Queso with Black Beans and Pickled Vegetables

img_0316

Game day is coming up! For those of you not in North America, I am referring to the annual Super Bowl championship football game being played next weekend. The Super Bowl marks the end of the American professional football season and is an excuse for family and friends to get together to eat and watch the game. It’s watched by many Canadians too – did I say watched?

Does anyone actually watch the game?

Well sort of, but we also feast our way through the afternoon while engaging in playful banter over plays, players, bad calls, half-time shows and of course the final score. In fact, last year at about this time, some newspaper (can’t remember which one) stated that we eat more food on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year except Thanksgiving. 

img_0301-1

It must be true. In my experience, no one hosts a Super Bowl party without providing tons of food and no one leaves a Super Bowl party feeling hungry. Chilis and guac’s are standard Super Bowl grub but it’s a given that the spread will revolve around classic junk foods. It makes for a tough afternoon if you are dieting are trying to eat healthy.  

So, here’s where I can offer a Super Bowl menu item to help you stick to your healthy food goals and enjoy the game with family and friends at the same time. No Super Bowl spread is complete without a great queso dip as far as I am concerned and this vegan version is just the ticket when surrounded by less-healthy options. It’s pretty quick to throw together using ingredients you most likely have on hand and it’s delicious. In fact, its addictive and I know you’ll make it again and again. And why not? This won’t leave you  feeling stuffed and lethargic – even if you end up indulging a little more than you intend!

img_0279

Cheesy flavour is a must in a good vegan queso and so is a little heat from some sort of chilli.  

Queso

  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup almonds or cashews, soaked
  • ½ cup sliced pimentos (4 oz. jar, including juice)
  • 1 ½ tbsp. fortified nutritional yeast flakes*
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ tsp. pink Himalayan salt, or Celtic sea salt
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder

Blend the nuts with about ½ cup of the water until completely smooth. This takes about 20-30 seconds in a VitaMix, scraping down the sides once during blending. Add the remaining ingredients and puree another 15-20 seconds. Pour everything into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes until cornstarch is cooked and sauce has thickened. Adjust the seasoning and keep warm.

img_0317

Load it up!  The addition of all the ingredients below take this dip to a whole new level!  

  • 1 can cooked black beans, drained and well rinsed
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red pepper
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped red onion
  • 2-3 tbsp. finely chopped pickled vegetables (I used a few beans from a jar of pickled beans in my fridge but you can use any pickled vegetables you have)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped pickled jalapenos (or finely chopped fresh jalapeno)
  • 1 tsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. maple syrup
  • Sour cream (optional)

Heat an oven dish while prepping the ingredients above. Reserve a few of the beans, chopped tomatoes and cilantro for garnish. Place everything except the sour cream in the hot dish. (For those of you who like a lot of heat, add extra fresh or pickled jalapeños to kick it up a notch). 

Pour queso over top of the beans and pickled vegetables, swirl in a little of the sour cream and serve warm with corn tortilla chips, raw or lightly steamed vegetables. 

img_0254

The queso is scrumptious with or without my vegan sour cream but I prefer it with! 

img_0304

Leftover queso reheats well in the oven. Just cover the dish with foil and reheat at 350 degrees fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes, or until mixture begins bubbling. That means you can make this ahead too. Add the sour cream just before serving, if making ahead. 

img_0263

NOTES

*I use nutritional yeast rarely and sparingly because it is a controversial ingredient and frankly I am not crazy about the flavour. It does however, provide a necessary cheesy flavour in this queso recipe and I know of no other substitute for it. You can add up to another 1 1/2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast to the recipe if you want an even stronger cheesy flavour. 

Advertisements

Turmeric Soup with Soba Noodles

img_0211

If you love turmeric, this is a relatively quick and easy soup to kick start healthy eating habits this year. Along with anti-inflammatory properties and detoxification support, turmeric adds a distinct and delicate aroma wherever it is used. Turmeric’s peppery, slightly bitter and earthy essence imparts a depth of flavour to soups and stews that is quite unique.

This amazing, vibrantly colourful little root has been in use for thousands of years. The compounds found in turmeric are well known for their medicinal properties and researchers continue to uncover new health benefits. Recent studies suggest that turmeric has the potential to improve cognitive and kidney function, regulate blood sugar, and lessen the degree of severity associated with some forms of arthritis and digestive disorders. And, apparently you don’t need much to reap these benefits. In some studies, health benefits have been seen from as little as 50 milligrams of turmeric over a period of several months. This is less than a ½ teaspoon. It wouldn’t be difficult to add that amount of turmeric to your diet – and your body will thank you!

img_0198

Use the broth in this recipe as a guideline for the soup. To keep it simple, just add the spice paste, noodles and a few fresh herbs as I did and you’ll have a really nutritious and vibrantly colourful soup. For a bit more oomph, add a few vegetables, greens or legumes. The broth is relatively failsafe and you can easily elevate the heat by increasing the amount of chilli. Likewise, you can reduce the heat by decreasing the amount of chilli in the spice paste. 

img_0184

I use nitrile gloves when handling fresh or powdered turmeric because the orange colour stains everything. I thoroughly wash everything that comes in contact with turmeric in cold soapy water before subjecting it to hot water. Hot water seems to seal the stain and makes it harder to remove the colour from counter tops, utensils, cutting boards, fabric and containers.

Tip: Although I don’t use oil in any of the recipes on this blog, for this recipe I placed a tiny amount of coconut oil on a paper towel and rubbed every nook and cranny on the inside of my VitaMix jug to prevent the turmeric from staining the inside of my jug.

img_0206

INGREDIENTS

For the Spice Paste

  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh turmeric*
  • 1-2 chillies, birds eye, Serrano, seeded
  • ¼ cup cashew pieces
  • 1 tsp. powdered turmeric
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, tender hearts only, finely chopped
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced shallots, about 3 medium
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled

Blend all of the ingredients to a smooth paste with 50-60 ml of water in a high-speed blender or food processor. If not using paste right away, refrigerate in a covered container.

For the Broth

  • 1 litre vegetable stock, preferably homemade
  • 200 ml tamarind liquid (see directions below)
  • ¼ cup Naked Coconuts (or soy substitute)
  • 1 tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 tsp. salt (I used homemade broth which had very little salt to begin with)
  • Large pinch freshly ground black pepper

For the tamarind liquid, dissolve 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp in 1 cup boiling water,. Strain the pulp and add 200 ml of liquid in the broth.

Place the remaining broth ingredients in a medium-large pot and add the spice paste. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and discard the kaffir lime leaves. Adjust seasonings.

img_0220

Add-ins

  • Soba noodles*
  • 1 long red chili, finely sliced
  • 2 spring onions, green part only, finely sliced
  • Handful of fresh mint,
  • Handful of fresh cilantro

To Finish

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and distribute evenly between 4 bowls. Ladle the broth over the noodles; sprinkle the soup generously with spring onions, fresh cilantro and mint. Top with a few slices of red chilli and serve with a wedge of lime.   

Yield: 4 generous servings

img_0221

Notes

*You can double the amount of fresh turmeric and omit the addition of powdered turmeric if you want. (I didn’t do that because fresh turmeric was really expensive when I went shopping for the ingredients in this recipe – $14.99/lb. at my local health food store!! I’ll be looking for a cheaper source in the future).

*Not all brands of soba noodles are GF. Some contain wheat so be sure to check the list of ingredients on the package if you are gluten-intolerant.

Crazy Good Granola without Oil or Sugar

img_9974

January is a significant month. It’s refreshing. It’s all about new beginnings. January is also a time to reflect on all of our accomplishments in the past year and appreciate how far we’ve come. In January we feel strongest about setting new goals, living healthier lifestyles and creating better eating habits to start the year off right. And I am definitely on board with that. I feel energized right now and I am ready to make 2017 my healthiest and strongest year ever! Is eating healthier one of your top priorities this year? If it is, one way to help you achieve that lofty goal is to define smaller measurable goals within that big one, such as reducing your intake of sugar. Or oil. It will take time to completely cut back on your intake of sugar and/or oil, but just start. It won’t be long before you begin to notice that you no longer miss them. Another healthy habit to adopt is eating a nutritious breakfast. Eating a nutritious breakfast every day is one of the best ways to energize your body and kick-start your entire day. You don’t have to eat a lot and you don’t have to eat the minute you wake up – you just have to be consistent so that your metabolism gets going early on. So, let’s aim to make 2017 “the year of being strong and healthy” by starting the day with a truly nutritious breakfast.

Ah, but is granola really a healthy breakfast, you ask?

Well, it definitely can be.

img_9968

Most store-bought granolas are much too high in sugar and fat to be considered healthy. They are also expensive when you consider that boxes of granola are usually smaller than boxes of other cereals. Homemade granola is extremely easy to make yourself and it is always cheaper and tastier. But making your own isn’t necessarily going to result in a healthier granola. If your homemade version is loaded with nuts and seeds or contains oil and sugar, it can be equally high in fat and and unhealthy sugar. In this recipe, I ditch the sugar and oil and cut back on the amount of nuts, seeds and dried fruit without compromising any of the flavour or crunch. This granola has roughly half the calories of most boxed granolas and it is completely sugar and oil free. So, to answer my own question, yes, this granola truly is healthy! The recipe can be customized to meet any dietary restrictions you have or to fancy it up as you please. Oh, did I mention that it’s crazy good? 

img_9964

On busy days, I throw a handful of this granola into a small container and take it with me wherever I go so that I have something to snack on later on in the day. I have also eaten it for dinner with my favourite almond milk. And this granola has saved my life on the occasional nights when the fridge is bare or I get home late and don’t feel like making anything. Have you ever resorted to having a bowl of cereal for dinner because you took too long trying to decide what to eat?? I have. And on those nights, I was grateful to have this in my cupboard because it saved me from grabbing something less healthy.  

I generally aim for a minimum of 4 dry ingredients for a good balance of flavor and texture. When you’re gathering your ingredients, make sure that your dry mix is made up of at least 50% oats. Cutting back on the amount of nuts and seeds lowers the overall calorie and fat content of the granola.  Ok, lets get started on my crazy good granola with no oil or sugar! 

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 8 cups whole rolled oats (gluten free or regular)
  • 1 cup whole or chopped almonds
  • 1 cup coconut (flakes or shredded)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds

Rolled oats are the core of this recipe but it may be possible to substitute quinoa flakes for the oats if you can’t have oats. (Don’t use the quick cooking oats because they do not hold up as well when baked). The other dry ingredients can be swapped in or out in infinite ways.

FLAVOUR ENHANCERS

Do you want to spice it up? I prefer the granola without any additional spices, but ground cinnamon would be nice, as would cardamom and nutmeg. Add as little or as much spice as you want to your dry ingredients before you mix with the wet. You could also add lemon or orange zest or a dash of cocoa powder. 

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked 4 hours
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ tsp. pink Himalayan or Celtic sea salt, scant

Process all of the wet ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. I like to add salt to the wet ingredients – I just feel it blends in better than it does when added to the dry or at the end once the wet and dry have been combined. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until the everything is well coated.

img_9983

BAKING DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 200°F.

Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper and spread the mixture in an even ½-inch layer. I needed 3 cookie sheets for this amount of granola. (The recipe makes a lot, but it is easy to half).

Bake for about 1 1/2-2 hours or until the granola is completely dry and lightly browned, stirring 2 or 3 times during baking to help the drying process and break up the mixture.  If your mixture is thicker than 1/2-inch, it will take longer to become really crunchy. Add another hour to the baking time but don’t increase the temperature – keeping the oven temperature low ensures that the granola doesn’t get too dark before it is completely dry and crunchy. 

A few clusters of granola are nice once it is baked so be sure to leave a few clumps undisturbed on the baking trays. Allow the granola to dry out completely in the oven. 

img_0005

ADD FRUIT

Since the fruit is already dried, I prefer to add it at the end rather than risk it becoming a bit hard or unpleasantly chewy. It doesn’t need to be baked again. Stir 1 cup of dried fruit such as cranberries, dates, raisins, currants, goji berries, cherries, figs, or apricots into the granola after it has baked. (If adding dried apricots, dice them or cut them into smaller slices).

Leave the granola to cool completely. Once cool, transfer to a large mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, or a  Ziploc bag and store in your pantry.

img_0035

Alternative nuts and seeds

  • Use walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamias, cashews or pecans in place of the almonds
  • Use sunflower seeds, squash seeds, flax or hemp seeds instead of pumpkin seeds.
  • Alternatively you can use any combination of the above as long as you stick to a cup of nuts and a cup of seeds. 

img_0031-1

NOTES

If you would rather bake the granola overnight, set your oven to the lowest temperature it has (that’s 170°F on my oven) and leave the granola in the oven overnight. The granola will be done in the morning, without any stirring.