Spring has sprung!! Technically it sprung March 20th, but I believe at that time we were experiencing the last vestiges of a polar vortex. It’s time to forget those cold, dark days because grey has been replaced with green, there are flowers to behold, and my face is beginning to lose its “ruddy” look. With the warmer days and thawed ground comes one of my favorite things about spring: asparagus.
Seasonal eating is tricky when supermarkets carry most types of produce year-round, regardless of growing season. My grocery cart, regardless of the season, typically has broccoli, spinach, grapes, and apples to name a few. But there are those special fruits and vegetables that, for both taste and price, I only buy when in season. Asparagus is definitely on this short list. Not only do I refuse to pay upwards of $5.99 a pound for asparagus, but have you tasted it when it’s not in season? I find it woody and lacking in flavor. It’s absolutely wonderful, though, in the spring.
Asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup has a mere 40 calories but 4 g of fiber, which is 14% of your daily needs. That’s a lot of fiber for a small amount of energy! It’s loaded with folate and vitamin K, at 67% and 100% of your daily needs, respectively. Folate is especially important for any ladies out there of reproductive age as a deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in embryos. It’s a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins. This veggie can really help you spring into a healthy lifestyle (see what I did there?!). A random fun fact I learned is that the white spears you occasionally see at the store or farmers market are the same variety as the green but lack chlorophyll. The shoots are covered with soil while growing to prevent photosynthesis, resulting in the white color. This version has a tad less fiber and tastes a bit sweeter.
Asparagus can be eaten any number of ways and makes an excellent side dish. In this recipe, however, I wanted to incorporate it into a simple vegetarian main dish that can be prepared on the busiest of weeknights. What’s great about this recipe is its simplicity. You can buy the artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes far in advance without risk of them spoiling like fresh vegetables. Most of us have some form of pasta hiding in the cupboards, and I don’t know about you, but my cheese drawer is usually well-stocked. A simple sauté of the asparagus with a squirt of lemon juice is really all it takes to get this dish on the table, ready for a delicious meal showcasing a spring-time classic.
Ingredients (4 servings)
- 1 16 oz bag whole wheat pasta (here I used penne, but use any noodle you like)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 6.5 oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 7 oz jar sun dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
- Fresh lemon juice from ½ lemon
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Heat olive oil in skillet over medium high heat. Add asparagus and red onion and sauté until asparagus turns bright green, ~2-3 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Cook for 1 minute, then add the artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, and garlic. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until everything is heated through.
Combine the pasta and asparagus mixture. Add grated parmesan, fresh basil, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.
- 576 calories
- 26 g protein
- 101 g carbohydrate
- 17 g fiber
- 12 g fat
- 521 mg sodium
I had to delete everything I wrote for this post and start over. Curious? I had been feeling a little meh about writing it and only had 2 short, sad paragraphs. For inspiration (and to see some gross teeth) I decided to google-image “scurvy,” a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, when I came across a gem. Something so awesome I had to revamp everything. There is a website, www.limestrong.com, dedicated to eradicating scurvy. On top of that, May 2 has been designated International Scurvy Awareness Day. That’s THIS FRIDAY!! On top of that, there are funny pictures of cats wearing oranges and limes on their heads. Maybe it’s the dietitian in me, but this really tickled my funny bone.
Scurvy used to be seen in sailors on long voyages that lacked access to fresh fruits and vegetables. While it’s a rare disease in the 21st century, there are still reported cases. Groups at higher risk include smokers, alcoholics, infants that are fed cow’s milk, and those without access to fresh fruits and vegetables. A classic symptom is bleeding gums and loose teeth, as well as wounds that won’t heal. The reason is that vitamin C plays an important role in collagen synthesis, a protein that helps hold the body together. Without vitamin C helping form collagen, body tissues start to break down. Don’t want your teeth to fall out? Eat some fruits and veggies every day!
I know, scurvy is generally a disease of yore, but I had to talk about it since there’s a day dedicated to it. Besides wound healing and keeping your teeth attached, vitamin C does some other cool things. Most of you probably know it’s an antioxidant, which means it helps neutralize free radicals that can cause damage over time and are associated with aging and various diseases. With regard to cancer prevention, a diet rich in fruits/vegetables is recommended, however vitamin C supplementation alone has not shown definitive proof that it reduces cancer incidence. The common cold has a similar story. Research has not shown that vitamin C reduces your risk of catching a cold.
Enough of the science lesson, let’s talk food. Sure, oranges are great for breakfast alongside a hardboiled egg and toast, or, for you fancy folks out there, these delicious crepes, but how can we incorporate them into something savory? It’s easy to get into a food rut, where you find yourself eating the same things in the same ways, and I hope this recipe can help shake up your routine and broaden your dinner horizons. This is a great weeknight meal and easy to whip up. These corn cakes work for anyone out there who is gluten-free, or, if you’re like me, want to try something new. I topped them with this black bean and orange salsa, but you could also add the salsa to some fish or chicken, or just eat it out of the bowl like my mom did.
Now run to the grocery store, pick up these ingredients, and make this recipe Friday to celebrate International Scurvy Awareness Day!!
- Jalapeno Corn Cakes (makes 4 large or 6 medium cakes)
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup corn meal
- 5 Tbsp non-fat milk
- 2 Tbsp honey
- ½ jalapeno, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Black Bean and Orange Salsa
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, diced
- Juice from 1 lime
- ½ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 14 oz can black beans, rinsed
- 1 large orange, peeled, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 green onion, chopped
- ½ jalapeno, diced
- 1 avocado, cut into chunks
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Corn Cakes: Mix the corn, eggs, corn meal, milk, honey, jalapeno, salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet. Add batter, you should be able to fit 2-3 cakes depending on the size. Cook 2-4 minutes or until set. Flip and cook other side.
Black Bean and Orange Salsa: Mix first 6 ingredients (dressing) in small dish. Taste and adjust seasonings and/or lime juice based on your preferences. Combine beans, orange, bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, avocado, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Toss bean and vegetable mixture with dressing. Top corn cakes with the salsa.
Corn Cakes (based on yield of 4)
- 308 calories
- 8 g protein
- 49 g carbohydrate
- 4 g fiber
- 11 g fat
- 90 mg sodium
Salsa (divided into 4 servings)
- 279 calories
- 10 g protein
- 35 g carbohydrate
- 10 g fiber
- 12 g fat
- 318 mg sodium
*Notice my vastly improved photos? It’s all thanks to my dad. I have terrible lighting in my apartment and no fancy camera equipment, so when I was home around Easter I enlisted my photographer father to help me. Using his tripod and lights really helped! Now I have to devise a way to “borrow” them long-term…
Welcome, readers, to my inaugural food post!! I hope you’re ready for a delicious, spicy weekday dinner recipe that will really titillate your taste buds. But first, we have something to discuss. And that something is couscous. Couswhat? You may be thinking “blah blah, trendy food alert” but I assure you, you are mistaken!
Couscous has been around for ages, and while it doesn’t look like it, it is actually a tiny pasta. A staple in many parts of the world, especially North Africa and areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East, it is often served with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices. Traditionally it is prepared by hand and steamed, however supermarkets carry a presteamed and dried packaged version that needs only to be reconstituted in boiling water. I admit I haven’t tried handmade couscous, but after reading about it I am ready to fly to Morocco to try some!
Marrakech dreams aside, the whole wheat couscous in my cupboard will have to suffice. Most grocery stores carry couscous, whole wheat couscous, and flavored couscous. I included pictures of various brands that are common in many grocery stores to help in your search. I encourage you to avoid the flavored ones as they contain a spice packet that is loaded with salt. Just dust off your spices and create your own flavors! Between plain and whole wheat couscous, I suggest the whole wheat version.
Both originate from durum wheat, a hard wheat with a high protein content, however the difference lies in the processing. Plain couscous is made from semolina, which refers to a processing technique, in this case the grains left after the durum wheat is milled. The whole wheat version retains the bran and germ of the durum wheat, resulting in a nutrient-packed product that has triple the fiber content compared to the plain couscous!
You won’t see couscous on a list of superfoods (quinoa, I’m talking to you), but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. It has a mild taste that lends itself well to many dishes, and if you prepare the whole wheat version, you’ll be getting 28% of your daily fiber needs in one serving. Now that is an excellent source of fiber! If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to check it out at your local grocery store, and if you like spicy food, then try the recipe below. As a recent poor graduate student, this meal is budget friendly and quick to prepare on a busy weeknight. The ingredients reflect 2 servings, and it makes a great next-day lunch. Most importantly, it’s packed with lots of nutritious goodness from the vegetables, chickpeas, and COUSCOUS!
Ingredients (2 servings)
- Spice rub
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- pinch of salt
- 1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 3 med carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 med red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1/2 med onion, thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeno, diced
- 1 1/4 cup cooked whole wheat couscous (~1/2 cup dry)
- handful cilantro, chopped
- 1 tsp Sriracha (per serving, optional)
Preheat oven to 400⁰
Prepare couscous according to package instructions.
Mix together ingredients for spice rub.
Drain and rinse chickpeas; lay them out on paper towels to dry. Transfer to a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Sprinkle chickpeas with the spice rub (save some to season the veggies) and toss to coat. Bake for 30-40 minutes until browned and crispy.
While the chickpeas are roasting, peel and thinly slice/julienne the carrots. Thinly slice the bell pepper and onion and dice the jalapeno. The amount of jalapeno used will make the meal more or less spicy, so use as much or as little as you like.
Heat remaining teaspoon of olive oil on med-high in a large skillet. Add vegetables and sauté, occasionally stirring for 4-5 minutes, until vegetables are crisp-tender. If you have leftover spice rub, add some of the seasonings to the veggies while they cook.
Combine veggies, couscous, and roasted chickpeas in a large bowl. Add the cilantro, and if you like, add a bit of Sriracha to your bowl for some added kick.
- 500 calories
- 88 g carbohydrate
- 18 g fiber
- 20 g protein
- 10 g fat
- 340 mg sodium