Health

Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-Free, Vegan)

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Mushrooms, and Black Beans

I’ve never liked stuffed peppers.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the notion of eating spaghetti sauce as a meal. Maybe it’s because it’s usually spaghetti sauce mixed with rice and topped with melted cheddar, which is not a flavor combination that really sings to me, you know? Or it could be the sagging, wrinkly pepper that serves as a receptacle for these weirdly blended filling ingredients.

Either way, when a client asked for stuffed peppers, I groaned on the inside.

Of course I’ll feed a client whatever they want, but it means that I have to taste that uninspired dish along the way and ultimately serve something I couldn’t be convinced to eat myself. It’s the artistic equivalent of paint-by-numbers. And nobody respects a hack.

So needless to say I was intrigued when she sent me a recipe she’d found—a version using ingredients I’d never heard of in a stuffed pepper recipe—and utilizing spices that made it more southwestern than pseudo-Italian. And it didn’t have meat or cheese, making the already gluten-free dinner option vegan to boot, so possibly…useful for me to have in my arsenal?

I was still skeptical, however. For starters, when has taking the cheese out of a recipe ever made it better? And secondly, at that time in my life, I generally ate things in spite of them being vegan, and not because of it.

But I bit the bullet and tried the new fandangled spin on the old classic. And discovered I was wrong. Deliciously so.

Turns out I DO like stuffed peppers. Damn, I love a happy accident!

Over time, I’ve made the recipe mine; adding spices, subtracting toppings. I’ve tried multiple variations—the addition of potato, for instance—great for when you’re trying to bulk the recipe up from six servings to eight. I’ve boiled the peppers for two minutes all the way up to ten. Turns out I prefer them not boiled at all. I like the tiny bit of crunch they retain after just the single bake.

mini peppers

Then I discovered what a great appetizer these make when you stuff them in tiny sweet peppers, like these.

These babies are a perfect one- or two-bite snack and are delicate enough that they don’t need to be baked at all. Serve them at room temperature or while the filling is still warm.

And since I wholeheartedly believe that food exists to be a vessel for sauce, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As delicious as these are topped with the traditional tomato sauce, by far my favorite flavor combo is made by drizzling these little poppers with my vegan avocado “crema.” The cilantro, lime and tomatillo marry perfectly with the cumin, chili powder and black beans in the stuffing.

Simply divine. I’ll never look at a stuffed pepper the same way again. And hopefully, neither will you.

Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-free, Vegan)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (I like to pulse them ever so briefly in the food processor)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2-15 oz can tomato sauce, other half reserved for optional garnish
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 6 large red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • small handful cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup avocado “crema,” for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mixture begins to look dry, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add the quinoa, water, and 1/2 can of tomato sauce, reserving the rest. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is cooked.
  6. For softer peppers, submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. For tender-crisp peppers, skip this step.
  7. When quinoa is finished simmering, add the beans and maple syrup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  8. Stuff each pepper with the filling, and place in a baking dish. If using tomato sauce, pour the remaining over the peppers.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Garnish as desired.

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It’s National Chocolate Mousse Day! How About a Healthy, Vegan Version?

rp_Vegan-Chocolate-Mousse-1024x1024.jpgApril 3rd is a noteworthy day for a few reasons. For one, it is the birthday of the woman who created the food-obsessed individual who is writing these words (love you, Mom).

But April 3rd is also remarkable because it is National Chocolate Mousse Day.

Yep, that’s a thing.

So I guuuuueeess we’ve gotta eat some!

With two cups of heavy cream, traditional chocolate mousse is obviously not something to indulge in on the regular. But what if we waved our wellness wand at the recipe and gave our mousse a makeover? Filled it with heart-healthy fats and ditched the refined sugar? How about if we made it dairy- and egg-free too for our food-sensitive friends? Then we all could eat it often.

Every day, even.

Maybe it won’t come as a surprise that avocado is the base for this rich rendition of the classic. Avocado is used in a lot of healthy desserts because it’s so creamy and its mild flavor goes virtually undetected. I’ve made this for clients whose minds were blown when I told them what they were eating. And the ultimate test: kids! My favorite “little” had just finished devouring a bowl when I told her what it was made out of.

“But I hate avocado,” she insisted.

“Not anymore,” I replied, tap dancing just a little.

Score one for the grown ups.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse (Dairy/Egg/Refined Sugar-Free)
This luscious dessert is so rich, no one will ever guess it’s healthy. Serve small portions (1/3 to 1/2 cup) at room temperature for maximum fluffiness, and garnish with unsweetened, whipped coconut cream and fresh berries.
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate ***check that it’s dairy free for vegan
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 can coconut cream, chilled
  1. Using a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water, melt the chocolate and coconut milk. Stir until smooth.
  2. Place avocado, vanilla paste, maple syrup and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Add chocolate mixture. Process until combined.
  4. Open coconut cream. Spoon thick cream cream off the top and reserve the coconut water for making smoothies. With a handheld mixer, beat the coconut cream on med-high until creamy.
  5. Gently fold chocolate mixture into whipped coconut cream.
  6. Spoon into dessert dishes and garnish as desired.

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Now that you know, I hope you’ll use them to make something delicious!

 

Five Reasons You Should Consider an Elimination Diet (plus the most AMAZING Chicken-Apple Sausages)

E DietOk so I know the title of this post contains the word “diet,” and that’s likely to send at least a few of you running for the hills. I, myself, have a tendency to rebel against things that are limiting, so I feel you, I really do. But if there’s one thing I would encourage every person I care about to do in this lifetime, it’s to try this Elimination Diet, even just once.

I could go on and on about its benefits, and at its most basic, the diet will cost you two weeks of your life. That’s a small commitment to exchange for feeling better than you ever have in your time on this earth, no?

Just in case you need a push, here are five reasons you should consider picking up Tom and Ali’s book The Elimination Diet and giving it a try today.

1) Sometimes–maybe not always–but at least part of your life is spent dealing with any of the following symptoms: bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, migraines, skin problems, joint pain, foggy thinking, anxiety, depression, sinus and lung problems, unexplained weight gain, low energy, insomnia.

Hey guess what? It’s not normal to feel bloated and gassy after you eat. You may have gotten used to it, but there is nothing more liberating than discovering that you can eat a meal and feel nothing but amazing afterwards.

Or maybe your digestive tract feels like a well-oiled machine, but you deal with severely dry skin or eczema. I’m willing to bet you my firstborn that two weeks of following this eating plan will reduce that inflammation.

Think it’s way too farfetched of a notion that your diet can affect how moody or anxious you feel? Okay, that’s fair. But aren’t you willing to try just about anything to get those feelings to go away, if such things are possible? Wouldn’t that include eating whole, organic foods combined into some of the most delicious meal combos to ever alight upon your palate?

Thought so.

2) Food allergies have increased 50% from 1997 to 2011—said the CDC in a 2013 study.

And no, this doesn’t just mean that people whine more now. For one, more people are starting to realize that constantly being miserable after eating is not a normal state of being. More and more doctors are recognizing the legitimacy of food allergies—especially those with backgrounds in Eastern medical theory—and are suggesting an approach to health that embraces the philosophy that “what you put in, is what you get out.” This is totally different from the Band-Aid approach we’ve become accustomed to, where your doc scribbles out a scrip for yet another “magic pill,” in an attempt to cover up your symptoms.

We have learned that 60-75% of the world’s population doesn’t have enough lactase after the age of 4 to digest the lactose in milk, so that probably means you. And if this urges you to go get a “scratch test” and discover your allergies that way, just know that food sensitivities and intolerances (as opposed to full-blown allergies) are less well known, often undetected, and can’t be tested for. They usually create a subtler, simmering sort of distress that leads to chronic symptoms.

When you can’t process a type of food, you lack an enzyme, nutrient, or organism to properly digest or metabolize. Each time you eat this food, more of the undigested particles build up in your body, feeding harmful bacteria and yeast in your digestive tract. Your body views these particles as foreign invaders and attacks them, putting your system on alert and causing inflammation. If you are constantly inflamed, your body is poorly equipped to handle actual foreign invaders—things like seasonal allergies, colds, or even cancer.

3) Maybe you’re like my roommate and you have an iron stomach, are vital as a stallion, and claim you’d gain no benefit whatsoever from doing an Elimination Diet. Okay, fine. Do you crave cheese? Caffeine? Sugar? Would it be hard to give these things up completely because the cravings would be too intense? After two weeks on the E-Diet, you will have completely reset your system, and the bacteria in your gut that leads to cravings for the afore-mentioned foods will be completely wiped out.

Don’t suffer from food cravings? Then you, my friend, are far stronger than I. But do you drink? A little? A lot? If that’s the case, your liver could use a detox. Trust me, your liver sent me a letter begging for it, and it thanks you in advance for your consideration.

4) Calories (and fats) don’t count!

Say what? Every time I pour coconut milk into my coffee, my mom cringes. “It’s so full of fat!” she proclaims. And that’s completely accurate. But! Coconut is one of the most heart-healthy fats out there, and this diet embraces these types of fat in spades. Extra virgin olive oil, coconut butter, coconut milk and oil, avocados and nuts (once reintroduced) will become staples of your diet.

Mom is coming from the perspective of years of diet advice claiming that counting calories or fat grams is the best way to lose or maintain one’s weight. But the E-Diet embraces clean, whole foods that come from the earth, and is therefore low in additives, sweeteners, coloring and preservatives, so it follows that you can literally binge your face off on these things and worry not one iota about your waistline. In fact, this diet is almost assured to cause you to lose weight. I can’t imagine anyone following it strictly and not seeing similar results. Personally, I simply love that I can eat to the point where I am almost uncomfortably full and still wake up the next day looking slender and lean with absolutely zero tummy bloat.

5) You get to eat things like Butternut Squash and Sage “Stuffing,” Chickpea Curry with Potatoes and Kale, and Mustard-Herb Lamb Burgers. This isn’t just a bunch of rabbit food here people. No boring iceberg salads drizzled with lemon juice, yeuuck! In fact read my post here about how I ate like a food champ during my last E-Diet.

The recipe below, for example, had me at hello. After tasting these little nuggets of deliciousness, I vowed to never eat store-bought, highly-processed breakfast sausage ever again, especially since processed meats have now been linked to cancer. 

Chicken-Apple Breakfast Sausages
  • 1 medium tart apple, cored, peeled, and chopped
  • 3 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 T fresh sage leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ lbs organic skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil for cooking
  1. Place the apple, green onions, sage, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with the “s” blade and pulse a few times. Then add the chicken and process until the chicken is ground and the mixture starts to form a ball, about 30 seconds.
  2. With oiled hands, form the mixture into about 8 patties and set them on a plate. Heat a large skillet of medium-low heat and add 1 T oil. Place four of the patties in the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining patties.
  3. These keep in the fridge for about 5 days or can be frozen and reheated in a 350-degree oven.

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Now trust me when I tell you making these bad daddies–and just embracing the Elimination Diet in general–is inarguably doing something delicious! And just because I love you so much, I’m even including a link to an awesome guide to shopping for the right ingredients to support your E-Diet. You’re welcome!

 

 

 

 

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)

 

fruit-tartI love ANYTHING that has that many words in parentheses and still tastes as good as this does. I’ve got some stubborn eaters in my extended family, and this stunning dessert satisfied them all. If I hadn’t already made it for her this season, I would shape the crust like a heart and serve it to mom for Mother’s Day brunch. Awww…

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)
Author: The Wellness Chef
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1-9″ tart
Ingredients
  • 1 can coconut milk (without guar gum)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 T coconut oil
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 cups 100% all fruit apricot preserves
  • 2 T water
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot starch
  • Generous pinch of sea salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • Juice of 5 lemons (about 1 cup)
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 1-2 T organic powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste
  • Mango, peeled and sliced thin
  • Pineapple, peeled and sliced thin
  • Kiwi, peeled and sliced thin
  • Clementines, peeled and separated
  • Assorted berries
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. To prep the whipped coconut cream, pour coconut milk into a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  3. To make the crust, stir together the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl.
  4. In another bowl, stir together the vanilla, oil, maple syrup and 1 T water. Add the oil mix to the flour and combine well.
  5. Turn the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Flatten the dough slightly with your fingers or a rubber spatula to spread it towards the edges of the pan, making sure to press it all the way up the sides of the pan. Try to make the dough a uniform thickness across the bottom and edges.
  6. Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is an even golden brown. Don’t overbake!
  7. While the crust is baking, make the glaze by heating the preserves and 2 T water to boiling in small sauce pan.
  8. Strain through a sieve to remove lumps.
  9. Remove the tart shell from the oven and let it cool completely to room temperature before brushing with glaze.
  10. In the meantime, make the lemon curd. Heat agave nectar, arrowroot, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice In a small saucepan over medium heat.
  11. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a pudding consistency.
  12. Whisk in coconut oil.
  13. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Curd will get very thick the longer it sits. Still tastes great spread on toast though!
  14. Once crust is cool, use a pastry brush to lightly brush interior of tart shell with thinned preserves. Let “dry” for 15 minutes.
  15. In the meantime, make whipped coconut cream. Drain off liquid (should look like thin coconut milk) and reserve for another use.
  16. Whip cream with a mixer on high until thick and frothy.
  17. Fold 1/2 c coconut cream into chilled lemon curd.
  18. To remaining whipped cream, add 1 tsp vanilla bean paste and organic powdered sugar, to taste. I like mine not too sweet. Reserve to use as garnish.
  19. Fill crust with lemon cream, spreading in an even layer.
  20. Channel your inner artist and layer slices of fruit and berries in whatever pattern makes you happiest.
  21. With remaining apricot glaze, brush fruit lightly until evenly coated and shiny. This will keep your tart looking beautiful for days—not that it will last that long!
  22. Serve with big spoonfuls of whipped coconut cream.

 

Now that’s the definition of doing something delicious!

 

Three Reasons To Eat More Chocolate (That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)

chocolate-968457_1280Perhaps justifying our lust for chocolate is the reason scientists have spent so much time studying it. After all, we like to be told that dark chocolate improves blood flow, lowers bad cholesterols, and elevates mood while reducing stress.  But it turns out there are more reasons why you should help yourself to some of the good stuff.

Throw Out Your Cough Drops

Seriously, I’ll take a creamy truffle over a menthol-flavored cough drop any day. And now it sounds as if you can. In a small British study conducted in 2005, participants were asked to inhale capsaicin, the stuff that gives chili peppers their sting. A variety of proposed remedies were tested, and the most effective one turned out to be hot chocolate. Researchers found that theobromine, a compound found in cacoa seeds that acts like caffeine in the human body, was more effective than codeine to stop coughing. So next time you’re under the weather, test this theory by taking two (squares of chocolate, that is) and calling the doc in the morning.

chocolate-1402017_1280Leave the Sunscreen At Home

Just kidding. Although scientists in Germany discovered that ingesting the cocoa solids and flavonoids present in dark chocolate can defend our skin against the effects of UV rays, effectively staving off skin cancer. Not only that, but the study participants receiving cocoa every day noted smoother, moister skin with fewer rough patches. This caused researchers to speculate that there might be benefit to adding the ingredient to beauty products. So if you’ve ever eaten a death-by-chocolate dessert and thought, “I could absolutely bathe in this,” it sounds like maybe you should.

Add Chocolate to Your Diet Plan

Now the founders of Weight Watchers might not agree with us on this one, but research conducted by an associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego suggests that healthy adults who eat chocolate more frequently tend to have lower body mass indexes than those who snack on it less often. This result occurred despite the fact that those who ate chocolate more often did not eat fewer calories or exercise more than other participants. The theory is that the metabolic benefits of eating modest amounts of chocolate might lead to reduced fat deposits and potentially offset the added calories. Are you excited yet?

Develop X-Ray Vision

That would be cool, wouldn’t it? But chocolate won’t make that happen. What it will do, however, is improve your ability to read light-colored words on a light-colored background, called “visual contrast sensitivity.” Furthermore, it an improve your ability to detect moving dots on a moving background, known as “motion sensitivity.” Study participants ate both white and dark chocolate at separate times and then took similar vision tests. Relative to white chocolate, testing the dark resulted in higher performance in both categories, as well as improved spacial memory. Think about it like this: driving at night is low-contrast, and images are hard to distinguish from one another. Increasing your ability to make out those objects also increases your safety, so we think what we’re hearing here is that chocolate can save your life.

chocolate-1202606_1280And Did You Know…

Sixty percent of women in a recent British poll ranked chocolate as the most smile-worthy experience, ranking higher than the sight of other smiling people and even loved ones!

Tips for Finding the Chocolate That’s Actually Good for You
  • Pick the chocolate containing the fewest ingredients possible.
  • Cocoa solids or cocoa mass should be first one listed.
  • Sugar should not be. Nor the second.
  • Choose one that’s both 72 percent cacao or above.
  • Buy organic, since chocolate is a heavily-sprayed crop. In fact, seek out fair-trade, and locally-sourced dark chocolate to get maximum health benefits.
  • Dutch processed cocoas have alkalized the chocolate, removing some of the beneficial flavonols. It’s fine for baking but not as good for sipping.
  • It sounds as if soy lecithin in chocolate is not so scary. Unless you’re allergic to soy, that is. We’ll talk about this more soon.
 Oh, and FYI

Portion control is paramount to making a chocolate obsession work for you, so aim for half to one ounce per day, which is about a two-inch square of most chocolate bars.

Now aren’t you just dying to go do something delicious with chocolate?

 

Gluten Wars

 

angry-mobI’ve noticed a lot of backlash recently towards people with gluten sensitivities and towards “bandwagoners” who appear to be adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, allegedly because it’s trendy. Because let’s face it, here in LA, food trends are kind of our jam.

A lot of this weird aggression comes from my food industry friends—chefs and servers alike—who get unbelievably up in arms due to situations like this: Person A is gluten-free and orders a gluten-free meal. But Person B, with whom Person A is dining, orders something that ISN’T gluten-free, and the two proceed to share.

Okay, I understand that cooking gluten-free isn’t exactly easy—I do it every day of my life. And I see how choosing to eat a meal that is half gluten-free and half NOT seems a bit pointless. But this notion that the only people who “deserve” to have food service workers accommodate them are the ones who nearly die when they eat gluten is ludicrous. For one thing, we have been accommodating special food requests for decades—just look at airlines offering vegetarian meals on flights, or scope out how many restaurants now make note of which of the menu items are vegan.

So someone who doesn’t die when they eat gluten—but is nonetheless trying to limit her consumption of it—is not a jerk. She is not necessarily just a blind sheep following some evangelical anti-gluten guru. She likely ordered her gluten-free meal because that’s the only thing she can control about her experience dining out. Until you eat Gfree, you have no idea the pressure people put on you to “just taste a bite,” or how much less fun it becomes to go out with friends when everyone is preoccupied that your weirdo food allergies may mean the group can’t go to the restaurant it prefers.

Taking a “cheat bite” or sharing the meal with a friend because its easier than making a big deal about it is just like a person on a diet taking a bite of her friend’s chocolate soufflé. It’s called being human. You don’t hate the gal on the diet for her moment of weakness, or slam her back in the kitchen to your work compadres for having the gall to order a low-calorie dinner and then sneak a bite of dessert. And if you do, then I hope you enjoy the view from that pristine glass house of yours.

Our gluten free gal, whom the rest of the world assumes just can’t think for herself and has succumbed to the hype, probably understands this. Human beings cannot properly digest gluten. That’s right. I can’t and you can’t. In fact, the only mammal that can digest it has four stomachs and chews its own cud. And get this: besides gluten, there are 23,000 different proteins in modern wheat that can produce inflammatory reactions in the body!
gluten-free

Now you personally might not have any symptoms whatsoever when you eat gluten. Good for you. I hope you’re eating a pizza while you read this. Or you may have some sort of health problem for which you take medication, but because the problem is not “digestive” in nature, you haven’t made the connection between it and your gluten consumption. Gluten has become known as the great masquerader; it can create over 300 symptoms and conditions you wouldn’t think to attribute to it—from skin issues, infertility and depression to headaches, liver disease and cancer.

I’ve also had people scoff at the idea that I diagnosed myself. That’s because people who self diagnose are usually called hypochondriacs. But because a perfect test for gluten sensitivity or celiac disease does not yet exist, an elimination diet is the one way that even people who test negatively for celiac, but still don’t feel good, can attempt to get to the root of their health problems.

During an elimination diet, common allergenic foods are removed and slowly reintroduced. A modified version of this diet can take place over the course of 10-14 days. I did mine for 71 days. You can read about it here Challenge 2013: Elimination Diet a.k.a. Food Allergen Cleanse and here An Elimination Diet-Friendly Chinese “Chicken” Salad: Debunking the Deprivation Myth. And yet the way I felt after only two weeks of not eating gluten did more to convince me of the power of this crazy little protein strand to make or break a person’s health than any doctor-approved scratch test ever could.

An elimination diet isn’t easy, but it can be life changing. It takes discipline and it absolutely requires planning ahead. When caught off guard without a meal plan, falling off the wagon is nearly inevitable. But fortunately help is out there. If you’re in the LA area, you can make use of Wellness Chef Jennie’s weekly meal delivery services. I specialize in customized Elimination Diets of all durations and will provide prepared meals, recipe ideas and shopping lists to accommodate any client’s needs. I’ll also provide you with resources if you’re simply interested in learning more.

In the meantime, be kind to your gluten-free friends. Those of us with dietary restrictions certainly have an obligation not to be a**holes, running around expecting the world to bend to our needs, but if the person with whom you’re dealing isn’t acting like that, well then it really shouldn’t matter one iota whether her reasons for eating the way she does make sense to you.

In fact, I think we’d all get along better if we just went and did something delicious.
keep-calm-eat-gluten-free-3

An Elimination Diet-Friendly Chinese “Chicken” Salad: Debunking the Deprivation Myth

Chinese Salad 2I’d like to state for the record: This Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "challenge-2013-elimination-diet-food-allergen-cleanse" has been the best thing I’ve done for myself in the past five years of my life. And as much as I’d like to wax poetic about the program’s many virtues, that’s a different post for a different day. I am here today however, to debunk the idea that my eating life is so deprived now. Have a looksy . . .

The penthouse* has been without gas for the last two weeks (in part due to my disorganization while we were moving, but in part also to the fact that Southern California Edison is as efficient and devoted to excellence in customer service as the DMV).

So what’s a cooking instructor on a highly limited diet and no access to a microwave to do? Get creative? Certainly. Pull out all those rarely used appliances tucked away into dark corners? You betcha. You’d be amazed what can be accomplished with a blender, a juicer, a crockpot, and a food processor.

And what can you make with those things? Sauce. And sauce makes this elimination dieter a happy girl. In fact, I read a post recently on The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen where a reader had stated, “Just give me sauces and I can eat anything.” Kindred spirits, we are.

So using Tom and Ali’s garlicky green sauce, I created this Asian influenced salad that can be eaten as early as Phase Two of the Elimination Diet, but is even better once citrus, nightshades, and chicken are reintroduced. The disclaimer is that nothing is trying to be chicken in the Phase Two friendly variation–it’s just that few descriptions have the same name recognition as “Chinese Chicken Salad.” Chinese Salad? Asian Salad? Chickenless Asian Salad? You get the picture.

This concoction tastes a lot like peanut sauce, and it is AMAZEballs. I didn’t want to spend $15 at Whole Foods on a jar of pumpkin seed butter, so the first time I made it, I used sunflower butter and it was delicious. This go around I used homemade (thus, cheaper) pumpkin seed butter, and added lime for balance, crushed red pepper for spice, and enough water to make it the consistency of salad dressing. Feel free to omit the citrus and the red pepper if you’re still in Phase Two.

Build your salad with your favorite combination of the following ingredients:

Phase Two-friendly options:

Romaine
Shredded cabbage (Red or green)
Radicchio
Shredded carrots
Shredded beets
Broccoli
Snap peas, cut into strips (I like these better than snow peas, but either would work)
Bean sprouts
Julienned green apple (you need something with tang, to mimic the flavor of mandarin oranges)
Cilantro
Pepitas (to mimic the crunch of the chow mein noodles), toasted for extra flavor loveliness.

Other options, once you’ve graduated from Phase Two to Reintroduction:

Julienned red, orange, and yellow pepper
Organic chicken, cut into strips–I used Fiance’s delish go-to marinade of Sriracha (here’s a homemade, paleo version http://nomnompaleo.com/post/36060636540/paleo-sriracha-homemade-20-minute-sriracha), sesame oil, and soy sauce. Use wheat free tamari if you’re eliminating gluten.
Orange, supremed–I toyed with using peeled and separated tangerines, but I think the seeds would be annoying.
Organic water chestnuts—I would love to buy these fresh, but apparently that would require a quick jaunt to an Asian food market. In Asia.
Organic baby corn–see note about water chestnuts.

Take a look at both versions. No deprivation here.

Packed with Phase One-friendly goodies

So crunchy and flavorful

Chinese Salad 3

Then once you add in citrus, nightshades, and chicken

Chinese Salad 4

Adaptable for any Phase and so good you’ll be eating it well after the diet’s over

 

And just so’s I’m not alienating the non-Eliminators out there, I’ve got more killer sauce recipes coming soon: high on flavor, low on refined sugars and other yucky additives, as well as a comprehensive guide of refined sugar alternatives due out in the next few weeks. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, do something delicious!

More Bang for Your Veggie Buck: Lacto-Fermentation

lacto-fermented veggies

 

I consider myself healthy. I do yoga 3-4 times a week and try to bike rather than drive whenever its warm, which is mostly always. Fiancé and I eat well—lots of grilled, lean meats and salad at every meal. Because Mexican food is my greatest love, I’ve created healthy variations: including fresh, homemade salsas, low calorie “refried” black beans, and fish tacos that are grilled and not fried. We even eat whole wheat bread and tortillas most of the time.

But apparently there is healthy and there’s healthy. I have learned right out of the gate that I am not the kind in italics. Healthy in italics means you sprout your quinoa so that you’re able to absorb the minerals you don’t get when you eat the cooked kind. Healthy in italics means you drink a green smoothie once (or twice or several times) a day. Healthy in italics means you already know what stevia and amaranth and adzuki beans are, you know all about (and regularly employ) lacto-fermentation.

I just eat well. I have not yet achieved “health nut” status. And don’t, for one second, get the idea that I think there is anything wrong with what I’m calling “health nut.” The term is merely a way to differentiate from myself—a health-food-loving cooking instructor-slash-food blogger with a TON to learn about health.

As a result of this Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "challenge-2013-elimination-diet-food-allergen-cleanse", I’ve had to seek out inventive new recipes, predominantly from the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s website. It’s there that I discovered that there are “normal” pickles (laden with sodium, not nutrients) and then there are “healthy” pickles.*

What’s that, you say? Healthy pickles?

That’s right pucker lovers, hoarders of the brine, seekers of the tang. “Pickles”–or pickled veggies of your choice–that introduce healthy bacteria into your intestinal tract! You begin with raw, nutrition-packed veggies (think radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, or green beans), and pack them into a salt brine where they are allowed to ferment at room temperature. No pasteurization (or heat) is involved, preserving the nutrients. And the lactobacillus bacteria that cause the fermentation produce B vitamins–a cherry on top of the probiotic love they’re already giving to our gut.

Read more about the benefits of this friendly bacteria here.

 

kimchi

 

Lacto-Fermentation

In high school my best friend Julie told me that her Korean family made kim chi by burying a glass jar of cabbage in the yard for several weeks. She was describing what is apparently a very common method of employing lacto-fermentation. For me, however, the image (slimy intestines) and corresponding flavors (sweaty socks) that came to mind made kim chi that food I was never able to wrap my head around enough to try. Until a few years ago when I was “tricked” into eating the condiment while dining at a Korean BBQ for the first time. I was rapidly shoveling bowl after bowl of the stuff into my mouth when my Korean roommate commented on my affection for kim chi. I tried–for all of three seconds–to be horrified, then just conceded that I might actually have fallen in LOVE with the spicy-sour stuff.

In the initial weeks of the Elimination Diet, without vinegar or lemon, I found that I really missed tangy foods. So I was excited to come across this recipe. I happened to have a couple of canning jars, so I can attest to the fact that metal lids will work, although I plan to buy the plastic kind for my next round. And as a bonus—they’re really pretty on top of your fridge!

Here’s Tom the Nutritionist, doing a better job of explaining the process than I could ever hope to recreate here.

For a written step-by-step, click here.

So easy, you can’t not try it! I love the idea of getting my savory munchie fix with something that’s actually benefitting my health.

*In spite of their many benefits, lacto-fermented veggies are high in sodium, so would not be considered healthy for those on a low-sodium diet.

Have you tried lacto-fermentation? Any favorite flavor combinations?

Have you done something delicious today?
(Bottom photo by Nagyman)

 

 

Challenge 2013: Elimination Diet a.k.a. Food Allergen Cleanse

Goal:

Find the perfect response to the statement: Why not just do the scratch test at the Doctor’s office? That sounds sooo much less terrible.

When everyone around you is running a marathon or giving up alcohol for 30 days or doing the Insanity workout, you start to feel the need to demonstrate that you’re is not an irresolute schlub.

This is how a girl who hates diets and rules ended up on the elimination diet food plan. Meaning a 6-week (minimum) eating regimen that removes all possible allergens from your diet, reintroducing them slowly–after a cleansing period–to test the system for reactions.

Why Is This A Good Idea?

There are so many reasons to give this eating plan the old college try, not the least of which is gaining a general sense of feeling “better.” I chose to follow The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen’s guidelines; the site is beautiful and the recipes, delicious sounding. Nutritionists Tom Malterre and Ali Segersten really manage to sell this “diet” in a beautifully photographed blog that just might entice you to take the challenge yourself. When you visit their site, you’ll read about all which conditions can be remedied by eliminating allergenic foods and reducing the accompanying inflammation these foods cause.

So my reasons?

*I’ll stop suffering from food hangovers. I live to eat and not the other way around, so its time to take this bull by the horns.
*I’ll discover what my triggers are (pleaseohpleaseohplease don’t let it be cheese), so I can carefully pick and choose the moments to eat them.
*To learn a lot about more about food and discover some new flavors (as a cooking instructor, it’s important to always be learning, right?).
*I might lose weight.

3 Potential Road Blocks

*If you try this, accept that you will not be fun for the next six weeks. For the first fourteen days especially, the response to remarks like, “oh you can order a salad,” when everyone wants to go out to dinner, will still be, “no, I can’t.” Planning is of the essence.
*The food might be so boring or bland, I might fall instantly and firmly off the wagon.
the-shining*Being deprived may make me feel the need to remodel the bathroom with an axe. This possible outcome is based upon a history of starvation-induced offenses, leading Fiancé to mandate that I NEVER be allowed to do anything requiring actual fasting.

Reasons to Stay Tuned

*I’m a real person, so I’m likely to mess this up from time to time, in ways that might even be humorous. Plus I hate rules remember, so I may even cheat out of spite, and then you’ll know whether or not it works for real people, or whether you have to be a hyper-focused zen master in discipline in order to reap the benefits.
*I believe there are delicious realms to be discovered my friends, and I intend to send all that lusciousness your way.

Meantime, check out my slightly less than successful first days of the Elimination Diet below.

Day 1: Put off diet for an additional week and ate half a pound of cheese. And leftover Easter candy. This is going to be hard.

Day 1 (again):

All delicious things, no?

All delicious things, no?

Green smoothies ONLY for two, very long days. Green, meaning chalk full of vegetables, the flavor of which is only slightly masked by the meager handful of fruit the recipe calls for.

Discovered I hate smoothies. Not even just the veggie kind—I don’t really even like fruit smoothies. It’s a texture thing, apparently. Felt hungry and tired all day long. My stomach cramped and I lay on the couch and whimpered to evoke sympathy from Fiancé.

I cheated repeatedly to entice myself to drink down 2 blenders-full a day. A dried apricot as a reward. A gluten-free zucchini cracker to provide an alternative to the salsa-esque consistency that had been in my mouth all day long. A bowl of smashed warm raspberries (what the what?) because they didn’t taste like kale and were well, warm.

I also had a headache all day long. I never get headaches. I thought I was going to feel like superwoman, not like I’d been poisoned.

This cleanse sucks.*

Looks better than it tastes.

Looks better than it tastes.

*Spoiler Alert

This post is finally going live after I’ve actually been doing the diet for a few weeks. It’s worth muddling through the tough days at the beginning–I promise! Furthermore, upon researching my first few days of “symptoms,” everything I experienced is a common effect of a detox (which is why I do the research after, not before, so that I don’t have a chance to talk myself out of things).

I just wish I had had a cheerleader to tell me this stuff during the first few days, rather than a bunch of health-nymphs hopped up on wheat grass fluttering about saying things like “green smoothies are delicious and energizing! I could drink them all day,” and “here are 1 billion invigorating recipes!” when all they really are is kale and a bunch of other good-sounding things that are, in fact, not good because all you taste is kale. Blech.

Ever tried one of these programs yourself? How’d you get through it? I’d love to hear your tips and war stories.

And then in celebration that you’re not suffering through this yourself, go do something delicious!