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Guilt-free Zucchini “Pasta” or Choosing your Battles: Plant-Based Alternatives for Processed Foods

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Vegan

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing I like more than a good bowl of pasta. It has to be al dente, ideally with an earthy porcini sauce, a sprinkling of pecorino, a good grinding of pepper and a generous drizzle of rich extra virgin olive oil. And there are days when this is a treat that I let myself indulge in, savouring ever bite.

However… most forms of pasta (as well as bread and rice) are not only overly processed and stripped of their nutrients, but are also high glycerine carbohydrates that wreak havoc in your body. High quality grains with minimal processing (i.e. wild or brown rice) and pseudo-grains (such as quinoa, buckwheat, millet) are a better option and can have a place in your diet, even though in moderation. But it is the plant-based foods that should dominate our day-to-day diet. And remember, when we refer to plant-based ingredients, we mean living nutrient-rich products; not white bread, french fries, Oreos etc – all these may have started out as plants, but they are processed junk foods rather than real plant-based whole foods that can deliver a whole range of nutrients to our bodies. Choosing natural, plant foods can help us fight daily toxicity of our lives and help the natural process of detoxification that our bodies go through, bringing them into a state of balance.

Commercially, the main reasons to process food are to eliminate micro-organisms (which may cause disease) and to extend shelf life. However, a lot more than micro-organisms are lost during the process. Your regular wheat pasta is made with refined flour which, during refining process, lost not only its nutrient-rich outer bran shell and inner germ later, but also most of its finer, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. So all you are left with is a starchy endosperm that is really weak on a nutrient level. Furthermore, majority of grains are also inflammatory to the body, acidic, yeast-feeding and difficult to digest. They agitate the intestinal tract, resulting in inflammation and bloating. Thus, grains are generally not an ideal go-to food for our daily diets. Pseudo-grains (like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth) are a good replacement – they are easier to digest and are gluten-free. However, it is always good to have a non-grain replacement for your favourite grain-based foods that can be both emotionally satisfying and easy to prepare.

This mushroom noodle bowl never fails to amaze me – it is hearty, offers all the satisfaction and comfort of your regular bowl of pasta without having the heavy starch of grains of relying on processed foods. It is full of healthy fats, nutrient-rich vegetables, some protein from its nuts component and, importantly, it is bursting with flavour. Have it on its own for a comforting bowl of steaming “pasta”, or as a side to some grilled fish for a balanced and quick weeknight meal.

 

Ingredients

2 small zucchinis

1 leek (optional), thinly sliced

coconut oil for frying

a few large handfuls of wild mushrooms or shitake mushrooms

a ladle of stock, if available (optional)

1/3 cup of raw cashews + 1/3 cut water + tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic

1/2 avocado

lots of chopped fresh parsley

a good grinding of black pepper

a grizzle of your best quality extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste (i like to use pink Himalayan salt or sea salt)

 

Ideally, to make this bowl even more exciting, you want to get your hands of a spiraliser – it can turn pretty much any vegetable into beautifully long curled strips that resemble spaghetti. If you do not have one, a julienne peeler will also do the trick by helping you create beautiful thin strips from numerous types of vegetables.

Start by preparing your zucchini “spaghetti” using either a spiralizer or a julienne peeler to create spiral-like vegetable strands. Set aside.

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Next prepare the sauce. In a blender / small food processor, blend cashews with water, garlic clove, avocado, a table spoon of extra virgin olive oil and some salt until creamy. Taste, adjust seasoning and consistency if necessary and set aside.

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Meanwhile, sauté the leeks in coconut oil on low heat until they are translucent. Take them out of the pan and set aside. Add your mushrooms to the pan with a little more coconut oil and brown them. I like to add a little stock at this time as it helps caramelise the mushrooms and adds an extra layer of flavour to the dish (I keep home-made stock ice cubes in my freezer for these purposes). This is not essential though. Once the mushrooms are beautifully coloured and glossy, add the leeks and your spiralled zucchini and stir. Now add the creamy cashew sauce, mix well and let it heat through for just a minute or two. (You may need to add a touch of water if the sauce seems too thick)

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Take off the heat, mix in a good handful of chopped parsley and a healthy grinding of black pepper. Serve with a drizzle of your best quality olive oil – I find the spiciness of the olive oil rounds of the dish beautifully.

Eat on its own or topped with some grilled fish.

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There is a time and a place to indulge in a bowl of classic Italian pasta, but it is so important to have easy and satisfying alternatives that can tick the box if pasta craving is not just a special occasion occurrence.  and this is the one that has a special place in my life.









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