Category Archives: Healthy Meals

Ways To Incorporate More Vegetables Into Your Day

vegetable collage

The other day on The Balanced Platter I encouraged you to say “yes” to more fruits and vegetables. Many of us are pretty good at eating fruit. It’s sweet, it’s generally ready-to-eat with little or no preparation, and it’s convenient. You can just grab a banana and walk out the door. An apple makes an excellent afternoon snack. And I’ve yet to find a kid that doesn’t like some kind of fruit. But vegetables? That’s a bit harder.

Incorporating vegetables into your diet can be done, and with delicious results. Vegetables don’t have to be the most-hated part of the meal, something to moan and groan about, or an afterthought. It just takes a bit of rethinking!

Start your day with a veggie! It seems most people don’t think about vegetables during breakfast. This is where green smoothies have gotten such a positive following – sneaking in a bit of spinach into a fruit-filled, creamy beverage seems an easy way to add them. But vegetables at breakfast doesn’t have to stop there. How about adding a squash hash to your morning? Or a few spoonfuls of salsa to top your eggs? Throw some greens into a quiche, or zucchini into a frittata for a delicious and healthy addition. And as always, a veggie-packed omelet is a great way to get a serving of vegetables in before noon.

Step outside the salad. A salad certainly is a simple and easy way to ensure you get vegetables at lunch. But if you’re anything like me, the same salad can get old day in and day out, so I try to change it up a bit. Some days, a kale salad is just the thing. In summer, cucumber salads are refreshing. But there’s more than just salads out there. Vegetables can also make excellent dips, which are great for lunch! How about green pea hummus or fire-roasted tomato almond dip, or even chipotle butternut dip? And when the weather is chilly, soup is a great way to add more veggies. Celeriac soup, cabbage soup, or curried acorn squash soup are just a few of my favorites.

Get creative and don’t be afraid to try new vegetables! Dinner is when many of us make acquaintance with a vegetable. However, we often fall into a rut of only preparing a few vegetables, leaving so many other good ones in the dust (or worse, in the vegetable crisper, to wilt). This is when you can let your vegetable creativity shine. Grab a new-to-you veggie and learn to cook something delicious! Try collard greens in a new way – with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. Bok choy is delicious and easy to make with sesame seeds and shiitake mushrooms. Bacon or prosciutto makes every veggie better – these Brussels sprouts are a great example. I personally love using unique spices to change up my dinner vegetable routine, as I did with these curried kabocha squash wedges.

What if you have picky eaters? Sometimes, you can even sneak veggies into a meal without anyone realizing, such as with my eggplant-tahini pasta sauce or even in smaller amounts in a meatloaf (a meal ALL of my picky eaters will eat!). Make a simple mash from different veggies, such as turnips and rutabagas. Go totally hard-core with your vegetable-sneaking, and make this secret ingredient chocolate cake. You can also try to woo them with vibrant colors – my stepdaughter actually likes beets, and I won her over with their gorgeous hue.

What are some of your favorite vegetables to eat? How do you successfully incorporate more vegetables into your day?

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans

kale salad thanksgiving

If your Thanksgiving menu is anything like mine, it’s filled with the traditional fare: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, casseroles, pies, and more. All of these dishes are iconic, and I wouldn’t leave any of them out for anything. But honestly, it’s all so heavy. So when I’m brainstorming for vegetable or additional side dish ideas, I want something a little lighter to balance it all out. Something fresh. Something green.

Now I know kale has been the latest darling in the “healthy eating” industry. I’ve posted recipes with kale before. I love it, personally, and eat it because it tastes good to me. But lately kale is everyone’s favorite “detox” vegetable. I’m not a believer in detoxing – I have juiced and such in the past, and I enjoy the flavor. I sometimes even feel the green juices give me a boost of energy. I will admit, in the past I did have a touch of obsession with ensuring I got what was in reality a crazy amount of greens into my body on a daily basis, thinking I was healthier for doing so. (I wasn’t healthier…) I’ve since backed off and have listened to my body and just focus on whatever vegetables are fresh and sound good to me at the time. (And sometimes, that’s kale!) But I’ve never believed that squeezing juice out of fruits or vegetables somehow “detox” your body – that’s what your liver does, all on its own. It doesn’t mean that the vegetables, including kale, don’t have great vitamins and such – they do. They’re just not magical.

Anyway. I digress.

Thanksgiving. And this salad. It’s fresh. It’s easy. It can be made in advance. unlike lettuce-based salads, and can still hold its crunch. In fact, I find it’s tastier made a bit in advance of eating. It allows the lemon juice to really meld and mingle. With the sweetness of the apples and cranberries, and the candied pecans, it’s a lovely autumn salad. Most of all, it’s a great, refreshing addition to your Thanksgiving menu.

Print Recipe

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free)

1 bunch kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

1 T olive oil

A couple pinches of kosher salt

1 carrot, julienned

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/4 c dried cranberries

1 crisp apple (such as Honeycrisp), cut into 1/2 inch dice

1/4 c flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped

1-2 T lemon juice

Candied Pecans (recipe follows)

Drizzle the olive oil over the kale, and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil evenly over all of the kale leaves. Add the carrot, celery, cranberries, apple, and parsley, and drizzle with a bit of lemon juice. Toss well and taste. Adjust salt and lemon juice as desired. Top with candied pecans and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan)

1 t coconut oil

1/2 c raw, shelled pecans

3 T brown rice syrup

A couple pinches of kosher salt

Dash of cinnamon

In a small skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the pecans, brown rice syrup, salt and cinnamon. Stir to coat completely. Keep stirring over heat until sugar bubbles and clings to pecans, pulling away from the pan and becoming “drier”. Once everything really seems to stick together in a “glob”, remove from heat and turn out to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading out the pecans as much as you can with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool completely and break into small pieces.

Chicken Tomatillo Chili

I can’t stand soup when it’s hot outside. I often see coworkers enjoying soup for lunch all the year round, and I’m sweating just thinking about it if the temp outside is above about 75 degrees. (But I’ll drink hot coffee on an August morning, unless I’ve made cold brew coffee the night before. I’m weird, I know.) But now that it’s cooler, I’ve been incorporating more soups again.

I am the biggest fan of a soup that satisfies as a meal. Sure, simple starter soups are delicious, but I still have to make something else to accompany them. A stew or chili is substantial. Filling. I can also freeze leftovers and have soup ready for me to grab and take to the office for lunch. This chicken tomatillo chili not only meets these requirements, it’s also a budget stretcher, thanks to the beans. It’s a big bowl of comforting, warming, hearty deliciousness.

Chicken Tomatillo Chili (gluten-free, dairy-free)

1 lb tomatillos, cut in half

2 medium yellow onions, sliced

6 garlic cloves, peeled

2 Hatch (similar to Anaheim or Big Jim) chiles (you can also substitute other fresh chiles, just mind the heat and adjust accordingly)

1 14-oz can whole tomatoes

1 3 ½ lb chicken, cut into pieces, breasts removed and set aside

6 c water

2 t ground cumin

1 t ground coriander

1 t dried oregano

2 t chipotle chile powder

1 t smoked paprika

1 t salt

¼ t black pepper

2 ½ c cooked black beans (or 2 cans, drained)

2 ½ c cooked white beans (or 2 cans, drained)

2 ½ c cooked pinto beans (or 2 cans, drained)

½ c chopped cilantro

Preheat broiler. Place tomatillos, sliced onions, garlic cloves, and chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil for 5-7 minutes or until the skins of the tomatillos and chiles are blackened. Remove from broiler and allow to cool. Peel the skins from the chiles, and remove the stems and seeds. (It’s a good idea to do this with disposable [non-latex if you have a latex allergy] gloves on.) Place tomatillos, onions, garlic, chiles, and the can of whole tomatoes (with the juice) in a large soup pot. Add the chicken pieces (reserving the breasts) and the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 30 minutes. Add the chicken breasts and simmer for 20 minutes longer.

Using tongs, remove all of the chicken and place on a platter to allow to cool. Meanwhile, add the cumin, coriander, oregano, chipotle chile powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper to the pot and puree the broth and vegetables using a stick blender, or a regular blender in batches. Add the beans.

Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove the meat and shred with your fingers, and place back into the pot with the beans. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until flavors meld. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Serves 8-10.

Cheater’s Ratatouille, or Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake

I love ratatouille. It’s an awesome dish that seems to just sing the highest notes of the end of summer and the start of fall. (Yes, I realize it’s now officially fall. Around here, however, it’s still in the mid-90s, and so it’s still very much feeling like summer.) It’s fresh, but comforting.

But alas, it takes some time. Especially if you want it to look pretty. (My recipe was more on the tasty side, less on the aesthetics.) Let’s face it – we don’t always have that kind of time.

That’s where this cheater’s version comes in. It’s not exactly ratatouille. It’s streamlined – just zucchini, tomato, and eggplant. Plus a not-so-secret ingredient:

Pesto.

I love to make pesto. It can be easily made dairy-free (like this Basil-Walnut Pesto) or you can go for the traditional basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts version. Or any version you desire, really. But often I make a great deal on the weekend, and then scramble to find ways to eat it up during the week. This “ratatouille” is one such way to make great use of pesto. If the pesto is already made, then it’s a cinch to put together – just layer the vegetables, smear some pesto in between layers, and pop in the oven.

Then, as soon as it’s not mouth-scalding hot, then devour!

So while it’s not a traditional ratatouille, it’s a flavor punch for sure. So call it ratatouille, or call it a pesto zucchini, tomato and eggplant bake if you prefer. Whatever you decide, be sure to call me to dinner when you make it.

Print Recipe

Cheater’s Ratatouille/Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake (gluten-free, dairy-free if using vegan pesto)

1/2 lb sliced zucchini

1/2 lb sliced tomato

1/2 lb sliced eggplant

Salt and pepper

1/2 c pesto (for vegan/dairy-free, try this Basil-Walnut Pesto)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Alternately layer zucchini, tomato slices, and eggplant in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and spread a few spoonfuls of pesto evenly over the vegetables. Repeat with another layer of vegetables, salt, and pesto. Keep repeating until you use all of the vegetables and pesto.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and bubbly.

 

Pork Chops with Orange Sauce

 

A few weeks ago, we stocked our freezer full of pork. A friend and I split a locally raised, pastured pig. I couldn’t have been more excited. We have all sorts of bratwurst, pork roasts, chops, bacon, and more. We’ve really been enjoying the pork bounty. But after a few dinners of pork chops cooked simply, I wanted to change it up a bit.

Enter orange sauce.

I won’t lie – one of my favorite Chinese take-out meals was orange chicken. I realize that the gloppy, heavy, sweet version at most take-out joints isn’t really all that authentic. I loved it nonetheless. Especially when there was a good number of chiles in it to add a little heat. It was sweet, salty, and spicy. What more could one need? I’ve even made it gluten-free in the past.

So when I was looking for a new way to enjoy pork chops, I opted to use that orange sauce and transform them. What resulted was an easy meal that definitely delivered on flavor. Paired with rice, green beans, and some pickled cucumbers, this was an awesome weeknight meal.

Print Recipe

Pork Chops with Orange Sauce (gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free)

1/4 c freshly squeezed orange juice (from about half of a large orange)

2 T fresh orange zest

3 T chicken broth

1 T wheat-free tamari or soy sauce

2 t rice wine

1 t rice vinegar

2 t sesame oil

2 T honey

1/4 t black pepper

1 T olive oil or coconut oil

4 dried red chiles

2 t minced fresh garlic

2 t grated fresh ginger

1 t arrowroot powder whisked with 2 t cold water

4 bone-in, thick cut pork chops

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, zest, chicken broth, soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and pepper. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive/coconut oil over medium heat. Add the chiles, garlic and ginger. Saute, stirring, for about 20-30 seconds. Pour in the orange juice mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and add the arrowroot slurry and continue to cook for about a minute, or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet (I prefer a cast iron skillet) to medium-high heat. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. When the skillet is hot, add the pork chops. Allow to brown for about a minute or two, and flip the chops over. Put the pan in the oven and bake the chops until they are cooked through (145 degrees F read on a thermometer poked into the center of the chop), about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Brush the sauce over the chops immediately, turning the chops in the pan and brushing both sides. Transfer the chops to a plate and brush more sauce over.

Serve with rice and desired vegetables.

Serves 4.

Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra

 

In late Texas summers, when it’s been hot and dry for weeks on end and the tomatoes and strawberries have long wilted under the sun, what’s still growing without fail? Okra.

And boy, how does it grow!? I just have a modest number of plants, but I go outside every afternoon to water, and find a handful of pods ready to be picked. It seems they appear almost overnight. A bud one day, a 3-inch okra pod the next. Not that I’m complaining. It gives me plenty to pickle, share with friends, and eat in all sorts of ways.

This time, I opted for grilled.

Grilling okra is a speedy way to get flavor into this unique veggie without making it slimy – a texture that often is off-putting to okra critics. It takes just a few minutes to do, and with a simple sauce brushed over, it’s divine. Especially when that sauce involves Sriracha.

If you have not become acquainted with the wonders of Sriracha sauce, I highly encourage you to seek it out. I’m not often a big proponent of store-bought sauces, but this is definitely an exception. It’s spicy and adds that perfect punch to just about anything – scrambled eggs, fried rice, and of course, pho. I’ve always wanted to make my own – one day I will – but until then, it’s the “rooster” sauce for me. Combined with lime and ghee in this quick sauce, it’s a bold wake-up for your taste buds, which pairs perfectly with mild okra. It’s quickly becoming my go-to way to prepare it.

Print Recipe

Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra (gluten-free, casein-free)

About 20 tender pods okra

1 T Sriracha

Zest of 1 lime (about 1 teaspoon)

Juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

1 T ghee, melted (can substitute vegan butter or coconut oil for dairy-free/vegan)

Salt to taste

Heat a grill to medium heat. Skewer the okra pods so that there is a little space in between each pod. In a small bowl, whisk together the Sriracha, lime zest, lime juice, and ghee. When the grill is hot, place the okra on the grill. Brush one side with the Sriracha mixture. Allow to grill until lightly browned/blackened in spots, about 1-2 minutes. Turn over and brush other side. Grill another 2 minutes or until browned and the okra pods are softened/tender. Flip once more and brush any remaining sauce over. Remove, salt to taste and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil

My ridiculously successful cucumber season is coming to a close. I’ve eaten more cucumbers this summer than ever, and have given many away. But even still, I haven’t tired of them. I truly love cucumbers. And this year, thanks to the slightly lower temps (our usual never-ending stretch of triple digits only amounted to about two weeks so far), I’ve been able to grow cucumbers well into August. It also helps that I’ve been growing Armenian cucumbers – they seem to enjoy the heat. I will be a bit sad when they’re gone.

Before I am out of cucumbers, however, I wanted to make another unique cucumber salad. While most of my cucumbers have gone into light, refreshing salads (like this Watermelon Cucumber Salad), I wanted something creamy and a touch more substantial, but still cool and dairy-free.

Enter tahini.

I love tahini, but typically use it up making copious amounts of baba ganoush. Truth be told, the flavors in my baba ganoush were the inspiration for this salad. Tahini, lemon, garlic, and my favorite additions of cumin and smoked paprika were all at play here. But instead of my usual parsley, I swapped it out for basil. After all, that’s an herb that is also quite successful in my garden.

What resulted was a quick and easy salad that would pair perfectly with grilled chicken, some kabobs, or whatever you’d like to make for an upcoming Labor Day barbecue or picnic. It’s delicious even made a few hours in advance, and is allergy-friendly, so everyone can partake. Before summer is over for good, I highly suggest you find a reason to make this! It’s delightfully different.

Print Recipe

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil (gluten-free, vegan)

About 1 lb cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 t kosher salt

3 T tahini

1 t lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

2 T lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/4 t ground cumin

Pinch or two of smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

3 T chopped fresh basil

Place the cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Allow to sit in the sink and drain while you prepare the dressing.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper.

Rinse the cucumbers and allow to drain again. In a large bowl, stir together the cucumbers and tahini dressing until evenly coated. Add in the basil and stir again.

Serves 4.

Blueberry Syrup at The Balanced Platter

Today over at The Balanced Platter, I’m sharing an easy recipe to make blueberry syrup. It’s a delicious way to save some of summer’s best for the non-blueberry months of the year. Head on over and check it out!

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Basil

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen my cucumbers. I’m growing Armenian cucumbers for the first time, and boy, are these things prolific. I love them. They seem to enjoy this Texas heat – they’re never bitter no matter how hot it gets. They are more mild than a typical cucumber, and ever-so-slightly sweet. But they certainly take over. I planted them in a 4 foot square raised bed, and they’ve filled that bed entirely, climbing up and over the trellis, nearly filling the neighboring bed and a good bit of the lawn all around. But because of their ease to grow, I’m definitely growing them again next year.

Meanwhile, however, I am accumulating cucumbers like nobody’s business. I’ve brought them to work and dumped them off on coworkers. I’ve given a few to my husband’s coworkers. People that show up at my house go home with at least one. I’ve even brought them to my soccer games, donating them to anyone who wants them. I’ve juiced them in my green juices. I’ve snacked on them, eating as much as I can handle. I love cucumbers. But even I can’t keep up – I still have two, each about 18 inches long, in the fridge right now. Good thing I also have watermelon – because that means this salad can be made.

This is one of the easiest salads I’ve made in a while. It’s only 5 ingredients. It’s lovely just snacked on by itself (which is what I did), or enjoyed along grilled chicken or fish. I love the perfectly refreshing combination of cucumber and watermelon, highlighted by the punch of basil. It’s bright and cool and the epitome of summer.

But seeing as how I’m still growing cucumbers, I think I’ll need more watermelon.

Print Recipe

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Basil (gluten-free, vegan)

3 c cubed seedless watermelon

1 1/2 c thinly sliced cucumber (if you don’t have Armenian cukes, English cucumbers will do)

1 T chopped fresh basil

2 t lemon juice

About 1/4 t kosher salt

In a large bowl, toss the watermelon, cucumber and basil with lemon juice and salt. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Black Plum Sorbet

Why, oh why, has it taken me so long to make sorbet? I mean, it would seem like an obvious first step once going dairy-free – that if I was to be making a frozen dessert, it would be sorbet. After all, sorbet is naturally dairy-free. But no – I dove headfirst into making ice “cream” that I could enjoy, as evidenced here, here, and here. I love making ice cream. But after scoring some huge, gorgeous black plums at the farmer’s market, I thought maybe I’d do something a bit different from my usual. I wanted something cool, sweet, and refreshing. This sorbet was just the thing.

It’s a simple sorbet, really, and comes together pretty quickly. One of my favorite components, however, is the bit of balsamic vinegar. It’s not overwhelmingly balsamic – it’s merely a background note that gives balance and interest to the sorbet. It keeps it from being cloying. Add that and the Cointreau, and it’s a perfect marriage of plummy sweet, slightly tart freshness that completes a perfect summer meal.

Print Recipe

Black Plum Sorbet (gluten-free, vegan)

2 lbs plums, pitted and sliced into eighths

1/2 c agave nectar

1 t pomegranate balsamic vinegar (can use regular balsamic)

pinch of salt

1 1/2 t Cointreau (or Grand Marnier)

Place the sliced plums, agave nectar, balsamic vinegar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat and cover, allowing to simmer, for about 8 minutes or until the plums become tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, add the Cointreau and puree in a blender until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and chill thoroughly. Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Live in the Dallas area? I’ll be speaking this Saturday, July 20, 2013 at the Gluten Intolerance Group of Greater Dallas! Come join us.