Squashing Fear of Squash: Mediterranean Squash Salad Wraps

SPRING. It's happening. Sort of. 

Last week 8 inches of snow hit the DC region and then a day later the sun came out, the temperature sooooared to a balmy 56°F, and I took great big strides around the apartment discussing how it was time to start bringing out sandals and dresses. Premature, I know. 

I don't really believe in Spring cleaning- I like to waltz into the warmer months feeling organized, all my ducks in a row. I reserve the last few cold weeks of the year for sorting through unread magazines, paying off straggling bills, and destroying evidence of money thrown into the bowels of the Target Corporation during fruitless attempts at cheering up in frigid weather. For the record this winter left me with: 5 grey sweatshirts, 15 pairs of socks, 3 bowls, 4 spatulas, 10 lip glosses- all same color... 

In other words, basic Spring cleaning activities but earlier and at a very slow, deliberate pace. The last of my winter purge is reserved for a vast stock of root vegetables acquired in December through late January. It's during this time of year that things get dim and I imagine myself a lonely homesteader on the Russian steppe- headscarf, all grey and taupe wardrobe, looking for inspiration in beets and potatoes.

I took inventory of my kitchen last week and realized that I tend to fall into a pattern. Every winter, without fail, I buy squash. Every year, I think that this will be the year that I master this mysterious, turtle shelled, indigenous vegetable. Every year, like clockwork, I put it on the counter and it stares at me. Day in, day out... Week in, week out... Month in, month out... After I purchase my first winter squash it's only a matter of time before a different, gorgeous variety tempts me. By February I have no less than 3 varieties of squash sitting there, side by side, watching me cook up every other kind of winter vegetable. The situation got so bad at one point that I found myself actually saying out loud to someone that "squash is only for decor, I don't even like how it tastes". What's the word for convincing yourself you dislike that which you do not understand? Yeah, that's me and squash. By March, warmer weather has arrived and I either throw the squash away or continue to watch it watching me... hoping one of us will just find a way to deal with the other. It's a tumultuous relationship.  

This year, while doing my pre-Spring cleaning, I decided that the status quo was going to change. I am in the possession of three types of squash and I vowed to learn how to cook, clean, and enjoy them. One of my New Year's resolutions was to cut out food waste and I am really trying to stick to it. If you share my irrational fear of squash, then you know it's gone on too long. Together, let's stop objectifying squash only for it's outside beauty and learn to feast on the substance within.  

Squashing Fear of Squash:

1. Consult this handy article to find out what kind of squash you purchased. 

2. Wash the outside of your squash with a brush or sponge. 

3. Cut the squash with a large, very sharp knife. Scoop out the insides.

4. Brush the inside with olive oil and roast cut side up in the oven for 30 min at 350°F until the skin is fork tender then peel/stuff the squash with your favorite mix of grains/meats/veggies.

OR

 This video tutorial is the best I've found with loads of super easy preparation tips for different varieties of squash. 

It's that easy. Seriously, four steps and you're ready to crack open and enjoy a vegetable that has been feared far too long. Squash is awesome because it's not super expensive, loaded with nutrients, and a great substitute for meat in dishes that call for something hearty. During the cold months it's great mashed and pureed into soups. Now that the weather is warmer and I'm craving lighter foods my favorite recipe has quickly become these Mediterranean inspired salad wraps. Easy to make and full of flavor they're great for lunch and dinner!

Mediterranean Squash Salad Wraps

Ingredients (makes 4 wraps)

  • 1 acorn/ butternut squash
  • 4 large pitas OR tortillas
  • schmear of hummus (optional)
  • 2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup orange/red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup pickled beets, sliced
  • 1 small red onion sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup olives
  • 1/4 cup feta
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic OR red wine vinegar
  • salt + pepper to taste

For Squash: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut your squash in half and scoop out the insides. 
  2. Bake, cut side up for 15 min. until the skin is fork tender and skin peels off easily. 
  3. Cut into cubes and place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, s+p. Bake for 15 more minutes. 

While your squash is baking:

  1. Combine spinach, bell peppers, olives, beets, onion, feta in a bowl.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, s+p to taste.

Once the squash has finished baking and is fork tender, assemble the wraps by spreading hummus on your pita/tortilla, place the warm squash in the center, and add the salad on top. Fold the sides together or wrap like a burrito, enjoy!!

pro/prebiotics without the pretty penny

http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/blog/2014/04/probiotics-vs-antibiotics-wrong-question.html   

http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/blog/2014/04/probiotics-vs-antibiotics-wrong-question.html

 

 

I never thought I would be led astray by a doctor named Muffy. 

Unfortunately, the last month has found me fighting the debilitating consequences of being misprescribed and not properly warned of the effects of a medicine called Clindamycin. An antiparasitic, usually prescribed for people with very serious parasitic infections, I was given this as treatment for a very normal and natural bacterial overgrowth. After taking the pills for almost the full dose I started feeling intense stomach cramping, dizziness, and nausea. I couldn't hold down small bites of bland, solid food or water for almost 16 days. Lots of research led me to discover that taking Clindamycin is effectively akin to staging a full blown nuclear attack on the flora and natural ecosystem of your digestive tract. To put it simply, the good bacteria is wiped out and the (very resistant) bad bacteria gets free reign. In many cases, it can lead to very serious lifelong diseases such as colitis. Thanks, Muffy.

A thorough consultation with a gastroenterologist is what helped me discover the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics. These bacteria naturally occur in our digestive tracts and are what help our systems function properly. The latter, prebiotics,  are the "foods" that feed and encourage the good bacteria, probiotics, in our intestinal tracts. (Check out handy article that I used to learn more about probiotic bacteria here.)

In order to get my digestive system into a pre-poisoned state I was told to consume as many of these good GI bacteria as I could get my hands on. No less than 2000 live strains at least two times a day.

A trip to the natural foods store quickly opened my eyes to how expensive this supremely healthy bacteria can be. A pack of four pills can go for as much as $50 - not at all realistic for my budget! Thus, I started doing research on probiotic rich foods that I could use to supplement what I couldn't afford to give my body in pill form.

I hope the following lists help anyone else who finds themselves in such a predicament.. 

Probiotic Rich Foods

  • Kefir : a fermented dairy/water based beverage, the most powerful and direct way to consume probiotic organisms.
  • Stoneyfield Yogurt I found this is the best as it has a great selection of flavors, no hormones, often on sale, and has 3 live strains of bacteria.
  • Miso : fermented soy beans made into a paste, delicious in broth or stir-fry
  • Tempeh : also a product of fermented soybeans, great in stir-fry.
  • Oatmeal : just add butter!
  • Kombucha : over 50 strains of bacteria in this delicious beverage.

Prebiotic Rich Foods

  • Carrots : especially fresh carrot juice does amazing things for the stomach lining.
  • Leeks : raw or lightly sautéed with olive oil. 
  • Banana : incredible benefits for the lining of the stomach and in prebiotic content. 
  • Brussels Sprout : lightly sauteed or roasted in the oven for 15 min at 400F.
  • Beans : soy, pinto, kidney.
  • Asparagus : raw or lightly sautéed.
  • Honey : Love it on my oatmeal and toast BUT I believe it is best consumed in stick form. Tons of flavors in bulk available here!

 

P.S. The very serious diet I have had to adhere to over the last month has meant few allowed foods and lots of experimentation. Kefir, not surprisingly, has been one of the most used items in my kitchen. I've put it over granola, mixed it with fruit, and added it to my buckwheat to try and "spice" things up. Later this week I will post a recipe for a fantastic cold Russian soup whose base is Kefir that is quick, easy,  inexpensive, full of nutrients, and incredibly delicious. Stay tuned!