Microwaving Spaghetti Squash: A Skeptics Tale

I am not a fan of the idea of a massive spaghetti squash exploding in my microwave; this is one reason I’ve held off trying this method of cooking it for so long.

Also, I was skeptical that the texture of the squash would turn out correctly if microwaved, as i’ve never been a fan of preparing any vegetable in this way.

Well, I tried it, and the squash did not explode! And, to my delight (and surprise), the texture was as it should be: al dente and stringy.

There are some recipes that this method of cooking probably won’t work for: for example, when trying to obtain a crunchy or caramelized texture, as this isn’t the texture one will produce via this method of cooking.

For some dishes though, like in those that use the squash to replace pasta, this cooking technique will be a time saver; the microwaved squash mimics the texture of pasta wonderfully.

My favorite method to eat the squash–which the microwave method works perfectly for– is to simply shred it and top it with a hearty tomato sauce and parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast. Sometimes i’ll add vegetarian “meat” balls for extra protein.

If you want to save even more time: microwave the squash and store it shredded in the fridge. When you are ready to eat it, put the squash into a pan and it heat up with some good pasta sauce, and then serve it up!

The nutritional value of the spaghetti squash is also something to cheer about. And if you are looking for a great post workout or yoga meal, look no further!

I followed the directions for microwaving in the YouTube video “Spaghetti Squash 101” by Dani Spies of Clean & Delicious.

Step 1: After cleaning the squash, puncture it a few times with a knife. This step is important; it stops the squash from exploding in the microwave, which wouldn’t be a pleasant experience for you or your kitchen.

Step 2: You’ll want set the timer according to the size of the squash being microwaved. Spies suggests four to five minutes per pound of vegetable.

Step 3: Cut the squash open, do away with the seeds, and use a fork to remove the flesh; the spaghetti-like strands should form easily when you run a fork over it.

 

Happy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

For the Hungry Yogi: Farro, Sweet Potato, and Pesto Salad

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Farro, sweet potato, and pesto, sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and sea salt.

When I have a busy yoga schedule it can be hard to figure out how to feed myself a satisfying meal without weighing myself down on the mat.

If I need energy for an intense session, and I feel that a piece of fruit just isn’t going to cut it, I chow down on cold farro and sweet potatoes with vegan pesto and sea salt an hour or two before I head into the studio.

I usually bake some sweet potatoes to store in the fridge and I boil farro to stash away as well. This way, if I’m in an “I need food now” state if mind either before or after practice, I can just pick up some fresh vegan pesto from the store and put the dish together in no time.

The farro: I can’t remember when I was introduced to this nutritious ancient grain, but since it’s been in my life, I’ve loved it more than any other grain. Its delicious, nutty flavor, lends itself well to both hot dishes and cold salads, and it’s similar to pasta or rice in how versatile it is; the flavor and texture of farro is distinct, yet it can easily act as a base for many dishes. All you need to do to prepare the farro is to boil it in water.

The sweet potatoes: These are easy to make. I just scrub each one well, puncture the skin with a fork, and place the potatoes in the oven on some foil. Set the oven at a high temperature. The sweets are done when you can easily puncture the potatoes with a knife; the sugars will start caramelize.

The pesto: If you have time to make everything on the spot, creating your own pesto is very easy. The base of a traditional pesto is fresh basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. All the ingredients are simply blended in a blender, a food processor, or with a mortar and pestle.

Today, I made my own pesto with a bit of kitchen improv, using some fresh spinach along with the small amount of basil I had in the fridge. It worked well. I used a blender to combine the following items:

  • Two garlic cloves
  • A good few pinches of sea salt
  • A few grinds of pepper
  • Toasted pine nuts
  • A few good glugs of olive oil
  • Lemon juice (about 3/4 of a lemon)
  • An absurd amount of greens (basil and spinach today). Because I love greens.
  • A good few sprinkles of nutritional yeast. WHAT IS NUTRITIONAL YEAST?! It’s not scary, I promise. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a great alternative to using parmesan, as it lends a similar flavor and it has no lactose. Those who are lactose intolerant know that parmesan is much lower in lactose than other cheeses, so if you can tolerate it, as many lactose intolerant people can, go for it! Add it right into the blender!

Pesto is one of those sauces that is easy to alter to suit your taste, just like dressing. If you like a bit more kick, use more garlic and lemon juice; season to your liking with salt and pepper; make the pesto thinner or thicker by adding more olive oil and/or greens.

If you are hitting your yoga mat in less than an hour, i’d suggest waiting to eat the meal until after. I’d snack on something light, like apples (or bananas) and peanut butter; dried fruit; some clean granola (and by that I mean not laden with sugars and fats) or even dark chocolate!

Happy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

Golden, Sweet, Savory: Garlic and Olive Oil Sweet Potato Rounds

My mother made wonderful sweet potato fries when I was a youngster (i’m now an ancient 29 years old!), and these baked garlic and olive oil sweet potato rounds are my healthy alternative, and a homage, to her lovely, addictive, and indulgent crunchy fries.

The rounds are beautiful, golden-orange, nutrient-dense slices of potato that are crunchy and savory on the outside and soft, steamy, and sweet on the inside.

The healthy fats in the olive oil and the nutritional benefits of the sweet potato makes this a go-to dish for me during a busy week. I never get tired of them alongside a fresh salad, and they are phenomenal dipped in aioli, ketchup or Sriracha.

This dish isn’t necessarily quick to make; the rounds take a bit of time in the oven and they require a flip halfway through the cooking process. However, they aren’t labor intensive in terms of prep.

The sweet potatoes require scrubbing, slicing, and a tossing in good olive oil, sea salt, and garlic powder. The rounds are then spread out into rows on a foil lined baking sheet and popped into the oven. You don’t want the slices overlapping or they won’t crisp up properly.

You can personalize this dish, as it’s not an exact science. In the past i’ve added other spices such as chipotle (for a spicy smoky kick). Experiment with flavors you like that complement the sweet potato and any other dishes you are making for the night.

Note: My mother cringes that I use garlic powder in this dish. I can see the disgusted look on her face as she reads this. However, it really is delicious, and doesn’t burn like fresh garlic has the tendency to do in the oven. If you like, try substituting fresh, but this is how I’ve found the recipe works best!

Directions:

  1. Slice a rinsed and scrubbed sweet potato into rounds. If you can only find yams, that’s fine too; I’ve used both in this recipe. However, according to Livestrong.com, sweet potatoes trump yams slightly in terms of nutritional value.
  2. Because of nutritional value in the skin of sweet potatoes, I don’t peel the potatoes, just wash and scrub them well before slicing; if there’s a spot that doesn’t look good on the skin I just cut that out. Note: make sure to use a sharp knife and a cutting board that has good traction on the countertop; you don’t want the mat slipping! Another note: you can decide whether you want to cut thicker rounds or thinner rounds of potato, or a mix. I like variety and texture, so normally I chop the potatoes in all different sizes. However, you will have to keep a closer eye on them in the oven, and flip the thicker and thinner slices of potato at different times during the cooking process; the thinner the slices, the quicker they will cook and crisp.
  3. Depending on the size of the sweet potatoes you have, and the number of people you are aiming to feed, you will want to alter the amount of potatoes you use (this seems like common sense), but also the amount of oil, garlic and salt. You want enough oil to coat the potatoes, so that nice crispy surfaces form on the slices in the oven. I am liberal with the garlic powder, but that’s because I like lots of flavor and kick! Add it according to your taste; you can do the same with the salt, and other spices that complement the potato.img_2610-1
  4. After you mix the ingredients to coat the potatoes, spread them out onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Put them into a hot oven. I like to bake them at around 410°.
  5. Cooking time will depend on the thickness you have sliced your potatoes. Plan on at least 40 minutes though, even if you have thin slices.
  6. When the slices are brown and crispy on one side, flip them, and brown and crisp the rounds on the other side. Then serve! Note: I like to dip the potatoes in ketchup, Sriracha, or aioli, and serve with a salad (as previously mentioned).

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    Just as they should be! Gorgeous crispy rounds served with ketchup and Sriracha.

That’s it. Happy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple, Delicious: Traditional Catalan Tomato Bread

Pa amb tomaquét or “bread with tomato.” It’s different than pizza and it’s not quite bruschetta either: it’s its own animal, and it’s delicious, and simple to make!

I enjoyed this dish in Barcelona last May and I ordered it at almost every meal! Trust me, it’s worth putting in your recipe book. And it’s so simple, you’ll be able to make it in minutes.

To make this dish: juicy vine tomatoes are rubbed over crusty bread, which is then sprinkled with good olive oil. That’s it! Some people like to add a pinch of fine grained salt or a rub of garlic onto the bread as well, but these are both optional additions.

To make this bread in an authentic way, there are a few things to keep in mind about the ingredients. I received some tips from my guide in Barcelona regarding how to make this dish traditionally, just like they would in the region of Catalonia.

Bread: You can use any good bread for this dish. However, the crustier bread is preferable (I used a round loaf of sourdough this time).

Two types of bread are commonly used in Barcelona: Pan de Cristal (“glass bread”)  and also rounded loaves of crusty bread.

Pan de Cristal was what I encountered at most restaurants, but my guide said that round loaves are commonly used as well. She linked me to this example of a loaf of “round bread” that one might see used for the recipe.

Toasting the Bread: Some people toast the bread, but if you have bread that is fresh, there’s no need. The key here is to “eat it as fresh as you can.”

Olive Oil: Try to get your hands on some good Arbequina Olive Oil; I picked some up at a gourmet food store. The guide told me it’s one of the “most used” olive oils in Catalonia.

Tomato: Try to use small ripe vine tomatoes. However, any ripe, juicy tomatoes will do the trick. Cut the tomatoes in half before you rub them onto the bread. You are going to want to rub the smooth sides of the tomatoes, with the exposed seeds, against the bread.

Garlic: Some people rub garlic on the bread before the tomato, but this isn’t the most authentic way to create the dish.

Pa amb tomaquét is often enjoyed in the early hours, for breakfast. I was told that since people don’t want to carry around the odor of garlic all day, they will usually not add the garlic. This is one of the reasons you won’t generally see it added in Barcelona!

Salt: This is optional. If you choose to use it make sure it’s a fine grained salt.

That’s it. Happy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jet Lag Pea Soup with Dried Fennel Seeds

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Reminiscent of a mound of snow, the pile of onions I chopped for this soup.

A steaming hot bowl of soup was the perfect lunch the day after my plane touched down to snowy weather in the U.S. from sunny South Africa (by way of beautifully warm Dubai).

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Sunny South Africa. Drakensberg Mountain Range, KwaZulu-Natal.

I have a pea soup recipe that’s so easy to make it can be executed even when affected by jet lag. And it’s packed with rich flavors and healthy nutrients sure to boost your energy levels, heat you up, and excite your taste buds!

Dried fennel seeds add a deep licorice flavor that’s spicy and festive for the holiday season; they have the same awakening effect on the palate that fresh mint has when added to a cold spring or summer pea soup. The fennel seed is the secret ingredient that people won’t (usually) be able to quite identify when they first taste the soup; it adds a sense of intrigue and will keep people guessing!

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The secret ingredient! Fragrant and festive dried fennel seeds.

This particular pea soup was inspired by my mother’s recipe, which in turn was inspired by a wonderful pea soup by Ina Garten that uses fresh fennel and crème fraiche.

I developed my own variation of the soup based on my mother’s recipe: my mother substitutes the fresh fennel in Garten’s soup for dried fennel seeds, and she leaves out the crème fraiche, which is perfect for those of us who are lactose intolerant!

Garten’s and my mother’s recipes lend themselves well to variation, as they use a rather straight forward base of olive oil, onions, chicken stock, and peas. I alter the recipe in that I add carrots to the mix. I also bring a bit more texture to the table!

Instead of blending all of the soup with a hand blender, I prefer to blend half of the soup, and then add the puree back into the mixture of vegetables and chicken stock.

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The mixture of vegetables and stock before the puree is added.

Once the two mixtures are combined, the soup will have an appealing stew-like thickness to it and one can fully experience the individual tastes and textures of the carrots, the peas, and the onions.

Jazz up the taste and presentation of the soup by topping it with freshly toasted croutons, like my mother and Garten suggest. I like to use thick, crusty squares of whole grain bread that I toast in a cast iron skillet with some good olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt.

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The end result! Soup that will leave you full, satisfied, and warm from the inside out.

You can also sprinkle a few fennel seeds on top, but only if you want to reveal the secret ingredient!

Jet Lag Pea Soup With Dried Fennel

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 white onions (1 medium, 1 large)
  • 6 carrots (or to your taste– more if you like carrots, less if you don’t)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  •  3 cups of chicken stock (you can add more or less, depending on how thick you want the soup)
  • Sea Salt: I like Maldon Sea Salt (season to your taste)
  • 2 medium sized bags of frozen peas

Directions

  1. Peel one large and one medium sized white onion. Give them a rough chop.
  2. Wash and dry a bunch of carrots and cut them into thick rounds. I leave the skins on. Use however many you like. I use 6.
  3. Let the onions sweat in the pot until slightly translucent.
  4. Add the carrots in with the onions and a few healthy pinches of dried fennel seed.
  5. Add  3 cups of chicken broth to the pot. This is roughly what I use, but you might want to adjust the thickness of the soup as you go along by adding water. I usually add a bit of water near the end if the soup gets too thick. You can also substitute vegetable broth if you want to make this soup completely vegetarian. Bring everything in the pot to a boil.
  6. When the stock comes to a boil, add two medium sized bags of frozen peas. Again, do this to your taste. If you really like peas (like I do!) the more the merrier; cook them in the stock until the peas are tender. Then, shut off the heat.
  7. Remove half of the mixture into a separate bowl or pot. Blend the mixture left in the pot with a hand blender or place in a normal blender.This is another place you can modify the recipe to your liking. If you want to leave the mixture slightly chunky, do so! If you want to fully puree it, that will taste great too! This part of the recipe is not an exact science!
  8. Combine the two mixtures back in the main pot over a low heat. Taste the mixture and add salt if necessary.