An Uncomplicated Life Blog

Monday, January 15, 2018

Minty Mediterranean Quinoa

A healthy, protein packed vegetarian meal full of Mediterranean flavors

Last Thursday I posted about why I'm a semi-vegetarian, what that means and why it's important for my personal health and the health of the planet (it's the post just below this one if you're in a scrolling mood). Changing your diet can be overwhelming at first, but once it becomes normalized it becomes a habit and once it becomes a habit, you're set in your new healthier lifestyle! I mentioned that I eat a ton of quinoa, and this minty Mediterranean quinoa is one of my favorite ways to prepare it.

There are two big factors to this meal tasting amazing: 1) you HAVE to use fresh herbs (mint and parsley) and 2) go light on the feta. I'm a massive cheese lover and support eating cheese at any and all times, but feta has such a strong, distinct taste that it can overtake a dish. Too much feta in this minty Mediterranean quinoa and it goes from being a light, fresh tasting meal to coating your mouth in a thick feta film that I personally find water won't rise away.

Minty Mediterranean Quinoa
- 1 package quinoa (16oz)
- 1 package grape tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 of a small to medium red onion
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (red wine vinegar would also work)
- 1 15oz can garbanzo beans
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon dried onion
- 1 6oz container of feta cheese
- salt and pepper

How to best cook quinoa
Start by making the quinoa. I find that if I follow the directions on the package, it turns out mushy. The best way I've found to make quinoa is to do slightly less than a 1:2 ratio (one cup quinoa to slightly less than 2 cups of water). Bring the water to a boil and salt it, then add the dried onion. Cook  covered on medium low heat until the water is gone, then turn off the heat and let the quinoa "steam" in the covered pan for another half an hour. Your quinoa will turn out fluffy and not over-cooked this way, and flavored perfectly with the salt and dried onion.

While the quinoa is cooking, chop up the cucumber in bite size pieces, halve the grape tomatoes and finely chop the red onion. Add to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Pick the parsley and mint leaves off the stems and finely chop them, adding them to the bowl. In my opinion, the more fresh herbs the better this dish is! Mix together and let marinate while the quinoa cooks and cools.

Once the quinoa is room temperature, add the garbanzo beans to the mixing bowl. Fold in the quinoa. Mix in about 4-5 ounces of the feta (you can always add more or leave the extra for people to top their individual bowls). This dish can be served room temperature or it can be made ahead and served cold from the fridge. It will keep for about 3-4 days in a sealed container in the fridge and easily serves 4-6 adults.

Want more healthy vegetarian recipes? Check these out:
Crock Pot cream of mushroom soup (great for eating or for casseroles)  

Healthy vegetarian quinoa recipe
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Quinoa is an awesome choice for vegetarians (or semi vegetarians like me) because it's an ancient grain that's a complete protein. It's also gluten free, so it meets a variety of dietary needs! You could keep the feta on the side and this dish would be totally vegan, too. It's exciting to see people become more aware of what they're putting into their bodies, and make better choices for themselves and the environment. This minty Mediterranean quinoa is a great recipe to support healthy eating!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Day In The Life Of A Semi Vegetarian

What eating "mostly" vegetarian food means and looks like on a day to basis

I can't remember if I've said it on here before (probably so) or just my social media channels (definitely so) but I consider myself a 'semi-vegetarian.' There were a few years in my late teens/early 20's that I was fully committed to it, and when I was pregnant with Henry the smell of meat literally made me heave and gag. I have yet to meet a vegetable I don't like and am floored (no really, FLOORED) when I see people post their food pics to social media accounts and an entire meal has not a single vegetable in it. Not one. And then they wonder why they're overweight... But I digress! Back to what a day in the life of a semi-vegetarian looks like, and why I think it's important to eat a plant-based diet.

Fish tacos at our favorite Mexican restaurant
Veggie-friendly snack with a massive protein punch!

But first! Why I think eating (mostly) veggies is so important. I went through yoga teacher training in the spring/summer of 2013. Part of that training involved keeping a journal of what you ate, and how it made you feel. We did this for no other reason than to getting connected to how what you put in your body directly impacts how you feel, and this journal made us take note of that and gave us a written record of it. I know anyone with any decent amount of science education will tell me that you can't prove cause/effect from one person's journal, but I noticed a strong correlation trend between eating crappy processed foods and being bloated, gassy and fatigued. By the end of yoga teacher training and the end of my four and a half months of journal entries, I began shopping at Whole Foods and organic coops - my attitude towards food had completely changed.

A month after I completed yoga teacher training, I was surprised to learn I was pregnant with Henry. I downloaded a pregnancy app I can't even remember the name of and would play around in it several times a week. I was flabbergasted at the photos women would post of the junk food they "craved" and would binge eat. We're talking Cheetos, Doritos, endless fast food runs. You name something that isn't real food but instead just a pile of chemical compounds mixed together in a factory, these women were eating it en masse and feeding it to their unborn children. I was horrified. Then, of course, my pregnancy with Henry forced me to become a vegetarian, as anything with meat made me gag at the sight of the muscle-y meat fibers.

Growing our own veggies to consume

On a philosophical level, the third and final nail in the semi-vegetarian coffin was a handful of environmental documentaries on Netflix. What The Health, the Inconvenient Truth series and a number of others went into detail the havoc eating excessive meat does on the environment. From feed to animal waste, meat consumption is more catastrophic then emissions from cars, jet fuel and daily energy consumption like lights, heat, air conditioning, etc by as much as 10 FOLD. The fact of the matter is, if you're a heavy meat eater, you're a massive detriment to the health of the globe. And I don't know about you, but I'd like my grand kids to play in clean lakes, see glaciers and not suffer from massive, consistent environmental events like Hurricane Harvey.

All that said, what the heck does semi-vegetarian mean? Am I just half-a$$ing it? Yes and no. For me, it means eating MOSTLY vegetarian food, but allowing myself to listen to my body and consume meat if I'm feeling that I need it. I eat legumes, eggs, quinoa, fish, cheese, yogurt, and nuts regularly. Chicken and beef twice to three times a week. That means one meal twice to three times a week, not days with multiple meals full of it, making it rare. Pork is a couple of times a year event. We had a ham for Christmas, which is the only time I have ham, and I have bacon 2-3 times throughout the year beyond that. The reality is that the pork quality in Texas is sub-par to the upper Midwest so I don't miss it at all! The beef here, on the other hand, is delicious and a strong reason why I continue to eat it. It's all local and grass fed and holy yum. Even out of town guests comment on how good beef is here!

I think semi-vegetarianism works because it's flexible. There isn't a hard rule that I have to order a veggie burger when we go out (even though I love those and often prefer them!) I can revert to the things I learned in yoga teacher training and listen to what my body is asking for. The bulk of the time, it's asking for veggies.You'll notice in my daily schedule that I'm not a breakfast eater and I know that's "bad" to some nutritionists. To that I say, "meh." My husband wakes up hungry and it's all I can do to be awake and stomach my coffee! #notamorningperson.

Because I regularly work out, most the time my body is asking for protein. You might be surprised to learn that getting your protein in vegetarian sources is really easy! One of my favorite snack/"brunch" (I call it brunch because it's my first meal but many people are already on a morning snack by now) options is Oikos Protein Crunch yogurt. It's an amazing source of protein for us veggie lovers because it has 17g of protein and 6g of fiber per 5oz cup! It also doesn't contain any artificial sweeteners so I feel good about the protein I'm putting in my body. Here's the schedule of what a day in the life of this semi vegetarian looks like:

7:30am - coffee, with half a stevia packet and a tablespoon or so of half and half
10:30am - (after yoga) Ningxia Red drink, Oikos Protein Crunch yogurt
1:30pm - avocado, muenster cheese, tomato, bib lettuce, salt and pepper on flax bread; pickles and water
5:30pm - dinner ranging from fish tacos to homemade minestrone soup to veggie pizza or tofu curry if we get take out
8pm - carrots and pretzels dipped in hummus

High protein snacks are key for athletic semi vegetarians like me. I love Oikos Protein Crunch after a good yoga class to fuel my muscles. Dinner is really where I have the biggest variance for meat consumption. I love making quinoa salads with various veggies and herbs but I also make my toddlers casseroles with ground beef in it occasionally, and I'm not making two different suppers so I'll eat that too. That's the glory of semi-vegetarianism. It's flexible to work with different diets in the household but still errs strongly on the side of mostly vegetables so that I feel good in my body, about my body, and about what impact my body is making on the environment.