Thai Quinoa Salad with Homemade Peanut Ginger Sauce

Have you ever been bored with your typical cooking routine? I can tell you I have. I’ve found that when I’m uber-busy with work, school, working out, and just life in general, I stick to the same foods. I might alter my meals a little bit, but I don’t go out of my comfort zone and try a new recipe. Well, I’ve made a goal to change that. To find new recipes, adapt them, or simply create my own. And its going great so far! I have actually saved time by just cooking a large batch of food and eating portions of it throughout the week.

This dish has been on my radar for a while, but for some reason, it seemed like a time investment. Surprisingly not the case. Aside from chopping up the vegetables, it was pretty quick to prepare! With the combination of the quinoa and edamame beans, this is a pretty protein-packed meal, and the loads of vegetables make this an even more nutrient-dense dish. And did I mention it is gluten-free AND vegan?? IMG_20130623_111302

Thai Quinoa Salad with Homemade Peanut Ginger Sauce

Adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

Makes 6 servings

¾ cup uncooked quinoa

2-3 cups shredded red cabbage

1 red bell pepper, diced

½ medium red onion, diced

1 cup shredded carrots

½ cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup diced green onions  

1 cup edamame

Fresh lime, wedges

For the dressing:

¼ cup all natural peanut butter

2 tsp freshly grated ginger

2 Tbsp soy sauce*

1 Tbsp honey*

1 Tbsp apple vinegar

2 tsp olive oil

*To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free soy sauce. To make it vegan, substitute agave for the honey. 
To cook the quinoa: Unless it is already pre-rinsed, rinse the quinoa with cold water in mesh strainer. In a medium pot, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil before adding the quinoa. quinoa and bring mixture to a boil. Bring it to a boil again and cover the pot, reducing the heat to low and letting it simmer until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat and fluff the quinoa with fork, then place it in large bowl and set aside to cool for about about 10 minutes.
To cook the edamame: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add edamame and bring back to a boil. Let the beans cook for 4-5 minutes. Using a colander, Drain the water and rinse the beans with cold water.
To make the dressing: Add peanut butter and honey (or agave) to a microwave safe bowl and heat in microwave for 20 seconds. Add in soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, and ginger, and stir until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Add as much dressing as you prefer to the quinoa. You can save the dressing for later, but the flavor absorbs better if soaks into the quinoa longer. Fold in the edamame, cabbage, red pepper, onion, carrots, and cilantro into the quinoa. Garnish with and green onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, chilled or at room temperature.
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This is, hands down, one of the most flavorful salads I have ever made. Words can’t even describe how delicious this was. My taste buds were jumping for joy  (finally!).
 What’s your favorite recipe to get you out of a cooking rut?

How to Accidentally Deflate an Airbed + Apple Cinnamon & Flaxseed Oatmeal

So I’ve got a funny story for you. Not funny like slap-on-the-knee funny, but funny in the sense that you might feel a little bad for me and give me a virtual it’s going to be alright pat on the back. That kind of funny.

Here’s a little bit of a background:

When I moved to New York, my parents graciously packed me and all my necessary belongings (or those that could fit in their car) and shipped me off. My bed, however, was left behind and deemed not worthy of the price required to move it as well. A queen-sized, high-quality air mattress replaced it as my temporary bed until I got settled in enough to buy a bed.

Well, I figured that buying a real bed would come on my own terms, and I would hopefully have a steady income first to off-set the costs. Little did know, that would NOT be the case…

While I was curling my hair on Saturday, I burnt my hair with the curling iron, panicked, and went to go run my hand under cold water. What I didn’t do was think through my actions and make sure not to drop the curling iron within close vicinity to my airbed. I came back to a very discomforting sound of my airbed deflating. Yes, my bed was gashed by a curling iron and deflated. See folks, that’s the problem of not having a real bed. That, and the comfort that goes along with owning a real bed. So, needless to say, I slept on a deflated air bed that night, aka the ground…and by slept I mean I spent more time awake than sleeping.

While you might feel bad for me, let me reassure you that this is the first bump I have had since moving to New York. Everything else has been great, and the city has kept a protective and comforting arm over my shoulder.

Anways, the next morning I woke up, expecting to have my usual breakfast, which you can read about here, and discovered that I was not only out of bananas, but peanut butter as well. No worries though, since oatmeal is so versatile I decided to go with the flow and change up my oatmeal routine. Luckily, I had prepared the oats, cinnamon, and soymilk the night before.

This oatmeal variation is just as filling, just as healthy, and just as delicious as my Creamy Crunchy Banana Oatmeal:

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Apple Cinnamon & Flaxseed Oatmeal:

Makes 1 bowl of oatmeal

1/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup milk of choice (I prefer vanilla soymilk)

1 apple, chopped

1-2 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp ground flaxseed

1 Tbsp almonds, sliced, diced, or chopped

There are two ways to go about this:

My preferred way (just because I like to save time in the morning) is to prepare the oats the night before and let them soak in the milk and cinnamon in the refrigerator all night. To do this, combine the oats, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and milk in a tupperware container and stick it in the refrigerator the night before you plan on eating the oatmeal.

That way, in the morning you can just focus on preparing the apples and then combining them with the rest of the oatmeal.

In a bowl, placed the apple chunks, squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the apple chunks, and top with 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Stir the mixture so that the cinnamon is evenly distributed among the apples. Heat it in the microwave for 1 minute. Then, stir in the prepared oatmeal, flaxseed, and almonds. Heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes, and let it cool for about 1 minute.

Note: if you did not prepare the oats before, no worries! Just put the ingredients all together once the apple mixture has been heated, and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Make sure to watch your oatmeal so that it doesn’t boil over in the microwave.

Then enjoy!

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So what’s the deal with flaxseed anyway? Why is it good for you?

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Well, flaxseed has three main components that make it beneficial for both overall health and weight loss:

It is rich in:

  1. Fiber, so not only does it keep you full, but it helps with digestion and constipation as well.
  2. Lignans, which have antioxidant properties and can help protect against cancer in two ways: by preventing or slowing the  growth of tumor cells, and by inhibiting hormone metabolism enzymes.
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol levels, especially LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), which potentially lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The best way for flaxseed to get digested in your body (and for you to reap all the benefits) is to consume ground, rather than whole, flaxseed. Flaxseed is sold commercially both in ground and whole states, so you can either buy it ground, or grind the seeds yourself at home with a food processor or coffee grinder. I choose to buy it ground to save the hassle, but that’s just me.

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Delicious and heart healthy? Take that Cheerios!

Wish me luck in finding a cheap and affordable real bed soon!

Blizzard-Worthy Vegan Sweet Potato & Quinoa Chili

So by now, many of you know of Nemo as not just a cute clownfish, but as a massive storm that hit the Northeast. Despite the build-up and the hype (and school closing),  I was not as personally affected by Nemo as anticipated. Yesterday, after braving the wind, freezing rain, and snow for a good 8-mile elliptical/treadmill workout at the gym, I planned on going to Trader Joe’s to gather the remaining ingredients I needed to create a vegan chili masterpiece in an attempt to survive the blizzard. Apparently, everyone else in Manhattan had the same thought – the line outside of Trader Joe’s was enough for me to change my mind, that and the fact that I didn’t even have an umbrella to shield me from the increasingly painful bursts of freezing rain/snow. Defeated, I bought some fresh produce from a street vendor and went home, hoping that my chili wouldn’t disappoint me as much as my attempted trip to Trader Joe’s did.

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A bundled up Alena slightly resembles Cheburashka, an old Russian cartoon character, don’t you think?

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Luckily, I had the main staples in my cupboard at home, and would only have to make a few substitutions for the chili.

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Quite the spread, huh?

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Blizzard-Worthy Vegan Sweet Potato & Quinoa Chili:

Adapted from http://www.milkfreemom.com/vegan-quinoa-sweet-potato-chili/

Makes 6 servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

one 6 oz can organic tomato paste

1 Tbsp oregano

1 Tbsp paprika

1 Tbsp chili powder

one 15 oz can black beans(low-sodium), rinsed and drained

one 15 oz can Great Northern white beans (low-sodium), rinsed and drained

32 oz vegetable stock (I used “Better than Bouillon” – try to find low-sodium version if possible)

2 large tomatoes, chopped in thick chunks

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped

1 cup dry quinoa

salt and pepper to taste

cilantro (for garnish)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook for 8-10 minutes until they are soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, oregano, paprika, and chili powder, then cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the beans, vegetable stock, tomatoes, and sweet potato chunks and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and then season with salt and pepper. Stir, stir, stir, and keep cooking the fragrant mixture about 25-30 minutes, until the quinoa and sweet potato chunks are cooked thoroughly (the quinoa should form rings around the seeds and the sweet potato should be soft), and the chili has thickened (as chili should). Garnish with the cilantro and enjoy!

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A few tips to make this chili-making experience (and most any cooking experiences) exciting and not stressful:

  1. Read the recipe thoroughly before you start cooking.
  2. Gather all the ingredients and cooking utensils/pots/pans that you will need for the recipe. This saves you from panicking later when you’re frantically searching for the oregano.
  3. Put the ingredients in the order that the recipe calls for.
  4. Chop/dice/slice all the vegetables/produce that your recipe calls for before you even heat the oil. Also, open any cans and drain if necessary. TRUST ME.
  5. Create rhythm. If you’ve followed the steps/tips I’ve listed, the process should be fun and rhythmical, almost like dancing!

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Now, although I hope you don’t have a blizzard to worry about, I do hope that you’ll have a reason to make this delicious chili. Not only is it vegan, but it is PACKED with protein, fiber, vitamins, and FLAVOR.

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Bon appetit!