26 March, 2012

Chickpea Tomato Salad with Parsley and Mint

Can I tell you a secret? On parties, I prefer male guests over women. Especially when I am the host. Want to know why? Men eat. Everything. Easy to cook stuff. Women don't. They are either on a diet, or just nibbling on a carrot stick all afternoon/evening.
I was throwing a surprise party for my husband last weekend. I invited friends and colleagues, amongst whom they would not only be picky females, but also vegans and people with all sorts of allergies. Another friend announced upon arrival that she's gone raw. Yeah....ahem...very good... why not!

As much as I prefer vegan, raw and allergen-free foods in my everyday life, I find these foods are not party-friendly. Put a plate of grilled sausages and chicken on the table and it's polished off in no time. Funnily, or perhaps even expectedly, the carrot and cucumber sticks were almost finished too. Nevertheless, I made a few vegan and gluten-free salads, of which I had a lots of leftovers. As expected.

I admit, I am a female and I hardly ate myself. My excuse: I was the host and under immense stress with arriving guests, getting drinks sorted, chatting to everyone, etc. In order to cope, I hung on to red wine from 3pm on.
When I woke up the next day with a bad hangover, and my life was supposed to go on in everyday mode, I was grateful for all those leftover vegan salads in my fridge. So in the end it all worked out well. Thanks guys, for sticking to the meat, and thanks girls for not eating all my salads. I needed them the next day!
inspired by a recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen

3 red capsicum peppers
olive oil
salt and pepper

2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

3 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt

Serves 4-6
Preheat oven to 220C/400F.

Deseed the peppers and cut them into wide strips. Lay out on a shallow baking sheet. Toss with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until soft. Take out of the oven and let cool. Chop the peppers into bite sizes.

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. for the dressing. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine chickpeas, chopped peppers, parsley and mint, capers and cherry tomatoes. Pour over the dressing and mix until well combined. Serve cold or at room temperature.
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22 March, 2012

Grain Free Apple Walnut Bread

It's 8pm on a Thursday in Dubai. I am running the last half marathon of the season tomorrow morning at 6.30am. Everything is laid out, including the banana that I will force myself to eat before the race. I am still arguing with myself at what time I should wake up for this.
I am also arguing with myself, if I should eat some more now. I just had a light dinner with eggs and veggies. And only half a glass of wine, not a full one, like I normally have. But I still feel hungry, or rather peckish. What can I eat now? And when will I get up tomorrow morning? Decisions, decisions.

I had a box of little chocolate pralines in my race goodie bag. I haven't had those kind of things for ages. My sugar-reduced lifestyle has been going on for long enough that I am by now happy with 85% dark chocolate. I admit, on bad days, I can eat a whole 100g/4oz bar of it.
I have never had one decent and healthy food item in a race goodie bag. It ranged from spaghetti to chocolate cookies and dodgy "energy" drinks. If you have all or just any of those, the race might become a true challenge.

So I should actually stick to what I usually eat. That's the usual advice: before a race, do what you do before a training run. Alright, a whole bar of dark chocolate might not be the best idea now. Something sweet would be nice though. Or some roasted pepitas, that would be the savory option.

If I go for sweet, I have this grain free apple cake in the fridge.
This apple cake is actually a lazy recipe because I simply changed the fruit of the Grain Free Banana Date Bread. A fellow Dubai blogger was asking me after I posted the banana bread recipe, if one could somehow substitute the banana. Apples, I said. Why didn't it cross my mind before? Honestly, I'd always prefer apples over bananas myself.  I added a little more dates and date syrup to the apple cake, as apples are naturally not as sweet as bananas. The result: a moist and apple-fresh cake with a lovely nut crunch.

I think I am gonna have a slice of apple cake now. I am only left with the decision about what time to get up tomorrow morning. 5.15am? Sounds so terribly early.......

3/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 eggs (at room temperature)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (liquefied)
1/2 cup grated apple with peel (one medium apple)
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
4 tablespoons date syrup (or honey)

1/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease or line regular loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together almond meal, coconut flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in date syrup/honey, apple sauce, grated apple and coconut oil. Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir until  no longer lumpy. Stir in chopped dates and walnuts, keeping a couple of chopped walnuts aside.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Sprinkle remaining walnuts on top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.
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18 March, 2012

Herb Salad with Green Beans and Pomegranates

I am in the middle of the final three weeks of my running season. I had a 10k race last Friday, next Friday I will run another Half Marathon, and a week after the final 10k race of the season. And then it's over until Sept/Oct or so.

Last weeks 10k race was good, although it left me upset. Wanna know why? I finished 3rd, my first time ever on a podium. I should have had all reason to be happy, right? Unfortunately I didn't know (in fact I believed I was 4th or so I was told), so I went home before the prize ceremony. Back home I checked the results online, and realized I was 3rd and in the prizes. Oh, I was upset. One chance to be on the podium, which only happened because a few of the very fast runners of my age group weren't participating. And then I miss to pick up my prize? Unforgivable.

Anyway, I got over it and have my prize by now. But the applause and attention on the podium would have been nice too, don't you think? Friends who went to the prize ceremony said they cheered for me even in my absence. That was surely a little comfort.
Let's move on now. Back to business and food.

I like to eat light a couple of days before a race, no matter if it's a 5k, 10k or Half Marathon. I don't want to carry around undigested food with me, nor any unwanted fat reserves that I will not need, nor do I want to be bloated, sluggish and tired.

Salads are the perfect meal choice on those days. Light and refreshing is what goes best these days, now that summer finally seems to be on its way to Dubai.
I was craving a herb salad. Something I have never made before. I knew herbs just as one or a couple of ingredients in salad, but never as the main star. After grocery shopping I came home with parsley, mint, purslane, water cress and chives. I picked arugula, basil and lemon thyme from our garden. To add some texture I threw in some green beans that were just shortly steamed. A herb salad would be naturally very green, right? I wanted some color and topped it with a handful of pomegranate seeds. I thought that a pungent-sweet honey lemon dressing would bring out both the herbs and the pomegranates. And it did. My personal stars in this salad are the mint and pomegranates. A heavenly combination, that will surely star in many more salads to come. My vegetable shelf in the fridge is packed with green leaves, herbs, pomegranates and lemon these days. That's how good this salad is. Throw in some toasted nuts and seeds and it's almost a lunch.

I probably don't need to tell you how good green leaves for you are. I am still exploring anti-inflammatory foods, and green leaves and herbs are one of the best sources. Purslane is strongly anti-inflammatory, as it is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and an excellent source of vitamin A and C. Parsley is rich in antioxidant and the best source of vitamin K among herbs. So good, that you should always have them at home and throw them into whatever dish you can. Bon appetit!

1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup purslane leaves
1/2 cup arugula leaves
1/4 cup water cress
1/4 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup chives, snipped into 1-inch pieces

1 1/2 cups green beans, ends trimmed

1 pomegranate, seeds of

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 lemon, zest of, finely grated
1-2 teaspoons lemon thyme leaves (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 4
Steam the green beans for 3-4 minutes, they should retain a crisp. Turn them into a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

Combine all ingredients for the dressing and whisk until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all herbs and leaves and the green beans. Pour over the dressing and mix until well coated. Sprinkle over with pomegranate seeds. Ready to serve.
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13 March, 2012

Grain Free Banana Date Bread

If there is anything about baking that I don't like, it's the Hit or Miss aspect of it. You can assemble the most promising batters. But only if you pull the bread or cake out of the oven, you will know if taste and texture are right. Taste might even be the easier part. I had a few cases of lightly under-sweetened cakes. Those could be saved with a frosting or glaze. But if the texture gets wrong, the cake is only good for the bin.

I've always had issues with using anything coconut in baking. Not that I didn't want to use it. Quite the opposite actually. But in most cases it was doomed to failure. It doesn't need much of a coconut ingredient, to make a cake as dry as a sandstorm.

I admit, I stopped my own experiments with coconut flour. Instead, I am waiting patiently for promising recipes to pop up in the food blogger world. And there not even any food blog. Over the years I have found myself coming back to the same sites again and again. A combination of realization that we have a similar outlook on nutrition, similar tastebuds and the fact that their recipes turn out great, makes me belief that a recipe containing coconut flour must be good and is worth trying.
So it happened when I saw Comfy Belly's Banana Bread recipe. Pure happiness and an eagerness to start baking straight away set in, when I saw that the complete ingredients list was absolutely flawless from a nutritional point of view. Almond and coconut flour, eggs, banana and nuts were the basic ingredients. I made a bit more coconutty by using coconut oil instead of olive oil, and swapped the maple syrup for a little date syrup and chopped dates. The result: the most delicious banana bread that is gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free and without added sugars. Now that's what I call a nutritious and guilt-free cake.

adapted slightly by a recipe of Comfy Belly

3/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 eggs (at room temperature)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (liquefied)
1/2 cup mashed banana (from two very ripe bananas)
2 tablespoons date syrup (or honey)

1/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons chopped almonds (optional)

Yields 1 loaf
Preheat oven to 175C/350F. Grease or line regular loaf tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together almond meal, coconut flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk in mashed banana, date syrup/honey and coconut oil.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and stir until  no longer lumpy. Stir in chopped dates and walnuts.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf tin. Sprinkle chopped almonds on top. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack.
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08 March, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower with Crispy Sage

It's still winter, right? At the beginning of March, many people in colder areas of the Northern hemisphere have probably had enough of winter. But here in Dubai I cherish every day, where temperatures stay  below 25C by noon, as this is winter to us.

You may say, that 25C does not qualify as winter. However, I have been craving winter vegetables and I am going to squeeze my winter vegetable recipes into my blog as soon as possible, ideally before the official start of spring. So get ready for cauliflower, Brussels sprouts & Associates.

Today's recipe is hardly a recipe. It's more an irresistible combination of flavors and textures. The two stars of the show: cauliflower and sage. Both roasted. Cauliflower keeps its sweet and mild flavor much more when roasted. Opposites attract, that's particularly true for the culinary world. Now add bitter and pungent sage to it, and you have the most amazing vegan side dish or salad. What makes it even better is that the sage crisps up while roasting. I am in love with this dish, and have no problems eating a whole cauliflower with sage alone for lunch, as I did today.

The health benefits of cauliflower and sage are enormous: cauliflower is full of vitamin C and antioxidants. Sage is also full of anti-oxidants, vitamin K and both have anti-inflammatory abilities. Two superfoods combined and one of the easiest dishes to cook. It only needs some chopping and tossing, and it will roast peacefully and all by itself in the oven. Bon Appetit.

1 large head of cauliflower
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

20-25 fresh sage leaves

Serves 2-4
Preheat oven to 220C/450F.

Cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Toss in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix in the sage leaves. Spread out in one layer onto a shallow baking sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring and tossing occasionally, or until tender and slightly browned. Transfer to serving bowl. Serve immediately.
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03 March, 2012

Broccoli Tahini Salad with Almonds and Sesame

For the past week or so I have been obsessed with anti-inflammatory foods. It was all triggered by this blog post of fellow Dubai food blogger Ruth about an anti-inflammatory diet.
Inflammation is the first response of the immune system to infection or irritation. The usual signs of inflammation (swelling, redness, pain) occur when we hurt ourselves or have some kind of infection. Eating the wrong foods can cause and/or aggravate inflammation within our bodies.

While short-lived acute inflammation is crucial to keep us alive (e.g. after a bruise or cut), chronic inflammation that persists for a long period can kill us slowly over time. When low doses of pro-inflammatory substances continue to be released into the body for an extended period, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. These attacks may not always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen, unlike a bruise or a cut sustained to the skin.

Chronic inflammation is being regarded as one of the underlying causes for diseases like Diabetes Type 2, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer, dementia, inflammatory bowel diseases and diseases with unknown causes such as allergies or migraines.

Now what can cause chronic inflammation? Apart from mental stress, lack of sleep, environmental toxins and microorganisms (e.g. viruses and bacteria) it is food and food allergies.
In imbalance of intake of Omega 3 (the good ones) and Omega 6 (the bad ones) fatty acids, a diet high in insulin-spiking foods (such as refined flours and sugars) cause the body to react with the production of pro-inflammatory hormones.

Interestingly, foods that are otherwise considered very healthy are on the inflammatory side of the scale, especially grains (including whole grains), but also beans and lentils, and probably more obvious due to their sugar content, most fruits.

With regards to the grains, I agree with it. I enjoy a mostly gluten free diet, but I actually try and avoid most grains if possible or have very little, as they leave me sluggish, full and bloated. I am still researching this issue. A very good book to read is The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel.

For the first time in my life, I kept a food journal for three days. I wanted to know if my diet is actually inflammatory or not. I figured out quite quickly, which foods will get me onto the positive side of the scale. And a few of the foods that I considered healthy brought the sum down by quite a bit.
This salad definitely helped me to keep the sum on the upper side. It's not only the broccoli, but also the almonds (more than other nuts), the olive oil and the garlic that make this salad an anti-inflammatory delicious lunch or side dish.

I hope I got you interested in this topic. I am all over it as it makes sense in so many ways. Will keep on researching and hopefully will be able to tell you more about it very soon.

1lb broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets

1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
hot water

1/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons black and/or white sesame seeds

Serves 2-4
In a dry skillet over medium low heat, toast the almonds until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Shake the pan regularly while toasting to avoid burning on one side. Take off the heat and let cool. Chop and set aside.

Steam the broccoli florets for a few minutes, until barely tender. Turn them into a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.

In a small pan, whisk together tahini, olive oil, salt and garlic (if chosen). Whisk in hot water little by little to reach the desired consistency. I like mine similar to the consistency of mayonnaise.

Transfer broccoli to serving bowl. Gently stir in the tahini dressing. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped almonds. Best served at room temperature or cold.
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