Category: Healthy

Vietnamese Salad Rolls

salad roll final What to do for lunch tomorrow?! This was my great dilemma this morning as I lay in bed listening to the rest of the world start their day. I didn’t feel like going shopping for salad ingredients. I had some carrots in the fridge, a half a pepper from the pineapple salsa I made the other night, some cilantro, green onion, and not much else. My pantry is usually pretty well stocked with Asian ingredients and I always have prawns in the freezer. Sounds like salad rolls are on the menu.

These rolls are very adaptable to whatever you have in the fridge. Other filling ideas are bean sprouts, matchstick cucumber or zucchini, basil or mint instead of cilantro, poached chicken instead of shrimp. I used very little green onion in mine because I’m taking them to work but feel free to use more.

Don’t worry about getting the vegetables cut perfectly. I’m a bit obsessed but even using a vegetable peeler to make strips of carrots would work just fine!

As far as the peanut sauce goes, it was very good but next time I might try adding some fish sauce. Sesame oil would be tasty as well.

For the rolls:
9 medium-size (I used 16/20 count) prawns, shelled
2 oz vermicelli noodles (or about 1 1/2 cups of finished noodles)
6 round rice paper wrappers
1/2 red bell pepper (thinly sliced, pole to pole)
1 large carrot (cut into thin 3″ matchsticks)
1 green onion (thinly sliced on the diagonal)
leaves from 20  or so sprigs of cilantro

Peanut sauce:
4 TBS peanut butter
1 TBS hoisin sauce
1 TBS fresh lime juice
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp chili garlic sauce

Mix peanut sauce ingredients in bowl, then blend in enough cold water to get the consistency you want. For me, this is about 3 tablespoons. Set aside.

Heat a good amount of water (enough to also cook noodles below) in medium-size saucepan. When it starts to simmer, add prawns and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the prawns from the hot water with a slotted spoon, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Cut in half lengthwise and set aside.
salad roll shrimp

In the still hot water in which you cooked the prawns, cook vermicelli noodles according to package directions. This should entail adding the noodles to the hot water for about 3 minutes, then rinse in cold water and drain.
salad roll noodles

Putting it together:

salad roll ingredients

Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on a work surface. If you work very quickly you don’t need the towel, just make sure the work surface is wet. But if you think making the roll is going to take you longer than a minute, use the towel or the rice paper will stick to your work surface (like my first one did!). Fill a wide, shallow dish large enough to hold a rice paper wrapper with hot tap water (big pie plate or frying pan). Working with 1 wrapper at a time, completely submerge the wrapper until it is soft and pliable, about 10-15 seconds. Remove the wrapper from the water and place it on the towel.

Lay 3 prawn halves in a row along the centre of the wrapper. Add other vegetables lengthwise on top. Make sure they are neatly laid or they will poke through your rice paper when you try to roll it. Add a small amount of vermicelli noodles and top with cilantro.
salad rooll 1
salad roll 2
salad roll 3

Now comes the tricky part!

Fold the bottom half of the rice paper over the vegetables. Holding the vegetables firmly, pull back on them just slightly to tighten the roll. Fold in the sides and continue to roll away from you. SEE?!?! You did it! :) Note my picture below. The ones on the right were my first attempts (that second one from the right is especially bad!). Don’t worry if the first couple are messy, they will still taste good and once you’ve done it a few times, you will get the hang of it.
salad roll bad

If you want to hold them for a day or two, wrap them individually in cling wrap. When you’re ready to eat them, just dip them in peanut sauce and go for it. Very fresh and tasty.
salad roll end

Oh, and don’t tell Husband I made these, because I’ve already eaten half of them and the other half are safely hidden… um… STORED in fridge for my lunch tomorrow. :)

Grilled Fish Tacos

taco fishSpring has sprung and there are two fellows in my yard right now filling up my gardening boxes and spreading topsoil for new sod, so I’m feeling pretty positive this morning! And this lovely weather has put me in the mood for lighter, healthier food (but something that still tastes like a treat). I received this recipe in an email from Cooks Illustrated just a couple days ago and managed to hold off for about 8 hours before making it. Cha-ching! It was exactly what I was craving.

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Split Lentil (or Split Pea) Curry

lentil curryAfter 2 weeks of basically eating and drinking almost anything I wanted, it’s time to get back to healthy. Vacay is over, and it’s time to put on my big-girl pants. But it’s pouring rain today and I don’t feel like salad. I need a “food hug”. Something warm and comforting, but easy. Curry? Yes, please!

This dish is based on some loosey-goosey verbal instructions given to me by a work colleague a number of years ago, which I’m sure is no longer anything like the original, but it’s perfect for a rainy Vancouver day.

This recipe feeds 4, or 2 people for 2 meals (yay leftovers!).

2 cups split lentils or peas (red, green, yellow, white, etc.)
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 scant tsp turmeric

glug of vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp whole coriander, roughly ground with mortar and pestle
2 tsp whole cumin, roughly ground with mortar and pestle
pinch (scant 1/4 teaspoon) asafetida powder (optional)
1 large onion (small dice)
2 TBS finely chopped or grated ginger
2 large garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
sprinkle of hot pepper flakes (to taste)
1 28-oz can good quality tomatoes

Sliced green onion, chopped cilantro, or chopped arugula to finish.

In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to boil with salt and turmeric. Add lentils or peas and simmer, occasionally skimming any foam that gathers on top, until just tender. Do not cover.

As the lentils are boiling, warm oil in a separate frying pan over medium-high heat. Add coriander, cumin and asafetida powder (if using) and cook until until fragrant (30 seconds).

lentil curry spiceslentil curry asafetida

Add onion and saute, stirring regularly, until light golden brown (about 10 minutes). Add ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes (if using) and continue to cook for another minute.

lentil curry onions

Add tomatoes and adjust heat to let simmer for 10-15 minutes. When lentils are just tender, add to tomato curry. I like my curry a little bit “loose” at this stage (it will continue to thicken) but if you think there is too much water left in the lentils, drain them first. Continue to simmer until the lentils are tender and the curry has thickened to your liking. This usually takes another 5-10 minutes for me. Adjust seasoning; I find I usually have to add a bit more salt and if my tomatoes weren’t very sweet, a sprinkle of sugar.

lentil curry pan

Garnish with green onion, chopped cilantro, arugula (or just about any green you have in the fridge). Serve with bread or pita.

Husband says to finish the meal with cake.

I am not having cake.

Asian Grain Salad

Asian grain saladHusband and I had a great time in Seattle last weekend. A belated birthday dinner for me at an amazing restaurant and some shopping. The deals aren’t so great for Canadians anymore with our slumping dollar but the selection is still so much better than I can seem to find here. When the airlines started charging for checked luggage, I bought myself a new (very small) piece of carry-on luggage. I am not sure how I am going to travel in Europe this summer with about 6 square inches of clothing but that is a hurdle I have yet to cross. My most recent hurdle was finding the perfect “personal item” to go with my new (very small) carry-on luggage. It needed to be big enough to fit my purse, book, iPad, airplane snacks, plus any items that don’t fit into my regular (very small) carry-on luggage (for me, this usually means a couple more pair of shoes), while still maintaining the size parameters of a “personal Item”.  It also needed to be expandable in case I bring anything back from my travels that don’t fit into my (very small) carry-on luggage. It’s a tall order but I finally found the perfect bag in Seattle.

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Baby Eggplant With Raisins, Feta, and Mint

eggplant finished

Oh Lordy. The construction of the new garage/studio is going to be the death of me. It has been more than a year since our contractor told us he was ready to start, and 10 months since the plans were approved by the City. “How long will it take?” I asked, naively. “Oh, not more than 6 weeks” he said. “Great”, I said… “It needs to be finished for our annual summer party the third weekend of August”.

“No problem”.

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The Best White Fish Recipe Ever… aka Fish Cooked With Fresh Green Chutney

sea bassIt’s a bold claim, I know. The best? What makes this recipe the best? I’m not a huge fan of fish…

Note: I know I keep telling you about things I’m not a huge fan of. I really really don’t like chicken breasts (dry and tasteless), I don’t like all fish (some of it can be very dry, but that is sometimes rooted in bad preparation… fish is easily overcooked), and I can live without legumes (but I eat them anyway because they’re good for me). Oh, and not a huge fan of kale except for one salad which I will tell you about someday. But truly, other than that, I’ll eat almost anything. Pass the bone marrow, please!

Aaaaanywaaaay, as I was saying, I’m not a huge fan of fish but this is my absolute favourite way to cook white fish. It’s aromatic, zesty, fresh, unusual, and easy. All good reasons to call it the best. The original recipe was first published in Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking circa 1973. Food & Wine published it in 1980 and then again in 1998 as part of their Best 20 Recipes Of All Time collection.

sea bass recipe
That’s where I picked up on it and have been making it ever since, although over the years it has morphed into something healthier (such as omitting the butter) and easier (using store bought coconut instead of grating my own fresh coconut!!). Ms. Jaffrey recommends using halibut. I like using (sustainably caught) sea bass, but any white fish would be delicious.  As with most of my recipes, this serves 2, but can easily be doubled or tripled.

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Hummus – 3 Ways

hummus originalI am not particularly fond of sweets (I know, right?!?!  Weird.) For dessert, I much prefer some lovely French cheese and a few frozen grapes. But don’t think that makes my life any easier. Eating healthy is still an effort. I would love nothing more than to scarf down a huge bag of potato chips every night. But because I can’t (le sigh), I am always searching for a healthier alternative. Enter… hummus. Who knew that blechy, healthy legumes could be whipped into something light and creamy, or earthy and salty, and made to taste altogether indulgent. And even though the carrot sticks I use as a hummus delivery system aren’t quite the same as a potato chip, they do provide a sort of crunch.

I have many more hummus ideas I’d like to try… like one with feta and fresh oregano or basil. Or how about sundried tomatoes and some sort of sausage or bacon?!?! I suspect you’ll be hearing more from me on that front. In the meantime, let’s do this!

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Pomegranate Arugula Salad

pom salmon dinner“SALAD AGAIN?!?!” you’re asking? Yes, salad again. Every forking night until I lose these few extra pounds. Luckily, this is another one of my favourite salads and it’s hearty enough that you can add a small piece of protein and enjoy it as a meal (last night it was salmon). One of the main ingredients is pomegranate, which I have loved ever since I can remember. I used to sit on the sofa for hours reading a book and eating each aril (seed) separately, sucking the juice off and throwing out the seed in the centre. Why did I do that? Those seeds are crunchy and delicious, and they are chock-a-block full of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. This is a great way to make use of them.  This large salad generously feeds 2 as a main, or 4-6 as a side.

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Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken and Black Beans

chicken and black beanOk, let’s be honest.  This is not the type of recipe I planned to post when I dreamed of having a food blog.  First, I’m still trying to love my slow cooker; b) I am in the middle of trying to dump my Christmas weight; and 3… well, there is no 3 except that I have made this 3 times in the past few weeks and both Husband and I really really like it.  Seriously.  It’s healthy enough to eat post-Christmas but I have not stooped to using that dry, tasteless protein known as the (dreaded) chicken breast.  My version uses the ever-so-much-more-luscious chicken thighs (you know what I’m talking about) and still comes in at under 300 calories per serving.  It also has a lovely bright zesty topping.  Cha-ching!

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Crispy Brussels Sprouts

DSC_4298My dishes are usually based on recipes, or a combination of recipes, that are tweaked to my liking. Sometimes, as is with this one, it’s an idea that I attempt to bring to life. A few years ago a friend told me about some crispy brussels sprouts with capers that she had in a restaurant, so I experimented with the idea and bumped it up a notch with preserved lemon. I make my own preserved lemons but you can buy jars in Middle Eastern shops or just use the juice and zest of a fresh lemon. I debated adding apple to this dish (and may try some day) but thought it might be too many components. I think these would also be delicious sprinkled with pumpkin seeds or grated parmesan cheese. Or served with dollop of garlic aioli… Mmmmm.

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