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How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Essential Groceries

by | Apr 10, 2009
Fresh Herbs

Fresh Herbs

Having the necessary pantry items is critical to getting started eating healthy, but obviously you need a lot more than that if you actually want to cook fresh, delicious food. Today I have prepared a list of groceries that should always be in your refrigerator. Many of these items are fresh, which means you need to buy them regularly.

(This post is part of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry. Subscribe to Summer Tomato to get more free healthy eating tips)

As I have explained before you must set aside a small amount of time once a week to do your grocery shopping or else healthy eating will be nearly impossible. This time needs to be non-negotiable; you must find a way to make it happen.

So why not start to upgrade your healthstyle this weekend?

Put these groceries on your weekly shopping list and never take them off:

  • Shallots or leeks These are members of the onion family, but milder and sweeter than you might be used to. Even if you think you do not like onions, I recommend starting most vegetable dishes with one of these ingredients. Shallots are like small, mild red onions. Leeks are like large green onions, but tender and delicate in flavor. Here you can see pictures of leeks and shallots.
  • Garlic People feel very strongly about garlic, some can’t get enough while others avoid it. I have found myself in both camps at some point, but now I am somewhere in the middle. I go through a small bulb every week, but rarely use more than one clove per dish. With subtle amounts of garlic you can add depth and dimension to your meal. Too much can overpower all the other flavors.
  • Lemon As I explained when discussing vinegar, acidic foods are extremely important in cooking. Lemon has the added bonus of possessing an amazing zest that adds both sweetness and brightness to your food. I panic a little if I don’t have lemon in the house.
  • Parsley Flat leaf or “Italian” parsley is the perfect herb for everything. I always buy it, even if I do not know what I am going to use it for. It is also rather robust and keeps longer in the fridge than more delicate herbs, like cilantro. If you do not normally cook with parsley, definitely buy some and try it in your next vegetable dish. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
  • Fresh herbs Of all the other fresh herbs, I usually only pick one or two to have in my kitchen at once. Which ones I choose depends on the other foods I am buying. Mexican food thrives with cilantro and oregano. French style vegetables are beautiful with thyme. I cannot live without rosemary on my roasted potatoes. Mint is perfect with Moroccan food. Experiment! Fresh herbs can change the way you approach cooking. If you don’t know how to use something, Ask Me! or ask Google 🙂
  • Eggs I do not buy eggs every week, but I buy them regularly (always a half dozen farm fresh eggs). They are incredibly versatile and a great, quick meal any time of day. Check out my favorite scrambled eggs recipe.
  • Tofu or tempeh However you think you feel about tofu should probably be reexamined. It can be very delicious when prepared correctly. Regardless of the claims of Dr. Atkins, science tells us it is actually much healthier to get your protein from vegetable sources. I love meat in all its forms, but during the week I usually stick to vegetable protein and fish. And sometimes eggs.
  • (Soy) milk I use soy milk for my cereal and in my coffee. I know many people prefer different kinds of milk, and whatever you choose is fine. If you currently drink dairy milk, my only warning is to use it very sparingly. Consuming cow’s milk is strongly linked to increased risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis (I know!), acne, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. If you were raised in America and do not follow nutrition science, I’m sure this sounds insane (it did to me). Unfortunately it is true. Easy on the milk.
  • Condiments I mentioned last time I keep my soy sauce and almond butter in the refrigerator. The other condiments I keep handy are tahini, mustard, tomato paste, capers and olives. None of these are absolutely necessary, but they are nice to have around to mix up your flavors. They do not need to be purchased very often.

These groceries are always in my refrigerator and it is fair to say that I consider them essential. However, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Please share with us your favorite essential groceries so we can all benefit.

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Stinging Nettle and Israeli Couscous With Lemon, Parsley and Capers

by | Dec 9, 2008

Saturday at the farmers market I was talked into buying some stinging nettle and I must admit, I was pretty skeptical. Who wants to put something in their mouth that has stinging in the name?

But despite my reluctance, I could not deny that the nettle (to avoid negative connotations I am going to ditch the “stinging” part) was beautiful, fluffy and green, things that I generally associate with delicious. Besides, I pride myself on not being afraid of trying and cooking new foods.

I accepted the challenge. Now what to do with these weird things?

Eating the nettle alone did not sound particularly appealing. If I really love it I could always go back and get some more, right? I had heard that nettle has an earthy, green flavor, so I thought it might pair well with pasta, garlic and lemon.

I do not usually keep pasta in the house (I prefer fresh pasta if I am going to bother eating it), but I did recently purchase some Israeli couscous from Trader Joe’s. Israeli couscous, also called ptitim, is basically just giant couscous. It is made out of semolina wheat, the same kind of flour Italian pasta is made from. (No, couscous is not a whole grain).

I was starting to form a mental image of my meal: Mediterranean style Israeli couscous with greens and garlic. Oh! And I just bought a beautiful Meyer lemon at the farmers market. It’s juice and zest would be a perfect complement to brighten the dish. And since we are going Mediterranean, Italian parsley and capers would be lovely accents.

On a whim I decided to roast an acorn squash as well and use the nettle dish as a stuffing. It was good, but I do not think it was the best pairing and I do not recommend it. I looked nice, but the flavor profiles were a little off.

The nettle and couscous dish on its own was spectacular though. I wish I would have paired it with my Romanesco broccoli instead.

I should also confess that my lips are stinging a bit, but in the good way.

Stinging Nettle and Israeli Couscous With Lemon, Parsley and Capers
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 bag of stinging nettle
  • 1/2 cup dry Israeli couscous
  • 1/3 bouillon cube
  • 1/2 shallot
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 Meyer lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tbsp capers

Start some water boiling. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan on medium heat and add couscous. Toast couscous in olive oil, stirring frequently until light brown, about 5 minutes (just following the instructions on the box here). Slowly add 1/2 cup of boiling water to couscous, add bouillon cube and return to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 12 minutes.

In the mean time dice your shallot, garlic and parsley. Rinse your nettle in a strainer (you can touch it a little, but I would keep your hands off as much as possible). Heat a little olive oil in a pan and add the chopped shallot. Cook shallot for 2 minutes then add garlic. After 30-60 seconds add nettle and salt, then stir and cover. After one minute, uncover the nettle, stir again and add parsley.

If the couscous is ready, add it to the pan. If not, turn off the heat until couscous is ready to add. Stir couscous into the greens until well mixed. Squeeze lemon juice into the pan and add grate lemon zest directly on top of the dish. Add capers, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately. This is probably enough for 2 people as a side dish. Yum!

Anyone else have any nettle ideas?

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