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Going with the grain

As part of "The Shape We're In," the Gazette-Mail series exploring the chronic but preventable health problems of many West Virginians, we present the third in a series of articles that feature healthy cooking on a budget. Charleston cooking instructor and chef April Hamilton, a passionate advocate of healthy dining and food preparation, presents techniques and recipes for wholesome dining on a budget. South Charleston Pediatrics sponsors the series.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Pediatrician Melanie Winnings and the other doctors at South Charleston Pediatrics see many obese children in their practice. Winnings advises parents to feed their children a healthy diet and encourages them to exercise to control their weight and reduce heart disease, cholesterol and triglycerides issues. Even thin children can have high cholesterol if they eat a fatty diet.

April Hamilton's Sunday Life&Style series on easily prepared healthy, inexpensive meals offers real-life cooking techniques and recipes for busy parents. The series' mission fit so well with the doctors' message, that Winnings and the other doctors in the practice sponsored Hamilton's series.

Between her busy practice and her two children's activities, Winnings admits that even she sometimes relies on processed foods for quick meals. Her son's peanut allergy limits the restaurants where they can dine.

"I took one of April's classes, and it really opened my eyes to how easy it can be," Winnings said. "I was not in the kitchen much as a kid. As an adult, I ate out of a box a lot, especially when I was in med school. I got into horrible habits."

Winnings clips and uses coupons when she grocery shops and purchases healthy items when they're on sale.

"If you're organized, it's not incredibly difficult to fix appropriate foods," she said. "I'm ashamed to say that I recently got fast food for two of us, and it was $15. Afterward, I thought about what good foods I could have bought with that money."

Winnings recently paired up with Hamilton as she demonstrated three side dishes to make with fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains as an alternative to starchy, nutritionally poor white rice or potatoes.

The duo made an Asian noodle salad with buckwheat noodles, carrots, cucumber and green onions, whole-wheat couscous with sun-dried tomatoes and basil and quinoa and spinach. Buckwheat noodles contain protein and fiber. Substitute whole-wheat angel hair pasta if you can't find buckwheat, also known as soba noodles, in the Asian section of the supermarket.

Winnings said she wasn't familiar with quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wha"), although she'd seen it in stores and wondered about it.

Hamilton explained that dry quinoa also is high in fiber and protein and "as easy to prepare as mashed potato flakes." She added quinoa to boiling water, and then let it simmer for about 15 minutes for a soft consistency.

Quinoa is technically a seed, although it's commonly regarded as a whole grain. For a slightly crunchy consistency, place quinoa in boiling water (twice the amount of quinoa) and set aside. The quinoa will absorb the water and attain an almost sprouted appearance.

The couscous dish featured sun-dried tomatoes, which can be expensive when purchased in jars. Dried sun-dried tomatoes are more reasonably priced and are easily reconstituted in warm water, Hamilton explained as she had Winnings slice the damp tomatoes, julienne zucchini into ribbons and thinly slice fresh basil leaves for the couscous.

"These recipes are so easy. No one could say that they can't do this," Hamilton said.

Will it be a challenge to convince her children to dish up these healthy alternatives to mashed potatoes? Winnings said her 20-year-old daughter, a more adventurous eater, makes good food choices at college. Her 14-year-old son might balk, but Winnings thinks the fresh flavors of the three side dishes she added to her repertoire will win him over. She raised her children to at least try every dish on their plates.

"He knows it's not an option," she said. "He knows he has to eat at least some of it. My hope is that, at some point, he'll learn to eat these healthier foods."

Visit South Charleston Pediatrics here.

Email April Hamilton at aprilskitchen@suddenlink.net.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

 GOING MAIN COURSE

Tips to stretch quinoa and spinach dish into meals:

Stuff quinoa into peppers and bake.

Use quinoa as a pizza base.

Add leftover chicken and diced drained tomatoes, plus chili powder and cumin for a Southwest dish, or fresh basil and garlic for an Italian flavored entrée to quinoa or couscous dish.Buckwheat noodle salad

Add leftover chicken or peanuts to make a main course.

8 ounces buckwheat noodles

2 carrots, peeled and julienned

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Pinch red pepper flakes

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

1 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

COOK noodles according to package directions. While water boils, prepare carrots and place in the colander where you will drain the noodles. When noodles are just done, drain on top of the carrot and carefully shake to remove all water.

WHISK together oil, soy sauce, honey, vinegar and red pepper flakes in a large serving bowl. Add the warm noodles and carrots and toss to combine. Stir in the green onions and cucumber. Top with sesame seeds and serve.

 

Best-dressed couscous

A luscious lemon and herb dressing makes this couscous a standout. This is a great accompaniment to chicken, fish or alongside a burger. For a quick lunch, scoop into lettuce leaves and top with a little crumbled feta cheese.

1 1/2  cups water

1 cup plain couscous

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (dry/not oil-packed), reconstituted and cut into strips

1 small zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, and julienned

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

3  tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced*

Salt and pepper, to taste

BRING water to boil in medium saucepan. Stir in couscous, salt and dried tomato strips, cover and remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and gently fold in zucchini. Let stand about 10 minutes

WHISK together lemon zest and juice, olive oil, basil and salt and pepper to taste in a large serving bowl. Add couscous to bowl and stir gently to combine. Serve, or refrigerate to serve cold.

*To slice fresh basil, stack the leaves together and roll up tightly. Using a sharp knife, cut the stack into thin shreds. Basil can also be hand-torn.

 

Couscous-stuffed peppers

2 bell peppers, cut in half through the stem, seeds removed

2 cups prepared Best-Dressed Couscous

1 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed*

1/4 cup olives, preferably Kalamata, coarsely chopped

Olive oil

HEAT oven to 375 degrees.

LIGHTLY oil a small baking dish to hold the pepper halves. Arrange the peppers, cut side-up, in dish.

COMBINE prepared couscous, chickpeas and olives in a bowl. Evenly divide the mixture among the four pepper halves, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes until heated through and peppers are just softened. Carefully remove foil from dish and serve.

*A can of chickpeas typically contains about 1 1/2 cups drained chickpeas. Reserve the remaining chickpeas and toss into a salad.

 

Quinoa with Fresh Spinach

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup quinoa

3 cups fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

BRING water and salt to boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for 10 to15 minutes, until most of liquid is absorbed and the grains appear to have 'popped' open and are slightly translucent.

REMOVE from heat, gently stir in spinach and cover for a few minutes to wilt spinach. Serve.

 

Quinoa pizza

Leftover quinoa can be transformed into a pizza crust, or really the base of a pizza casserole. Eat the "slices" with a fork. Top with sauce, cheese and favorite pizza toppings.

2 cups prepared quinoa, as in recipe above

1 cup canned diced tomato (Hamilton recommends "Pomi" chopped tomato, in a box)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon oregano, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Pizza toppings such as thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves, pepperoni slices

Olive oil

HEAT oven to 375 degrees.

LIGHTLY oil a 9-inch glass pie dish with olive oil. Spread quinoa evenly in dish, going up sides to form a "crust."

COMBINE diced tomato, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl.

TOP crust with 1 cup of sauce, spreading to edge, then sprinkle with cheese and add desired toppings. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and a little golden on top.

COOL slightly, cut into wedges and serve.


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