Berry-beet fruit leather

It's time for Recipe Redux again, and this month's theme is "Get Your Dehydrator On." I don't own a dehydrator, but I do have an oven with a "warm" setting that runs at a pretty constant 175 degrees. Same thing, right?
Beets belong to the chenopod family along with chard, spinach, and quinoa. This underrated superfood has loads of health benefits, thanks to betalain pigments that contain contain powerful nutrients and give beets their beautiful color. Beets have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and detoxification properties, and some new studies are uncovering their potential to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure.


Creamy green smoothie

It's hard to remember the days before green smoothies at my house. When I lived with my parents, most Saturday mornings involved lounging under the canopy on our backyard patio with hearty whole wheat waffles, loads of dark French-pressed coffee, good conversation, and green smoothies.

Smoothies have become wildly popular in the past couple of years, and as a dietitian and a smoothie lover, I've been soaking it in. When Mike and I got married, we registered for a Vitamix, realizing the likelihood of someone dropping $500 on a blender for us was pretty slim. The first weekend home after our honeymoon, we drove ourselves to Costco with a wad of cash and picked up our very own blending wonder in the 6300 model. No regrets. I also use it to make the greatest hummus.

Smoothies can be amazingly nutrient-dense and delicious with the right combination of ingredients. I had been making this smoothie sans-avocado for some time, but dropping in a big slice of creamy avocado took it to a whole new level. Dreamy, creamy, slightly sweet, and completely nutritious. Fats are necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin D from the dairy, vitamins A and K from the greens), so avocado serves a dual purpose here. But mostly, it's delicious.
There's a vicious, never-ending competition between juices and smoothies in the nutrition world. The juicer people say they get concentrated nutrients in an easily digestible form with freshly extracted juice, while the blender people argue better retention of fiber and whole ingredients by blending. While I think both can be beneficial and provide easy ways to take in more fruits and vegetables, I'm inclined to agree more with the blender folks.

When I toss whole ingredients into a blender and whirl them all together, I know I'm going to end up with the same nutrients as I put in: folic acid, fiber, and vitamins A and K from the greens, vitamin C and antioxidants from the fruit, and omega-3s from the chia seeds. If I sent these same items through a juicer, some juice and undoubtedly some vitamins and minerals will be extracted, and the fibrous skins and other bits that the juicer couldn't liquefy would remain. The majority of nutrients in fruits and vegetables are located in a layer just under the surface of the skin (parents, this is one good reason to avoid peeling fruits and vegetables for your kids if you can - removing the peel also might be removing some nutrients), so it's hard to be sure vitamins and minerals aren't being left behind in the pulp.

There are some great arguments in favor of juicing, and don't get me wrong, I love a fresh glass of juice just as much as anyone. But smoothies are simple: you put good stuff in, you'll get good stuff out. All of it.


Homemade sushi


I'm not sure if it's necessary to say more.

Sushi is the best. Spending $100 on a sushi dinner for 2 is not. Spending $20 on ingredients for all-you-can-eat rolls totally is.

There are some questionable ingredients here, I'll admit: white rice, imitation crab meat, and tempura shrimp are not items I usually eat for dinner. But I don't believe that any food should be off-limits, and if it will make my homemade sushi taste like the real deal, I'm in. The beautiful thing about sushi is that you can fill them and top them with absolutely anything. I have a great recipe for avocado and mango sushi made with quinoa that I'll get around to posting one day. Today, I'm providing a few classic recipes, but please experiment with what you like.

Make sure any fish you eat raw is sushi-grade fish. It is usually labeled as such, and the fish monger at your local grocery store is a good person to ask if you're unsure. I've had the best luck finding sushi-grade fish at international markets.
Let's talk for a minute about this fantastic nori. Nori is toasted seaweed paper most commonly used for wrapping sushi. It is made from red seaweed, but when it dries it turns a blackish-green color. Nori is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and iodine. Regular consumption of nori was linked to lower rates of breast cancer in a British Journal of Nutrition study, possibly due to its high antioxidant content. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed the results of over 100 research studies and found that the proteins in seaweed might be more biologically active than the proteins in milk.

Sushi might just save the world (joking, but a girl can dream, right?).


Seeded vanilla date bars (Recipe Redux)

It's time for Recipe Redux again! This month's theme is "Bars and Bites for Brown Bags," and bloggers were asked to share their favorite healthy granola bars or balls to jazz up a portable lunch. This theme was right up my alley: I recently went full-time at work, so I've been packing up my lunch on a daily basis, and brown bag meals get boring pretty quickly. I've been tucking one or two of these seeded vanilla date bars in my lunch bag each day, and they have surely done their job of spicing up my lunch hour.

This is one of my favorite recipes to date (pun totally intended). These bars are chewy - my preference when it comes to bars - and a perfect contrast of sweet and salty flavors. I've kept my fridge stocked with them for the past two weeks, and I see this trend continuing for quite some time. They're that good.
I must admit, I was not on the date bandwagon from the start. They look like oversized raisins and remind me a little of huge, terrifying beetles you might find in the Amazon. But after seeing a few recipes for date bars circulating around the internet, I was intrigued and decided to give them a try. No regrets - dates have indulgent sweetness and a creamy texture that make for perfect on-the-go snack bars.

What's so great about dates?

Dates are high in a type of fiber called beta-D-glucan. Beta-D-glucan is a soluble fiber, meaning it dissolves in water. This type of fiber has been shown to help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and raise "good" HDL cholesterol. Because of its ability to absorb and retain water, soluble fiber slows down digestion and the rate of stomach-emptying. Slower gastric emptying means your stomach is kept feeling satiated longer, thus aiding in weight loss. Beta-glucan may also improve immune function by activating white blood cells which seek out and destroy harmful organisms within the body while repairing damaged tissues. Researchers at the University of California, Davis found that Deglet Noor dates have the highest antioxidant capacity of all date varieties. Antioxidants help protect against a myriad of chronic diseases such as heart disease and a variety of cancers.

I love it when delicious things are also healthy.


Spicy black bean patties with chipotle barbeque sauce

I know what you're thinking.
Who actually enjoys veggie burgers?

But this is no generic, tasteless veggie burger. Actually, I don't even like to refer to these as veggie burgers because of the bad reputation that comes with that name. Instead, let's call them patties. These spicy black bean patties are packed with flavor, particularly when slathered with chipotle barbeque sauce. They're dense and delicious enough to satisfy meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Guaranteed.
Legumes are a great source of several nutrients including fiber, folate, copper, manganese, protein, iron, and B-vitamins. Because they are so loaded with nutrition, they are an excellent meat substitute for vegetarians or those simply looking to lower their intake of animal proteins.

Black beans are digested slowly because of their high fiber content, making them a great blood sugar stabilizer. This is beneficial to people with diabetes and those prone to blood sugar swings. Fiber also keeps food moving steadily through the digestive system and can help lower blood cholesterol, thus reducing risk of heart disease.

It is a good idea to soak dried beans overnight before using them. Not only will soaking speed up cooking time, but it also makes the beans more easily digestible and rids them of some of the phytates that tend to bind to other nutrients like calcium.