Friday, May 22, 2015

Spontaneous vegetable & quinoa bowl with smoked lemon-walnut sauce

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. --Mark Twain

As necessary as it is to have plans and goals and to be disciplined, we also need to give ourselves some wiggle room in order to lead a balanced life. If we have too little structure, our brilliant ideas may never manifest into anything; too much structure and we may be so stuck inside of the box that our ideas are deprived of the oxygen they need to thrive.

I don't know if I was ever truly a complete type-A personality (I liked to refer to myself as a type 'A-minus'!) but I definitely spent a great deal of my early adulthood being result-oriented, driven and disciplined. In college, I traded in my nuanced, creative writing style for a more clinical style suited for (boring) psychology journals. I was very hard-working and disciplined and gradually lost touch of the creative person that I used to be.

Lately, I actually find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum-- lots of creativity and ideas swirling around without the groundedness or discipline to come to fruition. (Case in point--though I wrote a very rough draft of this blog entry about 2 months ago, I'm just typing it out now.) Some recent health issues have forced me to stop being so driven and to simply stop and 'go with the
flow.' The result is that even though I'm more in touch with my creative side, I'm less productive overall. Or at least I was!

I felt that way a few weeks ago, creative and spacey, when I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods without a shopping list or any idea of what I wanted to make that particular week. (Dangerou$!) My only requirements were 'healthy', 'fresh' and 'gluten-free.' I wandered through the store feeling a bit lost, with wide-eyes and probably a panicked look on my face as I frantically tossed organic produce into my cart if it caught my eye. Maybe I looked crazed, maybe I blended in with the other Whole Foods shoppers, overwhelmed by choices and prices.

When I got home, I assessed my haul: red bell peppers, broccoli, Japanese (white-flesh) sweet potatoes, walnuts, sprouted quinoa and chick peas. Hmm. What could I make with this that would taste awesome?

When tomorrow came, my husband asked "What are we having for dinner?" and I answered with a "Uhhh....I don't really know," even as I washed and prepped the produce for...something. I decided the easiest thing would be to roast all of the veggies together in the oven and serve it over the quinoa. So this was obviously going to be a version of the ubiquitous 'vegan bowl' but I knew that it had to be filling and have bold favors to win over my 'quinoa-skeptical' husband.

When I opened the cupboard, Berbere seasoning, a spicy Ethiopian seasoning that I rarely use was staring me in the face along with a big bag of raw, organic walnuts. I quickly inventoried the cupboard (probably with the same crazed look I wore at the supermarket) and dinner ideas began to take shape. They started out as mere shadows and as I fell into a meditative groove of cooking, the shadows stepped into the forefront of my mind as illuminated, vivid ideas. I immersed myself in the process of cooking and had one of the most truly creative times ever recorded in my kitchen. I came up with a pretty delicious and memorable meal--a meal that ultimately won over the quinoa-skeptic.

This veggie bowl was spontaneous and creative but like most creative endeavors, it required focus and actual effort to effectively execute my ideas. When we have ideas, we have to--at least briefly--take our heads of the clouds and find a sense of groundedness, where we can focus on the task at hand. I became grounded by using my discipline to focus and I stopped worrying about creating the best meal ever. Instead, I just focused on the process, the goal simply being to get a healthy meal on the table. To free up my energy, I also needed to have a willingness to fail. That willingness allowed me keep a spontaneous and creative spirit throughout the whole process.

For many of us, spontaneity isn't something we learn, it's a matter of un-learning-- letting go of fear, habits, the need to control and *above all,* the need to be perfect.

Of course, there is nothing better in life when our efforts yield something wonderful, tangible and of course, when food is concerned, something tasty.

In the end, I came up with this zesty, interesting dish with layers of flavors and textures. The vegetables in this meal are seasoned with Berbere spice, which can add a lot of heat. I used the 'Seasoned Pioneers' brand and found it to be quite spicy, in a good way for us. Feel free to adjust the seasoning according to your heat tolerance. If spicy isn't your thing, you can maybe try sprinkling the veggies with your desired amount of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and/or lemon
pepper. Feel free to be spontaneous and allow this recipe to evolve into your own thing. (Confession: I find it very difficult to follow recipes to the letter and almost never do it!)

My husband and I really enjoyed this meal. I really like the undertones of heat and the depth of roasted flavor from the veggies. These favors compliment the smokiness in the walnut sauce while the lemon flavor adds some much-needed brightness and acidity to balance out the richness of the nuts. Roasted chickpeas and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) add more layers of texture and flavor for a well-rounded and nutritious dish that I could eat again and again.

When it comes to results, it honestly doesn't matter if we are completely spontaneous or do things by the book. Sometimes things come out perfectly and sometimes they don't. But if we find our groundedness and focus while letting go of attachment to the results, it frees up our energy and creativity; ideas flow and we make things happen. It's the balance between spontaneity and groundedness that permits us to stay anchored and focused without being rigid; then we can begin to branch out and go with the flow--without losing our way.


RECIPE: Spontaneous vegetable & quinoa bowl with smoked lemon-walnut sauce




Roasted veggies:

2 Japanese sweet potatoes, (white flesh; If unavailable substitute any variety) cut into bite-sized cubes
1 small crown broccoli, cut into small/medium florets
1 cup baby carrots, halved
2 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
1 red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
Sea salt
3 tbsp-1/4 cup olive oil1-1 & 1/2 tsp Berbere seasoning, (to taste)


1 &1/2 to 2 cups sprouted or regular quinoa, cooked according to package instructions with veggie broth OR water and a bit of broth powder or bullion

Smoked lemon walnut cream sauce

1 cup walnuts (soaked for at least 2 hours if you don't have an excellent blender)
1 cup water
1 clove garlic
1/3 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 & 1/2 tsp agave nectar, maple syrup or preferred liquid sweetener (if using maple syrup you may need to use 2 tsp)
1/2 tsp sea salt, or more to taste

Cast-iron roasted chickpeas

1 15 oz. can or 1 & 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 & 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Sprinkle garlic powder & smoked paprika


Pepitas (Pumpkin seeds)


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is preheating, chop the vegetables, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and the Berbere spice blend to taste. Toss to coat everything with seasoning. Cook for about 25-30 minutes; check and stir half way though.

Rinse your chickpeas thoroughly if canned and blot them dry with a clean kitchen towel. Add chickpeas and olive oil to a cast-iron skillet on medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently until they get lightly browned and a bit toasty/crispy. Add a touch more oil if chick peas begin to stick. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, garlic powder and smoked paprika.

While the veggies are in the oven, prepare the quinoa according to package instructions, subbing low-sodium veggie broth for the water, or simply add a small amount of broth powder.

Finally, toss all the walnut sauce ingredients in the blender and blend, baby, blend for at least 3 minutes, pausing to scape down the sides. You may need to blend longer if you don't have a high-powered blender.

When everything is done, it's time to assemble your bowl. Layer the quinoa, roasted vegetables and roasted chickpeas in a bowl. Use your desired amounts of everything according to your portion preferences and needs but you should be able to get a minimum of 4 servings out of this. Drizzle with the smoked lemon walnut cream sauce and top with a sprinkle of pepitas.


If you don't have a cast-iron skillet you may roast chick-peas in a regular skillet or roast them in the oven, if you prefer.

If you follow a lower-oil diet you can use olive-oil spray on your veggies instead of the olive oil but you will need to use it generously, spraying the pan first AND the veggies. Same goes for the chickpeas. Sometimes I like to use a light coating of spray-oil in the pan and simply cut the oil back by half. You will need to experiment to find what works for you! Remember though that this meal contains healthy fats that your body needs in moderation, especially if you're active. I wouldn't prepare all of my dinners with as much olive oil the rest of the week that I make this (balance!) but keeping that balance, I enjoy this prepared as is and feel really good about it.

The walnut cream sauce tastes best the day it is made but will keep for 2 to 3 days, tightly covered in the fridge.

If you can't find smoked paprika, use regular paprika and add 1/4 tsp of liquid smoke wherever the smoked paprika is called for here.