Cooking for your Health: Homemade Granola Bars

In this installment of Cooking for your Health, the theme is brain food: Healthy high energy snack food that’s a perfect pick-me-up during the work or school day or following a workout, providing a nutritional boost of energy which improves concentration and stamina. A diet rich in iron, B vitamins, essential fatty acids and complex carbohydrates comprises a winning menu for your brain, increasing focus and memory. While nailing the nutrition may be easier to accomplish when preparing a sit-down meal, it’s often difficult to find in a snack when you are grabbing food on the go. What can you eat that’s portable, delicious and healthy? Look no further than these homemade granola bars.

The beauty of homemade granola bars is that you can pick and choose your ingredients, omitting excess sugars, fat and additives without sacrificing flavor. These granola bars are studded with dried fruit and nuts, including anti-oxidant rich blueberries and almonds, B-vitamin heavy lifters oats, coconut and wheat germ, and coconut oil which provides lauric acid, known for its anti-oxidant and antibacterial properties. Come to think about it, snacking never felt or tasted so good.

Homemade Granola Bars

Makes approximately 24 small bars.

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped raw almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried fruit, such as chopped apricots, cranberries, blueberries, or raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8 by 11-inch baking pan and line with parchment.
Combine the oats, almonds, coconut, and almond meal in a bowl. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. Bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour into a large bowl. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the sugar and syrup, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the sugar over the oats, mixing to thoroughly combine. Stir in the dried fruit. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading to firmly and evenly distribute.
Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and cool completely in pan until firm, at least 2 hours. Cut into squares or rectangles. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Salmon Wrapped in Kale Leaves with Harissa

Salmon Kale
~ Salmon Wrapped in Kale with Dill and Harissa ~

In this latest installment of Cooking for your Health, the focus is on promoting health and weight loss without sacrificing the pleasure of good food. Low-fat, nutrient-rich diets do not need to be boring or tasteless. This recipe for Salmon Wrapped in Kale Leaves with Dill and Harissa proves just that. It’s a healthy and delicious meal which will nourish your body and provide essential vitamins, nutrients and protein.  It’s also an easy recipe to prepare, yielding elegant, dinner-party results which will be enjoyed by all, whether they are on a diet or not.

Salmon is a top protein choice low in saturated fat, rich in vitamins B and D, minerals and Omega-3 amino acids. Teamed up with kale, a cruciferous superfood packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants, you have a dream meal that is a nutritional powerhouse and tastes great, too. The earthy kale leaves pair beautifully with rich and buttery salmon. A squirt of harissa and a few frizzy dill sprigs crown the wraps with vibrant heat, color and spice. Eating for your health doesn’t get any better than this.

Baked Salmon and Kale Wraps with Dill and Harissa

A spoonful of homemade harissa brightens this simple recipe. Sriracha may be substituted for the harissa. Serves 4 as a dinner course or 8 as a light lunch.

16 large kale leaves
Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large bunch dill sprigs with stems
1 lemon, halved
4 center-cut salmon fillets, each about 8 ounces and 1-inch thick, halved
Freshly ground black pepper

Harissa or Sriracha sauce

Remove and discard the tough stems and ribs from the kale, leaving the leaves intact. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the kale leaves, and blanch to soften, about 15 seconds. Transfer the kale to an ice water bath to cool. Drain and dry thoroughly on a kitchen towel.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Select 8 large dill sprigs without stems and set aside. Scatter the remaining dill sprigs with stems over the bottom of the pan.
Brush salmon filets with olive oil. Squeeze 1/2 lemon over the salmon and lightly season with salt and pepper. Place a piece of salmon on a kale leaf. Wrap the leaf around the salmon. If necessary, use another kale leaf to sufficiently cover.  Arrange the the kale-wrapped salmon over the dill in the baking pan, seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining salmon filets and kale leaves. Brush the kale leaves with olive oil and squeeze more lemon over the fish. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Bake in oven until salmon is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Serve warm, garnished with a spoonful of harissa.

Cooking for your Health: Greek Couscous Salad

Cooking for your Health: Greek Couscous Salad

For the latest installment of Cooking for your Health, which nicely coincides with the Meatless Monday initiative, I present you with this recipe for Greek Couscous Salad. It’s still winter in this part of the world, although the weather is behaving more like spring. Hefty winter salads are a healthy, satisfying and an economical way to get our daily dose of vitamins and nutrients during the cold season, while providing light yet substantial sustenance. This recipe looks to the Greek salad for inspiration. Chopped cucumber, onion, sweet peppers and fresh herbs, rich in Vitamins A and C, are tumbled with whole wheat couscous and protein-rich chickpeas, then topped with a sprinkling of feta cheese. Boosted with lemon, garlic and cayenne, this salad is at once healthy and ridiculously good. I like to serve it simply as-is or scooped into pita bread with a dollop of tsatsiki and harissa. Healthy and meatless don’t get better than this.

Greek Couscous Salad

This salad is very forgiving in its ingredients. The couscous may be substituted with another favorite grain such as farro or quinoa. Feel free to add more or less of the vegetables to the couscous to your taste. The important thing is to have a variety of texture and lots of crunch. Serves 4 to 6.

1 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced, cut in 1/4 inch dice
1/2 small English cucumber, seeded, cut in 1/4 inch dice, about 1 cup
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
1 small red jalapeno or Fresno pepper, seeded, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 – 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Black olives (kalamata, oil-cured or niçoise) for garnish

Bring water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Stir in couscous and lemon juice. Cover and let sit until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and transfer the couscous to a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Gently mix to thoroughly combine. Taste for salt and seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with olives.

Cooking for Your Health: Kale and Quinoa Salad

Cooking for Your Health: Kale and Quinoa Salad

Kale, Quinoa, Carrots, Red Cabbage, Chickpeas, Raisins, Lemon 

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can’t eat your salad. After all, we adapt our wardrobe for the cold season, and we can do the same with our vegetables. Fresh winter salads, fortified with grains and legumes, heartily provide us with a plateful of immunity-boosting accessories to keep the the doctor away. This kale and quinoa salad is packed with healthy ingredients rich in nutrients, anti-oxidants and protein. Kale is a superfood, rich in vitamins A, C and K, high in fiber and the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids as well as cancer fighting phytonutrients. That’s a lot of nutritional heft for a member of the cabbage family. Teamed up with quinoa, an ancient grain and an amino acid-rich protein, these 2 ingredients form a powerhouse of nutrition, promoting health, clear breathing and anti-inflammation. More importantly, they taste great – especially when seasoned and tumbled with raisins, chick peas and carrots in a cumin-spiced lemon vinaigrette .

Winter Kale and Quinoa Salad with Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette 

The beauty of this salad is that its ingredients may be mixed and matched according to availability and taste. Fresh, raw spinach may be combined with or substituted for the blanched kale. If you don’t have quinoa in the pantry, then try bulgur or wheat berries. Almonds or walnuts are a delicious, nutrient-rich substitution for the chickpeas.

Serves 4-6.

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
1 large bunch curly kale – (chou frisée)
2 large carrots, peeled, grated
1/4 small head of red cabbage, shredded
1 cup chick peas
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup golden raisins

Prepare the vinaigrette:
Whisk together all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl. Add oil in a steady stream, constantly whisking to emulsify. Set aside.

Prepare the salad:
Remove the tough veins from the kale leaves. Tear leaves into large pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the kale leaves. Blanch until bright green but not wilted, 10-15 seconds. Drain immediately and refresh under cold water or in a bowl of ice water. Spread in one layer on a kitchen towel and blot dry. Toss kale, carrots and red cabbage together in a large bowl. Add the chickpeas, raisins and half of the quinoa. Toss with half of the vinaigrette. Transfer to a serving platter or divide among serving plates. Sprinkle with additional quinoa. Drizzle with remaining dressing to taste.

This post is the first in a series of monthly posts devoted to Cooking for Your Health. In coordination with my long-time friend, Knirke, who is a Swiss-based pilates instructor, this column will provide a monthly recipe designed to boost health in synchronization with the season and a particular health theme in Knirke’s monthly newsletter. This month, the theme is breathing. Clear and deep breathing is essential to our vitality and health, providing oxygen to our blood and brain. The foods we eat can promote or interfere with our breathing. Interfering food allergens may be wheat, dairy and red meat which produce mucus. To counter this, it’s important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables throughout the winter. Colorful produce is a rich source of anti-oxidants and vitamins, reducing inflammation, fighting infections and boosting our immune system. And, not only are they healthy for you, they are delicious, too. So, don’t just relegate your winter vegetables to a recuperative diet – enjoy them daily!