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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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FAIL: The Wild Radish Rapini Challenge

by | Mar 11, 2009

Want to get people to eat more vegetables? One way NOT to accomplish it is to have them eat something that doesn’t taste good.

I tried a recipe for radish rapini (radish greens) this weekend that really let me down. The rapini itself was delicious, but overall the dish was a huge disappointment.

All is not lost, however. I’d be willing to bet just a minor tweak could transform this dish from cloying to classic!

The Challenge

You might remember that Saturday at the farmers market I was challenged by Knoll Farms to buy and prepare some of their wild radish rapini. I didn’t really accept the challenge, which would have involved giving them my name in the event that I seriously wanted my money back after trying it (I still don’t). But I did buy their greens and borrow their recipe.

Admittedly it was a mistake on my part to tell you guys I would try this recipe before really reading it (I have a tendency to skip this critical reading step before deciding to cook something–probably not the best habit). But once I made the commitment I didn’t want to mess with the recipe too much.

In retrospect I wish I had gone with my gut on this one and altered it anyway.

My Main Complaint?

Their recipe called for equal parts coconut oil, raw honey and tahini. Tahini I can understand. It has a wonderful rich, smokey flavor that I use on greens regularly. I have no experience with coconut oil, but have heard good things and was interested in trying it.

Honey is a different story.

Personally I would never put honey on greens. Raw or “healthy” or whatever, sugar is sugar. It is hard enough to avoid sweets in this food culture without adding sugar to vegetables.

My brain warned me of all these things. But for you, dear readers, I followed the recipe anyway.

Taste

From a culinary perspective, the honey was just as unsavory (um, pun intended). I freely acknowledge that there are a few dishes where a touch of honey/sweetness can add a nice element and heighten the dish. I was willing to give the Knoll folks the benefit of the doubt for 2 reasons:

  1. I have never had “raw” honey and thought maybe it would taste different than the honey I was used to. It didn’t.
  2. I thought there was a chance the sweetness would balance the smokey flavor of the tahini (I was dreaming of Hawaiian BBQ). Maybe a different ratio of honey and tahini works, but it certainly doesn’t at 1:1.

So from my perspective the dish was too sweet. Sickly sweet. The honey completely overpowered the brightness of the greens (which were wonderful!). If I had to change only one thing in this dish, I would substitute Meyer lemon juice for the honey.

I bet that would be good! It could also use some garlic.

The Recipe

When I cooked the greens I followed their recipe exactly. I blanched them for ~4 minutes until they were bright green, squeezed out the water and cut them up. The taste test I did at this point was really encouraging.

I premixed the wet ingredients. Both the coconut oil and the honey were solid at room temperature so I microwaved them for 15 seconds.

When I tasted the dressing at this point I knew it would be too sweet, so I only used about half of it. I had already halved the dressing ingredients because I had fewer greens than the recipe called for, so there is no chance that I had simply “over-dressed” the greens. The dressing was bad. Really bad.

Tempeh

To make a complete meal I cooked up some tempeh to toss with the dish. Tempeh is an Indonesian-style fermented soy product. It is an interesting ingredient that takes some getting used to, but once I figured out how to cook it I fell in love with it. For herbivores and omnivores alike, it is a great source of protein that adds both depth of flavor and nutrition to any vegetable dish.

I prepare tempeh by thinly slicing it and lightly cooking it in olive oil until golden brown. (In this recipe I thought I might try something new and cook it in the coconut oil, and it was a complete disaster. It started smoking almost instantly and I had to add olive oil to the pan to prevent excessive burning.) After it has browned slightly on both sides I toss in a few tbsp of light soy sauce, which quickly sizzles, caramelizes and coats the tempeh.

It is important to keep stirring constantly (it could be described as “frantically”) for about 30 seconds after adding the soy sauce then immediately remove the tempeh from the pan. If you try this at home, be extra careful not to burn it.

Usually I eat tempeh tossed with either kale or broccoli shoots pan fried with garlic, served on a bed of brown rice. I guess it is ironic that my favorite garnish is a drizzle of tahini.

In this case I added the tempeh to the rapini greens. The whole thing was okay, but rather unsatisfying compared to my normal dinners. I probably should have tried this recipe instead.

Conclusion

All in all, this is not the recipe I would choose if I wanted to get people to like a new vegetable. In my experience the best way to get someone to appreciate something new is to add bacon.

Maybe next week I’ll try wild radish rapini again with my own recipe, or maybe something new and exciting at the market will distract me. We’ll see.

Share your favorite recipes (or links) for great ways to cook unusual foods!

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