Beet & Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

Beet & Black-Eyed Pea Hummus from Eat Your Greens

Last week I was feeling low. I was tired, the weather alternated between gray and uncomfortably muggy and gray and frigid cold, and everybody in our house seemed off: the baby napping badly, Rob and I getting annoyed at each other about stupid things.

But the biggest blow came when I heard back from the director of the nutrition program at the only school in the New Orleans area with the classes I need to finish my coursework. After going through my transcripts, she determined that I would need to take 13 more classes. Thirteen. Four more semesters. At Cal State Northridge, I had four classes and two semesters to go. You can imagine how my heart sank.

Beet & Black-Eyed Pea Hummus from Eat Your Greens

I’m going to do it, of course. It helps that I went to the school to meet with the director in person, and she was warm, down to earth, and happy to welcome me into the program next fall. It’s been strange not being in school for the last year, so I am looking forward to getting back in the classroom and using my brain again.

I returned to school in 2010 to become a registered dietitian and — with my remaining schooling, dietetic internship and a masters degree still ahead — it’s looking like I won’t be a full-fledged RD, MPH until 2020, but these last five years have convinced me there is nothing else I’d rather do. As my wise friend and former classmate Jocelyn advised me, “Truly, at the end of the day — there is no rush. Especially if you enjoy the ride!”

Beet & Black-Eyed Pea Hummus from Eat Your Greens

Still, I needed a little pick-me-up last week. And luckily it came in the form of a casual Sunday dinner with some friends visiting from L.A. and a mutual friend who lives in New Orleans. There was some gossip, some movie talk, some mujadarah for dinner and Louisiana strawberries for dessert, and a bowl of this bright, creamy dip made with black eyed peas and roasted beets. It’s impossible to feel bad while sharing a bowl of hot pink hummus in your living room with friends.

This dip uses the basic formula I follow anytime I make homemade hummus: homemade beans, oil, lemon juice, tahini and salt. From-scratch beans and their cooking liquid are the key to light, flavorful hummus, I’ve found — although you can use canned beans, they just have a flatter taste that is hard to hide, even with lots of seasonings. I typically go classic with chickpeas, but this time I used a batch of black-eyed peas that I cooked in the slow cooker over the weekend. Roasted beets add sweetness, a little more body — black-eyed peas are less dense and more watery than chickpeas, so this combination works especially well — and of course that irresistible hue. I like the nuttiness of walnut oil with the sweetness of the beets, but extra virgin olive oil is just as good if you don’t have walnut oil on hand.

Beet & Black-Eyed Pea Hummus from Eat Your Greens

Bonus tip: this is the best & quickest way to warm up pita bread.

I served it with crudite and pita chips, but I’ve been finding all sorts of uses for the leftovers: slathered on a whole wheat pita stuffed with kale salad, spread on a grilled cheese sandwich, and even mixed with a little plain greek yogurt for a snack. Hummus, veggies and pita was one of my go-to, easy to pack lunches when I was in school full-time, so I’ll be remembering this recipe come August when it’s back to school for me.

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Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade (That Tastes Good on Almost Anything)

Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade from Eat Your Greens

Some weeks it feels like you have no time for anything and you want a blog post to magically be written and a delicious dinner to appear after only five minutes of work in the kitchen. This recipe will help with the latter. (I’ve been trying my best to have it do both, but unfortunately the magic seems restricted to dinnertime.)

Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade from Eat Your Greens

During the weeks that hit me like a speeding train, one recipe I’ve been making again and again is a mustard-glazed salmon that I developed last spring for Beth’s baby shower. It was a big event for The Kitchn and I did a whole salad bar spread, but this salmon was the best recipe of the party for me. It takes about two minutes and a few pantry staples to make a marinade that is a little sweet, a little tangy, not too mustardy and I’ve recently discovered it tastes good on…almost everything.

Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade from Eat Your Greens

It started with bone-in chicken thighs, on a night when I was too lazy to make a complicated marinade, but craving more than a plain roasting with salt and pepper. I was too crunched for time to actually let the chicken marinate in the sauce; I just coated the pieces and popped them in the oven. The results were terrifically flavorful and so easy that lately it’s been hard to justify preparing chicken thighs any other way.

Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade from Eat Your Greens

If you don’t eat meat, or are just looking to break out of the rut of Asian-flavored tofu, a brief dip in the marinade before baking adds a ton of flavor to cubes of tofu. I like them on green salads or mixed into grain bowls. And even roasted vegetables can benefit from a drizzle of the marinade during the last few minutes of cooking.

Two-Minute Magic Mustard Marinade from Eat Your Greens

The original salmon recipe used Dijon mustard, but in I’ve become smitten with Creole mustard, a grainy mustard made with brown mustard seeds. If it isn’t sold near you, you can find it on Amazon or substitute another type of stone-ground mustard. Or hey, you can even use Dijon mustard — the whole point of this recipe is that it’s easy, for those weeks when nothing else in life is. Running all over town looking for special mustard is strongly discouraged.

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Extra Nutritious Red Kale Salad with Beets, Blood Oranges & Preserved Lemon Dressing

Extra Nutritious Red Kale Salad with Beets, Blood Oranges & Preserved Lemon Dressing from Eat Your Greens

Have you heard of Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson? Normally I am skeptical of any book touting “the missing link to optimum health” — so many silly fad diets out there! — but this is a fascinating, science-based look at the nutritional content of modern-day fruits and vegetables, and makes sometimes surprising recommendations about which varieties to choose and how to store them so they retain their nutrients.

You probably aren’t surprised to hear that as humans have cultivated fruits and vegetables to be sweeter, easier to transport and more appealing to look at, we have also lost many of the nutrients found in their wild ancestors. Apples, corn, leafy greens, potatoes, berries…virtually any type of produce you can buy has a less-domesticated cousin that is significantly higher in phytonutrients, those antioxidant plant compounds with many potential health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to protecting our brains as we age.

Extra Nutritious Red Kale Salad with Beets, Blood Oranges & Preserved Lemon Dressing from Eat Your Greens

I thought I was pretty well-informed about phytonutrients, as well as how to store and prepare fruits and vegetables to maximize their nutrient content, but this book was full of surprising tidbits. Here are a few I highlighted as I read:

  • If you tear up lettuce before you store it, you can double its antioxidant levels. How? “The living plant responds to the insult as if it were being gnawed by an insect or eaten by an animal: it produces a burst of phytonutrients to fend off the intruder.” Eat it within a couple days and you consume those additional antioxidants as well.
  • You can turn high-glycemic white potatoes into a low- to moderate-glycemic vegetable by cooking and chilling them for about 24 hours before you eat them. This transforms the starch in the potato to a more slowly-digested form, reducing blood sugar response by as much as 25 percent.
  • Looking at the phytonutrient content of 100 of the most common fruits and vegetables, “three of the top four-ranked foods were dried legumes” and “one serving of cooked pinto beans has more antioxidant activity than six cups of cooked cauliflower or twelve cups of cooked carrots.” Red kidney beans, black beans and lentils have even more. Go beans!

Extra Nutritious Red Kale Salad with Beets, Blood Oranges & Preserved Lemon Dressing from Eat Your Greens

Tons of interesting info, as you can see. And reading the book really drove home the point that making a few key changes in how you choose, store and prepare your produce can make an enormous difference in the nutritiousness of your diet and in turn, your health.

Find it: Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson

Which brings us to this salad. If you know even a little about phytonutrients, you probably already know that foods that are rich in color are also rich in antioxidants, and that red-colored fruits and vegetables are especially nutritious, as their color comes from anthocyanins, powerful phytonutrients which are being studied for their cancer-fighting, blood-pressure-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects.

Extra Nutritious Red Kale Salad with Beets, Blood Oranges & Preserved Lemon Dressing from Eat Your Greens

Kale salads are my jam, especially now that I live in a city where kale doesn’t exist. (Just kidding, I don’t want to incite another Kalegate. You can find kale salads in New Orleans…just not nearly as often as you do in L.A.) At least once a week, I do some kind of kale + seasonal fruit or roasted veggie + cheese salad. This week I decided I wanted an all-red version, made with Red Russian kale, red beets and blood oranges, with a preserved lemon dressing and a little feta cheese.

It’s extra nutritious and stunning to boot, with a bright, slightly briny flavor from the preserved lemons and feta. I ate it for lunch and then again with dinner, and if there had been any left, I would have eaten it with breakfast the next day too. The combo is so good, I sort of forgot the whole experiment was about nutrients in the first place — and isn’t that what healthy eating should be about?

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3 Nutritious & Filling Snacks for Nursing Moms (Or Other Very Hungry People)

3 Nutritious & Filling Snacks for Nursing Moms from Eat Your Greens

Heidi Swanson’s Oatcakes (left) and Muesli Snacking Cookies (right)

It’s unfortunate that I was too busy and stressed during most of pregnancy and the early months of having a baby to blog over here, as I had a lot of fun finding new ways to nourish myself with all the crazy changes going on in my body (can you say NUTRITION NERD?) and I didn’t have the chance to document them. So while this site won’t turn into recipes exclusively targeting moms and moms-to-be, I will occasionally be posting some of the recipes that helped me through the tumult of becoming a mother.

And even if you don’t have a need for the kind of nutrient-dense, filling and one-handed snacks that breastfeeding moms do, you may have a loved one with a baby on the way, or a hungry teenager in your life, or you’ve started a new workout routine that demands some portable and satisfying snacks. In which case, you can’t go wrong with a batch of any or all of these snacks. Freeze them on a sheet pan, transfer them to a labeled freezer bag, and gift them or store them in your freezer for easy grab-and-go snacks for any time of day. Or night. Like, middle of the night with a crying baby in your arms. They are lifesavers.

Nut & Seed Banana Oat Snack Bars - Eat Your Greens

Nut & Seed Banana Oat Snack Bars

Heidi Swanson’s Oatcakes (via Sweet Amandine): In the dark beginnings of breastfeeding, I would wake up for a 3AM feeding absolutely ravenous, exhausted and despondent about the day ahead. Then I would reheat one of these not-quite-muffins and sit down to feed the baby while breaking off dense chunks of oat-y, nutty goodness with one hand — and feel suddenly okay about being awake at such a godforsaken hour. Full of healthy omega-3 fats from flax seeds and walnuts, and fragrant with the combination of maple and coconut oil, these kept me satiated and happy for months. I made and froze two dozen while I was pregnant and ended up making another two dozen when those ran out.

Muesli Snacking Cookies: These just-sweet-enough cookies combine your favorite nut butter (I used peanut butter) with muesli, honey and cinnamon in a surprisingly satisfying little treat. I most often shoved one down before I had to leave the house and knew I would be starving before the next meal. I made and froze a double batch while I was pregnant and gave a little bag of them to a friend who had a baby a couple weeks before me.

Nut & Seed Banana Oat Bars: An Eat Your Greens classic! I had been depending on these bars to get me through long days at school, so I knew they would be an essential snack once the baby was born. I made and froze a double batch while I was pregnant and probably could have used at least a dozen more.

More Baby-on-the-Way Freezing Fun at The Kitchn

I spent the last month or so of my pregnancy loading my freezer with healthy dinners and documented the project over at The Kitchn. The endeavor turned out to be even more helpful than I expected when Rob had to leave unexpectedly just five weeks after Baby Kerkotong was born. Here’s the full series:

My Spring Project: Stock Up on Freezer Meals

Week 2: My Search for Lighter, Healthier Freezer-Friendly Recipes

Week 3: Essential Freezer Equipment & Supplies

Week 4: Here’s How I’m Going to Cook 60 Dinners in 6 Weeks

Week 5: The Best Reader Advice for Filling the Freezer Before Baby Arrives

Green Green Grits

Green Grits // Eat Your Greens

“You have a very cute baby!” said a woman standing next to Rob and me at the grocery store the other day. “Enjoy it. Mine is three years old now, and it’s like they say, the days are long and the years are short.”

Right before walking into the store, Rob had checked his email and found out his show is being renewed for a second season, which means we will be living in New Orleans for at least another year. Big news, huge news, which was instantly eclipsed by the immediate demands of grocery shopping with a seven-month-old. We forgot to talk about it again until we were halfway home. This seems to be the new order. The days are long and the years are short.

Green Grits // Eat Your Greens

Somehow we’ve settled into a daily life here — walking the dog around our new neighborhood, waiting in line for po-boys, finding a dentist — without it ever really sinking in that we live here now. But now there’s no denying: we’re on our way to becoming residents, not just visitors.

When I first starting cooking here, in a short-term rental kitchen with someone else’s tools, I felt totally lost. The ingredients were different. My pantry was sparse. Nothing I made felt right. But now, in my own kitchen with my own supplies, it’s finally starting to click. I’m buying collard greens instead of Chinese broccoli, and experimenting with field peas and other new-to-me Southern ingredients. It’s fun. And we need it, because dang it’s hard to eat out and still eat healthy here.

Green Grits // Eat Your Greens

Thankfully, it is easy to find beautiful local produce, along with locally- and sustainably-produced milk, eggs, meat and seafood, which makes eating in and eating well a lot easier. (And a lot cheaper than in LA!) So I’ve been playing around a bit in the kitchen, using NOLA ingredients with an LA mindset. Thus, green grits were born.

In my quest to both pump up traditionally heavy, dairy-laden dishes with vegetables and avoid making extra side dishes on tired weeknights, I am always trying to cram enough veggies into grain dishes to make them count as a full serving of green. (Or orange: this butternut squash barley risotto is a favorite.) I’ve discovered a love of grits here, but the usual restaurant treatment of equal parts butter and cheese isn’t the only way to love them. This super-green version blends in a bunch of hearty winter greens and a bit of green onion for a savory porridge that tastes just as good with breakfast eggs as it does with a soupy scoop of beans or braised beef shank for dinner.

Green Grits // Eat Your Greens

This is also a very flexible recipe. I like to go full-blast with an entire bunch of collard greens or kale, but if you or those you are feeding don’t love greens, you may be better off with using a milder green like spinach, or using a smaller amount of greens. (Rob admitted to me he found the collard greens version of these grits too bitter. Fine! More for me!) For a slightly richer flavor, you can also stir in a handful of shredded cheese at the end.

Welcome to my world of Southern California cooking in the South. Things aren’t very authentic here, but they taste pretty good — and make you feel a little better about that fried shrimp po-boy for lunch. { read more }