Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6

This is one of those deliciously nutritious and EASY dinners.  Red lentils are one of my favorite legumes and they’re one of the quickest to cook.  From start to finish, this meal will be done in 20-30mins!  A gourmet meal in 20-30mins?  Don’t believe me?  Give it a go and let me know how it goes!

It may be fairly obvious by now that I am a cumin lover.  In fact, I’d say it’s pretty hard for me to cook a pot of beans without at least a pinch of cumin.  It is a popular spice in India (think curries), in the Middle East (hello falafels, hummus), and of course, Latin America. The health benefits may explain why this seed spans so many diverse cuisines.

Cumin, a member of the carrot family, is an excellent source of iron (great for growing kids and pregnant and lactating moms!).  It boosts immune system health and is a great digestive aid.  It improves liver function and helps in the assimilation of nutrients.  Most notably, cumin has anti-carcinogenic properties.  Studies have shown that cumin seeds can potentially slow down the growth of stomach and cervical tumors.

Pretty good reasons to cook with cumin!

You’ll need:

1C red lentils, rinsed
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced (I only had a Spanish onion this time)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T (heaping) ground cumin
1 T honey
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes, diced
6C water or veg stock
2-3 bay leaves
Sea salt to taste
Cilantro, optional, for garnish
Creme fraiche, optional, for garnish (I’m off dairy while I’m nursing so no Creme fraiche in my fridge these days.)

To make:
1. In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onions and a pinch of salt.  Cook for about 5 minutes until fragrant and translucent and then add garlic and cook for 3 more minutes.
2. Add lentils, cumin and honey and stir thoroughly.  Add tomatoes with juices and stir to marry the flavors.
3. Finally, add the water (or stock) and the bay leaves.  Cook over medium heat, partially covered for 20mins until lentils are soft.
4. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and some chopped cilantro.  Some country bread would go very nice with this dish, too.
5. Enjoy!

In the kitchen with Claire at 5 months

Things have gotten even more interesting in the kitchen these past few weeks.  Claire Berlin has always been an observant and chatty little one in the kitchen. She’d watch carefully everything I was doing; mincing garlic, measuring cinnamon, blending or processing, etc. She’d smell everything and without much fanfare turn away when she was done with it. She’d laugh at whatever exaggerated movements or faces I’d make to keep her interested.  All in all, it was very easy to cook with her while wearing her.

Not so much anymore!  Though she had been grabbing at her toys and our hands and faces for some time, she seemed to have recently realized that she can do that to EVERYTHING.  She reaches for the handle of the food processor, got her little fingers into the hummus bowl, grabbed a broccoli stalk, knocked the timer off the fridge, knocked over the dried lentils (Recipe for Red Lentil Soup being posted soon), and, and, and!  It has been very eventful!  Once I turned around to find her very focused with one arm extended as if she were summoning that spoon to her hand.  And, where her cries used to be reserved for either hunger or sleepiness, now they have more purpose, too.  It’s more like, “Mom, can you move over because I can’t quite get to that leek from this angle.”  Or, if she chooses to be less zen-like it’s more like, “Mom, enough with that dressing, pay attention to ME!”  Is it more challenging…of course!  But they’re also the cutest moments in the kitchen.

Till the next kitchen adventure…most likely tomorrow!

Claire Berlin’s adorable, chunky foot even made it into this frame!

Banana Coconut Smoothie

Serves 4

Smoothies are a delicious way to get some nutrients in a hurry.  They work with fresh fruit, dried fruit, veggies, dairy and non-dairy milks.  They’re wonderful for kids, too.  I’ve always loved smoothies but only really started making them (religiously) a couple of years ago for one of my clients during chemo treatments. They worked like a charm when the appetite waned!

Coconut milk is not only delicious, it is incredibly nutritious.  Coconut milk and oil contain lauric acid (which is also present in Mother’s milk) and has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  Coconut contains saturated fat but it is assimilated into the body better because it is veggie derived.  Saturated fats feed the brain and are necessary for hormone production.  They deliver calcium to our bones, actually protect our cardiovascular health and are important for our immunity.  I know that’s not what we grew up believing but it’s true!  (Check out Weston A. Price for more info on fats.) 

I practically lived on these for most of my pregnancy (and one with a cacao variation).  They’re also great for kids! 

You’ll need:
2-3 Medjool dates
1 C coconut milk
1 C coconut water (or plain water works well, too)
2-3 ripe bananas
1 T ground flax seeds
1 T almond butter
1 T coconut oil
1 t vanilla extract
6 ice cubes
ground cinnamon, optional (for garnish)

To make:

1. Add dates and coconut milk to blender and blend thoroughly to break up dates as much as possible.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.  For a thicker consistency, add more ice.
3. Serve with a pinch of cinnamon on top.
4. Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus


I make one version or another of hummus weekly.  It’s delicious as a dip or spread for sandwiches.  It’s my go to lunch with avocado, tomato, and something green and leafy whether it’s baby spinach or micro greens.  YUM!

In addition to the traditional ingredients, I up the health ante by adding a tablespoon of miso.  Miso is an anti-carcinogen that also reduces the effects of environmental toxins, such as air pollution.  It is a concentrated source of protein containing all eight essential amino acids and is an incredible digestive aid because it is naturally fermented.  Miso is a good source of manganese and zinc and is also an important source of several phytonutrient antioxidants.

By the way, the chickpeas pack their own nutritional punch, too.  It is also a wonderful source of protein and provides more Vitamin C, iron and fat than most other legumes (except for soybeans).  They are also great blood sugar and cholesterol regulators and because they are high in dietary fiber, they do a great job at flushing toxins from the body.

You’ll need:

1/2 C dried chickpeas, soaked (or 1 can of organic chickpeas)
2 garlic cloves
1 red pepper, roasted
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice (usually 1 juicy lemon will do)
3-4 T tahini
1 T white miso
1 T ground cumin
Sea salt to taste

To make:

1. Cook chickpeas – drain and rinse and then add chickpeas to a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and partially cover.  (Feel free to add an 1″ of kombu or a bay leaf here, too.)  Chickpeas take a while to get soft so check once in a while to make sure water hasn’t completely evaporated.

2. Once chickpeas are done and cooled, add everything to a food processor and whiz away.  You may need to add a bit more oil or water if the hummus is too thick.  Taste as you go and adjust seasonings to your liking.

3. Enjoy with crudite, rice crackers, pita bread, etc. etc.

Black Beans with Shredded Chicken and Apple Salsa

Serves 4

I really fell in love with this bean, also known as the turtle bean, when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were in Costa Rica for some time.  (Long story short, we came back home married, much to everyone’s surprise:)  Their ubiquitous “gallo pinto” is served as a side with everything and it is highly addicting!  The versatility of black beans gives them high marks in my kitchen.  They hold up well in veggie burgers and yet can be velvety smooth as soup.

Why eat black beans?  Well, there’s protein and fiber in a magical combination that supports digestive health, blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health.  Then there are all those antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients…just eat them!  And if you can, do so regularly!

This particular recipe was in Bon Appetit not too long ago.  I deviated from it as usual, but rest assured that whatever variations you bring to the dish will surely be successful.  The stars of this show are the beans and the contrast of the apple salsa, so as long as those are full of love and flavor, this one will be a hit with almost everyone!  Even kiddies! (Vegetarians – seriously, omitting the chicken will not affect how delish this dish is!)

Pura Vida!

You’ll need:
for the rice and beans:
1 C brown rice, soaked in 2C water + 1T lemon juice overnight
1 C dried black beans, soaked overnight (alternatively, you could use 2 cans of organic black beans)
1 1″piece of kombu
1 bay leaf
4-6 C vegetable stock or water
1 large red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t cumin seeds, toasted (optional on the toasting)
1/2 t ground coriander

for the chicken:
1 lb chicken (I like to use thighs and legs)

some fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

sprinkling of ground cumin

for the salsa:
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
2 T cilantro, chopped (or more if you love it!)
2 scallions, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime (or lemon if you don’t have limes)
sea salt to taste

To make:

Preheat oven to 350.

1. Cook the rice- Add a pinch of salt and set on high heat until it reaches a boil. Then reduce to simmer and cover.  It should take about 40 minutes.  (Yes, you are cooking the rice in the same water it soaked in.)
2. Cook the beans- Discard soaking water and rinse beans.  Put beans in a pot with water (or stock), kombu and bay leaf over high heat until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are tender.
3. Get the chicken in the oven- Once rinsed and dried, sprinkle with salt (be generous), pepper and some cumin and add lemon juice.  (Sometimes I add a touch of olive oil for good measure.)  Let roast in the oven until done, about 40 minutes depending on cuts used.
4. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and add onions.  After about 5 minutes, add the garlic, cumin seeds and coriander.  Caramelize until tender and slightly browned.
5. When beans are done, add beans to onion mixture with just enough liquid as you would like.  Over low heat, let cook to allow the onions to soak the beans with flavor.  In the meantime, shred the chicken.
6. To serve- Place rice and beans on plate and top with shredded chicken.  Top that with the apple salsa and serve with extra lime wedges.
7. YUM!

P.S. There are ways to make this seemingly involved dinner easier such as using canned beans and buying a rotisserie chicken.  But to be honest, it takes me about 20-25 minutes to get everything prepped and cooking.  Once it’s on the stove/in the oven, dinner’s pretty much done;)

Keeping Up…

It’s not so easy to do these days.  Just when you think you’ve got it, when you think you’re in some sort of ‘routine’ with the babe, things go haywire again!  Thankfully, I picked up The Wonder Weeks which is a great read for parents of young babies.  It tells of all the magical leaps our babies make and explains their sudden “fussiness” and changes in behavior.  We adults really need to give babies more credit.  They are constantly assimilating an ever changing world.  And when that world changes, as it often does for them as their perception increases, it’s down right scary!  So, while we may be exhausted because they’re not sleeping as much or are extra clingy because all they want is to be with mommy, it’s not because the little ones are being difficult.  They’re scared and at the same time mastering new skills to help them cope with all they’re taking in through each of their senses.  Babies are amazing.

In any case, Baby Berlin just went through a magical leap forward which is what has kept us extra busy and has kept me away from the computer…and at times, the kitchen!  This week I felt overwhelmed and wondered how I could fit it all in, cooking, writing, posting, yoga, naps, laundry, reading, zumba (yes, I’m actually trying it out even though it seems I must be the only Colombian with 2 left feet!)…the list doesn’t end.  What helped me cope with that feeling?  A walk with Claire Berlin.  It just put everything in perspective.

So, thanks for your patience.  More posts are on their way.  And thanks, Mom and all Moms for everything you’ve always done and everything you still do!

Sesame Tofu with Broccoli and Shiitake Mushrooms

Serves 4

I had a craving for this dish ever since I picked some up at Mrs. Greens a few weeks ago.  I don’t always feel so great when I eat prepared foods, so I decided to whip some up myself.  It’s also a great addition to this week’s pre-race menu.  (My husband is running the NYC half-marathon today.)

A word on tofu – as a vegetarian, I hated it.  Tofu always meant substitution for animal protein and it was always poorly cooked and presented, always bland and utterly boring.  Then I moved to Japan.  What a revelation!  Tofu was enjoyed by everyone as a regular part of their diet.  It came in numerous textures, eaten a variety of ways; fried, in soups, salads, fermented.   Tofu was often showcased, like fine cheeses are here in the U.S.  Their flavors were each different but subtle and lovely.
So, though none of the packaged tofu here comes close, I have decided to give it another chance, but it had to be delicious.  In this recipe, it is!

Nutritionally, tofu is cholesterol-free and low in saturated fats.  It is a high quality protein.  It supports colon health and is good for those who have high blood pressure.  It’s also a great source of calcium especially, but also iron, phosphorous, potassium, essential B vitamins and Vitamin E.

You’ll need:

14 oz firm or extra firm tofu
1/4 C cornmeal* (approx)
1/4-1/2 C organic canola oil (for frying tofu)
2-3 T sesame oil (+ more for sauce, see below)
3 T sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1-2 scallions, finely sliced
8 large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large bunch broccoli, cut into medium sized florets

For the sauce:

1/4 C honey or agave nectar
2 T tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
2 T sesame oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 T mirin
2-3 T fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 t red pepper flakes (or more if you like a lot of heat!)

To make:

1. Drain tofu and wrap in 2 clean kitchen towels.  Place between 2 cutting boards or plates and place a bit of weight on top to help remove water.  Let sit/drain for 20-30 minutes.

2. Toast sesame seeds lightly in a skillet over low heat.  Take care not to burn!  These little seeds have a way of being forgotten!

3.  Cook the veg:  Add 1 T sesame oil to pan and cook mushrooms until tender.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Add remaining oil and broccoli and about 1/4 C of water, cover and let steam for 5 minutes until the broccoli is a beautiful, bright green color.

4. Stir sauce ingredients together and simmer sauce over low heat until it thickens.

5. Remove towels from tofu and cut into 1″cubes.  Dredge in cornmeal and fry in skillet with canola oil until golden brown.

6. Toss the tofu into the sauce and let cook for a few more minutes.  Remove tofu with a spoon to serve.

7. Serve tofu with vegetables and drizzle remaining sauce over veggies.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds.  (I like to serve over short grain brown rice, but it’s also delish as is!)

8. Enjoy!

*You can also use cornstarch to dredge the tofu though I prefer the cornmeal for a crunchier texture.

Quinoa Salad

Serves 8

That Whole Foods expedition was all for this salad.  I was missing the main ingredient!  Quinoa is a pretty popular grain* in our house.  I first started eating it during my vegetarian days because it’s an incredible source of protein.  In fact, it contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a complete protein.  It’s particularly high in the amino-acid, lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair.  (Perfect for the runner in my life and not bad for postpartum recovery either.)  Other health-building goodies include manganese, magnesium, folate and phosphorous.  It is an anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients.  Quinoa is gluten-free and easily digestible making the nutrients incredibly bio-available.  No wonder quinoa (native to South America) was given to Incan warriors before battle!

Anyway, I prepare this as a side dish but make sure to make a lot because it makes for a great lunch, especially topped with avocado.  YUMMA!

You’ll need:

1C quinoa, rinsed thoroughly
2C water or vegetable stock
1 medium bell pepper (any color), diced
2 scallions, finely chopped
2T cilantro, finely chopped (I LOVE cilantro, but if you’re not a fan, parsley or mint work nicely, too)
1/4 C shelled pistachios
1/4 C dried cranberries
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 C Extra-virgin olive oil (cold pressed)
1/4 C fresh squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt and fresh grated pepper, to taste
1 Haas avocado (if using)

To make:

1. Put quinoa, water/stock and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, reduce to simmer and cover.  Quinoa will be done in about 15 minutes.  Water should be absorbed and quinoa should look fluffy.
2.  Spread cooked quinoa on a baking sheet to cool.
3.  Mix zest, lemon juice and olive oil with salt and pepper and whisk thoroughly.  Taste for salt/pepper.
4.  Mix quinoa together with the pepper, scallions, cilantro, pistachios and cranberries.  Add dressing and toss together.
5.  If possible, refrigerate before serving.  Flavors intensify after a day!
6.  If topping with avocado, simply slice, spritz some fresh lemon juice, sprinkle some salt and add some more herbs.  Easy lunch for when you don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen!
7. Enjoy!

*Though it’s often referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed and a relative of leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard!

Whole Foods and a Baby

Tuesday was our first run to Whole Foods together.  Claire Berlin was very curious about everything she saw.  She’s an observant little one.  I, though excited to be doing some of the food shopping again, was a bit more nervous.  Would CB be OK?  Would she want to nurse?  What if she starts crying?

Then I see moms with 2 (or 3!) babies/kids and I realize I need to calm down.  Moms do this all the time…and they’re amazing!  Everything you used to do gets adjusted to how things are going to be now that baby is here.  Nothing is the same and really, who needs anything to be the same all the time?

People comment on what a good girl she is.  Of course she is!  Not wanting to tempt fate though I rush through the aisles getting a handful of things that I need.  As usual, Claire is cool as a cucumber and I’m a mess trying to get it all together once at the register.  But, we’re there on the express line and before I know it, we’re out the door.  Can’t wait till the next time!

Farmers Market Inspirations (from july 6, 2010)

Basil Risotto with Romanesco Cauliflower 

Few things are more inspiring than a trip to the farmers market during the summer months.  Last week was a particularly productive week in the kitchen.  (My husband was a very happy man with all the creations that found their way out of the kitchen!)  
One of our favorites was this simple but delicious (short grain brown rice) risotto.
There are many a purists who would deny that a short grain brown rice could ever be called “risotto”, but I invite said purists to a taste.  We might witness a sudden conversion in beliefs!

You’ll need:

6 cups vegetable stock (or water) 
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced 
2 cups short grain brown rice, rinsed (and if you think ahead, soaked overnight would be great!)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 head romanesco cauliflower, cut into small florets  
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chiffonade*
Sea salt and pepper to taste 

To make:

1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil and then lower to a bare simmer just to keep it hot.
2. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat and add shallots and garlic. When fragrant and translucent, add rinsed rice and stir together to coat rice in oil.  Dry toast the rice until a nutty fragrance develops.
3. Add white wine and stir until thoroughly absorbed.
4. Add a ladle-full of stock (about 1/2 to 1 cup)  at a time to the rice and stir consistently until the stock is absorbed before adding more.  After the 4th cup or so, check for doneness and begin to season with salt.  (It will take a little longer and a little more love to develop a nice sticky (starchy) risotto:)
5. In the meantime, par-saute** the romanesco cauliflower florets in the remaining olive oil.  Season with salt.  It should take about 3-4 minutes.  Set aside.
6. When the rice is ready (al-dente), remove from heat and fold in the cauliflower and the cheese. Finally gently fold in the basil and sprinkle in some freshly ground pepper.
7. Garnish with small basil leaves and serve immediately. 
*chiffonade – a cutting technique that gives you long, thin strips of herbs and other greens. (Lay 6-7 basil leaves of the same size on top of each other and roll lengthwise.  Cut in thin strips and let them unfurl.)
**par-saute – similar to parboiling but sauteeing in some olive oil for added flavor.  You want the cauliflower to retain freshness and crunchiness.