DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED!

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As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to hearing from you on the new site!

(“Um, Mum, you are taking us with you, aren’t you?  Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans on this blog than you do.”)

 

* Or, Give Pods a Chance!

okrabare2

[Okra pods, in the raw]

I have a confession to make.  I haven’t told you all about this yet because, quite frankly, I was afraid you’d reject me.  Move that cursor elsewhere, and click.  At best, roll your eyes.  Maybe snort in disgust.  Maybe gag, even.

But I’ve decided it’s time.  I mean, really, what kind of lasting relationship can we have without full disclosure?  

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I love okra.

I.

Love.

Okra. 

Are you running for the hills yet? 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking:  Okra?  That polygonal pod that’s a staple in gumbo, and mostly reviled? That much-maligned member of the marrow family (but cocoa is in that family, too!) that most people reject without so much as a nibble?  That pariah of the produce aisle that’s often referred to as gluey, viscous, slimy or mucilaginous–with seeds that remind you of those bowls of peeled grape “eyeballs” we all stuck our hands into at Halloween when we were kids?

Yep. That okra.

I adore okra’s long, lantern-shaped pods, the vibrant green skins with just a hint of fuzz and the wagon-wheel innards when you cut them across. I love the mild, slightly woodsy flavor and the pop of the seeds in your mouth.  I could eat okra every day, and never tire of it.

I think it’s heartbreaking that okra gets such a bad rap.  Okra is like the pimply nerd at school–the reject, the Carrie, the Napoleon Dynamite , the Ugly Betty.  The last kid to be chosen for the baseball team.  The scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.  The pink-and-too-frilly kid who takes her dad to the prom. The computer geek nobody wants to date so then he quits high school and starts some computer company run from his parents garage and redeems himself by becoming the richest guy in America. . . oh, wait.  That would make him Bill Gates, wouldn’t it?  And then he’d actually be much sought after, wouldn’t he? Well, heck! To my mind, that IS okra!

okraquinoa1

[A bit of spice, a bit of bite, a bit of lemon zest: an endearing combination.]

I think we should give okra the accolades it deserves. Let’s nurture its low self-esteem. Let’s compliment its grassy hue and lovely symmetry, tug its cute little tail at the narrow end and make it blush.  Sure, it was born a green vegetable (already at a disadvantage compared to, say, watermelon).  And then there’s the goo factor.  But sometimes, with a recipe that takes our humble ingredient and pushes it to be its best, well, that little green lantern can really shine.  That’s what I wish for my buddy, okra.

In these recipes, okra is elevated to something that transcends its reputation. It’s like okra gussied up for a date.  Okra getting an A+ in physics. Okra at its best self–I know, like okra after taking one of Oprah’s “Be Your Best Self” weekends!  (Just imagine the introductions at that seminar, sort of like David Letterman’s ill-fated attempt at hosting the Oscars:  “Okra, meet Oprah.  Oprah, okra.”).

Besides, okra has much to offer us.  Described by WholeHealthMD as having a taste that “falls somewhere between that of eggplant and asparagus,” it’s a good source of Vitamin C and several minerals; and the seeds offer up protein in every pod, along with 4 grams of both soluble (known to help keep cholesterol levels in check) and insoluble (great for regularity) fiber in a one-cup (240 ml) serving.

okramasalaside1

[Still slightly al dente in this photo; cook a bit longer if you’re an okra neophyte.]

These are two of my favorite okra dishes, ones that we consume fairly regularly here in the DDD household.  The first is another adaptation from my dog-eared copy of Flip Shelton’s Green, a Moroccan Spiced Okra-Quinoa Pilaf.  I’ve made liberal changes to this one, including altering the base from rice to quinoa.  The spices are subtle with a barely detectable undertone of lemon zest in the mix.  Served sprinkled with chopped nuts, this pilaf is a meal in a bowl all on its own.

The second dish comes from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani. Again, I’ve made a few alterations to the original, which asks you to dry-cook the okra on the stovetop; I’ve found that adding chopped tomatoes and allowing the tender pods to stew in the juices produces a more appealing taste and texture. Although a masala curry, this one isn’t the least bit spicy, yet is still rife with the flavors of tomato, cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro. It’s a perfect side dish for Indian food, of course, but we also enjoy this as an accompaniment to burgers or cooked grains. 

So go ahead, give okra a try!  Who knows? You may even like it.  And don’t worry, the secret will be safe with me.

Moroccan-Spiced Pilaf with Quinoa and Okra

adapted from Flip Shelton’s Green

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

okraquinoa21

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Okra Masala

adapted from Indian Cooking Course by Manisha Kanani

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

okramasalatop

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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Please Standby

March 11, 2009

I’m going to be dashing around town for the next couple of days, doing cooking classes (short notice, but if you’re in the Toronto area, I’ll be at the Bayview/Sheppard Loblaws tonight at 7:00–would love to meet you!), and then my friend Babe is coming to town tomorrow, so I won’t have much time for cooking (except for other people, that is). 

When we were undergraduates, my friend Babe had a roster of what she called “permadates.”  These were straight guys who were no more than friends, but were willing to stand in whenever a male presence was required–at a work function, say, a family wedding or bar mitzvah, a school reunion, etc.  She’d call up the permadate and he was always happy to receive a free meal, free booze, and maybe some dancing in exchange for allowing Babe hang on to his rippled bicep and elbow for the evening.  A win-win!

I think the same concept extends to foods as well.  Don’t we all have our own favored dishes, the go-to recipes that we whip up when we need something that will impress, will look good and taste good–and which won’t expect any “favors” at the end of the evening?  These are the “permadishes,” the old standbys that never disappoint.

I’ve been relying a lot on “candida standbys”–simple foods that are compatible with the ACD–this week.  A lettuce wrap here, some baked tofu (without soy sauce, of course) there, here a roasted veggie, there a baked sweet potato, raw almonds and pumpkin seeds everywhere. 

Then I realized I’ve already got quite a few candida-friendly dishes right here on this blog–dishes that are already in my repertoire, but happen to be suitable for the ACD.  These are great for anyone who’s battling candida, but even more, for anyone who’s seeking a cleaner, less toxic, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting diet as well. 

Until I cook again, I’ll leave you with some of these reliable favorites.  Nothing like a good permadish to get you through a busy week!

ecleancpaw1

Mum, how about considering us permadogs?  You know you can count on us.  And of course I always rely on my big sister to take good care of me, too.” 

“Aw, zip it, Chaser–you’re making me blush.”

chaserkisselsie

A Bowl Lotta Love

March 4, 2009

Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

[Thanks to everyone who left such sweet comments and encouragement for the hellish week of marking!  (And I know I still owe some of you emails. . . coming soon!) Some of you who are students noted that you’d be doing as much work on the other side of the red pen. Whether students, parents, teachers or the lucky few whose only connection to academia is reading about it in the newspapers–hope you all survived the past crunch week or so of midterms, study week, or finals. Now get ready, ’cause there’s a lengthy return post ahead–on to the food!]

1stbowl51

[Base of rice and buckwheatsautéed rapini and chard with onions and garlic; tahini-miso sauce; sprinkled with hemp seeds.]

I’m sure we’ve all met her (or perhaps we are her?): that woman who’s incredibly competent at dispensing affection, comfort, nurturing or support–yet seems to ignore her own emotional needs and physical well-being.

Well, I admit it, I’m as guilty as the next gal.  Ten days away from the DDD home base had me reflecting often on this whole notion of self-love.  Actually, that was only one among a plethora of topics on which I mused during the hiatus, which included (but was not limited to) the following: 

  • how much I miss blogging when I’m away.  I was struck by a true sense of void during this time, and it astounded me. Honestly, who are “they” who post studies about the Internet and  prophecies of doom regarding how it diminishes social skills or limits interactions with other people? Seriously.  In some cases, I’m in contact with blog buddies more often than my “in-person” friends (some of whom live only five minutes away).  Don’t let anyone tell you that the society of bloggers isn’t a bona fide community of lively, vibrant, and very much interactive people–all of you!
  • how many different ways one can answer the same exam question (more than you might think, but not quite as many as the meaning of life, the universe and everything).
  • how to create a tasty, grain-free breakfast pancake. I wanted something that didn’t require refined, or even whole-grain, flour–and I found it!  (more on that anon).
  • how this &%$!!?* winter refuses to retreat, even though it’s March already and why are you still hanging around, Mr. Jack Frost, can’t you tell you’re not welcome anymore and nobody wants you here, so just go away and don’t come back, ya big bully!
  • how, with the economy as bad as it is, I’m hoping the HH and I might still save for our dream home (okay, I’d be willing to cut some of the frills and just be happy with a daydream home).  And while we’re both incredibly lucky to still be gainfully employed, on the topic of saving money and stretching a dollar, I’ve been mightily inspired by the frugal and fantastic Melody over at MeloMeals.
  • why, once again, I have been willing to risk my health, well-being and future for the evil (and truly, ephemeral) charms of that sepia seductress, chocolate.

3rdbowl4

[Oat groats and amaranth base; grilled eggplant and grilled marinated tofu; broccoli, avocado and green onion; orange-fig sauce.]

Yes, folks, it’s time to focus on the “diet” portion of this blog yet again. 

When I first began to ponder how I’d spend my break from the college, I considered traveling to a new locale, attending a retreat, picking up old hobbies like sewing or knitting–but it never occurred to me I’d get sick instead.  Then, at my annual checkup last week, I discovered that my old candida afflction has reared its yeasty head yet again, and this time, with a potency that could rival the combined superpowers of the X-Men.  

I’ve decided that in order to rid myself of this recurring problem once and for all, I’ll need to return to the anti-candida diet (ACD).  I’ll be facing a highly restrictive diet and a few detoxes or cleanses along the way (no wonder I’ve been avoiding it).  But I’ve had it with the persistent cycle of diet, dessert and destruction (you thought I was going to say “dogs,” didn’t you? heh heh!). To paraphrase that seminal queen of weight loss, Susan Powter, “the insanity must stop!” (And what the heck ever happened to her, anyway?). 

I’m going on an anti-candida diet so I can be healthy.  So I can move more easily, and feel comfortable in my own body.  So I can express a little more self-love and self-care through my diet and lifestyle. (Anyone familiar with Sally’s fabulous blog already knows what I mean by this:  treating my body, mind and spirit with the kindness, reverence, and care it deserves.)  So I can enjoy a social life without being fixated on food. Oh, and so I can lose 40 pounds by my highschool reunion this May. **

My last “true” candida cleanse occurred nine years ago, and in the interim, my eating habits have slowly reverted to those that got me in trouble in the first place (chocolate too often; sweets too often; wine too often). After reading the diet on  this site (which is slightly less ascetic than the regimen I followed before), I think it’s doable (the only recommendation with which I disagree is to use aspartame or aseulfame, so I’ll just omit those).

To those of you who’ve been reading for a while, I understand if you’re skeptical, and I apologize.  After all, I’ve tried more than a few times to cut chocolate and sugar from my life.  Well, I’ve learned it’s never a great idea to publicly declare such a complete lifestyle overhaul on the blog, because later on, if you don’t meet your lofty goal, your initial vow is indelibly there for all the internet to see. With that in mind, I’ll restrict my candida commentary to the Progress Tracker page (may as well give it a new use, as I long ago stopped recording my weight over there).

And since I’ve already done a bit of baking over the past couple of weeks, I can intersperse the spartan dishes with more interesting fare.  If I play my screens right, you folks will barely notice a difference.

2ndbowl21

[Rice and brown lentil base; spinach leaves and steamed sweet potato wedges with chopped green onions; topped with almond-curry sauce.]

The first step is to prepare the system with a week or two of clean, whole-foods eating that doesn’t worry about yeast or fermentation (yeast and fermented foods will be cleared out next).   Rice or noodle bowls are a great place to start.

4thbow3

[Barley and amaranth base; grilled red pepper strips and onions; steamed broccoli; sprinkling of cashews and sunflower seeds; topped with tahini-miso sauce.]

Meals-in-a-bowl like these have become very popular at health-food restaurants and stores around North America.  There’s a local haunt that serves an amazing bowl called, appropriately, “The Mish-Mash Bowl.” Every meal contains either brown rice or quinoa, topped with your choice of four toppings from three categories (protein, veggies, or good fats), then drizzled with your choice of one or two dressings.

My own variation on the Mish Mash is a quartet of at least one healthy grain plus a protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrate (ie, veggies).  I was amazed at how satisfying–and how filling–a clean, healthy bowl can be.  The marriage of fresh, colorful veggies with chewy grains and the crunch of nuts or seeds is entirely enchanting (almost as enchanting as that vixen, chocolate–though in a different way, of course).

In putting these together, what I discovered rather quickly is that “the sauce makes the bowl.” A grain bowl sans effective topping is sort of like a perfect outfit without the right shoes or accessories–it may be good quality, it may be tailored , it may even sport a designer label, but without the proper accoutrements, it’s just a length of beige, beige, beige. 

With a winning sauce, however, these bowls are stellar; they’re delectable; they evoke impatient yearning; they’re Zagat-worthy.  And, much like those lines of toddlers’ clothing that allow the kids to dress themselves by choosing one top and one pre-coordinated bottom, they’re fun to mix and match, just to see what comes up.  

The combinations here are simply starting points to get you going; play around with different grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies, and sauces.  Use these sauces with any combination you please, or go with my mixes–either way, you’ll be treating yourself with love.   

**I asked this question entirely tongue in cheek–so please, no need to send me emails detailing how unhealthy a 40-pound weight loss in 8 weeks would be!  I have no intention of actually losing that much.  Besides, at the rate I’ve been going this past year, a FOUR pound loss by May would be nothing short of miraculous.

Tahini-Miso Sauce

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

4thbowl21

Almond and Curry Sauce 

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

2ndbowl1

Orange Fig Sauce

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

3rdbowl3

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs

I had intended a lovely post today, in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving long weekend to the south of us.  But time constraints (read: massive, unwieldly pile of essays and assignments to mark) have prevented me from following through. So I’ll just have to wait till the next batch of holidays in December to post about some new, frost-and-snow inspired, treats.

Instead, I thought I’d pull together a few recipes from previous posts that are suitably festive for a holiday table, or the breakfast table the following day (I’ve also got a few detox recipes on the blog–I’ll let you seek those out yourselves, as required).  Most of these are fairly quick to make as well, as long as you’ve got the ingredients on hand.

Hope everyone enjoys some togetherness with friends and family, great food, and a bit of time to relax and play.

See you after the holiday!

chaserunderbed

Mum, will Elsie be able to play again after the holiday?  I mean, it’s just so boring with her out of commission. . .

Main Meal Dishes:

Side Dishes:

Desserts:

Breakfast Dishes:

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE NEW SITE BY CLICKING HERE.

As someone who considers herself an unabashed fan (and follower) of popular culture, I love trend-watching (and also soap opera-watching, and celebrity-watching, and style-watching. . . plus reading trashy magazines at the supermarket checkout line. . . I could go on, but really, haven’t I embarassed myself enough for one day?)

Over the years, I’ve noticed that trends in food, much like trends in fashion or architecture or music, tend to be cyclical. Something new makes a splash on the scene, there’s a frenzied public reaction, and everyone rushes to snap up the boots or to hang the accent mirrors or to buy the CDs from the stores.  Eventually, the trend fades like a tan in winter and is forgotten. . . just long enough for everyone to discard any traces of trend-related goods they may own (though I could never bring myself to part with those hand-embroidered Lee overalls from my highschool days, even though they’d barely cover my kneecaps today).

About 20 years after it first appeared, said craze resurfaces as if it’s now been discovered for the first time (to wit, iceberg lettuce.  I mean, was it even good the first time?  And then there are bell bottoms–which have seen more than one resurrection, in fact.  And Supertramp.  Oh, and Rachel’s hair on Friends. Is it just me, or isn’t that simply a revamped 1970s shag haircut?). Only problem is, this new iteration, bearing enough resemblance to the original so you know it’s basically the same concept, also exhibits just enough variation from the prototype so you’re forced to purchase it anew if you wish to hop back on the bandwagon (so those original bell bottoms you lovingly preserved in tissue paper? Sorry, now they’re just slightly too wide at the base, and slightly too low at the hip to be “fashionable” today).  

So it goes with gastronomy, as well. I am (barely) old enough to remember the first wave of hippie food that gained popularity.  The trend, I believe, started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s.  It was the era of Jane Fonda touting wheat germ in hamburgers (and lots of aerobic exercise), and the inception of the Moosewood restaurant and (then) curly-haired Mollie Katzen as its main proprietor and artist-in-residence.  And the Seventies was when Frances Moore Lappe first publshed Diet for a Small Planet, of course.  In those days, an overabundance of grey-hued, homemade tofu and crunchy granola gave “health food” and veganism a bad rap.  Today, thankfully, the new wave of “healthy” foods can be both good for you and good-tasting.  

Luckily for me, I’ve always loved the taste of healthy foods, whether in vogue or not. (Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t also love the taste of incredibly UNhealthy foods, which, if you’ve ever read this blog before, you already know).  Still, I hold fond memories of living in my first bachelor apartment (basically, a glorified closet with a bathroom on one end) as a grad student.  A step up from most bachelor pads, it boasted a “kitchen” (the wall that had the sink and counter affixed to it) as well as a “bedroom” (the wall that had the window cut into it), separated by a waist-high partition that jutted halfway across the room.  Remember Mary’s original pad in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and how she had a semblance of space from the kitchen counter off to the side, with that lovely, bright central area flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling window, the area that featured a hide-a-bed sofa?  Well, my place was nothing like that.

One of the first things I did living on my own was attempt to expand my culinary repertoire by branching into “health” foods.  My main motivation at the time was purely pecuniary, but I now realize that my choices introduced me to vegan foods as well. In those days, single and sans wheels, I was happy to tote along a “granny cart” (basically a steel basket on wheels), haul it onto the city bus, and travel an hour each way for my weekly pilgrimmage to the one bulk store in the city. 

Once there, I faced dozens of plastic bins, brimming with dried beans in varied shades of grey, white, brown, and green; nubby grains ranging in size from pinpoint to pencil eraser (with strange names like quinoa, teff, or amaranth); exotic flours from carob or fava beans, which I’d only just encountered; and assorted candies, soup mixes, dog biscuits, nuts and seeds–well, I could easily browse for a couple more hours before picking and choosing my purchases (not to imply that I ate dog biscuits in those days, or anything–just that they were there, laying the mental foundation for my current forays to the local bulk store, in which The Girls and their appetites always figure prominently).

This salad is from one of the first cookbooks I bought, called Horn of the Moon.  As you can probably tell from the title, it was a “health foodie” book. Most of the recipes reflect its early origins:  falafel, lentil burgers, tofu stuffed mushrooms.  Maybe it was nostalgia for those first heady days living entirely on my own; maybe it was a need for something simple, hearty, and evocative of fall; maybe it was my way to reintroduce an earlier trend; in any case, I had a craving for this salad last week and promptly pulled out my worn copy and prepped a batch.  

And while the HH found this too “plain” (seems his 2008-era palate, now accustomed to cilantro, garam masala, mysterious fiery jalapenos and the like, has rejected such rudimentary gustatory pleasures), I still loved this dish. With its chewy buds of beige-hued barley and oats, and sweet, toasty crunch of hazelnuts or crunchy bits of carrot and celery, this salad offered up a welcome mouthful of memory, warm and tingly, and a perfect way to reminisce about the past.

Barley-Hazelnut Salad

from Horn of the Moon cookbook

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

An unpretentious, hearty salad that’s straightforward and unambiguous in its nutritional offering.  It’s easy to eat a large serving of this as a meal on its own–which is a good thing, since this recipe yields a huge amount (it may be halved if you have fewer than four people in your house).

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.” 

[Little aside that has nothing to do with the rest of this entry:  while glancing at WordPress stats before writing this post, I just realized that my previous entry was number 200 on this blog!  Where has the time gone?? I’m really amazed that I’ve written 200 whole blog entries–seems like just yesterday I started writing here (or, at least, just 306 days ago). And what better way to celebrate than with yet another blog entry?]

I’ve always thought of beets as a much maligned foodstuff. I mean, they just don’t have the glamor or charm of more popular roots like carrots or parsnips, or even the whimsical appeal of tubers, like yams or potatoes. It’s like beets are the scrawny kid on the beach who gets sand thrown in his face by the jock, or maybe the chubby kid on the baseball field who’s last to be picked for the team.  Poor, plump, unathletic beets!

It’s not just beets that evoke this reaction in me, of course. I for one have always been a sucker for the underdog. Is it because I myself have felt like an underdog much of the time?  Is it because the underdog generally tends to be the more quirky, the more multi-faceted, the more interesting and more sensitive individual in any competition?  Is it because I’ve seen Rocky too many times?  Or is it just because the last syllable in the word “underdog” is “dog”?

With school just around the corner again (really, where HAS the time gone??), all this thought of underdogs reminded me of my own first week as an undergraduate at university. Knowing absolutely nothing about football but eager to take part in orientation activities, I attended the first intercollegiate football game on campus. Okay, actually, I had no interest whatsoever in being part of orientation, but I was pretty sure there might be some guys at the game.  And I did want to meet guys.

Anyway, our team (“The Lancers”) were suffering a royal pummeling from the opposition (the celebrated Toronto team, if I remember correctly). Every time our guys messed up and fumbled the ball or narrowly missed a touchdown, they’d be greeted with fervent, ear-shattering boos and a chorus of hisses.  Except for one guy, that is. 

This one guy, a lone figure in the crowd, kept leaping to his feet after each mistake, punching his fists into the air above his head and bellowing, “Great effort, guys!  Good for you!  Way to go–great try!!”  Talk about supporting the underdog! In fact, I was transfixed by this bizarre fellow. I mean, rooting for the losing team?  I couldn’t help but think, “Wow. That is really admirable.  I’d love to meet that guy some time.  Actually, I’d like to date that guy*.” In the end, our team still lost, but at least they felt appreciated.

These days, I’m a lot more willing to stand apart from the crowd and actively support a less popular concept or foodstuff (it’s pretty much the status quo whenever I eat with my family, anyway, given my oddball dietary restrictions). I tend to harbor the same overprotective feelings for foods I believe are unappreciated.  Like beets.  Even though the HH thinks they taste like dirt most of the time (never did ask how he’d know that fact), these earthy roots are one of my favorite foods. They’re loaded with folate and potassium; they have some powerful antioxidant properties and are known to help tone and cleanse the liver; they can reduce inflammation in some chronic conditions; and they double as a nifty lipstick in a pinch (thanks for the tip, Cleopatra!). And ever since I learned to roast instead of boil them, I’ve been entirely enamored of these beautiful burgundy bulbs.

If you’ve never been a fan, I’d highly recommend trying this recipe.  After being roasted to bring out their natural sugars, the beets are cubed and tossed with quinoa, toasted walnuts, and a lemony, garlicky, tangy dressing.  The recipe is a favorite of mine, and one I’ve been preparing regularly since the very first cooking class I taught back in 2003.  If you’re avoiding fermented foods (as I am supposed to be doing now), simply omit the balsamic and use a bit more lemon juice instead; use dried mustard instead of dijon; and sweeten slightly with a few more drops of stevia.

Since we received both golden and red beets in our organic produce box last week, I made the salad with both types this time, but the results really are much more visually impressive made entirely with red beets, as they infuse the quinoa with a brilliant crimson hue that’s quite arresting. (I’ll include an updated photo next time I make it the usual way).

“Mum, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m the underdog in this house.  I mean, I’m always under Elsie when we fight.  And don’t you always tell me I’m underfoot, too?  So I guess this means you think I’m ‘more quirky, more multi-faceted, more interesting and more sensitive,’ ? And aren’t you supposed to feed the underdog extra treats, too? “

Since it stars quinoa, I’m submitting this recipe to Melissa of Baking a Sweet Life for her Let it Grain Blog Event (this month’s edition is Quinoa).

Quinoa, Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad

TO VIEW THE COMPETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]

[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days.  For this second entry, I’m focusing on Quinoa. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]

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I remember very clearly the first time I tasted quinoa (pronounced keen-wah):  there was I, barely having reached the other side of twenty, at an English Department party at the University of Windsor.  As a Teaching Assistant studying toward my MA degree, I had leaped at the chance to attend, not only because this was my very first opportunity to enter the Inner Sanctum of the faculty club, but also because I’d been harboring a raging crush on my Modern American Drama professor and I knew he’d be there.

As it turns out, no, my sophomoric infatuation never made it beyond the fantasy stage; luckily for me, as John later became my beloved mentor, who (along with the wife he adored–drat!) welcomed me into his home, and spent countless hours in serious discussion with me at the local university pub, where I’d regularly spill my dreams, aspirations, academic anxieties and beer; and  he’d regularly dispense sage advice, sympathy, pedagogic pointers and beer–for the next two decades or so.

One of the other TAs, a placid, floaty woman (in the way that 1950s housewives on Valium were placid and floaty) brought two dishes to the party buffet table that day: carob brownies (though lacking any gratuitious “hippie” ingredients as you might have found in chocolate brownies of that era, if you get my drift); and a quinoa-veggie salad.  I loved both dishes as soon as I tasted them, and resolved immediately to reproduce both in the shoebox kitchen of my bachelor apartment.

The carob brownies were fairly easy to replicate (even though Ms. Floaty refused to give out the exact recipe); it was the quinoa that turned out to be the greater challenge.  Most of the ingredients were fairly obvious to the naked eye–celery, green onion, cucumber, tomato.  And I could easily approximate a similar oil and vinegar dressing.  But what had me stumped was the grain itself, the star of the salad–the quinoa.

Feeling confident that I could maneuver my way around pretty much any grain, I boiled the little cream-colored beads exactly as I would pasta, in an overabundance of fresh water. I should have known there’d be trouble when I attempted to drain the stuff in a colander, only to discover that half or more of the quinoa pearls had fallen through the holes and down the drain.  Adding insult to incompetence, when I finally scraped together the remaining 2 tablespoons of the mixture and sampled it for doneness, it unveiled a taste so powerfully bitter that I might have been chewing on a peach pit or a grapefruit peel, with a generous sprinkling of paint chip over top.  Not the most auspicious beginning.

From that unpropitious start, however, has developed an ongoing and consistent love of quinoa that persists to this day (much deeper than an undergraduate crush on a literature professor would have been). Quinoa is, by far, my favorite grain, for a plethora of reasons: I love its distinctly mild, slightly nutty flavor; its chewy, almost crunchy texture; its visual impudence–that color-contrasted spiral tail slowly unfurling as the grain cooks, like a loose stitch on your favorite sweater. 

Quinoa, like most complex carbohydrates, is a nutritional powerhouse.  Besides offering the highest protein content of any grain, this gluten-free gem also provides a nearly complete protein, as it is, unlike other grains, high in the amino acid lysine. (One reason why vegetarians are advised to combine grains with legumes, or grains with nuts/seeds, is to achieve a “complete” combination of all nine essential amino acids.)  With lysine in its lineup, quinoa doesn’t require combination with other foods to achieve complete protein status.

 A little higher in calories than other grains, quinoa is worth it.  According to the  World’s Healthiest Foods website (maintained by the venerable George Mateljan Foundation), quinoa also provides important minerals, heart-healthy fiber, and the anti-cancer protection of antioxidants, among other health benefits. It ‘s also fairly neutral on the acid-alkaline spectrum, important because most grains lean towards the acidic side, while our blood requires a more alkaline status.  In other words, quinoa won’t mess with your body’s acid-alkaline balance the way some other foods (especially those that are processed or high in sugar) might.

If you’ve never tried this versatile and delicious ingredient, you’re in for a treat.  Quinoa can be used like oats or rice as the basis of a breakfast cereal, or in side dishes like rice or millet.  It can be baked into casseroles, sprinkled into soups, stuffed into peppers or cabbage leaves, or even blended into muffins or breads.  And it’s equally delicious hot or cold.  My HH was skeptical, at first, but he’s since become a fellow fan of this wonderful food.  (“Mum, we’re keen on quinoa, too!  We’ll share in it any time. . . . “)

To prepare quinoa, employ the standard ratio of water to grain that you would for rice: two parts water to one part grain.  Most instructions will warn that the grain’s exterior houses a naturally bitter resin, which needs to be rinsed carefully to remove before cooking (hence my bitter first encounter; I had no idea I was supposed to rinse it first).  However, in today’s marketplace, quinoa is so ubiquitous that manufacturers have begun to pre-rinse it for us.  These days, I almost never pre-rinse my quinoa (more because of laziness or forgetfulness than any determination to buck tradition), and it always turns out fine.  The stuff I buy in the bulk bins is just as reliable this way as the higher-end products, too.

To achieve a fluffy result (with grains that are clearly separated and well-cooked), I’ve found the best way to cook the quinoa is to first bring the water to a rolling boil before adding the grain; then, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes before checking the pot (resist the temptation to uncover the pot or to stir the mixture!).  If you’re new to quinoa, you might want to combine it with something else the first time; a mix of half quinoa and half rice is always a good option.  For a soupier, more porridge-like texture, pour the quinoa directly into the water before you begin to heat it; allow the water to come to the boil with the quinoa already in it, then proceed as above. 

I decided to offer this salad recipe first, as it’s always a huge hit at the cooking classes I teach, even with people who’ve never tasted quinoa before.  I’ve paired it with buckwheat here; the mild mannered quinoa is a perfect partner to the more robust buckwheat. 

Because this recipe contains both cilantro and vegetables, I thought it would be a great submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, the great event created by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, this month hosted by Ramona at Houndstooth Gourmet 

 Quinoa Salad with Buckwheat and Cranberries

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

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This salad makes a perfect offering to a buffet table, or a nice light supper.  The chewy, solid texture of the grains here works well with the slightly spicy, sweet dressing; the salad’s flavors develop even more and the cranberries plump a little by the second day (if it lasts that long).  When I first created the recipe  I conducted a nutritional analysis and discovered that one serving (about a cup) of this salad offers 12 grams of protein–enough for a substantial main course in anyone’s books.  

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.