Vegetarian Butternut Squash Chili

How do you feed 30 athlete friends a vegetarian friendly meal, which you can prepare in advance and serve warm with minimal fuss? My Butternut Squash Chili was the winning answer, setting a PR* in my kitchen for nourishing the largest gang of hungry athletes in my house to date. Like an endurance athlete, the chili finished strong, held up to being kept warm for hours and with plenty to go around for seconds, thirds and eh hem, fourths.

A variety of beans keep it interesting; frozen corn kernels add a nice contrast of texture and sweetness while cornmeal is the secret ingredient to thicken it all up.

The chili freezes well and is also vegan and gluten-free.

* In case you are not familiar with the term PR, it’s short for personal record.

Serving size: 10-12

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ½ cups vegetarian broth
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 diced green bell pepper
  • 1 diced red bell pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 4-ounce can dice green chili
  • 2 16-ounce can black beans
  • 2 16-ounce can garbanzo beans
  • 2 cups frozen corn (roasted frozen corn adds a nice smokey flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon chili powder (add more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Optional Ingredients: 

  • sour cream
  • chopped green onion
  • shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the butternut squash to create a level surface for it to stand on either end and cut crosswise into 2 halves. Cut each half lengthwise into 2 more halves. Scoop out seeds and stringy parts with a spoon. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes and place on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, tossing once, until tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

In a large 6 quart Dutch oven, heat remaining olive oil. On medium heat, sauté chopped onion until soften.

Add ½ cup vegetable broth, onion, garlic, and chopped bell peppers. Stir over medium heat for another 5 more minutes.

Add remaining vegetable broth, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, green chili, beans, corn, beans, Worcestershire sauce and spices. Simmer for at least 1 hour but 2 hours is recommended.  Even better if prepared the day before and reheated. Season with salt to taste. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and sliced green onion. My favorite way is with a dollop of sour cream and green onion.

 

 

Acorn squash stuffed with Curry Mustard Quinoa, Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberries and Toasted Almonds

Thanksgiving kicks off one of my favorite times of year. As immigrants, my family was slow to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving. We really didn’t know much about eating or cooking turkeys. My mother made Peking Duck instead. It is one of my most favorite culinary guilty pleasures. Peking Duck is quite a laborious venture in the kitchen. The chore begins with my mother meticulously rigging a duck on a wire hanger and suspending it from a kitchen cabinet. Then over 2-3 days, the duck is basted and dried before it is roasted. The end result is the crispiest and tastiest skin that covers moist duck meat. However, one year, on day 2 of project Peking Duck, my mother went into labor with my sister. After giving birth, my mother asked my father what he did with the duck. He fried it. The story always makes me smile thinking how my mother went through all that effort to prepare the duck, only to have it deep fried. I suppose it’s no different than frying a turkey.

Fast forward to 2014, and now I’m in a relationship with someone who also has never had a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. He’s a vegetarian athlete and his only request was that I not prepare Tofurky. I wanted to create something nutritious, packed with protein (like a turkey) and Thanksgiving-y.   Like my sister, my Acorn Squash stuffed with Quinoa, Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberry & Toasted Almonds was born on Thanksgiving day. Served with vegetarian side dishes, this main course satisfied my hungry athlete.

Serving size: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 acorn squashes* (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons of butter (substitute 6 teaspoons of olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 cups of butternut squash* (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed well according to instructions)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon Coleman’s English mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (about 2 small shallots)
  • 3 full packed cups baby spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoon)
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Preheat over 400F.

Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the butternut squash to create a level surface. Then carefully cut into ½ inch cubes.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the butternut squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until tender, tossing once.

Microwave acorn squashes for 1 minute. Cut in half crosswise, dissecting the top and bottom. If necessary, slice a small piece off the top and bottom so that it sits level when served on a plate. Scoop out seeds and stringy parts.  Spread 1 tablespoon of butter (or 1 teaspoon of olive oil) inside of each acorn squash half, then season with salt and pepper. Wrap each half in aluminum foil**.

Noting the amount of time left to bake the butternut squash, bake the acorn squashes for 50-60 minutes or until fork tender.  The butternut squash will finish cooking and will need to be removed from oven while the acorn squash packets remain in the oven for it’s remaining baking time. The timing will ensure the acorn squash is still warm when served. Once the acorn squash are cooked and tender, keep them wrapped in aluminum foil to retain heat until the quinoa is ready to be served.

Bring vegetable broth to a boil then stir in quinoa.  Stir in dry mustard and curry powder.  Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed or according to the package directions.

While quinoa is simmering, toast the almonds in the oven, on a baking sheet until lightly toasted and fragrant for about 5 minutes.   Allow it to cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

Once quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and toss in cranberries and stir in lemon juice. Taste the quinoa and season with salt if needed. I find that if the quinoa is cooked in vegetable broth, no additional salt is necessary. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork.

With remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sauté shallots until softened. Add butternut squash, quinoa and spinach.  Sauté spinach until wilted. Toss in toasted chopped toasted almonds just before serving. Spoon quinoa into acorn squash and serve.

Note:  You may prefer not to include both butternut squash and acorn squash in this dish.  I found there wasn’t enough flesh to enjoy inside the acorn squash I picked up.  Butternut squash added nice contrast in color, flavor and texture to each bite of the red quinoa.  Alternatively, this dish can be served without the acorn squash as shown in the photo below.

** Note:  The acorn squash can be baked without wrapping in aluminum foil however, creating individual packets of acorn squash makes it easier to find space for them when other side dishes are competing for oven space on Thanksgiving day. Here are other alternative ways to cook acorn squash:

  • MICROWAVE:  Lay acorn squash cut side down and microwave and cook at 5 minute intervals until fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  • BAKING UNWRAPPED:  Place unbuttered and unseasoned acorn squash, cut side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Add enough water to slightly cover the sides of the squash.  Bake at 350F for about 35-40 minutes.  Flip over, add butter & seasoning.  Continue to bake until fork tender, 5-10 minutes longer.

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J’Wow’s Salsa

I had the pleasure of training for my first Ironman with Jerrold, a good friend and triathlete known as J’Wow.  He’s like a little brother to me.  He’s rescued me when I was suffering from heat exhaustion during a long training ride and encouraged me to run with him when I was suffering from stomach pain during our first Ironman.  And like any little brother, he thoroughly enjoys annoying me with his teasing.

I joined J’Wow at Lake Tahoe this summer when he came up to train with his coach.  This is when I discovered J’Wow’s delicious fresh salsa.  Fresh salsa is a very healthy snack.  Tomatoes, onions,  jalapeños and lime juice contain vitamin C.  Jalapeños contain capsaicin, which generates heat, increases the heart rate when consumed and naturally raises the metabolic rate.  Avocados contain healthy fats, mostly oleic acid, which helps reduce bad cholesterol.  In addition, avocados contain protein, fiber and is an excellent source of potassium.  What a delicious way to consume raw and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

J’Wow prefers chips with a hint of lime flavor to serve with the salsa.  I’ve used the salsa with fish tacos, burritos and a variety of chips.  Although you can serve the salsa right away, it tastes even better the next day after all the flavors have had a chance to marry.  We had 6 people in the house and this recipe made enough salsa for us to enjoy for 2 days.

Serving size: 12

Ingredients:

  • 10 tomatoes on the vine diced
  • 1 large yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 3 ripe avocado diced
  • ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 – 2 1/2 jalapeño peppers, seeds removed and minced
  • ½ cup of lime juice (4 medium fresh limes)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large bowl, dice the tomatoes, onion, green bell pepper and avocado.  Add finely chopped cilantro and minced jalapeno peppers.  I removed the seeds and was careful to wash my hands well after handling the peppers.  Add more or less peppers depending on your taste and how hot the peppers are.

Add the lime juice. One fresh medium lime should yield about 2 teaspoon of juice.  If the limes are small or dry, you may need more than 4 limes to yield ½ cup.  To get the most juice out of a lime, I put pressure roll it on the cutting board while putting pressure on it with the palm of my hand. I then use a reamer.  You can also put it in the microwave for 20 seconds before squeezing.

Toss all of the ingredients together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad

One of my dearest friends, Nicole, who I love to train and eat with, requested a vegetable side dish that would accompany the ham and pulled pork she was serving at her holiday party.  She asked if I could make some sort of Waldorf style salad that was easy to eat buffet style.   My Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with grapes, dried sweetened cranberries and candied walnuts was born out of this request.  Nicole’s husband Mark, requested I toss in crispy bits of pancetta in the future, although he did say this was the best Brussels sprouts he ever had prepared without bacon or pancetta.

I have to admit.  Until now, I thought they were called “brussel” sprouts.  They are called “Brussels” sprouts.  Brussels sprouts are the buds of wild cabbage.  They are nutritious and a good source of fiber.  For more nutritional information on Brussels sprouts, check out this article:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=10

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad

Servings size: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds of Brussels sprouts (about 5 cups) cut into quarters
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (for roasting Brussels sprouts)  + ¼ cup olive oil (for dressing)
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes cut into quarters
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • ½ cup candied walnuts (optional)
  • ¼ cup cooked chopped pancetta bits (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut Brussels sprouts into quarters and toss in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Spread on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (because I hate scrubbing the pan after).  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Bake in oven for 15 minutes.  With a spatula, flip Brussels sprouts to ensure even browning.  Sprinkle with Balsamic vinegar and bake for additional 10 minutes or until lightly brown and tender.

While the Brussels sprouts are cooling, prepare dressing by whisking together ¼ cup of olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper.

In mixing bowl, toss Brussels sprouts in dressing.  Toss in grapes, cranberries and candied walnuts.   Serve warm or cold.

Cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters and toss in olive oil.
Cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters and toss in olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Healthy Potato Leek Soup

The inspiration for my Potato Leek Soup came from my dear friend Kelly, a 10 time Ironman and 2 time 50 mile endurance runner.  This courageous woman is battling leukemia for the second time.  While undergoing chemotherapy, Kelly requested potato leek soup made without cream for lunch.

The potato leek soup also served as a nutritious and tasty breakfast prior to a long run or trail race, where I am running anywhere from 3 to over 6 hours. Chicken Rice Soup and Potato Leek Soup are now my two favorite early morning meals to help fuel my long workouts.  Both also provide potassium.  I usually consume half a bagel or some oatmeal in addition to the soup.  Some races offer broth on the course or soup at the end of the race.  At the finish of this weekend’s trail race, I grabbed warm soup and chased it down with low-fat chocolate milk.  Since I often cannot tolerate solid food immediately after an endurance event, I find that calories in liquid form are the easiest way to get nutrition down.  I personally prefer real food over “recovery” drinks.  Remember, it’s important to consume calories within 20 minutes of your workout.

Leeks belong to a vegetable family called the Allium vegetables which includes garlic and onions and contain many of the same beneficial compounds.   For more information on the nutritional value of leeks, check out this article:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=26

Serving size: 8

Equipment:  Hand held immersion blender or regular blender

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large leeks or 4 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed and diced
  • 5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 7+ cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder (for Kelly, I reduced or omitted this)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • fresh parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté the leeks in olive oil for 8 minutes until the leeks are softened but not brown.

Add chopped garlic, thyme, potatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  If using a hand held immersion blender, puree soup until smooth with no lumps.  Be careful.  The soup will be very hot.  If using a regular blend, allow soup to cool down before pouring into blender.  Once in the blender, puree soup in small batches, using a towel to cover the lid in case the hot mixture escapes.

Add additional broth to obtain the desired consistency.  I prefer it to be a little creamy and loose enough to drink out of a mug.

Stir in chili powder and salt to taste.  It’s important to add a bit at a time and keep tasting.  You can always add more but you can’t take it back out.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or croutons.  Add additional broth to soup if it becomes too thick when re-heating.

Use the white and pale green parts of the leek.  Cut the stalk in half length-wise and rise out the layers.  I prefer to remove the outer tougher layer.  Then slice.
Use the white and pale green parts of the leek. Cut the stalk in half length-wise and rise out the layers. I prefer to remove the outer tougher layer. Then slice.

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When re-heating, you can add additional broth to thin out the soup if it gets too thick.
When re-heating, you can add additional broth to thin out the soup if it gets too thick.

Roasted Corn, String Bean, Tomato and Cucumber Orzo Salad

A great way to encourage children to enjoy eating vegetables is to teach them how to grow their own garden.  Chloe’s and Zachary’s parents built two garden boxes in their back yard, one for each child.  The children planted their first garden in the Spring, watered it diligently and watched with excitement, their garden grow before their eyes.  They were recently rewarded with strawberries, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans.

Innocently unbiased and ferociously inquisitive, Chloe and Zachary will ask to taste all the ingredients in its raw form no matter what it is.  When I cook with them, I guide them on what they should or should not try and am thrilled they are willing to try everything.  What a wonderful way for the children to appreciate the true flavors of raw vegetables and understand how their flavors can change when cooked or seasoned.

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My Roasted Corn, String Beans, Tomato and Cucumber Orzo Salad was inspired by Chloe’s and Zachary’s garden.  The vegetables in this recipe are either raw or lightly cooked so their freshness can be enjoyed.

This salad can either be served as a side dish or as a vegetarian main course.  Add chopped roasted chicken for a protein-rich main course.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried orzo pasta
  • 2 ears fresh corn, roasted
  • 1 pound green beans, blanched
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, rinsed, stemmed, and cut in half or thirds depending on size
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Pinch Salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Cook orzo in boiling water for 8-9 minutes until barely tender.  Drain and rinse in cold water.

Husk corn and roast on grill until some of the kernels are evenly browned on all sides.  Remove the corn kernels by holding each cob upright on it’s stem and carefully running a sharp knife down the cob over a large bowl.  Add cooked orzo.

Cut green beans into 2-3 inches.  Blanch in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.  Green beans should still have a crunch.  Drain and place in ice water.  Drain again and add to orzo and corn.

Cut cucumber in half.  Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds.  Cut the cucumber halves into thirds or quarters lengthwise.  Then cut into ½ inch cubes.

Cut cherry tomatoes in half or thirds depending on size.   Add cucumber and tomatoes to orzo, corn and string beans.

Rough chop parsley and add to orzo mixture.

Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and Dijon mustard.  Add salt and pepper and whisk again.

Pour over orzo and vegetables.    Toss well.   Allow the orzo salad to sit for at least 1 hour to absorb the flavors of the dressing.

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Orange, Fennel and Arugula Salad

Oranges are a wonderful winter fruit that is in season right now.  Several of my friends and neighbors here in Northern California have more oranges growing in their backyard than they know what to do with.

Here’s a refreshing and healthy recipe that will give you a reason to use up those oranges.  My Orange, Fennel and Arugula Salad is a burst of flavor with every bite.  The sweetness from the oranges, hint of licorice from the fennel and the peppery notes from the arugula, compliment each other well.

Did you know that oranges and fennel are a good source of vitamin C and calcium?  In addition, fennel has many health benefits.  It is a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, niacin as well as minerals, such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper.  In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer.

Serving size: 2

Equipment: Mandoline (but not required)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium fennel bulb, sliced thinly with a Mandoline (about 1 cup)
  • 3 large or 4 small oranges
  • 1 large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ freshly cracked pepper (about 5 turns of the pepper mill)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 6 cups arugula

Directions

Using a mandolin set at the thinnest setting, or with a knife, slice the fennel bulb.  Set aside.

Cut the skin off of the oranges and then slice the oranges into ¼ inch cross sections.

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In a small mixing bowl, make the salad vinaigrette by whisking together the juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, ground cardamom, salt, freshly cracked pepper and honey.

I a small bowl, toss fennel in 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette.  In a separate bowl, toss the arugula in 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette.

On a serving plate, make a bed of arugula.  Arrange orange slices on top of the arugula.  Sprinkle fennel over orange slices.  Spoon remaining vinaigrette over oranges. Garnish with the chopped fennel fronds (leaves).  Top with freshly cracked pepper.

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For a dinner party, I used mixed greens instead of arugula.  This salad pairs well with a lot of dishes.