This couscous salad includes some unique ingredients that complement each other incredibly well! The original recipe is from 30 Minute Meals: A Commonsense Guide and I have tweaked it with a few healthy adjustments. Although there are many components to this salad, the preparation is fairly straightforward. My fiancé has mastered this recipe and it is delicious both warm and cold.
- 2 cups apple juice
- 2 cups couscous
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/3 cup toasted pistachio nuts
- 8 dried apricots or figs
- 1/3 cup green olives
- fresh mint
- fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp ras el hanout (to create this spice blend yourself please find recipe here)
- 2 chicken or turkey breasts
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tbsp mint
- 2 tsp ras el hanout
- 1 tsp honey
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush a thin layer of olive oil on it.
- Preheat the oven to 350°, and put the baking sheet in the oven while it heats up.
- Cut the chicken or turkey breast into strips and coat with the ras el hanout.
- Once the oven has reached 350° place the strips on the baking sheet.
- Cook for 12-15 minutes, flip and cook for another 5 minutes.
- While the chicken is cooking heat the apple juice in a pot until hot.
- Put the couscous in a heat-resistant and pour the apple juice overtop. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
- During this time thinly slice the red onion, apricots (or figs) and green olives.
- Fluff couscous with a fork and add the onion, pistachios, apricots and green olives.
- Roughly chop a handful of mint and parsley to add mix in the salad.
- The final step is to make the yogurt dressing. Combine the yogurt, chopped mint, ras el hanout and honey in a bowl.
- To serve, fill a bowl with a generous amount of the couscous salad, lay some strips of chicken or turkey on top, then add a spoonful of the yogurt dressing.
Mint comes in many varieties that are available year round (Spirling and Daniels, 2011). The two most common mints used for cooking are peppermint and spearmint (often simply labelled mint). These aromatic herbs are well known for aiding with intestinal ailments and symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, indigestion and bloating. Research has shown that mint’s soothing qualities are due to its ability to lessen smooth muscle contractions in the intestines by blocking calcium channels while also decreasing the passage of calcium into cells (Baliga and Rao, 2010). Interestingly, a double blinded placebo-controlled study found that ingesting peppermint oil capsules prior to a colonoscopy lessened procedure time, colonic spasms and pain (Shavakhi, et al., 2012). A great deal of research has also shown positive results surrounding the topic of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A study by Cappello, et al., (2007) completed a double-blinded study with participants ailed by IBS. They were given either peppermint oil capsules or a placebo for a series of weeks and results showed an evident decrease in IBS symptoms among 75% of the group taking the peppermint oil capsules. These results have been mirrored in other studies and are very promising for individuals who unfortunately suffer IBS and other gastric disorders. Mint has also been shown to improve cognitive functioning. A noteworthy study demonstrated that peppermint aroma increased both alertness and memory among 144 participants who were randomized to various aromas (Moss, et al., 2008). In addition to improving cognitive performance, peppermint has an abundance of healthy minerals and vitamins such as fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, B and C (USDA, 2012). Taken as a whole, this breath freshening (Zirwas and Otto, 2010) herbal plant is not only healthy to consume but can be fantastically versatile in fresh fruit salads, mains and soothing tea.
Hummus is a delicious snack that is sufficiently satisfying and nutritious. There are many, many variations of hummus and this particular combination is my favourite…for now. I have added roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes which are certainly not traditional ingredients but taste delicious nonetheless. It’s easy to prepare and lasts for a few days in the refrigerator.
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1 19oz liq can chickpeas
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 2 sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 lemon
- 7 green olives
- salt & pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 1/2-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- To roast the garlic first cut the tips off of the garlic ends. Wrap in aluminum foil with a little olive oil and place in the oven for approximately 40 minutes. Remove the skins after roasting.
- In a blender, combine roasted garlic, rinsed and drained chickpeas, tahini, juice of one lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, green olives, salt, pepper and paprika.
- While blending, slowly add the olive oil until your desired consistency.
- Add a handful of washed parsley and blend for another minute.
Tahini is a main ingredient in all hummus recipes and adds a nutty taste and smooth texture. This paste is made from ground sesame seeds and is considered to be one of the oldest condiments (Anilakumar, 2010). The first recorded documentation of this seed dates back 4000 years to Assyrian texts which describe preparation of sesame seed wines for their gods (Parry, 1955). In the early days of sesame seed cultivation, the oil from the seeds was highly prized because of its year round availability and strong resistance to becoming rancid (Moazzami, 2006). This wonderful preservation quality is due to the unique number of lignans such as sesamolin and sesamol that are found within the sesame seed (Obiajunwa, et al., 2005). These antioxidants have been studied for their positive effects on lowering cholesterol levels (Matsumura, 2004) and blood pressure (Noguchi, et al., 2001). Interestingly, these same antioxidants have a practical use in vegetable oil products such as margarine because they can dramatically increase shelf life (Brar, 1982). Sesame seeds also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (Harris, et al., 2009) and aid with proper brain development and function (Innis, 2012). Although these seeds are very tiny they have an abundance of minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and zinc (USDA, 2012). These minerals are essential for normal body processes such as reducing inflammation, building bones and the prevention of osteoporosis. As well, these nutrients are vital for supporting a healthy vascular system by improving blood vessel strength and elasticity (Hyun, et al., 2004). In summary, this small seed contains heart healthy fats and many essential minerals necessary for a healthy body. The classic ‘open sesame’ phrase from Arabian Nights may have opened the door to a wealth of riches but what Ali Baba didn’t know was that it also lead to a wealth of health!
Quinoa is incredibly popular for many reasons; it’s tasty, versatile and delivers a wide range of beneficial nutrients. The original recipe can be found here and is absolutely delicious! It also freezes very well, if you don’t gobble it up right away.
- 1/4 cup quinoa
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 white onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 package of lean ground turkey
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp Tabasco sauce
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp water
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Bring the quinoa and water to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a pan and add chopped onion. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until tender.
- Add the garlic to the onions and cook for another minute.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, cooled quinoa, onions, tomato paste, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, egg, salt and pepper.
- Place on greased baking sheet and form into a loaf shape.
- In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and water together.
- Cover the loaf with this paste.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes and then let cook for 10 minutes before serving.
Quinoa is often referred to as a super grain because of its enormous nutritional value, but in truth it is not a grain at all. It is actually the edible seed from the fruit of a flowering plant (Mastebroek, et al., 2000). Consumption of quinoa has become increasingly popular in recent days, however, many are unaware that it has been a staple food for thousands of years. The Inca of the Andes cultivated quinoa and it was said to give their warriors power and stamina (Repo-Carrasco et al., 2003). This pseudocereal comes in multiple varieties which was an important trait to these ancient peoples because it allowed them to grow a highly nutritious plant in vastly different climates, altitudes and soil types (Jancurova, et al., 2009). One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8.14 g of protein, 5.2 g of dietary fibre contributable amounts of healthy fatty acids and zero cholesterol. These nutritional traits in combination with a high complex carbohydrate content cause quinoa to have a low glycemic index value (Jenkins, et al., 2008). The relatively high volume of fibre and protein has also been shown to aid with cholesterol reduction and improved blood sugar regulation (Repo-Carrasco et al., 2003). Furthermore, within that one cup of quinoa there are notable amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and vitamins A, B and E (USDA, 2012). Notably, quinoa’s calcium concentration is double that of most other grains and its high protein concentration further improves the absorption of this vital bone mineral (Polsi, 2011). In addition to quinoa supporting your skeletal system, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have noted cardiovascular and digestive benefits (Pasko, et al., 2009). Overall, this seed contains a winning blend of nutrients and essential amino acids that most typical grains cannot compete with (Jancurova, et al., 2009). Interestingly, the upcoming year has been officially proclaimed “The international year of the quinoa” by The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 2012). So get ready for 2013 by enjoying more quinoa in your diet.
Yum, sweet potatoes! This vegetable can be prepared in a variety of ways and tastes delicious with savoury spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. This side dish is very easy to make and adds a beautiful splash of orange to your dinner plate.
- 2 sweet potatoes
- ½ tsp olive oil
- ¼ red onion
- ½ pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 ½ tbsp plain yogurt
- 1 tbsp sour cream
- 1/3 cup cilantro
- 1 avocado
- Salt & pepper
- Wash sweet potatoes very well with water. Cut into small chunks.
- Steam sweet potato until tender, approximately 15 minutes.
- Mash sweet potatoes in a bowl and add yogurt and sour cream.
- In a saucepan, heat olive oil. Add chopped onion and sauté for 3 minutes.
- Cut tomatoes in half and add to the pan, cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the sautéed mix, chopped avocado and cilantro to the sweet potatoes and mix.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
Botanically, the sweet potato is very different from the yam. However, many North Americans still refer to it by this erroneous name. The sweet potato is native to Central and South America and has been depicted in Peruvian imagery dating back thousands of years. This vegetable is available year round and can be found in many different colours such as pink, yellow, green and purple (Bovell-Benjamin, 2007). The purple sweet potato contains a pigment called anthocyanin which is under investigation for its antioxidant properties (Kano, et al., 2005). In animal models, anthocyanin has been shown to prevent the activation of key inflammation processes after consumption which reduced inflammation of brain and nervous tissues (Wang, et al., 2010). The orange variety of this tuber has a highly bioavailable concentration of the carotenoid pigment beta-carotene. Oodles of research have shown that beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A which is eminent for both cardiovascular and eye health (Bobroff, 2011). This vegetable’s pigments are only one of the many ways it aids with the reduction of unwanted inflammation. A study by Ludvik et al. (2008) examined the effects of sweet potato extracts given to people with Type 2 diabetes and found that it helped to decrease plasma levels of fibrinogen and improve insulin sensitivity. Although fibrinogen is naturally found in the blood and is crucial for blood clotting, high concentrations can lead to unwanted inflammation and deterioration of the myelin sheaths that surround nerves. In addition to this vegetables anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties it contains a wonderful expanse of minerals and vitamins such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and vitamins A, B, C and K. It is also a great source of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber (USDA, 2012). Interestingly, the sweet potato is a key component of the well-known Okinawa diet. This tremendously healthy way of eating, observed in the southernmost parts of Japan, is linked with reduced risks of diabetes, obesity and several age-related diseases (Willcox, et al., 2009). So perhaps this unknowingly healthy tuber may be one of the secrets to a long and healthy life!