Cucumber-Hummus Quesadillas

IMG_6266.jpgRecently I have been craving the toasted, crunchy texture of tortillas after they’ve been sitting on a hot pan, the taste that comes from crispy quesadillas. I don’t know about you, but there isn’t really any vegan cheese available to me so to satisfy my craving I decided to get creative in my quesadilla making.

The Recipe:
I started by going to my salad bar and filling one container with sliced cucumbers and another container with raw garbanzo beans. In my dining hall, salad bar ingredients can be put IMG_6259into disposable to-go containers, but if that is not possible you may have to bring a container with you in your bag and transfer the ingredients once you pay. Then, I went over to the spice area (at my school we have a spice selection next to the condiments) and generously sprinkled dill and basil leaves on the garbanzo beans before taking
everything back to my dorm room. As far as portions go, you’ll have to just decide how much you want to make. I took about 1/3 cup of cucumbers and about 1 cup of beans, but you don;t have to be very exact with this. Next, add a little salt and olive oil to the garbanzo beans and spices, and mash everything together using a fork or spoon until smooth (or smoother). Spread a thick layer of the hummus over one half of a tortilla and arrange the cucumbers on the hummus. Then, to help the sides of the tortilla stick to one another, put a little IMG_6262dollop of hummus on each cucumber slice and fold the tortilla over. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and leave the quesadilla on the pan until golden brown and flip. And that’s it!

Variations:

Of course, there may be some of you that cannot achieve this because of the resources you have. Peppers, broccolis, mushrooms, or spinach could always replace cucumbers, and two slices of bread could replace the tortillas. I also recently made an excellent almond butter-banana quesadilla with cinnamon and shaved coconut, so really the possibilities are endless! Enjoy.

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Chia Seed Pudding

fn_chia-seeds-thinkstock_s4x3_lgI bought a bag of chia seeds recently, and have been incorporating them into my diet when I can because I have heard rumors of their health benefits. For those unfamiliar with chia, they are small seeds that form a gel around them when put into liquid. And they’re super good for us! Chia, like flaxseed, contains high levels of Omega-3s; in fact chia, seeds’ lipid profile is made up of 60% omega-3 (refer to post titled “The F-Word of Nutrition” for more info). These seeds also contain fiber, antioxidants, and a host of minerals such as manganese, calcium and phosphorus, making chia a true super food of the seed world.

Because of their gelatinous texture when submerged in liquid, chia seed pudding is a great way to eat them!

The Recipe:

IMG_5999.jpgThere are really only two essential ingredients here: chia seeds and a non-dairy milk of your choice. I got my chia seeds from my school’s little convenience store, but they should be available at most natural foods stores. There are countless toppings and spices that can easily be added to your pudding once it’s finished, so you’ll just have to see what is available to you, but I will share what I added. First, combine your milk and chia seeds (I used plain soy milk). The ratio that worked best for me was about 3 tbsp. of seeds for every 1 cup of milk. The nice thing is that you can always add more seeds if the consistency isn’t thick enough (so you can’t really mess up!). I added 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon to this mixture, and stirred it well to avoid clumping. It will only take IMG_6005around 5-10 minutes for the seeds to form their gel, and then your pudding is basically done. If you have the time, it can be nice to prepare the pudding the night before and let it chill in the fridge overnight. Then just add your toppings! I cut up a banana and some strawberries, and topped it off with shaved coconut and chopped almonds. All of these I was able to “steal” from my school’s dining hall buffet, but really any combination of fruit and nuts will be delicious! Some ideas: cinnamon, turmeric, blueberries, cashews, maple syrup, pears, apples, walnuts, or cocoa nibs. The great thing about this breakfast, aside from it being very tasty, is that it’s rich in fiber so it fills you up! I actually only ate half for breakfast, putting the other half in the fridge for another meal. Enjoy.

 

Almond Butter = BAE

IMG_5940If you can’t already tell, I love almond butter! Not only the taste or the texture, but also its nutrient density. Now, you probably know that nuts are a great source of protein, but they are also a fabulous source of fiber and nourishing fat, all of which are essential parts of a healthy vegan diet. But with all nut butters, brands and added ingredients play a major role in the nutritional value.

First, I want to quickly discuss the difference, nutritionally, between peanut butter and almond butter. When I was little, I would only eat peanut butter, and it actually wasn’t until recently, when my mom told me that almond butter is healthier, that I made the switch. Both butters do offer a variety of nutrients, however almonds have some that aren’t as available in peanuts. For example, almonds contain a high level of Vitamin E, an antioxidant that fights nasty free-radicals, as well as high levels of magnesium and iron. In addition, almonds and almond butter contains less oil and more protein than peanuts. Again, both nuts are good, but when looking at nutrition value, I vote for almond butter.

IMG_5946Nut butters sometimes get a bad rap, especially from people claiming they have too much fat, but it isn’t the nuts themselves that are concerning. While it is true that the best way to get the full health benefits from nuts is to eat them whole and raw (un-roasted with no salt or oil), this can be achieved with nut butter as well. My all time favorite almond butter is Whole Foods’ grind-your-own, a little station set up in most Whole Foods stores that lets you fill your own containers of almond (or peanut) butter. The reason I like it is because there is no salt or oil added, just nuts! However, this stuff is not cheap, and you pay by weight. In my opinion though, it is totally worth it. The butter comes out very thick and fluffy, and rarely separates like normal nut butters do because there isn’t anything added. I use almond butter on toast, rice cakes, and eat it with fruit. To me, it is a great addition to a meal taste where you want a little extra protein, and it’s great in smoothies too! Try it out 🙂

 

Breakfast Fruit Burritos

IMG_5474On the weekends, my dining hall only serves a minimal variety of breakfast foods, and an even more limited number of vegan options, so I make myself breakfast on the weekends. I played around with this creation for a few months, trying to find a way to incorporate fruit and nuts into a cohesive food dish that tastes good and is easy to eat. It does, however,  require taking certain food items from your dining hall buffet (I think these items are available at most buffet style dining halls, but I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, this has become my favorite breakfast food, and there are plenty of variations that can be explored in order to keep the dish fresh and interesting!

The Recipe:

IMG_5349First, gather your ingredients: 1 tortilla (my dining hall only offers flour tortillas. If your school has a sandwich-making area of the buffet, look there), almond butter, 2 pieces of fruit, and raw walnuts. Start by spreading a thick layer of almond butter Start by spreading a thick layer of almond butter down the center of the tortilla. Next, slice both pieces of fruit into small, bite-sized pieces. I typically use either a banana and an apple, banana and pear, or apple and pear, but any fruit will do. Pour the pieces down the middle and on top of the almond butter. Leave a little room (about an inch) at the bottom of the tortilla that has no fruit–this makes folding easier. Next, take the desired amount of walnuts into your palm and IMG_5356lightly crush into smaller pieces. I tend to use about 5-9 walnuts, but it just depends on how much crunch you want. Then, at the end where you left the 1-inch space, fold the tortilla up before wrapping the two sides in and together like a IMG_5306burrito. This way, nothing will escape from the bottom, and your wrap will be easier to eat!

Options and Variations:

1.) If you have the resources to attain this, try adding some whole or ground flaxseed, hempseed, or chia seed. Most likely your local health foods store will have at least one, if not all three, of these. Seeds are a great source of Omega-3’s, which support heart health and are natural anti-inflamatories. I use a mixture of all three!

IMG_49732.) You can also try frying your fruit first! To do this, put a little coconut oil into the bottom of a frying pan. Then slice your fruit into thin sheets (this works best with bananas and pears, but I have also had success with apples) and place them in the oil over medium to low heat. Be sure to flip the fruit so that most sides brown evenly. If you have access to fresh oranges, try squeezing some of the orange juice on the fruit while it’s cooking for some added sweetness! However, remember that by cooking the fruit you are bringing out more of the fruit’s sugar, so I only use method on occasion, and it’s especially nice during the winter months.

Enjoy.

 

The F-Word of Nutrition

Fat. No one wants to think about it, few know it’s role, and many are suffering from two much of it in their bodies. But is fat all bad? I wanted to take a closer look at this complex macronutrient.

What even is fat? Fat is made up of carbon and hydrogen chains, and alterations to these chains result in different types of fat. Contrary to what you may think, fat is essential for keeping our body running in working order: it provides energy stores, develops and grows our brain tissue, keeps us insulated, makes up part of our cell membranes, and is essential for absorbing certain vitamins and minerals. However, there are some fats that are better for us than others, so let’s break it down:

foods-high-in-saturated-fatSaturated fats have chains that are tightly packed; that is, each carbon has a hydrogen atom, thus making the chain saturated. These fats are characterized by being solid at room temperature, and common examples include dairy products, meat fats, and coconut oil. Saturated fats have taken a tough blow from the media, and most of us have grown up with the assumption that all saturated fats are bad, which is not necessarily true. Saturated fats can increase our LDL cholesterol levels (Low-Density Lipoproteins). LDLs and HDLs (the other kind: High-Density Lipoproteins) are the protein carriers for cholesterol, a naturally occurring, waxy substance that does a variety of good thing for our bodies including the production of Vitamin D and acting as a temporary bandage at sites of inflammation. However, LDLs in excess can causes blockages in the arteries, which is bad news. Although healthy_fatssaturated fats in moderation can be beneficial.

Unsaturated fat chains are missing some hydrogen atoms, so their chains are not saturated. These fats are liquid (or very soft) at room temperature, and examples include things like avocado, nuts, and canola, sunflower, and olive oil. Unsaturated fats are considered “good fats,” because they promote the production of HDL cholesterol.

Trans fats are not natural. And I’m not just saying this; humans manufacture these fats by artificially injecting hydrogen atoms into a fat chain, a process known as hydrogenation. Trans fats increased in popularity when fast and processed foods became popular, because trans fats are used to increase a food’s shelf life. Remember the story of the Twinkie under the bed? If you leave a Twinkie or another heavily processed food under your bed for a few years and then look at it, the food will probably look exactly the same. You cannot do this with an apple, right? Fruits and vegetables will begin to rot in just a few days, thus they have an expiration date that is much much shorter. And we like this rotting process! This is what happens in our body and allows the food to be broken down and digested properly. Trans fats increase LDLs and decrease HDLs, so basically they do nothing for our health.

Omegas are also an important type of fat to discuss. Omega-3s are often known as the “really good fats” in my family. Omega-3s are anti-inflamatory, and promote heart health. Common examples include oily fish and flaxseed. But don’t be confused by Omega-6s, which are not the same thing! Omega-6s inflame tissue, and are found in many processed foods.

avocadosSo what is the fuss over fat really about? In my class, my professor told us about the man who we can probably blame for our brainwashed understanding of fat. In the 1960s, Ancel Keys conducted the Seven Country Study, in which he looked at different countries and their diets, trying to link high fat intake and cholesterol with cardio vascular disease. Unfortunately for us, Keys was tricky, because actually more like twenty-two counties were examined, but only seven fit in with his hypothesis. The study shocked people though, and that’s when food industries decided to take fat out of everything, prompting the “low fat” advertising boom. However, even without as much fat in their diets, Americans were just as sick as ever. But this idea that fat is bad continues even to this day. I know that in my own life, I have never thought of fat as a positive thing in food, or had any idea what was meant by “unsaturated” vs. “saturated” so I suppose that is why this subject is so interesting to me. The bottom line: not all fats are created equal, fat is vital for our body’s function, and it’s all about moderation and balance.