Dinner In 30 Minutes or Less: Ginger Lime Kitchari With Crunchy Veggies

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like spring can’t get here fast enough! Everyone in our house is longing for sunshine, flip flops, and the lightness that arrives with warmer weather.

This shift is becoming more and more apparent in my cooking, as I reach for lighter foods in the grocery store, and prepare more transitional meals for dinner. I like simple, convenient meals, which is why kitchari has become a staple for our family of five. It requires very little prep work, is ready in less than 30 minutes, and makes very little mess in the kitchen. Serve it up with roasted veggies, and we have a crowd pleaser for dinner, and leftovers for lunch the next day.

My favorite kitchari recipe is the one I learned from Ayurvedic Chef Meredith Klein at Pranaful, during her Spring Cleanse last year. It was a life-changing experience, and I highly recommend checking out her next cleanse, which starts on March 16th, 2014. Learn more here.

The best thing about kitchari is that my kids love it, and beg for seconds. As a mom, there’s not much better than serving comforting, medicinal foods that make my family happy.

If you have not made kitchari before, some of the ingredients might look unfamiliar. Mung beans are available in the bulk food section at Whole Foods, and at farmers markets. The spices should be available at most grocery stores, but if not, you will definitely find them at Whole Foods as well, or online.

I hope you enjoy this meal as much as our family does! It’s delicious and nutritious. Just the thing to help us brighten up for spring.

Namaste,

Amber

Springtime Kitchari

4 T. coconut oil or ghee

2 t. cumin seeds

2 t. mustard seeds

2 in. piece of ginger, grated

2 c. drained mung beans (rinse & soak overnight before cooking)

1 1/2 c. organic rice

1 1/2 t. turmeric powder

2 t. sea salt

8 c. water

Juice of 4-6 limes

sliced avocado

chopped parsely for finishing (optional)

Sautee oil, mustard, cumin and ginger over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until seeds begin to pop (1-2 minutes). Add rice and beans, and sautee another 2 minutes.

Add water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and add turmeric and salt. Cover and cook 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice and mung beans are soft.

Add lime juice to taste, and serve with sliced avocado and parsley.

Serves 6-8.

Sweet & Sour Carrots

10 whole organic carrots, rinsed, dried, and sliced in the food processor

Juice of 2-3 lemons

1 T. local honey

1/2 t. sea salt

cracked black pepper (optional)

Slice carrots in a food processor, using the slicing attachment, or by hand. Transfer to a baking dish and add juice and 1 T. local honey. Carrots should be only slightly sweet. Roast at 375 degrees until carrots start to soften, but are still crunchy, 7-10 minutes.

Serves 6-8.

Sweet & Salty Green Beans

4 c. french beans or regular green beans

1 T. maple syrup or organic coconut sugar

sea salt to taste

Rinse beans, and toss with syrup and salt. Roast at 375, until beans turn bright green, but are still crunchy, 7-10 minutes.

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Aside

‘Tis The Season…For Green Juice!

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I got a call from ZiZi this morning, asking if she could come home from school.

I’m in the nurse’s office and I feel awful, Mom. My nose is running, it’s hard to breathe, my tummy aches, and my throat hurts. 

My kids have not been home sick from school in ages–and definitely not since we committed fully to this crazy healthy life–so I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with her after I picked her up. When I was a kid, sick equalled Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, Saltine Crackers and 7-Up. None of that flies in this crazy healthy life, so I needed a Plan B.

I thought about it on the drive to school. She needs to get better quickly. Her big performance in “Honk! The Musical” is only five days away, and she just can’t be sick. She needs an injection of crazy healthy.

Poor girl was looking pretty puny when I picked her up.

You need a great big green juice and a lot of water, sweet girl. Let’s go get you better.

We bundled her up, and off to the grocery we went. On the list? The makings of an immunity-boosting green juice: parsley, swiss chard, celery, lemon, ginger, carrots, apples and pineapple juice.

I ran it all through the juicer, and what came out was as green as the grass in our yard. Most of the juice was greens, but the apples, carrots and pineapple added enough sweetness to cut the bitter and balance the sour.  Of course, the sweeter foods did up the sugar content of the juice, but it’s a trade off I am willing to make, to make sure my kids are getting the phytonutrients they need, when they are sick.

When I set it before her, the look on her face was priceless…the juices I normally make for her are less green and more berry colored, so this was a big change. I told her that, when my kid’s sick, I don’t mess around. Leafy greens, citrus and ginger are the best ammunition we have to fight disease.

ZiZi didn’t exactly love the juice…it was “just ok”, but she drank it all, after I explained why it would help.

The greens will reduce the inflammation that makes it hard to breathe, the lemon gives you vitamin C to for energy and immunity, ginger will settle your tummy, and the vitamins and minerals in the apples, celery, carrots will help your body eliminate the virus. 

Coincidentally, Erika Miller, a reporter/friend/supermom in NYC who follows us on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life, asked a similar question about green juices earlier this week. She wrote:

“I bought a 20z “Hail to Kale” juice drink (120 calories) — only to discover it has 20 grams of sugar! Can you talk about how to make the decision trade off between calorie count and sugar count?”

The thing that struck me about this question was the focus on calorie count and portion size. Although I was a die-hard calorie counter in college and my early twenties, I honestly have not considered calories at all, in the past ten years.

Here’s why: practicing yoga has made me aware that A) my body tells me how much is enough, if I am mindful and intentional about food, and B) the way we treat food today is not the way God intended.

This is true for both calorie counting, and portion size. I try to eat as if we live in a time before food labeling, frozen dinners, and fast food. How did people eat 100 years ago? Most people didn’t know what a calorie was, there was no such thing as Super Size, and food was less convenient…it was harder to come by, and it took longer to prepare. People actually planned their meals, and ate on a schedule.

The cultural norms were radically different before processed foods, sodas and drive thrus became mainstream. A hundred years ago, people ate what was served, when it was served. They were more aware of what they were eating, and where it came from, and they were appreciative of the preparation and presentation of the food. Perhaps most importantly, they stopped eating when they were full, and waited until the next meal to eat.

I think this is the way we are supposed think about food. Intentionally, and with awareness and gratitude. The more we pay attention to how foods affect us, the easier it is to make healthy choices.

The other thing that struck me about Erika’s request was the question about sugar count, in relation to the portion size. Twenty ounces is, in my opinion, two servings, not one. Which means the sugar count is only 10g per serving, and I think that’s pretty reasonable for a green smoothie, especially if the sugar comes from fruit. Remember, fruit sugars are the good kind of sugars…the kind our bodies know how to process. It’s the refined sugars that cause the biggest problems, and should always be avoided.

That being said, it’s still important to eat more veggies than fruit. Too much of any kind of sugar can cause inflammation and put stress on our liver and kidneys.

In our family, we talk a lot about the idea that vegetables, beans and grains should be the foundation of our diet, and fruit, nuts and proteins are complements (we don’t need as much protein as Dr. Atkins and The Paleo Diet have led us to believe, in my experience). Serving fruit for desert helps my kids understand that fruit should be used in moderation, and when they have a pure fruit smoothie for breakfast or snack, they are not allowed other fruits for the rest of the day.

And when we get sick, we fill our bodies with veggies, and eliminate sugars and processed foods as much as possible, until we feel better. This easier for me than it is for my kids, but I think we do a better job now than ever before. As I have said before, crazy healthy is a journey, and it gets better ever year.

ZiZi seems to have perked up a little in the hour since she drank her green juice. I’d like to think it’s working already! We’re going do a little yoga and pranayama in the studio now, and that should make a difference, too.

Say a little prayer for her as she heals…so she can back on her feet, and on the stage by Sunday. And stock up on leafy greens, the next time you hit the market. That way, you can be armed and ready, if the next call from the nurse’s office is made to you.

The Avocado Pudding Party


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Instead of the usual after school snack yesterday, the girls and I had a pudding party. Not just any pudding party, but a crazy healthy avocado pudding party. And they thought it was the best thing since sliced gluten-free bread.

It might sound decadent, but it really wasn’t. Avocados are full of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They actually rank pretty high on Dr. Furhman’s Nutritarian Food Pyramid (love him!), which means they are nutrient-dense, and an important part of a crazy healthy diet. The other ingredients we used for the basic pudding were also full of phytonutrients. As far as I’m concerned (and I think Dr. Fuhrman would agree), this basic avocado pudding is a guilt-free indulgence.

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So here’s how we did it: my eight-year old beat three medium ripe avocados with approximately 3 T. raw cacao, 2 or 3 T. local honey, 1 T. unsweetened almond milk (you can substitute soy or coconut milk) and a healthy pinch of sea salt, to make a basic avocado chocolate pudding. Sometimes I add a little vanilla for taste as well. *

I separated the pudding into small bowls, and then we all got creative with mix-ins. I wanted the girls to be invested in the final product, so I let them pick the flavors.

The end result was peppermint chocolate pudding, banana chocolate pudding, strawberry chocolate pudding, cinnamon chocolate pudding, and peanut butter chocolate chip pudding. This is what it looked like after they devoured it all (don’t you love the cute little signs my daughter made?).

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We tried to vote on the best flavor, but couldn’t come to a consensus. My eight year old loved the peppermint, my seven-year old preferred the peanut butter chocolate chip, and my five-year old loved the cinnamon. Personally, I thought banana chocolate pudding was the best. I also thought that raspberries would taste better than strawberries, and will try that next time.

The best part of the avocado pudding tasting party was that the girls and I had fun experimenting in the kitchen with crazy healthy foods, and they’re already begging to do it again. And that makes me really happy, because it means I now have even more opportunities to help them create crazy healthy childhood memories.

Note: I use less cacao, milk and honey than most recipes you might find because I think it’s healthier that way, but you can add more if you think you need it.

Photo: http://www.diseaseproof.com

Who Doesn’t Love A Chocolate Covered Strawberry?

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Last month, I posted some crazy healthy ideas for satisfying a sweet tooth. The one I neglected to mention is my absolute favorite: chocolate covered strawberries. As much as I love them for dessert, I also love giving chocolate covered strawberries as gifts. People appreciate them because they seem decadent, but they really aren’t.

They’re crazy healthy because strawberries and chocolate are both rich in phytonutrients, and together they are the perfect combination of sweet and bitter (this is why dark chocolate tastes best; it’s more bitter; it’s also the healthiest choice for chocolate because it is lower in sugar, and good chocolate is often dairy-free).

It’s fairly simple to make chocolate covered strawberries, but there is definitely an art to the dipping process. Here’s what you need:

1) A double boiler

2) A large bag of dark chocolate chips or several dark chocolate bars

3) Coconut oil or paraffin wax to harden the chocolate (food grade, used for canning–available at most grocery stores, usually in the baking section, but sometimes by the paper plates)

4) Strawberries, washed and dried

5) Cookie sheet, covered in wax paper

Melt 1 large bag of chocolate with  1T. coconut oil in the double boiler over low heat, stirring frequently. Be patient–if chocolate heats too fast, it gets grainy.

Be sure to use enough chocolate to submerge the strawberries. This usually means using more than you think you need!

Leftover chocolate can be used for dipping other fruits or making homemade snack bars with nuts, honey and fruit (just like KIND Bars).

Use a cocktail fork to skewer the strawberry, or hold the berry by the stem (if it is solid). Only dip 3/4 of the strawberry, for appearance sake.

After dipping each berry, give it twenty seconds to drip and cool, before placing it on the wax paper.

Refrigerate dipped berries for thirty minutes before assembling on a plate. Wrap with cellophane or plastic wrap and a red ribbon. The perfect gift for teachers, neighbors, kids and sweethearts.

Wishing everyone much love, and a crazy healthy Valentine’s Day! THANK YOU for joining me on this journey!

Photo: http://www.foodnetwork.com

Chick-fil-A, The Crazy Healthy Way

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At three o’clock this afternoon, I got an email from a parent in my daughter’s class that said, “In honor of Charlie’s birthday tomorrow, we will bring lunch from Chick-fil-A for the entire class. It’s his favorite meal: chicken nuggets and fruit.”

My first reaction was, “Uh-oh, how am I going to make this right for my little one?” She is severely allergic to gluten, and we know from experience that the wheat in Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets makes her wheeze, and fight for breath. I knew she would be sad to miss out Charlie’s birthday treat.

And then I came to my senses. What a great opportunity! The perfect way to remind my kids that there is ALWAYS a yummier, and healthier, choice than fast food.

I did not grow up in the South, like many of my friends here in Atlanta, and my mom was more of a baker than a chef. So, I have no experience with frying anything. But tonight I would finally try my hand at frying chicken, and I would do it in a crazy healthy way.

We also don’t eat meat very often, so I was surprised/happy to find one package of organic chicken breasts in the fridge. All systems GO.

I cut the chicken into small pieces, dipped it in egg or egg replacer, then dipped it in a mixture of Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking and Pancake Mix, salt, and pepper. I think of myself as an intuitive cook (translated: I find it hard to follow recipes, and would rather figure things out as I go), so I just guessed at how much baking mix, salt and pepper to use.

I also guessed at how to work with the oil. Grapeseed oil is flavorless and has a high smoke point, so this seemed the best option for frying (coconut oil is healthier, but I thought the taste would be too strong). I doubled the amount of oil I usually use to sauté veggies, and let it get nice and hot over medium-high heat, before adding the chicken.

And then I thought, why not go all the way, and replicate the Kids Meals at Chick-fil-A?

Hmm…how to recreate the sides in a hurry? Toss new potatoes with grapeseed oil and salt, and roast them at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Slice some apples, and voila! Faux Chick-fil-A in a crazy healthy way.

Not as nutrient-dense as most of our dinners, but we all need to live a little, right? The best part: all three of my girls said tonight’s dinner was better than Chick-fil-A. Way better. Everyone had seconds, and I still have enough to send with my youngest tomorrow, so she will not feel left out.

Recreating Chick-fil-A at home was easier, and more satisfying than I expected. In 20 minutes, I went from doubting my ability to create a healthy substitute, to showing my kids that Chick-fil-A might taste good, but we can do better.

Turning doubt in opportunity. That, in a nutshell, is what this crazy healthy life is all about.

The Incredible, Edible Cashew: A Healthy Alternative to Dairy


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Photo: http://site.nutsinbulk.com

I had never paid much attention to cashews until last year. They always seemed boring and tasteless; something I could take or leave. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that cashews are an important part of a healthy diet, and a healthy substitute for dairy in many recipes. Studies have shown that they are rich in phytonutrients, lower in fats than most nuts, reduce cancer risk, and support bone health and weight control.

My opinion of cashews changed, when I met a vegetarian chef named Meredith Klein, who “cooks” with raw foods. Meredith changed my life, and my cooking, forever, when she served fresh fruit with raw chocolate cream for dessert. It was divine…I couldn’t believe something so simple and crazy healthy could taste so good.

I asked Meredith how she made it (cashews, raw cacao, coconut water, maple syrup, and salt), and it was the beginning of my love affair with cashew creams. I use cashews all the time now, to make vegan alfredo sauces, whipped creams, mousses, cheescakes and pumpkin pies. I serve them to my kids, and at dinner parties, with great success.

It’s so simple, it’s silly. All you have to do is soak cashews for 2-4 hours first, and process them until they are creamy, in a high powered blender or food processor.

Thanks to Meredith, I’ve fallen hard for cashews, and you might too, if you discover how helpful they can be as a replacement for milk and cream. Below is a recipe for cashew cream that I have modified from Meredith’s original guidance. It’s fabulous, served with strawberries, or Trader Joes’ Gluten-free Ginger Snaps.

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Meredith and Amber in the kitchen at Casa Barranca in Ojai, July 2012

Raw Vegan Chocolate Cream, inspired by Meredith Klein

16 oz. raw cashews, soaked in water 2-4 hours

1/4 c. raw cacao (or cocoa powder)

12 oz. coconut water (or more, if needed for consistency)

1 t. maple syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix everything in a food processor until creamy.  Add more coconut water to increase sweetness as desired, more cacao to increase chocolate flavor, and more salt if desired. Enjoy with apples, strawberries, or gluten-free ginger snaps!

Crazy Good Kale Salad

My friend, Angie, is a total foodie, a professional chef, and the best cook I know. Eating out with Angie is always fun, because she is really enthusiastic, and funny, about food. If she likes something, she calls it craaaazy good. Her enthusiastic use of “crazy” is one of the reasons I love calling this blog “My Crazy Healthy Life“.

Angie came to dinner last week, along with a few other girlfriends. I served bourbon salmon and roasted butternut squash with cranberries, along with this raw kale salad that I found at http://www.vegetariantimes.com. I only used half of the salt they recommended, because I thought it called for too much. It turned out perfect.

As I had hoped, Angie, and my other friends, also thought this kale salad was crazy good. They raved about it, helped themselves to seconds, and insisted that I forward the recipe. I’m pretty sure one of my other dinner guests, Lisa, is making this salad right now, as I type this post.

Because it was such a hit, I wanted to share this crazy good, crazy healthy recipe with you. It calls for grated raw rutabaga and grated raw turnips, which is AWESOME. I never would have thought of that on my own. I love that the veggies are seasonal, it’s easy to make, and the final product is the perfect combination of all six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Give it a try, and let me know if you agree, that this might just be the perfect kale salad.

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Photo: http://www.vegetariantimes.com