31 October, 2011

Red Lentil Dal

I am marathon training again. It took a while to convince myself. Firstly, I didn't get into the London Marathon next year. Although the chances were pretty slim anyway, I sulked.  Secondly, I ran my first marathon last year in just under 4 hours. I couldn't quite set myself a new goal that would be appealing: under 3:30 hours would be a tad too ambitious, I guess :-) Thirdly, the marathon course of last year's Dubai Marathon was flat and fast, but boring as hell. Imagine running 21k straight, make a U-turn and run 21k straight back, with not really much to see left and right, apart from about a thousand beauty clinics that are lined up on this road. Fourthly, I am more wrapped up with work than last year, and it will be even more difficult to squeeze in the time to do all this running.

Now what made me change my mind? They changed the marathon route. Start and finish will be at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building of the world. It's got some big city atmosphere down there, and I think it will be nice spot to start and finish a marathon.

So I got last year's 12-week marathon training plan out again, as it worked really well for me. If you are interested in the training plan and the progress that I am making, please check out my running section. I plan to post the plan there, and give you weekly updates of how it is going physically, emotionally, and perhaps discuss food and nutrition-related issues as they come along.

I started training last week. I allowed a warm-up week to increase my mileage and get my body used to a whole lot more exercise than it was used to in the last month or so. Today is my first official day of my marathon training. I ran 10k in the morning.
What can I say after seven days of warm-up and one day of official training? I can feel my energy consumption is going up. A lot. I am hungry. Constantly. In the past few weeks I have been living almost grain-free. I don't think this is sustainable while preparing for a marathon. While it won't be a problem to stay gluten-free, I think I will need my bowls of brown rice, quinoa or buckwheat to get some carbs in.

Another way will be legumes. I made a big pot of this Red Lentil Dal last week. It served perfectly for a post-run meal, delivering all the carbs and proteins, while being easy on the stomach. It's warming and comforting, the perfect autumn meal.
Definitely a keeper that will accompany through the winter months and along my training.

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 tablespoon nut oil
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup red lentils
2 tomatoes, chopped

2,5-3 cups water

Serve with:
chopped raw cashews
natural yogurt
desiccated or shredded coconut

Serves 3-4
In a dry pan, roast the cumin seeds for a few minutes, until fragrant. Take off the heat and grind the seeds. Set aside.

In a medium sized pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they start to pop. Turn down the heat to medium, then add chopped onion and fry until softened, 2-3 minutes. Now add all the spices, garlic and ginger. Cook until fragrant, another minute or so.

Add red lentils and toss until well coated. Stir in chopped tomatoes. Add the water. Bring the lentil to a simmer, then cook uncovered on medium low heat until lentil are soft, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Serve warm with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkles of raisins, chopped cashews and shredded coconut.
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27 October, 2011

Pumpkin and Spinach Frittata

Continuing my argument from my last post that I am a peasant at heart, I'll always prefer homemade foods over restaurant foods. And what better opportunity of having homemade foods would there be than a potluck of food bloggers.
A few weeks back, us food bloggers based in the United Arab Emirates were invited to a potluck at the lovely Devina's house ("Since I can't cook for all of ya, the least I can do is offer my house up. "). To make sure we all bring something, she added  the Wikipedia definition of what a potluck is about.

Homemade foods radiate comfort. It's foods that can be shared with families and friends. Foods that are eaten when you enjoy the company of the people around you. Foods that are packed with flavors. Foods that mirror the culture of the cook. Recipes that possibly have been passed on from generation to generation. The potluck then adds a random note to it. A wild collection of different foods.
I think I ate myself through every single bowl on the long table. Afterwards I packed a huge doggie bag. In that bag was the last piece of the most delicious Pumpkin Frittata, made by Sidiqa of Spontaneous Euphoria.

Since I have been going on a mostly grain-free diet, I am very open to egg dishes. Flavorful egg dishes that is. This frittata has the most amazing flavor profile, combining sweet butternut, fresh sage, salty feta and some chili flakes. I added spinach to my version. I have to stop myself not to eat the whole thing (with 6 eggs in it). That's how good it is. It's good to have for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.
inspired by a recipe of Sidiqa of Spontaneous Euphoria

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
pinch salt 

1 1/2 cups pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
3 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped

2 cups fresh spinach, loosely packed and roughly chopped
6 eggs
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled or diced
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 3-4
Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Lightly grease oven-proof pan or cake tin (no bigger than 8 inches/20cm). Set aside.

In a another pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and season with a pinch of salt. Cook onions until softened. Add garlic halves, sage and chili flakes and cook until fragrant, another minute or so. Now add the pumpkin and cook until soft and slightly caramelized. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Take off the heat. Take out the garlic.

Whisk the eggs and pour them into the prepared pan or cake tin. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pumpkin and spinach mixture and spread evenly. Sprinkle the feta on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until set. The cooking time depends on how thick your frittata is. Thicker ones will take longer than flat ones.

Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
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25 October, 2011

Marathon Training Plan 2011/2012

Now here it is: My marathon training plan for my second marathon. It shall be the Dubai Marathon again, on 27 January 2012.
Click to enlarge

I pulled out last year's training plan, which is a 12-week program. I went well with it, as I finished in just under 4 hours (read more about it here).  I am still pretty much a marathon novice, but straight away I can say, that I prefer 12-week to 16-week programs. The time and physical effort while juggling work, family, food blogging, etc. at the same time is hard enough for 12 weeks, let alone 16.

My training program is adapted from Runners World (check here). It gives me just two key workouts per week. The rest I can organize myself. That includes the weekly mileage, how many runs apart from those two, etc. I found this convenient and it promised to be efficient (and so it was last year). Once I set myself a goal time, everything else will be calculated accordingly. Here are my figures for the Dubai Marathon 2012:

Marathon Goal Time: 3h45 min

Tempo Pace (TP): 4:50 min per km
Marathon Pace (MP): 5:20 per km
Steady Long Run in Training: 5:52 per km/ 10.2 km per hour
Maximum Mileage per week for the training: 45 miles/72-73km
Overall Training Mileage: 720k

I am planning to give you weekly updates on how the training is going, how I feel physically and emotionally and will discuss any nutrition issues that might come up along the way.

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23 October, 2011

Coconut Lime Popsicles

I have always liked foods with little ingredients. It spells SIMPLE and UNCOMPLICATED and TIME-EFFICIENT and FOOL-PROOF to me. That's just my alley. Because deep in my heart I think I am a peasant.  I like cakes made with 3 ingredients.

Now here is another one with just three: Coconut Lime Popsicles. If I had an ice cream machine, it would probably make the most delicious and exquisite ice cream. But I don't (because I am a peasant at heart?). I only have popsicle molds.

These popsicles were a trial and error recipe. I started of with just coconut milk and honey (how cool would have been just two ingredients!!!), but found those a bit on the heavy side. Something acidic was missing. Now what would be closer than using the old classic combination of coconut and lime.
I have only made a couple of times, but I know this will be a staple dessert in our house. Simple and healthy and nevertheless a dessert. What else could one wish for?

1 400ml can coconut milk, full fat
1/2 lime, juice of
3 tablespoons agave syrup OR honey OR maple syrup

Yields 3-4
Place the can of coconut milk in the fridge overnight. Without shaking or turning the can upside down, open the can and scoop the top layer of coconut cream into a bowl. Discard the water at the bottom.
Stir in honey and lime juice until well combined. Transfer mixture to popsicle molds and freeze until solid.
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21 October, 2011

Lemon Cinnamon Grain-Free Granola

Going grain-free naturally leads you to exploring nuts and seeds.
My first grain free granola, the Orange Date Nut Clusters,  a couple of weeks back has become a staple in my house. I now explore different flavors. That can be done by using different nuts and seeds, or by flavoring the "sauce".

In this granola I used black sesame seeds, as I ran out of flax seeds when I was about to make a new batch. Black sesame seeds will make a great addition to any granola. While white sesame seeds have a more nutty flavor, the black ones are more on the bitter side, but in a pleasant, subtle way. In combination with the nutty, sweet nuts and seeds, like almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds and also coconut, it adds another dimension to the overall taste. Black sesame seeds are often used in Chinese or Japanese cooking. You'll find them at Asian grocery stores.

For the "sauce" I used the sweetness of dates, flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest.  I love this granola on top of fresh fruit and some goats yogurt. It will kick-start your day with a mountain of vitamins and minerals, natural unsaturated fats, without refined sugar or gluten. Here is a little summary of the goodness of each ingredient:

Dates: rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants, excellent source of iron

Cinnamon: helps reducing the rise of blood sugar levels after a high carb meal. You will feel full longer with a sprinkle of cinnamon in you meal. Cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of fiber, iron and calcium.

Almonds (with skin): very good source of unsaturated fats, manganese, antioxidants and vitamin E.

Pistachios:  very good source of unsaturated fats, antioxidants and fiber.

Sesame seeds: very good source of unsaturated fats, magnesium and copper. Good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B.

Sunflower seeds: excellent source of vitamin B1 and E.

Coconut: rich in lauric acid, which is known for being antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal, and boosts the immune system.

1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup water
1 lemon, zest of
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup pistachios, roughly shopped
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup black sesame seeds

1/2 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
Combine dates, water, lemon zest and cinnamon in a small pan. Bring to boil over medium heat, then simmer for 3-5 minutes. Let cool a little before blending it into a paste in a food processor. Set aside. Mix the paste into the nuts and seeds until well coated.
Preheat oven to 165C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roughly chop the almonds and pistachios. In a large bowl, combine all nuts and seeds. Mix the paste into the nuts and seeds until well coated.

Spread out onto baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until dry. Turn clusters over half way through. If they seem to take longer than 30 minutes, check regularly afterwards, as they burn quickly past the half-hour mark. Let cool completely. Break up bigger clusters. Stir in coconut. Store in airtight container.
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17 October, 2011

Melon Shapes with Mint and Feta

I have just survived one of the toughest weekends in the year: my son's 6th birthday and the party that we threw for him. Every time I organize a birthday party, it takes me by surprise how much time and energy goes into something that looks like just some garlands, games and a cake.
I am exhausted. I am glad it's over. I hope the kids had fun.

In Dubai, one can pretty much buy everything: people who decorate your house, people who entertain your kids, and of course, the cake. However, we have always done it ourselves. Well, not the big cake. But the rest. I call our parties shooting-from-the-hip parties or this is what it looks like to our guests. A seemingly spontaneous going-with-the-flow party.

But behind the curtains, things have been planned. I have been researching and downloading kids favorite party songs for the disco and musical chair/statue games, tested them on my kids. Planned a variety of games and prepared necessary props/prizes for it. Decorated the house, blew a million balloons manually. Prepared foods/snacks/drinks for 10-15 kids and their accompanying parent.

I love to dish up fresh fruit, and traditionally, those are very popular among parents and kids. Only recently  I discovered that watermelon and mint go together really well. Sprinkled with a few crumbs of feta cheese to add another flavor dimension and ready is your party snack. Best served ice-cold, to make it truly refreshing. It was just what everyone needed to cool down from the hot dancing, or the still scorching Dubai temperatures outside, that we had yesterday.


2 lbs water melon
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

Serves 6
Cut melon into 1 1/2 inch thick slices. With cookie cutters of your choice cut, shapes out of the slices. Sprinkle with a little crumbled feta cheese and garnish with fresh mint leaves. Serve ice-cold.
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12 October, 2011

Roasted Butternut with Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I love my lunch salads these days, and although I have posted a similar recipe sometime ago, I'd  like to share this one with you: it's a salad that I had for lunch at a cafe recently that I really liked because of its simplicity. Yet, it doesn't lack any flavor, and, needless to say, the nutritional value of it makes it all worth it even more. It's sweet roasted pumpkin on a bed of arugula leaves, spiced with a simple dressing and sprinkled with tart sun-dried tomatoes and sweet roasted pine nuts. Add grilled chicken strips if you want, and I assure you, it will leave you full and satisfied for a long time. You can eat a full bowl of it without feeling guilty. A perfect lunch salad.

The more I learn about nutrition, the more I experiment with one or the other forms of a diet, the more I learn about my body and how it reacts on foods. I have been trying to go grain-free as much as possible lately, and I must say I feel great. I have been trying to be refined-sugar free for a long time, and it's feeling good. I do well with chicken and fish in my diet. I find it hard to give up dairy in form of milk in my coffee or tea and yogurt. I love my beans and lentils.

I guess, everyone has to find out for themselves, what's good for them. Education is the key, and a basic understanding of what food does to your body is essential, and far too often missing when I talk to people about their nutrition.
I often have the impression, that people are not even aware of direct reactions of their bodies to the foods they eat. So please, speak up, swim against the current and tell people whenever you have a chance, how important it is to take care of one's nutrition: that fruit juices and breakfast cereals are not healthy, that white breads and processed meats have no nutritional value. That whole foods are the way to go.

It takes a long time to convince people that their eating habits are wrong. It took me more than 30 years to realize that I ate the wrong foods. But once, you realize what it does to your overall well-being, your mood, your energy levels and your immune system, you will know you are on the right path. Once this reality has sunken in, I seriously cannot imagine anyone going back to old eating patterns.

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon olive oil
pinch of salt

4 cups arugula, washed and dried
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoon pine nuts 

1 cup grilled chicken breast, cut into strips (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Serves 4
Preheat oven to 220C/400F.

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of olive oil and salt over butternut cubes and toss until coated. Spread out in single layer on a baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes or until soft.

In a dry pan, roast the pine nuts for a couple of minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside.
Pour boiling water over the sun-dried tomatoes and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and chop finely. Set aside.
Combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar and whisk until well combined.

Put arugula leaves into serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and toss until coated. Add roasted pumpkin and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Ready to serve.
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08 October, 2011

Puy Lentil Salad with Cranberries and Purslane

I cannot deny it: I have a sweet tooth. Wherever I can squeeze in some sweetness, I'll do it. And what would be a better dish than a salad of lentils and green leaves? Both considered healthy and very nutrient-dense. Now make this sweet by making a vinaigrette out of cranberries and apple cider vinegar, and I'll be all over it.

I made this for a potluck of Dubai-based food bloggers yesterday. I think it was a great success. After all, we had to compete with a whole lot of pasta salads, meaty dishes, homemade spring rolls, lamb chops and then, THE DESSERTS. I'll be honest: I didn't have one single bite of my own healthy salads ( I brought an even greener and leafier one - my Fava Bean and Arugula salad with Parmesan). Instead, I dug into all the pasta salads, meaty dishes and the desserts. After I tried two or thre desserts, I thought I might as well just eat all of them. And so I did. One yummier than the other. I left the potluck with a huge doggie bag. I haven't eaten much today. My system is still digesting all the foods that it usually doesn't get anymore, not in such amounts: the white flours, sugars, butter, etc.
But I enjoyed every single bite. And even more: the company of like-minded people, that I otherwise would have never met.

Our 1-year-old food blogger community of the United Arab Emirates is counting more than 70 members now, with extremes ends of our blogosphere probably being a blog that does cheesecakes only, the other end being a blog on how to grow your own veggies (in Dubai where it's 45C in summer and it never rains). I am very proud of being part of this crowd. An inspiring bunch of people from all over the world, currently based in Dubai (or surrounding) that loves good food, one way or the other.

1 cup Puy lentils
2-3 bay leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon honey

2 cups of purslane leaves, loosely packed (alternatively baby spinach leaves)

salt and pepper to taste

Serves 8-10
Place lentils, bay leaves and three cups of water in a saucepan. Salt slightly. Bring to boil, then cook  over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until lentils are done.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing.
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add cranberries, vinegar, water and honey. Let simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes until sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Drain the lentils when they done, and add them to the sauce while still warm. Stir thoroughly to provide even coating with the sauce. Add purslane leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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04 October, 2011

Orange Date Nut Clusters aka Paleo Granola

In my About Food section I am trying to explain what made me change my diet from a white flour, sugary diet to a more wholesome one. Ever since I figured out, that these two foods were doing more damage than good to me, I have been on journey towards better and healthier eating.

I don't have weight problems. I am not allergic to any foods.  Yet, the food that I put in my body determines my mood, my energy and health levels. I don't think that crash diets and abrupt, drastic changes in your diet are sustainable, unless you have serious health issues that force you into it.

Without any pressure, I took small steps that made sense at that time. If you have been living on sugar, white flours and processed foods for a long time, it makes sense to reduce/eliminate these first. So I switched from white flour to wholemeal flour (wheat it was mostly), and eliminated refined sugar by switching to natural sweeteners like agave, honey and maple syrup. I started cooking from scratch in order to eliminate processed foods.

In another step I tried to explore foods that keep blood sugar levels low. With low GI foods on the menu, I explored the use of beans and lentils extensively.
This was followed by trying to reduce/eliminate wheat/gluten. I am not allergic to gluten. But I couldn't help jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, just to see if it would make a difference to my well-being.

It does make a difference. I find it hard to describe, but my body feels lighter, cleaner, less clotted. I am definitely less bloated. I am not sure if it is gluten-related but last year I often had swollen feet and legs in the Dubai summer heat. This summer, with a very reduced to gluten-free diet, my feet were fine.

Now I have gone a step further and try and avoid grains. Starchy carbohydrates from grains take a lot of someone's energy just to digest them. The nutritional value that comes with those grains, is not worth it. I do not avoid grains religiously. Just last night I had a whole spelt chapati with my dinner. It didn't kill me, nor did it make me feel sluggish or bad. But the overall reduction of grains definitely benefits my well-being.

Going grain-free seemed to be a big step at first, especially with me being a granola addict for breakfast. But what do people do that go grain-free? They use almond flour instead of grain flour. Instead of using two cups of rolled oats, I chopped up two cups of almonds. Combined with seeds of your choice and some flavoring I prepare my granola the same way I used to with oats. And I love it even more. The crunch is just unbeatable.

If someone had told me five years ago, that I would be having an (almost) grain-free and sugar-free diet, I would have declared that person crazy. But this is what I am doing now, and it seems natural because it developed into it over several years. I surely don't feel deprived. Let's see where this journey is taking me.

1 1/2 cups whole almonds
1/2 cup whole hazelnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup linseeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup dessicated coconut

1/2 cup dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 orange, zest of
Preheat oven to 165C/325F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roughly chop the almonds and hazelnuts. In a large bowl, combine all nuts and seeds. Set aside.

In a small pan, combine dates, orange juice and zest. Over medium heat, bring to boil and let simmer for a few minutes. Blend to a paste in a food processor. Mix the paste into the nuts and seeds until well coated.

Spread out onto baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 30 minutes or until dry. Turn clusters over half way through. If they seem to take longer than 30 minutes, check regularly afterwards, as they burn quickly past the half-hour mark. Let cool completely. Break up bigger clusters. Stir in coconut. Store in airtight container.
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01 October, 2011

Spinach and Chickpea Salad

Is there anything like time management courses at evening schools? I need one. It has never happened before that it took me 6 days to post a recipe on my blog. I don't like it. But I feel, I can do nothing about it.

Sadly, I have come to realize, that my blog is free-falling from the top of my priority list when everyday-life reality hits. And it's not only the blog. I've got so many projects in my head, that might never see the light because I don't have time to realize them. They remain stuck in my head.

I usually have a rough idea of the chores that expect me the next day. On most days, I am convinced I can squeeze in some time for blog or projects. But then, so often I have to realize that things take much longer than I think, e.g. 45 minutes is not enough time for me to shoot some food for my blog. It might not take that long in the end, but if I feel rushed, my pictures don't look like I want them to. It happens just too often that fresh herbs, bought to shot food for my blog, just wilt away because I never got even close to my camera.
Perhaps that is even my bigger problem: head space. I need to free my head of all that day-to-day junk that it is full with. Or otherwise: I need more memory space. Where can get an upgrade and what does it cost, please?
At least, I still get the basics covered. I actually think my everyday life is pretty well organized and efficient, just full to the max. However, I always find time to make good food and enjoy it. I have been making big batches of this Spinach Chickpea Salad a few times recently. It's good when warm, just out of the pan, and it also keeps well in the fridge for next day's lunch. I love its spice and layers of textures. A filling salad or side dish, good for the upcoming colder months.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green chili, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin

2 cups cooked chickpeas*
4 cups spinach leaves

1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

* I highly recommend using home-cooked chickpeas over canned ones, as they retain more texture. The canned ones are often too mushy, which doesn't serve the purpose in this salad.

Serves 4
In a dry pan, dry roast the hazelnuts over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop. Set aside.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Fry chopped onions until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, chilli and cumin, fry for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
Add chickpeas and stir until well coated. Cook for another few minutes. If the misxture int he pan seems too dry, add tiny bits of water. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.

Transfer to serving bowls, and top with crumbled feta cheese and chopped toasted hazelnuts.
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