Quinoa Salad

I never know what to bring to potlucks. It has to be easy, preferably healthy, but also tasty so that the non-vegetarians in the room don’t balk. I figured quinoa would be a little out of the ordinary, but my usual broccoli quinoa routine wasn’t going to cut it. After deciding on a quinoa salad, I collected a variety of multi-colored veggies and hoped for the best. Of course after I got home, I realized I didn’t have a dressing so in a pinch I mixed up some lime juice and olive oil. And I have to say I was quite pleased with the results so thought I’d share. It will last for a good week, travels well, and is a great opportunity to introduce friends to the wonders of quinoa!

INGREDIENTS (everything is approximate, I just wing it)

Salad:

2 c cooked quinoa

1 c cubed sweet potato

1 c grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2 c green peppers, diced

1/2 c cooked black beans

1/2 c corn

Dressing:

1/4 c lime juice (I’m a big fan of Santa Cruz Organic Lime Juice)

1/8 c extra virgin olive oil

pinch sea salt

PREPARATION

Boil diced sweet potato for approximately 3 minutes and slice/ dice/ prepare all other vegetables. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk lime juice, olive oil, and salt until well blended and frothy.

Then add the veggies. Toss well and let sit to absorb the flavors of the dressing. What is it about lime juice that makes everything taste fresh and clean?

In a larger bowl, mix the quinoa and dressed vegetables. Tastes as good as it looks!

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Edamame Ravioli

Buddakan. I just like how it rolls off the tongue. Buddakan. A year or so ago, during a conference in Philadelphia, a group of us went to Buddakan for dinner. Buddakan. It’s phenomenal. Go there. I had edamame ravioli and left inspired to figure out how to make it at home. In fact, the search for that recipe is what finally compelled me to do this site (although it still took a while to execute – both the site and the recipe, actually).

Edamame is a great source of protein, fiber, folate, and vitamins K, C, and A. And it’s a whole soy, so no worries about the soy drama.

I use won ton wraps because they’re easy to find and less doughy than regular pasta, but you can use either. Although won ton keeps with the Asian theme…

For sauce, I typically use tofu sour cream with a dash of soy sauce and wasabi blended in, but you could also use a cream or butter sauce. (Or maybe add wasabi to the edamame in the food processor – hmmm…) Whatever floats your boat. But do add some wasabi. It’s the pièce de résistance.

INGREDIENTS (makes about 20 raviolis – if that’s a word)

1 c frozen, shelled edamame

1 c frozen, shelled green peas

2-3 cloves of garlic

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 t salt and pepper

splash of water, if necessary for smooth consistency and for sealing the won ton

1 pkg won ton wrappers

PREPARATION

Bring a pot of water to boil and add edamame and peas. Boil for 5 minutes and drain.

In a food processor, blend cooked edamame and peas, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add a dash of water if necessary so that the mixture is slightly creamy but stiff (it should stick together without being too dry).

Take the won ton wrappers and fill with 1 T of the mixture each. Lightly spread water along all four edges of the wrapper and press to seal.

Let them sit for a few minutes to seal the edges. Can also be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the won tons. Boil for about 5 minutes or until they float to the top. Then remove.

And serve! Pretty. And unusual. Pretty unusual.

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Restorative Sundays

Maybe it’s just me, but Sunday can be a really stressful day. You’re staring down the reality of everything that needs to be accomplished in the upcoming week while trying to catch up with the lingering responsibilities of the week that has just passed. I used to literally find it hard to breathe on Sundays.

I’ve made a lot of changes this year, and one I’m most proud of is a commitment to health and wellness… and yoga. Through yoga, I’ve actually found my breath again, along with more balance, patience, and strength – in so many areas of my life.

I’d heard of restorative yoga before, but always thought of it as a waste of time. Laying around doing nothing. Surrounded by strangers no less. But I couldn’t help but wonder why one of my favorite Tranquil Space yoga teachers – one of the most driving and challenging teachers – also taught restorative yoga. An oxymoron, it seemed.

Until one day I tried it. And now I’m hooked. Every Sunday, three hours of yoga. First a regular practice followed by a restorative class. And every Sunday, I walk home feeling lighter and ready to take on the world.

The beauty is that anyone can do it, anytime, anywhere. 5 minutes? No problem. No props (bolsters, blankets, and blocks)? Just use pillows, blankets/towels, or boxes around your house. Improvise. But don’t skimp on an eye pillow (or cloth), relaxing music, and a little aromatherapy.

A few of my favorite restorative poses:

  • Legs up the wall. Scoot your bum as close to the wall as possible, lay on your back, and rest your legs up the wall. Close your eyes and chill out for 5-15 minutes.
  • Supported child’s pose. Stack some blankets and/or pillows in front of you. Sit back on your heels and spread your knees to form a V shape around your props. Lay forward onto the blankets for support and turn your head to one side, extending your arms forward. Relax here for 5 or more minutes, turning your head half way through.
  • Supported seated twist. Stack some blankets and/or pillows in front of you and fold one across the top to form a T shape. Sit with one hip against the blankets and bend your knees. Turn your torso forward to face the blankets and lay down, turning your head to look in the opposite direction of your knees. Bend your elbows against your body with your hands near your shoulders. Hang out here for 5-15 minutes, then turn and twist to the other side.
  • Supported bound angle pose. Stack blankets and/or pillows behind you. Place a block in between the blankets and towards the back to elevate your head. Sit in front of the blankets and bring the soles of your feet together/knees apart to form a diamond shape with your legs (maybe wrap a blanket around your ankles and between your legs for additional support). Lay back with your arms at your side or extended outward for as long as you like.
  • Supported backbend. Fold or roll one blanket so that it’s approximately 6″ high. Set the blanket on the floor and lay across it so that it’s supporting your mid back (about at your waist, between your hips and shoulder blades). Roll another blanket slightly to place under your neck. Extend your legs or bend them with your knees up (you can also use blankets/pillows to support and elevate your legs). Bend your elbows and extend your forearms above your head, coming into “cactus arms.” Stay here for 5+ minutes. To come out of this pose, lift your hips and remove the blanket from under your back. Lay flat on your back for 30 seconds or so, roll to your side, and then up to a seated position.

Check out a few of these sites to learn more:

Do Restorative Yoga

Elemental Yoga

Restorative Yoga Poses

Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health

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Patacones

Favorite Ecuadorian food #1: quinoa

Favorite Ecuadorian food #2: patacones

Did you know that Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas? Hence, Ecuadorians have a ridiculous amount of banana and plantain recipes. You can poach them, fry them, bake them, make soup out of them… There’s even a whole region of the country simply referred to as “the bananas.”

Patacones are my favorite (followed closely by chifles) probably due to my love of all things fried. When I lived in Ecuador, I couldn’t get enough of them, but since I’ve been home – seven years now! – they’re a) hard to find and b) just not the same…

I’ve attempted to make patacones (also known as tostones in other parts of Central and South America) before, to varying degrees of success and have realized that the key is in soaking and/or boiling the plantain first and using a glass surface for the smashing. Confused? Here’s the step-by-step.

INGREDIENTS

1 plantain

2 c vegetable oil

Sea or kosher salt

PREPARATION

Peel the plantain. It’s a little harder than it sounds, but easy enough if you cut off the ends, make a slice along one side and then gently peel away from the slice.

Once peeled, cut the plantain into 1″ pieces. (These pieces were a bit too big.) I like to cut at an angle.

Add plantain pieces to a pot of water and boil for at least 15 minutes. You can also leave them to soak for several hours.

While the plantains are boiling/ soaking, add the vegetable oil to a large pot and heat on medium high. Drain the plantains and add them to the oil to fry for 2-3 minutes until they become slightly golden and soft.

Remove the plantains from the oil and use a glass to smash them into 1/4″ inch “chips.” Try not to break or crack the plantain in the process – this is where boiling/soaking helps to keep it soft.

Return the plantains to the oil and fry for another 2-3 minutes until they become crunchy on the outside but still slightly soft inside.

Remove from the oil, dry on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. I also like to dip them in tofu sour cream.

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The India Diaries Part VI: Varanasi to Agra

You can’t go to India without going to Agra. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t. Along the way, people told me that it’s not worth the travel to get there. There are so many other wonderful things to see in India, they said. Yet I couldn’t help but think there had to be some reason that it’s one of the wonders of the world. I sortof feel the same way about the Grand Canyon. It’s a big effort to get there for that single moment when you first see it and it takes your breath away. But you have to do it.

Granted, you spend the rest of your time basically sitting around and looking at the thing from various vantage points, but for that moment… I live for those moments.

You can do Agra in a day from New Delhi, via train or private car, but there’s something romantic about staying the night, watching the sun set over the Taj Mahal, and absorbing the vibe of the city. What surprised me most is that you never really hear about the Red Fort (aka Agra Fort; home of the Mogul Empire and, eventually, Taj visionary Shah Jahan). It is massively impressive and could easily overshadow the Taj itself if it wasn’t for that breathtaking first moment that the Taj offers.

I took an overnight train from Varanasi – another ridiculous train scenario where the guards kept turning on the light to keep me safe. Clearly they don’t know how much I value my sleep. And it was COLD, to say the least. So when I arrived in Agra just after dawn, I was eager to get to my hotel, the Tourists Rest House. Alas, they were booked and no rooms were prepared, so I settled into the garden restaurant for coffee and aloo paratha.

What I love about hostel-type accommodations is that you meet the most interesting people. For most of my time in India, I traveled the “mid-range” route, which left little opportunity to mix in common spaces. The Tourist Rest House received high ratings on all the travel sites but since it’s not at the Taj doorsteps, it’s cheap and has that adorable hostel-quality. And so, as I’m sitting there, sleep deprived, cold, and cranky, a nice Aussie asks if he can share my table. We get to talking and before I know it, I’ve agreed to a quick change and then off in his hired rickshaw to visit the Red Fort and the Taj. No rest for the weary, but it was well worth it.

January 30, 2011

Agra memories:

  • Chased by angry monkey – As we were walking through the area below the Taj, some guys were taunting a group of monkeys and I actually thought to myself that the monkey should really let them have it. At the same time, my Aussie friend was photographing some baby monkeys… apparently babies belonging to the taunted monkey, who immediately turned her aggression on a group of us and charged. Everyone ran, but the monkey was faster and I just knew that someone was going down. As if in some out-of-body experience, I instinctively turned and lunged at the monkey. It stopped, barred it’s teeth, and growled. I stood my ground and stared it down for what felt forever but was probably 10 seconds. Then it turned and ran. Thank god.
  • Saw a camel – as we were leaving the Taj Ganj area after dark via rickshaw, I looked out the side and saw these really long, skinny legs next to us. Bending down lower, the full camel came into view. It felt like a scene from movie. There are lots of camels in India, but that’s the only one I saw.
  • Famous at the Taj – Indians love to take photos of and with foreigners. Strange, I know. And it didn’t hurt that my Aussie friend was quite tall. So together we must have had 200 pictures taken during our time at the Taj – with couples, kids, groups of guys, even a school group. While we sat on benches and took in the view, people would literally gather around us and just stare. Super odd.

January 31, 2011

Second day in Agra and strangely missed my new mate. Makes me appreciate the benefits of traveling with others… and how much I miss my friends. We started at Agra Fort with a guide, then to lunch with a Taj view, a couple of hours at the Taj, drinks on a rooftop, and dinner. This is the kind of town where it’s nice to have someone to share it with.

Today I failed to get a bus ticket to Rishikesh after a morning of trying – via bike rickshaw no less (huge fail!). Checked out the bazaar, which was pretty chintzy. Strolled through the south gate area (known as Taj Ganj, where most of the builders lived way back when) and market, buying souvenirs (including naan rolling pins which were later confiscated at the New Delhi airport; jerks). Watched the sun set with a Taj view again. My camera battery died and I missed an awesome garden rooftop top. I guess that’s what memories are for…

*Note: I don’t have any photos from inside the mausoleum because there are signs everywhere asking you not to take photos and all the guards say “no photos” as you enter. And yet, EVERYONE was in there snapping away. A little respect, please! Geez.

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More of my India diaries:

Part I: Mumbai to Panaji

Part II: Panaji to Palolem

Part III: Palolem to Kollam

Part IV: Kollam to Varkala

Part V: Varkala to Varanasi

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Roasted Vegetable Napoleon

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my dear friend Marie’s wedding in Alexandria. Marie was my first real Washington friend and to celebrate her wedding somehow made this place feel lived in. I’ve been in DC more than five years now – long enough to watch people fall in love and get married. That’s a first.

Photo By James Linkowitz

The wedding was perfect – a simple affair at the elegant Lorien Hotel. Love a Kimpton! The bride wore a gorgeous blush gown, guests filled out “Matt & Marie” mad libs, and after a few cocktails the photo booth became super popular. Non-traditional and totally fun!

When dinner was served, I was pleasantly surprised. And inspired! People told me that Brabo was good, but come on, it’s a wedding, right? Even more impressive, their website mentions vegan and vegetarian twice on the homepage. Super impressive! Bravo, Brabo :)

Alas, my humble recreation of the festive Brabo napoleon. I used some of my favorite veggies, but you can easily use anything you like. The premise is to layer thin slices. Sure to impress!

INGREDIENTS (serves 1)

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 small sweet potato (aka yam)

2 onion slices, approx 1/2″ thick

2-3 broccoli florets, sliced in half

1 c raw spinach

4 cloves garlic; 2 whole, 2 minced

1/2 c tofu sour cream (or Tofutti)

Sea or kosher salt

PREPARATION

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Thinly slice sweet potatoes (approx 1/8″ thick) and onion (approx 1/2″ thick). Slice broccoli in half. Mince two cloves of garlic.

Brush oil to cover sweet potatoes and onion, place on a baking sheet (covered in aluminum foil to save scrubbing later), and sprinkle with salt.

Roast in oven at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, roast two cloves of garlic over high heat in a pan (shortcut: use the jarred variety and mix with sour cream, or use a cream sauce for non-vegans).

In a food processor, combine tofu sour cream and roasted garlic (peeled!). Set aside.

In the same pan, add 1-2 t olive oil and sauté two cloves of minced garlic.

Remove from heat and add spinach. Stir a bit until it begins to wilt.

After 15-20 minutes, brush broccoli with oil, sprinkle with salt, and add to the roasting veggies in the oven. Roast for another 5-10 minutes and remove from the oven.

On a plate, layer 4-5 slices of sweet potato (to form a circle), add a slice of onion, spinach, another onion, broccoli, and 4-5 more slices of sweet potato to top. Drizzle garlic cream or dollop on the side. Easy gourmet!!

Consider serving with quinoa or tofu.

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Tofu Sour Cream

As much as I enjoy Tofutti’s Better Than Sour Cream, I must admit that I feel a little guilty about using (and recommending) it. At the end of the day, it’s still a processed food with some decidedly unrecognizable ingredients. When using soy products, your best bet is to stick with the whole food variety (edamame, soy nuts, tofu). In fact, the topic of soy has become so contentious that one could do multiple research projects on the subject (and probably still be a bit confused). We eat processed foods for a variety of reasons, mostly because it’s easy and we’re all too stressed out as it is. *sigh*

My key to sanity and balance is the old mantra “everything in moderation.” And when all else fails, I’m comforted by my family’s impeccable health history. Frankly, if I was predisposed to cancer I might reconsider. That said, I’ve found myself using certain processed soy products often enough that I felt it was time to explore more natural options.

I use the boxed variety of tofu for this recipe which I realize is less than ideal because it includes isolated soy protein, but I like the texture better in this case (I usually loathe the boxed tofu and use the in-water variety 99% of the time). The beauty is that once you have the basics down, there are limitless possibilities for dressings, dips, and sauces. And while it might not be perfect, it beats the alternative.

INGREDIENTS (makes about 1 c)

1 box firm silken tofu (usually in the Asian section of the grocery store)

1 T extra virgin olive oil

4 t lemon juice

2 t apple cider vinegar

1 t brown sugar, packed

1 t salt

PREPARATION

Cut the tofu into cubes and add to a food processor along with olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, and salt.

Gently pulse the food processor to begin to blend the ingredients. Once the tofu cubes have blended, continuously blend for several minutes until the mixture is creamy and well integrated.

Consider adding roasted garlic, basil, Tabasco sauce, wasabi, etc for an extra punch of flavor. Stores for about a week in the refrigerator.

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