The TJ’s Salad

As a parent, I really struggle with dietary labels. The other day I filled out a work conference form and was requested to list my dietary needs. In the past, I have written “Vegetarian” and was always disappointed with the limp vegetables smothered in cream sauce that arrived at my table and which prompted burdensome questions from other guests. Then I switched to “Pescetarian” because at least I can indulge in a rare piece of fish while showing my table neighbors that it’s acceptable to talk to me because we are all consuming a form of meat together.

But lately, I’ve also cut most cheese and eggs from my diet, which is confusing because it’s more than just Pescetarian, and I recently learned that dairy doesn’t include eggs because eggs aren’t dairy. Just cheese and milk is dairy. News to me! But I do still use a dab of cream in my tea every morning, which isn’t a problem until someone says I’m a “Vegan” and then I feel like an imposter. Because I  don’t consider myself a vegan either. And I mean, Oreos are vegan and there are fat vegans out there so what does that label even mean to me at this point in my life? Labels just seem to make people confrontational and a little bit angry. It’s like people think I’m showing up with protest signs or have starved myself for days with this radical diet before I come over for dinner. And to complicate matters more, I also stopped drinking coffee a few months ago because I never much liked the taste and frequently had indigestion, so now people think I don’t do caffeine – which I do. I drink endless cups of highly caffeinated tea every single day.

Then I observe endless variety of creative and socially acceptable response cards on tables from “Meatless Friday” (during Lent), “Meatless Monday” (I guess that’ s a label now?), and of course the obligatory allergy needs “No Nuts”. My younger son is allergic to walnuts and pecans – a very clear and easy label – and risk of death is definitely an exception to my plight and that never provokes a response. I recently joined a Facebook group called “80% WFPD (whole food plant based) which when I tried to describe it to a friend just sounded comical. Why can’t I just say “feed me something that isn’t bad, and is digestible with vegetables and some healthy plant-based protein to get me through the next few hours”??

So lately I have begun to identify myself as a Nutritarian. This term was developed and mass marketed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his popular book “Eat to Live”. It refers to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet supporting impressive long-term health benefits which is backed by science. So basically if you’re going to eat 100 calories, you want to eat 100 calories of food that makes you feel fuller for longer with more energy and is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. And if you really wanted to get into an ethical debate, you could talk about the biology of human evolution and what we now know about early human diets, or you could talk about how the archaic food pyramid was updated to My Plate in 2011 which is more inclusive of plant-based nutrition, and you could  debate the impact of global farming on our planet and climate change. BUUUUUT I won’t do that today. The recent documentary “The Gamechangers” does a great job explaining all this, so just watch that instead.

What I do really like about this label of Nutritarian is that it moves away from the morality of what I eat and focuses more on the science. It’s also a term that seems less scary to others and maybe a bit more progressive in terms of the food pyramid. I still eat bread and pasta every day, but sprouted grain bread and whole wheat pasta. In fact, I literally eat ALL THE TIME. I am aware of high level protein sources now that I never thought of beyond beans and tofu before like quinoa, oatmeal, peas, and seeds. I eat more calcium from one plate of greens than I would have gotten from a glass of milk. I sleep better and I’m slightly more motivated to move my body, but that may be because I’m also drinking in moderation these days — like, not EVERY DAY. Just when it’s been a shit day or I want to date my husband every now and then. And as a parent, I strive to educate my kids on what they put into their bodies and how it effects them, now how other people label them or whether they should feel shame about eating a turkey sandwich every now and then at school. Which they do.

Anyway, with the recent fall weather quickly transitioning to snow, I was craving a hearty green and grain salad this week and stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few of my favorites. Trader Joe’s has a nice variety of precooked, prepackaged items that really make a great dish when you’re in a pinch, either for one or served on a large platter for a holiday crowd. This time I used their Cruciferous Crunch Salad as a base with a selection of cooked beets, kalamata olives, Persian cucumbers, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, farro and a giant bag of fresh haricot green beans which I blanched for 5 min but could also be eaten raw. Other variations I love from their refrigerated section include the precooked brown lentils and the fingerling potatoes. In place of farro you could also throw in some quinoa or rice. I topped it off with some lightly pan fried Lightlife bacon for more of a cobb salad flavor. I typically use balsamic vinegar for dressing, but tahini mixed with lemon juice is pretty amazing if you don’t want anything dairy-based. I also grabbed a little ginger lemon kambucha back tea for $2.99 – mwuah! Love it. So no real recipe today folks, just some tidbits on great plant-based food options in a one-stop shop that I enjoyed this week.

Lemony Bulgur Tabouleh

Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!

Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!

For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked bulgur
  • 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

Well it’s spring here in Chicago which means either it’s the 97th day of January OR the sun busts out after a long, dormant winter and vibrant baby green blooms burst forth! The last few days have been rather fickle, but thinking of summer gardens and long walks on the beach got me in the mood for a nice salad so today I opted for a vegetarian Cobb salad which I especially love because it can be adapted with so many ingredients if you feel adventurous. I used a spinach base topped with freshly boiled red and white baby potatoes tossed in a balsamic vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon dressing. But the biggest surprise here was the salty blue cheese, creamy egg and tart green apple combo which I will definitely be making again!!

Not Yet Summer Cobb Salad

  • Spinach salad base, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • 1/3 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, largely diced
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 1 TB blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 cup boiled red and white potatoes, cut into quarters

Perfect Panzanella 

After a very hectic two months of life upheaval, we are officially suburbanites now – and I absolutely love it! Never thought I would. I guess you never know where you’re headed in life until the opportunity practically hits you in the face and suddenly you’ve found it.

Well, to celebrate the family getting settled we hosted our first gathering for Father’s Day and I made one of my all time favorite dishes – Panzanella. I always forget how versatile and easy this dish really is. It’s perfect as a side dish for dinner or a main dish for lunch, and works for all seasons. It’s also easy to prep and have ready for a big crowd. The secret is the fresh herbs paired with those rich, juicy vine ripe tomatoes that balance with the acidity from a vinaigrette that gets soaked up by … wait for it, that highly addictive chunky, crusty, toasty bread. OMG!! This ones based on the Ina Garten recipe, except I used red wine vinegar instead of champagne vinegar and I also added a tad of parsley:


Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 small French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2-inch thick moon shapes
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
  • 15 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saute pan on medium heat, then add the bread and salt; tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. 


Suburban deer… 

Cowboy Caviar

IMG_2249.JPG
A few weeks ago I found out about Cowboy Caviar after I had made a simple bean salad that was reminiscent to someone of this recipe which they shared with me. Not only do I love the name, but I also love it’s simplicity and subtle different flavors that really make this recipe shine. The spicy base of black-eyed peas, avocado, corn and tomatoes combined with the red wine vinegar hot sauce is simply dynamite on a bed of romaine lettuce with crumbled tortilla chips on top – and it didn’t even need additional dressing.

The good news is that black-eyed peas are cheap, high in protein, and low in calories, cholesterol and saturated fat. They also have a good amount of potassium and iron. If you are concerned about iron intake on a vegetarian diet, beans and dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots) will more than compensate what you don’t get from red meat. Additionally, eating foods high in vitamin C will actually increase iron absorption in the body. So enjoy this salad with a handful of dried fruit for a healthy, nutritious meal!

COWBOY CAVIAR
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 firm-ripe avocado (about 10 oz.)
1 can (15 oz.) black-eyed peas
1 can (11 oz.) corn kernels
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 pound Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt

In a large bowl, mix vinegar, hot sauce, oil, garlic, and pepper. Cut avocado into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to vinegar mixture and mix gently to coat.
Drain and rinse peas and corn. Add peas, corn, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado; mix gently to coat. Add salt to taste.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

mexican quinoa saladQuinoa is an amazing and versatile ingredient that is cholestorol-free, fat-free, and high in protein, iron and fiber. It is also a complete protein, which means it provides all of the essential amino acids. I use quinoa as a substitute for pasta and other grains because it is AWESOME. In fact, when Asher was a baby I used to mix cooked spinach with apple sauce and quinoa in a bowl and he literally could not shovel it down his throat fast enough! However, as soon as his fine motor skills developed he learned that this concoction also made a nice splatter of mess all over the walls and floors, and then quinoa became purely an adult entree in our household. This week we enjoyed a delicious Mexican Quinoa Salad that would make a delicious addition to picnics or dinner parties, and also would work nicely as a stuffing in peppers if you want to make something easy to keep in the fridge for the weeek.

MEXICAN QUINOA SALAD

1 cup quinoa
2 ears of corn, “kerneled”
1 green pepper, diced
1 can black beans, drained
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 2 limes
Salsa
Queso fresco

Boil 1 1/2 cups water is small sauce pan, then add quinoa and simmer for 20 minutes. In small bowl, combine lime juice, salt, cumin, chili powder and cumin. When quinoa is cooked, let cool for an additional 20 minutes. Combine in mixing bowl with corn kernels, green pepper, black beans, and cilantro. Top with salsa and queso fresco when served. And did I mention this entire dish costs around $10?? Enjoy!

Mexican Lentil Salad

mexican lentil salad Today’s recipe I took straight from one of my favorite blogs – Kalyn’s Kitchen. The only difference is that I recommend making the lentil salad topping in one large batch so you can easily take it to work for the week and assemble it with some refreshing cold, crispy Romaine lettuce. It’s rich chili spices mixed with the sourness of the lime juice makes it perfect for summer!

MEXICAN LENTIL SALAD
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, cooked in 6 cups salted water
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 can (6 oz. drained weight) black olives, cut in half
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1-2 avocados, diced
1 cup pickled banana peppers or pepperoncinis
Juice from 2 fresh-squeezed limes
6 cups chopped Romaine lettuce, washed and dried
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 package of taco seasoning
1/2 cup vegetable broth

Put lentils, 6 cups water, and a little salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. When the water boils, reduce to a low simmer and cook until the lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils well. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the chopped red onion and saute for a few minutes, until the onion starts to soften. Then add the taco seasoning and saute about 2 minutes more. Add the lentils and vegetable stock and simmer until the liquid has all evaporated. Turn off the heat and let the lentils cool. When cooled, add sliced olives, tomatoes, green onions, avocado and toss with extra lime juice. Served fresh over chopped lettuce, or bring lettuce to work separately and enjoy this tasty dish all week long!