After last week's experience with the kids in Mankato making one-dish meals, I went home and came up with one of my own. I like the idea of cooking a meal in one pot and having only one pot to clean. Although, I have to admit that I love to clean dishes. I don't know when this started; but, I enjoy it. I think it would be difficult to love cooking as much as I do and not also appreciate the cleaning part. It is something about the finished project and a feeling of accomplishment after we are all full and everything is clean and put away. It's satisfying.
I am calling this dish a Mediterranean Hot Pot. I cannot take all of the credit for it as the inspiration came from a recipe in my cookbook, "Vegetarian: tasty recipes for every day" edited by Helen Aitken. Also, Daphne, my daughter, helped me decide what vegetables we should add. She wouldn't let me include eggplant, which I would have put in this dish. She isn't fond of eggplant. I knew only she and I would eat this in my house, so I went with her ideas and added extra red bell pepper instead. She loves sweet red peppers. I wanted the dish to be heart healthy, so I kept a Mediterranean influence in mind when choosing these ingredients.
The Mayo Clinic website suggests that a heart healthy/Mediterranean diet includes, but is not limited to, these components:
Mediterranean Hot Pot
Meals eaten with family and friends
A generous amount of vegetables
Consuming olive oil
Mediterranean Hot Pot
Time: one hour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 large sweet red peppers
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 can sliced button mushrooms
1 can artichoke hearts
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can tomato sauce
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 cup skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot. Add the onions and cook for ten minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, celery, peppers and yellow squash and saut for ten minutes more. Add the artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, tomato sauce, and stock. Add the brown rice and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Make sure rice is tender and add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with mozzarella cheese and fresh cilantro.
Using herbs and spices instead of salt
Drinking red wine
So, I poured myself a glass of red wine and poured a glass of orange juice into a martini glass for Daphne and we began creating this dish.
Lately, I have been limiting all of the white carbohydrates from my diet, like potatoes, white flour pasta, and white rice. Instead, I have been using brown rice and absolutely loving it. Brown rice takes a few minutes longer to cook, but I find the flavor to be superior. It's richer and fuller whereas white rice has no flavor at all. Whole brown rice is rice in its original form with the bran intact. White rice is brown rice that has gone through at least one of several processes, including polishing, parboiling and/or pre-cooking.
When the rice comes in from the field, the hull is removed and the result is whole brown rice. In this unprocessed state, whole brown rice offers a natural concentration of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin, and it still has its bran, which is a natural fiber.
Brown rice is also better for the environment because it requires less processing. The less processing of a food, the less energy required. There's also the issue of the synthetic vitamins added back into the white rice. These are produced in laboratories and factories from a variety of chemicals; and these sorts of processes are well known for their negative impact on the environment. Therefore, brown rice is not only better for your health and tastes better, it is also good for the planet. So, I have made the switch. I'm also eating the whole wheat pasta which I have surprisingly grown to love.
I am not suggesting that we all go out and convert to only olive oil and brown rice. I will be the first to admit that I love butter as I have mentioned in this column several times. I will still be cooking dishes with butter and cream and potatoes. In fact, just last week, the kids and I made salmon with a hollandaise sauce, which defeats the entire purpose of eating heart healthy salmon. I was shocked to discover that to make the sauce for the three of us, we needed eight egg yolks and two sticks of butter. I made it anyway and it was so delicious. I smiled with every bite. There may have even been a few moans of satisfaction throughout the meal. Sometimes the benefit you get from being so joyful with each bite, like the joy butter brings to me, is just as good as eating healthy. Happiness too is good for the heart. I just want to make that kind of cooking the exception and not the rule.
These changes are helping me to stick with my goal of being in the best shape ever by the Fourth of July. I did include cheese in this recipe; but it is low fat. Cheese has been my downfall in trying to eat healthy and I never used to buy the low fat cheese. I believed that low fat meant low flavor. I was wrong; low fat cheese is really good. I am so happy about this. If you are interested in trying to add some low fat, high fiber, nutritious meals to your diet, give this one a shot. It is delicious.