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FaRAWfel anyone? A fun raw falafel ball recipe to kick of your Meatless Monday.

I’ve been really into raw foods lately. I find that as the weather warms, I like more salads, more smoothies, and lighter, cooler fare. Such choices feel better to me. Raw food fits the bill beautifully, and it energizes me quite nicely. However, there’s no reason we can’t pack our raw goodies with some good old Middle Eastern flair.

Really good falafel can taste meaty. And my raw version tastes very meaty, too!

That’s exactly what my sister Mona and I did with our FaRAWfels. Also known as Raw Falafel. It’s simply a meaty tasting nut pate with Middle Eastern spices tossed in for that special flavah. I noticed a raw taco nut “meat” recipe on Averie’s blog. I tried it and it was awesome. No surprise there. She has great recipes :-) .

Then I decided to take her basic template and put the falafel spices into play and see what happened. Good things, that’s what!

Mona and I enjoyed them for dinner atop a raw kale salad topped with my tahini red pepper dressing. We had this delicious meal recently after taking a nice, long walk around one of NYC’s most vibrant neighborhoods– East Harlem, which is also called el Barrio. Before we get to the recipe, take a look at some of what we saw and we strolled around on a Sunday afternoon. I love that the Barrio has tons of murals and little hidden community gardens:

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FaRAWfels (Raw Falafel)

Modified from a brilliant nut pate “taco meat” recipe of Averie’s on LoveVeggiesandYoga.com. To keep it strictly raw, use all raw nuts and seeds.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Almonds

1/2 Cup Walnuts

1/4 Cup Pecans

1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds

1/3 C Sun Dried Tomatoes loosely packed (I prefer those that aren’t packed with oil. If you used oil packed, you can probably use less olive oil)

2 Tablespoons Middle Eastern Spice Blend of choice (Click here for my blend)

2 Tablespoons paprika

2 Tablespoons za-tar blend of choice (Optional)

2 to 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tsp Salt (or to taste)

Directions:

1. Gather ingredients.

2. To a blender or food processor, toss in nuts, sundried tomatoes, and spices.

3. Add olive oil and blend until the nuts are broken up and the ingredients nicely mixed. Go slow–I like mine a bit on the chunky side, with some whole seeds left. You might need to add a tiny touch of water to get things moving. Go easy if you choose to add water.

4. Roll into balls and serve.

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Am I dreaming here, or is is just Earth Cafe's creamy vegan cheesecakes? They're very real and delicious, I assure you. They're, get this: RAW, gluten free, light on soy, and totally vegan. Find them here: http://earthcafetogo.com/onlinestore/


I said this would be an Almost Wordless Wednesday ;-) . This is I just have to share:  my friend Marisa, a budding professional photographer and former model, took some headshots of me yesterday. So far, this one below is my fave. Of course everyone has a different opinion on which shot they like best, and sometimes those opinions vary wildly from my own. Interesting, isn’t it? Ok, here”s my pick:

My current fave. Like most people, I'm rarely satisfying with pictures of myself, but my friend Marisa did a lovely job of getting several snaps I dug. If anyone wants to hit her up for photography jobs, contact me and I'll connect you to her. Whooo hooo!

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Enjoying a green smoothie in the morning starts my day off on the right note.

I have a secret. I don’t eat breakfast most days. No, actually, I drink it. In the form of a green smoothie. Yes, it looks like green sludge. I actually like that it looks so off-putting, because it tastes amazing. Much more smooth, sweet, and flavorful than you’d ever imagine. Honestly, it’s as good as any smoothie that uses just fruits. Nutritionally, it’s better.

To say this drink has changed my life would almost be an understatement.  If you Google around green smoothies, you’ll find all sorts of recipes and lists of benefits. Some of the benefits I’ve personally noticed:

  • Higher, even energy levels.
  • Better moods.
  • A clean, light feeling because the smoothie is full of fiber and nutrients.
  • Better digestion.
  • Calmer, brighter skin.
  • Food cravings are noticeably reduced.
  • A feeling of accomplishment for having loads of veggies as the first meal of the day. (I think this is important–so much of balanced eating is psychological and emotional as well.)
  • I’ve noticed that the smoothie makes it easier to stick with healthier eating throughout the day.
  • Filling enough to power me through Yoga teaching and practice, without weighing me down.

For some reason, I love drinking my green smoothies out of beer mugs. Never got into beer, so go figure. I do have a lot of random glasses and dishes around. Sometimes I add a drink umbrella for fun.

I’m forever indebted to my friend, clinical nutritionist, and fellow Yoga instructor, Kim Snyder, for blogging so extensively about the green smoothie. I’m so glad she got me into it. It’s made a huge difference in my life.

The smoothies I whip up aren’t exact replicas of any one recipe. The one pictured today was a tropically-inspired combo of frozen spinach, fresh pineapple chunks, banana, and shelled hemp seeds. The hemp seeds add a nice wallop of protein, fiber,  good fats, and zinc to the drink.

Pineapple Spinach Colada Green Smoothie

To serve 2-3

Combine the following in blender:

8 ounces (1 cup) frozen spinach

10 ounces filtered water (more if needed)

1 cup pineapple chunks

1 large banana or 2 small bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons shelled hemp seeds

Stevia or agave nectar (if needed, to adjust sweetness)

Whir up all ingredients except agave nectar or sweetener in blender . Test for sweetness, adding agave or stevia if needed.

Note: By using frozen spinach, you don’t have to bother with ice cubes. If room temp spinach is all you have on hand, though, by all means, use that and just add in some ice cubes.

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Beautiful ground and whole spices. For today's easy Persian and Arabic spice blends, I used pre-ground spices. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/profile/nkzs

Like organizing my shoe collection or that abyss underneath the kitchen sink, putting together some handy spice blends was something I’ve been putting off. Once I did it though, I felt very liberated. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

To be quite honest, I don’t even really know why I kept avoiding this simple, time-saving task. Much like getting a closet or pantry organized, having spice blends handy will save you so darn much time. But I guess the process of putting them together can appear tedious.

But guess what’s a hundred times more tedious? Scooping out bits of spices from multiple jars almost every time you cook!

To save time when making these spice mixes, I bought my spices pre-ground. Sure, you can grind your own, if that’s your thing. Hey, I’ll admit that I have a spice grinder and I do get a real kick out of grinding my own sometimes. But in the interest of saving time, I just used powdered spices, as fresh as I could find them. Since I cook a lot, using these blends up should be no problem.

So here are a couple of handy spice blends of the Persian and Arabic persuasion that I finally rigged up. Feel free to adjust amounts of any (or all) of the spices up or down to suit your personal tastes:

Bria’s Quick Persian Spice Blend (Advieh)

In a clean, airtight jar, combine:

1-2 teaspoons each of ground:

cardamom, cinnamom, nutmeg, rose petals (optional)

1 teaspoon of:

orange peel (dried and finely minced or zested)

Bria’s Easy Arabic Spice Blend

In a clean, airtight jar, combine:

2-3 teaspoons each of ground:

Allspice, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, paprika

1 teaspoon each of:

cinnamon, ginger, sumac

1/2 teaspoon of:

cumin

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Marinated olives! Easy, quick, and tasty. Photo by Stacey Young.

Once, many moons ago, I didn’t like olives. Yes, I know, hard to believe, right, especially seeing as I pretty much live for them now! I think my dislike stemmed in part from the fact that up until a few years ago, most olives available in the United States were mainly canned or jarred and not so high quality. Too salty, to briney, sometimes too mushy. Plus, it didn’t help that the only olives I’d ever really seen were in martini glasses (chic, but not an everyday drink–at least not for me  ;-) ) or embedded in bologna (ick).

A beautiful olive tree. To me, olive trees look like a cross between a shrub and a tree. Either way, they're gorgeous. Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com.

At a long-ago dinner party, though, all of that changed. My friend Amy brought some marinated olives to the gathering, and I decided to take a chance and try them. Boy am I glad I did. They were so fresh, and the herbs (rosemary and parsley, I think) and that extra dousing of olive oil really made their flavors sing.

Look at their silvery leaves! I think those leaves are so beautiful, not to mention the olives themselves.

During my trips to Syria and Spain, I fell a bit deeper in love with the humble yet mighty olive. Their trees are almost more like a cross between a shrub and a tree. They look so non-descript at first, with their cute little silvery leaves. Yet they’re so powerful. One might even say mythical. The amazing olive (and its branch) has played a role in history since ancient times. Even the Koran namechecks the olive, mentioning it six times.

Today’s recipe couldn’t be simpler.  Pick the most gorgeous olives you can find. Drizzle them with the highest quality olive oil you have on hand. Bits of garlic and herbs add color and punch. These marinated olives make a great dinner party appetizer! Remember to put them in the fridge if you don’t gobble them in one sitting.

Levant Style Marinated Olives

1 cup of olives of choice

Olive oil for drizzling

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Herbs of choice (I like parsley best)

Directions:

1. Toss olives gently in a few glugs of the olive oil. Add in herbs and garlic, and toss again.

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Frozen Hot Chocolate with an optional dollop of creamy goat milk yogurt and a dusting of nutmeg to give it a Middle Eastern flair. Leave out the goat yogurt and use a non-dairy milk and voila! It's vegan. Either way, it's elegant, portion-controlled, and so smooth!

Does this ever happen to you? The weather is cold. Even snowing, perhaps, like it is in New York City at this very moment. And all of a sudden, nothing sounds quite as good as a frozen treat of some kind?

This sort of thing definitely happens to me. Maybe it’s the warmth of being indoors. Or not; I’ve had these cravings strike while trudging through a blizzard. No joke.

Craving cool sweets in this type of weather? Why yes, I sometimes do.

At times like these, my easy Frozen Hot Chocolate could fit the bill nicely. It’s quick and simple to make, and there are many options as to how you take your chocolate. You could drink it immediately, or let it chill overnight in the fridge so that it takes an almost pudding-like texture. Plus, there are numerous ways to top this treat. I like to keep it simple, so let’s get right down to the base recipe:

A versatile and easy recipe that can be enjoyed immediately or later on.I prefer mine plain, but a dollop of goat yogurt and a sprinkling of nutmeg looks and tastes lovely, too.

Frozen Hot Chocolate w/Optional Goat Yogurt Topping

Ingredients:

1 1/2 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened dark chocolate

2 Tablespoons agave nectar or granulated sugar (you can adjust this amount to your taste)

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup and also 1/2 cup milk of choice (I used a combo of rice milk and coconut milk)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/1/2 cups ice (approx 8 standard ice cubes)

Optional: extra thick (strained) goat yogurt for topping

Other optional toppings: ground nutmeg, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chocolate shavings. Feel free to get creative or leave out the toppings entirely.

Directions:

1.  Over a low heat, gently melt chocolate chips or chunks. Stir frequently to prevent burning or sticking. Remove from heat and use a spatula to transfer the chocolate to a medium-sized bowl.

2. Into the chocolate, whisk in the sweetener of choice, adjusting the amount to your taste.  Whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla extract and make sure the mixture is well-blended.

3. Let this mixture cool slightly, then stir in 1/4 cup of the milk. (You could stop here and have a very thick, rich, no bake mousse/pudding like scenario. Or you could continue on. . .)

4. Now puree chocolate mixture, the 1/2 cup of milk and the ice in a blender.

5. Divide between 4 shot glasses or espresso cups. Enjoy immediately, or chill overnight and top with toppings of choice. If you chill this mixture overnight, it will have a thicker texture that’s almost pudding-like that you can drink or enjoy with a spoon.

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Double Cabbage Salad travels well and is so satisfyingly crunchy! This pic shows the salad naked, but it travels well when dressed. Love that.

I love salads. Yes, I’m quite aware that some people might not believe me when I say this. That’s understandable. In too many instances, salads are a lame side dish or something to be “gotten through” en route to the main meal.

Let’s take a moment, though, to open our minds to the possibilities. Salads can be so creative, so colorful, and satisfying enough to serve as a meal. Plus, they’re so energizing–full of vegetables and whatever other goodies your imagination can invite to the party. I eat a large salad for lunch several times a week. I do this for many reasons–it’s healthy, filling, and, assuming it’s the right kind of salad, the meal can be made ahead and travel well.

Yes, salads can travel well. Today’s salad, for instance, travels like a real champ. With the right kind of container, you can take the Double Cabbage Salad on the road already dressed. In fact, the cabbages are so sturdy that they hold up well to dressing, and even taste better after having soaked in the dressing for awhile. It’s like a bit of marination on-the-go.

Get creative with the ingredients and toppings for this salad. I love to chop up an avocado right before serving and top the salad with it.

My Yoga amiga Renee inspired this dish. She brought her own cabbage salad to a raw food dinner party some mutual friends threw recently. We all raved at the crunch and amazing taste. Once home, I created my own spin on this salad.

Today’s recipe is deliberately imprecise. Feel free to get creative with the ingredients. I sure do! Every time I make this salad, it’s a bit different. Today, for instance, I was out of celery, so I left it out. But I did have red bell pepper on hand, so I tossed in a few pieces for a sweet flavor and gorgeous color. Ok, here we go with a basic template for a Double Cabbage Salad. Feel free, by the way, to post your ideas on what  you’d add in the comments section.

Double Cabbage Salad With Tahini Lemon Garlic Dressing

Ingredients:
For the Salad:

Equal parts chopped savoy and purple cabbage

1/2 small onion, finely diced

1/2 bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup walnuts (toasting optional)

Few tablespoons chopped herbs of choice (the salad pictured uses cilantro, parsley)

Optional topping ideas: Avocado chunks (right before serving!), tempeh, fava beans or chickpeas.

Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

1. In a large bowl, toss all ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.

2. Dress with dressing of choice. Cover tightly to store.


For the Tahini Lemon Garlic Dressing

1/4 cup tahini sauce (if you don’t have, try a nut butter like almond butter)

Juice of one lemon

2 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper to taste

Filtered water to thin dressing if needed.

Directions: Blend all ingredients together in a blender, adding filtered water as needed to thin dressing to desired consistency.  Store dressing or use immediately on top of salad of choice.

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As a Yoga practitioner and teacher, and a lover of food, I found this New York times article on the overlap of Yoga and foodie culture interesting.

As a writer, I thought it was well-written, and the copy editor did a fantastic job with the headline. Reporter Julia Moskin certainly did talk to many of the big players in the New York Yoga world. Some were more “live and let live” than others. You’ll see what I mean when you read the article.

On this blog, I’ve explored some of my feelings about food and the mind body connection here and here.

Have a look at the New York Times piece:

Dried fruit is one of my favorite pre and post-Yoga snacks. My friend Kim Snyder, who is a clinical nutritionist and Yoga instructor, says it's best for you digestion to eat it on an empty stomach, then wait at least 20 minutes before eating anything else.

When Chocolate and Chakras Collide

I’ll be back soon to post on halva, and the many reasons I enjoy it in moderation.

In the meantime, a quick tip: Dried fruit enjoyed in moderation is a great way to fuel up before Yoga.

If I find my energy dipping before a class, sometimes a couple of dried figs or dates will help me out without weighing me down. Try to eat your fruit on an empty stomach. Yum! Oh, and by the way? For an optimal Yoga asana practice, try to be done eating two hours before you begin your practice. That way your body and mind can focus on the postures and the breathing, not the good work of digestion. ;-)

EDITED TO ADD: This is my response to the New York Times, in the “Comments” section:

As a food writer/blogger AND Yoga instructor/practitioner, this article really interested me. The whole judgment thing is soooo not my scene. I’ve run into that energy a few times in the course of my Yoga journey.

Eating where I’ve just sweated? Doesn’t sound appealing to me, but live and let live, right?

I absolutely think an awareness of what and how we eat is key, but, like some of the other posters said, there are many interpretations and paths. The people who seem to have hit upon the perfect diet for themselves must kindly remember that the diet that works for them might not work for another. Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, says as much.

For me personally, a dietary path that doesn’t include garlic, onions, and chiles doesn’t hold much appeal. With all due respect, I’ll pass on that path. I will aim to eat in an environmentally respectful way, and source any meat with extreme care (I don’t eat much meat lately anyways, but still).

The whole idea that enjoying bounties of this world is somehow wrong? I don’t buy that. Even the Dalai Lama says that one of our main purposes in life is to cultivate happiness. Because when one person is happy, that happiness can become contagious and a catalyst for positive changes. The opposite is true–bad moods are contagious and can lead to who knows what! Sometimes the simplest things in life can bring about happy moments. Enjoying a lovely meal is certainly a simple pleasure–if we allow it to be.

Just as a deeper understanding of the asanas (Yoga poses) develops with time, practice, and patience, so do our food choices. The same could be said of the depth of compassion and acceptance we cultivate for our fellow Yoga practitioners, no matter where they may be in their own personal journeys.

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No need to chop anything for today's recipe. Just rip the parsley and cilantro leaves right off of their roots, wash, and toss into the blender with all of the other ingredients.

Think whipping up a fantastic salad dressing with just a few ingredients can’t happen unless you work in a chemistry lab of a Major Food Company? Think again. After reading today’s post, you may never see making your own dressing in quite the same light. Today I’m showing you how to put together a healthy, clean, and very herbal salad dressing. In fact, once you get the hang of making your own dressings, you’ll start to see the store-bought stuff as sooooo not worthy.

I have a love-hate relationship with one of today’s key ingredients–fresh herbs. Love the taste, love the flexibility, and of course, LOVE their invigorating color. But my inability to keep them alive in planters has me walking around with some sort of a complex, convinced I have a black thumb. What kind of woman can’t grow her own herbs? (Feel free to insert your obvious growing-your-own-herbs joke here).

This inability to grow my own food may or may not be the case. Herbs can be quite delicate, I’m told. (Except mint. . .that stuff just holds on and on and on!) Other herbs? Sometimes they even have the nerve to go a dry up on me a day or two after purchase, even when kept in a glass with a bit of water feeding them. Whaddup with that?

Cilantro (fresh coriander) makes a killer dressing, whether fresh (as in this photo), or sad and drying (as mine was).

So today I noticed the cilantro (fresh coriander) I bought not two days ago was looking dry and sad. So was the parsley. Instead of tossing them, or tossing them and feeling guility about the fact that I don’t (yet) compost, I decided to make herb dressing out of herbs.

This was a real “use it up” moment–I even tossed in the last of my current bottle of apple cider vinegar to make way for the new bottle I got on sale earlier in the day. A quick whir in the blender, and voila! A light, fresh dressing that will make every salad this weekend (and maybe a couple beyond) taste bright and, well, herbal.

All amounts below are extremely approximate, and flexible. Feel free to adjust the amounts of the ingredients to your taste. Also feel free to play around with the herb combo. It’s not like I’m coming over to your place to make sure you’re only using cilantro and parsley ;-)

Weekend Use It Up Cilantro Parsley Dressing

1 small bunch cilantro (aka fresh coriander)

1 small bunch parsley

3 large garlic cloves

3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or other vinegar of choice)

3 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon agave nectar or honey

Pinch each of salt and pepper

Filtered water as needed


Directions:

1. Toss all ingredients except water into a blender. Add enough filtered water to blend. You can always add more water to thin it out if needed. Blend until smooth.

2. Taste, adjust seasoning, and re-blend as needed.

3. Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Remember to shake well before each use.

The final product looks a lot like this. I’ll get my own photo up here soon. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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First, a disclaimer: Turkish coffee deserves its own entry. It will get one eventually. Today, it’s a supporting player to a ricotta pudding with a Middle Eastern flair.

One of my quirks–I adore the smell of coffee, but never really warmed up to the taste; I’m much more of a tea drinker. Which is just as well. Even the de-caff me is pretty revved up, so a daily coffee would probably send me through the stratosphere!

turkish coffee and cup

Turkish coffee in its standard form. What if we took some of this wonderful flavor and added it to a pudding? Well, it would be delightful, that's what!

Still, at one point, I was pretty good at making Turkish coffee, with its thick texture and cardamom-laced flavor,  for loved ones and friends. Well, either I was good at it or they were too polite to tell me otherwise ;-) Lately, I’ve fallen off that wagon. Not to worry; I have another use for Turkish coffee up my sleeve. How about taking that rich flavor and putting it in a dessert?

About that dessert: I’ve been avoiding dairy lately (long story), but every now and then, I make an exception. (Paging my friends Ben & Jerry!)  On the homemade front,  this super simple ricotta pudding would be worth bending the rules every now and then. I’ve made it a couple of times when having friends over for dinner, and it’s always a big hit.

It’s incredibly easy and fast to make, too!

This recipe is inspired by a similar ricotta pudding made by Giada de Laurentiis. Hers has espresso and vanilla as the flavoring. (I love Giada’s show AND her recipes. When I want to cook Italian, I turn to her or Lidia Bastianich for guidance.)

Giada’s recipe was fab, and I love it just as much (maybe more?) with a Middle Eastern flair: Turkish coffee powder flavored with cardamom instead of espresso powder, and rosewater instead of vanilla.

cardamom pods

Cardamom pods.

rose on stem

Rose water made from the petals of roses and is used in pastries and desserts in many cuisines--including Persian, Arab, Turkish, Indian, and Greek. It's great in tea. Find it online (Amazon carries it) or in specialty shops. Some grocery stores carry it now too. It's made from the distilling of rose petals. The culinary version is actually a by-product of the perfume-making process. It can be used in food and cosmetically. I sometimes like to splash a bit of chilled rosewater on my face. So refreshing in the summer!

Easy Turkish Coffee Pudding

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon of rose water

3 cardamom pods OR 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom powder

1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese (can use part-skim)

1/2 tablespoon Turkish coffee powder

1 to 2 Tablespoons of pistachio halves or slivers

Directions: If using whole cardamom pods, remove pods, and run seeds through a spice mill until very finely ground. Place the sugar in a food processor or blender. Add cardamom powder and Turkish coffee powder. Turn the machine on and blend until finely ground.

Place the ricotta and rose water in the machine.  Blend until incorporated. Stop the machine. Then scrape down the sides with a spatula. Blend for about another minute, until ingredients are integrated. Spoon the mixture into 4-8 small coffee mugs. (See note).

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, top Turkish coffree pudding with pistachio slivers and sprinkle with a tiny splash of rosewater on top.

NOTES: If you want bigger portions, use bigger cups. If you really want to imitate true Turkish coffee style service, use cups that are petite–like espresso cups, and serve with small spoons.

This recipe can easily be doubled. That’s what I do when hosting more than 3 or 4 for a dinner party.

I use a blender, because currently I don’t own a food processor.

Many varieties of Turkish coffee are flavored with cardamom, but I really wanted the cardamom flavor to come through, which is why the pods or a dried powder are called for.

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