Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Planning Meals: Beautiful & Bountiful Dinners with Grains & Veggies

I haven't been blogging our food lately, but there have been many delicious meals made with whatever looked good at the co-op and what I had time to fix between teaching and other commitments. The beauty of the plate is one thing that I continue to enjoy immensely about our meals.  The colors and textures definitely influence my meal planning. I think of the plate, the textures, the flavors. Any of these elements can run the show when it comes to planning a meal based on what I have in the house, or what I am buying in order to have in the house.  Weather can influence me too -- is it a "comfort food" day or a cool temperature meal we need to heal the day's energies and seal in the benefits of nurturing ourselves?

So I thought I'd put up a few photos of how things come together, even though I haven't blogged the recipes for these meals. Most of them are very simple sequences of cutting, cooking and putting together... and I'll try to give enough information so that you could give it a go... or let me know that you really want directions and I'll blog 'em out.

As an experimental, temperamental, spontaneous and intuitive cook, I find it amusing that I am now trying to routinize anything about my kitchen activities and write things down, document what works, and imagine that anyone is following along.  The idea of the eat2thrive blog is truly to inspire you to go ahead and explore this marvelous feast of possibilities. If these meal ideas spark something -- light it and go with it! I'd love to know if your results thrilled you and would be happy to put them up on the blog for others if they are replicable.

A blend of vegetables, joined with a flavorful sauce or spice, and served on a plain grain can be a marvelous anchor for a meal. These medleys of flavors can be combinations. Here I combined in a water saute with bits of ginger and garlic:  carrots, onions, olives, Cremini mushrooms, and fennel on plain millet. The  sides are fresh spinach cooked with small bites of tofu and garlic, and a salad of enoki, Asian watermelon radishes, arugula and grape tomatoes treated with a splash of Mirin.

This blend is slivered lacinato (dinosaur) kale sauteed with bits of onion, and then mixed together with the white quinoa that I cooked separately in the gingery water I used to steam the carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips that make up the side dish finalized with roasted sunflower seeds and a tablespoon of dried currants. The salad is a simple chopped endive, radicchio, cucumber and quartered red grapes with a splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar.  The sriracha hot sauce turned the quinoa into a wonderful complement to the sweet of the root veggies and slightly bittersweet crunch of salad.

Here is a stir-fry model (in water of course, not oil), with sugar snap peas, shiitakes and pea shoots thrown in at the end. The binder is tamari with a splash of ume plum vinegar plus water. Plain long-grain brown basmati rice was the base under it, and then the fun started with the sliced steamed zucchini cooked with fresh cilantro, a little salt and lemon! This added a flavor bite to the salty familiarity of the stir fry.

 Here the rice is the border keeper to separate the veggie medley of sauteed snow peas, carrots, broccoli, and garlic with a light peanut sauce, and the pressed, soaked, and then broiled tofu slabs ... soaked in ginger/tamari/tomatillo/sesame seed. I'm still working on how to get that crispness without oil... and this was a pretty good outcome, broiled on tin foil, and reserving a little of the sauce to continue putting a little moisture on as the tofu began crisping.

Here the rice is transformed into Asian rice noodles, soaked in boiling hot water, and then rinsed. The black eyed peas were cooked with garlic, salt, pepper and lemon, and snuggled up to steamed fresh spinach with a dash of seaweed gomasio. I wanted a distinctly different texture/shape and went for the fresh green beans, steamed plain and served with a squeeze of lemon.  Using the noodles changes the nature of the meal and makes today's dinner vastly different from the rice-based meal of yesterday or tomorrow.

Another way to totally change the rice experience is to play with special heirloom rice grains now available in so many places. This black rice is packed with nutrition, stays a beautiful deep color and has a nutty marvelous flavor. So all I did was add bits of chopped mushroom and garlic to the rice as it cooked, served it with plain steamed broccoli, a leafy salad with scallions, pea shoots and sliced strawberries treated with tarragon vinegar, and then I experimented with the side dish.  This one was a delicious surprise of black grapes, jicama, fresh tomatillo chopped up like tomatoes, bits of scallion and a splash of mirin.

Pasta! I use brown rice pasta to avoid gluten, and because it can be served either soft or al dente.  This variation was served at room temperature on the first hot day... partly because I had no time to cook dinner at dinner time, and made this in its parts before heading out to teach an evening yoga class. Steamed Brussels sprouts were rinsed in cool water and quartered, then mixed together with quartered grape tomatoes, sliced parsnip, bits of green and black olives, and two beautiful fresh scallions chopped. The glue was a red miso sauce -- a heaping tablespoon of red miso mixed with about 1 cup of hot water, a splash of balsamic vinegar and stirred well. I poured this over the whole thing, cooked noodles and all, and let it sit out until I got home later. Simple salad - radicchio, chopped romaine, last of the endive and a little pomegranate balsamic, salt and garlic.

Another quick meal using brown rice pasta and a side salad! This one was garlic sauteed chard with bits of sun dried tomatoes, stirred into the brown rice spirals, and then a quick steam of fresh asparagus spears to cut and toss on top. Beautiful and tasty! Boston lettuce with cucumber, red pepper, bits of chopped celery and tarragon vinegar with garlic to dress it up.

None of these meals were planned ahead more than the day-of. The most important aspect of all these meals was having beautiful fresh ingredients on hand, and a stock of grains/pasta to put in place to round things out.

Desserts are usually sharing a cut up apple, perhaps a perfect pear, a naval orange ... or when the mood strikes, a little container of soy yogurt with granola and fresh strawberries!

Give it a try -- play around with these ideas ... and let me know if you find something marvelous to share or want a more detailed instruction about how to make any of these.  One thing is for sure you will be eating well!

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