Cooking For One: A Happy, Healthy Lunch
DISH: Spring Tonic Salad, Nearly Sugarless Carrot Cake
MAIN INGREDIENT: Bulgur Wheat, Spring Vegetables
BUY: Gourmet Getaway Lunch Tote
When I came down with my umpteenth cold of the season, I figured I had to get serious about the nutrition content of what I put in my body. Though the subway I ride and the insulated row of cubicles I work in each day definitely do their part to infuse my weakening immune system with New York City’s germs, sometimes I wonder if my junk food cravings—and my inability not to satisfy them—might also be what keeps putting me in sickness’s way.
It disturbs me only slightly to notice that this is an observation my own mother might have made. Though she is no homeopath like Phoebe’s mom, she definitely preached moderation—some vegetables, some sunshine, some exercise, a bunch of sleep—and truth be told, she was probably right. Truth also be told, I get these things more sparingly than moderately.
To address my health needs both micro (lunchtime cravings) and macro (susceptibility to all manner of colds), I decided last night to make this simple, healthful salad and to tote it in for lunch all week. It contains only whole ingredients—nothing processed here—as well as veggies from early spring’s yield, which I hear possess tonic-like properties that allow them to suction all the bad stuff out of your system, like green tea and other miraculous antioxidants.
To make this meal resemble a classic lunchbox, I needed something to round out the salad. But going along with my healthy-ish theme, I figured I’d opt out of packing cookies or chips and instead add a portioned slice of the date-sweetened carrot cake I’d made from 101 Cookbooks, which dispels the cravings yet fails to put me in an afternoon sugar stupor.
From my kitchen, where the health claims may be bogus but the food is still good,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
The beauty of bulgur wheat is that it cooks off the heat, just in a covered container with boiling water, reducing overall pot use and kitchen temperature.
The asparagus I had bought ranged in fatness from thread-like to pretty substantial, so I prepared them in two different ways. I cut the thick ones into pennies and the skinny ones into matchsticks, which made the salad look pretty and have a nice variation in texture. This salad would be good with some crumbled feta or goat cheese, or even diced hard-boiled egg.
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup boiling water
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 bunch asparagus
2 medium radishes, cut in half and then sliced thinly
3 tablespoons sniped chives
1/4 cup walnuts
juice of half a lemon
Put the bulgur and water in a heat-proof bowl. Cover and set aside 20-25 minutes until the bulgur has plumped. If there’s any water left, carefully drain it. Toss with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
While the bulgur is soaking, preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the asparagus with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until softened and browned. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces—whatever shape seems appropriate for your veggies.
On a baking sheet in the heated oven, toast the walnuts for 5-10 minutes, being careful not to burn. (I always set a timer so they don’t suffer the cauliflower’s fate.) Remove and chop coarsely.
In a large bowl, toss the bulgur with the vegetables, chives, and walnuts. Squeeze the lemon and toss again. If you’re serving to friends, garnish with extra chives and nuts, and serve over lettuce on a platter.
This recipe is adapted from 101 Cookbooks. Fearless Heidi used only dates to sweeten her cake (plus some maple syrup in the icing), but I chickened out and threw a couple tablespoons of syrup in the cake, too.
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ cup oil
¼ cup maple syrup
1/2 cup dried dates, seeded and finely chopped into a paste
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
2 eggs, lightly whisked
3 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon oil
4 tablespoons maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a loaf pan well.
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the walnuts and set aside.
Chop the dates finely. Add them to a blender or food processor with the applesauce, 1/3 of the carrots, and the syrup. Blend until the dates are pulverized and mixed with the applesauce, then add the oil and blend until emulsified. Add the eggs and blend a moment more. Add the remainder of the carrots, but don’t blend them (you can mix them carefully with a spatula.)
Pour the mixture from the blender over the dry ingredients and fold together gently, just until most of the flour is incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 50-60 minutes.
For the frosting, beat all the ingredients together until fluffy. Frost the cake when it’s cool.
Store in the refrigerator.