Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!


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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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Roasted Chickpea Pitas

I think if I were a chickpea, I wouldn’t be very happy. Poor chickpeas. They’re always getting mashed, pounded, and ground up for things like hummus and falafel, or playing second fiddle as a side dish to meat. It’s rare that you eat anything in which chickpeas in their whole, unadulterated form take center stage. Can’t we give these little guys their time to shine?

Why yes, we can, in the form of Roasted Chickpea Pitas!

This tasty vegetarian Mediterranean meal features whole chickpeas roasted in a piquant blend of seasonings and paired with caramelized red onions. Finished off with some spinach, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita, it’s a super healthy choice for dinner or a one-dish lunch. Every time I eat it, even without adding a side, it keeps me full for hours–probably because of all the “good carbs” found in the whole wheat and beans. Plus, chickpeas contain plenty of protein and even a little unsaturated fat. Can you really go wrong by adding more of them to your diet?

So if I were a chickpea, I’d like to think I’d approve of this recipe (even though I’d have to be roasted in a 400 degree oven). Worth it.


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Roasted Chickpea Pitas
Spiced roasted chickpeas and cool tzatziki sauce make a hearty filling in these pitas.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Instructions
Make the chickpea filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chickpeas and sliced red onions. Pour olive oil and all spices over the mixture, stir to toss, and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking.
Make the tzatziki sauce:
  1. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the pitas:
  1. Assemble the pitas by filling them with the chickpea mixture, tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, and/or feta.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Live Eat Learn.

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Broccoli Three Cheese Lasagna

Today, in addition to bestowing upon the internet the gift of an amazing Broccoli Three-Cheese Lasagna that might just become your family’s new favorite vegetarian pasta dish, I’m trying a little something new on the blog. For kicks, and because as a nutritionist I care about providing (reasonably) healthy recipes, I’ve decided that moving forward, I’d really like to include nutrition information with my recipes. Also because I’m curious. So today, for this lovely lasagna, I’ve included a nutrition facts label for your perusal.

Adding up actual counts of calories, fat, sodium, etc. can feel like a bit of a peeking-through-your-fingers potential train wreck, like “oh nooooooo, I’m eating WHAT? Why did you have to tell me that?”

But I do (usually) want to know what I’m putting into my body–and I want YOU to know, too.

I’m starting with this particular Broccoli Lasagna recipe because, in its original form via Real Simple, this homemade comfort food classic contained a whopping 833 calories, 56 grams of fat, and 1,500mg of sodium–even with vegetables in place of meat. I shudder to think about the nutrition facts for restaurant lasagna. Actually….let’s go there. Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico will set you back 930 calories, 53 grams of fat, and 2,070 mg of sodium! (For reference, your daily intake of sodium should be below 2,400 mg. Good luck only eating 300 mg of sodium in the entire rest of your day!)

As delicious as the original version of this recipe might have been, it really didn’t need to be so heavy, and with a few changes to slim it down, it’s still plenty rich. With a bit less cheese and a more portion-controlled 5 servings instead of 4, this lighter incarnation contains 586 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 1,245 mg sodium. High in sodium, yes, but with fat and calorie counts I can feel good about with a one-dish-meal dinner. Especially one that combines the Italian nirvana of tender pasta and ooey-gooey stretchy cheese with the nutritional powerhouse of broccoli.


Print Recipe
Broccoli Three Cheese Lasagna
Stretchy mozzarella, tender lasagna noodles, savory sauce, and plenty of broccoli make this a one-dish delight.
Course Main Dish, pasta
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, pasta
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using fresh broccoli, steam in a microwave-safe dish by adding a few tablespoons water, covering with a lid, and microwaving 2-4 minutes until bright green and crisp-tender. If using frozen, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place steamed or thawed broccoli in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pureed).
  2. In a large bowl, mix chopped broccoli, ricotta, 1 c. mozzarella, 2 Tbsp. Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir half and half into marinara sauce.
  4. Assemble lasagna: in an 8-inch square baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce. Top with two noodles, a quarter of remaining sauce, and a third of the broccoli mixture. Repeat twice. Top with the remaining two noodles and sauce. Sprinkle the top with remaining 1/4 c. mozzarella and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan.
  5. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 35-40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by (but heavily adapted from) Real Simple.

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The Best Black Bean Burritos

After this post, I swear I’ll stop talking about our summer in Germany so much…but since we returned just two days ago, I do have one more thing to say, and that is:

Mexican food is the greatest.

Wait, how is this about Germany? Well, when you’re from Arizona, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, guacamole, and salsa are like mother’s milk. They’re a part of the fabric of “normal” food in our part of the world. In kindergarten, my class learned the Mexican hat dance in P.E. and sang “Feliz Navidad” at our Christmas recital, if that tells you anything about how Mexican culture (and therefore food) are a major part of the Arizona lifestyle.

When you live in Germany, on the other hand, Mexican food might as well be Martian food. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. There was one Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood in Cologne, but it definitely did not serve the Sonoran cuisine I’m used to. And although German grocery stores often technically sell some Mexican foods, it’s something akin to if someone told you they had an Italian marinara and sold you tomato sauce. There’s a difference.

So essentially, I’ve gone without my regular dose of life-giving Mexican food for almost three months. And ¡ay, caramba!, I have missed it.

Therefore, when we returned home a couple of days ago, eating Mexican was FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS. Like, unpack, shower off the grody-ness of spending a total of almost 20 hours on airplanes, and get me some Mexican food. These amazing black bean burritos are one of my go-to Mexican faves, and since they’re also vegetarian, they sounded especially wonderful after what may become known in our family as our Summer of Sausage. (Don’t get me wrong, I love brats, but I was reaching my personal point of Meat Overload by the end of three months.)

The Best Black Bean Burritos did not disappoint! With grilled corn and a side of chips and guac, these are my Mexican happy place. Our family had such a valuable, meaningful time in Europe, but it sure is good to be home for many reasons, but especially because…


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The Best Black Bean Burritos
Eating is believing! These delicious black bean burritos are packed with veggies, have amazing flavor, and are a snap to make!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
burritos
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
burritos
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place them in the oven to warm for 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, red onion, red pepper, and jalapeño and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in black beans and cook another 3 minutes.
  3. Add cubed cream cheese and salt and cook until the mixture becomes creamy and heated through. Stir in cilantro.
  4. Serve mixture in tortillas, with any additional toppings desired.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

At the children’s museum where I work, there’s an exhibit called Marketplace, which is essentially a mini grocery store engineered just for play. When I give tours to field trip groups, this exhibit is where I educate kids about the various food groups as outlined on MyPlate. I explain to them that MyPlate not only shows the five food groups, but also what portions of them we should fill our plates with (as in, 50% fruits and vegetables).

Part of my spiel in this exhibit is asking kids to tell me examples of their favorite foods in each group. They usually do pretty well on fruits, vegetables, and dairy (except for the occasional kid who tells me that pigs give us dairy products or that oranges are their favorite vegetable), but they are often stumped when I ask them to name foods that contain protein. I can’t tell you how many times kids’ ideas of protein-rich foods are protein bars or protein shakes, rather than natural food sources. Granted, these kids are often second graders, so I have to give them a pass, but as a nutritionist, it’s surprising to me that the school curriculum covers so little about food and nutrition.

Once we get through the idea that protein is found in animal products and some non-animal products, I ask the students again: which protein-containing foods are your favorites?

Steak. Steak is the answer about 80% of the time.

I then ask kids about plant-based protein sources. Have they ever, for example, tried tofu?

“Ewwwwwwww, no!”

Come on! I want to say. You’re eight years old and your parents have already ruined you for tofu? But it’s true–ever since Americans first started experimenting with tofu in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s been saddled with a reputation as the flavorless poster child of the Health Food Movement.

It doesn’t have to be that way. As a meatless protein source, I find tofu easy to prepare, cheap to purchase, and a flavor chameleon that can adapt to anything you throw at it. Case in point: these delicious barbecue tofu sandwiches with veggie slaw. I’ve had tofu in many forms over the years, but the idea of slicing it and putting it in a sandwich was new to me when I first saw this recipe. Now that I’ve been making it for awhile, I can see how the shape and texture of pan-fried tofu sliced off the block is perfect sandwich material! Slathered with barbecue sauce and topped with a cool slaw, these barbecue tofu sandwiches are a super tasty (and totally think-outside-the-box) weeknight dinner.

So if someone asks MY favorite protein-containing food? Well, I won’t say they beat a juicy steak, but I will say these barbecue tofu sandwiches rank pretty high.

Barbecue Tofu Sandwich

Print Recipe
Barbecue Tofu Sandwiches with Veggie Slaw
A tasty vegetarian sandwich of pan-fried barbecue tofu and a cool, creamy slaw.
Instructions
  1. Drain tofu and squeeze as much liquid out of it as possible. If time allows, remove even more moisture by pressing tofu. (Place on a paper towel-lined plate and weigh it down with something heavy, like cans or books.) Slice tofu lengthwise into 4 equal slabs.
  2. Prepare the slaw: in a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and pepper. Add shredded broccoli/carrot mix and stir to coat. Set aside.
  3. Heat canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu slabs and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Reduce heat to low, add barbecue sauce, and cook for another 3 minutes or so, carefully turning tofu to coat both sides.
  4. Assemble sandwiches with toasted sandwich thins, barbecue tofu, slaw and pickles (if you like).
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Eating Well.

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