(Sugar) Free Lunch

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My dear friend and passionate nutritionist Binay (Bacon & Broccoli) is currently leading a super educational five-week sugar detox program that focuses on getting unhooked from unhealthy eating habits and rehooked on delicious, nutritious whole foods.  Now if you know me, you know I am very resistant to cleansing, fasting, juicing, or pretty much anything that involves strict dieting.  I seriously don’t have the will power, I detest stressing about food, and I am just frankly not convinced I need to radically change my eating habits.  I eat pretty well already without majorly fussing about it.  I believe we should all eat a balanced diet, heavy on the produce, moderate but inclusive of most other stuff, and of course avoid processed crap altogether. The end.  This is a diet I can live with daily, generally makes me feel good, and allows me to indulge in lots of small ways without guilt.

HOWEVER, I am really becoming a convert on this issue of excess sugar as a serious toxin to our bodies.  One of the leading researchers on this topic, Dr. Robert Lustig gave an amazing talk last year at Speak To Me on this topic, and the facts just stack up.   I will not belabor the details here, but I urge you find out more for yourself and your family.  Sugar is really killing us – no joke.

Check out Binay’s blog at http://www.baconandbroccoli.com/blog/

Get a video of Dr. Lustig’s talk at http://speaktomeevents.com/speakers/ and find out more on his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/DrRobertLustig

Anyhoo.  So I undertook to teach a “delicious sugar-free cooking” class as part of this detox program, and thought I would share our lunch menu which DOES INCLUDE DESSERT!   There are a lot of components here, but each one of these dishes is pretty quick and easy.   You could quickly whip up any one of them in no time, and they are very forgiving – so get creative and make them your own!!

Padron Peppers

These mostly mild bite-size peppers from Spain are now pretty commonly available at higher end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Molly Stone. Pepper roulette – watch out some of the big ones can be a bit spicy!

  • 1 pack of padron peppers rinsed and dried
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • Crunchy finishing salt such as fleur de sel, or I love the hand harvested sea salt from Jacobsen http://jacobsensalt.com. These are also great with Tajin, the ubiquitous Mexican chili lime salt

Heat oil in a large sauté pan – you don’t want to crowd the peppers.   When the pan is hot drop in the peppers and flip them around occasionally until they are nicely browned on all sides. You may need to take the smaller ones out sooner so they don’t burn. Remove from pan, squeeze the lime over them, dust with salt and eat quickly before your spouse or friend hogs them all.

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Gazpacho – serves 6

This classic Spanish cold soup is perfect for lunch, and can be kept for a couple of days in the fridge to have on hand when you need a quick snack. Traditionally, day old bread is used to thicken the soup, but we’re skipping the carbs and I truly believe it’s equally good with just the veggies. I find that the sweetness and flavor of cherry tomatoes is more consistent outside of peak tomato season when the big ones are often mealy and bland.   You can add fresh herbs if you like – basil, cilantro, mint are good!

  • 2 packs cherry tomatoes rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper – color of your choice, stem, seeds and membrane removed, rough chopped
  • 1 cucumber – peeled, halved lengthwise and seeds removed with a spoon, rough chopped
  • 1 celery rib – trimmed and chopped into a couple of large pieces
  • ¼ medium size red onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 large clove garlic – chopped roughly
  • 1 ½ cups tomato juice
  • 1 T red wine vinegar – plus more to taste
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 4-6 ice cubes
  • 2 t salt – or more to taste – don’t be afraid to make this nice and salty – the salt really brings out the flavors of the veggies
  • White pepper – couple of grinds

Puree the whole party in a blender or food processor. Taste for acidity and salt and adjust as necessary. Tada! You can make it rustic and chunky or super smooth – whatever you like…

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Bitter greens with poblano peppers, pickled radishes, toasted quinoa and toasted cumin/lime dressing – serves 6

This salad has a nice range of flavors and textures that help elevate it beyond the old lettuce and cold veggies on a plate staple. The toasted cumin dressing really warms it up and brings it all together.  We omitted cheese, but a tangy fresh feta or shaved ricotta salata would be a great addition as well!

  • 1 red onion – peeled and cut crosswise into 3/4″ thick rounds trying to keep all the layers together
  • 4 medium poblano peppers – seeds and membrane removed, cut into strips
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white quinoa
  • Bitter greens – we used radicchio, baby mustard greens, white and red endive, arugula and spinach – washed and well dried
  • 1 cup jicama – peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 small bulb fennel – halved, cored and thin sliced. Reserve the fronds if you want to add to the salad
  • Roasted salted pepitas
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup pickled radishes (see recipe below)
  • 2 avocados
  1. Place the red onion rounds on a grill pan over medium heat, sprinkle with a little salt and allow to slowly cook/blacken for about 10 minutes. Carefully use tongs to flip and cook the other side. The goal is to have them very soft and almost caramelized. Chop into strips.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the poblanos until they are well softened and browned on the outside.
  3. Cover the quinoa in cold water and soak for 5 minutes. Swish and rinse 2-3 times to remove soapy residue from the hulls. Drain. Heat a frying pan and add quinoa stirring frequently until it becomes dry and begins to toast to a nice fragrant brown. They burn quickly once they are dry so don’t walk away!
  4. Cut the avocados into bite size pieces just before you dress and toss the salad to avoid oxidation.
  5. Toss the greens, jicama, poblanos, onion, radishes and fennel together and dress sparingly with the cumin/lime vinaigrette. Top with pepitas, cilantro, toasted quinoa, and avocados and serve immediately.

Pickled radishes

  • bunch red radishes – washed and greens removed, thin sliced
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
  • 1 t yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1 bay leaf

Mix the vinegar and spices together and pour over the radishes in a clean glass container, submerging completely.   Marinate for 30 minutes and/or refrigerate for up to a week.

Toasted cumin and lime dressing

  • 1 T cumin seeds
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 t Salt

In a dry pan, toast the cumin seeds until fragrant. Grind to a powder in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.   Whisk together cumin and remaining ingredients, and taste – adding more lime juice or salt as necessary.

Marinated grilled shrimp – serves 6 for lunch

Here’s a quick simple marinade for shrimp.  Of course you can swap out the herbs, punch it up with more garlic, or sub in lemon for lime.  Go crazy. The shrimp are still the star though so use the best quality you can find.

  • 3 dozen large shrimp – peeled and deveined
  • 1 large clove garlic – minced
  • 1 T dried oregano – I prefer Greek Oregano if you can get it
  • 1 t salt
  • Juice of 2 limes and/or tajin (Mexican chili lime salt)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 additional limes cut into wedges to squeeze at the table

Marinate the shrimp for about 1 hour in the refrigerator. Grill in a pan for 2-3 minutes per side until just pink and curled but not tough (please – I hate overcooked shrimp).

Serve with lime wedges and/or Tajin

Guilt-free coconut panna cotta – makes 6-8

I love this dessert and seriously can’t believe it’s sugar free. I had this for breakfast this morning too – utterly delicious! Use canned organic coconut milk – not the “culinary” coconut milk, which is mixed with coconut cream and has a granular texture that is not desirable in this creamy dish.

  • 2 cans (about 4 cups) organic coconut milk
  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 8-10 cardamom pods – crushed gently with the side of a heavy knife
  • Small pinch salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 cup wide flat dehydrated unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Assorted berries

Heat the coconut milk in a pan, reserving 3 T to the side in a bowl. When almost boiling add the cardamom pods, cover, remove from the heat and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain the pods out of the milk and return the milk almost to a boil.   Stir in salt and vanilla.

Dissolve the gelatin in the reserved coconut milk, and whisk the mixture into the hot milk until fully dissolved.

Pour equally into small glasses, cups or ramekins and chill until set (about 2 hours)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut flakes on a baking sheet and toast for 3-4 minutes until light brown. Cool to room temperature.

To serve, top each panna cotta with a few coconut flakes, a scant ¼ t of orange zest and 2-3 berries.

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