Tag Archives: entrees

Falling in Love with Food Again – The Mediterranean Way

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LovePeople

The Mediterranean has always fascinated me – the people, the geography, the history, art, culture, politics, etc.  Food is no exception.  This October, I brought the Mediterranean into my world, and I’m sad to be leaving it behind me.

The Basics
Many people (Americans) hear about the Mediterannean Diet, that it includes the eating styles of the Italians, and automatically assume that means pasta, alfredo, breadsticks, maybe lots of meatballs, etc.  In this and many other ways, Olive Garden has done a huge disservice to Americans and what we think Italian food is.  That type of food is Italian, but it is more reminiscent of Northern Italy, where heavier foods abound and health benefits of said diet do not.  Instead, the MedDiet embodies the food stylings of areas that actually border the Mediterranean Sea.  Meals in these places tend to be fresh, light, flavorful, with a very healthy dose of olive oil and red wine.
Study after study promotes adherence to the Mediterannean Diet for its heart health benefits.  I focus on heart health because it’s the most important system in the body! …and also because it is my research and interest bias.  A study of over 1.5 million people showed that those individuals who follow a Mediterranean style of eating suffer lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and even neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than those who do not.  Clearly, those Italians/Spaniards/Greeks/Turks know what they’re doing.
So what is the MedDiet? Like all healthy diets, the MedDiet recommends a focus on whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, some dairy (but not a lot), and very little red meat.  On top of those key traits, however, is an emphasis on olive oil (and the frequent glass of red wine).  Interestingly, because of the olive oil and nut/seed focus, the MedDiet is actually fairly high in fat (~40%; Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 30-35%), which goes to show that fat is not the enemy.  To be clear, though, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, while nuts like walnuts are omega-3 rich, both of which are very heart healthy.  Saturated fat is another story.

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One of the many reasons that this eating style promotes overall health is because of the high intake of phytochemicals (compounds in plants that often give the plant a distinct color or fragrance and typically have antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties).  Many researchers have sought to determine which specific component of the MedDiet is the source of the diet’s benefits.  Olive oil and walnuts are often studied, and while they show significant benefit when either simply added to the diet or substituted for unhealthy fats like butter, they don’t explain everything.  That’s no surprise to you or me (though this type of research plagues nutritional science), and the benefits from the diet likely come from eating simple, whole, fresh foods that have complex and synergistic favorable effects.

MedDiet Score
One of the coolest things (in my opinion) that has come out of all the studies of the MedDiet has been the results that show that you don’t have to eat foods specific to the region in order to realize the value of the diet.  What I mean by that is there are plenty of foods from around the world that are just as healthy as those consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterannean.  For example, Latin (particularly Mexican) foods are near and dear to my heart, and I eat them at least weekly.  A late night visit to nearly all drive-thru burrito joints in the American southwest will prove this, but a dish that includes foods such black beans (legumes), quinoa (whole grains), fresh pico de gallo (vegetables, herbs), and avocado (healthy, monounsaturated fats) can still be consumed whilst following the MedDiet plan.  Research has shown that as long as these types of whole, fresh foods are consumed, it doesn’t matter if they come from the Mediterannean region.  Check out the MedDiet score sheet to see how your diet stacks up!

My Experience
I have been looking forward to doing the MedDiet more than any other diet since I decided to embark on this whole project.  After the hell month that was the Fast Metabolism Diet, I was expecting to have a similar response to the flexibility and joy of the MedDiet as I did when I made the Paleo to Weight Watchers transition.  It didn’t go as smoothly this time around.  While I was restricted on both FMD and Paleo, I didn’t develop the issues with eating/food on Paleo that I did with FMD.  As a recap, when I was following FMD, I felt consistently hungry, restricted, and over-analytical about food.  This resulted in me gorging myself on unhealthy foods because there was no reprieve from the monotony and control of the diet.  I cheated constantly, but I felt no actual enjoyment of what I was eating.
Unfortunately, these issues with food and eating transcended into the first 7-10 days of October.  I ate out of necessity, but I realize now that because of FMD, I had forgotten how to enjoy food – to even really taste it.  Luckily, this issue disappeared before it ruined my whole month.  I eased back into cooking for fun and joy, and I really got to stretch my legs in the kitchen again.  I can’t adequately describe how amazing this felt once I strapped on my proverbial chef hat and got to it.  For the past few months, I haven’t really tried many new recipes, I haven’t experimented much, and I’ve just been in a cooking rut.  But no longer! I didn’t even give a second thought to what I was eating – did it fit into the stipulations for this month’s eating plan? Was it too salty/too high fat/too many points/GMO-free?…and on and on and on.  I felt so much freedom this month.  In general, the MedDiet style of eating is how I like to eat anyways.  When in doubt (of me “following the plan”), I usually just threw in some more veggies to my meal, tossed the finished product with some extra olive oil, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Oh and then ate some dark chocolate for dessert.  Yes, this is real life, and this is actually a great way to eat.  Try it on. I bet you’ll like the way it fits J
Being in the kitchen again and doing it as a hobby instead of out of necessity brought so much joy to me this month.  It’s interesting, cooking in this Mediterranean way.  I felt relaxed, at peace.  Cooking can be meditative for me, and I felt it more this month than I have in a very long time.  Nearly everything I made this month was made from scratch and there is power and beauty in that.  Food is obviously a necessity, but to make it into an art is invigorating.  I loved that about this month. So very much.

Recipes
I already posted a number of recipes that I developed this month.  Here are some of my favorites that I didn’t create, but are worth noting.
Butternut Squash, Chickpea, Lentil Stew– My parents just bought me a crockpot when they were visiting earlier this month (thanks Mom and Dad!), and this was my first creation in it.  I LOVED it!  I was sort of lazy, though, and I didn’t cook anything beforehand, as the recipe recommends – I just threw it all in the crockpot the night before, started it the next morning, and then my house smelled like a freaking dream when I got home.  I topped this stew with toasted pepitas, pine nuts, and walnuts, and served with carrot apple muffins.

Hummus Crusted Chicken – So simple and easy! I didn’t serve mine with the squash and zucchini though.  I roasted carrots with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup for about 30 minutes, and then made a basic spinach salad to go along with all of it.

Kale Ricotta Gnocchi – This takes a little more time than most meals, so I recommend it for a lazy weekend evening.  This was one of those preparations that was meditative and lovely.  I truly enjoyed making this meal.  To make these a tad healthier, I substituted whole wheat flour for the white flour and part skim ricotta for the regular ricotta.  My gnocchi weren’t as pretty as hers, but who cares? They tasted pretty. I pan fried mine in the butter sage sauce and served with roasted butternut squash (tip: I like to leave the skin on my squash while it roasts and let it get nice and crispy.  It just adds another dimension of texture and flavor).
Hope you try some out and enjoy them as much as I did!

Final Stats
I’ll leave you now with the outcomes of this month.  I put on a couple pounds, but they were full of love, olive oil, and happiness so I’m ok with it.  Nothing else too earth shattering to report – but seriously, I can’t recommend this “diet” highly enough.  I hope I’ve made that clear.  Now pour yourself a glass of wine, get in the kitchen, and whip up some joy!

 

Goal/Normal

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Anthros
Weight

121-60

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

PBF

21-32

19

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

HC

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

Protein (%)

Oct-35

17

15

22

19

15-61

16

CHO (%)

49-52

54

52

60

52

28-77

46

Fiber (g)

at least 25

33

30

23

25

30-52

28

Fat (%)

20-35

29

33

18

29

10-46

38

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

7

8

3-7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

Potassium (mg)

4700

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

Cost

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

The Delicious Dish

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It’s recipe time! I’ve picked out some of my favorite recipes from the last few weeks of veganism.
You’ll notice that I use almost no “fake meat” products, which is by design.  My diet consisted of mostly unprocessed foods prior to my vegan adventure, so I didn’t want to introduce many of those in to my diet.  I’ve tried a few meatless products before, and for the most part, I don’t like them.  They don’t really mimic the texture of meat very well, and a lot of them are high in sodium.
Check out this article if you’d like some tips from the pros on incorporating more vegan products/recipes into your cooking repertoire.

Disclaimer: There are a few “recipes” that I have developed on my own.  I apologize in advance because I don’t measure anything when I’m not following a recipe (actually I don’t measure much even when I do follow a recipe).  So if you try something that you think you would normally like and find it repulsive, it could be because my estimations of ingredient amounts are off.  Or it could mean that you don’t know what good food tastes like.  Hard to say.

Sides

Citrus Poppy Seed Salad – I thought about using a substitute for the coconut oil because I didn’t have any, but decided to bite the bullet and purchase some.  Totally worth it.  The flavor of the coconut oil is so surprising when combined with the citrus, and it’s delicious.  I used ruby red grapefruit, blood oranges, and navel oranges in my salad.

Barbecued Blackeyed Peas– Ok, so these take a lot of time to make, but it’s mostly hands off time, so you can do plenty of other things while these are soaking/boiling/baking.  I also added a little brown sugar at the end, and it resulted in a sweet, spicy side dish.

Fruit Salad w/honey lime dressing– This is one of my favorite ways to add some flavor to a boring fruit salad.
Ingredients:
2 cups of chopped fruits (You can really use anything, but I used mango, blueberries, and strawberries)
2 T canola oil
2 T honey
2 T lime juice
1 T roughly chopped basil/mint

Whisk together all of the liquid ingredients in a small bowl and mix in the basil/mint.  Pour over the fruit, and enjoy!

Soups

Smokey Spicy Pumpkin Almond Soup– I know this link says butternut squash, but I didn’t feel like roasting and pureeing all that squash, so I used canned pumpkin instead.  I couldn’t find dried chipotle peppers, so I used canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Oh my spicy! I substituted coconut milk for heavy whipping cream, and because the soup was so spicy, I just poured in a whole 14 oz can (instead of 1 cup) to calm it down some.  I also added a little honey to sweeten it up.  I ate this first with some cranberry walnut bread (from Sprouts) and then ate leftovers with a black bean and quinoa stuffed bell pepper.

Aztec Soup – My friend Jenn gave me this recipe, and I can’t get over how easy it was to make (only took about 30 minutes) and how tasty it was. The toasted nuts, avocado, and tortilla chips add so much flavor and texture. I also added in a can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) to get some more protein, and a couple teaspoons each of cumin, coriander, and oregano.
Ingredients:
½ c pine nuts
½ c walnuts
2 TBS butter (or oil or vegan butter)
1 small onion-chopped
1 minced garlic clove
6 cups vegetable broth (I use a couple veggie buillon cubes)
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 package of frozen corn (10 oz.) or 1 can
1 avocado, cubed
½ c. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Blue corn tortilla chips

Saute the pine nuts and walnuts in 1 TBS of the butter until golden, then set aside in a bowl

Saute the onion and garlic in the other TBS butter, then add the broth, squash and corn and boil until the squash is soft

Serve in bowl and add in avocado, nuts, pepitas, and crushed tortilla chips

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Entrees

Kale Avocado Wraps w/Spicy Miso Dipped Tempeh – There may be some words in there that you don’t recognize.  Miso is soy fermented with a fungus to make a paste that is common in Japanese cuisine.  It’s tangy and tasty.  Tempeh is similar in that it is the product of fermentation of soybeans, but it isn’t tangy, and it makes a great, all natural meat substitute.  All in all, this dish provides lots of probiotics from the fermented foods, which I’m all about, since I’m not getting my daily dose of probiotics from yogurt.  I ate this yummy wrap with the fruit salad mentioned above and sweet potato fries.

Beany, Avocado, Cilantro Salad Surprise – This is one of my creations, which you could probably guess based on the stupid name I gave it. This salad could be eaten as a side or as a main dish, depending on how hungry you are.  The recipe below yields about 4 cups of protein-packed salad.

Ingredients
½ can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
½ can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 avocado, cubed
½ cucumber, diced in large chunks
½ red bell pepper, diced in large chunks
~1 cup spinach, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
-Mix all that stuff together

Dressing
½ cup packed cilantro
2 T lime juice
2 T orange juice
3 T olive oil
1 tsp agave nectar
salt and pepper to taste
-Blend all the dressing ingredients together (I used a Magic Bullet). Pour over salad and mix. Eat up!

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Indonesian Cabbage Salad (another recipe from Jenn) – Holy crap. I can’t get over how amazing this salad is.  It might be one of the best salads I’ve ever had. I love it. I love it so much.  Plus, it’s very aesthetically pleasing.  However, like the fool that I am, I forgot to buy bok choi, so I just added more carrots and bell pepper.  Jicama might also be a nice addition. As you can see, I also ate this with vegetarian pot stickers (from Sprouts).
Mix together the following:  1/2 head of purple cabbage shredded or cut thin, 4 stalks of bok choi (sliced thin), 1 carrot cut thin, 1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips, ½ c. fine chop cilantro, ½ c. raw sunflower seeds.
Add this curry sauce:
½ c. almond or peanut butter
½ c. water
¼ c. rice vinegar
2 TBS miso
1 TBS cilantro
2 TBS maple syrup or honey
1-2 tsp red or green curry paste
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp ground ginger
-Blend all of the above well and pour over veggies.

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Red Quinoa Broccoli Salad w/Almond Honey Vinaigrette This wasn’t a within-the-last-month discovery for me, but it is my favorite tofu dish, so it’s worth sharing. If you don’t have red quinoa, don’t fret! You can use normal quinoa (or rice)- it just won’t be as pretty. I also add dried cranberries/cherries to give it a little more flavor, texture, and color.

Vegan Alfredo – I know what you’re thinking. Alfredo is pretty much the antithesis of veganism. You are correct.  And while this doesn’t taste exactly like alfredo, it is surprisingly close, which was shocking given the ingredients from which it is comprised.  As an aside, the picture in this link has to be a lie.  All of the ingredients are brown (cashews, soy sauce, mustard, nutritional yeast flakes, etc).  I’m no artist, but from what I know, you can’t mix a bunch of brown colored things and get an off-white result.  So no, it doesn’t look like alfredo, but damn it, it tastes good.  I ate mine over whole wheat fusilli pasta with steamed broccoli. Delish.

Treats
Alright, you only get one treat because I’m tired of writing this post.

Honey-Almond Popcorn– I made my popcorn using actual popping corn, and not from microwaveable popcorn.  It’s cheap (buy it in the bulk section), and it tastes better and is healthier than microwaveable popcorn. But if you only have the in-the-bag stuff, go ahead and pop it, skip the first portion of the recipe, and join back in for Part 2.

Part 1:
In a heavy bottom pot (I use my pasta pot), heat 3 T of canola oil (or any other oil with a high smoking point, NOT olive oil) over medium-high heat.  If you want your popcorn salted, this is the time to add in the salt, as it will coat all of the popcorn as it pops.
Add in a couple of kernels of popping corn, cover the pot, and wait for the kernels to pop.  This is how you know the oil is hot enough.
Remove the pot from heat and add in 1/3 cup of corn kernels (this will yield ~8 cups of popcorn) and count to 30.  This step ensures that all the kernels and oil are at the same temperature.
Put the pot back on the heat, cover, leaving lid slightly ajar (this allows moisture to escape and keeps your popcorn crunchy instead of soggy). Let the popping commence.  Once you’ve got a popping frenzy going, shake the pot occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.
When popping is reduced to ~3 seconds between pops, remove from heat.

Part 2:
Heat 1/3 cup of honey over medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat.
Add a heaping spoonful of almond/peanut butter to the honey and stir until well mixed.
Pour over your popcorn, mix thoroughly, and dive in!

Hope this gives you some ideas for vegan-friendly dishes! I also hope that this shows that eating vegan isn’t boring or restrictive.  My diet is incredibly varied, and I’m never ever bored. Please leave a comment if anything isn’t clear or if you have questions!