Growing up, Mom was a big fan of green bell peppers. She stuffed them, stir fried them in a beef and rice dish, and added them to her multi-colored garden salads. Of course, I’ve since learned that they come in yellow, orange, and red, with the latter being my favorite.

red bell pepperPeppers are a low-calorie snack food that I love to eat with hummus. They’re flavorful, far less filling than chips or pita bread, and packed with Vitamins A, C, K, and the mineral potassium. The riper the pepper, the greater its nutritional content.

Since starting our cooking adventure, my husband and I have also discovered the joys of roasting bell peppers. They’ve got a delightfully sweet and delicate flavor. You can purchase them ready-made at the store, but they’re not as tasty as a freshly-made batch. And they’re not hard to make!

I start by preheating the oven to 500˚F. (Note: If I’ve a mind to save energy, I use my toaster oven and set the temperature as high as it will go.)

cut and cleaned red pepper
Wash and dry the outside of the pepper. Slice each in half lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds, and membranes.
oiled red pepper
Coat each pepper with a light film of olive oil and then place the cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.
blistered red pepper
Roast the peppers in the oven until the skins darken and blister (about 15 minutes).
steam the red pepper
Place the blistered peppers in a bowl. Cover the bowl with foil and crimp to create a tight seal. Let the peppers steam for ~15 minutes.
peel skin from roasted pepper
Peel off the skin; use a paring knife to remove any “stubborn” pieces.
roasted peppers
Slice or dice these red gems as dictated by the recipe!

Roasted peppers are delicious all by themselves; just toss them with olive and chopped fresh basil. I use a colorful mixture of sliced roasted peppers as a garnish for risotto. And they’re absolutely delicious when combined with assorted vegetables in an Italian Marinated Vegetable dish.

Italian-marinated-vegetables

 

I’m a big fan of acorn squash. It packs a serious fiber punch. One cup of cooked acorn squash yields 9 g of fiber for a measly 115 calories. That same serving also provides nearly 900 mg of potassium and almost 2 mg of iron. Acorn squash is delicious and quite filling. And it’s easy-peasy to prepare!

To roast acron squash, start by pre-heating the oven to 375°. Then:

acorn squash
Buy a couple of nice looking specimens. When halved, they’ll fit nicely on a standard cookie sheet.
acorn squash
Cut the squash lengthwise and snap off the stems. Scoop out the seeds, rub a little olive oil on the flesh, and sprinkle with Mrs. Dash seasoning.
acorn squash
Place the squash face down on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Flip the squash over and bake for another 20 minutes, or until a knife glides smoothly through the flesh.
acorn squash
Place in a bowl, grab a spoon, and dig in!

I was well into adulthood before I became acquainted with kale. It’s a dark leafy green that looks a bit like weird lettuce but is actually a form of cabbage. Eating raw kale is an acquired taste, but I’ll offer up a couple of ways to prepare it that I find quite tasty.

kale

Kale is widely considered to be a superstar vegetable. According to nutritionists Jonny Bowden, it has one of the highest rankings for antioxidants – i.e., molecules that fight cell-damaging free radicals. It contains powerful phytochemicals that protects again breast, cervical, and colon cancer. It’s also jam-packed with calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and Vitamins A, C, and bone-building K. And 2 cups of the stuff contains 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

I usually cook kale in a large batch and help myself to individual servings all week long. My basic recipe calls for 3-4 bunches of kale, 2-3 large onions, and vegetable broth. Here’s what I do:

kale recipe
Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces and discard the stems.
kale recipe
Chop the onions and place them in a large pot, generously covered with vegetable broth. Turn the burner on high to bring the mixture to a boil.
kale recipe
Place the kale on top of the onion/broth mixture. Reduce heat, cover, and steam for ~30 minutes. Make sure there is sufficient liquid on the bottom of the pan to avoid burning!
kale recipe
Once the kale has wilted, remove from heat and mix the kale and onion together.
kale recipe
Strain the excess moisture. Return the mixture to the pot (or a large bowl) and season with vinegar to taste. I typically use Golden Balsamic Vinegar. Rice vinegar offers a more nuanced taste.
kale recipe
Set a serving on a plate and enjoy!

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of cooking kale, you can use it in place of lettuce in a salad. I also like preparing a simple kale salad by massaging the leaves with my favorite hummus. It’s delicious… if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty!

Blacks beans. Kidney Beans. Pinto beans. Chickpeas. Navy beans. Lentils. Green peas. These luscious legumes (and more) figure prominently in the daily diet of the healthiest, longest lived people on the planet. They are a mainstay of a whole foods plant based diet.

Here are just a few of the reasons why I love them:

  • kidney beansA one-cup serving offers 14-18 grams of high quality protein.
  • They’re high in fiber which helps dilute the caloric density of a meal, creates a sense of fullness, and dampens the appetite. Higher fiber consumption is associated with lower cancer rates in the rectum and colon and is linked to healthier gut bacterial communities.
  • They’re loaded with vitamins and phytonutrients. (The darker the color, the more nutrients.)
  • They have a low glycemic index – i.e., they slow the rate at which glucose is absorbed in the bloodstream. As such, they’re especially good for persons with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and/or weight management issues.
  • They’re naturally low in cholesterol and fat.
  • There are lots and lots of delicious ways to prepare beans leveraging cuisines from all over the world!

Dr. Michael Greger of NutritionFacts.org tells us that legumes are the most important predictor of survival of older people globally.

Despite their impressive credentials, beans have come under attack by some nutritional consultants. Why? Beans contain lectins which provide a defense against microorganisms, pests, and insects. Lectins enable raw beans to pass through an animal’s digestive system intact, thereby enabling it to germinate in the soil when eliminated. As such, these consultants argue that beans give our digestive system a rough go of it and should be avoided.

Here’s where that logic goes wrong:

  • First: We don’t eat beans raw. They’re hard as rocks and might even break our teeth! And they wouldn’t be tasty even if we managed to chomp them down.
  • Second: Beans lose their lectins when properly prepared. One method calls for soaking the beans for at least 5 hours, rinsing them off, and then boiling for 30-45 minutes. If lacking time to soak the beans, they can be cooked in a pressure cooker for 45-60 minutes. And if there’s no time for that, just buy a can of beans!

In other words: If you cook beans to the point where they’d be considered edible, it should be more than sufficient to destroy the adverse activity of lectins. For more information, see How to Avoid Lectin Poisoning on NutritionFacts.org.

For some strange reason, I’ve been having quite a few conversations about spaghetti squash these days. Apparently, the folks in my orbit haven’t had the pleasure of preparing and eating this delightful vegetable. So I’ve decided to say a few words on its behalf.

When cooked, this mild-flavored squash looks rather like a serving of angel hair pasta. I enjoy eating it with a lite dousing of extra virgin olive oil and Mrs. Dash seasoning. I often use it to replace the pasta in my favorite recipes as one cup of spaghetti squash has a mere 42 calories versus 220 in noodles. Spaghetti squash also delivers essential vitamins and minerals.

To roast spaghetti squash in the oven, start by pre-heating the oven to 375°. Then:

spaghetti-squash
Cut the spaghetti squash lengthwise in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
spaghetti-squash
Place cut-side down on a lightly greased or nonstick cookie sheet. (I use a nonstick liner.) Roast until tender, about 35-45 minutes. A knife should pass easily through the rind and flesh.
spaghetti-squash
Use a fork to scrape out the flesh in long strands. When cooked “just right,” the flesh releases all the way to the rind yet doesn’t taste “mushy.”
spaghetti-squash
Voilà! You’re ready to eat!

If you’re short on time, you can prepare spaghetti squash as described and then microwave it for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash and the microwave’s power outout. A pressure cooker can steam a whole, 2-lb spaghetti squash in about 15 minutes. That being said, it’s a little bit messy (and toasty) scraping the seeds out of a cooked spaghetti squash. On the plus side, you don’t have fight with the raw vegetable to get it to split in half.

Not matter how you choose to cook the squash, it takes very little prep and clean-up time. You’ve got to like that!