Monday, February 22, 2010


Just one of the troubles with dieting – the temporary restraint approach to food in order to lose weight – is that it is perceived and approached as temporary. People who are on diets, too, transfer their personal authority over nutrition to the foods themselves. In other words, when you’re on a diet, you’re working for food instead of making food work for you.

I’ve known dieters who sacrifice and go hungry all day, head to gym, and often say that they’re working out in order to have a couple of teaspoons of mayonnaise on a sandwich or cream in their morning coffee. They keep spreadsheets in their heads, tracking income (calories) and outgo (exercise). Food choices are often limited to low-calorie, and often low-nutrition foods such as prepackaged “low fat” or “reduced calorie” frozen meals.

The thing is, food isn’t supposed to be something you work to enjoy. I’m afraid that’s a rather capitalist view of something so sustaining, so important, as one’s nutrition.

A better approach, one that is informing and shaping my project work with P’UP, is treating food like fuel – a necessary and important additive that keeps the miraculous human machine functioning at its optimal level. Good fuel, the sort of high-octane, nutritionally sound cuisine doesn’t have to be tasteless, boring, or even “diet.” In fact, the more you pursue taste and pleasure in tandem with high nutrition foods, the happier you will become while making a long-lasting lifestyle change.

I’m offering up three recipes this month, food choices that have made a difference in both my energy and culinary balances. This first recipe is a low-calorie but highly nutritious lunch option, and it’s very affordable.

Moving from culinary boredom to epicurean happiness is what these recipes are all about. Enjoy!


Combine in a medium bowl and let sit for at least an hour:

1 and 1/3 cups bulgur wheat
Two cups boiling water

Chop and then place in a large bowl:

1 bunch cilantro
1 large cucumber (seedy/sticky center removed)
1 medium purple onion (seriously – go with the purple. It’s a flavor thing)


1 to 1 ½ cups sliced grape or cherry tomatoes (this is a flavor thing, too. Other tomatoes have a different acid/sugar ratio that will affect the flavor of the dish).

To these chopped/sliced vegetables, add the bulgar. Toss.

For the dressing, whisk together:

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (one large lemon should do)
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (again, it’s a flavor thing. Table salt has a metallic taste kosher salt does not)
½ teaspoon ground pepper

Pour the dressing into the large bowl with the bulgur and veggies. Toss well.

Makes 8 servings (maybe 12), 2.5 points for one cup.

Bulgur nutritional info: 1 cup serving = 151 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 8 grams of dietary fiber (that’s 33 percent of your daily requirement!). A single serving of bulgur will also meet 10 percent of your daily intake needs for iron, and 2 percent of your daily need for calcium. It’s a powerful fuel that’s affordable. One bag of bulgur cost me $3.28 and fed my daughter and I lunch every day for three weeks.

This can be eaten on its own, or you can try this favorite:


Take a whole-wheat pita, slice in half. Spread one tablespoon of hummus inside the pockets, as you would with mayo. Add 1/3 cup tebouleh, then stuff in a half cup of mixed greens.

This recipe, by the way, is only 4 points per serving for those on Weight Watchers.


Prepare these vegetables and set aside:

2 – 3 cups bok choy, chopped
2 cups Napa cabbage, chopped (remove core and thick white sections)
2 bunches green onions, sliced
4 oyster mushrooms, freed from main stem, then each “petal” sliced in half
1 red bell pepper, sliced into “sticks”
2 cups sugar snap peas (snow peas are okay)
1 cup (1 can) sliced water chestnuts, drained
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Simmer together for ten minutes (no more):

6 cups chicken broth

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh ginger, sliced then julienned into strips
½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Remove broth from heat. Add vegetables, stir to combine, and then place a lid on the pot. Let stand for at least 6 minutes, until vegetables are cooked, but vibrant and crispy.

Less than 120 calories per 1 cup serving. Great with a bowl of rice in the morning for breakfast. I swear … it’s really good on a cold morning. This is a half-point soup option for those on Weight Watchers.

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