Well, it’s certainly been a poster week for “Beginning of the Summer Semester” at the college: long lineups outside the Chair’s office (but really, doesn’t it sound better as “Office Chairs”?), students transferring from one class to the next, questions, emails; scheduling changes so speedy that students barely have time to check their timetables before they’re registered in a new course. Yep, it’s kept me on my toes, with nary a minute extra to indulge my extra-curricular activities (really, now! Get those minds out of the gutter!). Activities such as writing this blog. (Oh, and to all my students this term: Hi, Guys!)
Taking part in my Total Health course hasn’t actually helped much with the dearth of spare time, either. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am loving this course, and it’s kept me on the Path of Righteous Eating for the past 2-1/2 weeks (and I must admit, I am feeling MUCH more energetic and lighter so far).
Apart from our homework (see the Coda at the end of the post), the course requires that one prepare and eat healthy food. No, I mean ÜBER healthy food–the type I learned at nutrition school: nothing pre-packaged, nothing processed, nothing with chemicals, additives, sugar, wheat (or even flour, if I’m going to be really strict about it), nothing alcoholic, and, perhaps most difficult of all, nothing chocolate. (Yep, that’s right; those muffins and cupcakes I wrote about last time? Verboten. Banned. Prohibited. Technically not allowed. So was it lack of willpower or courageous defiance that prompted me to bake them? I’ll let you be the judge.)
What this directive translates to, for the most part, is spending more time in the kitchen. More time peeling parsnips, more time scooping seeds out of butternut squash, more time cutting leaves from collard stems, more time dicing onions, more time chopping, slicing, sautéeing, stirring, simmering, pouring, spreading, baking, cutting. The only part that doesn’t take more time is eating.
Well, for those of you who’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you may have inferred that, when it comes to cooking, I’m all about “easy.” As much as I relish veggies, whole grains, dried beans or legumes and raw nuts and seeds, I am less than enthusiastic about the time required to transform those raw materials into something worth its all-natural, unrefined, organic, hand-harvested, Artisanal Celtic sea salt.
The other night, having spent the day on campus, I got home a little later than usual. I was hungry. In fact, I was ready to eat dinner right that very minute. But dinner, unfortunately, was not ready for me. Perusing the contents of the fridge and considering what I could throw together that would satisfy both me and the HH, I came up with this lovely millet and pepper dish.
My health course has been highlighting gluten-free grains, and millet is a definite winner in that category. Great for heart health and (like all whole grains) ample in fiber, millet also offers antioxidant properties at par with, or superior to, many fruits and vegetables (such as helping prevent breast cancer, Type II diabetes, asthma or postmenopausal symptoms). Finally, it’s generally considered to be the “most alkaline” of whole grains, meaning that it supports the natural pH (acid-alkaline) balance in our blood.
For most of you, this would likely serve as a sidekick to a separate main attraction (whether tofu, tempeh, meat, or whatever). For me, it ended up as the entire meal, though I’d caution that this really isn’t protein-rich enough to use that way very often.
The best part was that it came together quickly, and still tasted great. The combination of mild curry and coconut milk adds an Asian undertone to the dish, complimented by the sweetness in the red peppers. When the veggies are combined in a casserole dish with the grain, the millet becomes imbued with a lovely golden color that’s a great visual counterpoint to the red. Pretty to look at, pleasingly aromatic and ready in a flash–it’s the perfect date side dish!
Easy Millet and Red Pepper Pilaf
From start to finish, this dish can be ready in about 20 minutes. It’s also great the next day.
1 cup (250 ml.) vegetable broth
1/2 cup (125 ml.) coconut milk
1/2 cup dry millet
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large red peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 small tomato, diced
1 tsp. (5 ml.) mild curry powder (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground coriander
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a large casserole or spray with nonstick coating.
In a medium-sized pot, combine the broth and coconut milk, and bring just to the boil over medium heat. Add the millet, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, until the millet is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed (if it’s not ready after 20 minutes, continue to cook for 5 minutes at a time and check until done).
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to coat the veggies with the spices, and continue to cook another 5-10 minutes, until onion is soft.
Stir the veggies into the millet mixture and turn into the casserole. Bake until heated through and slightly browned on top, 20-25 minutes. Serves two as a main course or 3 as a side dish. May be frozen.
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Total Health Coda: This week’s lesson involved, once again, eating mindfully. We actually did the “eating a raisin” meditation that I mentioned in a previous post. The major insight for me, though, was delivered through an exercise we did at the end of the class (after we’d sampled at least four delectable, healthy dishes). We were asked to tune in to our bodies to seek any lingering sense of hunger, and, if so, to determine where it resided. Many in the class identified a metaphorical “hunger,” somewhere in the chest, or vicinity of the heart. As the teacher remarked, “You may feel as if you’ve eaten enough, yet still feel hungry.” In other words, this is clearly not a hunger for food per se.
For some reason, I found this realization revelatory: What? You mean it’s okay to just feel hungry, and not do anything about it? You don’t have to eat when you feel that way? Of course, I’d encountered similar sentiments over the years in books, on websites, or at lectures, but somehow honing in on the exact spot of the “hunger” made it abundantly clear that eating, in so many cases, is used to satisfy emotional yearning as well as physical appetite.