Monday, June 20, 2011

Hollywood’s New IT GIRL, A Dragon?

Just as young woman in Hollywood tend to have their “10 minutes of fame” so does our latest Secret Ingredient: the Dragon Fruit AKA Pitaya. If you frequent the fancy restaurant scene, you have most likely seen this ingredient being added to elite dishes. But it doesn’t stop there, a NY times article last month shows just how far this fame has gone: from transforming normal green tea to a “wellness supplement”, being Sky Vodka’s newest flavor, hitting the Las Vegas restaurant scene, and making a cameo appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef.

Now, we really do not mean to brag (well, maybe a little) here at Your Secret Ingredient, but we have previously told you about a very similar item, the Tuna Fruit, which I became familiar with in Mexico City (perhaps it was underappreciated in its time last year). The Dragon Fruit and the Tuna Fruit are almost like cousins, made from different species of the same general family of Cactus plants. But back to our Dragon Fruit Star…

Why Have You Done a Good Thing?

The dragon fruit is a great low-calorie snack, filled with key vitamin and nutrients. And with all the rich colors and hearty exterior, the edible flesh and seeds are surprisingly mild, less sweet than many fruits. After laboring to peel away the outer skin, the (relatively) small amount of edible flesh and seeds contain antioxidants, iron, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Although the fruit contains none of these in high amounts, its plethora of benefits sans extra calories makes it a great Bang for your Bite. Plus, did you know that iron and vitamin C work together like “Q” and “U” in Scrabble? That’s right- it makes a better hand (because the vitamin C helps our bodies absorb iron)! Now, as a professional, I must question the radical fame and nutrition “props” that this food is getting. Yes, it is a great choice and a unique fruit, but not more so than most other fruits and veggies out there! So keep that in mind when debating some high process and questionable claims.

Try This Dragon Fruit Salsa at your BBQ Tonight

  • 1 Dragon fruit, chilled in the fridge, flesh and seeds diced.
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Lime juice of ½ fresh lime
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients together and serve over grilled sea scallops, grilled halibut, grilled shrimp skewers, etc. The mild flavor of this Secret Ingredient gives you the flexibility to be extremely creative. And please, let us know your creations!

--Samantha Jacobs, MS RD CDN

Monday, June 13, 2011

PASTAbilities: Pasta Fake-Out

I love pasta as much as the next person but when the weather is hot, I want light meals, for the stomach and waistline. When I came across the technique of using vegetables to simulate pasta, I was so excited!

Why have you done a good thing?

When the weather gets hot and humid, nobody wants to turn on a hot oven, especially in an apartment. But salads get boring as a simple, no-cook meal. And kids sometimes are more likely to eat vegetables if they are interesting and more flavorful. Switching up your side dishes to vegetable varieties rather than starch based foods can help get you one step closer to making ½ your plate full of non-starchy vegetables to meet your fiber and vitamin/mineral requirement. Simple changes like this can also help with weight loss for the summer time. Eating more vegetables per meal can also help with hydration during the particularly hot days, especially if drinking water is tough for you.

Plus, as traditional pastas can add up with calories, you can eat a lot of this great pasta fake-out dish and it’s perfectly healthy. This is a great side dish for any week night supper:

Spring Vegetable Pasta Fake-Out (click here to print the recipe and grocery list)

2 yellow squash

2 zucchini

1 lb of asparagus, tips removed

2 tbsp good quality olive oil

1 small onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp fresh lemon zest

½ cup parmesan cheese, grated

Fresh basil

Using a vegetable peeler, shave each vegetable into thin ribbons. Discard core and seeds of squashes and zucchinis. Heat oil on low flame in large non-stick pan with garlic and onion (careful not to burn the garlic) for a couple of minutes. Add vegetables and season with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Cook until tender tossing with tongs, about 5 minutes. Remove from flame and gently toss in cheese. Serve immediately and top with basil.

Try other varieties using carrots or butternut squash/spaghetti squash in the Fall! Don’t want to give up pasta completely? I understand. Sometimes I make half this vegetable ribbon recipe and make the other half pappardelle or linguine.

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Superfoods: Today's Top Tendrils

I was sitting around the dinner table, anxiously awaiting a home-cooked meal by a very accomplished cook. I constantly look forward to what she will make: always healthy, always fresh, always local (often from her own garden), and best of all- always delicious! So when I complemented her on what I though was a spin on some typical greens- she surprised me yet again with the news that I was eating tendrils. I instantly froze with the greens in my mouth. “Tendrils?” I asked, thinking there was some bug delicacy I had never known of. Thankfully she quickly clarified, “No, Pea Tendrils!” Ah ha, I thought- a super secret ingredient!

What is a Pea Tendril?

These are the leaves and tips of the pea plant that grow almost immediately after planting, and are harvested when the pea plant is only about a foot off the ground. While they are growing, the flowers are picked off the plant, leaving all that great flavor (and nutrients) for the tendrils (stems and leaves).

Why Have You Done A Good Thing?

Pea tendrils are in the “locavore” movement, grown seasonally at this time. Most recently I found them at a Farmer’s Market in Cambridge, MA (which by the way was awesome, if you ever find yourself there, check it out!). They are filled with great amounts of key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C- the powerful antioxidant, vitamin A- amazing for the eyes, vitamin K- important for adequate blood clotting, and folic acid- vital for prenatal health. All of these great components make greens (and tendrils) a superfood in the nutrition community! Plus, let’s not forget that these great benefits come for practically no price (calorie wise, that is). A cereal bowl size of this vegetable only has about 40 calories, and even throws in some fiber for good measures!

What to do with pea tendrils?

Find them mainly at Farmer’s Markets’ and specialty stores, such as Whole Foods.

Wash and spin dry, as you would with any lettuce. Then go through and remove any especially large/tough stems, which may be rough (but not impossible) to eat. Enjoy them raw in a salad or sautéed as any other green leafy vegetable. Mix and match with other green friends, as well!

Sautéed Greens and Pea Tendrils

Greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, etc), washed & dried.

Pea Tendrils, washed & dried.

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Almonds, slivered, ½ cup.

Raisins, ½ cup

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, 1 cup

Garlic, sliced, 2-3 cloves

Heat 1-2 T olive oil in a wok or large pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic slightly for a few minutes, careful not to burn. Add the greens and sauté. Add salt and pepper, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the raisins, almonds, and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, topping with some extra almonds.

So next time you are hosting a dinner, let your guests enjoy this nutrition superfood, and be sure to let them know about the “tendrils” they are consuming!

--Samantha Jacobs, MS RD CDN