Tuscan White Bean & Asparagus Salmon Salad

On my last trip home to the U.S., I had the pleasure of exploring New York for a few days with my family to celebrate my mom's 60th. It was the trip of a lifetime, and one of the absolute highlights was a lunch I had at a little Italian restaurant in SoHo. Salmon with a crispy skin over a bed of cannellini beans, thinly sliced asparagus, pesto, earthy rosemary, and tons of freshly squeezed lemon juice. It was so simple, delicious, refreshing, and filling at the same time. Needless to say, it's been stuck in my head ever since. 
Since asparagus is still in season here, I took it upon myself to give recreating this dish a try last weekend. Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves, but hot damn, it was spot on and oh-so simple to make. The first words out of my boyfriend's mouth after trying this were "Wow!" And this is not something I hear often, since he is slowly becoming spoiled by all the good eats he gets living with me.

Perhaps best of all, though, this meal is incredibly healthy! It is high in protein and fiber and low in calories. It also is free of refined sugar and gluten for those who need to look out for that!

  • Wild salmon: Wild salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acid you can find. This is exciting because omega-3s promote heart health, brain health, circulation, blood sugar control, and even memory function! Other studies suggest they also help improve mood. Salmon also is a great source of protein, potassium, and the cancer-fighting trace mineral selenium. I can't in good conscious mention the health benefits of salmon without mentioning that there is a world of difference between farm-raised and wild salmon. Salmon gets its omega-3s and lovely pink color from its natural diet. Farm-raised salmon typical are feed grains and, as a result, contain more inflammatory omega-6 fats.
  • Asparagus: While low in calories, these spears are high in antioxidants, fiber (blood sugar regulation and digestive health), potassium, folate, vitamin K (strong bones and healthy blood clotting). They also contain the anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting compound quercetin. 
  • Beans: Beans are incredibly rich in fiber, which aids our digestive health. Fiber slows digestion, regulating blood sugar levels and keeping us full. The roughage also acts like scrubbing bubbles to cleanse our colon and intestines, helping to push out unwanted waste products and free the microvilli, so they can better absorb nutrients
  • Rosemary: You don't hear much about rosemary, but it contains caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid, which are anti-inflammatory, and have mildly antibiotic and antiviral properties. In animal studies, the oil has proven to protect the liver and inhibit tumors. It also contains compounds that help prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter needed for memory and brain health.
  • Lemon juice: Although lemon juice is acidic, it has an alkalizing and anti-inflammatory affect on the body. It also stimulates digestive juices and the liver to release bile.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Coconut Crumble

Some girls look forward to buying new clothes when seasons change. I live for the new produce! There is just something about specific foods that ushers in a season for me. As much as pumpkins and apples equal fall, asparagus and rhubarb are spring. 
When I saw a big basket of ripe strawberries and rhubarb on sale, I knew Frankfurt had finally said goodbye to winter! Rhubarb never seems to stick around long, though, so I grabbed two bundles and went on my merry way. The only thing left to do was bake a crumble.
As far as I am concerned, once baked goods are in the house, they are fair game for any time of day or meal. With that in mind, I decided to make this treat at least semi breakfast appropriate and went with an oat, walnut and coconut streusel topping, which is filled with fiber and healthy fats. Oh, and the combination is heavvvennly. The coconut and tangy rhubarb are so refreshing with the sweetness from the strawberries and honey. The fat from the walnuts and coconut also help ground the flavors and cut the acidity of the fruit filling. I'm also happy to report that no refined sugar was used and that this dish is gluten free. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


Samosa Stuffing Over Coconut "Rice" With Lime-Mint Sauce

This is my soul food. Tumeric, cumin, and cardamom spiced chickpeas and veggies, with a pinch of cinnamon, over cauliflower coconut rice and topped off with a cool and tangy lime-mint sauce.  The colors, the smells, the TASTE! It is heavenly. And unlike fried samosas, which I love with all my heart, this dish is low in calories, extremely heart healthy, packed with nutritious goodness, and fantastically filling.
Despite my deep, undying love of Indian food, it has taken me until the ripe old age of 26 to try cooking any in my own kitchen. This is partly because I was spoiled enough to have an Indian best friend in high school whose mother would send me home from their house with tupperware filled with amazing, traditional home-cooked meals. But if I am honest, it is mostly because Indian spices are so intimidating. I felt like didn't know where to even start.

Last Christmas, I finally did a little research on the top-12, must-have Indian spices, bought them in bulk, and packaged them up as gifts and, of course, kept a set for myself. Out of all the recipes that I've tried, this is my favorite! It is so hearty and nourishing. Sometimes, I go all out and put the stuffing in wonton wrappers and bake them to make a lighter version of samosas, but most of the time I can't be bothered.
Besides the delicious earthy flavors, this meal contains a number of nutritional powerhouses that do so many amazing things for your body (click on foods for links to nutritional data):
  • Promotes heart health: This dish is packed with fiber and low in cholesterol, thanks to the peas, chickpeas, and spinach! Diets high in fiber are shown to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Plus it evens our blood sugar levels, keeps you full longer, and helps your digestive system move things along.
  • Prevents cancer/detoxifies the body: Like broccoli, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetables that releases a sulfur-containing phytochemical in our body called glucosinolates. These little guys detoxify the body by activating enzymes in the liver that help disarm and eliminate carcinogens before they can cause celluar damange. To get the most out of the cauliflower, avoid boiling or microwaving it.
  • Helps build and maintain muscles: This dish is filled with multiple sources of plant-based, low-cholesterol protein. One cup of chickpeas has 15 grams of protein and one cup of frozen peas has nearly as much with 12 grams. Cashews, while higher in fat, also contain a good amount of protein, at 5 grams per protein 28 grams (not to mention magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese)! 
  • Is rich in tons of key vitamins and minerals
    • Vitamin A (spinach, peas, carrotsonions, spinach): Important for vision, the immune system, and cell growth (think healthy skin, nails, and hair).
    • Vitamin B6 (spinach, chickpeas, cauliflower, peas): Needed for maintaining healthy brain and nerve function, helps metabolize fats and proteins, and vital for synthesizing antibodies that fight disease.
    • Vitamin C (spinach, cauliflower, peas): Boosts the immune system and vital for cell growth and repair.
    • Vitamin K (peas and onions): Helps us store calcium in our bones.
    • Iron (spinach, chickpeas, cashews): Helps blood cells transport oxygen to the brain and body.
    • Zinc (nuts, peas, chickpeas): Key for cell growth and repair, boosts immune system, and vital for vision and fertility.
    • Folate (spinach, peas, chickpeas, cauliflower): Prevents neural tube defects and reduces levels of homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid that can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease, stroke, dementia, and peripheral vascular disease.
Not to mention the long list of benefits that come with all the spices!
  • Ginger: There is reason you reach for ginger when you're sick. This little plant is antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. Plus it can soothe an upset stomach, improve circulation, and thin the blood. Numerous studies on humans have also shown ginger to have a positive impact on pain and fever
  • Mustard seeds: So I was surprised to find out that this spice is actually part of the brassica family, alongside superstars like broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts. Like its brothers and sisters, mustard seeds are packed with cancer-fighting substances like indoles, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane.
  • Turmeric: Curcuminoids, which are what gives tumeric its bright yellow color that threatens to stain everything, are also what gives it superpowers! It is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the body and helps alleviate arthritis and joint pain. It also has antitumor properties, reducing the size and number of tumors in animals that have them. It improves heart health by reducing cholesterol and is known to boost liver health.
  • Cardamom: Like ginger, it helps with digestion, but for different reasons. It contains a compound called carminative, which reduces cramps by helping the body expel gas from the stomach and intestines. It also supports liver health by stimulating bile flow and fat metabolism.
  • Cayenne pepper: It helps increase circulation, break up congestion/mucus, and stimulate digestion by increasing the body's production of saliva, gastric juices, and digestive enzymes.
Hopefully these are enough reasons to consider giving this recipe a try!


Sea Salt & Dark Chocolate Goji Berry Bites

Folks, it's been a while. My two-(err three?)-month hiatus from the blog has been in part due to a rather major change in my life: On Jan. 19, 2015, I had my second-ever first day of work. Getting to that point, though, took a great deal of time and energy. The job search being kick-started by the threat of looming unemployment made the process just that much more emotionally exhausting. I had to recharge my batteries and focus on the basics for a while there.
I didn't come here to talk about life's trials and tribulations, though. I came to talk about delicious, wholesome treats! These babies are dipped in mood-lifting, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and filled with protein, fiber and healthy fats. Slightly bigger than a cookie, they are the perfect size to satisfy a grumbling tummy and sweet tooth between meals. I'm really enjoying having them after my smoothie in the mornings with a cup of coffee or tea.
The whole idea for these came from a delicious energy bar I discovered when I was in the States visiting family over Christmas. They were made almost entirely of almonds, dark chocolate and sea salt. I bought a 30-pack to take back with me. Needless to say my supply is dwindling and I had to find a replacement STAT.
After playing around in the kitchen, I came up with these beauties. Besides being delicious, they also do a few other fantastic things for you. They...
  • Improve digestion and lower cholesterol: The fiber from the wheat bran, oats and nuts slow down digestion and act like scrubbing bubbles for your insides. Soluble fiber binds to the bile acid your body produces to aid digestion. To make more bile acid, the body pull cholesterol from the blood stream. 
  • Kill hunger pangs & sugar cravings: Aside from just staying in your tummy longer, fiber also helps regulate the release of sugar into the blood stream. No blood sugar peaks and crashes followed by intense sugar cravings. The same goes for protein and fat. They take a while to digest, which means that 15 minutes later you will not be wanting to eat everything in sight.
  • Load you up with antioxidants: So goji berries, dark chocolate and nuts are high in this fantastic thing called antioxidants. Antioxidants do exactly what their name says: prevent oxidation aka damage. The various antioxidants prevent free radicals in the body from causing cell damage, which can result in cell aging, inflammation, cancer and a long list of other diseases.
  • Relieve stress: I don't think this comes as a surprise to chocolate-lovers, but dark chocolate is a proven stress reliever. Consuming dark chocolate can lower levels of two stress hormones, cortisol (also responsible for fat storage) and epinephrine.
  • Contain more than 20 key trace minerals: Gogi berries are considered a superfood for a reason. They contain a long list of important minerals, including iron, zinc, cooper, selenium and calcium. 
  • Feed your brain: Walnuts not only look like mini brains, they are brain food. They are filled with omega-three fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce and NEED to help maintain brain and nerve function.


Spinach Shakshouka

So you are probably wondering what on earth you are looking at. At least that was my reaction when I first saw a picture of shakshouka. The dish of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce is often served for breakfast with crusty bread and has North African and Middle Eastern roots, but I can't claim to know how it is traditionally prepared. This is just a riff off of this beautiful smitten kitten recipe I found a while back and can't stop making.
 I wanted a more hearty version of it, since I find myself eating shakshouka for dinner as well as breakfast. To bulk up the meal, I added sweet peppers, some spinach and more onion, and I kicked it up a notch with some extra spice! This one-pan meal is filled with warming, earthy flavors like cumin and cayenne pepper that are perfect for these cold months ahead. And since the dish is almost entirely veggies, it is relatively easy on the wallet  something I always appreciate moving into December.

 There are also a few other things to love about this meal:
  • Boosts immune system: Tomatoes, spinach and peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C. 
  • Promotes healthy skin/cells: Tomatoes, spinach and peppers are also rich in vitamin A, which is needed for cell repair and regeneration.
  • Promotes strong bones: Cooked spinach is high in vitamin K and calcium. Vitamin K makes sure minerals are deposited into the bones where they are needed.
  • Contributes to healthy body and brain function: Spinach is rich in iron that our body needs to transport oxygen.
  • Reduces risk of cancer: Cooked tomatoes are rich in the phytochemical lycopene, which is associated with the significant reduction of prostate cancer in men especially when consumed with fat (egg yolk) to aid the absorption of lycopene. Other studies strongly suggest lycopene may protect against stomach, lung, oral, breast and cervical cancers as well.
  • Promotes eye health: Eggs and spinach contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that that promote eye health by preventing macular degeneration. The fat from the egg yolk also helps absorb them.
  • Provides great source of protein: Eggs contain all nine essential amino acids that our body needs but cannot synthesize. 
  • Contains choline (in the eggs), an essential part of the phospholipid phosphatidylcholine, which helps our bodies ensure that fat and cholestrol do not accumulate in the liver.

There are certainly more benefits, but I'll leave my list at that for now. If you want to read more about the benefits of certain foods, I highly recommend The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Dr. Jonny Bowden (C.N.S).


Cinnamon Spice Baked Apples with Cranberries, Maple Syrup & Walnuts

Now that we've turned back the clocks and the evenings are getting darker and colder, I'm shifting into hiberation mode. By that I mean live-in-a-bathrobe-and-avoid-leaving-the-house-at-all-costs-mode. Since I plan on spending all this time at home, I wanted something to make my place feel a little more... well homey. While scented candles are great, nothing quite does the job like the smell of real spiced apples baking in the oven.

This version of baked apples combines some of my favorite fall flavors: cinnamon, nutmeg, cranberries and maple syrup. The crunchy streusel topping and chewy cranberries add some texture to the soft, warm apple. As the recipe does not contain any processed sugar or gluten, this is one comfort food you can feel good about eating. Best of all, this healthy treat will only cost you about 15 minutes in the kitchen. After that, you can curl back up on the couch with a blanket and cup of tea while your oven does all the work.
Between the apple, oats and nuts, these make a  phenomenal breakfast treat or special snack, but they can also easily pass as a dessert with or without a little dollop of whipped cream. Even with the butter, these suckers are a relatively low-calorie as the apple itself is only about 90 calories. Unlike most processed, store-bought sweets, they are made with whole foods and contain some potassium, fiber, protein and omega-3s.