Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Simple Way to Start Your Day!

There is a reason the first meal of your day is called "breakfast": you are literally breaking the fast of which you consensually agreed upon the moment you fell asleep. Give or take a few (or many) hours, you have woken up from a full night's sleep. The first thing you put into your mouth, therefore, is more important than you might think!

We are meant to ease into the day, and ideally not shock our systems with hard-to-digest foods or drinks like coffee. I personally even found eggs to be too heavy in the morning, and I know those are staple to many. Your liver is getting ready for the day, and as most of us eat late and tend to have the heaviest meals at dinner, the liver tends to be on over-drive already. Let's be gentle to the poor thing in the morning and remind our livers that we love them! They are responsible for 600+ functions, after all :)

There are many cleansing teas and drinks that fit in with this idea, but I am starting with one of the simplest ones possible! All you need is a lemon, mint, and a jar or pitcher.

Just wash the mint, "twist" it and add it to a jar or pitcher. The twisting or breaking of the leaves releases more of the flavour. Cut the lemon in quarters and just slice it as thin as possible and add it to the jar or pitcher as well. Add some cold water, give it a good stir or shake and you are done! Not only is the lemon/mint drink surprisingly refreshing and tasty, it is also alkalizes your body, which is a great way to start your day!

Most people tend to think of lemons as acidic, and while they can be on tooth enamel, etc., lemons are packed with minerals, so they leave behind a mineral "ash" once they leave our digestive system, making their net-effect actually alkaline! Lemons are also packed with vitamin C, which our body uses up every four hours, so it is a great drink to sip on throughout the day, constantly replenishing our vitamin C stores! Just make sure to rinse your teeth by sipping on plain water afterwards. Lemons also mimic HCl, or stomach acid, so it is always great to consume before a meal!

I chose mint as the herb to include because mint eases nausea and aids in our digestion by activating salivary glands which in turn secrete digestive enzymes, which is perfect for beginning your day. I actually discovered this little mix while working at Beit Zatoun, where it would always be available. I would drink it every day and feel great and had friends come who always filled their water canisters with it, especially in the summer. Apparently it is quite common in the Middle East, and as usual, there is always something nutritious behind these sorts of traditions!
Tried to get an artsy mid-stir shot, but that backfired
 So ease into your day with a cleansing and refreshing drink and see what a difference something so simple can make!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Raw Vegan Power Snack!

I was so excited about this post that I wanted to make the title all capitals, but then felt that it would seem too aggressive, so I compromised.

Since I began making almond milk again, I had a lot of almond pulp in the freezer. I mentioned in my post on almond milk some uses for the pulp, but this time I really wanted to use some of it for a delicious raw dessert. The almond pulp contains loads of protein and is nice and squishy so it can hold things together, so it is very convenient in raw or baked desserts.

I checked my cabinets and found cinnamon, coconut flakes, flax seeds, a few dates and also realized I had some almond milk that needed to be used as soon as possible!
Totally forgot to use the sunflower seeds!
So with just a couple of ingredients, here is a super simple recipe for a snack or even a breakfast! I guess they are technically almond-date balls, but you can easily just flatten them out and eat them like pancakes with some fruit on top! Would go great with some cinnamon/clove tea as well!

You can also add different ingredients of course, and I think next time I will include some ground cardamom, sesame seeds, as well as some coconut oil. For now, here is a delicious raw snack or dessert that took under 10 minutes to create!

After taking my almond pulp out of the freezer, the first thing I did was grind some flax seeds. Flax seeds are rich in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), soluble fibre, and they are also a great "connector" for all the other dry ingredients in this recipe! You can read more about the benefits of flax seeds here. Next up I cut up the dates I had as small as possible. I love dates because they are super sweet but also have a lot of fibre, keeping our blood sugar in check as the sugar releases gradually as a direct result of that fibre. These were super fresh dates from Iran and were quite sticky and hard to cut, but that would be good in the recipe itself:
Next up I just added a little bit of everything to the almond pulp, including the dates, and gave it a good stir. The stickiness of the dates, along with the flax seed powder were holding everything together like I suspected:
Added some almond milk for flavour & to complete the 'glue'!
Once everything was added, I just rolled the mixture into little balls and put them into a container and sprinkled on some extra coconut flakes. I tried one and it was delicious - the dates gave just the right amount of sweetness and all the other ingredients really complemented each other. I will keep them in the fridge so they harden and so the flax seed powder of course does not go rancid. So in just under 10 minutes, a super healthy and convenient power-snack was made! Will look forward to remembering I have these in the fridge on those hectic days:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hmoz/Hummus Recipe!

There are a few things I am pretentious about. One of them is my hmoz (aka my parent's) recipe.

Full disclosure: ever since I can remember, hmoz has been my favourite food in the universe. As a result of the large Armenian Diaspora, hmoz became a staple in Western Armenian Cuisine, so I had a lot of access to it - at home and in any Armenian restaurant in Canada. When I went vegan, one of my first thoughts was "oh but hmoz is vegan so I'm good". I actually used to think it was an Armenian dish until I found out otherwise. I can eat it every day without getting sick of it, and I like it with veggies, with bread, mixing it with grains or beans or anything else on my plate (tabouleh sandwich!), or even alone with a spoon.

I only realized I could be pretentious about hmoz when I started making full-on Canadian friends and we started having potlucks or eating at each other's houses. Someone would always make the mistake of saying they made "hummus" and I would become really excited, only to realize that it was mashed chickpeas with either garlic/lemon, or in one case (sorry Daniel), NOTHING ELSE. Needless to say, I would still eat it but with a lot of bitterness and gave people (sorry again Daniel) dirty looks.

One day I decided to stop getting annoyed and take action. I made it. Or I think I asked my mom to make it. Anyways, I took it to the next potluck proudly showcasing it. The result was fabulous and I think all my friends genuinely liked me a lot more as a result of that hmoz. The pretentiousness began to steer its sexy head.

I eventually moved on with my life, and one day decided to come to Armenia. I stayed with a host-family for over 7 months, and while my host-sister introduced me to some of my new favourite foods (basooc dolma, represent), I began to violently miss hmoz. I once saw it in a supermarket packaged in a can and bought it, only to realize it was a thick chickpea paste where you were supposed to add ingredients. Another time I saw it in another supermarket in the "buffet" section they have, and bought a container even though it looked strange. I knew it was missing some key ingredients, but there was still something in it that I couldn't put my finger on and really didn't like. My host-family would sometimes make it as well, and it had the exact same taste. I decided the next time my host-sister made it, I would watch. My pretentiousness began to peek out while I mentally noted that she didn't put 3 top ingredients, and then I saw what that taste was that I wasn't able to put my finger on: she had added both mayonnaise AND sour cream. When I asked her why, she said they put them in to make hmoz creamy because otherwise it would be too heavy/thick. I was shocked for two reasons, one being that I had eaten non-vegan food, and two, that adding mayonnaise/sour cream did not make any sense to me and was pretty gross.

I began to realize Armenians in Armenia, much like my Canadian friends, did not really know how to make hmoz.

Eventually I found some Western Armenian restaurants in Armenia and got my hmoz fix. However, the minute I moved out to my own place and began cooking for myself, I immediately bought a blender. Ideally, with hmoz, you would use a food processor, but to my knowledge they are nowhere to be found in Armenia, and I assume when I do find one it will be super expensive, so a blender is the second best choice.

So without talking about hmoz itself any more, here is the recipe that my grandparents and parents passed on to me. I'm not going to have kids so I refuse to let this recipe die with me, so you are welcome, my blog-babies. My mom's is still always better than mine, but compared with what is considered hummus these days, mine is pretty damn good (so pretentious!).

Ingredients:
-2 cups chickpeas, rinsed and soaked overnight (+ liquid they boiled in, more on this in the directions section)
-1-2 lemons, depending on how much juice they have
-2-3 garlic cloves
-Cumin powder
-1-2 tablespoons tahini
-2-3 tablespoons olive oil
-Pinch(es) of salt
-Red pepper (optional)
-Chopped parsley for decoration (optional)

Directions:
-Chickpeas take forever to cook if you do not soak them, which is why many people opt for the canned option. Soak them overnight and you will significantly cut the cooking time. Cook them until they are nice and tender and let them cool off. Don't discard the liquid - you will use it in the recipe.
Precious liquid!
 -Once cooled, add the chickpeas to the blender or food processor. Add about a 1/4th cup of the liquid with them as well.
-Chop your garlic and let it sit for 5 minutes before adding it. I think you know why by now, but if not, visit my post about the butternut squash dish :)
-Squeeze the lemon and add the juice. Usually the juice of 1 & 1/2 lemons is perfect, but if they are small or not too juicy, you can add both.
-Add the olive oil, cumin (I would put at least 3 tsp, sometimes more), red pepper, and tahini. Add some salt as well but don't go crazy cause you can never take that back.
-Add the garlic and begin to blend. Depending on how thick it is, you can slowly add more of the liquid the chickpeas were in to give it a smoother consistency. This liquid is like a 'broth' and adds flavour and creaminess (take that mayonnaise!)
-Blend or process until it is completely smooth, which does take a couple of minutes. In a blender I usually have to stop and stir a couple of times, but with a food processor there is usually no need. Taste it and if it needs more salt or cumin, add them now!
Put it into the prettiest bowl you have, drizzle on some olive oil, sprinkle on some cumin, red pepper (or paprika) and parsley and let it sit for a bit so all the flavours really mesh with each other. Enjoy it with some cut up veggies like celery, carrots, broccoli, or put it in some Romano lettuce leaves for a cute little wrap!
I didn't have parsley :(
In this recipe, the chickpeas provide us with some protein, the vitamin C from the lemon helps us absorb the non-hemme iron found in both the chickpeas and the cumin, the tahini provides us with easily digestible and alkaline calcium, the garlic* provides anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and the cumin aids in digestion! As if you needed more reasons to love this dish, eh?

Try out this simple recipe, and see if mayonnaise or sour cream have any place in it, and join me in being pretentious when someone brings mashed chickpeas at your next potluck and calls it hummus :)

*Did you know? Many people have trouble digesting garlic. One reason can be a skinny little green sprout found in the clove itself, which is actually where the strongest odor comes from. You can flatten your garlic with one smack with the flat end of a knife and see if there are any green sprouts inside. If so, simply remove them and see if it helps!
Found this on the internet, this hand is not mine for I would never let my nails grow that long