Didn’t matter that our household is equipped with a beautiful Smooth Fitness elliptical machine and a Concept2 rowing machine (the rower being used as a clothes drying rack), I had excuses. Oh – we just moved. Oh – we’re remodeling the house. Oh – I just don’t have the time with two new babies (pug puppy ones) and a new job (even though I work at home).
Then as do most folks, I simply ran out of excuses. Actually, I looked in the mirror. It’s 2011, the year of the rabbit. My late 30s ticking closer and closer to 40, first gray hairs sticking out like straws reminding me of the inevitable (my heart sinking and sending chills up my back as I pulled the gray hairs out) and slower metabolism creeping in ever so sloooowly. OMG – it’s all downhill from here! Not that I was eating bad, in fact, I think I’m pretty healthy but it just sort of catches up with you, you know? And being the food lover that I am makes it oh-so-difficult. Lay down those chocolate chip walnut scones that everyone loves. A cookie a day does NOT keep the blues away… well, sometimes;)
SO – the new year includes a regular commitment to the local Equinox gym (and yes – it IS a commitment but where I’m having a ball in some awesome classes like yoga, spinning and my new fav, tabata) and a new focus on making a healthier me. I don’t want to be extreme; watch and write down everything I eat, count my calories, spend hours working out and look at all the ingredients. I am comfortable with my body and will NOT working towards a six pack or even a four pack in exchange for a fat-free diet. However, I could lose few pounds, feel a little lighter, more importantly tone (as the muscles we have start to “melt away” as we age) and feel stronger. Importantly, this also means being even more conscious about what I put in my body, my temple.
With me and my new goals and my lovely hubs watching his elevated blood pressure and cholesterol – it made perfect sense for our household to adopt *drumroll…* Meatless Mondays and Meatless Wednesdays. The idea behind these two days is to try to eat less meat, eat fresh and local vegetables and grains (when you can) and to avoid processed foods. With an all-time-high obesity (look at the “World is Fat” post on NYTimes – scary) and associated illnesses of heart disease, diabetes and much more – we need to change how we eat. Conglomerate food companies have been brainwashing us and putting all kinds of junk but with savvy marketing that make us believe that it’s still healthy. For instance, for years, I thought that Vitamin Water was great! Not that sweet, full of vitamins and minerals to pick you up when you need it, to give you extra immunity when you were feeling sick. Imagine my shock to find out that it has just a little bit less sugar than a can of Coke! That’s over 30 grams of SUGAR. WTF?!? How could they do that to me? But then again, I should have READ THE LABEL. It’s really my fault to get suckered in and think that it was actually a healthier alternative.
Chef Jamie Oliver’s revolutionizing healthy eating across the globe, Oprah’s going vegan, even McDonalds tries to keep up with the times with their “healthy” oatmeal (puh-leez) and the movement of Meatless Mondays – is getting a lot of legs. I realize it helps that I’m in California where we’re blessed with year-around fresh fruits and vegetables but there’s plenty of fresh ingredients available across the states only if we try to stay out of the center aisles of grocery stores (all processed food) and the back meat section that is strategically located for you to hit it every time you go up and down the aisles. Visit that local farmers market when you can and really get to know where your food’s coming from. They’ll even let you taste it before you buy it and finding that new ingredient really makes me happy – oh the joy of fresh garlic sauteed with some olive oil or pureed parsnip with maple syrup and a dollop of butter – mmmm~
Some others are doing Meatless Mondays and Beefless Tuesdays (which just sounds weird) but with my Meatless Mondays AND Meatless Wednesdays, it’s not as though you’re gorging on meat on all other days except for that one Monday but you’re conscious of what you’re eating throughout the week, balancing your diet and gradually changing your lifestyle.
And I have to say that with spices and herbs full of flavor, discovering new ingredients and experimenting, we really have not missed having meat. In fact, I look forward to the challenge of making a dish taste savory and tasty without being dependent on a meat protein.
I don’t think I’ll ever go vegan – I love that juicy steaks, braised meat and hamburgers on occasions too much. I even tried going vegan for a month after reading The Skinny Bitch (a quick and humorous recommended read) and although a good challenge, I missed my proteins and wanted to bring it back to my diet. When I do eat meat, I try to ensure that it’s just a part of a plate and not taking the center stage, that it’s free of hormones and antibiotics (and thereby more expensive at times) but make it up by having a smaller portion. And it does a planet good, right? I love how Mark Bittman summarizes some pointers on eating less meat in general.
So in spirit of Meatless Mondays and Meatless Wednesdays, let’s get started with some savory meatless dinners and hope that it inspires you to come up with some of your own to share. Bon appetit!
Meatless Monday: Butternut squash farrotto with cumin yogurt dressing (inspired by Bon Appetit’s Heirloom Squash Farrotto recipe from fall)
Farro is one of those newly discovered ingredients that I’ve been falling in love with. An ancient grain and in the same family as spelt and much popular in traditional italian cuisine, this complex carb has a hearty, chewy texture full of fiber, easily digestible and even almost mimics the “chewy bite” of meat. I’ve certainly made Mike, my hubs a convert. And with a tangy, smokey cumin dressing – it’s a real crowd pleaser. Plus, it’s just fun to say, “farro~”
1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cubed) These semi-sweet squash have a smooth satin outer layer and usually has the shape of a bell. Some could even say it looks a bit phallic. You could also substitute sweet potatoes using the same directions below if not in season.
2 tbsp olive oil
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
½ white onion (chopped)
1 tsp chopped garlic
½ c semi-pearled farro (Italian grain similar in texture to pearled barley but more robust in flavor. Could substitute pearled barley for farro)
4 cups of water
¼ c chopped cilantro
½ c greek yogurt or yogurt (strained in a cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator if possible – leaves a thick, creamy yogurt)
Fresh juice of ½ a lemon
1 tbsp of cumin seeds
¼ tsp turmeric (optional)
½ c green grapes (each cut in half)
1) Preheat oven to 350. Soak farro in water for at least 30 min. Soaking longer is fine – it just cuts down your cooking time later. Prep your squash and onion.
2) Toss butternut squash with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast a pan at 350 for 45 min covering the first 30 min with foil and then lifting the foil the last 15 min until slightly golden brown.
3) Drain farro that’s been soaking in water. To a medium pan (as the farro will double in size at least), add farro and 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Boil on medium heat, stirring often until it’s tender but still has an al dente bite (about 20 min). Drain farro and set aside.
4) Roast cumin seeds – This has become my new favorite ingredient. If you have never had fresh roasted cumin seeds – you got to try it. It doesn’t even compare to the dull powdery stuff they sell in bottles. Pour the seeds into a small dry pan on medium high heat. You will hear the seeds crackling after being heated for a few minutes. Start stirring the pan until you see smoke – this is normal and part of the ritual of infusing the entire kitchen with roasted, complex, cumin perfume. Let cool and grind in a small mortar/pestle – I found one at Cost Plus for $2.
5) Combine 1 tsp of cumin seeds (reserving rest for another time) with yogurt, cilantro, grapes, lemon juice and turmeric until mixed well. Store in fridge until ready to serve.
6) Using the same medium pan used to cook farro (as I’m all about having the least amount of dishes), sauté chopped onion with the remaining olive oil and garlic until translucent.
7) Add farro and butternut squash to the pan until well combined. Turn off heat.
8) On a plate, serve farrotto with cumin yogurt dressing dollop and sprinkled with additional cilantro.