Monday, October 24, 2011

Lentil Cakes!

We have recently shifted our family schedule around and therefore have had more time and energy by the time I get to the evening to make dinner. I have taken to pulling out my old Bon Appetite magazines and flipping through them to see if anything catches my eye. This first recipe I came across this week was South Indian Lentil Cakes with Raita.

I made a few changes based on the available ingredients in my pantry and what I came up with had my husband asking if I could make a giant batch to keep on hand so he could take them for lunches. My preschooler also enjoyed them, saying, "Yum!" after each bite, although he wasn't a fan of the sauce.
Raita is an Indian dipping sauce made with yogurt and cucumber and various other spices. Traditionally it is used to cut the spiciness that comes from most Indian foods in this application it is just a yummy sauce as I left out the jalapeños in both the sauce and the cakes hoping to please the palette of my 3 ½ year old. I want to introduce more hot spice into our menu but I have traditionally avoided it myself so what I want to do is condition my taste buds, as well as my family's, to tolerate more spice and adding more variety in our menu. We'll see how that goes…
In the meantime as I mentioned I left out the jalapeños so it should be generally pleasing to most palettes. The lentils and rice have to soak for 3-5 hours so plan ahead on this one.
Special equipment: a food processor.
For Raita:
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup cucumber, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon basil minced*
1 garlic clove, minced
For Lentil Cakes:
½ cup lentils
¼ cup rice
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup scallions
1 Tablespoon fresh basil*
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Oliver Oil (for cooking the cakes)

Raita –
Mix all ingredients together.
Lentil Cakes –
Rinse lentils and rice place in a medium bowl.
Add water to cover by 3".
Let legumes and rice soak at room temperature for 3-5 hours.
Drain legumes and rice; transfer to a food processor.
Add garlic and ginger and process until grainy paste forms.
Add next five ingredients and process till everything is just chopped, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.
You will have a wet "batter" now.
Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Spoon 4-6 mounds (approximately ¼ cup) of batter into the pan flattening with a spatula. (I used my cookie scoop to do this).
Reduce heat to medium
Sauté until golden brown and cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.
Adding 1 more tablespoon of oil when cakes are flipped.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with raita.
*A note about herbs – I used basil because it is what I had, the original recipe called for mint instead. You
can use what you have or what you like. My favorite fresh herb is thyme so I often add it even when it doesn't call for it. Remember no recipe is set in stone and it is up to you to make it so it is pleasing to you and your eaters. If you like what you made write it down, if you don't it is no big deal just try again at the next meal. The more you experiment and find what you like the more comfortable you will be in the kitchen and the more fun you will have!

Do you eat the shell?

So we also carved pumpkins recently - this was my 3 year old's first carving experience. The look of shock and astonishment and joy that registered on his face when he first stuck his hand into the ooey gooey innards of his pumpkin was priceless to watch.

After scooping the goo and separating the seeds he loved to squish his hands around in the seed bowl, which we finally had to put an end to since his next favorite thing was to lift his seed covered hand out of the bowl and shake it thus flicking sticky seeds all over the kitchen.
So I took the seeds and washed them then spread them on a sheet pan to dry overnight. I did this because I was ready for bed and didn't want to wait up for roasting seeds. So they next day I roasted. The only thing I put on my seeds are olive oil and kosher salt. I am the only one in the family that really like them so I keep them in my truck for snacking on - super healthy, right Doctor?! So here is my question for all you  (and Dr. Crystal) do you eat the shells or do you take the time to crack them open and extract the seeds? I eat them whole. Always have. Sometimes I encounter a shell that I can quite chew up so I spit that part out. Is there any extra fiber benefit to eating the shells?

Happy Halloween to you all!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Halloween & Pumpkin Seeds

It was pumpkin carving day at our house today!

The boys were up to their elbows in guts but the hard work paid off as we enjoyed the glow from our jack-o-lanterns!

Afterwards, I rinsed the seeds we saved, tossed them with olive oil, salt, and spices and turned them into yummy, crunchy goodness!

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Start with about 3 cups rinsed, well-drained pumpkin seeds. Preheat your oven to 350 then spread seeds on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with generous amounts of your favorite seasonings (I used kosher salt, pepper, onion powder, granulated garlic, cumin, coriander, and a small amount of cayenne pepper).

Toss to coat. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, scraping and mixing seeds every 10 minutes, until seeds are beginning to brown, smell toasty, and just begin to pop. Scrape up any stuck seeds and spread to cool.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week or so...if they last that long! As Little C says, "these are so AWESOME!"

And they just might be the perfect snack for this time of year; pumpkin seeds are great source of zinc which boosts your immune system! (For more health benefits of pumpkin and more pumpkin recipes, check out last year's Hey Punkin' and I Love Pumpkins posts.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Save the Tatas!!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month so I felt it would be timely to post about dietary considerations for breast cancer prevention. Are there specific nutrients and foods we should be consuming to take better care of our tatas? Certain regional diets show protection or increased risk of developing breast cancer: Traditional Oriental diets are associated with a very low risk, Mediterranean diets with an intermediate risk, and Western diets with a very high risk. So what are people eating (or not eating) that is affecting their risk of developing breast cancer? Research surrounding nutrition and breast cancer wants to focus on specific isolated factors in foods that may protect against breast cancer development. As Steve Austin, ND puts it in the book Breast Cancer: What You Should Know (But May Not Be Told) About Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment:

Researchers are now trying to prove that broccoli protects against cancer because of its sulforaphane content. But others say it must be the beta-carotene. Some feel the high level of vitamin C in broccoli may be responsible. Glucaric acid in broccoli has its advocates too, as does indole-3-carbinol. Who knows? It could be the fiber. Researchers are keeping busy looking for the magic bullet when they already have a veritable assault rifle to use against cancer. Attempts to attribute its effects to any on ingredient miss the boat; such efforts don't necessarily even constitute good science. Perhaps it just doesn't sound intellectual enough to say "Eat broccoli—it's good for you," though that may well be what we need to hear.

Cruciferous Veggies
like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts protect against cancer. There are many compounds in cruciferous veggies that have mechanisms of action that protect against breast cancer. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) deactivates estrogen (and increased life time exposure to estrogen is linked to increased risk of breast cancer). Isothiocyanates, such as sulforaphane found in broccoli, increase the activity of enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing agents. Glucaric acid found in broccoli interferes with mammary cancer in rats, most likely due to its ability to promote the body's ability to excrete cancer-causing chemicals. (Other foods high in glucaric acid include oranges, carrots, spinach, and apples.)

Fiber in whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts & seeds helps prevent the reactivation of estrogen by gut bacteria and reabsorption by the body. Lignans, a specific type of fiber found in the highest concentration in flaxseed, interfere with estrogen activity. Adding 2 tablespoons of freshly-ground flaxseeds to your daily diet is a simple thing you can do to increase your daily fiber consumption and protect against breast cancer.

Soybeans contain numerous compounds that protect against breast cancer. Genistein, a phytoestrogen, interferes with the formation of new blood vessels—it can cut off the blood supply to cancerous tumors. Phytoestrogens (found in all plants) bind to estrogen receptors in the body in the place of estrogen, effectively blocking estrogen and encouraging its excretion. There are some problems with soy—it has become very prevalent in our diets, it is highly allergenic and difficult to digest, and is typically genetically modified. (I will explore soy more in-depth in a future post!)

Fat, if we eat too much and the wrong type, can increase our risk of breast cancer. Research often shows mixed results, but looking carefully at the data shows us that in cultures where less than 20% of calories come from fat breast cancer incidence is lower than in cultures where greater than 20% of calories come from fat. Rates of breast cancer are even greater in cultures where 35-40+% of calories come from fat. The Nurse's Health Study reported no relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer, but these results are misleading – none of the participants were categorized into the <20% range that seems to be protective when you look at cross-cultural data. Fish and olive oils are cancer protective—their higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer because the body stores estrogen in fat.

Eat Organic!
Pesticide residues collect in fatty tissues, like the breast and many have estrogenic effects. "According to the [EPA]'s own data, at least 67 currently used pesticides cause cancer in animals." If you are not vegetarian, it is especially important to eat organic animal products because pesticides in feed and hormones used in raising commercial meat are stored in the fat of the animals in high concentrations. See my previous posts about milk and beef for more information. Certain foods fruits and veggies are more important to eat organic than others—basically, the thinner the skin, the more pesticide residue. For more detailed info, check out the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Shopping guide for the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen."

This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating well for cancer prevention. For more detailed information, I highly recommend the book How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine by Michael Murray. I'll end with another quote by Steve Austin, ND that sums things up nicely, "Vegetables, fruit, and fish provide protection. Beans, whole grains, nonfat yogurt, and olive oil are fine. Other nonfat dairy products are okay in moderation. But most of the rest of the American diet is linked with trouble."

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

...and Schnitzel with Noodles!

I loved Chef Brett's post about her favorite things (and I totally have baker's envy for that beater blade)! It inspired me to post about my favorite kitchen gadgets too--and while they don't involve schnitzel, they kind of have something to do with noodles...

I love my small-volume liquid measuring cup. I use this whenever I am making dressings or marinades from a recipe and any other time I need to measure any liquid volume in teaspoons, tablespoons, or less than 2 ounces.

My girlfriends bought me my microplane grater for my birthday years ago and I use it any time I need to zest citrus or grate chocolate. Sometimes I'll use it for garlic or fresh ginger when making soup or stirfry.

Chef Brett introduced me to this favorite: a digital probe thermometer. I use it to make this:

Lime-honey-blackberry glazed pork tenderloin... And any other meat I'm roasting or grilling (like Earl Grey and Lemon-Brined BBQ'd Thanksgiving Turkey)! It has pre-set temps for various meats and levels of doneness and you can also set it for any temp you need. This is indispensable in my kitchen--I use it at least weekly.

For years I wanted a mandonline slicer and I finally bought myself this $40 version last year. I was never sure if I would use it enough to justify the storage space, but the answer is a definite yes! This inexpensive one works fine, but I fantasize about this one made by Kai... Drool...

I told you there would be noodles--my favorite use for this tool is to make this:

Zucchini "noodles" sauteed in butter and olive oil with garlic, onions, chicken, Parmesan, and herbs. So tasty! It is also great for making my latest favorite indulgence: three cheese scalloped potatoes. There really is nothing healthy about this dish but it is amazingly delicious and I reserve it for that 10% of the time when I don't worry about what I'm eating (since I try to make healthier choices 90% of the time).

Speaking of unhealthy choices, I use this favorite gadget--my immersion blender--to make this:

BACON JAM!! Chef Brett and I made this recipe together last month and it's phenomenal! Again, so not healthy but it feeds the foodie's soul so that's healthy in a whole other way, right? I also use my immersion blender to make salsa, peanut sauce, soups--any time the recipe says "transfer to blender" I get to skip that step (as well as the blender lid and hot food flying all over the kitchen) thanks to this wonderful thing. It even has a mini food processor attachment that's great for chopping nuts, herbs, garlic and ginger paste...

So, those are a few of my favorite things--what are yours?

Dr. Crystal

Pickled Beets

I learned this year that I love pickled beets on a tuna fish sandwich! My mom used to make pickled beets and, as a child, I thought they were gross. Isn't it wonderful how our tastes evolve? That's why we have a rule at our house that you have to try everything on your plates. I never make my kids eat something they really don't like, but they have to at least taste it--it's a pleasant surprise to all of us when they realize they like something they thought they didn't. They don't like pickled beets much yet, but who knows, they might change their minds!

Start with 2 dozen small beets, tops trimmed off, leaving an inch or so of stems and the roots on, scrubbed well. Simmer, covered, until fork tender. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid, drain beets, and spread on a cookie sheet to cool enough to peel.

I found that wearing rubber dishwashing gloves worked perfectly for peeling--the textured grips made peeling a snap and my hands didn't turn pink!

Peel then slice into 1/4 inch slices--you may want to halve them if you prefer smaller pieces. Return to the pan along with:

3 medium onions, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 cup reserved beet cooking liquid
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tbsp salt

Bring to a simmer, simmer 5 minutes, remove cinnamon stick, and keep simmering while you pack into hot, sterile jars. Fill jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 min. (For more information about how to can, I found this nice description plus pictures at

This recipe should make about 4 pints.

Now you have pickled beet yumminess to get you through the winter--and they are so pretty too, thanks to all those wonderful antioxidant anthocyanidins!!

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal