Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry + Easy Almond Butter Sauce

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I promise to get to the stir fry in a second, but first a little bit of self-reflection never hurt anyone 😉

Let’s talk friends, i.e. the family that you choose for yourself, the tribe you willingly associate yourself with, the group of people who serendipitously come into your life (and sometimes back into your life), a network of people that grows roots and supports you through thick and thin. I’ve been compelled to reflect on my friendships these past few weeks – for a variety of reasons, some incredibly good and some quite unsettling. Luckily for me the unsettling bits did not originate from within my circle, but nevertheless I have been one of the affected bystanders hit with a storm of betrayal and lies. All I can say is that I am one fortunate woman to have the friends that I have. More than fortunate. Blessed, in fact, if I may use this clichéd and worn-out, hashtagged to death remark. But it hasn’t always been like this.

About five years ago I ended a very long term, depleted relationship; and even though its conclusion was far overdue and inevitable, it still left me reeling and feeling lost. At that time I had a couple of genuine friendships and a handful of tenuous ones. As I recovered and adjusted to the aftermath, I engaged in new hobbies, rediscovered forgotten ones and started making connections  with people from all walks of life. In the midst of this flurry of new faces, I found those that have now solidified into friendships that I deeply treasure. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy for me at first. Over a decade since high school graduation (where I was a shy and reserved creature) I wasn’t sure HOW to make friends. Sounds ridiculous, right? But I wager that many adults just aren’t sure how to navigate the friend-making landscape. It gets a bit more complicated once you’re past the point of playing in the school yard, where a short recess spent kicking a ball around or playing hopscotch leads into the best-friends-forever realm. In any case, I guess somehow I figured it out. Five years later I am surrounded by people that make me a better person. And that’s the ultimate jackpot right there. The friendships that I have made over the last few years, as well as those that have endured the growing up years, have shown me how to be a more caring, empathetic, authentic, giving, loving, generous person. I am still learning and VERY much a work in progress. But as I reflect on the me pre-big-life-changing-breakup to the current me, it still astonishes me how much I have changed. And entirely (mostly) for the better. And all because of my tribe. I mean these people who willingly spend time with me are selflessly taking care of sick family members, raising smart and kind children, organizing care packages for those in need of a pick-me-up or some extra TLC, volunteering in their communities, reaching out to those who are isolated, and tirelessly setting an example of what a good human being should look like. It is impossible for some of that not to rub off on me. Like glitter off a princess Barbie, that stuff really sticks! And so I am grateful, and thankful, and blessed, and indebted to the universe for my friends. How did  I ever get so lucky.

And now for a clever segue to this stir fry. Well, I guess just like my friendships, this dish is uncomplicated, nourishing, deeply satisfying and rich in flavour. Kind of proud of what I just did there. Okay, please don’t leave. I promise I’m done now.

This recipe is a more formalized version of something that I have  been cooking for years – except that in the past I would just throw a bunch of dashes of this and that straight into the pan and somehow it would turn out. But people want numbers and proportions and so I nailed it down for you!

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It really is a pretty simple and versatile recipe. Sub in whatever veggies you like  – mushrooms, peppers and baby corn would work beautifully. But I am partial to the sponge-like quality of broccoli which tends to hoard the tasty sauce within its abundant tendrils. Whatever veggies you choose, add the ones that cook longer first, a few minutes ahead of the others. You can easily make the almond butter sauce nut-free by subbing in tahini. If you like garlic, add some of that in along with the ginger – I’m  not a garlic-hater, but I choose to do the least amount of chopping per any recipe I make. I am chopping averse. Or maybe I just like quick recipes. 

Please let me know if you make this!! You could even just make the sauce and slather it onto whatever food you please. Like friendships, this sauce makes life better…okay, here’s the recipe finally. Who lets me write anyway?

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Simple Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry + Almond Butter Sauce

Serves 3-4

Prep Time 15-20 minutes

Cook Time  20 minutes

Ingredients for Stir Fry:

1 block of extra firm tofu, cubed

1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or other neutral tasting oil

1-2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger, to taste

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons tamari

1 bunch of broccoli or cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-sized florets

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into desired shape

2 zucchini, sliced into desired shape

Ingredients for Almond Butter Sauce:

4 Tablespoons roasted almond butter (may be substitutes with natural peanut butter, or tahini for a nut-free version)

4 Tablespoons freshly boiled water

2 Tablespoons tamari sauce

3 Tablespoons natural rice vinegar

1 teaspoon maple or agave syrup

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

 Directions:

1. In a large non-stick sauté pan or wok, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add cubed tofu and cook, stirring often, until golden brown on most sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan onto a plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium and to the same pan add minced ginger, 2 Tablespoons tamari sauce, 2 Tablespoons water and broccoli or cauliflower. Stir well and cook 3-5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini and cook 5 more minutes.

3. While vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl whisk almond butter and freshly boiled water with a fork until smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until combined. Adjust to taste.

4. Add almond butter sauce to the vegetables and stir to combine. Add tofu back to the pan, stir and cook 1-2 more minutes until flavours meld together. Enjoy!

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Waging A War On Women’s Bodies: The Battle Continues

Let me cut to the chase. Despite some strides made in recent years, ultimately, we are still battling a deep seated idea that only certain female bodies are desirable and desired. I know what you’re thinking, “No! Not me! I love all bodies.” But if we really delve into our behaviours we’d be able to identify plenty that refute this belief. But who’s to blame, really? From a very young age we are force fed images in magazines, ads, social media and  in our social circles that constantly remind us how we should look. And if we can’t achieve this specific look than clearly we are not good enough, we lack willpower and we need to work really hard to change. It’s come to the point that lamenting about your looks and ceaselessly working on changing your body has become part of the female identity. It’s so uncommon that it’s almost jarring to hear a woman proclaim that she is 100% satisfied with her body. While men also face body issues, women are disproportionately affected by body shaming and so I direct my focus there. Also, I am a woman. How’s that for stating the obvious. 

Because of this relentless message that our bodies take up too much space in this world, we resort to diets.  Diets that punish, and bully, and make us believe that IF ONLY we possessed self control we could attain perfection. That simply, the only thing standing between us and flat abs is the resolve to resist a cupcake. But most of us can’t. And that doesn’t make us weak, it just makes us human. Our bodies don’t like dieting. We are essentially programmed to like whatever the opposite of dieting is. But the answer isn’t to find a solution to this inborn encoding, to discover new ways to trick our physiology. The answer  is to make peace.

Here is the question that I have been pondering for some time now: at what point in history did we decide that criticizing, disparaging, judging, censoring, praising, assessing and condemning women’s bodies was okay? When did we decide what the ideal woman should look like? And I know some will point to the fact that curvy women were venerated in the past, but isn’t that just another form of what is happening today? I imagine that during the heyday of plump bodies, there were still “the right type of plump” and the “not plump enough” or “too plump” and undoubtedly the “too skinny” bodies. Ultimately our attitude remains the same but the image of the ideal body changes. Most recently I have seen the problematic trend of eschewing skinny and worshipping strong bodies. Strong is good! Strong means healthy! Strong is noble! Our new found worship of strong emblazoned on shirts and bumper stickers everywhere! Let me tell you something, strong is just a thinly veiled attempt to identify the current idea of an ideal body. Because if you’re not strong, then you are “other”, the not strong body, the body that needs to work harder to become strong. And so we find ourselves at square one, making women feel like they need to fit into a mold. I challenge you to Google images of “strong is the new skinny”. I did. Out of the first one hundred images, only about 8 (and I am being generous here) portrayed a body that wasn’t rippled with well defined muscle and glistening with sweat. Don’t tell me that we are past the point of idolizing slim. Body acceptance (acceptance of ALL bodies) is still a very, very long away.

Now please understand me. I don’t believe that body acceptance should come at the expense of rejecting those with muscles, or skinny bodies or slender frames. I don’t think that is the approach at all. In my utopian view of the world, ideally we come to a point where bodies are just bodies, the vehicles for our minds and hearts, the instruments that carry out our actions and dreams. Where size does not matter and people (women) aren’t constantly battling with themselves to change.

I do wonder if before all of this there truly was an era where body shape, size, fat percentage, dimensions really did not matter. I have to imagine that prehistoric societies did not trouble themselves with such trivialities as they tried to outrun predators and directed their energies at survival. Perhaps even for several generations after that bodies were just simply bodies. Then things went haywire. And specifically for women. I oscillate between rage and sadness when I see or hear of situations where women are forced into believing bogus diets, mislead by so-called experts, bullied by unrealistic ad campaigns, disparaged by healthcare professionals, disregarded, overlooked, shamed. And what is frightening is that attempts to wage war on women’s bodies are becoming far more ambiguous, so that even the most offensive enterprises seem benign. Like with the aforementioned strong body movement.

I don’t want to end this diatribe on a sour note. It’s not all hopelessness and doom. While a global shift in paradigm will require far more bold and drastic solutions and a great deal of time to undo the damage of generations, we can all start to chip away at the current norm. It starts with you. Stop criticizing yourself. Throw away the scale. Look in the that mirror and see yourself for your qualities and NOT your body shape. You are one fine human being and I don’t need to know your jean size or your hip measurements to see that! This sounds clichéd, but if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Protect children from hearing body shaming in conversation, songs, on social media and TV. And it’s tricky. You know that song, the one about that bass? That’s not an anthem for body acceptance. Listen to those lyrics a little closer: the message is accept big bodies and reject ‘skinny bitches’, the song’s words, not mine. (This is what I mean when I say it’s a lot more ambiguous these days.) Stop greeting friends with “You look great! Did you lose weight?” This is problematic on many levels, and so ingrained in our psyche as normal dialogue, but continues to reinforce that weigh loss equates with greatness. Chose activities based on your likes and not on their calorie burning potential. Pick a variety of foods based on what you enjoy, not on a long list of ‘shoulds’. Those ‘shoulds’ are ever changing and often not based on any actual merit. So forget strict food rules and trust yourself. Trust your beautiful, wonderful, vibrant, capable, competent, flawed, perfect SELF.

We need to win this war, one battle at a time, so that we don’t waste another second of our precious, short lives on this ongoing conflict. Imagine, just really imagine, what we could accomplish if even just a fraction of energy wasted on altering our size was diverted to something more positive. I am not going to pretend like I have the solution. It hasn’t been  an easy journey for me to arrive at this place and perhaps one day I will share my experiences. But I definitely know how I have changed my words and continue to adopt behaviours to promote body acceptance for myself and those around me. Will you join me?

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As always, share your comments and thoughts below!

With much love and gratitude,

ilona xo

Indian Spiced Chickpea Skillet Cake

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Here in Southern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area to be exact, we experienced what is akin to a heat wave in winter this past weekend. Temperatures in the (low) double digits (Celsius that is) warmed our bodies and our souls and an abundance of sunshine made everything seemed brighter. Sigh, we collectively needed this! Or at least I needed this. Days like this weekend remind me that everything is going to be okay. Life will be okay. More than okay! Spring is around the corner, we just have to hang in there for a few more weeks.

You know what else warms the body and soul? Spicy, flavourful, easy dishes made with nourishing ingredients. You might have noticed that I love spice. A lot of spice. Like, all the spice in the world. And by spice I mean spices AND heat. In my world, the hotter the better. It’s like an addiction and I often crave spicy foods. My sister gets me. She’s just the same.

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In this spiced chickpea skillet cake the spice comes from some wonderfully robust Indian inspired spices like cumin seeds and fresh ginger, as well as from green chilies which you can dial up or down based on your preferences. You can guess which direction I went! This skillet cake is modelled after an Indian dish called dhokla, if only in flavours and ingredients, not actual execution. Traditional dhokla requires a pressure cooker to make and yields a spongy, super light savoury cake. Like a cloud in your mouth! I rely on baking powder to help achieve a bit of this airiness, though my recipe creates something much more dense and filling. In any case, it’s taste is reminiscent of dhokla and that is all I can wish for. To make it a bit more traditional you could drizzle the finished skillet cake in black mustard seeds and chopped green chilies fried in oil. Alas, no mustard seeds in my cupboard and the stores were closed due to a holiday. I decided to go for it anyway!  

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I love using chickpea flour as it is super cheap (I buy it at a bulk store) and packed with fibre, protein and a host of micronutrients. One 1/2 cup serving of chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo flour or besan) provides you with 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre, as well as about half of your daily folate and a quarter of your daily iron requirements. Please ask me where I get my protein from the next time you see me. It’s also naturally gluten-free (though if you have Celiac disease please buy it in sealed packages!)

Please excuse the seemingly long instructions but I get chatty. And also I needed to explain how I MacGyvered my skillet to have a snug lid to fit over top of it. Yup, using skills in the kitchen!

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Indian Spiced Chickpea Skillet Cake

Serves 4-6

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 10-13 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups chickpea flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon ground turmeric

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 small lime)

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, packed

1 Tablespoon neutral-tasting oil (avocado, canola, grapeseed, refined coconut)

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

1 Tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger

1-2 chopped green chilies, leave seeds in

Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green chilies, lime

Directions:

1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk chickpea flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to combine. Add water and lime juice and whisk well, ensuring batter is smooth and lump free. Set aside.

2. Choose an oven-proof, non-stick frying pan or well seasoned cast iron skillet, for which you have a tight fitting lid (I used a lid from a large stock pot and used a couple of pieces of tin foil to plug the gaps along the rim of the skillet). Heat oil over medium-high, then add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger and chilies. Fry, stirring often, until fragrant and seeds begin to pop,  about 1-2 minutes.

3. Add fried spices, ginger and chilies to chickpea batter and whisk in. Don’t worry if you don’t get every seed and bit from skillet. Place skillet back on the stove and turn heat down to low. Carefully pour chickpea batter into the skillet and cover with the lid (no peeking – the key is to allow steam to build up and help in cooking the cake.) Cook over low heat for 6-8 minutes, until bubbles appear on surface and mixture starts to set (you will notice the top of the cake will start to dry out and become less jiggly.) Be careful not to burn the skillet cake! Low heat is key here. While cake is cooking on the stove top, set oven on to broil.

4. Once batter is mostly set, remove from heat, remove lid and place skillet on middle rack and broil for 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure skillet cake does not burn! This is not the time to walk away and start a new task. Carefully remove skillet from the oven (it’s hot!) and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, you can flip the  skillet cake out of the pan onto a serving plate, or serve straight  form the skillet. Top with desired garnishes. It tastes best when warm, so eat right away! Or store leftovers in the fridge and reheat before eating.

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And now for a PSA: Let me know if you make this recipe! Share with your friends! Like and comment below!

xo

Enjoy life and good food and sunshine,

ilona

Double Dark Chocolate Truffles (Vegan)

 

img_3584-3Keeping it short and sweet today. Just like this recipe. A sweet, simple treat for Valentine’s Day. Or any day. Maybe every day? These decadent truffles taste like they came from a fancy chocolate shop but in fact require only four main ingredients and a bit of chilling time to make. Insanely rich, smooth and satisfyingly chocolaty, they will surely impress your sweetheart or whoever the lucky recipient may be.

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I can’t say I always liked celebrating V Day. Totally jaded and turned off by the artificially manufactured saccharin sweetness of the whole thing made me indifferent at best. But I suppose over the years I have realized that celebrating anything in life is a good foil for the negativity and wretchedness of what goes on around us. The world needs more love. So why not honour it, even if it is with tacky cards and overpriced flowers. Better yet, with truffles. Double dark chocolate truffles. Vegan and easy at that. Make them and share them or hoard them for yourself. Love yourself. Love those around you. Love your family. Love life. And hey, love carnations too! They are in fact beautiful but for some reason have  been relegated to the bottom of the barrel for far too long. I love you carnations. You complete me.

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Don’t be scared of the long instructions, I’ve just included tips that that I have found helpful along the way. And here are some pictures to help you out as well…

Chilled bowl of ganache:

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Scooped ganache chillin’:

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Rolled and ready for some cocoa lovin’:

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Sprinkled with cocoa:

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Rock and roll  time:

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Double Dark Chocolate Truffles

Makes 16-18 truffles

Prep Time 30 minutes (total)

Chill Time 2 hours

Ingredients:

200g dairy-free dark chocolate chips (1 cup + 2 Tablespoons chocolate chips)*

125ml light coconut milk

1 Tablespoon (15ml) virgin coconut oil

pinch of sea salt

2 Tablespoons (30ml) cocoa powder

Directions:

1. Place chocolate chips in medium-sized bowl; find a plate that will fit over bowl to cover.

2. In a small saucepan combine coconut milk and coconut oil and  heat over medium heat until just starting to bubble. Pour the hot liquid over the chocolate chips (don’t mix yet!) and cover with the plate. After about 2 minutes, remove plate add the pinch of sea salt and stir chocolate mixture. The chocolate chips should have melted in the hot liquid, but if there is still some unmelted chocolate, microwave in 15 second intervals until fully melted. You have now  made ganache! Cover bowl with the plate again and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until mixture has firmed up.

3. Once mixture is cooled and firm, but still moldable, remove from fridge. Using a small ice cream scoop (a great tool for this part, mine holds just a little bit more than 1 Tablespoon), scoop out ganache, level off and turn out onto the plate that was covering the bowl. Repeat until you’ve used up all the ganache. The chilled plate helps to prevent the truffles from melting or becoming too soft. If you don’t have a small ice cream scoop, use a Tablespoon measuring spoon for this.

4. Now roll each ganache mound with your hands into an evenly shaped, smooth ball and place on a small rimmed cookie sheet or a shallow glass dish; line the cookie sheet or dish with parchment paper if you like. It helps to cool your hands under running cold water, then drying them thoroughly before rolling – this prevents the ganache from sticking to your hands. You may have to wash your hands once or twice during the rolling process if they become sticky.

5. Once all the truffles are rolled, scoop the cocoa powder into a small fine-meshed sieve and sift over the truffles. Next, roll the truffles around by shaking the cookie sheet or dish gently until the truffles are entirely coated. I’ve found this to be the most efficient way to coat the truffles in the cocoa powder.

6. Transfer the truffles into an airtight container and keep at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge for up to a week (if they last that long). Enjoy!

* I used Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels; you can also use 200g of your favourite bar chocolate finely chopped. Choose good-quality chocolate as it’s the star ingredient!

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If  you do end up making these, share your creations on social media and tag with #soundbitesnutrition.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day and eat lots of chocolate!

xo

ilona

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Almond Butter Cup Smoothie Bowl + Magic Chocolate Sauce

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Permission to eat chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast granted! You’re welcome. Very, very welcome. Because in the depths of this Southern Ontario sun deprived deep freeze kind of a winter some joy is needed. And chocolate brings joy. Especially in the form of a chocolatey smoothie bowl made up of high vibe ingredients to delight the body and soul. Though I have to say, while chocolate does its magic, for anyone reading this who hails from some warm and sunshiney corner of the world – can I come live with you?? I think I make a decent roommate. I can guarantee good food, witty banter and a willingness to clean. Ok, so only one of those is true.

In the meantime, back to chocolate. For now. Until someone from California sends for me.

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So this smoothie bowl is the first smoothie bowl I have ever made. For real. I feel like I’m so late to the party that the party is almost over…they’ve started playing this. I know smoothie bowls have been around for forever but for some reason I’ve never been compelled to make one. Probably for a few  reasons: A) A smoothie bowls seem like breakfast food to me B) I’d much rather eat something savoury for breakfast and C) I pretty much always eat breakfast in my car on the way to work. Smoothie bowls are not conducive to these pursuits. But one day this past week I woke up with this exact smoothie bowl idea in my head. I imagine that’s what song writers or artists or novelists mean when they say that ideas come to them fully formed. Except in my case it’s always food. Sometimes a half-baked concept that collapses when put into action (ahem, shortbread cookies) and sometimes a successful recipe that strikes gold upon first try. This bowl was of the latter sort. A vision appeared in my head, I created it and then praise was heaped upon it by those who tasted the magnificent results. Or something like that.

This recipe makes a pretty good sized smoothie bowl so it’s perfect for sharing. Though with about 24 grams of fibre (!!) and 13 grams of protein, it makes a mighty satisfying meal for one. There’s virtually no added sugar in this recipe, except for the maple syrup in the chocolate sauce, which you can skip. Though the chocolate sauce is my favourite thing about this bowl! It is super easy to make and it hardens when poured onto the icy smoothie and cold fruit, creating a shell of chocolate drizzle that breaks up into chocolate chunks as you crack it with your spoon (that’s the magic!) Umm are we talking decadent dessert or breakfast still? To be quite honest I don’t think anyone would complain if you finished off a meal with this and called it dessert. I certainly wouldn’t. Perhaps a Valentine’s Day treat?

The other ingredients are essentially fruits, seeds and nuts. These do a body good! And all the chocolate goodness comes from good quality organic cocoa powder as opposed to processed chocolate. I can live with that.

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Almond Butter Cup Smoothie Bowl With Magic Chocolate Sauce

Makes 1-2 Servings

Prep Time 10 minutes

Ingredients for the Smoothie Bowl:

2 frozen bananas, broken up into chunks

1-2 medjool dates

3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other plant-based milk)

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1 1/2 Tablespoons chia seeds

1 1/2 Tablespoons smooth almond butter

 Ingredients for the Chocolate Sauce:

2 teaspoons virgin coconut oil, melted

2 teaspoons maple syrup

2 teaspoons cocoa powder

Toppings:  strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sliced banana, chopped raw almonds; other fruit or nuts may be used, as desired

1. Blend all smoothie bowl ingredients in a blender until smooth. Depending on your blender, you may need to stop it a few times and use a spoon to move the ingredients around, or use more almond milk to get it to  a smooth consistency. If you have a Vitamix, use the tamper to move the ingredients around.

2. Use a fork to whisk all chocolate sauce ingredients until smooth.

3. Pour smoothie into a bowl, top with desired toppings and drizzle with the chocolate sauce. Enjoy!

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Red Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma)

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Sometimes life hands you lemons. Kernels of sourness. Little moments or truths or revelations that just make you pucker up and shake your head in disbelief. Like really universe? This is what you’re going to throw my way? You want to laugh and cry at the same time, on one hand feeling frustrated with the parade of disappointments, but on the other cherishing these moments for the inevitable memoir that will surely entertain the masses. In any case, I’ve learned that it’s best to take the Buddhist path in these instances – let go, live in the here and now and don’t sweat the future. Call up a good friend, shed a few tears, eat a cupcake, then laugh at the audacity of life. Good food helps. Especially a dish that warms from within to chase away the winter chill and nourishes your body with plant-based goodness that pairs plenty of exotic (but easy to find) spices with otherwise simple ingredients. This red kidney bean curry is known as rajma and hails from Northern India. Now let me qualify that a Polish-born Canadian girl making a very traditional Indian curry might take some  liberties with the recipe so this may or may not actually resemble what a real rajma looks or tastes like, but nevertheless I love (LOVE) the results. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually eaten authentic rajma. I’ve heard lots about it from friends and the families of South Asian decent that I counsel in my role as a dietitian (apparently rajma is a beloved dish for many children.) I’ve read and researched plenty of recipes when I decided to make my own many years ago – I can only guess at how close mine is to the real thing. In any case, as I said, the recipe that follows creates a beautiful, spiced dish that satisfies.

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Red kidney beans are part of the pulse family (which includes beans, peas and lentils) and Canada is the world’s second largest grower of this nutrient-packed bunch (right after India). Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec grow hundreds of varieties and exports are a billion dollar industry! Talk about home-grown gold. Pulse Canada does an amazing job curating recipes, factsheets and lots  of great information about pulses – please check out their website. While 2016 was the Year of Pulses,  they are not going anywhere. In fact, pulses are gaining popularity and a larger share of the real estate on our plates. And this is no surprise really, they are incredibly cheap, versatile, brimming with protein and nutrients and hailed as a sustainable crop. The future is pulses! Did I mention the nutrients??

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I used canned kidney beans for this recipe but give dried beans a chance too. They just require soaking overnight, then a quick rinse and boiling the next day. Mostly idle work. I make big batches at a time then store in zip top bags in the freezer. Check out cooking guidelines for various pulses here. I should  also say give (dried) peas a chance as well. Hehe.  

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Red Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma)

Serves 4

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 30-35 minutes

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons avocado oil, or other neutral tasting oil (grapeseed, canola)

1 medium/large sweet onion, roughly chopped

4-5 cloves of garlic

2 inch chunk of ginger, peeled

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh red chile, or to taste

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 (19oz/540ml) cans of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups water

Cooked grain of your choice (rice, quinoa, sorghum, millet) or flatbread, for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges and chopped red chile to garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Add ginger and garlic cloves to bowl of food processor and process until finely chopped (about 30 seconds). Add onion to the minced ginger and garlic and pulse until chopped. Alternatively, if you don’t have a food processor, mince ginger and garlic, and finely chop onion with a knife.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium heat, add ginger, garlic and onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

3. Add in cumin seeds, red pepper flakes or red chile, garam masala, turmeric, coriander, salt and pepper, stir to combine and  cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

4. Add in chopped tomatoes, including any juices, stir to combine, and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until liquid has mostly evaporated and the oil starts to release from the mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low if mixture starts to bubble too fast and sticks to the pan.

5. Add in kidney beans and water, stir to  combine, cover with lid slightly askew (to allow steam to escape) and cook for about 8-10 minutes until curry thickens, stir from time to time to make sure curry does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Take off the heat. If desired, using a potato masher, mash some of the kidney beans in one corner of the pot; this will thicken the sauce a little bit while keeping most of the kidney beans whole.

6. Serve with cooked grains or flatbread and garnish with toppings as desired.

Tips:

You can add more water to the curry after the last step if you prefer a thinner consistency.

You can buy all the spices at a bulk store if you prefer to buy smaller amounts.

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Restorative Sesame Golden Milk

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Anyone else feeling the cold-weather slump? Silly question, really. I think it’s inevitable living in the ever changing climate of Southern Ontario. Unless you live in a part of the world where each season is marked by date alone, there is a unique collection of weather events, shifting temperatures and a transformation of the flora and fauna that marks the passing of time. Along with this there is a shifting of mood and feelings, an ebb and flow of emotions and thoughts. The summer months echo a lightness and carefree attitude, whereas as the daylight grows scarce and the thermometer gauge plummets, there is an inherent introspectiveness and sharpening of emotions as winter settles in for the long haul.

And by this point in the year it definitely feels like the long haul. With the holiday season now a distant memory, the bright twinkle light displays being turned off one by one, we hunker down to endure the rest of winter. I know that sounds like I hate winter. I don’t really, I appreciate living in a part of the world that has seasons with each possessing its own beauty and charm. But winter just seems to last sooooo long! At some point I’m just over it, and judging by conversations with others, that moment where we just want to shake off the chill and ease into the promise of warmth and brightness that spring heralds starts to germinate in January, grows in February and explodes in March. We are all just weary by March. And then somehow spring arrives, at first with a whisper and then unfurling with ever growing momentum. And before we know it we are basking in the breeze of the first warm-weather day in our short sleeves, soaking up the sweetness of a sun-drenched day, breathing in deeply as the first blooms release their heady aromas and the melody of chirping birds matches the soaring elation we feel deep in our souls. Ahhhh, we shall be there soon my friends. For now we make do with the mesmerizing sun glinting off snow blanketed fields and ice covered tree branches, cozy sweaters and thick cable-knit socks, hearty meals and soothing tonics.

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 Enter this brightly-hued, restorative drink. It is a creation borne of my seemingly unending obsession with turmeric – a vibrant, orange-yellow spice known as much for its earthy flavour as for its health benefits, and my love of sesame. Turmeric contains a well-studied, powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compound called curcumin – the claims of its health benefits backed up by good science. Now I don’t want anyone thinking that we are all in a constant state of inflammation – that’s just not the case. But if you suffer from arthritis, joint aches, allergies, general pain, well then curcumin can only help! And it has well established anti-cancer properties too, beneficial for both prevention and treatment (though always consult with your doctor about that.) Curcumin is activated by piperin, a compound in black pepper, otherwise curcumin is not well absorbed by our bodies, hence the addition of a grind of black pepper in this drink (you only need a tiny bit and it doesn’t affect the taste). And now you know! Science is amazing. If you’re not sure if you like turmeric in your drinks, start off with a small amount then build from there. Turmeric is also a great addition to curries, soups, roasted veggies and ginger tea; I often cook my grains with a few dashes too, waking up pale rice, quinoa and millet with a golden glow. Warming cinnamon and protein and omega 3 rich hemp hearts round out this soothing drink to nourish from within. You can drink it cold or slightly warmed.

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Sesame Golden Milk

Makes 1-2 servings

Prep Time 5 minutes

 Ingredients:

2 cups (500ml) unsweetened almond milk (or other non-dairy beverage)

2 medjool dates*

2 Tablespoons (30ml) hemp hearts

2 Tablespoons (30ml) raw sesame seeds**

1/2-1 1/2 teaspoons (2.5-7.5ml) ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon (5ml) virgin coconut oil

a small pinch freshly ground  black pepper

 Directions:

1. Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until completely smooth. Store in an airtight container or jar for up to 2 days.

*soften in boiling water for a few minutes if firm

**soak overnight if you’re blender is not powerful enough to break them down completely

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 PS Listening to this tune while writing about my longing for warmth and sunshine surely helps. I’m in love with this guys music. All of it. Didgeridoos, harmonicas, guitars, drums and bird sounds.