Caribbean Spiced Sweet Potato-Carrot Soup {wannabe Potage Crécy}

dairy free sweet potato & carrot soup_blog

Love the definition of Potage Crécy I recently came across: “French for it’s cold outside — you need some creamy carrot soup.”

Creamy carrot soup it is.

Finally.

Last week, while I was posting ‘lean and clean’ spring chicken on my facebook page (what an oops that was), the rest of the world was posting comfort and warmth.

Just as it was occurring to sleepy me that the better part of North America was in a deep freeze, (the three hour time difference doesn’t help), my brother emailed a picture of his co-worker’s husky dog curled up in the fetal position outside in the snow (when a husky’s seeking comfort from the cold… you know it ain’t pretty). It was -35 C /-31 F at home that day.

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Ouch.

There are plenty of things I miss about Canada but frozen eyelash weather isn’t generally one of them.

Still, I do think about the northern winters often enough.

I miss the fresh fallen snow and the feeling of burying myself deep in the forest.  Those sacred places where you can feel your mind quiet and hear your heart beat against the stillness of nature.

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On those snow heavy days when the landscape was covered white, we would spend the better part of the daylight hours skiing through the back-trails of the Gatineau Hills, and often recover with a bone warming pot of soup at the Chelsea Pub.

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image courtesy of Le Pub Chelsea

It’s hard to beat the charisma of soup on a cold winter’s day.

While I can’t say that the carrots used in this potage were sourced from the Crécy region of France (reputed to be among the best tasting carrots in the world and who doesn’t love saying the words potage Crécy), we did find our organic California grown carrots to be a perfectly delicious stand-in.

Bold, aromatic, thick and satisfying, we loved this bowl of goodness.  The gingered broth in tandem with the banana and coconut lend a distinctively Caribbean touch to this winter curry and I’m thinking a taste of island sunshine might be welcome right about now.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Creamy Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup (Dairy Free/Vegan Option)
 
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Cook time
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Author:
Serves: yields about 6 cups
Ingredients
  • 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ tsp ground garam masala
  • ¾ tsp ground cumin
  • ¾ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • pinch ground cayenne pepper, it's hot so use accordingly
  • 1 large nub of ginger, finely grated (I used about 2 Tbsp)
  • 1 pound (450 g) carrots (about 4 cups), chopped or simply use baby carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (you could microwave to soften if easier - see notes)
  • 1 banana, peeled and chopped (substitute ½ cup apple sauce or 2 tsp brown sugar)
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
  • 1 cup (or more) coconut milk
  • dash cinnamon or nutmeg for topping
Instructions
  1. In a large skillet, sauté onion and garlic in a little bit of olive over low-medium heat until the onion becomes translucent.
  2. Sprinkle dry seasonings (garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne) over the onion and garlic as they cook, mixing with a wooden spoon to integrate the flavors.
  3. Add chicken or vegetable broth and coconut milk to the skillet with seasoned onion/garlic
  4. Add carrots, sweet potato and banana to the skillet (the liquid should mostly cover the vegetables/fruit) if it doesn't simply add a little coconut milk (or fluid of choice)
  5. Allow carrots, sweet potato and banana to simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are barely soft (al dente)
  6. Add ginger to the skillet and mix to combine
  7. When vegetables are al dente, remove skillet from heat and allow it to cool somewhat before carefully transferring contents into a blender/food processor to purée to desired consistency. You can do this in batches if easier. Work carefully as the fluid will still be warm.
  8. If the consistency of the mixture is too thick after blending, simply add some chicken/veg stock or coconut milk to dilute. You could also add water or milk beverage of choice if preferred.
  9. Be sure to taste the soup to make any seasoning adjustments.
  10. Once desired consistency is achieved, carefully transfer the puréed soup back to the skillet to serve in individual bowls topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg (as desired) or cool fully before storing in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Notes
1) This soup is intended to be thick but you can easily dilute to suit your preference with stock, water or milk of choice.
2) The ginger and cayenne bring distinctive flavor and heat to the soup -- I find them delicious and welcome but you can reduce the quantity or omit as desired.
3) If you find it difficult to cube an uncooked sweet potato (they can be quite hard), simply soften it in the microwave. (You can leave the peel on for this - that too will be easier to shed once softened).
Nutrition Highlights:
1) Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamin C and fiber and they also lead the vegetable pack with their concentration of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant. In tandem with carrots in this recipe, they bring a whopping concentration of beta-carotene which studies suggest can help guard against certain cancers and heart disease.
2) Curcumin, the active bright yellow pigment found in turmeric, is revered for its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric is thought to protect against cancer by inhibiting tumor formation and cell growth.

Inspired Edibles_ski adventures

caribbean spiced sweet potato carrot soup_revise

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5 strategies to help reduce sugar cravings and restore balance

5 strategies to reduce sugar_lemon_blog

If you’re coming out of the holiday season feeling like you need to take a little break from the sweet life but aren’t having the easiest time shaking it, you’re not alone.

Sugar has a very powerful effect on the reward center of our brain.  There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the chemistry underlying sugar addiction is virtually identical to the chemistry underlying drug addiction in that both are driven by dopamine – the neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure reward circuit.

When we consume sugar it stimulates the release of dopamine and we experience a sensation of pleasure. We get cued by sights, sounds and smells that evoke powerful memories of pleasure and keep us coming back for more.  Every time we succumb to addictive foods we reinforce the circuit of desire and reward further, making it harder for us to break the pleasure cycle. In short, the more we eat sugar the more we want to eat sugar, and vice versa.  Some of us may have inherited a biochemistry that makes us especially vulnerable to this cycle.

The good news is that there are strategies we can put in place to help lay new tracks and diminish those persistent sugar cravings. Today I’m sharing some of my top tips for hitting the reset button and restoring balance.

1. Enjoy fresh lemon juice in tepid water and on food — I can’t say enough about the benefits of the humble lemon. Beyond acting as a potent antioxidant during cold and flu season (vitamin C) and adrenal gland supporter (important during times of stress), the citric acid in lemon juice also helps cleanse both the palate and invigorate the digestive system.  This action alone can be powerfully helpful for moving things along and changing the taste and direction of food choices we make throughout the day — nothing like the sharp taste of lemon to blunt sugar cravings and snap us out of lasagna mode.  Hydrating and delicious, you can enjoy a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning (a great way to start the day) and/or before meals — simply squeeze fresh lemon juice into tepid water. A cautionary note, if you start drinking lemon water with any degree of frequency, you may wish to start using a straw to limit the exposure of acid on your teeth (prevent the erosion of tooth enamel). Lemon juice can also help prevent fluctuations in blood sugar levels by reducing a food’s overall glycemic index (the acid in lemon helps slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar).  Consider adding fresh squeezed lemon to fruits and vegetables and side salads that accompany your meal.

2. Make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet — protein helps prevent jags in blood sugar levels that can promote cravings. Unlike carbohydrates that are metabolized relatively quickly into sugar in the body, protein requires more work for our bodies to break down and metabolize.  This improves our sense of fullness and satisfaction and also assists in keeping our blood sugar levels stable (which can also be very helpful for mood and concentration).

Conversely, when blood sugar levels are fluctuating and start to drop, our brain naturally cues us in to seek the quickest form of energy available to correct the imbalance, a carbohydrate/sugar. This is a normal, adaptive response but the result is that we end up jumping from one sugar to the next. To overcome this response, we need to avail ourselves of sufficient protein throughout the day to prevent the sugar loop (this is also an excellent strategy for avoiding insulin fatigue/type 2 diabetes).  Be sure to include a protein source not only with your meals but also your snacks – a strategy that holds true for adults and children alike.

3. focus on natural sugars — the initial stages of reducing sugar can be really difficult, especially when coming off the holidays surrounded by the heavier hitting desserts. When the urge strikes, seek out natural sources of sugar to satisfy desire without fueling cravings.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • fresh fruit salad ~ make a large batch, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the fruit (to delay oxidization, extend life and benefit from the acid) and keep it stored in a covered container in the fridge. I think sometimes we forget just how gorgeous and appealing fruit salad can be;
  • frozen fruit: place fresh fruit such as: blueberries, grapes or sliced bananas on a parchment lined baking sheet – freeze until solid and then transfer to a freezer bag and keep stored in the freezer.  It takes longer to eat frozen fruit which prolongs the duration and enjoyment of the snack. You can also blend frozen fruit to create a delicious smoothie or ice cream (banana works especially well for this).
  • dark chocolate: opt for 75% cocoa or higher (the higher the cocoa content the lower the sugar) – one or two squares when the urge strikes is a great way to meet desire without fanning the flames – dark chocolate is also antioxidant rich.  I enjoy making chocolate clusters – a simple combination of melted dark chocolate with nuts/seeds and dried fruit.  But my current fave is frozen sliced banana dipped in dark chocolate which I keep stored in the freezer – beyond simple and perfect for satisfying without priming the pump. Coming soon to the blog!

4.  Be aware of other sugars that may be sabotaging your efforts - there are obvious sources of sugar that we all recognize in dessert foods and then there are the other pleasure producing foods we don’t always associate with re-enforcing our sugar cravings such as pasta, bread and alcohol.  Keep in mind that alcohol is a sugar with powerful altering effects on blood sugar and mood.  It can be very difficult to reduce sugar consumption in food while simultaneously consuming it in liquid form – alcohol or other beverages. When you do wish to eat bread and/or pasta, consider whole grain sources (fibre does help slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar modestly in addition to its other health benefits) but more critically, include a protein with these carbohydrate sources to help mitigate the rapid conversion to sugar in the body.

5. Create new habitsif you find yourself craving sugar around the same time every day, consider initiating new habits. For instance, the evening (following dinner) is commonly a time when dessert cravings set-in. Establishing new routines such as making a warm pot of flavored herbal tea or going for a walk following dinner can be really helpful for changing the palate, shifting focus and laying tracks for new habits and routines.  At first, the herbal tea will seem like a small (and possibly annoying) consolation prize but give it one week of consistent application and you’ll be seeking it out with pleasure and not punishment.  You might even find yourself craving peppermint tea!

The information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician or other health care professional directly before beginning or changing a course of health treatment.

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Matcha Green Tea Rejuvenating Smoothie

green tea smoothie_blog

I did something completely different on the culinary front for Christmas this year.

I invited the family to vote on Christmas dinner.  I went about it by creating a menu with three categories: appetizer, main dish and dessert and listed three food options within each category.  The menu was circulated electronically and the boys were asked to vote quietly on their top food choice in each category (they would only find out on Christmas day which selections won).  In the event of a three-way tie in any category, mom would get the deciding vote, otherwise, majority rule.

I thought it would be a fun way to mark our first Christmas in the new home. In the end, it was also well worth the effort.  I will admit to some intermittent anxiety — that moment when you wake up at 2 am and think: did I really say that I was going to make herbed mushroom, garlic & onion cradled in a pillow of sour cream and served on miniature pancakes? Was I fully baked at the time?

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To make the process interesting for yours truly, I offered up suggestions that I’d been wanting to make for some time now.  A mix of classics and curious inventions.  I kept food photography out of it so I could relax and just enjoy the actual cooking process (and Christmas day!).

In case you’re curious, here’s a little summary of the winning selections: the chosen appetizer was indeed as described above: pan-seared herbed mushrooms, garlic & onion cradled in a pillow of sour cream and served on warm miniature  pancakes.  I survived it and I’m glad I did. This was a delectable little creation that was inspired in part by a conversation with a girlfriend, in part by this post, and in part by my meddling noggin. This is definitely one that I will blog about in the future.

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The winning main dish was this classic.  I’m so glad I made it!  It’s the funniest recipe though — have you made it?  It’s quite unconventional (old fashioned?) in its construction and maybe mildly convoluted. I found myself reading it several times to get a handle on it and also wondered about the wisdom of some of the seemingly arbitrary steps — but who am I to argue with the famed dish and its creator.  So, I followed the instructions as closely as I can ever bring myself to and in the end, it was a mouth-watering meal that was loved by all (phew!) — I served it with wild rice, julienned carrots and seared baby onions.  Not a drop left on anyone’s plate.

Dessert was this obscenity.  Even with half the sugar it was divine (and seemingly still quite sweet).  Silk on the tongue.  But beware, very rich, a sliver will do y’a.  Next time I make it I will focus on the crust which was somewhat lackluster in my version – walnut perhaps.

I hope you all had some fun kitchen adventures as well!

Today, I’m recharging with this antioxidant-rich rejuvenating green tea smoothie… so delicious and full of beautiful ingredients.  Versatile too — don’t forget, there are always options, so feel free to make this lovely your own.

Oh, one last thing… Inspired Edibles returns in the New Year with a new Nutrition Series! I’m excited to offer you some focused nutrition information in addition to recipes, photography and life stories.

Until then, be well and have a joyous new year’s celebration!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Matcha Green Tea Rejuvenating Smoothie (vegan)
 
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Recipe type: Beverage, Snack
Serves: serves 2
Ingredients
  • 1 cup almond milk or milk/water beverage of choice (see notes)
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 frozen banana, chopped
  • 1 green apple, skin-on, chopped
  • ½ avocado
  • handful walnuts or nut/seed of choice
  • 2 heaping tsp matcha (green tea powder)
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • splash of fresh lemon juice to taste
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
  2. Blend until ingredients are broken down and well integrated.
  3. Add more fluid as necessary to achieve desired consistency.
Notes
1. If you are new to matcha, you may find it slightly bitter initially - to offset, you can start with 2 level tsp of matcha powder and flavor with additional fruit or slightly more sweetener, as desired.
2. I enjoy a fairly dilute smoothie (I find it easier to drink), but if you prefer something thicker simply reduce the fluid at the outset.
3. You can use any milk beverage of choice or water (coconut water is also lovely).
4. Feel free to use whatever fruit and/or dark leafy greens you have on hand for this recipe. Smoothies are versatile and generally quite forgiving :) so have fun with it and taste test as you go along to achieve desired result.
5. Matcha tea is made from green tea leaves that have been finely milled into a silky, radiant green powder. When you drink matcha you are benefiting from the entire green tea leaf, not just the brewed water from the leaf. Matcha is considered amongst the highest quality green teas with one of most concentrated antioxidant contents.
6. Avocado not only tastes delicious, it is also endowed with gorgeous, nutritive properties. An excellent source of heart healthy monounsaturated fat, avocado is also rich in lutein, a carotenoid that operates to help protect our eyes from disease. Other health supporters found in the avocado include: fibre, folate, vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin B5.
7. Dark Leafies! Studies continue to link spinach, and other dark leafy vegetables, to a lower risk of cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis. The vitamin E content in dark leafy vegetables is also said to protect our brain cells against oxidative damage, helping keep our minds healthy as we age.

 

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You just never know who’s going to jump in your drink ~ magical things can happen during the holidays
 
 
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winter white salad with mandarin and fennel

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate

There’s a scene in the Hollywood remake City of Angels that’s indelibly etched in my memory.

The heroine is making a breakfast fruit salad for her lover, which sounds simple enough, but there’s nothing ordinary about this moment.  She sinks her soul into the process and brings the viewer with her.  We are meticulously drawn in to the color, texture and taste of her experience.  The most memorable moment comes when she hand squeezes fresh orange segments all over the bowl, the explosive juices unbound and running glory over the fruit.

It’s been almost 17 years since I watched that movie, and that scene, that otherwise innocuous moment, has done more to ignite my culinary appetite than any other.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_tree_2

Fast forward two decades and here we are with a beautiful mandarin tree that is now rendering gorgeous, juice-filled fruit with skin that rolls off almost effortlessly.

We watched with hopefulness through the summer as the tiny dark pigmented fruit grew a little each day and mother nature took its course helping the globes graduate through deliberate shades of green, yellow and orange.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_1

One thing we’ve discovered about harvesting mandarin is that sharp garden shears are necessary to properly release the fruit.  If you try to hand pick the fruit by pulling it away from the branch, the way you would an apple or lemon for example, it will actually rip the skin off the orange at the tip, leaving it behind on the tree, something like so:

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To avoid this, we simply snip mandarin-heavy branches off the tree and then unmold the fruit when we are ready to eat them.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_tree

Growth is eventually so prolific that regular harvesting becomes necessary to avoid spoilage.  We share with neighbors, incorporate the fruit into recipes and juice like the best of the west coast crunchies.

There are few things quite as delicious as freshly squeezed mandarin juice (great insurance policy against winter colds too). My husband filled four large mason jars worth over the weekend (though not hand squeezed).

fresh mandarin juice_blog_1

Surrounded by these fragrant, Vitamin C-rich beauties, I couldn’t help but create a cleansing winter salad for you.

I wanted something that allowed the mandarin to shine and enhance rather than detract from its taste and beauty.  I opted for fennel bulb and angel hair coleslaw (another bow to the movie perhaps) and bejeweled the whole affair with another seasonal beauty, pomegranate.

It all comes together in a zingy citrus-ginger dressing that is rather irresistible.

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By the way, the movie is memorable for another reason.  You see, we also happened to have our brand new six-week-old baby boy in the theater with us that afternoon.  He slept (yes, you might say like an angel) on a soft blanket nestled between us.

You just never know the potential of an ordinary moment to transform into the extraordinary.

5.0 from 2 reviews
winter white salad with mandarin and fennel
 
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Recipe type: salad, appetizers & starters
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SALAD
  • 3 cups angel hair coleslaw (from finely shredded light green cabbage)
  • 1 fennel bulb, ends snipped (you can reserve for soup) and bulb chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup arils (pomegranate seed)
  • 4 juicy seasonal mandarin, peeled and divided into segments
  • handful of fresh delicate greens of choice

  • FOR THE CITRUS-GINGER DRESSING
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mandarin juice
  • 2 Tbsp white rice vinegar (substitute cider vinegar)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 heaping tsp grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 nub fresh ginger, grated (about 2 tsp or to taste)
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place angel hair coleslaw (or finely shredded light green cabbage) into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add chopped fennel pieces to the same bowl.
  3. In a small container with fitted lid, combine citrus-ginger dressing ingredients: mandarin juice, vinegar, oils, mustard, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. Close the lid and shake the contents. Be sure to taste the dressing and make any taste adjustments desired.
  4. With your mandarin segments and pom seeds ready, whisk or shake the dressing a final time before drizzling most of it over the coleslaw/fennel, reserving some for topping.
  5. Mix the coleslaw/fennel and dressing together to integrate flavors.
  6. Divide salad mixture among four bowls or plates and top with pom seeds, mandarin segments and greens of choice.
  7. Add a final drizzle of dressing to the top of each salad as desired.
Notes
1) You don't have to shred cabbage for this recipe (unless you wish to), you can simply purchase angel coleslaw;
2) Pomegranate seeds are now also widely available for purchase but I find they do not last very long before spoiling and I have never been disappointed with the freshness, color or taste of seeds drawn directly from the fruit. Despite the minor mess potential from extracting the seeds, I find it well worth the small inconvenience.
3) Keep in mind that the citrus-ginger dressing is slightly less sour/acidic than a traditional vinaigrette and slightly sweeter. I find it a refreshing change and one that works well in this salad but if you prefer savory/sour, just go lighter on the fruit juice and allow the vinegar to take over.
4) For the greens, you can work with fresh chopped herbs or salad greens of choice - we found peppery arugula (rocket) to be a particularly welcome addition here.

winter white salad with mandarin and pomegranate_duo

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Roasted Maple Sriracha Pecans

roasted maple sriracha pecans_2

Despite some seasonal confusion (my heart is saying pine cones but my eyes are still seeing roses),  I have to say, this dual border fêting is working out quite well for us.

We gladly welcomed the five day American Thanksgiving break with some highly unstructured family time. It’s amazing how much fun you can have doing precisely nothing.

With a house full of boys, I’ve learned to embrace the concept of movement.  Time off generally means planning some kind of high-octane activity that often involves long drives, little sleep and most assuredly, adventure.

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Not this time. Instead, we woke without alarms, lingered over long breakfasts, hung out in our pjs, enjoyed unhurried dog walks and played some intense and at times combative spirited and often impassioned poker (I can’t remember the last time we managed to corral our teenage sons into cards – let’s face it, hanging out with mom and dad just doesn’t cut it at this stage. I guess poker teases the possibility of adventure).

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So here we are on the other side of two Thanksgivings and look… it’s time to celebrate again!

The advent calendar is out (yes I still do an advent calendar for my boys, judge if you must), the Christmas cards are in production and Grand-maman’s Bâtonnets à la melasse instructions are on the counter.  I’ve known the recipe for her delicate French biscuits by heart for 15 years but I still need to see it every year.

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And today I’m sharing another delicious holiday nibble that I’ve been making quite a bit lately. Crunchy caramelized love bites that are simply packed with flavor.  The combination of maple and Sriracha together with warm earthy sage and sea salt offers up sweet, savory and spicy notes with every bite.

Not into heat? No problem.

Skip the Sriracha and make a version with maple syrup alone — equally delicious and works especially well on cereal and for yogurt topping, etc. The plain maple version is the one I make the most ~ the Sriracha is just my special holiday edition (wink).

These tasty pecans also make a great game day munchie or a beautiful gift for teachers, neighbors and friends.  Tuck them into a mason jar, decorate the lid if you wish and attach a ribbon.  Festive, delicious and so simple.

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enjoy!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Roasted Maple Sriracha Pecans
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Snack
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 cups whole unsalted pecans
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce
  • 2 tsp melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
  • pinch sea salt
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together: maple syrup, sriracha, coconut oil (or butter) and sage.
  4. Add pecans to the bowl and, using your hands, toss nuts around thoroughly to ensure they are well coated with mixture.
  5. Invert coated pecans onto parchment paper and spread out such that nuts are not touching. Be sure to scoop out any final wet mixture from the bowl with a spatula and onto the pecans.
  6. Sprinkle coated pecans with some sea salt.
  7. Place tray in the oven for 10-12 minutes to roast (tossing the nuts at least once) until the pecans are fragrant and have begun to brown - **you don't want to burn the nuts** so keep a close eye.
  8. Carefully remove the tray from the oven and allow the nuts to cool before enjoying. NOTE: the nuts will be somewhat soft when they come out of the oven as the glaze is molten. As the nuts cool down, they will crisp up. Enjoy!
Notes
1) Heat (the spicy factor) is very personal and difficult to declare for all. In my view, this recipe generates a mild to moderate heat but again, your experience may differ.
2) You can omit the Sriracha altogether if heat is not your thing. The maple version is equally delicious and works especially well on cereal and as a topping for yogurt and salads, etc.
3) Enjoy these nuts as an appetizer, snack, game day munchie or offer them up as a gift (teachers/friends/neighbors) -- so easy to make and you can present them in a decorative mason jar.
4) Store the pecans in an airtight container for up to 1 week (they are freshest/crunchiest in the first 3 days).

roasted maple sriracha pecans_1

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Baked Ricotta with honey, rosemary & pomegranate

baked ricotta with pomegranate_blog_1

Complex, enigmatic and beautiful.

I’m not sure there’s another fruit on earth that stirs me quite like the pomegranate.

From its distinctive crown to its soft leathery skin to its chambered interior flush with succulent jewels, the ruby red stunner never fails to capture my attention.

pomegranate-tree[1]

And in this part of the world, I am blessed to encounter them frequently on my walks.  Although our backyard holds many gems, this particular fruit is not one of them (or, at least, not that we’ve noticed yet).

I say this only partly in jest because it seems that each week since we moved in, we make a new discovery. Persimmon, goji, orange, calla lily and birds of paradise are just a few of the wonders that have revealed themselves to us over the four short months that we have been here.

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Our mandarin tree ~ one of the culinary hallmark’s of the holiday season ~ is now heavy with fruit and I’ve kept a close eye as the globes turned from deep green to yellow and now, finally, a promising blush of orange. The fruit will mature over the coming weeks.

We’ve planted two lime trees, a grapefruit tree and a peach tree and are looking into an olive tree! (oh my).

Needless to say, I continue to marvel at the edible landscape that surrounds us and have to give my head a shake every time I walk outside to pluck a lemon off the tree for my sparkling water, tea or food.

baked ricotta with pomegranate_blog_2

The lemons that were used in this recipe, and appear in these photos, are a great success story. As you might imagine, the horticulture scene here can be a little daunting to the uninitiated.  I’ve always joked about my lack of experience in the garden and natural black thumb but I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by these gifts from nature that it’s inspiring me to learn.

When we first arrived, the lemons on this tree were no bigger than the tip of my thumb and showed no signs of progress. With a little TLC, we managed to grow them into thriving fruit with a taste unlike any lemon I have ever brought home from a store.

lemon tree_eureka or lisbon_blog

Fresh and aromatic, you not only taste the difference, you can smell it too! After holding the uncut fruit in my hand even for a moment, the gorgeous fragrance of citrus lingers on my skin like lavender.

baked ricotta_blog_21

And speaking of dreamy…

This appetizer?  It has to happen.

(I don’t mean to be bossy but you really do want to make it and your relatives really want you to make it too).

If you haven’t yet baked ricotta, you’re in for a treat.  Simple, warming, delicious and satisfying are just a few descriptors that come to mind… but also beautiful and decidedly festive, don’t you think? A perfect holiday choice for all generations.

Bon appétit!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Baked Ricotta with honey, rosemary & pomegranate
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 15 oz/425 grams (about 2 cups) whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary + more for garnish
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ cup or so pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • drizzle of honey for topping
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 F
  2. Combine ricotta, lemon juice, lemon zest and finely chopped rosemary together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Taste the ricotta mixture and make any seasoning adjustments desired - rosemary, lemon juice/zest, salt & pepper - before placing the mixture into an oven proof dish (ideally ½ - 1 quart size).
  4. Drizzle olive oil over the ricotta mixture and place it in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until it has heated through and begins to bubble around the edges.
  5. Carefully remove the dish from the oven and drizzle with a light touch of honey and a sprinkling of sea salt.
  6. Garnish with pomegranate seeds (pressing them gently into the mixture) and rosemary, as desired.
  7. Enjoy immediately with cut up fruit, vegetables and/or sliced bread/crackers.
Notes
1) Ricotta is a rich source of vegetarian protein. A quarter cup of ricotta packs 7 grams of protein (more than an egg!). This two cup appetizer has approximately 56 grams of protein.
2) It's hard to beat the full fruit of the pomegranate for quality seeds - when you cut into the fruit you will find the arials at their freshest, most succulent and richly pigmented. Having said that, you can save time and mess by purchasing the seeds on their own, so the choice (as always) is yours.
3) There are many different ways to present the pom seed topping on this dip. In the featured recipe, I decorated half the ricotta with a generous amount of seeds and created a dividing line with a chunky piece of rosemary. Another attractive way is to sprinkle the seeds all over the surface (they will appear like polka dots) and toss individual rosemary sprigs here and there between the seeds - they will look a bit like pine needles. Really pretty!
4) I did try baking the pomegranate seeds in one version but I don't recommend it. It will dehydrate the seeds and leave them rather lackluster which you definitely don't want. On the other hand, you can tuck some additional seeds into the ricotta mixture (as opposed to leaving them on the surface) for more texture if you wish - this method seems more resilient to baking.

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Sesame-Ginger Beef & Broccoli

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So tell me, do you like to mess with tradition?

(let’s keep this particular conversation centered on the kitchen shall we).

I ask because I shared a cranberry sauce from the kitchn on Facebook yesterday and the post bombed.  I wasn’t concerned about the bomb; I was however fascinated by the possibilities underlying it and what I might infer from it (great stats problem to bring out your inner geek).

Since the likelihood of all of my fans needing to scratch their backs at precisely the same time that my post entered their news feed is about as probable as the entire population deciding they no longer eat cranberry sauce during the holidays, I was left with two more likely explanatory variables: the use of unconventional ingredients in this particular recipe was a nonstarter (star anise, ginger, fig) and maybe, just maybe, people don’t like to mess with tradition… especially when it comes to their holiday classics.

So tell me, as my random sample audience, do you stick to the same tried-and-true recipes year after year for the holidays or do you crack open the cookbooks (kindles) looking for new ideas and inspiration.  Are there certain dishes that are simply sacrosanct (there’s no hope of deviating from them even if you wanted to) while others negotiable?

For my part, I can’t remember the last time I made a turkey for Christmas (or Thanksgiving) but there are other aspects of our holiday celebration that are more traditional — like our oatmeal buttermilk breakfast scones — a definite must!

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As for today’s recipe, you’re looking at the most popular and frequently requested dinner in our home right now!

Thin slices of tender beef with broccoli sautéed in a mouth-watering sesame-soy ginger sauce.  Not only is it delicious and nourishing, it’s also cooked in one pot and you can have it on the table — start to finish — in less than 30 minutes.  Faster than takeout.

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I have two strong recommendations for making this dish optimal:

The first is to buy a tender cut of beef — do not be tempted to buy those “pre-cut” strips of stir-fry beef in packages.  You will be very disappointed. Instead, I highly recommend flat iron (top blade steak) for this recipe which will literally melt in your mouth.  And it’s not that expensive. I pay about $14 for 1.5 pounds and the broccoli/rice/onion are peanuts.  So you’re looking at a cost of about $4 per person taking into account all the major ingredients.

Secondly, do not be shy to ask your butcher to slice the meat for you — I even ask my butcher to slice squash and pumpkin for me (those things are treacherous!)– they have the machinery that allows them to slice the meat very thin which is precisely what you want for this recipe.  The thinner the better.  I request a width-wise cut and that way I don’t have to cut the meat again at home unless I want to.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Sesame-Ginger Beef & Broccoli
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE BEEF BROCCOLI
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds tender beef cut into very thin strips (I recommend flat iron/top blade steak)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • 1 Tbsp or so sesame seeds for topping
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~
  • FOR THE SESAME-GINGER SAUCE
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce (use tamari for a gluten-free version)
  • 1 Tbsp tamarind sauce (optional, I tend to have it on hand and love the flavor)
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp coconut palm or brown sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 heaping tsp (or to taste) chili-garlic sauce
  • 1 large nub of ginger, peeled and grated
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~
  • FOR THE CORNSTARCH SLURRY
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved into 1 Tbsp water
Instructions
  1. Whisk sauce ingredients together in a small bowl or container with fitted lid and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet set to low-medium heat, sautée onion in some olive oil.
  3. Just before the onion becomes translucent, add the broccoli florets to the skillet and toss with the onion. You don't want to overcook the broccoli but merely saturate the color and soften it slightly.
  4. Remove the onion and broccoli from the pan and set aside for a moment.
  5. In the same pan, increase heat to medium-high, add a bit more oil and sautée meat quickly on one side and then flip to the other side. This should only take about 1 minute. The thin meat will cook very quickly and you don't want to overcook it.
  6. Once the meat has been flipped, return the onion and broccoli to the skillet and add the sauce (giving it a final whisk beforehand).
  7. Add the cornstarch slurry to the skillet and allow the mixture to just come to a boil, mixing the whole time.
  8. Remove skillet from heat and divide mixture among four plates. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy with rice or as desired.
Notes
1. Please see my top two recommendations for succeeding with this recipe in the body of the post. Both are very helpful -- the first, critical.
2. Although pretty in its Japanese aesthetic, I don't normally serve this meal in divided portions. In reality, the broccoli is mixed in with the meat and the sauce. I just wanted to do something different for the presentation.
3. I have found with cornstarch over the years that it really doesn't work well to mix it directly into a sauce. It's worth the extra minute dissolving it in water first before integrating it.
4. Although I have not tried it in this particular recipe, I often use tapioca flour as a thickening agent. So if you prefer to skip the cornstarch, this is another good option.

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Warm Sautéed Spinach with Feijoa in a balsamic beurre blanc

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As I write this entry, sunlight is streaming in through my morning kitchen and I’m noticing a myriad of lush green feijoa, otherwise known as pineapple guava, nestled in the grass under our evergreen tree.

With today’s generous harvest decorating the landscape, you would hardly know that I just collected two full bags of the fragrant egg-shaped fruit yesterday afternoon.

My only wish is that I could ship a bucket full to each and every one of you as it’s simply not possible to keep up with our harvest.  We’ve been donating generously.

As you might imagine, pineapple guavas are an entirely new experience for this Canadian family.  We observed with great anticipation and hopefulness through the summer as the delicate white flowers on the tree eventually transformed into tiny burgeoning green fruit.  Amazing just how small life starts out. By early fall, our beautiful feijoa tree was producing fruit in the range of one to four inches long with great vigor and abundance.

The pineapple guava is a highly aromatic fruit.  I would describe it as floral to the point of almost being ‘perfumy’ — a characterization my husband heartily disputes suggesting that tropical is a much more flattering and accurate description. (He loves his feijoa) and so do we.

The best way to harvest feijoa is simply to allow the fruit to fall from the tree and the simplest way to enjoy it is to cut the fruit straight through the center and scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  This works well for enjoying the fruit on its own or for incorporating it into smoothies, preserves and all manner of baked goods (breads, muffins, loaves and desserts). You can also peel the exterior green skin (as I have done in this recipe) and slice the pineapple guava for salads and side dishes.

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Surrounded by feijoa, the big question was what to make with this delightful fruit…

I came across recipe after recipe of baked goods and desserts incorporating pineapple guava, many of which sounded delicious, but I just wasn’t in the mood (maybe next year).

The turning point came on my flight home from Canada this week.

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I watched the movie Julie & Julia (again), and I couldn’t get beurre blanc off my mind.

Fearlessness and butter.

 Perfect. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

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If you have not yet seen the movie based on two true stories, (one of blogger Julie Powell and the other of Julia Child’s debut in the culinary world), you must.  It’s just one of those feel good inspiring stories that will put a big smile on your face and get you dreaming in color.

5.0 from 3 reviews
Warm Sautéed Spinach with Feijoa in a balsamic beurre blanc
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Side or Salad
Serves: Serves 4
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SAUTEED SPINACH:
  • 1 large container baby spinach (approx 280 grams/10 oz)
  • ¼ cup red onion, diced
  • ¼ cup dried wild blueberries (substitute cranberry or dried fruit of choice)
  • 2 cups oyster mushrooms (approx 180 grams/6.5 oz), chopped (substitute mushroom of choice)
  • 4 feijoa (pineapple guava), peeled and sliced (substitute 2 apples or pears)
  • ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.
  • FOR THE BALSAMIC BEURRE BLANC:
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp white wine (substitute vinegar for alcohol free version)
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice + zest for garnish
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 4 Tbsp butter (I used salted), cut into 4 pieces (about one tablespoon each)
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together: balsamic vinegar, white whine, shallots, lemon juice and honey.
  2. Add mixture to a small skillet and heat until it starts to simmer and the liquid reduces by about half.
  3. Add the butter to the skillet, one piece at a time, whisking to combine. Continue whisking until the butter is well combined and the beurre blanc emulsifies into a heavenly sauce-like mixture.
  4. Taste the beurre blanc and make any seasoning adjustments desired -- salt, pepper, honey, etc. as desired.
  5. In a large skillet add 1 Tbsp of the beurre blanc and toss in the red onion and oyster mushrooms to brown - about 1 or 2 minutes - remove onion/mushroom from skillet and set aside.
  6. In the same large skillet, add another tablespoon of beurre blanc and toss in the spinach. Using a wooden spoon or tongs, sauté the spinach just until it is saturated (it will reach a deeper color and look wet). Be careful not to overcook the spinach -- you want it to take on a soft and silky texture but you don't want it to be mush. This should take less than one minute. Best to err on the side of undersaturated.
  7. Working quickly, return the onion/mushroom mixture to the skillet with the spinach and add in the blueberries and sliced feijoa (or apple/pear) to warm through. Make any final seasoning adjustments as desired.
  8. Serve immediately and enjoy!
Notes
1. You can enjoy this spinach sauté as a side or a salad as desired. Of course, you can easily substitute ingredients by necessity and preference. I don't expect that the majority of my readers have access to pineapple guava ;-) but I do think any seasonal fruit would be delicious here.
2. There is really only one time to enjoy a warm spinach sauté and that's right from the pan. So unlike many other dishes, this is not one I would recommend reheating or bringing to a potluck.
3. Two suggestions for obtaining optimal sear on mushrooms - gently brush the mushrooms with minimal water to clean them (mushrooms already contain abundant water and will turn to mush if soaked in water) and give the mushrooms plenty of room in the pan.
4. Oyster mushrooms (along with shiitake, maitake, enoki, and other Asian species) are reputed for their medicinal benefits, notably immune-enhancing and anti-cancer properties. Harvard medicine graduate, Dr Andrew Weil, writes prolifically on this subject.

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Autumn Kissed Oatmeal Carrot Muffins

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If I had to name it, I would call fall the season of low and slow.

The days pass like all the others and yet nothing is the same.

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The fresh mornings, fading evening light, cool breezes and falling leaves.

Words, images and childhood memories looking for a place to nest.   Fall steeps me in nostalgia somewhere before my beginning.

Most of all, it requires me to slow down.

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Try as I might to expedite,  I’m seduced by the promise of a solitary woodland walk, the comfort of warm jasmine tea, the transformative power of a crackling fire and the simple, reassuring pleasure of cinnamon carrot muffins baking in my kitchen.

Amos Lee’s Colors is hitting all the right notes — nothing too loud please.  I’m feeling quiet, contemplative and grateful.

How does fall make you feel?

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5.0 from 6 reviews
Autumn Kissed Oatmeal Carrot Muffins
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Snacks
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain rolled oats
  • 1 cup spelt flour (or flour of choice)
  • 1 cup fine grated carrots
  • 2 heaping Tbsp wheat germ (or ground flaxseed)
  • ½ cup plump golden raisins
  • ⅓ cup palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 2 egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk (or milk beverage of choice)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Using a food processor or simple grater, grate carrots into relatively small pieces.
  3. In a large bowl, combine: oats, spelt, raisins, palm sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together: eggs, buttermilk, olive oil, apple sauce, vanilla and grated carrots.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry mixing only until combined.
  6. Grease 12 regular sized muffin cups (or lined paper cups) with a little olive oil (I use the spray for this to create a thin even coat).
  7. Divide muffin batter among the 12 muffin cups and top each with a few additional sprinkles of raw oatmeal and carrot.
  8. Bake muffins until they are just beginning to brown around edges and are firm to the touch – 16 to 18 minutes depending on the temperature of your oven.
  9. Allow muffins to cool slightly before enjoying.
Notes
Nutrition & Cooking Notes:

1) You can easily make these muffins gluten free by substituting a gluten-free flour in place of spelt flour and using flaxseed in place of wheat germ.
2) Wheat germ is a simple and excellent way to enhance the nutrient content of recipes (desserts, casseroles, cereals, smoothies and baked goods). It delivers an impressive amount of plant protein by weight (2 Tbsp contains 4 grams of protein - almost as much as an egg) and is also an excellent source of vitamin E and folic acid. Other well represented nutrients include: phosphorous; magnesium, zinc and plant based iron.
3) Spelt flour has beautiful baking properties. It is a soft and silky whole grain that is related to wheat (and does contain gluten) however many who have digestive conditions other than celiac disease find it easier to digest than wheat.

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Some of you may have noticed that Inspired Edibles has a whole new look!  I hope you enjoy it as my as I do.

Moving to a new platform after three years+ of blogging is no small task and there is still work to be done but hopefully the transition will continue to move along smoothly – low and slow – and cause little disruption.

Thank you for your patience ♡

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Butternut Squash Pad Thai

Well I can’t very well move on from summer without sharing the story of the season.

I feel a bit bad spinning it into a story because it does have an unfortunate outcome but if there’s anyone I know who can take a situation like this and turn it on its head, it’s this guy.

Our budding actor was back in action this summer with a great program out of Palo Alto offering ‘professional training for serious young artists’.  All was going along tickety-boo until one day our young Robert De Niro decided to have a Raging Bull moment and take his acting career to a whole new level (the movie buffs among you know exactly where I’m going with this…).

When our son was asked to act out the emotion “anger” he decided to punch the wall in front of him with full force (no half measures people, this is serious acting).  Now, to his credit, the wall was fully padded with one of those thick gym mats (the kind that baseball players hit without restraint, all limbs on board) so he thought he was safe. But in this case, regrettably, our inexperienced boxer broke a wrist and a finger in the process. Not a fun day at camp.

But there was some light at the end of the tunnel and a line delivered in a way that only he can that sent this mom into hysterics.

After spending a painful and at times emotional afternoon in the ER (this was his 7th and 8th broken bone after all), our weary but undefeated fellow glances over at me in the car and says “well, look at it this way Mom. Now I can say that I broke two bones in someone’s body by throwing a single punch. So what if it happens to be my body!”

(I had to pull off the road I was laughing so hard).

~~~~~~~

Well, I’m just delighted with the way this recipe turned out.

I often venture new experiments but if they don’t meet a certain taste threshold, they never see the blog.

This recipe packs all the delicious flavor you would expect from a traditional Pad Thai but uses the fall classic butternut squash in place of rice noodles.  The raw vegetable ‘noodles’ are tossed into the sauce at the last minute allowing them to warm up but maintain their al dente texture – the result is a resistant bite and no mush.

As much as I adore the taste of grain-based noodles/pasta, they don’t play a big part in my diet at this stage.  Sure I’ll enjoy the chef recommended gnocchi when I’m dining out on occasion (and savor every morsel) but generally, I find this kind of food doesn’t do me a lot of favors.  I just end up feeling bloated, tired and unproductive waiting out the storm until the diabetic coma passes.

Our whole family loved this dish – hope you do too!

Butternut Squash Pad Thai

Butternut Squash Pad Thai (naturally grain free, gluten free)

For the Pad Thai

  • 1 Tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and shredded with this handy tool
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 generous cup fresh bean sprouts of choice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 pound medium-size shrimp (about 8-10 shrimp)
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onion
  • 4 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1 fresh lime, cut into segments
  • Optional: chopped cilantro
For the Pad Thai Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp (or slightly more) tamarind
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
  • 2 Tbsp coconut palm sugar (substitute brown sugar)

Serves 2

Nutrition & Cooking Notes:

  1. You can easily substitute chicken or tofu in place of shrimp in this recipe for the protein component.
  2. Pad Thai derives its distinctive flavor from tamarind (not soy sauce).  You should be able to find tamarind in the Asian section of your grocery store but, failing that, certainly at any Asian grocery store.
  3. This particular sauce does have some kick to it (heat) so if spicy is not your thing, diminish the chili garlic sauce or omit it altogether depending on your sensitivity level.
  4. When it comes to preparing Thai cuisine, I always recommend sampling the sauce to determine the right balance of sweet, salty, sour, spicy — this way, little adjustments can be made suited to your particular taste preference.


Directions:

  1. Cut butternut squash in half (lengthwise).  
  2. Peel half the butternut squash with a simple carrot/potato peeler (reserving the remaining half for roasting and adding to soup, sauces, dips and stews).
  3. Using this tool (the best $11 investment you’ll ever make) or a spiralizer, shred/spiralize the peeled portion of the butternut squash, setting aside the resulting ribbons or ‘noodles.’ The skin of the butternut squash, even once peeled, is a little tougher than other vegetables such as zucchini so it may feel a bit resistant to shredding at first. Once you’ve found the right angle though, you should have no trouble carving into it to create your ribbons/noodles.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small container with fitted lid, combine sauce ingredients: tamarind, fish sauce, chili garlic sauce if using, and sugar, shaking well to combine.  Taste the sauce and make any desired adjustments to try and achieve the ideal balance between sweet, salty, sour, spicy ~ the hallmark of Thai cuisine.
  5. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium heat and sauté the shrimp in some grapeseed or olive oil just until opaque (this should only take a minute or so).  Remove shrimp and set aside.
  6. In the same skillet, sauté shallot and garlic over low-medium heat just until softened and fragrant.
  7. Add the bean sprouts to the skillet, mixing to combine with the onion/garlic for another minute.
  8. Spread the onion/garlic/sprouts mixture to the sides of the pan and add eggs to the center allowing them to set slightly before gently mixing in with the other skillet ingredients (the heat should not be too high at this point – you don’t want to brown the egg just delicately cook them).
  9. Return opaque shrimp to the skillet, mixing to combine with the other ingredients.
  10. Add the butternut squash ‘noodles’ to the skillet along with the sauce (being sure to give it a good shake before adding it), mixing to integrate and warm through.
  11. Divide the warm butternut squash shrimp pad Thai between two plates (I like to bring some of the shrimp to the top of the plate) and top with a sprinkle of green onions, peanuts and cilantro as desired.
  12. Serve a lime wedge or two alongside each dish and be sure to squeeze some fresh lime juice all over the pad Thai before savoring (the lime is not meant as mere decoration!).
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