A Salad to Start:
Baby Leaf Salad with Roasted Beets,
Goat Cheese & Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
I love roasted beets & goat cheese in a salad - knowing how uncomplicated it is to prepare, it kind of kills me to pay for it in a restaurant. The sweetness of the beets and creaminess of the goat cheese comes through in every bite and is a great balance to the peppery rocket (arugula) and the nutty pumpkin seeds. Not only are the flavours delicious, the ingredients are nutritious.
Beets: The American Heart Association published a study in April of this year which found patients with high blood pressure who drank a cup of beetroot juice per day lowered their blood pressure (by 10mm Hg). The theory is that beetroot's high nitrate content helps to improve blood flow and relax blood vessel walls. The premise of increased blood flow has scientists researching improved mental performance and improved athletic performance. A current trend in endurance sports has athletes downing pre-race beet juice - so if you need to up your stamina, add some beets to your day. In addition, beets have high levels of folate and betaine - which together help lower homocysteine levels in the blood (high levels are associated with cardiovascular disease.)
Goat Cheese: First of all, when you add this to your salad, crumble well and a little goes a long way. Also, when comparing to a cow's cheese, goat's has 20% fewer calories and just over half the fat.
Pumpkin Seeds: You'll find these on many a "Best Foods" list. They are touted as associated with a lower risk of early death - always a good thing - because of their high magnesium content. They're also high in other minerals such as zinc and iron.
Baby leaf salad (should contain rocket/arugula)
Pumpkin Seeds, toasted
Freshly Ground Pepper
First, roast the beets. If they're small, you can leave whole, otherwise quarter them. Rub with a small bit of olive oil (you don't have to - it just keeps the exterior more supple) and place in tin foil. Wrap into a package (allow room for air to circulate within) and put into oven at 200ºC for approximately 30 minutes (shorter for smaller, longer for larger). Test to see if ready by inserting a fork into the largest beet section, if it goes in easily, they're done. Unwrap and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, carefully cut off hard skin and slice into chunks. Use what you need for your salad and save the rest in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Toast the pumpkin seeds: simply toss into a hot pan for a few minutes stirring occasionally, until the skins begin to crack and they brown just slightly. You'll hear them pop a bit.
Add dressing: a swish of olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic - I don't pre-mix, just toss in the bowl. Because the goat cheese is creamy, you shouldn't need much olive oil. When I use the highly technical term, "swish," I mean a light 1, 2, 3 zig zag pour. Does that make sense?
Toss and top with the warm toasted pumpkin seeds.
Spaghetti Squash "Pasta"
If you're looking to lower your carbohydrate intake, you could try spaghetti squash. When roasted, the insides really do strip out in pasta-like strands and it's a non-starchy vegetable. A 1/2 cup of cooked spaghetti squash gives you 5 grams of carbs, whereas spaghetti pasta has 20 grams of carbs per 1/2 cup cooked.
1/2 of a spaghetti squash, roasted
1 red bell pepper, roasted and diced
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
handful of basil, torn
feta cheese, approximately 30 grams, crumbled
1/2 a plum tomato, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
Use a large and very sharp knife to cut the squash in half vertically. (You can place the 2nd half open side down on a plate and keep in fridge a day or two until ready to use.) Place open side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Bake in oven at 190ºC (170ºC fan oven/375ºF) for about 30 minutes. Test if ready by inserting a sharp knife though hard outer skin - if it goes in easily, it's ready. Remove from oven, allow to cool until you're able to handle.
Use a large spoon to scrape the flesh and put into serving bowl. Use a downward motion from top toward bottom; it will come out in spaghetti-like strands.
While squash is baking, roast your red pepper, too (See here for how-to) and dice. Add to squash (if any oil comes out of the peppers, add that, as well.)
Sauté onion slices and minced garlic in the tablespoon olive oil for a few minutes until onion begins to soften. Add to squash and mix through.
Add diced tomato and torn basil. Add black pepper and salt and toss all ingredients. Crumble feta cheese over and stir through.