Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

Med Quinoa Salad for FB 2.jpg
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!

DSC_0416.JPG
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!

DSC_0426.JPG
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?

DSC_0392.JPG

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.

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

DSC_0878

Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

DSC_0899

When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

DSC_0910

I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

DSC_0871

Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

DSC_0896

My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.

DSC_0933
One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.

DSC_0920

In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.

DSC_0874
I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.


So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.

Happy summer and happy Friday!

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving)   Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

To Make

Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Vegan ‘Shroom & Barley Soup

Vegan ‘Shroom & Barley Soup

DSC_0200

It’s April. Not a month typically viewed as stick-to-your-bones-soup-worthy. But I am once again reminded that my black and white vision of what the weather should look like during each month is totally irrelevant. Mother Nature does what she wants, and although she had the whole month of March to transition to true Spring, it’s still winter . You see, I can be patient with cold weather in March. But 40 degrees in April is just plain UGH.

However, instead of dwelling on my disappointment and unwavering desire to wear a skirt without tights, I decided to use this annoying down-coat-weather as a reason to make one last batch of hot and hearty cold-weather soup. What kind of soup? Something stick to your ribs, totally satisfying, and 100% healthy. Almost as fast as the idea for soup materialized, the thought of a vegan Mushroom & Barley Soup came to mind immediately. Back in the day, I loved eating my mom’s Beef & Barley Soup, and nostalgia typically drives many of my ideas. So my inkling to make a rich and flavorful batch of my mom’s soup (minus the meat) comes as no surprise.

DSC_0193

Soups are generally pretty simple. Especially when using store-bought broth. This soup is just that: simple. Sautéed vegetables, organic veggie broth, fresh thyme and barley. That’s about it. I use thyme here because I love the flavor of mushrooms and thyme together, and because I find that the combination adds richness and substance that would normally come from the beef. To add even more heartiness and substance, at the very end of cooking I add a cornstarch slurry, which thickens the soup beautifully.

My Mushroom & Barley Soup is definitely one to keep in the recipe box. It is not only super healthy, packed with fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, but it’s also vegan-friendly and oh so yummy. For dinner on Sunday, I made grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches to go alongside the soup, and for lunch leftovers I ate the soup with a couple hunks of bakery-fresh whole wheat peasant bread that perfect for dipping and soaking. Delicious. This soup is just plain awesome. So I guess I’d like to end this post by thanking Mother Nature for giving me the opportunity to create this recipe. But I’d still really like some 60 degree days in the very near future, ok?

Vegan Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves: 4-6   Start to Finish: 90 min.

Ingredients
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 large Carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 large Onion, medium to small dice
2 large stalks Celery, cut into medium dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into medium dice
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
Salt
Pepper
1/2 lb Portobello Caps, cut into medium-large dice
10 ounces White Button Mushrooms, cut into medium-large dice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Thyme leaves, divided
4 cups Organic Veggie Stock
1 cup dry Barley
2 tablespoons Corn Starch + 1/3 cup Water
3 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or preferred brand added to taste)

To Make

Prep and chop all veggies. I like the veggies big enough to see and taste, but cut to any size you prefer.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, carrots, onion, and red pepper to oil. Toss to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pot, toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper (I used 1/2 teaspoon of each). Cook for 5 minutes.badd mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon thyme and season with salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon). Cook for 2 minutes. Add veggie stock and dry barley to pot. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer until barley is cooked, 45-60 minutes.

With a couple minutes to go, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water. When barley is fully cooked, add the cornstarch “slurry” mixture to pot. Add remaining tablespoon thyme and an additional 1/2 cup water (or more depending on desired consistency). Bring to boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until soup is thickened from cornstarch. Turn off heat. Salt to taste (I added 1/2 teaspoon) and add hot sauce. Note that the hot sauce adds a much need cut of vinegar, it does not make it spicy unless you add more than I did.

The soup is now ready to eat. Continue adding water if desired, to maintain ideal consistency. I like it super thick so I didn’t add any additional water.