Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms with Bulgur Wheat – CYOB [A Double-Dip Day]

A Little Double Dipping, Create Your Own Bite

This dish is perfect for a quiet date or a big party – the stuffing is great served in baked portobello mushrooms, or divided into small stemmed mushrooms as a passed hors d’oeuvre.

Create Your Own Bite #9

Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms served over Bulgur Wheat

Adapted from a Veg Lite recipe first printed in the October 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times.

3 Medium-sized White Mushrooms, Stemmed

1/2 White Onion, Finely Chopped

2 Cups Baby Spinach

2 Ounces Goat Cheese

2 Teaspoons Olive Oil

3 Clove Garlic, Minced

1 Cup Bulgur Wheat, dry

1 Teaspoon Basil

Add Salt and Fresh Cracked Pepper, To Taste.

This recipe makes 3 servings, with approximately 1/2 cup of bulgur per person.

Estimated Calories: 200

A last minute dinner plan meant a number of adaptations and substitutions for the recipe that initially called for leeks instead of onions, portobello instead of white mushrooms, thyme instead of basil, and farro instead of bulgur.

With the original recipe from Vegetarian Times in mind, my good friends and I set about preparing our veg-friendly dinner.

After heating the oven to 400 degrees, start by dusting the “gill sides” of the mushrooms with salt, pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil. Bake “gill sides” down on a baking sheet for approximately 10 minutes. The mushrooms will begin to soften and darken as they cook.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan and sautee the onion, garlic, and basil. When the onions begin to turn transluscent, add the spinach, cooking until it has wilted down. At this point, incorporate the goat cheese. The original Vegetarian Times recipe calls here for 1 tablespoon of pine nuts; we didn’t have any on hand, but this additional ingredient would add a contrasting crunch and extra nuttiness to the dish.

Spinach, onion, garlic, and seasonings come together with the creaminess of the goat cheese as the perfect stuffing for mushrooms of all varieties.

Once the goat cheese has melted into the spinach mixture, stuff the mushrooms and heap the excess on top. At this point, start cooking the bulgur wheat – it will take about the same amount of time to prepare as the mushrooms will take to finish in the oven. Bake the stuffed mushrooms for an additional 15 minutes – thicker mushrooms, like the portobellos the original recipe called for, may take longer. Just watch until the mixture on top begins to brown and carmelize. The bulgur wheat will have absorbed the water after simmering for the duration of the baking.

The Vegetarian Times recipe, which initially called for farro, suggests mixing the cooked grain with a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of lemon juice, and a teaspoon of grated lemon zest. Quite by accident, we overlooked this last step, as the mushrooms had come out of the oven and smelled delicious, and the bulgur was nutty and sweet on its own. The lemon we picked up at the market sat forgotten on the counter – but feel free to try this step, as the folks at Vegetarian Times do know what they’re talking about.

Serve one third of the bulgur with one of the mushroom, and dig in. This low calorie dish is savory and earthy, and is a fun dish to prepare with friends. My father took his own spin on the dish a week later, breaking the recipe down even more and dividing the mixture into many small button mushrooms to serve as an appetizer at a party.

Adapting recipes, and putting your own spin on them, is always fun to try, too. Make due with what you have, create a healthier version, or adapt a recipe to your dietary lifestyle. Make this recipe gluten-free by serving with rice instead of bulgur, grain-free by reviving the Cauliflower Couscous recipe I shared with you in May, or vegan by holding off on the goat cheese. In our case, the bulgur wheat may have been an accident, but it was a healthy, delicious surprise.

Until next time, I’m off to find another surprising bite.

Melanie

A Little Word on Bulgur Wheat [A Double-Dip Day]

A Little Double Dipping, The New Bite

This light, nutty grain is a wonderful low-cal option, popular in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabouleh.

Last Sunday was one of those days that got swept up and disappeared. I moved back to Boston, and now that I’m settled back, I’m ready to get back on track, with my little bites and healthy life.

In this double-dip, I’m featuring a product you have to bring into your pantry immediately – bulgur wheat – and later, showing you how to turn this into a delicious feast with someone special, friends, or family.

Bulgur wheat is a miracle product for those looking to keep meals high in nutrition and low in fat. My first motivation for picking up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Bulgur was it’s quick-cook time, as I’m notorious for eating al dente pasta and raw oats just to add a few extra minutes to my day. Simply bring a pot of water to a boil and allow the grain to simmer for 12-15 minutes; a much more manageable cooking committment than the 40 minutes needed for properly cooked brown rice.

Bob’s Red Mill products are worth the extra buck – organic, whole wheat products from an employee-owned are natural, healthy, and make you feel better about every meal.

The big selling points, however, are the various nutritional benefits. While slightly lower in calories than rice, it’s more than double the amount of fiber. It’s also low in fat, and has a substantial amount of protein per serving.

When cooking with this Middle Eastern grain, the only thing to keep in mind is the distinct nuttiness of the flavor. It’s one of my favorite foundations for meals because of this, but unlike rice, it is not neutral enough to serve as a substitute in every dish.

Unfortunately, bulgur wheat isn’t gluten-free; but for those subsisting on vegetarian, vegan, or low-fat diets, this product will keep the dishes coming off your stove from looking the same night after night. Often, bulgur wheat is used to make tabouleh or pilaf, but try using bulgur in place of more traditional grains the next time you start cooking.

In a recipe I adapted from Vegetarian Times Magazine, I used bulgur wheat instead of farro; while the Italian farro has more protein than bulgur, it’s also more dense, making its serving size smaller. Bulgur is also lower in calories per serving, and significantly lower in carbohydrates. However, both grains share a similar nutty flavor, making bulgur a great substitute if you’re looking to keep the calorie count low, the dish more psychologically filling, or simply seeking to try a new product.

Find this recipe in part deux of my double dip; Spinach-Stuffed Mushrooms with Bulgur.

Or, join me next week for another little bite you can’t miss.

Melanie

Where to Bite Vegan – It’s Only Natural [Middletown, CT]

Where to Bite

An all vegan menu is a rarity – especially in central Connecticut. The use of tempeh, tofu, tamari and miso are just a few examples of the unique products ION features.

I’ve been spending some quality time with my family in my home state, Connecticut, since returning from my overseas expedition. Small suburbs, like the one I’m from, are not known for being particularly varied in their dining-out options. There’s the olive garden down the street, the wings-and-sports bar, the Chinese restaurant with decades-old fish in front.

But just a short drive away is Middletown, a more urban area of Connecticut, with a vibrant youth culture due to its proximity to Wesleyan University. Here, you can find It’s Only Natural – a group responsible for an organic foods market, as well as a funky, popular restaurant only a few blocks away at 386 Main Street.

At this self-proclaimed “hippie” restaurant, more commonly referred to as ION, you can choose from an extensive vegetarian menu, where almost every dish is, or can be made vegan. Non-dairy cheeses, tofu sour cream, and tempeh and tofu mains; there’s a wide variety of options for every diety – even those seeking a gluten or grain free option.

This entree didn’t boast the heat I was hoping for, but it was still a delicious, hearty vegan entree that hits every nutritional note you could hope for.

Recommended Dishes: After a few appetizers, including the Vegetable Dumplings stuffed with mushroom and scallion, my parents and I each selected a main dish from the menu. I selected the Cajun Tempeh, which is a great way to try tempeh if you are not familiar with the product. Tempeh, like tofu, is soy-based, but it’s less processed. It’s higher in protein and in fiber than tofu, and the firmer, chewier texture makes it a great meat-substitute.

The Not-So-Good Bite: Across the board, all of the dishes had more or less the same, earthy flavor. The Cajun Tempeh wasn’t significantly spicy, and the tempeh crab cakes that accompanied my father’s entree didn’t carry any of that tangy, sweet flavor you’d expect. The carmelized onions, nutty brown rice and sauteed garlic greens that flanked my tempeh were, however, delicious.

The Good Bite: While ION could kick up the heat in some of their dishes, or toss on a few extra herbs for seasoning, the overall quality of the food is very good. My mother’s wilted Wilted Arugula Salad, at top, came with homemade whole grain croutons, and homemade balsamic dressing. My starter salad came with a delicious homemade carrot ginger dressing, and the bread came with a house-made carrot miso spread. These little details were full of flavor, fresh, and helped the overall quality of the meal.

The Best Bite: Like the sister-market, ION serves up a nice list of organic wines and beers, and features locally grown products. Even if you’re not a vegan, a meal here is a good deed for Connecticut. As another Best Bite, many of these dishes will also appeal to those with a gluten allergy, or those living a grain-free lifestyle. Simply substitue a sea vegetable or marinated portobello for the rice, or hold the side bread.

After closing the night with an organic dirty chai tea, I made my way to Tschudin Chocolates and Confections, the storefront owned by a good family friend, Rob Lucheme. Here, I topped off the evening with a few of his vegan treats, staying true to my commitment to Be Healthy, and to Be Mindful. A chocolate dipped orange peel, and a dark mint chocolate are jusr a few of the sweets I walked away with.

The next time your passing through Connecticut and seeking to satisfy a vegan craving, make sure to pull off at Middletown – a variety of options are available for those seeking to keep things green.

Until next time, when I’m back in Boston , cooking up some wholesome vegetarian dinners with my friends.

Melanie

A Little Word on Tiny Treats [The Traveling Bite]

A Sweet Little Treat, The Mouthful Morsel, The New Bite, The Traveling Bite

Even I need to put down the food diary every once in a while to try a sweet bite. Holidays, vacations, and adventures abroad are all times when it’s necessary to relax and taste the sugar.

With surprise family visits and spontaneous trips to Boston, I couldn’t find a minute to finish up my weekend mouthful about my travels abroad until today! Many apologies for the delay.

In a mid-week update, I’m wrapping up my traveling adventures with a little word on managing and, most importantly, enjoying, the cultural delicacies, desserts, and sweets I found abroad.

One of Cooking Light Magazine’s 12 Healthy Habits is to “Be Portion Aware,” and while it may sound obvious, this is the key to enjoying an occasional sweet, sugary treat without the guilt those desserts sometimes pack. Cutting the size of “less-healthy or higher-calorie foods” makes it possible to sample sweets without breaking diets or filling your body with unhealthy sugars and fatty oils.

My LittleWordBites endeavor began with mini toasts – and I’ve taken the philosophy of tiny foods and applied it to dessert. Instead of buying more than I want to eat, I try always to seek the tiniest bite. In Amsterdam, it was mini stroopwafel. In London, a mini cupcake shop at Camden Lock Market was turning out big flavors in 1/2 the amount of cupcake batter as a standard cupcake. In Paris, I discovered the miniature version of the classic French macaron – and was able to enjoy more than one flavor with less sugar and fat than if I’d eaten one large macaron.

This bite-sized macaron let me experience the French confection without bogging down the rest of my day in granulated sugar and almond paste.

In a final note, I want to take a nother leaf out of Cooking Light – their reminder to “Eat Mindfully.” Food is about nutrition; energizing your body and fueling your life. But food is also about enjoyment, pleasure, and there’s no reason not to stop every once in a while and truly enjoy the food on your plate. Take a few deep breaths before that next cupcake – chew slowly, consider the flavor. You’ll slow down, eat less, and make the most of every little bite.

This was the best advice I can give – in food and in life. Be mindful of what you put in your body, and be mindful of the adventures you embark on. When you find something worth stopping for, truly take your time, and enjoy every little word, every little bite, every little moment.

Until next time, when I’m back to my regular routine and sharing with you my favorite healthy bites to make the best of every dietary restriction, click here for more healthy living tips from Cooking Light Magazine.

Melanie

Where To Bite Indian – London [The Traveling Bite]

The Mouthful Morsel, The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

Rich curries and light, crispy cabbage slaws are perfectly complementary at the Indian Veg Bhel Poori House in North London.

Chicken tikka masala has long been considered a favorite dish of Britain, and it is widely available in London due to the large number of Indian communities. But this iconic dish is just one of the popular meals coming out of Indian restaurants, popping up on street corners, and even sliding out of quintessential British pubs. In fact, Indian food is incredibly vegetarian-friendly, partly as a result of widespread Hinduism.

A variety of vegetables, spices, and fruits make the menu at any Indian restaurant compatible with a vegetarian diet. And when in London, there are an unfathomable number of restaurants and vendors to choose from. In North London, where I studied for the summer, there is one Indian restaurant you can’t miss – the Indian Veg Bhel Poori House, where all the dishes are vegetarian, and are served buffet-style for only 4.95 pounds.

Four different salads, a variety of rices, and three hot mains were accompanied by an array of poppadoms, samosas, naan, and other Indian snacks when I visited the Indian Veg Bhel Poori House for a quick bite after class. The dishes change daily, but I was particularly taken with the coconut vegetable curry with paneer, and the orange cabbage salad. If you don’t mind being surrounded by facts and statistics adamantly promoting a vegetarian lifestyle, this is an unbeatable price for hearty vegetarian food.

But no neighborhood has a reputation that can compete with Brick Lane, where curry houses line the street and the smell of cumin and coriander can be detected at all hours of the day.

Every restaurant along Brick Lane has a unique take on the traditional Indian cuisine they’re turning out, like this version of Sag Aloo, made with spinach, potatoes, and a variety of fresh vegetables with a spritz of lime. 

The Not-So-Good Bite: While an excursion to Brick Lane is a London-must, be prepared for some aggressive attempts to prove one curry house’s superiority over the next. Hosts will greet you on the sidewalk, and tempt you with a free drink, a bottle of wine, a special discount – anything to set their restaruant apart from the one right next door. If you go with a specific spot in mind, or don’t mind a little time sifting for the best offer, Brick Lane is a vibrant neighborhood worth the trip.

The Good Bite: While picking the best might be a bit tricky, any restaurant along Brick Lane is sure to turn out good food, with reasonable portions at reasonable prices. I enjoyed a very tasty plate of “Sag Aloo,” at The Shampan, which had a variety of lunch deals and offered any vegetable side as a main dish. Don’t be afraid to ask for the chef to turn up the heat on your dish, either – I found British-Indian food to be more mild than the dishes I’ve sampled in the States, and I prefer mine with spice.

The Best Bite: Aside from the large number of vegetarian offerings, a trip to Brick Lane is a wider experience than just what you eat for dinner. Stop at any of the specialty Indian sweet shops near the beginning of Brick Lane for an after dinner treat, or head to indoor market at the Old Truman Brewery on Sundays for vibrant street food and fun shopping. On weekends, all of Brick Lane comes to life with streetside snacks, antiques, and goods.

An authentic Indian bite is a surprising way to get an authentic bite out of London, which is so shaped by the variety of cultures and ethnicities that have set roots in London’s diverse neighborhoods.

I’m wrapping up this mouthful morsel, and my traveling summer, with a little treat – a look at sampling sweets in Europe without devastating a healthy diet. Join me tomorrow as a share some of my favorite dessert bites from my time abroad.

Melanie

Where To Bite Vegetarian – London [The Traveling Bite]

The Mouthful Morsel, The Traveling Bite, Where to Bite

From fine dining to street vendors, London has a rich variety of offerings for its vegetarian population. Named the most “vegetarian-friendly” city in the world by PETA, both dining out and eating in are easy in this metropolis.

After a weeklong hiatus, I’m back on Eastern Standard time and excited to share a mouthful morsel about my adventures abroad!

Even after calling London my homebase for two months, I only just scratched at the surface of the vegetarian food scene. I was never wanting for a new vegetarian restaurant to try, or an ethnic market full of vegetable-based dishses. I was only ever wanting more time to experience this city’s extensive repertoire.

A number of restaurants came highly recommended to me for their exclusive vegetarian menus, including Manna in Primrose Hill, and Rasa N16, the first in a chain of South Indian restaurants in England still serving up only veg-friendly food.

The cuisine of celebrity chef Ottolenghi was another highly-touted must-have, although instead of the restaurant founded in his name, I did manage to experience a dinner at NOPI, a brasserie from Ottolenghi’s team. While serving up a number of carnivore-friendly dishes, the menus from Ottolenghi’s team are full of vegetarian options and focused on fresh, innovative dishes with an Asian, Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean flair.

This dish is a perfect example of the unique flavor profiles of NOPI’s vegetable dishes and sides.

The Not-So-Good-Bite: This upscale SoHo spot is turning out lots of little dishes, with not-so-little price tags. This isn’t the best place to dine if you’re watching the girth of your wallet. Two dishes, or a dish and a side, are likely to put the bill at a minimum of 14.00 pounds, and and are definitely the minimum requirement to get an adequate portion.

The Good Bite: While not a tapas-style restaurant, NOPI’s eclectic menu with smaller-scale dishes makes sharing a great option. With a group of friends, you can sample a variety of dishes, many of which are healthy vegetable dishes with a roasted or marinated preparation. Try the roasted cauliflower with farro, barberry, almonds and celery, pictured above, with the herb salad (at top) – a refreshing combination of thyme, mint, and other fresh cut herbs.

The Best Bite: NOPI  is just one of the countless spots in greater London turning out exciting vegetarian meals. Here, a basic pasta primavera isn’t the only answer to a restrictive diet request. This vibrant city is home to so many diverse backgrounds, it’s possible to walk down a strip and pass restaurants representing a dozen or more ethnic cuisines and cultural specialties. On Upper Street in Islington, for example, you can find delicious vegetarian dishes from Japanese, Thai, Turkish, French, or any other number of unique cuisines. For my friend Andrew’s birthday, I warmed up from the unseasonable weather with a vegetable tajine sizzling with a bright lemon flavor., while my vegetarian roommate Sam enjoyed the creamy saffron risotto with mushrooms and peas.

A Moroccan and Meditrranean menu comes with a large selection of vegetable-based dishes at Maghreb Restaurant in Angel – Islington.

Of course, when in England one must sample their Indian food – a cuisine known for being extensively rooted in vegetarian dishes. And with all restaurants, neighborhoods, and street vendors I sampled, I couldn’t possibly fit all my finds into one post.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my best bites, from Biryani, Mushroom Bhaji and Sagg Aloo, in a mouthful morsel on London’s famous Indian dining.

Until tomorrow!

Melanie