Healthy-ish Chocolate & Banana Oat Muffins (vegan optional)

Healthy-ish Chocolate & Banana Oat Muffins (vegan optional)

I’ve never considered myself a baker, but lately I find myself baking more and more. This is mostly due to clients who love baked goods, but also because I’m feeling more and more comfortable experimenting with baking recipes. I like savory dishes because it’s easy to change recipes and adjust flavors without worrying about whether or not the dish will turn out. Baking, on the other hand, is more of a science. The ingredients work together to create the perfect taste and texture, and if the measurement of an ingredient is even just a little bit off, it could ruin everything. As I bake more and more, however, I’m quickly learning how to adjust recipes to my tastes without creating something inedible, which is changing my mind about baking. Who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll even consider myself a baker.

This delicious recipe for Chocolate & Banana Oat Muffins started as a request from a client. She wanted healthy banana muffins made with oats and a little bit of chocolate. So I made just that, and resulting muffins were a total hit. She even suggested I add them to my blog… which brings me to this post. The original muffin recipe used eggs and milk. But I don’t keep eggs in my apartment, and while we often have milk, I prefer making recipes that don’t require eggs and milk. It’s surprisingly easy to transform baked goods into vegan baked goods, you just gotta know the right tricks. That’s why I adjust most of my sweet recipes to be vegan. Because why not? But I’ve also included the non-vegan variations to please all my amazing readers.

What I really love about these muffins is that they are not only perfectly tasty, but also healthy-ish. I say “healthy-ish” because they contain sugar (in the form of maple syrup and chocolate chips), and while sugar is fine in moderation, it’s still sugar. But otherwise, these muffins are actually pretty healthy. I use 100% whole wheat pastry flour and whole grain oats as the base, mashed banana for flavor and texture, and organic coconut oil for moisture. The result is a tender, flavorful and completely addictive treat that’s totally guiltless… ok, ok – totally guiltless-ish.

Chocolate & Banana Oat Muffins
Yield: 10-12 standard-size muffins Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 3/4 cup rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
2 ripe bananas, smashed into a purée (1/2 cup to 2/3 cup)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup oil (I like coconut oil, canola oil works too)
1/3 cup dairy free milk (water works too, in a pinch)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 cup chocolate chips

To Make

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin tins with baking cups or grease with oil.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, maple syrup, milk/water, oil and vanilla. In a prep bowl or ramekin, combine 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon water and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Wait for the fizz to die down (if it doesn’t fizz, it won’t work).

Add the vinegar/baking soda mixture to the banana mixture. Then add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix until well combined. It should be a very thick batter. Transfer batter to muffin tins. Aim to fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes before eating or storing. While they’re still warm, I put the muffins into a large tupperware or ziplock bag, this helps to retain the muffins’ moisture.


Non-Vegan Recipe

Combine dry ingredients – 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1 3/4 cups oats, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Combine wet ingredients – 2 puréed bananas, 1 large beaten egg, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/3 cup milk, 1/3 cup oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix wet ingredients into dry until well combined – transfer to muffin tins – bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes

White Three-Bean Chili (vegan | gf)

White Three-Bean Chili (vegan | gf)

After about a month, I’m back in action here on radiatefoodvibes.com. Time flies even more than usual lately. As I continue the very early phases of building my own brand and my own business, in addition to learning everything and anything I can about professional cooking, my personal recipe development has slipped a bit. But now I’m back at it.

Today’s post is a veganized recipe of the white chicken chili I made for a client this week. I loved the creaminess and richness of this hearty chicken chili combined with the sweet crunch of the fresh corn kernels. All I needed to do was omit the chicken. I then decided to take it even further and omit the cream as well (aka veganize it). I’ve been going a little heavy on the dairy lately and a detox-friendly soup is exactly what my body is craving right now. So no cream in this one (although I have the option to add it in the recipe below). You may be wondering how I achieved the creaminess without adding dairy or gluten (yes, it’s also gluten-free). No brainer. I turned to my beloved coconut milk and it worked perfectly.

This White Three-Bean Chili is creamy, satisfying, filling and nourishing. I also consider this dish to be detox-friendly (you know, for when you’re trying to balance out an indulgent weekend or healthily shed a few pounds). This is because it’s packed with complete protein and fiber thanks to the beans and the corn.

Beans make up the bulk of this chili. I use three different types of beans in this recipe, all of which are great sources of gut-cleansing fiber and energizing protein. Corn is sometimes confused for a vegetable, but it’s actually a grain. Not only does corn add flavor and texture to this chili, but it also combines with the beans to form a complete protein. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids required by the human body. Animal proteins (meat, dairy, eggs) are complete on their own, so when eating a plant-forward diet it’s essential (pun intended) to eat a variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids.

Although this recipe can be made year round using canned or frozen corn, I recommend cooking up a batch ASAP to fully take advantage of the fresh summer corn that’s in peak season right about now.

White Three-Bean Chili

Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, small diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, small diced
sea salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 cups all-natural vegetable stock
1 4-oz can diced green chilies (I used mild)
1 14-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 ears fresh corn, husked, kernels cut off (approx. 1.5 cups)
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (or use heavy cream if desired)
1 tablespoon arrow root powder or other starch of choice such as corn or potato (omit if using cream)
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
4 radishes for garnish, sliced or matchsticked (optional)

To Make

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, celery and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until onions begin to release moisture. Stir occasionally.

Add chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add 3 cups vegetable stock, beans, corn kernels, green chilies and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add up to 1 additional cup of vegetable stock to achieve desired liquid to solid ratio.

Turn off heat. Stir in coconut milk or heavy cream. Return to heat, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, mix together 1 tablespoon arrow root powder (or other starch) with 2 tablespoons cool water. Mix well to form a “slurry”. Add slurry to soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon lime juice and sea salt to taste. I added another 1/2 teaspoon or so of sea salt.

If using heavy cream instead of coconut milk – be careful not to full-on boil the cream after adding to the chili, it could curdle (yuck). I recommend adding a tablespoon of the hot chili liquid into the cream to temper it before adding to the pot. You can omit the arrow root slurry if using cream instead of coconut milk. The soup should thicken with just the cream and a quick simmer session.

Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

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Yep, this my third grain bowl post this month. Why? Two reasons. First is because I love nourishing bowls of goodness, packed with an array of nutrients, flavors and textures. It’s my favorite way to eat because it’s healthy, convenient, packable, stores well in the fridge and, most importantly, absolutely delish. If you want to make a crave worthy nourish-style bowl, it’s not quite as easy as piling veggies, grains and protein into a bowl. My kind of nourish bowl (aka Buddha Bowl or Grain Bowl) has depth, richness and variety. It takes advantage of seasonal produce, flavor-bombs like garlic and citrus, and requires a tasty sauce or spread to pull it all together. This takes a little bit of time and planning, but it’s worth it. And once all of the components are ready, they’re easy to throw together.

The second reason why I’m focusing on grain bowls is because they’re all the rage these days. Everywhere from fast casual restaurants to fine dining establishments are jumping on the nourish bowl bandwagon. It’s a trend for sure, and food trends, specifically health-supportive ones, are my jam.

So there you have it. One more inspirational nourish bowl to get your creative juices and health vibes flowing. And if you missed the last two, check them out below.

Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl

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Roasted Summer Veggie Nourish Bowl with Classic Hummus
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 1 hour    Active Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Veggies & Rice

1.5 cups dry brown rice
sea salt, fine grain
2 large zucchinis, cut into a large dice
olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced (2 for zucchini, 1 for hummus)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 orange bell peppers (red and yellow bell peppers work too)

For Hummus (use storebought if desired)
1 14-oz can chickpeas
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Assembly

4 cups lightly packed greens (I used red leaf lettuce)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (lemon juice works too)
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook 1.5 cups brown rice to package instructions – it goes something like this – rinse rice in colander, add to small sauce pan with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and 3 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover with lid. Allow to cook for 35-40 minutes, until water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes.

Toss zucchini cubes with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer. Toss tomatoes with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer to baking sheet with zucchini. Cook cherry tomatoes for 20 minutes. Cook zucchini for 30-35 minutes, flipping once through.

Roast the bell peppers. I like to do this over the open flames on my burner, which takes about 8 minutes and another 10 minutes in a sealed paper paper bag or covered bowl. This allows the peppers to steam and makes the charred skins easily peel off. Once charred skin is removed, discard stem and seeds, cut into a large dice. You can also roast the peppers in the over with the other veggies. To do this, remove stem and seeds, dice bell peppers, toss with a little oil and roast for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make hummus. Combine all hummus ingredients plus 5-6 tablespoons water in a food processor or in a hand blender vessel. Use the water to achieve your desired consistency.

To assemble nourish bowls – toss greens with vinegar, sliced red onions and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Divide evenly between 4 dishes. Top each bowl with 3/4 cup cooked rice, 1/4 of all roasted vegetables and 3-4 tablespoons hummus. Garnish each serving with 2 teaspoons toasted pine nuts.

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

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As I was saying in my last post, my focus these days is making healthy and clean eating easy for everyone. Whether trying to lose weight or just wanting to take advantage of the amazing health benefits that come with clean eating, the transition simply won’t happen unless it’s both convenient and delicious. This is where meal prep comes in. Having prepped ingredients in your fridge/pantry and knowing what to do with them will make your new clean eating lifestyle effortless.

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Last week I used my Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl as the perfect example of this concept. Cooked quinoa, roasted cauliflower, simple pickled red onions, avocado and peanut sauce come together to make a plant-based, satisfying and tasty meal. It’s packable for lunch on-the-go. Or easy to throw together for a quick dinner, as long as the components were easy-to-prep or pre-prepped. As promised, I’m sharing another recipe that uses a few of the same ingredients. This is meant to show you how versatile these basic components are to transform into completely new meals, keeping things fresh and interesting.

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For this super yummy (and vegan) burrito bowl, I’m using quinoa, pickled onions and avocado, just like in the Satay Nourish Bowl. But this time, I’m using roasted peppers instead of cauliflower, some canned black beans and my easy roasted tomatillo sauce to make a totally new and super delish meal. The key to plant-based, dairy-free and meat-free cooking is including multiple flavors and textures. Creamy avocado, refreshing tomatillo sauce, acidic pickled red onions, flavorful peppers and hearty black beans keep your tastebuds satisfied while providing your body with protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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Now, for today’s health and nutrition lesson focusing on a toxic compound known as BPA and how to avoid it…

Black Beans are a great source of meat-free protein, fiber, copper, folate, manganese and phosphorus. I love beans because they make reaching protein intake goals easy, even when not consuming animal products. Plus, adding the starchy texture of black beans makes meals texturally satisfying. When using beans from a can, which I do almost exclusively, I recommend choosing an organic variety. Additionally, when choosing any canned products, be sure the lining is made without BPA (Bisphenol A). Why? Because BPA is a synthetic compound that has been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system (aka the system of ALL human glands and the hormones these glands produce). Sadly, BPA is everywhere these days (even in cash register receipts). It’s virtually impossible to avoid completely, but because BPA builds up in your system and can last for generations, it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. Intake of BPA through eating and drinking is likely the biggest culprit, and cooking for yourself using BPA-free products is a great way to reduce your risk of side effects. Yet another reason why cooking for yourself is so beneficial.

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Burrito Nourish Bowl with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 small-medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3+ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry quinoa
3-4 peppers, I like 4 poblano for spice or 3 red bell peppers for sweet or mixed
sea salt, fine grain
olive oil
1 lb tomatillos
1 large clove garlic, peeled
2 packed tablespoons cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish, optional)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 avocados, diced or sliced

To Make

**If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own tomatillo sauce, no problem! Use a store bought Salsa Verde. Check the ingredient list to make sure all ingredients sound whole and appetizing. Even better? Go for organic.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make pickled red onion (get the full recipe here). In a small bowl, combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/3 cup water and 3/4 teaspoons sea salt. Mix until salt is dissolved. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion. Toss to coat. Add additional vinegar and water, in equal amounts, to cover onions (you shouldn’t need much). Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Or make ahead…I always have pickled red onion ready to go in the fridge. The longer they sit, the better they get.

Roast peppers. Remove stem and seeds from peppers and cut into strips. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, tossing once. You could also roast whole peppers over an open flame, steam in sealed paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds and stem, and then cut into strips.

Also roast whole tomatillos at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, toss, roast for another 15-20.
Blend with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 packed tablespoons of cilantro (2 handfuls). Add additional salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa. Add 1 cup dry quinoa, 2 cups water and 3/4 teaspoons salt to a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover with lid. Simmer for 14-15 minutes, until excess water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit, still covered, for 10-15 minutes.

Combine black beans with 3/4 teaspoon salt and hot sauce to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons for 2 cans). Heat on stove top or in microwave I f desired.

To make each bowl, layer 1/4 of cooked quinoa (about 2/3 cup), 2/3 to 1 cup of black beans, 1/4 of the roasted peppers, 3-4 tablespoons pickled red onions (plus pickling liquid to taste), 1/2 of a sliced/diced avocado and 3 tablespoons tomatillo sauce.

BPA References

How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

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Dining out, whether trying a new restaurant or returning to a favorite restaurant, has always been one of my favorite past times. Not only do I love enjoying the culinary creations of others and finding inspiration for my own cooking, but it’s also one of my favorite ways to socialize. Since transitioning to an entirely clean eating lifestyle, I make the majority of my meals myself and I love it. When cooking meals myself I have full control over ingredient quality and I can make each dish exactly the way I like it. However, giving up on restaurants entirely is unrealistic when you love eating out as much as I do. So when I do go out, I follow a few simple rules to ensure that I’m feeding my body nourishing and clean foods. Some might say this is taking it too far. But a clean eating lifestyle is a commitment, and quite honestly, in order to reap the rewards of clean eating, it’s essential to adhere to it 90% of the time. So for clean eaters who enjoy the restaurant scene, here is my quick guide to clean eating when dining out.

1. When choosing a restaurant, be choosy.

When it comes to clean and healthy eating at restaurants, the most important decision is the restaurant itself. So do a little research and be picky! When I have a restaurant in mind, my first step is to visit their website to take a look at their homepage, their “about” page, and their menu. A restaurant that highlights their commitment to fresh, seasonal, local, organic and/or house-made food is my first indication that this is a good restaurant for clean eaters. Added bonus? Diet-restriction-friendly restaurants that offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options shows me that this establishment cares about the wants and needs of customers. If a restaurant passes these tests, I can be confident that it’s a restaurant I want to support.

Additionally, the overall professionalism of a restaurant can also be an indication of a quality establishment. I’m not saying that every great restaurant has a great website, and I’m not saying that every restaurant with a good website is good. But if a restaurant uses their time and resources to build an appealing and informative website, it tells me that the restaurant pays attention to detail and understands the needs of customers. It just makes sense that they would put the same amount of thought and attention to detail into their food.

The point is, sometimes the website or menu doesn’t explicitly state a restaurant’s commitment to quality and freshness. But I’ve found that a visually appealing and user friendly website, unique and creative menu items and lots of plant-based ingredients usually mean that you’ll be able to find something clean, high quality and healthy there.

2. Step away from the bread (tortilla, bun, muffin, etc).

Unless a restaurant prides itself on its made-from-scratch bread, or is partnered with a local bakery that provides it, I stay away from menu items that include bread. Why? Because if a bread isn’t fresh, it means that the restaurant is likely using a shelf-stable, mass produced, packaged bread. And if that’s the case, I can only imagine that it would be a highly processed, cheap variety with loads of preservatives and artificial ingredients. And that’s pretty much a clean eater’s nightmare. Now, if you’re a carb junkie, look for pizza restaurants that make their own dough, Mexican restaurants with homemade corn tortillas, Mediterranean restaurants that make their own pita breads or sandwich shops that purchase their bread from a high quality, local bakery. Or look for menu items that utilize whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and millet. If you won’t miss the carbs, many restaurants offer bread-free versions of their menu items, like a lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla or bed of greens in place of a bun. If not, ask for it. I assure you that I am rarely turned down when I make a request like that.

3. Veg out.

I’m a vegetarian, so this isn’t a difficult rule for me to follow. But menu items that include an abundance of produce will likely be naturally cleaner, lower in calories, lower in fat and higher in nutrients. Because restaurant meals are more often larger and richer than versions you would make at home, choosing a dish at a restaurant with loads of vegetables and legumes evens the scales a bit. Entree salads, vegetable- or bean-based soups, veggie burgers, and items with a vegetable filling/topping option (like in a taco or on a pizza) will fill you up with fiber and antioxidant-rich, nutritious ingredients rather than excessive portions of meat. What’s wrong with meat? If it’s moderate portions of grass-fed beef or organic, free-range chicken, then not much is wrong with eating it. But if the quality of meat/poultry isn’t emphasized by a restaurant, it most likely means that it’s coming from a factory farm. What’s wrong with a factory farm? Just Google it, it’s not pretty.

4. Ask questions, make changes.

The restaurant staff is there to make you satisfied and a good employee will be happy to help you out. Remember, you are the customer! Within reason and respectfully, of course, asking for adjustments to menu items and asking for more details on certain items is totally fine. Particularly if the adjustments and questions are making you a healthier person, because what’s more important than that?

Side note (it’s the chef in me, sorry!) – A menu that clearly states “no substitutions” means no substitutions, so it’s best to respect that. Also, when making adjustments, always make your requests straightforward and easy, which is another reason to check out the menu beforehand – if the only way you can order something is by changing a million things about it, it’s probably not a good restaurant for you or for clean eating in general.

Wrap Up & Example

To bring this all full circle, I’ll walk you through my most recent restaurant experience…

1. Choosing the restaurant.

Park Luncheonette is a restaurant near my Brooklyn apartment that we’ve been wanting to try because it’s always packed (good sign).

The website is super attractive and user friendly. Although there is no “about page” that indicates their philosophy on food quality, their menu was enough for me to want to give this place a try. Unique ingredients such as “strawberry-rhubarb puree” and “dill citrus feta” tell me that they’re taking the time to elevate their menu items. A veggie burger option, “house” granola, and a wide variety of plant-based ingredients let me know that this place was clean-eater friendly.

* Park Luncheonette has since closed its doors… new example coming soon

2. Choosing my order.

I knew I wanted to try the veggie burger because it’s made with beets (a fave super food of mine) and quinoa (a whole grain and complete protein). I thought about asking for avocado instead of the feta to make this a vegan meal, but the dill citrus feta sounded too interesting not to try. I did, however, switch out the sesame seed bun for the house-made focaccia bread. And I made the sandwich open-faced by removing the top piece of focaccia. This made my meal lighter and less carby, which is not necessary when clean eating, but definitely more figure friendly. I also ordered their fresh squeezed orange juice to go along with the meal for a boost of vitamins and hydration. And although I opted for the house-made herb fries instead of the salad, I only ate half of them (scout’s honor), and overall felt really great about my meal. Lots of produce? Check. Whole grains? Check. Fresh, homemade bread? Check. Nothing artificial? Check.

I hope this helps with your next restaurant outing. Let me know if you have questions or comments below.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

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In my opinion, the best way to cleanse and detox the body is with plant-based (vegan) meals filled to the brim with fresh produce, whole grains, fiber and protein. This quinoa salad fits the bill, not to mention being outrageously delicious. The layers of flavors and textures in this salad will leave you feeling full, satisfied and energized. This salad is also mason jar friendly, making it a perfectly portable meal too!

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My Mediterranean Quinoa Salad is packed with all things good and healthy. Protein-rich quinoa, fiber-filled chickpeas, quick pickled red onions, nutty asparagus and refreshing cucumber make up the bulk of the meal. The thick and creamy tahini sauce gets its bright green color from loads of kale and is flavored simply with garlic and lemon juice. This sauce is a flavor power house, but also also adds moisture and a nice creamy texture to the dish. Whenever I cook, I try to hit as many flavor and texture profiles as possible. That’s the secret to elevating healthy meals from blah to bravo!

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Pretty much every single ingredient in this recipe is considered health supportive. Get to know some of them below before checking out the recipe. After all, understanding why something is healthy and beneficial is important to sustaining and loving a clean eating lifestyle.

Quinoa is an all-star in my mind because it’s one of a few grains considered to be a “complete protein.” This just means that quinoa (and other complete proteins) contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Essential amino acids (EAA) are those that the body cannot produce on its own, and therefor must be ingested. Vegetarians and vegans can get all nine EAA’s by combining grains and produce, or by eating complete protein sources like quinoa.

Chickpeas are one of my favorite legume varieties. They are very versatile and fit into a variety of different cuisines. Chickpeas are rich in protein, fiber and other nutrients such as manganese. Protein is important because it’s the building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. Protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking.

Lacinato Kale, my fave variety of kale, is a true superfood. While many people eat it these days because it’s become oh so trendy, kale is a staple in my diet and for good reason. Along with containing fiber and protein, kale contains generous amounts many nutrients including vitamins A, C & K, calcium, potassium, iron, copper and manganese. But my number one reason to love kale is due to its inflammatory properties. Excessive inflammation has been linked to a multitude of illnesses including some types of cancer. A diet rich in anti-inflammatories, like kale, can potentially reduce the risk of developing these illnesses. Antioxidants in kale also aid in protecting against illness. Kale is particularly rich in two important antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids. Both of which are associated with fighting illness and certain types of cancer.  That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce
Servings: 4     Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Salad
1 cup dry quinoa (I used a white variety)
1 red onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
sea salt, fine grain
1 cucumber
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1 bunch asparagus spears
1.5 teaspoons dried dill

For Super Green Tahini Sauce
1 bunch lacinato kale, woody stems discarded, leave roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain (plus more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish
1/4 cup pine nuts, gently toasted (optional)

To Make

Cook quinoa according to package instructions. It should take about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop red onion into a very small dice. Transfer to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to sit in fridge for about 15 minutes.

Peel the cucumber if desired. Cut in half length-wise. Scoop out seeds using a spoon. Chop cucumber into small-medium dice. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Add chickpeas to cucumbers.

Trim the ends of the asparagus spears. Cut each spear into 3-4 pieces. Set aside.

Make green tahini sauce. Add kale leaves to a food processor and process until broken down. Add all remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Add more salt to taste (I added an extra 1/4 teaspoon).

When quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat. Add asparagus to top of hot quinoa. Cover and steam for about 3 minutes. Transfer quinoa and asparagus to mixing bowl with cucumber and chickpeas. Add red onion and vinegar mixture. Add 1 teaspoons sea salt and dried dill. Stir to combine.

Serve quinoa with green tahini sauce. Garnish with pine nuts, if desired.

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating for Weight Loss

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating for Weight Loss

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Clean eating is taking over the food scene… and while the word ‘clean’ can be replaced by ‘real,’ or ‘whole,’ the idea behind all of these terms is the same; eat only high-quality and natural foods made from clean/real/whole ingredients. With a bit of time and effort at the beginning, a clean eating regimen quickly becomes second nature. There are countless reasons to fall in love with clean eating (check out my top 3 reasons why here), but the initial draw for many is the weight loss aspect of a clean eating lifestyle, and that’s what I’m focusing on today.

For me, when I began my commitment to clean eating, I wasn’t necessarily trying to lose a specific amount of weight over a specific amount of time. Staying lean and looking fit is always on my mind to some extent, but it wasn’t the primary reason for me to go clean. I committed to a completely clean lifestyle after concluding that ingesting anything unnatural and/or heavily processed can’t possibly benefit me in an authentic way and that it was time to take my health (and my future self’s health) into my own hands. I cut out pretty much any restaurant or food establishment not focused on quality, freshness and made-from-scratch menu items. I began cooking more and more of my meals at home using organic, fresh and real ingredients produced without gmo’s, chemicals, or artificial ingredients. And finally, I made fresh produce the focus of my diet. Because I was already a vegetarian at this point, this wasn’t a difficult adjustment for me. But for meat eaters transitioning to a clean lifestyle, it’s important to understand that clean eating is about increasing fresh produce consumption and decreasing the consumption of animal products. Over the course of the first year of clean eating, my weight began creeping down naturally, and now, my normal weight (the weight I land on when I’m making minimal effort) is almost 10 pounds lower than it used to be. Ten pounds lighter just because of clean eating? Yep. And that’s weight loss without feeling deprived or hungry. It’s truly an amazing concept.

So clearly weight loss can be a naturally occurring bi-product of going clean, if you’re willing to give it a little bit of time. On the other hand, for some, quicker and easier controlled weight-loss is the primary reason to adapt a clean eating regimen. But in this case you probably don’t have the patience to wait a year to naturally lose those extra pounds. Depending on what you want, there are different ways to approach clean eating. But because today’s focus is on faster weight loss as a priority, here is my introductory guide to clean eating for fast, healthy & effective weight loss.

1. Calories Count

In my experience, counting calories is a great tool for weight loss. Weight loss is about science, and science says that if you burn more calories than you consume, you should lose weight. A clean eating lifestyle without the goal of losing weight pretty much means you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as what you’re eating is nourishing and benefitting your body. But when trying to lose weight fast with clean eating, counting calories and limiting portions gives you the control. Never be too hard on yourself though. The ingredients and foods you’re consuming as a clean eater are pure and nourishing, so eating an extra 120 calories from an apple because you’re super hungry or adding another tablespoon of homemade dressing to a salad because it needs it for the flavor, is not going to hinder your weight loss. In fact, listening and answering to your body makes for a more sustainable eating regimen. So stay in your target calorie range but don’t get too hung up on it. Now you’re probably wondering what your calorie range for clean eating weight loss should be? It varies by person obviously. Gender, height, age and genetics all affect the amount of calories you burn in a day and therefore the amount of calories you should eat to lose weight. Plus, how much weight you want to lose is also a factor. It’s up to you to decide on a manageable range, but I’ve included some sample ranges below, which are based on an average person with an average metabolism.

Women – 1500 to 1700 clean calories per day for weight loss
Men – 1950 to 2150 clean calories per day for weight loss

2. Eat at Home

One of my best tips for weight loss (and clean eating in general) is to cook and eat at home as often as humanly possible. Control over ingredients when cooking yourself, allows for a more genuine (and therefore more beneficial) commitment to clean eating. No matter what you cook at home, it will be healthier than the version you would get at a restaurant. Lower calories, less sodium, higher quality fats, organic ingredients and more produce are all benefits of cooking yourself, and this makes a huge difference when trying to lose weight.

3. Vegan for a Day

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to be a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but there’s something to be said for eating like a vegan, if only just for one or two days per week. Think about it. If you take meat, cheese and dairy out of the equation, the acceptable clean eating replacements are produce, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Plant based foods like these contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, all of which will help to clean out your digestive track, rev your metabolism, fight infections and super charge weight loss.

4. Get Moving

I believe that what you eat determines the majority of your health, but when it comes to fast weight loss especially, exercise is essential. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean killing yourself in the gym or training for a marathon. Much of my exercise comes simply from living in New York and walking everywhere. Imitate this heart-healthy lifestyle by walking at a normal pace for 45 minutes two times per week. Additionally, get your heart rate up with two sweat-worthy cardio workouts every week, each lasting about 30 minutes. This could be jogging, cycling, rigorous hiking, speed walking, boxing or any other exercise that gets your heart rate up. Lastly, 1-2 strength/stretching workouts per week will create lean muscle tone, improve flexibility and relieve stress. My go-to choice? One-hour vinyasa yoga sessions. But if you’re into lifting free-weights or you’re familiar with equipment-free strength exercises, 45 minutes of either of these is an option too (just make sure to constantly stretch out…improved flexibility is life changing).

Trust me when I say, even a moderate exercise regimen like this one makes a huge difference when it comes to weight loss. Extra time and energy? Increase exercise whenever and however you can to further accelerate weight loss.

5. Carb & Sugar Patrol

Clean eating isn’t about giving up every indulgence. After all, carbs and sugar are part of what makes life delicious, and even on a clean eating regimen, minimally processed sugars (like honey and maple syrup) and whole grains (like organic whole wheat packaged breads, made from scratch doughs, quinoa, brown rice, millet) can all be found. But if trying to lose weight efficiently, sugar and carbs typically contain loads of sneaky calories that add up quickly which could potentially hinder weight loss. For this reason, try to limit added sugars and grains when trying to shed pounds. While clean whole grain carbs are not unhealthy and natural sugar here and there is acceptable, a grain-free meal once a day and a couple days without any added sugar will help to greatly reduce calories and portion sizes while feeding the body nutrient dense, hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables.

Side note, this ‘sugar and carbs’ category also contains alcohol. It’s important to realize how alcohol can negatively affect your weight and your overall health. Not just because of the calories, sugar and carbs in the alcohol itself, but also because of impaired judgement when it comes to food and eating. My advice? Except for that daily glass of red wine to unwind, steer clear of alcohol when trying to lose weight quickly.

So there you have it, my five introductory tips to fool-proof, fast and healthy weight loss using the clean eating regimen. Follow these flexible guide lines, in addition to the general rules of clean eating, and you’ll be shedding pounds in no time. If you have anything to add, feel free to reach out using the comments section below.