Food

Yellow Split Pea & Spinach Dal

When I started this blog in June last year, the very first recipe I posted was of dal, a South Asian lentil stew that can be enjoyed with bread or rice. I used yellow and red lentils for the recipe–that’s how my mother cooked the staple dal during my childhood. Recently, however, I have been experimenting with different kinds of lentils to create a recipe which is more forgiving in terms of oil. You will know what I mean if you have seen your mother temper the dal with copious amounts of ghee (clarified butter) or oil because “that is where the taste lies.” One cannot argue with a Punjabi mother about ghee, but one can create her own recipe.

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And I think I have finally nailed down the balance between clean, tasty and the oil requirement. The lentils I used in this recipe are the yellow split pea lentils, which are packed with protein (20 grams/1cup) and a ton of flavor. I also snuck in some spinach into the dal, and that only enhanced the taste. This dal recipe only uses 1tbsp of oil yet the result is creamy and hearty. 🙂 It is also low on salt and relies on lemon juice for the flavor. You may add table salt if you like, of course.

To make the yellow split pea dal, or chana dal as Pakistanis would know, I pre-cooked my lentils and refrigerated them. This saves me time on week nights and helps make the recipe in about 20 minutes. If you prefer, you could also use canned lentils, but if you do, make sure to buy great quality ones without the synthetic taste and chemical treatments. If you boil the lentils, just boil with a sprinkle of salt until tender–about thirty minutes–and drain the excess water. I prefer soaking the lentils for an hour or so before cooking them–that reduces the cooking time and also removes anti-nutrients that may cause gas and other digestive issues.

Below is the recipe with a full nutrition profile. If you have questions, feel free to share in the comments or direct message. I hope you will give this simple, flavor and nutritious recipe a try. 🙂

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Serves 3

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil (1tbsp)
  • Onion (1 chopped)
  • Garlic (2 cloves–minced)
  • Ginger (1tsp–grated)
  • Tomatoes (2 chopped or 1/4 cup canned)
  • Green chillies (2 chopped)
  • Red chili powder (1tsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/2 tsp)
  • Turmeric powder (1/4 tsp)
  • Himalayan pink salt (generous sprinkle)
  • Baby spinach (1 cup packed)
  • Yellow split peas (1 cup boiled/canned)
  • Water (3 cups)
  • Lemon (1–juiced)
  • Coriander sprigs (6-10–chopped)

Method:

  • Sauté the onion in oil until golden brown.
  • Add ginger & garlic and sauté until fragrant. If the mixture sticks, use a splash of water to deglaze the pan instead of more oil.
  • Now add tomatoes and green chillies, as well as all the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes. Again, add water to deglaze the pan if needed.
  • When the oil separates from this mixture (about 2 minutes), add the cooked/canned lentils and the baby spinach.
  • Stir for about 2-3 minutes, add the water, and let it cook covered for 5-8 minutes until everything is well combined.
  • Garnish with lemon juice and coriander and serve alongside bread, rice, or quinoa. I had mine with brown rice and a mixed greens and cucumber salad. 🙂

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Food

Egg & Veggie Muffins

Muffin purists will likely roll their eyes over this recipe since it is a savoury take on the traditionally sweet muffins. But I promise these are worth a try, if not for their convenience and deliciousness then for their nutritional value (hello there, protein). If by the end of the post, I still have not convinced you that these Egg Muffins are worth trying, you could check out these one-bowl Carrot Cake and Oatmeal-Blueberry muffins I previously posted on the blog.

I do not remember when I first became acquainted with the idea of egg muffins, but it sure has been life changing. When I started working fulltime, I could no longer find the time to make a nice omelette or egg scramble in the morning. As much as I would like my mornings to be calm and peaceful like those morning routine videos on YouTube, reality is they are not. Consequently, I try to simplify as many of my morning tasks as possible, breakfast included.

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If I anticipate my mornings to be rushed due to early meetings or travel then instead of prepping my usual smoothie bags, which would still need blending with milk, I prepare these egg muffins that I can grab and go without any fuss. These especially came in handy last week after my Nutribullet of two years decided to bid farewell. Sigh.

Besides their convenience and nutritional value, I also love these muffins for their versatility. You can choose whichever vegetable and cheese options your heart desires and the end result will still be delicious. You could also create a variety to choose from in the mornings–as a cheesy friend of mine used to say “variety is the spice of life.” I divided half of my batch into broccoli and cheddar and the other half into onion, bell pepper, and spinach. Yum, right?

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Below is the recipe I follow to make 8 egg muffins. You can be as creative as you like with seasonings and stir-ins.

Ingredients:

  • Organic eggs (6)
  • Fat-free milk, or any milk of your choice (1/4 cup/60ml)
  • Salt, black pepper, garlic powder (to taste)
  • Red bell pepper (1/2cup chopped)
  • Broccoli florets (1/2 cup)
  • Shallot (1 chopped)
  • Spinach (3/4 cup packed)
  • Cheddar (1/4 cup shredded)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (1tsp)

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 375F/200C.
  • Beat the eggs together with milk until well-combined.
  • Season with salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. You could leave out the garlic powder, but I love a garlicky undertone in my eggs.
  • Grease 8 muffin moulds with oil.
  • Cover 2/3rd of the moulds with the veggie & cheese combo of your choice. I used broccoli and cheddar as one combination and the rest of veggies as another.
  • Pour the egg mixture in all 8 moulds. Try to keep it at the 2/3rd mark because the eggs will rise and fluff up.
  • Bake for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

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Food

Black-Eyed Beans & Chicken Stuffing

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Black-eyed bean and minced meat curry was a staple in my mom’s Pakistani kitchen. She batch-cooked the beans and froze them in little packets. These packets would be her saviour on busy days when she could not fathom what to cook. Served with hot chapatis, my mom’s black-eyed bean and minced meat curry was a favourite of mine.

A few days ago, I was casually strolling through the shelves in the supermarket when I noticed neatly stored cans of black-eyed beans. That instigated a much need flashback of my mom’s delicious recipe. Inevitably, I stocked my cart with multiple cans of the beans.

I knew I wanted to replicate the taste of my mom’s curry, but I also knew that I had to make it more like stuffing than curry. My busy lifestyle has little room for curries, especially on weekdays because I can’t afford to have curry spill in my bags or put me in a food coma after lunch. Stuffing on the other side is perfect to make a wrap with. It can also be tossed with some quinoa or brown rice with a chutney or sauce on the side. No fuss, right?

In addition to making my mum’s recipe corporate-career-proof, I also made it slightly healthier by keeping oil to a minimum and replacing ground beef with ground chicken breasts that I minced in my food processor at home. You can also buy minced chicken from the store. I couldn’t find organic variety in my supermarket.

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I made the black-eyed bean and minced chicken stuffing over the weekend and stored in the fridge. During the week, it was rather easy to stuff a wrap with the stuffing and take it with me to work. I even added a little water to it one night and turned it into a more curry consistency to have with hot whole-wheat tortillas that are the closest it gets to mom’s hot chapatis in Amsterdam.

Without further nostalgic blabbering, I will list down the recipe.

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil (1tbsp)
  • Onion (1 large—chopped)
  • Garlic cloves (4—minced)
  • Tomatoes (2—chopped or ½ cup canned)
  • Green chillies (3—chopped)
  • Chilli powder (1tsp)
  • Turmeric powder (1/4tsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/2tsp)
  • Garam masala (2/3 tsp)
  • Ground chicken, organic (250 grams or two organic chicken breasts minced in a food processor)
  • Black-eyed beans, organic (400grams/16oz can)
  • Lemon, juiced (1)
  • Coriander springs (16-20)

Method:

  • Sauté the onion in oil until golden brown.
  • Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant. If onion and garlic stick, use a splash of water to deglaze the pan instead of more oil.
  • Now add tomatoes and green chillies, as well as all the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes. Again, add water to deglaze the pan if needed.
  • When the oil separates from the mixture, add ground chicken and cook until the chicken changes colour, about five minutes. You can add more at this point if you’d like the consistency to be more curry-like.
  • Add the can of beans (washed & rinsed). Stir until everything is combined and turn off heat.
  • Garnish with chopped coriander and lemon juice.

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Food

Chickpea Masala

Chickpea masala served over basmati rice has been one of my comfort meals since I was a child. As I have grown up, I have found chickpea masala doesn’t always have to be served over rice; it is so versatile in the ways that it can be enjoyed. For instance, if you dry the gravy slightly, you can stuff a wrap with mixed greens and chickpea masala; in a snap you’ve a perfect lunch wrap. Similarly, chickpea masala makes a delicious salad with mixed greens, quinoa, and a boiled egg. Yum!

My recipe for the chickpea masala is fuss free. It comes together in under 20 minutes. I use canned chickpeas in my recipe. If you too will be using canned chickpeas, I strongly recommend using high quality ones, preferably organic. The brand I am hooked to for canned grains and legumes is La Bio Idea. The chickpeas out of their cans smell so much like freshly boiled chickpeas and they are perfectly tender. Just a little disclaimer, this post is not sponsored by La Bio Idea.

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Without further ado, let’s get down to the recipe.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Onion (1–chopped)
  • Oil (1tbsp)
  • Garlic cloves (3–minced)
  • Green chillies (2–chopped)
  • Tomatoes (2/3 cup–chopped) I used the organic peeled La Bio Idea tomatoes.
  • Chili flakes (1tsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/2 tsp)
  • Garam masala (1/2 tsp)
  • Turmeric powder (1/4 tsp)
  • Salt (1/4 tsp)
  • Chickpeas (400grams/15 ounce can)
  • Water (1/2 to 1 cup)
  • Lemon (1/2–juiced)
  • Coriander (10 sprig–chopped)

Method:

  • Sauté the onion in oil until golden brown.
  • Add minced garlic and sauté until fragrant. If onion and garlic stick, use a splash of water to deglaze the pan instead of more oil.
  • Now add tomatoes and green chillies, as well as all the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes. Again, add water to deglaze the pan if needed.
  • When the oil separates from the mixture, add chickpeas and 1/2 cup water.
  • Cook covered for 5-7 minutes and garnish with chopped coriander and lemon juice.

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Food

Quinoa Crusted Chicken Fingers

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I recently mentioned on my Instagram that I am on a mission to healthify (I know it’s not a real word, but let’s get on with it) some of my favorite foods. Chicken fingers are definitely something that I not only love for their taste, but also love for their versatility and convenience. As in, they can be eaten on their own, stuffed in a lunch wrap, or chopped for a hearty salad. In whichever form I choose to eat them, they remain fuss free—for instance no leaking out of the lunchbox into my pampered work bags.

And so, like every new mission, this mission of healthifying chicken fingers started with research (read: typing “healthy chicken fingers” into Google). I was baffled to learn that breading chicken fingers with quinoa was a thing in the healthy eating world.

The novelty of using quinoa instead of breadcrumbs was enough to inspire me to create a recipe of my own instead of using someone else’s recipe. I like my chicken fingers to have a subtle spice kick (you’d know what I mean if you’ve eaten fried chicken at Pakistan’s KFCs), so this recipe has that + it is oil-free. Basically what I am giving you with this recipe is an opportunity to glorify the most boring of proteins, chicken breast, without adding unnecessary fats (oil) or carbs (breadcrumbs). I call that a miracle and it is being passed on to you.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Organic Chicken breast (1)
  • Chickpea flour (1 tbsp)
  • Chili powder (1/2 tsp)
  • Cumin powder (1/4 tsp)
  • Chili flakes (1/4 tsp)
  • Egg (1/2)
  • Cooked quinoa (1/4 cup)

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 375F/200C.
  • Slice the chicken breast into thin strips.
  • Mix the flour and spices.
  • Coat chicken strips in the flour.
  • Beat an egg (you will use only half of it).
  • Coat strips into the egg.
  • Press cooked quinoa into strips coated with flour and egg.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the chicken strips on the tray, and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
  • Enjoy on its own or in salads and wraps! 🙂 And to view the full nutritional profile of this recipe, see the end of the post.

Tips:

  • Chicken breasts can vary in weight. Organic chicken breasts tend to be smaller. The one I used was around 100 grams.
  • You may use any flour. I had chickpea flour on hand that’s why I used that one.
  • If you do not have individual spices as listed in the ingredients, you could also just use a spice mix like cajun/jamaican.
  • If you line the baking sheet with foil instead of parchment paper, I would grease the foil to avoid having quinoa stick to the foil.
  • To ensure chicken fingers crisp on both sides, flip them over halfway through the baking time.

 

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This is the first time that I have calculated the full nutrition profile of my recipe. I am adding it to this post. Please let me know if that is something that you find helpful. And have a wonderful weekend!!

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Well-being

Weight Loss: Food Edit

I never considered how my food is made until I gained an awful load of kilos in my first year living in the US. The year was 2008. I was sixteen and living with an American host family in mid-west. I knew little about how to cook with the American pantry staples, and missed my mother’s home cooked food. Result? McDonald’s sandwiches, buttery packet popcorn, and frozen pizza as my everyday meals.

When my friends and family criticized my new “appearance,” I was quick to realize this lifestyle couldn’t continue. That realization was my first step towards healthy eating and nutrition. I taught myself how to cook on a student budget and with the ingredients I could find in the local grocery store. Shortly after, I went back to my normal weight.

Fast forward ten years, I am working fulltime in a fast-paced industry, traveling for work (and otherwise), taking a Dutch language course, blogging as a hobby, and trying to grow my social circle as an expat in Amsterdam. Budget is no longer an obstacle, neither is the availability of international food items. But finding the time to grocery shop and cook has become my real struggle.

The last two months of 2017 were pretty hectic work-wise. I was providing cover for a sick colleague and traveling for work more than usual. Being disorganized about my meals and eating out led me to gain 5.5 kilos. I went from weighing 58 kilos to 63.4 kilos. With my 5’6” height, 63.4 kilos is still within the normal BMI, but I do not feel good. There is a lot of bloating, some love handles that were not there before, a general feeling of being tired—honestly, it feels like living in a body that is not mine.

So, after I returned from my holiday to Karachi last week, I started finding ways to be more organized about grocery shopping and cooking. I also decided to track the foods I eat, so that I can assess whether or not I am meeting my daily nutrient requirements. I was recently diagnosed with iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 deficiencies, so the motivation to track my food was not only for losing the excess weight but also for assessing my intake of all critical nutrients. Another motivation factor was to evaluate how super is the nutrition of the “super foods” that are blatantly advertised on social media.

I tested a few apps that would provide me an overview of nutrient goals for my weight & height, as well as allow me to track these goals. I had briefly used MyFitnessPal before, so I tested that and Cronometer more closely. Both are excellent apps but in comparison to Cronometer, MyFitnessPal has an extensive food database (huge benefit for someone who cooks fusion food) and a user-friendly layout in both the mobile app and website. You can input your current weight & height. The app also requires that you add a “Weight Goal.” Taking these three factors into consideration, MyFitnessPal gives you a daily calorie requirement (mine was 1200). You can then maintain a daily food diary, which counts your calories, as well as carbs, protein, fats and other nutrients. The app allows you to enter unlimited recipes and also tracks your steps. Your daily exercise can also be logged into the app.

One thing to keep in mind while using an app like MyFitnessPal is to use the calorie requirement as a guide not divine revelation. Starving yourself is the worst thing you can do to your health, so listen to your body’s needs and make sure you respect them. More than the calories I have consumed, I like to look at whether I met my protein, calcium, and iron goals. One early benefit of tracking nutrients is that I realized I was not meeting my daily calcium requirement, and that’s because I was barely eating any dairy—most common source of calcium. Based on that observation, I have switched from unsweetened almond milk to cow milk (until I find another non-dairy calcium source).

When I shared on my insta story that I will be starting a mini weight loss journey, many of you requested that I share my meal plans. In all honesty, sharing what I am eating every day in this much detail makes me nervous, but at the end of the day if my eating plan helps you improve your nutrition, I am happy ignoring the few negative comments I might receive. 🙂 So, I am adding screenshots of my food diary for every day of last week besides Monday. This should allow you to see the whole foods I have incorporated in my diet for each meal. The foods I am avoiding are full fat dairy, refined sugar and flours, excessive oil, and processed junk items. As for the recipes, the Shrimp & Broccoli one is on my insta profile. The remaining ones will be posted soon on this blog! If you have any questions about the foods mentioned in the screenshots, comment below or send me an email.

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In addition to tracking my eating, I am also recording gym time (more on this in another post). With my one week of exercise and a healthy meal plan, I have already come from 63.2 kilos to 61.4 kilos. The initial drop is usually high, which is great for boosting motivation. I also feel less bloated and tired. Keep in mind that everybody is different, so how this meal & exercise plan impacts me is not necessarily how it will impact you. 🙂 Since this is my first meal plan, it has a ton of room for improvement. So feel free to customize it as per your needs, but please make sure you’re eating at least 1000-1200 calories everyday—that’s the number recommended by the National Health Institutes for women (1200-1500 for men).

I am truly delighted to see the results of tracking my meals and exercise last week, and I cannot wait to do the same this week with new foods and recipes! If you have any ideas for healthy foods and fun exercises, do let me know. And if you would like to get a daily sneak peak of this weight loss project, check out my Instagram page.

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Food

One Bowl Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins

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More often than not, I succumb to a banana for breakfast because mornings are so rushed. And that is why having something that’s more decadent than a banana—banana bread or muffins or sorts—are a saviour to my chaotic mornings.

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Not too long ago, I tried the Pick Up Limes One Bowl Oatmeal & Blueberry muffins, and that was truly a hit in my work life. Every weekday morning I could just pop one of these in my handbag and either have it as breakfast on the go during my commute to work, or have it at my desk after reaching office.

My recent breakfast muse, however, were these delicious and decadent 1 Bowl Healthy Carrot Cake Muffins by Nikole from Healthnut Nutrition. Nikole is one of all my time favorite bloggers out there, so I was beyond excited to try her recipe without messing it up.

IMG_0606Honestly, I do not think I messed up. The muffins were dense, but soft. Also, perfectly sweet. I only made one major tweak to her original recipe. Instead of using almond flour, I used oat flour, and that was simply because I did not have almond flour in my pantry.

So without further blabbering, I will list the recipe below.

Ingredients:

Dry

  • Spelt flour (2 cups)
  • Oat flour (1/2 cup)
  • Baking soda (1 teaspoon)
  • Cinnamon (1 teaspoon)
  • Nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
  • Salt (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Shredded carrots (1 cup)

Wet

  • Eggs (2)
  • Coconut oil (1/4 cup)
  • Vanilla extract (1 teaspoon)
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon)
  • Unsweetened soy milk (1 cup)
  • Unsweetened applesauce (1/2 cup)
  • Coconut sugar (3/4 cup)

Method:

  • Mix the soy milk with apple cider vinegar. Let sit for 10 mins. Meanwhile preheat oven to 375F/200F.
  • Now in a large bowl whisk together the remaining wet ingredients.
  • When everything is well-combined, add all dry ingredients except the shredded carrots.
  • Once the batter is smooth, mix in the shredded carrots.
  • Transfer batter to a muffin tin. It will fit in approximately 12 moulds. Top with crushed walnuts & place in the preheated oven for 18 mins.
  • Voila! Enjoy with a cup of tea, hot cocoa, or your fav coffee. 🙂

Tip:

  • You can top with sugar, too, like recommended in the original recipe. I liked them more without extra sugar.
  • Soy milk can be swapped with any other plant based milk. Don’t try dairy milks or the apple cider vinegar will curd them.
  • Coconut oil can be substituted with avocado oil.

 

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