Baba Ghanoush

We just finished a 30 day pescatarian diet with no dairy, carbohydrates, or sugar.  Oh.  My.  Word.  That was an incredibly hard challenge.  It was harder than our 30 day vegan challenge!  The no dairy thing wasn’t the issue.  It was the no carbohydrates or sugar that I had a hard time with.  We used fruit as a way to satiate our cravings for an after-dinner dessert, but that only lasted for a little while.  By the end of the second week, I was jonesing for bread and butter, frozen yogurt, cookies, and chocolate.  And do you know what was the worst tease?  My work place had a Strawberry Day event with all things strawberry desserts, and a few going away parties with the best cake from my favorite bakery, and I couldn’t have a lick of it.  Ugh.  I think I was drooling as I watched my coworkers eat cake, pies, tortes, strawberry punch, and cookies.  Such a tease.  Sigh.  The diet was worth it, I guess :)

To celebrate our first day of eating carbohydrates, I decided on a Middle Eastern and Greek meal centered around a filthy amount of pita bread.  Yes.  I said it.  I am a glutton for pita bread.  Okay.  So, honestly, we only ate one pita bread for the vegan seitan gyro sandwich, alongside a few wedges of pita dipped in some baba ghanoush.  But nonetheless, I still heart carbohydrates.

Baba Ghanoush

3 medium globe eggplants, cut lengthwise (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to your liking
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush cut side of eggplants with extra virgin olive oil. Place eggplants cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until until very tender, about 40 minutes.

Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl, and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork until it is smooth, but still has some texture. Stir in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pita, pita chips, vegetables, or however you fancy baby ghanoush :)

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Have you ever noticed how much your taste changes as you get older?  I used to loathe cilantro, parsley, and carrots when I was younger.  Loathe is a pretty strong, and that’s exactly how I felt about those *things*.  The taste of cilantro used to make me gag.  The thought of carrots would send me running into the other room.  My Mom used to relate to me by telling me stories of how much she hated cilantro, too, when she was younger.  But she’d follow the story with telling me how my taste would change as I matured, but I didn’t believe a word that came out of her mouth!

I ate my words.  My Mom was completely right… “Mothers know best,” right?  I love cilantro now.  My affinity for it changed when I had my first tasting of Tom Kha Gai at my first Thai dining experience.  It was love at first bite.  However, it hasn’t been that easy for acquiring the tastes of parsley or carrots.  I don’t recall when exactly I started to come around enjoying carrots, but it definitely has been in the recent years.  I hate raw carrots, but I don’t mind stewed or roasted carrots.

Enjoying flat-leaf parsley has been a tougher challenge for me.  Flat-leaf parsley has such an overwhelming flavor to begin with.  I initially needed other stronger flavors to mask the taste of parsley, like basil pesto.  This has since changed as we’ve been eating and cooking more  Mediterranean foods that call for flat-leaf parsley.  We recently dined at one of our favorite local Mediterranean restaurants and sampled their vegetarian Meze plate, which included tabbouleh.  OMG, how could I have been missing this all these years?!  I’ve become addicted.  So much so that I made a LARGE batch a few days ago.  We’ve had quinoa tabbouleh several days in a row for lunch AND dinner :)

Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

2 1/2 large bunches flat leaf parsley, stems removed, finely chopped
3 roma tomatoes, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dices
3″ inches small English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dices
1/2 small white onion, finely diced
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

In a large bowl, combine everything except for the lemon juice, oil, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt, to taste.

Toss the salad with the lemon vinaigrette.

Serve with falafels, hummus, pocket bread, and anything else you’d like.

Makes 4 servings.

Baked Falafels Drizzled with Lemon-Tahini Sauce

My partner has been on a quest to find the best falafels in town.  She’ll compare the falafels to this little Greek restaurant on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, CA, that she just loved.  But it all seems to disappoint in comparison.  I’ve found several recipes for homemade falafels, and all of them involve deep frying.  And although I know that’s how it should be done, I just can’t bring myself to deep fry at home.  I just don’t want the smell of fried oil lingering around our house for days, but also because I’m on a quest to continue keeping us on a healthy eating track.   So I was extremely happy when I came across this recipe, and had to give it a try!  Not only was it super easy to make, it was also a delicious healthy alternative.  My partner really enjoyed these baked falafels thoroughly, and said it was definitely a close second to the real thing :)

Baked Falafels Drizzled with Lemon-Tahini Sauce (adapted from Can You Stay For Dinner?)

2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
6 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Taste the falafel mixture, and adjust seasoning to your liking. Scoop the bean mixture into a bowl and shape into 16 equal sized patties. Place on a greased baking sheet, brush each with olive oil and bake for 25, or until browned and crispy on the outside.

Serve as an appetizer, over a salad, or in a pita wrap with the lemon tahini sauce drizzled over the falafels.

Makes 16 falafels.

Calories per falafel: 35

Lemon Tahini Sauce

3 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons water
1 garlic clove, mashed into a paste

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, salt, water, and garlic paste. Adjust seasoning with salt and/or lemon juice.

Makes about a 1/3 cup.

Hummus

I laughed at my parents when they bought a small freezer for their garage.  In fact, I thought they were silly for needing extra freezer space.  I told them to just clean out their freezer and it’ll open up lots of space for them.  Well, I ate my words recently.  I seem to eat my words often :)

Our freezer in the house was filled to its capacity, from top to bottom.  I even cleaned out the freezer and tossed out foods that we were no longer going to eat.  But it was still full.  We were shoving things into every little nook and cranny that we could find.  So much so that one of our shelves toppled over because it was weighed down so heavily with meats/seafood.  It was also getting to a point where we would have to take out all the items from one of the shelves just to find one item we needed.  It was just ridiculous.  I finally broke down.  I, too, bought a small freezer for the garage.  We moved all of our meats and seafoods to the extra freezer.  It was liberating!  We can actually see what’s in our freezer in the house, and pull things out without everything tumbling onto our toes!

I was embarrassed to tell my parents about the purchase, but sucked it up and told them.  This time they laughed at me :)

Hummus

2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), no sodium added
1/2 cups tahini sauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, mashed
2 1/2 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup water, plus extra if needed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Paprika (optional)
Toasted pine nuts (optional)
Parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Drain the chickpeas and rinse under cold water. Drain excess water.

In a food processor, combine the garlic, garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, water, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Add salt, starting at a half a teaspoon. Process. Adjust seasoning again with a half teaspoon of salt. Repeat until the seasoning is to your liking.  [If you like it creamier, add a little more water. If you like it more citrusy, add a little more lemon juice.]

Spoon hummus into a serving dish. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil on top of the hummus, and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley.

Makes 3 cups.

I’ve Lost that Love and Feeling, and Lebanese Fattoush Salad

lebanese fattoush salad, fattoush salad, pita bread salad, lebanese bread salad, lemon vinaigrette, vegetarian, salad
It’s true.  I’ve lost that love and feeling for my job.  Have you ever wondered why you are in the profession that you are in?  Or have/had feelings of being “stuck” or stagnate?  Not feeling as satisfied and excited about your job as you once did?

Well, I’ve been feeling this way for some time now about my job.  I used to be so passionate about what I do.  I used to wake up in the mornings excited about going to work.  I would be upset when it was 30 minutes until I had to leave because I knew I was going to miss interesting patient cases that I could learn from and assist with.  I was like a dry sponge waiting to expand with knowledge of cases that I had only read about in textbooks.  Work was like my playground for a few years.  I loved the excitement and (organized) chaos in the ED.  I loved the challenges presented to me on a day-to-day basis.  I especially loved the feeling at the end of the day of knowing that I made a positive difference in the patient’s care with other members of the multidisciplinary team.

The thing that attracted me the most to the ED was the chaos and working under extreme pressure in an emergent manner.  Unfortunately, that honeymoon period has been long gone.  The funny thing is that I tend to get bored easily with projects, tasks, work, really just about anything, so the ED was originally a right fit for my personality.  But now I’m bored.  I don’t feel challenged.  I don’t feel like things are as intense and under pressure as they used to be.  I’m getting too comfortable and that scares me.  My mentor once mentioned to me before I finished my residency training, and it was that you open yourself to mistakes at the patient’s expense when you get too comfortable.  It is a critical piece of information that has been engrained into my brain, and it holds much value especially in the medical profession.

But something changed recently.  A patient case that sparked, recharged, rekindled the passion that I once had for my job.  It was a feeling that I had been longing for a very long time. An attending ED physician requested my immediate attention on a little boy who was given a foreign medication to help treat his diarrhea by his grandmother. The little boy was very sick. Foreign medications can be difficult to identify, especially since they do not require the stringent identification codes that are required by the US FDA on OTC and prescription medications. A quick side note, vitamins and herbals do not adhere to the same laws as OTC and prescription medications because these products are NOT regulated by the FDA. Interesting, right? So you could be taking echinacea because that’s what the label says, but one formulation can vastly differ from the next echinacea product because it’s not standardized and/or regulated by the FDA.

Getting back to my story… foreign medications can sometimes be the same thing as a medication prescribed in the US with the same generic name, but different brand name. Majority of the times, foreign medications will differ completely all together from what we have here. luckily, Mom came in with the little boy and was able to tell us the brand name of the pill he was given. She was a very reliable historian, which was a relief, because the patients I see in the ED will have no clue what medications they are on. I was given the task to identify or do what ever I could to find something on what the pill could possibly be. After a few minutes of going through my resources, I found the answer! I was able to identify the pill, AND was able to give a recommendation on how to treat the toxicity. A few minutes after administering the treatment, the little boy was 95% recovered from what he originally came in for. The ED is such a fascinating place to work for because you get to see the positive changes from the treatments initiated right then and there. You get to see how medicine works. That my friend, is why I enjoy doing what I do.

Lebanese Fattoush Salad

3 whole wheat pita pocket breads, cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (if you find it is too acidic for your taste, add a little less lemon juice and use red wine or pomegranate vinegar in place)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons powdered or ground Sumac, plus more for sprinkling on individual salads if desired
2 heads Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced tomatoes (let drain a minute or two if extra juicy)
1 cup diced cucumber (same size as tomatoes)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F.

Mash together the minced garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle, or on the cutting board, into a paste. Put garlic-salt paste into a small bowl, and add to it the minced onion, lemon juice and sumac. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing has emulsified.

Cut whole wheat pita into strips about 3/4 inch wide and arrange on baking sheet. Bake until pita strips are crisp but only barely starting to brown, less than 10 minutes. Once the toasted pita breads are cool enough to handle, crumble in medium-sized pieces.

Remove the outer leaves from the romaine lettuce, trim off the stem end, and then wash. Chop lettuce into small pieces. Dry the washed lettuce in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, dry the lettuce leaves with a paper towel before chopping. Put chopped romaine lettuce into salad bowl large enough to toss all the ingredients.

Chop the tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers, and add to the lettuce. Add about half of the dressing and toss. Then add crumbled pita chips and toss again with more dressing. Let the salads sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend, but also so that the pita chips can absorb some of the dressing. To serve, arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with a little more sumac.

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