Mary Helen Leonard, author of The Natural Beauty Solution and professionally trained culinary instructor, shares recipes, projects, tips, and stories about living a more natural, handmade, and creative life with her family in Austin, Texas.
If you're looking to kick sugary or gluten-heavy breakfasts to the curb I encourage you to consider the sweet potato bowl. Slightly starchy root veggies provide a deeply satisfying base for a morning meal that is both hearty and delicious - especially with the help of few flavorful accoutrements.
For me, breakfast has long been a challenging meal. I grew up reaching for bagels or bowls of cereal, and even after spending my adulthood surrounded by brilliant food people I still struggle with finding ways to get away from that morning carb habit. It wasn't until I started leaning on sweet potatoes that I really got into a healthier breakfast groove.
It isn't always easy to set aside the time to make (or even eat!) a hot breakfast, but I almost always feel better when I do. I've managed to streamline the process a bit by cheating with frozen veggies, but you can make this even better by throwing some fresh kale into the steamer or roasting your own sweet potatoes ahead of time. Try swapping out kale for any other green vegetable. Chard, spinach, or asparagus would be great.
The sweet potatoes could also be replaced with another root veggie. Beets, turnips, or red potatoes would all be delicious ways to mix this recipe up. If frying an egg in the morning turns out to be too big a hassle, try using hard-boiled eggs instead or swapping the egg for a quicker pre-cooked protein like tofu, black beans, or grilled chicken.
Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl Makes one big serving
1 cup sweet potato, peeled, diced, and roasted (recipe here)
1/2 cup spinach, steamed
1/2 cup avocado, diced
1 egg, fried
Optional garnish: lime juice, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, or Japanese mayo
Prepare the sweet potato and spinach ahead of time in large batches. You can roast your own sweet potatoes at 350F for about an hour and steam your own spinach over simmering water for about 2 minutes. If available, you can use frozen pre-cooked sweet potato and spinach instead.
When you are ready to eat, quickly heat the sweet potato and spinach in a microwave or toaster oven.
Meanwhile, fry up a fresh egg (directions here) and dice up half an avocado.
Throw it all together in a bowl and top with whatever garnishes you like. My personal favorite combination is lime, soy sauce, and a splash of hot sauce.
Once upon a time my husband and I went on a juice cleanse. Being the types of people who enjoy taking things past the point of reason, we decided that a 30-day cleanse would be a great way to start off our relationship with vegetable juice. If you're going to do something a little crazy, why not go all the way, right?
The first week was awful. My head hurt. My stomach ached. I saw stars, used curse words a lot, and spent most of my time sleeping. Then, after six or seven days without solid food a fire lit beneath me. Suddenly I felt full of life. I was light on my feet and totally energized - a total juice convert. That energy kept up for a while, and as I became more and more inventive with my juice recipes I started to wonder if I'd ever go back to eating solid food again!
But then, a little less than a week from my thirty-day goal my juice cleanse was foiled. One might expect that I would have fallen victim to the usual troublemakers - like ice cream, cheeseburgers, or PIZZA! The truth was far less sexy. Of the many temptations I had encountered during my fast, the siren that finally slayed me was a simple one - a plain old steamed head of broccoli.
I was prepping the broccoli from our CSA delivery to be frozen when hunger struck. Glistening with steam and fresh from the pot, that luscious green vegetable just looked so good to me. I figured that just one bite couldn't hurt. Then I though, well, maybe even two would be OK. It wouldn't kill me to add a little salt and lemon, would it? Maybe a squirt of olive oil?
Ten minutes later the entire head of broccoli had disappeared and I didn't even want to think the word juice ever again. Since that day I've had a much more sincere appreciation for the delicious simplicity of cruciferous vegetables. While they are unforgettable steamed with salt and lemon, roasting these hearty veggies on a sheet pan is my very favorite way to enjoy them. In fact, they are so good this way that I could probably devour an entire sheet pan even without being on the hungry end of a juice cleanse.
Roasted Broccoli & Cauliflower Makes around six 1-cup servings
This simple method for preparing broccoli and cauliflower can easily be dressed up or customized by adjusting the seasoning. For example, you might try adding garlic, ginger and red pepper to give the veggies and Asian flavor. A sprinkle of thyme, oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper is a great way to give it an Italian flair.
3 cups broccoli florets
3 cups cauliflower florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lemon (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Toss the broccoli and cauliflower florets in a large mixing bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Spread the veggies over a sheet pan, then roast until tender (about 10 - 15 minutes)
A simple Japanese rice seasoning using healthy ingredients like flax seed meal, sesame seeds, and kelp powder.
I know some of you might be thinking "Furi-what now?". I'll admit, furikake is not the most mainstream condiment out there. It is, however, one of my personal favorites, and something that I've loved the heck out of since my Japanese restaurant days.
Furikake is basically a topping for rice (and also sometimes noodles or other dishes). It's often made from sesame seeds and seaweed but there are lots of different varieties and flavors using everything from garlic to dried egg to spice things up.
Depending on the selection of Japanese foods at your grocery store you may be able to find a jar during a normal grocery trip. Or, if your city has an Asian market (we have some GREAT ones in Austin) than you could even find several types of furikake to try out.
I've been meaning to make my own furikake for some time now, and was finally inspired to take the plunge while brainstorming ways to sneak more omega into my diet. Ground flaxseed blends into furikake quite well - giving the seasoning a mild nutty flavor that works really well with sesame and seaweed.
You can shake this lovely stuff all over rice, quinoa, noodles, or roasted vegetables to add a dash of salty, umami flavor.
My personal favorite way to enjoy furikake is simple. I start with a small bowl of freshly steamed rice, squirt a little soy sauce or liquid amino on top, then sprinkle the bowl liberally with furikake. This makes an amazing side or a wholesome snack - the perfect comfort food for anyone who loves rice as much as I do.
Combine the sesame seeds and flax seeds in a small skillet and toast over medium heat. Make sure to continuously move the ingredients in the skillet by gently shaking the pan as they toast. When you start to smell the sesame they are finished. Immediately remove the seeds from the pan into a small mixing bowl.
Add the kelp granules and mix well.
Allow the mixture to cool completely before transferring it to a small jar or shaker with an airtight lid.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Whole Foods Market
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but if you ask me, it is equally the most challenging. That is, it becomes challenging when you try to make sure it meets all of your very particular requirements for nutrition, speed, and taste. I actually have a very easy time eating breakfast - as long as it involves cream cheese and excessive carbohydrates. I know! I KNOW!
So I need to do better at breakfast. Another area that could use improvement is my overall nutrition. In my pre-baby life I ate well - like REALLY well. So well that I knew without a doubt that my nutritional needs were being met regularly and in the best possible way - through real food. These days I don't eat so well. I'm still adjusting to my new life as a mother and well, to be frank, still struggling to get my recently widened rear-end back in the kitchen!
Enter supplements, modern life's little shortcut to making sure that I DO get everything I need on a daily basis. I was invited to my local Whole Foods earlier this week to discuss what supplements might help get me back on track. With their resident Whole Body expert, Terri, I found a brand new probiotic and a solid multi-vitamin before delving into the world of fatty acid and antioxidant supplements, which are available in both pill and liquid form, and are present in food ingredients like flax oil and chia seeds.
If you'd like to create or revamp a supplement regimen I highly recommend visiting your local Whole Foods and speaking with someone in their Whole Body section to help get you started. It just so happens that this weekend is a great time to do so as Whole Foods is having a huge 3-Day sale on supplements. Between Friday, January 8 and Sunday, January 10 Whole Foods will be offering their entire selection of supplements at 25% off. I even have a $25 gift card to get one lucky reader started. (Giveaway widget below.)
So, back to breakfast. I know enough about health to realize that popping a few pills every morning is not enough. I need breakfast! I took advantage of this supplement education to work on a breakfast recipe that would be filling, nutritious, and most importantly really quick and easy to make. What better vehicle for protein, antioxidants, and soluble fiber is there than the great and powerful smoothie? And just to mix things up a little, this particular smoothie is meant to be enjoyed hot.
Being new to protein powders I took Terri's recommendation to try out Whole Food's new Plant-Based Fit Protein in the Vanilla Cinnamon flavor. It's unsweetened and contains a few extra goodies, like green coffee extract, in addition to the totally vegan protein. I also used my own homemade Almond Milk in this recipe. When heated, it thickens the smoothie nicely and, of course, tastes way better than almond milk from the store. You can, however, use plain or sweetened store-bought Almond Milk and whatever variety of protein powder you like to make your smoothie.
Vanilla Almond Hot Breakfast Smoothie Makes one 10-oz serving (or two 5-oz servings)
This hot smoothie recipe is packed with protein, antioxidants, and deliciousness. It can be enjoyed cold but in my opinion is much much better served hot. Try making a double or triple batch to keep in the fridge and heat on demand for instant breakfasts all week.
A note on sweetness: This was very sweet (like a dessert) when I added five dates along with my homemade Almond Milk which is also mildly sweet. You can add more or less dates and sweet or unsweetened Almond Milk to suit your own personal taste.
I'm not one of those people who obsessively makes every ingredient in their pantry from scratch.
Don't get me wrong. I'd LIKE to be one of those people. I've even tried to be. Unfortunately, that kind of 100% total from-scratch lifestyle just isn't in the cards during this particular stage of my life. At this point, if I can cook a meal at home instead of driving through some god-forsaken window somewhere I call that a win.
So you might be surprised to know that I prefer making my almond milk at home, from scratch. There are a few reasons I do this. The most noble would be to avoid drinking all kinds of wacky stabilizers and preservatives added to commercial almond milk. The less virtuous motivation (and possibly the more pressing of the two) is that homemade almond milk tastes AMAZING. It's seriously so much better than anything you can buy at the store.
Is it an extra step? Yes. Is it a little slow and sometimes even a bit annoying? Sure. Is it worth the trouble? You bet your sweet bippy it is.
To make a very basic, non-sweetened, non-flavored almond milk simply omit the vanilla beans and dates from this recipe - then go home to your pristine lair of virtue and judge me. I need some sweetness in my life. I figure dates are not the worst variety. This recipe yields a very mildly sweet milk. If you want it to be extra sweet just add a few extra dates.
By the way, squeezing the milk through a questionably named device - the nut bag(ahem), is the best way to get a really smooth, pulp-free milk. The second best method is to strain through cheese cloth. That's very effective, but it does take a while with all the dripping and waiting involved. I don't know about you, but I haven't got all day to spend milking nuts.
The fastest method is to strain through a fine mesh strainer, but there is a drawback. This method allows much more pulp to get into the milk. Whether or not that bugs you is really up to personal taste. As long as you are using unpasteurized almonds to make your milk (see *note below) it shouldn't result in a big difference in flavor. I've tried it both ways, and you can see the difference in the following photo. The milk made with cheesecloth is on the left and the milk made with a mesh strainer is on the right.
Soak the almonds and vanilla beans in water for 24-48 hours.
Transfer mixture to a blender and blend on highest setting for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture is fairly smooth and frothy.
Strain the mixture through a nut bag, cheesecloth, or a fine mesh strainer.
Refrigerate for up to one week.
*I've seen these available at Whole Foods, Amazon, and occasionally at other hippie-dippie type grocery stores. Thrive Market also carries them. There is actually a huge difference (to my taste anyway) between pasteurized and unpasteurized almonds. The latter being far more bitter than the untouched variety.