The Absolute Best Cowboy Caviar – A Healthy and Versatile Recipe!

A dip full of veggies has to be healthy, right?! This is NOT the case when you LOAD it up with sugar as is the case in some cowboy caviar recipes I have seen! This quick and easy recipe uses a little bit of agave and is loaded with flavor that is only enhanced the longer it is allowed to marinate for. 

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Cowboy Caviar 

Makes 8 Servings
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Rest Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients:
1 Red Onion, Minced
1 Green Pepper, Diced
1 Red Pepper, Diced
1 15 Oz Can Chick Peas or Black Eyed Peas, Rinsed & Drained
1 15 Oz Can Black Beans, Rinsed & Drained
2 Stalks Celery, Diced
1 Lb Tomatoes, Diced 
1.5 Cups of Corn Kernals, Cooked
Optional: Bunch of Cilantro, Parsley or Scallions, Minced

Dressing:
1 Tsp Chili Powder
1 Tsp Cumin
1 Tsp Garlic Powder
½ Tsp Sea Salt, More to Taste
1/3 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tbsp Agave Nectar or Sweetener of Choice
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: Juice From 1/2 Lime

Instructions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients for the dressing and slowly whisk in the vinegar, agave and oil. Mix well and set aside while you prepare the salad. 
  2. Combine the red onion, green pepper, red pepper, chick peas or black eyed peas, black beans, celery, tomatoes and corn in a bowl. Add the option herbs if you are using them.
  3. Add the dressing and stir well. 
  4. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight if possible, the longer this sits, the better it gets! 

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This cowboy caviar recipe is one of my favorites because it is so versatile. It works well served as a side dish (pair with grilled seafood or meat for a perfect summer meal!), a dip with crispy corn chips, as a topping on tacos, with eggs for breakfast and even on top of some crisp greens as a salad. Stir in some cooked quinoa to the cowboy caviar and you have a super easy weekday bring to work lunch. If you don’t like chick peas or black eyed peas, double up on black beans or add in pinto or kidney beans! 

Perfect Lower Fat Pesto

When I am working with someone and helping them make healthy changes to their diet and lifestyle, something I always try to do is focus on what they CAN eat, what they CAN do and what they ARE capable of. I believe focusing on the positive and what can remain the same provides comfort for clients and makes the changes less daunting. One of the ways I do this is by helping them swap out items for better choice alternatives. One of the ways this can be done in recipes is by tweaking things like fat, sugar and salt in classic recipes while keeping the main flavors the same.

This pesto recipe is full of bright herby and rich nutty flavors and goes well with sooo many things. While this healthier pesto contains so many of the amazing flavors of a traditional pesto, this recipe has half the calories and half the fat compared to a traditional pesto you might buy at the store or make at home! This recipe also omits parmesan cheese making it a completely vegan pesto recipe.

Perfect Lower Fat Pesto

Makes 6 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:
2 Cups (3 Ounces) Fresh Basil
½ Cup Walnut Halves & Pieces
3 Medium Sized Cloves of Garlic
1 ½ Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
½ Cup Water
½ Tsp Salt

Instructions:

1. In a food processor, blend walnuts and garlic for thirty seconds.

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2. Pluck off the basil leaves from the stems and discard stems. Add the leaves to the food processor along with the vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. Blend in the food processor for a few seconds, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary then add in the olive oil.

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3. Once everything is well incorporated, slowly add in the water until well combined. Feel free to add the water in 1 Tbsp at a time so that you get the consistency you’d like. The more water you add, the thinner the pesto will be!

4. Once you have reached your desired consistancy by adding the water, taste and add little more salt if you’d like!

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Use this pesto on pasta (my favorite is Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi!), in a potato salad, to cover roasted or grilled veggies or even as a spread on a sandwich. Mix with plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and use as dip!

Vegetarian “Chicken Wing” Dip with Jackfruit

Have you guys ever had jackfruit? A year or two ago I was at the grocery store and saw a package of pre-made, bbq style jackfruit that I just had to try. I thought it was really good, but I wanted to experiment with making my own creations with this fruit that has the texture and appearance of pulled pork or pulled chicken.

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You can find whole, raw jackfruit at many Asian supermarkets. This fruit is absolutely massive – usually the size of a large, oblong watermelon and can be rather messy to “butcher” at home. For this recipe (and others!), I take a shortcut and buy the young/green/unripe canned stuff that’s much easier to manage and allows me to whip up recipes in no time. Despite its name, this young/green/unripe jackfruit isn’t sweet the way you’d think of most fruits and it really takes on the flavor of whatever you season it with. Additionally, it’s fat free, has 0 grams of sugar and is rich in fiber.

I created this recipe because it has all the flavor of traditional chicken wing dip but without the meat and without the bottled ranch or blue cheese dressing. When I first became a vegetarian, I was all about the imitation meat substitutes. The more I have learned about nutrition, the more I have realized that “fake meat” is not the solution. While there are definitely exceptions, many “fake meat” options and many imitation dairy products are full of crappy ingredients. If you follow me on Instagram you probably know about my obsession with the Miyoko’s line of vegan dairy product alternatives which I would consider an exception! This brand has some amazing plant based products with awesome ingredients. The vegan butter is my favorite and absolutely AMAZING. I have even converted a slew of dairy lovers to the Miyoko’s butter! You could easily swap some Miyoko’s vegan cream cheese/vegan cheese for the dairy products I used in this recipe to make it vegan.

Vegetarian “Chicken Wing” Dip with Jackfruit

Makes 8 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 20 Oz Can of Young/Green/Unripe Jackfruit (~10 oz Jackfruit When Drained)
1 8 Oz Brick of Organic Cream Cheese or Organic Neufchatel Cheese, Softened
1/4 Tsp Dried Dill
1 Tsp Dried Parsley
1/2 Tsp Onion Powder
1 Tsp Garlic Powder
1/3 Cup of Frank’s Red Hot
2 Oz – 4 Oz Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Optional: Scallions for Garnish

Instructions:

    1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
    2. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, dill, parsley, onion powder and garlic powder. Tip: If you forgot to take the cream cheese out of the fridge to soften, zap it in the microwave for 15 seconds. If it is still not soft enough, microwave it for another 15 seconds!
    3. Open and drain the can of jackfruit. Using clean hands (this should be a given but I had to say it) or two forks, “shred” the jackfruit. You will begin to see strands and the the jackfruit will look like pulled pork. image3You may notice that the jackfruit has some  little pods that look like beans or seeds. These are fully edible, but you may remove them if you choose!image2
    4. Add the hot sauce to the softened cream cheese and herb mixture and mix well. Add the jackfruit and mix until everything is combined.image6
    5. Scrape the dip into an oven safe 8×8 baking dish or pie plate.
    6. Grate the cheese over the top of the dip creating an even layer. I use a grater like this with smaller holes as I feel like I can get ample cheesey coverage with less cheese. I personally used 2 oz of cheese for my dip, but up to 4 oz would be fine! Tip: If you don’t have a food scale and you purchased a standard 8 oz brick of cheese, cut the brick of cheese in half and then in half again. Each of the four pieces will be roughly 2 ounces!
    7. Bake the dip for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the dip is heated through.image5

I love serving this dip with cut up peppers, carrots, celery and of course corn chips. What are some of your favorite snacks and what healthier twists do you put on them?

Basic Lower Fat Hummus

Have you ever picked up an item at the store or even purchased something, brought it home and then scoped out the label only to be confused as to how some strange ingredients ended up in a seemingly straight forward product? I have. So many times. While you may pick up an item and simply toss it in your chart thinking it must be pretty straight forward, I have found things like tons of added sugar in jarred pasta sauce and crackers, and chemical preservatives in items like hummus and canned jalapeños. While I know it’s not realistic to make everything at home and everything from scratch, there are still so many things we can make at home very quickly and therefore we are in full control of the fat, sugar, sodium and ingredient content!

This basic hummus recipe has tons of flavor but half the fat of the average store bought hummus (yes, fats from plant sources are still fats!) and is a great base for you to be creative and try different add-ins and toppings!

Basic Lower Fat Hummus
Servings: 18 (~2 Tbsp Each)
Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Ingredients:
2 Cans of Chickpeas, Drained (15 Oz Each)
2 Tsp Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Cumin
1/4 Tsp Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Tahini
Juice from 1 Lemon (About 5 Tbsp)
1/4 Cup Water

Optional Topping Ideas: Fresh Herbs (dill, parsley, scallions), Chopped Almonds, Chili Powder, Olives

Instructions:
1. Add all ingredients except water to a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Scrape sides down if necessary.
2. Add 1/4 cup of water and blend again. If hummus appears to be too dry, add water in Tablespoon increments until desired consistency is achieved.

Your homemade hummus is good in the refrigerator for a week!

How do I use my hummus?! I use it as a dip for veggies, a spread for sandwiches and wraps, a topping on salad and I’ve even used it in place of mayo in egg salad! Try tossing some hummus on a piece of naan bread with a little feta cheese and popping it on the grill then adding loads of fresh veggies on top for a summer pizza!

Cacao Bites

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The first time I tried cacao, I bought a small bag of cacao powder to try in place of cocoa powder and I will never, ever go back to using cocoa powder. Cacao has the most amazing, rich chocolate flavor. I personally find that cacao is also much less bitter than cocoa. While sometimes used interchangeably, cacao is the raw, un-roasted, more nutrient dense version of cocoa. Cacao is rich in antioxidants, minerals such as magnesium and iron, fiber and also contains a decent amount of protein.

While I am definitely more of a savory treats lover, whenever the craving hits for an indulgent sweet treat, I will go for a small amount of chocolate. The chocolatey bites in the recipe below are somewhere between fudge and a brownie. They are so rich, decadent and satisfying I seriously forget that they are a healthier treat. Since the sweetness comes from Medjool dates, you get the sweet taste, but also fiber from the dates and therefore you avoid the “sugar crash” some may experience. Medjool dates are also a great source of potassium and magnesium.

Cacao Bites

Makes 20 Servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
1 Pound Medjool Dates – Pits Removed and Chopped (about 28 dates)
1 Cup of Unsalted, Raw Almonds
2 Cups of Walnuts
1 Cup Cacao (this is my favorite brand)
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt

Optional:
1/2 Cup of Walnuts, Chopped
1/2 Cup Unsweetened, Natural Dried Cherries
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Dried Coconut (I love this brand)

1. In a food processor (this is the one I use, I love the scraper feature!), pulse the almonds and walnuts for 30 seconds. Add the chopped dates and pulse for another 30 seconds. Remove the lid and check the consistency. The ingredients will begin to look crumbly. Continue to pulse until the mixture begins to come together and form a ball or a uniform mixture. This will take around 2 minutes.

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2. Turn the food processor off. Remove the lid and using a spatula, evenly distribute the mixture around the base of the food processor. Add the vanilla, salt, and cacao. Replace the lid and pulse until the cacao is mixed throughout.

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3. If you are adding the optional ingredients, add them in at the very end and quickly pulse so that there are distinguishable pieces left of the walnuts, cherries and coconut.

4. Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment or wax paper. Make sure there is some excess paper that comes just above the sides of the dish. Dump the mixture from the food processor into the dish.

Cacao - 1 (6)5. Rip off another piece of parchment or wax paper that is large enough to cover the dish. Place this piece over the mixture and press the mixture down into the corners of the dish. I suggest using the paper because even though I wash my hands a million times before I touch food, I feel like this is cleaner. I would seriously be mortified/gag if I gave someone one of these and there was a fingerprint in one!

6. I like to cut them into  roughly 1 inch pieces by lifting them out of the dish (this is where that overhang of wax or parchment paper comes in handy!) and cutting down the middle. I then cut each half in half so that I have four long pieces, and I halve those again. I then repeat this going in the other direction.

You can store these in the fridge or on the counter in a sealed bag or lidded container for up to two weeks, but they probably won’t last that long!

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I love these bites with bits of walnut, tart dried fruit and coconut throughout but my husband likes the plain Jane, “less is more” version without the coconut and dried fruit. Which way do you prefer?! What is your go to when you are craving something sweet? Leave me a comment, I would love to hear from you!


References:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/