Friday, July 29, 2011

Amaranth Breakfast Bowls... I Could be Addicted to Worse.

I'll keep this explanation short and savory. After discovering Dol Sot Bibim Bap (a Korean hot stone mixed rice dish) I came obsessed with the crispy, hot, toasted sesame rice, veggies, tofu and fried egg combo. However, heaps of white rice have yet to be classified as a super food, so until then, the dish will have to remain a treat. Then, I stumbled upon this Recipe of Inspiration, and something beautiful happened. Without fail, I have had a healthier, modified version of this breakfast bowl everyday of the week. It's served in a hot bowl, with veggies and a fried egg on top, just like my beloved Dol Sot Bibim Bap, but with a much more nutritionally dense, satisfying base: enter amaranth. 

Amaranth is awesome. 

This gluten-free pseudograin is 18% protein, and when combined with wheat, brown rice or corn, is a complete protein that offers the same value as... meat! Take that, meat industry propagandists. When compared to wheat, amaranth has triple the fiber and quintuple the iron. Amaranth is also more calcium-rich than... milk! Indeed, there are non-dairy products that are high in calcium, read it and weep National Dairy Council. (Oh, the things they don't want you to know...) Just to continue the amaranth-love rant, it's also a source of potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin C and cholesterol-lowering tocotrienols found in Vitamin E. 

In combination with spinach (vitamin K, A, C, E and a wealth of minerals - including calcium), onions (chromium, vitamin C, fiber), walnuts (check the walnut section rant here), almond milk (magnesium, potassium, calcium) and egg (protein, vitamin A, choline)... this amaranth dish may be the secret to living forever. Maybe. The recipe below is my favorite of the various combinations I've tried this week, but feel free to experiment. Enjoy, become addicted, buy amaranth in bulk, dream of breakfast bowls, repeat.

Amaranth Breakfast Bowls:
½ C amaranth
1 C almond milk
¼ tsp salt
1 small onion
1 C baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp C Daiya shredded mozzarella
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ C toasted walnuts
2 eggs (vegan version: use mushrooms or soft tofu)
- Salt & pepper, to serve

Preheat oven to 375. Boil almond milk in a small saucepan, then add amaranth and salt and reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, until creamy. Meanwhile, chop the onion and cook in a sautee pan until translucent, then add in spinach until wilted and set aside. In a bowl, combine Daiya, nutmeg and walnuts, then add in spinach and onions and mix well. Divide amaranth between two oven safe bowls and top with spinach mixture, leaving a well in the center. Crack an egg (or mushrooms/soft tofu) in the middle of each bowl and bake for about 17 minutes. Stir it all up and serve hot. Serves two at about 320 calories each.

(Shown here with oats, amaranth, and flax)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ice Cream Pops and Brownies: Now for People Without the Metabolism of a Six Year-Old!

Objective: make a nutritionally dense dessert at a low caloric value without producing something that tastes subpar to a tray of cardboard. Dessert is primarily a name given to the justification of scarfing sugar, fat, and flavor that's been somehow combined. Instead of leaving that job to refined sugar and butter, I've swapped in three super foods to help out with the job.

Cocoa: Viewed as a health food by the Olmecs since 1200 B.C., a mood enhancer by the Mayans, a divine gift by the Toltecs,  and currency for the Aztecs, cocoa's significance has been picked up on by everyone within 20 degrees of the equator since before it could be exported. By the 17th century, doctors were recommending it as a cure all in Europe... Scientifically speaking, though all plant based foods contain anti-oxidants, the levels of polyphenols (linked to anti-aging benefits) in cocoa are particularly high. Plus, besides for being the most idolized food by many a culture, cocoa is 10 calories a tablespoon... count me in. There are two types of cocoa: natural and Dutch processed. This recipe calls for natural cocoa, because Dutch has been neutralized with Alkali and consequently won't react with baking soda.. meaning there would be no leavening reaction. Dutch cocoa, however, dissolves more easily and is useful in recipes calling for baking powder or other acidic ingredients.

Nuts: Nuts are the most easily justified source of fat in the world. Ten almonds contain nearly half of the Vitamin E one needs in a day. Walnuts contain the highest concentration Omega-3's (alphalinoleic acid) of any natural plant source. Both nuts are packed with B-complex vitamins and minerals, as well as protein. Additionally, studies have shown that the caloric intake of nuts offsets future caloric intake, lowering the total amount we eat, and that whole nuts, rather than nut butters or oil, are not fully chewed and therefore not as easily digested, allowing for some of the fat content to pass through the digestive system unabsorbed. This accounts for the weight gain that is less than anticipated in studies where people freely add calories from nuts to their diets. Bottom line: Want a rich taste in baked goods? Have some inkling that butter is bad for you? Achieve your dreams with the better fat - nuts!

Bananas: Instead of dumping refined sugar into a baked recipe, why not just add the sweetness, along with flavor, moisture and texture from a nutritious, unprocessed fruit? Bananas deliver a desirable flavor and consistency to sweets, as well as an unseen dose of potassium, fiber, and vitamin B-6. The amount of sugar a banana substitutes for in this recipe nixes approximately 350 calories from the batch, and adds in a number of health benefits. Additionally, the energy from the sugars and carbohydrates in a banana provide prolonged fuel, rather than a sugar high followed by a crash. While the root of the word could be that "banan" means "finger" in Arabic, or that the fruit is called a "banaana" in West African Wolof, right now it means "better than sugar," and that's the one you should remember, because it really is.

These three components make up the basis for the following simple recipes, done two different ways. The first is a recipe for brownies, where nearly half the calories are accounted for by walnuts and bananas. Their only fault is that you (I) feel bad after you (I) eat half the pan, since they're so guiltlessly delicious. The second is a simple frozen treat, void of processed high fructose corn syrup, polysorbate 80, cellulose gum, and everything else in grocery store popsicles. So go ahead and pick your (lack of) poison - baked or frozen.

Cocoa Banana Walnut Brownies:
- 3/4 C flour (I've used coconut for a gluten-free version, whole wheat, and all-purpose when making these for little kiddos)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/3 C natural unsweetened cocoa
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 C yogurt (I use coconut or almond milk)
- 2 tsp instant coffee
- 1/4 C + 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs (to make recipe vegan, substitute 2 tbsp flax meal + 1/2 C cold water, blended until thickened)
- 1/2 C toasted walnuts
- 1 banana, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, sift flour, salt, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, instant coffee, maple syrup, vanilla, and eggs, whisking well. Add dry to wet gradually, until just consistent, then stir toasted walnuts. Layer half the batter into a baking dish, top with sliced bananas, then cover with the remaining batter. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool and slice into 14 servings (at 100 calories each).

Almond + Dark Chocolate Bananapops:
- 3 bananas, cut in half
- 2.5 oz. dark chocolate
- 1/3 C finely chopped roasted almonds (or nut of choice)
- Kahlua or other flavored liqueur, optional
- 6 popsicle sticks

If using liqueur, soak bananas for 30 minutes prior to preparation. Over a double broiler, melt chocolate completely. Stick popsicle sticks through bananas and cover evenly with chocolate. Sprinkle coated bananas with nuts, then set on parchment paper and freeze. Enjoy.