Hearty Vegetable Marinara

hearty vegetable marinaraSimple need not be boring. That’s the slogan I would use if I were to bottle this stuff and sell it.

I’ve long had a visceral aversion to boring foods. And by boring, I’m thinking those measly garden salads that are on every average restaurant menu in America. I’m thinking plain white bread. I’m thinking marinara sauce — not every marinara sauce, but the ubiquitous kind that’s plopped out of a jar and poured over spaghetti and called dinner. As long as I’ve been cooking, and as many short-cuts as I like to take at times, I’ve never brought myself to accept a jar of sauce and some noodles as dinner. This may explain why, even when faced with little time and a jar of sauce, I do my best to jazz it up, like I did with this spicy chorizo sauce from a few years ago.

It’s not that I am being a food snob (OK, maybe I am), but that I really just LOVE food so much that I can’t imagine wasting a meal on something that doesn’t really excite me. I guess that’s the difference between someone like me and someone who “forgets” to eat lunch (we all know those people, and no, I don’t understand them one bit).

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Pepita-Parsley Pesto

As I may have mentioned before, I’ve never done a “detox” in the traditional sense of the word. That’s not to say, however, that I can’t go a little crazy when it comes to eating healthy. My crazy-healthy streaks– those where I really go all-out with the greens, juicing, low-carbing, etc. — are the closest to detox I get. That is, if you can call it “detox” when coffee is involved (probably not, right?) Last I checked, copious amounts of caffeine and cleanses didn’t mix.

My slight — ahem, massive — coffee addiction might explain why I tend to be overzealous in other areas of my diet. Perhaps I’m trying to compensate? Whatever the reason, I like to play games like “see how many different colored vegetables I can fit into one meal.” Or, “how many ‘cleansing’ ingredients can I fit into one dish?” Of course, such moments are interspersed with spurts of baking zeal and uninhibited tasting. Then there are those days where I’m tired, lazy, busy, out of groceries, or eating out a lot. Those days? My plates are less-than-colorful; my meals skewed toward the carb-loaded and vegetable-deprived.

As contradictory and schizophrenic as this may all sound, I reason that no one can be 100% perfect all the time. Which is why, even on my worst days, I’m still getting some fruits and vegetables, and why, even on my best, I don’t strive for absolute perfection (what is “perfection” in a diet, anyways?) Thus, my tendency to avoid cleanses, which seem to require super-human strength, willpower, and a complete abandonment of reality (I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those people who can carry on a normal work day subsisting on solely juice. If you are, more power to you!!).

So, after a long-winded explanation, you understand why this green glob — and the bed of fiborous spaghetti squash it sits upon — is one of my favorite and most often-prepared dishes. It’s my non-cleanse cleanse. A detoxifying dish without the “detox.” Parsley, with all its diuretic properties is a wonderful kidney cleanser. The higher-than-usual amount of lemon juice in this pesto provides a great tonic for the liver. Lemon juice is also said to be helpful for the skin. The b vitamins in the nutritional yeast provide essential vitamins and nutrients, especially for those of us following a vegan diet. Finally, pepitas (my secret ingredient) provide a healthy source of protein and fat. They are also said to help lower cholesterol. I like to add all of this to a heaping bed of low calorie, high-fiber (helps to “move things along,” so to speak…) spaghetti squash, which is one of my favorite foods to prepare.

Pepita-Parsley Pesto:

1 small bunch curly parsley

6 tablespoons raw pepitas

¼ cup nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon water (more as needed)

½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

Directions:

Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Add water as needed for desired texture.

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Chimichurri

This dish is an homage to my new knife — a beautiful 14 cm Wusthof Cook’s knife with a granton edge. I’ve been coveting this one for awhile, and Gennaro was nice enough to pick up on it (thanks, G!). The thing about a really good knife is that you don’t realize how much you need one until you actually have it. I’ve found myself wondering in recent weeks how I was ever able to chop onions, mince parsley, or smash garlic before. The Wusthof website calls it “an extension of your hand.” While they would be the ones to say this, given that they are trying to sell their product, I’ve found that today, my knife has been such an extension (given that I haven’t been able to put it down). You see, it was my first free day in awhile and I decided to dedicate it to a full day of cooking. I made Cuban beans and rice with chopped garlic, onion, bell peppers and jalapenos. I made kale salad. I made this chimicchuri.

Chimichurri is traditionally served with skirt steak, but I think you’ll like it over grilled Wildwood “super firm” tofu. I could also imagine this being a great marinade. Though not really traditional, I added mint to my recipe and swapped lemon juice for red wine vinegar. I also used a jalapeno for some heat (it’s my new favorite ingredient). I think this particular recipe has a nice, fresh taste. If you don’t have a wonderful “extension of our hand” knife to work with here (don’t feel bad; I didn’t until a few weeks ago), you could very easily make this sauce in your food processor.

Chimichurri:

1/3 cup Italian flat-leaf parsely, minced

12 fresh mint (spearmint) leaves, minced

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed

1 jalapeno, minced

1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours.

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