A Salad with a Dark Side

December 07, 2012

I’ve been trying to put down some thoughts into words about my nutrition classes, but it hasn’t been working out. I’ve deleted this post several time and I guess that makes it a little bit important to discuss not only my experience so far with the classes, but also why its been a challenge to write about them. So I’m going to do just that.

The fall has gone by at super lightening speed and I can’t believe we’re already into the third course. I’m loving that we talk a lot about conflicting research, discussing some controversies, and trying to be open minded to it all. I’m also loving the vast amount of information that is entering my brain and the challenge of making sense of it in the context of my own life. I was a little bit afraid of a strong bias towards certain ways of eating when I started, but am relieved that the classes seem to be pretty agnostic in that regard and we focus on learning about scientific properties of foods, the biological processes of the human body, and ideas that circulate not only our society, but also other parts of the world. It is emphasized that people have individual nutrition needs and there is absolutely no “one size fits all” model or a food chart, for that matter. I am totally on board with all that but the truth is that it’s impossible to have a fully unbiased education in this field. At the end of the day we are biased by our text books, recommended readings, and of course our teachers’ experiences in the field. This might be a strange thing to note, but I appreciate that our first teacher was experimenting with the paleo diet, while our current one is vegan. This should be totally irrelevant, since their personal choices are not what we discuss in class, but its something I think about anyway, as it demonstrates the diversity of personal experiences that fuel our classroom discussions. I also appreciate that what we are learning is research based and the school seems to make a genuine effort to make sure that we’re using high quality studies to back up the material. We discuss bad research, and that a lot of it is sponsored by industries that have an interest in seeing certain results. We also talk about the fact that new research is done all the time and that it is never done to prove something, but rather to support or disprove older research. So naturally, “facts” change all the time in this field and it makes it a little more challenging to take things seriously.

green quinoa

So far I think I’ve accumulated more questions than I have answered. That’s a good thing, I guess, but the idea of writing about it all is making my head spin. I don’t really intend to preach eating habits here or dig into the nutritional values of specific foods. I do, however, want to share the things I’m learning and thinking about and I’m finding it really hard to strike that balance in my thoughts and words. When talking about nutrition, it is easy to dig up “facts” claiming that a certain food is the key to a healthy life, and at the same time find “facts” about why it’s going to kill you. We have to believe something though, or not care about it at all. If the second option is not really an option, then we’re at the mercy of someone else’s research, and I have a difficult time writing about things that I have accepted as facts at the moment, knowing they may very well change.

green quinoa

I said that I wasn’t going to discuss nutritional values of specific foods, but I thought I’d say a few words on quinoa, as it receives a lot of attention these days. We haven’t really talked about specific foods in detail in our classes, so far, but some do make an appearance in various contexts. We briefly went over some of quinoa’s vitamin and mineral contents and the fact that its a complete protein – something important to consider for those that don’t eat animal protein. Another thing to note about quinoa is that it contains phytates and lectins, which can inhibit mineral absorption and cause digestive issues. Many sources recommend soaking and/or sprouting the seed to help with these issues, but that still doesn’t completely disarm them. So…quinoa, like many other generally nutritious foods, has a little bit of a dark side. Some people may ignore the dark side, some may decide not to eat quinoa at all, and many, like me, may fall somewhere in between. As a meat eater, I certainly don’t look to it as a source of protein, and though I appreciate its rich nutrient content, I’m not counting on it for that either and choose to eat it occasionally because I like how it tastes and what I can do it.

I love veggie based quinoa salads with herbs, nuts, and fruit. I’ve also recently been a little bit obsessed with pomegranate seeds in savoury salads, having recently learned to eat the whole seed without spitting out the seedy part. This salad is loaded with spinach, cilantro and mint. It has chewy eggplant slices, crunchy hazelnuts, thinly sliced onions, and sweet pomegranate seeds. At this point, I can probably convince you that this salad is loaded with “superfoods” and is one of the healthiest things you can eat, or I can find nutritional quirks in all of the other ingredients to convince you to stay away. I won’t do either of those things, not now, and probably not ever. I will, however, try to get better at sharing my thoughts along with my recipes and inspire you to experiment with a variety of real and delicious food.

green quinoa

Green Quinoa with Eggplant, Hazelnuts, and Pom Seeds
  • 1 medium sized eggplant
  • salt
  • olive oil for brushing
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2-3 cups packed spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 1/4 purple onion
  • lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup chopped and lightly toasted hazelnuts
  • 1/2 pomegranate, seeds removed
  1. Use a mandolin to thinly slice the eggplant into 1-2 mm slices.
  2. Lay them out on a baking tray lined with paper towel and sprinkle liberally with salt on both sides. Let the seasoned slices sit for about 30 minutes to draw out some moisture. You should start seeing droplets of water forming on top of the slices.
  3. In the mean time cook the quinoa, as recommended by package instructions and place it in a large bowl to cool completely.
  4. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  5. Dry the eggplant slices and brush them lightly with olive oil.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, then flip the slices and bake for another 15-30 minutes until the slices are dry but not crispy. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.
  7. In the meantime, combine spinach, cilantro, and mint in a food processor and pulse to finely chop all of the greens.
  8. Prepare the onions, hazelnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Cut the eggplant slices into halves or quarters.
  9. Combine the quinoa with chopped greens, eggplant, and onions. Season with lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt, to taste.
  10. Top with hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds and toss right before serving.
Makes 4 – 6 servings. Eat it chilled or at room temperature. I don’t recommend heating it.

I ♥ Your Comments!

  1. It’s refreshing to see someone write about the dark side of a food that is so revered these days by everyone trying to eat “healthy”. I think when it comes to any food, moderation is key since no ingredient is perfect and is always going to have a dark side.

    As for the recipe, can’t wait to try it out after my grocery run. I have everything except eggplant and hazelnuts. Do you think I could use almonds instead? As you know, my kitchen it already burgeoning with nuts! But I don’t have hazelnuts…

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