Flavor Flav, Part 2

Hope you enjoyed Part I of Flavor Flav, and how to enhance the flavors of your Whole30 cooking. Welcome to Part 2, where I’ll share another five of my favorite ways to spice up my cooking.

6) Fresh Herbs 

Most home cooks have a spice rack with at least a few common spices and herbs, but you can really up the flavor of your food by using fresh herbs in your cooking. I love using fresh herbs as the centerpiece in a salad instead of relying entirely on baby spinach, kale, mesclun, etc. It gives the salad so much more variety and bite.

If you’re new to fresh herbs, start out easy with some basics. Add thyme to almost any meat, fish, pasta, or veggie and enjoy the lemony freshness. Chop up some parsley and use it as the universal garnisher. 

For other ideas, try adding chiffonade basil leaves to salad vinaigrettes for a sweet flair, use mint in Middle Eastern dishes especially lamb, add dill to seafood dishes for a bright pop of flavor, and don’t forget to add cilantro to Mexican, Thai and Indian dishes (unless you’re one of the unfortunate souls who are genetically inclined to think cilantro tastes like soap).

Below I’ve included a recipe for my favorite herb salad.

7) Coconut Aminos

In the Paleo and Whole30 world, coconut aminos are a must in Asian cooking. Coconut aminos is a sauce made from coconut sap and is most commonly used as a soy-free, gluten-free soy sauce or tamari substitute. Aside from being convenient, it’s also packed with vitamin C, B vitamins, minerals, and, as the name suggests, amino acids.

Use coconut aminos like you would soy sauce and/or tamari, and add it to marinades, stir-fries, soups, dipping sauces, and even salad vinaigrettes. Find more uses for coconut aminos here.

Below you’ll find one of my favorite vinaigrette recipes that uses coconut aminos.

8) Salsa

Everyone loves salsa (and chips!), but most people don’t think of salsa as a health food. But salsa made with fresh vegetables and/or fruit, herbs, spices and peppers definitely qualifies as a health food. There are even tons of store-bought brands that fit the bill and are Whole30 compliant, but fresh salsa always tastes better in my opinion.

Salsa is a great replacement for high-sugar ketchup, tastes great on virtually any meat, fish, or egg dish, and can be dressed up in a variety of different ways. I love a good mango salsa over fish, but your options are limitless.

Salsa on eggs makes for a great combo
Get creative with your taco toppings.

9) Harissa

Harissa is an aromatic chili paste commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. Like pesto, harissa is pretty easy to make at home, but you can find a Whole30 compliant brand at specialty markets or the ethnic section of your grocery store.

Harissa is traditionally made with hot chile peppers (often smoked), olive oil, garlic, cumin, coriander and other spices. It’s great as a marinade for meat or as a nice smoky condiment for eggs. You can also mix harissa with other ingredients to amplify the flavors of your condiments. For instance, mix harissa with extra virgin olive oil for a tasty dip for raw crudités (or bread, if you are not on Whole30). Or, add it to mayonnaise and spread it on your burger buns instead of ketchup. And my favorite non-Whole30 combination – mix harissa with hummus and serve with pita bread.

Typical weekday breakfast: eggs with harissa and homemade tomato sauce, avocado, sweet potato, and fruit.
Typical weekday breakfast: eggs served with harissa and homemade tomato sauce, avocado, sweet potato, and fruit.

10) Flavored Olive Oils and Vinegars

One of the easiest ways to spruce up a salad or lightly cooked dish is to use flavored olive oils and vinegars. Luckily, I found a local olive oil bar that sells delectable and reasonably priced flavored olive oils and vinegars. Once you finish a bottle, you can refill the same bottle at a discount and pick from any of the original or flavored olive oils and vinegars. So far, my favorites are the blood orange balsamic vinegar (tastes like dessert and is mind blowingly good with chocolate) and the jalapeño olive oil (shocker).

Use flavored olive oils and vinegars just as you would traditional olive oils and vinegars. Certain flavors pair particularly nice together, but feel free to experiment.

You can also get creative and infuse your own olive oils with herbs, spices, aromatics, citrus, and even nuts. Stick to good-quality oils and fresh ingredients for the best results. You can read more about infusing your own oils here and vinegars here.

Simple Herb and Seed Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (remove stems)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (remove stems)
  • 3/4 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
  • 3/4 cup fresh dill leaves, broken up into small pieces
  • 2 TBSP slivered almonds
  • 2 TBSP cashews
  • 2 TBSP hemp seeds (or substitute sunflower or pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 TBSP fresh orange juice
  • 3 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Toast the almonds and cashews. You can do this in a preheated oven at 350 °- spread the nuts on a baking pan and toast for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden. Or, you can do toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until nuts are golden brown. Let the nuts cool.
  2. Gather the herbs and mix with the nuts, orange zest and chili flakes in a bowl.
  3. Whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over herb and nut mixture. Toss and serve.

Mustard Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • 1 TBSP coconut aminos
  • 1-2 TBSP raw honey
  • 1 TBSP coarse grain mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 (or more) cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Whisk together all ingredients except for olive oil until combined. Slowly whisk in olive oil until desired texture and taste is achieved.
  2. Alternatively, add all ingredients to a mason jar. Screw on lid tightly and shake until combined.

Flavor Flav: Part I

Eating only whole, unprocessed foods really highlights the importance of imparting flavor to your food. Without recourse to limitless cheese and butter, creamy sauces, all forms of added sugar, and delicious additives like soy lecithin and MSG, you have to put in some old-fashioned work to embolden the flavors on your plate. I find myself cooking with fresh and dried herbs, spices, chiles, aromatics and other Whole30-approved condiments more than ever, and the results are incredibly delicious and bursting with flavor.

Here is Part I of my Top 10 Whole30 flavor bombs that will liven up your clean eats. Ditch with your bland chicken breast and steamed vegetables and say hello to a whole new way of eating.

1) Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo Pepper is a variety of Capsicum annuum originally from southern Turkey near the Syrian town of Aleppo that is used frequently in Middle Eastern cuisine. Bright burgundy in color, it adds a bit of heat but not too much, and boasts complex flavors ranging from salty to acidic, from fruity to tart.

I use Aleppo Pepper as an all-purpose spice, sometimes substituting it for fresh cracked black pepper. It makes a beautiful garnish and makes everything on your plate pop with a beautiful hue of red.

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Don’t those little red flakes make this meal look even more delicious?

2) Fresh and Dried Chiles

Growing up, I was ostracized from my family because I did not eat spicy food. For Indian parents, this is a cardinal and unforgivable sin. Especially for my dad, who prides himself on being able to snack on habanero peppers like candy.  Somewhere at a Mexican restaurant in the Bay Area, his face is framed on the wall for having achieved the rare feat of eating not just one meal made at Maximum Spicy Level 10, but two meals made at Maximum Spicy Level 10.

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As a kid, I was called “gora,” a term Indians use for white people. I was made fun of at the communal dinner tables. I was asked why I was an Oreo, i.e., brown on the outside but white on the inside. It was all very traumatic, thank you for asking.

Sometime in the last two years, however, I came around to spicy food in a big way. Now, I pride myself on eating spicier food than my mother. I’m probably somewhere at Spicy Level 8.

From left to right: Serrano pepper, Red Fresno Pepper, Baby Habanero peppers, Bird’s Eye chili peppers, Long Finger Hot Red peppers, and Jalapeño pepper.

Cooking with fresh and dried chiles has dramatically enhanced the flavors in my cooking in indescribable ways.  For beginners, start with the most widely available chile, the jalapeñoYou can find this pepper in any grocery store.

First things first, buy yourself some disposable medical gloves, the ones that make you look like a methodical serial killer and make you smell like a skunk. I made the mistake of chopping some beautiful red jalapeño peppers sans glove. Later in the day, I carelessly rubbed my eye.  For the next hour, it felt like a circus clown was juggling fire torches inside of my eyeballs. And this was after I had washed my hands with soap at least 10 times.

Spice up a breakfast hash with jalapeños. Recipe can be found on the Side Dishes recipe page. 

If you like your food very spicy, keep the membrane and seeds of the pepper and include along with the body of the pepper.  Otherwise, omit the membrane and seeds, or at least most of them, for a milder heat. Add to all kinds of food, from sauteed meats and fresh salsa, to stews and soups, to eggs and potato hash.

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Once you’ve become comfortable cooking with jalapeños, start branching out to Thai chiles, poblano peppers, serrano peppers, and habanero peppers if you like things really spicy.

Thai chiles straight from Thailand
Thai chiles straight from Thailand
Not Whole30 approved, but can't you just feel the spice leaping out of the photo?
Not Whole30 approved, but can’t you just feel the spice leaping out of the photo? One of the many delicious and extremely spicy meals we ate in Thailand. 

3) Red Boat Fish Sauce

Have you been to Southeast Asia? Did you fall in love with all of the food? Fish sauce is the secret ingredient. Its depth and complexity of flavor imparts sweet, savory, and umami flavors to dishes in a way that no spice or other sauce can.

But not all fish sauce is created equally. Trust me, I’ve tried. Red Boat Fish Sauce is definitely the best of the best, and while it’s a bit pricey, it’s an irreplaceable asset in the kitchen and a little goes a long way.

Fish sauce is used most commonly in Asian cooking but it shines in all kinds of cuisine. I’ve even added a splash to my eggs to amp up the umami flavor. For beginners, start slowly, as fish sauce is very salty and pungent. Add a splash or three to a dish, give it a taste, and add more as necessary.

Below I’ve included one of my favorite chicken recipes that uses fish sauce in the marinade.

4) Pesto

Everyone loves a good pesto. Unfortunately, most commercially prepared pestos are made with ingredients that aren’t Whole30 approved. Luckily, however, it takes 10 minutes to whip up a delicious batch of homemade pesto. Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, but I typically use cashews because they are cheaper and I always have them on hand.  Plus, Whole30 rules limit pine nuts. Basil is the traditional choice of herb for Italian pesto, but get creative and experiment with cilantro and parsley or add spinach, arugula or kale for a nutrition boost. Top on meats or even use as a marinade, toss with vegetable noodles, or use as a condiment on eggs. You can find my Mediterranean Pesto recipe on the Side Dishes/Snacks recipe page.

5) Nom Nom Paleo Magic Mushroom Powder

Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo is a genius and has found a way to make salt even better. Her salt spice blend made of ground dried mushrooms, kosher salt, red pepper flakes, dried thyme, and black pepper is easy and quick to make, and a small serving of ingredients will leave you with a salt replacement for months (maybe years, depending on how salty you like your food).

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Here’s a link to her recipe, though I made a few substitutions. My local specialty market was sold out of porcini mushrooms, so I used a combination of oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms, and it came out great. I also added dried oregano in the same proportions as the dried thyme. I finished it with a healthy dose of some glorious Aleppo pepper.

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Her recipe makes an enormous amount of this spice blend, so I used only 1/3 of the ingredients the recipe calls for. I was left with enough spice blend to fill a 11 oz. jar.

Ingredients

Use this blend as a substitute for salt in virtually any dish you cook. I particularly like it in meat and egg dishes, and when I’m roasting vegetables in the oven.

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Mushrooms once they’ve been pulverized.

Savory Citrus-Herb Chicken

Uses Red Boat Fish Sauce 

Makes enough marinade for 2-2.5 pounds of chicken breasts or thighs.

Ingredients

  • 7-8 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro (leaves and thin stems only
  • 10-15 basil leaves
  • 1 full teaspoon each of orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (approx. 1 orange)
  • 1 full teaspoon each of lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (approx. 3 limes)
  • 2 TBSP Red Boat fish sauce
  • kosher salt to taste*
  • 1 TBSP maple syrup (omit or use naturally sweetened fruit juice for Whole30)
  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2- 2.5 pounds chicken breasts or thighs

*Since this is a marinade, I used more salt than usual. Taste the marinade when it’s done. It should taste very salty due to the fish sauce and salt. Don’t worry, though, your finished chicken won’t taste that salty. 

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until a puree forms.
  2. Place chicken in a large Ziploc bag. Dump in marinade and mix around to evenly coat chicken. Marinate in fridge for 1 hour. Don’t marinate too long, as the citrus can start to toughen the chicken, especially for thin cuts of meats like breast tenders.
  3. Cook marinated chicken on grill. If you don’t have a grill, you can pan fry in a large skillet coated with desired cooking oil on medium-high heat until cooked through or bake in a preheated oven.

What are some of your favorite ways to add flavor to your cooking?

-Nisha

Brunch at Nisha’s

Bobby Flay has a show on the Cooking Channel called Brunch at Bobby’s. Ever since I saw him for the first time on that show, brunch cocktail in one hand, flipping eggs with the other hand (wrist), I thought, How do I get this dream job?  

I love to cook, I love to drink, I love to entertain, and I love making brunch at home. So, Bobby, if you’re looking to retire and need a replacement, I’m your girl. Btw, Bobby, do you like my blog? Please reply y/n. Thx.

As you may know from the very authentic, very realistic t.v. show Sex and the City, brunch is a staple in the lives of most New York City residents. You can go to any neighborhood on a weekend and find at least one restaurant that’s offering a bottomless mimosa/bellini/bloody mary brunch special. Unfortunately, there is typically an inverse relationship between (a) availability of bottomless booze and (b) quality of food. Which is why I often opt to skip out on brunch. I can usually cook up something way more delicious at home. Also, I’m cheap, so there’s that.

On Sundays, I often make a big frittata filled with vegetables and cheese and serve it alongside a salad, fruit, or roasted potatoes. But, I had to be a little more creative on Whole30 because cheese–the universal “make everything taste better” food–is unfortunately not permitted.

This first dish was probably one of the best brunch dishes I’ve ever made. It highlights the way in which Whole30 forces you to be creative in your cooking and to rely heavily on spices, herbs and aromatics–as opposed to cheese and butter–to create bold flavors. 

For the sweet potato hash, I used a spiralizer to make curly ribbons out of the sweet potato. A spiralizer will run you about $30-40 and is a great investment if you want to cook healthy yet fun meals at home. As this perky lady will tell you, though, you don’t need a spiralizer to make vegetable ribbons: you can use a vegetable julienne peeler or a mandoline.

Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Eggs and Avocado

Sweet potato hash topped with sauteed onions, fried pasture-raised eggs, avocado, salsa, jalapenos, cilantro, and hot sauce.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes, spiralized into noodles
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 TBSP ghee (or coconut oil)
  • Extra ghee or coconut oil for frying onions
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 TBSP lime juice
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 avocado
  • Cilantro, chopped, for garnishing
  • Salsa, for topping
  • Hot sauce, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place sweet potato noodles in a 9 inch pie dish or cake pan. Toss noodles with ghee and salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add other spices if you wish.
  3. Bake noodles for approx. 45 minutes until crispy and brown. Use a spatula to remove the potatoes from the pan and place on serving plate. 
  4. While potatoes are cooking, heat ghee or coconut oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add onions and season with salt and pepper.  After a few minutes, add jalapeno, garlic, cumin and chili powder. Saute until onion is soft. When done, drizzle with lime juice.
  5. When potatoes are almost done, start to fry eggs. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once heated, crack eggs into pan and lower the heat to medium-low. Fry until egg whites are set; cook a bit longer for over-medium eggs.
  6. Slice the avocado.
  7. To serve, divide potatoes into two plates. Top with onion mixture. Then, top each with two eggs and sliced avocado. Add salsa and hot sauce. Garnish with cilantro.

This next brunch dish was so good I cried the tears of baby Jesus. Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish of poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, and spices. I’ve had it a few times in restaurants but decided to try it at home for Whole30.

This dish embodied umami perfectly. Every bite was bursting with a rich, deep flavor. Normally, I think you should experiment when cooking and use recipes merely as guidelines, but this dish came out so tasty that I wouldn’t tinker with the ingredients. I used four eggs for two people, but there was plenty of leftover sauce, so you could easily add six eggs for three people or two extra-hungry people. Serve over a bed of roasted or skillet-cooked potatoes! I topped mine with a Mediterranean-style pesto, but a dollop of harissa would also go well on top of this dish.

Shakshuka with Mediterranean Pesto     

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for cooking
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 fresh chili peppers, seeds and membrane removed, diced (I used a Serrano pepper and a long-finger hot red pepper)
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 28 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tsp each of cumin, paprika, and chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • black pepper or aleppo pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 eggs
  • Parsley and/or cilantro, minced, for garnish
  • Mediterranean Pesto, for finishing (see recipe below)

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large cast iron pan or deep nonstick skillet.
  2. When pan is hot, add onions. Saute a few minutes until onion begins to soften. Then add bell pepper, garlic, chili peppers, and bay leaves. Sauté 6-8 minutes until vegetables are softened.
  3. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar to pan. Stir thoroughly to combine.DSC_0024
  4. Allow mixture to heat over medium heat for 6-8 minutes until the sauce begins to reduce. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings accordingly.
  5. Crack one egg at a time into the skillet, spacing them evenly. Then, cover pan with a lid and let simmer on medium-low for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Remove pan from heat and garnish with parsley and/or cilantro. Top with Mediterranean Pesto.

Mediterranean Pesto

This will yield about a half cup of pesto. Serve on meat, eggs, or veggies!

Ingredients

  • 3/4 – 1 cup fresh parsley (omit thick stems)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (omit thick stems)
  • 1/8 cup cashews
  • 3 TBSP lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp each of salt, cumin, and paprika
  • freshly cracked black pepper or Aleppo pepper
  • large pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3-4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until ingredients are finely minced. 
  2. Add olive oil and process until a pesto-like sauce forms. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. 
  3. Serve leftovers in airtight container or mason jar in fridge.

A perfect brunch spread includes both a savory and sweet dish. Typically, for me, that means a stuffed french toast or pancakes (I’ve been without a waffle maker for several years now, sadly). But it’s Whole30 time. And that means that not only are grains and traditional sweets prohibited, but so are Paleo-ified or clean versions of baked goods (think pancakes made with almond flour, coconut milk, banana, and raw honey). Unfair, right?

Enter this fruit and nut breakfast “porridge.” This porridge gets sweet notes from the fresh fruit and coconut milk, which is slightly sweet in taste. But if you’re not on Whole30, I would definitely add a drizzle of honey. Because, duh. I would also top it with dark chocolate chips and shredded coconut for dessert.

This recipe might not look like it serves 4, but it’s very rich and luxurious so the serving size should be small. The porridge coats your belly nicely and stays there for hours.

Fruit and Nut Breakfast Porridge

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups of mixed nuts of your choice (I used hazelnuts, cashews, and almonds)
  • bottled or filtered water for soaking nuts
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1 small ripe banana
  • Large handful of fresh mango, approximately 3 oz. (if using frozen, defrost and drain extra water/ice)
  • 1 13.5 can of full-fat canned coconut milk
  • Toppings: shredded coconut, berries, diced mango or sliced bananas, goji berries, chopped nuts, raw cacao nibs, dried unsweetened cherries, or whatever else you have on hand.

Directions

  1. Place nuts in a bowl and cover with water so that nuts are submerged. Add 1/4-1/2 TBSP sea salt. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature overnight. Soaking the nuts makes them softer and yields a smoother consistency for the porridge. 
  2. In the morning, rinse and drain the nuts in a colander several times to remove the salt.
  3. Place nuts in a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix or a food processor. Blend until nuts start to break up.
  4. Add remaining ingredients–cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, banana, mango, and coconut milk. Blend until you achieve a smooth consistency that is similar to a thick smoothie. 
  5. At this stage, you can either serve as is for a cold porridge, or heat it in a saucepan on the stove for 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. 
  6. Pour porridge into bowls and serve with desired toppings.

Happy brunching!

-Nisha

Slow Food

Does the title of this post make your skin crawl? Does it sound like the name of a cookbook that Gwyneth Paltrow would write? Good, that’s what I intended.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what “slow food” means. Is it the opposite of fast food? Is it food that takes a long time to grow? To cook? Is it food that’s intended to be eaten slowly, like soup so that you don’t burn your tongue? I suppose I could easily google this question online.

In any event, I have found that since I started Whole30, I’ve been eating more slowly and taking time to savor my meals. Less shoveling food into my piehole at lightning speed, and more long, drawn-out bites interspersed with audible mmm’s and ooohhh’s.

Eating slowly not only makes your food taste better, but it also makes you more mindful of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve started leaving a little bit of food on my plate after a meal instead of finishing it all. It’s just that now I’m fully self-aware that I’m going to eat my entire meal. There’s a difference in there, trust me.

In addition to eating more slowly, another way to embrace “slow food” is to pull out your slow cooker and make some healthy and easy meals that require very little actual work. Or, pull out your pressure cooker. But “Pressure Food” doesn’t give off the same hippie, eco-friendly vibes as “Slow Food.”

To start off week 2 of Whole30, I broke out my combination Pressure Cooker/Slow Cooker, The Instant Pot, gifted to me by my most generous sister.  You can do so many things with the Instant Pot. It acts as a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, and it also sautés, warms, and steams food. You can even cook hard- or soft-boiled eggs in this magical pot.

#yolkporn

The first item we cooked in the Instant Pot this week was slow-cooked chicken thighs and breasts. You can make this recipe in an ordinary slow cooker, no need to have an Instant Pot. If you do have an Instant Pot, however, you can also make this recipe using the pressure cooker setting instead of slow cooker setting. Dump everything in the pot, leave the kitchen, and check back after several hours to find fully cooked chicken that is super tender and extremely easy to shred.

This recipe has a bit of a Mexican flavor to it, but is versatile and can be used in any number of ways. Serve with your favorite roasted root veggies for a nice fall dinner, or along with a side of cauliflower mash for some comfort food. Or have taco night, Whole30 style! Pile lettuce cups with shredded chicken, add some sauteed onions and peppers, avocado or guacamole, salsa, and whatever else that your heart desires.

Whole30 “tacos”: lettuce cups stuffed with shredded chicken, caramelized onions and peppers, salsa, diced avocado and mango, cilantro, and lime juice.

Slow Cooker Chicken 

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced (include seeds and membranes if you like it spicy)
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2-3 oranges)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2-3 limes)
  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

  1. Place the chicken in the slow cooker along with remaining ingredients and cook on low for about 6-8 hours.
  2. Shred the chicken in the pot. It will be very tender and will shred very easily.
  3. Serve as desired!

Mexican Beef

We also used our Instant Pot to try out Nom Nom Paleo’s recipe for Mexican Beef. This dish was out of this world. And it was so, so easy. The pressure cooker does all of the work for you. I mostly stuck to the recipe, so I won’t re-paste it here, but you should keep a few things in mind.

  1. For the bone broth, if you’re observing Whole30 but not able to make homemade broth, you can buy freshly made bone broth from a high-quality butcher or grocery store, or search for a compliant boxed broth, such as this one. You’d be surprised how many chicken broths contain sugar in them. I know this because I’ve become that crazy lady in the grocery store who reads every god damn label.
  2. For the meat, we used a 2.5 lb. cut of grass-fed beef chuck shoulder roast that I purchased at Whole Foods. We cut off some excess fat but otherwise the preparation was very easy and simple. This cut turned out extremely tender and had that melt-in-your-mouth quality.
  3. I already had regular tomato salsa at home, so I did not bother buying or making roasted tomato salsa, and it came out just fine.
  4. This dish was AMAZING but it could’ve been a bit spicier. If you’re the kind of person who likes to drop beads of sweat when you eat, I’d throw in some diced chile peppers or cayenne pepper after you’ve cooked the onions for a few minutes.
  5. You could eat this dish on its own, but it tastes incredible served on top of cauliflower mash (recipe below).  

If you’ve been paying attention, this is my second recipe using the ever-so-versatile cauliflower to recreate a type of food that’s forbidden on Whole30.

Last week, I made cauliflower “rice.” This week it’s faux-mashed potatoes using cauliflower instead of potatoes. Potatoes of all kind are actually permitted on Whole30, but I decided to use cauliflower because it’s a nutrition superstar and still tastes great.

This mash is a great, fluffy base for all kinds of food. It was incredible served with the Mexican Beef, and I also recommend serving fried or poached eggs on top of this stuff.  The mash was also great as a bed for my homemade burrito bowl. Chipotle meets mashed potatoes. Is it weird? Yes. But is it delicious? Also, yes.

Cauliflower Mash

Serves approximately 10 1/2 cup servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-large heads of cauliflower
  • 10-12 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup ghee (or grass-fed butter if you’re not on Whole30)
  •  1/4 cup canned coconut milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • other dried herbs to taste (I used oregano)

Directions

  • Cut up cauliflower heads into florets.
  • Fill up a large saucepan or stockpot with a few inches of water. Add a steamer basket. Turn the heat on high.

  • Once water is boiling, add cauliflower florets and garlic cloves to steam basket. Cover pot with lid. Steam for approximately 10-12 minutes until florets are soft and very tender.
  • Drain cauliflower florets and then add to a large mixing bowl. Using an immersion blender or electric hand mixer, break up the cauliflower. Once it’s starting to come together, add the ghee, coconut milk, salt, pepper, and seasonings.

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  • Mix until you’ve achieved a smooth consistency.

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  • Alternatively, you can dump all of the ingredients in a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix or a food processor.
  • Dig in.

In addition to the cauliflower mash, we cooked up a second side dish this week that was a perfect complement to our soft-boiled eggs: sweet potato and caramelized onion hash. Caramelizing the onions and roasting the sweet potato brings out the natural sugars in these foods, making the end product extra tasty and reminiscent of the forbidden temple of sugar.

Whole30 Breakfast of Champions

Sweet Potato and Caramelized Onion Hash

Ingredients

  • 6 medium to large sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 3 TBSP coconut oil or ghee, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced (include membranes and seeds for spiciness)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Dice potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Slice onions, dice jalapeño, and mince garlic cloves.
  3. Toss sweet potato with ghee or coconut oil, salt and pepper, and fresh thyme sprigs. 
  4. Line baking sheets with aluminum foil (for easy clean-up) and spread out potatoes. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until browned and tender, flipping halfway through.
  5. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, cook the onions on the stove. Heat a large nonstick skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat. When hot, add onions and sprinkle with salt. Turn heat to low and cook for 35-45 minutes until dark brown and caramelized, stirring occasionally.
  6. When you notice the onions starting to brown, add the diced jalapeño. DSC01441
  7. When the onions are near caramelized, add the garlic. 
  8. Take off the heat when onions are caramelized and browned.
  9. In a large mixing bowl, combine the roasted sweet potatoes and onion mixture and toss until well incorporated.

Have you tried one of my recipes? I would love to hear from you!

The Temptations

On Day 4, I arrive to work in the morning and head straight to the kitchen to store my trusty tupperware full of Whole30 goodness in the communal fridge. As I open the refrigerator door, I am greeted by a half-eaten, three-tier, 12-inch carrot cake complete with cream cheese frosting. There is no cake cover or plastic wrap separating the cake and my chubby fingers. Instinctively, like a wild cat who spots a baby antelope led astray from the herd, I lunge forward towards my prey. Fortunately, I am saved by the bell. The bell is the voice of a nosy coworker who has just entered the kitchen.

Why are you leaning your head into the fridge like that? Is there something wrong with the fridge?

I politely extract my body from the fridge and quietly excuse myself out of the kitchen. I return to my desk and proceed to think about carrot cake for the next 45 minutes. I get zero work done. I don’t even like carrot cake. Carrot Cake – 1, Nisha – 0.

cake
This is me eating cake out of the fridge, except I’m a white girl now.

Fast forward several hours, and it’s lunch time. I make my way to the kitchen, taking the shortcut through the conference room, where attorneys occasionally eat their lunch together. Today, one of my coworkers is sitting at the table by herself, and sprawled in front of her is a quesadilla the size of my ass. Melty cheese is bubbling out of the corners of a perfectly pressed tortilla and the whole contraption is topped with a mountain of guacamole and sour cream. My coworker wants to chat, but I can’t comprehend anything she says because I’m transfixed by the scent of sweet Mexican delight wafting into my nostrils. I exit the conversation as quickly as possible and head straight for my own lunch. This time, carrot cake is still present in the fridge, but she’s been shaken down since this morning and all that’s left is one little slice. Baby slice speaks to me and says,

It sure is lonely being the only slice left. I wish I could join my brothers and sisters and lay to rest in the warm bellies of chubby Americans. Eat me. Eat me. EAT ME.

I tell myself that I’m too good for such a small, needy piece of cake and walk away nonchalantly. Carrot cake – 1, Nisha – 100. Because it took 100% of my willpower to not eat a slice of cake that I don’t even like.

I think that the temptations are done for the day, but alas, I am wrong. I have a particularly stressful afternoon at work. By way of background, I work at a non-profit as an attorney for low-income tenants, and today I was seeing tenants who have been illegally locked out of their apartments by their landlords. One of my clients is blind and is forced to sleep on the streets. The next client starts crying in my office about her ex-husband and her 17-year old daughter’s promiscuity. I turn to offer her a Kleenex but I’m freshly out of tissues. Another client informs me that he is going to sue every god damn person in the city, including all of the judges and lawyers in New York City.

Following these client meetings, I have an incredibly ridiculous call with Time Warner Cable customer service in connection with one of my cases. I am told by a whiny-voice customer service representative several times that “I am not a real lawyer” because if I was a real lawyer, “I would already have all of the answers.” I tell him that he is the stupidest person on earth and hang up in the middle of our conversation.

I am cranky and overwhelmed and it’s barely 6 pm. All I can think about is curling up on my couch with a bottle of the forbidden nectar of the gods, i.e., red wine. As I head to the communal kitchen to make myself a soothing cup of chamomile tea, my eyes are drawn to the fridge. The pathetic carrot cake is finally gone, but directly on top of the fridge are FOUR bottles of wine. Apparently there was an office party yesterday and no one thought to clean up these bottles of liquid gold.

The temptation is all too much for me, so I throw my hands in the air, let out a muffled scream, and leave the office.

I hit up Trader Joe’s on my way home, as it’s conveniently located a block from my office and I want to pick up a few items for dinner. Products that I have never even seen before start popping out at me. Cookie butter cream cheese, falafel chips, chocolate covered gummy bears, and other weird combination items that would ordinarily make me want to vomit. To distract myself while shopping, I pull out my headphones, turn on the hard-core rap station, and listen to Eminem tell me that I have only one opportunity to seize everything that I’ve ever wanted. And just like that, I say good-bye to the carrot cake, greasy quesadillas, and cookie butter cream cheese.

To see what I’ve actually been eating for the last week for Whole30, you can check out my new Instagram page. 


-Nisha

Fish, Three Ways

Whole30 is all about eating high-quality proteins, but as someone who only started eating red meat and pork last year, there are only so many meat sticks I can handle. Enter seafood.

The health benefits of fish are very well documented so I’ll just give you a brief summary. A diet rich in fish can improve your life in many ways, from help warding off heart disease to easing depression to enriching your hair and skin.  It’s also one of the only great dietary sources of Vitamin D. Fatty fish like salmon (wild), mackerel, albacore tuna (canned), sardines, anchovies, mussels, rainbow trout, and a few others are particularly high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are notoriously lacking in the typical American diet. Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to heart health, regulate triglyceride levels, and can aid in preventing or easing many health conditions including osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers.

To up my fish intake while ensuring that I picked high-quality fish and seafood, I took a trip to Whole Foods, which abides by pretty good standards for sourcing responsibly-raised and sustainable seafood. You don’t have to have access to a Whole Foods or a world-class fish market though.  Just familiarize yourself with the best and worst types of fish to buy.  You can learn a lot about seafood sustainability and which types of fish/seafood to avoid from the Food and Water Watch, a consumer-rights NGO that focuses on corporate and government accountability in the food industry. Or you can check out a list of the Best Fish— fish that are both rich Omega-3s and environment-friendly.

While at Whole Foods, I picked three types of fish from three different departments.  First, I went to the fresh seafood and fish department. I always check what’s on sale at Whole Foods and buy accordingly because high-quality fresh fish can be very pricy. I found wild-caught cod for $11.99/pound, which is pretty inexpensive for wild-caught fish in New York City. Then, I took a trip to the frozen fish section. This is where you can find great deals because frozen fish is always cheaper than freshly caught. For instance, while fresh wild salmon can cost over $20/pound, I found frozen wild salmon for $11.50/pound at Whole Foods (a 2 pound bag with about 6-8 salmon fillets cost $22.99). Finally, I took a trip to the canned fish section. I picked up a couple of tins of wild-caught sardines.

I know not everyone is a fan of sardines, but I encourage you to give them a try. They taste like a meatier version of tuna and they’re a nutrition powerhouse — sardines are one of the highest sources of Omega-3s and are packed with protein and tons of vitamins. Plus, they’re most frequently purchased in a can, so it’s a perfect option for a lazy, no-cook meal.

I came home after a long day at work this week and had zero energy to cook. So, I tossed together a salad with sardines that took 10 minutes to put together. I feel sort of bad listing this as a “recipe” because it involves no cooking, but I’ve also seen “Semi-Homemade” Sandra Lee of the Food Network dump Cool Whip over store-bought Angel Food Cake and call it a “recipe.”

Tropical Sardines Salad

Serves 1

Ingredients 

Salad

  • 2 cups mixed greens of choice (baby spinach, arugula, kale, etc.)
  • 1/2 grapefruit, sliced into segments
  • 1 carrot, ribboned (use a wide vegetable peeler to create ribbons)
  • 1 tin of wild-caught sardines
  • 2 TBSP macadamia nuts, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp hemp seeds
  • 1 TBSP shredded coconut

Grapefruit Vinaigrette

  • 1 TBSP grapefruit juice (use other half of grapefruit)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • pinch of freshly grated ginger (or substitute powdered ginger)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Plate salad with greens, top with carrot ribbons, sardines, and grapefruit slices.
  2. Whisk together ingredients for vinaigrette. Pour over salad.
  3. Top salad with macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, and shredded coconut.

I liked how the summer, tropical flavors paired with the fish, so I continued that trend with my next two fish dishes over the weekend.

Cod in Coconut-Lime-Ginger Sauce

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Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 cod fillets (5-6 oz each)
  • 2.5 teaspoons fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, diced (include membranes and seeds if you like some heat)
  • 2.5 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • Several splashes of Red Boat fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 TBSP crushed macadamia nuts

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place cod in a glass baking dish.
  2. Season cod with salt and pepper and brush with 1 1/2 tsp lime juice.
  3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and jalapeño; sauté 5-10 minutes until onion is translucent.
  4. Add coconut milk and leftover lime juice to pan; boil until mixture is thick, about 4 minutes. Add lime zest and fish sauce.
  5. Spoon sauce over cod fillets. Bake in oven until fish is just opaque in center, about 15 minutes.
  6. Transfer cod fillets to serving plates. Whisk sauce in baking dish. Spoon around cod; top with cilantro and crushed macadamia nuts.
Wild Cod in Coconut-Lime-Ginger Sauce, served with oven-roasted rainbow carrots with cilantro gremolata and a simple baby spinach and arugula salad in grapefruit vinaigrette
Wild Cod in Coconut-Lime-Ginger Sauce, served with oven-roasted rainbow carrots with cilantro gremolata and a simple baby spinach and arugula salad in grapefruit vinaigrette

My third and final fish dish this week was macadamia-nut crusted salmon. You may be noticing a theme here: macadamia nuts. These nuts are pricy, but I figured I should treat myself to these sweet, buttery balls of heaven because I’m spending zero money on booze and very little on dining out for the next 30 days. Macadamia nuts complement fish very well – they add a a buttery bite, a little bit of tropical flare, and a crunchy finish.

I served this salmon dish with oven-roasted sweet potatoes and caramelized onions and broccolini.

Macadamia Nut-Crusted Salmon

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 wild salmon fillets (4-6 oz. each)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp coconut oil or ghee (clarified butter), plus more for greasing baking dish
  • 1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 2 TBSP parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/3 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/2 TBSP lemon zest
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced

Sauce

  • 1 TBSP ghee
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP parsley, finely chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Drizzle a little coconut oil or ghee onto bottom of glass baking dish. Place salmon fillets in dish and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Brush salmon fillets with coconut oil or ghee.
  4. In a bowl, combine the macadamia nuts, parsley, thyme, lemon juice, lemon zest, and garlic until the mixture forms a paste.
  5. Spread the paste onto the salmon fillets.
  6. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork. (Our fillets were very thin, so 10 minutes was plenty of time, and we could’ve gotten away with 8 or 9 minutes. Adjust the cooking time according to the thickness of your fillets).

Day 0: Meal Prep Madness

On my last day of freedom, I ate everything I wanted and then some. I ate dark chocolate sea salt caramels before 10 a.m., white bread slathered in butter, chocolate chip cookies for lunch, and sweet potato chips. When I was not in a carb-induced coma, I managed to start meal prepping for Week 1 of Whole30.

Meal Prep and Planning Tips

A word on meal prep and planning. Unless you are funemployed and can cook three times a day, meal prep is essential to surviving Whole30. Whereas the normals can just grab a sandwich from the corner deli or a slice of ‘za when lunchtime hits, Whole30 followers must retrieve their tupperware of pre-cooked, home-cooked, all-natural meat and veggies cooked in compliant fats and oils. Sounds dericious, I know.

1. Get Inspired

First things first, get inspired. You do NOT have to eat grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli for the next 30 days. Whole30 meals take some planning and effort, but there are some truly delicious options. Check out some awesome Paleo or Whole30 blogs to get recipe-inspiration. For starters, some of the best blogs include Nom Nom Paleo, Against All Grain, PaleOMG, and Everyday Paleo.

2. Plan Before You Shop

To make things easier on yourself, give yourself 30 minutes to plan your meals for the week before and make a grocery list before heading to the supermarket. To save on time and money, try to pick a couple items that can serve a double shift. For instance, if grass-fed ground beef is on sale, buy extra and use some in a breakfast casserole and some in a bolognese sauce for lunch/dinner. Or if the local farmer’s market has beautiful cauliflower this week, buy a couple heads.  That way, you can create two side dishes for the week: (1) “cauliflower rice” (see recipe below) and (2) cauliflower mash (or simply roast cauliflower florets in coconut oil and spices). In my meals for week 1, for instance, I roasted a bunch of winter squash (butternut squash, kabocha squash, and acorn squash) and used that for both my breakfast and lunch/dinner meals.

3. Opt for Pre-Chopped Items

To save on time, if your budget allows it, opt for pre-cut items, such as pre-chopped veggies or boneless cuts of meat. Yes, these items are a bit more expensive, but they cut down on the time you spend in the kitchen, and thus free up more time for you to enjoy life. Trader Joe’s has very affordable pre-cut vegetables and meats. 

4. Pimp Out Your Pantry

Stock up on a few pantry essentials – they will go a long way in making your food taste a lot more flavorful. Aside from extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper, my recommendations are a high-quality balsamic vinegar (it will transform your salads), Red Boat Fish Sauce (my favorite way to add umami to any dish), Coconut Aminos (soy-free alternative to soy sauce), and Aleppo Pepper (more flavorful than black pepper and beautiful for presentation). Some of my favorite spices to cook with are cumin, paprika, thyme, cinnamon, and coriander, but pick a couple of spices that you love and work from there. Again, my plug for Trader Joe’s – most of their spice bottles are only $2-3, compared to $5-8 at other markets.

5. Use Your Kitchen as a Resource 

If you have a crockpot or slow cooker, you can save time on the actual amount of time you spend cooking. Make double or triple batches of recipes that freeze well and eat at a later date. If wild cod is on sale, stock up and freeze the rest for later.

You can find more meal prep tips from seasoned experts here, here, and here. Below you’ll find the meals I prepared for the first 4 days of Whole30 for two people.

BREAKFAST

Traditional breakfast options on Whole30 are fairly limited to eggs and sausage, eggs and bacon, eggs and avocado, and bacon and sausage. No yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, or even smoothies. Technically, smoothies are allowed if the ingredients are Whole30-compliant, but the good people at Whole30RUs would rather you didn’t. This is because drinking your food doesn’t send the same satiety signals to your brain as chewing food. I will probably ignore this guideline at some point in the next 30 days, just FYI.

After researching several options, I decided that a good old-fashioned egg casserole (minus the crust, minus the cheese) would be a hearty and quick option to reheat in the morning. Below I’ve included a recipe for the casserole I made, but you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand and customize it to your taste.

In my humble opinion, this recipe came out perfect and is definitely a keeper, even for non-Whole30 days. I made the casserole in a standard 9×13 pyrex pan and cut the casserole into 8 large pieces. If you’re not Whole30, I would definitely throw in some goat cheese to make it even more incredible.

Egg, Sausage and Veggie Casserole

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Egg casserole served with avocado, hot sauce and fresh herbs
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, olive oil, or ghee*
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup roasted winter squash (butternut, acorn, kabocha, etc.) (I already had leftover squash from dinner, so you can omit this if the extra work is daunting, and/or add an extra sweet potato)
  • 3 cups organic baby spinach (or kale, arugula, etc.), roughly chopped
  • 24 oz (1.5 pounds) chicken sausage**
  • 13 eggs (I had one leftover egg from an old carton, but 12 eggs would be just fine and the more normal option)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • cayenne pepper, if you like it spicy!
  • any other seasonings you want
*Ghee or clarified butter is permitted on Whole30, but regular butter is not.
** Read the ingredients to make sure your sausage Whole30-compliant. I bought pre-cooked chicken sausage from Whole Foods and found several brands that were Whole30 compliant, i.e., made only with meat, veggies, and herbs/spices.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Heat cooking oil over medium heat. Sauté sweet potatoes for about 10 minutes. Then, add onions to pan. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper if using and any other herbs/spices. Saute for another 10 minutes until sweet potato is slightly softened. Remove from heat.
  3. Dice pre-cooked chicken sausage. Scatter over bottom of baking pan.
  4. Top sausage with onion/sweet potato mixture and roasted squash.
  5. Then, top with chopped spinach.
  6. Whisk eggs in large bowl. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and any other herbs if using. Add beaten eggs to casserole, and smooth out ingredients with spatula for even cooking.
  7. Place in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until eggs are set in the middle. Mine took exactly 30 minutes in an old oven.
  8. Cool. Cut into 8 servings.

LUNCH/DINNER

For the first half of Week 1, lunch and dinner is going to be the same meal because I made a lot of it and it’s delicious. This meal is one of my staples for a hearty, healthy and satisfying meal. It’s Thai chicken curry from Nom Nom Paleo. Nom Nom Paleo was started by Michelle Tam and is one of the best Paleo food blogs out there; it even has Whole30 versions of items like Sriracha and mayonnaise.

Nom Nom Paleo’s curry recipe serves four people, so I TRIPLED it to feed me and Max for 6 meals each. I ended up splitting the ingredients into two pots to ensure everything was cooked evenly. The recipe below has a few minor modifications from the original recipe.

I decided to served the curry over cauliflower “rice.” No, cauliflower rice is not the same as rice and I’m not trying to fool myself, but it is tasty and it adds a lot of bulk and nutrition to your food. And it’s an awesome way to sop up all of the saucy curry! There’s no real recipe required for cauliflower rice, but I’ve added one below as a guideline.

Thai Chicken and Vegetable Curry
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Thai Curry served over Cauliflower Rice
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs*
  • 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper, optional
  • 2-3 TBSP coconut oil or ghee
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 5 TBSP Thai curry paste**
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 32 oz frozen veggies***
  • 4-5 cups roasted winter squash****
  • Basil leaves, chiffonaded, for serving

*Trader Joe’s has very affordable free-range, organic chicken thighs and breasts.
**I use this curry paste, which is tasty, has no sugar, and is Whole30-compliant.
***I used a 16 oz package of frozen grilled cauliflower and a 16 oz package of broccoli.
****I roasted a combination of Trader Joe’s pre-cut butternut and acorn squash in coconut oil, salt and pepper.

Directions
  1. Cut the chicken into medium-sized chunks and season with salt and pepper and cayenne pepper if using.
  2. Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven.
  3. When the oil is shimmering, brown the chicken. Make sure you wait enough time for the pan to get really hot and don’t overcrowd your chicken. Otherwise, you’ll get white chicken instead of browned chicken. Which is fine, but it’s not as tasty.
  4. Transfer browned chicken to a plate.
  5. Add the onions to the saucepan and sauté until translucent
  6. Return the chicken and juices to the pot, and add the curry paste to taste.
  7. Stir-fry until you can smell the rich aroma of toasted spices.
  8. Pour in the coconut milk, toss in the frozen veggies, and squash.
  9. Raise the heat to high and bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Then, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer the curry for 10-20 minutes or until the veggies are warmed through and the flavors meld. When I’ve made this recipe for 4 servings, 10 minutes has been enough time, but you’ll need closer to 20 minutes for a large batch.
  10. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. I usually add more cayenne pepper at this point because I am brown and I like it spicy.
  11. Add the basil chiffonade when ready to eat

Cauliflower Rice

Pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until it’s the size of rice or couscous grains

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower, roughly chopped into florets
  • Olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Any other seasonings you like (cayenne, cumin, thyme, oregano).

Directions

  1. Place cauliflower florets in a food processor or high-powered blender  such as a Vitamix. Pulse until cauliflower is broken down into couscous-sized pieces.
  2. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add several cloves of minced garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add cauliflower and cook for 4-7 minutes until slightly cooked but not soft. Add salt, pepper and any other seasonings to taste.

SNACKS

As I mentioned in my first post, snacking is not encouraged on the Whole30 regimen, but sometimes hangry Nisha needs snack time. So I whipped up an easy yet tasty batch of savory nuts for the week.

I haven’t been able to find too much information on this point, but Whole30 guidelines favor cashews, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts over all other nuts. Almonds, pistachios, pecans, and Brazil nuts are to be eaten occasionally, and walnuts and pine nuts are to be limited. Because I can’t find any good reason for these limitations, I am currently in favor of eating all of the nuts. You could use any combination of nuts for this recipe, but I used cashews, hazelnuts, and almonds to be as Whole30 compliant as possible.

Savory Spiced Toasted Nuts

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Ingredients

4 oz almonds
4 oz hazelnuts
4 oz cashews
2 tsps chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (if you like your nuts hot and spicy)
1.5 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  1. Place nuts in a large skillet over medium heat and toast until lightly browned. Alternatively, toast nuts in a preheated oven at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  2. Combine all spices in a bowl, add in olive oil to make a paste.
  3. Coat nuts with spice/oil mixture evenly.
  4. Serve.

Was that enough meal prep for you? I’m exhausted.

Welcome to the End of the World: Whole30

IMG_0866 After a summer of polishing off pints of ice cream and weekends of stuffing my face with pizza and donuts (gourmet donuts only; I have some standards), my body was asking me for a favor. Please, it whispered. Treat me better. Apparently it did not whisper loudly enough because my junk food diet continued into the fall season, culminating in a long birthday weekend complete with (gourmet) donuts, tacos, Nutella-stuffed pastry, pizza, and croissants.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the hell out of that food and I did not feel an ounce of guilt about it.  Well, maybe, I felt a twinge of guilt for going four days without eating a single vegetable.  In any event, my endless spiral into Carb City seemed like the perfect window of opportunity to start the Whole30 challenge.

You can find out more about Whole30 here, but in short, it’s a 30-day challenge where you pledge to eat only real, whole foods, with a focus on high-quality meats and fish, vegetables, good fats, and some fruit. And you agree to eliminate lots of other crap. Read: processed foods, any and all added sugar, wheat and dairy products, alcohol, and even legumes. This last item raises one of the most confusing issues about nutrition and healthy eating. Some people say lentils are a superfood and other people (Paleo followers, for instance) say they are bad for your digestive system. Who do I follow? Who is right? Is anyone right? Should I just give up on trying to eat nutritious food and make peace with the donut-a-day diet?

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A dessert plate common in our household

If you scroll through the rigid rules and limited shopping list of the Whole30 program, you are probably wondering why I decided to subject myself to this masochistic military regimen.  To be brutally honest, it’s because, just like Louis C.K., I have a case of good-old-fashioned case of American food addiction.

louis
At the end of the day, I want to be able to eat just one cookie (okay, maybe two) and then put the bag away. I want to be able to occasionally say no, thank you to the office donuts and bagels, especially when I’ve literally just finished eating breakfast. And I really want to start having the kind of bowel movements that dreams are made of. So those are my big picture goals for Whole30.

I do have one advantage going into Whole30. I love to cook. I love experimenting with new dishes and flavors, and I often cook a big meal on Sundays to feed myself for the week. If there’s anything you should know about Whole30, it’s that home cooking and meal-planning are essential to success. Most restaurant and pre-packaged foods are non-compliant with the demanding Whole30 standards, so novice cooks need not apply.

However, I am facing A LOT of disadvantages going into Whole30. For one, whereas most Americans have a sweet tooth, I have sweet teeth, i.e., all of my goddamn teeth are sweet. And not only are all desserts forbidden on Whole30, but so is ALL AND ANY ADDED SUGAR. I can’t even have raw honey or pure maple syrup, which I ordinarily use very liberally because I believe they are health foods akin to kale and blueberries. You may be wondering how much honey I use, and the answer to your very sensible question is BOTTLES. I go through bear-shaped bottles of honey every month.

So, for the next 30 days, I can’t put honey in my five cups of daily tea or in my tangy salad vinaigrettes. Gone is my favorite snack of almond butter and bananas drizzled with honey on toast. And this is just the healthy sugar in my diet.

All other forms of sugar are also forbidden, which means that almost every store-bought product you can imagine is forbidden. Sugar is added to ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, salad dressings, many dried fruits, and even my beloved Sriracha.

Another one of my disadvantages is that my life revolves around food. For instance, I just purchased 4 new cookbooks in the past week and I’ve carved out time every night this week to spend time gazing at the pictures.  I experience orgasmic highs when I enter a Whole Foods market. And my favorite kind of dream is the one in which I’m seated at an enormous table that is piled high with a buffet of my favorite foods and I don’t stop eating until my alarm clock goes off in the morning.

Yet another challenge for me is that snacking is sort of discouraged on the Whole30 program because you are supposed to eat satisfying and substantial meals that tide you over until your next meal. This does not bode well for me because I need snacks just as much as your five-year old does.  I take snack time very seriously. At work, I carve out at least 10 minutes every afternoon for snack time.

There are many, many other difficulties and disadvantages, but I figure it’s time to stop being such a Negative Nancy and start sharing my Eat, Pray, Love journey.

I hope you join me in this wild experiment and learn something new about food and healthy eating!

-Nisha