8 September 2016
My Attitude to Food
Cooking is amazing – it is a valuable survival and entertaining skill, it can benefit health and mood of the eaters, it gathers us together, it is an art and science gracefully blended, it is definitely affordable as a hobby, we can do it daily or even several times a day – it never ends, it raises our curiosity continuously, and improving our skills and repertoire may take a life time… In short, I love to cook and to eat, and these two activities range in broad spectrum from “fancy and festive” recipes to “healthy and simple” family food all the way to detoxing, approaching fasting.
My inspiration comes from various sources but the goal always is to produce tasty healthy meals using clean foods and to never bore myself and those that I feed with uninteresting bland flavors. By clean foods, I mean ingredients that are free from health-damaging chemicals, low in sugar and sodium, as unprocessed as possible, as fresh as possible, organic if possible, non-GMO if possible, and used in reasonable quantities. I am convinced that this way of eating should be a goal for all humans – those of us who are healthy and fit and those of us who are struggling with health issues like diabetes.
If you fall in love with food and cooking, you inevitably turn into a person who chooses food and groceries that are closest to its original nature-designed state. It will help you manage diabetes, other health issues, and related creeping problems like poor fitness, fatigue or low-self worth. You will begin to feel and experience the energy of the real clean food, as your new eating habits will help improve your well-being. And next time you see an energetically dead piece of assumingly something eatable on your plate, you will give yourself a permission to not indulge on it or simply skip it.
Herbs for Diabetic Pantry
This has been the best path for me but it takes an effort stay on it – we often get too busy to worry about details related to eating — several times a day, every day. The solution is to be prepared by having a few key supplies on hand. My shortcut is to stock up the kitchen and pantry properly with a goal of being able to produce something simple and healthy to eat avoiding traps like fast food, frozen dinners, commercial pizza and other suboptimal choices. There are many ways that we can improve the content of our kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tips that are handy for diabetic-friendly kitchen:
- Keep healthy grains like basmati rice and buckwheat in the pantry;
- Freeze some lean chicken meat chopped in small pieces, ready to use – you can even spice it up before freezing;
- Have canned sockeye salmon on hand;
- For pasta, have gluten-free choices available like brown rice, buckwheat or quinoa;
- Keep beans and lentils in the pantry – the ones that I use most frequently are canned garbanzo beans (no salt) and dry mung dahl beans (fastest to cook and easiest to digest);
- In the fridge, have a dozen or two of eggs (organic, free-range);
- And most importantly, always have a few favorite vegetables and fruits – even if you grocery shop once a week, there is plenty of produce that lasts in the fridge (cabbages, cucumbers, zucchinis, root vegetables, apples, frozen berries are among my favorites).
But over time all of the above may loose their attractiveness unless you:
- Invest in healthy herbs and spices!
- Always have them in your kitchen!
- Use them each time you cook and eat!
This is my favorite advice. Herbs and spices are delicious, healthy and inexpensive (with minor exceptions like saffron). With them you can create endlessly. You can eat them as much as you like without major restrictions. Many of them deliver multiple health benefits. Below I discuss a few herbs and spices that are useful for diabetic recipes – always keep them in stock! In addition to them, always have Kosher salt for cooking, sea salt for seasoning, a variety of peppers (e.g., black, red chili flakes and powder, harissa blend), some dried herbs (e.g., allspice, basil, cumin, dill, fennel, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme to name a few), grape seed, avocado and coconut oils for high heat cooking, extra virgin olive oil for seasoning, and vinegar (e.g., apple cider, balsamic, white balsamic, rice, red wine).
Turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and curry should be generously incorporated in diabetics’ cooking. Here are some ideas on how to use them in your kitchen.
Turmeric – is great for adding to soups, stews, sautés, and essentially any other dish, if you feel like it. Turmeric does not absorb as well unless it is combined with black pepper – so remember to use both. Sometimes I make my tea with turmeric, with pepper or not.
Garlic – one does not have to be a chef or a doctor to know how good and good-for-you garlic is. Fresh is always best but if we are short on time and do not want to peal and chop it, then having granulated garlic or garlic powder on a shelf is a bonus. My “fresh garlic trick” is to sit down once a week and peel a head or two of fresh garlic, and keep it refrigerated in a zip lock (store-bought peeled garlic never tastes good to me).
Ginger – is irreplaceable for Asian and Indian cooking, fresh or powdered. I am still experimenting with this one, realizing that just adding some ginger along with lemongrass and lemon or lime juice can help you create an entirely new flavor for your otherwise staple stew or soup. I love to steam white fish, like cod, with some ginger on top – a few slices of fresh ginger or some powdered ginger.
Cinnamon – sprinkle it on your fruit or salad. I love to add it to smoothies: blend (1) 3-5 pieces of fruits that you like (heavy on berries and light on bananas), (2) a hand-full of greens, like spinach or baby kale, (3) 1-2 cups of water or tea, (4) a few sprinkles of cinnamon and cardamom, and (5) a few sprinkles of vanilla bean powder or a few drops of vanilla extract – choose vanilla product with no added sugar (read the label!). This smoothie can be your breakfast or snack or dessert.
Curry – is frequently associates with Indian cuisine but truly is favored by so many cultures around the world that I had to find a way to incorporate it in my repertoire. Originally, curry was not my favorite flavor and it was too spicy for me. Then, I discovered, that curry flavors vary, and that there are curry blends that are not spicy at all because they contain no hot red pepper. I discovered that during my Caribbean travels, and now I make curry dishes that range from not being spicy at all – even little kids love it — to where I control the spiciness level by adding pepper separately. The curry blend that I use is “Mild Jamaican Curry Powder” and my current package contains turmeric, fenugreek, wheat, coriander, cumin, anise, star anise, pepper, pimento, cloves, garlic. It is available in most ethnic stores or online (amazon.com). Our favorite curry dish is my adaptation on a Bahamian curry. The lady who originally taught me how to make it called it “Quick Pot” as that’s how her family called it – simple ingredients and easy preparation for a dish that along with a bowl of rice or potatoes feeds the whole family.
Bahamian Curry – Julia’s version (Chicken or Vegetarian)
- 4 onions, chopped
- Garlic, chopped or pressed – 5-7 cloves
- Grape seed or avocado oil – 2-3 Tbsp
- If using, chicken drumsticks, skin removed, washed – 2 lbs
- Juice of 2-3 lemons or limes
- Mild Jamaican Curry powder – 3-5 Tbsp
- Allspice powder – 2-3 Tbsp
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Choice of vegetables, chopped: 2 bell peppers, 2 sweet potatoes, 3 carrots
- Vegetarian version: skip chicken and instead use 2 heads of cauliflower or 1 head of cauliflower and 1 head of broccoli, sliced into small-medium size florets, and a can (15-16 oz) of garbanzo beans (rinsed if salted)
- In a large stew pot or Dutch oven, heat up oil on medium heat and sauté chopped onion and garlic for about 10 minutes until slightly caramelized
- To the pot, add chicken drumsticks, lemon/lime juice, curry powder, allspice powder, and salt and black pepper (approx. 2 tsp and ½ tsp, respectively) and pour enough water to cover the content of the pot
- As the pot heats up add your choice of chopped vegetable (all or none)
- Bring the pot to boiling, then turn heat down to medium/low and simmer until ready, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour (when ready, chicken meat will easily separate from the bone with a fork)
- Serve ala cart or with basmati rice and a light salad (greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, favorite herbs, salt and pepper)
- Vegetarian version: in a large stew pot or Dutch oven, sauté onion and garlic (see the first step above); then add all vegetables and spices to the pot along with enough water to just cover the content of the pot; bring to a boil and simmer until almost done and add garbanzo beans, then simmer for a few more minutes. Serve ala cart or with basmati rice and a salad.
Tips and Variations:
- Use MILD Jamaican curry – you can add more of it in your pot if you like without turning it super spicy; can also add extra turmeric powder to the curry.
- You can use coconut oil, if you prefer its flavor, instead of grape seed or avocado oil, or some of each.
- If you are preparing this dish ahead, you can marinate the chicken with spices and lemon/lime juice for a few hours in refrigerator (no water added).
- Chicken meat on bones is preferred for the flavor sake (can also use wings if you like), but if you prefer chicken breast filets, use it uniformly sliced and without skin.
- Vegetarian version: one can add chopped mushrooms or any favorite vegetables to the curry — zucchini, squash, tomatoes, potato, celery, celery root, peas, etc.