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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cooking with Whole Foods {Guest post by Magdalen Dobson}

Today I'm welcoming guest-poster Magdalen Dobson who writes at From Heart to Table.  When you've read this head on over to her blog--she has some great recipes and a beautiful heart for serving her family and the Lord!

  Beginning to cook with whole foods is a very rewarding experience that will help you to take care of your body and the environment in the best way possible; unfortunately, it’s also rather intimidating. When I first began reading health-foods based cookbooks and blogs, I was flabbergasted by the sheer amount of unusual ingredients they used. Quinoa? Tahini? Raw sugar? Do these people even live in the real world?
                Despite this, I really was serious about learning to cook healthily, so I began to experiment. I figured out substitutions, spent ages looking over how-to guides, and started adding new foods to the pantry. Slowly, I began to develop an intuition for it, automatically knowing that the all-purpose flour in most cookies is best swapped with oat flour, that the salt in most recipes can be drastically reduced, and that cumin goes with absolutely everything savory (or maybe that’s just me!).
Now, adapting recipes to suit my healthier tastes and building a dish around some new ingredient is practically second nature, so when Jamie asked me if I’d like to do a guest post about some of the weird ingredients health-foodies use, I knew just what I wanted to do. I’m going to take you through a few of the healthy ingredients I use most often in my cooking, and give you some loose recipe ideas to get started with.


Quinoa is a small African grain with a fairly neutral flavor and an impressive nutritional profile. It’s a better source of calcium than milk and one of the few vegan foods to contain all the essential proteins. You can cook it in under 30 minutes by combining 1 cup of rinsed quinoa with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan; bring to the boil and then simmer until all the water is absorbed. Once cooked, it makes a great accompaniment to stews and soups. For a simple grain salad, roast 3-4 cups summer vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper) with some oil and herbs and combine with 3 cups of cooked quinoa (see above) and some olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste and serve warm.

Maple Syrup
I suppose this doesn’t really qualify as “weird,” but instead of drizzling it on pancakes, try using it as a healthy baking sweetener.  For a simple cookie recipe, combine ½ cup oil or butter with ½ cup maple syrup, 1 ¼ cups flour (I like a mixture of oat and nut), and flavorings of your choice, baking at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. Makes 20-25 cookies.
Caution: make sure your syrup is pure maple and not just maple flavored.

Oat Flour
This is one of my favorite ingredients to use in healthy baking, since it’s so versatile and inexpensive as well as being easy to make at home—just powder rolled oats in a food processor or coffee grinder. 1 cup oats makes a generous ¾ cup oat flour. It has a nutty but unobtrusive flavor, making it easy to swap for all or part of the white flour in a cookie, muffin, or pancake recipe. If you have a recipe you want to try that uses spelt flour, oat flour is a good match for it in taste and texture. Caution: do not try to use it in yeasted baking as it is gluten-free.

Tahini is a sesame-seed paste similar to a nut butter. Its most common use is to make hummus, a Mediterranean chickpea dip. To make it, combine one 14-oz. can chickpeas with 4 tbsp. of their liquid, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tbsp. tahini, 2 cloves garlic (crushed), and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a food processor and pulse until relatively smooth.
Another easy use of tahini is a homemade salad dressing. Whisk together 2 tbsp. tahini, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tsp. honey, and a crushed clove of garlic. Add water as needed until you get a consistency similar to bottled salad dressing.

Nut Flours
Nut flours can be made at home by pulsing raw or roasted nuts in a food processor until roughly ground (the grains will be larger than those of a regular flour). They can be used to replace some of the all-purpose flour in cakes, cookies, etc. for a delicate and sophisticated taste. Like oat flour, nut flours are gluten free and not appropriate for yeasted baking. Also, don’t worry if they seem to clump up when you start using them—that’s normal. Toss with your fingers to get rid of the worst, and then keep going with the recipe.

Lentils are small, flat legumes that can be cooked whole or down to a mush. They are good for adding to sauces, stews, and grain salads. For an easy lentil soup, sauté an onion and some garlic in a large pot. Add 2 14-oz. cans of broth, 1 cup of rinsed lentils (preferably red), 2 diced carrots, a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and seasonings of your choice (I like cumin, coriander, and turmeric). Simmer until the carrots are soft and the lentils have absorbed most of the broth.

For healthy recipes with more of an emphasis on traditional foods, I go to Sara Forte’s blog Sprouted Kitchen. For a more all-out approach, I visit Coconut and Quinoa and My New Roots. Some of the recipes above are adapted from ones at these sites.
If you live in an area where you don’t have access to a lot of health foods, try looking at Vitacost, a site that sells whole foods at a slight discount.

I’ve left the recipes here loose on purpose to allow you to adapt to your own tastes, but if you have any questions or problems, you can email me at  

My name is Magdalen Dobson and I’m sixteen years old, Episcopalian, homeschooled, and a health foods enthusiast living in Mississippi with my family. Join me at my blog, From Heart To Table, where I write about my recipes, healthy living, and daily life.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice post! I love your salad dressing idea. My sister gave me some tahini, and we just bought a salad mix this I'll just have to put them together now(:


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