Sweet Fried Plantains

Some will say plantains, bananas …what’s the difference? Well, both of them belong to the Banana family however there are some differences. Plantains are starchier, contain less sugar than bananas and are much more versatile as a cooking ingredient – you can make both savory and sweet dishes with them. Both Green plantains as well as ripe yellow plantains are used widely in south indian and south american cuisines . Unlike bananas, plantains are typically cooked before consumption.

In terms of nutritional value, both bananas and plantains are equally good with some differences.  Both are high in potassium, magnesium and iron. Bananas however have higher antioxidants as compared to plantains.  But plantains have less sugar and low on the glycemic index scale and hence good for diabetic patients.  For some folks though, plantains can cause flatulence or gas.

Since starting my Paleo diet 3 months ago, I have been having mostly smoothies for breakfast. But once in a while if I am really hungry and if I was lucky to have found a ripe plantain at the grocers, then I make ‘fried plantains’.  Plantains are allowed on the Paleo diet because of the benefits mentioned above.

Plantains, both green and the ripe yellow ones are very common in Kerala cuisine.  Come to think of it, Kerala might be the only state in India where plantains are grown abundantly.  Plantain chips , which are nothing but green plantains peeled and thinly sliced and deep fried in coconut oil, are one of the specialty food items of Kerala.  Plantain fritters are also a very common keralan food! And steamed ripe plantains are always an accompaniment to  breakfast in the Malayalee household.

I have posted recipe for Kerala plantain fritters before.  Today I just wanted to post this simple dish of fried plantains made by cooking them and pan frying them. I first had these in a resort when we  were vacationing in Cancun.  So this is really the Mexican way of making ripe plantains I think (not sure). Only variation I have done here is that I have used coconut oil to fry them and added maple syrup instead of refined sugar.  This dish is so easy to make but is so tasty and makes a delicious and nutritious paleo breakfast!

Pan fried Plantains
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast, anytime snack
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 servings
 
Ripe plantains cooked and then lightly fried in coconut oil and served warm topped with maple syrup
Ingredients
  • 1 Ripe plantain ( should be really yellow or black)
  • 1 tbsp Coconut oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
Instructions
  1. Place a cooking pot half filed with water and heat till the water begins to boil. Cut the plantain into two halves and place in the boiling water. Cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes or until the plantains are fully cooked and soft to touch.
  2. Alternatively, you can steam the plantains in a steamer until soft.
  3. Once cooked, peel the plantains and slice them into ½ inch thick rounds.
  4. Heat a non stick cooking pan adding the coconut oil. When hot, add the plantain pieces (you may need to do so in batches) and lightly fry them flipping them once until they turn crispy on both sides (About 1 minute on each side)
  5. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle maple syrup on top!
Notes
Make sure you use only ripe yellow skinned plantains. If they are still pale yellow and seem hard, place them in a brown paper bag for a couple days before using!

 

 

‘So good for you’ smoothies!

Juice or smoothie? If you have wondered about that, let me quickly assure you that both of these are super beneficial for you. And you can use both to improve the health of your family!

When you juice (using a juicer that has filters) you are removing the insoluble fiber – the pulp. Although fiber is good for you, it slows down the absorption of nutrients and some nutrients stay in the fiber. When you juice, you are extracting up to 70% of the nutrition right into your glass1, and without the insoluble fiber your body absorbs 100% of these nutrients. Juicing has its advantages in that you get the nutrients out of the vegetables/fruits in their most absorbable state and so body can get the maximum benefits without it having to do any additional work.

Smoothies on the other hand are what you get when you blend whole fruits and vegetables together to form thick pulpy mixture. You can also add other nutritious ingredients to it – You can toss in a healthy fat, in the form of avocado, coconut oil, chia seeds, or almond butter. And you can blend in plenty of other superfood ingredients for an even broader spectrum of nutrients, like fresh grated ginger, matcha or cacao powder, fresh mint, and cinnamon.

Depending upon what your immediate health goals are, both of these can be beneficial. Juicing is incredibly beneficial for folks who are nutrition deficient and or immunocompromised as in autoimmune conditions.  Some children and even adults who don’t like to eat vegetables with their meals can really benefit from juicing since this way they get all the vitamins and nutrients easily. However, juicing can fail to keep you fully satiated since it does not have the fiber to fill you up. That’s where smoothies come in – smoothies can provide great taste and nutrition along with keeping your tummy full 🙂

We have been doing smoothies in our house a lot – I make it for the kids as a snack when they come from school. And my breakfast has been strictly only smoothies now for the past few months ever since I am on a Paleo diet.  And I love the fact that I can some up with so many variations of it!  I don’t even bother with recipes – its just about throwing different things together and most of the times they do come out great no matter what you put in them.

Many of my friends and family members have asked me what kind of smoothies I make. So in this post today I just wanted to give you some ideas …only to get you started and then all you need is your imagination and a refrigerator full of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables!

  1. Go Bananas!:  I love adding bananas in my breakfast smoothies because they are sweet, they are creamy and they give the smoothie a lot of body, meaning they fill me up! Using bananas as a main ingredient, you can create many different smoothie variations using various fruits like apples, plums, strawberries, mangoes, papayas, cantaloupe etc.
  2. Use Avocados: I love avocados for almost the same reasons as bananas – they are creamy, and filling. Plus since they don’t have a strong flavor of their own, so they can blend well with a lot of different fruits and veggies.
  3. Fresh mint/herbs/citrus:  Mint or citrus adds a nice fresh twist to your usual smoothie so use it sometimes to change up the flavor profile of your smoothie. A tinge of Fresh ginger or cinnamon are also great ways to spice up your smoothie giving it a whole new flavor level!
  4. Veggies and Greens: Smoothies are a great way to feed vegetables and nutritious greens to your kids (or to yourself!)- Some good vegetables to add in smoothies are celery, cucumber, carrots, beets and all kinds of greens. Blending Kale or spinach with bananas for example packs in a lot of iron in one glass! And is a great way to increase your iron intake.
  5. Add nutritional boosters: Adding chia seeds, flax seeds, matcha powder, almond butter, coconut oil etc to your smoothie can give it added nutritional and flavor boost!
  6. Healthy Fillers: To make the smoothies more filling, you can add nut milks or coconut milk to the smoothie for a creamy and fully satisfying drink!

As I said before I don’t follow any recipes but just the above rules. Following are 3 recipes that I recently made that I made sure to note the recipes for!  These are incredibly delicious and satisfying!

3 Refreshing Smoothies

  • Servings: Serves 2
  • Time: about 15 mins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Mint Avocado Cantaloupe:

  • 1 ripe Avocado(peeled)
  • 1 Banana (peeled)
  • 2 cups cantaloupe, chopped
  • 1 orange (skin and seeds removed)
  • 2 fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup water

Green Smoothie

  • 1 Green apple (peeled and sliced)
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 Banana (peeled)
  • 1 ripe Avocado (peeled)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 small fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup water

Very Berry 

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 cup frozen cherries
  • 1 Banana (peeled)
  • 2 kiwis (peeled and sliced)
  • 1/2 cup water

Method: For each of the above smoothies, add all the ingredients to a blender or a food processor and blend completely until smooth! This recipe makes 2 tall glasses!

 

 

 

Chicken and Pineapple Stuffed Swiss Chard Wraps

dsc_1784Did I read ‘A healthy recipe challenge’?  Wow,  now that’s the kind of thing that gets my attention!   And a challenge hosted by dear Angie of Fiesta Friday?  Now that is one that I cannot ignore, can I?  Especially considering the fact that for the last 18 months I have been scouring for knowledge combing through the vast ocean of information available (internet, books, case studies etc. etc.) to really understand what constitutes a healthy diet.

Is a plant based vegan diet the best for you? Or is it best to follow the Paleo route? What about GAPS? If you don’t know what this, look it up…you will be surprised!  What about just going gluten free? or just avoiding sugar? Some say eggs are good for you some say they are bad. Some say good fats like coconut oil and ghee are good while there are others who believe that oil-free is the way to go!  As you can imagine, instead of becoming well-enlightened,  I am now in a state that is somewhere in the middle of being overloaded with information and slightly confused 🙁

Unfortunately, there seems to be no clear, concise answer. But there is one thing that is common among all these diets and that is …eating fresh vegetables and fruits!  And lots of them – eat them raw in salads, in smoothies, freshly squeezed juices or cooked as in sautéed, roasted or steamed!.  Also, stay away from processed foods which includes white sugar and processed meat. Processed foods are bad for you since they have artificial chemicals, sweeteners, GMOs  etc which are the cause of many autoimmune and other diseases.  Cook fresh, eat healthy that should be your mantra.  Do not pick anything from the store (even if it says organic on the label) that lists more than 5 ingredients!  And then one final piece of advice I have for you based on all my experiments with the different diets thus far is this:  Choose one that you think you can live with. One that does not make you feel as if you are being deprived. Because at the end of  the day a healthy mind is necessary for a healthy body ! Eat fresh, be happy 🙂

As for me, I have finally settled on a Paleo diet since I think that’s one that I am able to sustain and since the Paleo  Autoimmune version is where I have seen good evidence of it working for reversing autoimmune diseases.

Hence for Angie’s challenge, I decided to make these wraps using Swiss Chard leaves. Angie’s challenge requires use of any greens and pineapple.  Pineapple offers a ton of benefits – including their ability to improve respiratory health, cure coughs and colds, improve digestion, and reduce inflammation, fight off infections and parasites.

For the green, Why did I chose Swiss Chard? Nutrition experts believe that Swiss chard and other chenopod vegetables, like beets, can be a highly renewable and cheap source of nutrients for many populations. Swiss chard nutrition is so prized because not only can the plant can be grown in a range of soils and require little light and water, but it also provides such a high amount of nutrients (1).

Swiss Chard has an extremely high nutrient-density. It has a high range of antioxidants  which are powerful at fighting free radical damageinflammation, and disease development. Swiss chard is also one of the best sources of betalains, water-soluble plant pigments that have a wide range of desirable biological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. (2) On top on this,  Swiss chard packs an impressive amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, copper, and even more vitamins and minerals. And with high levels of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and many trace minerals, there’s almost no health condition that Swiss chard can’t help.(3) In fact, Swiss chard is now even being grown in space! Swiss chard is among the first crops being grown in planetary space stations for astronauts and was chosen due to its extremely valuable nutrient profile, as well as its ease of being harvested. (4)

I was initially going to use shrimp for the stuffing but then decided that chicken would be a healthier option. The idea came from lettuce wraps and I decided to use the swiss chard instead of lettuce and to make the chard more edible I thought of making wraps and cooking them slightly.  dsc_1765I also added some more greens additionally – spinach when I cooked the ground chicken adding the traditional Indian spices used for making chicken kheema and then for toppings – pineapple and coconut pieces!

The wraps were delicious – the pineapple providing a refreshing tang and sweetness to balance the spicy chicken and the coconut pieces providing a nice crunch! And for me that was a complete meal. However I can easy see myself serving these as an appetizer or a side dish for a gathering.

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Chicken and Pineapple Stuffed Swiss Chard Wraps

  • Servings: Serves 4-6 served with rice/salad
  • Time: about 50 mins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

For making chicken Kheema:

  • 1 lb ground chicken, thawed completely
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • about 1 tsp sea salt (or as needed)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder (or us black pepper powder)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 6-8 Long Swiss Chard leaves

For toppings:

  • finely chopped red onions
  • fresh pineapple chopped into tiny pieces
  • thinly sliced coconut pieces (I used fresh frozen pieces after thawing)

Method:

In a wok style pan or kadai, heat the coconut oil. When hot add the cumin seeds and when they begin to toast (about 30 seconds), add the ginger, garlic and the spinach. Stir for a minute or so. Then dump all the ground chicken into the pan. Add all the spices too and keep stirring well as the chicken starts cooking.  Make sure you mix to coat all the spices well into the chicken mixture.  Continue stir frying for about 10 minutes on medium heat until the chicken is well cooked.  Add the lemon juice and Turn heat off and keep aside.

Now wash and dry the swiss chard leaves and cut the stems off all of them.  Also run your knife through the thick vein on the middle of the back of each leaf.  Then cut each large leaf vertically (through the middle vein) to get two pieces.

For making the wraps,  stuff a little bit – about  a tablespoonful of the chicken mixture into the bottom of one piece.  Then top with the onions, pineapple and the coconut pieces. Then slowly roll each leaf piece carefully like how you would roll a bedding.  Make similar rolls with the rest of the leaves.

To cook the rolls/ the wraps,  heat a non stick pan lightly brushing with some coconut oil.  Then slowly and carefully place the wraps in the pan by placing the side where the ends meet face downwards. Cook for about 1 minute on medium heat (this should seal the edges together) then carefully turn to the other side and cook another minute. Transfer the wraps to a serving dish.

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How to toast pumpkin seeds

how to toast pumpkin seedsWhat do you do with all those pumpkins you had around your house for decoration? I am sure most of you do use (I do hope you do because seriously otherwise there would be so much wastage of food !) up the pumpkin flesh.  Very simple to cut the pumpkin into 2-4 big pieces and place it in the oven to roast.  But I do love to use the seeds too. In fact my kids eagerly wait for me to do that – nothing like freshly toasted pumpkin seeds. Nothing like what you get in the store!

Pumpkin seeds (called Pepitas in spanish) are also an amazing superfood and are nutritional powerhouses packed with so much goodness – zinc, magnesium and omega-3 acids, phytosterols and antioxidants. These seeds are also high in fibre. All of these qualities work to provide the following benefits – boost our immune system and protect our heart1.  So next time you feel the hunger pangs, go for some freshly toasted pumpkin seeds!

toasted Pumpkin seedsI have shared the process of roasting a pumpkin to get pumpkin flesh/puree here in my Pumpkin and carrot muffins post.  Here I share the detailed steps for toasting the seeds.

  1. Once you cut up the pumpkin, you can scrape the seeds from the center out and put them in a pot with water. Slowly use your hands to jiggle the seeds away from the flesh.  Throw the flesh away and then strain the seeds through a sieve/strainer cloth to get all the water out.  Pat dry the seeds using a paper towel.

2. Now place these seeds in a cooking pot with some water and some salt and place on stove to boil.  Let boil for about 10 minutes on low (This step is important to cook the seeds from the inside).  Turn heat off. Drain the water by using a strainer.  pat dry the seeds using paper towels.

3.And then place the seeds on a well-oiled tray (quantity of seeds should be such that tray is not overcrowded and the seeds should be in a single layer).  Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt on top.  Bake at 350 deg F ( 175 deg C) for about 15-20 minutes or until they are toasted well on both sides.

4. Let cool and transfer to an air tight container. These can stay outside at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. But I guarantee you they won’t last that long 🙂

5. Eat the entire seed – both outer shell and the inside seed.!

toasted Pumpkin seeds

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (with Cranberries)

img_2204Winter is here after all. Sigh. The last few weeks I have been visiting all our local farms to try  and stock up on all the fresh apples of this season. Along with apples, there have been a good bounty of pumpkins and squash as well. This past weekend when I scouted the farms again to pick up any leftover apples – before they closed for the season, I found squash at throwaway prices. 99c for one. Not a bad deal! So I picked up Butternut squash and a couple acorn squash.

Butternut Squash is a winter squash very popular in the US and Canada and also in Australia and New Zealand. It tastes very much like pumpkin – quite sweet but has a nutty flavor. Because of its sweet taste, I have personally liked it only in soups. Roasting it is the easiest way to cook it plus also gives it additional flavor.

So I decided to make the soup mixing both the butternut and acorn together since acorn squash is a little less sweet. Halfway through my cooking process, I decided to add cranberries. I thought that would be a good way to mellow the sweetness down plus add a bit of tanginess.  You could also use tomatoes for this purpose but since I am avoiding all nightshades I decided to use cranberries for this purpose. Cranberries turned the soup into a nicer color too, imparting it more of a reddish tinge. Unfortunately since it was night time the photos don’t do justice to the actual color of the soup.

Butternut Squash soup with cranberriesMy son who is my main food critic at home, loved it and gulped down two bowls of the soup! And my daughter who doesn’t usually eat any vegetables much slurped it down too merrily. What more can I ask for 🙂

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (with Cranberries)

  • Servings: Makes 5-6 servings
  • Time: about 1 hour prep(baking) and 30 mins cooking time
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 of a large butternut squash
  • 1/2 of a medium acorn squash
  • 2-3 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 6 cups water
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top
  • red chili flakes for extra heat (optional)

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 400 deg F. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Cut the acorn squash in half and place in a tray lined with al foil face down (skin up). Add the garlic cloves with skin on onto tray as well.

Place tray in the oven and roast for about 40-50 minutes until the flesh inside the squash is tender. Remove from oven and Cover the squash pieces with foil and let cool for a few minutes. Peel the skin from the squash and the garlic and keep the flesh aside.

While the squash is in the oven, chop the onions and celery.

In a large cooking pot, add the oil and the onions and celery. Salute for 5 minutes on low until tender. Then add all the spices and the salt.

Next add the roasted squash and the roasted garlic(peeled). And add the cranberries and the water. Let simmer for 10 minutes on medium heat.

Turn heat off. take an immersion (hand) blender and puree the soup in the pot. (Alternatively, if you don’t have an immersion blender you can use a regular blender – but wait until the soup is less warm)

Serve with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some red chili flakes on top!

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Butternut Squash soup with cranberries