Sunday, November 9, 2014

Classy Cranberries and Savory Sweet Potatoes: A perfect holiday duo

I love the holidays. Not just because it is a chance to spend time with friends and family, but also because it is a chance for me to inspire others through food. More often than not, I bring something healthy and creative, containing only fresh whole food ingredients. Usually it stands out, alone and out of place, in the flood of other rich and sweet alternatives. Not surprisingly, it usually is a hit, drawing in curious tasters with the colorful and vivid ingredients screaming “taste me!” Without refined sugars, and refined flours and grains, it may seem hard to compete with the latter. However, the savory and delicious flavors always prove them wrong. Whole foods can taste good!

Not only do whole food ingredients taste delicious, but they also naturally contain less refined sugar, preservatives, or other flavor enhancers, and more nutrients and fiber. For example, you can buy canned cranberry sauce that contains 21g of sugar per ¼ cup serving, or 5 ¼ teaspoons of white sugar! However, it is also easy to create an unhealthy version of cranberry sauce using fresh whole cranberries. For instance when I bought a 12 oz bag of fresh cranberries at the grocery store, the cranberry sauce recipe on the back called for 1- 1 ½ cups of white sugar! I couldn’t believe my eyes! This recipe contains even more sugar than the canned alternative! With so much sugar in typical cranberry sauce, either in the canned form or using the free recipe, of course its going to taste amazing on top of the fatty and salty turkey meat. How could anyone resist the addicting combination of sugar, fat, and salt?

So, why is refined sugar unhealthy? Firstly, it does not contain any vitamins, minerals, or natural enzymes like raw honey or maple syrup. Secondly, and more importantly, large amounts of sugar in the diet may contribute to systemic inflammation, increasing the progression of chronic disease. In addition, refined sugar can also feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut, leading to yeast overgrowth and GI upset. Although most consumers may not be aware of their day-to-day sugar consumption, adult Americans are consuming on average 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. Compare that to the American Heart Association daily recommendations of 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women (1). Even more frustratingly, sugar is often hidden in refined and processed food; for instance pasta sauces and ketchup. No wonder we love to dip our fries in ketchup-it’s the magical sugar, fat and salt combination!

Sadly, during the holidays, sugar consumption increases even more dramatically, due to the constant temptations at every corner, including desserts, sweetened lattes, and other holiday adult beverages. For example, a 12 oz pumpkin spiced latte contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar alone. Now add to that the sugar in your morning pastry, the sugar in your favorite holiday dessert, and the sugar in your alcoholic drink of choice, as well as any additional hidden unknowns. All of a sudden you are probably up to an average of 30-50 teaspoons! Yeaowza!

So, how can you be more conscious and aware of your sugar consumption this holiday?
  •  Start by choosing whole food ingredients in place of processed or canned goods in your holiday recipes. By utilizing fresh cranberries in a recipe you can adjust the amount of sweetener you would like to add, instead of buying canned.
  •  Reduce the sugar amounts in your favorite recipes. Instead of adding in a whole cup, try adding in just ¾ or 2/3 of a cup and see if you notice too much of a difference.
  • Try swapping unrefined sugar with healthier alternatives like maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, or sucanat for added vitamins and minerals.
  • Add dried fruit to recipes in place of extra sugar to add sweetness as well as added fiber and nutrients.

Just because you are reducing or omitting refined sugar, doesn’t mean that the food has to taste bad. As you reduce your sugar intake, your taste buds will change, and you will not crave as much sugar in your food. It’s a win, win situation for your health and that of your loved ones!

So in light of the sugar topic, today I am going to share with you a healthy alternative to your traditional, highly sweetened, cranberry sauce. The first difference is that it is raw—allowing all the powerful phytonutrients and enzymes in cranberries, which have been touted with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, to stay intact and work together synergistically. When heated, processed, and mixed with a lot of pro-inflammatory sugar, the health benefits of cranberries decreases (2). Keeping the cranberries raw, allows you to benefit from all their health promoting compounds!

Secondly, I only use maple syrup as a sweetener, and only ¼ cup, reducing the typical sugar amounts by ¾ or more! And thirdly, I add freshly squeezed orange juice, zest, and optional jalapeno to the mix, creating a zesty and bright raw cranberry chutney. The trick to this recipe is time. The longer it marinates in its own juices, the more developed the flavors become. I recommend making this recipe in advance and storing it in your refrigerator at least a day before you using it.

With that I leave you with a delicious and savory salad, topped with a raw cranberry chutney. The roasted sweet potatoes are to die for—mixed together with feta, toasted sesame seeds, a drizzle of raw honey, and chili flakes for extra spice. These usually don’t last long in my household, because I add them into salads, use them as sides, or even eat them alone. They are just that good! And with a dollop of cranberry chutney put on top… are in fall harvest heaven!

Raw Cranberry Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

12 oz fresh cranberries
1 orange, juice and zest
4 tablespoons maple syrup
2 pinches sea salt
Optional: 1 deseeded jalapeno, finely minced


Rinse cranberries and strain. Pour onto a clean kitchen towel and pick out any soft cranberries.

Add the fresh cranberries into a food processor. If you want to add any jalapeno, do so now as well. Process until finely minced. Be careful not to process it too much, because then it will become too soggy.

Spoon into a large bowl and mix with orange juice, zest, and maple syrup. Season with a pinch or two of sea salt.

Store in a glass jar for up to one week.

Note: This chutney gets more flavorful with time. Tastes great tossed in salads, in wraps, sandwiches, or along with your Thanksgiving turkey.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Honey, Feta, and Sesame
Makes about 4 cups

2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and dried
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 ½ tablespoons hulled sesame seeds
Raw honey
1/3 cup crumbled feta (fresh feta is the best)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced
Pinch of chili flakes
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Meanwhile, chop the sweet potatoes into bite sized pieces, leaving the peel on, and place into a medium bowl. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave until liquid, about 30 seconds, and pour over the sweet potatoes. Toss well, until evenly covered.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and evenly pour out the sweet potatoes onto the sheet, making sure that none are overlapping. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, and return to the oven to bake 3 more minutes.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the sweet potatoes with raw honey, crumbled feta, fresh parsley, chili flakes, and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Mix well and serve warm or cold.

Note: I like to toss mixed greens, or romaine hearts, with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper, a cup of warm roasted sweet potatoes, and a dollop of raw cranberry chutney. Super easy and tasty!

1. American Heart Association. Sugar, Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease. Accessed November 9, 2014. 
2. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Cranberries. Accessed November 9, 2014. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

T is for Tempeh

I love quick and easy meals that are healthy, delicious, and versatile. Those are usually the ones that I go back to often, adapting them as the ingredients in my refrigerator change. Especially, as the week comes to a close, my kitchen creativity sometimes dwindles along with it, waiting for that long awaited Saturday morning slumber that rejuvenates my foodie love. With nine solid hours of uninterrupted sleep, and no more steel cut oats left over for quick reheating, I felt inspired and motivated to create one of those true and tried recipes for our Saturday breakfast and share it with you!

Once again, this recipe is an inspiration from our Bali honeymoon. Although the concept is unique, the ingredients in this recipe are common staples found in any plant-based kitchen. And if you do not happen to have every single ingredient, you can easily swap it with something else that is hidden in your veggie bin. Also, this recipe lends itself perfectly as a light lunch or dinner entrée, that can become even heartier if paired with a side of whole-wheat toast or a fruit salad.

Tahu Telur, or translated tofu and eggs, is the common name for this typical Balian dish. The base consists of eggs and tofu, and is topped with fresh veggies, including grated carrots and cabbage, as well as mung beans and chopped peanuts. A light sauce is served alongside, as a dressing for the vegetables. Although my version is similar, there are a few twists that I think make it even better. Let me tell you why.

Just like in the book “Eat Pray Love”, I feel in love in Bali, with tempeh. I have to be honest; at that time I had never cooked tempeh. As a nutritionist and health food blogger, this may seem unheard of. Tempeh was foreign while tofu was and still is a common staple in my kitchen. However in Bali, tempeh was on every menu, as fries, as a side, or as part of an entrée. I had to try it! Within two weeks I was transformed from a tempeh novice to a tempeh advocate. It didn’t even dawn on me until the last few days of our visit, that tempeh originated in Indonesia!

This fermented whole soybean patty may seem foreign to you too, with its unique flavor, texture, and smell. However, when well seasoned and added to flavorful meals, not only does the flavor become enjoyable, but the nutritional benefits far outweigh tofu. Because the whole soybean is utilized, sprouted and fermented, the protein and fiber content, as well as vitamins and minerals, are much higher in tempeh. For example, in a 4oz serving of tempeh, you will find 20g of plant-based protein and 12g of fiber. The fiber will help keep you full longer, bind to toxins for elimination, feed healthy bacteria, and reduce constipation. Whereas the protein increases satiety and offers the building blocks to keep your muscles strong and healthy. A 4 oz serving of extra firm tofu, on the other hand, has about 12g of protein and 1g of fiber. Furthermore, the minerals found in tempeh, such as iron and calcium, are much more bioavailable because the phytic acid content is reduced during the soaking and fermentation process. Why is this important? Phytic acid binds to minerals such as iron and calcium, and instead of absorbing these minerals, you excrete them. But wait there is more! Tempeh also has beneficial active cultures, just like yogurt or kefir, that can help keep your digestive tract healthy by culturing good bacteria in your large intestine. Isn’t tempeh a soybean rockstar?

So are you ready to fall in love with tempeh? Here are some things to keep in mind when buying tempeh:
  • Tempeh can be found in the refrigerated or frozen section.
  • Since soybeans are a GMO crop, choose organic tempeh when possible.
  • You can find a variety of tempeh products, including original and multigrain. 
  • A whitish covering on the tempeh is normal, as are a few black or gray spots.
  • Quality tempeh has a natural aroma that smells earthy and mushroom-like. 

Because I exchanged the tofu with tempeh, my version is called Tempeh Telur, using veggies that I found in my veggie bin, including cherry tomatoes, onions, radish sprouts, and avocado. If I had a cucumber I would have tossed that into the mix as well. And instead of the traditional chopped peanuts, I used chopped macadamia nuts. You can use whatever floats your boat!

Tempeh Telur
Serves 1

1 teaspoon ghee or coconut oil
½ serving of tempeh, cut into small cubes (I used Surata Multi-Grain)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 eggs
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
Splash of soymilk (or regular milk)
¼ cup radish sprouts (can use any type of sprouts)
4 cherry tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon chopped macadamia nuts (or peanuts)
¼ avocado, sliced
Cilantro for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

½ tablespoon reduced sodium tamari
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
Siracha to taste


Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the ghee and the tempeh and sauté for a couple minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the minced onion and sauté until glassy. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh pepper.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl, add the garlic, and the splash of milk. Mix well and season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh pepper.

Pour the egg mixture evenly over the sautéed tempeh and onions. Cook on low until the egg mixture has set, about 5 minutes. Carefully, flip the “egg pancake” over and sauté on the other side for a minute.

Transfer the “egg pancake” to a warmed plate (I do this in the microwave), and top with sprouts, cherry tomatoes, macadamia nuts, avocado, and cilantro. Serve immediately with a side of sauce. Drizzle the sauce over the fresh veggies as needed.

Note: You can easily double this recipe and make two servings at once, you just need two small skillets to cook the “egg pancakes” at the same time. Or you could preheat your oven to low and keep one warm, while you cook the second.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Spiced to Health: Balinese Yellow Sauce

It’s mid October, and almost a month since Dane and I returned from our honeymoon in Bali. When I say to myself it’s only been a month, it doesn’t seem that long ago. But when I remember those wonderful sunny days, lounging by the poolside watching Dane surf the ocean waves, it seems like ages ago. How I miss my daily papaya smoothies, the Balinese people, and the time to R.E..L...A....X! Now I just have to remain thankful to have had those wonderful beautiful days with my best friend at my side!

Three days after Dane and I arrived back from our travels, I changed gears from newly wed, sun-kissed Selva to full time Bastyr Dietetic Intern.  Although I love every minute of my intern days, I also miss my peaceful, idyllic, active summer days. With the rain pouring, and no end in sight, the days are now grey, cold, and damp, perfect actually for all the intern activities and competencies that I need to fulfill.

However, every once in awhile, when I light my traditional morning incense (just like the Balinese), I crave the sunshine, the fruit, and the flavorful food that we ate there during our time. Finally, starved of my delicious Balian memories, I decided to make Base Gede, the Balinese yellow sauce that is the start to almost every dish. Without Base Gede, you cannot make traditional Balinese dishes such as Gado Gado, or Nasi Campur.

Not only is this sauce amazingly delicious, and very important in the Balinese cuisine, it is a medicinal superhouse. Stocked full with multiple types of fresh ginger, turmeric, garlic, peppers, and lemongrass, it is bursting with powerful antioxidants that have been touted with many healing properties. I don’t want to beat the bush by talking about turmeric and ginger again, as I just mentioned them in my last post called Balian Papaya Elixir Smoothie, but I will mention a few things about garlic, since the recipe calls for 15 cloves!

Garlic originates from Middle Asia, but has become a culinary and medicinal staple in many cultures around the world. From Europe to Asia, and Africa to the Americas, garlic is used in many traditional foods. The bioactive sulfur compound Alliin and the enzyme Alliinase are most studied when it comes to the healing properties of garlic.  When cut or smashed alliinase becomes activated, changing alliin to Allicin, the active component of garlic. 

Allicin has been touted with strong antibiotic and antiviral properties, making it a popular cold and flu remedy in many cultures.  Although most research studies have used garlic extracts, or powder, rather than fresh whole garlic, it has been shown to have a wide variety of beneficial effects. In a 2009 meta-analysis, a study of multiple studies, found that garlic significantly reduced total cholesterol and triglycerides, however it did not significantly change the LDL to HDL ratio (1). Furthermore, in laboratory studies, garlic has been shown to slow or inhibit the growth of various cancer cells (2).

However, to get the most benefits, after you chop, smash, or press your garlic, let it rest for a minute to allow the enzyme alliinase to change alliin to active allicin. Immediate cooking of the garlic or mixing it with acid, such as lemon juice, deactivates the enzyme. Therefore, in order to increase the health promoting effects of garlic, wait a minute to cook with it, but not too long, as allicin only stays intact for about 2-16 hours at room temperature (3). Fresh pressed, smashed, or minced garlic is best! Now there is more reason to be liberal with fresh garlic, especially if you are staying in for dinner!

Like I said before, this yellow sauce is only the base for Balinese cooking. In order to create the popular Gado Gado or Nasi Campur, you will need a few more ingredients. Although it may seem that at this moment I am leaving you hanging with only a sauce, please be creative! Add it into your own sautés, soups, or marinades! A little goes a long way. And when I post another Balinese recipe that requires this sauce, you will be ready to jump straight on board!

P.S. You can find all the ingredients at your local Asian grocery store. In the Seattle area, I like to go to Uwajimaya.

Stay Happy and Healthy!

Base Gede (Balinese Yellow Sauce) 
Adapted from Paon Bali Cooking Class
Makes 1 ½ cups

3 shallots
15 cloves garlic (about 1 whole bulb)
3-4 inch long galangal root
3-4 inch ginger root
2 thumb size pieces of turmeric
4 whole macadamia nuts (or 8 halves)
2 red hot Thai chilies (small)
3 red chilies (medium)
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder
2 teaspoons shrimp paste
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon white peppercorns (or use more black)
2 whole cloves
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1 stalk of lemongrass, pounded and tied in a knot
2 bay leaves


Rinse all ingredients except the seeds and powders. Coarsely chop the shallots, garlic, galangal root, ginger, turmeric, and macadamia nuts. Place into a food processor. Slice and remove the seeds from the chilies and mince. Add to the food processor. Add the nutmeg powder and the shrimp paste and process all the ingredients.

With a mortar and pestle, or in a clean coffee grinder, grind your coriander seeds, peppercorns, and cloves until fine. Add to the food processor and process until everything forms a fine paste.

In a medium sauce pan heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and add the paste and coconut sugar. Mix together. Add the lemongrass and bay leaves, and a generous pinch of sea salt and sauté for 7 minutes on low heat. Continue to stir to make sure it doesn't burn. Finally, remove the bay leaves and the lemongrass.

Pour into a glass container and store in the refrigerator for two weeks. You can also freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray. Use in your favorite Balinese recipe or in any stir-fry, soup, or marinade that you are making at home.

Note: Only about 1-2 tablespoons is normally used in a recipe because the sauce is very aromatic. 


1. Reinhart KM1, Talati R, White CM, Coleman CI. The impact of garlic on lipid parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Res Rev. 2009 Jun;22(1):39-48.
2. American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods that Fight Cancer Accessed October 23, 2014. 
3. Worlds Healthiest Foods. Garlic. Accessed October 23, 2014. 

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