Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Mate

So, it’s pronounced “mah-tay”.  And it just might be your new favorite thing.

I was first introduced to the wonder that is Mate in college by several friends who were introduced to it by a lovely classmate who was originally from Argentina, as is Mate itself.  The drink was taking my friends by storm, and I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss as about- until I tried it.

Mate is not just a drink- when done well, it’s an experience.  Mate is a loose herb that is traditionally packed into a dried gourd in a special way that I have yet to master- then drank out of a special straw called a bombilla that filters out the herb and just gives you the mate tea.  Mate is also traditionally consumed in a communal setting- the host, who prepares the mate, drinks the first cup, then fills the gourd back up with hot water and passes it to the next person, who drinks and then fills for the next person, and so on.

The beauty of mate is the focusing and awakening properties of the herb- it is a stimulant much like coffee, but has no addictive properties nor will it give you jitters.  When lots of people are together and sharing mate, hours of great conversation can pass and seem like minutes because of how engaged and attentive you become.  It is also renown for boosting the immune system and high antioxidant content.  It can be an excellent coffee substitute in the morning, or a surefire cure for the afternoon sleepies at the office.

While it may sound like I am talking about some type of cult experience or illegal substance, I assure you that mate is available at your nearest grocery store, and now even comes in teabag form for you to enjoy in your own individual mug or loose in your French press!

If you ever want to try it the traditional way, we would love to have you over and show you.  Just be prepared for the conversation part! 🙂 The brand that we use is called Guayaki, and it comes in a yellow bag that you can find at Giant in the natural foods section.  You can also purchase delicious, beginner-friendly Mate blends and gourd/bombilla sets at Teavana.

Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Kombucha

I am writing this post fully aware that I will not convert many of you to my favorite drink. It took me a very long time to try it, and I didn’t like it at first- and I will get to why later. Put I promise, if you stick with me, you’ll discover a new favorite beverage that is not only a treat for your taste buds, but your whole body as well.

Kombucha is, essentially, fermented sweet tea. There is more to it that that, specific cultures of bacteria and full of amino acids and the like, but that’s really all you need to know. It can be flavored with fresh juices, mixed with spirulina, stirred into cocktails, you name it. With a very slight vinegar taste (which, as an avid opposer to the existence of vinegar, I find easy to ignore), this elixir is naturally carbonated and positively excellent for you to consume. Straight from the #1 blog on the subject, here is a list of the wonderdrink’s supposed health benefits:

Probiotics – healthy bacteria


Alkalize the body – balances internal pH


Detoxify the liver

Increase metabolism

Improve digestion 


Rebuild connective tissue – helps with arthritis, gout, asthma, rheumatism


Cancer prevention

Alleviate constipation


Boost energy – helps with chronic fatigue


Reduce blood pressure

Relieve headaches & migraines

Reduce kidney stones


High in antioxidants – destroy free-radicals that cause cancer


High in polyphenols


Improve eyesight


Heal excema – can be applied topically to soften the skin


Prevent artheriosclerosis


Speed healing of ulcers – kills h.pylori on contact


Help clear up candida & yeast infections


Aid healthy cell regeneration


Reduce gray hair


Lower glucose levels – prevents spiking from eating

Yes, some of these are lofty claims, and none of them are backed up by the FDA, so hear me when I say that THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE and drinking kombucha is not going to cure anything. But I will promise you that you will feel better- maybe in a way that you can’t explain, but you will. If you are a person who suffers from digestive irregularity, this is for you. Tired in the afternoon? This drink has virtually cut out my 2pm sleepies. I get sick less often, have clearer skin, hold less water weight, and have a more balanced appetite!

My favorite brand of store-bought kombucha is GT’s, available at Whole Foods, Wegmans, and many co-ops and health stores. Their Synergy line is very easy to drink and great for ‘whetting the palate’ to kombucha. Personally, I think that the mango flavor is my favorite, followed closely by their Trilogy, a blend of raspberry, lemon, and ginger juices.

It is possible to ‘brew’ your own kombucha at home- in fact, I am in the process right now! More info and pictures when the brew is complete.

Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Nutritional Yeast

This week’s feature food is not exactly a food, but might be more accurately described as a seasoning.  Nutritional- or, sometimes referred to as ‘brewer’s’- yeast is a staple for most vegetarian and vegan kitchens, and is about to become one of yours, too.

I was first introduced to this gem by a veg friend who used it on popcorn and in stir-fry.  She told me that she used it to boost her protein and B-vitamin levels.  She was right, too- not only is nutritional yeast very high in protein, but it contains amazing amounts of B-vitamins, particularly the sought-after B12.  It also contains a healthy dose of fiber- and, let’s be honest, we can all use a little more fiber in our diet!  Boasting all of these wonderful benefits, I had to give it a shot.

I bought a small bag of the off-yellow flakes from the bulk section at Whole Foods to give it a whirl, and soon found myself putting it on everything.  Seriously, this stuff is delicious.  I don’t know what it is about the taste, but I think that a sprinkle of nutritional yeast makes everything taste like heaven.  My favorite use for the seasoning is on my eggs in the morning, with a little sprinkle of grey rock salt and fresh pepper.  I have even been known to take a tiny Tupperware container of it with me when I travel or visit friends for a day or so.  I have a serious love affair!  Here are some other ideas for your new best friend:

Sprinkle on popcorn or pizza

Mix into green juice, smoothies, or a tomato juice drink

Fold into flour and breadcrumbs for a tasty breading

Toss whole grain noodles with olive oil and yeast

Stir into gravies and sauces

Puree with nuts and a little water to make a raw, vegan ‘cheese’

Sprinkle some on brown rice

Season eggs in the morning

The possibilities are endless, really.  Send me your creations!  You can buy nutritional yeast at your local health food store- if you’re lucky, maybe you can get the shaker container that Red Star and Bragg’s make!  Yum!

Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Chia Seeds

You guys. My life has been revolutionized. Chia seeds, people!

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Yes, like in a chia pet. Who knew that those little beauties packed so much incredible nutrition? Not me, that’s for sure. Not only are they amazing for you, but they are incredibly versatile. Eat them raw, sprinkle them on salads or cereal, make them into a drink, use them in baking, throw them in a smoothie.

The best thing about using chia in your diet is that it will take on any flavor you give it. I sometimes just drink them in water, and it doesn’t taste like anything! Similar to flaxseed, they form a fun gelatinous substance when mixed with water, which can be used to make puddings or even as an egg substitute.

The health benefits of chia seeds are bountiful:

Increased energy levels
Increased endurance levels
Helps with weight loss
Normalized blood sugar levels
Cleanses the colon
Gets rid of toxins
Prolongs hydration
Reduce inflammation
Helps tone muscles
Helps to lower the blood pressure
Improves mental performance
Improves night rest and mood
Lowers the risk of heart diseases
Improves overall health
Lowers cholesterol
Absorbs extra acid, helping to get rid of acid reflux
Helps thyroid conditions
Helps IBS
High in omega-3s
High in fiber and protein
Helps celiac disease

Here’s my favorite way to enjoy them. Experiment! Your body will thank you.

Easy fruity chia tea

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon chia seeds
3tablespoons fruit juice (any)
One bag green tea
Water to fill your mug

In a small glass, mix chia seeds and fruit juice. Let stand for about 15 minutes, until seeds form a gel suspension. Be sure to stir every so often at the beginning to prevent clumping. Stirring is important!

Meanwhile, heat up water and make yourself a cup of green tea. Leave a bit of room in the cup when you fill it! Once the chia juice mixture has set, stir it into your tea until evenly distributed. Drink immediately, and keep stirring to prevent chia from settling!

The combinations are endless. Different teas, different juices. Try it out!

Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Coconut Water

A few nights ago, we were blessed to stay with a family in Charlotte, NC on our way to a tour stop in West Virginia. After dinner we went into their basement to watch a movie, where I discovered a health nut treasure trove: a refrigerator full of coconut water! It reminds me of living in South Florida and getting fresh coconuts from a ethnic grocery on Saturday afternoons. Needless to say, I had some in the morning after my run and, to my delight, the family sent me packing with four huge bottles to take on the road with me.

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When we got in the van, I was surprised to find that I was actually the only one excited about our new stash of hydration! Apparently several people in our crew were weirded out by the coconut water, or had taken a small a taste at breakfast and not been a fan. I am still working on making converts, but I wanted to share a bit about the benefits of coconut water with you all, and maybe you’ll try it, too!

Coconut water has been affectionately called “natures sports drink”- with more potassium than a banana and more electrolytes than Gatorade, it is the perfect, all natural companion to your workout. One serving also has 170% of you daily Vitamin C, which gives the immune system a great boost. It also comes in a Tetrapak, a new form of packaging that is completely recyclable- something to be proud of!

As for the taste- lets just say, for most people, it’s an acquired one. It is mostly sweet, not too coconutty, with a bit of a salty tinge to it. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you’ll be hooked! Your body knows what is good for it- it’s not uncommon to start craving coconut water, even if you didn’t like it at first.

One of the great ways to use coconut water is mixing it with something else- another fruit juice, or- my favorite- as a smoothie base. The favors blend perfectly in with green smoothies and fruit smoothies, and give you a burst of healthy energy. As I mentioned before, I love it after(and during) a workout, and also during long car rides, as it is much better for your body than coffee, but has similar sustaining effects.

Here are some great brands you can find at your local grocery store:

Vita Coco
Zico
Naked

Many of them come in yummy favors, like pineapple, mango, even chocolate!

Have you tried coconut water before? How do you use it? Let me know!

Foods You Never Knew You Liked: Spaghetti Squash

Huh?

Ok, so…is it a vegetable, or a pasta?  The answer is both, my friends.  Not really, but you’d never know the difference!  Spaghetti squash is one of those little miracles of nature that can only be explained as God’s little gift for creative cooks.  The flesh literally separates into strands, like angel hair spaghetti!  The great news is that it’s pretty cheap, easy to find (almost all grocery stores carry it now), it keeps forever, and because you don’t eat the skins, it’s not completely necessary to buy organic (but if you can, you should).

You can cook spaghetti squash in the microwave or in the oven.  I prefer the microwave- it’s much faster, and let’s be honest, that’s a big factor for me- but I know that there are countless studies about how microwaving food kills off the nutrients, so the oven is a perfectly good option as well.

Take a fork and basically ‘perforate’ a line around the squash lengthwise, as if you were going to cut it in half.  Throw it in the microwave for about 4 minutes or so.  The squash is very tough, so doing this allows you to cut the squash in half much more easily and without fear of impaling yourself on your best chef’s knife.

Once you cut the squash in half (microwave longer if necessary) remove as many seeds as possible and place the squash cut-sides down in a glass baking dish (like pyrex) along with ½ cup of water.  Microwave for about ten minutes.

Once cooked throughout (the flesh can be easily penetrated from the middle to the rind) turn the squash over and, using the tines of a fork, begin separating the strands.  Work from the middle out to the edges.  As you get chunks, separate them, too- and put your ready-to-eat ‘pasta’ into a serving bowl.  Do this until you have scraped out the entire squash!

You can now dress the ‘pasta’ however you like- butter and herbs, any type of marinara sauce, or my personal favorite- basil pesto and olive oil with some halved cherry tomatoes and shaved raw garlic.  Experiment with this, just like you would pasta!  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised…it’s delicious!