The Lazy Girl’s DIY Sushi

Do you ever get on kicks where you could eat the same food every day? Given how many times I’ve blogged either curry or oatmeal, it should not be a surprise that this happens to me fairly frequently. Currently, my food addiction is sushi. Specifically, sushi rolls. I know there are plenty of other kinds, which I also like, but give me a couple of maki rolls and I am good to go. The complimentary flavors, the mix of textures, the vast assortment of possibilities. YUM. I’m into it.

The good news is that it could be a lot worse, nutritionally speaking. But as foods go, it’s so elusive. It’s the kind of thing that is really better at a restaurant. A lot of the ingredients can be hard to find and it is a bit of a production to prepare. But then the restaurants have problems too. White rice. Lots of fried ingredients. Lots of sugar. Insane amounts of sodium. In and of itself that wouldn’t be a deal breaker because there are plenty of things on the menu to sustain a fairly healthy meal. The biggest problem is that it is expensive. It’s hard to get enough to eat at a sushi place for less than $25.

So I decided maybe I could figure out a way to make something at home. At first I thought about learning how to make actual rolls, but I ran into a couple of problems before I even got started. First, a lot of the ingredients are not the easiest to find around here. Let alone supplies like a bamboo mat. I’m sure I could find things at Whole Foods or similar places, but the weather is bad this week and it’s a little bit of a drive. Plus, if I’m going for cost-effectiveness, buying all kinds of exotic supplies kind of defeats the purpose. The second problem was that even if I did spend the time and effort getting everything I needed, I’d have to actually do the dicing and shaping and rolling and all that stuff. In the ever eloquent words of Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m not great at dicing, and my touch is not particularly delicate, so I just envision crafting the rolls really poorly.

But then it occurred to me, I probably had nearly all of the necessary basics, or acceptable substitutes, and if it’s really the ingredients I like the best, why not just throw them all into a dish together, burrito bowl style?

The result was a very lovely “sushi salad”.

Sushi Salad OR the Lazy Girl's DIY Sushi Roll
Sushi Salad OR the Lazy Girl’s DIY Sushi Roll in a Bowl

Continue reading “The Lazy Girl’s DIY Sushi”

Life’s Spice

If you read this blog regularly, then it should not surprise you that I sometimes get into ingredient ruts. Oh, she’s on a honey kick. Oh, now it’s Greek yogurt. Just be happy I wasn’t blogging during the great sauce-less stir-fry season of 2008. That was a hyphenated snooze fest. So lately, I’ve been trying to think of new things to make. If I’m hungry for something, instead of just wishing I could go out and then drinking my dissatisfaction down with a smoothie, I’m trying to branch out and expand my culinary wheelhouse. Thus far, there have been successes and …lesser successes. Example: I am determined that I will perfect a black bean burger if I have to make them once a week for a year. (Ok, a year from now I might be over it.)

I’ve found I really like cooking. Just like I love writing, photography and Project Runway, I enjoy cooking because it involves creating something, and in order to have a successful result, you need to be patient and consider different angles. Creating things is the best way I know to combine puzzles and art, two of my favorite things. I have gone through minor cooking phases before, like the previously mentioned stir-fry craze, but the past few months have really been next level. Having this blog doesn’t hurt. Neither does the invention of Pinterest. But the more I learn about nutrition, the more I care about finding the best ways to marry good health and good flavor. Finding, tweaking and creating recipes is an exciting way to be actively involved in my personal health goals. Sure, going to the gym is also a hands-on approach, but that can feel more like a chore sometimes than cooking usually does.

So, last night, I was in the mood for something different. I was also in the mood for a challenge. I don’t mind cooking when it is just fixing some food, but I actually get invested in it as a pastime when I am developing the recipe and building it into something. This time, I thought I would try curry. I have used a packaged curry sauce before and added in ingredients, but this time I wanted to make the sauce as well. Especially because I think it is likely that my ingredients are at least marginally healthier than the ones I would find in the take-home foods section of the grocery store, and definitely healthier than in a restaurant. My favorite curry is Thai red curry, and I especially like it with fruit. So tonight, I went for a red mango curry that I am happy to say was a success! I was very proud of myself. I cooked for my parents this evening and my dad said this was his favorite of the things I’ve made for him so far.

Red Mango Curry

Full disclosure: this recipe is not as diet-friendly as most of the things on this blog. It contains a little bit of sugar (like, actual brown sugar) and quite a bit of fat. Additionally, my giant neighborhood supermarket does not carry unsweetened coconut flakes, unless you want to pick up a whole coconut, get out a hammer and shave the flakes out of the shell yourself. So, I used a sweetened Baker’s coconut. However, everything else I used was a fresh ingredient, and it was certainly healthier than it could have been! I used one can of coconut milk and one can of lite coconut milk because I wanted the curry to be a little thicker. However, I think it would work fine with two cans of lite, which I will try in the future. Still, a fourth of the full recipe is only 375 calories, and it’s very filling. Plus it has quite a few fruits and vegetables.

Curry vegetables, ready and waiting!

Red Mango Curry

Serves 4

Prep time: 5-10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes (approximately)

  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil (or any good oil, really)
  • 1 Mango (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Cup Shallots or Sweet Onion (or both…I ran out of shallots halfway through. oops!)
  • 1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar Snap Peas
  • 1/2 Cup Matchstick Carrots
  • 3 Tablespoons Red Curry Paste
  • 1 Can Coconut Milk
  • 1 Can Lite Coconut Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon Low Sodium Soy Sauce**
  • 2 Teaspoons Worcester Sauce (I used an organic one to avoid the high fructose corn syrup)
  • 2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced (or Finely Diced) Ginger
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Curry Powder
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Lime
  • 2 Tablespoons Shaved Coconut
  • 5-6 Basil Leaves, Shredded

**Normal Thai curry calls for fish sauce, but since I don’t plan on making this all the time, I didn’t really want to spend the money on it. Luckily the good ole Internet told me that mixing Soy Sauce and Worcester Sauce would have basically the same effect. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, honestly, but they were good additions to this recipe anyway. Still, if you want to get authentic, you can use two tablespoons of fish sauce.

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add the Curry Paste. Let it cook, stirring a little bit, until it mixes with the oil enough to become less pasty and more saucy, and becomes fragrant. (Just make sure it doesn’t burn.) This should take around 3 minutes.
  3. When the paste is melted down, add the Coconut Milk. Stirring frequently, let the milk and curry simmer together (still on medium-high) for 5 minutes. Throughout the entire process, use a rubber scraper to keep the coconut milk from sticking to the side of the pan.
  4. Add the soy sauce, Worcester, sugar, cumin, curry powder, garlic and ginger. Mix well, so that everything in the pan is one color. Let simmer, stirring pretty much continuously, another 5 minutes.
  5. Squeeze in most, but not all, of the juice of the lime half. (Set the rest aside.)
  6. Add onions, let cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add mango and vegetables, let cook 4 minutes (or until they reach the softness you prefer), stirring occasionally.
  8. Add the basil, shredded coconut and the rest of the lime juice. Mix well so that coconut is dispersed throughout the curry. Let simmer 3 minutes.

I developed this recipe by looking at a variety of red curry, coconut curry and mango curry recipes of both Thai and Indian origins, and took what I liked from them until I had the recipe that I wanted for myself. One of the recipes I found included avocado in the curry. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, so I served avocado slices on the side. They were a phenomenal compliment!

I served the red mango curry over brown basmati rice and baked salmon. (Bake the salmon at 425˚F with a light coat of olive oil, salt and pepper, if interested.) It would be just as good with chicken, tofu, tempeh or on its own, too. I was just in a salmon kind of mood, and I’ve had it with red curry before and always loved it.

All in all, this recipe is definitely a win. I usually like to have a little more balance, in terms of carbs-fats-proteins, so I am feeling a little guilty about all the coconut, but with fish, brown rice, and veggies, it evens out well enough. Plus, it was delicious, and not terribly difficult. It does require a lot of stirring in the first half, but that’s not so bad. So, now I have a go-to recipe whenever I’m craving Thai food in the future. And I can feel good about myself for finding another fun recipe to make!

-lj

My New Favorite Secret Ingredient

Spoiler: It’s non-fat plain Greek Yogurt!

The main struggle in my reformed lifestyle is a craving for the old indulgences. For a while, the excitement of drastic, quick change overwhelmed the reality that my food just doesn’t taste as good as it used to, when sugar and saturated fat were only vague, back-of-the-mind concerns. Now that those things are at the forefront of my meal planning process, I’ve been trying to find good substitutes, which I’ve talked about before. Spaghetti squash was a success I wrote about a couple of entries ago.

Similar to that one, I’ve been spending a lot of my time trying to find healthy alternatives to former favorites. But, the challenge is that when I say healthy, I actually mean it. I’ve learned that just because something is marketed as healthy doesn’t magically make it so. Fat free or sugar free a lot of times just mean more of something else you’re also not supposed to have, so that they can say it is “free” without actually making it healthier (which also means more expensive, most of the time). I don’t mean to sound jaded, but the more I learn about the food industry the more I know eating clean is the best way to stay healthy. So now the real challenge is making food that tastes as rich as something you can get prepared from a restaurant or the grocery store without all of the bad stuff in it.

My most recent endeavor in this goal was fish tacos. I love fish tacos. Generally speaking they are not unhealthy. But a lot of the time they will be covered in beer batter or mayonnaise or cheese and it sort of wipes out the healthiness. That’s where my newfound love non-fat Greek yogurt plays a part.

A lot of the time, I am weary of non-fat foods because I assume the fat that is supposed to be there is replaced with sugar or artificial sweeteners and chemicals. As a result, I am not too scared of foods with fat in them especially low-fat, but non-fat Greek yogurt is a proud, glorious exception.

I buy Stonyfield Farms’ Oikos line 0% Greek Yogurt (meaning 0% fat). Instead of trying to guess what is so great about Greek yogurt, please enjoy this quote from the Stonyfield Farms’ website: “Real Greek yogurt, like Oikos, gets its incredible creaminess not from added gums, thickeners or milk fat, but from an old-world straining method that removes the whey (liquid) from the yogurt. This straining process also gives Greek yogurt about twice the protein of regular yogurt, and less lactose.” In other words, it is perfect.

Side note: I am a huge fan of Stonyfield Farms’ these days because they are truly revolutionary in the organic movement. Some of the other “big name” so-called organic brands don’t really follow clean living, natural processes. But SF really does get its ingredients from little farms. I mean, maybe the yogurt is still blended up in a factory but at least I know the milk they’re using is healthy. But I am really getting off track!

The point is, Greek yogurt is an amazing substitute for fattier dairy cooking ingredients. It is also very low in calories. A serving size–one cup–has 80 calories, but that is a huge amount of yogurt if you’re using it for cooking. The two things I’ve been using it for the most are smoothies (when a dairy-free concoction’s consistency is just too weird) and salad dressing.

A friend sent me a recipe for a taco salad dressing that called for sour cream and mayo, which I didn’t want to use for obvious health-related reasons. Instead I tried out the Greek yogurt and I really doubt anyone could tell the difference. This particular dressing (which is below) has so many spices any tartness from the yogurt is completely masked.

  • So earlier this week when I was really craving fish tacos, but also really wanted to stay diet-friendly, I immediately thought of ways I could create them myself. I don’t mean to sound too cocky, but they were freaking awesome.

Mahi Mahi Tacos with Pineapple Slaw

Mahi Mahi Tacos with Pineapple Slaw–please excuse the poor photo quality!

Serves 8

  • 1 Pound Mahi Mahi
  • Marinade (below)
  • 8 Corn Tortillas
  • Pineapple Slaw (below)
  • 1/2 Avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese (Optional)

Mahi Mahi Marinade

  • 3 TBLs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Lime Juice
  • 1 TBL Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Paprika
  • 1 Tsp Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1/4-1/2 Tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • Cayenne Pepper to taste
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Mix EEOV, Vinegar and Lime Juice together in a baking dish (I used 9×13). Add the spices, mix again. Add fish and let marinate at least 45 minutes, covering dish and placing in fridge.

Pineapple Slaw

  • 1/4 Cup 0% Greek Yogurt (plain)
  • 1 TBL Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Cumin
  • 3/4 Tsp Chili Powder
Pineapple Slaw

1 Clove Garlic, Minced

  • 1/2 Tsp Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp Black Pepper
  • Cayenne to taste
  • 1 Cup shredded green cabbage*
  • 1 Cup finely diced pineapple (and the juice)
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

* I cheated a little and bought Dole brand “Angel Hair Cole Slaw,” which is essentially a bag of shredded green cabbage.

Mix yogurt, vinegar, garlic and spices together in one bowl. Mix fruit and veggies together in another. Combine, stir until cabbage and everything else is thoroughly covered in dressing. You can add extra onion or pineapple on top, or add chopped cilantro.

After the fish is done marinating, you can prepare it however you prefer, I like grilling, so we put it on the charcoal grill. 12 minutes is plenty.  While the fish is cooking, prepare the slaw and slice the avocado. I also recommend warming the tortillas. Rub one drop (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of EEOV on each one and bake them in the oven on 300 for 5 minutes. If you want to add cheese to the tacos, I recommend putting it on the tortilla before baking them, so it can melt a little.

When the fish is done, slice it into 2 ounce pieces, or even 16 1 ounce pieces.

Scoop 1 or 2 tablespoons of slaw onto the warm tortilla, top with 2 ounces of fish and 2 slices of avocado. Enjoy!

I was extremely pleased with how these turned out. They also kept very well so I had leftovers for lunch. Two tacos is plenty filling, even though the entire thing is very low cal and low fat (415 cals and 10g fat if you want specifics). Plus, all the ingredients were fresh and clean (well maybe the Dole bag of cabbage was only semi-clean but I am counting it!).

I am glad to find successes like this because as time passes I am finding it harder and harder to maintain that initial motivation. It’s been about three months now, which means I think soon I am going to rejuvenate my efforts with another cleanse. But for now I’ll take victories like falling in love with Greek yogurt and making a comparable, but healthy version of one of my favorite restaurant meals.