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Friday, October 14, 2011

Low-Fat, Low-Sodium... In 20 Minutes or Less.

I prepared this meal last night, in order to demonstrate to a couple of people that you can have a well-balanced meal that is not only healthy but also delicious.

My parents are pretty traditional when it comes to cooking.  I don't think my mom feels that a meal is complete unless it has a meat dish; part of that is having to conform to some seriously strict dietary restrictions, I'm sure, but nevertheless it is my sincere hope that she will start cooking more with meat-alternatives, and possibly even incorporate an entirely vegan meal into her rotation once in a while.

So, this meal features steamed asparagus in a fresh dill vinaigrette, steamed quinoa, and a healthy version of 'Texas-fried' corn.

Quinoa is awesome.  It has a decent amount of protein in it (among other cool things), and unlike other "super" grains, actually tastes pretty good.  You can cook it much the same way you'd cook rice, and that's what I did.

I dumped a cup of dry quinoa (you're supposed to rinse it, but whatever) and two cups of low-sodium, non-fat vegetable broth into my non-stick frying pan.  I then added a dash of dried parsley (fresh would be better, of course... but whatever).  

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I love this pan.  I use it for surprisingly many things.  For instance, when I cover it with my corresponding Jamie Oliver saucepan lid, it fits perfectly, and instantly transforms into a non-stick shallow saucepan:

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Just like with rice, I brought this mixture to a boil on medium-high heat, and then dropped it to low to simmer for about 15-20 mins; quinoa does not take very long to cook, and should have a tiny little bit of a bite to it, as you would expect in al-dente pasta.

Next, I started the water for the asparagus.  Just a shallow couple of inches in the bottom of a medium saucepan, into which the steamer with lid fits.  I like to just set that on my stove to get to room temperature, so that I can just quickly get it going when it comes to that.  For now though, it just sits on the stove.

For the corn, I just used some from a flash-frozen bag.  I poured a couple of servings into my medium pan, and added a splash of Becel vegetable oil (100% canola and sunflower oils).  This little amount represents most of the total saturated fat in this meal, and considering that the oil itself only has a half a gram of saturated fat per teaspoon (far less than olive oil even) and this above-mentioned 'splash' is probably about two teaspoons, that's only (roughly) one gram so far... because we are counting this time.

Mill a generous amount (I'd say roughly 1/4 cup) of cumin seeds and a dash of fresh black peppercorns (about 6-8) in my mortar and pestle:

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I've long adored cumin for everything from beans to carrots, and it is a staple in any 'mexican' or in the case of this intended corn side, 'tex-mex' dishes I make.  However, it was only recently - about a year or two ago only - that my Brother introduced me to its health benefits.  Apparently cumin is extremely good for you, and in various respects.  Please, please, please use the seed form rather than the pre-ground form, as there really is no comparison.  I remember reading somewhere that cumin was one of the worst for shelf-life in ground form.  Of course, you should opt for the fresher pod/seed/fruit/leaf version rather than a ground version of any spice.  It really doesn't take very long to mill it yourself, and it not only tastes stronger, but keeps longer as well.  Practically every meal I make involves a step of milling herbs.  Of course fresh herbs are in a league of their own, and should you wish to wow as assemblage of guests, always get yourself a bunch of fresh herbs either from your own garden if you're lucky enough, or from your local market.

For everyday use, however, and for just my wife and I, I keep many a dried herb and seed on hand for fresh milling.  My wife bought me some little, flexible, multi-coloured silicon dry-ingredient containers I love to use for keeping my milled herbs in while cooking.  Especially if I'm going to be milling different kinds, which need to be kept separate, I'll have two or three of these shallow silicon dishes on the go at once, pinching from one or the other as needed.  It's very handy indeed.

Anyway, sorry for the spice rant... back to the corn.  Throw the whole cumin/black pepper mix right into the pan with the corn and the oil and add a dash of salt.  Again - we're trying to count our sodium here, so keep it low... I did less than an eighth of a teaspoon.

Fry that stuff up on medium heat, stirring frequently until the corn starts to brown nicely.

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The cumin toasts nicely with the corn, and this stuff is positively delicious!

As the corn is browning, I've rinsed the asparagus and snapped off their bases.  Into my double-boiler style steamer thing they go, and the saucepan lid fits snugly on top.  Once the shallow bit of water starts to boil, I'll put the steamer insert in and make note of the time.

Using potholders, I'll pick up steamer insert from the saucepan, and give it a gentle shake/roll, once every couple of minutes.  Asparagus doesn't take very long to go from being not-cooked-at-all to being way-too-overcooked, so keep an eye on them.  Fortunately, asparagus is also very good at telling you visually when it reaches a cooked state, as it will change colour and saturation.  The hue goes from a pale light green, to a rich, shiny, deep green.  If you pass this stage and get back to a slimy pale green, or yellow, you've overcooked them.

Anyway, after only about 5-6 minutes these asparagus were perfect.  I immediately transferred them to a large serving dish, and drizzled my fresh dill vinaigrette on top.

The vinaigrette, by the way, was quite simple.  About a teaspoon of the same becel oil (0.5g saturated fat), and a generous splash of red wine vinegar together with some freshly-cracked black pepper and about a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill I had in the fridge.  I did add another dash of salt to this mixture as well, as you need a little bit of salt on asparagus.  I used another 1/8 teaspoon again.

You should have been keeping an eye on your quinoa, and once all the water has been absorbed, you can take it off the heat, and fluff it with a fork or whisk - much the same as rice.

Anyway, that's it.

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It only took about 20 minutes to make, and is fairly well-balanced, for a light supper.

The vegetable broth I used to cook the quinoa was the single worst thing in this meal - 2 cups of low-sodium, non-fat vegetable broth still represented about 280mg of sodium, so about 12% recommended intake.

So, other than the broth, there was less than 1/4 teaspoon of salt (less than 25% recommended intake - ~37% with the broth), and about 3 teaspoons of Becel oil (~1.5g saturated fat = roughly 7.5% recommended intake) added to this meal in cooking.  And feel free to NOT use the broth, as quinoa can be cooked in plain ol' water just fine.

So, taken with what little sodium and fat there would be present in the foods themselves, and understanding that this is for the entire meal (which was split among two people), I feel very comfortable labeling this as a very easy, very healthy, well-balanced meal which is low in sodium, and very low in fat.

And just happens to also be vegan.



  1. Vegan? You fed me a vegan meal? No, I'm kidding. It was all yummy, but the vinaigrette on the asparagus was delish...I ate MORE than my half for sure.

  2. Thanks for trying to keep your parents on a healthy diet addition to low sodium, low sugar,low fat we also need to work on low potassium content in our cooking ....really challenging sometimes!!