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Archive for February, 2008

To Juice or Not to Juice

That is the question on everyone’s mind these days, isn’t it?

I mean, it is, right?  Don’t you think about it day and night?  Don’t you waffle between buying a Vitamix or BlendTec blender and an Omega 8003 single-gear juicer?  Doesn’t the agony of the juicing vs. blending debate keep you awake at night and haunt even your dreams?  Don’t you endlessly search the internet for comparisons, professional advice, and product reviews?  Aren’t you ready to pull your hair out in your struggle to answer this one, single question?

No?  You mean, I’m weirder than I thought? 

Oh dear. 

Well then, in that case, allow me to rephrase.  To juice or not to juice is the question that’s been dogging my (apparently demented) mind for a couple of weeks.  The good news is, I’ve finally reached a conclusion.  I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. 

Now will you think about it all night? 

Fine then.  Be that way.

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Kale with Aduki Beans

 

This is my very favorite way to eat kale, and I have received many good reviews from others who have tried it.  The recipe come from a little booklet that accompanied my pH testing kit.  Although this quick and easy dish makes a great side, I enjoy eating it as my main course.  A bowl of miso soup or Carrot-Cauliflower Soup completes the meal perfectly.

Never tried kale before?  Not sure what it looks like?  Well, here’s a photograph to help you spot it in the grocery store or at your local farmers’ market:

kale.jpg

(not my photo)

Kale is overflowing with Vitamins K, A, and C, fiber, and trace minerals.  Considering that it’s also an amazing detoxifer–particularly of the liver–kale truly fits the superfood profile.  For more information about kale and its heath benefits, go here.

Now, about those aduki beans.  Don’t be frightened by them either.  They don’t bite.  Although you may not be familiar with them, they’re relatively easy to find.  Whole Foods carries them, and so does my local HEB.  According to Wikipedia, Aduki, Azuki, and Adzuki beans are all the same, so don’t be fooled by alternate spellings.

Azuki beans

(not my photo)
 

Kale with Aduki Beans

2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or extra virgin olive oil) 
1 large leek, white and tender green portions, washed and thinly sliced
1 can (16 oz) aduki beans, rinsed and drained
6 cups sliced kale, stems chopped and reserved separately (see note below for prep tips)
1/4 water
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

In a large skillet with a lid, saute the leek in the oil over medium to medium-high heat until tender.  Add beans and chopped kale stems.  Heat through.  Add the kale and water and turn the heat up to high.  Cover the skillet and steam until the kale is tender, about 2 minutes.  Season to taste with Bragg’s and serve.

NOTE:
I often double the kale and leeks in this recipe, while following the original amounts for the other ingredients.  Obviously, this results in a higher vegetable-to-beans ratio, which is nice when you want a lighter meal.

To slice kale easily, lay several leaves on top of one another and roll them lengthwise.  Then, slice across the roll with a sharp knife.  This little technique will significantly reduce your prep time.

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Mexican-Style Collard Greens

As promised, here’s another idea for preparing greens.  I tossed this together a few weeks ago after a man at my church described the way his father-in-law prepares collards.  I had never thought of using Mexican flavors, but the dish turned out very well.  It was a nice change of pace, and my husband and I really enjoyed them.
 

Mexican-Style Collard Greens

1 to 2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 can (10 oz) Rotel tomatoes (diced tomatoes with chilies)
1 to 1.5 pounds collard greens, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
ground cumin
chili powder
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in large saute pan over medium heat.  When hot, add garlic and onions and cook, stirring often, for about 4 minutes, until the onions are soft and transluscent.  Add the Rotel tomatoes and increase heat.  Bring the mixture to the point of boiling and stir in the collard greens.  Stir occasionally until the greens are dark, glossy, and tender, but not mushy (cooking time will vary significantly depending on the maturity of the collards).  Season to taste with the cumin, chili powder, salt, and black pepper.

NOTE: If you’re a wimp, or if you’re cooking for one, try using mild Rotel tomatoes.

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Basic Sauteed Greens

This is the simplest of preparations, and if you’ve done much cooking, you may say to yourself “Duh!  As if anyone needed to tell me that.”  I’m not pretending that this is some stroke of genius.  But if you’re new to dark, leafy greens or if you’ve only had them Southern-style (i.e., mushy, limp, tasteless, and boiled-to-death), this is a great starting place.  I’ll post some more suggestions tomorrow.
 

Basic Sauteed Greens

1 to 1.5 pounds collard greens, kale, or swiss chard
4 to 5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I use a garlic press like this to help)
1 to 2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil or raw butter (or olive oil, if you must)
Herbamare or sea salt
Freshly-ground black pepper

First, prep your greens by washing them thoroughly, cutting off the ends of the stalks.  Separate the leaves from the stalk either by tearing or by cutting them away.  Lay the leaves on top of one another, 6 or 7 at a time.  Roll the stack lengthwise and slice across the roll.  You can vary the thickness of the slices to suit your taste.  I like mine quite thin. 

To see pictures of this technique, called chiffonade, go here.  It works like a charm for basil and other herbs too.  (Since the pictures show sage leaves, which are long and narrow, the demonstrator has rolled them top to bottom.  For greens, though, go ahead and roll them lengthwise.  Unless you have a rebellious streak.  Then you can roll them however you please.)

Also, chop up the stalks into 1 inch pieces and set them apart from the sliced leaves.  The stalks are full of nutrition too, so there’s no need to waste them.  You paid good money for them, after all.

Heat a large, wide saute pan, preferably one that’s about 12 inches wide and 3 inches deep, over medium to medium-high heat, depending on your cooktop.  Add the oil or butter and allow to melt/become shimmery.

Toss in your garlic and stir frequently to prevent burning.  After a minute or so, add your chopped stems.  A couple of minutes later, add the greens in handfuls, stirring after each addition.  For collards and swiss chard, continue stirring intermittently for a few minutes.  For kale, because it’s much bulkier and harder to stir without accidentally tossing it out of the pan, add a little water and cover, allowing the steam to do the work for you.

You’ll know that your greens are done when they turn a darker green and become glossy.  They will also lose a significant amount of bulk, although not as much as spinach does when cooked.  If you wish, you can test a little strip for doneness.  If it’s undercooked, it will be chewy and tough.  If overcooked, it will be totally limp and devoid of texture.  Definitely avoid the latter at all costs.

Turn off the heat, remove the pan from the burner, and season to taste with Herbamare or sea salt and black pepper.  It is very important to salt greens as it gives them a milder taste.  Please, don’t skip the salt.  (An article on why the right kind of salt is great for you is in the works.)

Enjoy!

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Eat Your Greens! But How?

For a long time, I thought that the “dark, leafy greens” experts kept recommending included lettuces like green leaf and romaine.  Then, one day, I discovered the truth. 

And I died a little inside.  

Kale, mustard greens, collard greens, and chard make up that group of super-foods.  I’m a pretty adventurous eater, a lover of vegetables, but my heart did not leap at the prospect of kale.  Nevertheless, I dutifully bought the offending vegetation and prepared it the best way I knew how. 

I vowed never to do it again.  

Then I had a brilliant idea.  I tripped down to Whole Foods.  “Who would know how to prepare better kale than Whole Foods?” I thought.  I bought a pint-sized portion. 

First bite–a little bitter. 

Second bite–what is that terrible aftertaste? 

Third bite–shuddering, revulsion. 

Fourth bite–gagging.  

I threw down my spoon.  Kale and I clearly did not have a future together.  I felt so vehement about this that I shared my frustration with my roommate.  “Susan,” I bitterly reported, “I just can’t do it.  I can’t do kale.  I know it’s healthy.  I know I need to eat it.  But I can’t.”  So much for my liver detox efforts.

Fast-forward two years: I was now a lot sicker and a lot more desperate.  I was consuming one of the world’s most restricted diets (at least, it felt that way), and more vegetational variety was starting to sound heavenly.  Besides, my naturopath confirmed that dark, leafy greens are invaluable in achieving true health and wellness.

Again, I timidly approached the kale at the grocery store.  In remembrance of my previous dismal failure, I looked up some recipes this time.  Success!  Kale, it turns out, is delicious.  Who knew?

What did I do wrong before?  I have no idea.  I think now that maybe I just got a bad bunch.  What did Whole Foods do wrong?  Good grief!  I have no idea, but that was some bad kale.  The good news is that kale really is fabulous when you prepare it well.  I now love, love, LOVE it.  It has become a staple in our diets, and my husband and I eat some kind of dark, leafy greens almost every day.  Currently, during their peak growing season, I can buy them for $1 a bunch every Saturday at our farmers’ market.

If you, like me, have ever struggled to find a place in your diet for those dark, leafy greens, stay tuned.  I’m going to share some of my favorite ways to prepare these nutritional superstars over the next few days.  No, these aren’t earth-shattering ideas; they’re all very simple.  But if you’re stuck scratching your head over a pile of collard greens or kale, these humble recipes just might help jump-start your own creativity. 

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Alison’s White Turkey Chili

This has been a favorite of family and friends for years, and, since getting married, my husband has become a huge fan too.  Not only is this chili packed with flavor, it’s incredibly healthy and even allergy-friendly.
 

Alison’s White Turkey Chili

1.25 pounds lean ground turkey (I waver between 93/7 and 97/3; either works just fine)

1 to 2 tablespoons virgin, unrefined coconut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 onion, diced
1.5 tablespoons minced garlic
5 teaspoons ground cumin

4 cups chicken broth
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced (reserve seeds)
1 heaping teaspoon dried marjoram (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram)
1 can (15-16 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15-16 oz) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15-16 oz) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes, drained

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 bunch of cilantro, chopped (I don’t include the stems) 
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

First, brown and crumble the turkey in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Drain and set aside.

Next, heat oil in the same pot over medium heat and cook the onions and garlic until soft and translucent.  Add the ground cumin and stir for 30 to 60 second, just until fragrant.

Then, add the cooked turkey, chicken broth, jalapeno, marjoram, beans, and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Taste the soup to test for spiciness.  If you would like more spice, add the reserved jalapeno seeds now.  Also toss in the chopped bell pepper (adding it earlier will make it too mushy).  Simmer 15 more minutes, or so, until the pepper becomes soft.

Finally, season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the cilantro leaves.  Cook 1 minute longer, just until the leaves have wilted. 

If allergies are not an issue, shredded Monterrey jack cheese and blue corn tortilla chips make excellent accompaniments to this chili.  

NOTE:
When I double this recipe, I like to use half ground turkey and half diced turkey breast. 

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Managing Herbs and Spices

My stash of herbs and spices torments me with its perpetual disorder.  How about yours?  Although I’ve struggled with a messy spice shelf for years, the problem has suddenly taken on a life of its own.  With all the experimenting I’ve been doing lately, my collection has exploded from about 25 herbs and spices to more than 50 varieties.  Help! 

Fortunately, while I may not be an organizational genius, I am a researching kind of person, and that has helped me uncover some excellent ideas, even if they aren’t mine.  If you’re curious about what I learned, read on.

Before I get started, though, do you know the difference between an herb and a spice?  If not, don’t worry.  People use the terms interchangeably all the time, but from now on, you’ll be the smarty-pants who says, “Oh, I don’t mean to be impertinent, but basil cannot accurately be described as a ‘spice.’  ‘Herb’ would be a more accurate descriptor.” 

Then again, if you say that out loud, you could lose your friends.  So just keep it to yourself. 

Spices come from the seeds, bark, roots, flowers, or fruit of a plant.  Examples include cinnamon (bark), mustard seeds, cardamom, ginger (root), cumin (seed), and coriander (seed).

Herbs, on the other hand, come from the leaves of non-woody plants.  Think of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro as examples.  You can use herbs fresh or dried.

Interestingly, a single plant can sometimes provide both a spice and an herb.  Coriander, for example, is the seed of cilantro.  

Now you know.

Next, when it comes to storing dried herbs and spices, a few rules apply:

1.  Avoid heat.  This means that keeping them in a cabinet over or right next to your stove is ill-advised.  Try finding a place for them just a couple of feet away.

2.  Avoid light.  In other words, don’t store them on your countertop or on the wall in your kitchen. 

3.  Avoid moisture.  Again, stay away from the stove and its excessive steam.  You should also never shake your seasonings directly from the bottle into a cooking dish.  Doing so will expose that herb or spice to a tremendous amount of moisture, which could promote mold growth.  Instead, shake it into your palm (away from the stove) before adding it to the pot.

4.  Avoid plastic.  Plastic is too porous and will allow moisture to seep in and mold to grow.

Personally, I’ve been breaking most of these rules.  I keep my herbs and spices in a cabinet next to the stove, and many of them are in plastic zippy bags.  That means I strike out on moisture, heat, and plastic.  Oops.

No longer!  I have been searching for a good solution to my clutter, and I have decided on a magnetic system.  Although there are many versions out there, this one appeals to me because it is fully customizable and reasonably priced.  You can choose from several different container styles and sizes.  Plus, it seems to be a Mom-and-Pop business, and I like supporting those.  Once my little magnetic tins arrive, I’ll transfer everything, then install them alphabetically on one of my pantry’s walls.  Suddenly, I will be able to see all 50+ in a single glance.  Oh, happy day!

What about you?  Do you have a better idea?  How does your system work?

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