Ras el hanout: A Warming Spice Blend for Your Holidays

ras el hanout

As some of you may know, I have a slight addiction to cooking shows and, during several Chopped and Top Chef marathons, I heard mention of a North African spice mixture called ras el hanout. My curiosity was piqued so I followed the trail.

Ras el hanout translates from Arabic to ‘head of the shop’ because the mixture is made from the top quality spices one might find in a spice shop. Ingredients vary slightly by region and even by shop but, at their base, they generally include clove, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, and cumin. Some ras el hanout blends also include rose petals, fennel, or coriander. You really can’t go wrong with any of these and oh, my warm spice-y goddesses! This stuff if GOOD!

In addition, each of these spices has powerful healing properties—turmeric for general immune system strength and inflammation, ginger for gut healing, clove for respiratory and bacterial infections, cinnamon to regulate blood sugar… Ras el hanout thus helps serve as an excellent preventative for bad germy invasions and other illnesses.

This spice blend can be found in some grocery stores or you can make your own. Below is a recipe to bring North African flavors to your holiday table. These spice-y shallots can replace canned onions on your great aunt’s green bean casserole recipe. They’re also delicious on a ginger-y butternut squash puree or mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

Crispy Ras el Hanout Shallots
Serves 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 medium shallots, peeled and cut into ¼” thick slices
  2. 1 tsp. organic sunflower oil (or another high smoke point oil)
  3. 1 tsp. ras el hanout
  4. a pinch or two of salt (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. This takes so little time to prepare that you might even preheat the oven 5 minutes before you begin cutting the shallots.
  2. Slice shallots into 1/4-inch slices.
  3. Separate the layers of the shallots into rings as best you can.
  4. Toss with oil and ras el hanout.
  5. Spread out the spiced shallots evenly on a cookie sheet.
  6. Roast until they just start to turn crispy, about 20 minutes. Toss halfway through using a spatula to ensure even browning.
  7. Toss with optional salt and serve warm.
Notes
  1. I highly recommend doubling this recipe because they are so addictive that half of my shallots never make it to the plate.
  2. Photo: © fkruger
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From the Garden: Royal Burgundy Snap Beans

Beans can be found in a variety of hues at this time of year. In addition to the more well-known green beans, this family of legumes known as snap beans, appear in yellow and white and the alliterative Dragon’s Tongue bean looks like it’s been licked with purple flames. One of my favorite snap beans is the Royal Burgundy, a deep violet that almost looks black.

Bunch of purple wax snap beans in rustic bowl in horizontal format

Royal Burgundy’s can be a bit tough, especially if picked when mature. This makes them great for pickling or canning but you can eat them raw (if you have strong guts and generally do well with raw foods) or you can do a quick blanch to tenderize them. It is through cooking the Royal Burgundy that I first fell in love with them. I put them into boiling water and turned my back for a few seconds. When I turned back to the pot, Holy Technicolor Beans, Batman! These heirloom legumes were no longer a deep purple. They were green!

Like purple cauliflower and purple cabbage, the hue of the Royal Burgundy bean fades when exposed to environments that are less acidic than the soil where it was born, like boiling water or heated oil. [1]  It’s a fun trick to use with kids and may even get them to eat these high-protein, high fiber, Vitamin C-rich veggies. [2]

Royal Burgundy’s are not available everywhere but I recommend any kind of snap bean to clients who are trying to be healthier because beans are nutritious and filling. They are great if you are trying to increase your vegetable intake but struggling to feel full. Snap beans work with many restricted diets but their uses are versatile: Add a delicious crunch to salads, dip in hummus at a picnic, sauté with garlic or, after blanching make them, make them French-style tossed with a light mustard vinaigrette and fresh dill. Because they are so hearty, they stand up well to bold-flavored Asian applications such as a rich coconut curry or a wok stir-fry with sesame oil and sesame seeds. Anyway you toss them… Enjoy!

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[1]  “Why Do Purple Beans Turn Green after Cooking.” from Garden Betty: Diary of a Dirty Girl blog.

[2] Rahi Seed Bank’s description of Royal Burgundy beans.

From the Garden: Radish and Mint Salad Recipe

Bunch of radishes

Radish and mint are coming up throughout the northeast and they make a delicious and easy salad. Persian communities regularly eat them together as part of sabzi khordan, which means “eating greens”.

 

Sabzi is typically a mix of many things but to make this simple and refreshing salad recipe:

  1. Cut a few radishes into thick slices or quarters.
  2. Wash a few mint leaves.
  3. Slice some feta.

That’s it.

Use your hands to eat a slice of radish, a mint leaf and a piece of feta as a mid-afternoon snack or as a healthy, easy addition to a picnic in the park.

From the Garden: Eggplant for Your Delayed Aunt Flow

EggplantSeptember is perhaps one of the best produce months because we have the overlap of the end of the summer leaves, squashes, and cruciferous vegetables and the fall roots and squashes. Among the new plants we can eat fresh are eggplants (aka, aubergine, brinjal, bengan, elabatu).

Like other purple and red skinned produce, it is loaded with antioxidants. It is also high in fiber so it cleanses the digestive tract and is rich in Vitamin C and its skin is tauted as a excellent for the skin because it protects cells from inflammation. (See Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles by Allison Tannis)

Eggplants hold a special place in women’s health. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda recommended eating it if you want to bring on menstruation. For some, it works just by eating it once or twice. For others, it may take regular consumption to have an effect. (For more reading on this, see Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford and The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Michael Tierra.)

Some but not all practitioners believe that eggplant is best avoided if you have painful cramps, once your period starts, and during pregnancy. If you have questions as to whether it is right for you, as always, consult a natural health practitioner such as an acupuncturist, Ayurvedic healer, or integrative doctor. (If you would like recommendations in NYC, let me know.) This is also not to say that eating eggplant will cause a miscarriage. If you have made the choice to terminate a pregnancy, eating eggplant may not be the solution you are looking for. Feel free to contact me if this is an area where you would like support.

Eggplants are especially delicious roasted but if you’re not ready to turn your oven on just yet, here is a simple stovetop side-dish that includes cumin seeds which are a great source of iron according to one of my favorite sites, The World’s Healthiest Foods. The iron in cumin is helpful for building blood and thus helpful support before, during, and after menstruation. ¡Buen apetito!

  1. If you have a hard time digesting peels and/or you really do not like to eat the peel, peel the eggplant. Otherwise, just peel off a few strips and leave some of the peel on to gain from the antioxidants in the purple shell.
  2. Dice small-ish eggplant into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups
  3. SIDENOTE: Many culinary traditions recommend salting eggplant before cooking in order to reduce the bitter taste as well as oil absorption. For the purposes of using eggplant as a healing food, consider NOT salting the eggplant as salt can inhibit circulation and the purpose of cooking this superfruit is to improve blood circulation.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil of your choice over low heat. (Extra virgin olive oil, ghee, or untoasted sesame oil are my favorites for this dish.)
  5. Add 3/4 Tbsp cumin seeds and ½ Tbsp crushed, dried rosemary in a sauté pan or wok and toast until fragrant, about 5 mins.
  6. Add eggplant to the sauté pan, coating the egpplant well in the oil and fragrants.
  7. Cover and sauté over low heat, approximately 15 minutes, tossing regularly until the eggplant are tender and a fork easily goes through and each piece is brown.
  8. If you have not eaten much salt or salty (often prepared) food that day and you generally do not have issues with blood pressure or blood flow issues, add a pinch or two of salt in the middle of cooking.
  9. Serve with a sturdier whole grain like millet or brown rice or fish. Click here to download the latest guide and app to determine which fishes are sustainable and healthy.

 

From the Garden: Greens, Greens, and More Greens

bunches of greensChard, and lettuces, and dandelions, and mustards, oh my!!! Take your pick of greens because they are popping up in abundance for the next several months. Baby versions of kale and arugula are ideal for salads. More mature collards and chard can be easily and quickly sautéed. All of these are packed with iron, calcium, Vitamin C, fiber and various other heart-healthy nutrients.

If you’re heading to a BBQ or picnic, capitalize on the seasonal freshness and throw together a quick salad because there is a good chance you will be the only one to bring something green. This is especially great if you are eating meat off the barbie because greens help break down the protein and will give you energy so you can keep the party going longer. Here is a recipe for a quick and easy salad that is packed with flavor as well as nutrients.

Quick Greens Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cucumber, sliced very thin
  2. ½ cup of pumpkin seeds
  3. 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  4. 2 tablespoons of ume plum vinegar
  5. 5 oz (5 cups) of baby kale (whole) or mature lacinato kale (chiffonaded-- cut into very thin slices)
  6. 1 avocado
Instructions
  1. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop each half into a large bowl.
  2. Add the kale to the bowl and massage the avocado into the kale, as if you were mixing together a hamburger or veggie burger mixture. This tenderizes the dense leaves like you would meat and helps the kale break down so it is easier to digest and the nutrients are more readily available. Really get in there and massage for a solid 3-5 minutes depending on whether you’re using baby or mature kale.
  3. Add in everything else and mix well.
  4. Taste.
Notes
  1. If you want more seasoning, add more vinegar, a small amount at a time (1/2 tsp at a time) because it can become too salty very quickly.
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From the Garden: Dandelion Greens

Foraged edible dandelion flowers and greens in bowlMay marks the beginning of fresh greens season in the Northeast, and top on the list of nutrient-rich, super foods are dandelion greens. Rich in calcium and iron, Vitamins A & K, amongst many other nutrients, they can be helpful for restoring minerals during and after your period. Herbalists recommend drinking an infusion of dandelion greens starting in the third trimester of pregnancy to increase milk production. Dandelion greens also deep clean the liver, they are a diuretic and are used to break up kidney stones, and they regulate blood sugar so they are great additions to a spring detox.

This super food has a bitter bite that can be mellowed by combining the leaves with something a bit richer, like nuts, or something sweeter, like beets.

To eat, wash the leaves and cut off the bottom stems, then mix some of them raw into a rich basil pesto or your favorite salad mix, sauté them lightly with your favorite healthy oil and garlic, use them instead of spinach in cooked dishes, or incorporate them into your morning juice.

 

 

From the Garden: Turnip Greens

Turnips on the tableWe’re approaching the end of the local winter crops here in the Northeast and *some of us* might be a little sick of the all too popular kale at this point. If you are looking to switch things up, consider turnip greens. They are packed with calcium (4 times more than broccoli, cabbage, and their relatives), folate and Vitamin K1 (good for the pregnant ones out there or those trying to get pregnant). Turnip greens might be a little harder to find than spinach or kale so check your local farmer’s market. Some might find turnip greens to be on the bitter side so I’d recommend that you give them a quick steam (5 minutes) and then toss with something rich or tangy, like browned pieces of local bacon sautéed with onions and crushed red pepper, or this vegan dressing: mix raw tahini with hot water (3 parts tahini: 1 part water). Stir in a small amount of non-soy miso paste while the water is still hot (available at most health food stores in the refrigerated section) and add more paste to taste depending on how salty you like it. Take note: those with existing kidney or gallbladder issues might stay away from turnip greens as they may exacerbate your symptoms.

Squash Sugar This Holiday Season

pumpkin baked with herbs and spices on a plateCrowd out processed sugar by eating sweet vegetables for dessert instead, like butternut or kabocha squash or carrots that have naturally caramelized in the oven or on the stove. In addition to reducing sugar cravings and maintaining more balanced energy levels, eating squash or carrots provides your body with beta carotene which can be helpful for your eyes and skin because it helps rebuild tissue. This can be especially good for those of you in your third trimester or who have just had a baby.

If you must have more sweet flavor drizzle a small amount of high quality maple syrup on your veggies (less than you think you need). Then try to decrease the amount of maple syrup you use each time.

Healthy Office Cooking in Less Than 5 Minutes

IL4A0259Every office has a way to make boiling water and you can use it to blanch fresh greens, like swiss chard which is in season in New York from May November.

Here is an easy Swiss Chard recipe you can make in less than 5 minutes:

 

Swiss Chard Recipe
Serves 1
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Ingredients
  1. few pieces of swiss chard (or the whole bunch if you're really hungry)
  2. 1tbsp unrefined extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, or sesame oil (I like Napa Valley Naturals Cold Pressed Organic Sesame Oil.)
  3. pinch of salt
Instructions
  1. Wash and tear into 1-inch pieces, discarding the stems if you do not like that much roughage.
  2. Put the greens in a mug or a bowl, cover with boiling water for 30 seconds, discard the water.
  3. Toss the greens with 1 tablespoon of oil.
  4. Add a pinch of salt and you have a delicious snack or side dish almost instantly.
Notes
  1. To increase the nutrition level, decrease or eliminate the salt and add gomasio instead (sesame seeds mixed with salt and seaweeds), which you can find in most health food stores.
  2. To turn this into a quick meal, buy a side of plain, steamed brown rice from your local sushi joint or Asian restaurant. Cut up a hard boiled egg, add your blanched greens and seasonings as mentioned above. You have near instant un-fried rice that is loaded with iron, magnesium, B vitamins, as well as fiber and healthy fats.
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