Happy January Everyone,
As I sit curled up with my fuzzy socks and watch the snow come down, I start to feel that familiar old feeling. It's a longing to feel dirt under my nails and grow something beautiful. I get it every late Winter/ early Spring, and it's usually the prompt behind digging out my seed packets, checking over my indoor greenhouse and dreaming wistfully of lush green gardens and fragrant flowers. Like a kick in the seat, this is the push I need to start thinking about what new vegetables I will introduce this year and the amazing recipes we will use them in. You see, bluntly put...I love food! Not just any food. Delicious, good-for-you food, with surprising flavors and hidden health benefits. There are plenty of terms for it, but I like to call it simply 'green goodness'. Full disclaimer...I am not a vegetarian, though many of the recipes I will share can easily be adapted to any life style choice. I believe in a full-spectrum diet covering all the essentials. I just have no problem filling the majority of my plate with veggies because I know the vast benefits that are unique to plants.
Plants are life-giving and sustainable, so it's no wonder we can't live without them in all their wonderful gloriousness. From the food we eat to the medicinal remedies we rely on, these multicellular nutrient-rich organisms are our best defense againt today's fast-paced modern world. If you're like me, you've probably struggled at some point to incorporate the right types and quantities of 'green goodness' consistently. One way I've assisted my intake is by ensuring I have certain herbs and vegetables available year round, grown in my own garden/home. This means I control what I will grow, harvest and eat and results in a ready supply for my family. There is little to no waste as we eat fresh, process and freeze the different vegetables and herbs as they become available. We plan our garden plot out each spring to maximize the space we have availabe and to ensure a plentiful yield. As we currently reside in Northern Alberta, we have had many ups and downs on the learning curve (like...it almost always frosts here mid-May and inevitably again in August), but I'd like to think we have gotten pretty good at year round gardening to suit our families needs. We're also are not picky eaters, so we like to be creative in using our produce and tend to vary our flavors frequently. After all...variety is the spice of life!
Keeping in mind that everyone's growing capabilities are different, just as not everyone has a green thumb, most of the produce we use is seasonally available at local food stores, or even better, at your local farmer's market. The other important thing to remember as we travel this Herbaceous road together, is that quality is important. I'm not saying it has to be organic or even grown in your backyard, but make sure you choose good quality produce to ensure shelf life and nutrient levels. If it looks sad and lackluster sitting wilted on the shelf, you better believe it's past it's prime! Save your money and time (too many trips to the grocier takes away from your valuable time better spent doing amazing you things) and select the 'happy, vibrant' produce.
My family happens to also adher to the "waste not, want not" ideal and what was today's dinner often finds itself as part of tomorrow's lunch. Perhaps not in whole, but main ingredients can easily be transformed and given new 'life' with a couple easy tricks. Similarly, we do not always have specific items and often this means substituting ingredients in recipes. In all honesty, we very rarely follow a recipe past the initial concept. Imagination and a bit of culinary curiousity can sometimes present surprising results that land themselves in the 'favorites' book, ready to be pulled out and transformed one day in the not so distant future.
One of my all time favorites is a Classic Greek Quinoa Salad (what better way to showcase 'green goodness'). It's a simple yet versatile recipe that is limited only by your imagination, and easily adapted depending on the produce you have available. Feel free to substitute any preferred veggies and to change the dressing accordingly. I've included a few alternative flavor profiles below the recipe. One thing you may notice is that none of my recipes will provide calorie intake. I do not count calories (I can't apologize for that) ...I count 'green goodness' and this one nails it everytime!
*image shown is Classic Mexican Coucous Salad with Avacado added! See...endless possibilities!
Classic Greek Quinoa Salad
Serves 4-6 (as a side)
Prep Time: Total 25-30 minutes
1 Cup Quinoa
2 Cups Water
1/2 Cup fine chopped Red Onion
1/2 Cup fine chopped Bell Pepper (I like red for color)
1/4 Cup diced Cucumber
1/4 Cup pitted, chopped Calamata Olives
1/2 Cup diced Feta Cheese
1/4 Cup chopped Sun-rippened Tomatoes (optional) *can substitute in diced Cherry Tomatoes
1/4 Cup chopped, pre-cooked Bacon (optional)
Dressing: 1/2 Cup Extra Virigin Olive Oil, 3 TBSP. Vinegar, 1/2 TSP. Oregano, 1/2 TSP. Basil, 1/4 TSP. Thyme, 1-2 cloves of finely chopped Garlic, Salt & Pepper to taste. Whisk ingredients until combined and set aside. Note: these quantities for the herbs is based on dried, if using fresh increase amounts to double original.
Directions: Add Quinoa to medium sauce pan and top with water over medium heat, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the Quinoa has absorded the water (about 10 - 15 minutes). Set aside and allow to cool. While the Quinoa is cooking you can go ahead and get started chopping up your other ingredients, and mixing the dressing. Once all the ingredients are prepped, the dressing is mixed and the quinoa is cooled (at least to room temp.) feel free to mix everything, tossing to coat in that lovely dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve. This is a great make-a-head recipe and a hit at potlucks.
1. Classic Mexican Quinoa Salad - substitute the Red Onion for Green Onion, Calamata Olives for Back Beans. Add grilled Corn Kernels. Substituted Chili Powder and Cumin in place of Oregano & Basil and omit Thyme in the dressing.
2. Classic Quinoa becomes Classic Couscous! Same great recipes except with Couscous (cooked to package directions).
Did you know that Oregano has Antibacterial, Antifungal and Antiparsitic properties making it a go to herb in aiding a strong immune system? Chili or Capsicum has long been used as a digestive tonic, while Garlic is often used in the treatment of colds and coughs. For such a simple recipe this one really packs a punch!
Have fun and be adventurous! The possibities are endless.