Butter Bean and Spinach Smash

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I never thought I’d be the kind of person to own a book called “The Detox Bible”. I don’t believe in detox diets – namely because I feel our bodies are perfectly capable of doing all the detoxification that they need, and don’t need magical juices or powders to help them along. I also don’t believe in “bad” foods that must be avoided at all costs, unless of course, you have an allergy. Nevertheless, when a local bookshop was having a sale on cookbooks and slashing prices by 75%, I’m willing to be more open to things.

I have to say, this book pleasantly surprised me. It’s wheat, refined sugar and dairy free (all of which I happily ignore when it suits me), but really, it’s pretty well balanced. It’s more often a case that these recipes are naturally free of these devil ingredients, than a case of the authors moving heaven and earth to swap these perfectly fine ingredients with ridiculous substitutions. I appreciate such common sense approaches, even if I don’t subscribe to the core philosophy.

Anyway, I digress. This dip is why I bought the book. It’s the first page I opened to when I was flicking through it at the store, and I was immediately sold. I love beans. Like, LOVE beans. My family aren’t quite as enthusiastic, so while I use them regularly, I rarely make them the star of the dish… Until now. Combined with an array of crudités, this dip makes an extremely healthy, delicious, filling and cheap work lunch that will make you feel like some kind of nutritionally superior god/dess for only 240 calories (it’s 170 by itself). Did I mention it’s delicious?! Because, seriously, even I was taken aback with just how GOOD this is. Off a spoon, with crackers, as a bed for your egg – it just works with everything, and my new addiction.

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 handfuls of baby spinach (about 25g)

400g butter beans, drained and rinsed (butter beans are lima beans – I had no idea!)

1tsp olive oil

1tbs lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup chopped raw vegetables to serve

Method

  1. Place all ingredients except the crudités into a blender and pulse into a chunky consistency (you can make it completely smooth if you prefer. I like it chunky – the butter beans are creamy enough to provide a lovely texture). If it won’t break down, add a teaspoon of water to help it along.
  2. That’s it. It couldn’t be easier.

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Baked Sweet Potato with Burghul Chilli

Every now and then I think about vegetarianism. I think I’d be good at it. There are SO many good vegetarian dishes that highlight amazing ingredients rather than try to compensate for the lack of meat, and I appreciate that greatly. However, at the end of the day, I enjoy eating meat (although I don’t need to eat it every day) and don’t believe in completely cutting out entire food groups from my diet ( I have no issue at all if you do, I just don’t want to, for various reasons). In saying that, I don’t miss meat at all when I have a great veg meal, and I find myself having more of them lately. I seem to find myself creating delicious vegetarian lunches to take to work, because then my hubby and kids aren’t being forced into anything, I don’t need to worry about balancing nutrients for anyone except myself (which I already do anyway), and I’m cutting down on unnecessary meat, without making any massive changes. I guess I’m coming across a totally uncommitted, fake, wannabe vegetarian, and I’m absolutely okay with that. I’m not any those things, really, least of all a vegetarian; I just love vegetables and experimenting with both cooking and eating, and this seems to be my thing du jour. I think I’ve struck a good balance. I hope so. I can’t say there have been any negative effects since reducing the extraneous meat consumption, and I’m still getting adequate levels of quality protein. Win win!

This vegetarian chili, adapted from The Women’s Weekly’s Eat Well With Wholefoods, is the perfect example of a completely whole meal in and of itself, that is delicious, filling, and complex in flavours and textures. It makes the perfect at-work lunch or light dinner, and at only 304 calories a serve, nobody would blame you if you popped a drained can of tuna in there to bulk it up a bit and/or satisfy the carnivores in your pack. Honestly, though, it doesn’t really need it – it’s filling and hearty just as it is. Conversely, if instead of being a fake vegetarian, you wanted to go the other way and make it vegan, all you need to do is omit the yoghurt. Talk about a crowd pleaser!

Serves 2

Ingredients

Spray oil, or 3 tsp of olive oil

300g sweet potato, cut into large cubes

1 brown onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 clove garlic

1 tsp minced ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp paprika

1 can diced tomatoes

50g burghul

salt and pepper to taste

4 tbs natural yoghurt (I use Danone yopro – high protein, no sugar, thick and creamy)

Dried parsley to serve.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Arrange sweet potato on baking tray and spray/drizzle with 2 tsp of the oil. Roast for 45 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low and cook onion and carrot for 10 minutes.
  3. Add all the spices, and stir until combined and aromatic, about 1 minute.
  4. Pour in tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add burghul and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Season and remove from heat.
  5. Tumble sweet potatoes on to two plates. Spoon the chilli over the vegetables, and top with yoghurt and parsley to serve.

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Curried Lentil and Tomato Stew

I’m still feeling the effects of Maypril (with all the family birthdays plus Easter in this period, hubby and I long ago decided to combine the period from the end of March to beginning of May into one big, expensive conglomerate of cake), and am also in the middle of school holidays, which means my routine has been shot to absolute bits. As a bit of a creature of habit, I’m really yearning to get back to my “New Normal” – that is, the routine that I know allows me to eat a balanced and delicious diet (with room carved our for treats of course!) at regular times, stay active, and control my nutritional intake, while maintaining my weight. While this month has not been a disaster in the sense that I didn’t magically regain 53 (or any) kilos like I felt I surely would, I still haven’t been eating well, and I can feel “old Michelle” issues coming – I’m not sleeping well, I feel bloated, and I’m starting to run out of steam. I know I say that it’s all about Calories In Calories Out, but at this stage of the long-term game, it’s really not. Not every calorie is made equally, and you can’t eat 500 calories worth of chocolate and expect to feel the same as when you eat 500 calories of high quality protein, veggies and wholegrains. Trust me, I know this from experience!

Except for my husband’s birthday next week, I’m all out of Maypril madness so I’m back on track, and so, so happy about it! This is how I know this is a true, permanent lifestyle change for me – fun is fun, but it’s only fun for a very short while. Then I’m itching to go back to New Normal, and don’t feel the slightest bit deprived. New Normal is liberating, and it’s something I jealously guard. I refuse to give it all up for a lifetime of bloat and regret. But then, I also refuse to give up cake, so it’s all a big, mindful balancing act.

Throughout the past four weeks, it’s been lunches that have been the most difficult thing for me to plan. So to mark getting back to New Normal, I meal prepped lunch for the next couple of days. With how much rich, fatty food I’ve devoured lately, a light vegetarian option was absolutely needed, and this stew, adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Ina Garten, who probably adapted it from another recipe that mine doesn’t even faintly resemble (like culinary Chinese Whispers!), fit the bill perfectly. It’s simple to make, low calorie (175 calories), packs a punch, freezes well, costs almost nothing to make, and chances are that you won’t even have to go to the shop, as it’s a meal of staples (you absolutely can use tinned tomatoes, in fact SK’s recipe calls for them. I only used fresh because I have too many and they’re starting to turn). This recipe serves 4, but you can adjust the ratios to make more or less. Four is great though, as it’s the whole can of lentils, so no waste.

Ingredients

3 second spray olive oil

1 brown onion, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 tsp minced ginger

2 tsp minced garlic

6 small tomatoes, finely diced

Small pinch sea salt flakes

1 cup drained tinned lentils

2 cups vegetable stock (chicken stock works well, too)

1 heaped tsp curry powder

1 tsp dried basil

Pepper, to serve.

Method

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan, sweat onion and carrots over a medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add ginger and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt and lentils, mixing to combine. Cook for 3 minutes until tomatoes soften.
  3. Add stock, curry and basil, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat back to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and stewed.
  4. Serve with cracked pepper.

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Spicy Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll never make it as a vegetarian, and certainly would fail miserably as a vegan. I’d give myself until my second meal until I slipped up on something minor (like the time I put sprinkles on vegan cupcakes for a vegan family member – luckily, I caught myself just in time to decorate the second half with berries), and just give up altogether.

In saying that, I’m playing around with vegetarian lunches a lot – not for any real ethical or health benefits (although I do recognise that there are both, and the hipster hiding inside me tempts to say that’s the case!), but because there are so many delicious options. I still don’t see myself giving up animal products for more than a few hours, but I’m REALLY digging meat free meals more and more these days.

I’ve had Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella since it came out. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who does this, but when I get a new cookbook, I read it cover to cover, then attack it with post-it notes to indicate what recipes I want to cook, and ideas on how to make them my own. Yes, I’m a little crazy, and it’s hereditary, because even at 7 years old, my daughter does the same thing. How Nigella’s recipe for warm spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad with pomegranate seeds wasn’t instantly post-it-ed is a mystery, but the page flicked over while I was looking for her chilli recipe for later in the week, and I haven’t been able to think of anything else since.

As always, I’ve made the recipe a little more calorie-conscious, and to suit my taste preferences. I also skipped some olive oil, because 3 tablespoons was it was just too much – I like extra virgin olive oil as much as the next foodie, but I have my limits, both for taste and caloric intake. I also switched the parsley that Nigella recommends for my beloved baby spinach, and used sambal oelek instead of harissa. The results were phenomenal, and I’m so looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Serves 2-3, at 312 calories for a third.

Ingredients

1 small head of cauliflower

1tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp allspice

1tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, drained

2 tomatoes, chopped

1tbs sambal oelek

60g baby spinach

75g pomegranate arils

Method

  1. preheat oven to 220C.
  2. Cut cauliflower into medium sized florets.
  3. Combine oil and spices in a large bowl. Add cauliflower and mix to coat. Tip onto a baking tray and keep bowl aside, uncleaned. Bake cauliflower for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, add the chickpeas and tomatoes to the oily bowl, and mix to coat. Add sambal oelek and stir to combine well.
  5. When cauliflower is ready, remove tray from oven, and tip the chickpeas and tomatoes over the cauliflower. Return to oven for another 15 minutes.
  6. Lay the roasted vegetables over a bed of baby spinach. Scatter pomegranate seeds over the top and serve.

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