soothing, warming, filling comfort at it’s best. A few tweaks, cuts, additions and highlights, and ta-da! Vegetarian Chili Pie.

Vegetarian Chili Pie

Lentil Walnut “Meat”

  • 1 c. dry lentils
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 packet vegetable broth
  • 3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. sunflower seeds
  • 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. Chili powder
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 2 t. paprika,
  • 1 t. salt,
  • 1 t. garlic powder,
  • 1/2 t. pepper

Cornbread topping

  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t,
  • 1 eggs
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. corn

Directions

  • Prepare your lentil “meat”: In a medium sauce pan, cover dry lentils with water and vegetable bouillon. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and let simmer about twenty minutes or until lentils are soft. Uncover, remove from heat, and stir in walnuts and sunflower seeds so that they soften a bit with the cooling lentils.
  • When lentil-nut mixture is cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add spices. Pulverize until texture resembles coarse grumbled meat. Don’t blend too far, or you will end up with mush :). Set aside.

    Cauliflower "rice"

  • Cauliflower “rice”: Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until soft. Let cool and then add to food processor and pulverize quickly until texture resembles rice. This does not take very long at all — just a few quick turns of the blade. Again, don’t blend too far unless you want cauliflower mashed potatoes.
  • Chili filling: Combine tomatoes, beans, and spices in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Cornbread topping: Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add eggs, milk, and corn and mix until smooth.
  • Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a pie dish and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal.
  • Layer cauliflower, tomato-bean mixture, then lentil-nut mixture. Carefully spoon cornbread batter over the lentil mix and sprinkle walnuts on top.
  • Bake for about thirty minutes or until cornbread is set.

With some trepidation, I cut into the pie. I had no idea whether it would be a complete flop. But it did not disappoint. It was everything I love about chili and so much more. The seasonings come through beautifully and the cornbread topping was a great decision.  And the lentil-walnut faux-meat — Oh my. Words cannot describe. Let’s just say it made the dish. Beef is like the ugly stepsister of this deliciousness.

I don’t calculate the nutritional information for everything I make, but I had an idea the stats on this recipe would be pretty stellar.

15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, chockfull of vitamins, low in fat, and positively delicious.

It’s the kind of makeover that counts.

On Monday afternoon, I’ll plop down my twenty-pound backpack and open my lunchbox to a scrumptious piece of Thursday joy. And with the first bite, I’ll be transported to happier thoughts, fuzzy socks, and a Josh Groban soundtrack in my mind. Instant heart-lift.

However, if you want the maximum comfort food effect, I highly recommend you eat this in your pajamas.

Friends Need Friends

Almost every week this summer, there came an early dark morning when I tiptoed my way to the edge of Elizabeth’s bed, gently tapped her shoulder and coaxingly whisper: “Wake up now, it’s time to run.”

To which she would normally roll over, crack her eyelid open enough to give me a glare and then pull the covers over her head.

But it didn’t faze me. I knew that within ten minutes she would dashing down the stairs all dressed to go, snatching up her sneakers and yelling over her shoulder: “Well, are you coming or not?”

We knew we needed each other and our weekly running date with friends. We knew that without the encouragement (wanted or unwanted) of training partners, we’d be quickly drained of motivation. And now as our goal is in sight and race day quickly approaches, we know more than ever that it is the companionship of each other (and lots of prayer!) that is going to see us to the finish line. Those who sweat together stay together.

Friends need friends. It’s a simple fact of life.

Friends need friends who will help them through difficult and uncertain times. They don’t even need to speak the same language. Sunday night, my sisters and I spent three hours at the kitchen table in a conversation with two new friends who didn’t speak English and are now back home in Japan. We had a great time.

It began roughly with exaggerated facial expressions and pantomimes to which they responded with smiles and nods and chuckles to each other in Japanese, which is a most disconcerting feeling. But finally, we began to discover effective ways to communicate. We learned words and phrases that were mutually understood and we Googled up others. Here we were — three very Americanized young people with two very Asian teenagers. Our cultures were drastically different, our food was different, our schools were different, and for as long as I live I’ll never understand the Japanese alphabet. But in spite of all of that, we found common interests and thoughts. We taught them English words, they gave us a whole new perspective into their world. Culture gaps were bridged. Friendships were formed.

Friends need friends. To push alongside them over hills and across finish lines, through unknown territory and unfamiliar places. The companionship of someone who cares can make all the difference in the journey. Like Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one.”

It’s like…tofu.

For the longest time, tofu and I did not get along. I knew of it’s health benefits. I knew that as a vegetarian, it was an important souce of protein. Trust me, I tried to like it.  I bought every couple of months, hoping that this time it would be different. But it’s texture and blandness turned me off.

Finally, I had an epiphany. Tofu needed friends. Tofu and I needed to be friends. So we needed mutual friends. Specifically, we needed foods and flavors I enjoyed that would complement tofu. And maybe even disguise its presence.

You see, tofu is essentially flavorless. But it is also absorbent. It soaks up the flavors of foods that it is cooked with. It needs flavorful companions.

 So the next time a container of tofu snuck it’s way home in a grocery bag, I chopped it up and paired it with mushrooms and eggs, foods with a similar texture. I added some of my favorite seasonings — soy sauce, hoisin and ginger — to compensate for its blandness. And when I ate my big bowl of stir-fry, I could scarcely tell the tofu was there. And trust me that’s a good thing.

Is there a nutritious food you’re having trouble befriending? Try food pairing. Whether it is kale or tempeh, lentils or avocado, you can train your taste buds by tricking them. Match the new food with a familiar food that is similar in texture and throw in some of your favorite seasonings. Throw some kale in a vegetable soup, grumble tempeh and brown in taco seasoning. Mash cauliflower with your mashed potatoes. Blend spinach into your smoothie. Disguise, complement, enjoy.

It’s the simple rule that friends need friends.

Tofu Stir-Fry

  • ½ block extra firm organic tofu, drained sliced and cubed.
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 c. sliced mushrooms
  • 2 c. broccoli florets
  • 1 ½ T. stir-fry sauce (or hoisin sauce)
  • 2 t. lime juice
  • ½ t. black pepper
  • 1 egg

Directions:

  • Remove tofu block from package, wrap it paper towels and squeeze out liquid. You want it as dry as possible. Slice half of the block into 1 inch thick slabs and then dice into about 1 inch square.
  • In a large skillet, cook tofu with garlic and soy sauce over medium heat until lightly browned. Add mushrooms, broccoli, stir-fry sauce and lime juice and raise heat. Stir regularly and cook until broccoli is tender.
  • Lower heat and push the tofu-veggie mixture to one side of the skillet. Crack the egg into the other side and let it settle for a few minutes before scrambling. Once the scrambled egg is set, mix into the rest of the stir-fry. Cook for a few minutes longer, adding spices or sauces as needed.  Serve with your choice of grain: rice, quinoa, millet, potato, or even sweet potato would all work nicely. Serves one as a main dish or two side dishes.

The house smelled like an Asian restaurant. Eating this made me want to sneak into Mitsu’s suitcase and travel to Japan for the real thing — chopsticks and all. After all, what are friends for?

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Parmesan

Growing up in a New York Italian family was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every family gathering there are loud enthusiastic conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and everyone always congregates in the kitchen which always smells spaghetti sauce, roasted peppers, and olive oil. There we stand around the counter, munching drippy mozzarella cheese on toasted bread, cutting huge wheels of Locatelli with guitar strings (well, how would you do it?), popping olives, and making memories.Yes, I pretty much loved growing up.

I never got to know my Italian grandma, but her heritage is still very much alive in her descendants. From the pictures I’ve seen, I know my dad carries her features and that she gave me her dark hair, short legs, and olive skin. My grandpa tells me how they met after the war as he tenderly strokes her picture, and my aunts reminisce about her as they stir a bowl of steaming pasta. And through their stories, I’ve grown to love her.

Last summer, our big Italian family stayed in a huge house at the Outer Banks. There were many loud enthusiastic conversations, lots of exuberant hugging and kissing, and since the sun was scorching out and the ocean freezing cold, everyone congregated in the kitchen.One of my aunts brought along photo albums and Grandma’s recipe box and we all gathered around to relive preserved memories. Fingering through the frail, stain-splattered, well-worn recipes, cookbook pages, and shopping lists written in the faint script of my grandmother was like opening a treasure box. Her instructions for Italian egg-rolls, chamelli cookies and stuffed peppers were connections to my past, little clues into a woman who has passed on to me her love of family and food.

When I started to eat healthier, I did not want to give up the foods I grew up eating, that are so tied in with my ancestry of Italian deli owners. So I began experimenting, and recreating old favorites while keeping the flavors I loved. Kind of like how each generation changes hairstyles and locations, but maintains the family heritage — no matter how far we grandchildren roam, we still gather for loud conversations, exuberant kissing and hugging, and memory making in the kitchen.

Not Your Italian Grandma’s Eggplant Parmesan

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced thin
  • 6 slices stale wheat bread
  • ¼ c. ground flax seeds, divided
  • ¼ c. sunflower seeds
  • ¼ c. wheat germ
  • 2 t. garlic salt
  • 2 t. basil
  • 1 c. almond milk
  • 2 T. hummus
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • ½ c. tomato sauce (Quick homemade sauce: Sautee tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers in olive oil until very very soft and the juices have leaked)

Cheez sauce: Blend all ingredients until smooth.

  • 1/3 c. hummus
  • ¾ c. silken tofu
  • ½ c. almond milk
  • 1 t. garlic salt
  • 1 t. parsley

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with non stick cooking spray. Prepare Cheez sauce by blending all ingredients together until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a food processor, grind bread, 2 T. flax and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, garlic salt and basil until breadcrumb consistency. Set aside.
  • For binding mixture, blend hummus, milk, and 2 T. flax seed in a blender until smooth.
  • Dip eggplant slices into the hummus mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs. Arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
  • In a small casserole dish, arrange half of eggplant in a single (or slightly overlapping) layer. Spread ¼ tomato sauce over eggplant. Then spread  about half of prepared“cheez” sauce over  the sauce. Do one more layer of eggplant, sauce, and “cheez.” Top with sliced tomato, a sprinkle of parsley and oregano, and any left over cheez. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheez is somewhat set and  casserole is warm throughout.

My Italian grandma would have served her eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I ate mine with a salad. But while I was cooking, all the females of our family were in the kitchen together, laughing, spilling breadcrumbs and sneaking spoonfuls of sauce. I thought of my Grandma cooking with her two sisters and four daughters, creating delicious meals as gifts of love for her family. And if she could see me carrying on that tradition, even if I left off the mozzarella and pasta, I think she would be pleased.