Avocado Pops | Seeds and Sprouts seedsandsproutsblog.com/avocado-pops/

Avocado Pops

This post encompasses a hybrid of two of my favorite things to eat. First and foremost, we have avocados. I know, putting avocados into a dessert sounds blasphemous to those without a cult-like passion for the fruit, but keep in mind that avocados are just that: fruit! Cultures south of the border have been using avocados in sweet dishes for ages, and I personally am totally in favor of hopping aboard that delicious train. 

The other thing I love in this recipe is the fact that these are popsicles. Summertime in my kitchen means popsicles, popsicles, and more popsicles. The molds are inexpensive, and once you have them, you’re in store for desserts that require no heat (ideal for sticky weather) and are virtually goof-proof. Just mix up a few sweet ingredients and freeze ‘em in the molds, and they can’t be bad. 

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I got the idea to make avocado pops after having an avocado paleta from Nashville’s paleta place, Las Paletas. It was creamier than a fudge pop, just the right amount of sweet, and with a distinct avocado flavor that completely harmonized with the rest of the paleta. Don’t knock it ’til you try it: if you like guacamole in your burrito bowl, you’ll love this. 

I love a cold sweet treat at the end of a summer day, and there’s a lot less guilt involved with these pops than with ice cream; I know exactly what’s in them, and it’s usually just a mix of fruit and either coconut milk or yogurt. If you haven’t invested in a set of popsicle molds yet, dixie cups work really well – just tear off the paper cups when you’re ready to eat.  Soon, you’ll be a believer in avocado desserts, too: welcome to the club. 

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Avocado Pops
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Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 large ripe avocados
  2. 1/2 cup light coconut milk (the canned kind)
  3. 2 heaping tablespoons honey
  4. 1 tablespoon lime zest
  5. pinch of pink himalayan salt
Instructions
  1. Blend all ingredients together, either by hand or in a blender. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until hard, or about 5-6 hours.
Nutrition
  1. Calories - 183. Carbs - 18g. Sugars - 11g. Fat - 13g. Protein - 2g. Sodium - 22g.
Adapted from Brook & Lyn
Adapted from Brook & Lyn
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Lentil + Quinoa Love Sandwich | Seeds and Sprouts Blog http://seedsandsproutsblog.com

Lentil + Quinoa Love Sandwich

There’s a salad + sandwich place in Cape Town that’s wildly popular – even Michelle Obama ate there on her visit. It’s called The Kitchen, and it features fresh, plant-based dishes – no wonder the health-conscious first lady ate there! When I first tasted one of their “Love Sandwiches,” I immediately knew it had to be first on my list of meals to recreate when back in the states. It’s so simple, and yet it was one of my favorite things I ate while abroad.

Vegetarians and vegans out there know that a great veggie sandwich is a lot harder to find than a great meaty sandwich. Since it’s often easier to make a salad with greens and grains, I rarely make sandwiches anymore (unless it’s a grilled cheese, mmm…). The only problem is, sandwiches are just so perfect for days when you need to pack lunch and eat it on the go. I also think of sandwiches as a kind of comfort food, reminding me of the PB&J sandwiches I devoured daily growing up. 

Lentil + Quinoa Love Sandwich | Seeds and Sprouts Blog http://seedsandsproutsblog.com

This sandwich contains some key ingredients stereotypically found in healthy, vegetarian – dare I say hipster – foods: quinoa, goat cheese, pesto, and avocado. Hummus and roasted red peppers would be two excellent additions, in my opinion. The variations are endless: the main ingredient is the quinoa and lentil cakes that serve as the “meat”. Once you have those on hand, just pile them in with your favorite ingredients over the freshest, nuttiest bread you can get your hands on, and you’ll be in for a real treat. 

Lentil + Quinoa Love Sandwich
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Ingredients
  1. 2 slices of your favorite bread
  2. 2 quinoa cakes, warm or room temperature (see separate recipe)
  3. 2 slices of eggplant, seared in a cast iron skillet or roasted (warm or room temperature)
  4. 1/3 of an avocado, sliced
  5. Small handful of mixed greens
  6. About a tablespoon of goat cheese
  7. About a teaspoon of basil pesto
Instructions
  1. Lightly toast bread, if desired. Spread basil pesto on one piece, and the goat cheese on the other. Place the quinoa cakes on one slice of bread, followed by eggplant and avocado slices. Top with mixed greens and the remaining slice of bread.
Special Diets
  1. Vegan - this sandwich can be made vegan by substituting hummus in for the goat cheese, and using flax seed meal in place of eggs in the lentil + quinoa patties
  2. Gluten Free - this sandwich is gluten free as long as you use gluten free bread, and gluten free oats in the lentil + quinoa recipe
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The Big Kale Smoothie | Seeds and Sprouts Blog seedsandsproutsblog.com

Kale, lemon + ginger smoothie

I love green smoothies in the morning. There’s nothing like the sound of the blender, the smell of lemon, and the kick of ginger and cayenne to wake me up in the morning. In fact, I never feel the need to drink coffee when I begin my morning with a smoothie. 

The exact contents of my morning smoothie largely depend on what’s in my fridge. Some days I rely heavily on a few ingredients if that’s all I have, but my favorite smoothies incorporate a large variety of ingredients.

The Big Kale Smoothie | Seeds and Sprouts Blog seedsandsproutsblog.com

Even though my smoothies vary, I still follow a basic formula for them:

  • 2 cups leafy greens. I almost always use kale, but you can use spinach or any other dark leafy green, or a combination.
  • Banana. I always include a banana to add creaminess and substance. Frozen ones make the drink colder (I suppose that’s obvious), but I usually forget and just use a plain ol’ banana. 
  • Fruit. More fruit to add sweetness – I usually use half a large apple, or a cup of frozen fruit. You can even use half an avocado if you’re feeling particularly crazy.
  • Liquid. We’ll need one cup of liquid – it can be water, milk, or a combination of the two. I usually do half coconut milk, half water. 
  • Extras – make the veggies taste good! I add in a bit of cucumber and a stalk of celery if I have them on hand – they add nice flavor and some extra liquid. Other add-ins in my repertoire include juice from half a lemon, a bit of ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, and fresh parsley.

The Big Kale Smoothie | Seeds and Sprouts Blog seedsandsproutsblog.com

Everything in this smoothie packs a big nutritional punch. Because it contains so many superfoods, this is a good breakfast to start the day fresh and “reset” after an indulgence. For example:

  • Kale is just about the most nutritionally dense food out there, because it contains a crazy amount of essential nutrients such as iron, vitamin K, and calcium while still containing very few calories.
  • Besides containing a ton of potassium, bananas help regulate blood sugar (so you won’t crash mid-morning) and help your body produce the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin.
  • The fat in the coconut milk helps to raise good (HDL) cholesterol; in addition, the magnesium helps regulate blood pressure.
  • The high vitamin C content in lemons not only boosts the immune system, but also helps the body absorb all the other nutrients efficiently. Lemons also help balance the body’s pH system, resulting in a wide variety of benefits from preventing bone loss to warding off UTI’s. 
  • The rich vitamins and minerals found in parsley are excellent at strengthening the immune system and healing the nervous system.
  • Ginger also helps with vitamin and mineral absorption; it also is great at clearing up sinus congestion.
  • Cayenne helps with digestion and boosts metabolism.
  • Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar and bad (LDL) cholesterol. 
  • Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has also been shown to have cancer prevention properties
Kale, lemon + ginger smoothie
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups kale (or other leafy green vegetable)
  2. 1 banana, broken into pieces (fresh or frozen)
  3. 1/2 apple, chopped, OR 1 cup frozen fruit (I used mango)
  4. 1 celery stalk, chopped
  5. 1/4 of a large cucumber, with peel, chopped
  6. Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  7. 1/2 inch of ginger root, peeled and chopped
  8. Several sprigs of parsley
  9. Sprinkle each of turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper
  10. 1/2 cup milk (coconut or almond are best, or simply use more water)
  11. 1/2 cup water
  12. small pinch of pink himalayan salt and black pepper
Instructions
  1. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.
Nutrition
  1. Calories - 275; Carbs - 60g; Sugar - 31g; Fat - 3g
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lentil quinoa cakes 1

Lentil + Quinoa Cakes

I’m baaack! After an indescribable 5 months abroad in South Africa, I’m finally back in the USA and ready to get back in the kitchen. It’s time to jump into summer after weathering through the beginnings of a harsher-than-expected South African winter, and for me that means veggies, veggies, and more veggies! While I loved my South African food, after months of indulging in samosas, rotis, Nando’s, and the weekly Old Biscuit Mill binge (anyone who’s been to Cape Town knows what I mean), I was thrilled to hit up the old farmer’s market and fill up on some greens.

lentil quinoa cakes 2

Today, I made a big batch of these lentil quinoa cakes, inspired by a dish I had while abroad. While at the aforementioned Old Biscuit Mill – a Saturday morning paradise filled with stands of local businesses selling brunch goods – I devoured the best sandwich of my life. The ‘meat’ of the sandwich was a delicious lentil and quinoa creation. Call it a cake, burger, patty, I don’t care: it was delicious. I recreated the sandwich here – and I did not disappoint my memory.  

lentil quinoa cakes 3

I’ve made a variety of veggie cakes in the past, and I love them because they’re wonderfully versatile. These lentil and quinoa patties are no exception. You can top one with a poached egg, throw a few on a salad, add bread and make it a sandwich, or make a yogurt-based sauce to dip some in. The possibilities are endless, and non-vegetarians tend not to feel as if they’re missing out on meat. Today, I ate them over mixed greens tossed with lemon and olive oil for a delicious lunch. 

With and iron-rich lentils and quinoa high in protein and fiber, the cakes are incredibly satisfying and keep me going for hours without growing hungry. One recipe makes a lot of little patties, so I’m looking forward to finding ways to gobble these up all week long!

Lentil quinoa cakes 4

Lentil Quinoa Cakes
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup dried green or brown lentils
  2. 1 tsp ground turmeric
  3. 1 tsp ground ginger
  4. 1 tsp ground cumin
  5. 1/2 tsp chili powder
  6. 1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
  7. About 3 tbsp coconut oil (or other oil with a high smoke point, such as grape seed oil)
  8. 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  9. 2 garlic cloves
  10. 1/2 cup oats (or oat flour)
  11. 2 eggs, beaten
  12. 1 tsp each salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, add lentils, turmeric ginger, cumin, and chili powder to two cups water and bring to a boil. Let simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. While the lentils simmer, add quinoa to a saucepan or rice cooker with 2 cups water and cook until all water is absorbed. Let both the lentils and the quinoa cool.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a pan and sauté the garlic and onions until golden and tender. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. If using oats, blend oats in a food processor on high speed to create a flour.
  4. When lentils have cooled, add them to the food processor and blend until only a few whole lentils remain. Add the lentils to a large bowl along with the quinoa. Add 2 tablespoons oat flour, eggs, salt and pepper. Stir until well-combined. If the mixture appears too wet, add more oat flour; if it appears too dry, add a bit more egg.
  5. Heat oil in a pan, preferably a cast iron skillet, over medium heat. With your hands, form patties by taking small handfuls, rounding the dough into balls, and flattening it out with your hands. Sprinkle both sides with remaining oat flour (this creates a nice crust). Sear the patties, letting them cook about 4-5 minutes on each side. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Special Diets
  1. Vegans can substitute each egg for one tablespoon of flax seed meal and 3 tablespoons water - just mix the flax seed meal and water together in a separate bowl and let sit for a minute or two before adding.
  2. To make this recipe truly gluten free (for those very sensitive to gluten), use oats or oat flour that are certified gluten free.
Nutrition
  1. Serving size: 2 small cakes. Calories: 234; Fat: 7.7g; Carbs: 32g; Protein: 11g
Adapted from MindBodyGreen
Adapted from MindBodyGreen
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Eggplant Tower

Eggplant Tower {with goat cheese, mushrooms, & beans}

There’s a coffee shop by my school that’s my go-to place for high-quality, inexpensive food. If you live in Nashville or watch the TV show, you’ve probably heard of Fido – I certainly didn’t discover it. My mom is the one who first told me about it; after helping me move in to my freshman dorm, she spent her evening there, sipping wine and relaxing with a book from the bookstore across the street. It’s typically packed with students and hipster Nashvillians, all gathering to grab cups of Instagram-worthy coffee.

Latte from Fido

When I go there for lunch or dinner, I nearly always get the same thing: the eggplant tower. It tastes like a deconstructed, sexier cousin of eggplant parmesan and features one of my favorite foods in the world: goat cheese. After nearly two months away from Nashville and from Fido, I decided to recreate the dish before I head off to Cape Town on Monday.

As with nearly everything I cook, I served the meal to three tough judges (plus one easy judge, who loves nearly everything I make). My mom, usually the most eager to try my cooking, despises eggplant. My dad and brother generally feel lukewarm towards my cooking, due to its distinct lack of meat. They all agreed upon a sole complaint about the meal: there wasn’t enough of it. They wanted more!

Eggplant Towers

I’ll admit that the portion size was on the smaller side – in the future, I would add a more substantial side dish like quinoa or simply make slightly more of the eggplant towers. But to be clear: this meal was eagerly gobbled down by a sworn eggplant hater and two men who denounce vegetarian dishes as rabbit food. Fido was definitely on to something.

The most important step in this recipe is drying out the eggplant with salt – that way, I avoided the soggy, rubbery texture eggplant sometimes takes on. With the moisture removed, the eggplant slices are blank palates, perfect vehicles for all the goodness that goes inside.

Roasted red onions

Beans, mushrooms, and garlic sauteed

The insides are layered with goat cheese, a bean and mushroom mixture, roasted red onions, and tomato sauce. I bought a high-quality jarred tomato sauce because I was feeling a bit lazy, but it would be even more fabulous with homemade sauce – I would recommend one with roasted red peppers in it.

Eggplant Tower

I’m still sad I won’t be returning to Nashville until August, but at least now I know I can replicate my favorite meal quite easily at home.

Eggplant Tower

Eggplant Tower {with goat cheese, mushrooms, & beans}

Yield: 4-5 servings

This irresistible eggplant tower is stuffed with cannellini beans, mushroom, goat cheese, red onions, and tomato sauce. Serve with a side salad for a light meal, or add an extra side for a more substantial meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • kosher salt
  • 2 small-medium red onions, thinly sliced.
  • grapeseed oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, for seasoning
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp red wine (optional)
  • About 12 oz tomato sauce (1.5 cups)
  • 4 oz goat cheese

Instructions

  1. Slice the eggplants into equal slices, about the width of your thumb. Place on a double layer of paper towels, and salt liberally with kosher salt - this dries out the eggplant to improve the texture. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. When finished, use a paper towel to wipe off the excess liquid and salt.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F. Heat a skillet with oil and saute garlic until fragrant and lightly golden. Add mushrooms and cook until brown and tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and season with oregano, paprika, red wine, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat and let sit.
  3. Toss sliced onions with grapeseed oil, salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet.
  4. When the eggplant is done drying out, brush sides with grapeseed oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Place eggplant slices in a single layer on a baking sheet (or two, if necessary)
  5. Place both the eggplant slices and the onions in the oven. Remove the onions when they are soft slightly browned, about 12 minutes. After 15 minutes, flip the eggplant slices over and let roast for another 10-15 minutes. The slices should be golden and tender.
  6. Reduce oven heat to 375F. On a single baking sheet, make the eggplant towers. The first layer is a slice of eggplant. Then, crumble goat cheese on top. Add the bean and mushroom mixture, followed by a smattering of the onions. Top with a large spoonful of tomato sauce, and repeat the whole layer one more time. After completing the cycle the second time, top with a third eggplant slice. Finish off with another spoonful of tomato sauce and a few sprinkles of goat cheese. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until heated through.
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Chocolate molten lava cake

Dark Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes {grain free}

I can never trust a person who says they don’t like chocolate. It’s just unnatural. How can a person not be tempted to indulge in the buttery and smooth, yet delightfully bitter flavor of chocolate? If you are one of these such people, I apologize if I’ve offended you, and you should probably stop reading this now – this recipe won’t interest you in the slightest.

Gluten free grain free clean eating dark chocolate molten lava cake recipe

For the rest of you sane people, carry on and learn about this delicious dessert. It’s so quick to make, you can whip it up when a chocolate craving strikes and it’ll be ready before the craving becomes unbearable. It’s so delicious, the first time I made it I forgot to add any butter or oil – and it still tasted fantastic.

That being said, I do recommend using some kind of fat – butter or oil – in this cake. Butter lends the best taste and texture, but coconut oil tastes equally sinful – the texture is just a bit dryer, less ‘lava-like’. To ameliorate the situation, try one of these three options:

  1. Use straight-up buttah. This is a treat, after all. Plus if it’s organic butter, you can feel a little better about it.
  2. Use coconut oil. Convince yourself that this dessert is so healthy that you could really have it every night if you wanted. Cook it for a little less time to keep it nice and lava-y.
  3. Use half oil, half butter. This is what I do for most baked goods – that way, you get the best of both worlds.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

To serve this up on a plate and make it look fancy-shmancy, grease the bowl, mug, or whatever you cook the lava cake in with coconut oil or butter, than coat with cocoa powder. This will keep it from sticking and looking like a (literal) hot mess when you try to flip it out. For me, that takes too much patience and effort – I can’t let it cool for more than a few minutes before I grab an oven mitt and eat it hot from the oven. Whichever method you choose, be sure to eat it soon after it comes out of the oven – otherwise it will just be a chocolate cake, sans lava.

One more note – when choosing chocolate, spend a few extra dollars if you can to support brands that do not use child slave labor. ‘Organic’ labels usually aren’t enough to guarantee that your chocolate is slave-free – look for additional labels such as ‘Rainforest Alliance’ and ‘Fair Trade’; the best chocolates are those that say ‘bean-to-bar’ or ‘Direct Trade’. If you’re interested in learning more, read this helpful article.

Dark Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes {grain free}

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2-3 servings

While it would be a stretch to say that any chocolate cake is healthy, this one comes close. Gluten free, grain free, and vegan, this dessert is a sweet treat for people of all lifestyles - and even those without any dietary restrictions won't be able to tell the difference.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz dark chocolate (75% or more)
  • 5 tbsps butter or coconut oil (or half of each), plus extra for greasing ramekins
  • 4 tsps coconut flour
  • 2 tsps cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 organic eggs
  • 2 organic egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease ramekins with coconut oil or butter, then dust with cocoa powder.
  2. Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter/coconut oil together. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together the coconut flour, cocoa powder, and sea salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and honey/maple syrup.
  5. Add the egg mixture and the chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients together until incorporated. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to allow the coconut flour to absorb some of the liquid.
  6. Divide the batter equally into the ramekins. Bake for 9-12 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the liquid is still quite jiggly. Let sit to slightly cool for 2-3 minutes. Either eat out of the ramekin (be careful, the ramekin will be hot!) or, using an oven mitt, flip the ramekin over and serve the cake on a plate.

Notes

This recipe is naturally gluten free and grain free. To make it vegan, be sure to use coconut oil and/or vegan butter as the fat, and maple syrup or another natural vegan sweetener rather than honey.

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Recipe adapted from Healing Cuisine by Elise

Chocolate molten lava cake

 

Spiced lentils with creamy polenta

Indian Spiced Lentils with Creamy Polenta

Like a lot of vegetarians, rice and beans is a staple of my diet. Although the variations of dishes I can whip up with rice and beans is seemingly endless – and mostly quite delicious – every once in a while I need to give my old stand-by a break. Today, I wanted something with an extra kick, something to wake up my taste buds and get me out of my rut. Enter: Indian-spiced lentils.

Cinnamon, cloves, and cumin

I love making meals inspired by foreign cuisines. I’m familiar with the scents that accompany my traditional American fare, so switching up my routine is a nice jolt to the system – it’s a similar feeling to walking a different route to work or class than usual; it keeps the brain alive and curious.

Traditionally, lentils like this would be served over basmati rice, or perhaps with some naan. Today, though, I’ve been missing the city that’s become my second home – Nashville. It was there that I first tasted the creamy deliciousness that is grits, so I decided to whip up some polenta: Italy’s version of grits.

Indian spiced lentils

Making polenta is similar to making rice, with a  few tricks to getting the perfectly creamy – not gritty – texture.

  • The ratio. I use 5 cups of water: 1 cup dry polenta. Once the polenta is fully cooked, it will firm up if left to cool. to avoid this while waiting for the rest of the meal to finish up, I just keep the heat on low and keep adding a bit of water as needed to prevent it from drying up.
  • Get off to a good startOnce the water is boiling, gradually add the dry polenta while constantly whisking the water. Continue to whisk for a few minutes, or until the mixture is thickened and the polenta doesn’t settle to the bottom when you stop whisking. After that, whisk for a few seconds about once every minute.
  • Keep going. After about 20 minutes, the polenta will likely look done. It’s not. It’ll taste fine,  but after an extra 15-20 minutes it will be utterly smooth and creamy. Cook it for no less than 30-40 minutes – your taste buds will thank you.

Spiced Lentils with Creamy Polenta

Indian Spiced Lentils

Yield: 6 servings

Warm and flavorful with just the right kick of spice, these lentils are sure to delight the tastebuds - and they're easy enough to whip up on a weeknight.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsps fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsps fresh lime juice

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cumin seeds and saute for a few minutes, until fragrant.
  2. Add ginger and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add water, salt, turmeric, and paprika; bring to a boil.
  3. Add lentils and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until water is absorbed and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let stand. Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks. Mix in cilantro and lime juice, and serve over a grain such as rice, naan, or polenta.
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Recipe adapted from epicurious

Eggplant pizza

Eggplant Pizza

There are a handful of flavors that will forever remind me of childhood: macaroni & cheese straight from a blue box, cinnamon toast crunch, and peanut butter & jelly on white bread with the crusts cut off are a few that come to mind. Pizza, in my mind, is the king of nostalgic flavors. A cafeteria food staple, it also reminds me of my family’s tradition of ordering in pizza every Friday night as I grew up.

By using eggplant slices as the base, this ‘pizza’ is much easier to throw together than its traditional cousin; honestly, I have always found the process of kneading pizza dough to be a bit too laborious and intimidating. This healthy substitution also makes the dish lower in carbs and calories. As I took my first bite, I expected it to taste good in the kind of way that a lot of ‘healthy versions’ of classic foods taste; the kind of taste that makes you say “this is good… for a low-fat muffin/gluten-free bread/sugar-free cookie.

The taste was a pleasant surprise as it knocked me off my feet and had me inhaling the rest of the plate. I shouldn’t have been surprised – after all, Julia Child developed the original recipe. The eggplant lends a familiar flavor reminiscent of eggplant parmesan, with a positively juicy texture that is utterly satisfying.

Eggplant Pizza

This meal can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Pressed for time with a sparse kitchen? Simply brush the dried-out eggplant slices with olive oil, top with decent-quality canned marinara, and add whatever cheese you have lying around. Feeling creative? The world is your oyster – try whatever toppings suit your fancy. Next time, I think I’m going to go for some goat cheese and arugula.

Recipe adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen

Eggplant Pizza

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: About 3 servings

This healthy twist on a classic cheese pizza is ideal for a weeknight dinner. Serve with steamed vegetables or a fresh salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • Sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Dried oregano & dried basil
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated fresh mozzarella
  • For the sauce:
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with liquid (or, two large whole tomatoes, peeled & diced)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp thyme

Instructions

  1. Slice the eggplant into 3/4 inch slices, making sure that the slices are equal in thickness. Place the slices on 2 layers of paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt (this helps draw the moisture out to avoid sogginess; don't worry about making them too salty, because we'll wipe off the salt later). Let the eggplant sit for 30 minutes.
  2. While the eggplant is sitting, preheat the oven to 375F. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic until just fragrant - don't let it begin to brown. Add the tomatoes and dried herbs, and reduce the heat to low. With a fork or potato masher, break up the tomatoes as they cook. Let the sauce simmer until it begins to thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Continue to cook the sauce until it is ready to be spooned onto the eggplant slices; if you need, add a few tablespoons of water to keep the right consistency.
  3. After 30 minutes, wipe the moisture and salt off the eggplants until they are dry. Brush or spray both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning, and place on a roasting sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes, so that they are cooked through but not mushy.
  4. While the eggplant is done, remove from the oven and set the oven to broil. Spoon a generous serving of the sauce onto each slice, and sprinkle with cheese. Broil the eggplant pizzas until the cheese is melted and has begun to brown slightly - about 4-5 minutes.
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Lentil & Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

After the bone-chilling cold the infamous Polar Vortex brought us last week, I’ve been in the mood for some good ol’ comfort food: something warm, creamy, and rich. Enter the lentil shepherd’s pie – my new go-to winter dish that even the most ardent meat-lovers enjoy.

Lentils are quickly becoming my favorite winter food. Their slightly nutty, slightly meaty flavor is more than satisfying, and their creamy texture sticks to the ribs in the way that I crave when the temperature dips down to the single digits. The mushrooms and soy sauce lend a wonderfully rich umami flavor, meaning no one will be missing the ground beef traditionally found in shepherd’s pies.

Lentil mushroom shepherd's pie

I made this shepherd’s pie with sweet potatoes, because the superfood packs a much bigger nutritional punch than white potatoes do; however, as you’ll see in these sub-par photos (shepherd’s pie really doesn’t photograph well, at least not by me), the potatoes here look white. That’s because I used Japanese sweet potatoes. I just used them because they were the only kinds of sweet potatoes available to me, but I like how they look like white potatoes – it adds to the illusion that this is a regular shepherd’s pie. Feel free to use any kind of sweet potato – it’ll be more colorful and they all taste pretty much the same.

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Lentil, Mushroom, & Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Yield: 6 servings

This healthy twist on a comfort food favorite will be loved my carnivores, vegans, and everyone in between. Reheated in the oven, it the leftovers make for a perfect lunch the next day or two.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 3/4 uncooked steel cut oats*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound mushrooms; cremini, baby portabella, or a mix
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce*
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Prick each sweet potato several times with a fork, and place them on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a medium pot, combine the lentils, oats, bay leaf and sea salt with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the oats and lentils are tender. Set aside and discard the bay leaf.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350F. While the lentil mixture is cooking, take half the mushrooms and quarter them. Finely chop the remaining half. In a large pot, warm olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the quartered mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Cook until browned and soft. Add the chopped mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent. Lower heat to medium. Add the lentil mixture, followed by vegetable stock, red wine, tomato paste, and soy sauce. Season with oregano, paprika, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.
  4. Peel sweet potatoes with your hands and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth, and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Spread the lentil mixture evenly into a 9x13 inch baking dish - or other large casserole pan. Spoon the sweet potato mixture on top and smooth. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until filling is bubbling at the edges.

Notes

*This dish is gluten-free when you use gluten-free versions of these ingredients - be sure to check the labels!

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Avocado Toast: An Ode to My Favorite Food

Avocados are a food you either love or loathe. For me, they’re my favorite food in the world. I like them on veggie burgers, over rice and bean mixes, on salads, in guacamole – I’ve even had a popsicle made out of avocados, and it was the best popsicle I’ve ever had.

But really, there’s one way of eating avocados that shines above the rest – avocado toast. I love it so much that I rarely do anything else with my precious avocados. You know how at some restaurants, there’s one dish that’s so incredible that it’s all you’ve ever tried, because you’re convinced that nothing can possibly be as delicious as your go-to choice and don’t want to miss out on a chance to enjoy it for the hundredth time? Well, maybe that’s just me. That’s how I feel about the Far Eastland Bowl at the Wild Cow in Nashville, and it’s also how I feel about avocado toast. After all, if I use an avocado to make something other than avocado toast, then I’ve missed out on an opportunity to eat my favorite thing in the world.

I heard somewhere that people can live by just eating avocados and nothing else – now, I’m not sure if I believe that, but they are incredibly nutritious. Here are just a few of the health benefits this fruit has to offer:

  • Monounsaturated fats. These help to lower triglycerides, lower blood cholesterol, and control blood sugar. They’re also high in omega-3′s.
  • Protein. In equal volumes, avocados have more protein than cow’s milk! The protein found in avocados is incredibly bioavailable, and because avocados contain all 18 essential amino acids, it is a complete protein.
  • Folate. This helps promote healthy tissue and cell development – incredibly important for women who are pregnant.
  • Lutein. Avocados contain more than 3 times the amount of this carotenoid than most other common fruits and vegetables. Lutein helps prevent cataracts and may help to prevent breast and colon cancer.
  • Potassium. Avocados have more potassium than bananas! This essential nutrient is vital for the proper functioning of all cells in the body, including the heart, muscles, digestive tract, and bones.

I could go on and on, but let’s just get to the toast.

Step 1: Make toast. Self-explanatory. This is a really tasty slice from my farmers’ market, and good-quality bread makes the dish even better.

Toast for avocado toast

Step 2: Mash avocado. I split a small avocado in two, mash it up in the rind with a fork, an spread it on the toast. You can also use half of a large avocado, and store the other half (the half with the pit)  wrapped airtight in cling wrap in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Avocado Toast 1

Step 3: Smooth and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Again, since this dish is so simple, it is especially important to use high-quality ingredients. I use pink Hawaiian salt – it’s packed with healthy minerals – and freshly ground black pepper.

Avocado Toast 2

Variations: Plain avocado toast with salt & pepper is my favorite – I personally like to savor the taste and texture of avocado without any competing flavors. However, this is also really great with a fried or poached egg on top, and sliced tomatoes make a great addition as well.

Step 4: Indulge.

Avocado Toast 3

This makes a great snack or breakfast on its own. To make it more filling, pair with a soup or hearty green salad.