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February Food Blog: Vegetable pitas w/ white bean hummus

For Valentine’s Day, I was out with the Harboring Hearts team for a fundraiser at the Ainsworth – so the following day, I decided to cook my mom a (belated) heart-healthy V-day special.  Since I’ve been involved in Harboring Hearts, and February is heart month, I felt that the best way to show my mom I love her was by serving a dish that was as delicious as it was nutritious.


And it honestly was – I loved the way the freshly-made white-bean puree / ‘hummus’ gave it a layer of great flavor (instead of a fattening sauce), and it served as an extra dose of nutrition with the vegetables & nuts. Plus – it was so easy to make in the food processor!

Remember: even though February (Heart Month) is coming to a close, you can always show your loved ones that you care by making something heart-healthy & delicious! And don’t forget to remind them to take care of their hearts by getting routinely checked out.

For this dish, I googled what kinds of spices are used together in Mediterranean food and went from there.  Giving a bit of thought to nutrition for my health-conscious mom, rummaging through the fridge & pantry, and with a little inspiration from Food Network, I came up with this:


Vegetable pitas & white bean hummus


Whole wheat pita pockets


For the ‘hummus’:

 

1 (15-ounce) can white beans (cannellini) or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 to 2 tablespoons water

handful of grated parmesan (can use manchego or pecorino romano cheese)

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper
(this is a slightly altered recipe from Food Network for white bean puree)


For the vegetables:


3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped into quarters

1 red pepper, chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

1/2 tsp thyme (add more to taste – didn’t actually measure it!)

1/2 tsp oregano (“)

fresh feta cheese, crumbled

dried cranberries (“craisins”)

Optional: handful mint, chopped

 

Directions:

 

Heat olive oil on big saute pan with pinch or two of black pepper.  Turn heat low to cook garlic till it releases its fragrance (under a minute), then add onions and cook for another minute.  Add peppers, cook for a couple minutes, watching it so it softens only slightly.  Add zucchini and cook till desired tenderness.  Add thyme, oregano, s&p, stir and add more to taste.  Add generous handful of craisins and stir.  Remove pan from heat and add crumbled feta (and mint if available) to the vegetables, stirring gently.

Combine the white beans, water, cheese, lemon juice, salt and red pepper flakes in a food processor (I used a blender) and puree until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil and process until fully incorporated and velvety. Season with pepper to taste. (also from Food Network)

Lightly toast the pitas in an oven/toaster.  Spoon in some hummus to coat the inside and then add vegetables. Add more hummus and mint to the top if desired, and enjoy! 🙂

 


Note: You can also see this post and more on my personal food blog, http://itsallfoodlove.blogspot.com.  Thanks! -Pareesha

 

 

Meatless Monday – Round 2

If you read my first post about Meatless Monday, the general theme of the day was HUNGER.  I couldn’t seem to eat enough to keep me going until the next meal.

After I posted my first Meatless Monday blog, I received amazing advice from Meatless Monday participants and my vegetarian friends.  This time around, I was better educated and better equipped to take on a meatless day!

Looking back on this past week, I had some interesting conversations with my friends regarding food choices for our health and for the environment.  One particular conversation about meat – well, fish to be exact – stood out to me.

I love fish from sushi grade tuna to baked salmon.  There have been numerous studies about the heart health benefits of eating fish such as reduced calories and omega-3s.  However, it has been difficult for me to find fish at grocery stores that have been raised in a sustainable environment. I can find other meat products that are raised using sustainable farming methods, so why not fish?

I discussed this conundrum with one of my friends and she later sent me a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium – Seafood Watch site.  This site provided me with in-depth information to answer my question and educated me for my next shopping trip to the grocery store. I learned that many of the world’s fisheries are in a decline and face issues such as over fishing and habitat damage. Even the use of fish farms can have negative impacts on the environment.

Now, I’m not saying I will eliminate fish out of my diet.  I will still continue to eat fish and take advantage of the omega-3s to benefit my heart.  However, to ensure the longevity of the ocean’s ecosystem while enjoying my meal, I will learn about what fish to eat so I can simultaneously improve my health and the environment’s health!  Please check out the website and let me know your thoughts.

Also, many of you emailed, tweeted and Facebook messaged me about participating in Meatless Monday.  Tell me about your experiences, send me recipes (I like to cook and bake) and/or share restaurant suggestions.

If you live in NYC and want to eat out for Meatless Monday, Michelle Javian (Co-Founder of Harboring Hearts) ordered from Sacred Chow last night.  They serve delicious vegan foods!

This is what I ate yesterday (January 30th, 2012):

Breakfast:

  • Rice cakes with almond butter
  • Greek yogurt with honey, oats and blueberries

Lunch:

  • Sautéed asparagus and brussel sprouts
  • Mashed cauliflower (This is my favorite alternative to mashed potatoes.)
  • Tomato and lentil soup with rice
  • Blue Print Green Juice

Snack:

  • Rice crackers wrapped in Japanese nori
  • Baby carrots with hummus

Dinner:

  • Shashuka with gluten-free bread

My first “Meatless Monday” experience

Have you heard of “Meatless Monday”?

Meatless Monday is a NPO in association with John Hopkin’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Their mission is, “to help [us] reduce [our] meat consumption by 15% in order to improve [our] personal health and the health of the planet”.  They accomplish this initiative by encouraging others to remove meat from their diet for just one day a week.

Our intern, Pareesha, brought “Meatless Monday” to my attention last week and asked if I would go meatless for one day.  The answer was immediately, “Yes”.  As a co-founder of a heart organization and an avid heart health advocate on behalf of my organization and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women, I believe that I should practice what I advocate.

Well, yesterday was Monday, January 23, 2012 and I went meatless.

Before I get into my meatless experience, let me tell you a little about myself and my eating habits.  I am an omnivore, but I eat fairly healthy and I am very aware of the foods that I put in my body.  I continually educate myself on how to eat healthy and I am always on the hunt for healthy alternatives.

However, going meatless for a day was harder than I imagined. Maybe it was because I did not prepare my food before work and I had to find meatless yet filling dishes at restaurants.  I say filling because finding meatless options was not the challenge.  The challenge was finding food options that would keep my energy level up until the next meal.

I started the day with 2 rice cakes with peanut butter.  By 10:30am, I was starving!  I ate the baby carrots I packed for my mid-afternoon snack. By noon, I was starving again.  Trying to think on an empty stomach proved to be difficult but I was determined to find a meatless option that was not a salad.  I ended up ordering a delicious Mediterranean Shakshuka (a tomato, onion, pepper stew) at a nearby restaurant.  Yay, success!  By 3:00pm, I was starving…again!  I cursed myself for not ordering a side of rice with my lunch.  Well, next time I’ll do better.  I scrounged around my bag and found a KIND bar (a fruit and nut bar) and I devoured it. I then ran downstairs to a health food store and ordered a raw veggie juice to increase my vegetable intake for the day.

I thought dinner was going to be a challenge because I had made plans to grab dinner with friends I have not seen in awhile.  Luckily, the menu was diverse and I ate a boston bibb salad and a butternut squash pasta dish.

So, my first attempt at “Meatless Monday” was quite an adventure and a learning experience.  I know I will need to educate myself on meatless options for next week but I think it was a successful day.  I was able to engage in dialogue with my friends about what going meatless meant to me and I was able to sign up a few more people to join the movement!

So what does going meatless mean for me?

Going meatless, even just once a week, can reduce my risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  By not eating meat, I increased my fiber and vegetable intake in just one day.

What I learned through my experience is that reducing my risk of life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease just requires small and minor adjustments to my lifestyle.

Replace chicken with tofu.  Replace red meat with beans.  My fellow Go Red For Women sister, Gail Mates says it perfectly. “It’s about small simple changes that can save your life”.

The health benefits to reducing your meat intake are the most obvious reasons to participate in “Meatless Monday” but were you aware of the benefits to the environment?  Well, I was not aware that by cutting out meat, we can reduce our carbon footprint, minimize water usage and even reduce fossil fuel dependence.

I recognize that just one person reducing their meat intake will not affect our environment, but imagine if every single one of us cut out meat for just one day.  How would that affect your body?  How would that affect Earth?  How would that affect future generations?

I hope you would consider joining me and participate in “Meatless Monday”.  Tell me about your experiences!