home.health.love

A balanced and easy approach to healthy living.


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Sneaky Little Greens

 

Even when I don’t have the time or energy to put together a healthy home-cooked meal, I still try to find ways to “health-ify” the food I am serving. One great trick my mom taught me is to use herbs for instant health-ification!

Fresh herbs contain lots of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. They promote heart health, and protect against cancer and arthritis with their anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they are cheap, easy to use, and easy to hide in a variety of foods because they are so small. Even if you are using a tablespoon here, a tablespoon there, you will be making a difference in a your family’s health.  Over the course of the week(s) the amounts will add up.  

The best way to use herbs is without cooking them first, for maximum nutritional value. If your family is not used to eating herbs, starting with parsley and/or dill is a good idea because flavor is more mild than other types, and their leaves are nice and soft–easy to eat in raw form. Other herbs to try with stronger flavors are basil, oregano, and sage. Herbs like thyme and rosemary have strong flavors and tough leaves–these are great for cooking and roasting.

Here are some ideas of how to add fresh, raw herbs to a variety of common foods, both health and not-so-healthy:

  • Making sandwiches? Add herbs to egg, tuna, or chicken salad. Stick some into a grilled cheese sandwich or into any meat sandwich. Dill and parsley are great for this. Chop them finely or just stick whole leaves right into the sandwich. This is a great way to add a nutritional punch to your kids’ lunches.
  • Garnish pizza or chicken or eggplant parmesan with basil, oregano, or other herb of your choice
  • Taco night? When I make tacos for my family, I stick herbs into the middle of the taco. They get lost in the guacamole and other fillings, so my daughter doesn’t even realize she’s eating them.
  • Garnish any soup you make with herbs. Stick them right on on top or mix it in. It’s best to garnish right before you serve the soup so the greens don’t cook in the heat.
  • Sprinkle minced basil or oregano onto any pasta. Mix it into sauce or cheese to hide.
  • Mix fresh herbs into a starchy side dish, like rice, quinoa, or potatoes, right before serving.

Try buying one bunch of herbs and using it up over the course of the week…then try out a different herb the next week. You will get into the habit in no time.

Happy sneaking!


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Quick & Healthy Eggplant Parmesan (Gluten-free, too!)

A friend of mine was telling me recently that eggplant parmesan is one of her favorite foods…but she only makes it once a year. Why? Too much work! Slicing, breading, frying…it’s quite a labor intensive dish. (And usually not the healthiest one, either.)

But, no need to fear! Eggplant parmesan can be really quickly, easily…and, yes, healthfully prepared. The secret is not to fry the eggplant and to leave out the breadcrumbs…instead, just broil the eggplant! Another time saver: slice the eggplant lengthwise instead of into circles. Finally, I don’t bother to salt the eggplant in advance–this doesn’t seem to add to the flavor. Bottom line: no smell, no standing over the frying pan, no burning oil, no scrubbing caked-on greasy bits when you are done. Not only is it easier, but healthier to avoid frying. I also love how broiling eggplant brings out a smoky eggplant taste (it reminds me of baba ganoush).

Here’s a healthy, easy eggplant parm’ recipe for you, with a bunch of variations to make it interesting.

No-Fry Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients:

2 eggplants

1 jar tomato sauce

1 16 oz. package shredded mozzarella

1-2 handfuls of minced basil for flavor and garnish (optional)

Olive oil

Salt, pepper

(Feel free to halve the ingredients if you only have one eggplant.)

Preparation:

1. Turn on your broiler (I put it on the high setting).

2. Cut eggplant lengthwise, in half. Slice each of the halves lengthwise, into approx. 1/4-1/8″ slices. (No need to make these slices too thin: I like them thick because I love the taste of roasted eggplant, I don’t want to hide it in cheese and sauce!). If you prefer slicing the eggplant into circles, then go ahead!

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3. Drizzle baking pan(s) or cookie sheet(s) with olive oil. Place eggplant slices in one layer in pan or on sheet. Drizzle eggplants with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Put into oven and broil for 10-12 minutes. Take eggplants out when they are tender and browning, but not dried (then you left them in for too long).

4. Spray/drizzle bottom of lasagna dish with olive oil. (If you used a baking pan in the previous step, then you can now use it to make the lasagna!) Layer eggplant, tomato sauce, cheese and basil; repeat for 2-3 layers or until ingredients are used. End with garnish on top.

Variations:

1. Mediterranean style: instead of basil, used parsley and/or dill. Instead of mozzarella, used feta.

2. Zucchini parmesan: use zucchini or summer squash instead of eggplant. Follow directions, exactly. Yummy variety.

3. Zucchini-eggplant parmesan: use zucchini and eggplant!

4. Use fresh, diced tomatoes in addition to or instead of tomato sauce.

5. Use fresh, sliced mozzarella instead of shredded.

Photo Credit (1st photo): seriouseats. Silly me, when I made this last I forgot to take a photo of the finished product…by which I really mean, my family devoured the dish before I could think twice. But, my parm looked almost as nice as this one. 🙂


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Ode to Lentils

Lentils are a great food for so many reasons. They should be a staple of any vegetarian diet, but are a great addition to any food repertoire. They are a low-fat, low-cholesterol, nutrient-rich substitute for meat.

Here is what makes them so special:

  1. They build your iron stores! A cooked cup of lentils contains 37% of your daily nutritional value. Apart from fortified cereals and soybeans, lentils have the most iron of any non-meat food source (see Table 1 to compare). Many women have low iron stores (12% of young women!), which can result in anemia. Vegetarians are particularly vulnerable to low iron, because they don’t eat meat, which is a great source for iron, but even meat-eaters suffer from low iron levels! (Other iron sources: all varieties of legumes, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, tofu.)
  2. Unlike other legumes, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
  3. They are less gas-producing than beans.
  4. They cook very quickly, quicker than other legumes! Boiling them takes about 15-20 minutes.
  5. According to a Harvard study women who ate beans and lentils at least twice a week had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them just once a month. (Source)
  6. They taste great when sprouted!
  7. They make a great toddler/kid food!
  8. Many varieties add different flavors and colors to your dishes: orange, green, brown, black, etc.

Below re two of my favorite recipe for making lentils is. The first is a great side or vegetarian main dish or lunch salad. It was featured in the August 2005 issue of Gourmet Magazine. It’s super easy and tasty. I have served it to company on many occasions and always get compliments.

Lentil Salad with Tomato and Herbs

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried lentils (preferably small French lentils)
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 3/4 lb tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
  • 4 large scallions, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste (I usually start with 2 tbs. and then add more)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation:

  1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan with lentils, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes.
  2. Drain in a large sieve, then transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Toss hot lentils with tomatoes, scallions, dill, basil, vinegar, oil, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste.

Easy…right??? By the way, you can adjust this recipe by including whatever herbs and veggies you have in your frig. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, it still tastes great with the dried versions or none at all! 

Lentils with Rice (Mujadara)

Here is another favorite: a one-dish meal for a weeknight dinner, which can be prepared ahead. This recipe is adapted from one presented on Good Morning America. It’s so easy, that after making it once, you won’t need the directions anymore.

Ingredients:

  • 1-3 medium yellow onions, peeled
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 3 1/2 cups cold water or broth
  • 1 cup rice of your choice (sometimes I use quinoa)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • OPTIONAL: Other seasonings of your choice: cumin, turmeric, curry, paprika, etc.

Preparation:

  1. Dice 1-2 onions.
  2. Heat a large frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the diced onions. Saute until quite brown and set aside.
  3. In a 4-quart covered pot place the lentils and water/broth. Bring to a boil, covered, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked onion to the lentils, along with the rice and salt. (Add any optional seasonings.) Cover and simmer 20 minutes until rice and lentils are soft. If a bit of water remains unabsorbed, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes and it will soak in.
  5. OPTIONAL: Slice the remaining onion into rings. Heat the frying pan again and saute the rings in the remaining olive oil.
  6. OPTIONAL: To serve, top the lentils with the sauteed onion rings.
  7. Accompany with plain yogurt, sour cream, or tzatziki sauce. Consider adding a lemony green salad, with tomato wedges on the side.

I sometimes make this recipe when I already have cooked rice or quinoa, in which case I cook the lentils alone according to step 3; when done, I put the lentils in the frying pan with the sauteed onion and additional olive oil, add the cooked rice, and saute it altogether for a few minutes.

Enjoy!