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Chipotle Lentil Chili with Pumpkin

Chipotle Lentil Chili with Pumpkin

Although Halloween is behind us and pumpkin spice latte might be seen as a bit played right now, pumpkin itself is still quite popular, especially with Thanksgiving on the horizon.

If you think pumpkin puree is just for pie, think again! Personally, I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie (it’s likely a texture thing), but I do enjoy using pumpkin in other dishes. Have you ever used it in chili or stew?

Why Pumpkin?

Pumpkin has got a lot of nutrition prowess. It’s a great source of the antioxidant beta-carotene in addition to being a source of potassium vitamin C and fiber. Canned pumpkin is versatile, accessible, and affordable for most. I’ve never cooked a pumpkin to make pumpkin puree and honestly, don’t see this in my future. If that’s your jam, more power to you! Canned pumpkin is packed in BPA-free cans, so no need to worry about that.

Lentils offer up plenty of fiber, protein, and iron- the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. When lentils are paired with a food high in vitamin C (such as peppers, tomatoes, or hey- pumpkin), your body absorbs more iron. Bonus! They also cook up much faster than other dried beans or legumes.

I made this simple pumpkin chili in my instant pot the other night, but it could also be prepared on the stove. With a handful of ingredients, I had dinner done in roughly 20 minutes! I used chipotle chili powder which gave the chili a smoky taste. Traditional chili powder or extra cumin could be used if chipotle’s not your thing.

If you want to keep the recipe vegan, use vegetable broth. Low-sodium broth would reduce the sodium content of the soup. This is a perfect dish for a tailgate party, book club, or simple dinner with friends or family.  If it’s too spicy, add a dash of plain Greek or plant-based yogurt to cool it off. I hope you like it!

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. canola or corn oil

½ white or yellow onion, diced

1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. chipotle pepper

½ tsp. cumin

½ tsp. paprika

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup red lentils

1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree

Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Set the Instant pot to sautee and add the oil. Allow to heat for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the onions, peppers and garlic and sautee for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
  3. Add the chipotle pepper, cumin and paprika and stir to coat the vegetables.
  4. Add the broth, lentils, and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine.
  5. Close the lid of the Instant pot and reset the pot to “soup or stew”.
  6. All the lentils to cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Serve with plain Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro (optional)

On a stovetop:

  1. Heat the oil in a medium soup pot.
  2. Sautee the onions, peppers and garlic until the vegetables are soft.
  3. Add the chipotle pepper, cumin, and paprika and stir to coat the vegetables.
  4. Add the broth, lentils, and pumpkin puree. Stir to combine
  5. Allow the stew to simmer on low for about 30 minutes until the lentils are soft.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 190 calories, 2.1 gm fat, 9.5 gm protein, 29 gm carb, 5.6 gm fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 550 gm sodium

Celebrate National Nutrition Month with me!

Celebrate National Nutrition Month with me!

I’m a wee bit late to the National Nutrition Month party. But with 31 full days in March, I’ll allow myself a little grace. This year’s theme is “Celebrate the flavors of the world”. Variety is the spice of life! Why not enjoy more flavors every day?

The first day of National Nutrition Month happened to coincide with Fat Tuesday. Coincidence indeed! This year, I opted to get my “last groceries” on March 1, which seems like a good Fat Tuesday thing to do. I’ve decided to give up shopping for Lent- including both groceries and otherwise. In the spirit of Lent and broadening my flavor horizon, I’ll be forced to cook creatively with what I have on hand. Consider it my individual version of Chopped!

As spring is here, I noticed asparagus on sale. This green veggie is a source of vitamin C, vitamin K and inulin- a type of prebiotic fiber that’s good for your immune system. You can even eat them raw!

I honestly never thought I liked asparagus. My mom used to cook it until it was khaki and stringy. It was my least favorite vegetable growing up. The good news is that your palate changes as you get older. Things you may have despised as a kid may now taste good to you. Or, like me- they may have been prepared differently and are worth a second chance.

We normally grill, roast or steam asparagus. grilling is great when it’s warm out and roasting warms up the house, but also uses gas. Last year I got an air fryer for Christmas and decided, why not try asparagus in it? The result was great! I no longer have to heat up my stove or go outside in cold temps to grill them.

To change up the flavor a bit, I dusted them with tarragon and a little bit of salt and olive oil. You can make these at home in your air fryer (set at 400 and ‘fry’ for 8 minutes) or sautee them lightly in olive oil for 3 to 4 minutes on the stove. Enjoy!

Plant-based diet protects against dementia

Plant-based diet protects against dementia

As a dietitian and daughter of a parent with dementia, I want to maintain as much cognition and memory as I can. Seeing my mother decline over the years is heart-breaking. At 85, she still knows my name but is subject to mood swings, memory loss and a life of confinement.

Currently, the only prevention for dementia is lifestyle changes. Healthy diet, exercise, adequate sleep and moderate intake of coffee and alcohol are advised. Certain phytochemicals in plant-based foods may be beneficial.

A recent study by the Biomarkers and Nutritional Food Metabolomics Research Group of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences of the University of Barcelona and the CIBER of Frailty and Healthy Aging finds that a plant-forward diet in the elderly reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Led by professor, Cristina Andrés-Lacueva at the Faculty Pharmacy and Food Sciences and head of the Biomarkers and Nutritional Metabolomics of Food Research Group of the UB and the Biomedical Research Network Center in Frailty and Healthy Aging (CIBERFES), also part of the Food Innovation Network of Catalonia (XIA), the study was published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Participants included over 840 adults aged 65 and up in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France. The study was completed over 12 years as part of “A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life” (JPI HDHL, part of the Joint Programming Initiative.

Dietary components, microbiota and effects of diet on health

The link between the metabolism of nutrients, the intestinal microbiome, internal metabolism and cognitive decline was evaluated. Mireia Urpí-Sardà, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Science and Gastronomy and CIBERFES, states “the modulating role of diet in the risk of suffering cognitive impairment was analyzed in the cohorts of the study. Results indicated a strong link between these processes and certain nutrients.

The study showed a protective association between dietary components from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms and red wine, microbial metabolism of polyphenol-containing foods (apples, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, oranges and pomegranates) and cognitive losses in the elderly.

The evaluation of blood samples indicated that some metabolic substances are related to the advancement of cognitive decline and dementia. Some derivatives of coffee and cocoa had protective effects while saccharin, from artificial sweeteners has a damaging role.This research is important in developing preventive strategies against cognitive impairment.

Dietary changes to protect your noggin

Since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, prevention is key. Eating a diet high in plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables coffee, green tea, and cocoa will provide various bioactive substances that help reduce the risk of cognitive decline related to aging.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Enjoy coffee or green tea at breakfast. Limit use of sugar, artificial sweeteners and creamers.
  • Include a green leafy salad, broccoli. kale or other leafy greens in your diet at least once a day (but hey, twice is better)!
  • Choose berries, citrus fruits or apples when in season. Eat at least one of these daily.
  • Include cocoa in various recipes such as hot chocolate made with skim or low-fat milk.
  • Add beans, nuts, seeds or whole grains to salads to increase fiber and healthy fats to your diet.
  • Swap red meat for salmon for omega-3-fatty acids, which may aid in dementia prevention.

Reference:

  1. Raúl González‐Domínguez, Pol Castellano‐Escuder, Francisco Carmona, Sophie Lefèvre‐Arbogast, Dorrain Y. Low, Andrea Du Preez, Silvie R. Ruigrok, Claudine Manach, Mireia Urpi‐Sarda, Aniko Korosi, Paul J. Lucassen, Ludwig Aigner, Mercè Pallàs, Sandrine Thuret, Cécilia Samieri, Alex Sánchez‐Pla, Cristina Andres‐Lacueva. Food and Microbiota Metabolites Associate with Cognitive Decline in Older Subjects: A 12‐Year Prospective StudyMolecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2021; 65 (23): 2100606 DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.202100606

 

Maintaining weight during the holidays

Maintaining weight during the holidays

You’ll notice this post is called “maintaining” and not “losing” weight over the holidays. Why? Because I don’t recommend being on a diet this time of year. In fact, I hate the word diet.

Weight loss is not a bad goal. A small weight loss can help reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and improve joint pain.

Sustainable weight loss takes repeated, lifelong habits, like avoiding or limiting alcohol, reducing sugar and not snacking at night. Most of the habits that are really tricky to navigate right now.

Holidays are stressful. We’re all running around finding that perfect gift, baking our favorite holiday treats and writing holiday cards. Why add calorie counting to that stress?

We’re also attending parties, meeting friends and family for brunch, coffee, lunch, happy hour and dinner. It’s not the time to declare you’re on a diet.

Instead of stressing yourself out more, why not aim for maintenance this season? Below are some tips:

  1. Get enough sleep. It’s easy to stay up late to do “one more thing”. Instead, go to bed and get 7 to 8 hours sleep. You’ll feel less stressed and reduce cravings for sugar in the morning.
  2. Hydrate. Put a drinking glass next to your coffee maker or teacup and start the day with water. Aim for 16 oz. before every meal. First water, then caffeine. Do this daily.
  3. Join a friend outside for a walk. Skip the crowded restaurants and bars and meet in a park or favorite walking spot. Meet different friends a few days a week to stay motivated and connected.
  4. Eat at regular intervals. No need to starve before the party. Grab and apple and peanut butter or hummus and veggies before you go. Space meals out every 3 to 4 hours. Your body needs nutrients!
  5. Second guess that Hershey kiss. Be a dessert snob this time of year. You can have Hershey’s chocolate or peanut M & Ms any time. Enjoy a few holiday favorites instead.
  6. Journal something positive.  Note one thing each day that made you happy. Maybe it was your neighbor’s holiday display or a sweet card from a long last friend. Try to stay positive to reduce stress.
  7. Enjoy soup! Load a bowl with bean or veggie-based soup. Soup is a perfectly filling meal when it’s cold outside. Search my site for recipes!
  8. Get creative with salads. Add seasonal fruit like pears or apples to spinach, arugula or other greens. Drizzle a simple vinaigrette made with oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard.
  9. Use some free weights while you watch TV. If you don’t have a gym or there’s no time to get to one, do some simple exercise at home. I like to lift a 7-pound medicine ball while I enjoy Seinfeld reruns. Why not?
  10. Don’t eat when you’re not hungry. If you’re a stress eater, divert your attention to something else. Read a book, send a card, knit a scarf, clean your bathroom. Each time you deal with stress in a positive way, you’ll reinforce NOT eating when you’re not hungry.

Enjoy this joyous time of year!

Simple, delicious air fryer chicken parmesan

Simple, delicious air fryer chicken parmesan

I’ll admit- I was late to the air fryer party. I don’t know why. We eat a fair amount of baked fries here and make fried chicken “fingers” at least once a month from scratch. We’d finally gotten used to our Instant Pot, so the thought of another large appliance in our kitchen wasn’t enticing.

This past weekend, my husband and I found ourselves in a Home Buys store. If you’ve never been in one, it’s a combo platter of Big Lots and Home Goods. You’ll find anything from appliances to wine there and the prices tend to be pretty good.

We found a section of appliances including instant pots, coffee makers and air fryers. The idea of lower fat frying in less ‘thyme’ got to me. What’s one more appliance?

There were a few brands and sizes of air fryers and we opted for the 7-quart by Power XL. According to their web site, it’s the “best selling” air fryer in the US. The model we bought retails for $130 and we got ours for $69.99.

The first thing we made was dehydrated apple chips. Don’t ask me why this was our first try, but I did the same thing with the Instant Pot. Somehow apples have become my maiden appliance voyage. The apple chips came out just like apple chips you’d find in the store- sweet and chewy!

We also tried French fries over the weekend. I was surprised how good they were! Granted, they weren’t greasy- but the taste and texture were excellent. After the French fry experiment, I wanted to try a “meal”. For some reason, chicken parmesan came to mind.

I found a recipe online that had a handful of spices to be added to breadcrumbs. I had seasoned breadcrumbs in my pantry and opted to use these. This was one of the easiest, most delicious dishes I’ve ever made. If you don’t have an air fryer but love fried food- consider adding this to your appliance arsenal.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds skinless chicken breasts- split into cutlets

2 eggs, whisked

1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp. garlic salt

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees for 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Spray the air fryer basket with non-stick spray.
  4. Dredge the chicken pieces in the eggs, then coat each piece with breadcrumbs.
  5. Place the chicken in the air fryer and “fry” for 6 minutes. The chicken pieces should not be touching each other.
  6. While the chicken cooks, prepare the tomato sauce in a small sauce pan by combining the tomato sauce with Italian seasoning and garlic salt. Simmer the sauce for 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat.
  7. After the chicken has been cooked, add 2 Tbsp. of tomato sauce to each piece of chicken and sprinkle them with mozzarella cheese.
  8. Cook in the airy fryer another 5 minutes on 375 degrees.
  9. Serve hot with your favorite vegetables or side of pasta.

Makes 6 servings.

Kitchen hacks- making a great Asian stir fry

Kitchen hacks- making a great Asian stir fry

Garden Center Demos

Every third Wednesday of the month, I trek down to the http://civicgardencenter.org to do a 1 hour cooking demo from 6 to 7 PM. Normally, pre-Covid, we held classes in 3 different HUB gardens around the city. One garden was in OTR, one in the West end and one in Amberly Village. Anyone could attend the classes and we did a taste test at the end.

The classes are now virtual and anyone can sign up around the country. It’s not quite the same without an audience and I miss the interaction of participants and taste test at the end. But, it’s still a way for me to share my nutrition knowledge and participants can ask questions online during the class. A gardening tip class is also available on the first Wednesday of the month from 6 to 7 PM. Sign up here: https://www.civicgardencenter.org/classes-events/#cookingfromyourgarden2

What’s cooking?

The purpose of the garden demos is to highlight the seasonal produce that’s growing and provide nutritional benefits. It’s also a way to show how to use the produce, reduce food waste and taste something new. This month, we shared the recipes early so participants could cook along with me.

The challenge

What’s challenging for me is to find a new and different recipe each month since some of the produce gets “repeated”. Kale, for example, is available for several months in the summer through fall. You can only make so many kale salads and soups! But, there’s so many different ways to enjoy this hearty vegetable, I can always find new ways to enjoy it.

Stir fries

This month, I opted to use cabbage and peppers in an Asian stir fry. I make this at home periodically, but have a picky daughter that’s not fond of ginger or soy sauce. But, if I’m doing the demo for another crowd, well- the skies the limit.

What I discovered with this recipe is that corn starch should be added with the vegetables and oil before cooking. What a difference this made! The sauce was consistent and not clumpy. Try it yourself with any garden (or store bought) vegetables you have on hand.

Nutritional benefits:

From a nutritional standpoint, this recipe is loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, folate and other cancer-fighting nutrients. It can be served as a side dish or add chicken, pork, tofu or other protein and serve over rice, noodles or other grain for a full meal.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. ginger paste or chopped ginger root

¼ cup canola oil, divided

1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets

¼ head of cabbage (green or red)

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 carrot, julienned

2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce

2-3 Tbsp. water

½ red, white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Sesame oil

½ cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

  1. Place cornstarch, garlic, ginger paste and 2 Tbsp. canola oil in a bowl. Add broccoli, cabbage, bell pepper and carrots and toss to coat.
  2. Heat the remaining canola oil in a large skillet or wok.
  3. Cook vegetables in skillet for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the soy sauce, water and onions.
  4. Continue to cook vegetables until onions are translucent.
  5. Drizzle sesame oil over the vegetables and serve with chopped cilantro.

Makes 6 servings.

 

 

 

 

 

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