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Real Fast Food: Vegetarian Quick Curry & Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Posted Aug 23 2008 10:36pm
Most critics of fast food object to the food component of the phrase—it’s fatty, processed, high in calories, low in nutrients, and the list goes on and on.

I agree that a diet built on a foundation of assorted McMorsels will inevitably collapse in ruins, but my principle objection lies with the descriptive portion of the expression: “fast.” When hunger strikes. The last thin I want to do is sit through a drive-through for limp french fries, queue 15 minutes for a soggy sub, or wait half an hour for the pizza delivery man; I’m simply too impatient.

So what’s a hungry woman to do? If I'm running around or otherwise on the move, I opt for healthy snacks (like the ones I listed in my Healthy Non-Perishable Snacks post).

But if I'm at home, I head to the kitchen for some faster food alternatives. Peanut butter and jelly on whole grain toast or crackers is always tops for me, but I’ll spare you the instructions for toasting and spreading. Further, I’ve tried to avoid peanut butter and jelly for dinner since leaving grad school (although I still break out the jar at supper-time when Kevin is away).

Instead, I’m offering two of my easy everyday options, both of which are vegetarian, great for summer (little cooking, so I’m in and out of the kitchen fast), and quick as can be (20 minutes, start to finish). First up, a spicy chickpea curry; and second, a Mediterranean vegetable pasta salad.

Both of these recipes rely on a few pantry staples: Quick cooking carbohydrates are always in my pantry (whole wheat couscous, multi-grain pastas, instant brown rice), along with cans of beans (chickpeas, black beans, cannelloni, etc.), canned tomatoes, and jarred peppers and olives.

I also keep good-quality frozen vegetables at the ready—in my humble opinion, a homemade dinner made with a few frozen vegetables thrown in still out-muscles fast food options any day of the week. I am particularly keen on frozen petite broccoli and cauliflower florets, the latter of which I use in the curry. Both the broccoli and cauliflower petite florets are well wroth the extra dollar or so; the bags contain only small, tender, florets, no hunks, stems, or other gnarly bits.

Cold main-dish salads are a favorite of mine in the summertime, and this Mediterranean-inspired one is no exception. It is the result of what was handy one day, and then it fast became an old standard. It’s very flexible, so change out the ingredients based on what’s coming out of your garden or what looks good at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

The vinaigrette recipe is one I’ve been meaning to share for about two months now—sorry for the wait for those who requested such a recipe a while back! Ike the salad itself, it can be varied with different types of oils and vinegars.

Now dig in—fast food awaits.

20-Minute Chickpea Curry with Spinach & Cauliflower

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 large onion, finely sliced

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1 16-ounce bag petite cauliflower florets (no need to thaw)

1 5-ounce bag pre-washed baby spinach, roughly torn or chopped

4 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro leaves, divided use

Accompaniments: lowfat yogurt, hot cooked quick-cooking brown rice or whole wheat couscous

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook and stir 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the curry powder and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir 1 minute longer.

Add the tomatoes with their juices, chickpeas, cauliflower and 1 cup water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.

Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Add spinach and half of the cilantro. Stir through until spinach is just wilted. Serve sprinkled with remaining cilantro, atop cooked couscous or rice dolloped with yogurt. Makes 4 main-dish servings.

Nutrition per Serving:

Calories 221; Fat 3.1g (sat 0.2g, mono 2.1g, poly 0.7g); Protein 10.1g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 219mg; Carbohydrate 36.1g.

20-Minute Mediterranean Whole-Grain Pasta Salad

12 ounces multi grain pasta (bowties, penne, or other medium-size shape)

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, thinly sliced

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

4 to 5 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped (about 2 and 1/2 cups)

3/4 pitted green olives, halved

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup basil leaves, torn

2 tablespoons baby capers, drained

Camilla’s Light Red Wine Vinaigrette

3 and 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons vegetable broth 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 small clove garlic, smashed, pressed, or minced 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until all dente. Drain in colander, then rinse under cold water until cold. Shake off as much water as possible in colander. Transfer pasta to large bowl along with yellow pepper, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, onion, basil, and capers.Set aside.

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a lidded jar. Cover tightly and shake vigorously. Drizzle dressing over salad. Season with salt and pepper. Toss gently and serve (refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container). Makes 6 main-dish servings.

Nutrition per Serving (1/6 of salad):

Calories 212; Fat 5.1g (sat 1.6g, mono 1.1g, poly 1.2g); Protein 9.6g; Cholesterol 5.3mg; Sodium 875mg; Carbohydrate 36g.

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